Thursday, July 29, 2010

And the man said..."Peaches!"

Do you believe in signs from the Lord as affirmation of something you're doing, especially in your writing life? Or anything else in life? When my husband and I lived in CA, before the arrival of the first of our three children, he had to make a decision as to whether to take a position as a sixth grade teacher in a Christian academy in Riverside. It seemed everywhere we turned were "signs" - things with the words "Riverside" suddenly appeared right and left, people mentioned the word, etc. It was uncanny. Coincidence, or is there really such a thing? Fluke? The signs were undeniably there, and both my husband and I saw them.

I'll confess to not being a particular "believer" in such things as signs from the Almighty...until the following happened. I must preface this post by saying that my core character in my first series, Sam Lewis, loves peaches any way they come. It's a running character trait throughout the series. Not a big deal but undeniably part of his character. And here's what happened...

One day at lunch, I got into the elevator of my office building with two gentlemen. As soon as one of the men said something, I looked at him and said, "If I closed my eyes, I'd think I was in this elevator with Nicolas Cage." As you may know, Nicolas Cage is an actor with a rather distinctive voice. The man laughed and said, "I hear it all the time." He even laughed like the actor. When we stepped off the elevator, I asked him to please humor me and say something to my friends - yes, it was that uncanny. The man was very accommodating. He walked over to the two ladies, planted his feet apart, literally threw his arms wide, and said, "Peaches!" I think my friends could have scraped me off the floor. Of all the words, phrases, or anything the man could have said, he said something that had personal meaning to me and my writing, and my core character. Okay, maybe I'm grasping at straws here. But if you'll indulge me one more moment...

That same building has a store catering to visitors there for conventions across the street. I had just finished the fourth book of this series entitled Daydreams. I rarely go in, but they advertised Ryder Cup merchandise at 75% off, and I thought I could pick up something for my husband. What I found instead were cooking bowls, pots, etc. with labels like Soup, Utensils and Popcorn. They also had an oversized cup with a handle that read... Daydreams. Say what? I will bring it to the ACFW if you want evidence. Last example: my son, Matthew, is high-functioning autistic. I knew I eventually wanted to give Sam and his wife a son like my Matthew. I also knew the book series would eventually take my characters to England. Guess what the name of the advocacy group for parents with autistic children in England is called? Peach. Again, coincidence? It makes you think, doesn't it? There are other such "signs" but I don't want to bore you with overkill examples (and might have already done so).

I'd be very interested to hear your comments. If you think I'm a viable candidate for the looney bin or need serious psychological evaluation, please feel free to share. I'm developing a thick skin in this writing game. But I love the Lord and want to share the stories and characters I believe He's laid on my heart. Bring it on. Let me hear your comments!

Forty-nine Days and Counting!

But then, you probably knew that, didn't you?

I had no idea I would be this silly. As soon as registration opened, I paid my $$$, chose the sessions that best fit my needs, and selected my appointment choices.

Okay, it's confession time. I did considerable praying, seeking the Lord's will, ahead of that registration announcement. Five-hundred dollars plus is a lot of cash for a gal who has been kicked in the seat of the pants by this wretched economy. Was I making a wise decision? Would I glorify God and exhibit Spirit-led stewardship by attending the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference 2010? I balanced those questions against others. When would this important, respected conference ever be in my back yard again? Hadn't God provided the funds through an unexpected storytelling gig? Wouldn't it be amazing to gather with like-minded brother and sister scribes to worship the Lord Who gifted us in the first place? How could one ever describe the sheer joy of sitting down with agents and editors who also are believers? "Go!" urged my family. "Go!" adjured fellow writers. "Go!" sang my own heart. So, Lord willing, I will be there.

Now the challenge is to keep from looking and acting like the newbie I am. First step toward that goal was to join the "FirstTimeOrient" ACFW course loop. Thanks to the leadership, I have learned so much, but have so much yet to learn, so I'll reread many of the posts. I cannot use enough superlatives to describe Cara Putman and the others who have contributed to the course lessons.

I think I have a fairly good start toward conference preparation. Business cards from Vista Print arrived a few days ago. One manuscript is complete. Another is about half done. My one-sheets are still warm from the printer. The elevator pitches are written, though they may undergo a bit more tweaking before September 17 gets here. I'm reviewing editor and agent websites and bios, taking notes along the way.

And I'm doing the single most important thing one can do to prepare for such an event. I am praying, asking our sovereign Lord to lead us all and give us His wisdom. He is the Word and Author of all that is good. It is He Who is our ultimate Agent and Business Manager. May He annoint our appointments--scheduled and spontaneous, our fellowship, and our sessions, as well as our worship times. His will be done in all things.

If you are not able to attend in person, will you please attend in prayer?

If you plan to be there in Indy, what are you specifically praying for? What are your personal goals for this conference? What are you doing to prepare? Please respond by leaving a comment. Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Now We're Cookin'

Have you ever had a character who is stubborn? You know the type. Wants to remain distant and two-dimensional and oh so elusive. Like recalcitrant children (or maybe just shy) they dodge and deflect when I'm trying to bring out their true feelings, their foibles, that inner dialog/back story that will make me and the reader fall in love with them. I try this turn of phrase or those clothes, a veritable feast of peccadilloes and habits (both bad and good) but nothing is just right. Nothing fits. And so I continue with the monster that is plot and hope to later fill in the proverbial blanks.

Well, I am happy (relieved, thrilled, ecstatic?) to say that my latest heroine, an English woman and an impoverished Earl's daughter has finally fleshed out. It's my current WIP and due in a little over a month - yes, I was beginning to panic and pray a lot! Her name is Lady Kendra Townsend and I've recently learned two things about her. One - she and father used to "encourage" one another by a gentle, spoken reminder of the fruit of the spirit as needed for an occasion. Sometimes I scramble for a new, fresh way to portray my characters as Christians aside from the prayers and Scripture verses. This (I hope) has a light hearted comical effect. When someone irritates her, Kendra (silently) yells the word "patience!" to herself. Or when dealing with pain and heartbreak she remembers her dear father's gentle admonition of "long-suffering" or "love." I do miss her father almost as much as she does - sniff!

And then, just this week in late edits, I learned that she harbors a love for hats. She can't afford many but oh, my, like my love for shoes . . . well, enough said. She loves them big and full of fripperies, feathered and bejeweled. The drooping brim, the shallow crown, straw, felt and fur. The gaudier the better and I just love that about her. (See some gorgeous hats here )

So, if your characters are being shy or just plain giving you fits, keep plotting on! Who knows what you will discover at the ninth hour.

Know what I mean?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Does Your Imagination Sound Like?

Greetings and welcome to the establishment. In a previous post, “The Sound That You Write To,” I dealt with the types of sounds, music, and acoustic environments that I find myself putting words onto paper. In this week’s installment, I would like to push that thought a little further and talk about what fuels my imagination in hopes that you might give it a try.

Everyone has something that drives his or her creative abilities. In my case, I use the above-mentioned sounds to inspire, create, and imagine my stories and tales of adventure. For me, music and other acoustic sounds “fuel” my imagination and resulting creative processes.

Warning: techno-speak. Reading through the laws of thermodynamics, the law of conservation states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. A consequence of this law is that energy can neither be created nor can it be destroyed, it can only be transformed from one state to another. This means that the only thing that can happen to energy in a closed system is that it can change form. For example, chemical energy can become kinetic energy. I would like to add “acoustic energy can become creative energy” as one of the extensions of this example.

My “creation process” represents the closed system (encompassing basically everything within God’s Universe which one pulls from to create stories). The music that I listen to represents acoustic energy. My imagination then transforms this energy via the creative process. The result is a story, idea, or scene that you create from “nothing.” Your imagination is the mechanism by which this transformation takes place. I can relate the different types of music I listen to, which fuels my creative thought processes, to the different octane ratings of fuel that you can put into your car. The different beats, tempos, instruments, voices, and genres can all be combined in infinite ways to create different “octane” levels, all producing different results. In this case, volume level serves to increase or decrease the “purity” of the octane mixture.

Ok, enough “techno-speak.” Right? I will leave the underlying scientific explanation to The Lord (as He is the Ultimate Authority on the laws of physics). But…..maybe the following explanation will help to simplify this idea:

Take a piece of rainbow-colored paper (representing the universe God has created) and put it into a paper shredder (representing the energy process being transformed and not destroyed). Then take the strips of shredded paper (representing transformed energy waiting to be used to create a story) and lay them out onto a flat surface in random ways (representing your imagination creating a story and putting it into words). The result: you get a new, different picture (story) when compared to the one you originally started with. In my case, the music is the original rainbow-paper. It is then fed into my imagination (the shredder). The resulting “transformed energy” is then used to “create” stories, plots, and characters. Same concept happens when segments of music you listen to gives you “goosebumps.” The music, in this case, is just channeled into another form of energy: creative energy.

Ok, nothing New Age or anything like that here…just trying to find an analogy to explain how music seems to inspire my creation process. I find that when I can’t think of a plot, characters to tackle that plot, or even a setting for my story to take place; I just put on some music, close my eyes, and watch the whole thing get created on my internal theater system. It just happens. Then, as it happens, I just start actively controlling the scenes.

As I have been writing this post, the cd changer has been going through several mixes I have done to inspire my writing process. Let’s see, A-Ha (80’s group), Loreena McKennitt (Celtic), and Lou Gramm (80’s again) have all been helping me “get energized” to write this post.

Remember, God’s Imagination Makes All Things Possible…even the impossible (hint, we call those miracles). If God didn’t have an imagination, we just wouldn’t be here. So, put on your headphones, spin up your favorite music, and let the stories flow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

5 Minute Folders

My reality check came to visit this week. All those lofty postponed plans to write all summer haven't materialized. What I have been doing is worthy and necessary as well, but didn't include much writing. So, where to go from here? I thought of a few suggestions to share that might help you get those fingers moving during the lazy days (in theory, who has time for lazy?!? ) of summer.

I was reading a book by Barbara De Marco-Barrett called Pen on Fire. She was discussing, how as writers, we often want to wait for the perfect writing scenario. An uninterrupted period of peace every day. Those days can be few and far between, so learning to write in snippets is essential.

I've been guilty of being a waiting-writer, and am realizing you can do a lot in 5 minutes! I tested out this theory with my new 5 minute folders created in Word. I have tons of 5 minutes in my life, but can rarely eek out a 3 hour chunk. My world is full of scraps of papers, ideas, and observations- but they aren't in a one stop shop. Opening a new Word document, I sat down and just wrote a paragraph about a person I observed. Threw that paper away. It felt great! I am on to something here. Another folder might be labeled "Sounds" and all the snatches of descriptions can go here. Now I might make a folder about "Expressions" and start choosing a person a day just to keep my mind moving, and describe how someone comes across while speaking. Suddenly, I am pumped again about the writing, the kind that fits into my reality...words that come to fruition, and aren't in the limbo of my "Maybe Tomorrow" mental folder. 5+5+5+....

One day the work is complete, 5 minutes at a time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Literary Life

Those of you who have attended any of the Indiana ACFW chapter meetings know that my two teenage daughters usually come to the meetings with me. They are both fantastic writers, and I take every opportunity to include them in my “literary life”. They love meeting other authors. They are excited that the ACFW conference is coming to Indianapolis. I think they plan to camp out at the book signing table!

This past month Amber and I traveled to a wonderful writer’s retreat sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of ACFW. (I’m waving at you guys!) Susie May Warren, who is one of my favorite authors and one of the best writing instructors I’ve ever met, taught at the retreat.
Susie has a way of simplifying complex writing processes. The retreat built in writing time which allowed us to immediately implement the teaching into our current WIP. We could then get feedback directly from Susie if we had any questions. Wow! My manuscript improved by leaps and bounds.

At the end of the retreat, Susie prayed for each author in attendance. It was a sweet moment. She was so very perceptive to pray for me as both a writer and a mom.

Amber and I spent much of the drive back from Minnesota talking about the things we learned at the retreat. We talked about characterization, plot, and language, but the conversation became the most interesting when we talked about “voice”. It makes for a pretty vivid picture to compare an author trying to find their voice to a teenager trying to grow into the adult that God wants them to be. That daughter of mine is pretty perceptive.

If you are looking for a writer’s retreat or a great book on the craft of writing, be sure to check out Susie’s site at I highly recommend that you add this to your writer’s toolbox. Next month, Michelle will post an interview with Susie.

The north shore of Minnesota is absolutely gorgeous and the people are incredibly nice! If you happen to be a writer in Minnesota, consider joining the Minnesota chapter of ACFW!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writing Ethics

This month I'm going to take a slight detour from the law and address writing ethics.

A number of years ago, I took the Christian Writers Guild correspondence course called What's Your Story. I recently read through my homework looking for article ideas, and I came across an answer to a question about journalistic ethics. I would like to share it with you now (with some modifications to fit this format).

The Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics built around honesty, respect, independence, and accountability. Those are my shorthand terms for the four main ethical obligations imposed by the Society's code. For a complete copy, go to

These four points don't merely complement my values as a Christian writer: they are my values as a Christian writer. Here are Bible verses (from the New International Version) to go with each of them.

Honesty. "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." 2 Corinthians 4:2
Respect. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29
Independence. "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10
Accountability. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing, and perfect will." Romans 12:2
Because we are Christians, we supplement these four points with a fifth.

Faithfulness. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2
Actually, faithfulness should come first. If we fix our eyes on Jesus and follow him, the other four will come naturally. Since we are still sinners, however, our eyes wander on occasion, and we do need to be reminded to write with honesty, respect, independence, and accountability.

If we follow these five principles, our writing will honor God. And that's the point, after all.

Kathryn Page Camp

Monday, July 19, 2010

Out and About

We writers pledge uncompromising commitment to our craft. We reserve time in which we sacrifice mind, soul, heart and computer to our books.

Such dedication requires focus. No checking spam e-mail or reading favorite sock blogs. No seeking long-ago kindergarten classmates, baby calves or Mafia dons on Facebook. No watching YouTube videos of Japanese rap groups.

I read of one fiction writer who nixed first-thing-in-the-morning bathroom breaks until she had written 500 words.

Bladder infection concerns aside, does such single-mindedness enhance our writing? I haven't yet resorted to dancing the Hold-It Two Step while I reach my word count. But I am obsessive about my butt-to-chair rules. As a morning person, I devote days to writing and evenings, when my creative powers equal those of a zucchini, to house and yard work, exercise and the Cubs. (If you're a Cubs fan, especially this year, you understand.)

One morning my system fizzled. I tried to march words from my brain to page as if they were a chain gang. Somewhere between mind and computer, they staged a sit-in. After a week of staring at each other, I decided to give myself -- and them -- a break. One beautiful summer morning, I defied my inner writing police and sneaked away on my bicycle.

Such illegal adventure can pay off. For example, we fiction writers scour the planet for unique story settings. During one bike ride, I discovered a horse farm, a Labrador puppy farm, a goat farm and a brown egg farm. I ask you, how many releases this month feature a romance that takes place on a brown egg farm? I also encountered farms whose owners don't let others' expectations fence them in. One owned a butter yellow farm house with matching barn and sheds. Not far away, I discovered two neighboring farms whose houses, barns and sheds (probably totaling 20 outbuildings), all painted candy pink. I recognized this as a sign from God: my next novel should take place on a brown-egg farm with pink and yellow barns, maybe robin's egg blue, too?

Unless God was merely informing me that the Easter bunny is a Hoosier. ...

A walk around the block provides a novelist with personality examples that enhance character development. At one time, my neighborhood included a guy my children referred to as the Mad Mower. Thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, midnight darkness -- nothing stopped him from maintaining his quarter-inch-length lawn. Across the street lived a protective old gentleman who once held a shotgun on a burglar who had entered his vacationing neighbors' home (the "criminal" was a friend who had volunteered to fix their plumbing). And before vampire stories ever hit best seller lists, my mysterious neighbors on the corner kept a granite tomb in their yard which they took with them when they moved. If I had befriended them, I might be several quarts low on plasma, but my books would have topped the Twilight Series.

Does getting out and about add an air of sanity to our stories? No. It's a crazy world. But it does lend them authenticity. It also can help us recover motor skills lost at the computer, such as smiling and talking. These will come in handy someday when we're promoting our books on Oprah. (Most television and radio personalities shy away from authors who only type and drool.)

In conclusion, I'm not sure what I'm concluding. Maybe, don't let your writing give you bladder infections or drooliosis. Be sure to stop and smell the Easter egg farms. And if your neighborhood vampire wants to meet for coffee, be friendly, but go to Starbuck's.

Rachael Phillips

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What do Nostradamus Ingermanson and Doctor Seuss Have in Common?

Nothing. Except author Randy Ingermanson is making five-year predictions on the future of publishing and from some authors, we hear words resonant of Doctor Seuss’GreenEggs and Ham—“I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like them Sam-I-am.”

Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing newsletter is a favorite of mine and in his July 6, 2010 issue he challenges us to be prepared rather than afraid of the future of publishing. He says he may be right, he may be wrong, but he knows change is certain.

His nine predictions are:

1. E-books (electronic books) will surpass p-books (printed on paper books).

2. E-books will become the “Minor Leagues.”

3. Beginning authors will e-publish first.

4. Mid-list authors may do better.

5. Bestselling authors will profit most.

6. Publishers will no longer accept returns.

7. Agents will stop reading slush.

8. Publishers will become more profitable.

9. Some will do better; some will do worse.

Specific information is available at his site The article is long and not easily condensed.

He says e-books are much more efficient to produce with their biggest obstacle presently being the e-book reader. With everyone wanting part of the profit, even this drawback is lessening as e-readers are made more available and user friendly. He refers us to Joe Konrath’s blog for further reasons why e-books will surpass p-books.

New authors will get their training, so to speak, in the electronic format, making it the “Minor League” of publishing as opposed to the printed publishing world being the “Major Leagues”. Once successful in the e-world, new authors are more apt to catch the eye of agents and publishers because then the guess work and risk of marketing are tempered. The role of gatekeepers who try to guess what the market will buy won’t be needed. A little scary since these are agents and publishers.

The concern of awful e-books flooding the market will be handled by the market itself, as it is now Ingermanson says. The market is smart and always finds the good books. No news here. We have awful printed books already.

One monumental prediction is, within five years, the overwhelming majority of all first novels will be electronic. Mid-listers will or will not get on board with e-books, but Randy suggests it would be wise.

Ouch—I’m still navigating my first fiction p-book!

Publishers may finally get to publish only winners, but this prediction is less clear in Ingermanson’s magic globe. They may publish their bestselling authors in e-format or these authors may choose to do it themselves. Likewise, the issue of publishers continuing to accept returns remains cloudy in the globe also.

For those unable to foresee life without a printed book to hold in their hands, don’t despair. A robust segment of the market still wants p-books. Publishers may go p-book and e-book simultaneously or go printed version only after the book is proven in e-format.

I found Randy’s predictions of the future changes in publishing absorbing, yet since I’ve been so focused on printed publishing, I’m having to work on a new mind set. Sacred cows like agent, publishers accepting returns, a printed book to read in bed just before going off to sleep are hard to release.

The future of publishing can’t be predicted with perfect clarity, but I plan to give serious consideration to Randy’s predictions. What are your predictions for a beautiful life in the publishing world five years from now?

Jude Urbanski

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writing from the Heart with Creativity

I have followed the discussion on the loop for the past several days as we have looked at "four-letter-words" from about every angle imaginable. Then as I was reading one day I found a creative way to say a sliched four-letter-word. Frederick Ramsay wrote the following in a book entitled: Judas: The Gospel of Betrayal. I quote from page 124. The words coming from his lips would make the roughest seaman blush."

The same author wrote such an innovative description using very few words. I quote from page 139. "The moment moved . . .like honey in winter."

On page 147 Ramsay wrote the following. "The howling stopped (coming from the demoniac), replaced by low mutterings and words, so blasphemous and vile that even I, who'd spent more years than I care to enumerate in the streets and brothels of the empire, blushed."

Diane Noble, author of The Veil, wrote on page 324, ". . . arrows as thick as horizontal rain, flooded the circle." On page 358 she wrote about a gun. "This thing's as empty as a church on Monday morning."

In The Scent of Water, Linda Nichols wrote, "Miss Harrison was on her way to gone," page 205.

Dorothy Francis wrote, in Eden Palms Murder, page215, "My anger simmered like a kettle of chowder." And on page 242, "Quinn sat silent as a chunk or coral. . ."

As you may have noticed, not all these quotations replaced less desirable words, but all exemplified good, creative writing. Let's all aspire to that high goal.

And then there's my favorite line from a favorite movie, Friendly Pursuasion. The character was a member of the Friends church -- gentle, quiet, soft-spoken -- usually. However, a Rebel soldier was chasing the family's pet goose. She picked up her broom, chased him off, and said, "When thee gets back to thy mother's house, I hope she bites thee."

We'd like to hear from readers about the remarkable writing you've come across. Please drop by and share favorite examples of great writing you've come across.

Pat Radaker

Writer's Block: Beating the Block

It's happened again. You pull up your chair and park yourself behind your desk, place your fingers at F and J and wait. You wait for the ideas to sprout, the words to flow, and the thoughts to spring forth. Get it comes...nothing.

Okay...So you move a few things around, file that receipt, take a sip of coffee. I can do this. I'm a writer. Writers write. So write something already, numbskull.

You check your email, take another gulp of your coffee, which is still warm so you must not be doing too badly, and place your fingers back on the keyboard. Nothing. I'm finished. I'll never be a writer. I can't even get one word down on the page. My writing will be limited to the family Christmas letter and Facebook status updates.

Writer's Block, that gremlin lurking in the back of every writer's mind. Last month we talked about the first type of blockage that stops a writer's fingers in his/her tracks--Writer's Bloat. Click here to read. Reviewing quickly, Writer's Bloat is when the writer has too much information but not enough plan to start the actual writing process. The writer simply needs some focus to battle back from the edge of despair.

The definition of Writer's Block according to is "a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work". This is the good, old-fashioned version of staring at the blank screen or page. So what's a guy or gal to do?

Here are a few proven tactics to get you back on the road to The End:

1. Pray. Thank God for bringing you this far in your current work. Thank Him for giving you words and ask Him to speak His message through you. Ask God to calm your heart and focus your thoughts. Ask Him to show you any reason He might not want you to proceed. Could you be on a path He doesn't want this particular work to go? Possibly God wants you to leave your characters behind for today and minister to some real flesh-and-blood people? Colossians 3:15 says, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."

2. Get physical. Olivia Newton John aside, our body is like complex machinery. If we don't take care of it, it can't take care of us. Are you getting adequate rest? Are you eating healthy snacks between those meals of chocolate? (Kidding..sort of...) Are you exercising at least a little each day? Are you getting out to enjoy God's creation? Studies show that as little as five minutes outdoors increases self-confidence and vitality.

3. Read. Read something you enjoy to "prime the pump," to use a cliche. Read a book on craft or even one devoted to writer's block. Study a specific topic such as characterization or setting, and then go back to a previously completed section of your WIP and apply what you've learned. Chances are that once you start writing, the momentum will carry you past the blockage.

4. Write. Sometimes our writing becomes difficult out of doubt or fear. Write something you know you can finish with success: your grocery list, an email, a blog entry. Not only will your time be put to good use, you will have completed a task and written something successfully. Or change things up a bit in your WIP. Add a new character, seek to write something wacky, unusual, or out of the ordinary in a scene. Think of something silly or crazy that you've seen, read, or heard about and see if you can work it in. Writing in a unique way may get your creative juicing flowing again. You can always edit it out later if it doesn't work.

5. Exercise your brain. Last month I introduced you to Brain Gym movements ( Try these exercises the next time you are stuck:

A. Arm Activation. This movement relaxes you and releases the stress of over-focus. It loosens your arm muscles, making the actual act of writing come more easily. Raise one arm straight up over your head toward the ceiling. Put the other arm behind your head, grasping the raised arm at the elbow. Press back against the hand of your bent arm. Move your hand to the front side of your elbow and press against it. Move the hand of your bent arm so that you can press out away from your body and then again so you can move in toward your head. Repeat with the opposite hand raised.

B. The Calf Pump. This movement not only warms up the muscles that hold you back, but stimulating both the front and rear portions of the brain releases fear and allows you to get moving.This is basically that leg stretching move that you see runners do often. Stand with your left leg behind you with the ball of your foot on the floor and the heel raised a few inches. Bend your right leg and place your hands on your thigh for support. Slowly press your left heel into the floor, then raise. Repeat, exhaling when your heel goes down, inhale when you raise it. Change legs and repeat.

C. Hook-Ups: This activity relaxes your central nervous system which is especially helpful when your blood pressure rises due to Writer's Block. Crossing the mid-line of the body stimulates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, enabling you to use both sides equally. Perform this movement by sitting in a chair and crossing your legs at the ankles, left leg over the right. Extend your arms in front of you, crossing your wrists, left over right. Place your palms together and lace your fingers.Now bring your hands up under you chin, close your eyes, and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Sit quietly for a minute and breathe deeply.

6. Drink. We talked about this last month. Your brain is not capable of efficient thought when you are dehydrated. Sipping room temperature water keeps your brain functioning well with the added benefit of getting you up and going--literally.

No writer ever wants to think that the dreaded Writer's Block will strike them. When you find yourself in the midst of this frustrating situation, read Romans 8. I won't quote the whole chapter, but let me pick a few key phrases out to encourage you today:

"...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." (v.1)

" did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship." (v. 15)

"...then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (v. 17)

"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." ( vv. 20,21)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (v. 28)

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (v. 31)

" all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (v. 37)

What better encouragement than that do we need in our fight against the foe of Writer's Block? What are some tricks you use to get yourself writing again?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time and time again ...

My times are in the Lord's hands, just like the psalmist wrote years ago. Since I started working full-time in town, the time crunch has affected both my family and writing.

Sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day. I reached this conclusion at 10 p.m. Wednesday night while helping my husband and son finish baling hay. As the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out I wished for just a little more time.

A few things have helped our chronological crisis. We have said no to some new activities, and cut back on others. Fewer 4-H projects, and “no” to Cub Scouts and Extension Homemakers.

I've tried to delegate some of my tasks at home. I do have to look the other way sometimes as tasks don't seem to get done exactly as I would do them.

I try to take a nap after work so I don't remind the kids of a zombie!

The Crock Pot is my new best friend.

But I keep stumbling over these two questions: How do I make more writing time? How do I make the most of what I have? I have heard others talk about keeping a notebook with them. I could ... possibly ... cut back on some of my favorite reading on the Internet.

How do you all make time for your writing? I would love to hear more ideas. But I'll have to catch up with you after work tomorrow and after my nap!

Are YOU in Aesop’s Fable?

Do you remember Aesop’s fable about the man and his son taking their donkey to market?  Poor guys, they’re just tromping along happily enough, but keep encountering groups of critics. The first group mocks father and son for walking alongside the donkey when they should be riding it. Like, hello, what are donkeys for?

So Dad puts the boy on the donkey, only to be criticized by another group for the son’s lack of respect in making poor, old Dad walk. The two switch places, but are now chided by yet another group for making the boy walk.  So up climbs the boy behind his father.

Wouldn’t you know it, they meet a group of animal rights fanatics, who shake their fists at the two riders. Yeah, the man and the boy—they should be the ones bearing the donkey! Ever compliant, Dad and son tie the poor beast upside down on a pole and carry him the last quarter mile to the marketplace.

On the bridge into town, a crowd gathers, laughing, shouting, snorting at the spectacle. The frightened donkey kicks free of the ropes and tumbles, alas, into the raging river below. The moral of the story? If you try to please all, you please none.

Now, does that not describe a dilemma we writers face?

Yeah, critics.

Sigh. Those who do not know enough to appreciate the sterling quality of our work.

Okay, okay, so some of them have good points to make. But do we have to comply with every nit-picking one of them? Might we, in our eagerness to please, end up losing who we are? Isn’t there a line in the sand we should draw and stand behind, arms folded, face scowling?

I’ve discovered some answers for those donkey-do, donkey-don’t encounters.

Number one, get educated. At my first writers conference I was handed a silver dollar critique, but I had a copper penny understanding of what in the world my critiquer was talking about. I couldn’t benefit because my knowledge base was inadequate. Learn the language, learn the concepts, grow ears that can hear.

But don’t stop there. Go beyond workshops and blogs and books. Trouble is, they leave you standing there all by you widdle self. There’s no interaction with the teacher, no evaluation of your attempt to translate knowledge into skill. When I started taking online writing classes and submitting assignments, I not only received instant feedback (and second and third chances) but I also profited from the instructor’s comments on my classmates’ assignments. The cost of online classes varies from $15 to $40, a mere pittance, really. I’m here to tell you, those classes will put arms and legs on those ears you’re growing.

Number two, be intentional. Sniff out good critiquers. At conferences, pay for critiques from authors. Their feet have landed where you want yours to tread, and their experience and knowledge will be worth more than the money you paid. But don’t just pick any old author. Be selective. Check out the different authors’ books from the library or survey them on Do you like a particular author’s writing style? How he tells his story? The kind of story he tells? Pick him! Then, when you meet, be ready with questions specific to your needs. If you choose well, you’ve set up a critic encounter that will reap gain, not pain.

The same goes for critique partners. Be intentional. Find partners who offer what you want. I have four CPs in three different partnerships. Two write romance, one writes women’s fiction, and one writes mysteries. None of these are my genre, but each partner provides different plusses for my writing, and critiquing their genres stretches me in beneficial ways, as well. Commitment to CPs is a huge investment, so enter those relationships with careful consideration. Choose well, and the sharing and caring will bring muscle—and maybe some extra heart—to your writing.

As for that line in the sand, well, yes, eventually it should be drawn. It’s called “voice.” Ideally, your critics will help you gain confidence in who you are as a writer—your style, your message, your approach to story. You’ll know the “rules” and be comfortable with where you’ve decided to settle down amidst all the possibilities. You’ll know when to comply and when to fold your arms and stand firm.

Skip the scowling face, though. Along the road you might encounter a critic called an editor. Yeah, you’ll definitely want a smile on your face.

Steph Prichard

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Did You Get Started?

I spoke to a group of high school students about writing a while back. They were very polite and listened, but I'm sure what I told them was overwhelming. It usually is when you first start thinking about writing for publication. So much to learn. So much information. Sometimes you have to hear the same things several times before it becomes a part of you.

I wish that every writer who wanted to be published could be published. That is not reality, but I do think if you are persistent and faithful to writing and submitting, it can happen. Every person who wishes to be a writer, can be a writer. And you can find readers. You start with an idea--maybe something from your past, maybe something that happened, or maybe just something that intrigues you and you can't leave it alone. Sometimes it takes years for a story to get published, but one thing is certain--you have to serve an apprenticeship and learn and you. must. write. And whether you are someone who has 75 books published, or are just publishing your first book, or are still trying to find that place where readers will read your words--all writers have to learn and start somewhere and must continue to learn. The key is to start.

The students asked some great questions. In doing so, I hope that they learned a little about themselves. The first question for me was "How did you get started?" Ask this question of authors and writers, and some answers will be the same, and some different. Everyone starts somewhere.

I like to say that I started off my writing journey in my freshman year of high school. I published a poem that year and seeing my own byline was a rush. I wrote volumes in journals over the course of my high school years. Then, I got on the newspaper staff as sports editor and art editor in my senior year of high school and really dug in. That pile of articles were sent in to Ball State University and I won a journalism scholarship.

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere," so says Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. She describes what her father tells her brother who has a rough start when trying to get going on a school project about birds. "Just take it bird by bird," her father, also a writer, told him. "Do one bird, then do the next." Writing is like that.

I stuttered along in the years following college doing newsletters for service organizations, curriculum material in my teaching and taking a course here and there in writing while raising my four boys. Then, when I was 40-years-old, I took a professional writing class at Taylor University in Ft.Wayne, Indiana. That is really where I got my start. Dr. Dennis E. Hensley pushed us to publish. Early on in the class, when I barely knew him, we were on a break in the hall and he walked right into my "personal" space to speak with me.

"I hate you," he said. I think he scowled.

"Really?" I didn't know what to make of this, but I'd heard he was a Vietnam War vet and it crossed my mind that this could get ugly, but as a competition trapshooter and one who had faced off with many a nemesis, I knew I could hold my own.

"Why," and I laughed for punctuation, "do you hate me, Dr. Hensley?" I made a point to not move away from him.

And then he passionately proceeded to tell me what I had done to him, the reader of my story, to evoke such an extreme distaste for what I'd written. In that moment I knew he cared about what I had written and wanted it to be better. It was personal. It was personal to him, the reader. It was personal to me, the writer. And between us we needed to come to an understanding. That is what writing is--a communication between the author and the reader. It is just the two of you in that space--that very personal space. For me that was the beginning of understanding what the writer-reader relationship really is.

Someone on a writers' list said she had written eight manuscripts but had never sent one out. If you write, it demands to be read. And yes, it can be painful to hear what a reader has to say. (Or an editor, or an agent, or even a first reader.) It can be tough to understand what you should write and what you should leave out. But if you are a writer, you must start and you persist.

My favorite quote on this:
"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."

- Isaac Asimov

Tell me how you got started. It is good to have a beginning.

~Crystal Laine Miller
Christian Book Scout

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Plowshares and Swords

“I wish I had a plow."

My sweaty sixteen-year-old and I had engaged our parched garden, more clay and weeds than topsoil and tomatoes. I brandished the dull hoe and he, the even duller shovel.

I did a little checking. Some of the oldest plows were wood structures fitted with a metal tip—a plowshare—designed to open farm ground for sowing seed, creating room for roots, and clearing weeds. (I think the fine print said don’t even think about using old hoes and shovels to do a plow’s job.)

Joel, Micah and Isaiah spoke of plowshares and swords in the same breath. In their times the metal of one was often beaten to form the other, depending on need—war or peace. How did the Hebrews know when to fashion which?

And what do plowshares and swords have to do with Christian writers of fiction? Like metal, words are a currency. Both require careful handling. Both require increasing accuracy and artistry. Skillfully wrought and wielded, both are highly effective. And both serve divergent purposes depending on the need.

King Solomon compared rash speech to thrusts of the sword. Paul called Scripture the sword of the Spirit. The writer of Hebrews declared Scripture sharper than any two-edged sword, plunging straight to the soul. Like swords, words do battle.

Scripture writers linked plowing with diligent hard work, always with a view to a harvest. If we pursue the metaphor, words can open hardened hearts, invite lives to deepen, and promote fruitfulness.

You, gentle writer, cradle a precious currency. Life and death are in the power of your tongue. Your wise tongue can bring healing. And sometimes healing requires a fight.

How do you and I know when to take up a sword and when to put our hands to the plow?

Look at King Solomon, who confessed to God, “I am but a little child …so give Your servant an understanding heart" (2 Kings 3).

Consider King Jehoshophat, who cried out to God, “We are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (2 Chronicles 20).

Ponder Jesus, who did not speak on His own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Him commanded Him what to say and what to speak (John 12).

Wait. Ask. Listen. Speak.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Sometimes, one word can mean infinity.
Sometimes, you’re not even aware of the depth of a word until you experience a bit of that infinity.

I was closing up my lunch bag and my novel one afternoon at the day job, closing up the umbrella over the outdoor lunch table, and reluctantly preparing to go back to my desk and resume my day’s work, when the sensation came over me that I was returning from a lot more than a half hour’s lunch break.
I had been rereading, leisurely and with enjoyment, over my lunch. Rereading one of the Mitford books by Jan Karon—spending time in a place I’ve spent much time in before. Dipping back in for another visit…

…and away, for just those few minutes, from everything else.

When immersed in a truly good book, we do go away. Sometimes, we can be so transported that when someone taps us on the shoulder to bring us “back,” we react with a start. Or resentment. Or weariness…because it’s hard to come back from that place to which we’ve escaped.

Chances are if we find books like that, we keep them…and we go back to them. We remember that pleasant, relaxing place, that virtual vacation, and we want to have the chance to go to that place again if need be. Just like a real geographic location that we love, books that we can “lose ourselves” in become a quick route to refreshment and restoration.

And what better way to write—or reason to write—than to give ourselves, and others, those kinds of books?

Many of us, I suspect, have been led astray. We’ve been taught about character arcs and plot structures and Acts I-III, and climax and denouement…but how many of us every get taught about away? Far too few, if the truth be known.

And some of us who do know about “away”—but who may not be the most polished writers in the world—get ridiculed for that. We may be able to take readers to another world, another place, another time, and immerse them thoroughly—but that, we’re told, is not what contemporary fiction is all about. Contemporary blockbuster fiction nowadays is supposed to grab a reader by the throat, shake her a few times until she begs for mercy, and slap her around a little bit before we drop her to the floor, just to make sure she gets our point. After all, we only have milliseconds to hook a reader and draw her in, and…and…!

And…over time, reading some blockbuster fiction has become, if not an exhausting experience, certainly not a refreshing one. A reader who’s whipped around, shown the seedy and frenetic and fast-paced—but little else—cannot come out of that book much refreshed. She might enjoy the ride, much as some of us enjoy rollercoasters, but exhilaration—or sheer terror!—is not always what we want when we need a break from reality, a bit of respite, time for ourselves.

Sometimes, we just want to get away.
So I’d suggest we try thinking about away when we write.

Getting “away” is what we try to do when we need to recharge. Coming “away” is what the Lord asks us to do to get closer to Him. And a real trip “away” takes time. It shouldn’t be a road race but a Sunday drive in the country.

It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth working to get to. And it’s what I, truth be told, want to give my readers. I don’t care about grabbing them by the throat and shaking them. I would much, much rather they be so immersed in my book that they only reluctantly fold the umbrella over the outdoor table, only reluctantly close up their lunch bags and gather their trash, only reluctantly come back to the “real world”—because then they will not only look forward to going back to my book, they’ll keep it. They’ll want to go back to that lovely place where they feel so at home, a place of refreshment and comfort and relaxation. Even if I’m tingling their spines with a deliciously suspenseful story, I don’t intend to do it at 120 miles per hour; I want to enjoy the trip…and I want them to as well.

Away. It’s where I want you to be when reading my books. Away where you can breathe…where the Lord can whisper in your ear if He needs to…where for just a few moments, life’s hassles recede and you amble through a world that welcomes you, entertains you, uplifts you, and leaves you feeling more able to come back to reality when you need to.

AWAY. It’s a great place to be. I want to write much, much more of it. I hope you will, too.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Bit on Small Publishers

Greetings dear Hoosier Ink bloggers and readers:

I'm late with my blog this time. Usually I pre-post a week or two ahead of my scheduled date. But not this month! So that should be a clue to you that I've been swamped with another word task and one I always enjoy -- A NEW BOOK!

For several weeks now, I've been revising and expanding my Women of the Last Supper book in preparation for the start of my fall speaking engagements, and because I'm down to the last six copies of my previous edition. Since I'm self-published and use an online printer, I do all the paginating myself. That has a HUGE good side, mainly that I get the final say for everything. The bad side is that I have no one to blame for errors. So right now my dear hubby Dave and son Peter and my writing buddy Melissa are helping me out by reading through the pages for me before I do the final upload. I hope they'll catch everything my author's closure missed. (You all know about that, I'm sure.)

I promised in my last blog -- which was actually a blog by Hartline agent Terry Burns -- to share more about small publishers this time. And I'll do that now since several of you expressed an interest, but I won't be as thorough as I'd planned. So maybe next month I'll add some more to this topic, unless one of you fills in my blanks.

Just so you know, I "kind of" consider myself a small (VERY TEENY SMALL) publisher. To date, I've done all the publishing work for four of my books, except the printing part. That means I just pay for printing, not the setup of the book. Even beyond that, I've had several people ask me to publish their books. But I've declined each time, gently and gracefully, I hope. After all, my dream is still to find a REAL publisher whose contract I can happily sign.

That said, I have rejected (hey, agents and editors aren't the only ones who do so :-) the contracts of several small publishers. Early on, Dave and Peter (my consultants, as well as my proofreaders) advised me not to go with any small publisher who couldn't do more for me than I (and God) already were doing. However, one small publisher I "rejected" didn't come under that advice, but they turned out to be Mormon. Since I'm an Evangelical Protestant, I declined -- although regretfully, for I liked everything about them, especially their family and mission values. If it hadn't been for Sally Stuart's knowledge, I might have gone with them and discovered their church affiliation too late, as it wasn't obvious.

As most of you know, I have an excellent agent and agency backing me (Diana from ). I've rejected one small publisher she secured a contract with because, for one reason and there were others, I would have been been their first novel. At my age, I don't want to be someone's experiment. Most of the large publishers she's submitted my books to have so far rejected me, not because of my writing and storytelling, but because of my topics. So we're looking at smaller publishers these days. And a couple of them are considering my books.

One of those small publishers is . I'm very interested in them, and one of their publishers expressed strong interest in my books when I met her at a Write to Publish Conference. Oak Tara caught my attention when they published two Jonah books (yes, the Old Testament prophet) by Bruce Judisch. I've long been fascinated by Jonah (starting when I taught a Sunday School class to college students years ago as a teacher at Grace College in Winona Lake). And Bruce's books are fabulous historical novels! (One of my next projects is to write a five star review for his sequel, The Word Fulfilled, to The Journey Begun. Check out his books on or his blog He and I are now online friends. I look forward to meeting this gifted novelist some day.)

Since it's almost noon on my blog day, I'll end with this comment. Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide is FULL of small publishers. I need to check with an authority what the publishing standard is, but I consider any publisher that publishes under 50 books small. I expect the general standard is probably higher. Next time I'll share some from Stuart's guide that look good to me and my agent.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the peek at the cover proof of my newest book. It will be out in a few weeks. That's another thing I like about self-publishing with "my" printer -- the speed with which I can get books, usually in just a couple of weeks.

Oh, one more comment -- a PS, so to speak -- when I say small publisher, I'm not referring to subsidy or self-publishers. There are SOME of them that are excellent, and I'm always tempted to use one (like WinePress or ACW Press) because they have distribution and marketing options "my" printer doesn't have. But so far, their prices give me pause. . . and I've sold around 4000 books without distribution and marketing because I have a local speaking platform (I'm eager for a national one in God's timing).

HEY, more on small publishers next month. Until then, publishing guidance blessings!
Millie Samuelson

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Toys for the Novelist

One of the perks of being a writer is having the luxury to research anything that sparks an interest—all in the pursuit of developing the story, of course. I can’t help but take advantage of this privilege, since learning is an innate craving inside my brain—thus, the volumes of trivia and interesting facts which line my bookshelves.

Yet, there is a downside to having a head full of fun and interesting facts—it requires policing the urge to share this information with others. Although difficult for me to accept, it seems most people aren’t interested in the geeky information I have stored away in my head. (Do you know two rats can become the progenitors of 15,000 rats in less than one year?)

My latest fascination has been researching possibilities which will allow my antagonist to take advantage of the cell-phone boom. Too many stories I’ve read portray a heroine who forgets to charge her cell phone on the worst possible day of her life. And as incredible as it seems, her service provider always favors the antagonist. How is it the main character has cell-phone reception until the moment she’s in danger? Isn’t that considered cliché by now? We’ve all had bad experiences with service providers, but can you imagine AT&T possessing magical powers to know exactly when to cut your signal and leave you in danger?

Of course, as readers we suspend our disbelief for the story and accept characters with bad service providers and faulty batteries. But why not mix it up a bit? My latest research reveals more opportunities for the novelist than what most writers have are using.

For example, a lowly one-hundred-and fifty dollars will purchase the villain his own personal cell-phone jammer[1]. This little gadget looks like a cell phone, but when activated it blocks all cell-phone frequencies within thirty feet. If I had one of these in my classroom, students couldn’t text messages to the person across the room and perhaps learning would actually occur. But alas, they are illegal to use in public places.

Stay with me, because more money buys more evilness. At three-thousand dollars, I can purchase a jammer that will obliterate all cell-phone signals up to five-hundred feet. (Oops. I meant the villain can buy one of these). Can you imagine a quiet dinner at a restaurant without that leather-lunged person across the room sharing his or her phone call with everyone present? This would work great in a funeral parlor or a concert hall. This is what our minister needs when he’s about to make the altar call and somewhere in the congregation the loudest ring tone known to humankind breaks forth like a signal to begin recess.

One of my antagonists has a jammer hidden under the seat of his car, which he activates with a secret switch. His initial reasoning to install this device was to retain the full attention of prospects when they were in the car with him. He didn’t want his sales pitch interrupted by an untimely phone call to his customer. Later, this hidden jammer causes havoc for the heroine as the antagonist holds her hostage in his speeding car. The poor girl can not get a single bar of service as they speed for miles along the interstate around Boston, Massachusetts.

Finally, this one last morsel of evilness, which will make a novelist’ mouth water. According to The Forensic Examiner; The World’s Leading Forensic Magazine,[1] there are inexpensive softwares available, which an ill tempered person can use to remotely turn on your cell phone to listen to live conversations. This brings back childhood memories when we left the phone off the hook of our rotary-dial phone while we went to the other room and eavesdropped on the family conversation. (Sorry. Maybe you’re not old enough to have had the rotary dial phone experience.)

In addition, this software enables the perpetrator to listen from anywhere in the world. These softwares work by different methods, but my favorite is Vervata’s $49.95 FlexiSpy Pro Tap. To secretly install this software, the heroine receives a text message on her cell saying something like; “Call (317) 777-4321 to update your Verizon cell-phone software” or “Download free new ring tones and screen savers.” When the unsuspecting heroine calls to get the fake update, the digital eavesdropping device is installed on her phone. No burglary required. The antagonist can then turn on his victim’s phone any time he wants and eavesdrop on the conversation in the room or automobile—even if she is not using her cell phone. Wow!

Yes, this is real, and yes it is illegal (except for the cell phones which you purchase for your children who are minors). But when has an evil antagonist cared about legal matters? I love it because “this application installs itself without any kind of indication as to what it is…and completely hides itself from the user.” [2] Did I mention it will turn on your cell phone and allow the villain to hear your conversation—even when you haven’t answered your cell? This is almost unbelievable, but you can read it for yourself. The power of science in the hands of evil people is very scary.

So, the next time you need to raise the tension for your character, you don’t have to use the obligatory low battery or no service cliché. Your character is responsible enough to keep her cell phone charged, and she is savvy enough to choose a good service provider. But the antagonist has done his homework too, and he has a jammer in his pocket, or maybe he’s been inside her house and hidden a jammer above a ceiling tile. When things turn sour in the story it won’t be because the heroine has forgotten to charge her cell.

If you're willing to share, we'd all love to hear any other ideas you writers have come up with on how to keep the main character from using her cell phone when she's in danger.

Below is an online source for this information as well as a few other goodies I didn’t mention. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to call the number above to upload a new set of ring tones to your own cell phone—absolutely free. I’ll be listening in. Kenny Noble

The source for this blog is also available online at;

[1] THE FORENSIC EXAMINERVolume 18, Number 2, Summer 2009 page 46, Author Louis L. Akin, LPI
[2] Page 48


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

At the Crossroads of Labor and Obsession

I’d been working on a particular manuscript for weeks, making it the primary focus of my writing day. Intended completion was prior to Independence Day and as June drew to a close I became obsessed with it.

Tomato plants that hadn’t quite made it into the ground languished in the garage, dishes towered near the sink, it looked like Hansel and Gretel had been wandering in circles under my kitchen table, and the grandkids visited with the understanding that I couldn’t give undivided attention to them.

Re-write finished, I sent it off, and was immediately caught up in Fourth of July celebrations and an unexpected free day with my husband. Now that the dust has figuratively and literally settled, I’m taking some time to think and sweat in the brilliant 90-degree heat. I wonder, what is the difference between steadfast labor and obsession?

I asked this question over the holiday and God caught my attention with today’s devotional through the words of A.B. Simpson. “If we wholly trust an interest to God, we must keep our hands off it; and He will guard it for us better than we can help Him…. There is nothing so masterly as inactivity in some things, and there is nothing so hurtful as restless working, for God has undertaken to work His sovereign will.”

I had been rather pleased with myself for the “masterly inactivity” of not worrying about the end results of how the manuscript would be received, but I felt a definite ouch to think of harm caused by my “restless working”.

There had been a few days when my spirit was unsettled, I couldn’t be still, yet I couldn’t pinpoint the distraction. What daily purpose did I miss by working restlessly? Whose life did I fail to touch because of my obsession? Maybe it was only a reassurance for myself, or a personal blessing that I lost. Even so, can I afford to snub God’s gifts or brush aside his encouragement? I think not.

As I contemplate my next project it’s easy to think I need to start sooner or be more disciplined. In truth, something else entirely is required. I need to sit at the Master’s feet and listen more. I need to cling on my Beloved’s arm and look into His eyes. I need to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” (Psalm 37:7)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I can't Wait! ACFW Conference is Coming!!!!

We are 105 days away from the ACFW conference. Don't believe me? Just check the countdown running on the side of my blog.

105 days. Wow!

Why do I get so excited about conference? At the conference I've met each of the editors I've worked with. At the conference I've gotten to know them, and hopefully they've gotten to know me. We got a sense of each other's personalities before contracts were offered.

At the conference, I learn from some of the best teachers on the craft of fiction writer. Last year Donald Maass taught the early bird. This year, James Scott Bell is. Last year I attended the published author track led by Allen Arnold, Thomas Nelson fiction publisher, and Karen Ball, the fiction guru at B&H. This year I'll sit in on the track by Michael Hauge, a Hollywood screenwriting expert. Even though I attended a retreat he taught at last year I can't wait to learn more from him this year.

But ACFW has tracks for all levels of writers. A track for those just starting led by Tracie and Jim Peterson. A track for those who've been writing a bit led by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. A track on mastering Structure, Symbols, and 3-D characters with Dr. Dennis Hensley. A track for more advanced writers with Gayle Roper. For those with a contract or at least one book out there's also a marketing track led by Chip MacGregor and Jim Rubart -- I attended an extended version in December and it was excellent! And those are just the continuing education tracks. That doesn't begin to touch on all the wonderful elective workshops.

I also can't wait to see friends that I only get to see once or twice a year -- usually at ACFW. Writing can be such a solitary business.

There's so much I love about conference. Volunteering. Celebrating as people receive their first contracts from Heartsong Presents and Barbour. Meeting with my agent and editors. Hugging my friends. Learning how to do this better. Leading First Time Orientation to ease the way for newbies.

If you're a writer, think about joining us. You won't regret it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Using a Tag Line to Promote Your Writing

 Last month I covered how having a professional logo could make you more memorable, and save you time explaining yourself during a first meeting with a prospective client or editor. This month, I’d like to add one more promotional element to your writing arsenal that can also assist you in promoting your writing – the tag line.  Tag lines are also referred to as a slogan, and are usually a phrase, of up to seven words, that is catchy and ties in directly to the first snap-shot impression you want someone to have of you and your writing style.

Tip: This is not to be confused with your elevator pitch – which is a short, 30-second description of you, what you write, and what makes you unique from other writers.

Most of us are familiar with product tag lines, such as: Nike - ‘Just Do It’, Bounty – ‘The Quicker Picker-Upper’, M&Ms – ‘Melts in Your Mouth Not in Your Hands’ … and oh-so-many more.  These companies have been using the same tag-line to promote the same product for many years. For businesses and individuals it is much more common that you will change your slogan or tag line about every two years to match up with any change in direction you may be taking.  After all, if you happen to be a prolific writer, you are hopeful that the novel you are working on now will be published within two years and you will then be moving on to writing and promoting your next writing adventure! Watch for slogans everywhere you shop, or even in your kitchen cabinets. Analyze the ones that seem the most effective, or interesting to you.
Questions that need to be addressed when creating your tag line:

  1. Who will see it? Who is your customer/audience?
  2. What benefit do you offer to them?
  3. How do you stand out from your peers?
  4. What type of emotion or feeling do you want to emit?
  5. Is there any action you want someone seeing your slogan to take?

While thinking about those 5 questions write down all of the words that come to your mind. You might also want to check out what tag lines your competition is using.  Pay attention to what words they use.  Make sure that you aren’t copying a tag that someone in your field is already using.  You might find some useful words, but don’t make your tag-line TOO similar to avoid plagiarizing.

At this point, dig out your thesaurus, write down even more words to choose from and then develop a list of your favorite tag line ideas.  Look them over and apply the 5 questions above to your list. Narrow your choices down to the most effective ones and then ask willing family, friends or colleagues to chime in.  If you end up with more than one top choice – either keep tweaking the words until one is the obvious choice, or use one for a couple of years and keep the other for your next promotional campaign, to keep things fresh.

Example - My First Tag Line

Aside from my personal writing projects, I run a small business performing copy writing and graphic design projects for individuals and other businesses. I regularly work with clients that have an idea of what they want, sometimes they even have some of the writing, or even logos and photos they know they want to use, but they can’t quite put their finger on how to pull it all together and make an advertisement or brochure out of it … (or whatever the project may be).  Sometimes they don’t even know how they want to advertise themselves, they simply know they have a great product and want their potential customers to know all about it.  And my clients can be everything from another writer, to a large global company.  My slogan had to be somewhat generic to incorporate a very big potential client list.

After working on tag lines for others for years, I still found it a challenge to come up with the first one to use on my own business. Because I’m a visual thinker I eventually chose to use wrought iron and ceramic tiles as elements in my advertising and I also wanted to mimic that in my slogan.  Both wrought iron and tile are raw elements that are usually unimpressive on their own, but you can use them to make items that are beautifully intricate, and often useful too.  So my brainstormed slogan ideas reflected taking raw elements and making something whole from them.

I eventually came up with ‘Taking raw ideas … and making something beautiful!’ as my first tag line.  Hopefully, my journey to my own first tag line will inspire you to work on one of your own.  I am just starting to use it on my web site and in my advertising, and I still need to add it to my e-mail signature, business card etc.  As I slowly develop all of the elements I use to promote myself I will now include my tag-line, pictures of tile, and my logo – which includes an intricate wrought iron fence.  The more I do this, the more potential for instant recognition I will have.

Are you using a tag line?  If so, please comment and share what you are using.

Suzanne Wesley

Friday, July 2, 2010

In Honor of the Fourth of July: Great American Women Writers in Our Nation's History

I considered writing lofty prose in honor of my country's birthday this weekend, but instead, I've decided to list a few great American women in our country's history of publishing. This is by far not an exhaustive list.

1.  Mary Katherine Goddard, the first woman publisher in America. She and her widowed mother became publishers of the Providence Gazette newspaper and the annual West's Almanack. In 1775, Goddard became the first woman postmaster in the country (in Baltimore), and in 1777 she became the first printer to offer copies of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers' names. In 1789 Goddard opened a Baltimore bookstore, probably the first woman in America to do so.

2. Anne Catherine Hoof Green who took over her late husband's printing and newspaper business, becoming the first American woman to run a print shop. The following year she was named the official printer for the colony of Maryland.

3. Mary White Rowlandson, who was captured by Native Americans and glorified God even in captivity, wrote a fascinating memoir that impacted this continent and Great Britain. Her overcoming spirit still inspires us to serve God no matter our circumstances. A reminder that when we are gone, our words still live.

4. Phillis Wheatley, America's first African American woman poet. She was published when American women were not commonly published. It was  especially uncommon for children of slaves to be educated. Her life is a reminder that God will publish whom He will, regardless of who we are or where we come from. We simply need to be faithful to the call.

5. Mercy Otis Warren, a patriot writer who wrote plays, essays and poems supporting independence for America. My favorite title of one of her plays? 
The Blockheads, a three-act play, published  in 1776, shortly after the British withdrew from Boston. (It makes me giggle to imagine a refined colonial woman calling someone a blockhead.)

6. Susanna Rowson, America's first female best-selling novelist. Charlotte. A Tale of Truth (1791), is about a British soldier who goes off to fight in the American Revolution and persuades the fifteen-year-old Charlotte to elope with him to America. 

7.  Lydia Maria Child. I don't agree with her Unitarian beliefs, but there is no doubt she is one of the leaders in civil rights for people of color and women in our nation. She also penned the famous poem, "Over the River and Through the Woods." I'd like to think I would have used my writing gifts as she did at this time in history. Would I? And am I doing all I can now to speak up in the face of tyranny and inequality?

8.  Catharine Maria Sedgwick. The most famous and successful American woman fiction writer in the first half of the nineteenth century. During her lifetime, literary critics and historians routinely recognized her as a primary founder of a distinctly American literature, along with Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Sedgwick’s close friend, William Cullen Bryant. 

9. Emily Dickinson. My favorite poet of all time. I couldn't get enough of her in high school and carried a volume of Emily Dickinson poems with me everywhere I went. (Yes, I was, and am, a nerd.) I was so well-known as a Dickinson freak that people gave me volumes of her poetry on my birthdays. I still treasure all of them. I also memorized a copy of the biographical play, The Belle of Amherst. I wish I could perform it. Maybe someday - or am I too old?

10. Rebecca Harding Davis. Another activist writer who was the first to include American realism in fiction. I love when women authors get feisty and prompt societal change through their writing.

11. Louisa May Alcott. Another favorite. I can read Little Women, Jo's Boys, and Little Men over and over and never tire of these stories. These delicious tales were staple read-alouds for my children when they were small. I always wanted a big rambling house like Jo's in which to homeschool and raise naughty boys. (I got the boys -- four of them -- just not the large house!)

12. Gene Stratton Porter. A nature lover and environmentalist ahead of her time. She was green long before anyone thought of the term. I grew up on the arid Kansas plains and reading about Indiana swamps, moths and forests filled my starving imagination. (I'd never seen a forest!) I still read these aloud to my children and students. The fact that she was born and lived near to where I live now makes me feel like a true kindred Hoosier. I still get goose bumps when I walk into Manchester Public Library and see her actual nature photographs on the wall.

These are a only a smattering of great women in publishing. Due to lack of space, the timeline ends in the mid-1800s. As we travel into the future, more great women come into focus that I've grown fond of in my lifetime: Catherine Marshall, Francine Rivers, Colleen Coble and more.

Who are your favorite authors in history? What have you read of their work that has stuck with you? How has it influenced what you write now? I'd love to know!