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Category: Creative Writing Insights

CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “The Christian Author and the Art of Writing”

I thought I knew how to write a children’s picture book. I didn’t. I attended the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference several years ago with my manuscript The Donkey and the King. I anticipated an editor might gasp with delight at the wonderful story and beg me to sign a contract right on the spot. I imagined floating out of the conference in storybook land and racing home in my red firebird, patting myself on the shoulder for my creativity and talent. Yawn. We’ve all had visions of grandeur.

When do we realize, if ever, we aren’t as good as we think we are? The best of us needs critiquing, teaching, input from others, and wise advice from those who have gone before. Rare is the writer who comes along and is so gifted he sweeps anyone off his feet. More than likely, the author will land on his buttocks when an editor points out all the flaws in his “Nobel prize-winning piece.” Or worse, his book or article may not even be fit to be fetched to the dogs (I know, too much hyperbole, but you get my point).

The truth is writing is hard. Rules need to be followed until you learn them. You can decide which ones you want to break once you have mastered the techniques. I was a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature at the time, but I was very much a newbie. For starters, I needed a critique group. There wasn’t one in my city, so I formed one. Word Weavers is the best writer’s group that’s entered the writing arena in the last few years. To find a Word Weavers group in your area, go to: http://www.word-weavers.com/

Fortunately, a kind author at the conference went over my book and gave me valuable input. I took her advice to heart. I went home and wrote and rewrote. What were some of my mistakes?  I used big words—three-year-olds don’t know big words. The story was too long. Little kids have short attention spans. I had some concepts out of order—I needed a fresh set of eyes, someone who didn’t know my story, to point these out to me.

I learned a lot at that conference, including how important it is to attend them and soak in as much information as possible. While writing is a solo journey, publishing and marketing take teamwork and contacts—even if you are self-published.

Since I published The Donkey and the King, I’ve received my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. I’ve learned more about writing than I ever thought possible. I cringe now when I receive emails about “how to create content,” “how to outsource content,” or “how to write a book in a weekend.”  Writing is an art. If you don’t have the fire in your gut to write good content, don’t expect a reader to have the fire in his gut to read your outsourced book. Whatever happened to passion and creativity and sacrifice and hard work? What about the desire to learn how to write better?

I hear from time-to-time writers say, “I don’t like to write, I just like the finished book.” If you don’t like to write, why are you writing? If you aren’t willing to invest in the process to make your writing better, like attending writers’ conferences, joining a critique group, taking writing classes, and reading books on writing, how can you become the writer God gifted you to be? If you don’t have the passion to write, you won’t push yourself to reach a higher level in your writing. Will God bless your half-hearted efforts?

Don’t let the “roaches” out there eat holes in your bank account either. Flee from those sharks who promise wannabes they can produce content without sweat and make a million. Where is the roach spray when you need it? I zap those emails in a heartbeat and hope people aren’t gullible enough to pay them.

Writing is an art—not just the artwork that is drawn or written on the pages of a book, but the art that is etched in the reader’s heart. Have you, the reader, been changed by the author’s message? Encouraged in your walk with God? Convicted of sin in your life? Art should add meaning and culture—and good art should represent some aspect of our Creator. Our words should convey that deep down; otherwise, for who or what are we writing? To glorify ourselves? God forbid.

The Donkey and the King grew out of my visit to Israel in 1991. The story is an allegory to the book of Philemon in the New Testament. The slave, Onesimus, ran away from his master. Along the way he met Saul who witnessed to him and urged him to return home. On every page of The Donkey and the King is the hidden word “good.” The lesson in The Donkey and the King speaks to all of us:  There is good in the world if we look for it and listen to God’s voice.

One of my fondest memories in my writing journey is when I read The Donkey and the King to a young Sunday school class. The kids stayed afterward to find the “good” hidden on every page. Now available on Kindle, the drawings can be enlarged to search for the hidden word, and the font can be made bigger for easier reading.

Creativity and the passion to share is what all authors should embrace—and strive to perfect. I want to believe I give my all for the reader’s enjoyment. And then, just maybe, I might get an Amazon review praising my well-written book. God rewards those who are diligent and faithful in His service—and I remind myself of that when my feelings don’t match reality, or someone criticizes my book unfairly. It happens too often. Spiritual warfare is part of the Christian’s world and writers are not immune. In the end, we know who wins.

To purchase or learn more about The Donkey and the King, click here.

My advice:  Learn all you can and enjoy the writing journey. Share your story, conquer evil with good, be passionate always, and leave your mark on the lives of others. Through your words, you can influence future generations for good, and that’s worth striving for.

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “The Art of Conflict in Writing Conflict”

 

I should be an expert in writing conflict. After all, I was on the debate team in high school, and a seventh-grade boy wrote in my yearbook, “You would argue with a signpost if you could.” I’ve had my share of personal conflict—family problems, ex-husband, relationship disappointments, and yes, my own report card of failures.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve had a first-class seat to some of the most spectacular conflicts on the planet. I worked for twenty years as a court reporter. The adversarial nature of the job left me exhausted. I would sit at my stenograph machine for long hours each day, between attorneys and hostile witnesses, recording the barrage of questions about lost reputations, cheating husbands, financial ruin, and hearts broken–high-powered lawyers bent on winning at all cost.

The conflict raged within me as I hated being at the center of it all. The louder they argued, the more nervous I became. Please don’t ask me to read this back. It’s hard to write well when everyone is yelling at each other. If I could count the number of strokes hit on my stenograph machine, the amount would not be measurable. Conflict abounds and sometimes borders on murder in a courtroom, where truth isn’t always the ultimate goal. Because experience and memories shape our worldview, to this day I cringe at the thought of going back to that life–please God, never again. I don’t want that conflict.

Today I work as a broadcast captioner for television and write as little news as possible. Very few upbeat stories get reported and I have grown weary of captioning sensational beats about kidnapped children, victims of abuse, Washington bureaucracy, and a world at war–at the gas pump, in the Middle East, and a host of ideologies that scare me. I cherish my freedom and don’t want it taken from me. (Yes, I do feel much of what I love about my country is eroding). But most of all, I hate captioning tragedies that could have been avoided. Life can be very depressing and steeped in conflict.

As much as I hate conflict, as an author, how do I use it in fiction? Or do I even want to create a painful conflict for my protagonist? Do I shy away from building a story that needs high-stakes conflict to create a fabulous, climatic ending? Or can I use conflict to remind me of a nobler purpose in God’s eternal plan?

Put into the context of life, is there a reason behind the conflict which we encounter every single waking moment of our lives? Is it not the result of the stinking sin in myself and others? How do I resolve this paradox in my writing?

Fortunately, as writers, we have the freedom to go where our heart and art takes us. Unless I write poetry, however, I won’t have a story without conflict. Acknowledging that the dénouement is what makes a story remarkable, I can set the scene for redemption before I begin the first page.

In the 1990s, Hollywood released a lot of box-office films that had downer endings; the bad guy won, the problem wasn’t resolved the way I wanted, or the main character died. I quit going to the movies.

My mantra now is I refuse to write, read, or see movies where there is no redemption. If I feel stuck without a good moral choice in life, I will search for it. God can bring redemption out of the worst possible circumstance. There is good in the world if we look for it.

In writing a great book, there should be something in the dénouement that causes the reader to grapple with the story’s action-idea. The unraveling of the conflict must result in a satisfying conclusion.  I don’t want the reader to feel as though he has been cheated by mediocre creativity or immorality that wins.

While our stories imitate life, the climax needs to reach a higher level of “being.” When I read a story, give me more. Give me excitement worth remembering, knowledge extraordinaire, and thought-provoking ideas. I want to relate to a protagonist that overcomes incredible odds and wins. Beauty, love, peace–we are not sufficiently redeemed to appreciate this trilogy of goodness in all its meaning, but because writing imitates life, we can catch glimpses of it in a redemptive ending.

As an author, my passion is to bring a “taste of heaven” to this earthly kingdom inhabited by kings and peasants, and all of us in between. That means what I write must linger. I must create meaningful connections in the reader’s mind after his eyes have read the last page. I wield incredible power–to bless or curse. As a Christian, I want to captivate the reader with words that are uplifting, powerful, thought-provoking, and life-changing. That might seem impossible, but the greatest stories ever written have those qualities; unique characters engaged in mortal conflict, either internal, physical, or both.

I write where my heart takes me, digging into my past, and seeing what God stirs up from within. I write for myself first and then for others. It’s up to each of us to decide how we use the “rules of writing,” acknowledging that those words will live on long after we are gone–for good or evil. History is replete with both.

I can’t dilute the plot to avoid conflict. I want redemption to reign supreme in the last chapter. I must weave the nature of fallen man into the story through conflict, knowing that I have the answers that a sinful world craves. I can do it subtly or not so subtly, but if I compromise on either, I will weaken the story that God has given me. Great conflict deserves great redemption.

How does conflict work in writing? The conflict must propel the story forward and relate in some way to the protagonist’s nearly unreachable goal. There must be clear turning points (three-act structure works well), and there should be the main goal and at least one minor goal. Often the minor goal relates to character development (so the protagonist can reach his main goal).

With “up” endings, the protagonist wildly succeeds and goes through a metamorphosis in the process. He is not the same at the end as he was in the beginning. Despite his character flaws and numerous obstacles, he overcomes the odds and achieves his dream or even something better. Surprise endings are always the best

I have wondered if there is a higher standard for writing novels than the Aristotle tradition of dealing with conflict, but for a different reason. I want to write great stories in heaven, and in heaven, there is no conflict. What shall I write? Maybe I will become a poet. If you are one of those saints, pursue your calling with passion; keep writing those beautiful sonnets and songs. When my world becomes steeped in shadows, I turn to the Psalms and relish those soothing words of comfort and security.

In the Bible, Jesus knew the evil tentacles of life would strangle his listeners if they succumbed to their base nature, so he told amazing, redemptive stories, steeped in conflict, to reveal profound truths. If I follow that example, perhaps I can conquer my inner conflict of wanting to avoid conflict and write a great redemptive story–which must abound in conflict to end in perfect redemption

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “How To Write A Memoir In Twelve Easy Steps,” by Lorilyn Roberts


trip to Disney with my daughters


All of us have lived through dramatic times of ecstasy and pain. For the sensitive and sensate person, memories of these events are etched in the psyche and have molded us into who we are. A memoir is a way to touch at the heart of those feelings and allow them to be shared with others.

A memoir is different from an autobiography because it takes a “snapshot” of certain events in a person’s life. A memoir tends to read more like a novel. Usually a memoir is written in more colorful language than an autobiography and only relevant information is included—not everything about a person’s life should be shared. How do I get started, you may ask? Here are twelve steps I followed in writing my adoption memoir Children of Dreams.




1. A memoir should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be a problem, a conflict, and a resolution. 

2. It might be helpful to pull out old pictures, diaries, and objects to bring to memory the experiences you are writing.  If possible, go to the scene and relive the events in your mind.

3. Allow your feelings to flow freely from your mind and heart—they may be painful, terrifying, hurtful, crazy, or not understood, but to write a good memoir, you must bring the buried nemeses to the surface and write with passion.


4. Listen to music that will transport you from your surroundings to the time and place of the memoir. I like classical music, but anything that stirs your emotions and allows your mind to be absorbed back into that moment will work.

5. Don’t do any major editing until you’ve written all that you can remember. Worry later about clean-up. If you edit too soon, you may change something that is important.

6. Expect to feel like you are going crazy. Your feelings may create powerful emotions that are buried deep, but when you write those hidden passions and distorted thoughts on paper, it can be cathartic. The story may even write itself and come to a resolution you never thought possible. 


7. Make sure you validate facts. A memoir is based on truth, so dates, times, names, people, and sequence of events are important. Otherwise, your credibility may come into question if something you have written is shown not to be true. It may be necessary to change names or locations, and this is acceptable provided you put a disclaimer at the beginning.

8. A good memoir is rich in color—metaphors, similes, descriptions, dialogue, and feelings will make your memoir come alive.

9. After you’ve written around one hundred pages, take some time to reflect on what you have said. Then put it aside for a few days, don’t look at it, and come back and re‑read it. It will be easier to spot things that need to be revised or rewritten. Save deletions for later.


Vietnam when I adopted Joy from my Memoir Children of Dreams

10.  Be kind to yourself. Writing a memoir is a very personal, gut-wrenching journey.

11. After you have written the rough draft and edited it as much as you can, including deletions, give your memoir to some trusted friends for feedback. You may see a pattern in their comments, and that’s a good indication of what needs further revision. Don’t be shy and seek a professional editor if needed.  

12. Never give up. Never, never give up. Need I say it again? Never, never, never give up. 



Why Write a Memoir?

First, the memories are important to you. The intimate details will soon be forgotten if they are not written down. The memoir validates your experience and gives meaning to your life. Your memories become a treasured journey for others to learn from and enjoy.

A memoir can be a gift to your children, your parents, your friends, your country, and the world. Only you can tell the story that you’ve been given, and other people’s lives will be enriched. Most of all, if you’re like me, you will be set free from the past and empowered to write your next story.

You will be changed and healed in ways that would not have been possible without writing your story. Having gone through the journey twice, you will be wiser. Perhaps you will touch others in a way you couldn’t have imagined because the “gestalt” of your experience is universal. Most importantly, you will have accomplished what you set out to do, and that is to write your memoir.   





I say it again, never give up. It will be worth it when you have finished.

You can purchase the new audiobook of my adoption memoir Children of Dreams by clicking here.
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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “My Favorite Top Five Young Adult Books of all Time are…Drum Roll,” by Lorilyn Roberts


Well, I had to list six. I couldn’t limit it to five. Some of the books I have listed here are not Christian books, but I didn’t know about all the great Christian authors when I was a young adult since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Thus, I didn’t say “Christian books,” I just said books.

For instance, I did not know about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George McDonald, and many other Christian authors. I did discover in the library A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine I’Engle when I was about 12, which is the only “Christian” worldview book I read as a teenager, and loved. I lament that I didn’t discover other Christian authors until I was in my 30’s, when my birthfather (whom I didn’t meet until I was 30) introduced me to C.S. Lewis.



I was introduced to other wonderful authors/books when I homeschooled my daughters, and so I have a new set of books I love in this genre now.

My first all-time favorite would be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I have read this book at least three times and it embodies much that I want to write in my own books: Characters that are memorable, a Christian theme without being preachy, original creativity, a well-constructed plot, meaningful symbolism, and redemption. When I think of a story that is among the best, this book always comes to mind.



The second would be The Giver, by Lois Lowry. I have read this book twice, once with each of my daughters. It is hard to believe that this story isn’t real. Ms. Lowry writes such a believable story that I wonder if I could ever come anywhere close to emulating her. Because my YA Seventh Dimension Series is a fantasy of sorts (part of it), I have reflected on how she made the story seem so real.

The third book would be Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Again, I loved the Christian message, the symbolism, the struggle, and the redemption. I can relate to the protagonist and all that he went through.

My fourth and fifth all-time favorite books are Gone With the Wind and The Exodus. I remember how I felt reading them as a YA and the sorrow when I finished them. I didn’t want the books to end. I still remember the young girl in The Exodus who died; my heart was broken. It’s interesting that I don’t remember the exact plot. I remember the characters. I fell in love with the protagonist in The Exodus. I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with a fictional character in a book. The same holds true for Gone With the Wind (Yes, I thought Rhett Butler was handsome and charming).

I recently read The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and I couldn’t avoid listing it here. I don’t have the benefit of time to see where it will eventually fit into the collection of books that I have read as my all-time favorites, but because of the way she wrote it, the book touched my heart. I was drawn into her world of suffering, and the way she described the people in the attic and all the things that happened, it was hard for me to believe she lived and died before I was born.

Even when I was young, I enjoyed books that had significant undertones/struggles, and these also are the books that have made significant contributions to the literary world. I believe teens can handle difficult, heavy topics. My dream is to write books that can touch the heart of YA readers and influence their worldview with Christ’s love—enabling them to grow and become the person God created them to be.

I’d love to hear from you: What are your favorite YA books?

Note: I didn’t include The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as I consider it to be more for adults. The pace is rather slow to engage YA readers, though maybe I should have listed The Hobbit. Sigh. It’s so difficult to narrow it down, isn’t it?

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “How Do I End My Memoir?” by Lorilyn Roberts

I received this question in my email today from a reader and it’s a great question to consider, so I share it here for those who may find my advice helpful.

Hi, I am emailing you to ask for your help, please, as I have a huge respect for you and your work.
 
I am an artist who is trying to write a memoir, but struggling with the ending.
 
My story is obviously true, based on my losing my dad in the summer. He took his own life.
 
The whole event was like a film. It didn’t seem real, the build-up, the actual event, and the aftermath. 
 
I feel I also need to share this event as self-therapy more than anything as I am still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
 
I know how to start my memoir, the middle, but it’s just the end – how do I finish it? What’s the point to it? 
 
Do I finish it on the one-year anniversary, for example, when I will return to where it happened and finish up my feelings, and how I haven’t ended it all myself, which was going through my mind when I stood at the spot where it happened last June? 
 
I really don’t know, I am so stuck on how to end it and not make it a pointless book, but I just don’t know how.
 
I appreciate it. You are probably very busy yourself, but just a moment of your time and a reply would be so hugely appreciated. I can’t even begin to tell you how much.
 
Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Here was my response:
 
Dear _____
 
The ending is the redemption — if you haven’t figured out how God used this event in your life to teach you more about your heavenly Father, then I would stop and spend some time in prayer. Here are some questions to ponder:
 
1. What have I learned about God’s sufficiency?
2. Am I closer to God because of this painful experience?
3. How has this impacted my life for the future?
4. How can I help others who might be faced with a similar situation?
5. Have I let go of my anger, my unforgiveness, my sin, my false expectations of my father, and given my heavenly Father first place in my life?
6. Do I love God more, enough to let go and move on with my life?
 
Think about these things. A memoir must first be written to you — to work out your own salvation, and then you can help others work out theirs — for God’s glory and your healing.
 
 
I will add here, that writing a memoir can be one of the most gut-wrenching undertakings you ever do and should be bathed in prayer. God can teach you much about grace and joy, even if you never publish your memoir. To read my award-winning piece on how to write a memoir in twelve easy steps, click here.
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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: WORLD BOOK BLOG TOUR: Lorilyn Roberts Interview

 
The Author’s Writing Process and the Discovery of New Books
May 19, 2014 Stop
When Emma Right asked if I’d be interested in following her on the World Book Blog Tour, I thought this would be a fun way to share how different authors write. I am thankful for her invitation and hope you enjoy my few comments. Perhaps I might inspire you to write or curl up with a good novel and enjoy the world of reading and writing books—of which there are never enough.
 
 
WHO AM I?
 
I’m Lorilyn Roberts. My closest friends would probably describe me as the brave woman who went around the world and adopted two beautiful daughters as a single mother. Now that one daughter is almost raised and the other one thinks she’s raised (and I won’t say which is which), I have more time to write. I went back to school at an old age (but still young at heart) and received my Master of Arts in Creative Writing last year.
 
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
 
I am 55,000 words into the first draft of the second book in my YA Christian Fantasy Series, Seventh DimensionThe King. The total length will be 65,000 words and I should finish The King in about a week.
 
 
 
 
 
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
 
First, I research. Second, I think. Third, I come up with the plot points – the beginning (problem), the middle (the process), and the end (the crescendo and the resolution).
 
After I do the above, I am assured I have a skeleton for a future book. Then I will use an online program called Hiveword Online Fiction Organizer
and James Scott Bell’s Knockout Novel aid. The two programs work in tandem and help me to organize my thoughts and begin writing. I think in terms of scenes and outline all my scenes first.
 
The Hiveword Organizer allows me to move the scenes around. It also has other features, options for multiple plotlines, character development, writing prompts (even suggestions for names if I can’t come up with one), and scene summaries that can be stored for future reference.
 
After my scenes are titled and loosely described, then I do more research for those I’m less sure about. I keep an excel file with a link to all the sites I visit that I might want to revisit when I actually write the scene. I will insert notes from the website into the scene organizer for quick reference.
 
Once I have all the characters, scenes, and plot lines developed, then I write each scene. This is when I add the spiritual component, foreshadowing, symbolism, emotion, et cetera. In other words, I give the scene life. A love scene is not like a rose by any other name. It’s my unique love scene. The protagonist is not just facing life or death—he must face other issues that will worry the reader, like honor, truth, and sacrifice. I raise the stakes. If I’m not engaged in the scene, I rethink it or I remove the scene entirely.
 
I allow myself the option to change things, but more often than not, each scene I’ve outlined grows and becomes even more than what I meant it to be. Since I know where I’m going, I can work on the boundaries of the scene—how far can I go with this idea? I let my mind create, create, create. This is my favorite part of writing. I put no limitations on where my mind takes me.
 
Real change happens at the boundaries of life, and therefore, it should be that way in books. As God our Creator chisels away on our rough edges and refines us into the person He created us to be, I refine each scene (even in the first draft because I love to edit), and hopefully make each scene unique and memorable.
 
As an aside, I could never do the Nano Challenge. I can’t think in terms of the outcome so early in the process—or worry about a word count. I enjoy the process of writing too much to rush it.
 
I do the actual writing in one of two ways, depending on my mood. I either type the words directly into Microsoft Word on my laptop or if I want to write a lot of words in one day, I type the words directly on my stenograph machine and then make a text file and copy and paste it into Microsoft Word later.
 
I provide closed captioning for television and if I’m on the air several hours at a time, it would not be unusual to write close to 200,000 words in one day. Perhaps that sounds grueling but it’s not. When you are writing 200 to 250 words per minute, the words add up quickly. 
 
The stenograph machine works well for writing a lot of words in a short span of time, but if I have the time and luxury, I’d rather sit on the sofa in the living room and type on my laptop, drinking coffee. I enjoy the process of writing, particularly if I’m writing a difficult description or an emotional scene. The stenograph machine is very mechanical,  too much like work, but it’s a nice way to get a lot of words written that I can edit later if feel like I’m getting behind in my word count—those days when I set one, which is not every day.
 
After the first draft, I will take a break for at least a few days to two weeks and then come back and edit. I love the editing process. I am surprised that most writers don’t, but my first draft of anything is so beneath what I’m capable of when it’s polished that I can’t wait to edit. I also belong to Word Weavers and will frequently take in scenes for critiquing.
 
The editing process takes longer for me than the first draft. After I’ve reached the point where I can no longer be objective, I’ll submit the manuscript to beta readers. 

I’ll give the readers some general questions to answer based on what I feel might be weaknesses, confusing scenes, or some other point that’s important to me.
 
After I receive their responses, I’ll make changes. This can be quite time-consuming, but this process is critical, especially for indie authors. Beta readers can take your “average” book and make it a “good” book or even a great book. I can’t imagine publishing a book and not having beta readers critique it first and tell me what needs to be fixed. At this point, I cannot be objective. I need readers to help me see any weaknesses, and I want that to happen before my book is published. One and two-star reviews can hurt a book’s future popularity. I don’t want those kinds of negative reviews because I was too much in a hurry and published my book before it was ready.
 
After I’ve gone through the beta process, I give a copy of my manuscript to my first editor who reads my book for content. After I make her suggested corrections, I then submit my book to a second editor who goes through the manuscript again. This editor also reads for content, but she focuses more on copyediting that has been missed. Things like leaving off a quote or having two periods at the end of a sentence.
 
Once I’ve finished this final edit (hopefully), I upload my specially formatted Mobi file to Amazon, but I don’t tell anyone. I want to download my book on my Kindle before anyone else. Sometimes I’ll find weird things, like a formatting error on the copyright page. You don’t want an error on that page screaming “amateur.”
 
Sometimes when I fix one thing, I inadvertently mess up something else. After all the work that’s gone into my book at this point, I want it perfect. I might do several uploads to Amazon before I announce my book’s availability. I usually raise the price when I first publish it, like to $9.99 – no one will buy my Kindle book at that price. Once I feel like everything is fixed that has been missed, then I will reduce the price to $2.99 and promote my newly published book. Then the real work begins. Marketing a book is much harder than writing it.
 
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS?
 
I don’t know. I try not to compare myself with others. How similar or different my writing is from other authors is very subjective. Contemporary fantasy authors I like to read are Randy Alcorn and Lois Lowry. An Undiscovered Christian fantasy author who I like and predict someday will be well known is Janalyn Voigt. Classical fantasy authors I enjoy are C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. My favorite book of all time is Pilgrim’s Progress. After reading books by these authors, I find myself admiring their talent—and inspired. I hope someday to write a book that will touch others the way their books have touched me.
 
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
 
I have a story to tell. The Bible says in Luke 19:37-40, as Jesus neared Jerusalem, the multitude of disciples rejoiced and praised God with a loud voice. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to rebuke His disciples, He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
 
If I don’t write, I will go to my grave with regret. I know God made me to write and writing draws me near to His presence. I must write or I’ll feel like I missed out on God’s perfect will for my life.
 
He has redeemed too much of my past not to share it—either through fiction or nonfiction. When God blesses us, He expects us to give those blessings away. If we don’t use the talents He gives us, He might take our gift or gifts and give them to someone else. I would hate to stand before my Savior and see His scarred wrists and confess, “God, it was too hard. It was too heavy a burden to bear.” Never! As long as I am breathing and not demented, I will write and share what God has done—through whatever story or means He imparts on my heart. Whether anyone reads my books is an outcome I don’t control. I can only control the process—writing, and that’s what I love doing most.
 
*~*~*~*
 
WHO IS NEXT ON THE WORLD BOOK BLOG TOUR?
 
 **
 
Please visit Robin Johns Grant and Katherine Harms on May 26, 2014, for the next stop on the tour.
 
Meet Katherine Harms:  Katherine and her husband Larry live aboard a bluewater cruising sailboat and cruise the east coast and the Bahamas. It is the perfect writing environment. In 2008, she published Oceans of Love, a collection of meditations based on biblical texts that refer to oceans and water. That same year she wrote her first blog post. She experimented with varieties of blogging topics and blog hosting options. Currently, she writes four blogs, of which Living on Tilt is the flagship.
 
Katherine has published articles in several magazines including The Lutheran, Christ in Our Home, Cruising World, and Living Aboard. Her only novel, Hannah’s Journal, won third place in the Christian Writers Guild’s First Novel Contest in 2004. Since that time, she has focused primarily on nonfiction. She also writes materials for worship and faith formation such as guides for worship, prayer vigils, and Bible study.
 
In addition, she edits book-length manuscripts and provides mentoring for writers. Internet and phone services maintain her availability to her clients in most locations.
Katherine’s current work in progress is Thrive! Don’t Just Survive: a Guide for Christian Interaction with a Secular Culture.
 
**
 
Meet Robin Johns Grant: Robin Johns Grant has been writing for most of her life. In fact, she’s been following her publishing dream so long that she crowned herself The Queen of Perseverance on her blog, where she encourages other weary dreamers.
While waiting for her writing to pay off, she wrote and edited university publications managed an office for a firm of private investigators, and worked as a university financial aid counselor. She also did a lot of crazy fan stuff and developed a fascination with books and movies like Harry Potter and Star Wars, which helped her dream up Jeanine and Jamie for Summer’s Winter.
With a degree in English and a mid-life crisis coming on, she returned to school and earned a master’s degree in library and information science in 2005. She now has her best day job ever as a college librarian, which keeps her young by allowing her to hang out with students.
Robin lives in Georgia with her wonderful husband Dave and formerly feral feline, Mini Pearl. She is also surprised to find herself the part owner of a wonderful pit bull puppy named Pete who showed up as a stray at her mom’s house.
 
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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “The Art of Stuckness in Writing,” by Lorilyn Roberts

While I have never experienced stuckness in writing, more appropriately called writer’s block, I have to admit a great portion of my waking hours I am stuck on something; i.e., stuck in traffic, stuck waiting at the red light, stuck standing in line, stuck on hold on the phone, stuck staring at my computer screen, stuck waiting to get paid; or for someone to answer an email, or to get out of the dentist chair, or to get over a cold, or to get the car fixed, or for the stock market to return to transparency; or stuck waiting for free time—to read, write, slow down, relax; or get off the air from captioning. Tonight I didn’t finish till 12:30am. My chair seat and I spend too much time together. I might as well be stuck to it, too.

Recently I took my dog to the vet. She had poop stuck inside her that wouldn’t come out. Talk about being stuck—I’ll spare you the details, but being stuck is part of the fallen world and the human condition from which we can’t get escape. I can’t be spared the stress even in my dreams.

One recurring dream pictures me driving an orange bus. I am sitting in the back seat trying to maneuver it over a road that angles down a mountain at 180 degrees. I always wake up and never reach the bottom. I wonder what the bus represents. Why am I at the very back driving? And why does the road have such a steep incline? Which problem am I stuck on and unable to solve?

The worst part about being stuck is that it robs me of creativity, frustrates me, and puts me out of sorts with the world—and God in particular.

So, to give an example of an ongoing stuckness for this week, enjoy the following. Cry with me or laugh with me—either way, hysterically. Is this really believable?

At the beginning of the year, I decided to bundle my cable, phone, and internet accounts with Cox Cable. These services previously had been provided by both Bell South and Cox Cable. According to the Cox Cable representative, this would save me about $30 per month. In these “tough economic times,” I figured even with all the hassle of switching, over the course of time, $30 per month would become significant.

I wanted assurances from the Cox Cable representative of three things: First, how much money it would save me; second, that the switch in phone lines would not affect my internet/email; and third, I would not experience disconnects using their phone service.

Because I use my phone lines to provide live captioning for television, disconnects on live programming cause captions to become disrupted. If a station loses too much airtime, it will be fined by the FCC. Since stations don’t want to be fined, they take it seriously when a captioning provider has too many on-air issues, whether it be poor captions, disconnects, corrupted captions, or no captions at all. Too many issues will likely mean when the contract comes up for renewal, that company won’t be awarded the contract. Contacts with the larger stations like Fox, ESPNews, CBS, and others are multimillion-dollar contracts. If a captioner has too many disconnects, the captioning provider will “dump” the subcontractor, somebody like me, and hire someone else to perform the work.

I was assured by Cox Cable there would be no problem and that the quality of their phone service was as good as what Bell South had been providing me for years.

Fast forward a few days. The technician arrived and spent all afternoon wiring my house. He checked everything before he left, or so we thought, and I believed everything was working properly. Later that evening, I went online to check my email. I discovered while I could receive my email through Microsoft Outlook, I couldn’t send anything out of Microsoft Outlook. I called Cox Cable, and somebody came on the phone right away and fixed it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, later that evening, I experienced several disconnects on programming I had never had disconnects with before. I ended up having more disconnects in one week than I had experienced in five years. I contacted Cox Cable two days later—I should have called them immediately—after several disconnects and was alarmed by their lack of responsiveness. In fact, they seemed shocked that such a small inconvenience as getting disconnected could cause me such anxiety. After a while, probably more to shut me up than anything else, the Cox representative assured me they would check it out and fix the problem.

But the disconnection issues continued. Within a week I was on the phone to Bell South to switch my lines back with them. I spent about an hour talking to a very nice representative answering various questions. At the end of the call, she said, “We need the information you have given me verified by a third party.” I was running out of time and needed to finish up to go on the air. I thought I would answer the final questions and be on my merry way, but the third-party verifier said her information showed I was only transferring one line. I said, “No, I am transferring two lines.”

We argued back and forth, and I realized I couldn’t solve this unexpected issue in one minute. I would have to cancel the entire request for the switch in service and redo the process the next day. I couldn’t risk having only one active phone line. I needed two active lines to caption. I told the representative, “If you can’t transfer both lines over, then cancel the order and I will start it all over tomorrow.”

The next morning, I called Bell South again. The woman on the line said, “Oh, it just shows up as one phone line, but it’s really two. The people that do the verification don’t know that.” And she said, “We can just undo the cancellation.” I said, “Great.” I had better things to do with my time than spending it redoing what I had already done the night before.

Fast forward two weeks. The disconnects continued, and I was forced to fill out far too many discrepancy reports. In the meantime, while I was waiting for the lines to be switched back, I discovered that my iPhone would not let me send out emails. I needed it to work because I was going out of town. I called Cox Cable to verify what the strange settings were I needed for my iPhone. The representative from Cox Cable convinced me to reset my settings on my Office Outlook back to what they were before I added the phone lines. I was skeptical about changing them, but I sent myself a verification email that came back to me promptly, so I assumed incorrectly she was right and knew more than I did.

I changed the settings on Microsoft Outlook as she instructed. I then called AT&T to put the settings back to what they were before on the iPhone. I had changed them trying to get the iPhone to work with the new settings for Microsoft Outlook. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with AT&T. Once this was accomplished, I thought everything on my email would be back to the way it was originally.

Later that evening, I went to the computer to check my emails. Once again, I couldn’t send out emails. It was late at night and there was nothing I could do about it except being frustrated.

Over the course of the ensuing weekend, I talked to several representatives at Cox Cable trying to find somebody who could change the settings to allow me to send emails. Most of them told me, “We don’t support Outlook.” By now I was approaching my limit of “niceness.” But I was going out of town, couldn’t take my computer with me, and figured I could send emails off my iPhone; not very efficient, but better than nothing. I would live with the inconvenience until the following Tuesday (this was on a Friday) when my phone lines were scheduled to be switched back to Bell South. With the settings I had, my Microsoft Outlook should work by then. I would be patient, even though I was frustrated.

Tuesday came and went, and nothing seemed to happen with the phones—except I continued to have disconnects. ESPNews had called twice about the number of disconnects during my programming. I had filled out about thirty discrepancy reports for lost air time with various companies for which I worked. I was concerned when nothing seemed different and was getting more paranoid. I called Bell South on Wednesday to ask if they had switched the phone lines and was told, “You canceled it two weeks ago.” When I told the representative that the woman said she would un-cancel it for me and that the lines would be switched in two weeks, she said, “You can’t un-cancel a cancellation.”

Now, I was angry. All this time I thought things were in process for the switch. Two weeks later, I had to start all over again. I spent an hour on the phone, going through the questions and answers the second time. I thought everything was taken care of now. But an hour later, I got a phone call, “The verification wasn’t done right. We need to redo it.” I said, “Okay,” and redid the verification a third time. “This is the final time,” I told myself, again.

A few hours later I returned home to a waiting message on my phone, “We need to verify the switch again. It wasn’t done correctly.” I wondered which verification was done wrong; the second one, the third one, or both? I called Bell South and told them, “I am fixing to go on the air, so I need to do this quickly.” They put me on hold and I assume forgot about me. I hung up and dialed in for my show, angry at the inability to accomplish something so simple yet so important.

The next day I was headed out of town and had no time to call Bell South. I was still unable to send emails out of Office Outlook. This was a big inconvenience because I receive over two hundred emails on a normal day. I continued to have disconnection issues while captioning. But I couldn’t do anything about it until Monday.

First thing Monday morning I made the dreaded call to Bell South. How many verifications did I need to do to get it right? After going through the whole story once again, the representative told me the switch had already been made on one line and the switch on the other line would be made in one week.

I was still experiencing disconnects on the line that supposedly had been switched so I was concerned. The representative from Bell South connected me with the technical department to see what could be causing the issue. I gave that person the number with which I was having issues. To my dismay, she told me, “That number is disconnected.”

Now I wondered who the blankety-blank was providing my crappy service on that line. I yelled at the poor woman and demanded to speak to a supervisor. While I was on hold, I dialed out to make sure the line was still working. I got a dial tone. Soon a woman who was “Ms. Control” came on the phone and was everything but helpful. Because she wouldn’t listen to me, I asked to speak to someone else, and then I was disconnected. I couldn’t imagine why.

I called Bell South back and got disconnected again. I called a third time (what else could I do), and explained all over again what I had been through to another person who knew nothing. She listened, put me on hold, and came back and told me that the line had not been switched yet. She said, “I was told by the technical department it looks like it’s disconnected because it is still in the process of being switched back.” In other words, they hadn’t received the paperwork yet. This was different from what I was told earlier, which probably explained why I was still having issues. The line was on Cox Cable’s equipment.

Tonight, as I sit here, I hope she is right and that my lines will be switched next Monday, as promised, and I will still have a job.

I was too worried to wait a whole week for my Office Outlook to work properly. I called Cox Cable and demanded they find somebody who could fix it to where I could send emails. I heard the usual run-around, “We don’t support Outlook.”

I gave them my angst, “You said switching the lines would not affect my email service, you made it possible for me to receive emails until your representative changed it to where it would no longer work, and I demand you find somebody to fix my Office Outlook NOW.” I was put on hold for too long, and then told a technical person would call me back shortly.

I waited two hours and no one called. So I took Joy to her gymnastics class. While driving, my phone rang. Of course, it was the Cox Cable technical support, now that I couldn’t talk. I asked him to call me back in fifteen minutes; I dropped Joy off and hurried home. A few minutes later, we connected on the phone. In lightning fashion, even faster than I thought possible, he fixed the issue. It’s amazing how quickly something can be done by competent people. As of right now, I am able to send from Outlook, though, of course, I still can’t send from my iPhone.

The almost end of the story is the bill I just received–$250 for the two phone lines. My Bell South bill in December was $154. The plan was to switch to Cox Cable and bundle my services so I could save $30 a month. When I asked the Cox representative about the higher-than-expected bill, she said, “Well, this isn’t a bundle.” I asked her why in the world I would switch from Bell South to Cox Cable if it was going to cost me $100 more per month. No, I am not stupid; even my kids give me more credit than that.

Why have I gone into such detail? Because I don’t think my reality is that different from everyone else. I just took the time to write it all down rather than throw the computer out the window, or throw my cell phone across the room (I do have experience with that), or wring somebody’s neck. I really don’t want to be stuck in jail.

But bringing stuckness back to writing, is it possible to have what is more commonly known as writer’s block? I don’t know about others, but for me at least, I have never experienced it. Any blocks toward writing do not stem from the writing act itself, but from the other parts of living that constrain me from creativity—worry, distraction, or near insanity dealing with issues like the above; the parts of living we long to escape from that consume our time, energy, and resources. Given enough futility, I can be left with a zilch desire to write.


We don’t live in paradise yet and won’t until the Lord’s return; so the question is, how do I deal with the stuckness that wraps its ugly tentacles around my emotions and invades my life? Does God even care, I wonder, when I am most depressed?

I fail in ways I would rather not mention in this G–rated piece of writing. I have a long ways to go to be like Jesus in dealing with stuckness of most varieties. But I have found the one thing that irks me the most is dealing with incompetence. Even something as simple as trying to unclog the commode or sink can send me into a tailspin of four-letter words a Christian ought not to say.

Caring is not enough. I care whether I can flush my commode, or that my dog needs to poop and can’t. The question, as raised in Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is the definition of quality. Quality has much less to do with caring than competence. A person might care, but if he doesn’t have the necessary knowledge, all the caring in the world won’t fix that broken bone or save that broken marriage.

I might care a lot about my writing, but if I don’t know how to build a believable plot, all my caring isn’t going to make me a best seller. (I tried that, but it doesn’t work).

In the same way, almost everyone I talked to at Cox Cable and Bell South cared, but incompetency at various levels made their caring insufficient to fix my problem.

Stuckness always comes back to competence. Quality comes out of competence. It rises above mediocrity and exudes perfection.

As a Christian, quality takes on a more important meaning. Jesus was and is the Quality, and out of the Quality comes goodness. Taken in the context of a fallen world, we must find the goodness in the world or we will become too despondent with sin.

God commands us in the Bible to look for the good in everything. Philippians 4:8 tells us, Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Out of the worst circumstances, good can emerge. In earthquakes, we see goodness; from the help that arrives in the form of volunteers, food, water, and medicine. There is nothing like putting a face to quality. We shake our heads at what one determined person can endure to survive and become reacquainted once again with love and goodness—the quality that makes life bearable and for whom we are image-bearers. We reassess what’s important remembering once again life is precious, and only through love is there quality and reason for careful living.

If we didn’t have the struggles, we would have no story. If we didn’t have goodness, we would have no quality, no benchmark to measure our efforts, nothing worth striving for in writing. We would not be able to find redemption.

Even in my story here, there will be redemption. Why? Because I didn’t give up. I rarely give up, and perhaps that gets into the gumption aspect which I will save for the next writing piece.

I think what is most important is that we focus on the process and not the outcome. If we destroy ourselves or others to attain quality, we have short-circuited God’s best. As my mother used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I must learn how to handle the frustrations of the process—impatience, incompetence, uncertainty, worry, and all the less productive ways that tell me I haven’t arrived; if anything, that will end up leaving me stuck on the road to nowhere.

Who wants to stay stuck? We must do whatever it takes. Perhaps it takes years to get unstuck—from a divorce, from depression, from loss, or a host of other unimaginable circumstances. In order to attain quality, we must keep looking up, cease striving, and know where there is Quality, we can find goodness that is worth living for—and writing about. Sooner or later, if we are honest in our search, we will find more than competence. We will find quality in ourselves and in others, because we are the vessel of the Holy Spirit, and in that hidden place within us, there is Quality.

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “A Memoir or a Novel – How Does One Decide Which Way to Craft a Story Based on Real Life Events?” by Lorilyn Roberts

 Recently on a Linked-In discussion group, someone made this comment 

I’m strongly biased toward fiction unless you are trading on celebrity or some highly publicized event. Memoirs put out as imparting the wisdom of the elders or holding up your past mistakes as object lessons turn me off. The fact you were a moron yesterday doesn’t make you a genius today. Journals and memoirs may be great for family but most are less attractive to a general audience and often convey the message of pleading to be loved or admired. Make it fiction and you can be more candid and the reader can decide whether your experience was informative, moving or amusing based on its own merits.” 

I strongly disagree with his statement and share the following thoughts:

Memoirs are some of the most powerful pieces written today, but people are shortsighted. They don’t always see the value of first-hand accounts in the present. Without memoirs, we have history written by partial observers who bring their own worldview into play—maybe at the expense of writing with accuracy the way the events actually happened. Second-hand accounts are never as factual as first-hand stories and never as valuable for historical purposes. 

Many people love reading memoirs and will look for them in libraries and bookstores. Life experiences written by people reveal more about society than any history book or journalist covering a story. I am thankful for all the memoirs written today by all sorts of people to give us a peek into the present and the past.

For example, the world never would have known of Anne Frank if she had not written her diary. She was an unknown 13-year-old kid before her father published her diary.

If you have a compelling story to tell, tell it with passion, revealing your innermost struggles and thoughts. Being “real” with the reader will make your story come alive. In my memoir Children of Dreams about the international adoption of my daughters, I was open and vulnerable. That was the right way to tell that story. I could never have fictionalized it. 

I just wrote another book and this one is fiction, Seventh Dimension – The Door. In contrast with Children of Dreams, I took certain events from my own life and turned them into fantasy. I had a story to tell and the only way to tell it was as allegory and to fictionalize it. The point being, do what the story calls for and write it. Don’t let naysayers talk you out of writing your story the way you feel it needs to be told. At the end of the day, you have to live with the result and be happy with the story and the way you wrote it. 

These are some thoughts I would consider:  Who is your target audience? What is your purpose in writing your story? Can anyone be hurt or impacted negatively if you write your book as a memoir? If you write your story as a memoir in hopes of making money, you need to write your book as “creative nonfiction,” using fictional techniques.

For example, you need a beginning, a middle, and an end. You need to think in terms of “scenes” and “plot” and “problems” that need to be solved. The reader needs a takeaway—what can he learn from your memoir that would be meaningful or cathartic? No one wants to read someone’s boring biography.

If you decide to write your book as fiction, you will have more options and won’t run the risk of being sued or worried about divulging something you might regret later. However, you need the skills to write fiction. Writing fiction is harder than writing a memoir because you have to create “story” out of fiction and make the plot enticing to read. In a future piece, I will suggest some books for writing fiction that I used in my Masters in Creative Writing that I found helpful. 

I have written an award-winning piece on writing memoir that is posted on my website. Here is the link for anyone interested. Some might find it helpful. How to Write a Memoir in Twelve Easy Steps.

The most important thing as a writer is to keep writing and to keep learning—whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or memoir, and enjoy the journey!

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Who is a Better Story-Teller: C.S. Lewis or J.J.R. Tolkien?” by Lorilyn Roberts

 J.R.R. Tolkien vs C.S. Lewis


Who is a better storyteller, C.S. Lewis or J.J.R. Tolkien? Probably it depends on who you ask, but it fascinates me that the two were good friends and rose to fame and notoriety even in their own lives. I don’t believe we would have had a C.S. Lewis if we had not had a J.R.R. Tolkien, and vice versa. 
What is the probability that two of the greatest Christian fantasy writers of all time would live within a few miles of each other and sit in a local British pub night after night critiquing each other’s stories? (Unless their critiquing made it so; writer critique groups should be a part of every serious writer’s life). And critical they were. Stories of their divergent writing philosophies abound, but they helped each other to create masterpieces that have been enjoyed by millions and turned into magnificent Hollywood movie productions.
As a broadcast captioner, I caption a lot of sports, and occasionally I am called upon to caption boxing. Boxing is quite unique in that to have an undisputed winner, one of the boxers must deliver a knockout punch to his opponent. Sometimes the fighter is not able to deliver that fatal blow. When that happens, the judges are called upon to rate or assign values to various aspects of the fight since both are left standing. No one ever seems happy when that happens, particularly the loser, because the criteria for scoring are based on the perceptions of the judges, and we all perceive the world through different lenses depending on our life experiences.
In the same way, my analysis is biased, based on values drawn from a lifetime. I can’t deliver a knock-out punch to one or the other and declare unequivocally that there is only one that deserves the award as the best storyteller in each category that I suggest. One observation I can make: I admire both more having read major compilations from each.
As you immerse yourself in superior writing, you become keener in appreciating the value of “goodness” and what is possible; the bane and mundane become boring and trite. You know the average is just ordinary, and having tasted something marvelous, your craving will remain unquenched until you find the next great story. It’s like finding a piece of heaven here on earth. Once you “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” why would you settle for anything less?
In addition, not only are the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien extraordinary, but the Christian worldview reassures me that good will prevail. Without a Christian worldview, there is no good story.
To help me evaluate and compare their writings, I thought I would apply a set of standards often used when you submit a piece for one of those contests to declare your book the best in a certain category. I thought about theme and motif and setting and dialogue and symbols and all those “critical” concepts that we rely on when judging. 
I even went to Spark Notes and looked up The Lord of the Rings to see what they had to say. Having won several Academy Awards, I knew there would be a plethora of ideas to get me in my thinking mode. 
Plus, sitting here at Starbucks with my vanilla latte does wonders. I found, though, that while I didn’t disagree with the details found in Spark Notes, what I analyzed about “storytelling” from these books had nothing to do with what they highlighted. So I came back to my blank screen to write my own thoughts and how I feel about each author’s masterpieces.
Specifically, the books I read from J.R.R. Tolkien were The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. I had not read these books before. I had previously read The Hobbit, so when I began reading, I had that background. I had also seen all three movies, though, by the time I watched the third one in the trilogy, I was pretty much lost in Gondor somewhere and missed the battle. I think I fell asleep.
The book I read from the Narnia series was The Horse and His Boy. I had not read this story before, though I am fairly familiar with most of the other Narnia books and have also seen the movies The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Dawn Trader. At some level, prior knowledge of works by both authors influence my assessment here.

Light versus Darkness:
I found The Lord of the Ring Series to be very dark; for example, the emphasis on evil stemming from the one ring that needed to be destroyed before it was too late. Sometimes the things we loathe are the things that most fascinate us, however. I started questioning, what in my life is the ring? What evil taunts me, consumes me, distracts me, overwhelms me? And the more power I give it over me, the more of myself I lose to it. So while the idea of the ring is captivating and thought-provoking, it is also dark and foreboding.
I found the Narnia Series to be more anticipatory of goodness despite the darkness. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the snow is melting. Aslan is back, and the direct and indirect references, as well as Aslan’s personal appearances in The Horse and His Boy, were uplifting and encouraging.
Aslan is the recurring motif in the Narnia books while the ring serves that purpose in the Lord of the Rings. Because I preferred the goodness of Aslan over the evil influence of the ring, C.S. Lewis wins out in this comparison.

Story-telling — which content did I enjoy more?
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a very classical style. I cannot imagine the kind of talent it requires to spend 50 pages getting from point A to point B without immense repetition, which did not happen. His imagery was breathtaking as I felt transported to the world of hobbits, elves, and dwarves in Middle Earth, where epic battles had been fought for thousands of years around the tiny world of the shire which seemed unaffected by it all.
I was disappointed in the end that the shire had not escaped the evil. I like to think that there are some things that evil cannot penetrate, and for me, the shire represented that paradise, that special place that will always be there despite whatever else bad in the world happens. It reminds me of a comment that Jesus made in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” referencing the fact that His home was in heaven and not on Earth.
In the midst of the journey, though, I got impatient. I wanted to get to the fires of Mordor and destroy the ring that I was helping Frodo to carry. I became frustrated, reading through pages and pages about prominent kings and characters from the past that added little to the story. But I trudged through it because I wanted to get rid of that darn ring. And, of course, the ring was destroyed quite a ways before the actual end of the story. I wasn’t sure I cared enough about the characters after the destruction of the ring to keep reading. I figured everything would end happily ever after anyway. I was relieved when I did finally get to the last page.
In contrast with C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, and all of the Narnia books, I didn’t feel bogged down in a never-ending journey that was almost doomed to end in failure. In fact, there was sadness when I finished The Horse and His Boy. As has been true with all of the Narnia books, I wanted more. I wanted to see Aslan again. I wanted to linger in Narnia. I didn’t want the story to end. I have yet to read The Final Battle, and I tarry to do so because once I have read it, there won’t be any more Narnia books to enjoy.
So on content, C.S. Lewis won out again.

Story-telling — which style did I enjoy more?
C.S. Lewis incorporates one ingredient into his writing that J.R.R. Tolkien lacks: Humor. I relished those lighthearted, silly thoughts and playful moments; i.e., the horse who didn’t want to give up his habit of scratching his back by lying on the ground with his legs up in the air.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s style represents a battle of epic proportions with serious consequences. If the main characters fail, Middle Earth is doomed.
In The Horse and His Boy, while there is a battle between good and evil, with Aslan’s help, you know that good will prevail. The story ebbs and flows with suspense, unpredictability, and action. The light nature of C.S. Lewis’ storytelling is refreshing. While probably artistically inferior to J.R.R. Tolkien, I preferred it. I just wanted a good story, not a literary masterpiece. Perhaps less sometimes is more.

The Take Away — who wins out?
While I will probably read the Narnia books again (some I have already read twice), I will probably never re-read any of the Lord of the Rings books. However, that being said, for me, I believe the takeaway from J.R.R. Tolkien is greater. The overarching feel of the story, its grandeur, the meaning of the ring and how it applies to my life, the insignificant hobbits playing such an important role in destroying the ring (although in the end, Frodo failed), the mental images of a decaying world (reminding me of ours), the wise, slow-talking Ents (I need to slow down), Stridor who was a woman’s man (will I ever meet someone like that), and Gandalf, the fearless wizard, and many others, these images will grow over time and become a part of me. Some parts of the story were understated. I will see or experience something that will trigger a reflection back to those scenes which have etched themselves in my memory forever.
Some of my favorite movies and books I have read or watched only once. Perhaps they stir within me feelings that I haven’t fully explored, thoughts that I don’t have answers to or motifs that still await redemption and therefore are painful to relive, much like reading about Christ’s crucifixion in the Bible. It hurts too much. I can think of many such examples; e.g., the movie A Beautiful Mind and the book The Exodus.
So to sum up the results, who is the better story-teller, C.S. Lewis topped J.R.R. Tolkien in light versus darkness motif, story-telling content, and style, but J.R.R. Tolkien came in first with takeaway– long-term impressions that will grow with the passage of time and increase in measure and fullness of meaning.


By Lorilyn Roberts
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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Ten Characteristics That Make Good Books Great,” by Lorilyn Roberts

This article originally appeared on Pentalk’s blog.

An Author’s Study of the Classics
Ten Characteristics That Make Good Books Great
By Lorilyn Roberts

When I began my Masters in Creative Writing from Perelandra College two years ago, I was frightfully afraid I wouldn’t be able to write fiction. I had spent the last thirty years reading and writing nonfiction in a journalistic setting. Long ago were the days I spent as a child reading fiction books about mushroom planets, traveling through tesseracts, meeting talking animals, solving mysteries of hidden staircases, becoming a heroine, and falling in love with war heroes. Those delightful stories were my constant companion and escape from reality; how different my early years would have been without those great books.

As I grow older, it’s refreshing to see my inner child peek out and remind me I am still who I was way back then. Yes, a little bigger around the waist with a few more wrinkles, but I treasure those wonderful stories that were such a big part of my childhood. What was it about them that stole my heart and brought me such a love for books and writing?

Could I write a book similar to those that I so dearly loved? Matthew 10:24 states, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” I reasoned, how can I be the best writer possible unless I read the best literature? 


I asked my professor, Ken Kuhlken, “What is the most perfect book ever written?” From this question, we had a series of discussions that led to me taking two classes of independent study. I set about reading some of the books he suggested. I am now finishing my second class and am looking forward to reading works by C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. I saved the best for last.
 

After reading over a million words from the best literature, I have come to appreciate what makes a good book great is not accident or luck. The stunning story that emerges from the pen of a Master is a work of art, painstakingly designed, written, and edited. The stories are  not created out of a “one size fits all” mentality or factory-produced where the plots are predictable and the characters “stereotypical.” To write a great book, I won’t find GPS directions to get me there or weekend seminars to make it easy.

Those activities serve useful purposes, but not to write great stories. It takes a commitment to excellence, patience, talent, and perseverance.

After having read ten of the best classics, I also wonder if great writing is caught, not taught, borne out of pain and suffering. I was surprised by the many similarities in the biographies of classic authors: The crucible of suffering was imprinted in their lives and found its way into the pages of their books.

To help me sort through what makes these books classics, I have listed ten characteristics I found in common. You might be surprised. I know I was.
1.  Create characters that will be remembered long after the book is finished. We are made for relationships, and this part of our nature carries over into books. For example, I remember my first love crush from The Exodus by Leon Uris when I was seventeen; and the poor, battered soul in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Make characters memorable and your book will be remembered.

2. The Christian worldview speaks to the heart of man. While fads come and go, new ideas spread across continents, and knowledge increases with each passing year, written on our hearts are values that cross generations and cultures. All the classics I have read present a Christian worldview. While some make no mention of the Bible (Frankenstein), it is implied, and writers who have written classics embrace this universal truth.

3. Write tight plots. John Piper has written a wonderful book called Don’t Waste Your Life.  I would say don’t waste your reader’s precious time by including scenes or characters that add nothing to the story. Every scene, every character, and every chapter must serve a point. Examples of the best are A Tale of Two Cities and Wuthering Heights. That doesn’t mean there can’t be many characters. It just means each character must be absolutely necessary to propel the story forward.

4. To add to your book’s greatness, let it make a statement about society, about life, about those things that are deep within us that cause us to groan and laugh, reflect and ponder, and most of all, never to give up hope (The Brothers Karamazov).

5. Take risks. Original works oftentimes make people squirm because they take the reader out of his comfort zone. Some of the great classics were not originally well received because they were “different” (Wuthering Heights).

6. Don’t shy away from embracing controversial topics or paradigms that impact the story and raise the stakes for the protagonist (The Grand Inquisitor, Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein, The Power and the Glory, Wuthering Heights, The Brothers Karamazov, and Pride and Prejudice).

7. Redemption out of chaos brings hope, leaving the reader with optimism about his future. I am reminded that our words will outlive us in the pages of our books. Make your book a gift worth remembering. (Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice).

8. The tone, symbolism, and motifs should work in unison to undergird the subliminal theme and arc of the story. Make it relevant to the reader (Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment, The Power and the Glory).

9. Slow down the forward progression of the story sufficiently to explore the psychological and spiritual warfare experienced by the protagonist For example, here is a comment I wrote from my analysis of Crime and Punishment: “Never mind the ‘punishments’ I received. What I learned early on is I have a conscience. A relentless whisper spoke to me even when I didn’t want to listen. My guilt pricked my soul like a thorn, bothering me more than I could have imagined. I did not know I would feel so miserable before I committed each of my various “crimes.” I was forced to carry a heavy burden that painfully weighed me down until I either confessed my sin or my guilt was discovered. The suffering was relentless and did more to drive me to a loving God than the severe discipline I received from those who showed no grace.” (Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Pride and Prejudice).

 



10.   Leave the reader forever changed. If your book is forgotten after the last page is read, you will have forfeited a great opportunity to make the world a better place.

If you have additional characteristics you would like to share, please do.

Lorilyn Roberts is an up-and-coming new author who writes with passion about life, politically incorrect topics, homeschooling, adoption, book reviews, author interviews, inspirational stories, family topics, Bible studies, poetry, and the art of writing. Lorilyn has written many books including The Donkey and the King, Children of Dreams, and How to Launch a Christian Best-Seller Book. She is the founder of the John 3:16 Marketing Network, a network of Christian authors who focus on launching books, and the president of the Gainesville, Florida, Word Weavers Chapter.

Lorilyn’s personal website:  
http://lorilynroberts.com.
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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Confessions on The Brothers Karamazov, Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” by Lorilyn Roberts

 
 
Lorilyn:  I feel humbled and chastised – things that bothered me about The Brothers Karamazov make more sense now, as the meanings are so much deeper than my superficiality; i.e., I didn’t like the ending. There wasn’t the redemption I was looking for. Dmitri was found guilty; thus, the court system failed.

I wanted to know what was going to happen to him. I felt like Dostoevsky didn’t know what to do, so he just left it open for the reader to conjecture—a cop-out. I didn’t agree with the theme of the book, that we are responsible for other’s people’s sins in the sense that he was so emphatic.

I felt like there were a lot of extraneous people in the book that served no real purpose; i.e., why did the little boy have to die?  What did that add to the story – you get the picture. I did like the book, it’s just I wanted it to be nice and tidy, and it wasn’t.

So now I am confronting my own set of doubts – maybe I am my brother’s keeper.  But you know what? I don’t want to be my brother’s keeper. That means I have to love some people that are quite unlovable. So that means I am a fake. I apply my own beliefs to loving those I choose to love, and that means I am no different from Ivan or Dmitri. That is disturbing.

Ken (my professor), I think I am having a crisis – sure, I can write a nice little script for the course that will satisfy the powers that be for the school certification, but suppose I don’t want to? Suppose I want to risk being real? Maybe I am in search of something that doesn’t exist and I have just been kidding myself. I felt like Alyosha was weak and Zosima was a dreamer out of touch with reality.

And freedom – Christ set men free, the opposite of that is totalitarianism. Perhaps the fight is greater than we realize. Maybe we really are so enslaved to sin in our thought process that we don’t even realize it.
I shall have strange dreams tonight.
 
This was Professor Ken Kuhlken’s comments back, with some personal references omitted.
 
Ken:  This is wonderful. If Dostoyevski could wish that his readers would come away with one message, I would bet it would be that if we want to see the world as a tidy place, we had better buy into the Grand Inquisitor’s theory (which would soon, in Russia, be essentially the theory of communism).
 
I’m awfully proud of you for confronting yourself and your beliefs. 
 
The world truly needs more writers who are willing to tell what they see as the truth whether or not it fits into a comfortable package. And it needs fewer writers who tell comforting lies. 
 
About being our brother’s keeper, for the past year, I’ve been reading Soren Kierkegaard who argues convincingly that Jesus called us to love without distinction all whom he puts in our way……. I start to find that the resentments and all simply don’t matter. I hope to gradually learn to treat everyone this way. Partly because it sets me free from my self-centered emotions.
 

 

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Freedom of Chaos,” by Lorilyn Roberts

We want freedom in writing within a framework of orderliness. A house can have many different looks, but without a solid foundation, it won’t stand. I homeschool my younger daughter Joy and the first chapter in her English book is about how to construct a sentence. The topic is covered in detail, beginning with the definition of a subject and a predicate.

The foundation of a good story must have good sentence structure. The sentences need to be woven together to form a well-written paragraph with a main idea. The paragraphs build over a page, and eventually, the pages come together to make chapters. An entire book emerges from one sentence. But if you don’t have structure, usually built from the skeleton of good grammar and an outline, you will end up with chaos.

God is a God of order. But we don’t need to be legalistic or rigid. Once we understand the idea of structure, we have the freedom to build on that structure and create fabulous stories.

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Love Your Characters,” by Lorilyn Roberts: Based on Ken Kuhlken’s Book “Writing and the Spirit”

Love Your Characters

A recent event popped into my head where I misjudged somebody’s comment. Fortunately, it bugged me enough that I said something about it to my daughter, who promptly straightened out my misunderstanding. I was thankful she did and later wondered how many times I’ve misjudged someone and never knew.

As a fictional writer, it’s important to understand the inner workings of even the most bastard character. The psychology of being is at the core of every living thing and crucial to what makes each individual unique. If we want to make believable characters, we better know what makes them itch, do something stupid, or surprise the reader; but to love them? I am not sure I can do that. Perhaps I can love getting to know them better as I create them, but I don’t know if I have the power of Dickens to love my antagonistic characters the way he did.

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Love Better,” by Lorilyn Roberts: Based on Ken Kuhlken’s Book “Writing and the Spirit”

Fear of being judged is a great spoiler of creativity. Unnecessary rules affect me the same way, and I run from negativity like the plague. I have learned it is better for me to be alone when I am “in the spirit” and writing; hence, my frequent trips to Starbucks.

“Perfect love casts out fear” is one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I have come to believe that those who say negative, unloving things-in reviews, in comments, or in other aspects of living-either are insecure or narcissistic. I may not know which, but I avoid those types of people like roaches. I can make my own pity party without their help. Instead, I seek out those who are full of the spirit. Most noticeably in the John 3:16 Marketing Network, we have individuals who are uplifting and caring about others.

I love the song, “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord…” May we love better as we write because we write what the world needs to hear. As the song goes, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love…”

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Be Perfect,” by Lorilyn Roberts: Based on Ken Kuhlken’s Book “Writing and the Spirit”

The context here of “be perfect” should be considered active, not passive. We can never be perfect in the passive sense, but with God’s help, we look forward to what we can become. We can try to write the perfect story, the perfect book, the perfect whatever, knowing humanly-speaking we won’t achieve it, but also knowing we are a work in progress. If we walk with God, the more we learn about Him, the greater the possibility of achieving perfection.


I believe some saints of the arts have come close. I think about the perfection of Handel’s Messiah and Pachelbel’s Canon. When I was in Italy I visited The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. I stared at the painting for about thirty minutes all alone (a gift in itself) admiring its beauty. Even in its compromised condition, the artwork was perfect for me. The amazing masterpiece brought me into a sweet communion with God which I had not experienced for a long time.

As far as the art of writing, we have the greatest story ever told in the Bible. While there may be copying mistakes, do we really see them? I get so “in the spirit” with the beauty that comes close to perfection that I forget it was written by imperfect human beings.

Why would God not continue to dole out creativity like that today? I believe He does. We don’t strive, but we do give God our all, knowing that when we create, we become most like Him, the Creator. As a child of God, we know He seeks to give us more than we could ever ask. When we think of art and developing the talents He’s given us, we can come close to perfection.

Otherwise, why would demons waste so much time destroying creative minds? Look around and see the beauty; it is all around us—in nature, in museums, in music, and in books. God’s creative spirit indwells and woos us to believe in miracles, redemption, love, and hope in art. The world needs us and God blesses us with our creativity for His good pleasure.


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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Get Real,” by Lorilyn Roberts: Based on Ken Kuhlken’s Book “Writing and the Spirit”

Becoming the person God created me to be has been fraught with unbelievable obstacles. I don’t know whether it is so with others, but from the time I was a child, I have struggled with being “me.” 

A broken home at an early age, unrealistic expectations, lack of spiritual truth, insecurity, and a failure to recognize me as “created in God’s image” kept me on dead-end roads for years.

The gumption never to give up in search of truth was God’s gift. His unconditional love has enabled me to overcome the demons from the past, the lies I believed, and the grace to let go of the hurt. Redemption is the reward in this world for a life well-finished in spite of perilous beginnings. And for that I am thankful.

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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “Creative Writing Killers,” by Lorilyn Roberts: Based on Ken Kuhlken’s Book “Writing and the Spirit”



I have discovered the greatest killer of creative writing is lack of sleep. The second greatest obstacle is worry—about the future, my family, my career, or not being in control.

In recent years, I have made sleep a priority, but I haven’t conquered this dragon. On some days he roars out and I’m beat completely. I tell myself, this, too, shall pass. Tonight I will get a good night’s rest and tomorrow I will begin again. The first step, though, is recognizing the need and then pursuing the need with commitment. I have found that commitment is attainable, though not without sacrifice. Sometimes other things don’t get done. But to be creative, I must get sufficient sleep; no ifs, ands, or buts.

The second obstacle presents a more slippery slope. I call this the battle of emotions. My human nature is to worry; my spiritual nature is to trust God. As pointed out in the chapter, I must begin with the “spirit” to even have a chance of winning this battle. Without God, I can’t do anything. My writing is stale and I don’t even have a desire to write. All my energy is consumed with whatever I am besieged with, and the result is depression.

I have come to realize there is something circuitous about this; I write not to become depressed, but I can’t write if I am depressed. So it begins with the Bible, focusing on God, and prayer. These tenets of the faith help me to be in the right mindset to overcome evil, and I believe it is evil that prevents me from writing. It is a battle of the mind for control—worry versus trust, belief versus unbelief. These battles, though, can be woven into wonderful stories with redemption. That is why I write.


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CREATIVE WRITING INSIGHTS: “The Gumption Factor In Writing And Getting Published,” by Lorilyn Roberts

In my advanced writing class at Perelandra College, Professor Ken Kuhlken wrote, “When we have preconceptions, we need to let go of them if we hope to find new answers.”

Preconceptions can set us up for failure if we are rigid. But what if we use our preconceptions to catapult us to a level of excellence not limited by our finite vision?

A couple of years ago, I wrote my memoir about the adoption of my two daughters as creative nonfiction. I meticulously researched facts and details I had forgotten. I scoured the Internet to verify locations, names, dates, and chronological order of events. I pulled out every document I had saved from both adoptions and poured my heart and soul into my writing.

I asked many friends, professional acquaintances, and editor-journalism-communication types to read Children of Dreams and offer suggestions on how I could make it better. I listened and made revisions that created an almost unbelievable story.

Two weeks before the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference in 2009, I sent off my completed manuscript to be reviewed by an editor attending the conference. I spent $50 and downloaded a file to prepare myself for the right attitude while at the conference. I had attended this conference twice before and came away both times disillusioned. This time I was determined not to let that happened.

I couldn’t think of anything that an editor could say to me for which I would not have an answer. I launched my website before the conference and signed up for the marketing class with Randy Ingermanson. I was ready to dive in and market my book if an editor or agent offered me a contract on Children of Dreams. I did not feel like I was setting myself up for failure. I always set lofty goals and then leave the outcome in God’s hands.

The conference arrived and I was excited to be there. I couldn’t wait to share the joy of my book with others. But when I showed my manuscript around, I was surprised by the comments.

“No one is publishing memoirs right now,” one person said. “Oh, a memoir,” another stated. People stepped back from me like I had bad breath. Nobody would read one line and acted like I had written something C-rated at best. But I remained positive. I was certain when I received my manuscript back from the reviewing editor the next day, he would be interested.

The moment arrived when all the reviews were handed out to the attendees. When mine wasn’t, I went up and inquired. Despite the volunteers looking everywhere, they didn’t have mine. While my book was “lost,” all the remaining slots to meet with other editors filled up. Nobody knew where my book was. If the editor who had received my manuscript didn’t like it, I would have no opportunity to present my book to someone else.

To say I was disillusioned is an understatement, but it didn’t come close to what I felt when my manuscript was found. I read the note the editor wrote. “You might consider submitting this to a magazine.”

If the editor had read one paragraph of that 235-page manuscript, he would have known the story couldn’t be condensed into an article. I had presented part of it to a “Focus on the Family” editor a year earlier, and her comment was, “It’s too long. If you can shorten it, we would love to take another look.” I was unwilling to cut it down more, and it was that comment that made me realize I needed to write the whole story. It took 235 pages to do the story justice.

I did meet later with a couple of editors at the conference and was told by them—as well as an agent, “When you have one thousand people on an opt-in list, come back and talk to us.” While I was nice to them, I thought to myself, if I had one thousand people on an opt-in list, why would I need you?

As a result of that experience, my “gumption” kicked in. I reassessed what I really wanted. What was important to me? Sometimes “no’s” become wonderful opportunities to think “outside the box.” We are free to pursue goals we never would have considered if we had been given what our preconceived ideas told us we wanted.

The key is to be open to change, to give up something to receive something better. Since God controls the outcome, we should focus on the process and what we can do to enhance our chance to achieve our goal.

I have never met an author who didn’t have a lot of gumption to become published. Good writing and successful marketing are key, and money helps the process to go faster as far as exposure, but without the seed within us never to give up, the chances are we won’t go anywhere with our writing.

Today I have forty-three reviews with five stars on Amazon. I thank all my friends and professional contacts every time a new five-star review goes up, knowing without their honest input—and yes, some of it hurt—Children of Dreams wouldn’t have all those wonderful reviews.

My gumption not to give up is still intact, and I am more determined than ever to share my writing with others. Preconceived ideas have long gone out the window. I am setting a new path into the unknown with the John 3:16 Marketing Network, writing a new young adult fantasy novel, obtaining my Master’s in Creative Writing, and hopefully someday will teach at the university level in China when I finish my education.

God gives us a cup overflowing with opportunity when we commit our way to Him. Gumption is the human quality He endears us with to get us started. If God is for us, who can be against us?

You can read more about Lorilyn on her website at LorilynRoberts.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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