January 8, 2018

Perspectives: A Novel View

A big decision in novel-writing concerns which perspective you'll present to unfold the story and/or develop the characters you have in mind.

To find what will work best for your book, consider these questions:

• Whose story is this?

• Can your main character tell the story well or will someone else’s view be needed?

• Would a single viewpoint or multi-perspective be better?

• As a reader, which do you prefer?

My favorite novels almost always center around the viewpoint of a single person I identify with or admire such as Anne of Green Gables, Mary in The Secret Garden, and Christy. In addition, I like to observe people and discover what shapes, guides, and motivates them. So, it’s pretty much a done-deal for me to write from a single viewpoint, staying in the eyes, ears, knowledge, and feelings of one main character who intrigues me and has her or his own story to tell. Therefore, I mainly have to decide whether to use first person (I, me, we us); second person (you) which isn’t likely in my case; or third person (she/he, them, they.)

Regardless of persons, the advantage of this single view is intimacy and immediacy. i.e., You feel as though you’re there as the story unfolds and primary character matures. This makes the book your story too as you read. Or, equally important, this gives you an idea of what goes on in the heads of people like and unlike yourself.

In describing my book, Hand Me Down the Dawn, which I recently revised for its second printing, I’d have to call the novel “character driven.” i.e., The motivations, choices, introspection, and action come from one main character, who’s dealing with a theme of trust as she overcomes hard times and enjoys life-changing experiences in this inspirational romance novel set in Florida in 1895.

That’s the story behind my story, but let’s look at a different perspective on perspectives. In his newest novel, Dancing King, Glynn Young needed multi-viewpoint characters to keep his action-driven story in motion. Besides expanding the view for readers to get a fuller picture of the story movement, this treatment effectively produced a potential television mini-series, especially since the book is the third in a trilogy.

But I wanted to know what Glynn’s thoughts were and why a multi-viewpoint story came to him. When I emailed to ask, he wrote, “It's a big story, ‘big’ in the sense of complex. It's the story of a young man unexpectedly finding himself and his family in an exalted position.”

The size of your story and its theme, purpose, and reach can help you determine the perspective that will work best for your novel.

In my novel, for instance, a young woman grows up and learns what love is. And so, telling her story from her point of view makes sense.

In Glynn’s trilogy, the story of the main character – a priest-turned-king “is the heart of all three novels. In the first, it's part of a larger group of characters' stories, but he remains at the center. In the second, there is a period in which someone else must tell the story because he's incapacitated. In the third, the story is so large that it can't be told by just one narrator. To tell it properly requires the key players.”

The overall effect reminds me of an action movie that cuts from one character and scene to another as each episode interlocks to create a larger story with a huge theme: the need for political and religious reform. If, however, a single character had presented such a global story, it would most likely come across as either too cerebral or too slanted to maintain balance, and so Glynn's novel is well-suited to a multiple view.

Character-driven or story-driven (action)…? Knowing which category your novel best fits will help you to find perspective and get your writing off to a good start. Then, you can let your main character or main story idea lead you to The End.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

Dancing King, paperback

Hand Me Down the Dawn, paperback

January 1, 2018

No Trespassing into the New Year

This first day of the New Year presents us with the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the past, let go of anything that needs forgiving, and resolve to keep our relationships with God, ourselves, and others free of obstructions.

The Lord’s Prayer or Our Father reminds us to do this every day. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to ask for God’s forgiveness with the understanding (condition?) that we, too, must forgive.

Most translations of the Matthew 6 version of the prayer call us to forgive “debts,” but that connotation of a monetary obligation can be confusing. To clarify, Jesus goes on to say:

“If you forgive others their trespasses against you, your heavenly Father will forgive yours too, but if you do not forgive them for their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours,” Matthew 6:14-15.

In addition, Christians in many church denominations regularly pray the Our Father, asking God to:

“Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.”

In my church, we not only pray the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday, we end each Bible study session with this prayer Jesus gave to His followers. But, this Sunday, one of our newer members told me he couldn’t think of any trespasses against him!

I had to laugh. Moments earlier he had expressed concern for a woman who lived in one of his rental properties. When she couldn’t pay her rent one month, he lowered it from $800 to $500, which she reportedly could handle. But then, when she didn’t pay even that lesser amount the next month, he told her $100 would be okay.

When she made no attempt to pay anything toward her rent or make any arrangements at all or even discuss the matter, he reluctantly told her she would have to move. The deadline came and went, and she remained – rent-free – in his house, despite the financial responsibility this put on him. But here’s the thing:

It did not even occur to him that she had trespassed against him!

Although it’d become clear that the woman was taking advantage of him by staying in his house, she continued to trespass on his property. She kept increasing her debt. And yet, this man took no offense. He did not see himself as being victimized or put upon.

Seeing this Christlike response, I realized that forgiving those who trespass against us is the bare minimum we’re to do!

Greater than our need to forgive is the God-given ability for giving others empathy, kindness, the benefit of the doubt, and the generosity of a loving spirit that isn’t even offended!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

December 22, 2017

Joy to the world!

Oh, come! Let us celebrate
the birth of the Christ-Child
Who rejoices at our rebirth.

The Holy Infant Jesus –
on us for His care –
shows us
how we must
come to Him
like trusting children.

Hold Him on your lap
with love,
and let Him hug you,
heal you,
and hum a lullaby.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, from the poetry book PRAISE!

November 25, 2017

Saving your files and updates

First, we had floppy disks then hard disks then CDs and DVDs to backup copies of our word processing files. Then flash drives came along with yet another option. Despite the many choices still usable for the safekeeping of manuscripts, there is a problem: We have to remember every step involved and do it!

Often, I don’t. Or, even if I do think about saving my updates and new files on a flash drive, I might not have a spare one on hand, and the nearest store is 30 miles away.

After investigating DropBox and Google Docs as online storage options, which many people use and like, I uploaded my Word files to Docs and uploaded the digital photos stored on my hard drive to Google Photos.

Eventually I discovered that, with Microsoft Word for my writing projects, the newer versions include OneDrive, which can keep off-line work in sync with each update stored on the Cloud. At first I couldn’t find my off-line files as easily, but I’m very grateful for this way to keep my poems, blogs, books, and bio intact because, a couple of weeks ago, my hard drive crashed, wiping out all of the files and programs stored in my computer.

With a new hard drive ready to repopulate files with the backups stored on Google Docs, Photos, and OneDrive, I considered doing all of my writing online from now on. But then, the Internet went out!

For several hours I could do no work because what I needed wasn’t yet in my Word files. I had to go online to get them, but with no Internet connection, I couldn’t. Nevertheless, I’m glad this happened at my moment of indecisiveness - not as a coincidence but a God-incidence meant to guide me into doing my writing off-line then backing up to a Cloud.

The next decision concerned whether to continue with Microsoft Word as my sole word processing software. Prior to my computer crash, I had Word 2010, which came with my computer. With that program gone, the local technician who fixed my computer installed a retro copy of Word. So I had to decide whether to buy an upgrade or go another route.

The problem with upgrading software is that it’s a never-ending and often expensive choice, but if too many years lapse between word processing versions, glitches inevitably occur with no patches to close the gap.

This may change, but at the moment, I’m enjoying the FREE word processing download from WPS. Not only does it remind me of earlier programs that better suited my needs as a writer, but with each “save,” it asks me if I want to save a copy to the Cloud! Yeah!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

October 31, 2017

Marketing your book in person

When the Crescent City public library hosted “Meet & Greet the Authors” at the Crescent City Woman’s Club last weekend, this well-organized event gave me an opportunity to meet other writers and readers in my area. I sold more books in our small town than I’d sold over the past few months on Amazon, and I also learned a lot!

People want to get to know you before they buy your books.

Since most readers also want to know more about the area in which they live, book browsers seemed especially interested in my poetry from a natural Florida perspective. And, they hung around book tables where other authors had histories and mysteries set in our state or county.

Books on your locale will be most apt to sell.

Although it’s not yet November, I made a point of mentioning how some of my books might make nice gifts for Christmas. Then, I asked if the buyer wanted me to sign a book with the name of the person for whom they’d bought the gift or, in case they seemed unsure, if they wanted an autograph with a greeting appropriate for anyone.

Children’s books do particularly well as gifts.

Generic signings might be “God bless” or “Happy reading!” followed by an autograph.

Did I mention that I sign in pencil? My handwriting has deteriorated a bit, plus I’m apt to misspell my own name! An ink pen would have marred 3 signings, but as it was, I could easily erase.

Having someone (in my case, my supportive husband) to take monies, make change, and note which titles sold was another big plus as this left me free to chat with people, answer questions, and simply ask, “What do you like to read?” That latter question helped me to direct buyers toward titles that might interest them the most – even though they said they don’t normally buy poetry!

In addition to this event, which featured about a dozen writers and their books, our public library often invites locals poets and writers to give readings, which can be another opportunity to market a book. Those occasions also give a chance to answer questions and talk about what evoked a subject, scene, or poem, which inevitably interests potential book buyers even more.

Besides investigating what your local library has to offer, other opportunities for marketing your books in person can occur when you’re a guest speaker in a public school, bookstore, community building, church fellowship hall, or club meeting. If no such events have been planned, consider asking about the possibilities or organizing an event yourself.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-author

October 14, 2017

The imperfect life of perfectionism

This morning I woke up thinking about the difference between perfectionism and Jesus’ appeal to us to be perfect. I suspected the thought meant God wanted me to write about these differences, but, to be sure, I prayed for a word of confirmation.

When I checked my email for the Daily Bible Verse from Bible Gateway, I did not see Matthew 5:48 as expected: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” King James Version (KJV.) But….

Today’s verse came from Romans 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Or to put it another way:

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect,” New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE.)

As you can see, both translations say the same thing, just with slightly different choices of synonyms, and both emphasize a connection between discernment and the kind of perfection intended. In other words...

To be perfect means clearly knowing and acting on God’s will.

Contrast that understanding with definitions for perfectionism found in Word software:


The “nicest” word in the list is “conscientiousness,” but then, that begs the question, “Of what or Whom are we constantly conscious or aware?” If ourselves, we’ll not only be apt to be nitpicking but self-absorbed and, oh, self-conscious!

Jesus’ call to perfection asks us to be God-conscious.

We’re to be so in-tune with God’s Word that scripture begins to transform our minds from the world’s ways to The Way of Christ. Then, we continue this transformation throughout our lives by choosing to renew our minds as we regularly read the Bible, pray, and worship the Lord in communion and church fellowship with others.

What joy! What grace we receive as we put aside our own need for personal acceptance and perfection and, instead, accept the wisdom, way, and will of our Most Perfect Lord.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

October 6, 2017

Poetry Editor and Poetry: Living the poem

Poetry Editor and Poetry: Living the poem:

After several years of reviewing poetry books by other poets on the Poetry Editor & Poetry blog, a new phase begins today with lines from my own poetry books and a few words about the text and/or context of each poem. 

As I hesitated to get started, I took my coffee onto our deck where "a sign" caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and wrote this new post.

'via Blog this'

October 5, 2017

God calling, Can you hear Me now?

While studying Luke 8 for my Bible discussion group this week, I kept being drawn to verse 18, which in the King James Version says, “Take heed therefore how ye hear.”

Immediately the verse brought to mind how severe critics of a church denomination, political person, or anyone else just cannot seem to hear what’s actually being said. No matter what’s said or done, the people set against them will not (cannot?) hear what’s meant or even have a clue where that person or group is coming from.

Jesus wants us to know where He’s coming from! He does not want to leave us clueless.

In verse 21, Jesus clearly states, “My mother and brothers are those who hear (listen to) the Word of God and act on it.” Obviously, this statement did not push Mary aside, but included her as one who heard and immediately responded to God’s Word. Otherwise, she never could have given birth to Jesus!

Like Mary and Jesus, some people are related by blood, but we relate to Jesus through our ears – by what we hear and how we respond.

To fine-tune my own hearing, I visited the Bible Gateway website and looked up Luke 8:18 in a variety of translations:

English Standard Version says, “Take care then how you hear,” and the New American Bible (Revised Edition) adds only commas, “Take care, then, how you hear.”

New Living Translation says, “So pay attention to how you hear.”

New Revised Standard Version says, “Then pay attention to how you listen.”

New International Version says, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”

That’s the first part of hearing God: really listening, paying attention, and carefully considering what we hear. But there’s more to the verse than that.

The complete verse in the new Amplified Bible says:

“So be careful how you listen; for whoever has [a teachable heart], to him more [understanding] will be given; and whoever does not have [a longing for truth], even what he thinks he has will be taken away.”

May God help each of us to have a teachable heart, long for the truth, and clearly hear God’s Word. Perhaps then, we – as a Christian person, church, and country – can better discern God’s voice and know where we’re to go from here.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-author of over 30 books in all genres, including the new nonfiction book, What the Bible Says About Love

September 8, 2017

Before and After the storm

Before a hurricane watch or warning is sounded in your area, prepare!

The previous post gave tips and reminders on preparing for a hurricane, so I pray you already have all you need to hunker down and wait it out – unless you’re in an evacuation area, in which case, evacuate! Storm surges and floods have the strength to wipe out buildings and bridges, and people are no exception.

Unlike most storms, hurricanes are not usually fast-moving. Some may make their presence known for days! Regardless of the length of time a storm hangs around, stay indoors until the wind subsides enough to be outside with no possibility of a sudden gust knocking you over or hurtling pine cones and debris at you like missiles.

Some ABC’s for after a storm:

• Assess any damages you’ve sustained.

• Be careful of downed wires, standing water, and damaged dwellings.

• Conserve bottled water, especially if told to boil tap water before using.

• Dial your radio to local news for storm assessments of your area.

• Encourage friends and family by letting them know how you are.

• Find out what damages need documenting and reporting to utility and insurance companies.

• Go help neighbors who have more than they can handle.

• Have a meal in mind before quickly opening the frig or freezer.

• If the threat of floods or storm surges caused you to evacuate, don’t go back until local authorities say it's okay.

• Just remember: Nothing is impossible with God! Everything IS possible.

• Keep on praying.

• Let go of anger, worries, blame, and regrets by giving them to God.

• Make today your focus.

• Notice what you CAN do, then do it!

• Observe the overall situation as realistically as possible.

• Pray, listen, and arrange priorities according to God's priorities for you.

• Quit thinking unhelpful thoughts such as “Why?” or “If only….”

• Remain as low-key as you can around kids, but be truthful.

Sacrifice praise to God.

• Thank God for every good thing that comes to your mind.

• Understand this is trauma! Do unto yourself as you'd do unto others.

• Verify each loss or damage with lists and photographs.

• Work as you're able to improve conditions around you.

• X each chore off your list to remind yourself that things do get better.

• Yes! You will get through this, and maybe even help others too.

• Zip valuables and paper in plastic before the storm begins. Someday this aftermath will end and new hopes and plans get started.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

September 7, 2017

Preparing for my umpteenth hurricane

At this writing, a Category 5 hurricane has aimed its entire force toward Florida, so we’ve been making preparations all week. This isn’t new for us. We’ve weathered so many hurricanes – from Camille in Biloxi to Matthew in Florida - I’ve actually lost count.

This time, though, my husband and I live in a 112-year-old house. Since a huge magnolia tree resides outside our bedroom window, we may need to sleep in our basement – a rare space in Florida, but I'm grateful we have one. Getting it and everything else ready, however, takes time, planning, and experiences, such as brushing my teeth with Pepsi, that have helped me know what tips to share! For instance:

If you’re in the path of Irma or any other storm, remove and store away lawn furniture, yard toys, garbage cans, and other outside items as soon as possible. Left outdoors these will become projectiles, hurling through space and into a roof or window. Also:

• Keep your prescriptions filled and medications with you.

• Keep a list of important phone numbers with you, including business cards from your insurance agent and others you may need to contact.

• Keep important papers and photos with you. You might also scan these and save to Google Photos. If you have a lot of photographs or scanned files, this will take a while. (My 3,000 photos took 3 days to upload.)

• Pack an overnight bag or large purse with the above items and plenty of cash in small bills. If the electricity goes out, stores won’t be able to swipe your bank or credit cards.

• Have at least a couple of jugs of water per person. This is crucial if you have an electric-powered well pump or if you live in a flood zone where water supplies will likely be contaminated.

• Pack your freezer with fresh water frozen in various sizes of containers. These blocks of ice take longer to melt than those bags of ice you probably won’t be able to find anyway. The freezer section of a fairly new refrigerator will usually stay cold longer than most coolers, plus water from home is safer to drink than melted ice from a bag.

• Stock up on canned goods, fruit, bread, and other foods that don’t require refrigeration.

• Cook up meat in your freezer, then refreeze meal portions that can be eaten if merely thawed.

• Have a battery-operated radio on hand. This is vital, so you can keep up with the storm’s progress, find out where to go in an emergency, and stay informed about conditions in your area.

• Stock up on flashlights and batteries of the correct size.

• Top off your gas tank. If electricity goes out, pumps can’t operate. Also, it may be a while after a big storm before gas supplies return.

• Back up your computer files. A flash drive will do, but I loaded my Word files onto OneDrive and Google Docs.

• Fill large pots and pans with water and cover. You might need this water to flush a toilet, wash up, and, yes, brush your teeth.

• Have a bag of charcoal and/or a filled container for a gas grill to use for cooking or making coffee. After several hurricanes with no coffee for days, we got a stainless steel coffee pot for campfire use – best coffee I’ve ever had!

Most of all, pray! Thank God for being with you. Let your family and friends know where you’ll be, and stay safe.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

If you have other suggestions, please add them in the Comments section below. Thanks and blessings.

August 22, 2017

A time to write and a time to be a sponge

When I asked a group of Christian poets and writers what one thing they need most in their writing lives, a common response was “time!”

The King James Version (KJV) of Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” and then that entire chapter goes on to put all sorts of usages of time into perspective.

As poets and writers in Christ, we also need to know, there’s a time to pray and a time to listen…

• A time to read and a time to study

• A time to revise and a time to edit

• A time to soak up everything around us

• A time to write again.

Keeping a notebook or laptop handy can help even snatches of time become productive. For instance, when I wrote inspirational romance novels, I worked out my best dialogue while hanging clothes on the line. Now, my best poems usually come when I’m watching wildlife from our deck, whereas insights for devotionals often arise after discussing the Bible with Christian friends. The important step then is:

Take a sec to write it down before that inspired word is forgotten!

These little writing times might not multiply quickly, but they do add up! For instance, commuting to work can be a good time to work out a plot or record notes about a new project. Washing dishes might provide time to ask, “What do I feel drawn to write?” then listening to the answer that fills us with the most enthusiasm, so we can hardly wait to get to it.

Interruptions can produce insights too, though, for, in God, no time is wasted. If words seem to plod along, it just might be time to take a break, elevate those tired feet, and get refreshed enough to write again.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017