Janet Sumner Johnson
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On Agatha Christie

Oct 22, 2013 Uncategorized 13 comments

This past week I read my very first Agatha Christie novel.

I know, I know . . . no judging.

Last night, I finished And Then There Were None. Just saying, I might have had trouble going to sleep. Agatha Christie is amazing!

But what I loved best was the Author’s Note at the beginning. It was an excerpt from An Autobiography (obviously hers):

“I had written this book because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. . . . It was well-received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.”

I love that! I love that she openly admits how hard it was to write this. Agatha Christie, pretty much the best-selling author ever, had to WORK for it. And she didn’t let the hardness of it stop her. She pushed through until she succeeded. Until she’d written a perfectly chilling book that confused and baffled, yet had a logical explanation.

The woman was brilliant!

And I say that not because everything came to her easily. I say it because she didn’t quit. She pushed herself to continue. To solve the puzzle. To do the nearly un-doable.

And when she’d finished, it didn’t matter what others thought. She knew what she had accomplished.

What are you pushing yourself to achieve?


Celebrities with NO Make-up, Writer Edition

Oct 14, 2013 Uncategorized 11 comments

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Those picture-articles titled something like: “What Celebrities Look Like With NO Make-up!”

I believe they are supposed to make us feel good, because even the Stars don’t look like Stars all the time!* Which brings us to the logical conclusion that if we had our own personal make-up artists and wardrobe consultants, we, too, would look like Stars. Right?

In fact, this whole idea inspired me to share such a comparison of myself:

 
 
Now, I know these pictures look like a before and after for some weight-loss program, but you should know:
  1. I weigh approximately the same in both these pictures. If anything, I weigh less in the not-so-nice picture.
  2. These pictures are taken less than a year apart (the not-so-nice one being taken last winter, the nice one being taken yesterday).
  3. I am wearing make-up in both of them.
So all these things being equal, what is the real difference between these two pictures? Why is one extremely not-so-nice, and the other so much better?
 
The answer? Effort.
 
In the not-so-nice one, I am not sure if I took this picture or if my husband did. Maybe it was even one of the kids. Clearly the photographer gave no thought to getting a nice picture. Snap, and it was done.
 
In the other picture, I took 21 pictures, adjusting something each time until I got a picture I liked. First the lighting wasn’t right, so I tried some different locations. Then the angle of my face bothered me. Next it was my smile, then where my eyes were looking. After 20 little tweeks and nudges, I decided I was satisfied. In short, I put forth a lot of work and effort to get something that I felt was presentable.
 
This, dear peeps, is why we revise. Why we get beta readers and critique partners. Why we read and re-read our work and make changes until our eyes bleed. Because seriously, can you imagine sending that not-so-nice picture to an agent or editor?
 
I thought not.
 

*And I’ll give us all the benefit of the doubt that we like those Stars better for it, and feel the indignity of what the paparazzi subject them to, because who would like having their picture taken in all their worst moments?


On Doubt

Oct 07, 2013 Uncategorized 8 comments

Today I wanted to share a quote that I found inspiring:

“Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The business of becoming an author is almost as much about learning to deal with rejection as it is about learning to write. Rejection from agents. Rejection from editors. Rejection from readers.

It is no wonder that doubts creep in: Is my writing good enough? Do I have what it takes to continue? Do I have any ideas worth sharing with the world?

And really this is what it all comes down to. Our success is not so much based on our inherent ability, but on our determination to keep trying even when we doubt. Even when it seems impossible. Even when it feels like the world is telling us to quit.

We must cling to the faith we have in ourselves. The faith that our hard work and determination can conquer any odds.

We CAN’T let doubt pull us down. Because we CAN do this!


License Plate Interpretation PART 2

Sep 30, 2013 Uncategorized 7 comments

My husband saw this at work and, thoughtful man, took a picture for me:

This one had me curious . . . did someone choose to put this on themselves because it is a nickname from someone they love? Or did a dad do this to his daughter? Or maybe a different option all together . . . like they are a fan of that children’s show . . . This is the song that never ends . . . Gah! What have I done?! Now I’ll be singing it all day. 🙁

What do you think? What is the story?


License Plate Interpretation

Sep 23, 2013 Uncategorized 3 comments

Last Saturday we were headed off to my son’s soccer game when we came across this license plate:

CANT-B

It was on a white SUV made by GMC. So my question to you is: What can’t be?


Tools

Sep 16, 2013 Uncategorized 6 comments

I have this cookie recipe that is just . . . Yum. So yum that people ask for the recipe all the time. Now I’m no master baker, but seriously, these cookies rock.

Which is why I was so surprised when I got some feedback that the cookies weren’t working out. Had I missed an ingredient? Forgotten to tell them something? What was the secret that I was withholding?!!

I couldn’t figure it out until I made them during a visit to my parents. The cookies weren’t the same at all! I’d used my same recipe. I’d done everything the same, so why had I failed?

And then it hit me. The pans! At home I always use a baking stone. My parents didn’t have one. And oh, what a difference it made.

So it turns out that my cookies aren’t amazing because of any special talent I have, but rather because of the tools I use.

A lesson that applies to life. When I started writing, I thought that getting published was about talent. Only those who were born with an intrinsic ability to write could attain such a lofty goal. But I’ve since learned differently. Writing (or drawing, or playing a sport, or whatever it is you love to do) isn’t about talent. It’s about tools. And getting those tools is about work.

You want to write characters who are real? Start reading about characterization. In the blogosphere alone there are countless articles on how to do this. Check out a few books on writing, then practice, practice, practice. That is how you gain the tool of creating awesome characters. And the same goes for any other aspect of writing, or really of anything.

You don’t think your talented enough? So what! Get out there and do the work. Practice, practice, practice. Because that, my friends, is where it’s at.

Have you ever gotten a “tool” through practice and hard work?


This vs. That: Potato Chips vs. Cheese Puffs

Sep 09, 2013 Uncategorized 7 comments

I really meant to get to this a long time ago. And I could sling excuses all over the place in explanation, BUT . . . I know you’re all dying to hear the results of this debate. Dying!

And I cannot in good conscious be the cause of anyone’s early demise, so here we go:

Total votes: 13

Potato Chips: 9 votes; 69%
Cheese Puffs: 3 votes; 23%
Popcorn: 1 vote; 8%
Interesting. Everyone had an opinion. Not one person was split or wanted to vote for both. I place the blame entirely on the powdered cheese. It has a polarizing effect kind of like Hilary Clinton. Either you love, love, love it, or you can’t stand it. No middle ground involved.

I voted for potato chips, but I confess that watching Toy Story 2 kind of makes me want to inhale a bowl or two of cheese puffs. Gross, I know. Which in the end is why potato chips won.

Another interesting note on this topic is that they have inverted initials: PC (Potato Chips) vs. CP (Cheese Puffs). Funny, huh? AND both initials stand for something else. PC: Politically Correct OR Personal Computer. CP: Critique Partner.

If I had noticed the initial thing sooner, I might have chosen Cheese Puffs solely for the preferable word association. Because I LOVE my critique partners. Hi guys! *waves at all my CP’s*

Alas I digress.

So on to the next debate:

Cold Cereal

vs.

Pancakes


We Have a Winner!

Sep 02, 2013 Uncategorized 3 comments

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway and helped spread the word. You guys are awesome!

Rafflecopter has chosen a winner . . .

Sandra

Congratulations! I have e-mailed you with instructions to claim your prize. Thanks again to all who entered. Now go enjoy your day!


HSC Congratulations: Amy’s Book Deal!!

Aug 27, 2013 Uncategorized 17 comments

As you may know, Amy Sonnichsen, founding member of the Hacky Sack Club [HSC] recently signed a book deal!!!

We’ve been bouncing off the walls with excitement for her. BOUNCING.

So. This is the kind of thing that we at the HSC can’t just let go by without doing something crazy. So Melissa Sarno and I got together. I flew in to New YorkWe Skyped and emailed and Googled and came up with a fabulous way to express our congratulations to Amy while embarrassing ourselves in a HSC kind of way.

As it turns out, Melissa is a sound and video editing genius, so for your viewing pleasure, we present to you our video [And YES! That is Melissa and me singing TOGETHER even though I did not get to fly to New York. She’s brilliant, I tell you!]:

Congratulations, Amy! We’re On Top of the World right there with you. 😀


Stormclouds and Rainbows

Aug 19, 2013 Uncategorized 13 comments

Today I have a story to tell. See this picture? I took it at a rest stop in Wyoming.

But this is more than just a picture. It is a visual representation of the first twelve hours of my road trip.

See, my husband needed to study for a big test, so my three kids and I (ages 9, 6, and 4) headed off on a 16-hour drive. On our own.

I did all the packing, and I thought of everything. I pretty much packed the kitchen sink AND the bathroom sink. Alas, about four hours into the trip, I realized the one thing I forgot . . .

My wallet!

Yup. It would have been better to have forgotten ANYTHING else. I couldn’t just drive back because I had less than a half tank by then. My husband couldn’t just wire me some money to the closest town because you have to have picture ID to pick it up. He could mail my wallet to my destination, but what good would that do me when I had no way to drive the remaining 700 miles of my trip?

I was pretty much a mess, but I had kids in the car, so I had to pretend like I was calm and in control. (Which lasted . . . oh, not very long: “STOP WHINING! I have no money, no way to go home, I need to THINK!! And I can’t do that with you kids fighting over who touched who!”)

To give him credit, my awesome husband was ready to jump in the car and drive the 4 hours to meet us (EIGHT HOURS ROUND TRIP!!!). I just didn’t like that option.*

I called my credit card company and they said they couldn’t do anything from there. BUT, if I could convince a cashier to call them, they could approve a card-less transaction because I could prove my identity over the phone. I stopped at four different gas stations. At each one I politely explained my plight and asked if they could help, but they all refused. By the fifth gas station I was in tears. Funny how they were suddenly willing to at least try.

Hurray! I filled the tank, but it was not enough to get to my destination. So next,  I called home to tell them the situation. Amazingly, my sister was leaving that minute on a work trip heading my direction. She would pass me some time in Wyoming and wanted to meet in Laramie. I calculated distances, and realized gas-wise, it would be pretty tight, BUT, from Laramie, one tank of gas could get me to my destination. Maybe. Barely.

At Cheyenne, I debated. I was low on gas. But my car told me I could go 70 miles and Laramie was only 50 miles away . . .

ALL. UP. HILL.

Yeah. So I bit my nails, white-knuckled the steering wheel, and ignored that sick feeling in my stomach until I finally got to the top of the mountain pass. Which is when my car said I could go ZERO miles. But I was at the top of a mountain pass! It was downhill the whole way! And don’t those mileage counters have a little padding built in?

Well, if my kids hadn’t been with me, I might have tried it. Instead, I stopped at the Lincoln-head rest stop right there at the top:

Happily, my sister knew right where it was because of good old Mr. Lincoln there. She brought me a gas can and loaned me enough money to get me to my destination. It was like the picture. The moment the dark stormy clouds start to disperse and the sunshine breaks through, bringing with it a rainbow and a promise of better times.

It’s kind of a good analogy for all sorts of things. Life. Writing. Overcoming obstacles. Alas, we have to face hard things all the time. Things that seem impossible to overcome . . . when the easiest or most obvious solutions aren’t acceptable and you have to really FIGHT for something better. Keep trying even when you’ve been rejected how many ever times, and feel like it’s hopeless.

This trip will forever after be remembered as “The Time I Drove Across Country Without Any Money.” And when I think of it, I will smile. Because despite the odds, despite the stress, I did it. It took a lot of help, and a hero (my sister) had to swoop in to save me, but I did it.

And I can do it again. Next time I face insurmountable odds.**

Have you ever overcome insurmountable odds? Tell me about it!

And P.S. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to enter my giveaway!

*The whole point of the trip was to GIVE HIM TIME, not waste it!!
**Which will not be forgetting my wallet on a cross-country trip, because I will NEVER, EVER do that again. 😉