Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Only Fear Worth Having When it Comes to Writing



It's gripped my heart, knocked my knees, and chattered my teeth.

And I confess, I've let it hinder me from attempting one too many things.

I never took philosophy in college, for I feared I lacked an analytical mind. I avoided economics, for the textbooks were filled with too many tables. How was I to understand supply and demand? And I avoided my passion--creative writing--for there was always someone better. I just wouldn't be good enough.

For didn't Jane Austen already craft the perfect heroine? Or Charles Dickens weave the most intricate plots? My words didn't stand a chance amidst the creative geniuses--the Oxford classics or master storytellers. And though my heart longed to move in the writing direction, my mind succumbed to that dreaded four letter word.

And I feared failure.

So, I took the safe route. I participated in low risk tasks and made decisions based on my chance of success. And at the end of the day, I succeeded. Failure wasn't an option.

But in attempting to avoid failure, I attempted nothing at all.

It wasn't until I heard the whoosh of my son's heartbeat, I realized my utter inadequacy for the task ahead. As a mama, I was destined to fail my child a thousand and one times. The touch of my babe's skin propelled me onto the writing path. I decided life was just too precious and short to live in what-ifs or bury God's gifts.

As I donned mama-skin, I felt compelled to write stories. Though I knew nothing about the craft of writing, I decided I would do my best for God, regardless of the result.

It's been three years, and to be honest, this path--though thrilling and invigorating--terrifies me. I'm afraid my stories will fall short. Will everyone laugh at them? What will the critics say? What if my pages never see the sun?

Yet God's measure of success is different from that of the world's. He doesn't look at the accolades, published titles, or sales. He looks at the heart. Am I willing to obey even if my words are buried on a hard drive or my stories don't fit the current market?

It is not up to me to determine the results of my writing. But it is my job to use this gift to the best of my ability. When William Carey heard his church leaders tell him God didn't need his help to reach others, he disagreed. He pioneered the modern missions movement and lived by the saying, "expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."

I know in attempting, I will fall flat on my face {already have}, but I also know that if I don't take risks, I will never know what God can do in and through me, or experience the fullness of grace.

And I could possibly miss out on His best for me.

So, despite my fears, I write in faith, and I know I must not stop.

For, the only fear that trumps all others is the fear of God.

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, September 23, 2011

ACFW National Conference Reports

Just a quick note to remind you that I am posting reports from the ACFW National Conference provided by our Indiana Chapter President, Rick Barry, as he sends them in to me. Be sure to check out the play-by-play action over on the "Spotlight" tab.
-Darren Kehrer

Will My Real Writing Twin Please Stand Up?

I've gotten some feedback on who I write like. My writing style in my novel has been compared to Daniel DeFoe, William Gibson, Chuck Palahniuk, Cory Doctorow, Raymond Chandler, and Vladmir Nabokov.

Besides my novel, I'm working on a commentary. In that, I've been compared to Dan Brown and H. P. Lovecraft. (And I was hoping my commentary was more in the style of Alistair MacLean or John Grisham. Oh well.)

The same source informed me my previous blog was written in the style of Oscar Wilde. And so far, this blog's writing twin is Cory Doctorow.

This source is the I Write Like website ( I learned about this on the ACFW loop. Several people have tried it, with interesting results. Many pointed out they've never read who they are compared with.

This is the case with me. Out of the people I mentioned I was compared with (take MacLean and Grisham off the list), the total number of works of the authors combined is zero. Add to that some interesting comparisons. One author who writes about the Amish was compared with Stephen King. One scene (of two) that was compared with Daniel DeFoe (Robinson Crusoe) from my book was a car chase scene.

By the way, I'm still writing like Cory Doctorow.

Is this a helpful writing tool? Let me first give the negatives.

First, this writing tool will never say, “Wow! Completely original! Unique Writing Voice!” Rather, it will always compare you with somebody, and that somebody will be a well known author.

I submitted two entries of pure gibberish, such as the typing exercise “The quick brown fox” sentence written backwards or non-words. Did the tool say something like, “You've got to be kidding?” or “This is nonsense?” or “Nice try, but you can't fool me?” No. The two gibberish entries were compared to Valadmir Nabokov and James Joyce respectively.

Second, this comparison is based on word choice and writing style. I submitted a decent sized section of my novel this morning and was compared with Stephen King. I cut a few paragraphs from the original, and that cutting transformed that piece to being like James Joyce.

This explains why my Biblical commentary is compared to Dan Brown. Brown is one of the few authors who'd use a similar vocabulary to what I'd write on Biblical matters. Evidently writers like Matthew Henry, John Wesley, John Bunyan, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and J. Vernon McGee aren't on the list.

Changing subjects, how many noticed the last five paragraphs resembled the writing of H. P. Lovecraft? “I Write Like” did. (I didn't.)

Is this anything more than a fun waste of time? Maybe not. On the other hand, there are some things that encourages me about this game.

It encourages me that I'm compared to different authors, and especially authors I'm not familiar with. This tells me that I am more unique. Additionally, the only mystery author I was compared with was Raymond Chandler, and his mysteries are more hard boiled than mine are.

An interesting note is that the sections that featured a quirky, humorous character were both compared with William Gibson. That indicates someone who has a similar sense of humor.

The reality is that we are in a world that thrives on comparisons. Proposals suggest you mention similar books. There is a place for that. Sometimes it shows you that you're doing similar things with those good at their work.

One quick comment. Christian singer Michael Card had been compared with Dan Fogelberg. He had one of Fogelber's producers work with him for the purpose of catching what was too Fogelberg sounding (as opposed to the natural similarities between the two singers). Sometimes, it helps to know if we're too much like somebody so we can try to take a different route.

And I'm still writing like H. P. Lovecraft. I wanted a Robinson Crusoe style closing. Maybe I should include a car chase.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lesson 9: How Did I Become an Indentured Servant?

Remember this paragraph from my January 27, 2011 contribution to this blog?

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

This is a later post.

Most book contracts contain an option clause, or a least a right of first refusal. While some people distinguish those terms, others use them interchangeably. For our purposes, we will lump them together and call them all option clauses.

An option clause basically says you can't sell your next book to a different publisher unless the current publisher doesn't want it.

The publisher is taking a chance on you and investing resources in a book that may bomb, so shouldn't the publisher have the right to benefit from subsequent books if its gamble pays off? That seems logical. Still, the option clause has no benefit for the author, so you'd rather eliminate it.

But if you can't negotiate it away, what provisions should you look for in the clause?
  • When you can submit the next book. Ideally, the contract should allow you to submit your next manuscript shortly after you have delivered a satisfactory manuscript for the contracted book. If the contract doesn't allow you to submit the next one until the publisher can see how the first is doing, you may not be able to seek a publisher for the second book for another two years (or possibly even more).
  • What you can submit. If the clause requires a completed manuscript, you will have to write the entire book first. The better clause will let you submit a detailed outline and one or two chapters.
  • How soon the publisher must respond. Sixty days is good. If the time is open-ended, the publisher can tie up the next deal indefinitely.
  • The terms of the next deal. Some contracts state that the author grants the publisher the right to publish the author's next book--if the publisher accepts it--"on the same terms" as the current deal. That means even the option clause carries over, so the author will never get a better deal until the publisher finally rejects a book. "On the same financial terms" is marginally better: at least you may be able to negotiate the option clause and other non-financial issues. "On terms to be mutually agreed upon" is best.
  • The scope of the clause. A clause that simply refers to your next manuscript means any manuscript, regardless of genre. See if you can narrow it to your next novel or your next children's book or your next nonfiction book on the same or a related topic.
  • How many manuscripts the clause covers. One book is more than enough.
  • Is there a "no less favorable terms" provision? The worst case scenario is when your contract allows your publisher--after it has already rejected the manuscript--to match an offer from another publisher and get the book after all. That practically kills any chance you have to sell the next book elsewhere. No publisher wants to waste time and resources preparing a book for committee and negotiating a contract only to have another publisher take it away.
In colonial days, indentured servitude let many European immigrants pursue the American dream. It was a voluntary choice by people with a strong desire to come to America but no money to pay the fare. Yes, sometimes the conditions were atrocious, but the indenture was means to an end, and the end was freedom in this country.

For writers, option clauses are another type of indentured servitude. If that's the price of getting published, you may be happy to sign the contract anyway. Just make sure that the terms of your indentured servitude are ones you can live with.

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Conference Prayer

by Rachael Phillips
Thank you, Lord, for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. Many of us will attend this premier event in Christian writing to learn from some of Your most incredible servants how to hone our craft and sell our work.
However, at the moment, on the eve of this blessed event, we don't feel so blessed. Even our technology conspires against us. Sensing our urgency, printers have re-set themselves on mangle. Computers have translated our sell sheets--and Help--into Sanskrit.
Besides, the dog ran off today, the freezer quit, the toilet clogged, and, thanks to four consecutive weekends of family reunions during August, the cute conference clothes will fit only if we do our breathing at night. During the past twenty-four hours, spouses, children, bosses and babysitters all sprained their right ankles, joining in a weepy guilt-chorus of "How can you le-e-e-e-eave us!" We told them You would be with them, Lord, but they don't seem to believe us.
Throw in airport people obsessed with quart plastic bags, planes equipped with insomniac babies and teeny half-seat bathrooms, and/or freeways where even GPSes refuse to travel, we cannot remember our names upon arrival, let along our pitches. Have mercy upon us, Jesus. Help us pull ourselves together and remember You are with us, too. Please provide a nearby Starbucks and an infinite chocolate supply. And we would appreciate it if our baggage made it back from Denmark before the end of the conference.
We pray for those who for various reasons could not share this experience--who remain home tracking down the dog, cleaning out the freezer, plunging the toilet and caring for the 37 people who sprained their ankles--all the while working on the stories You have put in their hearts, wishing they could be with us. We miss them, Lord. And we pray the ending to their next year's conference story will prove a happier one.
Help us keep our eyes on You, Father. Remind us that You love us all, even those who receive the contracts and/or awards we crave and the editors and agents who tell us, "Thanks, but no thanks." Give us a sense of humor and humility in all we do. May You, the author of our salvation, be glorified in the excellence and beauty of our art. And may Your Book of Life contain many names of those who read Your story in our writing and our lives.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Art of Writing Reviews

The deeper I get into my writing career in terms of both writing and reading other books, the more I’ve been studying reviews. Mind you, I didn’t say reading...I said studying. I’m convinced there’s an art to writing an effective review. If they don’t already do so, maybe the ACFW should consider offering a class.

I’m struggling with some issues in terms of writing reviews now that I’m a published author. Should I write reviews under my own name? After all, I write my books under my real name and detest the thought of using a pseudonym. On the flip side, is it dishonest if I don’t use my real name in writing reviews? Why does it matter, you might ask? I’ve noticed some authors tend to give fellow authors five stars automatically—every single review is the highest ranking. I ask you, is that possible? Perhaps in a perfect world. Review ratings are like a grading scale: Five stars = A, Four stars = B, and so on. Everyone strives for that A, but in fiction writing, it’s so subjective to personal opinions and whims. I’ve had other writers say, “Oh, no one pays attention to what other writers say about your book.” The other interesting comment? “People zero in on the bad reviews first.” The offshoot of that latter comment is that potential buyers will sometimes buy a book based on those negative reviews or because something in the review snagged their attention, good or bad, and prompted them to want to see for themselves. I want to write reviews, and think I’m decent at it, but there’s that whole political correctness factor—you don’t want to offend anyone, but neither do you want to be insincere. It all boils down to a personal choice: you have to do what’s best for you while always respecting the fact that the Lord’s given each one of us the passion for writing. We’re in it for His glory, not ours or anyone else’s.

Below are some of my observations (a personal list of “dos and don’ts," if you will, in no particular order).

*Don’t rehash the plot since the book’s synopsis is right there on the website.
*Don’t give away the farm. Whatever you do, don’t mention an event in the book which is considered a spoiler, giving the potential reader insight into something the author most likely wants the readers to discover for themselves.
*Don’t make the review a platform or blog for you. I see this done a lot when a book addresses a controversial topic, especially in Christian fiction. It’s fine to mention an event (without a spoiler) in a book that prompts you to rethink your position or has a profound impact on you, but it's not an opportunity for you to sermonize or go off on tangents not directly related to that particular book.
*Don’t tear apart a book and rate it low because of poor formatting or editing. I think it’s more the non-author reader who will do this (especially those who download the e-book version for no cost!). Authors only have so much control over these technical issues once they turn in their manuscript to a publisher. A review should focus on the writing, the plot, and the reviewer’s reaction to the story—not the mechanics.

*Do remember the Lord has given this story to an author for a reason. It may not be your preferred style of writing or genre, but embrace it and appreciate it.
*Do keep it simple and focused on your reaction to what you read. It doesn't have to be literary. Five or six sentences is fine. Much more, and you’ll lose interest and many potential readers will gloss over your review or skip it altogether. It’s like the closing argument in a courtroom: keep it brief, hard-hitting and state your case—for or against.
*Do wait at least a day or two and let it settle in, and then mull it over and formulate what you want to say before writing that review.

Lastly, one point that’s near and dear to my heart: Do the author justice by not rushing through their book and writing a review with erroneous facts or misconceptions that are clearly laid out in the book. As you know, authors agonize and expend many, many hours laboring over their labor of love in writing a book. It’s quite an accomplishment in itself. If something you write is only going to tear them down or crush their spirit, think twice. There really is something to be said in not saying anything if you can’t say something nice. Or at least a three-star rating or higher.

Jump right in and give me your thoughts, please. Whether you agree or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! Blessings until next time, my friends. Matthew 5:16

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just Say No

Why is something that comes so easily to toddlers all around the world causes adults so much stress? Yes, spend any little time with the under-age crowd and you will hear them shout from the rooftops, "No!" (And, friends, it is always said with the exclamation point.) I've even heard my own children say no to things that I knew they wanted.

"Do you want some ice cream?"


"Get your shoes on. It's time to go to the zoo."


"Don't you want to be a big boy?"


But ask any normal, sleep deprived, running-around-like-the-proverbial-headless-chicken man or woman to take on one more task and those two letters are just so hard to string together.

"Can you watch my kids on Tuesday afternoon? I know you're just working at home."

"Uh...well, I guess so."

"I signed you up to write the skit for the annual Father's Day program, since I know how much you love writing."


"Don't you get so bored just staring at a computer screen all the time? I've got a ministry opportunity for you that will put you right in the thick of people's lives and it only meets three nights a week."

"Well, I kind of already have a ministry, but if you really need me...."

 Living in community with others guarantees you will be called upon to serve at work, church, your children's school, and in the neighborhood. And if you work from home, you may find even more demands on your time or talents. To retain a healthy balance,everyone needs to learn the art of saying no. If not, you'll find yourself burned out, resentful, and scattered in so many directions that you aren't any good to anyone.

While we should all give of our talents, time, and treasure, what do we do when a request requires too much sacrifice or just doesn't appeal to us? Here are a few tips to help you learn to process the tasks competing for your time. I'll look at what to do when the request is for our writing or asks us to sacrifice time away from writing, but really these tips are of use in any situation.

Know your passions. When we understand our passions, we can devote the most time and energy in those areas. Knowing this ahead of time will help you decide if a request is something you can stand behind and see through or if it is something you need to pass on to someone else.

Decide the amount of time you are willing to give away. How often in a week, month, year can you give away your writing for free or take time away from writing to help someone? This is different for each person, but here are some ideas.

 Maybe your passion is orphan care, so you agree to do the writing for your church's adoption support outreach for free. Or maybe you feel comfortable tithing 10-percent of your writing time to your church in the form of publishing the weekly bulletin. Or possibly you will take on any request for writing from your child's school when you are not on deadline for a paying piece. Knowing your passions helps narrow down who gets your time.

Offer alternatives. If the request is something you're not opposed to, but the timing isn't right, tell the person up front. Say, "I'd like to do this, but now is not a good time. Will you let me know in the future if something like this comes up again?"

If the request is something that doesn't interest you or that you just can't do, you could offer some suggestions of other people who might enjoy the task. Say, "I work from 1-3 in the afternoon so I'm not available to watch your children. But Mrs. Sawyer really misses her grandchildren since they've moved and she might welcome the chance to sit for yours once in awhile." If you are uncomfortable with offering someone else's name, say, "I'll keep your need in mind. If I think of someone else who might like to help, I'll pass on your number." This allows you to mention it to your neighbor without any pressure for her to say yes or for you to follow up.

Ask for time. As a young wife and mother, this is the way I learned to turn down requests instead of taking things on that I'd later regret. When someone asked me to teach a class, work in the nursery, or make costumes for the Christmas play, I'd say, "I'd like to think about that and get back to you. Let me check with my husband, look at my calendar, and call you by Wednesday." This gave me time to think and pray about the decision rather than just dismiss it altogether or commit to something out of guilt or a feeling of obligation.

How to say no and mean it. After you've decided that you must turn down a request for your time or your resources, you will need to let the one requesting know of your decision. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Thank them for asking. It is an honor for someone else to believe in your talent or your ability to see something through. Thank the person who asked and point out the merits of the request, the ministry, or the project.
  • Be honest. Admit up front that you don't have the desire, the time, or the ability to complete the request. 
  • Be clear. Make sure you don't leave the person guessing. If you're saying no, make sure they understand that before you end your conversation.
  • Get over yourself. Oftentimes if I really think about it, I'm not the only person capable of fulfilling a particular request--I'm just the first person or the next person on the list. The person asking isn't relying on me, but rather relying on someone to carry through. If I accept when my heart isn't in it, I may be robbing someone else of doing something that God has ordained for him or her.

Take a lesson from a toddler today. Learn to just say no.

What ideas or solutions do you have for saying no? How do you turn down requests for your writing or your time? Do you need to take on more requests? Do you need to learn to say no more often?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus


Friday, September 16, 2011


Over the weekend I got an e-mail from a copy editor at Barbour Publishing, which bought my novella, "New Garden Crossroads" earlier this year.


I dreaded opening the file for fear my precious story was bleeding red ink. I thought my story was perfect in every way when I sent it out. But I knew this was coming.

Not as bad as I feared, at all. She found no gaping holes in the plot. For that I have to thank my newspaper editors who would often quiz me on deadline about missing pieces of the story. Since I hated to have to call sources back at the last minute, I tried to cover all the bases in the stories that I turned in.

There were also tweaks to make my story fit Barbour's own style.

She suggested changes to sentence structures to use more active verbs. Those often helped tighten up the writing, a good thing.

Finally and most instructive, she made comments on points of view and times when I veered off into the "story teller's voice" which distanced the reader from the character. I did not realize when I wandered into those glitches. But since she pointed them out I had some "Ah-ha!" moments. For instance, at one point I said all the characters were surprised by one's comment. The editor said that the POV character could not know what the others were feelings. The POV character also could not know what the others could see out a window, for instance.

So this was a good lesson for me. I hope to apply what I learned to other work.

Hope everyone who is going to conference has a great time!

I will be back after work in case anyone has good stuff to share about copy-editing. I would love to hear more about the process.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A New Normal

I've discovered my hands! (Crystal as an infant.)
As a writing consultant, I've examined and evaluated many manuscripts in various capacities and settings. My personality, and the jobs I've held in my life, have always encompassed some sort of assessment or evaluation--it's how I roll. I may have even examined your manuscripts, whether you were aware of it or not. (Sometimes I'm the Ninja of writing evaluation.)

So, with that kind of personality and skills set, of course, I do some self-examination to improve my own writing, but also to see if I'm covering the bases when I have any manuscript in front of me, or when choosing the things which fill my days. 

Here are some evaluation points I used in recent days for choosing projects. See if it will help your own situation: 

1.   What is my passion? Name some things that push your buttons.
2.   What are my 3 favorite fiction books? Nonfiction books? 
3.   What are my 3 favorite movies?
4.   Do I see a pattern  in these favorites? What do these favorites say about my personality and my passions?
5.   What will people say about me at the end of my life? What do they not know about me?
6.   At this stage in my life what do I want to do,develop, nurture?
7.   What boundaries do I need to set in order to accomplish my goals? What am I allowing to eat away my time? Who is pushing too hard on those boundaries I'm trying to set? Examine if it is something I need to incorporate or let loose.
8.   How can I build a persona or platform around my authentic self? What do I need to pluck out that really isn't "me?" 
9.   What is the main thing I need from others in my relationships? I, too, need nourishment. What is draining me.
10. What shows up again and again in my passions, what do I admire in others, and how can I use these things to reset my normal setting?

When I work through these bulleted points, I make it a priority to be the person that God created me to be, move outside the old comfort zones and answer my calling on a daily basis, or even for this stage of my life. 

Someone may have evaluated you or tried to push you into a place where you are not supposed to be. A Christian worldview doesn't mean that we all must be the same in either outlook or passions. God doesn't expect us to be the same. One part is not better than another part, either! This thought should keep us humble in what we do, and keep jealousy from clouding your calling.

While we can listen to those who evaluate and judge, giving us a humble servant's heart, we also must not allow others to distract us, even with good things or intentions. We are reminded of this in the Bible when Peter was imploring Jesus not to go to Jerusalem.  Peter thought this was best. After all, he was in Jesus's inner circle, someone Jesus relied on for input and support. Why shouldn't Jesus listen to Peter?

"Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16: 22-28 is where you can find this.)

Jesus knew securely His mission and His purpose, so while His words to Peter sound harsh, He wasn't meaning to put Peter down, but to show him how serious He was in this. He was also letting His enemy know that even using His best and loved friends would not put Him off course. Jesus showed us in His words to Peter that sometimes we need to not only be sure of what God is asking us to do, but not to allow even those close to us to take us off course. 

Are there verses or self-evaluation points that you keep in front of you while you accomplish your calling in your writing? How do you set your boundaries? Or are you still working on it? How do you know when it's God's Voice you are hearing, or that it is someone who is trying to step in, trying to take God's place? If you are feeling overwhelmed or that you are not setting your boundaries, how do you reset your normal? 

Share with us how you approach this part of your writing and I'll be praying for you all as many of you prepare for the ACFW Conference in St. Louis.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You in Your Man-U-Script?

In a televised interview, a child actor was asked how he managed to shed realistic-looking tears on cue for the camera. His technique was simple: "I think about the time my dog died." By tapping into the deep, personal trauma he had experienced in his short life, this little boy effectively portrayed similar emotions for his fictional character.

To a degree, writers can use a parallel trick. In order to construct realistic beings with which to populate their stories, they can find fertile loam for the imagination right in their own experienced-filled past. Need a setting for your tale? The place where you live right now might not be suitable, but a city where you once lived, attended college, or visited while on vacation might be perfect. Does your character need a hobby, a job, or a favorite sport? Sure, you can research, but first pause and consider whether one of these can be resurrected from your own past. For instance, halfway through my college career, I spent a sweaty summer working on the assembly line at Plant #5 for General Motors in Pontiac, Michigan. Later, when I needed a workplace for a man in one of my short stories, I drew upon that experience and employed my character in an auto factory with perfect, first-hand knowledge.

Does your current story include feelings of frustration? Of being overwhelmed? Of panic, or even sheer terror? Often, you can bring these moments alive for your reader simply by reliving your own past and imagining once again the angst, the drops of sweat, the shortness of breath, the heightened awareness, or other equally appropriate memories that can be copied and pasted from your private storehouse of experiences.

But just one word of caution: Don't talk to others about how you're mining your personal past in order to gild your stories. If you do, they'll wonder if perhaps that cranky, egotistic neighbor in your novel might be a reflection of them...

How about you? Have you found yourself snipping portions of your own persona and sneaking them into your stories? Care to share how that has (or hasn't) worked for you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What's a Writer to Do with September 11?

It's September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the day that altered the life of every American. It’s no coincidence that this anniversary falls on a Sunday, a day our culture has typically set apart for rest and reflection. So what’s a writer to do with this anniversary?

Consider the thoughts and emotions of the day......

Give them material form.

-Recount our nation’s virtues as well as the beautiful moments in its history.

-Include confession of sin, repentance, renewed trust.

Journal page
-Write what you remember from that Tuesday.
-Recount the years that have passed.
-Renew a confession of trust, a written statement of faith staked in the God of Scripture.
-Write a confession of another kind: of fear, of pride, of anger. Mull the ways these emotions harm relationships.

-Pour out your heart to God or to our nation or to those who mean us harm or to those whom you love.

-Craft a formal declaration of faith in the God of Scripture.

-Consider imitating David’s 27, the choir director’s 66 or number 96.

-Search poetry forms to find one that reflects your thoughts and emotions.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rejoice and Weep

God reminded me of the verse that talks about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. He reminded me that I’m not an island. When I look past my life (and consequently, my own writing), I can experience His work in the lives of others.

So how do I rejoice with other writers? I rejoice when a fellow writer lands his first writing contract. I rejoice when another friend finals in a writing contest. I am giddy for a friend who is taking her first steps in becoming a writer (and going to her first writing conference!).

When I open myself up to enjoy the blessings God has brought into the lives of others, I find myself filled with pure and unselfish joy. My heart is light and free of envy or jealousy.

But not everyone is receiving contracts or first place. And so I also weep when those around me are going through difficulties or disappointments. I feel for a friend who did not place in the same writing contest. I weep with another friend as she receives her first rejection. I sympathize with the writer who has been writing for years and years and years and still nothing.

When I weep with those who weep, my heart connects with theirs and I lift them up to God. Their pain brings me to my knees. I believe that by weeping with them, I am helping them carry their burdens.

Rejoicing and weeping with others takes our eyes off our own lives (and writing). We see hope. We enjoy God’s blessings through others. We have an opportunity to comfort those hurting with the same comfort God is gives us.

So this week, let us rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Especially with our fellow writers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Self Pubbed E-Books Make Best Seller List!

How about that title! It probably couldn't have happened a year or two ago. The good news about e-books just keeps getting better and better.

This week's USA Today's best seller list places BLIND FAITH at #7 and THE ABBEY at #12. I haven't checked the other lists, but they're often pretty much the same. Both of these mystery novels are published via Amazon and selling for $.99 (not a typo). I bought BLIND FAITH last evening, and am already hooked (which could change, as I rarely read murder mysteries).

If you've been following Hoosier Ink regularly, you'll know that I've blogged several times recently about e-books. Some of you have already launched your books as such. I'm behind you, but not for much longer. And wait til you hear how my writing buddy is doing.

Two months ago, my writing buddy Melissa and I were still exploring self or independent e-publishing options. Everything we read and heard pushed us closer to taking the leap. About a month ago, Melissa did. Sick and tired of delays and rejections and with six in a series of murder mysteries completed, she e-published with Amazon. From a zero readership, she's already sold pushing 200 books! And having fun reading great reviews from strangers! Like the two books I mention above, she's selling hers at $.99 for a limited time. She'll soon have her second book available and up her prices a bit. So take a look today at an intriguing story for an unbeatable price on, MISS PETTYBONE'S FIRST CASE by Melissa Rees price.

To join the e-publishing party, a couple of weeks ago I turned down a small, rapidly growing publisher's contract offer for all of my books. (I SO wanted to work with that editor, but just couldn't accept the non-negotiable financial package after my great experience with independent publishing.) It was about the sixth contract offer I've rejected since I started writing fiction. But even more difficult, I also terminated with my agent and literary agency. (Lots of future famifications there, how well I know.)

And yes, I'm still mourning the above decisions a bit, but I'm excitedly preparing my first novel for conversion to an e-book. I'm still deciding between two e-publishers. But at the moment, I'm thinking I'll follow Melissa's lead and use Amazon. If not Amazon, I'll use the printer for all my books so far,

I encourage those of you with e-publishing and e-reading experiences to share some comments here. This is still a new publishing "game," with new rules and wins every day. And we need to hear from each other.

Writing and reading blessings!
Millie Samuelson

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons I learned from Michael Hauge PART ONE

I first learned of Michael Hauge when I did a Google research for writing help, which ultimately ended in a visit to Once I purchased and listened to Hauge’s lectures , which were recorded live at the Screenwriting Expo, I felt as if I’d found a hidden treasure. My favorite Hauge lectures are Grabbing the Reader in the First Ten Pages, and Writing Powerful Movie Scenes.

Michael Hauge is an author, lecturer, and script consultant who has coached such stars as; Will smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, and Morgan Freeman. Not only has he worked for every major studio and network in the industry, but he’s also given lectures to over 40,000 participants.

One of the lessons I took away from Michael’s lecture is the idea of story-structure plot placement. In short, this is the movie industries’ tightly woven plot structure measured in movie minutes (a movie minutes is usually equal to one page in screenwriting). For example, most good movies consist of a four-act structure divided into equal segments. The four acts are: Act one (the beginning), act IIa (first half of the middle), act IIb (second half of the middle) and act III. Not a shout-it-from-the-street epiphany, but definitely a help in story pacing.

I decided if this concept helps make a better story, then I wanted to understand and use this device in my novel writing. That’s when I took my laptop to the library and gathered a stack of Disney movies. I chose Disney because I knew they were usually successful movies. Below is an example of the acts/plot divisions I found in the Pacifier.
The Pacifier (movie length 90 minutes)

FIRST 25-percent; Act one leads up to the inciting incident (22 minutes into the movie) where Act II begins the SECOND 25% with the main character receiving a phone call and learning he is stuck taking care of the children "a few more days." This begins the story problem where the main character enters a new world which is completely out of his comfort zone.

THIRD 25-percent; Act IIb begins at 45 minutes (the HALF WAY MARK) where, until now, the children don’t like the main character and want him to leave their house. But when the Ninja's attack, they change their minds and want his protection. Here the story line went from passive to progressive; he was there to baby sit and watch over them, but now it is clear they are in danger and he is their protector.

FOURTH 25-percent; Act III (the last act) begins at 68 minutes(75% into the story) when the mother guesses the password and opens the safe (a major accomplishment for her storyline). The main character receives the phone call that Mom is coming home and he is no longer needed. He’s faced with leaving the "new" odd world where he’s been like a fish out of water and return to the Navy Seal world he knows best. At 71 minutes the main character discovers the secret passage (which contains the secret they've been trying to find), Mom arrives home, the main character prepares to leave, but the Ninjas arrive with guns and after a lot of action the story finds a happy ever after.

After pursuing several stories, I discovered that most successful stories follow this same timeline of having major plot points at 25-percent intervals. Apparently, the public is attracted to this evenly-paced structure, which is evidenced by the movie’s success. This gives the writer a guideline (not a rule) to critique his or her story. Of course, there are always exceptions. This structure is only a guide—not a hard and fast rule.

Opinions and comments?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What To Do If You're Not Going to Conference

It is a fact that not every Hoosier member of ACFW will attend the conference this year. Rather than passing the box of tissues around to blot our tearful faces, here are six things that can be done to participate at home.

  1. Pray for those who are attending conference.
  2. Pay for those who are attending conference. You may not be able to go, but if you have even a little why not invest in another person's career? There’s an ACFW fund for scholarships, but just gifting $10 to a friend who is going can buy a meal, chip in for gas, or purchase a book.
  3. Participate in the unofficial ACFW on-line conferences Sept 22-25. I'll be presenting on realistic dialogue.
  4. Patronize the conference blogs, posts, and photos to follow the fun. Don’t forget to check out Afictionado for the conference report. Remember CDs will be made available of the conference classes.
  5. Pre-plan for next year
  6. Party-up! If you are not at conference than make the most of where you are at.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who's Your Family?


We all have them. And they are all so different.

I have been blessed with an amazing family.

This is my dad with me and my siblings on his back...a long time ago LOL. My parents just left yesterday after coming out for almost a week to free me to work on edits for two August 1st deadlines. They sent me flowers ahead of time to thank me for letting them come!

Did I mention I'm blessed?

But not everybody is so fortunate. They didn't grow up with loving parents in a secure home. They didn't receive hugs freely as a kid to have them to give to their kids. They didn't hear that they were treasured by God from an early age.

Experiencing that marked me. It made me the woman I am today.

Not hearing or experiencing that is just as scarring. It makes people who they are.

So think about your characters...what's their family like? Are their parents married? Divorced? Were they an only child or surrounded by siblings? Did their family have money? Were things hand to mouth? Did they grow up in a family with parents who led them to God? Or did their parents give them a warped image of God? Those questions matter because the answers change how they will respond to the life and challenges you're giving them today.

So what about you? Was your family more functional...or dysfunctional?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Taming the beast

If you're gonna write seriously, there's a monster you're gonna have to tame.

This horrible creature lurks in every writer's space and is itching to get under your skin. He's called Inner Editor. He shows no mercy and has an uncanny gift for spreading fear. In order to get past the barriers Inner Editor creates, you're gonna have to tame him and train him. (Or her. My Inner Editor monster happens to be a guy.)

You can't hire it done. You gotta do it yourself. Only you know his quirks and how ruthless he can be.

It's really not as hard as you think. But it does take courage. Courage is the most important weapon to acquire. Courage sedates Inner Editor and puts him into a light dream sleep. But it takes a bit more than that to tame the beast completely.

I don't know what Inner Editor does to you, but in my writing space, he taunts me even before I
open the page.

With venomous, drooling rage, he stalks around my office, steals space in my head and drowns out my inspiration: "You are stuck. You can't pull this off. You're writing drivel. Give it up. Get over it. Move on. What makes you think anyone wants to read what you have to say? Who do you think you are?"

His words have a paralyzing affect.

But if I pick up Courage and keep writing through the taunts, the doubt, the fear, I find Inner Editor backing off. He's really a lot more bark than bite, and like any bully, he backs down as long as I stand up to him.

Here are some other practical weapons I use to fight this merciless monster:

1.I put my butt in the chair and write every single day no matter how I feel, what I'm thinking, and how discouraged I am. I refuse to let Inner Editor win.

2. If I'm stuck, I write anyway. Eventually, without fail, I break through.

3. I remember that untamed, Inner Editor is a liar unless I'm the one controlling him. Once he realizes who's boss, I can bring the gentled monster out of his cage to help me with my second draft (and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth...)

4. I ignore Inner Editor in the first draft and lock him away until I'm sure he can come out and play nice.

5.I refuse to let him win and I refuse to quit. I truly believe it's not the brightest or even the greatest writers that get published. It's the most determined and persistent.

6. I stop my writing session when I'm in a good spot with enough ideas to get started next time. That way I don't freeze and listen to the taunts. Hemmingway used to stop writing when he was excited and didn't want to stop. I think that's a good idea, too.

What do you do to tame the beast? How do you turn off your inner editor?

Karla Akins is a pastor's wife, mother of five, and grandma to five beautiful little girls. She lives in North Manchester with her husband, twin teenage boys with autism, and three crazy dogs. Her favorite color is purple, favorite hobby is shoes, and favorite food group is cupcakes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

iPod as Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

In one of our past ACFW Indiana Chapter meetings, our guest speaker was Dr. Dennis Hensley. It was a GREAT meeting full of insights and lessons on how to create an awesome story. Reflecting back, however, I still can't believe Dr. Hensley didn't ask why UPS delivered a treadmill to the meeting room right before we ate dinner. In fact, he didn't even give me a second look as I got on the treadmill after the meal to work out why we listened to his awesome keynote address. No speaker has ever complained about me fast-walking around the room during one of their lectures either. Consequently, no one has ever noticed my exercise equipment at any of the past ACFW national meetings. Odd? Maybe, or maybe not...

Well, you might be thinking, "I don't remember seeing him do that" or, "He can't be serious." But, I was there, doing just what I said...only "attending" at a much later time than the original event. 

As you might have guessed by now, I was listening to these events on my iPod while performing other activities in the here an now. I purchased the last several years of ACFW conferences on CD or flash drive, imported them into iTunes (available for either Mac or PC), and then selectively transferred them to my iPod for listening, learning, and absorbing the information while walking on the treadmill, walking at the park, or just lounging around the house (yes I do lounge from time to time).

I also listen to podcasts of episodes from "In the Market with Janet Parshall," "Midday Connection," and many of the available ACFW conference courses that have been available to members.  Midday Connection does a podcast every year about the "Write to Publish" conference. Janet Parshall also interviews Christian authors on regular intervals.  Chris Fabry has some good podcasts as well. And, in case you didn't know, the ACFW classes are available in various media formats.

Just with the sources I mentioned above, I have plenty of material to listen to.  It's like travelling back in time to listen to everything while still being able to get something else done while attending that event.

It's really a great benefit of modern technology that you can make these types of events "portable" to learn (and listen) on the go.  If you find yourself short on time, or always busy, I encourage you to invest in an iPod (any version) and make use of this technology to improve your writing. Turn your jogging course at the park into a writing course.  iPods are available starting at $49.00. For those of you with iPhones, this feature is also available to you.