Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where Are All The Men?

How you define a hero in a Christian romance? What makes him irresistible? I don’t know if you’ve ever checked out the Christian Community boards on Amazon, but a particular discussion thread recently caught my eye. One reader complained there weren’t enough strong men in the Christian romances she was reading. We’re talking leadership potential here. Men who are decisive and loving and, if married, the head of their households yet treat their wives as equals.

I started pondering that point and did a quick run-through of recent books I’d read. Don’t get me wrong – there are some wonderful heroes out there, but more often than not, they fall short (and I’m not talking stature). From my perspective, it seems the majority of males in Christian books tend to fall into one of the following categories (with varying degrees of a relationship with the Lord):

*Widower still grieving the loss of his saintly wife, idealized all the more for having died young (and beautiful, but that goes without saying) – with or without a child or two (having one ups the vulnerability factor)
*Afraid to commit because he’s been burned by love, is still pining for a lost love or hasn’t met “the one”
*Too focused on his career
*Scarred physically and/or emotionally
*Insecure, not confident in either himself or the strength of his love

Let’s be honest and face facts here. Deep down, do we really want a hero in a Christian romance who smells his socks before he throws them on the floor, belches, slaps other guys on the backside and grunts like a cave man, can only cook mac and cheese and microwave hot dogs, leaves the lid up on the… Okay, I think you get my point. Oh, no. We want them to be (you can define your own order here): strong in his faith and personal relationship with the Lord, handsome, intelligent, witty, charming, brave and honorable, confident, sensitive, kind, chivalrous, heroic, romantic as anything, tall, and strong in every way imaginable. Awesome kisser. Let’s not forget compassionate to children, seniors and animals. Treats his parents like the queen and king they are and his brothers and sisters with the utmost respect. Admired by his co-workers or employees. It goes without saying he’s self-supporting and the doer of good (and often selfless and sometimes anonymous) deeds. And looks equally spectacular in a Stetson, jeans and a T-shirt, a wetsuit, a tuxedo or a hot tub. Ah, James Bond anyone? And last, but definitely not least, he absolutely must look at his heroine as if she’s by far the most beautiful, desirable creature he’s ever met and who ever walked the face of the earth.

I ask you, is it too much to ask for the charm of Cary Grant or Colin Firth, the wry humor of Harrison Ford (as Indiana Jones) or George Clooney, the smooth, deep voice of Gregory Peck or Sean Connery, the effortless sex appeal of Robert Redford or Pierce Brosnan, the intelligence of (you fill in the blank – it’s up for grabs), the simply too-cool-for-words macho heroics of Clint Eastwood (or Harrison as the President of the United States when he snarls, “Get off my plane!”), the romanticism of Jeff Bridges (have you heard this man talk about his wife, the great love of his life? It’s positively sigh-inducing, and he thankfully had the great role models of his own parents), and the faith of (again, you fill in the blank with your own example). Okay, I’m showing my age here, but I’m not sure today’s Young Hollywood offers the same leading men of days gone by. Sigh.

There’s an old Carpenters song with lyrics that go like this, I know I ask perfection of a quite imperfect world, and fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find. My mother often told me that should be my own theme song. I mistakenly believed those lyrics were from, ironically enough, Goodbye to Love. They’re not, but interestingly enough, they’re from I Need to Be in Love. But show me a guy who embodies all those above-named qualities (or even some of them), and you’ve got perfection. Well, I’m here to say that perfection is highly overrated. It’s downright boring – not to mention totally unrealistic – especially in fiction. Perfection is only embodied in one man in human form, and you know Who that is.

My strong male hero in Awakening, Sam Lewis, can get grumpy sometimes. But you know what? I love Sam grumpy. It makes him real and vulnerable. And yes, loveable. The hero in the second book in my series is hot-headed, stubborn, prideful and a little arrogant. But, like Sam, he’s got a big heart, he’s faithful, he loves his wife with a deep-seated love and passion, and that makes him hero-worthy. And he also needs Sam to mentor him. I had as much fun writing the conversations and interaction between these two men as much as anything (I adore writing the male POV, for some reason).

Overall, I believe the Christian fiction reader on Amazon had a point. Let’s write our heroes real, but make them unique and special in their own right. What do you say? Tell me what you look for in a Christian romantic hero. What makes your heart rate speed up, makes you smile, and most importantly, keeps you turning those pages? I’d love for you to tell me about the hero in your current manuscript, and what qualities make him a hero.

And guys, if you’re done rolling your eyes, maybe you could share what qualities you look for in the female counterpart. The forum is open. Blessings and happy writing!

"If" = "When"

I posted this on my blog yesterday, hopefully it encourages us on our writing journey this year.

This week I had the pleasure of hearing a dear friend dish on the details of a business venture she is planning. Thinking through names, probabilities, and finances are big thought processes. It was fun dreaming right along with her as she takes real, tangible steps toward making this plan a reality. I know her well enough to recognize that this area is what she is clearly gifted in.
Too easy it becomes to say “If…” “Maybe when…” “Not sure if I can…” “Other people, not me…”
Let’s work to replace the indefinite, the insecurities, with plans to proceed. We can start by changing the wordage of “If…” into “When…” every time the dream tries to slip away. My dreams include being a full-time writer and eventually I’d love to have photography become more than a hobby.
It is insanity how we have learned to berate ourselves, minimize our talents as if false modesty is more becoming than contagious excitement at our skills. We ALL have them! It is a beautiful thing, talent. Every single person shares a creative gene with God.
Today, write it down. Commit your dream to paper. Share it with someone who will ask about it. defines “when” in a useful way for this purpose. Take a peek, dare to dream- then take the first step.
–adverb 1. at what
time or period? how long ago? how soon?:under what circumstances? upon what occasion?

Hoosier Ink: What A Great State We Live In!

Hoosier Ink: What A Great State We Live In!: "I’m so proud to live in a state where we have the right to choose a license plate proudly proclaiming, “In God We Trust.” I’m not sure many ..."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lesson 1: Any Fool Can Sign a Book Contract

Okay, so first you have to have one. But once you do, signing is easy.

Unless you want to understand what you are giving up and what you are receiving in exchange.

I have decided to dedicate my 2011 posts to book contracts. And yes, you'll have to wait an entire year to read all of them. So if you are fortunate enough to have a book contract in your hand, look for other resources.* Or if you have an agent, get the agent to explain the contract to you. But if you are still waiting for both an agent and a contract, these posts may help.

I'm not going to talk about specific clauses in this introductory post, but I will tell you what you'll get out of the series. AND what you won't.

These posts will not help you negotiate the perfect deal. Unless you are already a big name, you aren't likely to get many concessions out of your publisher. And some won't negotiate at all. Since a royalty publisher takes the financial risk in the enterprise, I don't blame them for wanting to get as much from the contract as they can.

So you may be able to use the information in upcoming posts to negotiate small changes, but don't count on even doing that.

Then why do you care what the contract says? If you're desperate to publish your book, maybe you don't. At least not at the time. But somewhere down the road it will matter. Like when a large house accepts your second book and then you discover that your earlier contract says you have to offer it to that publisher first. (More about these clauses in a later post.)

If you aren't quite desperate, you may want to know what the contract says before you sign it. Even if you can't negotiate, you can walk away.

So stay tuned for Book Contracts 101.

Kathryn Page Camp

*At the 2010 ACFW Conference, the Indiana chapter's own Cara Putman discussed book contracts in a session called "Author Law 101." You can purchase a downloadable MP3 file of that session at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Case Anyone is Confused

Michelle and I are switching days this month. Scroll down for her post, and stay tuned for mine tomorrow.


Movie Biology

Want to improve your writing? Watch a movie.

Analyze it. Dissect it. Identify its parts.

Why? For one, it’ll give you a break from your usual writing, but it might also help feed your creativity and teach you how to plot your novel.

For the past few weeks, I’ve attended My Book Therapy’s Monday night online chat session with Susan May Warren and other voices. During these sessions, Susan has shown us how to dissect movies into acts and relate them to our writing. That’s when I discovered I was movie illiterate. What I mean is: I’d never watched movies to dissect them and identify their parts. Sure, I knew they had a beginning, middle, and end, but I’d never scrutinized what happened in each act.

Until now.

So, last week, I allowed myself to watch movies—lots of them—just to analyze the acts. What a blast! Have you done this? If not, you might want to try this creative approach.

I’ll show you what I mean. Have you seen the movie, Home Alone? (I think I’ve watched it a hundred times with my granddaughter.) Hopefully you have, but if you haven’t you still might be able to follow this illustration. I will separate the events that belong in each act.

Here we go. (Remember, I’m new at this.)

Act One: We see Kevin in his ordinary world with his siblings, in his home (setting), and we feel the dynamics of the family. Then everything changes. This is the inciting incident. Kevin wakes to find his family gone. Every one of them. He’s totally alone. He’s in his usual home environment, but it’s all changed. He’s never been on his own before. Something has happened TO him to change his ordinary world.

When Kevin realizes what’s at stake, he’s ecstatic. This is his dream! He can do anything he wants and no one is there to tell him he can’t. Total freedom. Since his inciting incident is a positive experience, Kevin wants to increase his enjoyment. He jumps on the beds, plays with his older brother’s toys, eats whatever he wants, stays up late watching movies, and basically does anything he wants to do.

(Note: if the inciting incident had been a negative experience the quest would be to return to the ordinary world.)

In this act, we also get a glimpse of how Kevin fears the basement and the old man living across the street. This is a foreshadowing of the fear he’ll face in Act Two.

Act Two: This is where Kevin will encounter obstacles and conflicts. For example, he has to do the laundry—which means he has to go to the basement and face his greatest fear. And he has to face it alone.

In this movie, the biggest conflict comes from outside forces—the robbers. When Kevin realizes the robbers are going to come to the house he knows he only has himself to rely on. Yes, it’s great getting to do anything he wants, but it also means he has to face everything alone. But he has a choice. He could fight or hide. He chooses to fight and lures the robbers into the house. Once he does this Kevin has reached the point of no return. There is no turning back. His choice has consequences. What’s at stake? The worse case scenario: Kevin could get captured and die.

But Kevin learns something new about himself—he’s good at playing games and tricking people. He uses this skill to keep the robbers at bay and it works—until Act Three.

Act Three: This is the final challenge, the climax, or the Black Moment as Warren calls it. It’s when everything that can go wrong does. In Home Alone this is when the robbers capture Kevin and hang him on the hook. Nothing could get worse. There’s no hope. Or, is there? Just when we think this is the end, the old man, whom Kevin used to fear, rescues him.

In this act, after the robbers are caught, we see the change in Kevin. He no longer wants what he wanted in act one—freedom to do whatever he wants. Now he wants his family. He wants to return to his ordinary world because he’s lonesome. It’s Christmas morning and the only important thing to him is having his family back.

He’s redefined as a result of his journey.

In the end, all the loose ends are tied up in a bow. The perfect ending. His family returns. They see the change in Kevin in how he did the laundry, decorated the Christmas tree, and shopped for his groceries while they were gone.

Now you try. Watch a movie. Get out pen and paper. Take notes. You might have to skip the popcorn, but it’ll be worth it. If you watch (visual), listen (auditory), and take notes (kinesthetic) you might be more apt to remember—which in turn will help you apply it to your novel. Also, as you’re writing that short one page synopsis for GENESIS or FRASIER keep these acts in mind. It’ll help you tighten your manuscript and focus on good story mechanics.

And, if you’d like to delve deeper into these mechanics, please become a voice with us at Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy. You won’t be sorry you did.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is Your Writing Life Super Highway Clogged?

Hello and welcome to my post. As I sit here writing this post, I am also thinking about how many other things in my writing life need to be done. Can you relate? Does any of the following look familiar:

The Writing Life Super Highway- A Traffic Jam?
  • I need to continue to read good "how-to" books on fiction writing.
  • I need to continue to read good Christian Fiction to balance out my reading about the craft of writing..
  • I need to continue working on new plot, character, and story ideas...
  • I need to continue to revise my existing manuscript....
  • I need to check my email.....
  • I need to update my website with new content......
  • I need to tweet, blog, check Myspace, and update my Facebook page.......
  • I need to research agents and editors.........
  • I need to network with other writers.........
  • Oh, I need to remember to eat and sleep............
  • Oh, my significant other just reminded me that I am married (and thus that I have a significant other)..............
And the list just goes on and on (and keeps growing). For many of us, there are deadlines, kids, and even your "regular" job (if writing is not your primary occupation) throwing up detours and traffic-cones. In fact, it's entirely possible to divide your time in such a way that you actually get nothing done. Have you ever been at that point?

I would wager that most of us feel the need to better our writing, keep up to date with technology, and be able to move our tassels over to the "published" side of the hat. Furthermore, we should all want to communicate to our followers, fans, and fellow writers. Several of us help out in book clubs, writing critique groups, and also serve as mentors to other writers.

Let me say right off that all of these are important, but let us not forget that the most important thing is that we want to grow in our Faith and our relationship with The Lord. I don't want to be the one standing before the Lord with Him telling me I didn't get much accomplished and me responding, "But look how well I multitasked!"

As a writer myself, let me say again that I believe all of these things are important and necessary. Each item on the to-do list, however, should have a different ranking of importance based upon where you are in your writing life (are you a beginner, recently published, several books published, etc.).

I know each of us has our own systems of checks and balances. For me, it actually helps if I write a monthly and weekly focus list regarding things that need to be done in my writing life. This way, I can track how much time (at least what days) I devote to each element of my writing life. Seeing this on paper really helps me to visualize, focus, and keeps me from spreading myself too thin. This type of planning also helps me to realize when I need to say "I'm sorry, I can't do that right now." The important thing is to have a system in place to keep you from spreading yourself too thin.

At the end of the day, I am all for accomplishing as much as possible, multitasking to the extreme, and bettering my writing. I must remember, and I suspect I am not alone in this thought, that I still need to live, devote time to my family, and devote time to my Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that your writing life super highway is clear, traffic-cone free, and flowing smoothly.

If it comes down to your writing life taking over, remember that when you look into the rear view mirror of that writing life, that the Lord always has a bright set of red and blue flashing lights at His disposal. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Good news!

My novella sold! I can hardly believe I am blogging these words:

This is it in a nut-shell: "Working on the Underground Railroad fascinates an idealistic Quaker until she must help care for an injured slave hunter, a former Friend who tries her patience and challenges all her beliefs."

New Garden's Crossroad is one of four novellas in a collection to be published by Barbour in February of 2012. It's set in my home town, Fountain City, with several scenes at the Levi Coffin House.

My agent, Terry Burns, suggested that two of us who had written on Quaker themes work with two other clients to put four stories together for a series of four-in-one books for Barbour. The other ladies are Jennifer Hudson Taylor, Claire Sanders, and Susette Williams. The stories follow a Quaker family from 1808 in North Carolina (Jennifer's) to Indiana in 1840 (my story) and the Civil War (Claire's) and then into the present (Susette's).

I like writing about the Friends because we all have to work out how to be in the world but not of it. They felt integrity, equality including plain speech and clothing, and non-violence all testified to their faith in Christ.

A year ago, however, I struggled through my first month at the factory where I still work. I was exhausted. It is hot, hectic, and loud. I told my husband it was like baling hay, all day, every day of the week. With that job and the kids getting busier all the time, I was tempted to set writing aside. But, the Lord had given some particular ideas to me. To be a good steward I had to try and develop them. The story set in Fountain City was only a paragraph of what-ifs until the idea of a novella came up, then it seemed to take off.

I'm so thankful that I met Terry at the ACFW conference in 2008, and for writing friends who encouraged me not to give up.

A whole new adventure begins. I am looking forward to the rest of the process. I wonder if our collection will sell well and if I will ever sell anything again. For right now I am still sort of pinching myself.

I'm not ready to quit my day job yet. My secular humanist boss and cynical group leader have cheered me on. My story is probably one that those tough guys would never read except for knowing the author. (They still might not read it!) I hope the book can go places I can't, and touch people I will never meet. What a privilege.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Update on Don

Three months have passed since Don’s stroke. Several of you have asked about him, so I thought I’d use today’s blog to update you.

Every week we’ve gone to one to four doctor appointments. Ophthalmologist, optometrist, neurologist, cardiologist, neuro-optometrist, rehab, and numerous tests. Stir and start all over again. Simmer. Not one of them is off our medical menu yet.

But it has boiled down to two major facts.

First, Don’s vision loss is permanent. If you were to square off with him, eyeball to eyeball, he would not see any of your face from the center out to the left. It’s blank. To the right, he would have some blind spots, like missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. The light is dim, and there is “garbage,” as he calls it, floating around. Interestingly enough, his eyeballs are whole and healthy. It’s his brain that is the problem.

In many ways, his sight loss is minimal. He can see well enough to watch a Colts game, and he hasn’t missed a night of TV or DVDs yet. He just has to sit in a different spot to compensate for the vision loss to his left. He can read and does so every day—Bible, newspaper, whatever novel he’s into. And he can write. A larger font is all he requires, though he has looked at other techno assists. Best of all, he can still help his wife by clearing the dinner table and sweeping the floor. *big smile* The only loss that’s been hard to cope with is that he can’t drive. Wifey-poo now does that, and all those years of back-seat driving are into payback.

The second major fact is that we need to investigate why he had a stroke (and one ten years ago). None of the usual reasons are there. He’s healthy, his heart is healthy, his carotids and blood vessels are healthy. The doctors say he is a rare case. He can take meds to reduce his risk for another stroke, but why not find the actual cause and treat it? Yesssssss, we like these doctors!

Except it means more appointments.

We appreciate your prayers—thank you! We are wonderfully blessed by God’s goodness toward us.

Steph Prichard                        

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seven Suggestions for Success

By Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Some of my best reading comes in the form of procrastinating, er, I mean, research. That's how I recently stumbled upon the book The Traveler's Gift  by Andy Andrews. I found it researching, that is--not procrastinating. Anyway, Publishers Weekly  nails it when it says Andrews "effectively combines self-help with fiction...."

In the book, David Ponder is at a crossroads. Life as he knew it is over and he can't seem to find his footing. In his mind, he is a failure and his family would be better off with him dead rather than alive. Take a sea captain, a Civil War colonel, two U.S. presidents, a brave young girl, an ancient king, and an archangel and mix in seven decisions, sprinkle it with a little time travel an voila! you have The Traveler's Gift. Okay, when I read that it doesn't sound like the kind of book I'd ever read, but seriously, other than a little too much "positive thinking" for my taste, this book is worth the short read.

The Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success outlined by Andy Andrews (his words are in bold) are great goals for life, but let's take a look at them with our writing in mind:

Decision 1: The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past and my future. Note, this does not say "I am to blame for my past", just responsible. The attitude, lessons, and how you let it affect you are what you have control over. This year I will rejoice over the successes, learn from the mistakes, and plan for the future of my writing.

Decision 2: I will seek wisdom. I will learn from others. I will take every critique and criticism and hold it to the light, accepting what is truth. I will learn the craft and the art of writing. When ignorance threatens to paralyze me, I'll find the answers somewhere, some way.

Decision 3: I am a person of action. I will seize every moment. I choose now. I am passionate about writing. I am a writer--so I will write.

Decision 4: I have a decided heart. I have a vision and I'm passionate about seeing it to completion. I will walk the road set before me until the Lord guides me to another path. I refuse to be a wimp, a wussy, or a slacker.

Decision 5: Today I will choose to be happy. A grateful spirit is a decision, not a circumstance. I will rejoice in the small achievements every day. Auto-save and spell check, to name a few. I will celebrate in the struggles, knowing that I don't struggle alone. I will choose to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.

Decision 6: I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive every hurtful critique, ignored proposal, unfair comment, and form rejection. I will forgive those who hurt me and discount my sacrifice, blood, sweat, and ink. I will forgive and I will start with myself.

Decision 7: I will persist without exception. I am a person of faith and faith believes in things not seen. I'll persist in my calling until I'm called elsewhere. I'll write the story I've been given until the Author revises and gives me another draft. I will focus on the road before me, not on the obstacles in my path.

What I like about these Seven Decisions is that these are not quantitative goals, but rather a lifestyle change. Each one of us could adopt this attitude and it would look different for each one of us. I'm going to post this in my office and when I'm faced with an assignment, a deadline, a problem, or a choice I'm going to look at this list and ask myself, "Does this help me to meet my goals?" 

Stop making excuses; find the answer; just do it; make a plan; be grateful; forgive; persist. I think those are words I can live by in 2011. How about you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Maybe Next Month. . .

ALAS, I guess I'll pass on blogging this month. I'm not sure why, as I have several topics I want to share thoughts about – like three children's picture story books I'm slowly (very slowly) working on (in addition to two novel sequels). The first is about "Grandma's Swallowing Purse," the second about "Grandma's Special Stones," and the third about "Grandma's Surprise Swim with the Dolphins." (Yep, they're "fiction," but based on guess whose experiences?). Maybe I'll share more about children's books next month. . .

I've also been thinking about sharing some thoughts and eliciting some from you on using the supernatural (including ghosts) in our fiction. Maybe more on that topic next month. . .

And recently I scanned a book by M.F.K. Fisher that I'd like to ponder with you, especially what she says about creativity needing periods of "waiting." Towards the end of her book, she talks about the “waiting” that’s necessary for creativity – it’s not "laziness" or “dawdling” but a necessary “waiting,” she says. I like that: it describes so well what I sometimes experience, and seem to be experiencing these days. Maybe more on "waiting" next month. . .

While I WAIT for next month, here's a HUGE THANKS for all the great blogs on our Hoosier Ink Blogspot! I comment only occasionally, but that's not a fair record of how much I enjoy the blogs, and learn from them. Many I read more than once. SO THANKS AGAIN to all you Hoosier Inkers! And may this New Year be blessed with just the right amount of "creative waiting" for each of us.

Millie Samuelson

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nonverbal Cues and Deception

The latest issue of The Forensic Examiner has a seven-page article which I find interesting as an author; Interpreting Nonverbal Communication for use in Detecting Deception. We all know that writing body language correctly is necessary in order to create believable characters. What better source than an agent in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit? Following is the abstract. A free copy of the complete article, minus the illustrations is available at the following link;;col1

The ability to accurately detect deception is a skill that many law enforcement professionals think they possess, but often, they do not; at least, not at a rate much greater than that of chance. Of course, having this skill would be incredibly valuable in police work, as well as in life in general. In the following article, the author presents an overview of the subtle, subconscious, nonverbal cues that deceptive people reveal as they try to relieve their own discomfort caused by their lies. The author explains briefly, the physiological basis of some nonverbal dements such as kinesics, paralanguage, microexpressions (Ekinan, 2009), et al. And, she concludes with some tips to help law enforcement professionals more accurately and reliably detect deception.

"How do you know when someone is lying to you?" This is a question to which many law enforcement professionals might answer "I just know, that's all." By saying this, they are presumably not suggesting that they are psychic, but rather that their career-long experience in dealing with all types of ties, made by a variety of people across many different situations, has led them to believe that they have effectively become human lie detectors. Unfortunately, however, these dedicated officers and agents may not be as good at separating fact from fiction as they might think they are, especially if they do not use all of the tools at their disposal. In the following article, the author will examine the typical physiological responses to stress that are at the root of the most common nonverbal indicators of deception. In doing so, she will show investigators and others how to significantly improve their odds of correctly identifying deception in any investigative interview. Through this overview of nonverbal communication, the reader will learn how to more accurately and reliably read people by observing how people's bodies can betray their innermost thoughts

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Writing Is an Extension of Who We Are...": Writing as a Teen

A while back I spoke to high school students about writing. I got some quotes from several authors to give to the kids.Maybe some of these will help spark your writing. Also, if you know some teen writers, there are some great web sites below you can send them to get more encouragement.
Bob Elmer
Bob Elmer: 
1. What sorts of things from your childhood/teens have you used in your writing? Anything specific?
 "In my first series, The Young Underground, I had the kids raising homing pigeons -- which I also did as a kid. It was unusual enough to add a different twist to the stories. Also, I often added an animal to the mix, and I had lots of animals when I was young. My love of sci-fi stories as a kid helped me write sci-fi stories as an adult.

Beyond that, I always try to sprinkle in attitudes and little memories, even though I'm always on the lookout for new material. Using memories as a springboard is great, but eventually we run out of material."

2. Are kids that different today?
"In some ways maybe, but in others, no. My feeling is that even though my childhood was a few years ago, we all share a common bond. I just have keep thinking like a kid, with eyes wide open and ready for new experiences."

Colleen Coble
Colleen Coble, Indiana author of romantic suspense
1. Do you draw any of your ideas from your teen years?
"Sure. All those feelings of rejection and inferiority come from the teen years. LOL. Lots of actual incidents from my childhood and teen years have made it into my work too.

2. What advice do you have for teen writers to encourage them to continue their journey?
"Realize that it's not going to happen now. You need some experience under your belt so you can have a book that resonates. In the meantime, journal your experiences and remember the ways you learn to deal with the hard knocks that hit us all. And read, read, read. That's the best education for writing you can have."

3. What's your best method for coming up with ideas for your books?

"Read magazines and newspapers and tear out anything that inspires an idea, even if it's not fully fleshed out. Watch documentaries and the history channel, even if you're not writing a historical. History is a great teacher of the human condition and people don't change, just technology around us. Be an observer of people too and jot down any interesting circumstances you notice."

Max Elliot Anderson
Max Elliot Anderson, author for boys, who hated reading when he was young:
1. What is your best advice to kids who are writing right now?
 "Start early. I wish I had. This is a very competitive business. It’s difficult to get established. Publishers are looking for that extra element that will cause one author to stand out over another. It’s called platform. I’ve been working for over two years on my blog, Books for Boys. As a result of  constantly working on this, Books for Boys   recently reached the # 1 spot on Google. Something like this is very important to publishers, given that over 30 million sites pop up under this search subject.
 Then, notice the types of books that are already being published, and see if you can find a way to write for an area of the market where there isn’t so much competition. Write in your own voice. This means, don’t try to sound like some other writer. Write like you think and speak.

Expect it to take a very long time to establish yourself as a writer / author. Writing is the easy part. It’s all the other aspects of an author’s life that are the real work. Publishers expect you to do much of the promotion and marketing work. Start working on your public speak skills too. But if you were born to write, you’ll know it. Even if no one understands this, don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. At the same time, until you become established as an author, make sure you have a backup plan. By that I mean plan for your education and a job that will carry you in the earlier years. It can also give you a career in case becoming an author doesn’t happen for you."

2. What do you like best in a story—since you didn’t like reading as a boy?
"I like a story with an element of danger. I don't like large blocks of type and I hate seemingly endless details that don't advance the story. I like humor and a fast pace. Shorter sentences are good for a reader like me, and short chapters. I like a little larger type and a page layout where I won't easily lose my place if I look away. I'm attracted more by story and plot, and not as much by the characters. I think one of the reason that the 35 manuscripts I've written so far all have different main characters, is probably because I wouldn't necessarily care if I saw the same characters in the next book or not. It also frees me up to read any book, and not have to go in the book order of a series."

Sarah Sumpolec, author of teen books:

"Young writers, I think, should focus on lots of reading. And not just reading things they naturally like. But trying out a wide variety of books. And along with that reading, learning to analyze a story. When you finish a book, ask yourself things like:
Why did I like (or not like) this book?
What did I know about the main character?
How did the main characters change over the course of the story?
What kept my interest the most? (The people? The story?) Why?

Young writers should also do lots of writing. Practice! Practice! Practice! You'll never get too much practice! If any of them are like me, they may start lots of different projects, but never actually finish them. So completing a project - writing the entire story from start to finish, is a valuable habit to get into. You don't have to finish every story, but you should finish some of them:-)"

What have you used from your growing up years in your writing?
"Interestingly, I have found that I pull from much of my growing up years and use that in my writing. I was in drama throughout school so sometimes my characters are involved with a play production, or I simply use my background in acting to help me develop my characters. I also valued education, so you won't find my characters not caring about school."

She and a large list of writers for teens blog at their site Girls, God and the Good Life.
"Writing is an extension of who we are, so the more well-rounded we are (and willing to try out lots of different things), then the more well-rounded our writing will be. ~Sarah Sumpolec
More sites for Teen Writers

Stephanie Morrill's Go Teen Writers Blog

A Novel Writing Site with Lynn Dean, Michelle Van Loon, Naomi Musch and Teri Dawn Smith.

Entertainment site for Teens by Ken Raney  and

Professional Writing Program at Taylor University, Upland, IN : Contact admissions to schedule a time to come and learn more about the program.  If you are a high school sophomore or junior, consider coming this summer to our three week CRAM session.  You will live on campus, eat at our dining commons, and attend classes that are not only fun, but will also earn you college credit.

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."- Isaac Asimov
 Lots of links, so have fun exploring!

Crystal Laine Miller
Crystal, hard at work, brainstorming

P.S. Please check out the focus on Jeff Gerke from Marcher Lord Press at the Midwest ACFW Writers Blog, The Barn Door!

The Barn Door Book Loft. Free Books! Book Giveaways.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tug of War

I've had this push-and-pull relationship with my writing lately. Most of it has been pushing myself to be better, to send out query letters, to fulfill requests, to write blog posts, to be "perfect". Yes, I am a perfectionist and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

On New Year's Eve, God whispered something across my soul and got my attention, sort of like putting a drop of hydrogen peroxide on a skinned knee and feeling the burn. He told me to slow down. To wait on Him and see what He has in store. To take my focus off my writing and put it on Him. To focus on being a woman of God and letting Him guide my next steps. To neither push nor pull but to sit in His cradle of wisdom and let Him move me where He wants me to go.

And you know what I've discovered this past week? Surrendering to Him frees me to enjoy the ride.

Where are you in the push-and-pull game? Have you had any hydrogen-peroxide whispers that burn at first but lead to healing?

*photo by Bill Longshaw /

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sometimes I Wish Jesus Was Kidding

Jesus is talking to me at Panera.

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

A slave is not greater than his master.

He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

A dear friend of mine says, "Every time I think I've died the last death, I'm asked to die a new way." Here comes another death: give up more writing time to serve. Just when I thought I'd hit an comfortable stride between writing and giving I find He is asking for more serving.

Are You sure? Isn’t writing serving?

Do you love Me?

Well, sure, but--

Then follow Me into the life of the single mom asking for time this morning.

Okay, if--

And follow Me into offering counsel to young moms who want it.

Now? Well, okay, but how many?

And I want you to give more to your family--more generously, more widely, more wholeheartedly, expecting nothing.

Isn't that a little expensive?

The pain in His eyes silences me. I dared to utter anything before God?

Yes, Lord.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Old Stories...New Starts

I'm presently pitching agents (as in lots of agents) with a work that, to put it kindly, old.
As in, I first came up with the idea for this story somewhere around 1990.
(Those of you who weren't born yet then can stop reading this now. :-)

Yet it's become brand-new in my hands again, through a process I can only call miraculous. And so I'm doing what I feel called to do, and pitching the heck out of the thing.
My inspiration?

Not so very long ago, I read a tale of persistence about a writer who worked on a book for years. Apparently many years. She wrote, and submitted, and got rejected, and revised, and sent to contests, and had critques, and submitted, and got more rejections...and so on and so forth. During this time period, many, many people told her to give up the dream entirely. She clearly wasn't making it, so why keep banging her head against the wall? Others told her she didn't have to give up on the dream of writing, just try on a more "realistic" one; she needed to put away the book with so many miles on it, and write something else entirely.

But this advice, she ignored. She kept working on this book of her heart. The story she needed to tell. The book only she could write.

And eventually, it did sell. I wish I could remember if it sold for some fabulous sum of money, or got her fame and fortune, or put her on Oprah, or any of the rest. But it doesn't matter that I don't remember that, because the kind, or degree, of success truly wasn't the point of this particular story. This particular story was about whom you listen to in your creative ventures. What advice you take, which you ignore. What you keep on with, despite all the rejections and the "realistic" suggestions that could make you successful...but not bring the fullness of your heart to the printed page. And deep inside, you realize that the fullness of your heart on the printed page is the only thing that makes it worth being a writer at all.

I have a book right now that is that story for me. Unlike this woman in the account I've read, I've wavered from my story's path. I've taken some of that well-meaning advice. I've tried writing other things. I've written whole books' worth of other things. I've even had some success with those other a point.

But this is the book that's written from my blood on the page.
This is the book that only I can write.
This is the story that only I can tell in this particular way.
This is the story I had to write. And that I want to keep working on getting it out there...until it's sold at last.

So in a way, since I've lived with these characters for twenty-plus years in their various incarnations and modulations...this work is old.
Yet it's sprung to new life again, as has my Muse, and I have to believe there's a reason for that.
And I'm not letting go of it until it blesses me.

Janny - Note new blog address!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Saga of the Clean Desk Resolution er, Maybe

It's a new year: time to embrace new habits, turn over new leaves, determine to write without cliches--and vow to keep a clean desk. Out of all the new year's resolutions I make, keeping my desk clean on a daily basis is the most challenging.

But from what I've discovered via self-help blogs this morning, keeping this resolution will be a lot easier than I thought.

Tip #1: Organize the paper on your desk. Acquire an in-box, an incubate box, a tickler file, current projects rack, file cabinet, recycling bin, garbage bin and shredder. That sounds like an awful lot of things for me to keep track of. At my age I'm doing well to find my desk. My method of using post-it notes to keep track of my piles serves me pretty well, so I'm sticking with it.

Tip #2: Banish post-it notes because they're ugly. That's a rather subjective opinion, don't you think?  You might have ugly post-it notes, but I have pretty purple ones, butterfly shaped ones, some that look like apples, flowers and ice cream cones. Besides, if I don't leave notes pointing me to my glasses every morning I won't be able to see them anyway. And once I find my glasses, I need my post-its to remind me what my protag is doing next and that I have a doctor's appointment. Nope. The post-it notes stay. Otherwise I could end up being kidnapped by a biker gang and searching for my epiphany while my male protag ends up going to my gynecologist.

Tip #3: Trash those printouts. This is a great idea except that, I can't always find the document on my computer because I'm old school. Sure, it might look like the printer threw up on my desk, but I know exactly where I put that page of research I did on giant squids for my turn of the century naval adventure. I'm pretty sure it's filed under that cupcake post-it note attached to the ice cream post-it wait, that's a real cupcake...strawberry sprinkles! My favorite!

Tip #4: Keep blank file folders and a label marker near your desk. Like how near? And how do you expect me to add this to my current array of papers and post-its? Which box do these go in? The tickle one or the incubator one?

Tip #5: Throw away pens. Are you kidding me? I'm a writer. We can never find a pen when we need one.

Tip #6: Say no to schwag. You know, all that free stuff you get at conventions like pens, stickers, free magazines, brochures, bookmarks and books. Hello? I'm a self-employed writer. I need all the free junk I can get.(Especially pens.) I can always try to sell the other stuff if my contracts don't come through or burn it for fuel when they turn off the utilities.

Tip #7: Get rid of any books you don't use on a regular basis. Uhm, I'm in the book writing business, and while I might not read every book I own every single day, they are my friends, my buds, my posse. Who else is going to listen to my plotting strategies without talking back? I depend on them to surround me with literary affection and love. My books are staying thankyouverymuch.

Tip #8: Eat away from your desk. Like that's going to happen when often the only writing time in my day is carved out during lunch. Now where'd I see that cupcake?

Tip #9: Limit photo frames on your desk. Photo frames? I have photo frames? There might be some filed underneath that ebook on organization I printed out the other day.

Tip #10: To get started organizing your desk, take everything out of the drawers and pile it on top of your desk and sort. Hey! I've got the first part of this tip licked already! But I'm too tired to sort today. I'll start on that tomorrow.

I better leave myself a note.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Writing Lessons from SURVIVOR?

Those who know me well won’t be surprised to see a post based on the CBS reality show SURVIVOR. During season #1 of SURVIVOR ten years ago, my wife exclaimed, “You should get on there. You’d be perfect!” Since that time I’ve watched each season and submitted 23 applications – without so much as a nibble of interest from the producers. But what does a TV program have to do with writing? In this particular show, I see some parallels to the writing life. 

Lesson #1 is that to survive and make it as a writer, you can’t be a quitter. In various seasons of the TV show, time and again players have opted to quit the game. They simply gave up. For various reasons that often involved weariness and discomfort, they walked away from all chances of winning a million dollars. Unfortunately, the same thing happens to aspiring writers. Very few of us pen best-sellers, and even fewer score a best seller with their first or second novel. But people who overcome the temptation to quit and move on to an easier life reap opportunities to gain a better grasp of the abilities and strategies needed for success.

Lesson #2 from the TV show is that you can’t forever hide who you are. If deep down inside a person is mean, spiteful, and vengeful or anything else, the garb of civility eventually wears thin and shows clearly in the spotlight. Writers, too, need to learn transparency. There’s no point in faking perfection in the Christian life. Only one Person in history has lived an absolutely faultless life, and that was Jesus Christ. All the rest of us have our shortcomings and struggles, so there’s no point in pretending we’ve mastered perfection. Real-life readers appreciate truthful writers who share their foibles and weaknesses and then reveal what lessons they’ve learned from them.

Lesson #3 from SURVIVOR is to not jump in without some sort of plan or strategy. Even if a plan is bare-bone basic, such as “Try to offend no one, and try to befriend everyone,” then at least it’s a strategy and not trusting in dumb luck. Writers need to plan too. Whether it’s a detailed outline or just a general sense of where you want a story to go, have a sense of direction. Don’t just plop down in front of the computer and start typing without a concrete concept of where you want to lead readers’ imaginations, or editors will vote your wandering manuscript off their desks. 

Another lesson from this reality show is that winning the prize of ultimate survivor is hard work! The challenges are literally physical and mental. Making it to the end of such a show involves solving puzzles, getting into other people’s heads (understanding their POV) and trying to master human motivation and likely reactions. The writing biz is tough work too. Simply keeping yourself seated in front of computer screen for endless hours when you can think of a hundred more enjoyable things to do can be a challenge. Add to that the need to get out and research the professions, places, and historical periods; the need to believably capture the essence of other people’s point of view; the crucial requirement to research publishers and/or literary agents to learn which ones might be interested in a your story, and you’ll have plenty of additional challenges that can make your head ache and keep you awake in bed as you try to resolve kinks in your plot. 

Without exception, those who utilize their physical and mental talents to endure to the end of the SURVIVOR game are glad that they stayed in despite obstacles and nay-sayers. And you, dear writer—you face many challenges, heartbreaks and discouraging moments in your writing career. However, if you sincerely believe that God has planted within your being a seed of literary talent, then please don’t yield to the temptation to drop out, to bury your talent in favor of some easier trade. In writing for the glory of God, you and I don’t face human opponents who wish to see our torch snuffed out to end our game. We do face, however, spiritual adversaries—the Devil and his demons—who use discouragement and distraction to lure us away from our computers. Keep on your eyes the prize—Jesus!—and stay in the writing game for Him.

P.S. For anyone curious to see my most recent entry in the latest CBS contest to find contestants for Survivor, you can view me here: 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goal Setting for Dream Getting, Part II

by Mary Allen

If you’re going to arrive on this writing journey you have to stop taking guilt trips.

Are these goals or a list of failures?

“Kids, every night we're going to have devotions.”

“I’m going to lose ten pounds before Memorial Day.”

“I will write every day.”

“This year I’ll be published.”

There isn't a person reading this who hasn't failed to reach a goal they've set. How do you keep from taking a detour of guilt or getting permanently lost when you fall short of the goal?

Unmask the Lone Ranger. Life is more difficult when you try to do it in your own strength. Enlist friends who think you are a genius because you can put words together. Find new friends at ACFW loops and conferences who are also putting their writing lives in order. They can keep goals fun and in focus when accountability or encouragement is needed.

There are people who think everybody is a best friend and others who struggle all their life to connect with even one person. Learn to work with your personality, but stretch yourself. Remember, Jesus formed a network of supporters here on earth and He is that friend who is closer than a brother.

Keep it Simple. If you try to regulate your entire life all at once you are doomed to fail. Even our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect instant perfection from us. After coming into relationship with Him, He gives us His Spirit to guide us and show us bit by bit, step by step where we have to go and what we have to do. Follow His example. Pick one writing goal and work on that.

Try, again. You can’t fail unless you stop trying. I once met a woman who wiped tears from her eyes as she said, “I can’t NOT write poetry. I create while I bathe the kids, work at the factory, or golf with my husband. I HAVE to write poetry.” Part of her creativity came from her emotion but notice how she integrated her desire into her life.

As I said last month, God has placed a dream inside of each of us. He’s created unique gifts and talents and has a special plan for how, where, and when they are to be used in the tapestry of life. Whatever that dream is, it may seem too big to be true, yet you can’t shake the feeling you should do it. Don’t be afraid of the dream. Work toward it by doing today’s part today.

Accept Life. If you fall short of a goal it’s okay to grieve over it—for awhile. Then, pick yourself up and begin again. Recognize the difference between what is your responsibility and what is out of your control. Most insurance companies won’t pay for an act of God or war. Why should you feel liable?

Guilt is an energy-zapper and creativity-killer. If the goal road is barricaded, you can wait or choose another path. Just remember, there are no gold medals for guilt.

What is your worst guilt trip? How did you get back on the right road?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Should you add maintaining a Cash Flow Analysis to your 2011 Writing Goals?

by Suzanne Wesley

Like many fiction writers I use writing and other skills to 'supplement my fiction habit' and assist my family in paying the household bills. This year, it was suggested to me that I should create a Cash Flow Analysis to track the highs and lows of my business income. If I repeat this year after year I will better be able to predict when I will experience less work, less income or even potential surges in work (so that someday when I can afford a vacation again I will know what month NOT to leave town!)

Not being a 'math person' I didn't get it right the first go-round. But what I discovered was that I was making the process WAY more complicated than I need to, and it's really pretty simple and easy to maintain throughout the year.

Tips to Make The Process Easier
  1. I recommend having a separate checking account - it can be a second personal account and not a true 'business' account by the standards of your local bank.
  2. Deposit every cent you make via your writing or other freelance skills into this account.
  3. Pay any business related bills through this account
  4. Pay yourself 'wages' to another account in order to pay non-business related expenses.

Creating Your Cash Flow
Essentially my cash flow is an Excel file I use to track how much income came in each month, where any cash was paid out, and how much cash is available for use the start of the following month. (If any, right?) Each month, when you get your bank statement for your business checking account, you will compare it to your Cash Flow analysis to make sure that the balance at the beginning of each month matches what you have recorded on your Cash Flow file.

I find it easiest to record income onto the file whenever I have made a bank deposit, (whether by depositing a paper check, or by moving money from PayPal) and not saving it all for the end of the month.  Additionally, if you pay yourself 'wages' because the house payment is due ASAP ... it's easier to record it right when you do it, then to expect that you will remember where that x amount of $ went at the end of the month.

Thanks to on-line bill pay, many of us already know our bank balance at any given time, but seeing where a whole year's worth of income has really gone is a real eye opener! You may find a few surprises ... or just have black and white evidence of what you already knew. I can definitely see that doing this year after year will help me see semi-predictable financial patterns that will be helpful to growing my business - and paying my bills!

Have you ever done a cash flow for your writing business? 
If not, maybe 2011 is the year to get started on one. I'd be happy to send the blank Excel file that was given to me to get you started. Send me your e-mail via my web-site contact page, and I'll send the file to you ASAP so that you can started tracking your January income and expenses.