About Lisa Dunn

Author and excavator of beauty from ashes.

I Have a Name

Hi there, faithful readers and anyone who stumbled upon this blog!

When I began, so many years ago, I titled this place “Waiting for a Name,” because that’s what I was doing. From waiting to find the right name for a character to waiting to finish my manuscript to waiting for a book deal… and then more waiting. Three books published, and I don’t know if my name will ever be familiar to the average reader or if that really matters. Writing, like life, involves an awful lot of waiting, sometimes for things that will never come, sometimes for things that never mattered in the first place. I decided from the start of my writing adventure to be comfortable in the spaces between happenings.

Thanks for sticking with me through the waiting.

Last weekend, I attended DFW Writers Conference in Dallas, Texas. It was a lot of fun and a lot of exhausting. I came home a mixture of discouraged and inspired. Discouraged, because I lack the confidence that seems to come so easily to others. Inspired, because I know I have stories worth telling.

Seth Korkowsky, a speaker at the conference, recently blogged about his experiences with Imposter Syndrome, which in short, involves always feeling like a bit of a fraud, even when you have the credentials to prove you’re perfectly qualified. Every word Seth wrote resonated. I might be a crappy marketer, a scatter-brained speaker, and a terrible housekeeper, but I know I’m at least a decent writer. I just don’t feel like I am.

I don’t share this to elicit pity, but to declare war against the stupid voice in my head who keeps asking if I have any right to try to pass myself off as an author. Maybe you have a voice like that, too, whatever your profession.

My war starts with no longer Waiting for a Name.

It starts with Lisa Dunn.

Last night, I set up a shiny new website, and yes, I claimed my name. Please join me at  lisadunnwrites.wordpress.com. Together, we’ll silence the doubt.

 

 

 

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A Word (and please don’t copy and paste)

One of the first things you learn about when transitioning from writer to author is a little thing called persona. In short, everything you post to social media works together to present an image to your reading public. Your persona will depend on your level of comfort – how much you want the world to know about you – but it should be authentic. Your readers don’t have to know everything, but they want to know you.

If I chose to present myself as a slightly snarky, word-loving,  genuine beauty-seeking woman who adores her quirky family while writing books, homeschooling several grade levels, trying desperately to keep everything from unraveling, and when all my efforts seem in vain, falling back on the grace of Jesus and everyone else in my life, I could do so with a clear conscience and utter authenticity. If, however, I tried to present myself as a peppy mom who’s never late and always brings snacks that are healthy, delicious, and pretty, a woman who always knows the right platitudes and accessories and never calls “b.s.” or closes her hymnal halfway through a song because she just isn’t feeling it… That, my friends, would not be authentic, and those who know me well would be fully within their rights to laugh uproariously at my attempted deception and ask which of my children had hacked my social media accounts.

Which brings me almost to the point of this post.

There’s another thing we writer/author folks learn very early on, and that is voice. Some would say it can’t be taught – either you have it or you don’t. It’s that almost intangible thing that tells you right away that you are in the care of Jane Austen or Lemony Snicket or whichever author awakens your senses within the first paragraph of a book. A writer’s voice is, in large part, what makes a reader fall in love. It’s magic, my friends.

And here’s the point of my post: You have a voice. An authentic, honest-to-goodness voice.

You might not have a voice that will hold readers captive for 80,000 words, but you have a voice. To those who love you, your voice is unique. Please use it. Please don’t copy and paste someone else’s voice.

Some days, it seems I read more “copy and paste” posts on Facebook than I do actual posts penned by people I know. Most of the time, I know by the end of the first line that it isn’t original, that a stranger wrote the words you’re sharing. They might be lovely words. They might express important sentiments.

But it isn’t your voice, and so I stop reading. I log on to hear the voices of the ones I love, to understand their stories, not to read regurgitated thoughts, however eloquent they may be.

So, please try. Try to put it in your own words. If that’s too much, preface the copied portion with your own thoughts, in your words, in your beautiful, honest, lovely, familiar voice. I don’t care if your vocabulary isn’t as polished as another’s, if you have a misplaced comma or an abundance spelling errors. I love grammar, but believe it or not, I don’t visit Facebook for its highfalutin grammar.

I’m asking you, friend to friend, to share your thoughts, to unburden your heart, to raise your voice.

Just please…

Don’t copy and paste.

 

Just for Fun, Chapter One

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a little contemporary YA series since finishing The Chasmaria Chronicles. After completing the manuscripts for the second and third of the four book series, I’ve finally found my way to the beginning. Known affectionately as “the underwear series,” Commando Grace chronicles the high school career of a girl who runs with the boys, but stumbles in friendship. It isn’t, in fact, all about underwear, but about life, nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty life. As such, I’ve had to get personal, going places as a writer that aren’t especially comfortable and finding ways to immerse the reader, delicately but naturally, into Grace’s unabashed world.

With that preface and an open invitation for feedback, I give you…

Chapter 1

Life’s unfair, Grace. That’s what Dad always tells me, usually over pancakes with syrup glistening on his bottom lip. You can fight it, baby girl, but sometimes, you have to accept it.

Easy for him to say. He grew up with a younger sister in a house with a two-to-one ratio of humans to bathrooms. If he’d been the baby sister of six obnoxious boys all struggling for space in front of one bathroom mirror, he might find it a little harder to accept life’s injustices.

“Watch your aim. It’s my week to clean the bathroom.” Nathan’s voice comes through the shower curtain. He’s going to be even more insufferable now that he’s a senior.

Ed responds, the agony of morning adding to the weariness of his words. “Dude, why are you watching me pee?”

In the surge of the flushing toilet, my shower drains the last bit of warmth left in the water heater. I haven’t conditioned my hair or shaved my legs.

“Move over. I need the mirror.” Pete, fifteen and my closest brother in age, has entered the bathroom fray. “Seriously, Grace, do you have to leave your underwear in the middle of the counter?”

My underwear hurtles over the shower curtain and into the soapy water pooled at my feet. I turn off the shower and scurry to rescue the only clean pair of underwear I have left after forgetting to do my laundry Saturday. Life is unfair, but I can accept a few injustices. Someone invented leave-in conditioner. Jeans will cover hairy shins. Soaked undies, however, are a fighting matter.

I fling open the curtain, toss my wet underwear at Pete, and grab my Tinker Bell towel. Stepping out of the shower, I wrap Tink around my body. “What was that for, Peter? You heard Nathan. All last week, I’m leaving for school at 7:45 sharp. If you aren’t ready, you can walk. I don’t have time to dry my underwear.”

Pete moves aside to let Ed exit. One brother out, two to go. “It doesn’t matter. You won’t need underwear until the weekend.”

I stare blankly at him. Nathan peers at his reflection in the mirror, brushing his dark hair flat against his head. “I’m leaving in ten minutes.”

“Why won’t I need underwear?” I ask, shivering under my threadbare towel.

“The underwear thing.” Pete says. He rolls his eyes at Nathan. “Are you seriously wearing a polo shirt? Could you at least unbutton the top button? I have a reputation to build, and a dorky brother—”

What underwear thing?” Wet, cold, and ignored. My freshman year is off to a spectacular beginning.

Reaching around Nathan to get his toothbrush, Pete glances over his shoulder. “You don’t know about it?”

Nathan closes the medicine cabinet door, almost catching the tip of Pete’s toothbrush. He frowns in the mirror. “You didn’t tell her about the underwear thing, did you?”

“It’s a family tradition.”

“What’s a family tradition?” This is what Dad doesn’t understand. I’m always last—last to be born, last to shower, last to enter high school, last to do and know everything.

“You’re making a puddle, Grace.” Nathan steps around me, careful to avoid the water collecting on the tiled floor.

As the door closes behind Nathan, I glare at Pete. “Start talking.”

“It’s like this.” He spits, rinses, then turns and leans against the bathroom counter, arms folded. “Welches go commando.”

Welches go commando? As in, no underwear?”

Pete’s finger flies to his lips. “Quiet. Mom will hear.” He glances around the bathroom, as if checking for spies. “It’s a tradition. Kevin and John started it, then Jason, Ed, Nathan, me. First week of freshman year, Welches go commando.”

I rub a stray drop of water off my nose. “I don’t believe Kevin ever went commando. I don’t believe any of you did.”

The door opens. Nathan strides in, grabs his cell phone off the counter, and points it at Pete. “Five minutes or you walk.”

Scoffing, Pete pushes the phone away from his face. “ Hey, didn’t I go commando freshman year?”

Nathan stops in the doorway, half turned. “We all did, for the first week anyway.” His bland gaze rests on my Tinkerbell towel. “Why aren’t you dressed?”

About the Girl

A few days ago, I laid out some rules for dating my son. Because we like to treat our girl as her brother’ equal, I thought it would be only fair to lay out the rules for dating my daughter. So here we go…

To any young man who thinks he wants to pursue our sweet, beautiful daughter, I have  five words for you:

Dude, you’re on your own.

(Six words if the contraction counts as two).

The girl has three brothers, not to mention a father. If you’re worried about shotguns and other threats, you need to know something.

Those aren’t your biggest concerns.

Did you catch that she has three brothers?

She knows a thing or two about boys. Your usual tricks won’t work, so if you show up at our door, you’d better come carrying a bouquet of respect, humor, and intelligence. Just being a boy – if we’ve done our job well – won’t be enough. She knows you miss the toilet bowl. She knows you wipe snot in weird places. She knows you’re loud and sometimes stinky. (Warning: If she deceives herself into thinking otherwise, we WILL point her to truth).

She’s watched her brothers enough to know you want to be king of the hill. If her father and I have done our jobs, she shares your dream of standing at the apex, muddy and bruised and oh-so-proud of her hard-earned accomplishment. Be careful: She might knock you straight down the side of whatever mound of dirt you’re trying to rule. Her brothers, bless their rowdy hearts, have taught her how to fight for what she wants.

We’re doing our best to teach her not only to love deeply and forgive freely, but to think clearly, laugh often, and fight hard. Her daddy encourages her to get dirty, wipe off skinned knees, and keep pushing. I, a mother who sees her heart mirrored in her daughter’s, am whispering all the things I think she might need to remember when spring comes with tempting breezes that smell of love. Look for the funny ones, the ones who don’t pretend, the ones who want to be your friend because they value your heart more than your body. Those are the good ones, dear girl.

If the love of my life and I succeed, it won’t be her brothers or father or even her mother you’ll have to impress.

It’ll be her.

And when it comes to impressing our girl, you’re on your own. We can’t help you. Bring your best – your honest, snot-smearing best – because she’ll roll her eyes at all your bragging about whatever exploits you think you have to your young name. (Spoiler: She’s as accomplished as you are).

If it’s any consolation, we’re on our own, too.

If, somewhere on the side of that mound of dirt, she decides she wants to stand at the top with you – hand in hand, victors together – nothing we can say or do will sway her. Remember how I said her mother’s heart is mirrored in hers? I have a pretty strong feeling that when she falls in love, she’ll fall with hard determination.

(Dear boy, please be one of the good ones. Tough hearts break hard, and she cries like her mama).

You stinky, muddy king of the hill,

victor of my daughter’s heart.

We’re on our own as much as you are, but maybe we’re not. Maybe in loving you, she’s bringing both you and us a gift.

Please, come inside, out of the dirt. Sit at our table, get to know us. Let us get to know you. I promise, whatever my first impressions and motherly reservations may be, I’ll do my best to see what it is in you that made my sweet baby girl grant you the throne of her heart. I’ll teach her brothers to be your friends as much as her guardians. I’ll remind her father how powerless he is to keep his baby girl.

I’ll hope with all my heart that you are one of the good ones.

Rules for Dating My Son

Hey, you!

You with the cute shoes and optimistic eyes…

I’ve heard your name, and I see you sitting next to my son. I’m not sure what’s going on – if you’re just friends or just friends  – but we need to talk. No, I need to talk, if you can spare a moment of your precious adolescent time. Scoot this way and listen, you darling bundle of hopes and dreams and happily-ever-afters being written, erased, and rewritten on the secret pages of your heart.

Lots of moms these days are posting “Rules for Dating my Son” and other such stuff. Maybe I’m a terrible mother for not having a logically numbered list, but I do have some thoughts, so let me lay out a few things, just so you understand, darling.

First and foremost, and don’t you dare forget this: You are precious.

No, I mean that. You’re precious, you with a heart so big and beautiful and open wide to a world beyond your wildest imagination. I’ve done my best to teach my son to be gentle, honest, and faithful, and I’ve told him over and over that girls are strong, smart, and capable – and not to be trifled with. (His sister is helping me in this endeavor). I pray my son remembers all I’ve told him. I expect him to show you the utmost respect, as fully as possible comprehending the beautiful complexity that you are. I expect him to handle your heart with care for as long as you entrust it to him. I hope you’ll respect him as much as you deserve to be respected and that you’ll be as careful with his heart as I’ve taught him to be with yours.

But the reality is this: Most likely, one or both of your hearts will break. I beg you, woman to blossoming woman, be as kind as you can. On my end, however badly you act, however badly he acts, I’ll remind him how young you are, how young he is, how you’re teaching each other how to love – and sometimes how not to love. Happily ever after might take a few rewrites. Be kind to each other, even if you have to write each other out of your beautifully unfolding stories.

I thought I’d have more to say – all the other moms have lists of ten or so rules they expect you to memorize – but that’s it. I find, now that we’re face to face, I don’t have anything more to say to you than I would say and have said to him.

You’re precious.

Be kind.

However the story goes, be kind.

If I Go Silent

If I go silent, it won’t be because I have nothing to say.

It won’t be for lack of consideration, compassion, or interest.

If I go silent, it will be your fault

for failing to listen,

for screaming your views so loudly, so vehemently, so assuredly

that my thoughts,

coming slowly and carefully as I struggle to take into account all sides of the issue at hand,

find no space

in the short time you take

to refill your lungs

before screaming some more.

 

So if you really want to solve this problem,

please pardon my bluntness

shut up for a moment and

listen.

 

 

 

Thirty-nine and Counting

We women talk a lot about teaching our daughters to love their bodies, to be comfortable in their own skins, not to worry about impressing anyone because it’s their minds and hearts that matter and blah, blah, blah…

And then they ask how old we are.

“Nineteen.”

“Twenty-nine.”

The less deceitful say with certainty, “Thirty-nine and counting.”

It’s been a long week, so my Let’s-Put-This-Nicely is broken.

Let’s stop lying.

Let’s stop pretending our daughters will learn to love their whole selves when we can’t admit how old we are. Our girls are smart. They can do the math. You can’t turn twenty-nine six years in a row.

Wise and Wonderful tells me she’s proud of her age. Each year is a victory of love, of memories, of life. Not everyone gets to grow old. We should be thankful for, rather than ashamed of our advancing years. Besides, if you look forty, why would you want people to think you’re twenty? Far better to be even average for forty than to be a washed-up, matronly twenty-something.

She’s absolutely right. (Naturally. She almost always is.)

The issue for me is what expectations I will establish for my daughter. How will she view herself as she develops, as she births and nurtures her children, as she watches her body change from child to woman, from young to old? It isn’t enough to tell her her body is strong and beautiful and miraculous. I want her to know each year she lives is glorious not because of the shape of her body or the color of her hair, but because she – beautiful, capable, wondrous SHE – by the grace of God is a survivor.

So, I’m thirty-nine. For real. I have a few silvery white strands of hair. Once, when I pulled one out, the image of my paternal grandmother flashed through my mind. She smiled at me, but my attention was fixed on her stunning snow-white hair. I always thought, if my hair has to lose its color, I hope I go white like Grandma Puls. It only took a moment to realize the woman in my head wasn’t my grandmother. She was me, and she really wanted me to stop pulling her hair. I haven’t plucked a single shimmering hair from my head since, and while I’m in no rush to get to the nursing home, I look forward to seeing that old woman in the mirror someday – hopefully with a full head of vibrant white hair.

I won’t lie to my daughter. I won’t pretend the clock isn’t ticking. I want her to see the raw  and ever-changing beauty of thirty-nine, forty-nine, and hopefully many nines more. I want her to know age doesn’t go before beauty nor beauty before age. They go hand in hand through each passing year. Sure, there’s plenty I wish I could change when I look in the mirror (and let’s be honest, while I’ll never recapture my twenty-year-old figure, if I put my mind to it, I could get a lot closer than I am), but I hope more than anything to show my girl how to accept the natural changes of life, how to grow old with grace, confidence, and love for the woman she was and is and is becoming.

Next year, heaven help me, I’ll answer without hesitation,

“Forty.”