Construction ahead!

As a journalism teacher and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several Christian and general market publications, I have a passion for encouraging young Christian journalists to boldly accept their leadership roles as Guardians of the Truth. Thank you for visiting my blog. Please take this opportunity to interact with other Christian journalists, advisers and readers by telling us more about yourself. 

I am in the process of revamping this blog. Your ideas and PRAYERS are welcome!

Starting in August, every week at SERENDIPITEEBLOG.COM readers can look forward to valuable resources to help them both in the classroom and in their personal Christian journeys. While the Internet offers a vast variety of journalism resources, my goal is to include specific resources that target the needs of young Christian writers who desire to share the truth without compromise. Possible topics include the following:

  • Personal testimonies of student journalists and advisers
  • Spotlights on student journalists, journalism staffs and advisers
  • Writing and design tips
  • Story ideas
  • Discussions pertaining to current events and ethics
  • Pointers for getting published in Christian and general markets
  • Links to blogs of writing experts
  • Links to blogs of student journalists and student fiction writers
  • Team-building techniques for student editors and advisers
  • Author interviews
  • Songwriter interviews
  • Plus, contests and FREEBIES!

In addition to my work as a high school teacher and a freelance writer, I have recently completed my first YA novel, The Edge, which will hopefully launch a series.

 Brief synopsis

High school journalist TJ Westbrook, a Memphis transplant and parkour (PK) enthusiast, is obsessed with finding the story that will change his life. He enlists the help of fellow journalist Megan Crosslin. Megan knows a lot about PK too, just not parkour. She’s a preacher’s kid with an obsession of her own, TJ Westbrook. On his journey to journalistic fame, TJ stalks a blues legend and befriends a real-life superhero. But when he and Megan crash an underage drinking party, TJ realizes being a guardian of the truth requires more than a sense of adventure. He secretly records incriminating evidence of the quarterback’s father handing out beer to underage teens, including three seniors who die later that night in an alcohol-related automobile accident. TJ and Megan find themselves standing on the edge of truth. What will they do with the story that can change the lives of everyone at Edgewood?

 It is my hope that SERENDIPITEEBLOG.COM will serve as a launch pad for young Christians and their mentors to meet and to share ideas. I welcome your comments and the links to your blogs. Together we can make a positive impact on our culture.

 Thanks again for visiting,

Teresa “Tee” Lockhart

 Credentials

  • Certified Journalism Instructor by the Journalism Education Association
  • Middle Tennessee Scholastic Journalism Teacher of the Year
  • Tennessee High School Press Association Journalism Teacher of the Year
  • Outstanding Teacher of the Humanities
  • Tennessee Regional Teacher of the Year

 Member

  • American Christian Fiction Writers
  • Middle Tennessee Christian Writers
  • Romance Writers of America
  • Tennessee Writers Alliance
  • Christian Educators International
  • Journalism Education Association
  • Tennessee High School Press Association
  • Quill and Scroll

Tips for teen writers

Many of you have offered me great help and encouragement. Maybe I can point you in the right direction too. There was never a better time for teen writers to let loose their creativity. Many of you are already blogging, and some of you are ready to take to your writing to the next level. Here are a few tips to think about as you navigate away from this site.

  • Use social networking to your writing advantage. Rather than just ranting on Twitter, consider following other teens who post links to their blogs. Also, promote your blog. You can learn from one another and maybe share readers.
  • You should also consider following the tweets of literary agents and other writers.
  • Never think you’ve learned all there is know about writing. You’ll find out SOON that you don’t. If you have the time, devote an hour or an evening to exploring online websites about writing.
  • Teen writers can easily form a Facebook critique groups.  Share your ideas. Again learn from each other.

I’ve also listed a few sites that may serve your individual interests.

My High School Journalism

http://my.hsj.org/Home/tabid/124/Default.aspx

The site is a great help to all student journalists. Its resources include story ideas, games, ethics tips and more than I could possibly list here.

High School Journalism Institute

http://hsji.org/idea-sharing/share-your-newspaper-ideas/

Check out this link when you are having a tough time coming up with a story idea. Our staff can also collaborate to post ideas online. These are the first topics I spotted in 30 seconds:

  • Follow a freshman through his/her first week of school
  • Required sports physicals and the lack of insurance
  • Places in town where students can find free WiFi
  • Uncover investigation of proper hand washing
  • Spotlight on the Humane Society

Novel Teen

http://novelteen.wordpress.com/

The best way to learn how to improve your craft is to study the craft. Read, read, read. This website includes interviews with authors of Christian fiction.  

Literary Holidays

http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2010/07/11-literary-holidays-that-every-book-lover-should-know/

Okay, so this site doesn’t quite fit in with the other ones, but it’s a great place to go if you have time to wander. You may stumble unto the perfect idea. We just missed the Hemingway Days, but Hobbit Day is September 22, the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo. What’s the best way to celebrate? By feasting!

Teen Ink

http://teenink.com/

Many of you have already discovered this online publication. (There’s also a print publication.) The site includes teen photography, fiction, poetry, nonfiction and more. If you have ever contributed to Teen Ink, please add a comment and let the readers know about your own experiences. Don’t forget to include a link to your blog and a link to your Teen Ink contribution if possible.

 Publishing Companies for Teen Writers

http://www.ehow.com/about_5685940_publishing-companies-teen-writers.html

The site also includes info for teen photographers. Ever heard of Cicada, What If?, Claremont Review or Teen Hydro S. Magazine?  No? Maybe you should check out this link.

Writing-World.com

http://writing-world.com/basics/index.shtml

This site covers almost every question a beginning writer might have about writing.

If you know of a website that’s not listed here, please add a comment with the link. One of the BEST things I’ve discovered about going to writing workshops is the camaraderie among fellow writers. If you know what you’re doing, step up and be a mentor in the classroom and online.  I’m a newbie in the YA writing world. Often I have felt bewildered, but the more experienced writers have encouraged me to ask questions—and they have been so kind to answer them.

You can also post questions here. If I don’t know the answers, I will find someone who can help us.

Bonnaroo, naked people and writing

Analogies. English teachers love ‘em. High school students butcher ‘em. There’s a lot you can learn from analogies, the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe you can’t recall the definition of an analogy. Maybe it was just too long ago since you had your last English class, 30 years for some of you, 30 days for others. An analogy is a comparison. Here are a few of the WORST possible analogies as collected by the Washington Post.

  • Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  • John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  • The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

(For more check out www.innocentenglish.com.)

I think I shall add to this list of the worst:  Writing is a whole lot like Bonnaroo.

Well, it is for me anyway. You see, with writing—as with Bonnaroo—one MUST be prepared for the adventure before one embarks. I have learned the hard way with both. One MUST be prepared.

Over the last few years I have helped here and there with the Bonnaroo ministry. I spent hours and hours and hours preparing a free publication that might be of service to our visitors, and occasionally I have worked in a service area, handing out items such as cold drinks, toiletries, and food to weary festival attendees. I really like talking to people, and everyone has always been very nice, so my Bonnaroo experiences have always been pleasant. But last year was a different story. Last year I wanted to slip in the festival itself and catch the last few minutes of a band playing on the main stage. Should not have been a problem. I’ve been inside before. But there was one problem. I was not prepared for last year’s inside experience.

For starters we were driving our truck on a road swimming with pedestrians. The traffic flow had to keep moving, had to keep moving. Keep moving. Those are the key words. My husband stressed those words. “When I stop, get out fast. I’ve got to keep moving. ” When we reached the designated area, I did not want to make him mad. I leapt out of the truck and kept moving. It wasn’t until he was out of my sight that I realized I had left my cell phone in the car. I had no means of contacting him. But I ventured forth to find the music.

I made it there with no problem. I saw the last five or ten minutes of the show. But as I left, I realized I had no idea how to get out, so I proceeded to follow the masses and ended up in a place I did not recognize. My sense of direction isn’t what it should be.  The sun had set by now, and I was officially in panic mode. I was stepping over people, dodging people, fearful that I would never see my family again. Then from out of no where I felt something hit me right on the derrière. My first thought was that my husband had brought my child into the den of sin and our son had popped his mom, just being silly. I was mistaken. When I turned around, I stared into the face of a rather scary looking red-headed stranger who simply said, “Hey, lady. Looked like you needed that.”

In the words of my students, I officially freaked out at that point. I ran. Through the people. By the people. Over the people. Behind the people. I covered all the prepositions. It didn’t matter. I kept moving. I was praying like crazy that God would get me back to safety because I was totally lost and turned around. Within seconds of my prayer one of my former newspaper students saw me and recognized my panic look. After I promised him I had not sampled the balloons, brownies or bongs, he lent me his phone and showed me the way out.

Moral of the story: I was not prepared for the adventure. 

This year I opted to spend the night at Bonnaroo, working late in the service area, helping people in need. I was prepared, prayed up and ready to go. I did not get lost. However, my group did have an unforgettable encounter with naked people who approached us for help. I am generally the shyest person in the group. I blush at the mention of the word derrière. My husband is the talker, but oddly he didn’t say a word—he left the conversation all to me. And I made my way through it without giggling, snorting or passing out due to extreme embarrassment.

So how does this fit in with writing? 

Many of you are starting school. Though you may be in denial now, I can promise you one of those crazy teachers will ask you to write something. Prepare. Don’t wing it. Spare yourself the embarrassment. As for you Edge staff members, you will start your writing journey on Tuesday. If there is anything I want you to learn, it is that you must prepare before you write. We talked about researching the topic. I also want you to research the style. I don’t know how many students I have had in the past who have tried to write a sports story or a review or a news story without having studied the craft. Read, read, read. If you don’t know what good writing looks like, how do you to expect to produce it? Go find what you want to write and read it! 

I want to write YA fiction. So guess what I will do this year?  Read, read, read. I’m depending on all of my staff members to give me a heads up on their favorite reads. Don’t let me slack up. Hold me accountable.

As for those of you who have already graduated, you too have an assignment. Perhaps you have always wanted to get a poem or short story published. What are you waiting for? Chop, chop. Prepare. Check out the Writer’s Market. Google the next writer conference. Pursue your dream.

Some of you have the gift of encouragement. Maybe God will use your writing in a special way by prompting you to add an encouraging note in an e-mail, a Facebook message or a text. How will you know what to say? Prepare. Pray and look for God’s divine appointment. He even makes those possible in Cyberland.

Some people call it serendipity. We know what it really is.

It’s not about YOU!

It’s not about you.

Have you ever written something with a message for somebody else and then realized that the message was intended for YOU? That’s what happened when I was writing my story. My main character TJ is determined to find the story that will change his life, and he’s willing to do ANYTHING to get it. He risks everything in pursuit, but he fails. Then when he least expects it, he finds the person he wants to interview, but NOTHING goes as planned. As TJ recovers from his misadventure, he receives some advice from the man he’s been stalking. The guy tells him respectfully, “TJ, it’s not about you.”

So often when we write, we try to insert ourselves into the story, but let me echo these words:  It’s not about you. When I was freelancing for one of several Christian music magazines several years ago, the editor warned us that we, the writers, were not the focus of the story. We were NOT to include “I” in the story. His advice baffled me at times because whenever I would pick up some of the big name mainstream music magazines I would see writing like this:

During our midafternoon nosh, Justin [Bieber] and I were just sitting there on the patio at Genki in Buckhead, nibbling our Tiger Shrimp and Yokohama Lobster, when we spot Usher, who sees us and proceeds to waltz past Mychael Knight and Rapper T.I. to make his way to our table to join us. He didn’t even bother to ask permission before  he reached over to sample both of our appetizers. He just sat down and introduced himself to me.

By the way, I made up all that, so don’t think I’m dissing some other writer. I don’t do that. Yeah, I know adding all those details sets the stage and lets the reader know that Bieber likes seafood fare and hobnobs with the biggest names in the biz, including his record producer, Usher Raymond IV. BUT where does “I” play into all of this? The story has nothing to do with “I.” (And the results are inconclusive on whether Bieber does nor does not like seafood.)

In my story, The EDGE, TJ has no clue what the advice means. If you were to ask TJ what happened to him, this is what he would say: 

So the guy calls me back over after I think I’ve killed him, and he says, ‘Man, you got it all wrong. The story’s not about you.’ So I look at him like he’s crazy, and he finally spells it all out for me and says, ‘Dude, you can’t make the writing about you. You gotta make it about the story. You gotta use your gift for others, not yourself.’

See, TJ has a little problem. He lets his writing talent go to his head. He really gets off on the attention he gets as the result of what he’s written. He’s not focused on the story—he’s focused on himself.

Now here’s some advice to you. Sure it feels great to see your byline. It’s nice to get a paycheck in the mail. It’s cool to Google your name and to see your work in the vast Cyberland.  BUT….

When we believers take on guardianship of the Truth, we must not take our responsibilities lightly. Words hold great power. They can be either blessings or curses. When we are “high” on the adrenaline rush that comes from a big story, we can be dangerous. We can allow our actions to hurt others, to defame others, to discourage others. Sometimes we need to take a step back and make sure we are doing the right thing before we make the decision to go public. Once we step over the edge, we can’t go back.

Consider this scenario. Someday you may be assigned to deliver Truth to people who depend on the message for life or death, possible eternal life or death. The message may not be popular. The message may anger the masses. The message could result in your physical death. What will you do? If you are motivated to write because of the positive attention you will receive, you may decline your greatest assignment of all. Remember the advice TJ receives:  The story is not about you.

I didn’t realize until after I finished writing the story, that the advice TJ received was advice meant for me. God has given me a gift. For some really weird reason, He has allowed me to write decently with relative ease. I received a scholarship as a senior in high school on an essay I scribbled in Spanish class. I won a party for the English department at my school by scribbling a song parody. I even got honorable mention in a song lyric contest sponsored by a Christian band, something I sent in on a whim.

God has been so good to me. I want to take the story—stories—He gives me, and I want to use them to serve others. Yes, it feels good to receive those pats on the back. But if anything good does come of my venture in writing for teens, I don’t want the good feelings to go to my head. I want to serve others.

Every time I read a comment posted by one of my newspaper staff members or former newspaper staff members, every time I get a text message from one of the kids in the youth praise band at my church (that I so awkwardly try to help), I am reminded of my purpose. It’s not about me. It’s about those crazy, quirky kids, the teens I serve. 

I do what I do because of love. What about you?

Mossy oak and parkour

I’m warning you. Don’t do it. Yeah, I know. Little kids do it. Middle schoolers do it. High school students definitely do it, and the majority of college students do it. What is “it” you ask? “It” refers to the Pavlovian response non-writers exhibit when their instructors give them a research assignment. There is no need for you to assume the fetal position. There is no need for you to resort to weeping, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth. 

I would expect such behavior out of graphophics. (Research the word if you don’t know what it means.) But not YOU. You are writers. Bite the bullet. Accept the challenge. Take it like a man, a burly man with hair on his chest. Better yet, take it like Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson or Alice Sebold. If you want to write, write. But first do your research.

Except for the few times when I was given an opportunity to interview a band on the spur of the moment, I’ve had to do my homework as I prepared for an interview. Note to potential journalists: Some celebrities get frustrated when they have to spout off the same information that is easily found on their websites. I always start there and then ask myself, “What did the publicist fail to mention?” I start there as I make my list of questions. OR if I do find an interesting fact on the website, I will intentionally ask the person to tell me about it so that I can get a fresh quote, one that I won’t have to credit to another publication. Plus, people generally appreciate the fact that you consider them worthy of your time investment.

I don’t consider spending ten minutes Googling the name or topic adequate research. And by all means, don’t stop with your Wikipedia responses. I always take my research as far as it will go. Remember when I told you I tracked down the mother of the drummer of a California ska band so that I could get an interview with him? Trust me. I didn’t find her name on the first try. (I am NOT advocating that you harass or stalk. Please see the previous blogs concerning stalking.)

Now that I’m learning more about fiction, I have realized that researching my story has been both challenging and fun. My main character TJ is a Memphis transplant, so my family and I traveled to Memphis and spent a lot of time on Beale and in the “scary areas” of Memphis to get into his head, to understand WHY he would make some of his decisions. Research has its benefits, you know. I can name a few we picked up in Memphis: ribs, ribs and more ribs.

Sometimes research can even have a positive impact on the writer. TJ is a runner.A five-mile run is nothing to him, but he’s not the organized sports type. He is more of a freerunner, which comes in handy being that he has ticked off the entire football team. TJ actually considers himself a traceur because he practices parkour (PK). As a result of my research, I am now fascinated by freerunners and traceurs, and I hope to include an interview with the freerunner Tcup very soon.

I would like to be a traceuse—that’s the fancy French name for a girl who practices parkour—but there are a few things holding me back.

  • One, parkour enthusiasts are young. (Strike one.)
  • Two, parkour involves endurance. (Strike two.)
  • Three, parkour involves speed. (Strike three.)

I am sorry to say I will never be a traceuse. However, I have made a strong effort to pursue better physical fitness. Perhaps with my pursuit of physical fitness I can also work toward those nonphysical atttributes parkour enthusiasts value: respect toward others, humility, sharing of knowledge and the love of having fun.

I’m really liking that part about having fun. But guess what? Physical fitness is HARD. You have to WORK at it before it become FUN. Remember I am she who lacks endurance, coordination and youth, emphasis on youth. Running around my block once is about all the physical fitness I can endure. I’m exaggerating here. I said running around the block once. I have not made it one full round running once.  Walking, crawling, panting and heaving have also been involved. If I had to major in one of those values parkour enthusiasts value, it would be humility. I have already suffered, through my pursuit of physical fitness, more humiliation than a woman my age should.

I went to Walmart tonight with the intent of purchasing apparel that might encourage my physical fitness, and I found the perfect outfit. Pardon me if I don’t get the color exactly right, but I believe they call it mossy oak. I’ve included a similar picture below.  I like to keep my activities on the DL (yes, I know the phrase is outdated—so am I) so that I keep the humiliation to a minimum. Perhaps as I pursue my physical fitness I will not be noticed.

Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your own thoughts on the added benefits of researching what you write.

The donkey brays after midnight

I believe people are just generally happier when they make time to escape to their favorite worlds to read. For some people, their favorite worlds involve a comfy couch or bed. Other people retreat to different planets, underground cities, magical kingdoms or alternate realities. You fantasy aficionados know who you are.

I have never been a fantasy reader, but as my reading tastes transform, I’m open to any type of book that catches my fancy. But, basically, I like to believe the world I read about really exists. I suppose that’s why in the past I have enjoyed biographies and memoirs. I suppose that’s why I have an insatiable appetite for the works of Rick Bragg. His words drip off the page like molasses. Whether he’s avoiding alligators or setting readers down to meet his family members, he draws us into his world by satisfying our five senses through delectable imagery and emotion. It also helps that he’s a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. My passion for journalism runs deep within my soul.

When I’m drawn into a story, I want to feel as though the setting, the characters, the conflicts, etc. really do exist. When I was a kid, I read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and then I became Teresa the Spy, jotting down my illicit entries in my own composition books. But my all time favorite novel is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. At the young age of 14 Hinton breathed life into her characters, and they became alive in my mind. I became so attached to the book that I refused to return it to the library. I slept with it under my pillow every night. I made the librarian mad. There was a little part of me that agonized over the fact that I would never be able to meet Sodapop or M&M or Ponyboy. I suppose I subconsciously rationalized that if I didn’t return the book then I wouldn’t have to give up my friendship with the Greasers. To tell you the truth, I think the war between the Greasers and the Socs sparked my decision to minor in sociology.

Journalism teacher Sean Kincaid (from my book The Edge) starts each class with a quote of the day. On one occasion he tells his students, “Words are things; and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.” The quote foreshadows events that change the lives of TJ and Megan.  Ah, the power of words. Even the utterance of one syllable can initiate a butterfly effect.

As I mentioned, I am morphing. I am transitioning from the nonfiction world into the fiction world, and in the words of one of my characters, I “kinda like it.” I am happy right now to stay in the realistic realm although I do not discount fantasy. I think I’ve read just about everything by Frank Peretti, and even though his works include nonhuman creatures, I believe the entities he writes about really do exist.

I have heard about other strange paranormal, legendary creatures straight from the pages of fantasy. Some people even claim a few of these creatures are real. Could it be that fantasy and reality do occasionally intertwine? I live near a bluff overlooking a river, and there have been documented rumors that Big Foot lives in the proximity of neighborhood. I can’t say that I’ve actually seen Big Foot, but I have heard donkeys braying outside my window after midnight. That is a fact. I have heard them with my own two ears. Could it be that these alleged donkey brays weren’t made by donkeys at all? Could it be…?

I have yet another challenge for you. Ever so often we encounter maniacal entities that try to bring about our demise. What monster do you face in your life right now? Give it a name. Describe it. How does it try to do you in?  Let us morph fantasy with reality and add an allegorical twist.

My fantasy creature is the idgit. It is very similar to a gnat or a midge. It sucks the life force out of its prey through zings, snarky remarks and backhanded compliments. The idgit possesses a brain the size of a gnat but is twice as annoying. Victims of the idgit may not realize at first they have been bitten, but soon their wounds swell and create pain. Idgits feed on the rotten, as do gnats, and they often carry hidden toxins. It’s best to seek help right away if you are attacked by an idgit.  Better yet, potential victims can avoid the idgit through strong repellant such as self confidence, strong prayer and daily Bible reading.

Okay, it’s your turn. What fantasy creatures lurk about your reality?

Leaving Manchester for the good

Well, I’ve decided to pack my bags and to leave Manchester.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who have supported me during the three or so weeks that I have been in possession of a complete, revised novel. I especially want to thank the EDGE staff for advising me during the year-long writing process. Without your help I would not have had “straight from the horse’s mouth insider information” concerning what teens do and do not want to read. And thank you, EDGE staff, for helping me get a better handle on what teens would really do if they were faced with the same types of crises that TJ and Megan face. I could not have made it this far without you.

Even though you have been an incredible support system to me, I realize I need more—namely an agent, an editor and a publishing house. Hmmm. I have bribed you a couple of times in the past. Would a bribe work now? How about Aztec Chicken every Friday at El Manantial until for the first person who can bring me the three aforementioned items?  On second thought, let me rethink that offer. I am envisioning an illegal kidnapping plot involving one or more Edgers—all for the sake of Aztec Chicken. I can see said agent being duct-taped and taken away in a little orange VW bus full of crazed writers in dreadlocks and hippie shirts.

But as I was saying, I have decided to leave Manchester to attend the ACFW Conference at the end of summer if all goes well, but I’ll return within a few days. (And, yes, some family members will accompany me to make sure I stay out of trouble.) I hope that while I am there I will learn the process of acquiring the three treasures listed above. All kidding aside, please keep me in your prayers. The YA (young adult) market is very competitive right now, and prayer is a necessity.

I’m really shocked that the YA market is so tough. When I walk into the classroom, I see most of you lugging around a book or two, and I’m not talking about required reading. Of course, I teach writers, and good readers, as we know, make good writers. Maybe that’s why YOU have a book in your hands. Your reading and writing go hand in hand.

I want to know what it is about the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series that lures both young and older readers. What magic do these novels possess? Are teens reading anything else these days? If so, what? Speaking of reading, what are you reading right now? 

I’ll go first, and then it’s your turn.  As you know I just finished, The Heart’s Journey Home by Jen Stephens. Next, on my list is In Between by Jenny B. Jones. After that, I’ll looking forward to a novel by Kaye Dacus. I was also hoping for another Odd Thomas novel by Dean Koontz, but it appears Odd is only appearing in graphic novels these days. Sigh.

It’s your turn now.