Sunday, November 2, 2014

Roses and Skunk Cabbages at the IFWC

Last Friday, I packed my suitcase full of hope and enthusiasm and headed out for the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference, hosted for the first time by Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana. This event  replaced the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference, which was hosted by Wesleyan Church World Headquarters. Thankful that the AU English department had agreed to adopt the orphan conference, I thought this year's event would be similar to the Wesleyan event which I had so thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't.
       To compare the two point for point would be tedious, so I will hit the highlights (the roses) and the lowlights (the skunk cabbages).

The Roses 
I rode to the conference with good friend and fellow writer Ramona K. Cecil. I always love traveling with her. We're both talkers, so the car is seldom quiet.
       Once there, my first stop was the restroom. As I came out, walking toward me down the hall was my critique partner of about six months. How sweet it was to be able to finally meet and talk with her after having communicated only through email.
       We arrived with time to spare, so we chatted with other conferees, including Gayle Cobb, a gifted illustrator who will graduate in 2015 from Indiana Wesleyan University with a degree in art; a high-schooler, who is enthusiastic about writing and whose aunt just happens to be Ramona's neighbor; and woman who is passionate about sharing Christ with the deaf through sign language and the written word.
       As with most conferences, deciding which workshops to attend is a challenge. I've learned to sit up front only when I especially want to hear a particular speaker or when I know without a doubt the topic will apply to me and my writing. Otherwise, I sit toward the back so I can quietly slip out to another workshop.
       Linda Glaz presented on writing dialogue. She discussed how conventions in writing have changed through the years and what current trends are. She showed conferees how to eliminate intrusive dialogue tags (he said, she whined, he growled, she purred--you get the idea), replacing them with action beats that enliven the scene and supply readers with more information about the characters.
       Lawrence Wilson conducted my other favorite workshop, "The Ministry of Christian Writing." He is a writer, a pastor, and a teacher of theology. He spoke of the apostle John as a gifted writer, pointing out the poetry in his prose. He also emphasized the importance of disciplining oneself to write everyday. Something. Anything. "One learns writing by writing," he said. And if we consider our writing to be ministry, we should write with the same passion and purpose of John: to make Christ known, whether we're writing prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction.
       Other conference roses included some wonderful worship music, an informative panel discussion by an assortment of publishing experts, and a delicious Saturday lunch. The conference sponsored a writing contest, and the winners from among nearly 70 entrants received their awards. Though I was not in the least surprised, I was thrilled when Ramona's name was called as winner of the fiction writing award. Congratulations, Ramona!
The Skunk Cabbages
I didn't expect to encounter negatives at the conference. Ever since I heard the conference was a go for this year, I've looked forward to it, inviting and encouraging other writers to attend. This new incarnation lacked so many features that endeared the Wesleyan event to conferees, however.
       My first portent of things awry came when we arrived. After driving through pouring rain to get there and enduring strong, icy winds to make it from the car to the building, no welcoming fragrance of fresh-brewed coffee greeted us. I wasn't the only writer asking where the coffee was. After all, writers and coffee go together like Star and bucks. (Corny, I know, but I couldn't resist.)
       The wide-eyed student assistant tilted her head slightly and flashed a practiced smile that didn't quite reach the tip of her nose, let alone her eyes. "Coffee? Well, we do have a coffee shop on campus." On campus? This can't be good. "You just go out of this building and cross over to the next building. There's a coffee shop down in the basement." If we wanted a steaming cup of coffee, we had to go back out into the cold, wind-driven rain. No way.
       Water, then. Where could we get a bottle of water? You guessed it. To procure a bottle of water also required a trip through the hurricane, and even the speakers weren't allowed to take such contraband as water into the auditorium.
       I had time to enjoy the worship music before hurrying off to a consultation with an agent. That area was upstairs overlooking the lobby. Since my asthma was acting up, I took the elevator. The doors to the gallery where the sit-downs were to take place were locked. That was fine. No need to panic. I was a bit early, as I always try to be for such meetings. When the time for my appointment arrived, however, and the doors were still solidly bolted, I panicked. I trekked down to the registration desk.
       Great. The same non-coffee-drinking girl was still on duty. I told her the situation.
       "I know. We had them unlocked last night, but they locked them again." She knew they were locked? "Come with me, and I'll unlock them for you."
    I knew I keep apace with her fast clip. "By the time I'd get there, my 15 minutes would be over. I just want you to please inform the agent that I did not stand her up. I was there in good time."
       The Wesleyan Church World Headquarters was a compact site for the ICWC. The new site at Anderson U. is widespread, involving three buildings--not at all convenient, especially in inclement weather. Nor is the campus very accessible. Some conferees who had difficulty getting around in the time allowed between workshops were further challenged by the steps leading up to the dining area. If there was a ramp into that building, it must have been on the opposite side from where we entered.
       None of the above oversights, problems, or inconveniences would keep me from attending again, however. Most were likely the result of inexperience, since this was AU's first time to host. Hopefully, the coffee pot would be on the greet conferees and presenters next time. If I were to go again, I would plan ahead, taking along a brown-bag lunch, as a smart friend of mine did, bottled water, and a bag large enough to conceal both in the auditorium. If I were planning a consultation, I'd schedule it for later in the day. And I would make sure I wore comfortable shoes with good traction--the latter, if rain or snow were in the forecast.
       The most egregious affront, however, came from two of the plenary session speakers. One tried to convince us that we should accept life choices that are clearly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of God's Word. The other, calling herself a social activist, stood far left of center as she recounted her version of the Michael Brown shooting--stories she said she'd collected from "eyewitnesses." Her background in theater equipped her to present a persuasive plea, but not to be a crime-scene investigative reporter. It was a political rant, one inappropriate for a Christian writers' conference. That's not why I save to be able to go to such a gathering. My goal is to hone my craft, to learn from the presenters about the business of writing and publishing, and to fellowship with other Christ-following writers, agents, and editors.
       The choice of speakers is not the result of inexperience or inadequate planning. A lot of thought and research goes in to choosing speakers. Those choices are deliberate. Therefore, it is with much sadness that I must say I will not attend another IFWC at AU.
       NOTE: I give the conference three stars out of five for the sake of the lovely roses, memories I will treasure.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Audience of One

I do wish artists would sign their work legibly so proper credit could be given. If you know who painted this lovely, please let me know.

My first storytelling audience had only one member. Mama. Her vision weakened through the years, beginning when I was in elementary school. Cataracts dimmed her sight so that she couldn't read even with her tortoise-shell reading glasses.
(Though I certainly didn't want her to lose her vision, I didn't like the glasses. She looked so stern with them, especially if they slipped down her nose a bit. I made sure I behaved very well when she wore them. In truth, she probably was squinting to see even with them on.)
Once I learned to read--and that's another story for another day--I read voraciously, devouring books like Cookie Monster gobbles cookies, except that I let no morsels fall to the floor. "When you come to a street corner," Mama said almost daily, "stop, look, and listen before you cross." I usually remembered her warning, but as soon as I deemed it safe to cross, my nose would go back into the book I was reading.
Of course, I always signed up for the Bookworm Club at the local public library, smiling smugly when I noticed the "worm" had only 25 segments to it's body. Long before summer was over, I'd have 25 segment stickers carefully applied to the sheet that said Sharon Kay Kirk at the top. "May I fill two?" The librarian would give me her longsuffering look over her glasses and tell me she expected no less.
I read. Mama couldn't. I knew she missed reading, since she used to do it a lot. So I became a storyteller, reading a portion of the book, then telling it to her. I certainly didn't want her to get bored, so, like Jo in Little Women, I did the voices. At points of great excitement, I acted out the action. Mama was not an emotional woman. If the story was funny, she'd laugh. Perhaps at a poignant scene, she'd smile and nod. I don't recall that she ever shed a tear for a story. That was fine. I wept enough for both of us.
Getting through Black Beauty was a challenge, once I reached the scenes of his brutal mistreatment. I couldn't tell it without tears coursing down my cheeks.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Sharon," Mama said. "It's just a story."
I was never quite sure that was true. If a story was really good, if it stirred the reader at some deep level, didn't there, wouldn't there have to be, elements of truth? Wouldn't Anna Sewell have had to know of such cruelty--perhaps not to a horse named Black Beauty, but to another? It seemed to me that where there was no truth, there was no story.
Mama went with me through my various phases of reading. She heard the stories of every horse novel in the children's department of the library, every Bobbs-Merrill biography, every Bobbsey Twins adventure, and nearly every story in Andrew Lang's colored fairy books. Together we journeyed through childhood classics, including all of Louisa May Alcott's books, Heidi, Robin Hood, and favorite Bible stories. My storytelling was our main entertainments.
Gentle reader, you may ask, "Why didn't you just read the books to her. Why tell them?" The answer is simple. I had already read the books or book scenes. I didn't want to read them over. Storytelling was a more concise way to get through the books. And it was fun! Don't misunderstand. I love oral reading! My one daughter and her family are missionaries on the other side of the planet. When Skype is working well enough to allow it, I read to my grandtreasures for an hour or so. At such times, I have to call a stop when my voice begins to tire. We are a read-aloud family, even when it's long-distance. But it is great fun to hear a story well-told, also.
Thus, I am a writer and raconteur (storyteller).
Write on and read on!
Because of Christ,

Your turn: (Please leave a comment.) How important was reading in your home growing up? Did you ever including storytelling? Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this post.

Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Just Released!

Be among the first to read and review The Second Cellar!

How could Leah’s dad dump his only daughter with an aunt she doesn’t even know—who lives in rural Indiana, of all places? Ugh! Aunt Becky has spent her life running all over Africa and Asia on some kind of a secretive mission. But what?
Things look up when Leah discovers a hidden ladder leading from a window seat in auntie’s old house to a second cellar. At the bottom it’s 1860. The people living in the house, the Newcombs, operate a station on the Underground Railroad. AWESOME! She thinks.
Leah finds a friend in Johannah Newcomb, but then stumbles on a story that will shatter Johannah’s world. Should Leah tell her friend and perhaps save the girl’s father from being killed by a gang of slave hunters? Would that alter history? Could history be altered? Should it be?
And what about God? Can He help? He sure didn’t do anything to save Leah’s mom when a drunken teenage driver killed her in a car crash.
After a neighbor boy, Trevor, reveals that he knows about the ladder and the Newcombs, he and Leah make a pact of secrecy and join in the risky business of helping runaway slaves.
Speaking of secrets, what is Aunt Becky hiding that could change Leah’s life forever? How does auntie’s mission connect with the Newcombs’ good work a century and a half ago?
* * *
The idea for The Second Cellar sprang from one of my historical first-person interpretive storytelling program, Abigail Gray: Living Under the Drinking Gourd, in which I tell the true accounts of the Underground Railroad in the Hoosier state and beyondThe stories of the freedom seekers and those who assisted them fascinate me. Both the program and the book are set in southeastern Indiana, specifically the Jefferson County area. The book is a tween (8-13 years of age) historical fantasy involving time travel.
* * *
Like many authors, I use Pinterest to collect images related to my works in progress (WIPs). Naturally, I have a board dedicated to The Second Cellar. When I began thinking about a cover for the book, I initially planned to use the house that is the model for Aunt Becky's home, a c. 1840s Federal-style brick house where some friends live. But as I perused TSC's Pinterest board, I came across this wonderful photo of the primitive ladder. Perfect! Problem: I had no idea as to the source of the shot. The picture wasn't connected to a link. I couldn't use it with the photographer's permission, so I went searching. For days I combed through photo sites in a fruitless quest. It began to look like I wouldn't be able to use the picture that so captured my image of the ladder in the book. Then I thought to do what I should have done three days before: I prayed. Within three minutes, the Lord answered that plea! When I saw it among so many others, I stared at it for a moment to take it in. And it was connected to a link to the photographer's site--where he had a contact email posted! I wrote asking permission to use the image. Two days later, he responded favorably. Greg Nyquist, thank you so much for your gracious permission. Gaze in amazement at more of his work HERE.

Just Released!

Be among the first to read and review my newest novel!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's a "SnipTweet"?

A SnipTweet is a line or idea from a book. An author or reviewer might post a SnipTweet to give readers a provocative glimpse between the book's covers. It usually includes a link to the excerpted book.

Friday, May 16, 2014

#1 Writing Tip from the Storyteller

Dialogue: Getting It Right

Shift from the role of writer to that of actor. Become your character. Say out loud what that character would say as s/he would say it. It might help to use a DVR and record your role-playing. Now, play back. Listen to you taking on the characters and saying the lines. Do they sound right? Natural? Are they appropriate to the character and the scene? Is the emotion right?

As we've gotten away from so many he-said-she-said tags, action beats are almost a part of the dialogue. To get them right, you might have to get up and act out the scene. Be aware of your facial expressions, your body language, your body positioning, how your character moves through the scene and relates to the other characters. Capture that on the page, leaving out the unimportant details your reader can intuit.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Telling at Wings Over Muscatatuck

Photo by Russell Hansen (1921-2002)
To learn more about Mr. Hansen work as a bird photographer, visit

Saturday, May 10, I'll present "Tales That Take Wing: Flights of Fancy storytelling program at 11:15 a.m. as part of the annual event at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, located two miles east of Seymour, Indiana, on U.S. 50. Other special events will take place on the grounds around the Visitors' Center throughout the day. Gather your fledglings, leave your nest, and fly on over!

The Refuge is beautiful year round, but it's especially lovely at the equinoxal seasons, so be sure to bring your cameras. You can enjoy the lakes, marshes, and numerous trails to accommodate even physically challenged guests. The bookstore/gift shop is one of the best I've seen at any nature preserve. MNWR is one of the few sites in the world that is home to the shy Copperbellied Watersnake. It's also the release site for many native river otters. Migratory birds, including Sandhill Cranes, make this a regular stopover. American bald eagles, as well as many other raptors are seen commonly throughout the Refuge.

I love MNWR. It's one of my favorite hangouts. Hope you come by and get acquainted this weekend. If you do, be sure to be there with your wings on by 11:15 and look me up. I'll likely be in or around the Visitors' Center.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Cumberland Falls Storytelling Festival

April 11--13, 2014


Cumberland Falls State Park, Corbin, Kentucky

Celebrating Southern Appalachian Oral Tradition and Culture

Make plans now to attend Cumberland Falls Storytelling Festival in conjunction with Cumberland Falls State Park's world-famous Moonbow! Featuring Stephen Hollen, Pam Holcomb, Buck P. Creacy, and Jack's Mama (Sharon Kirk Clifton)! Stay up to date by clicking "Like" on the Facebook page.

Are you skilled at a traditional Appalachian craft? Would you like to sell your authentic, hand-crafted products at Cumberland Falls Storytelling Festival? Find out how on Facebook

Plan to stop by the Swapping Ground and take a turn at telling a family-friendly tale yourself.

Don't be late! Don't hesitate! Make reservations now at Cumberland Falls' Dupont Lodge and be close to all the events for the weekend of storytelling, hiking, scenic mountains dressed in their spring finery, and, in the evening, the world-famous Moonbow!