Called by Name

Called by Name

Called by Name

One of the great joys of having children is the fun of choosing their names—or it becomes a joy once you get past the wrangling (as in ‘will Great Grandpa Gatsby ever forgive us for calling our son Scott Fitzgerald G.?’).  

When my husband and I chose names for our children, we opted for meanings which represent our prayerful desires and prophetic blessings for them, believing that every time we call them by name, our prayers and blessings are reiterated. How delighted we are that our adult children embody the very blessings we bestowed.

Name choices are significant for writers too. Character names, book names … we have to choose names more often than the average Jo. I have written stories with characters that seemed to name themselves. Other times I’ve gone searching for the ‘right’ name. Often my choice is influenced by the meaning of the name.

Sometimes, we rename ourselves. There are numerous blogs and articles on the subject of pseudonyms and the reasons authors choose them. I was happy publishing under my own name, until I wrote THAT story; one that had to be written; one that begged to be published; one that spoke to the power of God’s grace to heal victims of physical and sexual abuse; one that spoke of the overwhelming responsibility every adult has to protect our children from predators; one that challenged the wall of silence that has kept many adults, myself included, isolated in a room of pain, filled with unspeakable memories.  If only that story was fiction. But it wasn’t. It was the all-too-true story of my childhood.  

Writing THAT story was also a turning point for me; one that brought healing as I wrote it, and more healing as I shared it with my siblings. So, did I really need to publish it? As I prayed and agonised over that question, the answer was a clear yes. Not because the world needed another story about abuse. But because there can never be enough stories about the power that positive action, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation have to overthrow evil and release healing, wholeness, and goodness again. You see, the man that abused me as a child, died the same day he truly repented of his sins against me; in his place, I received a loving father who would also be a wonderful grandfather to the very end of his days. For that reason, when my story, Releasing Rainbows, was chosen for publication in the inaugural issue of Snapdragon, A Journal of Art and Healing, I used my pseudonym.  

I prayed much about that name choice too. After all, God’s an old hand at name-changing: Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah, Jacob/Israel and Simon/Peter all had name changes at his instigation. In each case, their names were changed to reflect God’s calling and plan for their futures. God had a bigger vision for them than they or their parents had had. He wanted to call that future into being, and keep calling it in until it blossomed to his glory. With that in mind, I chose the penname Mazzy Adams; Mazzy which means ‘precious’, and Adams to represent all humanity; a new name to call into being a specific hope and purpose: to write stories which will bring blessing, encouragement, healing, wholeness and goodness to every precious person that reads them. After all, God is in the business of making people new again.

How do you choose names for your literary characters? Do you consider the meaning and blessing (or curse) inherent in those names? Have you thought of using a penname, perhaps one that speaks God’s calling into your work? God himself is known by many names; each represents his perfect qualities present and active as his name is uttered. Great Author of Life, will you please write your perfect desires into our literary lives too?


Original blog with comments posted on Christian Writers Downunder June 2015

Hats, Posts, and Literary Landscapes

Hats, Posts, and Literary Landscapes

Hats, Posts and Literary Landscapes

It was May 2014. It was also high time my husband and I gave our garden some much-needed attention. We felled weed trees, removed deadwood and spindly branches, trimmed the overgrowth, and carted several trailer-loads of green waste to the tip. Despite the hard yakka and the potential for danger implicit in our task, the only casualty was my gardening hat—its brim and bonnet ripped asunder as an inevitable consequence of its age. I’d had that hat for forty years.

In the way of writers, that hat got me thinking about the many hats writers wear. After all, writing is not the only thing we do. ‘What!’ I hear you gasp. You know it’s true. Life is filled with demands. Even readers put their books down (albeit briefly. Never make a habit of it innocent) when life demands it. But writers do landscape their text with experiences gleaned while they’re wearing other hats. My gardening hat only lasted as long as it did because I’m an occasional gardener, not a professional landscaper.

The post on which the hat sits is another casualty of time, displaced by a tree root. I confess, my trusty made-to-measure crowbar still awaits the day I’ve strength and energy enough to replace that post. It wouldn’t be the first posthole I’ve dug. I hefted that crowbar to hollow out holes in the ground for eighty-eight garden and retaining wall posts on our property. Here are a few writing principles I gleaned from my landscaping experiences.

The corner post (in the above corner under the rose) was my first. Hubby measured, marked where to dig and I went for it. I dug a whole lot wider and a whole lot deeper than I needed to, wasting time, effort, and concrete. I applied moderation to subsequent digs.

Principle learned: Preparation and research are necessary, but don’t get carried away with interesting, but unnecessary information. Likewise, the first written draft is rarely perfect. It requires extra time and effort editing. Practice leads to improvement, both in technique and result. Even those first drafts seem to get better the more you write.

The wall at the front of our property was 600mm high, which meant postholes needed to be 700mm deep to hold firm in our ‘plastic’ soil profile. Natural springs under the footpath moistened the subsoil there, making it easier to dig. Behind the house we had to dig 1200mm holes for our 1000mm high walls. But there, thanks to a hefty cut-and-fill, the ‘surface’ was already one metre below the topsoil level. The only way we could break through that clay, was by first soaking it with water.

Principle learned: A short story is different to a poem is different to a novel is different to a magazine article. Each requires materials, scaffolding and structure of the right type, size and shape for the genre. Lessons learned writing in one genre enhance writing technique and positively inform a variety of other writing formats.

As much as we loved the look of our round Koppers logs, they were difficult to work with. They had to be planed and chiselled and shaped to fit together and to fit the curve of the uprights. It was easy to get discouraged when progress was slow and tedious. Being prepared to try something different for the side and rear walls of the property allowed us to finish the job sooner and worked just as well.

Principle learned: Don’t get stuck in a rut. If the current writing (or any other) project is dragging on and going nowhere, try something different. A pleasant surprise may result. Varying the vista can bring fresh insights and enthusiasm.

Not everybody appreciates a garden, or a piece of writing, or any creative offering, in the same way. We didn’t plant retaining wall posts to feed termites, but the little beggars happily devoured some of ‘em anyway. I may not rejoice when the neighbourhood mutts water our front retaining wall, but my dog loved neutralizing their efforts.

Principle learned: Who knows, others may enjoy unexpected benefits from your efforts. Of course, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Any project—writing or otherwise—can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. Don’t get so stressed by the size of the project that you forget to enjoy the process. One day, you’ll look back and think, ‘Wow! I did that. And I enjoyed myself! I am awesome!’ and you’ll be right.

You can read an earlier version of this blog, with comments, on Christian Writers Downunder, May 2014.

Writers are Artists

Writers are Artists

I was a capable reader as a child, yet I still begged my mother to read aloud to me. I would close my eyes and enter a world where I could savour the flavour of music, inhale the aroma of colours or float as easily as a helium balloon. In that world, every house had a way of escape through a secret passage, and enough room to share with a small Swiss bear who loved meringues. I could conjure a landscape of snow-covered mountains, perilous rope bridges spanning treacherous chasms, labyrinthine underground caverns and I had the courage to conquer them all.

In the realms of my imagination, my artistic ability knew no bounds … a state of being that was quickly dispelled in real life by my year eight art teacher. The value she placed on my practical artwork convinced me I had better explore alternative career options. I gave up art and learned to touch-type.

But one day, I discovered the Reader’s Digest’s Towards More Picturesque Speech and a seed of possibility took root.

Words are a wonderful medium to work with. I’ve been collecting and collating them for years. Dictionaries are full of them, a treasure trove of opportunity, aided and abetted by those creative little vegemites who pull new words out of the air (and/or social media) all the time. Those careful and crazy collections of letters supply a never-ending creative palette to play with. One can mix them, spread them, stack them, blend them, rearrange them into endless combinations. I’ve discovered some absolute beauties. From the picturesque to the profound or the absurd, words can paint the most intriguing pictures.

It does take some effort, gathering tools, learning techniques, developing skills. It takes time and dedication to produce any worthwhile work of art. But what a privilege and joy it is to indulge the artistic muse and create more picturesque speech.

(Edited and revised; original version published 13 November 2013 on Christian Writers Downunder)

A World to Explore – Artwork by Catie J Sercombe

Writers are Artists

(Catherine Sercombe © 2011)

Tongue-tested words, selected and ordered,
glued into patterns or crazily paved,
mosaic montage or serpentine path
to step out and search
or sit still and dream—
a world to explore
or snapshot of life.

Tongue-tested words, soothing or seething,
waves at the beach or crabs in the sand,
motion that rocks the cradle of souls
or crashes and churns
soft sand into grit—
a pincer of pain
or pillow to sleep

Tongue-tested words, drifting and floating,
clouds in the sky or scum on a pond,
ethereal beauty or rank saturation
of raw sore emotion
from dark fetid swamp—
truth has its beauty
and ugliness form.

Tongue-tested words, the laughter of children
dancing and singing a rhyme in the sun,
music and mayhem, myst’ry and meaning,
daisies and daydreams
or we’ll all fall down—
sing me some wisdom
and I will be wise.

Tongue-tested words, surreal and confusing,
colours on canvas, flame upon glaze,
unyielding marble till hammer and chisel
chop off the dross
and the sculpture appears—
writers are artists
creating with words.