Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Long and Winding...But So Worth It!

A few writers have asked me, "How did you get a book contract so quickly?" Little do they know! This journey has been a long and winding road. I think because I showed up on the writing scene in the ACFW only in recent months, it might be perceived that I'm a new writer. But nothing could be further from the truth!

To get published takes a measure of talent, of course, but I know there will always be more literary, more talented and prolific writers. I wouldn't wish to be saddled with high expectations, for then I'd surely fail. But our gracious Lord has equipped me with the ability to tell stories and has opened doors for me in HIS timing. But it wasn't easy, and it didn't happen overnight. There's also something to be said for dogged determination and developing a thick skin.

I first tried writing a novel when I was a stay-at-home mom in Philly. With our oldest daughter away at a Christian summer camp with my husband for a week, and an infant at home, I slept when the baby did and wrote pretty much around the clock. I sent it to one publisher, and it got the attention of an editor. She suggested changes and to send it back...and then moved on to another publisher, and then the line folded. I continued to write, but more for my own enjoyment, and never sent anything to any editors or agents.

Then we moved to Boston. I sent something to one of the biggest Christian literary agencies, too ignorant to know they only took on published authors. I told them I'd written three books, but I never told them I was published. Through one of God's "flukes," it got their attention. I didn't get published, but they told me to keep at it because I had "something." And told me to come back when I was published...

Not long after, I put my writing - but not my passion for it - aside for a decade and stayed busy as a wife, mother and pastor's wife. God used that time in my life to equip me with life experience that helped contribute to my own unique "voice."

In November 2008, I picked up some Christian romances. By this time, we'd moved to my native Indiana, "home in my heart." I told my husband, Jim, "I think my books at least measure up." I literally blew the dust bunnies off the manuscripts bound in notebooks beneath our bed. The last manuscript I wrote in Boston took me all of a week to write. I picked it up with fresh eyes 10 years later. But, I only had the second half. I told Jim, "This could be the start of a series." I hated the thought of having to reconstruct it, and of all my stories, it's the one I remembered the least. But I also knew THIS was the story God wanted me to tell.

My daughter found the antiquated disks, but they couldn't be read. I kept praying, and told Jim, "We need to go to our knees on this one. If this is the story God wants me to tell, He'll give it back to me." Two weeks later, I plugged the disks back into the computer again. The backup disk did something it never had before. The hourglass appeared with a prompt, "Do you want to read it as text only?" I pressed the button and waited, praying with one eye open as it churned in the computer. Something popped up, and it wasn't was English! I printed it, saved it, and rushed to compare it to the other half, and it was SEAMLESS. I'm crying again as I type this - as I do every time I relay this story. God gave me my story back. The story HE wants me to tell.

That manuscript got the attention of one of the top Christian agents. He was right in telling me it wasn't quite there yet. It was slaughtered by one published author who basically told me it wouldn't sell and to leave those characters on the proverbial cutting room floor. But it was loved by another published author, and she encouraged me to keep going. I did. Don't ever give up! The Lord has given you stories for a reason. To SHARE them. Someone will be blessed, I guarantee you.

Sam Lewis and Lexa Clarke's story is now under contract with Torn Veil Books. It's called Awakening and it's the first in a long series. Stay tuned for further details. Up next month..."And the man said peaches!" Would you share YOUR story? We'd all love to hear it!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

All Aboard!!!

by Janet Dean

If you’re not published and want to be, climb aboard. But first, do you have your ticket? That ticket is desire. Wanting to be published badly enough that you’ll make changes in your life, in yourself.
Before we take a look at the train, we need to look at the tracks. The path that’s in place for writers to reach the publisher—contests, submissions, and conferences. It's better not to try it another way.
Engine—this is a steam engine, the “I think I can, I think I can” Little Toot variety. One that never gives up no matter how steep the hill, no matter how daunting the odds. Think of the engine’s wheels pumping, getting up steam. This engine doesn’t coast, doesn’t quit. This engine will get you to your destination. You’re the Engineer. No one can make you climb aboard but you. You may need to switch tracks (different genre perhaps), see places to slow down (make sure that manuscript is ready before submitting), and the places to go full speed ahead (if you never send it, you’ll never attain your goal.)
Coal Car—this is what powers the engine. It’s a gritty place, not for the faint of heart. I love Anne Lamott’s bird by bird. In her book, she tells about her brother waiting until the night before a report on birds was due, totally overwhelmed by the task. Her father put an arm around his son’s shoulder and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Start with a paragraph, a sentence. In other words, be the fireman and shovel that coal. That means planting your butt in a chair. Set up a writing schedule, make a realistic daily goal and stick to it. Let nothing in your routine life stop you from writing. If you’re doing this, but aren’t getting closer, double your goals, think bigger, try something different with your writing. Finish the book. Enter the contest. Study the market, the craft. Submit and submit some more. Get on fire. It’s the only way to move that engine down the track.
Dining Car—I’m not totally talking chocolate here, but it helps. Feed your soul with things that energize you. Take time each day to do something you enjoy. Feed your brain positive thoughts. Expect good things to happen. Find ways to make writing more fun. Perhaps write or edit in a café or outside on a pretty day.
Passenger Car—we’re not on this train alone. No one understands a writer like another writer. Meet or keep in touch by e-mail. Establish relationships so on the dark days, someone will truly understand and care. If you don’t write well in a vacuum, find a critique partner or group. Be a mentor to someone with less experience. Agree to judge a contest. You’ll benefit from teaching and helping others along the way. Compete only with yourself. Comparing yourself to others is defeating and pointless. Remember we have God in our corner. Pray and trust that His timing is perfect.
Freight Car—the place you stow the equipment for the journey to publication. Suggestions for what to take with you that will help you hone your craft: fiction—to read and study, How-To books/magazines/tapes, movies to watch. Don’t forget to pack pencils, pens, paper, computer, printer, AlphaSmart/Quick Pad, tape recorder—whatever keeps you writing. Keep paper/pens on the nightstand and in the car. Listen to tapes while you dress or drive. Edit hard copy while waiting for appointments. Be productive whenever you can. When you’re prepared, you’ll accomplish much.
Baggage Car—not all the stuff you’re lugging around is good for you. Toss anything that’s dragging you down and refuse to put it on the train. Don’t listen to the negative voice in your head or coming out of others’ mouths. Kick time wasters out the door. Don’t let others sabotage your goal. We want to be there for those who need us, but we can’t let them gobble up our time.
Caboose—I don’t know about you but I miss that red car at the end of the train. My train is steam powered so the caboose still exists and with good reason. Here’s where the men slept, ate, relaxed. The caboose represents the balance we need in our lives. Allot time in your twenty-four hour pie for taking care of your spiritual, emotional, and physical well being. Spend time with God. Take a walk. All work and no play lead to burnout.
You’re the Engineer on this train. If you don’t give up, don’t shut down the train, then I believe you’ll get published. Now here’s the disclaimer: I took a train a few years back and learned that everyone on that train from the engineer on down to the lowest man is under the authority of the Conductor. You guessed it. The Conductor is none other than the editor. She makes the final decisions, which means you can’t control whether your manuscripts sell. But the journey itself is important—not just the destination. Enjoy it. Write because you love it and don’t let your quest suck the joy out of that.
In bird by bird, Lamott says:
“I look into my students’ faces and they look solemnly back at me.
“So why does our writing matter again?” they asked.
Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
Hear the clack of the wheels over the tracks, the haunting sound of the whistle as the train passes through the countryside? Congratulations! You're on the train, moving toward your destination, doing the best that you can.

The Case of the Hidden Memoir

Seems like everyone is writing a memoir these days. It used to be that the only ones who wrote them for publication were people in high places--movie stars, politicians, sports heroes, authors of best-sellers--those types. But now everyone and her pedicurist is eager to tell all, and then some.

Even Writer's Digest (July/August 2010) acknowledges the trend by dedicating the current issue to the topic. What's the motivation for the proliferation of the genre? Jessica Strawser, in her "Editor's Letter" for the issue, says:
For some of us, we hope that a lesson we've learned the hard way might spare others pain, or help them feel like they're not alone in coping with a similar problem. For others, we've led interesting lives that people we meet genuinely seem to like hearing about--maybe we've even been told that we ought to write a book.

All right. I confess. More than one person has told me I should write a memoir. "Not everyone has had an attempt made on their life," they argue, or "Most people don't grow up in such a household," or "You should definitely tell about the time the hospital misplaced your newborn." While I appreciate such comments, I have absolutely no intentions of writing a memoir (so those of you who would be in it can take a deep breath and relax. Oprah won't be calling you. . . that I know of).

On the other hand, I happen to believe that all good writing contains memoir, albeit, covertly. Our own life experiences serve as tools to accomplish deep POV. How can we possibly know that character's emotions, thoughts, or intents unless we have experienced the same thing on some level. Even when we engage our imaginations to grasp a situation we have not lived personally, it must connect to something we have gone through. (Excuse me, but is my Stanislavski training showing?) If my character's sister dies, to understand her emotions, I need only to think back to when a sister-in-the-Lord passed away, for example.

My manuscript for Up the Rutted Road, a work of middle-grade fiction, includes some people and situations that would be mentioned in my memoir, were I to write one. The protagonist, ten-year-old Camie, is based on me. Aunt Charlene and Uncle Glen were real people. My story is true to the character of my aunt, but I greatly romanticized my uncle, writing him as I believed him to be when I was a child--not as the abusive alcoholic he actually was. A mountain hermit figures greatly in the story. I really did meet a hermit on a visit to my aunt and uncle's sharecropping farm, but had minimal contact with him. Like my main character, I wanted to know more about him.

Those are obvious bits of "memoir," but others that are not quite so overt pop up in most of my work--fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. If the reader is a mystery lover, she may try to discern fiction from fact. I hope my writing is good enough that she can't easily tell.

Write a memoir? Me? Never! Always!

Dear fellow writer, how does your own "memoir" work its way into your writing? Is it intentional, or does it just sneak in? Are you writing a memoir, or do you intend to do so?

Sharon Kirk Clifton

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why I Like Writing Fiction on a Mac

Salt or sugar on your tomato? Do you say "Catsup" or "Ketchup"? Sweet or UnSweet Tea? Pen or pencil? Camaro or Mustang? Mac or a PC? What type of computer do you use to spin your tales of Christian romance, history, or suspense? That is today's pondering into the wide, wide world of the great technological continuum.

As writers, we have many avenues to script our stories into a form that others can see. But, no matter how you plot out your stories with pen and paper, sooner or later you must sit down at your computer (be it a desktop or laptop) to script the story playing in your imagination. Your computer becomes the doorway to get your thoughts into a readable form.

That said, I sit down to an Apple Macintosh computer, specifically, a laptop. Gone are the days where Macs were not compatible with rest of the computing world. With the invention of the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad, Apple has made it's way into our lives in many different ways. iTunes seems to be a household name now. It's hard to find somebody these days who doesn't have an iPod or an iPhone (and now the iPad device is once again changing how we read and view our print media).

Progressively catching up in the last 10 years, Macs have caught up to Windows in the compatibility race. Out of the box, a Mac comes with an incredible amount of software built right into the operating system. Apple Mail provides you with an email client. iPhoto allows you to organize the pictures you have taken to research your book. Safari, Apple's web browser, will have you surfing the internet waves in no time. Did I mention wifi reception (Apple calls it "airport") is also built in as a standard. I'll admit they can be pricey, however, there are many entry level versions that can always be expanded later with additional software and hardware capabilities.

As a writer, I find the ease of writing on a Mac to be a "technologically sound" way to write my fiction. There are even several writing apps for Macs. Some are geared toward organizing your thoughts, facts, and flow of your story. Google keywords OmniOutliner, Omni Software, and WriteRoom for starters. Even the iPhone and iPad have software made for writers (these purchased through the iTunes store). In my previous posting, I talked about writing to music. The Mac comes equipped (via iTunes) to provide excellent sound via built in speakers, headphones, or you can even buy external speakers if you would really like to jam (so that everyone can hear). iTunes lets you purchase songs from the iTunes store. For me, this is all geared towards helping me create my adventures.

Most importantly for us, Microsoft Office exists for Mac with little or no difference in crossover when sending files between the PC version of Office and the Mac version. In fact, one thing I like about Macs is that you can turn anything into a PDF file (which you know will then be viewed by others and look identical to what you intended). Mac uses the zip format as well. Bottom Line: The Mac Operating is simple and easy to use and customize.

That brings me to my last thoughts: security, stability, and support.

  • Apple does a great job at updating software via a very simple update process.
  • There are no virus dangers for the most recent operating systems that Mac has used. To be honest, there is little to no malware for mac either. There are a handful of trojans out there, but you actually have to be fooled into installing those (and that means you must enter your password and then choose to install it).
  • Apple has built in protection for the dangers that are out there specific to Mac computers.
  • You can buy Applecare with a new mac also (gives you 3 years tech service and customer support). There is also a user run support forum on Apple's website.
  • A hefty firewall built into the Operating System (currently called Snow Leopard by the way) keeps unwanted visitors out.
Just for the record, anti-virus software does exists for the Mac, but mostly to prevent any unwanted (and harmless to your Mac) Windows bugs from getting into your Mac (via email) and accidentally being passed along to your PC using friends. I recommend ClamXav for Mac (which is free) because it is simple and easy to use (and is not CPU hog).

We, as writers, cherish every moment of spinning our fiction, therefore, we need the devices we spin those tales on to work, be secure, be versatile, and fun to use. Our computers just need to work. We don't want to waste time trying to figure out if something is going bad, if you have a virus, or if it's "just dead, Jim."

Don't just take my word for it. Go check one out. No, I don't work for Apple nor do I own stock. But, I have been using them since the late 80's. I just enjoy writing on my Mac. In fact, as I write this post, I am listening to iTunes via earphones (Back to the Future soundtrack), chatting with other writers via Mac's built in iChat app, using Mac's built in word processing app, and sitting in my reclining chair infusing enough ice tea into my system to keep writing through the distant morning hours. Happy computing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Finding the Song in My Voice

When eighth grader Bryce Lippe was born four months premature, he only had a 15% chance to live. But he did. He can’t see or walk or use his fingers to play a piano, but he has many other gifts. For one, he has a voice.

Several weeks ago, he shared his voice with me and the congregation at Warsaw Community Church. He sat in his wheelchair next to Pastor Denny at the podium, held the microphone in his bent hand, and sang, The Climb, by Miley Cyrus.*

By the time he finished the song, I had goose-bumps on my arms and two tear-drenched tissues in my hand.

Pastor Denny asked him if he had any words of wisdom for the congregation. He reiterated Denny’s message. It went something like this: We all have limitations, challenges, but don’t focus on those. Focus on your gifts, and the way you can become the person God created you to be. Be God’s best version of yourself.

Follow me here.

For the past month, I’ve been trying to find my writing voice. (I’ve looked everywhere for my singing one. It can’t be found.) I’ve read book after book about voice because every agent looks for a strong one. I want one. Do I have one? Can readers hear it in my writing? Does it sound forced?

Then Lisa Harman, my critique partner, recommended Les Edgerton’s book, Finding Your Voice, How to Put Personality in your Writing. Les’ book includes gobs of helpful advice, but the part I love the most is on page 101, and below:

“…no matter what you write, there’s a good chance that someone else may do the same thing better.

There’s only one thing another writer can’t do better than you.

And, it only happens to be the most important thing a writer can possess.


Your voice.

They can’t get your personality on their page. And, since a personal voice is the single most important component of writing and the single most important element leading to success, no matter how good the competition may be, you’ve got an edge on them by simply being you.”

Is that all I have to do? Is be me?

I thought of Bryce’s message. If I become God’s best version of me, than won’t my voice shine through my writing? Won’t my voice sing? I have to trust that it will because I can’t be anyone different than me, and I don’t want to be. I’m proud of who I am, even if someone else can write a better scene.

Thank you Les for giving me permission to let go of my obsession to find my voice, because in the process, I found my voice.

How have you found the song in your voice?

*Note: Here’s a link to The Climb lyrics in case you’re unfamiliar with the song:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Caesar Wants to Tax Your Sales--Part II

You've registered for an Indiana license, received your Registered Retail Merchant Certificate, and given the certificate a place of honor on your bulletin board (or tossed it in your business records' graveyard).

Now you're wondering if you should tuck a calculator and several rolls of coins into the box of books you keep in your trunk. Whether you need a calculator depends on how easily you can do math in your head, but the rolls of coins may depend on how you price your books.

For sales tax purposes, there are two ways to price your books. First, you can do it the way most retail stores do and add the tax onto the sales price. The formula for the amount you collect from the customer is:

taxable sales (1 + sales tax rate) = total charge
Since Indiana's sales tax rate is 7%, if you sell one book priced at $8, you would collect $8.56 [$8 X 1.07 = $8.56]. If you sell a customer two books and one is priced at $8 and the other at $5, you would collect $13.91 [$13 X 1.07 = $13.91]. So yes, those rolls of coins will come in handy for making change. But you do get to keep the entire $8 (or $13).

I don't want to carry coins around with me, so I use the second method.

How many of you have seen signs in store windows advertising that Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday) is "tax free"? They lie. It's really just a 7% off sale, because the state still gets its money. But I use this method because it's less hassle at the time of sale.

So how does it work? If I charge $8 as the sales price, that's all I collect. No rolls of coins, and less time spent figuring out how much the customer owes. If a customer buys one book priced at $8 and another priced at $5, the customer pays $13. Simple.

But there is a trade-off. The state still wants its 7%, so I don't get to keep the entire sales price. And the formula works backwards. When using this method, the sales price for tax purposes is $8 minus the tax due. Here is a formula for determining taxable sales.

total charge / (1 + sales tax rate) = taxable sales
That means my $8 book only brings me $7.48 [$8 / 1.07 = $7.48]. The state gets the remaining $.52.

Filing time!

Anyone who registers on or after January 1, 2010 must file sales tax returns electronically using INtax. People with existing licenses can also file online. Registering for INtax is easy, so I won't walk you through it. Just go to and click on the "Get Started" link under "INtax," then follow the instructions.

A warning for anyone who sells in Illinois: calculating sales taxes there is more work than it is in Indiana. That's because each county and some cities can charge their own sales taxes. So although the state collects the local sales taxes when it collects its own share, the rate it collects depends on where you sold the books. This means that taxes for each location must be calculated separately. The formulas given above still work, though.

Confused yet?

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Do You Carry the Fire?"

Romans 8:22 "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."(NIV)

Today I watched the movie, The Road. I've been looking forward to it since reading the book some months ago. The book, a Pulizer Prize winning story by Cormic McCarthy, was so powerful and affecting (to me) that I had to put it down and come back to it several times. It was one of those books that "stays with you" long after you have walked back into everyday life. It wasn't just the characters that stayed with me, it was the intense feeling of hopelessness, horror and the power of love, a father's love for his son. I felt shell-shocked by it and the movie was close to the same.

As I've gone about my day, I slowly came through this fog that had settled on me and remembered Romans 8:22 about the way creation itself groans - strains for redemption and to be returned to its eternal, original state. We, too, long to be reconciled with our Father as Adam and Eve before the fall of mankind. As a writer, I am once again reminded to get my mind off the small things like sales numbers and successful reviews, commercial vs. literary and all the crazy thoughts that take up too much of my mind and heart. Stories that show the groaning, the straining to be relationaly one, rooted and grounded, grafted in to our Savior and thus our Father/Creator, those will be universal in theme and reach down into any heart with a ring of authenticity that anyone can relate to on this side of heaven.

There is so much hurt in the world, so much pain and suffering and longing but praise God He gives us those firsts fruits (the Holy Spirit) even in such a fallen place as this. May our writing reflect His love and hope, His beauty and wonder, the knowledge that we can be reconciled and made complete in a groaning world.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer's Block: Battling the Bloat

Sometimes it creeps in slowly, while other times it hits with the force of an Indiana thunderstorm. Symptoms include an array of contradictions: sweating/cold chills;  racing pulse/depression;  panic/numbness;  nausea/gorging (particularly on chocolate). No one is immune and, if you haven’t experienced it already, you can be assured that it lurks somewhere in your future.

Writer’s block. Possibly the two most dreaded words in a writer’s vocabulary. They rank right up there with the terms “rejection”, “head-hopping”, and “telling” as far as things to fear and avoid. defines writer’s block as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work”.

As I’ve studied this malady, I’ve pinpointed three distinct types/causes, each one debilitating, but not fatal. So, over the next three months, let’s take a look at what I like to call Writer’s Bloat, Writer’s Blight, and Writer’s Block. Today let’s start with Writer’s Bloat.

Writer’s Bloat often comes in the plotting or beginning stages of a new work, but can also hit when you start a new scene or change the direction of your WIP. You have so many ideas and thoughts running around in your head as you make decisions about what to cut, what to expand, who and what to develop. It is during this pre-writing work that your head is puffed up with random, sometimes unconnected ideas. defines bloat as, “swollen, inflated” and “an excess”. This could almost be described as the antithesis of Writer’s Block because you have too many ideas. What you need at this point is focus. Here are some ideas to get you going:

1. Pray. Ask God to focus your thoughts, clear you mind, and organize your ideas. Ask Him to show you where to begin, to guide you to areas that need more development, and to show you if the lack of peace is His nudging that something (or someone) else needs your attention more than your WIP. Psalm 29:11 says, “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” Ask Him for His peace.

2. Get organized. Make a list of what needs done first. Brainstorm. Use a mind-mapping technique by searching the web and choosing the method of organizing your thoughts that appeals to you. Use the Snowflake method of pre-writing formulated by Randy Ingermanson (

3. Get a move on—literally. Just the act of engaging your body will help to focus and engage your mind. Go for a walk—outside, if possible. I suggest that if your mind is racing with possibilities, walk quickly. If your mind swirls with ideas, take a more leisurely stroll. Let your mind wander and make the connections while you burn excess energy. Too yucky outside? Then jog in place, jump rope, play a lively game on the Wii, do aerobics, or Pilates.

4. Take your mind on a vacation. Sometimes just the act of staring at a blank computer screen freezes the creative juices dead in their tracks. Get out from behind the desk, leave the laptop behind, and engage in an activity that will keep your hands and body busy, but your mind free to process and make the connections you need. Clean the kitchen, organize a closet, wash windows. The act of completing or organizing something has a positive psychological effect on your whole being. De-clutter your surroundings and your mind will likely follow suit.

5. Exercise your brain. Brain Gym, International ( uses intentional body movement to aid in creativity, self-expression, and optimal learning. Let me share two of the twenty-six movements that target focus.

A. The Footflex. This movement helps with communication and concentration. It literally relaxes the muscles that keep you from moving forward. Sit in a chair. Put your right ankle on your left knee. Put one hand behind your knee and the other hand behind your ankle. Point your toes, then flex, stretching your calf and foot muscles. Switch legs and repeat.

B. Belly Breathing. This movement focuses attention and releases energy for use while it increases the supply of oxygen to your brain. Put your hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath, filling your lungs as full as you can. Release your breath in little puffs, kind of like Lamaze breathing. Do this several times.

6. Drink. No, shame on you—we’re not that desperate yet. Drink water. This is also a Brain Gym movement, but one touted by many others as well. Your brain and central nervous system cannot conduct the chemical and electrical processes needed for thought without hydration. When you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Continually sipping room-temperature water keeps your brain functioning at optimal levels.

Deuteronomy 20:9-11 says, “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.” Writing can be a battle and the beginning stages are like attacking a city. You don’t go into it blindly; you prepare. The five steps above are your peace offerings to your story and its characters. When you do the pre-planning, the Bloat becomes manageable and the story throws its gates wide open, the characters willing to come under your leadership and work for you rather than against you.

What do you do in the beginning stages to focus your thoughts and work your plan?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Somebody call re-write!"

“Somebody call re-write!” That's one of the few lines I remember from an old movie, “The Front Page.” Clark Gable was the roving reporter and called the newsroom with a breaking story.

How I wish I could call re-write!

Last month I wrote about using an Excel spread sheet to analyze and revise my almost-done historical romance. I felt like it showed me some patterns – which characters took center stage and how often, as far as scenes in their POV; and some weak links in story logic.
That story is done now.

Next I started to look at a half-done sequel, another historical romance set during the Civil War. I have re-written the first chapter of this about six times, and after entering various versions in multiple contests, got feedback about interesting characters and settings. However, readers couldn't figure out where the characters were and why. That sounded like a problem.

I hope to finish this story between my job, the farm, the kids, 4-H, Little League and other summer fun. I'm trying to work smarter, not harder on filling holes in the story.

I started another spread sheet listing scenes in order in the first column; whose POV; and a one sentence summary.
Once again I started to see some patterns. For one thing, did it open where and when it needed to?

Actually, it didn't. Instead of in a corn field, why not start right in a disputed hayfield.
Well, that led to more questions. For one thing, if I opened the story in a hayfield, I had to forget about our hay-making operation of a mechanized mower, rake, baler and wagons. What kind of hay was raised in the Midwest in the 1860s? How did farmers put up hay? Was there some kind of mower? Rake? How about putting it up in the barn? How many people did this take? I took an enjoyable spin around the Internet as well as looking through some old faithful reference books about farm mechanization to find my answers.

What I found out about timothy hay and the Ketchum patented haymower from 1844 fired up my imagination.

But the best part is, I have a lot better grasp of how I want to re-do the opening as well as how to make some changes farther along. For me it's easier to consider the order of a few lines in a spread sheet than to ax pages and pages of writing. I might even be able to use the spread sheet as a checklist as I go on.

I would love to hear other ideas for working smarter, not harder!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Confused Sometimes?

I always thought ahold was spelled that way. You know, as in “He telephoned to get ahold of her.” Nope. It’s spelled as two words, a hold. Okay, before you let out that snort, let me ask you which is correct, alot or a lot? Uh-huh—a lot of people spell it as one word (which is wrong). But the one that has driven me crazy since I got a hold of how to spell ahold is whether I should use some time(s) as two words, or sometime(s) as a single word. Do you know the answer?

Yeah, I bet you’re foaming at the mouth to know. Well, I looked it up, and guess what? Both are correct—but not interchangeably.

So here we go with an explanation.

The single word sometime(s) can be used as either an adjective or as an adverb. As an adjective, it modifies (or describes or characterizes) a noun. So in the sentence “Sam is my sometimes boyfriend,” the word sometimes modifies (or describes or characterizes) the noun boyfriend. Or, in another example, “Sam is a sometime leader,” the word sometime modifies the noun leader. Frankly, the use of sometime(s) as an adjective is pretty much archaic, so now that you’ve read about it, you can delete it from your memory. (Sorry, I’m a sometimes obsessive-compulsive when it comes to being thorough.)

The most common use of the single word sometime(s) is when it’s used as an adverb. Scratching your head trying to remember what an adverb is? Swallow hard (I’m going OC again): an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  I know, I know, makes you want to vomit to think of being so obtusely analytical like that. So forget that definition and grab a hold of this oneà à à one function of an adverb is to tell “when,” or “how often.” And guess what? That’s exactly what sometime(s) does! It tells “when/how often.” Ta daaaa! *lightbulb moment*

Two examples: “Sometimes I love grammar.” (How often do I love grammar? Sometimes. Certainly not always!) “I’m coming to see you sometime this year.” (When this year? Oh, sometime….)

Okay, to review, then—when used as an adjective or an adverb, sometime(s) is a single word. Sooooo, when is it used as two words, some time(s)? You’re going to hate this. You use it as two words when time is a noun, and some is an adjective modifying time. Yep, that’s where I got tangled up in the first place. Quit now with what you learned above, and you’ll still be ahead of the game. Or grit your teeth and clamp on to this final though agonizing explanation.

Some time(s) will usually be used after a preposition like at. You can say either “At some time I will come visit you,” or eliminate the at and simply say “Sometime I will visit you.” Trust me, you don’t want me to go into how time in the first sentence is a noun because it’s the object of a preposition. Just go for the bottom line and use the two words some time(s) after a preposition, or make it really easy on yourself and eliminate using prepositions with it at all! If you use time(s) as a noun, though, you’re going to have use some as a separate word. Example: “You’ll need some time to catch on to this grammar usage.” Or, “History teaches us some times are more difficult to live through than others.”

Well, ahem, that little blogtime cleared it up for me, anyway! Simply put, use sometime(s) when it tells when or how often, and use some time(s) when time(s) is used as a noun. Or better yet, just go for sometime(s) all the time and risk those rare occasions when you’d be incorrect.

How about you? Is there a tricky little word you have trouble spelling ?

Steph Prichard

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where does your story start?

Like many of us I’m fortunate to have a seasoned writer who mentors me and will look at my work occasionally. I recently asked her to look at what I was about to submit and she did.

As I waited, I wondered if she’d get it. Would she think it was better than the last piece of garbage I had her read? Or would she think it was drivel and suggest I use it as a starter for our summer campfires? Nope. She suggested something far worse…

Overall, she thought it was better. She also gave me a lot of positive feedback that I could work with, but the biggest, most frightening thing she suggested--that I cut twenty-nine pages from the beginning. Twenty-nine pages! I can’t even tell you how long it took me to pour out those twenty-nine pages. She was being absurd. Ridiculous. There was no way I could cut twenty-nine pages and not lose the whole setup for the story. I didn’t even know if it was possible to weave it all together in a way that didn’t confuse the reader without those early pages.

She thought it would be better and more immediate if we were dropped into the action faster. I thought I was in the action already. She thought it would be better if the two main characters met earlier in the story. Chapter three is early. Right? I couldn’t see any way for them to meet sooner. Nope. Not possible.

So, I thrashed about for a couple days and prayed about it. I really took the time to brainstorm alternate beginnings and ways I could make the relationship between the hero and heroine appear earlier in the story without it seeming forced.

After a couple days, I did it. I hit the delete button. Well, not before I copied and pasted the twenty-nine pages into a new document. You know…just in case she was wrong.You know what happened? I had a story that started on page one. Not page thirty. I had two people that had chemistry from the first chapter. Not chapter three. I had improved my story. No matter how painful it was to hit that delete button.

It was tough, but I did it. And the story is better for it. What about you? Does your story start at a place that captures the reader from page one? Have you ever had to delete large sections of your work and why? Did it make the story better?

Sabrina Fox~

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Right Place to Write

We writers read stories about super-authors who produce despite challenging circumstances. They usually include a mother of 14 home-schooled children who wrote 203 novels while her progeny played soccer tournaments in her office. Or the air traffic controller who creates Pulitzer Prize winners between planes.

Many of us, however, fantasize about literary miracles we could accomplish if only we could find a place where everyday demands did not disturb our genius.

For the majority, home does not present a writing refuge, unless we use the handy bomb shelter its former owners built during the 1960s.

But parents without benefit of bomb shelters must use the little ones' naptime, TV, movie and computer time to achieve writing goals. Creative activities--such as lipsticking walls and flushing silverware down--may keep toddlers' interest for longer periods, but no easy answers exist. Any suggestions from the mommies in our ranks?

Older children present less difficulty. The key is giving them attention--lots of attention--without involving a computer, screen or cell phone. Play with blocks, balls and board games, and within minutes, you'll find yourself bankrupting yourself on Board Walk. Now, put the game down and go back to work.

Teens are even easier, as they dislike your company, anyway. Tell elephant jokes to their friends and show them how you used to dance the jerk, and they will not approach you until time to pay for college.

Spouses, however, can present challenges tantamount to those of dealing with toddlers. Some writers resort to negative tactics, threatening to starch spouses' underwear or microwave their charge cards. Positive reinforcement--better known as bribery--produces better results. For example, "Give me two hours of undisturbed writing time, and I'll stop wearing that sweater my mother gave me for Christmas." Or "I'll get the oil changed in my car before the engine falls out." Or "I'll [spouse fills in the blank]." Note: Consult a lawyer before signing anything.

Despite off/on buttons, answering services and caller identification, phones often present a problem. If you cannot resist your ringtone, I suggest you read The Chicago Manual of Style aloud to callers. Any telemarketer with a shred of self-preservation instinct will cease and desist, as will relatives who want to borrow money or in-laws with parenting advice.

Imaginative measures also can discourage solicitors or nosy neighbors. A moat with crocodiles conveys the need for privacy. Also, do research for your eighteenth-century romance by guillotining fruit in your front yard, and no siding salesman will dare invade your space. Plus, you'll eat healthy.

Some writers solve the privacy problem by leaving home and going public.
  • Deserted college libraries present good writing environments. Take care, however, not to fall asleep in some cozy corner. The librarian may depart for the Bahamas, taking the keys with her, and you might not emerge until Christmas break is over.

  • Try wearing a Grim Reaper outfit to a coffee shop.

  • Write in a cemetery. There, you may weep over your characters' sorrows, and no one will disturb you.

  • Don't bathe for a month so that you fit the image of a real writer. Sometimes we look--and smell--normal, so no one takes our need for solitude seriously. Do this, and they will.

  • If all else fails and deadlines loom, you can get arrested. And with a little extra effort, you can achieve solitary confinement.

Hopefully, these suggestions have paved the way for your success. If so, please consider contributing money for my bail, as I've met my deadline and don't like the food here.

-Rachael Phillips-

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lies Writers Believe

"I'm a liar in search of the truth," sang the artist.
"Me, too," I thought. I lie to myself all day long.

So I started a list of writing lies that have bound me and the truth that sets me free.

Being published makes me Important.
He must increase, I must decrease. John 3:30

The work of writing falls to me.
Apart from Jesus you can do nothing. John 15:5

Writing is too hard.
I can do all things through Christ. Philippians 4:13

Writing is too risky.
Do not fear. God is with you. Isaiah 41:10

Writing is too exhausting.
Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength. Isaiah 40:31

I don’t know enough to write.
We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do the good works
He prepared. Ephesians 2:10

I’ll never be savvy.
Our adequacy is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5

I write for myself.
Writing reflects Christ, the living Word. John 1:1

Writing comes easy to the gifted.
Fan into flame the gift that is in you. 2 Timothy 1:6

I don’t need to study writing.
Show me your ways, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4

I don’t think God is serious about calling me to write.
Jesus glorified the Father by accomplishing the work
God gave Him to do. John 17:4

I have too many interruptions.
God is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. Psalm 18:30

Others have plans for me.
Others had plans for Jesus. Matthew 12:46-50

Writing doesn’t really matter.
Writing can demolish arguments and pretensions
and capture thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5

I don’t have enough time to write.
To every thing there is a season. Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m too young to write.
God’s grace is sufficient for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m too old to write.
God’s grace is sufficient for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9

By the grace of God may we throw off the lies that so easily entangle us and run the race marked out for us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Identity Crisis?

I have a confession to make.

I think I’m sailing here on this blog under somewhat false colors. I mean, here I am, posting a blog entry to a site called Hoosier Ink…only I’m not a Hoosier.

No. Seriously. Stop laughing.

Because, in the interests of writing integrity, telling the truth, and authentic research, I have to admit…I’m not quite sure what a “Hoosier” is. And I think the time has come to find out.

For those of you who don’t know this, I’m from Chicago. Born, bred, raised, lived in the Chicago area for all but about two years of my adult life, prior to the last five years I’ve spent here. It was “home” for the greater part of my existence. And in some respects, you can take the girl out of Chicago, but you can’t ever completely take Chicago out of the girl. (Proof of that being that I’m walking around with a big grin on my face, humming “Here Come the Hawks” these last couple of days. :-) Just sayin’.)

But back to Hoosierdom…or not.

Not being native to Indiana makes me at times stand out like—well, the proverbial (and clichéd) sore thumb, if I had one, which I don’t. (Although my left foot is bothering me a bit at the moment, thanks for asking.) At no time was this more evident than one day, a couple of years ago, when all of a sudden in the middle of an ordinary weekday, work stopped…and people huddled around the television set in the office.

What were they watching? A weather disaster? An airplane crash? A political coup somewhere?

Uhhh…no. What stopped work and froze people around the tube was that Indiana University was having a press conference to announce a new basketball coach.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love basketball; I fill out NCAA brackets and the whole shot. But…they stopped work to watch a university press conference announcing something that, thanks to ESPN and countless other stations, we all knew had already happened.

But when I expressed that sentiment, people just laughed and said, “Hey, this is a Hoosier thing.”


At that point, I knew…there must be something to this “Hoosierness” that I don’t understand. So I’m appealing to you, my fellow bloggers—can you help me out here?

What makes a Hoosier…a Hoosier?

Now, sure, I could Google this thing and do writerly research. I could. I thought about that. But the best source for any writer is a primary source—which, thanks to this blog and my present state of residence, you are. Thus, I see no reason to spend time on secondary sources, Wikipedia, or anything else that may approximate the meaning of this mysterious term when I can simply ask the people who claim it legitimately as their own.

Besides, this way is much more fun!

So clue me in, fellow authors who actually are Hoosiers, and not the grafted-on transplant I am. What makes a Hoosier a Hoosier? Is it simply an accident of birth, or—as I suspect—is there something more to this than merely being in the proper state at the proper time? If there is, what is it? Do I get it eventually, by osmosis? Or am I doomed forever to be an impostor (hangs head), only donning a Hoosier disguise now and then for blogging purposes?

I look forward eagerly to your answers. With this information in hand, then, when people back in Illinois ask me if I’ve become one yet, I’ll be able to tell them yes or no…and be able to back up my answer with the best source available.

Yours for integrity in blog identity...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Those Niche Markets ~ by Agent Terry Burns

I (Millie Samuelson) have heard very little about niche markets since I started looking for a publisher nearly ten years ago. So when I read this recent Hartline Literary Agency blog by agent (and author) Terry Burns, I immediately started checking out some small presses for myself and my agent, Diana Flegal (also with Hartline).

Next I thought about sharing some of my reseach with you, the readers of this blog. But then I thought, why not ask Terry to share his comments here instead.

And here he is, Terry Burns sharing about niche markets with far more insights than I'll ever have, and far more concisely, too.

It was nice to have a group of clients all at one place and time at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park. I was able to get with all of them, but scheduling was such that I couldn’t put together a little meeting with all at once. I would have liked that, and had a great cabin it could have been done in. Maybe next time. Still, there was some strategizing, some sharing of information, and good times to just get to know one another better.

I do want to get all my clients pubbed. I know the odds say that I won’t, but I’m trying. It was interesting when the editors sat down on the “Future of Publishing” panel that they remarked how the midlist was disappearing, and it was becoming either big or little. The larger publishers not wanting to address any niche markets, and the small independents making a living identifying and serving the niche markets the bigs don’t want to do. Over the past year or so, I have taken some of my clients into these niche markets and have even gone that way with my own books.

I am still more interested in having major titles with major publishers, but I am not afraid to use the niche markets to try and get authors started. A larger publisher bringing out a book and not getting some significant five figure sales can hurt on trying to sell more books. An independent publisher set up to go into a market of modest four figures sales, and the author does so and does so with a solid number looks more attractive to another publisher than someone who maybe sold more books but where the expectation was higher. In other words, quickly selling out a print run of 2000 copies might be more impressive than selling 5,000 copies when the expectations were much higher than that.

All of the start-ups and small independents are serving some modest but very viable markets. The "Future of Publishing" panel saw that as an emerging trend and one that would be increasingly important. They also pointed out how quickly things can change in publishing these days, and these smaller organizations can identify changes and turn on a dime, whereas the larger ones need time to work change in the organization. They felt authors can benefit from the changing nature of publishing if they were abreast of the changes and could turn on a dime as well, maybe even a nickel.

Some of the new technologies are gaining a following, but again, the smaller organizations are better positioned to identify and utilize them, and again authors and agents are better positioned to identify and embrace such technologies. Larger organizations have the resources to make more effective use of a new technology once it is established, but the smaller ones will lead the way.

It's a brave new world in publishing.
Terry Burns, Agent and Author

Thursday, June 10, 2010

That Haunting Voice in my Head

If you collected a dollar each time you heard an author admit hearing voices in his or her head what would you have? Twenty dollars? A hundred? Certainly enough to keep you in lattes for several days. Yet, even though authors seem proud of this abnormality, our culture still considers it a defect. Let friends and family discover you hear voices and they’ll avoid you worse than if you wanted to borrow rent money.

I have the impression that hearing your story-character voices is a good thing for writers, but I’ve not been so fortunate. My characters tend to be quiet and lethargic, only speaking when prodded. Yet, I do admit to hearing one recurring voice. This little guy never has anything fresh to say, and his dialogue lines are always negative. An obnoxious tenant, his intrusion is more annoying than a yapping Chihuahua on caffeine. “Give up! Give up! Give up!” he says. "You can't write. What makes you think someone will read your story? Yap! Yap! Yap! Yap!”

I know I’m supposed to ignore him, but occasionally I weaken and fall victim to his discouragement. I can’t tell you how many times he’s crushed my writing dreams like a Styrofoam cup underfoot. According to my little voice; I’m too busy to sacrifice time for writing, I’m too untalkative to create good sentences, and I’m too boring to build an interesting plot.

But after years of battling with The Voice, I’ve finally found a sound rebuttal that even The Voice can’t ignore. It was quite a light-bulb moment to realize I am indeed qualified for a writing ministry. Yes, even in spite of my lack of talent. According to Scripture the weak, foolish, and base things are God’s first choice for material to use in His work (I Corinthians 1:26-29). (Wait! Weak, foolish, and base---was that from my Genesis critique?)

It doesn’t require a degree in theology to understand this scriptural principle—our inadequacies qualify us for God’s work. All He wants out of the deal is to receive glory. You won’t find this strategy used in mainstream corporate America. It’s totally a God thing--His specialty. In fact, the Bible records numerous examples of God taking something insufficient and making it into something special. The wedding host gave Him water—He made wine. The disciples handed Him a child’s fish dinner—He fed more than five thousand. Of course none of us were there to see it, but He also made the worlds using nothing but His word (Hebrews 11:3).

It’s a humbling thought to think our little offerings are seeds for God's work, but after all He did promise He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). That single promise removes all limits anyone puts on their potential, because most writers can think up some really big things

The dissenting voices may never completely leave our heads, but instead of questioning our ability to write, we can validate our efforts by admitting we are indeed inadequate--but canidates for something great. God chooses us for His work, not because of our talent but because of our lack of talent. He anoints our weak skills and uses them to create something great.

I believe we have a scriptural right to periodically close our eyes and just imagine the possibilities for our future. Scripture entitles you to do so, because in His own words, it will be so great that you will “wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you (Habakkuk 1:5).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Misery Loves Company, But God Loves a Grateful Heart

Lately I've heard a lot of gnashing of teeth (that sound is grating!)--Genesis scores came back. The whining begins as scores scald those who didn't final. Surely the judges made mistakes and have no idea what they were doing! (Eliminate exclamation marks--minus 3 points.) Well, yeah, those judges are human, imagine that. You could be right, or not. Even editors at big houses make mistakes. How could God allow such a trial in YOUR LIFE? 

Published authors get rejected every day. Just because they published one book doesn't mean that an editor will take on the next book. Some of the most famous authors got rejections early and maybe even later. So, since you are ready to give up writing (really?) and you're deeming your judges unfit for humanity (yeah, I've heard some of the talk,) I thought I'd share with you a few rejections.

Tom Clancy wrote these highly technical military novels. Who wants to read that? Evidently, no one, according to most publishers. He finally got published with a small military press. It had a dismal run.No one had ever heard of The Hunt for Red October. He probably didn't even get a book signing on a nuclear submarine.

Then, our president, Ronald Reagan, was shot and landed in the hospital with a serious, life-threatening injury. To assure the people, Reagan would walk out on a balcony each day and talk with the press. One day he stuck his thumb in a book he was reading and walked out. Of course, the press wanted to know what that book was. Yes, it was Tom Clancy's book and Reagan gave it a thumbs-up (he may have lost his place) and the rest, as we like to say, is history. Soon, not only were his books picked up by a large publisher, a bestseller, and we didn't even have to read the book--it was a movie.

Judy Blume tried repeatedly to get a piece published in Highlights for Children magazine before her bestselling YA books were published. The award-winning and bestselling author of numerous novels became quite discouraged. For two years she got nothing but rejections. Judy has reportedly said that she still can't look at Highlights for Children magazine without "wincing." (So, yes, it still stings, years and bestsellers later.)

e.e. cummings, the famous poet, borrowed money from his mother to publish his own book of poetry. On the dedication page he had a poem he called "No Thanks" shaped like a funeral urn. It listed almost every publisher who turned him down. I'm not sure I'd advocate self-publishing, but today we have some good options to consider and self-publishing isn't the stigma as in the past. e.e. cummings had good stuff. Make sure yours is well done before going that route (and hire a good editor because a good editor can make a story shine.)

Jo Rowling (or otherwise known as J.K. Rowling) was rejected by everyone before a small press called Bloomsbury took on her, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone book. They only accepted it because the publisher's 8-year-old daughter read it (she would be the acquisitions reader--be careful whom you trash) and thought it was great.

Steve Laube once told a story about picking up a small book on a bookstore sales table, giving it the once over, and putting it back with the words, "It'll never sell." It was by Bruce Wilkinson and called, The Prayer of Jabez, not much later #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list. As Steve said, "Who knew?"

Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness wasn't a bestseller until Amy Grant mentioned it in one of her performances.Years later people are still talking about that book and it continues to sell.

What's your story you're going to tell when you publish your first book? What story do you have to tell right now if you did publish? Very few have a cakewalk into publishing their first book. Most have battle scars and rejections and some even didn't make it to the final round in the Genesis.

So, what do you do? Ye, who are brokenhearted?

Continue to write. If God put it into your heart to write, write. Obedience even in the face of rejections and poor critique comments means that He's not finished with shaping you, or your audience isn't ready yet. Learn what you're doing wrong, and find what you do right, and just write.

Find encouragers because we all face discouragement. I like to read 1 Kings 18-19 about Elijah when I'm discouraged. A little Brook of Cherith time and asking God to show me in His "gentle whisper" that He's still there helps me to pull up my bootstraps and get tough. You can ask each one of our published authors here in Indiana ACFW for their story, too. Sometimes it helps to know others are out there and will cheer when you do publish.

Ask God to direct your path. Proverbs 3: 4,5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." 'Nuff said.

Now, go out there and write your thank you notes, if you haven't done so yet (,be nice!) to those Genesis judges (or the coordinators or whomever gave you feedback.) Who knows? Judges have long memories (they're only human) and could be your biggest cheerleader some day.If you are humble and have a thankful heart, God recognizes this. It's tough to be a writer. Everyone watches how you take criticism. (Including God and oh, yeah, agents and editors and first round judges.)

When an editor or agent asks one of those first round judges how you took criticism, what will he say about you?

Crystal Laine Miller

Keep On Going

I guess it was bound to happen sometime during my lifetime although I hoped it never would. For the very first time, I missed a writing deadline. As I prepared for Hoosier Ink, I discovered I was four days overdue and for the worst reason – none at all. What do you do when you didn’t do what you should’ve done? What do you do when you’ve missed it?

There are lots of things you can’t regain once the opportunity is lost, but brooding, wailing and gnashing of teeth, or beating yourself up won’t change the circumstances.

Wherein lies a valuable life lesson for control freaks, worrywarts, the immobilized by fear, those to whom stuff simply happens, as well as those who have made poor choices. It’s a lesson applicable to a successful Christian life, maintaining relationships, and is true in the writing arena. It covers all situations at every season. The only thing to do is start from where you are now and keep going. With that in mind, I apologize for posting on someone else's blog day.

What weight are you staggering under? What makes you want to quit? Did you get a poor review? How about a less than favorable critique? Did your pay-the-bills writing job downsize? Did the book deal your agent was working on fall through?

If you were to poll any successful person in the world they would have one thing in common. They did not give up. There is one reason alone that you exist and have a purpose in life and that is because God Almighty did not give up on mankind. More personally, he did not/does not/will not give up on you. Go now and do likewise.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Does a Writer Need a Logo?

Maybe the simpler question to answer is, can a writer get by without a logo? The answer would be, yes – you certainly can.  But, ... you'll be working much harder when making a first impression than writers who do have one (just like everyone in every other profession).

It is very cliche' but there is definitely a bit of truth hidden in the saying that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.  When you have only moments to make a first impression; any advantage you can get is going to be helpful.  A well-crafted logo can help you appear professional, organized, creative ... or even reflect a particular writing specialty that is your niche'.  And a logo can do that, before they read a single word about your latest pitch!

First impressions matter. In a world where everyone is inundated with too much information on a daily basis, we are left to hope against hope that someone will notice our writing, make the time to read it, and fall in love with it (and then champion it on our behalf to those with the power to say yes or no to its publication.)

The font choices, colors used, and design style of a logo can say a lot about you - even without using the stereotypical ink pen, quill, book or typewriter that are often used symbols of the writer's trade. For instance, if you consider yourself a chic lit writer, are you a writer of warm and fuzzy romance, or do you go for edgier female topics and handle them with gusto?  You can hint at your writing style with a feminine script font and your choice of color.  A softer pink or rose for a romantic vs. a bolder red instantly make a statement about your style.  Or, maybe comedy is your writing genre of choice.  A bright, and vibrant color such as orange, yellow, or shocking pink or green enhance an instant sense of fun being afoot!  Add in a fun (yet readable) font and your logo has made an instant statement on your behalf - even before anyone has had the chance to meet you, or read your query or proposal.

The below is my own logo, what first impression does it give to you?  I'll discuss any responses I get in next month's blog post ... where I will also reveal my related business tag-line.  Tag lines are another part of personal/professional branding to consider for successfully marketing your writing talents.

~ Suzanne Wesley

Friday, June 4, 2010

Writing in Chaos

If there’s anything I know a lot about, it’s chaos.

As I write this post, the church ladies are setting up for a rummage sale. (My desk/office is in the fellowship hall.) People are walking in and out of the church; people are interrupting to ask me questions. It’s not an ideal place to write, but it’s where I am today.

I am a mother of five, grandmother of five, and I have three dogs. One of my sons has bipolar and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and two of them have autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD. I am the oldest of four adventurous siblings. I am married to a wonderful pastor who has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Boring and dull have never been used to describe my life.

I have never lived in quiet pastures or had much opportunity to linger by still waters. Distractions are as much a part of me as my plus size thighs. So finding quiet places to write is a challenge. But not impossible.

As a little girl, I escaped to my grandmother’s creek to sit in a tree and compose. As a romantic youngster, it was the ultimate frosting on the cake of my yearly visits to my grandparents’ farm. Grandma knew my need for quiet, alone time. And she didn’t begrudge me or question me.

After dinner, in the evenings, I placed my mother’s electric typewriter on a TV tray in my bedroom and fancied myself a Bronte, Austen or Alcott. I typed out copious amounts of wordy prose and wrote plays and musicals. Those were glorious days when technology wasn’t the distraction for kids that it is today.

If I wasn’t writing, I was reading. If I wasn’t reading, I was writing.

I can no more stop writing than a duck can refuse to swim. Chaos doesn’t stop me. It delays me at times, to be sure, but stop me? Never.

I do have a few tricks up my sleeve:

1. I have a sign on my office door that says, “Do Not Enter – Writer at Work (Unless you come bearing a publishing contract or chocolate.)” When I hung that on my door, my kids laughed. They pretty much ignore it. But, at least, they know when I’m in there, I’m working. And I can point to the sign. Then the sign’s the bad guy instead of me.

2. I use headphones quite a bit. My husband loves to spend time with me (I am blessed!) but writing means time alone. He seems to like it just fine if I’m writing on the couch beside him instead of in the office away from him. He gets to watch what he wants on TV, and I get some work done. The kids and dogs are running in and out, but because I’m listening to Yo-Yo Ma at full blast, I am blissfully unaware. (Okay, not completely, but enough to concentrate and write.)

3. I am learning to guard my writing time as a lioness her cubs. If I don’t respect that time, how will anyone else? If I bend to pressure of going out with friends, or doing something for the church during my writing time, it’s my own fault.

4. I do a lot of writing in the bathtub and shower. I get great ideas in there. I even compose songs. It’s the one room in the house that my boys seem to – sort of – leave me alone. Not always. But at least it’s easier to ignore the banging door and screams when the water’s running.

5. The most important way I find peace is spending time alone with God before the kids wake up or after they are busy doing something. However, if I don’t do it first thing (before they wake up) it’s really difficult to get in that spot because once the day is rolling – so is the chaos. I find that if I give that time to God, He multiplies my ability to get more done during the day. I’m not sure how that works, but while there is chaos all around me, there is peace inside of me. Because of Him, I can find the tranquility I crave in my writing place.

I’m curious to learn how others find their quiet place. Where do you go? How do you find it? What do you do?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Sound That You Write To

Do you write with silence in the background, the London Symphony Orchestra in full glory behind you, or do you like to write with the sound of the wind, rain, and thunder bouncing off of your roof and windows? What sound do you write to? What acoustic melodies, harmonies, or eclectic sounds inspire your writing and drive it forward? That is my question to you.

Authors are sometimes asked, "What meaning are you writing between the lines?" I like to change that a bit and say, "What music are you hearing between the lines?" As writers, we look for inspiration in many places. Some of us look for inspiration in the daily news, in our family stories, in our own lives, and in the farthest realms of our imaginations. I would like to add to that list the sounds of music that touches your heart, mind, and spirit.

I offer this thought to support my addition: Behind many great movies, TV shows, plays, and even TV commercials, dwells the musical themes that enhance those scenes being viewed. In the background of my writing den, I play music as a driving force of inspiration behind the characters, scenes, and dramas unfolding on the page before me. Dare I say it--Music is my "silent character," the unseen narrator of the story in my mind.

To that end, I like to use iTunes to make my own "soundtrack to my book" playlists. As I am writing scenes, I play the corresponding music from my vast library of music to inspire the feelings and scenes of my characters. Unless your talents include the ability to write, produce, and record your own soundtracks, you may have to settle for the vast amount of music already out there in the great land of "The iTunes Continuum." On that "note," I have seen several Christian fiction books where characters created songs and music within the context of the story. Then, in the back of that book, the author has placed the sheet music for those songs. What's next, a free music download from the author's website to play as you read the story?

Whatever you're writing and working on, be it something new or something you pulled out of storage, fill your writing environment with the music you enjoy and see what unfolds. What Christian tunes fill in the gaps and set the mood behind your characters' actions, lives, and thoughts. What if George Lucas would have been able to listen to the soundtrack to Star Wars before it was written, or if the creators of Superman could have been listening to the Superman movie theme as they were creating that colossal comic book superhero.

If you write to the sound of silence, the background noise of the local coffee shop, your favorite radio station, or one of the various tracks in your collection, use that music to fuel the engine that inspires you to create the stories that the Lord has placed upon your heart to tell. That music becomes the invisible notes that permeate your writing and fill the gaps between your lines.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Real Me

This year has many new steps in the writing journey for me. My first trade (it's kind of a big deal!) releases in July. And I'm writing for two new publishers...getting pushed in my writing in ways that is making me better.

But I've also been working hard on the marketing side. That means taking steps and doing the hard work of figuring out who I am.

I don't know about you, but that isn't easy for me. There's a strong people pleasing side to me and I've always been able to sense the "right" answers to questions...know what I mean?

So I've brought some people around me to help me dig deep.

It's actually been an exciting process as we've refined who I am as a speaker and writer. The theme was there. I actually did know it, but I needed help to mine it from its hiding place. You can see the results at my revamped website.

You see, I'm convinced Satan doesn't want us to know who we are. Or to truly get it. At the heart level. Because when we do, we are willing to do things for God that would seem impossible. But as He reveals who He created us to be and who we are in Him, a freedom and strength is released that has us running to tackle challenges and dreams.

So today my challenge to you: dig deep. Ask God who He sees when He looks at you. And be amazed!