Monday, August 30, 2010

Taglines - Beauty or Beast?

It took my cousin, my male cousin, to come up with my tagline. And I write contemporary romance. Makes it sound like I'm not a very good writer if I can't produce a short, simple tagline. Those few words have to be poignant, powerful, full of meaning. They have to entice a reader to check out my work. The tagline must sum up the essence of my fiction and convey emotion, romance, drama, and - let's face it - basically accomplish a minor miracle. Not so simple, after all. Mind you, words come easily to me, and I trust I'm not risking anything by stating publicly that I've never suffered from writer's block. Trust me, I understand how blessed I am. Writing a 400-page book? No problem! But composing a tagline of only a few words? Impossible!

Louisa May Alcott, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain never had to come up with taglines. And don't think for one minute I'm comparing my writing to theirs. Back in their day, all they had to do was write, granted with much more primitive tools of the trade. Of course, these three authors had the most important tools - lively imaginations and a unique way with words. Still, it's fun to ponder the possibilities. Louisa would probably adopt some female-empowering slogan. Ernest would likely say, "I'd rather be fishing," and Mark, "I'd rather be drinking." Wait. Maybe it would be the other way around. In any case, they would undoubtedly view taglines as a colossal waste of time. Then again, they were able to focus on writing and didn't have to worry about what modern-day writers face: marketing, advertising and promotion. But that's a topic for another day.

The irony of my "condition" in not being able to produce a decent tagline does not escape me. I mulled over ideas in my head for a few weeks. At a family dinner, nearly desperate, I finally posed my question. Well, more like begged for their help by tugging on familial ties. "You have to help me!" Everyone around the dinner table stared at me as though I had two heads. One family member even had the nerve to state the obvious, "Well, uh, you're the writer in the family, JoAnn."

Then my helpful cousin, Jamie, said, "How about... Awakening the Spirit of Romance?" He waved his hand in the air with a flourish and broke into a triumphant smile. Bless his generous, creative heart. I repeated the words under my breath, letting them roll over my tongue, savoring each one. I looked around the table to see my otherwise mute family members nodding at one another in smug satisfaction, pleased to be participants in the process. Yes! It was perfect, especially since Awakening is, in fact, the name of my upcoming book.

If I had to "diagnose" my condition, I'd say I'm essentially brevity-challenged. One way I tried to overcome this obstacle was by entering a couple of flash fiction contests. I was forced to write a complete story in only 300 words based on the prompt of a photograph in one and a beginning sentence in the other. Surely it would be torture. Try it sometime. It's downright daunting. My grocery list is longer than that! I wrote, I rewrote, I tossed out words, I wrote again, I edited. I found I actually enjoyed writing short stories in first person. Surprisingly enough, I also found flash fiction to not only be a challenge, but it was really great fun. So, I finally submitted. The first contest, I tied for third. But, imagine my surprise when I actually won the second one! Another fun note: each of my two flash fiction entries came in at exactly 300 words!

It doesn't mean I've mastered brevity, by any means. That will always be one of my greatest challenges. But I have learned the value of each and every word, and to make them all count. That's a great lesson to learn! And it most definitely applies to those pesky tag lines.

What's your personal stumbling block or your greatest challenge in your writing? I'd love to hear from you! Blessings to all, and I hope to meet many of you in Indy in a few short weeks.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One True Book

Do you prefer reading fiction or nonfiction? 

Me? I like to read both. I just finished reading two novels by David Bunn and Jeanette Oke set in first-century Jerusalem (The Centurion's Wife and its sequel The Hidden Flame). I enjoyed both because they snatched me out of this century and plopped me down in the dusty streets of Zion shortly after the crucifixion. Among the pages I met the Centurion whose servant the Savior healed, the Apostle Peter, deacon Stephen, Martha, Mary, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, and many others. I learned so much.

From those who claim to prefer nonfiction I hear, "Why would you waste your time on a story? How can you say you learned a lot, when those are made-up tales, born from writers with vivid imaginations? Give me the truth." 

The coin has two sides.

Children often come up to me after I've told a far-flung tale and say, "Was that story true?"

"There's truth in every one of my stories," I tell them. "It's up to you to find it." 

There is truth in every good work of fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative works. Can you almost predict what a particular character will say or do in a given situation because you've known someone like that? The author probably patterned that character after a real person or a composite of real people. That's truth. Have you read something in a historical novel that sent you searching to see if it was as the author described, only to find out that, indeed, the author was right? That's truth. For science fiction to be believable, the author must know the science reality, the physical laws involved. That's truth.

On the other side of the coin is nonfiction. All truth. Nothing but the facts. Right?

During my nine years with two small newspapers, I was a reporter and a feature writer. There is a difference. When I was in reporter mode, I tried to be objective, telling what I observed and heard without emotion or bias. 

I could be more subjective as a feature writer. I took it as a compliment when readers would say, "Your features read like fiction." We call it creative non-fiction now.

Despite my efforts to be factual, truthful, and honest, there was error in every piece I wrote. Perhaps I didn't get the quotation perfect. Maybe the interviewee was wrong. Possibly my background research was faulty. Suddenly nonfiction becomes fiction.

The nonfiction section of libraries and bookstores is large, taking up more floor space than the fiction stacks. But it's a lie. Actually, it's all fiction.

Except for one true book: the Holy Bible. The Author has perfect memory and perfect integrity. Since He cannot lie, every word is true.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Psalms 4:6-7 in the Message says,
Why is everyone hungry for more?
"More, more," they say.
"More, more."
I have God's more-than-enough.
More joy in one ordinary day.

At first glance this didn't seem to apply to my writing life. I was wrong. As writers, we often lament for "more" time, "more" words, "more" cooperation from life outside our writing world. We can be hungry to write, and imagine that "more" of what we think we need is the magic ticket. God's word promises that we already have what we need, in this case, time. The possibility for joy in our work is already within our grasp. We have more-than-enough. What a comfort!
Learning to be productive within the confines of our day sometimes takes a jump start. Let me share a few resources that might encourage and enable us:
Conquering the Time Factor by Julie-Allyson Leron
Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
A fun little box of writing games to spark your imagination-
The Writer's Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan

Let's go forth with confidence, accepting what we can do today.Thank God for what we do accomplish-not regretting what we didn't.

Friday, August 27, 2010

'Fess Up

What’s your lie?

Don’t hold back. ‘Fess up. We all have at least one. Really. Dig deep.

It might be buried under the surface of your busy life, but a year from now, or maybe a month from now you’ll have an “aha” moment and realize that your lie was just that—a lie; that somewhere, hidden beneath the junk in your trunk, is a truth that contradicts your lie. That’s your character arc. That’s your story.

Get it?

Let me explain.

Think back to when you were a teenager. Remember thinking that your parents didn’t know a thing, or that love would conquer all, or maybe you thought that the key to success was making large sums of money? But over a period of time you realized that your parents actually knew more than you, that love didn’t conquer all, and that success wasn’t measured by the amount of money you made. These truths weren’t learned in a day and didn’t drop out of the sky. There were specific life events that contributed to your aha moments.

Let’s pretend. What if we wrote a story about Crystal—a young teenager who had few friends, walked with her hair in her face and her shoulders slumped. She talked in a whisper and had poor eye contact. At first glance we might think she’s shy, and has low self-esteem, but buried beneath the surface is a girl who’s ashamed because she believes that she’s unworthy of anyone’s love or attention—a lie. Somehow something in Crystal’s past has made her believe this lie.

It’s our job as storytellers to take Crystal on a journey for the truth. She needs to change by the end of our story, but how? By taking her through a sequence of events that prove to her and our readers that what she thought was the truth was really a lie. Unfortunately, just like in real life, this transformation doesn't happen over night. It takes time and positive influences for this change to happen. This change is the character arc.

Many months ago my writing buddy referred me to Susan May Warren’s website One of the many things I’ve learned from this site is defining my story lie. Before I visited this website I’d never thought of my characters having a lie.

When I interviewed Susan May Warren I asked her, “How has each of your books allowed God to pour truth into your life?”

I loved her answer:

“In the spiritual journey of each one of my books, there is some sort of “lie” a character believes…so, as I research the elements of this lie, I always then counter it with the truth. And I believe the truth can only be found in God’s word. So, I spend a lot of time digging into His word and unearthing that truth for my character…and for me! My faith grows with every story – not only seeing God provide, but as God speaks His truth into my life, for my characters.”

So, take a minute. Think. What is your character’s lie? If she doesn’t have one maybe you could dig deep through your own personal junk in your trunk and find one. Give that lie to your character. Let her work through the scenes in her life as if they’re your own to find the truth. Chances are pretty good that if you’re struggling, so are many of your readers. They’ll be able to identify with your protagonist and relate—and that’s a good thing. Not?

And, if you’re personally struggling with a lie, search for ways to counter that lie through prayer and meditation, so you may find the truth that sets you free and gives you the character arc of wisdom.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's . . . Fan Fiction

Up in the sky something streaks west. It's a man with a red cape and a big "S" on his chest. And something else streaks east. It's a broomstick carrying a boy with glasses and a scar on his forehead. Will they collide? Or will they become partners in the fight against the forces of evil?

We'll never know, because I don't write fan fiction.

So why am I writing about fan fiction? Because some of you do write it, and you want to know if it's legal.

Is it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Don't you just love lawyers who won't give you a straight answer?

Trademark and copyright are the two main areas of law that affect fan fiction.

Trademark is easy. Simply disclaim any connection to or endorsement by the trademark owner, and you're fine.

Copyright is harder.

Copyright protects expression, but it does not protect ideas or names. If you write about a flying superhero dressed in white who saves sailors from the forces of evil, all you've taken from Superman is an idea, and you haven't infringed the copyright. If you write about a boy named Harry Potter who lives in an orphanage in London in the 1800s and stands up to the matron by asking for more gruel, all you've taken from J.K. Rowling is a name, so you haven't infringed her copyright. (If Charles Dickens' descendants owned a copyright in Oliver Twist, that would be a different matter. But they don't.)

On the other hand, if you take a well-developed character like Harry Potter, put him in his familiar setting, and have him use his wizardry skills to fight evil, you have probably taken some of Rowling's written expression as well as her hero's name. So you may be infringing her copyright.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, J.D. Salinger should have been thrilled when a Swedish writer wrote a "sequel" to Catcher in the Rye. But Salinger sued instead. According to the District Court judge, the Swedish writer aged Holden Caulfield sixty years and added Salinger himself as a character but made very few changes to the original story.* Although the case was in an early stage, the judge indicated that Salinger had a good chance of succeeding on his copyright claim.

Even if you don't use the character's name, you could violate someone's copyright by making the character easily identifiable. I assume you recognized Superman and Harry Potter in the first paragraph. If I were to complete that story and try to publish it somewhere, I could be in trouble. (This post is okay because the way I used those characters here is a "transformative fair use." But fair use is beyond the scope of this article.)

One aside: true parodies don't infringe copyrights, but most fan fiction doesn't qualify as parody. And the courts won't assume your work is a parody just because you say so.

So here are some general guidelines for writing fan fiction about well-developed characters.

(1) If you are writing purely as a creative exercise and are the only person who sees the story, you should be fine.
(2) If you want to post on your blog or a fan fiction website, check the Internet to see how the copyright owner (usually the author) feels about fan fiction. Some are flattered and see it as a good source of publicity, while others oppose it.
(3) But if you are doing it for profit, beware. The only safe course is to get the copyright owner's express permission.

Kathryn Page Camp

* Salinger v. Colting, 641 F.Supp.2d 250 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). A subsequent appeals court decision vacated the judge's order for a preliminary injunction but agreed that the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust (which inherited the copyright after Salinger's death) was likely to prevail on the copyright issue at a later stage in the proceedings. 607 F.3d 68 (2nd Cir. 2010)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Point of View - a Study in Voice

I recently read a publisher's website that stated they did not want submissions in the omniscient voice and it got me thinking about that. Who does that? Would I like it? Maybe they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this one. Now, I understand about no head hopping in third person, handle with care first person (The Snowflake - my Christmas novella due out in October is my first experiment with first person) but what exactly is omniscient pov? And is there really anything wrong with it?
A few days later, down another rabbit hole, I looked up one of my childhood favorites - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and there it was . . . omniscient narrative:

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled
Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at
her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of
pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy,
with an injured sniff.
"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth
contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened
at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly,
"We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time."
She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking
of Father far away, where the fighting was.
(This appears in Jo's pov)
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,
"You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this
Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone;
and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when
our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can
make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am
afraid I don't." And Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully
of all the pretty things she wanted.
(Now we're in Meg's pov)
"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any
good. We've each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped
by our giving that. I agree not to expect anything from Mother or
you, but I do want to buy UNDINE AND SINTRAM for myself. I've
wanted it so long," said Jo, who was a bookworm. (Jo's pov if she's the person we are in their head, if not omniscient)
"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a
little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush and kettle
holder. (Omniscient pov)
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils. I
really need them," said Amy decidedly.
"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't
wish us to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and
have a little fun. I'm sure we work hard enough to earn it," cried
Jo, examining the heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner. (Back in Jo's pov or omniscient)
"I know I do--teaching those tiresome children nearly all
day, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the
complaining tone again.
"Don't peck at one another, children. Don't you wish we
had the money Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear me! How
happy and good we'd be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who
could remember better times. (Omniscient)
"You said the other day you thought we were a deal happier
than the King children, for they were fighting and fretting all
the time, in spite of their money."
"Birds in their little nests agree," sang Beth, the
peacemaker, with such a funny face that both sharp voices
softened to a laugh, and the "pecking" ended for that time.

Okay, lots of head hopping going on here, but really it doesn't feel as if we're in any one's head. It feels as if the camera is zoomed out and giving us an overall view of the scene. I find I don't mind it. It gives me information about each character and what they think and feel, who they are. If we were only in Jo's pov it would be quite different, wouldn't it? How she views her sisters. But, wait a minute. That kind of comes through after all, with the way it is written. It's Jo we end up identifying with in Little Women as the main character/narrator and maybe that's because the omniscient view isn't really omniscient after all. Maybe it's Jo's way of telling a first person pov story. Now that's confusing! And interesting to me.


Jamie Carie

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing Your Own Success Story: A Future-Historical

A good morning, afternoon, or evening to you (whichever applies at the time of reading). Today's post is just one of encouragement...something you should never be in a short supply of. That said, it's always nice to know where you can tap into an encouragement source when your local supply runs low.

Short of dropping a banana peel and other trash into Mr. Fusion, jumping into your DeLorean, and zipping off into the future, you just don't know how your writing future will unfold. But let's face it, we would all like to plan out exactly how our writing careers will blossom. Every writer runs into road blocks, writer's block, and dry spells. We all get discouraged from time to time or even wonder if we should be writing at all.

Everyone has a different way of dealing with these obstacles. Last year, when I was meeting with a group of writers on a monthly basis, I came up with this little writing exercise to help inspire and encourage them. The resulting writing project helped each one of them in determining what they wanted to do with their writing talents while yielding a source of future encouragement.

The Assignment: to write a "future-historical" about your writing success story.
The Basics: to write a fictional story as though you were actually in the future reflecting back at your writing career over the "past" twenty or so years. You are writing about how you want your writing future to unfold as though it happened that way from that future perspective.

These were the only two sets of instructions I gave. It was up to each person to take those two guidelines and form a story.

Let me say, the results were fantastic. Several of the members of this group were really able to focus on what they wanted to do with their writing careers. A few were able to brainstorm on novel ideas while they were actually writing about a situation about an idea that hadn't even happened yet (could be a time travel paradox here). I am always reminded here that The Lord works in mysterious ways.

I wrote about being interviewed by a reporter regarding my writing life just before I was to be interviewed by a cable news program. Another member of the group wrote about being interviewed by a national Christian radio program.

When all was said and done, I suggested that when they met the wall of writer's block, the mountains of discouragement, or the plains of blank paper, that they pull out this story and read through it in order to clear the forest so the trees could be seen. We all like to read about success stories...especially when they are our own!

NOTE: reference to my coined phrase "future-historical."
Future-Historical: events written about in the present, that at the time of writing, have not yet occurred from the author's time-frame or point-of-view. These events, however, will happen as the author has written. The plot-device by which the author obtains this knowledge varies.
future historical

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Writer's Block: Blitzing the Blight

The voices in your head won't leave you alone. Dialogue pulses through your brain at the most inopportune moments; like when your boss is analyzing last quarter's sales figures. Conflict keeps you up at night. And that sweet elderly woman in front of you in the checkout line sparks a plot twist that will keep your reader guessing until the last chapter.

The kids are in bed, your spouse in engrossed in a television program, and you finally grab some time to write.You sit down, anxious to get all your ideas down on the page, yet nothing comes. Umm... Or you suddenly feel like English is your second language. Mary raced through to the ... uhhh...what's the word? Or maybe you can string together a sentence, but suddenly you have the vocabulary of a four year old. The girl ran. The girl fell. She was hurt. Everything you've learned about writing flies out the window--right along with your confidence. You have a raging case of Writer's Blight.

Today is part three of three discussing the variations of the inability to put words to paper. In June, we looked at the problem of too much information but too little planning when we discussed Writer's Bloat. You can read the post here.  In July, we looked at the traditional Writer's Block--the inability to start or continue in a piece of writing. If you'd like to read that, click here. Today, we finish with what I'm calling Writer's Blight. defines blight as "any cause of impairment, destruction, ruin, or frustration". It also says blight is "a curse" and is "something the impairs growth, whithers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress". Now that sounds familiar! For our purposes, Writer's Blight is any time you know what to write, even know what you want to say, but you can't seem to get the words from your brain down in a form that anyone would ever want to read. When Writer's Blight strikes, you don't need to curl up into the fetal position and hide under your desk. Try one or more of these proven tactics.:

1. Pray/Meditate. 1 Corinthians 14:33, says that "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." Ask God to give you His peace and to bring clarity and order into the disordered thinking of your mind. Ask Him to focus your thoughts and to calm your heart. Ask Him to use you to get across the message He wants to make known. Take a moment, breathe deeply, and let God minister to your soul, heart, and mind. This might be better described as "Take a chill pill."

2. Work it out. Unlike Writer's Bloat or Writer's Block, your problem is not that you don't know what to writer, but rather that you are so geared up that you can't focus in and work. You might benefit from some light exercise--a quick walk around the house or the block, a few minutes of stretching, jumping rope, or beating your chest, if you're in to that kind of thing. This is the equivalent of the boxer warming up in his corner before the fight--focus the energy you have inside toward the outside. (Do you hear the Rocky theme song?)

3. Write on! This would be the time to engage in a "stream of consciousness" exercise from your own viewpoint or of that of one of your characters, to write a Facebook status update or a Tweet, or to jot some notes that you know you may never use. Just the act of writing can get us back in the groove, get the words flowing, and the ideas coming. I've been known to type things such as I am a moron. I have the writing ability of a Neanderthal. I can't seem to capture the words bouncing around in my head and slam them onto the paper. They fly about like deranged fireflies. It is not important what you write, just that you begin to make coherent sentences flow together in a pattern.

4. Exercise your brain. Each month I've shared with you some brain exercises that originate with Brain Gym, International. The exercises are intentional body movements to aid in creativity, self-expression, and optimal learning. Learn more at the website. Here are just a few to try:

A. Lazy 8s. This movement engages the muscles needed to write with pen or pencil. Even if you are working on a computer, the act of connecting with an instrument will engage your brain and prepare you for writing. This activity helps with creativity, organizing your thoughts, and channeling them to the page. Get a large piece of paper or work on a big whiteboard. Start in the middle of the paper and make a figure 8 which has fallen on its side. From the middle, always go first up and to the left, down, then up and to the right, finishing the number without lifting your pencil. Draw at least three Lazy 8s without stopping or lifting your pencil.

B. Double Doodle. This exercise helps your mind to prepare for activities (like writing) that require you to cross the midline of your body. It is beneficial when you are looking to spark creativity. Again, taking a large piece of paper or using a big whiteboard, grab two different colored markers. Pick a simple shape, and using both hands simultaneously, draw mirror images. Once you've mastered that, try drawing mirrored pictures or alphabet letters.

5. Hit the bottle. The water bottle can be your best friend. This is also a Brain Gym exercise, but also recommended by countless academic and medical professionals. Room temperature water allows your brain and central nervous system to perform the functions necessary for thought process, creativity, and relieving stress. Water your brain, grow your writing.

Don't allow Writer's Blight to whither your hopes or ambitions to write. Armed with these strategies you are well prepared to blitz that blight and get on with your story.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, August 20, 2010

"All grist to this mill ..."

This line came from a character in a book, a foot soldier in one of the Crusades. He took a peek at his bad food, noticed the bread was full of weevils and snarfed it down anyway. He told the POV character, "All grist to this mill."

That's how I think of a lot of life experiences. I am working at a factory now and absolutely none of it relates to any of my previous experiences as a farmer's wife or newspaper reporter. But, I am doing some people watching. All grist to this mill. Maybe I can use some of it, some day. Who does my boss remind me of? How would I describe my co-w0rkers? Why is this place organized the way it is? How would I describe the sounds, the sights, the heat, the noise ... I pray for wisdom in my dealings with my co-workers. Probably need to pray more!

In the same way, I tried to gather details when we went to Warren Dunes Sunday. A strong weather front pushed through and stirred up 2- to 4-foot-waves. On Sunday the lake was every shade of blue and green -- the horizon was indigo but closer to shore the waves were turquoise and jade. One emotional impact came from seeing my 9-year-old, who hated swimming lessons and resented our making him suffer through them, turn into a suntanned little otter in Sponge Bob swim trunks as he played in the waves. Or the human comedy of a parade of people slogging through deep sand with all their gear. Or the drama of the rangers searching for a lost little boy and returning him to his parents, with a round of applause from surrounding beach-goers. Wow. Some answered prayers take only minutes.

Other experiences pile up: The sounds and scents of horseback riding; trying to walk across a plowed field; the feelings of sweat, blisters and splinters as we bale hay; the voices of children; boys' voices changing to manly voices; a daughter growing taller than me. All grist to this mill.

All grist to this mill. I don't know when I will use any of this in my writing, but I'm glad I have these experiences to draw on. Perhaps writing is one way for me to "save time in a bottle" as an old song says.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Truth about Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother

I cheer every time I hear a never-pubbed author has received The Call. Yessss, her book’s gonna get published! Woo hoo! I’m happy for her because I know how elated I would be in her shoes. And I’m happy for me because, hey, non-pubbed authors are still getting published—and maybe I’ll be next! Yoo hoo, Prince Charming, over here! I’m sure my foot will fit that glass slipper!

While I lacquer my toenails in anticipation, I sigh over the high romance of success stories, especially those whose prince took the long route from the palace. You know, the stories about the author whose book got turned down umpteen times while she waited umpteen years (maybe even decades) for an editor to pick it up.

My latest fav is Ann Tatlock’s story. When I read she was going to teach at the annual Midwest Writers Conference in Muncie, I checked out her website and discovered she’d waited eleven years to slip her toes into those coveted slippers. Eleven years! Now that was encouraging since I’m not quite halfway there. I interviewed her at the conference and, well, her story knocked the socks off my ten little painted piggies!

First thing I asked her was what she did to prepare herself for publication during those long eleven years. Get this answer: “I really did only two things, and that was read good books and write.”

Wha…? Okay, she was a journalist working for Discipleship magazine, so she wasn’t exactly starting from a blank slate. But c’mon, no classes or workshops on writing fiction and learning all those wrist-slapping do’s and don’ts?

Nope. “I learned simply by reading good literature. I think you kind of instinctively take it in—you understand what the writers are doing.”

So, uh, what did she read? “A lot of the classics—British literature, Russian literature, classics going back to the nineteenth century. And I read a lot of contemporary literature, books I thought were good, books I wanted to emulate. Reading, reading, reading all the time.”

Well, then, how about the writing part? “I probably wrote seven full or partial novels before I wrote one where I thought, Okay, I think I’m ready.”

Seven till she was ready, huh? What kind of feedback did she get on them? Hold on, folks, can you believe none?

“All the earlier novels were a writing or learning experience. I think I was kind of teaching myself how to write, so I kind of muddled through it all on my own. But I finally got to the point where I felt like my eighth novel had the elements of what might be successful. It had a good plot, I liked the characters, and it was well written. So I decided to see if maybe somebody would pick it up.”

Someone did, and she had a book contract within six months. Since then, Ann has gone on to publish six more novels, the third of which won the Christy award. Her latest, The Returning, was published a year ago, and she is currently working on another contracted book.

I asked Ann what she would recommend to writers who are just getting started. “They probably shouldn’t do it the way I did it, because I can see how valuable it is to go to writers conferences, to take classes, to be in a critique group and get feedback from people. I was so solitary… just kind of teaching myself.”

There’s so much help available now, take advantage of it, she urged. But bottom line, “it’s God’s timing.”

I blinked at the last statement. How many times have I heard that? But you know what, there was no magic wand transforming pumpkins and cute little mice in Ann’s success story. Truth is, there IS no fairy godmother. But there is a Prince, and we can still be Cinderellas. We just need to read, read, read, and write, write, write, and keep scrubbing those pots until the real Prince opens the door… in His timing.

How about you? What’s your favorite success story?

Steph Prichard

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Confessions of a Networking Novice

When I first contemplated a writing career, I thought I would write. You know, words, sentences, paragraphs, and, hopefully, books. Just write.

How naive can you get?

I had no idea writing also meant marketing. And the Internet? In the early 1990s, everyday Internet use was still confined to geeks, computer-crazed cave dwellers who preferrred the company of machines to that of humans. E-mail submissions? Perish the thought. Some Christian publishers regarded the Internet as an abomination before the Lord. I associated it mostly with headaches. The Internet opened a whole new frontier of games to my kids, who loved to zap evil cyber-villains at 1000-decibel levels.

For me, high tech was--and still is--closing a Zip-loc bag. But I let my children teach me how to e-mail because, as they said, you don't want to become a dinosaur, Mom. I admitted they were right. Dinosaurs have a habit of disappearing.

I had mastered e-mail at a reasonable level when social networking hit the scene. At first, I ranked it right up there with tight pants and top-40 songs without tunes--definitely for the under-30 crowd. Why would I want to join My Face or Spacebook? However, not only did I discover social networks enabled me to spy on my twenty-something kids and their friends, but they presented writing and career possibilities I had never imagined. I could connect with the masters and learn from them. I could lean on writer friends and offer cyber hugs and a shoulder to cry on when their protagonists turned nasty. I joined Facebook (note that I now pronounce it correctly), and I'm trying to design a Rachael M. Phillips, Author page. When I figure out how to find it without 37 clicks, maybe other people will, too.

Unfortunately, I also have shared my goofs with hundreds of viewers, a reality which makes me scrutinize every syllable I write. Twitter, especially, demonstrates the importance of editing and re-editing. One hundred forty characters do not leave much room for error--or explanations. Not only does this social network connect my Web site and Facebook pages with potential readers, it helps this card-carrying member of the Wordy Club to focus, trim and refine her thoughts.

Social networks also offer me the chance to share my faith. I continue throwing out one-liners on Twitter that I hope will give readers a grin and earn me the right to slip in an occasional truth nugget like "I wonder what Jesus did the day after His resurrection." Those less-than-140-characters resulted in surprise responses from a couple of Facebook friends who need to know Jesus is their true Friend.

And that's the best kind of social networking there is.

-Rachael Phillips-

Monday, August 16, 2010

"We Are An Offering"

“We Are An Offering”

We lift our voices, we lift our hands, we lift our lives up to you: we are an offering.

Lord, use our voices, Lord, use our hands, Lord use our lives, they are yours:

we are an offering.

All that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be, we give to you, we give to you.

We lift our voices, we lift our hands, we lift our lives up to you:

we are an offering, we are an offering.

We can do nothing more than be an offering to God. Whether we’re bound for conference next month or bound to stay at home, we are called to lift our voices, use our hands and offer our lives. And to humbly request-Lord, use our voices, Lord use our hands and use our lives. They are yours. We are an offering.

Often we sing this song at church. Sometimes I’m compelled to raise open hands in obedience and supplication. The words never fail to hammer my heart. They are the best hook I’ve read.

I have been intentional about writing in an inspirational way, but have had uncertainty if the Christian publishing arena is where I should be. At one low ebb, when trying to find a Christian publisher, I consciously (defiantly?) delayed including the ‘God part’ in my submission. In a quiet way, the well-respected agent asked, “Where’s the faith element?” That gentle, or maybe not-so-gentle jerk is now my constant reminder of where I’ve chosen allegiance in writing.

Lord, use my personal voice, the words my hands write and my writing life. They are yours. I am an offering.

Jude Urbanski

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Writing from the Heart: Hearing God's Voice

So many people ask writers "Where do you get your ideas, your inspiration, the desire to put words on paper -- or into cyberspace?" Often it's from a child. Maybe it begins with the request for a bedtime story. Maybe it stems from something funny a child says or does. Maybe it comes from God's voice -- that still, small voice hidden deeply in the writer's soul.

Way back in the dark ages (or so my grandchildren think). when I was in high school, I took Jr. English Composition from a teacher we referrred to as "Carrot Top." She was quite a character. I may have to put her in one of my books. Anyway, every day, five days a week, when we arrived in her classroom we found a title on the chalkboard. "My Bedroom" or "If an Ancient Greek Came to Anderson." Our job was to produce an outline, then write an essay on the topic of the day, proofread and complete it neatly.

We'd get those essays back with many notes in red -- "watch those passive verbs, where's your outline? write in complete sentences "-- and the notes went on. My friends and fellow students complained on a regular basis (among ourselves, that is). We only had 50 minutes to get the job done. Did she think we were speed writers?

I look back on that class now and consider it one of the best courses I ever took. Was God's quiet voice in this? Absolutely. It helped prepare me for deadlines -- especially daily newspaper deadlines.

Before I could declare English and jorunalism majors at Ball State University, I had to pass the dreaded English Qualifying Test.I'd been warned about how tough it was. I automatically started the essay portion with an outline. Later I learned that anyone who didn't, didn't pass the test and had to take it over and over and over until they got it right.

Thank you "Miss Carrot Top." No problem. My outline finished for the essay part of the test, I could write the essay. Sailed right through it. Thanks, "Miss Carrot Top."

When I took the grammar section of the test I needed to diagram some sentences. Since I was an older student, I outlined the sentences quickly using the "old fashioned" method of diagramming. The students who learned a more modern method in high school failed the test.
"Thank You Lord for seeing to it I got the education I needed." I believe I heard a "Well done" from that still, small voice.

I had a hard time coming up with a topic this time, and it probably shows. But I believe that my inspiration comes from God, so I prayed before I started writing. I want to write for His glory, because He has called me to write. Because He has given the desire and the ability to do so.

I wonder, where do you find inspiration? Great ideas? I'd like to read your answers to those questions. Please take a minute to reply.

Pat Radaker

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You're Never Too Old For Space Camp!

I love great movie lines, when I can find them. No, not necessarily the "Here's looking at you, kid," classic line. Those are great, don't get me wrong. But occasionally, a more recent line in a more recent movie catches my fancy, and I love to mull it over when that happens.

Two specific lines in the movie Stranger Than Fiction fall into that category. One is about “making the world better…with cookies.” As a person who does 15 cookie boxes every year for Christmas presents--yup, I gotta love that one.

But there’s one more great line in that movie that, both times I've seen it, has made me grin. And I think it’s a great line to end a week, or start a week, with.

At one point in the movie, our hero is staying with an acquaintance from work, and they’re talking about what he would do if he found out he was dying “in the near future.” After much wheedling, talking about superpowers (!), and the like, when the rubber meets the road, the friend finally blurts out what he’s really thinking:

“I’d go to Space Camp.”

Our hero is astonished. Isn’t Space Camp just for kids?

“Oh, no,” his friend assures him. “You’re never too old for Space Camp.”

Interestingly enough, it turns out that in real life, you never are too old for Space Camp.
As, in reality, you’re truly never too old for a lot of things. (Just ask Susan Boyle.)
But most of us forget this. To our peril.

So I’d like to propose the humble assertion that if there’s any banner a writer--especially a novelist--can fly over her particular ship, it ought to be something like that.
Some of us remember this, and capture our particular special moment in “Space Camp,” in time.
Many of us don’t.

Let’s us, this week, be among the people who remember it.
You’re never too old for Space Camp. But you can wait too long for it.

So, whatever your Space Camp is, stop waiting for it. Start now. Do it this week.
And then come back here and tell us all about it.



Friday, August 13, 2010

Benefits of Writing Contests

My awesome agent Diana Flegal (pictured) of Hartline Literary Agency recently had a great blog on writing contests. I've invited her to share that blog with us. She writes:

Entering a writer's contest presents a great way to hone your writer's skills and perform an exercise in tight writing.

WRITER'S DIGEST sponsors several writing competions annually:
1) Annual Short Story Writing Competition
2) 79th Annual Writing Competition
3) International Self-Published Book Awards
4) Pop Fiction Awards
5) Poetry Awards Competition
6) Your Story (see below)
For the above, go to:

Every other month, WRITER'S DIGEST presents a creative challenge for fun and prizes. They provide a short, open-ended prompt. In turn, you submit a short story of 750 words or fewer based on that prompt. You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story (#6 above). The winnder will receive publication in an upcoming issue of WD. For rules, prompts, deadlines, voting andother details about Your Story competition, visit:

Fiction Factor online Mag offers a list of writing contests, as well as an opportunity to write and have your articles published.

Here are several other links that offer you lists of Fiction and Non-fiction writing contests:

Have fun playing around with words. And remember, if you win, this is the type of thing you can place with pride in your proposal.

From my heart to yours,

PS from Millie: Hey, I know contests work and are fun, too, because I've won several. Plus they're great motivation for editing. One of my "wins" was Diana (in a round about way, maybe I'll share that story another blog-day).

Contest blessings,
Millie Samuelson

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Street Smarts for the Writer: (PART ONE)

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.—Annie Dillard

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. –Robert Frost

If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that’s read by persons who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves.—Don Marquis

Always assume your reader is at least as smart as you.—Sue Grafton

I have found that a story leaves a deeper impression when it is impossible to tell which side the author is on.—Leo Tolstoy

The shorter and the plainer the better.—Beatrix Potter

You have to throw yourself away when you write.—Maxwell Perkins

There isn’t any secret. You sit down and you start and that’s it.—Elmore Leonard.

Write in a café can work to improve your concentration. The café atmosphere keeps the sensory part of your mind busy so the deeper quieter part of you that creates and concentrates is free to do so—like occupying a baby with tricks while slipping a spoon of apple sauce in its mouth. Mozart had his wife read stories to him while he was composing for the same reason.—Natalie Goldberg

I never begin a work without being terrified I won’t finish it.—Danielle Steel

When I wrote the last line, I remember that I cried; “well, I’ll never beat that,” and threw the inky pen at the opposite wall.— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (on The White Company)

Caress the detail, the divine detail. –Vladimir Nabokov

When you endeavor to be funny in every line you place an intolerable burden not only on yourself but on the reader. You have to allow the reader to breathe.—S.J. Perelman

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.—Saul Bellow

The best thing you can do about critics is never say a word. In the end you have the last say, and they know it.—Tennessee Williams

Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going—William Zinsser

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.—Jack London

It would be crazy to begin revising immediately after finishing the first draft, and counter to the way the mind likes to create. You’re exhausted. You deserve a vacation. Go away from the project for at least a week.—Kenneth Atchity

I am convinced as a member of the reading public that bad [author] photographs are bad business. I have been put off reading books, which otherwise looked rather attractive, by the puss of the author printed on the back of the dust cover.—Raymond Chandler

I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire. –Gordon Lish

The methods, even the ideas, of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence—an overwhelming determination to succeed.—Sophy Burnham

Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make…They make them for their won protection, ….—William Saroyan

You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don’t let that concern you. It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite steadily, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures.—Anton Chekhov

Maybe you have some favorite advice that has been meaningful to you. Please--share it with us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Before You Reach for the Tums: Meal Times with Agents and Editors

I've been to many large writing conferences and have worked freelance for agents and editors, but I still remember my first meal time at an editor's table.You wonder if you forgot everything your mama taught you about eating with "important" people. Is this napkin for me or the person beside me? What if I splat ketchup all over Chip MacGregor's kilt!

Many times a first time conference attendee is baffled when it comes to the lunch and dinner times at editors' and agents' tables, or at least a little intimidated, especially if you are an introvert. If you are Colleen-Coble-type, then you can go back to writing and miss this post. (Of course, she's now eating onions, so who knows? Maybe you need this, anyway.)

At the ACFW conference during lunch and dinner, you will be given the option of sitting at a table with an agent or editor OF YOUR CHOICE. (First come, first serve. Their names will be on cards in the center of the table.) Yes, you will be able to give a short blurb about what you write (wait for it--they'll ask.) Yes, it will be noisy,and there will be others at your table who also are interested in the host of the table. The agent or editor may be distracted by any number of things. There will be announcements and wonderful things going on with Brandilyn Collins, the MC, too.She may be giving away books or causing you to snort out your tea (try to avoid the direction of the agent/editor.)

Here are a few tips when you get to the table. Don't be nervous, eat the really good food. Just be prepared. If you pray before, God can grant you peace and assurance. Really!

1.Often breakfast is reserved for faculty to have a break from conferees. Please respect the parameters given at the conference.It's ok to say hi if your eyes meet, just don't stop at the table or sit down or for that matter,or even slow down. (Break the eye contact as soon as you can--wave to that new person you have yet to meet.)

2. Don't wear fragrances, but do smell pleasant. I don't know how you accomplish this, nor do I want to know.

3.Have your business cards available without fumbling for them for others at your table. You'll also want to chat with those at your table because these people can become your good friends.(And really, you just never know how they will be bridges for you.) Ask the person beside you about her writing. Chances are, you'll relax while listening to her. And this is hard when you are nervous or an auditory learner, but try to practice true communication/listening, and not just rehearsing what you'll say to the editor/agent in your mind while the other person talks. Who knows? You may get a chance to practice with the person beside you. But you also may miss an opportunity to get to know the really cool person next to you.

4. Have your business card(no papers) with you to give to the editor/agent at your table, if the opportunity arises. Jot briefly your book title and a line on the back of the card (and genre.) Make sure you have address/phone/email on that card. If you are uncomfortable having that info for just anyone, have the full contact info ones for only the editor/agents or good friends.

5. Have your 30 second pitch(they will probably ask you) and do not hog the table talk time with the agent/editor. Answer questions, but do speak with others at your table, too. Sometimes it is difficult to hear if you are across the table, too, so be aware and be willing to help others at your table to communicate. Think of always being gracious.

6. It may just be sooo important to contact that editor/agent because you've spent so much money for this conference, but I've seen rudeness occur when people will "save" chairs at a table, and even rushing to take the chair ahead of someone else. This isn’t junior high. Be polite and trust that there will be God-incidences happening. Some editors and agents have noticed if you're chair-grabbing and they have good memories (at times.)

7. You never know who “works”for/influences the agent/editor. Be nice to everyone! (You'll be happier if you are, too. It's fun. Try it. It will confuse some people.) I've introduced myself to someone at a conference, and the person said, "Are you anyone? Oh. You're nobody. Ok. Bye." Yes, I'm Nobody, but I do remember names as they cross my desk....

8. No matter how friendly you have become with an agent or editor, be courteous and respect her/him. I saw a whole table "tease" an editor about something this editor "seemed" to be comfortable about, but behind the scenes this person went back to the room to fume/be hurt--and let organizers know about it. Be sensitive. Don't tease or talk about volatile/sensitive issues. Try to put yourself in that person's shoes.

9. There will also be author tables. Don't be disappointed if you get at an author's table. They are "scouts" for publishers and have agents, too. They're also wonderful mentors, and have much to share.

10. Do be aware that the conference is jam-packed and an overload for everyone. Presenters, editors, agents, authors may need a minute to collect thoughts or just need nourishment. Give the host a chance to sit down (do save a chair for the host!) eat a little and maybe even sample the dessert. Each one has an individual personality and will try to lead the table in his own way. He may want to know what you've been reading, what book impacted you this year, or even ask you what you think about green tea! (Yes, I was asked by an editor about that.) I even found an editor once who had attended Taylor University in Upland, Indiana and I ended up not sending her a manuscript, but a tee shirt from Ivanhoe's. (That was fun.)

10-B. Oh, one more thing--lose 5 pounds before you go as food at these things are usually great and you will WANT to eat! (Not to mention the chocolate parties.)

I have found that the ACFW conference has the nicest, most helpful people. One special time was when someone stopped me from being a deer in the headlights as she quickly prayed for me on the way to her own appointment. Don't sit in your room and order room service--get out and be with others who are just as passionate as you are at the meals. When you go into the "cafeteria," even if you are the new kid in school, you'll find a place and it will be the right place, the right time.

Hope to see the Indiana group at breakfast one morning!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Via Ferrata

A month ago my family and I visited Whistler, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We biked fairy tale forests and fished pristine lakes, but the mountains beckoned. We headed up, only to discover all Blackcomb Mountain hiking trails were closed due to the late snow melt. My sons engaged one another in an epic snowball fight.

Back in the hotel lobby we discovered a Mountain Adventures brochure offering scrambling and multi-pitch rock climbing. Being the non-experienced kind, we settled on scaling the Via Ferrata the following day.

Via Ferrata, Italian for Iron Way, is “an engineered vertical pathway with permanently fixed cables for protection and metal ladder rungs to ease your movement over the rock…It does not require any special skills; all technical equipment is provided.” Well, I decided, anybody could do it. We’d practically run to the peak needling the azure sky. The views from up there must be the stuff of dreams. Bring it on.

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn't know what it required of us: packing crampons in the event the glacier proved unnavigable by hiking boots, roping ourselves together and committing to stopping an unwanted slide with ice axes, clipping ourselves into the cable running parallel to the rungs as we scaled hundreds of feet of headwall, and seeking our own handholds and footholds when the iron rungs ran out. I burned far more calories thinking about what I was doing than actually doing.

I prayed, mostly without ceasing, for those four hours. In the off moments I offered and received any advice and encouragement. We six needed one other. And none of us could have gained the summit without our guide Nat.

What does this have to do with writing? All of us have written safe pieces. Then God draws our eyes to His mountain and bids us come. It’s close enough, and easy enough, we reason, so we jump in with reckless abandon. Then reality hits: this endeavor is going to cost far more than we reckoned and scare us more than we dared imagine. It will sift us. Skills, motives, reputation, discipline, time, money are tested in the crucible. We spend thousands of lonely hours crafting while craving the insight and affirmation of fellow writers heading up. We are desperate for the Holy Spirit to lead us—and our writing—into truth.

One unnamed Jackson wanted to return to terra firma after putting his hand to the karabiners. Nat reminded us all that climbing down is far more difficult and dangerous than climbing up. Climbing—and writing—is a point of no return. We six did return, but not unaltered. Every one of us dealt with demons of doubt, fear and shame. But at the summit, where we saw endless chains of Canadian Rockies rippling across the horizon, we were bolstered for the next upward call.

Write on.

When Life Interrupts Writing

We've all had it happen, right? We're floating along merrily, maintaining the perfect balance between our writing life and the rest of our life. Then it happens. Something floats (or marches) into our sphere and shakes everything up. Sometimes the trigger is expected and other times it sneaks up from behind and startles us with a "boo!".

I recently gave birth to my second child. Talk about shaking up my world. I knew the changes ahead, but they still challenged me. Sleep deprivation, feedings, sleep deprivation, diaper changes, and more sleep deprivation. Oh, and did I mention all this is accompanied by chasing after a two-year-old while recovering from a C-section? Yes, this trigger most definitely interrupted my writing life.

So when these things bounce into our lives, what do we do with our precious writing time? In my experience, we have three options.

#1 - Keep barreling ahead. Maybe this is borne of necessity, such as a looming deadline. Or maybe our writing time is what fuels us to get out of bed each morning. I've found that during extra difficult periods in my life, I need a creative outlet to process my struggles. Sometimes, though, we push too hard until writing adds to the stress. Then it's time to reevaluate and consider one of the next two options.

#2 - Keep writing, but scale back. If we're pushing ourselves beyond our energy stores, it might be time to scale back. Instead of writing 20 hours a week, cut it back to 15 hours or 10, or maybe even 5. If life circumstances have shifted our schedule, we may need to make a new plan of how we'll carve in writing time. With two children in the home now, I've faced this challenge. Instead of writing after my son goes to bed (which was my pre-baby routine), I'm busy taking care of my daughter during that time. So I've started enlisting my husband's help on Saturday mornings so I can get a few good hours of writing time. In a couple months, that plan may change again.

#3 - Step away. Some life events dictate that we step away from writing for a season. I did this for the first month after my daughter's birth. I made the decision that my family and my health were more important. Other writers take longer hiatuses, sometimes several years. If we feel God's prompting to step away and if we follow His prompting, I believe He'll bring us back more refreshed and ready to write with passion and purpose.

So what about you? What do you do when life interrupts your writing? Have you ever stepped away for a time?

Friday, August 6, 2010

We Make Plans--God Laughs.

A beautiful Jewish woman once said: "We make plans--God laughs."

 Take my bookshelves for example.

They reminded me this week that "many are the plans of a [wo]man's heart, but it's the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21).

I'm no longer teaching full-time, and am in the process of moving all my materials, books and supplies into my tiny home office. My husband built beautiful shelves on my office wall. Still not room enough

Some inexpensive, short book cases caught my eye at Wal-mart, and I thought it was rather clever of me to buy two of them for stacking on top of one another.

God didn't give me an engineer's or carpenter's mind. I have two things working against me in the logic department: I'm blond and a soprano. (No offense to the smarter blonds and sopranos out there.) It never occurred to me that the little shelves wouldn't sustain the weight of another little shelf on top, burdened with more books than the library at Alexandria.

I was rather pleased with myself as I placed the last book on the top shelves when CRASH, the shelf on the bottom completely collapsed.

My plans seemed reasonable at the time. Now, they were clearly bad ones. I wonder--did God laugh? If I were Him, I would have.

It's been like this for me as I prepare for ACFW Conference. I had X number of days to get X number of pages polished and other preparations done. I was on a roll. I was going to be ready like no one else. I was a writing machine. (Click here to read how obsessed I am about conference: "Excited as a Puppy with Two Tails.")

Then, a friend of mine got sick. And that's when I had to accept an important truth: people are more important than my writing plans and goals and dreams.

I thought I had turned my goals and dreams over to the Lord long ago. But these interruptions taught me a valuable lesson. They taught me that God's plans and purposes will indeed prevail, whether I think so or not. He has a plan for my work in progress, and He knows the exact time when it is to be published or whether or not it will be. Because this journey isn't about me and my dreams. It's about the message He wants to give through me.

There have been other kinks in my journey toward ACFW Conference and my dream of meeting the agent and editor who will love my platform and my ministry. But I think God is sending these little detours to test my ability to roll with His plans. I won't be able to give anyone credit but Him, should any success be mine.

It's all bigger than me, anyway. But it's not bigger than God. He is bigger than any expectation I may have. And He can handle it. If I truly believe He's in control, and do my part to be a workman that needeth not be ashamed, then there will be peace.

And I, with God, will laugh.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Writing Passion

I’m awed by passionate writers. Recent blogs included researchers whose tone sparkled to share information, professionals who taught useful knowledge, and humorists imparting truths through laughter. The list goes on and then comes to me, an expert of nothing. What can I possibly say?
I know one thing, I am passionate about Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my Faith. I love everything about Him.

I love His…

Faithfulness—He sticks with me regardless of victories or failures. His grip is firm as He walks me into the unknown.

Gentle patience—He understands me and my struggles better than I do and refuses to leave me wallowing where He found me. He guides me through my misunderstandings of who He is and what He is doing in my life.

Creativity – He is fresh and new and surprising. Whenever our relationship grows stale, it’s because I’ve gotten my eyes off of Him. I need only to refocus to be amazed again.

Love—He cares more about me than anyone else ever could and proves it by providing not only times of refreshing, but strength in crisis.

Laughter—He doesn’t take me too seriously and urges me to laugh at myself, as well. Yet, I was important enough for Him to leave heaven for earth, live, die, and rise again in triumph.

Mystery—He can’t be categorized or explained for there is too much of Him to comprehend. He is lovely, yet terrifyingly powerful. He is forgiving yet unyieldingly pure and holy. He is excessively generous, yet perfectly just in condemning those who refuse Him.

Humanness—He experienced it all and “gets” me. Why would He do that!? (Excess punctuation intended). If you’ve been asking yourself the same question, for a fresh perspective read Tosca Lee’s Demon: a Memoir. Don’t let the title frighten you.

God-ness—He is such a full rich experience, how can I not write about Him?

Universality—He is the completion of each person everywhere, educated or not, poor or not, those who love Him and those who don’t, the socially unacceptable and the preeminent, those published and those who are not.

In ACFW Jesus is our unifying factor, the common denominator, the equalizer and the reason for written expression, no matter who our audience is.

Remember during the bustle of conference preparation when fears rear and inadequacies loom like Goliath over David, that you are unique in His plan. Be simply who you are right now because if you were meant to be someone else and accomplish what they have done, than God would have made you them. Besides that, I would never get the chance to meet you and hear the passionate story of God’s goodness to you.

II Corinthians 5:8-10 Our goal is to please Christ for later before his judgment seat we’ll be revealed as we are and paid according to what his purpose and motive have been.

(Photo: A storm brewing over Cherry Lake in Denver during the ACFW conference.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What I learned while researching Stars...

Since I'm still celebrating the release of Stars in the Night, I'm going to take this week to share with you some of the cool historical details I learned while writing Stars in the Night.

One of the things I love about writing novels set during World War II is that I always learn something new. As a World War II history nut, that keeps the writing fresh and exciting. Here are a few of the things I learned while writing Stars in the Night:1) There really was a Hollywood Victory Caravan. The Hollywood Victory Caravan traveled by train Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., then north through cities like Chicago and Minneapolis.

2) If something had happened to the train, Hollywood would have been ravaged. The real caravan was filled with stars like Abbott and Costello, Desi Arnez, Bing Crosby, and Groucho Marx.

3) The first train entertained the President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House. What a great way to launch the tour. And Mrs. Roosevelt had a staff member standing immediately behind her to help her “remember” everyone who came by so she could say something personal to them.

Come back on Wednesday to learn four more tidbits I learned while researching this book. And don't forget to participate in the launch contest for Stars in the Night by leaving a comment on that post.

4) The Winecoff Hotel, where I have my stars stay while they’re in Atlanta, was the site of the worst hotel fire in American history and has recently been restored and renovated.

5) I initially considered having the tour appear at Ford’s Theater, but it was essentially abandoned during the World War Two era – and was used as storage. Hard to believe if you tour that beautifully restored theater today.

6) The National Theater has had continuous shows running since December 1835. Fortunately for my story, it had a hole the summer of 1942, which fit perfectly with when I wanted my caravan to have a show there.

7) The Hollywood Canteen didn’t open until later in 1942. Since my first book involved a canteen, I really wanted to include the Hollywood Canteen. Besides, what’s more romantic than movie stars mixing with and entertaining servicemen? Unfortunately, it was in the planning stages during Stars in the Night. Maybe in the next book…

As you can see, I love the details of history. I hope Stars in the Night sweeps you away to a time that was rich in service, glamour, and conflict.

And don't forget to participate in the launch contest for Stars in the Night by leaving a comment on the post.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Select an Ideal Reader for Your Writing (& Marketing)

Who are the primary readers of your writing?  Can you picture a single ideal person reading your article or book, as you are involved in the writing process? If you just answered 'anyone who can read' to either of those questions ... you should reconsider a narrower primary target. There will be other readers whom you will reach outside of this primary target, but in order for you to effectively market your writing, you need to know where and how to reach the people who would be 'most' affected by what you have written.

It is much easier to market to a woman, with small children, age 25-35, who rarely has time to read if you are targeting her specifically (and repeatedly) in publications, stores, or internet advertising that is targeted to catch her attention - than to expect her to catch something that is in the New York Times or even on the national, or local news for only a day.  Once you know your target reader, you can investigate primary methods to communicate with that person.  If you create a post-card regarding your book, where are you going to leave it behind that your primary readership would see it (pediatrician offices, day cares, children's music or gym classes)? If you are going to place an ad, what types of media does your reader have time for?  What are her other interests?  Is she easier to reach on-line, or would she have the free time to read a parenting magazine cover to cover?

Incidentally, knowing your reader better might also indicate that a post-card would be the exact wrong method to reach your ideal reader.  Maybe she would be more tech savvy and on-line ads, forum posts, or forwarded messages from friends in her book club would be the better method to reach her?  FaceBook or Twitter contests encouraging friend referrals etc. might also bring you a much higher rate of return with a tech savvy readership. 

And, this idealized female reader may only be your main target, but my point is that this primary reader may never read your message if you don't try to specifically reach her - rather than to go about trying to reach everyone at once and hope that she is among them. Not only will targeting your writing reach people on a deeper level, but it will also make marketing your work easier for both you and your publisher (or potential publisher).

'Tis the season for writing conferences ... and I am so excited to be attending my first fiction writers conference in just a few weeks.  With two manuscripts in progress, I am anxiously trying to prep my information to sound as targeted, and as marketable as possible.  I'm really attending more to network and learn than to present my own material at my first conference – I still want to make a good first impression.).

How about you? Could the one-sheets, queries or proposals you plan to take to conference be a little more targeted?

- Suzanne Wesley

Not 'til Death Will I Part

Do you know how many authors died before they became famous?

I don’t either, but there are probably more than I can count. (We won’t talk about how many committed suicide.)

Jane Austen’s work brought her little personal fame and few positive reviews while she was living. John Kennedy Toole, died at age 31 and was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Very few of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published while she was alive. And wouldn’t Anne Frank be astounded by how the world has changed because of her work?

Here’s a current example: Stieg Larsson. Who’s he? He’s a Swedish author whose murder-mystery triplets —The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest— hold three of the top four spots on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list.

According to USA TODAY, Mr. Larsson, “a chain-smoking investigative journalist, dropped dead of a heart attack at age 50 after climbing seven stories to his magazine's Stockholm office because the elevator was out of order. Larsson sold the first three novels of a proposed 10-book series. But he died before the first one ever saw print.”

How tragic.

I believe I have something in common with these writers—a passion to write. It’s the way I communicate, express myself. I write because I can, and when I do I lose all track of time and sometimes reality, but I love that. I love when I can take myself into the minds of my characters and see, feel, hear and taste far-away places from their point of view without leaving my home. If I didn’t love what I do, I wouldn’t be spending my time and money on my journey to master this craft.

It’s not about the fame. (Well, okay, I’d love to see one of my novels on the screen. I admit it.) But more importantly it’s because I really, really enjoy it.

Are there days when I ask myself why? Why am I doing this? Yes. Some days the doubt tugs at me, but when I stop and think of the alternatives, of sitting in Corporate America tied to a schedule that allows for no creativity, I cringe. Writing is what I do and if it takes me until I die to get published, so be it. But in the meantime, I’m going to have fun writing my stories.

Why do you write?