{Life is Art} Project: Week Six

Sorry I haven’t been as consistent this week! I had so many things to write about (and an amazing interview to post!) but I felt led to take a little time off to pray, seek guidance, and deal with a few things going on in my life. But I’m back! And I still feel incredibly blessed.

So many photoshoots this week. SO MANY PHOTOSHOOTS.

Including some of my favorites ever. Like this one.

And this one. Does God smile when He creates families like these?

Ruthie came to me one morning and offered to read aloud a chapter out of the book of Mark. And my heart melted, and I remembered just how important it is to have the faith of a child. Eager, questioning, and simple.

So many moments of laughter and sunshine. A crazy week,  a stressful week, but a beautiful one nonetheless.

How was your week beautiful?

-Rachel

The Romance of a Non-Romance

I’ve watched a lot of Hallmark movies. I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit this. Mostly it’s because we have a limited number of tv shows and channels that we feel comfortable watching, and as we’ve yet to encounter any one-night-stands, obsessive drinking, or cursing in a Hallmark movie, we’ve generally just deemed them as safe. And boy, have I gotten some good laughs out of Hallmark movies. The cheesy airport makeup scenes, the handsome and chivalrous doctors, the broken off engagements and whirlwind unexpected romances. And in places like Ireland, Seattle, and Christmastown, USA no less. Nothing beats the tacky, glorious sappiness of a Hallmark film.

That being said, I have a bone to pick with Hallmark. I think that if Hallmark was going to produce a truly meaningful, beautiful movie truly describing what a true romance looks like, it would have to be just the opposite. A non-romance.

Every little girl dreams of being swept off her feet by a handsome prince and carried off on horseback to a magical place. I know I did. Then she grows up and realizes that she’s five-foot-eight and stands taller than most of her male friends when she’s wearing heels. She learns that princes are either rebellious or balding, that doctors and lawyers work too much to take off any decent vacation time, and that even the strongest horse is uncomfortable to ride for too long. That every sunset sets and after the credits have rolled, you’re left in an uncomfortable evening gown wandering around on horseback in the dark with someone who may or may not think your puns are funny. But he’s handsome and he’s rich and he’s tall enough to sweep you off your feet, so that’s all that really matters, right?

Wrong.

Love isn’t about finding someone who’s handsome and intelligent and ambitious and tying yourself to his dreams for the rest of your life. It isn’t even about seeking someone godly or theological or morally better than you. It’s definitely not about tying yourself down to your “best friend” so that you always have someone to share a chummy laugh with at the end of the day.

Love’s a process. It’s not always laughs, it’s not always kisses, and it’s not always a romance. At least I don’t think it is. You all are probably laughing at me because I’m an Emily Dickinson-reading homeschool graduate who’s been on less dates than she can count on a single hand, but I’m serious here. I’ve had just enough experience to know that you can’t fall for someone’s intelligence, charm, or physical features. It just doesn’t work that way.

What you can do is learn someone slowly. You can read them like a book, jumping in and racing through the pages to discover and anticipate what’s coming next. Then, just when  you think you’ve got it all figured out, you can re-read them. You learn you’ve changed, or maybe they’ve changed, and everything seems different the second time around. Better. You notice new things. You start to memorize details and moments and freckles on their face and tremors in their voice. You laugh and you cry and you go crazy from the boredom while still reeling in the newness of every unexpected thought and feeling.

For those of you who are writers, of books or Hallmark movies, or romantics with boyfriends or cats, keep this in mind. Don’t try to make everything a romance. Certainly there’s moments of beauty in unexpected kisses on ferris wheels and hidden notes in the knolls of trees. But there’s something to be said of sharing a coke with someone. Of sitting on a bench and watching the world go by in silence. The comfort of not having to try, the solidity of not needing to touch, and the appreciation that comes with just loving someone.

It’s a concept I’m still trying to develop in my own books, and who knows? Maybe I’ll grow up and fall in love and learn that it was all just a figment of my imagination. That the moments folding clothes together and eating Ritz crackers and cheese mean little to nothing.

Or maybe I’ll learn the opposite. Maybe I’ll learn that every pre-conceived concept my teenage mind ever made up of love was just a shadow barely reaching toward the real thing. That driving in the car, sitting on the end of the dock, and making fun of the dumb pictures on cereal boxes are infinitely better when you’re doing it with someone who knows your heart.

I guess only time will tell.

-Rachel

 

When You Can’t Find a Time Machine

I write historical fiction. I’m pretty sure it’s the one genre I’ll always come back to. Even if I take a break from time to time and dip my toes in the world of sci-fi, fantasy, or contemporary fiction, there’s something about a trip to the past that will work for me every time.

I love immersing myself in another time and culture. Filling my story with glimpses into life in foreign eras, whether it’s music, movies, fashion, or books. It’s interesting and exciting.

That being said, it is also hard. Why? Because I have yet to find a working time machine that operates outside of a cheesy teen movie. I haven’t spent a single breathing moment in the 1940’s, or Ancient Egypt, or the Wild West. So, obviously, it requires some work to create a realistic story in those settings. Work and research.

Ugh, now I’ve done it. I’ve made you think of school, which you were trying to forget about in your anticipation of a fun-filled weekend. But research is something that most definitely exists out of school, and is especially important if you want to be a successful writer.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are writing this wonderful, thrilling, touching novel set in the 1960’s. Everything is good and fine. You have a great plot line, charismatic characters, and a fantastic ending. But what about all the filler details? When your main character wakes up in the morning, would she reach for blue jeans or a dress? If she started her car, would it have a radio in it? Would her windows have screens, or would she sit on the sill with them flung wide open? If someone called her on the telephone, could she take it in her bedroom, or would she have to stand there wrapping the cord around her finger?

Every time you start a story set in another time period, there are so many little details to think about. And honestly, it can really make your head spin. That’s why I suggest research. But not just the boring school type! Sure, it’s important to know who was president at the time and what was going on in the world, but it’s equally important to understand what kind of shows were playing on T.V. and what kind of cereal was most popular at the breakfast table.

Those are the details that make or break a book. They ground us and make us feel like part of the story. Immersed in that culture. And they are the kind of details that can’t be found in a history textbook. So this is where the interesting part comes in, okay? You get to do fun research. For me, research means watching black-and-white movies, listening to old music, picking up vintage magazines at thrift stores, and talking to my grandparents and their friends about life when they were kids. I have gotten some of my best information about life in the 40’s, 60’s, and other eras by just talking to people who have lived through it. Asking them what it was like to walk to school or sew their own prom dresses.

The same thing could also work for the nineteenth century or earlier, though! Just look for journals kept by adventurers or preachers or pioneers to discover what life was like in their world. Look for old Sears catalogs to discover what toys kids might have enjoyed and what technologies would have been available in that time period.

When it comes to historical writing, there is no one-size-fits-all mold. The research that works for me may or may not work for you. But I’d like to encourage you to think about the smaller details of your character’s life and discover what that would have been like. Look to magazines, movies, journals, and newspapers published in that time period and lose yourself in that culture. You may have never stepped into the 1930’s, but after a while, you’ll start feeling like you know it so well that Fred and Ginger might as well step in for tea sometime!

*

Just to get your imagination rolling, I thought I’d list some things to think about and research for your historical novel:
  • Where does your character shop? At a big department store? At a milliners? Does her mother make her clothes? Would she have modern conveniences like zippers and denim, or is she laced into a corset and all buttoned up?
  • How many vehicles would a typical American household have during this time? Would your characters parents each own separate cars? Would walking or biking be more common than driving? What kind of cars would they own at their price range?
  • Think about the technology. Would they have running water? Heated showers? Cordless telephones? Televisions or radios?
  • What kind of cereals would be popular at that time? Would your character be more likely to reach for Cracker Jacks or Fruit Loops?
  • Fast food chains may or may not have been around in your story. Where would your character go if she wants to grab a bite to eat? A drive-in diner? A café? A home-style family restaurant?
  • What would homes do in the winter? Was there indoor heating, or would they have to rely in fireplaces, heavy blankest, and wool socks to keep warm? What about in the summer?
  • Who were the key movie stars of the time? What dreamy star would make your character’s knees go weak? Whose hair did she try to emulate? What movie would she want to watch over and over again?
  • What kinds of things did kids do for fun? Before video games and shopping malls, how would teens have spent their time? From drive-in movies, ice skating rinks, state fairs, and tractor rides, what would your character do on the weekend?
  • What was the role of women in that era? Would your character’s mother be more likely to work in an office, or stay at home? Would girls be encouraged to go to college and pursue careers, or marry young and have children?
  • Does your character go to church? What are some hymns she would have known? Would she be expected to sit rigidly still, or would she enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere?

I’m sure you can think of many more examples to explore and think about, but that was just a little glimpse some of the things to consider when writing historical fiction. It may seem like tedious, hard work, but trust me—it really can be fun!

-Rachel

{Life is Art} Project: Week Five

I don’t think I’ve ever done this many photoshoots in one week before. A grand total of five photoshoots in seven days. No wonder I feel absolutely exhausted and unbelievably happy this morning! I got to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world this past week, and I was so blessed to have the chance to capture the love and personalities of these beautiful families.

Meditating this week on the words to one of my favorite songs. “My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name.” Is my heart choosing to bless His name every single day?

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – J. M. Barrie – Peter Pan

Words cannot explain how much I love these people. I grew up next door to Clyde and Valerie, and their five boys. And nothing makes me smile more than being around them, watching them laugh, and feeling like I’m surrounded by family.

They now have a beautiful granddaughter, Addison Grace, who is the sweetest thing you’ll ever see.

And then she patted his back… And my heart melted into a warm pile of mush.

I ended the week thinking, once more, that Saturday mornings are the best time of the week. For obvious reasons. Banana nut waffles being one of them.

-Rachel

A Spirited Soul: Amanda Roose

There’s an old song by the Oak Ridge Boys that I absolutely hate called “Freckles.” It’s cheesy and completely reminiscent of the eighties and played at a speed slow enough to make you just sort of stand there and sway on the dance floor. I can’t stand those kind of songs. But there is one line in it that I always thought was kind of beautiful, and that completely makes me think of Amanda. “There’s a rainbow in your face.”

Amanda Roose is a rainbow-faced person. She’s beautiful and warm and independent and freckled–all of the things I love to see in a woman wrapped up in one. And she’s completely in love with Jesus and has a spirit of passion like few people I have ever had the chance to meet.

I met Amanda for a late lunch last Saturday at one of her favorite spots in Richmond. I liked her right off the bat because she ordered pancakes (my favorite) and didn’t seem to give a whit about eating breakfast at one-thirty in the afternoon. “I never ate breakfast,” she laughed, “I’m entitled to breakfast, no matter what time it is!”

We stumbled through the initial startings of an interview–me scribbling down notes in a fabric covered notebook and her laughing about how awkward it felt to have someone recording her every word. I asked her to tell me about her family, and found out that the story of her childhood was a lot like mine! She grew up as the oldest of three girls, and because her parents didn’t come to Christ until she was a few years old, she jokingly calls herself the “guinea pig” in a lot of areas. She admits that as a teenager she struggled with rebellion and a desire for independence. “I just wanted to choose things myself, you know?” Um, yes. I do actually. I told her that I think we all do, to some degree, and she made a funny face. “I got saved at church camp when I was a teenager. I know it sound so cheesy and clichéd but don’t laugh: It can happen!”

I wanted to hear about how Amanda’s life changed after she got saved, but I was completely unprepared to hear her share about everything that went on in her life over the next few years. When she was only eighteen, her best friend since kindergarten was killed in a car crash. As the interviewer, I wasn’t sure what to say or ask. How do you request that someone describes what had to be some of the most terrible, painful, and bitter moments of their life? “It was just unbelievable,” Amanda shrugs. “You just think to yourself, ‘This is not real life’.” She describes the storm of emotions that marked both her physical and spiritual life at the time. “When you’re trying to work through grief and process it in a healthy manner, you find that it just doesn’t happen. It’s just too hard to see both the reality of the situation and the reality of God at the same time. But you have to figure out how to do that.”

Amanda praises God for the beautiful little blessings He gifted her with at the time, such as newfound friendships and the ability to share the Gospel at her friend’s funeral, where there was a predominately Jewish audience, but she admits that she struggled all over again when her own mother was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor only two short years later, and soon after passed away.

“Do you ever ‘get good’ at grieving?” I asked her. “Do you learn how to better process it each time something terrible happens?”

Amanda pauses and slowly shakes her head, poking at the now-cold hashbrowns on her plate. “You’re changing every day. I was a different person at the time of my mom’s death, and I had to work through the whole thing in a completely different way.” She presses her lips together and I know that it’s hard to talk about, but I can also see that expressing what she felt in that time is almost surreal for Amanda. Even she admits that it feels like it happened so long ago. Like she’s looking back through a warped concept of time and emotions.

“You have to learn that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.” She explains how, at only twenty years old, she found herself as the oldest female in her family and desperately tried to help and comfort her younger siblings. “I know that anytime someone dies, people are looking for a source of peace. And I want to be that for them! But I don’t have to. I can be afraid sometimes. It’s okay to not be okay.”

I think about the loved ones that I have lost in my own life, and how that sense of pain and grief has pushed me to draw closer to the Lord and to follow His leading in my life. And it seems like Amanda has felt the same sense of calling, too. She has an amazing passion for missions work, and her eyes fill with light and joy when she talks about her experiences serving the needy, both in the US and in nations like Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Ukraine. She was blessed with the opportunity to spend a whole year in California at a missions-based school and she admits that it was a humbling experience for her to learn that she wasn’t the only passionate, ambitious young person in the world. “Whoop! Not on a pedestal anymore,” she laughs. “The world is full of young emerging leaders. It’s not just me.”

But these days, her primary focus is on helping in her local community, and reaching out to touch the hearts and lives around her. “I love the fellowship–hearing people’s stories. That’s what I’m here for.” She doesn’t have a ”special country” or a “favorite people group”. And she confesses that she used to struggle with that, until she realized that she didn’t have to fall in love with one specific place in order to have a love for God’s people. ”I used to pray–God give me a country!” she laughs. “But He didn’t. And that’s okay. He’s taught me how to love people I didn’t have a love for, and that’s way more powerful in my eyes.”

I thought love sounded like an interesting topic, especially in the light of everything I’ve seen on Amanda’s facebook page in the last couple weeks. How does Amanda feel about *cough cough* loooooove?

She’s head over heels. His name is Peter, and she thinks he’s the one. Her eyes get all sparkly when she talks about him and she even pulls out her phone to show me pictures and to read old Facebook messages. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a perfect match, and her face turns really pretty shades of pink when she goes through the story of how they met. Apparently they’d known each other for six or seven years before they started dating, and she never in a million years thought she’d ever give him a chance.

“He messaged my sister and asked how he could become my friend!” she laughed. “No one had ever done that before! We were totally freaking out. I felt so awkward around him. I was not interested back.” She can’t stop laughing as she recalls their first few conversations and the awkward beginnings of their friendship. “He kept Facebook messaging me, and he was like, ‘What are your views on gun control?’ I mean, are you serious??? I’m not going to talk about gun control with you over Facebook!”

She rolls her eyes and smiles. “I was so put-offish. He got discouraged and finally backed off. But then, I realized… I kind of wanted to get to know him better.” She claims they bonded over a similar taste in music, and that once he got her phone number, they talked every single day. “It’s funny how quickly the tables can turn, once you give somebody a chance.”

As a single young woman who very clearly needs relationship advice, I asked Amanda what she’s learned through her experiences with Peter. She pauses and then says, “I learned that the guy doesn’t have to initiate everything. I knew how Peter felt about me, but he was shy and didn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable. And so I would text him and ask him out to coffee. It didn’t make me feel any less loved or less pursued. It just worked better that way for us.”

Amanda is a young woman who is absolutely glowing with love, happiness, and the kind of peace that can only be found when you’re completely wrapped up in Christ. I kept sitting back and thinking, “Wow,” the whole time I was talking with her. Wow, this is a woman who loves Jesus. Wow, this is a woman who is passionate about working in her community. Wow, this is a woman who is going to make some lucky man a very beautiful and godly wife one day.

I asked her what simple pleasures she’s enjoying in her life right now. “Penny’s laugh when I tickle her. French press in the morning. Warm blankets and fuzzy socks.” She laughs, her nose crinkling up. “When I feel warm, I feel Jesus!”

A waitress comes to take the check and bring Amanda a Styrofoam box for the remainders of her pancakes and hashbrowns. She smiles, half to herself, and tucks her wildly curly hair behind her ear. “I feel like I’m at a stage in life where so many things are close to happening. But God is teaching me about contentedness. Some of my best days haven’t happened yet, but today is a best day. I’m alive and breathing and God’s love is pursuing me.”

“And that makes it one of the best days of my life.”

-Rachel

 

{If you want to hear more about Amanda in her own words, check out her blog! She’s an amazing writer. I assure you, you will be blessed!}

What Authors Need

I was doing some thinking this week on what it means to be an author. Obviously, as a writer, I feel called by God to tell stories and share my feelings and emotions with the world. I have so much on my heart and it just overflows into stories, books, and blog posts.

But the world is a tough place for an author. You spend so much time, energy, and commitment on a story and you feel like everything is just perfect. And so you publish your little book and send it out into the world for critics, fans, and readers both young and old.

As the reviews roll in, your heart is a palpitating mushy mess and you have to physically stop yourself from jumping on Goodreads and Amazon every single day to see what people are saying about your sad little masterpiece. And yet, you can’t help but feeling amazed and blessed and completely flabbergasted when you find out that people actually liked your book. What? Someone actually enjoyed reading my ramblings? Could it be?

You’re happier than you ever thought you could be. People like you, people like your book, and God is obviously blessing your efforts!

But being an author isn’t that simple.

I wish that every single writer penned an absolutely brilliant first novel that skyrocketed to the top of the New York Times bestselling list and catalyzed their long and prosperous career. But that’s not the case. The reality of the matter is that being an author is hard. And at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how many great reviews and awards and magazine mentions you’ve garnered for yourself.

If people aren’t buying your books, you can’t continue being an author.

It feels so vulnerable to be *that person* getting online and asking (ahem–begging) people to buy their books, but that’s what I’m doing today. I personally feel a little bit ashamed for every time I’ve absolutely loved a book or raved about an author, and didn’t buy it. Because what good is that going to do? What’s the good in praising a book if you’re not even willing to take a single step toward making more books like that possible?

I really want to write more books for you guys. I have so many stories to tell and ideas jumbled up in my brain that I’m dying to get out on paper. And so I’m hoping that you can help me out. Please buy my books. If you’ve enjoyed one of my little stories (or if you’ve always wanted to read one) then buy it. Show a little support!

Authors need readers. We need people to buy our books, and give us love, and show us support. It’s terrible and I wish that it wasn’t like that, but unfortunately this is just how the world works. And so I would like to thank all of you for being there when I need you! For supporting me and encouraging me. Thank you so, so much for buying my books. I hope one day to give you many more!

You can buy “Chasing Jupiter” here, here, and here. And you can buy “Interrupted” here, here, and here!

And if you’re interested in buying a signed hardback version of either book, just send me an email at rachelcokerwrites@hotmail.com and I’ll hook you up!

-Rachel

No Shame

Ready for a sob story? I used to get teased because I wore glasses. In addition to all of the other absolutely charming names people decided to call me when I was younger, (among them “giraffe”, “little girlie”, and “hot dog”–no idea how that last one got started) “four-eyes” was a popular favorite amongst the boys. Yep, from the time I was seven to age thirteen, I wore glasses every single day.

And I hated it.

I hated the way I looked in glasses. I thought it was terrible that no boys ever paid me attention, that no girls ever called me “pretty” and that hardly anyone wanted to be my friend. I was tall, frizzy-haired, and viewing the world from behind a pair of wire framed specs. And I was pretty miserable.

Long story short, I got contacts the very first day I was allowed to. It took me over an hour to figure out how to get them in, but I sat at the optometrist’s office unmovingly, absolutely determined to make them work. And so, a few short days after my thirteenth birthday, my glasses were gone. They were nothing but a pair of lenses that I slipped on late at night before I went to bed, and early in the morning before I had breakfast.

And this was my life for years. I was a new person with contacts. A person who wore makeup and actually looked good in photos and made friends. I put away all the old photos of me with my glasses and did my absolute best not to let anyone but my closest girlfriends see that side of me.

Until about two years ago, when I discovered I had a slight rip in my eye that made wearing contacts out of the question for a solid week. Normally, this wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal, but I was absolutely horrified. I had to wear my glasses to work, to church, and out with friends. I was absolutely miserable, and felt like everyone was staring at me the whole time. A few people actually liked the glasses, but the number of funny looks and questions I received made me feel awkward, dorky, and twelve years old all over again.

And then came my senior year. And I was interested in a guy who didn’t like my glasses at all. And even though he made me feel pretty and cute and nice most of the time, I absolutely refused to let him see me without makeup or without my contacts. I felt like I was hiding a part of who I really was, and I struggled with what would happen if things did end up working out between us (they didn’t) and I had to wake up every morning next to someone who didn’t like the way I looked at seven am. Glasses and all.

I thought I had struggled through all of my insecurities. I was pretty sure I’d gotten everything behind me and I was okay with my pale skin and I loved my curly hair and I didn’t mind wearing heels that made me practically six feet tall. Until allergy season came this year and forced me to pull out my glasses again. And all of the feelings of self-consciousness and discontentment came flooding back. I knew that this was how God made me, but it still felt hard to accept it.

Until I decided I was fed up with hating me.

Why should I feel unattractive, unpopular, or unwanted just because I wear glasses? Why should I let myself think that no guy will ever want a four-eyed version of me, or that any of my friends would be embarrassed to be seen with me just because I’m sporting a pair of specs? I wanted to be the kind of woman who felt confident in all circumstances, and who embraced the body (and the flaws) God gave me.

And so I decided that enough was enough. That the only way for me to feel secure while wearing my glasses would be to actually wear my glasses. Every day. No matter what.

This birthed a little project for me. A project that shows the world that I, Rachel Coker, am not ashamed of the way God made me! I’m imperfect and awkward and dorky at times, but I also want to be confident and beautiful and Christ-like. And so I decided that for the month of November, I am going to wear my glasses every single day, no matter what.

I’m only on Day Five right now, but I’m already experiencing how wonderful it is to have the support of your family and friends backing you up. I can’t count the number of nice things people have said that have completely overruled the awkward stares and questions. And even though it’s hard to know that I’ve got to be rocking the specs for parties, church, photoshoots, and get-togethers for twenty five more days, I know that I can do it. And I might not always feel pretty, but I hope that I’ll always feel comfortable being me.

It’s No Shame November, ya’ll. And I, for one, am NOT afraid to show the world that this is how I really am.

-Rachel

{For those of you who are interested in participating too, feel free to join in! Just pledge to wear your glasses, stop straightening your hair, dress in your favorite clothes, or do anything else you’ve always felt self-conscious about for the month of November! You can follow my journey on my instagram feed, and if you decide to join in, tag me so I can watch your progress, too!}

“Dating” Your Characters

I’m a homeschooler. And, if you know anything about the homeschool community, you know that we like to make jokes about ourselves all the time. We’re very hilarious people. Anyway, one of the jokes we homeschoolers make is about how utterly unsocialized and deprived we are.

Usually these jokes are made whilst juggling multiple dates, commitments, and parties on the calendar. We’ll laugh at our overwhelmingly busy lives and say to each other, “Gosh, aren’t we so unsocialized?”

But it gets worse. Because not only am I an unsocialized homeschooler, I am also a complete weirdo who is best friends with fictional characters.

That’s right. I count among my closest companions people who aren’t real. But you know what? I’m a writer. That’s what writers do. We befriend and tell stories about people who only exist in our imaginations. But you know what else? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re a writer, too. Which means you are just as messed up as me!

But seriously, what I want to talk about today is how important it is to really know your characters. To feel like they are your best friends and to understand them that well. You see, stories are about people. Sure, they are also about events and actions and emotions but at the core of every story are the people who make it up. They are the ones you sympathize with, who you despise, who you cheer on and support. Bad character development can not only strain a story, it can unravel it.

If a story is a quilt, then the characters are surely the threads that make it up. When you look at it as a whole, you see events and a plot—the big picture or design. But when you push your nose up a little closer, tiny threads and pulls and seams come into focus. These are the traits and emotions and quirks that pull the story together. Every person and every character trait has a reason, a function. Every little detail is necessary to keep the piece together.

When I was first thinking about the plot for my book, Interrupted, Allie’s character was constantly running through my mind. It’s a funny thing, being a writer. I could visualize her in my head. I could hear the way her voice sounds. I knew her quirks and her faults.  One thing I remember being really convinced of when I was filling out my character chart for Allie. Allie was going to have rough hands. Since she was looking after her mother, her hands were the ones subjected to burns and cuts and bruises. Her mother’s hands were white and smooth. Hers were rough and worn.

Even though this particular aspect wasn’t a huge part of the book, it was very crucial to my development of Allie’s character. Her story was a story of rough hands. It was about endurance and toughness and not letting anyone see her cry. She wasn’t a soft hands kind of person. Once I realized this, other parts of the story started clicking together in my mind. She would respond to certain situations like a calloused hand. She wore her toughness like a blister, hiding the soft skin underneath. Instantly, I knew exactly how her reactions to certain circumstances and plot twists would be.

While this kind of character development may be a little anal on my part, I do know that it is a huge part of being a writer. That’s why we writers must go to extremes to develop our characters. Now what I’m about to say is going to sound a little strange, but please, bear with me:

I want you to date your characters.
(Obviously, this is a messed-up analogy, especially if your main character is a girl, but please—bear with me) When two people are in love and want to be married, where is the first place they start? They get to know each other. They find out what the other’s likes and dislikes are. They want to know their partner’s little quirks. What makes them laugh or cry or blush. They date.

It’s the same thing with your characters. They’re not just something you draw out of a figment of your imagination. It’s more important than that. They behave in ways that you don’t, and do things you’d never dream about. Therefore it’s important for you to understand them.

This may sound really weird to those of you who have never written fiction before, or who view their characters as a flat, two-dimensional object. They’re just words typed out and written on a page, nothing but stark black letters against a white background, and can change pretty much however you want them to. If that’s how you think, then stop. If that’s how you really view your characters, then your story will never have the heart that you want it to.

“Date” your characters. Really get to know them. Think about habits you’ve already given them, and consider where those habits may lead. Characters are people, too. On the outside, they may seem like one thing. But once you push past the exterior and really take a look inside, you realize that they are a lot deeper than you may have thought. They have hopes and dreams and fears.  Every little thing that they have gone through has shaped them into who they are today and prepared them for the trials they are facing right now. They have a story to tell, a story that you have to record. And even though you know you can’t do it justice, you have to write it anyway. That is writing. It’s not sitting down with a piece of paper and pencil and determining to pen the next Narnia or Lord of the Rings. It’s discovering your characters. “Meeting new people”, so to speak. And pushing through, no matter how difficult it may seem, to uncover their story and telling it the best you can. And I can guarantee you that once you can do that, you will sit back and realize that you have just written a wonderful book.

-Rachel

(P.S. This is actually an old post that I wrote over a year ago for my friend Stephanie’s blog, Go Teen Writers! If you want to learn more about writing, her site is an amazing wealth of information for teens who love to tell stories)

{Life is Art} Project: Week Four

Such a crazy week, and definitely a prime example of an East Coast autumn, at its finest. The leaves have never been prettier, and the weather has never been crazier (forty degrees one day, seventy the next). I had an insane week with multiple photoshoots, a dozen piano lessons to teach, and wifi problems that had to be sorted out last weekend (and are resolved, praise the Lord!)

This week definitely had its ups and downs, but it reminded me that life is unpredictable and beautiful. There truly is a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance. There are times to work and times to play. And there is always time to love unconditionally.

One big highlight of the week was Halloweeen. Which is unusual since our family doesn’t even celebrate Halloween. But I got invited to my first ever costume party this year! Can you guess who I dressed up as?

“It should take you four guesses to figure out who I am… I’ll give you two.”

My sister and I went on a long car-ride one evening as the sun was setting and the world was warm and golden and smiled at the sight of the sun in the trees and the chopped fields of grain. And I got the chance to take a few pictures of Hannah and capture just a glimpse of her absolutely adorable personality.

I spent some time this week reflecting on the words to one of my favorite songs… “Captivate us, dear Jesus. Set our eyes on You. Devastate us with your presence falling down. And rushing river, draw us nearer. Set our eyes on you. Captivate us, dear Jesus, with You.”

Am I devastated by Christ’s presence in my life right now?

On another note, our whole world looks like something out of a Monet painting…

We ended the week by having some dear friends over for dinner. There’s nothing that makes my heart happier than seeing our kitchen table absolutely crammed at every corner, with a piano bench for extra seating and a handful of office chairs on hand. (And Mason jars to boot!)

So thankful for the blessing of friends, and having people to eat, laugh, and spend time with.

I’m so thankful for my beautiful life, and all the nice little things I noticed about it this week. How was your week beautiful?

-Rachel

An Iconic Individual: Christa Taylor

Christa Taylor Gutschenritter (yes, that’s her real last name) has the biggest smile you will ever see. It’s absolutely beautiful. She’s known for it, too. She comes from a big family of cheerful, smiley people who will make you laugh and roll your eyes and snort rather ungracefully. We knew about each other before we ever met, because she has been like a sister to my dear friend Elaini from way back when they were in elementary school. I met Christa when I was in Portland this past summer, and I remember our first conversation as going something like this.

Me: “Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m Elaini’s friend.”

Christa: “Hi, I’m Christa. I’m also Elaini’s friend. I absolutely love your dress. I saw it across the room and was like, ‘Wow, I want that yellow dress.’”

A few days later, she was sitting cross-legged on the sofa and calling me “Rach” (“That’s okay, right? That I call you Rach?”) and babbling about the skit she had planned with her husband for the big church campout and how absolutely hilarious her husby is. And if you think she has a big, beautiful smile when you meet her, you should see it when she talks about her husband. The woman practically glows.

I asked Christa where she grew up. I was under the impression she was a Portland native, like Elaini. But she said she was raised in Vancouver, Washington, the more “sedate suburb” of hipster Portland. As one of the oldest in a family of eight kids, Christa said her childhood home was a “child’s paradise, perfect for wild-ramblings, tree-climbing, and mud-fights in the creek.” (I tried swimming in that creek. It was not warm enough for mud fights, even in July)

When she was a teenager, Christa started her own eponymous clothing line, designing cute but modest clothing inspired by retro designs. “Before Shabby Apple existed and Modcloth conceived,” Christa shared, “There was a gross lack of cute, modest clothing available. We were shopping at Chadwicks, frustrated at looking like mid-aged women or stuck eternally in denim skirts.” While I’m sure that every teenage girl, especially in the homeschool world, has quaked at the thought of looking like a twenty-first century Amish woman, few have been brave enough to take their passion for style and turn it into a brand or product like Christa did.

“It was my resolution to start a clothing line that would fix all those ills in one fell swoop.”

When hearing her share about her life and accomplishments throughout the years, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by it all. Did she ever feel ostracized or singled out as a teenager for being so “different” and innovative? I’m pretty sure Christa laughs at the idea. “When you grow up with Harris twins as your buddies, and the expectations that you’re going to “change the world” I didn’t feel all that different. My friends were extra-ordinary, and as the saying goes- ‘you are who your friends are’. Perhaps this is a rarity, but all the same, it was true for me. Perhaps I’m so ‘different’ I never realized it, like a fish knowing it’s wet.” She’s humble, though, and she admits that there were struggles and moments of difficulty through it all. “Don’t let your worth or identity be found in your business,” she advises me, “But Christ alone! Solo Deo Gloria.” I’m quickly learning that is her motto.

Even if Christa isn’t still designing dresses for a living (although I’d love to find out if she’s still doing that as a favor for special friends… I’d also love to figure out how to be a special friend), she’s still as passionate and innovative as ever.

These days, the newlywed is busy running her own photography business. If you’ve ever checked out her website or stalked her on Facebook, then you probably already know just how brilliant and talented this woman is.

“Being a photographer is like having a secret ability to expose who a person really is,” Christa shares. “The experience of photographing someone is like unraveling the façade they put up on a daily basis and revealing the inner diamond. The best part is seeing it happen before your eyes…”

I asked her if she thought photography was something she could use to glorify God in her life and her answer was bubbly and excited. “Photography is what I was made to do–at least one of them. It’s creative, dynamic, and completely exhilarating. Yahweh was the ultimate creative genius. When I capture an epic moment, it’s like we enjoy and reflect who He made us as ‘mini’ creators.”

I think about the Christa I met in Portland and how sparkly her eyes are and her voice vibrates with laughter as she talks about photography, her husband, and her love of yellow dresses. And I realize that she’s absolutely right. We are all made to create something. God created this world as a beautiful place, and He expects us to continue sharing, crafting, and documenting that beauty. These moments, and these people, that He has placed around us are to be enjoyed and celebrated!

Christa gets this. Christa laughs with joy in her eyes. She makes crazy faces and kisses her husband in public and isn’t afraid to lug around a heavy camera bag and coax shy couples into getting even closer.

She also appreciates the little things in life. I asked her what makes her happy and she answered, “A clean bathroom. Fuzzy socks. The gentle nuzzle of my husband on my neck. Leaf stomping. Whip cream. Riding my bike without handles. Dreaming of our new house. Edison bulbs. ”

Christa reminds me that smiling is important. That passion is key. And that love–for our families, our spouses, and the people God placed around us–is the necessary ingredient that we really all do need in life.

-Rachel