Thursday, October 28, 2010

E-D-I-T Is A Four-Letter Word

I’ve been knee-deep in edits the last few months and frustrated at my lack of time to indulge in my first love – SOTP (seat of the pants) novel writing. I miss the creativity of sitting at the computer and seeing where the Lord, and my imagination, lead. I must state upfront that I understand how crucial editing is, but it doesn’t mean I have to like or enjoy it. It’s not the bane of my existence, but pretty close to it.

You’ll probably agree that a writer has to be his or her own best editor in a number of respects. Now, more than ever, we need to present the cleanest, best manuscript we can, free of grammatical mistakes and those dreaded “beginner” errors - right from the start. Otherwise, we face almost certain rejection. The exception to the rule might be a story so compelling that an agent or editor will be able to see the inherent value and send the writer a contract.

It took joining ACFW and studying published novels in my genre to learn the distinctions between mediocre writing and truly distinctive, publishable work. Not that I’ve mastered it now, by any means, but I cringe when I go back to those earlier manuscripts (written as recently as late 2008 and early 2009). You want to talk about run-on sentences, excessive line attributions, adverbs... I broke so many of the no-telling, POV shift, head-hopping and other so-called “rules,” that I’m glad I’m stubborn and persistent, or I might have ditched it all and called it a day on my writing career.

When I initially submitted the manuscript for Awakening to Torn Veil Books, I thought it was in publishable shape. Was I ever wrong! I originally wrote that manuscript more than 10 years ago. The storyline is strong with good characters and plot development…it has all the elements. Remember when I mentioned the exception to the rule two paragraphs ago? Well, Awakening is that type of manuscript. I’m convinced Torn Veil sent me a contract based on the strength of the story itself because it certainly wasn’t for my editing ability.

I sent it to Torn Veil in late January 2009, only a few months after joining ACFW. They were the first entity (agent or publisher) to request the full manuscript. Based on what I learned in a short span of time in ACFW, I was mortified at all the mistakes and shot off an e-mail to the publisher and told them I had become aware of a few POV issues and overuse of adverbs and would work hard to correct those errors. The publisher wrote back, saying she was reading the manuscript for “the story” at that point, but if any manuscript contained too many errors, she would simply pass. The next I heard from them was when I received my contract on the first of May.

That's when the fun began. I went over it...and over it...with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. After I submitted my edits to Torn Veil's editor, she made the comment that it was one of the best self-edited manuscripts she'd ever seen. High praise indeed, especially from an editor. It was hard work, but totally worth it. Sometimes it's also a mixed blessing to be somewhat of a perfectionist. We need to remember that our book is a reflection of our work, but also reflects on our publisher and editor. Ultimately, we want to give our best to the Master, and that means giving our very best effort. We also need to accept that no matter what we do, or how closely we edit, there's inevitably going to be that one missed word or other omission, misspelling, or error. And someone will probably point it out.

I like to encourage other writers by sharing my experiences. ACFW is an invaluable organization. Finding honest crit partners is crucial. Listen to them and try not to be offended. Learn to weigh the good and the not-so-good advice. Keep what’s good in your own writing and shelve the rest. Most of all, and – as I’ve said before – keep writing. And editing. That’s the best advice. You will learn, but like anything else, it takes practice. Torn Veil has now requested the full manuscript of the second book of my series - in November (!). So, can you guess what's going on in my life right now? A whole lot of editing going on! Oh, and I need to renew my membership to ACFW.

I’m getting better at self-editing as I go. My newer work (when I can get to it!) is better and more streamlined in many respects. The Lord is my partner in this writing journey, and I want to tell those stories He’s laid on my heart. I know without a doubt He's opened the right doors for His time. Keep working on your craft, and He will open the right doors for you, too!

Singing the Book Trailer Blues

Is someone singing the blues on your book trailer? Or do you have a classical pianist playing Bach's Minuet in G Major?

Here's the more important question: did you pay a license fee for using that music track? If not, you may be guilty of copyright infringement.

I'll try to keep a complex subject simple, but if you still have concerns after reading this post, check with your publisher or an entertainment lawyer.

Many sound recordings have two copyrights. The first is for the composition as it has been captured in sheet music, and the second is for the actual performance.

Bach never copyrighted his compositions, and they would have moved into the public domain by now, anyway. So if you use what he wrote, you don't have to worry about infringing his copyright. But if you use a more recent arrangement of his work, the arranger may have copyrighted that.

Then there is the performance copyright. Whoever actually recorded the track has a separate copyright. Yes there are some exceptions, but not many.

By now you're wondering if your book trailer must resemble a silent movie, where the movie theater (or the viewer) has to provide its own music.

Don't give up yet. Here are three ways you can get music for your book trailer without worrying about copyright infringement.

The most common is to find a reputable online store that sells stock music tracks and purchase one that includes a royalty free license. "Royalty free" doesn't mean free, but it does mean that you pay only once no matter how many people view your book trailer. As long as you use a reputable site, it also means that the seller has obtained the necessary permissions for you.

One caution, however. Read the license before you purchase. Make sure it allows commercial use and that your book trailer fits its commercial use description.

A second option is to find a recording for which both the underlying music and the performance are in the public domain. This requires a lot of time and effort to discover limited choices. And if you find the recording on a website, make sure you can trust the website operator. You don't want the copyright holder to sue you because you mistakenly thought something was in the public domain.

In my opinion, this option isn't worth the trouble. But you may feel differently.

The third option is to use sheet music you know is in the public domain and record the performance yourself. If your daughter is an accomplished pianist, persuade her to play the music for you. Unless it is a work-for-hire, however, she will own the performance copyright in the recording, so make sure you have her permission to use it. (I'll talk about work-for-hire in next month's post.)

Of course, you don't want to use this third option unless you know you will get a quality product. Or if a less-than-perfect performance fits the tone of your humor or children's book.

Actually, there is a fourth option: contact the copyright holders for permission. Unless you are wedded to a particular recording that isn't available as stock music, it makes more sense to go with option one, which is easier and quicker.

So before you start using that book trailer, make sure you have the necessary licenses and permissions for any music you include in it.

Otherwise, you may find yourself singing the book trailer blues.

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the Road Again

As my sixth book, The Snowflake, "dropped" October 1st, I find the marketing side of this career ramping up again. One of my favorite parts of marketing is getting out of the house and on to the road. As everyone knows, book signings can be hopping fast or hopelessly slow, but I have found that they can always be lots of fun. There are store employees to chat with. I've learned a lot about their side of the book business by asking questions, being sympathetic to their struggles and cheering them on in their triumphs. Then, there are fellow authors to meet! It's always good for me to get out of my own little cave and find out what's going on in the industry around me.

This past weekend I went to Heaven Help Us bookstore in New Albany, Indiana. Kyla and her team (waving to her wonderful mom!) are so warm and welcoming. The road trip down was only about two hours and I like to bring driver/hubby along as it gives us an excuse to spend time together. When we got there I had the privilege of meeting author Kaye Dacus who I found out writes 3-4 books a year. Hats off to Kaye!! I also met our own JoAnn Durgan. It was hard to find everyone at ACFW so it was especially fun to hear about JoAnn's first book coming out this fall. (Boy, is she excited!).

I'm saying all this to say that while book signings can be disappointing from a sales stand point, they always have something to offer. So load up the car and get on the road! And hopefully we will run into each other sometime soon!

How about you? Any tips that you have found to make book signings more successful?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

ACFW Conference 2020: A Look into the Future

Today's posting is a "speculative" one about what the ACFW conference of that time period might look like. Gear up and get ready to depart. Let's jump into our time-travelling Delorean, accelerate up to 88 mph, and head Back To the Future!

To Infinity, and Beyond:
As you well know, technology is expanding at an exponential rate. At some point in our history, technological devices that we use on a day to day basis now, were once considered "impossible" or "fancies of the imagination." Inventions such as the combustible engine, the telephone, travelling at the speed of sound, computers smaller than refrigerators, and even the ability to "send electronic mail" were all considered creations of science-fiction, crack pots, and foolish dreamers.

Given where we are today, technologically, and considering how popular Christian Fiction has become recently, what will the 2020 ACFW conference look like? What things might we see?

  • Let's assume that the conference will be held back in Indianapolis again (naturally).
  • Let's also assume that Christian Fiction will continue to grow and that more and more Christians will be called to tell their story (and thus want to perfect their talents) and desire to attend our conference.
Getting There is Half the Fun:
The technological evolution in air travel will allow the trip to be much faster, cheaper, and be scheduled at a moments notice (really, no joking). By 2020, high speed rail trains between cities will be more highly developed. Both air and train travel will be able to bring you directly to the event. The planes of that time will be VTOL (vertical take off and landing) capable and the MRTV's (magnetic repulsor transit vehicles) will have "train" tracks through major structures in each city and have stops at key destinations (aka our hotel). The end result is that more people who want to attend the conference will be able to do so. The numbers of attendees will be 5-10 times the 2010 final count (better start planning now guys and gals).

I Can't Make it:
Now, for those writers who want to attend but are unable to do so, they will not have to worry. The entire conference--main events, classes, training sessions, and panel discussions will all be streamed live right into whatever device the off-site participant is using (perhaps an iPhone 10-G or iPad-Extreme type of device). Imagine those attendance numbers now.

Going Green:
Instructors will be able to broadcast outlines and reference notes directly to the attendees in real time via the techno devices of the time. Localized push technology will let the speaker send documents to everyone in the room electronically. Carry that one step further, providing that you registered for the event, the off-site attendees might be able to ask questions and correspond with the speaker.

Finding your Way:
Trying to locate your friend in the sea of people? Just use your communication device to map out exactly where that person is in relation to you and display it (assuming that the location function is turned on by choice) on your communication device. You can even set it to locate "Indiana attendees" or "speculative fiction writers" to help you network. Need to know the physical layout of the event, tap into the app on your device and it will show you your present location and exactly how to proceed to where you need to go via the localized GPS mapping service of the facility.

Now onto the even cooler stuff...

Now You See Me:
I mentioned before that, for this exercise, that the convention was being held in Indianapolis, but with the continued progression of communication technology, there is no reason that the ACFW yearly convention cannot be in multiple locations at the same time! Holographic projection has come along way in the last few years. Seriously, it's not just science-fiction anymore. Just google it. By 2020, "we" should have more of the bugs worked out. With real time streaming, you can attend events 5 states away. It's not to far fetched to say that you could have a room of attendees 5 states away watching a presentation by a guest speaker on a real stage...a stage with a holographic projection of the presenter. With multiple HD image scanning and multi-faceted laser projection technology of today, this next step is almost here.

The End, or Just the Beginning:
Well, there you have it. Time to come back to good old 2010. If you look back at the technology of 2000 and how far we have come since then, the things I have projected here are really not that far fetched. Remember, "With God, All Things Are Possible." (Matthew 19:26 NIV). "All" means ALL. Technology only matters in how we use it. Using it for the Lord is the best and only way to use it. The future history is still the best history to come.

Oh,...and let's not forget, there will be stations through out the conference where you can get a 15-minute massage from a trained professional for a fair price. The "Shoe-Shine guy" will still be there too (and by then, he has been hired to travel with the ACFW conference to help us put our best foot forward).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don's Stroke

We have a medical emergency. If there’s a physician aboard, please come to the forward cabin.”

The drone of the Boeing 747’s engines invaded the hush following the announcement. Across the aisle a row ahead of me, a woman wearing a blue, plaid scarf popped to her feet. She scurried down the narrow aisle, and I sucked in a breath of air.

It’s Don! I just know it!

I’d been waiting for him to return to our seats. We were over the Pacific, four hours away from landing in Los Angeles, and we’d decided to use the restrooms before settling in for a short snooze. The flight was long—fourteen and a half hours from Melbourne, Australia (where we’d been visiting our daughter), to LA. Meals, movies, and a good book had killed off ten of the hours. We looked forward to a break in the airport before continuing our journey home.

A stewardess sped up the aisle. I grabbed her arm. “Is it a man in a red, long-sleeved shirt?”

Her eyes widened, as if I were psychic. “Yes.”

“Then it’s my husband.” Heart thumping, I followed her to the front of the cabin. Don was seated on a staff chair, the woman with the blue scarf hovering over him. A clear plastic oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose. His brow was shiny with sweat, his eyes opened so wide you could see the whites around his irises. I stood directly in front of him, but he didn’t recognize me.

“Your husband has had a stroke,” the woman said. She was one of several Aussie physicians aboard the flight to attend a convention in LA. How providential was that? Don’s care was immediate, faster than if he’d been home and taken to an emergency room.

Did the stroke begin in his seat? When he got up to go to the restroom, his left leg and arm were a bit numb. He finished up in the lavatory but couldn’t find his way out of the tiny cubicle. His head throbbed, he could barely see, and he didn’t know how to get back to his seat. He finally found the latch on the door and stumbled out. The blur of a passenger loomed in the aisle. Don tapped him on the arm and said, “Could you call a stewardess for me? I think I’m having a stroke.”

Ten years ago Don had had a stroke, and he was leery of its happening again. Because he knew the symptoms, he keyed into to what was happening aboard the flight to LA. Though the doctor checked him for a heart attack and other possible problems, she had Don’s guidance to focus on treating a stroke. Again, providence.

Don didn’t recognize me because he couldn’t see me. “It’s like someone’s dimmed the lights,” he said. “I can barely make out shapes.” By the time we deplaned he felt fine except for a headache and loss of vision, but the airlines required a doctor’s release before we could fly to Chicago and on to Indy. So, naively assuming a doctor at the nearest ER would sign him off, we sent our four, 50-pound pieces of luggage on to Indy. More providence. We ended up in an LA hospital for three days, and I shudder to think of my having to haul around and be responsible for all that baggage.

This past year I’ve worked on making Romans 8:28 a conscious mental and spiritual orientation in my life. “We know that all things work together for good to those whose love God.” This means no matter what happens in my life, God is looking out for me. No need for anxiety—everything is purposed by Him for my good. Over and over, Don and I saw that wonderful truth in action in our little adventure between Melbourne and Indy. I wish I had room to tell you of all the times things looked bad… and snowballed… into good.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, that the truth of Romans 8:28 applies to our lives as writers too. It’s been five years since Don and I started co-authoring our adventure/suspense trilogy. Enough years that we can look back and see that what looked like setbacks were actually “advances” for our good. We writers need to hang in there, trust God, wait on Him. Don’t mistake toe-stubbers for disasters. Shift to God’s perspective that He has a purpose for whatever happens to you. And there’s more than hope involved here. There’s good. Good from a good God who loves you.

Thank you, all of you who have upheld us in your prayers. The prognosis for Don is that he will be blind—“legally blind,” not dark-hole, utterly blind—for the rest of his life. We hope God will give him a better recovery than that, but if not, it’s okay. God is good. We look forward to discovering His purposes in it.

Steph Prichard            

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's Your Hook?

What do the following quotes have in common?

“Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.” Dan Brown, Angels and Demons

“Whoosh. That was the sound of another high profile prisoner being sent into eternity.” John Burke, Empress Hunter: 2010

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“I’m what you call an orphan, I guess. Officially, I’m a ward of the state of Texas.” Jenny B. Jones, In Between

“It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife

“Outside the village there is a fire ring, blackening the thawing snow.” Elizabeth Kostova, Swan Thieves

“PJ Sugar would never escape trouble.” Susan May Warren, Nothing but Trouble

“I wasn’t surprised when Mama asked me to save her life.” Randy Susan Meyers, The Murderer’s Daughters

“Some people are born with extraordinary abilities.” Michelle Weidenbenner, Willow (working title)

These are the first sentences in each novel.

When I’m at a bookstore—or surfing at—I look through at least ten prospective books and read the first sentence in each one. Why? It’s fun. It’s a game I play. I try to determine the story’s plot, the genre, and whether the lead sentence hooks me. If it does, I study it. Why does it get my attention? How does it set the tone for the entire novel?

Sometimes I can tell by the first sentence if the book is literature—something thought-provoking, or if it’s mind-candy—something that will merely entertain me, and not make me think too hard.

It also tells me something about the writing. I’ve noticed that the more recently published novels have much better hooks than novels with an older copyright date. I often wonder if it’s because more and more publishers are demanding better writing from their authors. I think they are.

In my first novel, Oksana, the first sentences were, “Stealing is common here. It’s survival.” When I entered that book in the Genesis and Frasier contests, one judge valued that sentence as her favorite, while another judge thought it should be eliminated because it was telling and not showing. This clearly illustrates that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Fortunately, God made us all different with different opinions, but one thing that most publishers will probably agree upon is that your first sentence definitely matters.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t flesh out your hook sentence the first time you sit down to write your book. You may need to write your entire novel before you find it. Sometimes it’s buried in your first chapter, or your last one. In Oksana, author and teen leader Bryan Davis found my hook about three-quarters of the way down my first page during a critique session at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference.

Is your hook sentence good enough to pass my test? Is it good enough to pass yours? I don’t know, but make it good enough to make your publisher happy and my guess is that it’ll be good enough for the majority of your readers, too.

What’s your hook? Do you have a personal favorite? Please share!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tips from a Book Signing Survivor

By Rachael Phillips

In this day of cyber marketing, some rate book signings right up there with smoke signals. But my target market, women, want more than just eye contact with a computer. So I held signings for my first published fiction, as I did for my nonfiction books. From these, I culled suggestions I hope will be useful.

First and foremost: Bring chocolate. If customers are seeking emergency exits in order to avoid you, offer these treats and watch them smile. (Think of this as your chocolate ministry.)

Almost as important: Bring books. At my first signing, I naively assumed the bookstore would order my books. They did--too late--and forgot to inform me of this little glitch. Meeting an author with no books does not thrill the public.

Team up with other authors. More authors = more attendees. Most writers are friendly people with many contacts. Also, as serious students of human nature, they know sufficient family dirt to blackmail numerous relatives to attend and buy.

Besides, there is safety in numbers. Your survival chances will increase if readers storm the store because someone mistook you for Karen Kingsbury.

On the other hand, if bookstore clerks expire from boredom, authors can comfort each other, trade books to up sales numbers, and eat all the chocolate.

Note: Do not accept unknown signing partners. I once spent two eternal hours with an assigned author whose cheery personality rivaled that of a cement block.

Do not schedule a signing where you know no one (unless you really are Karen Kingsbury). Also, get acquainted with bookstore personnel, including owners, sales clerks, and janitors, beforehand. Extend appreciation and small gifts, and they will lead customers to you and your books.

Publicize until even you are sick of you. Flyers, mailings, posters, press releases, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, tap dancing--whatever it takes.

Connect with an event. It there is no event, manufacture one. My most successful signing involved reading my humor columns at a coffeehouse next door to the bookstore. Offer helpful hints or demonstrations that connect with your book. Push free drawings. Sell and sign books at family reunions and gatherings. (Exception: funerals.)

Give input on your signing location. Big crowds, good publicity, nice weather--all in vain if you and your books are locked in the furnace room. A group of quarantined authors and I generated near-zero traffic at a large event, and the cooperating Christian bookstore put us on their blacklist, to be revoked only by the Rapture.

Avoid the prison visit look. Bring a table cloth, flower arrangement, nostalgic memorabilia, or travel posters of your novel's setting. For my Christmas novella, I fa-la-laed with a holiday tablecloth, angel, and faux evergreen boughs. Put prizes and free materials on prominent, colorful display. And, if really desperate for sales, you can always exhibit photos of your children gnawing crusts of bread.

Smile, smile, smile. You smiled six hours for your wedding photos. You can do it now. Have your picture taken with other smiling authors/visitors for your website, blog, and Facebook page.

Send the bookstore a thank-you note. Yes, you supported this business. But they will continue to keep your name out there--if you and your rowdy literary friends didn't trash the place.

Do not get discouraged. Even Erma Bombeck's signings sometimes bombed. At one, only desperate patrons who couldn't find the restroom approached her. The sole customer she attracted wanted to buy the table at which she sat. Still, Erma did good.

Do you have signing stories/tips that might aid in author survival? (Or suggestions for effective medications?)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Muse on Line Writers' Conference

This week I will take in the Muse on Line Writers' Conference. This cyberspace conference is no substitute for our ACFW annual event, but does have much to offer. This is my second year.

Canadian author and publisher, Lea Schizas, brings enormous energy to the conference and almost single handedly puts on the show. And, in rather superb style, I think. This is the fifth year for the conference, I believe, and even since last year, offering choices have significantly grown.

The conference is structured around classes and presentations, chat rooms, forums, networking and the opportunity to pitch publishers and agents. Pertinent and basic writing topics are covered in the sessions. This year a week long workshop on Christian Fiction Writing is planned.

While it takes a little computer savvy to take full advantage of the conference, instructional sessions are freely offered. Lea thinks of everything!

Many participating publishers are focused on other than the Christian genre, but this year I am pleased to see more Christian publishing houses and agents available. Among those are Sandra Bishop of the MacGregor Literary Agency, Ellechor House, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe, and White Rose Publishing.

Registration closed this year at over 1300 attendees. You may want to consider Muse on Line for next year—in October just after ACFW!

Stop by the web site for info on next year or to check out what you missed. Address is The cost is free, but donations are accepted.

Jude Urbanski

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Just" Cause

I've been a member of ACFW for nearly two years now, but I need to come clean with all of you. You see, I have a little secret that sometimes comes to the surface and I just need to spill it once and for all. I'm not a fiction writer. There. I've said it. Whew!

You see, even though this is the first group I joined when I jumped feet first into this writing gig, most of the writing I do is non-fiction. I write devotionals, journalistic pieces, magazine articles, literary non-fiction, and newsletters. My fiction writing is limited to several short stories and lots of ideas. But since I started writing, it's all I can do to keep up with the assignments in the non-fiction realm. I faithfully read the loop and I've learned so much about writing--both fiction and non-fiction--from ACFW. But I feel like I'm still in soak-up-all-you-can mode when it comes to writing fiction.

I've celebrated with those members acquiring agents, signing contracts, and finalling in the Genesis and mourned with each one of you who has experienced rejection, lost manuscripts, and got yucky judges comments. I get so caught up in the dream of seeing a fiction book in print that I forget that I've already done something a lot of people can't say--I've been published.

This summer I attended a writer's conference that offered workshops for both fiction and non-fiction writers. My friend Christa and I settled in at a table for a break. After a few pleasantries and answering the favorite question of all writers--What do you write?--one woman asked me if I was published. I answered, "Yes, but just in non-fiction."

Christa looked at me, her eyebrows arching toward her hairline and said, "Did you say just?"  Chagrined, I promptly rephrased my answer. But that got me thinking.

I realized that because of my involvement with ACFW, I had inadvertently told myself that since I was a writer, but not an author, I hadn't yet arrived. Let me be clear that no one in ACFW ever expressed this attitude to me, it was all my own doing. Not only had I discounted the accomplishments I'd made, but I'd short-changed the gift God had so generously given to me in the form of a blossoming freelance career.

That made me wonder what other things I saw with a just attitude. Did I discount my role as care-taker to my children, reasoning that I'm just  a mother? Do I down-play the abilities God's given me to minister to His body by brushing aside compliments, saying I'm just  a teacher, or just  an encourager, or just an administrator? In the face of thanks from a friend or church member for helping in their time of need, do I shrug and chalk it up to just prayer?

When I put that little word in front of any good thing given to me by God or any good things He does through me, I discount the blessings He bestows and the sacrifices He's made. I'm determined to get rid of that four-letter word and rejoice in the way God is using me now. You see, my goal is not to change my title from "writer" to "author". My goal is not to publish in fiction. My goal is to be obedient to God and to glorify Him with my life.

How about you? What things are you just doing? What blessings do you approach with a just  attitude?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Novel Track, NaNoWriMo, etc.

Hey, y'all,

I was so excited about having the day off from work that I forgot my post! Arrrggghhh!

Anyway, this month I am participating in ACFW's Novel Track project, where members post their goals for writing and then update and encourage each other.

It's a similar idea to National Novel Writing Month, which includes many more people with many more varied backgrounds and beliefs.

If I were a techie, I would post links to these sites. But I'm not that skilled yet.

Anyway, the main theme is to write, write, write! My goal was 2,000 words each weekend since I am too "shattered" after work each day to get anything done. Other than meals, laundry and checking homework. But on Saturday morning I can dibs the computer and get 'er done.

Like my creative writing prof urged us back in the day when I was at Purdue, the main idea is to "get black ink on white paper." Once we have the words on paper we can shape them.

It has been very freeing to just sit down and write. I can worry about the rules later and just go. In 2005, after DH was in an accident and I was home with him I participated in NaNoWriMo. Since then I re-wrote that story, met an agent at ACFW's conference in 2008 who liked it and has been sending out proposals.

Just writing is like my husband's approach to field work during spring and fall if the weather has been against us. "Sometimes you just have to mud through it." Picture a big tractor with duals in back, listen to the engine roaring and breathe in the scent of diesel fuel and exhaust combined with damp soil.

My word-count goal is on the way to my next writing goal, finishing the first draft of my current WIP, a historical romance set in southern Indiana with Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's cavalry raid going on in the background. I entered part of this story in RWA of southern Louisiana's "Dixie Kane" memorial contest and received honorable mention, which tickled me. Both the contest results and the writing projects have helped me get rolling again, trying to balance writing with work and the rest of my life.

Anyway, for an encouraging way to get writing, Novel Track and NaNoWriMo have been good options for me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brainstorming; Part One

All writers must discover their own process for developing the stories, and naturally the process varies from writer to writer. The idea of having a process seems to add credibility to the idea that an author can do it again; otherwise, the writer may flounder hopelessly in a sea of trail and error—thus, the need for the term one-book wonders?

I’m a big fan of the bubble map (vein map) in the early stages of brainstorming, and I’m guessing most writers use the Donald Maass Breakout Novel Questions. Knowing each writer has to find the process that works for him or her, I offer two of my brainstorming tools in hope others will find a tidbit they can tailor to fit their personal style. I’m guessing the idea of following a process may even cause some pantsers to hyperventilate, but here goes.

One step in my brainstorming process is the “The Playmaker Strategies” which I gleaned from “The Elements of Influence” by Alan Kelly. This book was written primarily for managers, business leaders and campaigners, but it has given me some great strategies for my characters to use and move the plot along. The book is out of print, but you can still get an inexpensive used copy from Below is a brief summary of a few of the playmaker strategies.

The Pause Strategy
The playmaker (character) remains silent and allows the competition (other character) to talk until they talk themselves into a corner (or reveal too much information).
The author cites the example of an important meeting when Winston Churchill and his political counterpart were both called to a meeting with the current prime minister. During the meeting Churchill remained silent and let the competition (who was more qualified) talk himself out of the job. I’ve used this strategy to have my female character to talk endlessly and thus reveal more information than she intended while the brooding male listens quietly.

The Ping Strategy
The playmaker (character) drops a hint or dribbles out important information to evaluate the response from the opposing team. It’s a low-impact way to check on the competition’s pulse on a given situation. This is often used at poker tables where the players lightly rib their opponents to watch for their reactions. Story characters can use this strategy to test the response of bad news or some secret a character fears will get out.

The Filter Strategy
The player (character) allows some information to get out and holds back other info in order to control which facts might be used to his or her advantage. For example, a soldier is killed during battle, and the army paints him as a hero as it draws on the patriotism of family and friends, not revealing the full truth—his death was the result of friendly fire. A story character might make a serious mistake and knowing he or she is about to get caught, but uses the situation as if it was planned, while at the same time hiding bits of the truth.

The Deflect Strategy
An attempt to divert a rival’s attack, either to avoid or minimize its impact. Also known as dodging, and passing the buck. Example; A famous baseball player on trial was asked about his use of steroids, and his response was; “I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself.” Instead of answering the question, he cleverly diverted it.

The Pass Strategy
Typically used by a player as a means of bailing out of a marketplace to preserve resources or focus elsewhere. The book uses the example of IBM selling its PC business to China’s Lenovo group—in order to focus profits elsewhere. Likewise, a story character might withdraw from his previous agenda under the cover of “the good of others” while in reality he has to focus his energy on a more pressing or more important issue.

The Lantern Strategy
The deliberate preemptive disclosure by a player of its own flaw, mistake or some source of potential embarrassment or controversy. Thus, the character volunteers to confess his mistake before someone else can do so. IE—report the bad news on your own terms before someone else can report it on their terms. The book uses the example of the 1952 Richard Nixon Checker’s Speech when he had to fend off accusations that he had accepted illegal campaign contributions. Nixon surprised his detractors by doing the unexpected. Instead of dodging the charges, he confronted them directly, point by point—even to the extent of the gift of their dog Checkers.

The unsolicited parading by a player of a novelty to generate attention in a marketplace. Peacocks usually hinge on a novelty or unusual action—to spur market talk. Good peacocks have staying power and are remembered for years. Example; Oprah and the 7-million dollar car giveaway. It shows who has the power. How many times do we see a story where a wealthy character gives so generously, even to the point that it diminishes the sacrifices the main character makes, causing us to dislike the big giver?

The book explores twenty-five of these playmaker strategies, which it breaks down into precise moves and countermoves by which the competitive advantage is won and lost. I go through each strategy and try to come up with a way in which each one might add something to my story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it has worked enough to be worth the effort.

Perhaps you have a brainstorming strategy of your own. Care to share? Next month I’ll give an overview of George Polti’s thirty-six dramatic situations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Speaking of Speaking

Crystal Laine Miller at her first speaking engagement (Imitating Bub Pope.)
You're a writer. If you haven't been asked to speak yet,eventually you will. If you haven't been published yet,now is the time to consider how you will handle public events and publicity surrounding your book.

At the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis this year I met author Jim Rubart in person for the first time.We'd had some correspondence on email due to ACFW business.If you haven't checked out his site for promotion and speaking, then you simply must.His fiction book, Rooms, has garnered all sorts of honors and awards, appeared on bestseller lists,but he's also a speaker, marketing consultant and has a company called Barefoot Marketing.Also check out his list of topics on his web site--topics on which he'll speak.He's done some workshops with our own Tiffany Colter and with agent Chip MacGregor that you may wish to look into taking.

*Think about this for yourself: on what topics would you be willing to speak?

Now here's what's funny about meeting Jim. Somehow he was under the impression from my emails that I am an extrovert.A-living-out-loud kind of person.Someone like Colleen Coble.But I am an introvert.This doesn't mean I'm shy, but it does mean I need more preparation and I need recovery time after a speaking engagement.I'm more likely to not say anything until I've thought it through.I may be somewhat on the line between extrovert and introvert as this was not true when I was teaching in school every day.I could sometimes teach off the top of my head because I was passionate about and knew my topics.If you are an introvert, then this is from where you can draw your topics--the ones you are passionate about and know well.

Here are some practical things from my speaking experiences:

1. Have water nearby. (Preferably with some lemon in it.) Don't drink
caffeine drinks prior. (For two reasons!*Ask me by email.)

2. Have your handouts stacked according to presentation and marked in your outline (if you use one) when to distribute. It's best to enlist someone to disperse these as you continue to speak, so if you do that, make sure you give some time to get these to your audience because this will distract, anyway, from what you are saying. Also, if you can, disperse prior to the speaking and then indicate about when they will need this, if at all.

3. Prior to speaking, make sure people can hear you. If you have a microphone, it would be good to do a test.Don't walk in front of the amp/speakers with the microphone, if you have one/them, because some systems squawk when you do that. Ouch!

4. Don't grip the podium if you have one. (ha) Relax. These are just people you are talking to about things you are passionate about, right?

5. Try to make eye contact with those in the audience. Don't just look in one spot. Try not to take it personally if someone is not looking at you. There are such people who are auditory learners and won't necessarily be looking at you, but will be paying attention.Kinesthetic learners may be fiddling with things, too.There might be someone who is asleep (I had this happen to me when I spoke to high school students.) Think positively and don't take credit for that person taking a nap....

6. Occasionally ask questions where the audience has to participate--like
"how many of you," "raise your hands," that sort of thing, because it engages
your audience.
But don't use it so often that it loses it effectiveness or gets to be distracting (like, they are counting how many times you say it. )Also, watch repeated phrases like "as such" or "you know what I mean?" or any other phrase that gets distracting--unless it has a point,of course.If all of a sudden a bunch in the back row jumps up and yells "Yes! Score!" then they're probably either listening to a game on their iPhone or you just broke your own personal record for saying, "As such."

7.No matter how serious the topic, start off with a little humor (if
to set yourself and others at ease. Then, set the tone with some sort of anecdote.Choose carefully.If you are afraid it will be offensive, do reconsider.

8. Make your own notes about how a favorite speaker presents himself. You can always learn from a speaker who holds YOU in the palm of his hand. I was struck during the elections here in the U.S. by the various candidates and how they spoke. I think the way two in particular presented their material certainly swayed their audiences, even if you don't agree with the message.

9. Always, always take into account your audience, their point of view and
what your purpose is.
Just like in writing!

10. Don't look down too much because your voice goes wherever you are
If you are constantly looking down as you speak, your voice goes down into your notes, not out to the audience. If you have a microphone, make sure you speak into it, but try not to "breathe"into it.If you have to cough, take your mouth away from the mike.

11. Wear something comfortable (if it cuts off your air, you will be sorry! ha)but also choose a color that enhances your appearance and personal coloring.People get focused on your appearance and can be distracted by the weirdest things, like your hair sticking up or that you're wearing orange.Color also influences what the audience will think of you and your message. I have written articles about this. Colors convey a message, too. If you have a friend there, have that friend make sure that you don't have underwear static-clinging to your skirt or that your slip is dangling around your ankles. (Men, you know what to check....)

I am by NO means an expert and I certainly could use more experience and tips on speaking. I like how fiction authors are offering topics to speak on to groups who ask them to speak. I think you will sell more books if you offer the audience more than just your fiction. Doc Hensley told us that you need to establish your expertise in order to garner attention to your work. (That probably gets into "branding.")

Also, I think it's nice to give "gifts" to your audience--plenty of bookmarks, or similar type things. Some speakers pass baskets of chocolate or candy.It's always nice to have a "door prize,"too. (Your book, for example.)

What kinds of advice do you have for us when it comes to speaking? What has worked for you?

Here's a story you can use ,if you want, for that ice-breaking humor :  
A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree reading a book; the other was typing away on his laptop.

The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him. 

Why? Because even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.

~Crystal Laine Miller

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Desperate Writers, Desperate Readers

You and I love a good story.

God has called us to write them.

But you and I are powerless to write even one life-giving word.

We are desperate writers.

Since writing is the work of God may I challenge us to follow the example of Jesus?

Jesus spoke what the Father commanded Him to speak. (John 12:49)

Since it is His work, may I challenge us to listen to the Father as we form, think and write? Could I further challenge us to kneel daily before the Creator whose words called into being more than we can imagine, and confess we are needy?

Jesus did whatever He saw the Father doing. (John 5:19)

I don’t know about you, but when I turn inward my writing turns sour. The best writing comes from engaging in others’ lives. May I challenge us to leave our laptops, watch what the Father is doing around us and join Him in His work?

Jesus laid down His life. (John 15:13)

Today I was interrupted lots of times. First it was frustrating. Then it was frightening. At last it dawned on me: surrender now, write later.

Jesus interceded. (John 17; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 4:15,16)

Readers are desperate, too. They are deceived, confused, discouraged and heartbroken. We don’t know most of our readers and we can’t choose them. But why not ask the Father to make us faithful to write the stories only He can give and prepare readers for them so that in His fullness of time they intersect powerfully?

Jesus, our great high priest who sympathizes with our weakness, lives to make intercession for us at the right hand of God. Let us boldly approach the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Under the Influence

Until a day or so ago, I didn't know what I'd write about for the blog this time. I mean, we write, we pray, we eat, we sleep, we take bubble baths, some of us sing...lather, rinse, repeat. Right? Sometimes it's hard to find something fresh, new, and different to pique interest and get writers thinking.

And then...something happened.

A friend of mine read another author's book. Liked some things a lot, liked some things not so much. Wrote up a nice review, extremely balanced, with the negative stuff soft-pedaled. (I know. I saw it.) And, bless her heart, she sent it to the author in question, telling her in effect, "This is what I wrote about your book, I thought you'd want to see if before everybody else does."

Was the author pleased at this courtesy--which my friend was not obligated to do?
The author got upset because there was a sentence or two that said parts of the book were weak.
The author proceeded to tell my friend that, as an influencer, she was supposed to say only good things about the book. 

The problem with that scenario friend didn't know she'd been put into the "influencer" category.
She hadn't volunteered to be an "influencer." And now she's in a position where she perceives a need to "rebuild a relationship" with said author.


I've been in the writing business a long, long time, and the first--and only--place I've ever heard of such a thing as an "influencer" is in the Christian fiction biz. Perhaps it's been out there for awhile. Perhaps it's some tool a marketing genius thought up, and it's taken off in this particular niche in a way it hasn't taken off anywhere else. All I know is, I actually had to ask someone what an "influencer" was when I thought about doing the task--because I had no earthly idea what was entailed. The answer I got was, "You read the book, and then you spread the word about it. Mention it in your blog, mention it on a web page, you know...the usual."

Fair enough. So the idea is, you volunteer to talk about a book. You know you're going to do it. You read the book with that in mind. But does anybody see what wasn't mentioned in that description above?

Right. The expectation that you will say only good things when you do that talking.
In other words, the author wants you to censor what you say...or she wants to do it for you.
How is that serving anyone in this business?

"But, Janny!" you may be saying. "If an influencer goes on a blog and says, 'This book wasn't great,' how is that going to help an author's career?"

Fair question. But that only brings up the second, and more crucial question: since when does "talk about the book" translate into "help me sell a boatload of these things, or don't bother"? Independent readers aren't obligated to go out and sell your book. That's your marketing department's job. That's your publicist's job. That's your job. The reader's job should read. And remark. And evaluate.

Yes, of course, they shouldn't set out to slam your book--that's just as bad as setting out to deliberately sugarcoat it. But they do all of us a disservice when they're not allowed to point out where an author could have done better, or something that may not have worked for them, in context of an overall positive experience. That's not panning a book. That's giving a fair evaluation of it, and it's giving people who look to "influencers" for news about new books an even playing field from which to make a purchase decision.

Unfortunately, though, as things stand now, the moment we engage a reader as an "influencer," in effect, we want sugarcoating out of her--and we're apparently appalled if we get anything else.We put her under a hidden agenda. In other words, we engage in duplicity. In plain English? We lie to ourselves, and we want cooperation from others in doing so as well.

Last time I looked, lying was a sin. Or doesn't it count if it's among Christians?

Think I'm being unduly harsh? Well, consider this. If I read an account of a new book from a person I know, whose taste I trust, and she raves about the book--while holding back on all the flaws she saw, but is forbidden to talk about--how does that help anyone in this business? It makes me fighting mad, because I trusted this person to give me a fair and honest scoop--which she's hogtied from doing. Worse in the long run, it lulls an author into a false sense of complacency--because, trust me, if you don't hear about the flaws, you're going to think there are none.

Yes, common sense "should" take over, and you "should" realize no book's perfect. But are you going to...really...if no one's allowed to say so? You and I both know the answer. Of course you're not.

Then, when truly independent readers pick up that book and find those flaws, and are under no unspoken expectation to ignore them, they're going to mention them, loud and long, in review sites. What happens when that author weeps about those reviews to her friends and influencers? You and I both know the answer to that one, too. Her friends rally around her, saying those are just"bad reviews." That she should "pay no attention to them," or that the reviewers "just didn't get" her book, or...

Like I said before, hogwash.
And it's all the worse hogwash because we actively encourage and demand the process continue.

We as Christian writers owe each other more scrupulous honesty than the world gives. We owe each other the truth, spoken in love. We owe each other transparency, not duplicity. Right now, people can be blindsided by these hidden and--let's face it--unfair expectations. Because "influencers," if they're allowed to say only good things, aren't "influencing" anyone at all; they're selling. They're acting as publicity agents. They're creating buzz.

People get paid for doing that in the real world.
Why we don't do so in the Christian fiction world is a question we owe it to ourselves to answer...and a bad situation we owe it to ourselves to fix.


Friday, October 8, 2010

writing window

windy willows swaying, billowing
outside my writing window
making me wonder

windy willows billowing, cascading
making me wonder
are they weeping

windy willows cascading, sighing
are they weeping
weeping for summer's ending

windy willows sighing, weeping
weeping for summer's ending
golden leaves dying

windy willows weeping, waving
golden leaves dying
regal geese flying

windy willows waving, swaying
regal geese flying
soaring, far far away

Fall blessings, everyone!
Millie Samuelson

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Meeting God at Conference

Conference was a high-powered speed boat frothing the lake of our literary world. Now, however, the buzz has worn off. The adrenaline high has tapered to (hopefully) a consistent putt-putting, like a tugboat pulling freight. The day jobs and various roles we live have settled into mundane and routine chaos. It’s now that the true take-away value of those three days in Indianapolis emerges.

The teaching was great, the speaker fantastic, but I want to weep with gratitude when I recount experiences with people. They were like gentle kisses from God. Here are a few. I’m sure they’ll help you recall your own list.

*The kindness of wait staff to provide what was needed over and above their duty.

*Two new roommates who made me feel connected and comfortable. One whose first-time exuberance increased my conference excitement, the other who extended unexpected aid, were blessings directly from our Father.

*A chance to rejoice with a friend whose career is progressing, and another for whom God answered prayers and a fleece.

*An encouraging word given by a publisher.

*Comforting someone over a heart-wrenching situation and receiving back a Word of knowledge for myself.

*A chance to be generous in what felt like a very small way and having generosity returned in a large way.

*Hearing how time after time God brought his children through dire straits, disasters, sickness, or loss.

*Recounting to others how faithful God has been to me.

All through the Bible holy days and festivals were established to remember God’s holy intervention and emphasize his continuous active presence. Conference was like that – an extraordinary celebration of an extraordinary God doing extraordinary things in the lives of ordinary people.

Yes, the point of conference was to hone our craft, make contacts, develop new friendships, and promote ourselves. It was also so much more. Please don’t forget that what we do is really about God and people. This includes fellow writers, publishers, editors, and agents, those outsiders who observe us, and the very real human readers who buy books. God is interested in people. People are his heart. In the end, recognizing and aligning with his plan is what will keep us moving toward our own personal goals and sustain us through the tough or drab times.

Take some time to remember what God did for you specifically at conference, those who impacted you, and those whose lives you touched for God. I’d love to hear about a special God-moment you had. Also, those who didn’t go jump in here too, for God met you in special ways as well.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Think Your Family is Too Boring to Write About?

Odds are, that if you get an old box of fading photographs into the same room as older members of your family - stories will begin to fly. Even if no one can remember who in the world is in the photo! (Sometimes those are the best kind for writers - as you can let your imagination run away with you ...)

Everyone has a story.  You may think your own life story is boring. And maybe today it is. However, your story uniquely interacts with all of the other story lines among your family and friends. Next time you feel writer's block creeping up on you, if you have time in your impending deadline ... dig out that box of photos gathering dust in your drawer or closet, and go hang out with your relatives or friends. Jot down a few of the more interesting tid bits revealed while you wax nostalgic about the 'good ole days'. Family stories are great for analyzing motivations for characters. Why did your great, great grandparents pack up their entire family and leave their home country to come to America? Why did Uncle Larry sell all of his tractors and move to Boston? Could you twist those elements of motivation into a new story, with new characters of your own? Go on, spice it up a little ...

In my family, Fall is traditionally when we have our family reunion. Because my grandfather is ailing we aren't having it this year. However, we've started digging through the family photos to distract him while he is hospitalized and oh what treasures we are finding!  We've additionally made new contact with cousins in Hungary - reconnecting with a part of our family that we had lost for a time. What great story ideas are unfolding ...

May you all find buried treasures amidst your own dust-gathering photos that are worth borrowing ideas from!

- Suzanne Wesley

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ACFW Conference Takeaways from a Newbie

1) There ARE other people out there in the world like me. I mean real people, not just people in cyberland.

2) Those real people are amazing, encouraging, and a beautiful representation of the body of Christ.

3) Volunteering pays off. (I made some wonderful new friends AND got requests from both an agent and editor I was scheduled to transport from the airport to the hotel.)

4) The God who gave me my overflowing imagination is the ultimate Storymaker. I'm sure He just sat up in heaven and smiled while I marveled at His creative and awesome ways.

What were your takeaways from the conference?

And for those of you who like pictures, here are a couple photos of me with fellow Indiana members.

(honorary Hoosier Tiffany Colter)

(Melanie Brasher)

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Teacher is a Witch

At the ripe old age of 49, I've decided to return to college. It's not that I don't have enough to do. My writing plate is full, as are my pastor's wife and homeschool Mom platters. But God stirred my nest to step out and learn something new, and quite frankly, I love school.

I'm attending classes at a liberal arts community college, and it's been a refreshing wake-up call. Stepping out of my Christian bubble and interacting with the "real world" hasn't shocked me. (I don't live in a cave and kill my meat with a club. I have access to TV and the Internet and grew up in the '60s and '70s.) But stepping outside my comfort zone has reminded me of Whose I am and why I write.

My English teacher is a Witch. She announced to the class that Christians have caused more wars and wielded more hate than any other religion on earth. She holds degrees in philosophy and comparative religions. "I grew up Christian and studied all the religions of the world," she said, "and this is the one that best suits me because I believe there are many paths to God."

My history class has an element in it that believes anyone connected to the Tea Party are members of the Ku Klux Klan, are racist bigots, and ignorant rednecks. I'm not astonished. If highly educated peoples believe we evolved from a blob in a bog, I suppose the same sort of logic can lead them to a warped view of Tea Party folks.

If you know me, you know I can't remain mute when someone voices a fringe opinion. My English class is an arguments class and arguments are encouraged.  Before I fully considered the consequences of my words, I heard myself speak. "I've searched all the religions, too, and I've decided to follow Jesus."


I probably kissed an "A" good-bye in that class but that's okay. I don't think God puts us in those positions to sit idly by and remain quiet. I believe it's the same with writing. He doesn't give us the passion to endure this grueling profession for some random willy nilly purpose.

Being  in the daily presence of humanists has solidified my mission as a writer. I write to expose Truth, to help people see the love of God in the midst of the failures of man. People are hungry to know God, whether they realize it or not. I write because God-inspired words contain the power of life and God's Words heal rather than destroy.

I yearn deeply for people to see God's character and this is why I sit at my computer for hours a day weaving stories that will lead seekers to the Promise. I want them to meet God's Son, so they can know that peace and hope are only a prayer away.

The lost write a message, too, and it's the opposite of hope. Only those of us who follow Jesus know True Hope, True Love, and True Eternal Victory. The world is starving for what we write. Would we pass by hungry children and refuse to feed them? When we let our egos get in the way of God's call, that's exactly what we do. It's tempting to give up after rejection by a publisher or agent. Jesus was rejected, too. What hope would there be if Jesus had felt sorry for Himself? His humiliation didn't stop Him from answering His call.

What matters is our obedience, being able to hear the voice of God, and answering the call to write what is true, noble, pure and just. God placed a fire in us to share the One True Path to God. People need our words to light the way because the path they travel is too dark and they are blinded by fallible human knowledge.  Our obedience is paramount so those searching for Truth will hear God's call the loudest.

Too many fall away simply because they didn't have the right information put in front of them at the right time. We would do well to remember that we must write so the lost can find their way.

Put your hands to the plow (i.e., keyboard, pen, et. al.) dear writer, and WRITE, to the glory of God.

Someone is dying and needs to read what God has to say.