Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Poll For Your Thoughts..

Well, since we do not have a post today, I thought I would take this opportunity to point out that we will be running a poll each month here on Hoosier Ink (usually located in the right column of this blog). As long as we have good questions, I will post a new poll and watch the results come in.  It's always nice to see what your other members are thinking about on a particular topic.

This month is about the kind of technological device you do your writing on. Also note, it may be possible to select multiple options should the question have a multiple choice answer (like this month).  We will post the results via the Yahoo Mailing List. If you have suggestions on polling topics, please let me know.  Just make it something to do with writing and be sure it is a short question and tell me what choices you want listed to select from....

The polls will usually run for one month. Send me your ideas OR just use the comments section here to let me know what you would like to see.

Future questions:

  • Favorite writing beverage?
  • Favorite internet browser?
  • Do you find it more difficult to start or finish a story?
  • Your Favorite communicator: Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Your favorite place to write (coffee shop, fast food, library, home, etc)
  • Ketchup or Catsup? :)
You get the idea....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lesson 7: When the Book and the Publisher Clash

You've signed the contract, submitted the book, and told your Facebook friends that you are going to be a published author.

Then you get the publisher's edits and gasp because they change the look and feel of the story and eliminate your voice. Or worse, the publisher ignored your Christian worldview and turned your novel into something that glorifies sin.

Researching publishers before you submit is your best defense against the publisher that doesn't "get" your book. The contract is your next best defense.

Ideally, you want your contract to require your consent to any changes other than copyedits that conform the manuscript to the publisher's style manual. Second-best is language requiring the publisher to consult with you before making changes. But if the contract lets the publisher make the final decision and you are worried that it won't honor your Christian message, you may be better walking away without signing.

But here's another scenario. You get a a letter from the publisher telling you the book isn't good enough and it has decided not to publish your masterpiece. AND the publisher wants the advance back.

Most contracts contain a clause requiring the author to deliver a "satisfactory manuscript." Since many books are sold on proposals, this is how publishers protect themselves from wasting money on a bad book.

Doubleday & Company entered into a two-book contract with actor Tony Curtis. With the help of a skillful, hands-on editor, Doubleday turned the first novel into a commercial success. The second novel ended up with a different editor, who also provided detailed critiques and comments. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. In the end, Doubleday determined that the manuscript was unsalvageable and asked for its advance back. When Curtis refused, Doubleday sued and won.*

So can a publisher use this clause as an excuse to terminate a contract merely because it has lost interest? That may be true if the contract simply calls for a "satisfactory manuscript" but not if it calls for one that is satisfactory "in form and content," as most do. When this additional language is included, the courts impose a good faith obligation on the publisher: an obligation that appears, at a minimum, to require the publisher to give the author a chance to revise and resubmit the manuscript and may also require minimal editing assistance. But even that may not help if the contract says you get only one shot or no editing help.

The best contract for you (as the author) will allow you to keep any advances the publisher has already paid unless you sell the book to a different publisher. In that event, you would have to pay back only as much as you get from the second publisher. However, if the contract allows a publisher to simply terminate the contract for any reason before the book is published, the contract should allow you to keep the entire amount you have already received. This protects you when the publisher simply changes its mind.

If the publisher has seen your entire manuscript before entering into the contract, it may not need a "satisfactory manuscript" clause. Even so, if the publisher considers your manuscript to be a diamond in the rough, it may want the clause in case the polished version doesn't sparkle.

As a reader and a consumer, I like "satisfactory manuscript" clauses that weed out some badly written books. And although it can be abused, the clause protects me as an author, too.

Because I don't want to build my reputation on a book that isn't good.

Kathryn Page Camp

* Doubleday & Co., Inc. v. Curtis, 763 F.2d 495 (2nd Cir. 1985).

Monday, July 25, 2011


This past Saturday, we held a huge celebration for my daughter’s eighth grade and niece’s high school graduations. We transformed the backyard into a party haven, complete with canopies, tiki torches, and glowing paper lanterns.

The party was a success. I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning, trying to clean up the mess before the household woke up to get ready for church. However, as I stuck the dirty crockpot decorated with dried nacho cheese into the sink, I had enough. The rest had to wait until morning. Later morning.

After the party cleaning project was finished, I came within a few inches of planting myself on the couch for a nap. Then my daughter says, “About the Thank You cards for my graduation gifts—can’t I just send them a thank you on Facebook? It’s too hard to write all these ‘Thank Yous’.”

Really? I was too exhausted to explain how (when I was her age) I wrote out ‘Thank Yous’ in cursive on real paper. Instead, I hobbled with my sore feet to the basement and pulled out my Printshop software that I never installed. I figured she might have more fun making her own cards on the computer.

Which brought this question to my mind. How many writers use their talented skills to create their own cards? I wonder if Debbie Macomber heads to Walgreens when she needs a birthday card, or if she creates her own masterpiece of words for each card she sends.

And then, I couldn’t help but ponder the thought of greeting card writing as a side job, and wondered what a freelance writer has to do to sell an idea to a greeting card company.

If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, or are looking for another avenue to release your writing creativity—look into greeting card writing. Here are some tips I found online:

  1. Understand what other people want in greeting cards. Most greeting card companies cater to the people who most likely buy and send cards: women between the ages of 18 and 50.
  1. Create cards that are short and to the point.
  1. Make it original. Read newspapers, magazines and go to the movies for fresh ideas.
  1. Use target issues: Relationships, success, religion, money and health, etc.
  1. Use the Writer’s Market to search which companies accept submissions from freelance writers and be sure to follow their guidelines.

To give you an example of guidelines, check out this link for Dayspring Cards:

As for my daughter’s graduation Thank You cards, the Print Shop software is still lying on the counter. I think she’s hoping I’ll give in to the idea of the Facebook route.

~Marjorie DeVries

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letting the Past Go: A Lesson in Writing & Life

Every writer knows excessive backstory slows down a plot.

Yet, sometimes I desire my readers to understand my characters' history. To relish in their yesterdays. So, I write out their pasts in great detail, slowing down the present scene.

And this urge to explain seeps into my personal life as well.

For, maybe if I told you about my profound fear of breaking a bone, you'd appreciate why I never learned to skate in Canada. And maybe if you knew I was bullied in kindergarten, you'd comprehend why I was unkind in middle school. Perhaps if I recounted my should-have-could-have-would-have's, or took you down my what-if's, you'd forgive my excuses for not doing this or that.

So, I cling to my past like a comfortable pair of pajamas, and in doing so, I miss my present part in God's epic story {and lull you to sleep}.

But, every writer knows a riveting story moves forward. A strong character learns and grows from her mistakes and develops over time.

Rene Browne and Dave King in their book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers say, "...if you find your story too heavily burdened with the past, consider letting some of the past go."

Ah, great wisdom for writing and life, no?

I need to cut back-story in my life like I do my fiction. I don't need to define my limitations. I don't need to hide behind past failures or regrets. I can let the past rest at the foot of the cross, in the "sweet embrace of Christ." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest) And by God's grace, I can move forward.

My past may shape tomorrow, but when I choose to let it go, it won't impede tomorrow. Oswald Chambers writes, "God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future." (My Utmost for His Highest)

The truth is when I let God, the master writer, transform my past {cut my backstory}, when I see each new chapter, plot twist, and conflict as an opportunity to grow {not gripe or reminisce}, my story develops beyond my wildest imagination.

When I let my past go, God pens one exhilarating storyline.

Do you struggle with cutting back-story in your fiction and life?

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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ten Steps Toward a Good Character Interview

In case you don't already know these two, it is my pleasure to introduce Leah Bright Maxwell and Trevor Aldrich Logan. Leah is the protagonist of the middle-grade historical fantasy I'm working on, and Trevor is the shy neighbor boy of Leah's Aunt Becky. The two share a commonality: each has lost a parent. A third character is about to become a member of what Leah sardonically calls the "Dead Parents Society."
     When I was about a hundred pages into the story, I realized I didn't really know Leah and Trevor all that well, so I decided to take the advice of fellow Hoosier Ink writer Ramona K. Cecil and interview these characters. After all, I'm an experienced interviewer, having written for two newspapers for nine years. All I had to do was apply the same techniques I used to interview mayors, judges, quilters, blacksmiths, E.R. medical staff, politicians, drugstore proprietors, old farmers, and boxers.
     Below are ten guidelines for interviewers interested in getting to know their characters. Following the guidelines, I've included the interview with Trevor. He surprised me the most.
  1. Find out as much as you can about your subject. Research the settings of time and place. If your character has a special hobby, interest, or line of work, learn about it. Obviously, you can't research what you don't know about, and your character may very well reveal something along these lines through the interview.
  2. Set the interviewee at ease. When I'm interviewing a living, breathing person, I'll engage in some small talk and ask some innocuous questions before entering into the heart of the interview. I may even talk a little about myself, perhaps telling something a bit personal, so the interviewee will feel comfortable in telling me some personal things.Your interview with your character should flow naturally, so a little small talk may help with that.

    (At this point, I'm taking a little break to tell you that at first this may seem awkward--interviewing a fictional character as if he were sitting across the table from you sipping chai. I understand that. Fact is, your character should be so real to you that you can almost smell the onions on his breath from the sandwich he had for lunch. You're a writer. Relax. We have a special license to be crazy upon occasion.)
  3. Take careful and copious notes. This does two things. It captures your thoughts and records them, and it slows the interview down so that both the interviewer and the interviewee can gather their thoughts.
  4. Take time to listen--really listen. Allow time for the character to say all he can regarding a particular question. Wait. Listen to the silence. Is he on the brink of saying something more? What's holding him back? What are his facial expressions? His gestures? Does he seem nervous? Perturbed? On the brink of tears?
  5. Ask follow-up or probing questions. You can't do this if you've not listened closely, if you're too busy thinking of the next question, or if you assume you know the answer. You have to deliberately listen to hear.
  6. Show genuine interest in what your character is saying. 
  7. Study to remain neutral. If your character reveals a reprehensible act or motive, instead of shutting him down, let him talk. Encourage him by saying something like, "Yes, go on. What thoughts went through your mind when...?"
  8. If you have questions about an answer, repeat to the character what you heard. "Did I understand this correctly?" you might ask. 
  9. Interview all significant characters. It may be helpful to take on the role of your characters--play act--answering as each character would.
  10. Allow your characters to be real. Don't try to impose a preconceived personality or behavior on him. Prepare to be surprised. You will end up writing genuine, round characters.
Interview with Trevor
With Notes

Me: What is your name?
Trevor: Trevor Logan.
Me: Middle name?
Trevor: Aldrich. It was my grandpa's name, but everyone called him "Al." I didn't know what his middle name was. I had to look up the meaning before I'd agree to use it.
Me: Trevor Aldrich Logan. That a good, solid name. Do you know what the Aldrich part means?
Trevor: Yeah. Spear wielder. Like a soldier, I guess. Like my dad. And my grandpa. Until I asked this, I knew nothing about his grandpa.
Me: Is your grandpa deceased?
Trevor: Yes. So is my dad.
Me: Oh, no. I am so sorry. How did he die? Your father, I mean.
Trevor: He was a brave warrior.
Me: Oh?
Trevor: He died in Iraq. He . . .
Me: I know it is hard to talk about. You don't have to . . .
Trevor: No. I want people to know, because I'm proud of him. He threw himself on a grenade to save his buddies. I already had decided that he died in Iraq, but I didn't know how. The interview filled in that detail.
Me: Oh, Trevor. He was a very, very brave man.
Trevor: My grandpa died shortly after we heard about Dad dying. Mom says Grandpa died of a broken heart. Didn't know that, either.
Me: What about your grandma?
Trevor: She lives with us. Actually, we live with her. It's her house. She and Grandpa built it a long time ago. The front part used to be a little gas station, back before Grandpa decided to retire. So it's kind of an odd house, with old gas pumps still out front.
Me: It has character.
Trevor: (laughs)
Me: So how did you and your mom—what's her name?
Trevor: Wilhelmina, but no one calls her that. She's called "Willie." I hadn't known this before.
Me: I can understand that. So how did you and your mom come to live here? Where did you live before?
Trevor: We lived in North Carolina. After Grandpa died, Grandma called Mom and said, "Wilhelmina, why don't you and Trevor come to Indiana and live here with me? We'll take good care of one another." So we did. This all was news to me. If I hadn't decided to interview Trevor, I wouldn't have known.
Me: She's your father's mom, isn't she?
Trevor: Yeah.
Me: Are your other grandparents, your mom's folks, still living?
Trevor: Yeah. They live in Illinois. Close to the Mississippi River.
Me: The grandma you live with, what's her name?
Trevor: Fern. [News to me!] I like that name. The woods around here are full of ferns and I think they're really pretty.
Me: I like ferns, too. Have you met the girl who is spending the summer up on the hill?
Trevor: With Miss Becky? Yeah.
Me: What do you think of her?
Trevor: I don't know her much. She's from Chicago, so she's probably uppity. Of course, he's talking about Leah, and this is early in the novel.
Me: "Uppity"?
Trevor: Yeah. You know. Snobbish. I think her dad's a college professor or something like that.
Me: Her name is Leah. You and she have some things in common, you know.
Trevor: Like what?
Me: Well, she's only a little bit older than you. And she has lost a parent. Her mom died in a car wreck. She was hit by a drunk driver.
Trevor: That's sad, too. Seems to be a lot of that going around.
Me: Do you know Miss Becky well?
Trevor: Yeah. We go to the same church. She was my Sunday school teacher when I was in third grade. I like her a lot. I go up to her house a lot. She lets me help her in her garden.
Me: Don't you have a garden at your house?
Trevor: Yeah. We all three work in it. But I really like to grow things and take care of them, so I help Miss Becky, too.
Me: I would think that would keep you pretty busy.
Trevor: Yeah. But I like to be outdoors, so it's fun for me. My dad did, too. He was a woodsman. He taught me all sorts of things about the woods and how to survive out in the wild. Like Brian in Hatchet.
Me: Oh, so you've read Hatchet.
Trevor: Yeah. It's pretty good.
Me: Do you read a lot?
Trevor: Not really. That was a book we read in school. Mostly I read to find out stuff. You know. Not made-up stories. Books about nature, an' stuff like that. My dad used to get me them kind o' books just about every birthday. I have a bookshelf in my room—well, it's part of my bed—that Mom calls my Lewis and Clark shelf. You know. After the explorers?
Me: Yes, I know. I've heard of them. So what kinds of books are on your Lewis and Clark shelf?
Trevor: Dad got me a lot of books about how to identify stuff. Trees, wildflowers and medicine plants, birds, mushrooms, butterflies, insects, snakes, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, dragonflies. . . you name it. It's prob'ly in one of my books.
Me: I might not be able to name it.
Trevor: Then we'll look it up in a book.
Me: Those are important things to know.
Trevor: Yeah. I know the woods around here real good. Are we about done?
Me: I think so. Unless there's something else you'd like to tell me.
Trevor: Nope. I want to go see if I can help Miss Becky.
Me: Thanks for talking with me.
Trevor: You're welcome. See ya later, alligator!
Me: After while, crocodile!

Now, it's your turn. Do you interview your characters? Which ones do you interview? Have you learned new and amazing things through the interviews? Please share your experience with our readers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Things That Made Me A Better Writer

There have been several things I've done in my life. Three out of the four I listed below have aided me in strengthening my writing craft. Which one is the exception?
  1. Amazon review writing

  2. Editorial letter writing

  3. Songwriting

  4. Toastmasters

Have you made your selection? Okay, let me eliminate the options one by one.

Of course, Amazon review writing is not the exception. Writing honest reviews first encourages me to read. Then, it motivates me to interact. I'm also being trained to see what works and what doesn't so I can apply the lessons learned. For those interested, I've written 452 reviews at this moment.

Likewise, editorial letter writing is another way to strengthen one's writing. It forces you to get to the point quickly. Additionally, being creative in how you express yourself increases your chances of being published. I've been multi-published in both the Nashville Tennessean and the Indianapolis Star. In fact, I got paid for having a letter selected by the Tennessean for being the three star letter of the day. A check for $4 and a nice fancy dinner.

That leaves songwriting and Toastmasters. Obviously, songwriting is writing. Toastmasters on the other hand focuses on oral communication and leadership skills. So if you selected Toastmasters as being the one that does not belong, you are incorrect.

I will concede that songwriting has not hurt. Writing lyrics is writing poetry and writing poetry helps you write stronger prose. Also, I've learned that to succeed as a professional Christian songwriter (one who writes songs as a living rather than one who sings those songs), the rules for marketability are the same. However, from that point on, they are two different animals. I have written a few hundred songs, none published and most of them forgotten.

How does Toastmasters help my writing? There is more in common between written and oral communication than you would guess. On one hand, the most effective prepared speeches have been well written. On the other hand, the most effective writing has a voice that sounds like someone is speaking it.

A Toastmasters meeting has three parts to it, all of which relate to writing. First, there's the prepared speeches. Some of the projects, especially in the advanced manual, can help with your writing. For example, there are manuals on Interpretive Reading and Storytelling. Also, one speech in the Speeches By Management manual instructs you to write out your speech in a way that it sounds like a spoken speech rather than a written. I did that project once and had that manual lost before I received credit for it, so I did that same project a second time.

The second part is impromptu speaking, termed Tabletopics. The Topicsmaster of the meeting asks the other members questions, and with no prep the member answers with a 1-2 minute speech. This helps you think on your feet, a skill that helps with creative writing. Additionally, this helps with interviews/elevator speeches which the author might have to give.

The third section is evaluations. Though not called critiques, a good critique is not unlike a good Toastmaster evaluation. The evaluator points out what the speaker has done well, and also gives them areas they can improve on.

I have earned my Distinguished Toastmaster Award in 2008, the highest achievement possible with the organization (though some have multiple DTMs). But my benefit has not come only from my active participation in giving speeches and evaluating my peers. It also has come from listening to speeches. You will notice different voices, which aids in writing dialog.

Naturally, you also have a wide variety of speeches. I've observed persuasive, informative, interpretive, and humorous speeches. I've heard speeches on creating corn-starch, the differences between the three types of whiskey, the importance of getting sleep, fair-trade shopping, the Underground Railroad, and the brown recluse spider.

I would without hesitation encourage any writer to write Amazon reviews and editorial letters. How about Toastmasters? I would given the conditions the writer has the resources and time to invest. The cost is affordable; it is comparable to being a member of the ACFW and the Indiana Chapter. I would advise setting aside two hours at least per meeting and more if you're giving a speech (the meeting frequency varies per club). Those two things might be a roadblock, causing the Toastmaster club to be an obstacle to writing rather than an aid. It depends on the person.

Of course, I'm talking about my experience. You may disagree with my choices. Maybe you have found songwriting to be a more profitable exercise than I consider it for novel writing. Maybe your recommended activities for writing include scuba diving, ballet, and moving furniture. That's the thing about writing – no two writers are the same. (Sometimes, no one writer is the same person, but let's leave that for trained psychologists.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will My Christian Bookstore Always Be There?

If you look up “Christian bookstore” in the dictionary, you might find “endangered establishment” as one of the resulting definitions. As a Christian consumer, when was the last time you visited a Christian bookstore? Do you even know if you have a local Christian bookstore? Have you made a purchase there recently? Do you take it as a given that your Christian store “will always be there?” These are all thoughts that might go through a Christian consumer’s minds whenever “Store Closing” is posted on the door of their local Christian bookstore.
Having managed a Christian bookstore that became a casualty of the sluggish economy, I can tell you that my patrons were pondering those questions and were shocked when my Christian bookstore had to close its doors. Given our current economic state, it has become more difficult for the smaller stores to compete with the larger chain stores. With the success (and large numbers) of big box retailers, either actual bookstores or “one-stop-shop” formats, it has become an increasingly uphill battle for Christian bookstores to thrive and remain in business. That said, are you aware of the services and benefits that a “Christian” bookstore provides? Based upon my experience working in Christian retail, I will examine exactly what a Christian bookstore does for the Christian consumer compared to other types of stores.
The Carpenter’s Son Christian Bookstore has been closed for over a year now. It wasn’t until after the store closed that I really began seeing the impact of its closing when there was a void in its place. Regardless of the type of store I was managing, being in the position of “store manager” always kept me in a role of meeting, greeting, and making connections with customers (both new and “established”). Working in both secular and Christian retail, I have established a unique perspective into both, how they differ, and how they compete against each other. From that viewpoint, I have generated several reasons why Christians need Christian bookstores to remain open for business and stay afloat in this economy.
Christian bookstores provide a safe environment for you and your family to shop in. Let’s face it, going through the checkout line at a grocery store or big box retail store is not as safe for your eyes as it once was. Your kids will not be asking embarrassing questions and pointing to questionable material on the cover of a tabloid magazine. Likewise, men and women will not risk letting those inappropriate images fall into their field of vision and have to set their “modesty filter” to maximum. Christian bookstores are not places where one tends to hear or see inappropriate language, behaviors, or activities.
Most Christian bookstores will have a larger selection of Christian themed books than your average big box retailer or chain store. For example, let’s say you need office supplies and want a good selection to choose from. Which one will have a broader selection: a big box retail store that has lots of items but little variety, or a “specialty” store that that specializes in office supplies. The same analogy can be said of Christian bookstores: you will generally find more of a variety and selection of Christian themed products in a store that specializes in items of a Christian nature.
For those of you who enjoy reading groups, book signings, and networking with other Christians, Christian bookstores can be a hub of such activity. If you are lucky, your local store might even be a place where Christian writers get together to meet. I know the two Christian bookstores that I have managed had all three of these in place. Christian bookstores are just great places to make these types of connections, meet authors, and network with other like-minded individuals. So if you’re an author reading this, connect up with your local store to sign books, network with your fans, and maybe even start a writers group.
Saving the best for last, I want to come to the most important benefit of shopping at a Christian retail bookstore: The STAFF! Think about it, the staff of a Christian bookstore is immersed in the product every day, they are continually getting feedback from customers, and they know what people are buying and can communicate that information to you! Depending on the organization that your Christian bookstore belongs to, many organizations provide the staff with detailed, well-organized, and in-depth product training. Some stores even get visits from sales rep’s that keep the staff informed about sales trends, new products, and industry information (and sometimes free samples). It’s well worth your time to get to know these staff members.
In conclusion, the services provided by Christian bookstores and the shopping environments they generate, cannot be substituted or duplicated by the growing number of secular stores already replacing them. Keeping Christian bookstores in business is a compelling reason for Christian consumers to invest their time, energy, and financial support into their local store. From my own experience, I was always delighted when a customer stopped in to ask, “What fiction books are you recommending today?” I encourage you to reach out and form a connection with your local store. Think of it this way: supporting your Christian bookstore is a future investment into the books you haven’t read yet, and the authors who will write them.
-Darren Kehrer

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zucchini vs. Butternut Writing and Other Garden Goodies

by Rachael Phillips
Having repented of last year's neglect, I decided to give substantial attention to my garden this summer. I did so partially because of writing reasons. Last summer, I held myself to a do-or-die deadline. I wrote all day six days a week and sometimes seven. Mornings, I didn't fuss with my hair or brush my teeth until I accomplished my word count. I rarely stuck a toe outside. While this bordered on OC behavior, at least, I didn't follow the writing credo of another morning person: having awakened, she did not allow herself a first visit to the bathroom until she'd written 500 words.
Bladder infections aside, there is something to be said for single-mindedness. I met my deadline and felt good about the quality of the resulting work. But I missed breathing the summer morning air, fragrant and fresh as if God just created it. (Sizzling melt-the-blacktop afternoons don't inspire me; they remind me of Hades and Nevada.) As the summer progressed, I often found myself at a writing standstill, hovering around windows like a kid who'd been grounded for life. By fall, my brain felt dusty, cobwebby and empty as a deserted barn.
I decided this summer would be different. Most early mornings find me digging and weeding in my garden or flowerbeds for an hour. A price must be paid for such radical rebellion. My creaky fifty-something body begs for mercy. Plus, I do find meeting my daily word count a challenge without those first fertile sixty minutes of the writing day. Still, I think the benefits outweight the time deficit. After hoeing, weeding and raking, my body sighs with relief when I sit down with my laptop. Eager green tendrils of thought--some related to writing projects and others a continent away--grow and flourish in my new-found freedom.
For example: this morning, as I raided my squash patch, I marveled at the differences between the growing habits of zucchini and butternut. Zucchini plants don't grow vegetables; they give birth to them. They remind me of my most prolific writing days. Ideas pop into my mind, fully fleshed out, and words leap from fingers to the page as if I'd received a gigantic dose of literary Miracle-Gro. However, after a while, they all start to look and taste alike, no matter how I disguise them. Butternut squash is a different matter. Only a few funny curved miniatures poke out of languishing blossoms. They grow very slowly, and a gardener wonders if she'll see the next millennium before these things ripen. Covered with vines, they often slip from memory. But eventually, they mature, offering distinctive flavor that developed only because they absorbed days and days of sunshine, rain and irrigation that shot my water bill through the ceiling. Butternut writing requires similar patience. A character may take numerous drafts to ripen. A sub-plot that grows in obscurity finally appears at just the moment your story needs it.
By now, a few of my readers may feel lost ("Um, did I stumble on a vegetarian blog?") But I hope these fresh-from-the-garden observations encourage other writers to discover unrelated pastimes that release them to create. Mine happens to be gardening. My agent, Wendy Lawton, makes pottery. Camy Tang, a multi-published writer, knits. What hobby or activity spurts fresh juices back into your writing?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Unconditional Love At Its Best

Remember the famous slogan from the movie, Love Story? Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Since the movie’s over forty years old, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you it’s about two star-crossed college-age students who fall in love, and one is dying from leukemia. I understand love is about being accepted for who and what we are and being forgiven whether or not we ask. Quite simply, it’s unconditional. But what about this never saying you’re sorry business? I don’t know about you, but that’s not how my world operates.

You must understand I’m a person who routinely apologizes for things over which I have no control, and mumbles “I’m sorry” to inanimate objects, doors or walls when I inadvertently bump against them (don’t worry; it doesn’t happen often). My mama taught me good manners, and I count it a blessing that all three of my children said “pease” and “tank you” [intentional misspellings there – they were barely toddlers, after all) before they could say much else. But “sowwy” ranks right up there among their first words, too. Learning to say those two words, “I’m sorry” is important.

Writers are an odd lot. I’m thankful my family and closest friends put up with me. It’s unconditional love at its best. Sure, I sometimes get the eye rolls, the arm taps and that glazed-over look. But these people are also my greatest supporters, source of encouragement, and they spare me from apologizing all the livelong day.

Think about it. Read through the list below and see how many of these sound familiar – perhaps we can call them the hazards of a writer’s life:

*Waking up in the middle of the night to scribble notes about something a character will do, has done or will have done to him/her
*Carrying on conversations with characters and plotting stories while in the car, the office or an elevator (pretty much any small, enclosed space)
*Asking total strangers random questions all in the name of research. I was in line at a convenience store behind an EMT awhile back. Knowing I only had a certain window of time to ask my question, I plunged in. “Excuse me, may I ask you a question?” It was great because the EMT confirmed exactly what I wrote in my story.
*Bursting into laughter because a character says or does something amusing in our imagination. I’m sure there are people who believe my characters of Sam Lewis and Lexa Clarke are living, breathing human beings. They sure are to me!
*Buying things because they’re symbolic of our characters and their stories – my working area is decorated in the “Lone Star” style, an homage to all things Texas. My daughter even found an armadillo purse on Ebay. It was ugly but quite an interesting novelty item (I didn’t buy it).
*Lighting up like a Christmas tree because someone says, “So, tell me about your book.” Aren’t those among the most beautiful words in the English language?
*Crying when events in real life mirror our fiction, sad or happy. I cried like a baby when the space shuttle, Endeavor, finally lifted off on its final journey to the ISS. I have such a healthy respect for our star sailors. Hopefully, you’ll know why in a few short years. It’s down the line in my series, but it’s my personal favorite.
*Sitting at events, meetings or appointments with notepad or electronic device in hand, ready to jot notes when inspiration strikes.
*Scouring the newspaper or the internet in search of stories with intriguing twists or interesting people and/or details.
*Throwing all my spare change into a jar marked, “Conference Bound.”
*Experimenting with recipes or regional dishes indigenous to the region/setting of our book.
*Willing to make a fool of myself all in the name of a good story or finding the answer to some burning question.
*Watching the dust bunnies grow because, “…just 1,000 more words.”

Why do we do it? Because, pure and simple, it's our passion. Sure, we’re a little crazy. We have to be or we wouldn’t be gluttons for punishment. It’s a unique calling, writing. Especially as a Christian writer. What a comfort it is to know I’m forgiven by my heavenly Father without asking when I'm sometimes a bumbling mess. Kind of like never having to say I’m sorry. But I know when I need to confess something, just as I'm sure you do. But, either way, what joy fills my heart knowing my heavenly Father is always there, listening, loving and forgiving.

Until next time, keep writing, keep learning, and bask in the glorious, unconditional love of the Father. But don't ever be afraid to say you're sorry. Matthew 5:16

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Photo credit:  Billy Alexander
By: Nikki Studebaker Barcus

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Don't you just love that? What astounds me and makes my heart pitter-pat at this verse isn't just the fact that it is the beginning of the greatest book of all time, or that it is The Beginning, of well, everything. It is not that these words are centuries old and still carry the power of creation within them. Even the truth that these are God Almighty's very words is not what gets my blood pumping. Nope. What I just adore about this verse is the finality of it.

God didn't just start out creating one day only to let the partially-formed earth linger like my bathroom remodeling project. The Creator God didn't lose interest after the beasts of the field and then run off to another adventure as my kids are wont to do. No way. Within the span of ten words God starts and finishes the entire world--heavens and earth included. The whole creation account--the expanses, the fish, the fowl, the fauna, the man, the Garden--summed up in that amazing sentence. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

You see, I can't help but be excited about that verse because I'm a finisher. I enjoy starting things, but what really floats my boat is drawing a thick black mark on an item on my to-do list. (Want to know a secret? If I do something and it's not already on my list, sometimes I write it down just for the satisfaction of crossing it off. Gasp! I know!) So I like the tidy way Genesis records the beginning and the completion of God's most amazing week.

Since the kids rushed off the bus forty-three days ago (but who's counting), chanting that tune about "no more books or teacher's dirty looks" I seem to be in perpetual "start" mode. With the sun barely peeking over the horizon, I start a cup of coffee. Then it's off to break up a fight or enforce chore time. I've started several books that I'd like to read, but someone always needs something--a ride to a friends, more toilet paper, a captive audience. I start cleaning a room and before I can finish I'm called away for one reason or another. When I return, one of the kids has decided to use every VHS tape left to build a fort, another one is fully engaged in an art project in the middle of the floor, and the other decides now is the time for his twice-yearly nap. I've started blogs posts and writing projects inside my head a million times but in the six weeks since summer break started, I've written only twice--this post and the one last month. Now that can really bum a girl out, especially a girl who likes to finish things as much as I do.

As writers, we know the importance of beginnings--the lead, the hook. We spend days, weeks, months, or entire books pondering just the right words to capture our audience. I know that. But God reminded me today of some other things I've started this summer that count for more than any writing project I could ever dream up. I've been privileged to start (and end) nearly every day with my healthy, happy, head-strong kids. I've started conversations with friends that encouraged, bolstered, and renewed both of us for the long days ahead. I spent four days at conference with over 600 middle school students and watched misty-eyed as kids I've taught week after week in Sunday school stood up and declared the beginning of their walk with their Savior.

So, if this summer is all about beginnings, I choose to embrace it. If nothing gets finished, there's always September. Whew! Now I can mark this blog post off my agenda.

How about you? Are you a starter or a finisher? Are there any new beginnings in your summer? Do you have a finished project you'd like to share so we can celebrate with you? Are you writing as much as you planned? If so, congratulations! But if not, take a look around you at what you are investing in with your time. Maybe it's something even more grand.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Unconventional writing tools

I can't get along without my laptop and some attempt at organization, but, there are some other things I use to unfreeze my mind when it seems locked up while writing.

I'm pretty sure I am a visual learner. So, I use Google Images a lot to see images and photos. For instance, I used it to figure out what 1850s farm equipment looked like, hair styles from the 1830s, fashions of that era, Civil War uniforms and flags and so on. Not every hit is what I am looking for, but some are useful. Just having a whole array of pictures to browse is a great help.

I listen to You Tube sometimes if I can think of the name of a song that fits where I am.

My favorite, though, is doodling. I can doodle anywhere and often do. This helps me picture characters and settings and block out scenes. By that I mean if it were a stage play rehearsal, the characters hit their marks and repeat their lines. Doodling helps me solidify their appearance in my mind. Does he have long or shot hair? Straight or wavy? Is she tall? Petite? Dressy or tomboyish? Sometimes I jot down a few words, too.

For me, doodling has another unexpected benefit -- for some reason drawing while listening helps me remember what I hear.

This is a win-win if doodling in church!

What are your favorite techniques for brainstorming? See you all after work!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams

The Moral Premise addresses only one small niche of writing, but it covers that niche well.

At some point in our writing journey we each learn that every good story has a psychological subtext--which reveals what the story is really about. Usually, this is the main character's psychological journey and is characterized approximately midway through the story where the main character has his or her "moment of grace", or "ah ha" moment. For example, the moral premise for Bruce Almighty is;
Expecting a miracle leads to frustration,
but being a miracle leads to peace.

The premise is restated throughout the story, and this is what the story is "really" about.

The moral premise sentence sums up what the main character had to learn through the course of the story. The first half of the story showed in numerous ways how his frustration was derived from expecting a miracle. In the second half of the movie, the main character learned through trial and error and at a slow arc that life was great once he chose to be the miracle himself.

The book clears up the difference between Premise and Theme and explains why it is important to know the moral premise when you begin writing. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and at times the writer doesn’t know the moral premise until a later draft.

This book is on my keeper shelf along with what I consider the top ten MVPs of book writing. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it as part of your top ten "how to" books. Better yet, buy the book—study it, and attend this year’s ACFW early- bird session where Doctor Williams will be giving his seminar. I'll see you there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Volunteers, Volunteers, Volunteers!

When I was a kid, we sang this song in my Christian school that went something like this, "Christ before us, Christ be-hind, Christ on every side, for the rescue of mankind...blah, blah, blah [it was a long time ago]...volunteers! volunteers! VOL-LUN-TEEEEERS!

The point of the song was to volunteer for Christ's army. It was set to a sort of marching tune and they probably sang while marching around church camp, but we sang it in school. I sang it at the very top of my lungs. Fun times.

These days it seems to me that it gets harder and harder to find people who will volunteer. And I understand it, truly I do. There are so many things taking our attention. We have obligations, jobs, kids, church, and any number of our legitimate excuses. Last week, I was recognized by our national president, Margaret Daley for all the hours in recent days (but also for past years) I've put into ACFW. It came at a time when I was really down and struggling with my own self-esteem and whether I was doing any good anywhere. God is always on time, isn't He? All of the notes I got last week, I saved because I know some day I'll feel low again, and I might need a booster shot. 

It also forced me to look back and see all the places I stepped up to volunteer my services and remember how much I enjoyed some of those things. I'm not any more talented or gifted than any number of people, but when I agree to do something not for pay, I just think of it as giving to Jesus, so I do try to do my very best. I pray about it when I'm asked, or if I feel called to volunteer, and if I feel a strong pull or a peace about it, I try to work it into my very busy schedule, even if I wonder why I'm being called to do such a thing. 

A couple of times I felt I had over committed, but somehow God gave me the strength to finish and do a good job. If I volunteer, I pretend I'm getting paid the big bucks and somehow I always feel rewarded--if not now, then on a day I need a boost. I've played this game with myself since I was in elementary school. If no one notices what I've done, I figure this is where my real jewels in my crown add up! So, I don't feel bad if no one notices. :) Jesus has a way of looking when no one else does.
Indiana State ACFW members at the home of Denise Hunter

Because of the many volunteers both at the national level and state level, the American Christian Fiction Writers has grown into an organization with much respect and prestige. I went to my first conference and roomed with Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt and Tammy Alexander in Houston, TX back when it was still called the American Christian Romance Writers, and I've seen many changes since way back then.

And our chapter has really grown, too, since the day when Cara Putman, Sabrina Butcher, Mary Allen and Rachael Phillips were officers. We now have a web site/blog, too. Darren Kehrer has really put in the man hours to make it look great. (Take a look around!) Lisa Mills way back in the day bought our domain URL for us, set up a web site for us, and now we are able to point that to this site. If you put our URL up, you'll come here.  will get you right back here! Our also gets back here. All great changes. Be sure to add one to your signature. We thank both Lisa and Darren for all the time they've put into making us known around the internet world. Thanks!

Pretty soon we will be having officer elections. If you are a member of ACFW and Indiana ACFW (not associates, though,) we would like you to consider running. But if you can't do that, try to think of how you could volunteer your talents and time in both big and small ways. 

Whether it is sending us some ideas for chapter meetings, locations, guest speakers, or to run for an office, or maybe to do the scholarship baskets for our St. Louis conference...or something you think of to make things better, please drop us a line! Darren jumped right in and helped get our blog shaped up, and now we would like to do interviews of the great Indiana ACFW chapter members, too, right here. 

Yes, we will benefit from whatever you wish to do, but think of it as volunteering in Christ's army, too. Marching onward! Email me if you're thinking of something. I'll be praying for you to step up and help us move into 2012. crystal.mrsinewaATgmailDOTcom . Please think about volunteering in the Indiana Chapter today. And if you have a good idea, don't be afraid to leave it in a comment right here!

Crystal Laine Miller

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Powerful Hungry

I've just returned from Singapore, gourmand paradise. Tucked between the curries, rices, noodles and dim sum, menus offer head of jellyfish, frog stew, fish head bee hoon, and duck tongues wrapped with baby greens. What's a foodie to do?

For good or for ill, our culture serves a feast of words. They're everywhere and we cannot resist. Printed on a cereal box, posted on billboards or etched in vellum, we eat up the words around us. Choose wisely, and we're satisfied. And we long to step into the kitchen and put our hands to the pots. As we have been fed, we want to nourish readers. Christian writers know both desires—to eat and to feed others--come from God. We dare not ignore the Source.


It is life.

[All the words I have solemnly declared] are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Deuteronomy 32:46,47 (NIV)

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:63, 68 (NASB)

It delights.

Your words were found and I ate them,

And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.

Jeremiah 15:16a

[The judgments] of the LORD are more desirable than gold,

yes, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 19:10 (NASB)

How sweet are Your words to my taste!

Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119:103 (NASB)

It satisfies.

He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.

Ezekiel 3:3 (NASB)

I have not departed from the command of His lips,

I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.

Job 23:12 (NASB)

It offers others life.

The lips of the righteous feed many.

Proverbs 10:21a (NASB)

Linger at the Lord’s table. Savor. And pass bread to a hungry world.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

God, The Author of our Lives

I have been writing for a couple years now (make that seven this up coming spring). During those years I have wrestled with characters, plots, journeys, and climaxes. I have placed obstacles before my main character so that she can grow, become stronger, and ready to face the next set of trials I have for her. Then it hit me one day. These things I do as a writer, God does with us in real life.

As the Author, God is in complete control of our lives. He knows the beginning and He knows how it’s going to end. He knows what needs to be placed in our lives to untangle that knot of sin inside of us, to make us more like His Son. He brings other people (characters) alongside of us. Some of these people help us on our journey; some of them try to hinder us. But God provides a way for us to stay on the right path.

God also knows what lies ahead of us. He will even place trials in our lives to make us stronger and ready to face the next chapter. But through the whole story, the Author (our God) is with us. He isn’t just watching our story unfold; he is guiding it, moving it along. He is intimately a part of it.

Nothing that happens to us takes God by surprise. I’m sure if my own characters could talk to me, they would ask me why all this stuff is happening to them. But I see the end. I know what the villains are planning, and if they were allowed to continue, would bring great suffering to the world. Therefore my characters need to be ready to step up when the time comes.

As a character in God’s story, I find myself asking the same thing: why is all this happening to me? But unlike my characters, I know the Author of my life. He’s writing the entire story. He sees how my life will intersect with the lives of others and how those meetings will change us both. Each thread in the story God is weaving together for the ultimate ending.

Every one of us is an important part of the story of Life. The story would be incomplete if even one of us is absent. So when the dark times come, know this: God sees how it’s all going to work out in the end. He has a plan and we are all a part of it. And when God writes The End, the story will be a masterpiece that will leave us in awe and bring Him glory.

Friday, July 8, 2011

E-Publishing Especially for the Indie Author

My writing buddy Melissa Rees and I are discussing and praying about epublishing our own novels. Why? We're both tired of waiting for that great contract from a traditional publisher. For several months, we've been checking out conversion of manuscript prices, royalties, and the general pros and cons of producing and launching our own ebooks. Here's a bit of our research FYI. . . :-)

A significant number of famous authors with HUGE name recognition have choosen or are choosing to independently epublish their own books, including J.K. Rowling. On the other side, a growing number of authors without name recognition are also successfully selling their independently epublished books. A few of those have made $100,000 or more in a single month with Amazon, and have established name recognition by themselves. For two examples, check out John Locke and Amanda Hocking.

There are HEAPS of epublishing sites to choose from. Some are inexpensive; some are definitely too expensive. A comparison of their quality? That's beyond my research so far. For this blog, I'm only going to mention two sites I'm actually considering (even as I wait for a contract I was verbally offered weeks ago but haven't received yet).

But first let me back up a bit before I share a few comparison statistics. Why do I even want to think about independently epublishing? Some of you had great answers for that question, mainly from a reader's perspective. Thanks for your input!

The main answer I received from your comments and other research was that ebooks are not only here to stay, but they're rapidly expanding because readers LUV them for many reasons (see my Feb 11, 2011 blog). Sharon Lavy, Darren Kehrer, and others shared how much they like their Kindles for travels, but prefer print books at home. Suzanne Wesley made me eager for the day Kindle adds color, as she's enjoying that aspect of her new Nook, especially for children's books. Jane McIrvin reminded me Kindle software can be used on other technology. She also stated she's frustrated when Kindle ebook costs as much as the print copy. (I'm sure we all agree there!) And several of you said you don't read ebooks yet, but you're looking forward to doing so.

A year ago on July 18, 2010, Jude Urbanski's HI blog was on epublishing (check it out). I have to admit I only scanned her blog then, as I would never have guessed that just a year later (now), I'd be considering epublishing. Jude's blog was six months before my total change of reading-heart caused by my Christmas gift of a Kindle from my son Peter. These days I'm reading more ebooks than print ones!

Part of Jude's blog referenced Randy Ingermanson's epublishing predictions. And based on her email to me a couple of days ago, I'm guessing Jude favors ebooks even more strongly this year than she did last year (like me, and I'm sure MANY others). Now she says, "I'm sold on the benefits of epub except for having a book in hand to market. Am currently in the throes of marketing my ebook and am finding there are a lot of similarities." In fact, she has two ebooks nearing release: Joy Restored in Nov this year and its sequel next June (2012). Both are by Desert Breeze, a royalty paying publisher of romances. I haven't seen Jude's contract, but it looks like she'll be getting at least 35% or 40% in royalties.

Since I haven't seen the print version of the "promised" contract for my books, I don't know for sure what royalty I'll be offered for my books in e-form. But my agent thinks perhaps as high as 50%. I'll let you know. . .

With a push from my son Peter, several years ago I started self/independently-publishing my books to sell when I speak. And I've immensely enjoyed (and profited from) the resulting experience. That's the primary reason I'm strongly considering indie epublishing, AND by the same online-accessed printer that's already printed thousands of my books, They've just recently started epublishing, which delights me.

InstantPublisher's epubbing is as inexpensive (compared to many self-publishers) as their print publishing, at least when "you" do all the paginating, etc, yourself. They charge $129.99 for the conversion and ISBN number. Plus there are minimal book cover design costs of approximately $65 if needed. As well, they offer free stock covers or you can provide your own design. IP offers two price options for listing the book with Amazon and a few other places. (Based on personal experience, I'm only interested in Amazon.) "You" can pay IP's annual listing fee of $50 and keep all of Amazon's 70% royalty split (Amazon keeps 30%). Or keep 60% from the Amazon split and pay IP the remaining 10% per book. If I go with IP, I'll take the annual fee option.

As most of you know, Amazon has an epublishing option for indie authors' books ( According to my writing buddy, there are no upfront costs (except for covers if necessary) when "you" do all the uploading work (just like IP). Melissa's paying $400 for a local artist to design her cover. Then there's the 70% author and 30% Amazon royalty split. However, if "you" want your book also available in print (by POD), there is a significant upfront production cost for that.

My writing buddy is also seriously considering epublishers and If any of you have experience with them, I hope you'll share that in a comment.

HEY! Enough for this blog. If I'm guessing correctly, I'll have more to share about epublishing in subsequent blogs, along with some of you.

Millie Samuelson

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be a Sponge!

No fiction story takes place in a vacuum. No matter how witty your dialogue, no matter how fascinating your characters, no matter how complex your plot, your story takes places in some sort of locale. But how much thought do you give to the places where your scenes take place?

True, not all scenes need or deserve intricate descriptions down to the minutes details. However, if you as the writer don't inject at least some semblance of location, your readers won't be able to "experience" the locker rooms, pine forests, chilly underground caverns, and other places where your characters interact with one another. So how can you paint places with a brush of reality? By being a sponge.

You may or may not need to keep a journal of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feeling of places you visit, but the idea is to record all of the above in your memory. Are you camping in the woods with family? Then use that opportunity to soak up your surroundings. Be still and notice the natural scents that waft through your campsite. Note the sticky feel pine bark where the sap oozes out (and notice how hard it can be to wash that stuff from your fingers!). Stare into the fire and imagine what words you can craft to describe those ever-shifting orange and yellow tongues of flame that leave behind glowing orange and red embers. Recall the cool dew that seeps into your running shoes as you walk through the damp grass. Notice the smoky smell that permeates your clothing. Impress all of these on your mind so that you can apply them later.

The same principle applies when you drive your neighbor to the hospital ER and you're waiting. The sights, sounds, and medicinal smells will be quite different.

Taking a trip by jumbo jet? Watch your fellow passengers and remember how some will slump in their seats with their mouths hanging open. Recall the background noise of the engines and rushing air as you cruise at 630 miles per hour. Don't forget your emotions when you're in the middle of your meal and the thoughtless nut in front of you suddenly reclines his seat backward into your face, nearly spilling your coffee.

By being a sponge and soaking up your life experiences, you'll have a steady supply of the raw materials to construct your own scenes. You'll be writing fiction with the feel of reality.

Say, while we're discussing the topic, do you have any favorite sights, smells, sounds, or tastes that you've "soaked up" to save for your writing?