Thursday, September 30, 2010

What They Don't Tell You About the ACFW Conference

I came back from the ACFW conference in Indy bound and determined not to write about my observations of the conference. I figured fellow Hoosier Ink bloggers would have already covered that territory. They have, and I've enjoyed every posting for their unique insights. Hoosiers rock! However, I can’t resist sharing my insights. If you couldn’t attend this year, maybe you experienced a greater blessing for staying home, as Nikki Studebaker Barcus shared in her post. Rest assured, you will be there in God’s timing – the time when you’re ready, and He’s paved the way. This year was my first conference, and it was, in a word, spectacular. Next year? Who knows…one at a time.

My situation in attending the ACFW was unique in that I already have a book contract (but am still in the “not published” category), and don’t have an agent. I went into the conference with no expectations other than to meet, greet, absorb and glean. I didn’t think I was nervous, but my nerves surfaced in the form of a major reflux attack (also a first) after eating the bacon at the Saturday morning breakfast (hugs to Millie for guarding my things and taking care of me, Beth V. for praying with me, and Darren - I should have given you that bacon). I figured my day could only get better from there. Oh, it did…and how.

The entire cost of the conference was justified when I met for a pre-arranged lunch with a multi-published author. I met her at the author signing table, and she “happened” to be speaking with the internet product rep from CBD (Christian Book Distributors) at the time. We used to live down the road from CBD in Peabody, MA. I struck up a conversation with this woman, and we talked CBD, Red Sox and all things Massachusetts. That paved the way. Then I told her, “I have my first book coming out with a new, small publisher.” Then the hard-hitting question: “How can I get my publisher - and my book - in your fiction catalog?” She smiled, handed me her card and said, “Get in contact with me after the conference, and we’ll work together with your publisher to get you in the catalog.” I’d heard you have to jump through hoops, but turns out, it’s not that hard. But the Lord put me literally where He wanted me at that point in time. That’s God’s providence, my friends. If you don’t know, CBD is one of the biggest online retailers of Christian fiction on the planet. This is huge in terms of marketing my book and could put my publisher on the proverbial map.

A couple of hours later, my 15-minute appointment with Angie Breidenbach somehow extended to nearly 50 minutes. She had tons of ideas for me in terms of marketing, even for my next book which isn’t contracted – yet. Then I had a longer-than-expected mentoring appointment with Lena Nelson Dooley and she advised me on various aspects of getting an agent and contract negotiation. Instead of going to a keynote session, I ended up having a 45-minute private conversation with a published author who shared great insights pertinent to my genre. Those extended meetings took me out of scheduled events, but they were invaluable. And that’s why you buy the conference materials. Sure, I missed valuable teaching sessions, but I learned more from those one-on-one meetings, and know the Lord helped orchestrate those incredible moments at the right time in my writing journey. And, I must say that praising Him by singing in Rachael’s choir was one of the highlights of the conference for this singer.

One of the sweetest moments occurred on Saturday night. I sat next to a woman from Hershey, PA, at Steve Laube's agent panel. Afterwards, we chatted and discovered we both write contemporary romance. I mentioned that I'd sent an e-mail to someone on the ACFW first-timers loop to welcome her since not many on that loop shared our genre. Her eyes lit up. "Were you the one who wrote and said you had a Hershey bar with almonds sitting beside the computer as you wrote to me?" Yes, that would be me. She said, "I prayed I'd somehow meet you here!" Next evening, I walked back to my hotel with a big bag of Hershey bars. Life's little unexpected treats are often the best. Another woman tapped me on the shoulder that evening and thanked me for the room at the Hyatt, telling me how it blessed her life. I gave up the room due to the generosity of another Indiana writer sharing her room at another hotel down the street, and it blessed my life immeasurably. Seeing the Lord work in unique and marvelous ways is so exciting, isn’t it?

So, what they don’t tell you about the ACFW? Some of the biggest blessings come even when you falter (the reflux attack); step out in faith (talking with the CBD rep, connecting with others on the ACFW loops before meeting in person at the conference); expect a little and receive a lot in return (the unexpected, extended one-on-one meetings); accept a blessing (the hotel room down the street), and share a blessing (the room at the Hyatt and singing in the conference choir). Our Lord is so great there’s nothing He can’t do. He can literally move mountains. If it’s your turn to attend the ACFW conference next year, He’ll pave the way to make it happen and you'll be there. In the meantime, keep writing, keep praying and trust Him to guide you every step of the way. Blessings to you! Matthew 5:16

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Write to the Power of Three

Did I ever tell y’uns about the time Jack met that ol’ hunchity woman? Well, Jack weren’t the first to see ‘er. Naw, sir. She’d come a-callin’ when Will was a-fixin’ to go seek his fortune and when Tom headed off to make his own way in th’ world.

And so begins “Jack Learns Old from New,” an Appalachian tale I got to tell at a pioneer festival this past weekend. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so typical of a story from our eastern highlands: it's ancient, with its roots in the British Isles; it’s essentially two stories, fused to form one; and it contains motifs from the Bible and classical literature.

Threes abound. Each part of the story has a three-act structure. Jack's mama has three sons. The old hunchity woman pays three visits. In the course of the story, Jack’s Mama makes three trips to a neighbor lady’s house to get three things to give her three sons for their journeys. In the second part of the tale, Jack must perform three tasks (including the cleaning of a barn that hasn’t been cleaned in seven years) to prove himself worthy of the king’s gal’s hand. Once he does that and the wedding is about to take place, he learns that the king actually has not one, not two, but three daughters. Since Jack cannot see their faces, which are covered with heavy veils, he has to choose the one he wants to wed using other criteria.

Folklore, faerietales, and literature are replete with threes: three bears, three wishes, three princesses, three rings, three daughters, three sons, three visitors, three beggars, three horses. 

Writers and public speakers know about the power of three. When I lead a writing or a storytelling workshop, one of the first things I tell attendees is that each story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning introduces the characters, the setting, and the dilemma. It sets the tone for the work, hopefully gains the reader's sympathy for the protagonist, and propels the reader into the body of the story. Act II is the middle, the muddle where the main plot thickens and sub-plots flourish. Through a series of events, including a smattering of crises, the protagonist's character and relationships with other characters develop and tension builds toward the climax, the showdown, the final--and most intense--battle. Act III brings resolution to the primary conflict. The battle is won (unless it's literary fiction, in which case the battle may be lost or left in limbo), loose ends are tidied up, and the reader is left satisfied but wishing the story would continue.

Three-act structure is important to non-fiction writing, as well. Over the course of nine years, I wrote for two small newspapers. Though I had to take my turn at covering mundane governmental and school board meetings, features made up the bulk of my writing. Whether the subject of an article was a new sewer project or the blacksmith who collected mule shoes, I used that three-act structure.

Why does it work so well? “Probably because it is in line with how we live our lives,” says James Scott Bell in his book Plot and Structure. “A three-step rhythm is inherent in much that we do.” Life is a three-act play: we’re born, we live, we die. That summarizes our time on Earth. In the second act, all kinds of wonderful and tragic things happen. There is conflict and camaraderie, love and loss, victory and defeat.

I find myself listing in threes often. In looking back over what I have written here, I see that I've done that several times. The fourth paragraph even has a catalogue of nine examples--three threes! It's natural. Architects know the strongest structures are three-sided. R. Buckminster Fuller recognized that when he developed the geodesic dome. There is strength in threes for the architect of story, as well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My First ACFW Conference Too!

by Jamie Carie

This year I attended my first ACFW conference. I'd heard that this was THE place to attend if you wanted to break into the CBA fiction market and I have to agree that between this conference and Mt. Hermon, they were probably right.

Back when I was trying to break into publishing I don't believe the ACFW conference existed (the internet was just getting up and running so that tells you how long it has been!). But I did everything that I could to help myself learn about this business: I joined a local group of writers who were very kind to me and helped me learn the basics of POV, dialog and plotting. I scoured the library shelves (Writer's Market Guide) for information on romance publishers and took extensive notes about each pub house. I was a big fan of Romantic Times magazine and the RWA (Romance Writers of America) organization. I attended a couple of smaller writing conferences ( and a RWA conference when it was in my hometown. I remember Brenda Joyce was the speaker and I thought she was the most glamorous women I had ever met! I complimented her in the hall at the Omni Hotel so, of course, she asked which book I liked best. I blanked. Totally blanked. Couldn't remember a single title or character name from any of her books that I had read. Finally I rushed out, "Oh the one with Fabio on the cover!" LOL! Wow. Was that embarrassing. But I digress.

I have to say that I would highly recommend going to the ACFW conference if you are looking to break in to CBA publishing. There were lots of big name authors there (My star struck moment was meeting James Scot Bell!). All of them were very friendly and willing to give advice to anyone who asked. More importantly, there were editors from almost every CBA publishing house and several agents. Everyone I spoke with who had an editor or agent appointment was asked to send in a full manuscript and they were so excited. It reminded me of the time I drove three hours in the early morning to Ft. Wayne, Indiana to sign up for an editor appointment (it was first come first serve) and then I drove home. The next day I drove up again, early in the morning, to attend the conference as after paying the conference fee I couldn't afford to pay for the night at the hotel. Whew! When I got that editor appointment and was asked to send in the full manuscript for Snow Angel, I was thrilled! It ended up going all the way to committee, but wasn't accepted at that time as this pub house didn't publish very much fiction. Ironically, it was an editor from B&H who years later decided to ramp up their fiction department and I was the first one signed to spearhead the new program!

I'm saying all of this to say, I know conferences are expensive (pray and trust God for finances!) but they are a great way to bypass the catch 22 that says you can't submit to a publishing house without an agent and it's almost impossible to get an agent. Conferences provide that opportunity to make connections, learn about the business and craft side of writing, and hopefully score that golden ticket - a request to submit your work, rushing you past the slush pile and into the hands of an editor who just might be very excited about your story. So give it try and if you see me say hello! (I'll be the one in high heels not being sensible. I just hate rules!) I'd be glad to help you along on your road to publication.

What do you think? Is the ACFW Conference the best for breaking in?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My First ACFW Conference

Greetings. This is my 5th posting and I am SO enjoying being able to participate in this blog. I encourage all the Indiana members to get involved here. Ok, Rick, my $5 please. That said, onto today's installment.

I thought I would just write about my first ACFW National conference experience. I must admit, however, until the last week of registration, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it happen...both in terms of scheduling and funding. The Lord is awesome, and things worked out.

My first day I felt like a fish out of water...but at least I was a fish IN the water and not just flopping around on dry land. I ran into several of the "Indiana gang" at the conference, but not everyone who I have seen at previous Indiana meetings. I hope, for those of you that were not able to make it, that you will be able to attend next year's meeting. IT IS SO WORTH IT!! I met several Indiana writers who were not part of the Indiana chapter yet. I hope you guys (or gals) join us soon (.... you know who you are).

No matter what kind of enthusiasm or energy I walked into that conference with, the final day I walked out, my levels dwarfed those completely. Being around so many "like minded people" felt like I was coming home after a long trip. As a Star Trek fan, I felt like I was at a Trek convention (trust me, that is a positive reference).

I enjoyed being able to network with other writers, listen to and get involved in endless conversations, and in finding other people who played in my genre. I really, REALLY enjoyed James Scott Bell in the Early Bird special (well worth the cost for the insight and wisdom gained).

While expensive, it was well worth the cost to pick up the special offers of a flash drive with past year's recordings and then the cd of last year's recordings. All craftsmen and women know that you must have "the right tools for the right job." I considered these tools the cost of getting better in my writing.

I know this will not be my last conference, and I have already started putting money aside to cover next years event (which sadly will not be in our back yard). I hope to be able to go every year. If nothing else, every other year. I have learned that you must stay connected and plugged in to help yourself and others in the Christian Fiction writing field.

All the different badge labels was a great idea. At a glance, you could easily see what each person was involved with regarding ACFW. Maybe us newbies could get badges with blinker lights on them (grin).

Regarding Genesis. It was very inspirational to see other "new" writers break into the Christian genre and be recognized! Congratulations to you all!

As a writer of speculative Christian fiction, I was amazed how many other name badges had "science fiction," or "fantasy adventure," or just "speculative fiction" written underneath a person's name. That particular genre is growing fast. It's awesome to be among those who are on the ground floor of the popularity of that genre.

Bottom line: the most important concepts I walked away with is that writing always takes hard work, practice, diligence, and a huge amount of prayer.

Well, that's it from me for now. Look for my next posting: "ACFW Conference 2020 : A Speculative Look into the Future" coming in one month. Beyond that, "Why Write Speculative Christian Fiction" in two months.

On a technical note, one of my previous posts referenced Apple Computers. It was so good to see so many writers toting Mac's at the conference.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not so serious...

Ahhh, an epiphany! Writing doesn't always have to be taken seriously, although we often tend to do so. The business warrants a healthy dose of studiousness, commitment, and concentration. Fiction can be a riot when we allow ourselves permission to just sit and write nonsense.
Since beginning to write fiction, I have been often bogged down in learning the craft. We writers love to say that, don't we? "Learnnnnninnnnngggg theeee Crafttttt" rolls wonderfully off our tongues, and sometimes we even mean it! There are other times though. Just sitting down and sometimes spilling out utter, absolutely could not happen, or maybe if...., destroy upon completion scenarios.
Why not? We don't have time? I am finding that these scenarios might contain a few sentences of value that can be extracted for later use. Even better, they loosen up the writing part of my mind. The part squished in between parenting, commitments, ministry, etc.
Let's remind ourselves to relax a bit, these seemingly random exercises offer mental rest. Freedom to escape for awhile from everyday life into a world that has no boundaries. When we come back, we carry on with perhaps a private smirk of remembrance. Let loose and see where the story goes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Putting Passion into Fiction

Undercover Officer Cole side-stepped piles of dirty clothes, plastic bottles with green tubes, boxes of Sudafed, acetone, Drano, liquid fire and other meth paraphernalia in the run-down trailer on his way to Ryan’s crib—the two-year old who lay crying hysterically in another room. Cole found him in a soiled diaper on a mattress cluttered with the powder of his parent’s meth lab. Red oozing sores covered his once chubby legs as the toddler reached up for Cole to hold him.

Officer Cole lifted Ryan and squeezed him to his chest, soothing his hiccuped sobs, and fighting his own tears. The stench of rotting flesh, garbage and human feces surrounded him as he walked into the boy’s mother’s bedroom. He found her sitting on her filthy bed bone-thin, with rotting teeth, and her hair limp around her hallowed face. She gripped a knife gouging at the bloodied sore on her arm seemingly determined to extract the bug that she thought had invaded her body.

The excerpt above is fiction based on facts I learned at a public awareness meeting I attended in our county last night. This type of scenario is happening all over America, but our state—Indiana—is the second leading state in the production of meth labs. (California is the first.)

Can you believe that? I couldn’t, but I do now.

  • Sixty-six percent of our jails house meth-related inmates. These aren’t bad people. They’re your brothers, cousins, sisters and parents who range in age from 18 – 62.
  • Eighty-eight percent of our county’s recovery homes are filled with families affected by meth costing tax-payers huge dollars.
  • Ninety percent of first-time users (both rich and poor, male and female) become addicted after their first use.
  • Meth’s feel-good affect triggers five times more endorphins in the brain than sex, eating chocolate or watching Notre Dame beat Michigan. So, no wonder they want more. No wonder addicts will steal, neglect their children and lose their jobs for it.
  • The best solution to the problem is to get pseudoephedrine off the shelves and make it a prescription drug. That’s all. Oregon did this and their meth labs are now almost non-existent

Why am I telling you this? What does this have to do with fiction?


As writers it’s our responsibility to put REAL current events into our fiction to make people aware, to make them care, to motivate them to help—to elicit emotions. Look around your community for the stories to base your fiction on.

God gave us the gift of writing. It’s our responsibility to write about life’s real problems, things happening all around us that affect our community. Why? Because we can… because we know how to show readers the world using word illustrations.

Yes, there will always be someone who can write a story better than you or me, but I believe if we’re writing about those things we’re passionate about we’ll sell our stories. We’ll move others, persuade them and in the process feel like we matter… like we’re making a difference.

Are you putting your passions into your fiction?

PS. Please write or call your state legislature to take pseudoephedrine off the shelves.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The FTC's Regulating My Book Reviews!

With all the work preparing for the ACFW Conference and catching up afterwards, I decided to recycle information that I posted on the ACFW Midwest e-mail loop about a year ago. So if you remember the discussion and don't want to hear it again, you can stop reading.

In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission adopted guidelines on the use of endorsements and testimonials. These guidelines apply to a wide range of media and products, including blogs with book reviews. When they came out, the guidelines created a furor among blogging book reviewers. Yes, the guidelines do apply, and yes, you need to know what they say, but they shouldn't give you any sleepless nights.

Let me explain.

First, the FTC's guidelines are just that: guidelines. They aren't regulations that change the existing law. Instead, they tell people what the FTC thinks the law already is so that no one gets blindsided or can claim that he or she didn't know.

Second, the guidelines only apply to reviews you write based on books you get for free from the writer or publisher, someone affiliated with the writer or publisher (e.g., a publicist), or someone who benefits financially from book sales (e.g., a book distributor). If your sister-in-law says, "I just read a great book" and gives you her copy, the guidelines don't apply.

Third, if you did get the book free from the writer or publisher, someone affiliated with the writer or publisher, or someone who benefits financially from book sales, complying with the guidelines is easy: all you have to do is disclose how you got it. For example, "The publisher sent me a free copy of the book," or "Authors and publishers frequently provide reviewers with free review copies of their books, and I received this one that way." If you give it a negative review, you probably don't even have to do that.

You also don't need to make the disclosure if you give the book to Goodwill after you read it. The disclosure is only required if you keep the book or sell it or get some other tangible benefit from it. On the other hand, you may want to make the disclosure even when you don't need to, just so you get in the habit of doing it and nothing falls through the cracks.

By the way, if you use an affiliate link with Amazon where you get paid (however minuscule an amount) when people buy a book through it, you need to disclose that near the link. Personally, I think this is the ethical thing to do, anyway. And it can even work in your favor, because people who are likely to buy the book through other channels may decide to let you benefit from their purchase.

Yes, applying the law to most blogging book reviewers is stupid (and I personally doubt that the FTC will bother taking those cases), but in the larger scheme of things the FTC's rules are designed to protect consumers. I worked as a regulatory attorney in an industry where misleading advertisements are not unknown, and many of them show up on blogs and You-Tube these days. I never worked for (or even with) the FTC, but I can sympathize with what it is trying to do.

Especially since complying is easy.

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Parable of the Conference Elevator

by Rachael Phillips

Those who attended the national ACFW conference this past weekend viewed it through many lenses: those of the classroom, the worship time, the keynote speaker's wise, funny words, friendships renewed as we revived limp, weary brains and equally squishy courage drinking gallons of Starbuck's in the hotel lobby.

Upon returning home, piles of dirty laundry faded the vivid scenes to wallpaper status. But my hotel elevator perspective remains. In fact, as the conference continued, I saw how much my elevator experiences mirrored my writing career.

Sometimes the elevator moved at the rate of molasses in January. I waited. I pressed the buttons again. And smacked them when elevators arrived and opened, only to close to another chorus of "Sorry! No room!"

But stubborness is a virtue for a writer, and eventually, an elevator with space for me arrived--a new chance to get where I wanted to go. I inhaled and joined a group of people, all shapes and sizes, standing so close, they could experience organ transplants by osmosis.

We nearly asphyxiated each other with morning breath and sweaty armpits, but we also demonstrated a kindness and openness that shouldn't have happened, as we all were competing for space and air and publication. We introduced ourselves, even if we couldn't necessarily look each other in the eye: "Oh, so you're the elbow that's mutilating my right kidney. So nice to meet you. What do you write?"

We pressed buttons for others, shifted when we feared for our lives, even making room for more passengers. One man took a heavy box of choir folders and computer stuff from my arms and held it for me while we rode the elevator. Although many of us had never before laid eyes on each other, our ACFW nametags drew us into a camaraderie some don't experience with spouses or families. We were writers. We were Christian writers.

And if our elevator and publication opportunities seemed a bit crowded, we were learning to wait and care and adjust.

That's a life edit I can always use.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ties That Bind

Recently the San Francisco Chronicle carried the story about the female humpback whale entangled by masses of fishing lines and crab traps. Hundreds of pounds of lines and traps threatened her life and she struggled to stay afloat. Lines pulled and tightened around her body, her tail and her mouth.

A fisherman spotted the distressed whale and radioed an environmental group for help. The group wasted little time diving into the water to try and free her from bondage. They worked hours with curved knives and determination and finally unchained the whale.

When at last freed, the whale swam around in what seemed like joyous circles, but what happened next became a memory never to be forgotten. She swam back to the divers and, one at a time, gently nudged them, pushing them around a little. In her playfulness, it was like she was saying thank you. The diver who cut the lines out of her mouth says he’ll never forget how the whale’s eyes followed his every movement.

An unbelievable, heartwarming story of kindness.

How do we as writers get untangled from ties that bind? What fishing lines or crab traps do we strain against each day?

Let’s have fun with the word BIND.

Are you plagued by the big “B” or Writer’s Block? Is this another word for boredom, bitterness or bewilderment? There’s always a way out of this mire and it varies with writers. Look for the chip in the block and you’ll find the key. Be brutally honest with yourself as to what’s blocking your writing. A sabbatical is sometimes the answer.

Maybe the omnipresent “I” of interference is your binder. Simply put, life gets in the way. You know how it goes. Life happens on the way to the computer. A secret? If you want something done, ask a busy person. Ask the writer mom/dad who works, cares for the kids, car pools, covers the PTA and has a fun hobby. They make things happen. In your eventful life, you can too, with discipline and design.

The “N” stands, of course, for the No of the rejection letter from the agent or the publisher or the contest. After you’ve received a few rejections, even if some are the golden variety, a thick skin is still needed. You learn and continue forward. It’s no surprise rejections are part of writing.

Associate “D” with dreams, understanding well many people have forgotten how to dream. A small note, encouraging me to take time to dream, is stuck on my bathroom mirror. All reminders needed. A lack of dreams binds hard, yet dreams remain essential for writers.

Your assignment is to look for ways to become untangled from the lines or traps that bind you like the whale was bound. Look for divers sent to rescue. They may come in assorted packages.

Care to share a way you’ve become untangled? Or entangled?

Jude Urbanski

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why I'm Happy I'm Not at Conference

When I started on this writing journey two years ago, Doc Hensley encouraged me to join ACFW not only to network and meet other writers, but because the national conference would take place in Indy this year. I enthusiastically joined and have gleaned so much knowledge on writing, the publishing industry, and  myself. I've also met many of you and I am so thankful for such a godly, giving, and talented group.

As winter turned to spring, it was  time to decide whether or not I would attend conference. My reasons were many for not going, but I kept coming back to the fact that it didn't make sense not to go if I could swing it. So I stewed. I prayed. I discussed it with writer friends. I read the loop posts. I caught the vision as excitement built. I felt the pressure of missing out on something big if I decided not to go. I wondered, why wouldn't God want me to go? Yet, if the decision were that simple, why didn't I have peace about it?

Then one day while mowing the yard, it all came into focus. Most of the writing I'd done (and any writing I'd gotten paid for) was non-fiction. Devotions, narrative non-fiction, journalism were not only what I wrote, but all of it had a spiritual element, even if written for secular media. I felt strangely confident that God wanted me to do the unthinkable--to say no to the ACFW conference and instead attend a secular workshop I attended last year, where I could study both Christian fiction (Ann Tatlock would be teaching), mainstream fiction,  and non-fiction. As I filled out the paperwork, a calm descended that I hadn't felt during the whole decision-making process.

The weekend of the conference arrived and not only did God bless me with a wonderful learning experience, incredible networking opportunities, and so much good information, but He confirmed for me in two ways that I had indeed heard Him correctly.

The first came when I'd been on site for under thirty minutes. I chatted with my seat-mate, a fellow ACFW-er whom I recognized and she nearly word-for-word confirmed my reasons for making the decision to go to that conference rather than the one in Indy. Later during the first break, another ACFW member made her way over because she recognized my name from this blog. Not having heard my previous conversation, she said nearly the same thing and added some further encouragement that this was probably the best choice for my career at this time.

God also confirmed to me throughout the weekend that I was in the correct place when my short list of questions I've prayed through for the last two years were answered one by one. I don't have GPS directions for my career, but I now know several things I don't want to do or that don't fit my writing style, personality, or voice. He also made clear to me some of my writing passions and strengths.

As a cherry on the top of my confirmation sundae, God blessed me with a win at a just-for-fun contest on the last day of the conference. Just further proof to me that He continues to lead and could use a secular writers' workshop to take me a little further down my writing road.

God's words to us in Jeremiah 29:11 according to the Message read " I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." God reminded me to resist the urge to think I know His mind. If I had done what "made sense" I'd have missed some tremendous blessings along with some freelance work that I could not have finished while attending the conference. For those of you at the conference this weekend, I pray God confirms the plans He has for you being there. And for those of you at home, I pray He reveals the blessings He has for you in staying behind. I pray my time at conference will come eventually, but for now, I know I'm right where He wants me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Next year ...

Like a true Cubs fan, I'm thinking "Next year" about going to the ACFW conference. Time and money just didn't fall into place. Even though it was in Indianapolis, one of my favorite places of all, we just could not get our ducks in a row this year. I'm not going to make any political remarks about property taxes or farm prices.

In the meantime I keep trying to maintain forward motion on my WIP. I like to see that file updated every day, even if it's by just a few words or sentences or notes to myself.

Where will my stories end up? Since I am missing the conference, am I missing important connections? Or is it more important to stay home this weekend? It does give me a chance to host an all-girls sleepover for my daughter and her buds while my husband and sons are on a father-son camp out.

I often think of a phrase out of Psalm 31 -- "My times are in thy hands ..." In so many ways. At work, on the farm and with writing.

To everyone who is blessed to be able to go, be like Sponge Bob and soak everything in!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cookin’ Up Creativity

Stuck in a comfort zone with your creativity? Sure, you’re being original with your stories and characters, but what about your wordsmithing? Are you consciously developing yourself in the craft of putting together words in an original way? Something really tasty at least once on every page to keep your reader salivating for more?

When I aim for something lip-smacking good in the culinary world, I leaf through a cookbook, decide what I want to create (cake? pie? cream puffs?) and find a recipe for it. The literary world offers the same kind of instruction for stirring up goodies, but with the result that we’ve created something deliciously unique. How good is that?

The title of this literary cookbook is bor-ing, but don’t let it fool you. And don’t put it back on the shelf without sampling it, either. Remember, we’re wordsmithing here. You’re working at becoming a better writer, at getting your readers addicted to your sweets. Okay, ready? The title is Figurative Speech. Oh, c’mon, just because it was boring in high school doesn’t mean it is now. You’re a cook, baby! Put on that apron and let’s get going!

This month we’ll look at two literary devices that have similar recipes. The name of the second concoction is frightening, so we’ll start with the familiar, comfortable one—understatement. Simply defined, it’s deliberately representing something as less than it actually is, with the intent of emphasizing its importance or seriousness. So if I say, “I need an operation, but it’s no big deal—it’s just a tiny tumor on my brain,” I’ve used understatement to say, gulp, this is serious!

To craft an understatement, think “deliberate + contrast + significance.” Find the event or situation you want to use and discern what its significance is. In the example I gave above, the situation is the brain tumor and the need for an operation. Its significance is that I might die. Saying “I need an operation because I have a brain tumor” sounds sorta factual, huh? Ramp it up by thinking of a contrast—“it’s no big deal”—and then have the character convey the information deliberately (as opposed to ignorantly, etc.). Now what’s being communicated is not just data but the nuance that it’s so horrible the character can’t express his fear that he might die.

Do you see what the understatement does? It evokes emotion that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The addition of the contrast brings in something unexpected (“it’s no big deal”—wha? when you have a tumor on your brain?), and the refusal to state the outcome (“I might die”) spotlights the speaker’s emotion. He’s scared! The reader, in effect, gets a double whammy—the implication of the facts plus the speaker’s own emotion in dealing with them.

If you understand understatement, you can easily segue into the other literary recipe. It’s actually easier to compose, but harder to pronounce. It’s called litotes (LYE-tuh-teez), but you only need to remember that if you want to impress someone. The litotes is defined as an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite. Ha!—and you thought the name was bad! A few examples will show how simple it really is: “The hot blonde was not unpopular with the boys.” “Sam was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.” Yep, just use not plus a description opposite to what you mean. A “nice day” expressed as a litotes is “not a bad day.” (See? How many times have you used that litotes?)

The purpose of the litotes is to emphasize. Look at the difference between saying “The hot blonde was popular with the boys” and “The hot blonde was not unpopular with the boys” (waggle eyebrows). Or the difference between “Sam was the dullest bulb on the Christmas tree” and “Sam was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree” (guffaw). Double whammy again, yes?

Use understatement and litotes to call attention to something in your scene, something you want to stand out more than it would otherwise. You’ll spice up the emotion, tickle your reader’s taste buds, and not be stuck with cookie crumbs in your comfort zone.

What do you think? Stir up a batch and give us all a sample.

Steph Prichard

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two Copper Fiction

Many of us are preparing for the ACFW conference this week, and the anticipation creates emotions ranging from elation to embarrassment. And for good reason. Whether you are just getting used to calling yourself a writer or you’re preparing to pitch your magnum opus, real writing is a sifting, daring enterprise.

Who would sign up for that?

Consider THE DARING WIDOW of Mark 12 and take heart.


You will enter a convention center full of talented writers.


Some writers will bring beautiful, thought-provoking fiction.


You may consider running. Don’t. God has brought you to offer the gift in your hands.


Yours may be a small story or even a germ of a story.


This manuscript may be all you’ve written. Or this piece may reveal your soul.


Your pitch—whether to an agent or a writing friend—is unusual proof of your wholehearted trust.


Jesus sees your struggle. He knows your long hours. Expect His benediction for giving all you have as you write and prepare to give your writing.


So can you.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Okay, Here's Your Chance!

One moment some time ago, after a particularly interesting encounter at the day job, I remembered thinking, "If I ran a publishing company like this one, it'd be truly author-friendly. They'd all tell me that couldn't be done, but I'd like for us to at least try."

And then I started thinking...what if I did run a publishing company?
What would it be like?

If I ran a publishing company...I wouldn't start it until I could pay everyone market-rate, fair advances against royalties. Yes, I know publishing companies are running away from that like an attack of paper wasps. Tough. It's the right thing to do. Publishers should do this. The advances don't have to be huge, but they ought to be there. An old sage once said, "Anything you get for free is usually worth every cent," and they're right. If you're not risking at least a nominal sum on the book up front, you're less likely to do anything to make money back. This isn't an insult; it's human nature, and it's a fact.

Yes, I know it costs money to produce a book in the first place. But that's why you're not starting your business until you can treat it like a business and respect the author's contribution. It cost the author to produce that work, too. In terms of creative ideas, discipline, equipment, no doubt more than a few tears, moments sacrificed with family and friends, and hours of sleep...and sometimes, a whole lot of self-esteem. Those contributions are not valueless; they should be honored accordingly. 

If I ran a publishing company...I'd love agents, because I'd consider we were on the same side. Heck, in reality--we are. If my company doesn't make money, neither does the agent, and neither does the author. So I'd do my best to work with agents, rather than considering every single person wearing the "a" tag to be, by definition, an adversary, as some companies inadvertently--or deliberately--seem to do.

If I ran a publishing company...everybody would be subjected to editing. I don't care if your last name is Roberts, King, Clark, Meyer, Rowling, or whomever is the latest "flavor of the month" and publisher's darling. You're still going to have an editor, and you're going to listen to what she says.

For all the talking some authors do about how "We're all just learning the craft, none of us is perfect, a good editor's worth her weight in gold, yatta, yatta, yatta..." we all know differently, because we've seen it in their books. No, you don't get away with writing a good book only every second or third or fifth time out of the chute--unless you're willing to give the other books away or take diminished royalties for them not being as good. And no, you do not have the right to subtly threaten that editor "under the table" when she suggests changes to your deathless prose or throw hissy fits during the process. Be a professional, like you expect the rest of us to be. Everyone, no matter their level of artistic achievement, can develop bad habits and/or complacency. A good editor won't let you get away with it, and you'll be the better for her cracking the whip.

If I ran a publishing company, there'd be no such thing as "superstar" authors who can't write a lick. If you get a ghostwriter, her name's on the cover "as told to," or "with," or you go somewhere else. If you can't write your way out of a paper bag, don't lie to your public and pretend you can. Chances are the thing that got you to celebrity status in the first place had a lot to do with pretending, smoke, mirrors, airbrushing, or a really good sound man. In the case of "your" book, that buck's gonna stop here. And yes, I'll lose some celebrity authors that way--maybe. Or maybe that'll just impress the socks off the ones who really matter, and they'll be glad to share the glory with someone who helps them shine.

Want more of these? I've probably got a million of 'em. But I'll bet you do, too. So..

Tell me. If you ran a publishing company, what would it be like?
Don't worry. The sky's the limit here. We're painting the picture we'd like to see, not what we think is possible. This is the publishing company of your dreams...Have at it!


Friday, September 10, 2010


What's writing inspiration anyway?

Does a Christian writer's inspiration come from God? Is it holy? Or is it maybe just another way of saying, "Sit down and write and the words will come!"

I'm someone who's always believed in inspiration. When essays and research papers were assigned in school, I couldn't write the assignment until I felt inspired, sometimes not until the night before it was due. Know what I mean?

And I have always believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God. To me, the writers seemed like God's holy secretaries. Know what I mean?

But then one year in grad school, I took a class on teaching writing from a prof who, to my surprise, did not believe in inspiration of any kind, especially in inspiration by God. Next he declared he was an atheist. So for him, writing was a skill that anyone could achieve. According to him, anyone could write a bestseller if he or she just followed the rules. (He planned to do that someday, but I've yet to see his name on any list.)

The class wasn't large, maybe twenty or so of us, and discussion was a significant part of our grade. Not being the introvert writers are stereotyped to be, I was quick to share my beliefs with the class. I expected support from at least a few others. But no one else said anything, including two nuns in traditional garb who didn't even blink or nod.

After class that first day, I was sitting on the campus lawn eating my sandwich and apple lunch when the nuns joined me. They told me they agreed with me and appreciated my boldness, but they had a caution for me. Didn't I know about this prof? No, I didn't, but they did. And I guess the others in the class did, too. He had a reputation for never giving A grades to students who disagreed with him. And not believing in inspiration was one of his "things."

For the remainder of the class, I continued to be the only one who ever disagreed with him. And the inspiration issue came up again, even on the last of class when the prof pointedly asked me if I still believed in inspiration. "Of course," I said. "Would you like to hear my reasons one more time?" He declined.

I never saw him again. Universities are big places, full of tens of thousands of people. I'd like to say God intervened for me and I got an A. But I got a B+, my only grade in grad school not an A. But hey, you know what? I just now thought (inspiration?) – maybe God did intervene. That prof could have given me a C.

YEP! I'm a forever believer in inspiration, and have enjoyed many writing experiences that prove it to me. What about you?

Millie Samuelson

PS – Next Friday I'll join hundreds of other writers at a great place for writing inspiration – the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis. Hope to meet you there!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Street Smarts for the Writer PART TWO

We never go into a room to write alone, we go crowded by our own experiences—Julia Cameron

The essential ingredient for any novelist is driveness.—John Gardner

Over time authors have discovered that routine is a better friend than inspiration.—Ralph Keyes

Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.—Raymond Chandler

A novelist’s discipline and technique are infinitely more important than inspiration.—David Madden

The correct detail is rarely exactly what happened; the most truthful detail is what could have happened, or what should have.—John Irving

Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.—Mark Twain

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money—Samuel Johnson

No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for love…You must do it for love. If you do it for money, no money will ever be enough, and eventually you will start imitating your first successes, straining hot water through the same old teabag. It doesn’t work with tea, and it doesn’t work with writing.—Erica Jong

Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; …Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all. –Winston Churchill

After I had written the Grapes of Wrath and it had been to a large extent read and sometimes burned, the librarians at Salinas Public Library, who had known my folks, remarked that it was lucky my parents were dead so that they did not have to suffer this shame. I tell you this so you may know what to expect. Now get to work—John Steinbeck

Often I am asked if any writer ever helped or advised me. None did. However, I was not asking for help either, and I do not believe one should. If one wishes to write, he or she had better be writing, and there is no real way in which one writer can help another. Each must find his own way. –Louis L’Amour

Books don’t get easier to write. It’s not a formula.—Terry McMillan

…for the most, writing is now just a horrible grim burden. I wouldn’t do it if I were not morally engaged to do it.— Katherine Anne Porter

My schedule is flexible, but I am rather particular about my instruments; lines Bristol cards and well-sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.— Vladimir Nabokov

I write my first version in longhand. Then I do a complete revision, all in long hand. Then I type a third draft on yellow paper, a very special certain kind of yellow paper.—Truman Capote

An author must develop a deliberate process used to help facilitate the writing experience, otherwise there is no way to retrace those steps and repeat them.—Stanley D. Williams (The Moral Premise)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mentors: Do You Need One? Can You Find One?

One of the topics I often hear writers whispering about is finding a writing mentor. And we all are admonished that you can't just grab the arm of someone you'd LIKE to mentor you and say, "Oh, you must! You're a Christian, aren't you?"

Guilting a person into mentoring you doesn't work. (Nor tying her up and throwing her into your car.)Plus, the very person you choose to mentor you is no-doubt a busy person writing her own novels,marketing, etc. or you wouldn't have even noticed her.

So, you pray. "Please, Lord, You know I need someone to mentor me in writing. Send someone today. Make it clear who this person is/persons are."

And let's say someone does want to mentor you! Joy! They offer to read some opening pages, your synopsis or even to sit down and help you plot a course to follow to reach your goals.(They have these "mentor appointments" available this year at the ACFW Conference. And guess what? They are all filled up! Next year!) Maybe this person offers to introduce you to certain people who can help you at conference. (If you are a Christian fiction writer, you must join ACFW. It's the best place to be.)

Check out this year's ACFW Conference! Come to the booksignings by all of your favorite authors!

Literary agent Chip MacGregor on The Writers View (You have to request to join at once set up mentoring groups based on Paul, Barnabas and Timothy in the New Testament. You were labeled either a Paul (mentor,) Barnabas (peer group,) or Timothy (mentee--this doesn't mean your breath was fresh...)Some were in all three categories, and some, just one. He really worked hard on matching people up.The point was to set up a Paul with a Timothy and then put you into a friend group, Barnabas.

I don’t know if any of them worked out because of exactly what Cec Murphey was talking about once concerning mentors, "so many expectations." When you come to a group or a relationship with expectations, because we are human, you can be disappointed. It doesn't always work out, but don't give up hope. I do think it CAN work out and that yes,you may move on, or your mentor may move on, but you will get something out of these liaisons. It's a process. And some day you may become a mentor.

Betty Southard in her book, The Mentor Quest said about mentor myths: “Even the title ‘mentor’ often scares away a potential mentor or seeker. It implies lessons, structure, discipline, accountability, and maybe most discouraging, time…we don’t really want to spend a lot of time working on growth.”

Here’s what she says the “mentee’s” part is:
1. Personal responsibility for own growth
2. Look for mentoring in everyday activities and chance encounters.
3. Recognize the mentors around you.
4. Wherever you are, maintain a teachable spirit.

She says to list people who make a difference in your life: (I adjusted it to writing)
1. Teachers from school/conferences/editors/agents
2. Three writer friends
3. Five people who taught you writing
4. A few people who made you feel appreciated or special in writing
5. Five people (writers) whom you enjoy spending time
6. Heroes (Authors) whose stories (writing journeys, as well as what they write)inspire you

These people mentor you.

You can also be any of the above at one point or another.(Take time right now to jot these people down and make a point to send them a thank you note--or even chocolate, ahem--even if it wasn't a formal relationship.

I've found that in ACFW, we have built-in mentors. There are courses, local writers who help you find your path in the chapters and zones, a conference (this year in Indianapolis--are you going?) and any number of opportunities that come on the forums. There are countless blogs with teaching going on. I like to haunt various agent blogs and a couple editor blogs, as well as published writer blogs because there is always a discussion going on about writing in those places.

And do come back to Hoosier Ink. We have great writers, published or not, who are willing to share from their experiences. Don't be afraid to ask us questions (individuals or the group, even right here in the comments) and you'll find people who love writing as you do. If you live in Indiana and have joined ACFW, do come check out our state meetings. Lots going on with this group!

So, who will I see at ACFW Conference in ten days??? (And will you be my mentor? I'll be yours!)

Crystal Laine Miller

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Coming to the Indianapolis Public Library: Terri Blackstock & Gayle Roper

If you're a reader or a writer, you'll want to take advantage of this opportunity. On Saturday, September 18, at noon, NYT best-selling author Terri Blackstock and multi-published author Gayle Roper will speak at the downtown Indianapolis Public Library. A beautiful new facility located at One Library Square, 40 E. St. Clair St., in downtown Indianapolis, this is your opportunity to ask these two authors your questions about writing.

Adults are invited to hear Terri Blackstock, author of "Intervention," and Gayle Roper, author of "A Stranger's Wish," discuss their lives and works. This will be followed by a question and answer session and book signing. This program is held in conjunction with the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference. This program will be held in the Clowes Auditorium at Central Library.

I hope you will join us for a fun event. And an opportunity to meet these great ladies.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What is a One-Sheet ... and Do YOU Need One?

Want a true confession? Until a few months ago I had never even heard of an author one-sheet. I had studied the craft of writing but didn't really know a lot 'specifically' about how authors presented themselves to agents and editors at conferences. I still have a great deal to learn, but after lurking the various writing related e-mail loops, and investigating samples etc. I feel I finally have at least a handle on what the one-sheet is intended for, when to use it, and when not to.

A One-Sheet is a Marketing/Memory Tool
When given only 15 minutes in front of an agent or editor as a conference appointment – with your nerves on edge, and the plot of an entire novel (or three) ready to trip off of your over-eager tongue in a ramble of nervous energy – the one-sheet is literally one sheet of information, either single or double-sided, filled with information about you as an author and whatever you are pitching. Having one with you is a way to prepare, to look professional, and keep yourself on track so that you don't run out of time before you get around to saying the things you 'intended' to say. Additionally, if the agent or editor you speak to is interested in hearing more from you, they may opt to keep your one-sheet to jog their memory about your pitch, and to glean your contact information from it. Note: one thing I have seen stated repeatedly is to not 'expect' them to keep it, (in other words, don't be offended if they don't) and to never push business cards, one-sheets, proposals etc. on anyone.

How Do You Know if You Need a One-Sheet?
 1. Do you have at least one completed manuscript?
 2. Are you ready to pitch it?

If you answered 'yes' to those two questions, then the answer is still only 'probably'.  From what I have read, you can proceed to pitch to an editor or agent successfully without one. It is not an absolute requirement. If you are an author, but you don't have a completed manuscript and/or you aren't ready to pitch your work, you may opt to spend your appointment time asking questions. If this is your situation (like it is for me) then you don't really need a one-sheet yet.

(I still plan to take a single sheet of typed-up questions I have though, simply because I can't remember my own name when I get too nervous!)

~ Suzanne

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Overcoming First-Time ACFW Conference Jitters

I'll be a first-timer when the ACFW Conference rolls around in two weeks. Cara's tips on the first-timers' loop have been such a huge help (Thanks, Cara!) and so have this week's Hoosier Ink's posts. But I've discovered a few other things that help relieve my jitters.

1) Edit my manuscript, re-edit, then throw it all out. I've found that a grande caramel macchiato from Starbucks eases the headache that ensues.

2) Try on conference-worthy clothes ten times a day, then scrap them all and go shopping. Thank you, caramel macchiatos, for changing my jacket size.

3) Stalk agent and editor blogs. Not only does this help me know what they're looking for, it gives me some good conversation starters. "So Rachelle, I see you're wearing the same red shirt, diamond earrings, and sapphire teardrop necklace you wore in your profile picture."

4) Write blog posts about my nerves and hope someone wiser has some serious tips on how to overcome my jitters.

Any takers?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Want to Succeed at Conference? Bring these to ACFW 2010!

I'm going to the ACFW Writer's Conference September 17-20. It will be my first time, and I'm so excited I wake up every morning like a little kid waiting for Christmas. I mentally count down the days until I go. I've already started packing, and I'm full of butterflies and eager anticipation.

I've made a checklist so I don't forget anything and thought I'd share part of it with you.
  1. Prayers. I'm loading up on them. Prayers for the people in charge of the conference, the speakers, the attendees, the hotel staff, protection for travelers, for supernatural energy and wisdom for all, and for myself that I won't forget any of the other things on my list (Philippians 4:6).  
  2. Fruits of the Spirit. I figure if I have these along: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22-23), they will pretty much cover me for the other stuff I might forget.
  3. Positive Attitude. I refuse to let the devil beat me up with my insecurities. In fact, I think I'll just ignore him the entire time I'm there. (Which is what we're supposed to do all the time, anyway, right?) I have the mind of Christ. What more do I need? (1 Corinthians 2:16.)
  4.  Trust. I can trust God with my writing career. He knows the sacrifices I've made to be at conference, and He will guide my steps and orchestrate the right meetings for me. He loves me more than I love myself. He created me to write. I can completely trust Him to use my gifts for His purpose. It's His purpose that matters. Not mine. He sees the big picture. I can't. I will trust in Him with my whole heart and seek not my own understanding. I will acknowledge Him and He will direct my path(s) at conference (Proverbs 3:5-7). Whew. What a relief!
  5. Hope. I think we all have this packed if we're attending conference. Hope to learn how to be better writers, hope to meet the right people, hope to make new friends, hope that Jesus is coming soon! Wouldn't it be cool if He came at conference? Isn't that what it's all about anyway? (Psalm 39:7.)
  6. Grace. Grace to accept God's answers for me at conference. This might seem a little obvious, but how I handle my disappointments, I believe, matters to God. He is more interested in my character than my success. I also need to be gracious to fellow writers, editors, agents and those who serve at conference. If I put other folks' needs before my own desires, grace will be automatic. I pray I'm gracious even when I'm exhausted. That's why I'm packing extra in this department (Ephesians 4:32).
  7. Teachability Sponginess. Okay, so "teachability" isn't really a word. I made it up to remind myself to be teachable at every moment. It's how I want to be not only at conference but in life. There's no way I know everything. I never will. As someone who loves to learn, this is exciting! I can hardly wait to discover all sorts of new things about writing, whether in classes, or in my critique appointment. But I expect to learn more than just writing. I hope to keep my heart open to learning by watching others, listening to others, and soaking it all in. I just hope I'm porous enough (2 Timothy 2:15).
  8. Faith. Without it, I can't please God. I know I already packed it along with the fruits of the Spirit, but I'm packing extra because without it, I can't believe that God has my best interest at heart. (Hebrews 11.)
  9. Ears open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I don't want to miss anything God has for me. I pray I'm sensitive to that still, small voice that loves to speak to me. Otherwise, He can't lead me where I need to go (John 16:13).
  10. Eyes to see ways I can be a blessing. I want to be sensitive to the needs of others. I pray I can be as much a blessing to people at conference as the ACFW organization has been to me. I want to "pay it forward." I've been given so much - how can I not want to give back? (Luke 6:38.)
  11. Peace. If I pack plenty of number 1 (prayer), I'll have plenty of number 11 (peace). (Philippians 4:6-7.)
  12. Humility. See all the above. And the example of Jesus' humility in Matthew 11:29: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Oh, how much I want to be like Jesus! For "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" James 4:6).
  13. Love. It fulfills all things. If I keep this at the forefront of everything I do, I'll be okay (Romans 13:8).
  14. Smile. With all the above things packed, I'm sure to have one of these! Besides, since registering for ACFW 2010, I haven't been able to wipe the grin off my face!
Only 14 more days until conference! What do you have packed?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Power of Fiction

Okay, as an author of fiction you know that it’s just plain fun to invent people, places, and incidents out of your imagination. It’s also rewarding to receive feedback from readers who have enjoyed them. But have you ever considered the potential power of fiction?

Examples from earlier centuries
In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer penned his Canterbury Tales. The framework for this collection of short stories is a fictional journey of a group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury Cathedral, and the travelers tell tales to entertain one another. What’s special is that, unlike contemporaries, Chaucer wrote in Middle English. Until then, literature in England was written in Latin or French. By daring to be different, Chaucer widened the scope of his audience and set the new standard language for literature.

In the 1800s, Charles Dickens wrote novels such as Oliver Twist. In so doing, he grabbed readers’ attention and forced them to consider the plight of London’s orphan population, many of whom worked basically as slaves in workhouses or were recruited into lives of crime. When readers vicariously experienced such outrages through the power of fiction, they demanded changes! New laws to protect orphans resulted.

Also in the 1800s, Harriet Beecher Stowe understood that she couldn’t make a dent in the institution of slavery simply by crusading against it. But when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she yanked readers from their cozy homes and plopped them into the same cruel circumstances that a slave might endure—and created a groundswell of anger against such a system.

Examples from sci-fi
During WW II, probably nobody could have imagined that one U.S. bomber pilot stood much chance of changing the future. But that’s what Gene Roddenberry accomplished—not by dropping bombs, but by the power of the fiction he developed years later. Martin Cooper, the inventor of cell phones, received his inspiration by watching the crew of Roddenberry’s USS Enterprise talking on communicators. In the 1980s, Steve Perlman saw computers on the Enterprise being used to play music, which was impossible at the time. Motivated to try it, his experiments led to QuickTime, which led to MP3 music, and eventually to iPods. Roddenberry couldn’t invent all those things, but his screenplays—just like the novels of Jules Verne—sparked the imaginations of people who could.

Our opportunity
In our own time, books such as the Left Behind series have opened the spiritual eyes of many readers who had no interest in God, Jesus, or church. Such people were interested stories, in adventures, but not in sermons. Fellow Christian writer, if you use your knack for writing just to earn money, that’s okay. But if God has given you a talent for hammering out stories that grip readers’ eyeballs and shape their thoughts, then you hold the key to a power greater than that of armies and bombs. Let’s use the power of fiction for our Lord.

Now let’s share. Which works of fiction have moved or inspired you? Or which authors changed the way you think about something?

Rick Barry

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quiz for Movers and Shakers - Those determined to move the world and those shaking in their boots

For gift chocolateCircle all that apply .

Are you ready for Indianapolis ACFW conference?

a. Preparation is frenzied and I’ve bought chocolate.
b. I want to go, but I can’t.
c. Go? I’m not even sure I want to keep writing.

My biggest worry is...

a. I won’t be prepared.
b. I’m going to miss my one big chance.
c. Other people. (Will anybody talk to me and share chocolate?)

Besides free chocolate, I expect ...

a. To get an agent, publisher, and/or book contract.
b. To learn the craft of writing and meet other writers.
c. To get away from my family, have others bring me meals and cleanup after me.

Whether you attend conference or not God will accomplish His purpose. I’ve met more people who strive in their own strength than those who are lazy so forgive me if I’m redundant, but RELAX.

Rest in Him. He is enough. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy in drought.” Isaiah 58:11. Prepare but don’t be frantic or anxious.

Expect God to give you what you need. “Whatever is good and perfect comes from God.” James 1:17. He never withholds what is best for you.

Laugh—at yourself, with a friend, out of pure pleasure of being loved by the Redeemer. You are who God made you. Don’t puff yourself up, nor put yourself down. A tip to the timid: crowds are made up of individuals each as important as the next, regardless of fame or acclaim.

Analyze your reasons. You might mine more riches from classes then from riding in on a charger trying to spear contracts and change the whole world in one weekend. Think of this as seed-planting time. Let God determine whether it brings an immediate harvest or a delay. “God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished…” Philippians 1:6

X out bad stuff. Repent of envy, jealousy, prejudice, judging others, pride and un-forgiveness. “Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation. I have no hope except in you.” Psalm 25:5. Critiques or meetings may not go as you hoped, but God can still bring about his purposes. For instance, there is no gift chocolate for leaving a comment. Can you forgive me? Think of the pound you saved and give thanks. BTW Some of you think entirely too much about chocolate!

Noah readied the ark for a hundred years. Anointed king, David still waited fifteen years before God put him into power. Jesus lived thirty quiet years before the three years of ministry that culminated in the most life-changing event ever. Not one of them were motivated by chocolate, but that’s not my point.

The timing is God’s. Movers and shakers can both pray, “God, help me get me out of Your way so I don’t delay Your will.”

I’d love to see your quiz responses and favorite conference scripture. Okay, if you insist, list your choice of chocolate. I can’t wait to meet you there and share chocolate.

Mary Allen