Profile of Lonna Seibert and her manuscript “A Servant’s Heart” on Susan Preston’s blog

I’m so pleased to be featured as a writer of Christian/inspirational fiction on Susan Preston’s blog. Susan is the award-winning author of the Apostle John series, books that explore what was like to be a Christian in the first century, A.D. You can find the post about my manuscript, “A Servan’ts Heart,” here:
 
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My Pitch Wars Bio 2017

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What the Heck is Pitch Wars?

From the Pitch Wars website: For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, it’s a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer edits on how to make the manuscript shine. The mentor also edits his/her writer’s pitch and query letter to get it ready for the agent round. Those entering Pitch Wars submit applications (query plus first chapter of manuscript) to their chosen mentors. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for two months to get them ready for the agent showcase.

I participated in Pitch Wars last year and it was, hands down, the best thing I have ever done for my writing. I met fellow writers, made some great friends, had a lot of laughs, and learned so much about my craft. And now I’m back, ready to do it all over again!

About Me

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Hello! My name is Lonna. I’m a writer. I also love to read. I adore children, animals, and bugs. Autumn is my favorite season and windy days are my favorite days. Polka dots are kind of my signature thing. My favorite holiday is Halloween. I play a mean game of jacks. I’m an expert at parallel parking, which is weird because my spatial awareness is terrible.  I will go out of my way for miniature golf, a good ice cream cone, used book sales, and steamed crabs. Beach over pool. Forest over mountains. Fish over meat.

My Writing

I would love some help with showing versus telling, active versus passive voice, head hopping, and maybe some assurance that my story isn’t a terrible bore. As a writer what I fear most is indifference and being called self-indulgent.

I am an incredibly hard worker and will never balk at criticism or shut down in the face of  constructive feedback. In fact, I crave feedback, even harsh feedback, because I want to know what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do about it. I make a conscious effort to practice gratitude at all times. I strive to have a positive attitude and an open mind. My life’s philosophy is to have as few regrets as possible and to never wish anything away.

My World-View

In a less imperfect world (one that took place prior to our most recent presidential election, for example) I wouldn’t feel the need to include this section in my bio. I am a Christian. I have been a Christian all my life and my relationship with God is incredibly important to me. I don’t name-call, or point fingers, but I don’t want to be lumped in with the people who call themselves Christians but support ideologies that are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t like everyone, but I try to love everybody, and when the love doesn’t come easily, I look for ways to empathize. As much as possible, I try not to judge but I am human and I am not perfect.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe it is a woman’s right to make her own, private decisions regarding her body. I believe that people should be able to use any bathroom they want to. I believe that children deserve parents who love them and that families come in endless combinations. I believe that all races, genders, sexual orientations, and varying levels of physical and mental ability are equal and equally important. I believe that everyone has a story to tell. I believe that God loves everyone.

I do not believe in bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, trans-phobia, body shaming, racism, or using God to advance personal or political prejudices. I do not support invoking the name of Jesus to lend legitimacy to hate campaigns or exclusion. And I do not believe in “love the sinner, hate the sin,” because it’s a lazy way of cloaking ourselves in goodness and mercy we don’t really feel for the purpose of judging another person. We are all sinners. If God wrote an eleventh commandment, it might have been, “Thou shalt get over thyself.”

What Else I Do

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I’m an archaeologist and a museum professional. I am a wife and mother. With young children at home, I spend most of my time teaching: preschool, Sunday school, ballet, creative movement, and how to wipe one’s own bottom.

Books I Love

I grew up in a house filled with books. Some of my favorite children’s books are Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, Leaf Magic by Margaret Mahy, The Secret of the Sachem’s Tree by F.N. Monjo, Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman by Barbara K. Walker, Nate the Great and Lost List by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, One Bright Monday Morning by Arline and Joseph Baum, Someday by Charlotte Zolotow, and all the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.

When I got a little older my favorites included My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Homecoming and Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, and The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla.

Adult books I love include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Return to Treasure Island by John Goldsmith, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates.

I also love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, especially The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows while Ms. Rowling’s Coromoran Strike books written under the name of Robert Galbraith have become a recent obsession.

My Pitch Wars Manuscript

I believe in this story with all my heart. I love my characters, the settings are among some of my favorite places on earth, and the plot and themes are very personal to me. I am passionate about telling this story and will do everything I can to make sure that other people have the opportunity to read it. Trowel and Error is a contemporary romance. It takes place in the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., a fictional town called Mockingbird Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and an 18th century Spanish mission in California’s Valley of the Oaks. It is . . .

Trowel and Error

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Eleanor Blake is an archaeologist who needs only a trowel and a dig site to excite her and make her feel fulfilled. She came of age during the tug-of-war over the Equal Rights Amendment and considers herself a feminist. But she must confront stereotypes and outdated notions of what is suitable work for a woman.

Nevertheless, she persists.

She’s an unapologetic and independent woman and a role model for all the little girls who love books, history, and science.

Eleanor exists in a new reality where the fledgling MTV and other emerging media on cable television exploit women’s bodies and glorify sex even as the specter of AIDS looms. She struggles to define her own morality and to identify the risks that are worth taking. And while she longs to experience the sexual freedom of her mother’s generation, she has no intention of letting a man be responsible for her happiness. In 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian, unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career, but unwilling to risk the potential dangers she perceives as lurking outside the museum.

Tom Gage is an actor who’s let his mother and father guilt him into giving up his love of stage acting for more lucrative and visible movie roles. He’s miserable but too afraid of disappointing the parents who worked hard and made enormous sacrifices to ensure his success. When Tom and Eleanor meet in the middle of a blinding thunderstorm on a Tennessee highway, a sense of connection over their shared struggles leads to a night of passion. When Tom tries to convince her to go back to field work, knowing from personal experience that she might regret her decision to quit, their argument blows up into the fatal words of “coward” and “hypocrite.” Eleanor returns to Washington, D.C. and Tom follows her there, hoping to repair the damage of their fight. She sees his grand gesture as creepy obsession and sends him away, expecting never to see him again.

Nearly a year later, Eleanor, determined that a past she can’t change won’t impact her future, is back at work, teaching a summer field school in California. When a chance meeting brings Tom back into her life she realizes she’s been lying to herself about her feelings for him. They make every moment count, and it’s easy for Eleanor to forget that her life and work are waiting for her in D.C., while Tom’s acting career anchors him to the west coast. When their summer to remember ends, she must decide between the career she’s fought for, and the only man she’s ever loved.

And Last

Well, that’s all for now. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this. I want to thank Brenda Drake and her fantastic team for making Pitch Wars happen. Thank you to Lana Pattinson for Pimp My Bio. Thank you to all the mentors who work so hard to help other writers. You can always find me right here on my blog and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lonnaseibertwriter

Please follow me on Twitter at @lonnaseibert. I would love to meet you and I follow back.

Good luck, everyone!

The Painful Art of Letting Go

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My life has been the same for so long I can’t remember anything different. One day, I was a stay-at-home mom struggling with the question of whether my life had meaning, and floundering in my new reality. I was no longer an employee or a professional, but my workload was heavier and more significant than ever. My self -esteem was ebbing away and I was depressed. I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. I felt like a failure. And then, I was given a life-changing opportunity to turn everything around. Of course, it wasn’t really as quick or as easy as one day, this; the next day, that. I struggled for years, and just as quicksand is said to suck its victims under all the faster if they fight the inevitable, the more I searched for a way out of my self-loathing, the more mired I became.

I prayed for a long time for something to change. For some great and profound development that might positively affect everything. I always kept my faith, but my hope was waning. And then, coinciding almost exactly with the jarring crash of hitting rock bottom, there it was, a light shining out of the darkness, a hand reaching out, offering help and hope and salvation. Everything was going to be all right. Not right away, and not completely, but soon enough and enough-enough that I was saved. I will always be grateful for that.

Fast-forward to now and I’m stuck. Stuck in a salvation that feels more like a prison. I’ve reached a crossroads and I don’t know what to do. I was so loath to make the decision that I must make that I am ashamed to say I briefly stopped praying about it. I was afraid of what God’s answer would be. I knew that this was shortsighted. I knew I was making a mistake. But my fear was and is very real. Still, after days and weeks of pretending I was not facing a great change in my life, I began to pray again. I asked God for forgiveness and for direction. For the wisdom to know the best course and the humility to accept His will. I asked for a sign, a sign that would be unmistakable. Because my greatest fear is that my discontent comes from Satan. That I have been happy for so long, that I have been glorifying God and rejoicing in his light, so that Satan is jealous. Satan is angry. And maybe he wants to wreak havoc. Wouldn’t the perfect way of doing that be to turn me away from the right path, to turn me against the people who have been my friends and champions, to turn me away from the community I have created? Yes. And no.

Just because God guides us down a certain path doesn’t mean we are meant to follow that path for the rest of our lives. Change is constant and necessary. Without change there would be no growth, no learning and no chances for salvation. Change is hard and change is scary. This is especially true for me. So when I see change looming on the horizon, I don’t go boldly to meet it. I run and hide. And that’s what I was doing when I stopped praying. It didn’t work, though. The more I hid, the more obvious it was that change was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. And now it’s here. Or almost here. I am still scared. It’s up to me to look that change full in the face, to acknowledge and accept its inevitability. And especially, to take it in hand and make sure it works for me, rather than against me.

I asked God for a sign. And that very night, I had a dream. Its meaning was crystal clear to me. In the dream, I was having a meal with a group of people who make up a big part of my life. I didn’t want to be at this meal. I didn’t exactly resent that my presence was required, but I would have been happier if I were somewhere else. That was the first sign. Being in a place you don’t exactly hate being, but knowing you’d be happier elsewhere is a pretty big red flag. Of course we won’t love every place, every moment, every event in our lives. Not everything can be the best, the favorite, the most loved. But spending large chunks of time in a place that drains our energy or costs too much effort is not a good use of our time.

In the dream, delicious-looking food was being passed around the table and I couldn’t wait to serve myself. As it was passed, each person broke off a piece of the food for themselves, taking what they liked, taking what appealed to them. By the time the food reached me, the last person at the table, it was almost gone. And then, the person next to me, who had already served herself, broke off a piece of food for me. It was the smallest portion that anyone received. It wasn’t a part that I liked or wanted. And I didn’t get to choose for myself. This was the second sign. I don’t have much control over certain aspects of my life right now. I am not resentful about this, but I am disappointed. I like to have ownership over the things I contribute to. I like to have a certain measure of control. Not control freak-control, but some say-so in what happens or how things will proceed. I like to feel that my opinion is heard and valued. I like to be acknowledged and appreciated. I especially like to feel that I exhibit some level of proficiency in what I do. In the distant past, I had a great deal of autonomy in my life. Leadership positions and the opportunity to use my special gifts and talents. I was good at what I did.

Finally, in the dream, I left the table for a moment and when I returned, someone had put some more food on my plate. And everything that was there was something I didn’t care for. Foods that I don’t, or won’t, eat. This was the third and final sign. The things that are being put “on my plate” are things that I don’t want there. That should be all I need to know.

Still, I worry. I worry that my decision will hurt people’s feelings. I worry that it will change their perceptions of me. I worry that they won’t like me anymore. And I worry that once I have relinquished what I no longer want, I will suddenly want it again and it will be too late. All of these worries are simply excuses, though. Excuses to keep me from making the right decision, which is to move forward with my life. I am not being held back, not really, but I’m not being fulfilled, either. There are so many aspects to what I am giving up that I absolutely love. But when I don’t have ownership, when I am not in a position to receive appreciation, when I fumble and feel unsure of myself, when others reap the benefits of time and effort I have expended, I feel the only way I can be true to myself is to become a little selfish.

I go forward with no idea of what comes next, but with complete acceptance that God has directed me toward a more fulfilling future. I am going against everything in my nature and taking a leap of faith. I am stepping out blindly, yet secure in the knowledge that this is what He wants from me. I’m terrified by my boldness even as I am certain in my obedience. Someone once told me that my presence was an answer to a prayer. I don’t pretend to understand the ways of God, but that sentiment, while sounding lovely on the surface, bound me with guilt to an unhappy existence. I thought, if I was the answer to a prayer then I must have been where God wanted me to be. I have since discovered that I want and need to find out what are God’s answers to my own prayers. He may use me to help others, to fill needs and smooth the paths of the people around me, but He will also work everything to my good. And when what is happening is no longer to my good, He will make that abundantly clear. And so He has.

God, I’m listening.

Future, I’m here.

Time for Camp!

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It’s April 1 and that means just one thing for the writing community: it’s time to check in to Camp NaNoWriMo. From the folks who bring you National Novel Writing Month every November, Camp NaNoWriMo is a fantastic opportunity to start (and finish!) a new project in just one month.

My goal is to put down 30,000 additional words in my current work in progress, which is coming along much more slowly than I would like. It’s hovering at just around 56,000 words and is far from finished. It would be wonderful if camp life is just what I need to inspire me to tackle those blank pages and get writing.

Excelsior!

There’s Something to be Said for Traditional Church Music

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I recently came across an online post that listed what are, in the author’s opinion, the fifteen best Christian hymns. It made me think how much I miss traditional church music. I clicked through the post with interest, wanting to see how many of my personal favorites made the list. It turned out the list was more or less equally divided into three components: hymns I love, hymns I do not love, and a few hymns whose names were familiar to me, but that I have never sung. The list of hymns I love was the longest.

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran church that was founded in 1770. The sanctuary, constructed between 1795 and 1806, is historic and gorgeous. There are carved wooden pews topped with velvet cushions. There is an altar dressed with cloths that change according to the church calendar, with colors and symbols that correspond to Holy Days and periods including Pentecost, the Ascension and Advent. There are stained glass windows by Tiffany lining the chancel. There are mosaics under a vaulted arch. There are fat hymnals whose pages are edged with gold. And there is a pipe organ whose voice is powerful, poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I was growing up in the church, the only microphones were to amplify the voices of the clergy and the lecters. On special days we might have brass or strings or timpani. Handbells on Palm Sunday. Triumphal trumpets on Easter. Harps and acoustic guitars on Christmas. Sometimes the children’s choir was accompanied by a piano. There were no electric guitars or drum kits. There were no amps or wires. The front of the church did not resemble an arena just before a rock band takes the stage. There were no lightshows.

In so many churches now, this is not the case. The music is not so much a part of the worship as it is part of the entertainment. I don’t know how everyone feels about this, but I, personally, do not go to church to be entertained. Nowadays there seems to be so much loud, electric music that there is little time for anything else. No readings from the Scriptures. No order for confession and forgiveness. Prayers that do little to ask for God’s intercession in our lives and in our troubled world. Instead we refer to God over and over again as “awesome,” with the implication that He is more “cool” and “neat” than He is glorious and almighty. We seem to address Him now as if He is a next-door neighbor, our bro, our bestie, our equal.

I suppose I could take the path of least resistance and declare that my words are not meant to diminish, demean or belittle contemporary Christian music. To say that it has its place, or to excuse it by saying it’s what the younger generation wants, or it is the magic bullet that will have potential new members flocking to church doors. But I’m not sure I believe that. During the several years I have been exposed to contemporary Christian music, I have found a few songs that I can tolerate, and only one that I truly love. The key difference between the songs I dislike and the one I love is, predictably in the lyrics and the message. It acknowledges the pain of human existence, the power of God, and the reward for faith. Its message is true and sound, the language is grown-up, and nothing is dumbed down. I appreciate that.

The songs that I dislike are repetitive and simplistic. And when I’ve finished singing one, I feel depleted, exhausted, and strangely empty. When the songs sung in church are reduced to a handful of words, they become repetition and in repetition we see the loss of meaning. Words repeated ad nauseam, growing louder and louder with each iteration, aren’t delivering any message that anyone particularly needs or wants to hear. Where are the songs that are rich in emotion, that declare the true glory of God, that are unmistakable in their praise? Give us a few words and a catchy tune and it is nothing but spectacle. It is a show. And it is a distraction. If music is meant to set the mood, then the mood is irreverent. How I miss sitting peacefully during the Offertory, listening to the choir sing, or the organist play, calm and relaxed, feeling myself drawing to closer to God. My belief is that traditional hymns make worship a more personal experience, and a thousand times more meaningful.

We might sing to God about how He numbered the stars or can hold back the floodwaters, but He already knows that. As much as songs should be about worship, they should also be a way for us to connect with God, to come to a deeper understanding of His power and might. And to remind us that the path to salvation was not an easy one, riddled as it was with the pain and suffering that God’s son took upon himself, for our sakes. The contemplation of such unimaginable and undeserved sacrifice merits dignified language of beauty and grace, and a dignified presentation.

The old hymns have much to recommend them. Through their words, we remember everything that God has done for us, and we celebrate his remarkable love and sacrifice. Children learn, not only about their God, but through hymns, their understanding of Christianity is enhanced and their vocabulary grows. How many seven-year-olds are regularly exposed to words like bulwark, sphere, tribulation, prostrate, successive, cleft, almighty, and so on. I don’t know whether J.K. Rowling’s wizards go to church, but I always suspected that if Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley had ever been to youth choir, he never would have had to ask, “What’s a diadem?”

And personally, I feel that’s the way it should be.

A Writer’s Mind, A Reader’s Heart

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Note: This blog post contains a spoiler about a plot point in Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s crime novel Career of Evil.

I think one of the most important things a writer can do is show the reader something of the reader’s self on the page. To speak a truth, to acknowledge a hurt, to hold up a mirror in which a reader can see one’s own reflection and confront it, bravely and unblinkingly. And through this showing, this acknowledgment, this reflection, the reader begins to accept something about herself, to appreciate, to come to terms. Not every writer can do this, and not every writer can do this for every reader. But sometimes, a particular topic or experience, written with care and concern, can touch a reader’s heart like nothing else can.

I recently finished reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter universe. This is book three of an ongoing series, and in this book, and the two preceding volumes, a likable and beautifully realized main character has a secret. Passing reference is made in the first two books to the fact that this character, Robin Ellacott, had a life-changing experience at the age of nineteen. Career of Evil reveals that Robin is a rape survivor.

J.K. Rowling writes about rape in a very straightforward way. There is no melodrama, no unnecessary glorification or gratuitousness. She writes with compassion and zero judgment for the victim. It is beautiful. And her depiction of the emotional aftermath is so understanding, so perfectly rendered, that it feels like a vindication and a legitimization of everything such a deeply personal violation makes one think and feel and believe-about herself-and others. More than any other experience or conversation I have had as a survivor of sexual assault, J.K. Rowling’s brief and simple treatment of this topic has made me feel that I am okay and that my reaction to my own experience is okay, too. That’s an incredibly powerful thing for a book to do. And it’s a powerful thing for a writer to do. To reach out, through words on a page, and touch the heart and mind of a person she has never met, and make a reader feel that she is not alone, that she is believed, and that she matters. J.K. Rowling may have written imaginatively and wonderfully about a fictitious world of magic, but her writing is its own kind of magic, and I am filled with awe at her talent, and gratitude for her compassion.

NaNoWriMo Winner

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November was National Novel Writing Month and I took advantage of the celebration by writing 54,000 words of a brand-new manuscript. That makes me, officially, a NaNoWriMo winner, which is just a fancy way of saying I finished, completing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I finished ahead of schedule, on November 20.

Everyone will tell you that the point of NaNoWriMo is not to write the best or most brilliant prose you’ve ever put on paper, or on monitor, depending on how and where you write. A good thing, that, because what I wrote in November was nowhere near the best work I’ve ever done. Everyone will tell you that the point is to get the job done, because editing, fleshing out, polishing, et cetera will come later.

November was a strange month. A hard month. There were days when I didn’t want to write at all, days when writing seemed like one more obligation, one more box to check on an already overwhelming and onerous to-do list. And then there were days when I was so grateful to have a creative outlet that my words poured out of me like tears. As I said, a strange month.

I didn’t go into NaNoWriMo with any expectations so I don’t know if I got the experience I was expecting. I don’t know if I’ll do it again. But writing 54,000 words about a young, female archaeologist who must confront a powerful and possibly ruthless Ocean City, Maryland real estate developer when the groundbreaking for his new luxury hotel reveals a site of staggering historical importance (take a breath!) was a wonderful distraction, a premise I didn’t see coming, and great fun.

Going from zero to novel in one month is possible, apparently. Messy, painful, difficult, and possible.

December is here. Onward and upward.