Thursday, April 29, 2010


This is me, jumping for joy!

Well, not quite. I'm bigger and wider and rounder right now, and not really capable of jumping at all. Not that I've tried it. But I'm pretending that this girl is jumping in my stead, since I can't do any of the other traditional celebratory things either. No uncorking a bottle of bubbly for me. Or shouting my joy from the rooftops (though it would be pretty hilarious to watch me try to get up there in my rotund state). My celebration is going to be a quiet affair today. I might sleep. Actually, that sounds like pure heaven...

Why am I so thrilled, you ask? Because... my book is done! Hip-hip-hooray! The major edits are complete and I'm just sifting through the final tweaks. It's a leisurely job, something I really enjoy doing because it allows me to sit back and enjoy the fruit of my labors. And let me tell you, every book is a labor. Sure, a labor of love, but also a labor like childbirth--long, hard, painful, and frustrating. Yup, there even comes a point partway through where you wish you had never gotten yourself into this mess in the first place. Or you need to blame someone: You did this to me! But, oh, the joy when you're done... All the suffering that you had to go through to get to that final period is suddenly a thing of the past. What suffering? This book is a masterpiece!

And that's where I'm at right now. I love this book. I'm crazy about Julia and her fantastic family. I'm sad to say goodbye. But everything is ending on a good note, and I'm very satisfied with where my trio of Julia books have taken me. I hope you do, too.

Stay tuned! I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more about my third Julia story in the coming weeks and months. I might even need you to help me choose a title. I'm so bad at titles...

Thanks for letting me happy dance all over my blog!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wisdom from Wally Lamb

So last week y'all freaked out that I went to a social media concurrent session instead of listening to Wally Lamb. Well, the good news about a conference like the Festival of Faith and Writing is that most of the speakers present more than once. So... I did get a chance to hear Wally Lamb speak. And he was wonderful.

The title of his talk was There but for the Grace of God. It was entertaining, filled with humble wisdom, and sprinkled with stories from his own life and experiences. I like to take notes when I attend sessions like this, but I have to admit that my scribbles from Wally's speech are few and far between. I doodled a lot. Which does not mean I was bored. Quite the opposite, actually. Are there any doodlers out there? Often the more my pen moves, the more I'm absorbing. Seems counter-intuitive, but it works for me. That's why I allowed my high school students to doodle in my classes (as long as they left their drawings behind when the bell rang).

Thankfully, in spite of my incessant doodling, I did get down three important gems from Wally's talk. I believe they're worth sharing.

1. Don't write for an audience, write for yourself.
This was an interesting statement for me to hear because it seems like lately people seem much more concerned with pacifying an audience. Gathering a tribe. Building a platform. You get the drift. But Wally suggested that if you aren't writing something that touches you deeply, that inflames your passion or makes you feel something at your very core, you might as well quit before you start. Makes sense to me. And yet I can't help believing that his assertion is only a part of the whole. If I only wrote for myself, my books would be long, rambling tomes that lean heavily toward the sickeningly literary, flowery prose-ish, "deep" stories about love and longing and loss. Gag. I write what I'm passionate about, but I do try to keep an audience in mind. If I didn't, the only brain that would be even remotely edified by my writing would be my own.

What do you think? Write for an audience? Or write for yourself?

2. You will never tell a completely original story.
Of course, I've heard this before, and it always leaves me with mixed emotions. On one hand, I'm comforted that "there is nothing new under the sun." We are all a part of this universal story, this beautiful narrative that began with the breath of God and will end with the same. But the thought that I'll never tell a completely original story also makes me a little sad. I realize that my books will always be my own because they will bear the mark of my individuality, but wouldn't you just love to tell something shocking? Unexpected? Fresh? I would. And maybe that's part of the allure of being an author for me: the constant, relentless, exciting search for something that feels like a discovery.

Do you long to tell an original story? Why or why not?

3. When you write, you must move beyond yourself.
People want to read books about heros, about people who are searching for answers, for truth, for something bigger and better around the next bend. And in order for that hero to find what he's looking for, he has to leave home. Therefore, in order for you to help your hero find what he's looking for, you have to leave home. You have to move beyond yourself! Look at life from another perspective. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Experience something you've never experienced before. What a great thought! And yet, I've often been told to write what you know. I think I do both. I hope I do both.

Do you move beyond yourself when you write? Or do you write what you know?

Your turn: I'm still chewing on Wally's advice, and I'd love to hear what you have to say. Pick one of his suggestions (or all three!) and respond to the question I posed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

For Sale

What a whirlwind week it has been! God moves in such mysterious ways...

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you might have realized that the Baarts have been house-hunting for a couple of years now. It's not that we don't love our home--quite the opposite! I think we're so attached to our sweet, little Cape Cod that nothing we look at quite compares. Or justifies the price difference.

Until now. On Monday an opportunity was thrown in our laps. We weren't even looking for it... On Tuesday we looked at the house. On Wednesday we made an offer. And on Thursday, they accepted it! Yeeps! Of course, there are contingencies (like selling our own home). But if all goes as planned, we are finally moving after six beautiful years in a house that has truly been blessed. We love this place. I get choked up just thinking about it. Yet even as I type, Baby Baart is doing his kick-kick-kickity thing and I know that this is the right move for us.

Say a little prayer that the right family finds our home! We pray that they're out there, and that they'll love this place as much as we do. Not likely, but wouldn't that be grand?

A few pics of our lovely home...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Call to Action

Thursday is the day I talk about more personal stuff. And though I could share about my rapidly progressing pregnancy (I'm in my third trimester!), my growing kids (we just registered our three-year-old for bilingual preschool), or my house woes (we're outgrowing our sweet, little Cape Cod), I'm going to steer clear of that tangle and take a few moments today to talk about an exciting event in the history of our non-profit, One Body One Hope.

As you may remember, we are in the midst of an aggressive capital campaign for the Liberian orphanage we support. Our goal is to raise $50,000 by the beginning of July for a second dormitory, a drinkable water line, a latrine, a security wall, a truck, steel doors and windows, new bunk beds, and more. The tally so far is at the $30,000 mark. Exciting stuff! We're getting there! And during the week of May 2-8, we have the special opportunity to get much closer.

An anonymous donor has gifted us with a matching donation of up to $5,000. If we raise $5,000 during the week of May 2-8, our donor will match that amount. $10,000 in one week! How cool is that? We're doing a couple of things to spread the word...

1.) A Mother's Heart Benefit: On Wednesday, May 5, we will be holding our first ever One Body One Hope Benefit. If you're a woman living in the tri-state area, we invite you to join us at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Rock Valley at 6:30pm. There will be a dessert buffet, some live music, a presentation about One Body One Hope, and an amazing speaker. Meredith Efken is going to be joining us! We couldn't be more excited. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased by emailing

2.) Facebook Challenge: In case you didn't know, One Body One Hope now has a Facebook Causes page. Since we are a registered non-profit, we can receive online donations through Pay-Pal. In the next few weeks, we are going to challenge our Facebook followers to give $5 to the cause. It's a tiny amount, but if everyone does it (or feels led to give more!) we could raise $580. Double that amount thanks to our donor, and suddenly $1,160 is no laughing matter. I encourage you to join our cause on Facebook and give up your latte for just one day. Princess, Lovette, Amos, Benjamin, Quessay, and Immanuel will thank you. Of course, so will the rest of the kids at the orphanage. :)

3.) Spread the Word Initiative: We want to raise awareness about One Body One Hope! Even if you can't come to our Benefit or give at this time, we would be so thrilled if you would spread the word. Many of you have blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, or other social networking avenues. We'd be honored if you'd take a minute to link us up and let your friends know about our ministry. If you are willing to do this, please leave a comment after this post! I'll randomly draw from everyone who leaves a comment and send one lucky winner a One Body One Hope t-shirt, calendar, and some of our handmade, goat-milk soaps. It's a pretty fabulous package.

Anyway, thanks for reading! Your prayers and support mean the world to me...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FFW: Social Networking

As you may or may not know, I spent three days last week in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Wow. Words cannot describe... Three days of total immersion into every aspect of writing: creativity, faith, discipline, editing, promotion, networking, and on and on. I'm still reeling, but in a good way. I learned so much. And since I spend every Tuesday focusing on some aspect of writing or the publishing world, I've decided that I'm going to take the next several Tuesdays and share the best of the best of the information I gleaned from these amazing sessions. It'll be like you're there! Minus all the fabulous authors, the face-to-face contact, the buzz of excitement... Sorry about that. Oh, and it will also be minus pictures because I forgot to take my camera! What an idiot.

Today I'm going to talk about the first concurrent session I attended. It was called Facebook Revolution: How Writers Can Use Social Media to Build Their Readership. The panel was absolutely fantastic and consisted of: Jason Boyett (author and blogger), Greg Daniel (agent), Kelly Hughes (publicist), Jana Riess (editor, freelance writer, and reviewer), and Lisa Samson (author). Take a moment to check them out!

As you can tell by the title alone, this session was all about the thing I hate most: publicity. That's why I went. I figured it would be good for me. Why attend an interview with Wally Lamb or enjoy hearing Ed Dobson wax poetic on radical faith when you can learn all about successful strategies for narcissistic self-promotion? Okay, I'm being cheeky. Like I said, the panel and information were great... My publicity hang-ups are my own. The truth is, I learned a lot.

According to Kelly Hughes, social media is all about: presence, engagement, and authenticity. In this technological age, you need to use the tools at your disposal--more importantly, you need to get to know your potential audience and learn what they want and need. According to the panel, if you're not engaging your audience on-line, you've already lost the battle. Though I hate to hear those words, I can attest to their truth. Not too long ago, I heard about a book that really grabbed my attention. I eagerly went on-line to find out more about the book and the author. Much to my dismay, she didn't have a website. I felt cheated, and didn't buy the book. Honestly, if she would have had a website and an entertaining blog, she easily could have turned me into a fan for life. And I'm a fiercely loyal fan...

All the same, I'll admit that after an hour of listening to these bright, engaging people speak, I was tempted to crawl into a hole and stay there. Not that I'm such an introvert. In fact, I'm quite extroverted. But even after all these years I still cringe at the thought of "hawking my wares" (i.e. myself). It's just not something that I can get used to. So, where does this all leave me?

Right back where I started... As much as I enjoyed the session, after several days of mulling it over I've decided that I still need to be true to myself. Maybe I'd get more followers on my blog, friends on my Facebook page, or people who will buy my books if I start a Twitter account. But I'll also have less time with my boys, less time to write, and less respect for myself. Not that there is anything wrong with Twitter. But if I did it, it wouldn't be because I want to or because I feel compelled to do so. It would be because someone once told me that it would help me build a platform. Frankly, I don't want to build a platform. I want to write books. Good books. Books that people will hopefully love. And yes, I realize that no one is going to buy my books if I'm not actively participating in publicity. But I'm comfortable with what I'm doing. I like blogging. I like updating my Facebook page. I like meeting people. And I'd like to think that God is going to have his way with my life and my books--whether or not I turn into the Queen of Self Promotion. Which isn't going to happen. I'm content to live in the balance.

Your Turn: If you write, how do you feel about the prospect of self-promotion? And if you're a reader, how engaged do you like your authors to be? Is it a turn-off when authors seem to constantly be self-promoting?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bedtime Conversations

Earlier this week I was tucking my three-year-old into bed. We were laying nose to nose, enjoying a few minutes of precious snuggle time. (He's a toddler--he doesn't usually do the snuggle thing. I have to wrestle him for a hug.) Anyway, we were exchanging kisses. Butterfly kisses, Eskimo kisses, cheek-to-cheek kisses, you name it. Oh, how I love my boys' bedtime! This particular night was pure bliss. Until...

Toddler: Mom?

Me: Yeah, Honey?

Toddler: Will you pick my nose?

Me: What? No. Absolutely not. I'm not going to pick your nose.

Toddler: Why not?

Me: Because that's yucky. If you have to blow your nose, use a tissue. Do you have to blow your nose?

Toddler: No. I just want you to pick it.

Me: NO.

Toddler: (playing with my hand) Your fingers are too big. They won't fit in my nose.

Me: You're right. See? I can't pick your nose.

Toddler: (sticking his finger in my nose out of the blue) But my fingers are little. I can pick your nose!

Oh, joy. My own personal gold digger. ;)

Your turn: Have your kids wowed you with any doozies lately? I'd love to know I'm not the only mother whose son is obsessed with bodily functions... (Including but not limited to: belches, farts, boogies, ear wax, toe lint, and belly button fuzz. This is also the child who waves goodbye to his poopy, sighing "there goes all my hard work" when he flushes the toilet. His father and I are very proud.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Makin' the Switch...

So it's official. After years of wondering and months of plotting and planning... I'm a Mac Girl. We've been waiting for the new Mac computers to come out, and when IBM announced their updated line on Tuesday, we were ready. Actually, Aaron was ready...

He came home after work with a new backpack for me. A computer backpack since I get such a shoulder ache from lugging around my four-year-old (and 40 pound) IBM Thinkpad. I was ecstatic about the  backpack, but when he settled in on my shoulders I realized that it was too heavy to be empty. Aaron told me that my old computer was in the case, and since I needed to get some work done I opened the pack to find... my new computer! He bought one of the last three "old" models in the store for a deep discount. How cool is that? Apparently, the guys at the Mac store told him that the last of the old models would be gone by the time they closed that night. Yikes. People like their Macs.

So... Is it all it's cracked up to be? We'll see. So far, I love it. It's user-friendly, the screen is backlit and crystal clear, and it automatically converted my old files. Cool. I'm still figuring many things out, and I'm sure I will be for a long time to come. And right now I miss some of my IBM standbys--like my little "Page Up" and "Page Down" keys. Boo. But learning curve aside, I'm ready to kiss the blue screen of death goodbye. I was actually just having a moment with my old computer when an illegal operation was performed and it shut down my current work in progress. Grrrr. That would explain why I'm writing this post on my new Mac...

Your turn: IBM or Mac??? Why?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Continuing Ed

Last Tuesday's post was all about research, what I would consider to be one of the toughest parts of writing. I'm all flash and glitter, creativity and fun. When I write I like to feel it, which is about as artsy-fartsy a statement as you could make. Yup, I am that woman. That wide-eyed, believes-in-magic, soul-searching artist. I'm okay with that. I've come to grips with the fact that my wanton creativity means I cringe at words like: deadline, research, publicity, and synopsis. But my bold artistic streak means I also adore words like: refresh, renew, and connect. And that's exactly what I get to do this week.

Tomorrow I'm hopping on a jet plane bound for Grand Rapids, Michigan where I'll be attending the Festival of Faith and Writing. If you've never been to the Festival, run, don't walk, to the nearest calendar and put a big X on April of 2012. Yeah, I'm sorry to say that registration is closed this year, and the Festival won't happen again until 2012. Bummer, eh? But that doesn't mean you shouldn't eagerly anticipate your chance to go... It's that good.

Why is it so good? Hmmm... It's hard to quantify what I learn at the Festival. More than anything I suppose it's an opportunity to connect with other authors and be inspired. It's a time to celebrate creativity, explore diversity, and expand my literary horizons. I come away from the festival feeling like a different person--a better author, a more informed reader, an artist who is better able once again to make that ever-present connection between my art and my God. How could they ever be divided? And yet, sometimes they are.

I'm convinced that the Festival of Faith and Writing (and others like it) are the author's form of continuing ed. When I was a teacher we were required to attend Professional Development (Pro-D) Days. There were classes to complete, courses to take, and new methodologies to learn. Most careers have some form of continuing ed built right into their very fabric. But as an author, no one requires me to take classes on my craft. It's something I elect to do on my own because I always want to be growing and developing as a writer. And I believe that all writers need to seek out these opportunities...

So, off to the Festival I go! Hooray! I'll blog about it next week since I have posts ready to go for the rest of this week. I promise pictures. And I promise I'll try to condense the best of the best from these days away and share it all with you.

Your turn: If you write, what do you do to keep your craft fresh and vibrant? Or, how do you keep your passion alive in any (and every) area of your life? If you're a stay-at-home mom, what refreshes you? What encourages you to be a better mom? What about if you're a photographer, a secretary, a student? What constitutes continuing ed in your life?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Baby Baart

Here is our wee one at 25-26 weeks and nearly 2 pounds. I know I'm the mommy, but WOW. Aren't ultrasounds cool?!?

Thursday, April 8, 2010


My oldest son is six and a half years old. Since he's a typical boy (part superhero, part wild child, and part animal), you'd think that the Baarts would be old pros at the ER thing. Never mind the fact that our second son is the three and a half year old equivalent of Evil Knievel. Between the two of them and the years we've been parenting, we should have accumulated a long list of hospital visits, broken bones, and stitches. But we haven't. In fact, far from it.

We've never been to the ER. Our sons were not sick once this year. Yup, you read that right: not once. No colds, flus, or sinus infections. No broken arms, accidents, or bumps on the head. In fact, as far as we know our youngest has never once had a fever. Amazing, isn't it?

Well, you knew it was only a matter of time... Our baby got stitches last night. Three of them on his brow bone. The worst part? It was my fault.

In the ER last night:

Doctor: What happened, Buddy?

My Son: I wan into da banis-tuh.

Doctor: The banister?

My Son: Uh-huh.

Doctor: Why did you run into the banister?

My Son: Because my mommy said I had to go upstairs and pick up my toys. I didn't want to, but she made me.

Oh! The mommy-guilt! I'm tempted to never make him pick up his toys again. But then again, he's pretty proud of his Frankenstien stripes. Scars are cool, right? I'm just hoping that this one trip was an anomaly... Please, Lord, let this not be a growing trend in the Baart house.

Your turn: Tell me about your best ER visit! I got stitches when I was three, and apparently my dad almost passed out in the procedure room. The doctor made him go sit outside. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Happy Tuesday!

As I promised, today kicks off the new format for my blog. Since I like mornings, the start of the week, and new beginnings, it makes sense for me to blog about "work" on Tuesdays. And I'm starting off today with a writing doozie: research.

Though I'm no research guru, I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm about to become one... My sixth book (my first book for my new publisher, Simon & Schuster), is very loosely based on a true story. And this story is going to require a lot of me, both intellectually and emotionally. So, where to begin? The task seems daunting to say the least.

After speaking to other authors, attending seminars at writing conferences, and perusing books on the subject, I've come up with my own three-step approach to research. Take it for what it's worth, or use it and modify it to fit your specific needs! I believe research is a vital, necessary part of any good book (even if only minimal research is needed), and I'm convinced a story that has been eagerly investigated, studied, and explored will be much richer and filled with nuance and meaning. Come on, how many of you have read a poorly researched book and rolled your eyes at the author's obvious lack of knowledge on the subject? It's almost embarrassing. Anyway, as I face the seemingly insurmountable task of becoming an expert on Alaska, flying a bush plane, grieving the loss of a spouse, and falling in love again, these are the guidelines I'll be using for my research.

1. Live it.
Ever heard the expression "write what you know"? Although I don't buy that wholesale, I do think it contains valuble advice. I once read a book by a man in which he described in detail the process of childbirth through the eyes a woman. 'Scuse me? It just didn't ring true. My rule is, whenever possible, do yourself the favor of writing about things that you know intimately.

To that end, I'm on my way to Alaska! The tickets are booked, the interviews are lined up, and yup, I'm going to put my life in the hands of a real, live Alaskan bush pilot. Though I have to stay below 6,000 feet because of the baby, I'm really excited. But some people have asked me why I feel the need to fly across the continent for research... To me, it's a no-brainer. How can I capture the essence of Alaska (the scent of the air, the height of the trees, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore) if I've never been there? How can I explain what it's like to fly in a bush plane over the mountains if I've never done that? I can't. At least, not convincingly. Thus, off to Anchorage I go.

2. Experience it vicariously.
Can't fly to Alaska? Or grieve the death of your spouse (I certainly hope not), or know what it feels like to have a disabled child? I believe that if you can't manufacture an experience, the next-best thing you could do is spend time with someone who has lived it. Get yourself a primary resource, someone whose insight and knowledge can give your characters depth and meaning.

I might be going up in a bush plane, but that certainly doesn't make me a pilot. Since I know absolutely nothing about what it takes to fly in the wilds of Alaska, I have "interviews" (i.e. long talks over pints of beer--for them, not me) scheduled with pilots and other Alaskan natives. I am looking forward to these interactions so much! I can't wait to glean wisdom from these amazing people.

3. Learn about it.
I think this is the first place that many people look for information, and though I'm as happy as anyone about the amount of data at my fingertips thanks to the wonders of the World-Wide Web, I'm disappointed in our unswerving reliance on it. Wikipedia seems to have replaced experience. Why ask an expert (i.e. talk to a real person) when I can Google it? Boo. And yet, sometimes you do need to research the traditional way by hitting the books (or the keys).

Between the flying, the interviews, and the all-around Alaska experience, I will also be spending some time at the Loussac Library in Anchorage. Apparently, they have an entire wing dedicated to Alaskan heritage and folklore--including journals and historical documents. I get chills just thinking about it.

Well, that's my master plan. I know I'll hardly be an expert by the end of my short trip, but I hope to garner enough knowledge and experience to give my book the authentic feel that I believe it needs. And don't worry, I promise to take tons of pictures and post all about my time in the great white north. :)

Your turn: Do you think research is important? Have you ever read a poorly researched book and known that the author was full of it? What about if you write...? How do you research? Do you consider it important? Or am I expecting too much of myself (and other writers)?