Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Time to Create...and A Time to Rest

I have a lot on my mind right now (just as I’m sure we all do). I’ll let our other fabulously-talented Hoosier authors be pithy, witty and erudite. Using that last word is about as good as it gets for me right now. I’m in a fog, a haze – part euphoria, part contentment, and – yes, part exhaustion. Aside from the fact that it’s nearly 1:30 a.m. as I’m writing this, I’m tired. Every now and then, we need to pause and reflect and simply rest in the Lord. I mean really rest, taking comfort in His promises and that beautiful peace that truly surpasses all human understanding. Even the Lord rested and understood this business of creating is exhausting business. I need to ponder His word and refresh my engines before continuing on with my current project and starting on the next one.

My first book literally just released, and of course, I’m overjoyed. To be perfectly honest, I held my breath throughout this journey, praying (1) my new, small publisher would stay in business long enough to actually publish my book; (2) they wouldn’t wake up and realize they’d make a horrible mistake; and (3) it would actually happen and I’d someday hold my book in my hands. Only a few minutes ago, I saw those magic two words on Amazon.com, “In Stock.” It’s the realization of a dream come true, the culmination of many hours of writing, reading, editing and praying. But, sometimes you simply have to see the humor. For one thing, under the tags on Amazon for the book, it’s listed as “historical” romance. Since when is 1997 historical? Anyone under the age of 25 need not answer. I shot an e-mail to the publisher to see if we can get that tag removed since we don’t want to deceive or anger anyone.

For those who don’t appreciate the pure joy derived from writing, we authors are enigmas. I’ve always written for enjoyment, as a creative release and to help me maintain my sanity. But let’s face it, every writer dreams of one day getting their work published. We become so focused on the pursuit, and don’t stop to think about walking through to the other side of the door. Now, I’m crossing over to the “other side” and learning that publication is only the beginning. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. But now I’m dealing with the “other end” of the spectrum: marketing and all the details of post-publication. Blogging, guest interviews, book signings and giveaways... I’m reading blogs and articles about how shameless we can/should be in order to market ourselves and our books. It’s all about branding and creating a name for ourselves. My head is spinning. How much is too little? How much is too much? Is there ever a happy medium? Even if there were 50 hours in a day, would I ever be able to get it all done? Lots of decisions need to be made, but I'll let the One who's led me this far continue to open those doors of His choosing. He hasn't steered me wrong yet, and I know He never will.

Writers, especially Christian writers, are some of the most productive people I know. Most of us are involved in some type of ministry, work a full or part-time job, and have many day-to-day responsibilities with families or friends. Yet somehow we find the time to write. Because we love it. Because it’s what we’re called by the Lord to do. Keep at it, my friends. You inspire me. Blessings to you all during this most joyous season of the year. Rest assured, I’ll awake tomorrow, refreshed and renewed, ready to go again. And, uh, check out my book on Amazon.com, but only if you're so inclined. It's called Awakening. But for now, this tired writer is going to bed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Thankfulness

Yes, you're right of course. Thanksgiving Day is over for another year. Now, we're catapulting toward Christmas. Black Friday has faded to a dingy gray by now.

Someone on the Christian radio station I listen to said, "Thanksgiving is Christmas without the guilt." I like that. So if you'll extend to me a small portion of grace, I want to linger around Thanksgiving for a bit, listing a few random things for which I'm . . . grateful.

I'm thankful for Jerry Spinelli. One of my junior high English classes just finished reading Maniac Magee. We loved it. Spinelli is the master of lists, a.k.a. catalogues. (Until I read MM, I thought Walt Whitman held that title.) Spinelli will make a general statement, one that would cause a critique partner to scream, "Show! Don't tell!" Then he slaps down eight or ten short, descriptive sentence fragments to paint in the sensory details. And what the man does with with extended metaphors is phenomenal. Some of those run for two or three paragraphs. As I taught novel structure and literary devices, Spinelli taught me.

I'm thankful for God's providence. When I resigned from classroom teaching to go full-time as a storyteller, I had no intention of ever serving in that capacity again. Just over a month ago, I was offered, and accepted, a teaching position at a Christian school. My first reaction was, "Hooray!" My second was, "How am I to finish my manuscript for The Second Cellar in time to get it to the agent who [at the ACFW conference] asked to see the full in six months [from conference]?" My third was, "Isn't that just like You, Lord, to plop me down smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of wonderful junior-high kids--my target audience?" Five days a week I'm surrounded by their vivacity, their chatter, and their adolescent angst. It's amazing. And I'm thankful.

I'm thankful for lots of dirty dishes on holy-days. They signify much. Family. The sound of adult voices, each with its own cadence, lost in conversation, trying to hear and be heard above the cacophony of the little cousins giggling and chasing each other through the house, up the stairs, and back again. Family. Gathered around the table. Holding hands and praying, while trying to ignore the mingled fragrance of roasted turkey, sage-and-onion dressing, assorted pies, some specialty coffee, and a caramel-scented candle. Family. Reciting a litany of ingredients for the corn casserole, the cranberry relish, Gran'ma's oyster dressing, the absolute best pie-crust recipe known to man. Family. Listening to the cousins sing, "We Gather Together," "For the Beauty of the Earth," and "Over the River and Through the Woods." Family. God's family. Enjoying a dress rehearsal for the coming Heavenly Feast where the King of Kings will sit at the head of the table. Where we won't have to worry about the dirty dishes. As Maniac Magee would say, "Amen."

by Sharon Kirk Clifton

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Strange Days Indeed

Did you know in Switzerland the official Egg Races are held on Easter Monday, where residents race to carry large numbers of eggs to neighboring communities?

We all love to celebrate Save Your Vision week each March. I am personally ever grateful for the Presidential Proclamation that ensures this continuing tradition since 1964.

Perhaps one of your characters is a big fan of Jimi Hendrix? They would naturally be drawn to today's celebration of his birth in 1942.

If you have a character that wears a blue collar to work in Indy, would you know to place his residence in the the Thirty Eighth Street corridor?

Sometimes the details of life are hard to place for fiction, and our readers are sure to catch any inconsistencies of our story. There are some fun and wacky resources that are affordable volumes to decorate your shelves. Put them on your Christmas wish list.

Who knows when it will be imperative to know exactly when Take Your Houseplants for a Walk Day is?

Chase's Calendar of Events
Writer's Guide to Places by Don Pures & Jack Heffron
On This Date... compiled by Sandy Whiteley

When writing feels like another item on your to do list, have some fun and flip to a random page. Create a scene that you would normally press the delete button immediately. A new character might wiggle into your running storyline that you haven't met yet...

"When will this end?" she muttered pushing past Ernest into the crowded hallway. She stretched her legs over bags filled with the yearly necessities: cymbals, wigs, tattered grass skirts and a worn paper mache' donkey. Even though the Gong Show ended decades ago, he wasn't about to miss the annual Gong competition. The perpetual booing didn't seem to phase him. This year was going to be the...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

When the Writer Isn't the Author

"I wrote it, so I get the copyright. Don't I?"

Usually, but not always.

The author receives the copyright, but the author and the writer aren't always the same person.

I see that puzzled look on your face, so let me explain.

Federal law gives the copyright to the author. In most cases, the person who wrote the manuscript is the author. But the definition changes if the material is what copyright law calls a "work made for hire.”*

So what is a work-for-hire? The law creates two categories. The first is simply "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." If you are a staff journalist writing articles for the newspaper that employs you, those articles are works-for-hire. You may be the writer, but your employer is the author for copyright purposes.

How you label your relationship doesn't matter. If you are billed as a "freelance correspondent" or an "independent contractor" but are required to work a certain number of hours every week and are paid for vacations and sick days, you are probably an employee rather than an independent contractor. It isn't always easy to draw the line, but the more you look like a traditional employee, the more likely it is that the writing you do as part of that relationship is work-for-hire.

You don't have to be an employee to create a work-for-hire, however. That's because there is a second category for certain commissioned works.

To determine if a work fits into this second category, ask yourself the following three questions. If you answer "yes" to all of them, it is a work-for-hire and the person who commissioned it is the author. If even one answer is "no," as the writer you are also the author.

1. Was the work specially ordered or commissioned? In other words, did someone ask you to write it? If you did the work on assignment, it may be a work-for-hire. If you wrote it on your own initiative and followed a normal submission process, it is not.
2.  Was it created "for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas"? Magazines and newspapers are collective works. A novel is not a collective work, but a single book containing four novellas is.
3. Have the parties signed a written agreement saying it is a work-for-hire?

If the material is a work-for-hire (either because you are an employee or because you answered all three questions in the affirmative), does that mean you can't use it? The answer depends on your agreement with the legal author. Your employer may let you republish the material for certain purposes or under certain conditions, but ALWAYS get it in writing. The same is true for a commissioned work. See what you can negotiate, and put it in writing.

Should you enter into a work-for-hire arrangement? Weigh what you get out of it against what you give up and make your own call.

But don't assume you own it just because you wrote it.

Kathryn Page Camp

* See 17 U.S.C. 101 and 17 U.S.C. 201(b).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Restoring What the Locust Has Eaten

Lifeway Christian Corporate Sales Meeting - 2007
“You’re on!” Mary-Beth, my author relations person, shout-whispered, running toward me as I walked out of the ladies room and down the hall of the Life Way building. I wasn’t supposed to speak until 9:30 AM but apparently they were running early. What luck! I didn’t even have time to get really nervous as they introduced me. Instead, I had to burst through the door, scoop up my notes and head toward the stage, hoping I wouldn’t trip in my high-heeled, platform sandals. As I headed toward the microphone and the podium, my knees began to shake and my palms started to sweat. I prayed one of my more eloquent prayers, “Okay Lord, this is it.”

Time to give my speech.

I stared out at the sales and marketing people, eighty or so upraised faces, and tried to smile, opening with a crack about the high probability of me blacking out. My voice shook while I promised to “come to” if they would wave some Starbucks under my nose. That got a laugh, and so, a little encouraged, I plunged into my Olympic relay-race analogy. Which, I hasten to mention, the Lord had just given me the night before. I’d worked hard on my speech, had it mostly memorized according to instructions . . . but the night before, in a lovely hotel room that the publisher put me up in, I lay wide awake most of the night while God…rewrote….my….speech. Ahhh! Why does He always wait until the last minute? But I was sure. I knew what He wanted me to say, and while it was pretty raw, “very transparent” as my editor later said with a kind smile, I was certain it was His message for this group.

After explaining to the crowd how much I viewed this process as a team effort – first me writing it, then the editors and art department polishing it up and then the sales team taking it on the road – and how incredibly blessed I felt to just be standing up there (I finally have co-workers!!) I plunged into how I began writing in the first place. It’s the question I’m always asked, “How did you start writing?” or “What made you want to become a writer?” or “Have you always written?”

In trying to honestly answer that question, God reminded me how it all began. On one hand, I have always loved lyric writing. As a girl, I used to swing on my swing (one of those 10 pound weights at the end of a rope tied to a big, old walnut tree in our yard) and make up song after song for God. I didn’t care who was around or if anyone heard me, I just worshipped him, loud and long. I also wrote some poetry and had a “diary” as we called it then, which my brother would find and break into (those locks never worked!) waving and taunting me until I chased him down and wrestled it back. But on the other side, the darker side, stories became a sort of salvation to me throughout my life. In the second grade I began having night terrors. One, in particular, was so bad I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side for three months (literally). I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, I was as white as a sheet – the fear dogged me until I felt like I was living from panic attack to panic attack. I looked like I was being haunted in my early grade-school pictures, and I felt like I was being destroyed. My parents prayed for me, encouraged me and tried everything to help me overcome my fears, but nothing worked.

I have a son who was diagnosed with ADD and Dyslexia. For years he struggled to read, doing phonics programs over and over and then taking a special “Discovery” class in 4th through 6th grade. It helped and he’s a much better reader now, but something happened during those early years that has become a special strength for Seth. Because he couldn’t read the world around him, he saw everything differently. Seth can easily remember faces, pictures and symbols. He remembers little details, saying things to me like, “Mom, did you see that man with a red hoodie? He had on a couple of rings on his left hand, curly black hair and a big, jagged scar on his arm?” I look around clueless. “What man?” Now, when Seth looks at signs he doesn’t just read them, he notices things like – letter shape, color, lighting, a missing bulb, etc. While I just read it, Seth really sees it and I know that someday God is going to use this gift in Seth’s future work. That’s kind of what happened to me. To help myself sleep at night, I started to focus my mind on building stories and characters, not allowing the fearful thoughts a chance to come in. This took intense concentration. But after awhile, I got better and better at it until eventually, I could fall asleep within minutes of lying down. Years later, I now see that what the enemy had planned for my destruction, God used for good. When I first sat down to write a novel, the scenes played out in front of my eyes with the ease of long practice. Praise God, He really does make beauty from the ashes of our lives.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of being in the Vincennes (my hometown) Christmas Stroll and Parade. I had the even greater privilege of seeing a dear friend/mentor that I haven't seen in over twenty years - Joyce Crockett. Joyce was my neighbor girlfriends' mom. She was, and still is, I'm sure, an awesome mother and wife and now grandmother. And Joyce is the person who first introduced me to historical romance novels. By the grocery sack full!! I can't imagine that I would be writing in this genre without her influence and it is, to me, another amazing example of God's will being done in my life. How he was giving me the tools I needed as a teen to help fight all the anxiety in my life and how He turned those hard times into something He could use for His kingdom and His glory.

How great is our God? How worthy to be praised! It was a full-circle moment and this Thanksgiving I am so thankful to have had that gift.

What about you? Who inspired you to write? How can you thank them this Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More 4-Letter Words Writers Need to Purge

By Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Last month I talked about a 4-letter word that slipped me up--"just". I asked you to think of all the things you "just" do. That word trivializes many of the important things we do every day. We don't "just" write non-fiction or devotionals or greeting cards. Writers write. Therefore if you do, you are. We don't "just" pray We aren't "just parents". We need to get rid of our case of the "justs".

I wondered about other 4-letter words that we writers might need to ban from our vocabulary. I don't think we need to go so far as to make a date with a bar of soap like in my younger years, but perhaps we can find other useful ways to void our vocabulary of a few more Writer's Swear Words.

Only--The whiny younger brother of "just", only does nothing but stop us from celebrating who we are and what we do. If God gives you words, write for Him and celebrate every hard-fought one of them. Who cares if you "only" write grocery lists and school notes? Those things are important to the life God's given you to live now. So what if you "only" wrote 500 words on your current WIP. That's 500 more than you had yesterday and 500 closer to The End.

Can't/Wait/Fear--These fraternal triplets crop up in my writing life from time to time. They paralyze us and keep us from getting started or submitting what we've completed because of all the unknowns. If you feel as though you "can't" then find someone who can help you. Read a book, ask the Loop, look on-line for the answers you need to continue. Don't "wait". Just like when my kids wait to obey, that's not really waiting, it actually disobedience. Don't wait. Get busy and get something on the page. Satan is a master at using fear to keep us from our calling. Bravery is acting on what you know is right despite the fear. Be courageous and tell Satan to hit the road.

Done/Quit--These bad boys come from a variety of sources. Their family names might be fear, laziness, or pride. When you are tempted to let these suckers slip past your lips ask yourself why. What's the cause behind your giving up? Are you too afraid to keep going because you feel unprepared? Then prepare yourself. Find the answers to your questions, seek critiques, search for someone further down the writing road. Maybe it's laziness that has you throwing in the towel (cliche intentional). Writing is hard work, so instead of quitting, find new ideas, fresh ways with words, or dive deeper into an area where you may be lacking. Possibly it is pride that has you down for the count, in the ropes, tied to the tracks. Sometimes it is easier to quit something while you still have your dignity rather than try and fail. It is a simple lesson concept that if you don't try, you can't fail. But you can't win either. Remove these words from your vocabulary and commit to the long-haul.

What about you? Do you have other words that you've had to purge? Our self-talk can be some of the nastiest, most vile speech we ever hear. Get rid of them--with or without the soap.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pet words

"Look at what?"
She looked irritated ...
One of my pet words is "looked" and one of my pet cliches is to say a character looked a certain way. I think that's telling, not showing. If she looked angry, what does that look like? Narrowed eyes, grit teeth? If the hero and heroine look into each other's eyes, what exactly are they doing? Do they see a stranger across a crowded room? Exchanging secret euchre signals so they won't be accused of talking across the card table?

I'm thinking probably all of us have a pet word or phrase that keeps popping up like lambs-quarter in my vegetable garden. For awhile one of the characters in a WIP "caught her breath" repeatedly until one of my crit partners commented that the character might hyperventilate.

In my case, I think my "looks" have to do with haste. Sometime in the future I will actually figure out what the characters looked like as they kept looking at each other.

What are some other pet words, phrases and short cuts? How do we weed them out?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Twelve Types of Questions to Liven Up Your Dialogue

Readers (and editors) like dialogue. They want it cramming the pages so they can stick their ears into the action. Next to “show, don’t tell,” learning to write engaging dialogue may be the most important skill you can develop to help your scenes come alive.

If I scratched my head long enough, I could probably come up with a half-dozen things I know to do to enliven dialogue. Hmmm, maybe half a half-dozen? So I was delighted to find a source that addressed using questions—twelve different types of them, mind you—to spice up dialogue. Uh-huh, I thought a question was a question, nothing more, but the way you frame one will affect how the questionee responds, and that’s where you get the zing.

So here we go—a short explanation of each, followed by an example:

1. Wh-Questions: the good ol’ who, what, when, why, where ones. They demand an answer that isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.”

“Who told you that? What’d he want to know? Why’s he asking you instead of me?”

2. Yes/No Questions: they demand the listener choose between only two possible answers, yes or no.

“Were you alone last night?” “Did you miss me?”

3. Declarative Questions: a twist on the yes/no question, it is framed as a declarative sentence that, when spoken, has a rising intonation at the end

“You lied to me again?” “You ate all my chocolate ice cream?”

4. Tag Questions: a question is added to a declarative sentence, usually at the end.

“The money would make you happy, wouldn’t it?”

5. Alternative Questions: often spoken with a falling intonation at the end, this type of question offers the listener a choice between two answers.

“Do you want me to drive you home, or call a taxi?”

6. Echo Questions: a direct question that repeats part or all of something just said.

“I hide my money in a cookie jar.”

“A cookie jar?”

7. Embedded Questions: a question that shows up inside a declarative sentence or another question. Typically it is a phrase such as “could you tell me” or “I wonder” or “do you know.”

“For once, could you tell me the truth?” “Sam, I wonder if I could talk to you?”

8. Polite Imperatives: a demand or request stated as a question to avoid giving offense.

“Will you ask the waiter to bring us the check, please?”

9. Leading Questions: a question that contains or implies its own answer.

“Isn’t that your fingerprint on the window pane?” “Wasn’t it your idea to steal the money?”

10. Answered Questions: the speaker both raises a question and answers it.

“Do you know what you sound like? A big baby, that’s what!”

11. Repeated Questions: repetitive questions phrased differently each time to emphasize a point.

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Not right now.”

“Are you going to eat in a little while?”


“Are you going to eat at all today?”

“Not planning on it.”

“Then I’m going to starve with you.”

12. Rhetorical Questions: a question asked merely for effect, with no answer expected.

“Do you know how sick and tired I am of all these questions?”

Uh, yeah, so there you have them….

Questions in dialogue not only set up a handy dandy interaction, but how they’re asked can take them beyond mere requests for information. Ask a good question and you can add color and drama by subtly conveying the questioner’s attitude and emotions.

How about you? Do you already make good use of this palette of questions, or, like me, do you need to grab a paintbrush and start adding depth, dimension, and color to your dialogue questions?

Steph Prichard            

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Libraries: Still an Author's Best Friend

By Rachael Phillips

I loved my library when I was a child. I even loved its smell. But as an adult, I rarely do research there. Why? Because googling is so easy. And at home, I can work in my ratty bathrobe and fluffy kitty slippers, even if it isn't Beddy-bye Story Hour.

But as most writers know, Mr. Internet is not always our friend. At the risk of sounding as if I learned my ABCs before the Flood, I suggest we continue to take advantage of the incredible library resources, including college libraries, scattered throughout Indiana.

Some of these would intimidate Plato. As I hiked past threatening parking signs to Notre Dame's skyscraper bearing its gigantic "Christ the Teacher" mural (known to football fans as "Touchdown Jesus"), I wondered how I would find the information I needed, hidden somewhere in those millions of books. I could not bring myself to speak to anyone, as even the janitors appeared to be Fulbright Scholars. So I spent half an hour seeking a map and an elevator, finally riding it up to the philosophy/religion department on the fourteenth floor. To my surprpise, I found only a locked door. I rapped on it. Silence. I banged until my fists hurt. Ditto. I'd spent forty-five minutes for nothing? My face must have reflected my feelings. A brave librarian on the elevator down asked if he could help.

"Somebody locked the door to the philosophy/religion department," I griped. "How can I do research if they close off the whole floor?"

"Which floor?"

"The fourteenth."

"The philosophy/religion department is on the thirteenth floor." He eyed me as if I'd uttered blasphemy. "Father Hesburgh lives on the fourteenth."

Librarians spend years in school learning how to help us, yet we don't want to ask a question. Unless we really, really have to go to the bathroom.

After the Hesburgh incident, I decided to speak up. As I feared, the librarians were smarter than I--but they gladly shared their knowledge and expertise. When I was working on a mini-biography of the hymn writer William Cowper, a librarian showed me Notre Dame's special collections. It wasn't until I held an 1803 volume of Cowper's letters in my hands that the musty, dusty writer, who died only a few years before its publication, came alive on my pages.

A librarian at Grace College's Morgan Library, instead of running away screaming at my lack of technical know-how, taught me how to run their microfilm machine. I grew so familiar with Billy Sunday's handwriting and that of other family members that I could distinguish them at a glance. I gained an additional insight: if I ever become famous, I will blowtorch my journals before I let some nosy author dig around in them.

Bottom line: librarians exist to help. We should cultivate their friendship with pleasant hellos and books brought back on time. (However, if we suffer from genetic procrastination disease, adding a chocolate tip to our fines goes a long way.)

Librarians also buy books, usually multiple copies for branch libraries or even entire systems. They recommend their favorites to library readers, who often want to purchase copies of their own. Librarians also enthuse about good reading material to their bookish friends, possibly precipitating more sales. And libraries are always looking for programs for their patrons, often allowing authors to sell their books afterwards.

So what are we waiting for? Shed that bathrobe and those fluffy kitty slippers and come with me to the library. We'll do our research and (ahhh!) smell those books together.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Four Generations Going Strong

Many of us had inkling when we knew we wanted to write. Early on I did and lately I’ve connected that feeling with my family tree. This blog is just a bit different, but bear with me.

I truly wonder if the writing bug is in our genes, but writing is an art. Look at your family tree and see if, art in some form permeates. Maybe? Maybe not.

This has been so in my family since my immigrant grandfather in 1776 painted portraits to settle his indentured servant hood.

My little granddaughter recently sent this poem. I’d like to share it, as well as snippets of three generations before.


By Amelia

Fall, small, it is turning fall.

It is turning from summer to fall.

It is a bummer that it is fall.

Amelia’s mother, school counselor, in her published book on body safety for young children:

Some parts of our bodies we share with others.

For example, our hands when we high five someone or shake a hand.

We share all of the parts of our bodies except the private parts.

The private parts are any area a swimsuit covers.

Amelia’s grandmother—me!

Savannah, caught between erupting romantic feelings for Khenan and terror of Anders, is pressured by her best friend to tell Gabriel’s father Judson he has a son. With reluctance she does and worries what her response will be when Judson arrives to meet Gabe, their son.

Amelia’s great grandmother—my mother. Writing sweet romances in the 1930’s.

Mr.Flynn was a pleasant looking middle aged man with high broad shoulders and big brown eyes and his face always wore a smile; straight and well framed, he had never loved anybody and no one had ever loved him.

Case rested. I’m carrying on what was begun before me and so are those after me.

Anyone else share similar stories?

Jude Urbanski

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Giving God a Blank Check...and Other Good Ideas

Several weeks ago, I dropped the ball big-time.

I was out to dinner with the hub and two people I hadn't seen in awhile, and the conversation touched on how we'd ended up in Indiana, anyway. (That question always gets asked when you're from anywhere other than Indiana, especially from Chicago.) I responded that, while it was a question with a much longer answer, essentially, it was a matter of a) my hub was losing his job, b) a desperate financial situation that necessitated our finding a different place/manner to live, and c) my desire to get out of the suburban nonsense and traffic and noise.  So, as I wandered up the stairs in our suburban house, I said to God, "Well, if you want us to live in a small town, you're gonna have to provide a job in it."

...and then I logged on to Catholic Jobs.com, and the rest was history.

My friends were quick to laugh and tell me that was my first mistake: telling God that if He wanted something, He'd have to provide a way for me to do it, and leaving the rest to Him. Or, as one of them said, "You see, you can't give God a blank check, because then...watch out!"
I laughed along, but I shouldn't have.
I should have stood up for my God, and what He means, and what giving Him a blank check is all about. Because the woman who gave that advice—as intelligent, savvy, and creative as she is—was wrong.
Of course you're supposed to give God a blank check.
What else is being a child of His all about?

When we're children, our parents have those blank checks. They can write anything into our lives that they see fit. And we, as children, don't have much to say about it.
Now, in the hands of good, caring parents, this blank check is no problem. 
We all know about the other kind, and we needn't dwell on them here...because that's not what we're talking about when we're talking about God.
Because God isn't that "other kind" of parent.

But joking about "Don't ever give Him a blank check"...makes Him sound like one.
That makes God sound capricious at best, and sadistic at worst. Like He's sitting up there just waiting for one of us to "put our foot in it" and give Him too much leeway, so he can pull a "gotcha."
And that's wrong.
And I should have stuck up for Him.
Not because He needs me to stick up for Him. He's GOD, after all. Like he needs me to do that? Not.

But for my own sake, for the sake of what I'm truly trying to do—which is live my life under the parameters of "Be it done unto me according to Thy word"—I should have spoken up.
I should have said, "What do you mean, you can't give God a blank check? What else would I do for the Father who created me, who loves me, who sent his Son, for heaven's sake, just for me?"

A favorite Scripture verse for many of us is, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
But what does that mean, exactly?
The fact is...when we say that, we commit ourselves to just that precise "blank check" that this woman, and so many people in our culture, abhor so much when it comes to God.
Because we're saying we're going to serve.
As in, "You say jump, I ask how high." 
As in turning our own selves over to Him, to use as He sees fit.
As in this isn't about me. It's about what You're going to do with me.
I should have said so then...but at least I can say so here.

I should have told my friends that my job on earth isn't to give God some kind of "marching orders." I'll take this, but not that.
My job isn't to dictate to Him, to give Him conditions, or to hem Him in. Yeah, I want to have my writing published, but only by certain publishers, only under certain financial conditions, only with certain readership…
Because in the end, who do I think I am to even consider praying like that?

This is not to say that I haven't prayed like that, and continue to do so. (!) Old habits die hard, and I'm as much a seeker of creature comforts and convenience as anybody, if not more so. But as a Christian, I ought to know better. Heck, I do know better, even if it's hard to remember sometimes.

I'm trying to trust more. And the first step to that trust is being willing to see that I'm not here on this earth to fill out forms and write manuals full of rules by which I believe God has to abide or He's not being "fair."

The Scripture doesn't say, "As for me and my house, God is at our convenience."
It has to be the other way around, or it ain't real Christianity. It ain't real anything.

So, to me, real starts with giving Him as many blank checks as He wants.
And then hanging on tight.
Not because you can't trust Him to write something good for you...
...but because what He writes will probably be so far beyond what you can presently even imagine that it'll blow your socks clean off, knock you from your chair, and send you darn near airborne.

The flight may not be what you've got planned. In fact, it probably won't be.
But it can still be a glorious journey, if you're willing to ride it out on, and underneath, His wings.

That's what I should have said.

I apologize, Lord.
I'll do better next time.


Friday, November 12, 2010

The Danger of Success

This fall I’m revisiting the life of Abram, God's friend. Today I am struck by the way Abram handled success.

Abram's nephew Lot, his family, and his possessions were taken hostage by a five-king army after it defeated a four-king alliance. Abram, well past seventy-five, called his allies and led out his three hundred eighteen trained men. They pursued the army over one hundred fifty miles before defeating it and recapturing all the people and possessions. When Abram returned home captain of a huge host, the king of Sodom and the king of Salem came out to meet him in the King’s Valley.

The king of Sodom deferred to Melchizedek, king of Salem. Melchizedek brought wine, bread, and a blessing on “Abram of God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and earth,” and on “God Most High, who...delivered your enemies into your hand” (Genesis 14:19-20, NASB). Abram responded with a gift--a tenth of all.

The king of Sodom stepped forward. He wanted only the people in exchange for the goods. Abram refused, having sworn to the LORD, God Most High, not to take even a thread that is the king’s for fear of the king’s taking credit for making Abram rich. He returned the people and accepted the share due his men but took nothing for himself.

What to learn?

Expect conflict and train for it.

Ally with likeminded, loyal people.

Dare to risk.

Persevere. Conflict requires time, energy, and enduring faith.

Predecide how to handle success.

Handling success intrigues me today. Did Abram compare facing the two kings with attacking the five-king consortium? Was the homecoming harder?

It's tempting to take quietly what isn't ours--whether credit, admiration, or honor. God Most High, who won the day, increase our faith to pass the insidious test of success.

A Cheating Scandal

Back when I was a writing prof, cheating (especially plagiarism) was occasionally an unfortunate concern for me. So when the "students busted for cheating" news came out yesterday (Nov 11), I was interested enough to post the article on my Facebook. The response comments from some of my FB friends are definitely worth sharing! And I do so here.

You might want to read the article first, in case you haven't already:

Students Busted for Cheating
A Florida professor has busted 1/3 of his 600 business school students for cheating on a big exam. He calls it "a knife to the heart" and is cracking down on the cheaters with a very stern ultimatum. Watch the video here on Y! News:


Facebook Comments

Millie Nelson Samuelson:
BRAVO, Prof! Sickening to hear one student say: what's the big deal, everyone cheats, it's life.

Huldah Burklund Brown, Gerald Robert Burns and Melinda Vallem like this.

Marty Davis:
So totally out of our world as students, isn't it? What's an education for?

Todd Temeyer:
hmmm, konstantin ravin says everyone cheats, where is he from, and what religion is he

Melinda Vallem:
The comments from the second student were really horrific. I weep for the younger generation....

Gwen Andersen:
I think Konstatin Ravin is going to have to start his own business; I wouldn't hire him for fear of him cheating me on hours worked, or that the work was actually his own.

Suzanne Wolcott Shugart:
Couple of thoughts: If students are daily exposed to news of the previous two generations' success based upon and plagued by financial misconduct, extramarital affairs, market (local and global) manipulations, misuse of power and outright dishonesty, what example are they being given of the virtues of honesty and how exactly are they supposed to rise above that, given that the (mostly) men who perpetrate these activites are wealthy and, by all American standards, relatively successful?
Secondly, can intellectual property be equally compared with physical property in its use and value? I would point out that, under American conceptions of intellectual "property" not one of the classics of Western (or Eastern) literature, music or even technology would exist (Chaucer would have had his knickers sued off).
Finally, what systemic issues are leading students to believe that cheating is the best (or only) way to achieve a goal? In a nutshell -- throw the blame all you want on the students, but there's a heck of a lot more going on here.

Todd Temeyer:
wow, can i say freak, time to join the real world

Millie Nelson Samuelson:
Some GREAT comments here, friends! Almost like a debate with Aristotle and Plato. . . almost! And Suzanne (still Susie in my mind), go ahead and finish your profound essay and submit it to Newsweek's "My Turn" (rumored to pay about $5000, but it could be less or maybe even more).

Gwen Andersen:
I am certain cheating was spelled out in every syllabus those students received and that the college has a written policy as well. And since when has "but everybody does it" EVER been a defense against wrong behavior? The prof would have been well within his rights to expel all 200 students from his class with an F for a grade, yet all he is demanding is everyone takes the exam over and the 200 caught digitally cheating must take an ethics seminar. They got off easy!

Millie Nelson Samuelson:
Like I said earlier, lots of great comments here, but so far, my loudest AMEN is to Gwen's above. I remember early in my college teaching career deciding my policy for students was that THEY had to prove to me they were not cheating if I suspected them (NOT I had to prove they were cheating, altho' that usually wasn't difficult). I never had one student challenge my decision in nearly 30 years. . . hmm. I hope I didn't miss too many cheaters, and that some tho't about ethics a bit more than they had.

Suzanne Wolcott Shugart:
Millie -- you can still call me Suzee -- everyone does. My point is not to defend cheating, per se, but to suggest that there are underlying constructs, based significantly on individualistic, enlightenment assumptions (with a capitalist, for profit ethic informing it all).
I try to encourage my students to think of their work as a form of indebtedness and to humbly acknowledge those who have helped them (in the form of proper citations and acknowledgments). I also encourage, as often as possible, collaborative work in order to remove an adversarial, competitive sense from the classroom. I want them to learn to help each other and look out for each other!
The fact is that not one of us is solely and individually responsible for any of our work and if we believe that we are, we are deceived. We are all heavily in debt for the ideas and information that we have. From philosophy to practicality, I say this: I understand cheating, not as justifiable, but as symptomatic and try to address it with my students as such.

Millie Nelson Samuelson:
Suzee (thanks for the spelling reminder), you've got some more great "stuff" here (above) for your Newsweek "My View" -- you need to submit it ASAP while this incident is still in the news. . . GO FOR IT!
PS: I used to tell my students that they had to unlearn what they'd learned in elementary and junior high school -- that copying reports from other sources was NOT the adult way to an A. It maybe once served a learning purpose, but that time was over.

Gwen Andersen:
Out of all the kind things done for me at Central, Don Scott kicking me out of school for cheating on my lifestyle contract was the kindest, and I am not being sarcastic. It took me years to be grateful for being held accountable. Central was the first place in my life where "no" meant "no" and not "do an end run around the rules and it's only wrong if I get caught."
I do get what SWS is saying about cheating as a symptom of deeper social problem, but the right answer is not to lower the standards as it keeps happening. I can only guess the prof doesn't have tenure and didn't want to go job hunting as angry parents tried to punish the "cop" instead of the offenders.

Millie Nelson Samuelson:
To everyone who commented on this cheating scandal posting, THANKS HEAPS for your meaningful insights! I've been wondering what my monthly blog for Hoosier Ink would be (usually I pre-post by a week or so, but not this week). I was even considering passing this month (an option). But as I read your comments, I suddenly tho't I'd like to post them for my blog (with your names attached, of course). If you object, please let me know. And THANKS for helping me out of a deadline I tho't I might miss.

Now it's your turn, Hoosier Ink readers. Any comments about cheating you'd like to add to this discussion? I'm sure the engaged Facebook writers above will read what you share with great interest, and maybe even respond with more comments. . .

Here's to a more honest America,
Millie Samuelson

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brainstorming; Part Two

One of my most productive brainstorming activities is working my way through George Polti’s thirty six dramatic situations. I usually find numerous ways each situation can be used in my work in progress, even though I may toss it out later.

For example; Using the first dramatic situation; Supplication, I explore every character in my story and consider if there is a fugitive who needs the help of some greater power to help him or her against the enemy.

Next, I consider each character and ask myself if this character needs assistance for some duty which she is not allowed to do—and so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Here are the first seven. I think these are great.

(The dynamic elements technically necessary are: a Persecutor; a
Suppliant; and a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful)
● A.
● (1) Fugitives imploring the powerful for help against their
● (2) Assistance implored for the performance of a pious duty
which has been forbidden.
● (3) Appeals for a refuge in which to die.
● B.
● (1) Hospitality besought by the shipwrecked.
● (2) Charity entreated by those cast off by their own people,
whom they have disgraced.
● (3) Expiation: The seeking of pardon, healing or
● (4) The surrender of a corpse, or of a relic, solicited.
● C.
● (1) Supplication of the powerful for those dear to the
● (2) Supplication to a relative in behalf of another relative.
● (3) Supplication to a mother's lover, in her behalf.

(Elements: an Unfortunate, a Threatener, a Rescuer)
● A.
● (1) Appearance of a rescuer to the condemned.
● B.
● (1) A parent replaced upon a throne by his children.
● (2) Rescue by friends, or by strangers grateful for benefits
or hospitality.

(Elements: an Avenger and a Criminal)
● A.
● (1) The avenging of a slain parent or ancestor.
● (2) The avenging of a slain child or descendant.
● (3) Vengeance for a child dishonored.
● (4) The avenging of a slain wife or husband.
● (5) Vengeance for the dishonor, or attempted dishonoring,
of a wife.
● (6) Vengeance for a mistress slain.
● (7) Vengeance for a slain or injured friend.
● (8) Vengeance for a sister seduced.
● B.
● (1) Vengeance for intentional injury or spoliation.
● (2) Vengeance for having been despoiled during absence.
● (3) Revenge for an attempted slaying.
● (4) Revenge for a false accusation.
● (5) Vengeance for violation.
● (6) Vengeance for having been robbed of one's own.
● (7) Revenge upon a whole sex for a deception by one.
● C.
● (1) Professional pursuit of criminals.

(Elements: Avenging Kinsman; Guilty Kinsman; Remembrance of the
Victim, a Relative of Both)
● A.
● (1) A father's death avenged upon a mother.
● (2) A mother's death avenged upon a father.
● B.
● (1) A brother's death avenged upon a son.
● C.
● (1) A father's death avenged upon a husband.
● D.
● (1) A husband's death avenged upon a father.
(Elements: Punishment and Fugitive)
● A.
● (1) Fugitives from justice pursued for brigandage, political
offenses, etc.
● B.
● (1) Pursued for a fault of love.
● C.
● (1) A hero struggling against a power.
● D.
● (1) A pseudo-madman struggling against an Iago-like

(Elements: a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger)
● A.
● (1) Defeat suffered.
● (2) A fatherland destroyed.
● (3) The fall of humanity.
● (4) A natural catastrophe.
● B.
● (1) A monarch overthrown.
● C.
● (1) Ingratitude suffered.
● (2) The suffering of unjust punishment or enmity.
● (3) An outrage suffered.
● D.
● (1) Abandonment by a lover or a husband.
● (2) Children lost by their parents.

(Elements: an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune)
● A.
● (1) The innocent made the victim of ambitious intrigue.
● B.
● (1) The innocent despoiled by those who should protect.
● C.
● (1) The powerful dispossessed and wretched.
● (2) A favorite or an intimate finds himself forgotten.
● D.
● (1) The unfortunate robbed of their only hope.

If you don’t want to buy the book, The 36 Dramatic Situations can be found at this link;
http://www.unknownscreenwriter.com/pdf/36DramaticSituationsGeorgesPoltiExpanded.pdf A DVD is also available on this subject using the movie Training Day http://www.writersstore.com/brainstorming-with-the-36-dramatic-situation-jeff-kitchen

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Did You Get Started?

Often I'm asked how I got started in writing, and then, into freelance reading/editing. Everyone has their personal journey and here's a little bit of mine. When I was speaking to groups of students about writing, this is what I jotted down. How did you get started? What kinds of writing have you done? What kinds of writing do you wish to do?

Writing for most people begins with a desire to communicate through the written word, doesn't it? I think my writing began with reading--I loved to read and I wanted to write something to read. Usually I was the only person reading what I wrote. All through junior high I wrote in journals. When I won my scholarship in journalism and headed to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, I did an incredibly impulsive thing: I burned every one of those journals! I wish now that I could have kept those journals somewhere safe until I was ready to process the things I was writing at the time.

a. I started real writing in high school. I published a poem in my freshman year and that fueled the fire.

b. I got on the newspaper in high school–was the sports editor and art editor. Those articles won me a journalism scholarship at Ball State University, where I started off majoring in journalism.

c. Back then I knew I wanted to work with books more than newspapers, so I changed my major to elementary education with physical education, wanting more experience with children—for whom I thought I wanted to write.

d. I took a correspondence course from the Institute of Children’s Literature as I finished my degree, then dove into teaching and coaching. When I had one experience after another, like students who were murdered, beaten by parents, unfair treatment of teachers, etc., I wrote my first article and sold it.

e. Then, I had four boys of my own, and life sort of went into “living mode”—all good. I edited a newsletter, wrote articles for newspapers freelance, and just wrote down thoughts and dreams and insights on parenting.

f. When we moved here (where I live now) in order to be close to our parents and extended family, I no longer was doing the jobs I did in the past—-teaching and leading--so I found an online writing organization, and then drove an hour to Ft. Wayne once a week, taking the professional writing program at Taylor University with Dr. Dennis E. Hensley. This is a superb program that is now located at the Taylor campus in Upland.

Everything has a beginning, and while my writing took an adventurous turn to evaluating fiction, working freelance for both editors and agents, I still find time to write.

~Crystal Laine Miller

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Waiting Room: A Writer's Abyss

I recently jumped into the pool of writers who are waiting. We're all waiting for something - contest results, word from an agent, that marvelous call from a publisher, our next contract - the list could go on for eternity.

It struck me that this wait is not much different from waiting in a doctor's office. Between two pregnancies and multiple surgeries, I've spent the last 3-1/2 years of my life in doctors' waiting rooms. So what did I do to pass the time? Many of the same things we can do while we wait in our writing careers.

1) I caught up on emails on my Blackberry. I sometimes took a few minutes to check my friends' Facebook status updates too. In the writing world, we need to stay in touch with friends who understand our crazy world. While our spouses and friends may understand to a certain extent, it's our writing friends who will uplift and encourage from their own waiting experiences.

2) I got some work done. During my pregnancy, I sometimes printed out a chapter that needed editing and took it to the doctor's office to mark up while I waited. The same is true while we wait for an elusive phone call. Why would we just sit there staring at the wall when we can get out our current manuscript and edit? (Unless, of course, those plain gray walls inspire you to open a blank Word document and write a new story.)

3) I read a book. I've found that big purses are great for bringing multiple reading options. We can learn from reading not just non-fiction books about writing, but other fiction books as well, both in our genre and outside our genre. It gives us a chance to not only learn, but to see what works from a reader's perspective and how we can apply it to our own writing.

4) I watched TV. There were days when my brain wouldn't allow me to do anything else but watch the mounted TV in the waiting room that was always tuned to HGTV (bless the person who made that decision). Sometimes while we wait in our writing careers, it's okay to take a break and "veg", to escape somewhere fun with our families, or to let our bodies refill their energy stores. And I've found that those breaks often refill my creativity stores too.

What are you waiting for in your writing career right now? How do you pass the time?

*Photo by Luigi Diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, November 5, 2010

November: A Month of Feasts!

My ACFW live recordings of the Indianapolis Conference 2010 are here! I bought the entire set and am having such fun reliving the experience of conference as I drive in my car and listen to the CDs. I also plan to upload them to my iPod and iPhone so I can listen while cleaning the house and doing other mundane chores. 

What a blessing these CDs are to me, a true feast for my ears, heart and mind. If you haven't invested in them, I highly recommend that you do. Listening to them more than once, I catch things I didn't catch the first time through. I believe the things learned in these sessions are more valuable than a college education. In fact, even when armed with a college education, you'll never learn to write marketable prose without attention to workshops such as these. (Trust me, I'm the perpetual, professional college student. I know these things.)

One of the most enjoyable things about being a writer are the new things we learn. We learn about our craft, how to write better stories, how to market--we're always being stretched. Sometimes I feel like a pretzel from being pulled and turned in so many directions, but it hurts good because it's preparing me for my goal as a full-time writer.

I've decided that if I'm feeling discouraged about the pace of my writing career, I'm going to pull out these CDs and listen to them for inspiration. If I can't be where I can write, I can at least listen to those who do, and learn from them until it's my turn to be the teacher.

Speaking of teachers, one of my favorite teachers on earth, Dr. Dennis Hensley, is speaking at our state meeting on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Hall's Guesthouse Restaurant in the Bridge Room in Fort Wayne at 11 AM. Doc's presentation is entitled "Taking it up a Notch." I can hardly wait to join you in more feasting and pretzel stretching alacrity.

Another feast for writers this month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). How many Hoosiers are up to the challenge? I'm doing it mainly as an exercise in teaching myself how to better write in third person. (My success in publishing so far has been mostly in first person.)

I have NaNoWriMo to blame for writing fiction today. I'd written mostly nonfiction until seven years ago when I stumbled onto Chris Baty's site and he loaned me a laptop so I could enter the contest. I finished a 50,000 word novel in thirty days (a very bad one) and learned the art of pressing through to the other side of a story even when I wasn't inspired. Chris was nice enough to quote me a few times in his book, No Plot No Problem. I've entered the event every year since simply to try my hand at different styles and genres. This year for the first time I'm writing a romance. I'm surprised to find I like it.

I'm thankful for much this Thanksgiving in terms of my writing career. I have great resources offered to me via ACFW, wonderful Christian author friends, and plenty of opportunities to write. There's never been a better time to be a writer and member of ACFW. I feel truly blessed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Authorial Aura

Long before I ever wrote for publication, when I was a youngster, I noticed something about authors. Of course, I didn’t know any “real” writers in those days. Back then, my impressions of writers came from the photos on the flyleaf of hardbacks or from the reverse side of paperbacks. What I noticed was that the literary beings portrayed in these promo photos often exhibited a special “look.” These were not mere mortals. They were authors. Published authors. And these authors’ photos often highlighted that fact by capturing the authorial aura emanating from this rare breed.
Even as a boy I realized that authors were similar enough to ordinary mortals that they, too, ate, drank, married, and had children. I considered this similar to mythical Greek gods who sometimes descended from Mt. Olympus long enough to mingle with regular folks before returning to their real calling of being Greek gods. But despite superficial similarities, published novelists lived a charmed life, I knew. They might look and sound like the rest of humanity, but they could never quite shake that authorial aura when photographers captured their image.
Perhaps you’ve seen such promotional photos too? A male writer might manifest his literary aura by holding his pipe sideways in his mouth while gracing the camera with eyes that radiate unspoken Gandalf-like wisdom. Another might forgo the pipe, but his photo caught him in his den (not office), where uncounted volumes of the world’s accumulated knowledge populated the shelves behind him. Women authors never used the pipe trick. But they, with hair perfectly sculpted, would gaze out of the photo with a bemused half smile and eyes that hinted, “If only you knew what I know!”
Then came the day when I, still a youngster, learned that the never-pictured-but-doubtless-illustrious Franklin W. Dixon did not write the Hardy Boys series. There was no such person. This was a pen name for multiple authors. Horrors! Did “real” writers do such things? Later I discovered that “real” authors can get toothaches (and just try to exhibit divine wisdom with dental do-hickeys hanging from your mouth). They can suffer from upset stomachs. They must mow their lawns. Some even earn a living by waiting tables in restaurants, or cleaning houses between beguiling photo shoots.
Sure, in my older, enlightened state I have sometimes come across authors who behaved as if their first published book promoted them to divinity. A few of these try to keep their halo polished while pointing their noses toward the heavens. But like the kid who saw through all the hoopla about the Emperor’s new clothes, I don't buy it anymore.
For me personally, it’s liberating knowing that I don’t have to don an authorial aura. Act professional? Sure. Act superior? Nope. God is perfect, but I’m not. I’m just an ordinary guy with plenty of shortcomings, and there’s no point in trying to fool anybody.
Among our ranks of American Christian Fiction Writers I’ve never yet come across “the aura,” and I’m glad of that. After all, the Bible calls believers to live our lives to the glory of God, not to our own glory. If we ever lose sight of that basic truth, then what’s the point in being a Christian writer?
Rick Barry

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prevent Cut-out Characters

There’s more to making your characters unique than giving them mint green eyes or a bald head. You’ve assigned external and internal goals to advance the plotline but how will Mr. or Miss Mint-Green-Eyes-and-Bald-Head behave? This can be a challenge especially when a character is dissimilar to its creator.

There are many programs which test for and explain personality types. A few are MyersBriggs, Strength Deployment Inventory, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Whole Brain, DiSC assessment, and Gary Smalley’s Animal Personality Test.

One that I was introduced to at ACFW conference is Wired that Way, based on the teachings of Dr. Marita & Florence Littauer. This program explains the strengths, weaknesses, emotional needs, fears, spiritual bents, and addictive natures of the four personalities. It lays out which types blend within a person naturally and which combine only in extreme situations such as the result of abuse. If you know your character’s personality, you can maintain consistency regardless of the situation or stressors.

You wouldn’t write on page two that Brad’s blue eyes gleamed and on page sixty-two that his brown eyes were as large as pancakes without an explanation for the inconsistency, such as colored contacts or replacement eye surgery.

In the same way, consistency within the character’s personality can prevent behaviors that readers will sense are unnatural. A quiet person who avoids contact with people isn’t going to become a party animal unless there is a good reason. Has she been masking who she really is? Is she schizophrenic? Is she role-playing?

This is the fun of creating characters. Pressures and adversity in back story cause complex and interesting reactions during the course of the story. However, you need to know why they behave as they do even if you only hint at it to the reader.

Is your character most likely to batter down doors or hide under the bed? Will she want to know the how, why, when of events or is she so laid back she doesn’t seem to care and shows no reaction?

That last type would be difficult to cast as the heroine but could make an exasperating secondary character. Incorporating different types can add depth to your writing.

No one is 100% of any one personality type and neither should be your characters. The guidelines of a personality profile are one more tool to help create interesting characters that come alive on the page.

Monday, November 1, 2010

4 Easy Writing Lessons I Learned From My Grandfather

by Suzanne Wesley

(Dedicated to my grandpa, Joe Kanizer, who died Oct. 9, 2010 at age 89.)

1. Re-energizing and finding joy on any given day can be as simple as overturning some earth to plant a seed or dropping your hook into the ocean to catch a meal. Whatever you do doesn’t have to take very long, and you can bring your notebook in your pocket in case an idea strikes you while you are relaxing.

2. Story telling isn’t just fun for the listener. Grandpa was known to invent ‘Old Indian Tales’ about various tools etc. in his shed for the entertainment of his older grandchildren. The story was always evolving.

3. You can expand your mind and your vocabulary by playing fun word games, such as crossword puzzles. There were usually stacks of crossword puzzles, dictionaries and other reference books next to his favorite chairs - particularly in the winter, when he couldn’t be outdoors in his garden.

4. Journals of everyday events can become priceless family treasures. He kept daily records of weather, visits from family etc. and anything he wanted to remember for many years. If you made it into the journal entry you were made to feel special.

May your day of writing be full of enjoyment and discovery. May you find time to re-energize and expand your mind. And most importantly, may you be present to God today - so that you make it into His journal - as His special child. Amen.