Sunday, June 26, 2011

Balancing the Scale

I wear ten hats on most days and on others, I don fifty three.

It's the life of a full time Mama playing writer, doctor, nurse, counselor, chef, spiritual guide, financial analyst, church volunteer, teacher, entrepreneur, photographer, and interior decorator to name a few.

And I'm afraid if there is truth to the cliché "life's a balancing act", my scale has an elephant on one side and a pea on the other.

balance scale
For yes, I've completed a novel, but no, my house doesn't look like the Pottery Barn. And yes, I find time to write articles and blog posts, but no, I don't sew my kids clothes or grow my own wheat. But somehow, in today's fast paced world {and blogosphere}, I give into the lie that I must do it all. And when I don't, guilt settles in like an unwelcome guest.

The truth is when I attempt to maintain the perfect balance, I miss out on honing my God-given abilities. And when I try to do everything myself, I forgo opportunities to see community at work--the body of Christ, with it's diverse gifts, coming together to accomplish His purpose.

I must develop the gifts God has given me and choose to do a few things well. For me, this means focusing on nurturing my family and writing.

But even as a writer, I need to remember that I'm not called to write everything. I'll never craft humor like Jenny B. Jones, or suspense like Colleen Coble. But, God has given me a unique voice, and as I continue to write for Him alone {and take time to listen instead of running ahead}, He'll lead me to the right niche.

I'm a daughter of the most high King, a wife and mother, a writer. In that order. So, what about the rest?

Well, I'll let you wear your best hat, and together, we'll build God's kingdom and balance the scale.

Do you struggle with trying to do it all? What writing niche do you sense God leading you to?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change, and contemplates faith, family, and writing at her personal blog. Though she’s an aspiring author, she’ll never quit her day job.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing With Boldness

Have you noticed the same thing that Andy Stanley did? Have you noticed that most prayer requests are either for safety (“Bless the Smith's trip”) or healing (“Heal Mrs. Jones' cancer”)? We're in at least one of the safest and healthiest countries on this planet, and our prayers focus on safety and healing!

On a fairly recent In Touch program, Andy Stanley went on to point out the first prayer service mentioned in the New Testament, found in Acts 4. After being arrested and threatened, did Peter and John pray for safety? No, they prayed for boldness.

Getting to this blog's focus on writing, do you think we should pray for boldness in our writing? I do. I'd like to look at three ways boldness applies to Christian fiction writing, one of which will have little argument while the other two are open for debate.


It takes boldness to create characters that grab the reader and captivate them for the hours it takes to read the book. It takes boldness to create twists that rob the reader of sleep because they need to keep turning. That boldness cannot be satisfied by the finished product – it needs to accompany you as you deal with agents and editors as you seek publication.

If you disagree with me that writers need the above boldness, please raise your hand right now.

I don't see any hands raised, so I'll assume you agree with me. Let's move to the next point.


When I write an Amazon review, I rate the item from one star for terrible to five stars for excellent. I notice most novels and movies tend to have a lot of five star reviews and then a declining number of lower rankings. But when it comes to a controversial topic book or movie (e.g. Anne Coulter, Ben Stein's documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, etc.), one finds a nearly equal number of one star and five star reviews, with three stars being a rare rating. People who agree with the topic of choice love it and those who disagree loathe it (often without reading or viewing that item).

Sometimes, being in the Christian market makes a topic more controversial. Thirty years ago, I heard a musician point out that the music that's popular in England will be the craze in the U.S. in three years and in the Christian market in twelve. In his book The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Christian Fiction, Ron Benrey states that a character can face an awful death and can't say anything stronger than “Oh my.”

What I find interesting is that many of my favorite Christian authors are envelope pushers. A three part series I read have villains who are child murderers, including chapters from the villain's POV. Another recent novel had a main character raised in church who not only had an affair with a married man but have an abortion to cover it up. Still another focuses on a pastor who left his first wife for “the right . The ironic thing is that I enjoy these authors in spite of the envelope pushing.

To be honest, I'm not an envelope pusher. Others are bolder in that area. Still others are more in the middle. This form of boldness is one that can be debated on whether it's a good thing or a bad thing.


This third boldness is no less controversial than the other, though my hunch is that many who advocate the second boldness don't advocate the third and vice versa. I noticed one book I reviewed only had a pair of one star reviews and an equal number of two stars (by the way, the novel mentioned above where a main character had an affair). All four negative reviewers didn't like the book because it comes from a Christian perspective.

This is the boldness that Andy Stanley spoke of. I believe it is a boldness we need in all areas of our lives, and this includes our writing. We are living in a society that wants us to keep quiet about our faith while we are serving a God who commands us to speak up.

We will offend some people just because we love Christ, but can one have a message presented clearly without being obnoxious? Yes. One novel I read contained a clear example of a changed life, yet nobody complained about it in their Amazon reviews.

Does your writing have enough boldness?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lesson 6: Show Me the Money

Now that you know your royalty percentage, your next question is, "How often do I get paid?"

Not often enough.

Unlike the day job where you get a paycheck at least twice a month, most publishers pay you twice a year. Others pay quarterly or even annually. And publishers send the money anywhere from three months to six months after sending the royalty statement.

So if your publisher issues royalty statements as of June 30 and December 31 and your book releases on March 1, you will probably receive your first statement sometime in July. But your check for the sales shown on the June 30 statement may come as late as December 31. And that's assuming you didn't get an advance or you sold enough copies in the first four months to earn out the advance. If not, you'll be waiting even longer for your first royalty check.

There really isn't much you can do about this. It's just the way things work. However, read the contract and make sure you know when royalty statements and checks are due. If you don't get them on time, ask for them.

If yours is a traditional book, the contract will probably allow the publisher to withhold a reserve against returns. This may be as high as 15-25% for hardcover books and trade paperbacks and 35-50% for mass market paperbacks, or the contract may merely allow the publisher to withhold a "reasonable" reserve. Withholding a reserve is fair because distributors can return unsold books for a refund. What isn't fair is when the reserve amount is higher than the expected return rate or the contract gives the publisher complete discretion by leaving out the word "reasonable." A good contract will also provide that amounts held for a certain period of time (usually two accounting periods or a year) will be released from the reserve fund and sent to the author with the next royalty payment.

Returns aren't common for POD and e-books, however, so those contracts should not allow the publisher to keep a reserve against returns. And if the contract covers more than one format, make sure the reserve applies to only those formats with multiple-copy print runs.

You don't want your contract to contain a joint accounting clause, which allows the publisher to offset royalties for one book with the unearned advance and author's expenses from another. If your first book doesn't earn back its advance but the second one does (or vice versa), a joint accounting clause would let the publisher apply the excess royalties from the more successful book to the remaining advance on the less successful one. There is some justification for joint accounting among the books covered by a multi-book contract since they are all part of the same deal. But watch out for joint accounting clauses that let the publisher apply royalties earned under one contract to the shortfall on a different contract with the same publisher.

On the other hand, you do want your contract to include an audit clause. This clause gives you the right to audit the publisher's financial records showing sales and expenses for your book. Ideally, you also want the contract to say that the publisher will pay the auditor's fees if the audit shows a discrepancy of 5% or more in your favor, but most of us don't have the bargaining power to insist on it.

Audits are expensive, so this clause is rarely applied. Even so, if you believe the publisher is paying you less than it owes you, simply threatening an audit may convince it to review its records and pay you any discrepancy. But the threat is worthless without an audit clause.

And we all want our publishers to show us the money.

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speaking of Speaking. ...

by Rachael Phillips

Some writers become writers because they love words and don't like people. Others like people, but their fellow Homo sapiens make them nervous. Suggest that as authors, they should cultivate public speaking, and they take the first space shuttle to Neptune.

Do you fall into this category? Unfortunately, you may not find many markets for your fiction on Neptune. If you prefer this super-low profile, fine. If not, perhaps a few pointers will help send you rocketing back to communicate with earthlings who might buy your books.

First, find an opportunity to speak. This does not have to involve television cameras. Groups abound--knitting klatches, third-grade Bible school classes, NASCAR fan clubs--as well as reading and library groups. Choose the least threatening, most relevant-to-your-book group and offer to speak. Most groups love meeting an author. They love you even more if you're free. But speaking gets your name out and helps sell your books.

Study your audience. Are they married-forever couples who watch Gaither videos? Or college singles who cannot compute without Power Point presentations? Mixed ages/backgrounds? If unsure, ask your contact person and plan with the group in mind. Ponder what purpose God may have for this event. Ask what your audience would like best to hear. Then deliver.

Write it out. A 30-minute presentation often means many drafts, but we're writers, right? And you can use this material for another speaking opportunity or article.

Practice. My initial efforts are so awful, I don't even want God to see them. But a full-length mirror has proved His tool, teaching me how to stand up straight, pull in my gut and smile, even when I screw up (it also motivates me to lose a few pounds). I test-fly my words like paper airplanes. Does this sentence soar? Or sink? Will this gesture enhance my talk or make my audience think I'm swatting flies?

Finally, practice before a loyal friend who will applaud your pluses and honestly critique your minuses. Spouses? Maybe. But after your speaking gig, will you still speak to each other?

While this may appear overkill for a reading club get-together, you can always informalize your speech. Taking it up a notch proves much harder. Practice answers for any questions. I've found it helpful to re-read my book, especially if it's been a while. Forget your character's name, and your gig may prove shorter than you expected!

Preview. Arrive early for your talk. Connect with your contact, unpack props and set up your book table. If you are using technology, test it. Thoroughly. If necessary, exorcise it. I double-check podiums because I wear bifocals (the wrong height can blur my notes into blobs). I also suffer from drop-itis, so I use a loose-leaf notebook for my notes, not notecards. Keep a glass of water nearby to drink when your voice cracks or the audience doesn't get the joke. Scan your notes. Check for stuff between your teeth. Now you're ready to meet new friends! Greet everyone and tell them how glad you are to see them.

Finally, preach. You may not deliver a three-point sermon, but during any speaking engagement, you represent Jesus Christ, whether sharing your historical research with the Lions Club or giggling through your comic romance with a grandma group. Well prepared, you can relax and let the Holy Spirit use you to touch others.

Hey, speakers, what tips will help your fellow writers avoid the "run-away-to-Neptune" syndrome?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making Your Setting a Character

You know the blurb at the beginning of a published book about the names, characters, places and events either being the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or persons (living or dead), is coincidental? I love those words! Writers have certain restrictions on what we can or can't do. We fret about mentioning "real" products in terms of copyright infringement and inadvertently (and quite innocently) "borrowing" photos, lyrics, music, phrases or quotes. All the rules and restrictions can feel downright suffocating at times – to the point where it’s enough to drive a person crazy and makes one almost afraid to write about anyone or anything real. Ever felt that way? But the good news is this: writers have a bit of freedom – wiggle room, if you will – in terms of that all-important (but sometimes overlooked) element of a book: the setting.

There are definite advantages to using both an existing setting and also making one up in the writer’s fertile imagination. If a real place is chosen, you need to make sure you have the facts and get a “feel” for the place. I’ll admit to a twinge of envy every now and then when I hear that my writer friends are departing on some marvelous “research” trip for a contracted book. Maybe someday… For now, I’m content with memories of visiting certain places, and again, the internet is such a versatile, indispensable tool for the modern writer, although nothing compares to that “up close and personal” visit. But - real or fictional - you need to know the location well enough to make it a character in itself, so much so that it’s almost a living, breathing element alongside your characters. The choice of setting can greatly enhance your plot and entice readers to want to experience (or revisit) the charms of a particular place for themselves – real or not. Sometimes a bit of artistic license comes into play, but be accurate to the best of your ability. Admittedly, it can be a gray area at times. However, if the location stems completely from your imagination, no one can point a finger and claim you’re not being accurate. And it can be a lot of fun. I've conjured up a town in Louisiana for my second series, and I'm having so much fun with the places and quirky characters in my little town!

The one sticky wicket I had in my debut novel, Awakening, was when Sam takes Lexa to a special restaurant in San Antonio for an elegant lunch. I read about it in several books, but didn’t have the opportunity to visit firsthand. When Lexa sees this place, she claps her hands in childlike delight and says, “It’s a castle!” An early reader asked if it was real. It is, and what Sam tells her about it is true (being moved from England to Texas); however, when I looked it up online, it doesn’t look like a castle at all. Hmm... So, there’s no way Lexa would have made that comment or been so enthralled with it. Because I love Sam’s line shortly thereafter (it’s one of my personal favorites in my debut novel, along with “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a little armadillo told me,”), I changed the name of the place to something that sounded very similar, but not the actual name of the castle, thus making it a fictional place. I’ve worried about it somewhat, waiting for someone to call me on it, but I’ll claim that all-important artistic license and fall back on that blurb at the beginning of the book as my defense, if needed.

I've heard that if you use a real place, it can be a boon to your sales (especially if it's a quaint town with friendly locals) if the author is true to the spirit and essence of the town. The citizens can become your greatest allies in helping you promote your book. Most often, they're more than willing to answer questions, show you around and tell you all about their town. Here's a wonderful example: it’s my distinct privilege to introduce you to my friend and Christian author Melinda Evaul. She lives in Tennessee, but has found writing success and great personal satisfaction writing about the small community of Love Valley, North Carolina in her charming book, Grow Old With Me (available on Her story and characters beautifully satisfy that need for a novel depicting how love can be discovered at any age. A lot of readers are clamoring for stories of people of "a certain age."

Love Valley exists in more than just Melinda’s lively imagination. Read what she shares about how using a true-to-life setting (complete with the characters, places and events) has positively enhanced her life, as well as her marketing efforts and subsequent sales:

(1) What are the advantages of using a real place? Research was a breeze since I was able to visit the location, take many pictures, and interview people. It also gave me a contact person willing and able to help if I had specific questions about the location during the writing process.

(2) How has it impacted your sales? I visited the town for a book signing. Many of the people in the vicinity also want to read the book since it’s a familiar location. Readers want to see Love Valley since it is an actual town. I’m helping their economy and tourism via my setting.

(3) How has visiting the locations of your novel influced your life - personally and/or as a writer? Friendships developed after visiting the town. It’s become a fond place in my heart. Several of my contacts will always be friends. Much of my novel deals with the cultural style of Love Valley. The proprietors appreciate the advertisement since it’s an old-west-style tourist attraction. It’s a contemporary town but appears historical. I used actual stores and made certain they were in the proper locations. It’s important to have the facts correct if everything you write about a real location is meant to be taken as literal. I made it clear, up front, that some of my information would be fictional. My characters don’t depict any particular person in the town. I took liberties with the church and with Sarah’s Mosey Inn. I actually transported her house from a very different town. People see my book cover and ask where the house is. It makes for some interesting conversations in Love Valley, and it’s a great lead in for a book pitch.

Thanks , Melinda! After reading her book, and her posts on Facebook, I long to visit Love Valley. As I close, I know historical authors face unique challenges with setting. Even though they can visit the location of their books, in some cases it’s much different now from the time period in which they write. But they can talk with the locals about the town and their ancestors who might have lived there, go to the library, and conduct research.

No matter your setting, embrace it, indulge yourself in it, fully explore how it can work for your plot and characters. Above all, keep writing and keep reading! Until next time, blessings my friends.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Recently, I experienced being seriously ill. So far God has used that horror to teach me. He has also used those six scary days to give me something to write about. I might add here, my children and grandchildren were scared. Through the whole experience I was so calm it took my nurse/daughter four days to convince me that I was critical.

I wrote about this in my column, Every Now and Then, in the four weekly newspapers I edit. Hopefully, some reader was blessed by that column.

Every Now and Then
By Pat Radaker
Editor, Indiana Newspaper Group

Every now and then something happens to remind me that God desires to bring good out of the bad things that happen in my life. As his word tells us in Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (NIV)

I had the opportunity this past week to see how that applies to my life. Blacking out at work, going to the hospital by ambulance, and staying on a hospital floor that is one step down from ICU gave me time to think and pray as I waited, trying to avoid emergency surgery.

I have seen so many good things come from the experience already. First, had it happened a day later, Rachel would not have been there to call 911 when she found me, head on folded arms at my desk -- unresponsive. I thank God that he prevented the mail carrier from finding me dead at my desk -- something that could have easily happened.

Secondly, many people prayed for me. I believe had they not prayed I would have been rushed into a life or death situation demanding surgery.

Thirdly, those six days in PCU gave me many opportunities to practice patience. Sometimes I'm a little short in that department.

I still wear several multi-colored bruises on arms and hands where blood was drawn or IVs inserted. This experience had me in the hospital during Holy Week. As I meditated on the events between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, memories focused on the fact that my Lord was bruised for my sin, tortured, crucified to give me new life. My suffering did not compare with his.

After drinking my meals for four days, I really appreciated tasting, chewing, and swallowing food that was surprisingly good for hospital food.

I realized a deeper appreciation for my family -- a daughter who drove back and forth from Lafayette to Muncie to spend a night with me, go home to work the next day and drive back to Muncie the next day. When she took me home, she had done some cleaning in my apartment, allowing me to enjoy coming home all the more.

My 17-year-old granddaughter, who hopes to attend Ball State University in another year to study nursing, stayed with me when her mother had to go to work in Lafayette. She did dirty work while caring for me that most teens wouldn't even consider.

My sister stayed with me at times, relieving the others. Friends from church drove to Muncie to visit and pray with me. My pastor kept in close contact. And now I am home and anticipating a wonderful Easter service on Sunday.

By the time this column's published, Easter weekend will have gone by, but every now and then I'll gladly remember why we have so much to celebrate.

(Used by permission from my employers at Kentucky Publishing, Paducah, Kentucky.)

How has God used trouble in your life to enhance your writing life? Are you learning, as I am, to look for the good in those times of trouble, and to use them in fulfilling your calling to write? We'd like to hear from you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hello, My Name is Nikki...and I'm a Writer

by Nikki Studebaker Barcus

I recently made the front page of the local newspaper highlighting two recently published pieces in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Before you call to schedule me for your next national meeting or to endorse your latest book, I must tell you that my picture and interview were next to the picture of the Easter egg hunt in the nearby town with no stoplight. However, the interviewer did a very nice write-up and I was honored to be featured in the same paper that announced my birth, my graduations, my wedding, and the birth of my three kids.

The piece ran nearly two months ago, but just this week I've had no less than three people mention it to me. The secret's out, folks. A year ago, when asked what I did for a living, I would answer that I trained as a teacher but now stayed home with my kids. But in the last nine months I've changed my answer. I tell them I'm a freelance writer. People must not know many writers, because they usually register a look of shock, their eyebrows shooting to their hairline, before they ask the second question, "What do you write?"

At first, telling people I wrote for a living seemed a little pretentious. I mean, I barely keep the family supplied with milk and toilet paper (the two things we seem to run out of most often) with the income I generate from my writing, but hey, it's a start. But I've found that claiming my position as a writer cemented it in my head--it became real for me. The more I said it, the more I believed it myself. I gained confidence in my ability and the increased accountability served as a type of positive pressure to keep producing quality work.

A few weeks ago, I worked crossword puzzles on my Kindle as my teenage son made the rounds through the stations during sports physicals. As I pondered 24 Down, I listened to one doctor question my son (I'm a mom, I can multi-task like that). He checked his height and weight, asked about the sports he competed in, and whether a parent accompanied him that night. "Is that your mom over there?" he asked, motioning toward me with his pen. "Oh, she's that writer in the newspaper, right?"

Yes, sir. Yes I am. My name's Nikki and I'm a writer.

How about you? Do you tell people you are a writer or an author? If so, do you get the same questions? Do you find it helps keep you motivated? If you don't tell people, why not? Are you waiting for something? Think about giving it a try this week. Here, let me help you get started. Just fill in the blank with your name:

Hello, my name is __________ and I'm a writer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bad for Flab, Great for Fiction

A year and a half ago I attended a writers residency hosted by a Big Name Writer.

Early one morning I wound my way through the historic hotel down to the basement. My heart flipped when I walked into the boutique-sized gym and recognized the Writer, pedaling a stationary bike nowhere fast. I hopped on the treadmill and cranked up the speed, unwise for a Midwesterner recently arrived to the mountains. Half an hour came and went and I kept my feet, but before I could scoot out the door the Writer stopped me. “So why do you exercise? Many writers don't.” I'm pretty sure words came out of my mouth but I have no idea what they were. Since then I’ve mulled the question.

Movement fuels story action.

Stories are built on action and conflict. Recreating action for characters at a computer screen is difficult if you and I aren't active.

Movement brings resistance.

Exercise is a kind of conflict, the stuff of stories.

Exercise forces us to push through our own fatigue, weakness, fear, discouragement, and sloth so that our characters do, too.

Movement sharpens the mind.

Increased blood flow increases oxygen levels in the brain, resulting in greater awareness, better memory, and stronger creativity when we do sit to write.

Movement improves mood.

The release of various chemicals in the brain leave us feeling more satisfied and more relaxed. Our family, friends and readers will thank us.

Movement boosts energy.

Writing isn’t our only job. Exercise improves our entire cardiovascular system so that our body becomes more efficient in performing all those other tasks.

Movement brings sleep.

Exercise can help us fall asleep faster and deepen our sleep. Better rest ushers in better concentration and productivity tomorrow.

How do you stay on the move?


Saturday, June 11, 2011

God's Forge and Writing

I was reading through Psalms this week and ran across this verse: “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” Psalm 105:19. We all know how Joseph’s story ends (he becomes second in command and reunites with his family), but I had never thought about all those years of his life that pass within the thirty seconds it takes to read in Genesis.

Here is a quick synopsis: Joseph was betrayed by his family and sold into slavery. While in Egypt, he served as a slave. He was tempted. He was lied about and unjustly imprisoned. Then he watched others released from prison while he languished in that dark place for years.

As I thought about Joseph more, I put myself in his place: the heartache brought on by the betrayal of his brothers. The fear he might have had as he was handed over to the merchants for gold. Perhaps discouragement, yet a choice to make the best of things as he took his place as a slave in Potipher’s home. The split second decision to run when Potipher’s wife tried to seduce him. The disbelief when Potipher believed his wife’s lies about him. Then the kicker: thrown into prison for doing nothing wrong.

Joseph sat in that prison for years. He was totally surrounded by darkness, both physically and emotionally (at least I would be). All he has known in his life are lies, betrayal, and hardship. He sits there day in and day out, facing a bleak existence. Perhaps he tries to hold onto the promised visions he’d had that God was going to do something great with his life, but he can’t see how that’s going to happen now as he stares at those dark dungeon walls.

Even darker thoughts may have invaded Joseph’s mind. Should he have given in to Potipher’s wife? He wouldn’t be here now if he had. Or could God be trusted? Why hadn’t God kept his promise? Why had God allowed him to be imprisoned? Maybe jealousy tempted him as he watched Pharoh’s cup-bearer leave prison. The deep, painful depression as he waits for the cup-bearer to keep his word and get Joseph out of prison, only to have days turn into weeks turn into months.

Until the time came…. God tested Joseph’s character.

I feel like I’m in God’s forge right now. When I picture a forge, I see a dark room filled with heat, sweat and pain. I see a hammer slamming down on a heated piece of metal. It takes the heat, sweat, and pain to turn ordinary metal into something extraordinary and useful. But the process can feel dark and painful.

When I read the verse above this week, things clicked for me. I put my name in that verse: “Until the time came to fulfill her dreams, the Lord tested Morgan’s character.” Yikes!

Now unlike Joseph’s dreams (which were prophetic and a promise from God), my dreams are simply aspirations of mine. I am a writer. And like most writers, I would like to be published. But is that God’s plan for my life? Is my “writing in the dark” a time when God is testing my character?

I think so.

I do not know what kind of future God is preparing me for (he certainly has not promised me a book contract). But I do know that he considers my faith “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). So into the forge I go so God can shape me into the woman I need to be.

Friday, June 10, 2011

First I Edit, Then I Tweak

YAY! I've just found out I'm free to attend the Write to Publish Conference held at Wheaton College that starts tomorrow morning (Wed, June 8). Since it's just about my favorite conference, I'm delighted for this unexpected gift of time so I can attend. However, it means I don't have several days I was counting on to write (and tweak) this post. So I'll share with you just the skeleton of my TWEAK acrostic.

But first, CONGRATS to Rick Barry who has the lead article in the current Christian Communicator, titled "Great Ideas Are Not Enough." Don't miss it! In superb ways, it hints at my TWEAK acrostic below.

After I've edited a piece of writing, then I TWEAK it. Since I'm rushing to drive to Wheaton in a couple of hours, I don't have time to explain or illustrate how I differ between editing and tweaking. But here's my TWEAK acrostic skelton for you to ponder on your own. Maybe next month I'll share with you my illustrated acrostic.

These are the main "things" I check when I'm tweaking:

T iming
W ords
E nergy
A ction
K nowlege

Do feel free to share your own TWEAK acrostic or definition in a comment.

Summer conference blessings,
Millie Samuelson

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing the Romantic Comedy

Many of us have no choice but to grow our writing skills from How-to-write books. Seminars and college classes are great, but tight schedules and financial budgets too often prevent us from taking that road toward publication. Of course, some detest the idea of learning to write from a how-to book. I heard Nora Roberts say she has never read a how-to book. But the rest of us struggle to develop our skills and thus the how-to book fills that niche.

I read every how-to book I can afford, which looks even remotely interesting. Currently, the book on my nightstand is Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit. From the input I’m getting, it is a classic source for writers and screenwriters, as well.

What I like about the book is it covers areas of writing that many how-to books miss. For example, the Bellamy also known as Mr. Wrong, which occurs in many romance stories (think Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle)

What I dislike about this book is the detail in which the author describes each movie example. Most of the examples he chooses are from popular movies to which most readers will relate, but if you haven’t seen the movie you’ll still understand the plot given Mernit’s details.

According to many reviewers, this book is a condensed version of the class Mernit teaches at UCLA. I like that he explains five ways to give life to you characters and his fundamental chapter topics such as;
Storytelling Fundamentals
The Romantic Comedy Concept
A Brief History of Romantic Comedy
The Art of funny
Being Sexy
Character Chemistry
Designing Dialogue
Deepening Your Craft
Romantic Comedy—Today and Tomorrow

Because the book includes numerous movie examples for every topic Mernit covers, the book is quite lengthy (256 pages). Therefore, I wouldn’t push this off to new writers as the first how-to book for their library. Even so, I think it does have a place on the bookshelf along with the writer’s first must-have books. My choice for those first three books are; Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.

Has anyone out there read a good how-to-write book, which you could recommend? Outside the Bible, what first book would you recommend for the new writer?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Those Opening Lines

My latest WIP and opening line

First lines. Who loves them? Sometimes we've been told to wait until you've written the whole book before writing that opening.And yes, it could mean the difference between a rejection from an editor or agent, or a request for a whole manuscript. So, I think about this often for not just my manuscripts, but also anyone's manuscript that comes across my desk.

Noah Lukeman has a whole chapter about adjectives/adverbs in his book, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.He talks about overuse and how you do not want to pepper your manuscript with them. He says just cut them. But he also says to replace common ones with unusual ones. Get ones that draw attention. Strengthen your nouns and verbs. Or substitute a comparison, analogy or metaphor. Use this advice for your opening lines, too.

I decided to look at some books I pulled off my shelf. Try it with your favorite authors, too. Mary Connealy is one of my favorite authors and here are some openings of her books:

Montana Rose: "Cassie wanted to scream, Put down that shovel!"

Petticoat Ranch: "Sophie heard God in every explosion of thunder as she listened to the awesome power of the approaching storm."

Petticoat Ranch was one of her early books. Montana Rose came later. Can you see a difference in the openings?

This is from Gingham Mountain: "Martha had an iron rod where most people had a backbone."

She sure can tell a story and she pulls me in every time. I'm anxious to get into some I haven't been able to read yet because I've been doing a lot of judging and book reviews for magazines.

Can you choose a book to share from the opening? I think writers often choose books differently than just straight readers. We have a whole set of criteria that intrudes into our selection process. So tell me, does a first line or opening scene clench the choice? Or is it something else? Here are some others I pulled from the shelf. Do any of these grab you or would it be the author or genre that would be your first criteria?

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (Blood of Kings Book 1):
"Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic."

Missing Max by Karen Young:
" They say people have a premonition about calamity before it strikes. But Jane Madison felt only irritation when her cell phone rang as she waited in the Mardi Gras crowd to order shrimp po' boys."

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell:
"'Get dressed, Clara. In your visiting costume. We are going out.' My aunt's words were at once both commanding and precise--as precise as her posture: a series of ninety-degree angles, seated upon one of my bedroom chairs."

Almost Forever by Deborah Raney:
"Bryn drew the queen of diamonds from the stack of playing cards on the wobbly table between her and Charlie Branson. The grizzled Vietnam vet eyed her from his wheelchair as she discarded an ace."

A Woman Called Sage by DiAnn Mills:
"Life didn't get any better than having the love of a good man and his baby kicking against her ribs. Add a summer breeze to cool the heart of a southern Colorado sun and a bed of soft green grass tickling her feet, and Sage felt a slice of heaven had come to earth."

Lukeman points out these things that could draw a rejection for your manuscript: (And realize that he is speaking about the first five pages:)
1. A weak opening hook.
2. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs.
3. Flat or forced metaphors or similes.
4. Melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue.
5. Uneven pacing and lack of progression.

While openings are only one portion of the entire manuscript, you usually only get one shot at the first few pages to attract attention. Here's the another thing we didn't talk about yet--sometimes the opening which caught the agent/editor's eye to start will get changed before it's published. (Yeah, it happens. Go figure!)

All this isn't written in stone, but seeing many openings of published books shows you how it has been done by those who are published. When you pick up a book in the bookstore, Steve Laube, a bookstore manager-turned-editor-turned agent, says you only have a scant few seconds to capture that reader before he puts down your book and picks up the next one. There is something to writing that opening paragraph. Once you've written your book, go back and look over your opening with fresh eyes before sending it out. Get Lukeman's book and work on his exercises. Run your opening past a few people who know nothing about your book to test it.

Are you trying to pick your next book to read? Throw out a few sentences to let us pick! Or if you want to entice us to read your favorite new release, (or your book!) throw us the opening sentence.

The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman is a book for every writer's shelf, so be sure to get a copy.

Crystal Laine Miller

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life in the Second Act

On May 19, 2011, I began life’s Second Act.

I turned 50.

A lot of my peers are afraid of turning 50, but I’m excited to make it this far. Some of my other friends, due to illness, accidents or disasters, never knew the privilege of walking the planet for half a century.

Now I’m an official Golden Girl, excited about what lies ahead. I plan to live to 100 because I have much to do, stories to write, places to explore.

I’m not alone in embracing the second act of life. I find myself in good company.
  • At age 50 Joy Adamson wrote Born Free.
  • When she was 51, Harriet Monroe founded Poetry Magazine.
  • At age 52, Ludwig Van Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony, Isak Dinesen published Out of Africa, Pytor Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker, and Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged.
  • Seuss wrote The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at age 54 and Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi.
  • At age 55 Alex Haley published Roots.
  • Handel was 56 when he composed the Messiah in 24 days and so was Mary O’Hara when she wrote My Friend Flicka and Nikolay Rmisky-Korsakov when he composed “The Flight of the Bumble Bee."
  • At age 57 James Joyce finished Finnegans Wake, Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty and Jonathan Swift published Gulliver’s Travels. 
  • Robinson Crusoe was published by Daniel Defoe when he was 59 (one of my favorite classics).

  • Agatha Christie wrote The Mousetrap at age 61.
  • At age 64 Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics to The Sound of Music.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until age 65.
  • When he was 69 years old, Noah Webster published An American Dictionary for the English Language. He worked on it for 22 years and it became one of the best-selling books of all time.
  • At the beginning of his seventh decade, Nicolaus Copernicus published De revolutionibus obium coelestium (On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres), claiming that the Sun , not the Earth, is at the center of the cosmos; E.B. White wrote The Trumpet of the Swan.
  • At age 76, Grandma Moses began to paint.
  • Thomas Wilder was 77 when he wrote Theophilus North.
  • At the age of 83, Winston Churchill published the last of four volumes of his ambitious A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and Igor Stravinsky composed his Requiem Canticles.
  • Sophocles was 87 when he wrote his play Philoctetes.
  • Michaelangelo, at age 88, crafted what some deem his most compelling sculpture, the Rondandini Pieta, an old man holding Christ.
  • In their 90s, George Bernard Shaw wrote Shakes Versus Shave: A Puppet Play (at age 92), Leopoli Stokowski signed a six-year recording contract (age 94), and Mother Jones, union organizer, wrote her autobiography (she was 95).
  • And (do I included this one?) at age 99, Father Abraham circumcised himself.
This list is far from exhaustive. Many other people in their golden years not only wrote books, but started companies (Colonel Sanders was 65 when he began selling KFC franchises), became president (Ronald Reagan was 69), and climbed mountains (Ichijirou was 100 when he climbed Mt. Fuji).

I'm thrilled for the privilege to enjoy this season of my life. How about you? What do you have planned for your second act?

Saturday, June 4, 2011


By Deb Dulworth

How does a 62 year-old approach a writing career? Well, I thought I’d learned the simple things in school. But I’ve found that some of the rules have changed through time.

The humble comma was a punctuation mark (,) that represented a pause in a sentence or used to separate words and figures in a list.

The Comma Drama has hit right betwixt and between the eyes. In case you’ve not noticed, I’m terribly upset. Do I put a comma after ‘but’, or before? Or, does a comma go before and after ‘but’?

Another question - whatever happened to the poor, pathetic semicolon? Who was the wisenheimer who kicked it out of the writer’s wordy world? Ah, it has all the earmarks of a ‘man-thing’…to go to that extent, to stoop so low, and change the rules on little school children and us old feeble people. (Should there’ve been another comma in that sentence?)

English is known to be the most difficult language in the world. No wonder! We keep adding slang phrases and switching punctuation marks. Is it a plot to confuse terrorists?

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Slightly Morbid Source for Writing Inspiration

Very German, no? (These were my great grandparents.)

It started when I took a folklore class in college. For that class I had to collect several rubbings from area tombstones in a semi-Indiana Jones fashion. Although we weren't tracking down any famous or valuable historical relics we were collecting samples of educational value. We had earlier learned some of the symbolism of the most common images to be found on tombstones.

For example, did you know that the inclusion of the image of a broken rose bud almost always indicates it is a child's grave? It makes sense once you think about it, but like many people, I hadn't stopped to ponder the graves of anyone but my own relatives - until I took folklore.

I additionally find that some epitaphs make great story starters. But even an unusual gravestone, or an unusual name can make the wheels churn in my head. What were they like? How did they die? And more importantly ... what happened during their lifetime?

In my hometown there is a rich immigrant heritage, largely due to the coal mines that existed there for several decades. Because of this, a visit to the local graveyard is now a goldmine for names of Italian, German, Hungarian, Irish and other origin.  I could look up sources for immigrant names elsewhere I'm sure, but what is also fun about this source is that the names are often variations of those I've heard spoken aloud when I was small. I would want to be careful how I use any of them - so that no one thinks I'm writing about their dearly departed grandmother - but slight alterations or mixing and matching would allow for some authenticity and local flavor to leak into my stories.

Don't knock it til you've tried it! See if your local graveyard sparks any ideas for you.

- Suzanne

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Personal Obstacles

Over the past month there has been information and wonderful Barnabas-like blogs of encouragement on Hoosier Ink. Rick Barry wrote, “Serious writers don’t make excuses. They read, learn, and put into practice…” Jeff Reynolds warned, “don’t mistake a sense of urgency with impatience, trying to do God’s work for Him, or getting into panic-mode…We can do our part in getting it published, but we must remember He’s in control.” Joy N. Malik declared, “I’ll keep writing the stories God puts in my heart and leave results and timing up to God.” Nikki Barcus prompted writers to be diligent, to persevere, and to remain steadfast in the faith because there is a season for everything.

For me, May was a season of bad news, including the break down of my car, the loss of my flash drive, and the destruction of my modem by a bolt of lightning. It was the season for me to stay in a computer-less-home with my mother after her surgery.

I believed by the time I returned home my internet problem would be solved. After fourteen days, four hours on the phone with five different techies each promising a different delivery date, a modem finally arrived. Then I discovered the power surge had caused additional problems. I’m still without a car or internet, but not without blessings.

This period of forced abstinence from internet and editing felt catastrophic until I was willing to submit to the circumstances God brought into my life. I discovered time for introspection about a personal obstacle I face in publication—something I can change—my resistance to change.

Is that an obstacle for you, too, or is it learning the numerous tricks of the trade?

Carving out time to study or write?

Rushing ahead rather than preparing?

Waiting for discovery and instant success?

Trying to by-pass industry standards?

Being intimidated?

Learning to network and use resources?

Resenting manuscript changes that judges, agents, or publishers suggest?

Waiting on God’s timing even though you’re doing all you can do?

Today I’m wondering where you are. What obstacle do you find most daunting on the road to publication? Are you overcoming it? How?