Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

December 21, 2014
by Andi
1 Comment

The Librarians, Writing Retreats, and a Quiet Day

Quiet day here on the farm. I expect I’ll be sewing a lot, helping to bring some firewood up from the pasture, reading, and being sure to catch up on The Librarians, hokey TV at it’s best – myths and books and quests.  YES!!  The Librarians

But before I sink into a day of quiet with Susan Cain’s Quiet, I just wanted to let you all know that I’ve scheduled 3 writing retreats for the new year.  I hope you’ll be able to join us for one of them.  They’re laid-back events with lots of time to write, wander, and settle into yourself. Plus, you can pet the goats, spend time with the chickens, and cuddle with Jelly Roll the kitten or “get Booned” by one of our Great Pyrenees.

All retreats are open to writers of all experience levels and in all genres.

So check them out if you would, and sign up if you’re interested.  Spaces are limited, so you’ll want to get in on the calm, relaxing action as soon as you can.

Now, back to the quiet.  Have a great day, folks.



Be Sociable, Share!

December 20, 2014
by Andi

Write to Serve Others – A Writers Write Interview with Jack Barr

When a friend writes me and says, Would you interview my friend? I do everything I can to say yes.  So this interview is a result of that request from my college friend Manny.  If you have ever struggled with the path your life has taken, if you love someone who has Down Syndrome, if you doubt the reasons you life has come the way it has, I think you’ll appreciate the words of Jack Barr. Failing at Fatherhood by Jack Barr

1. Tell me about your latest project.

I have recently written my first book, Failing at Fatherhood.  It was released this past November.  A publisher contacted me about two years ago after he read my article about our family on CNN.  He encouraged me to write a book and share my story with a broader community. That led me to writing Failing at Fatherhood.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

I was not an avid reader growing up.  My parents encouraged me to read, but I was more interested in outside activities.  After I became a Christian in college, reading became more important to me.  One author that encouraged me in my journey was Tony Campolo.  His book, Carpe Diem, opened my eyes to our calling as Christians and the needs of others around us.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

Since I have finished my book, I occasionally blog.  Usually I blog when something in the news or my life strikes me as an interesting story to share with others.  Recently I wrote about Brittany Maynard and Lauren Hill.  I shared my own thoughts about their stories and my personal experience of watching my father die of cancer when I was eighteen years old.

4. Who are you reading now?

I have three authors that I follow on a regular basis: Michael Connelly, John Grisham, & Ken Follett.  I enjoy “getting lost” in their stories and taking a break from my other responsibilities.  I also read various Christian authors when I find a topic interesting to me.  Right now I am working through a devotional book entitled, Conversations, by Brian Rice.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

Tony Campolo – Carpe Diem – It was the first Christian book I read that embraced difficult questions about Christian beliefs.  Tony gives you honest insight into what it means to be a Christian and follow that calling.

John Grisham – A Time to Kill – I grew up in the South, so many issues in this book I saw in my own community.  This is the first book I read by Grisham, and I have been reading his books ever since.  The book gives us a true glimpse into racism and makes us question our beliefs about justified murders.

Mitch Albom – Tuesdays with Morrie – This book prompted me to become a teacher and the purpose of my life.  The topics discussed in this memoir should be topics discussed between every pupil and teacher.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

I didn’t really follow a traditional writing process.  I just wrote my story. It was easy for me to write because it was a story I wanted to share.  After battling depression for a year, I knew I wanted to help other fathers.  The publisher contacted me before the book, so I was writing with the idea that my book would be published. Since writing the book, I have learned that promoting a book might be the hardest aspect of being an author.

7. What is a typical day like for you?

First we live in Bangkok, and I am a teacher at an international school.  I start each day at 7am at teacher devotions.  From 7am till 3pm, I am teaching or overseeing the athletic program at our school.  Usually from 3pm till 5pm, I am coaching a sports team after school.  At 5pm, I journey home to spend time with my wife and daughter.  My daughter goes to bed around 8pm, and I read for an hour before going to bed around 9pm.

8. Describe your dream writing space?

Somewhere quiet.  Does not really matter the location.  As long as my three-year-old daughter is not running around my feet, then it will work for me.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

That was probably some of the comments from readers about my CNN article. I wrote about my journey in raising a daughter with Down syndrome.  I never realized that people could be extremely mean and hurtful.  I am not a traditional writer so when people critique my writing, I accept that with a willingness to improve.  But when people attack my beliefs, personal choices, and my own daughter for being different, I realized that the world could be a hurtful place.  How did I respond?  I cried.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Marley and Jack BarrWrite about what you care about.  I never wrote to be famous or to earn income.  I wrote because I cared about the topic and my future readers.  If you write to serve others, then you will always be happy with the finished product.

Jack and Jana Barr are missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. Three years ago, Jack and Jana did not know God would use their daughter Marley, to forever alter their life plan.  Marley was born with Down syndrome and that event sent Jack crashing into a sea of depression. They started, If They Had A Voice, an awareness campaign that focuses on Down syndrome abortions.   Jack also wrote his first book, Failing at Fatherhood.

Be Sociable, Share!

December 19, 2014
by Andi

5 Books that Helped Me Find the Quiet

A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L'EngleLast night, I utterly forgot a get-together I had with a friend – didn’t even remember that I had asked her to meet until hours after we had agreed to do so.  I was mortified.  But I’m taking that mortification and trying to make good by realizing that what I said yesterday is absolutely true – I need more quiet and thinking time and fewer tasks to accomplish.

Thus, I’m thinking back over the books that have helped me find those quiet spaces.  Here’s my top five:

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I am not even half-way into this book, and I find myself changed by it.  I’m learning to honor my need for space and solitude not just as something that makes me happy but as something that makes me better – healthier, yes, but also better at what I do.  An absolute must read for any introvert or anyone who loves us.

2. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. Merton’s wisdom on solitude and silence and the need for time to contemplate – well, it gave me a new way to think of prayer and God, a way that stretched beyond supplication and intercession to a place where my life could be a prayer. Merton says, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.”

3. An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller. This book was recommended to me by someone who understood – better than I did myself at the time – that I was trying to find out who I was and how I wanted to shape my life.  Koller’s journey is the same in these pages, and it involves an isolated beach cabin in winter, a companionable dog, and a small town – three of my favorite things.

4. A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L’Engle. I still imagine L’Engle’s writing space when I think of an ideal – a second-floor room with a window out on the farmyard of an old farmhouse.  (I’m getting pretty close, right?)  The way L’Engle describes this place – their summer home – showed me that I, too, need a buffer away to be my best self.

5. Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach. Another woman on another beach alone.  (I’m sensing perhaps I need a winter beach retreat.)  Like Koller’s work, this book helped me understand what silence is and what it is not and to know, then, how to cultivate it.

I’d love to know your recommendations for books that take solitude or silence or contemplation as necessary. What books to you recommend that bring the quiet close?

Be Sociable, Share!

December 18, 2014
by Andi

Setting Creativity as the Default

The original poem in several versions was high on my playlist

from all that walking but not one of them was carrying

the right kind of tune . . . – from “The Next Attempt Will Be Meta-Poetical” by Eloise Klein Healy

That line – “the original poem . . . was high on my playlist” rang like a bell inside my chest when I read it this morning. . . when was the last time my work was “high on my playlist?” When was the last time it was not squeezed into spaces or outshouted by other work?  When did I last take my work on a walk – as Eloise says elsewhere in this poem?

When was my baseline of thought last about my creative work and not about clients or bosses or the long list of things I had to do?

I can’t remember when that time last was.

But it needs to be again.  When I have a few minutes of time to just think, I want my mind to fly to my work in progress, to dwell there and noodle (I love that expression.).  I want my default mode to be colorful and creative – not the computer gray that the word default implies.


I’m reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, and over and over again, I find myself affirmed – in my loathing of phone calls and groupwork and interruption, in my preference for hours and hours of interrupted time to think and work and focus, in the way my creativity feels strongest – most ebullient with color – when I have hours each day to do nothing but think and write.

I have deprived myself of that time lately. 

My hours are spent with billing questions and email claims and the moderation of comments.  Lately, I have been giving more of my creative thinking time to my clients than to my own work, which is not to say that such gifts are bad, but surely, they must be equal – as much of the sparkle of fresh thought to my own projects as to theirs.

I need a reset.


I am honored to call Eloise Klein Healy teacher and friend, and so when I read her words in this poem, I see her – white hair tousled, a stick grasped from the canyon road in her right hand, the sapphire blue I somehow hold as her color across her shoulders.  I can see her noodling that poem, and I am envious of her noodle for she is brilliant and compassionate and strong.

So come January 1, I am carving more space in my day – as I have again and again and will do  yet again – for just being, just thinking, for just staring out the window or wandering the quiet roads near the farm.

I am resetting my baseline, coloring it bold with bright blues and greens, opening it wide to the prism of life and having creativity form my foundation.

I want – I ache to have my thoughts flit back to the words, not the lists.  So I must make that happen.

What do you need in your life in order for your creativity to flourish?

My dear friend Shawn Smucker released his new book The Day the Angels Fell today, and he’s got a great contest happening over at his blog. Stop by to enter.

Be Sociable, Share!

December 17, 2014
by Andi

The Buoyancy of Completion – A Finished Draft

This morning, I surprised myself – or the book surprised me -or the universe aligned – or I was giving a special gift of grace . . . . all that’s to say.

I finished a draft of my book that is tentatively called Steele Secrets.* 

I knew I was getting close to the end – how I knew that I’m not sure?  A feeling, a sense of the fact that I’d written myself to the place I read in books that are ending?  I haven’t ever tried to put language to that feeling before.

But the draft is done, and I’m exhilarated. 

I’m also convinced that most of the draft is complete hokey schlock, vague scenes, terrible dialogue, and overly abundant adverbs. (See there’s one!)  I have much revision to do.

I have gaps in research I need to fill, and I probably made up some stuff that I will have to fact-check and revise.  Plus, since the book deals with hard questions about the legacy of slavery and racism, I want to read carefully with an awareness to my own privilege and be sure I either expose that or eliminate it completely in the story.

Still, I have a full draft – with beginning, middle, and end – and I can edit a draft.  I’ll be loading up on printer ink and sending this baby onto a stack of recycled trees in just a moment.

Then, tomorrow, I’ll be up with my blue Uniball Vision Elite, slashing and drawing arrows and filling up the backs of pages with notes.

Goodness that’s exciting.

Thanks for taking this journey of words with me.  If you’d like to share how your work – writing, research, child-rearing, plumbing – is going, I’d love to hear what we can celebrate together.

*Actually, I finished the second full draft of this book. I wrote one last year, but the book needed a different point of view – and in this process, the story changed in major ways.


Spaces in the Painted Steps Writers Group are filling up for February.  Only 8 spots remain, so reserve yours now –

Be Sociable, Share!