Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Through the C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S Season

Christmas season is finally here! It’s my favorite time of year, mainly because we get to celebrate the birth of Christ. And I also get to decorate the tree, buy a bunch of fun gifts, send out Christmas cards, and bake those yummy peanut butter cookies with a Hershey kiss squished on top.

But with all the extras on my to-do list, I have a hard time sitting in front of the computer to creatively write. There’s no time. Sure, I’m finding time to think of a creative comment to post on Jack’s Facebook status, and then quickly check the gold box deals on Amazon, and then back on Facebook to see if Jill finished her laundry…

So I’ve created a new acronym for “CHRISTMAS” to help keep us writing through this Christmas season. These are just some rumble strips for those of us who easily veer off Manuscript Road.

C - Call your peeps back later.

Return phone calls AFTER you write that awesome disaster for Chapter Five. If you spend your time making phone calls before devising the disaster, you may only leave yourself enough time to save the blank Word document and call it a day. That’s not the disaster you’re aiming for here.

H – Hit like Rocky.

Hitting the super sale at Best Buy is not an excuse to blow off your antagonist. If Rocky hit the super sale at K-Mart instead of Apollo Creed, he wouldn’t have won the fight—Oh Wait! He didn’t win, but he went the distance.

R – Read the “Life’s Funny” page in Reader’s Digest.

I guarantee you’ll laugh at least once. Laughing reduces stress and boosts your immune system. You don’t have time to get sick right now.

I - Inner elf.

“This holiday, discover your inner elf.” It may be just a silly tagline from the movie Elf, but there are some good values we can learn from the green guys with pointy shoes. Coincidentally, elves love to tell stories. Here’s three good values of an elf: 1.)Elves, work hard to get their required quota of work done each day, 2.)They only require 40 minutes of sleep each night (we should aim for a little more than that) 3.)Elves burn a lot of calories because they keep moving while working. So don’t be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins, and keep moving! *If you don’t know what I’m talking about, be sure to watch the movie Elf in your oh-so-vast amount of free time.

S – Sleep with a notebook within hands reach.

Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night with a perfect idea for your WIP and then fallen back asleep, only to forget those important details? If you keep a notebook handy, you can quickly jot down the main points you want to remember. Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, came up with the idea for her vampire story in a dream. She even remembers the exact night of her dream. So make sure you put the date next to your midnight ideas, because you never know…

T - Thank God for everything.

Simple. Thank God for EVERYTHING!

M – Multitask while making Christmas cookies, not while writing your masterpiece.

We all know that it requires a lot of detailed mental processing to write a novel. If you’re not fully concentrating on the story, your writing pace will slow down. Even though you may have folded a load of laundry in-between paragraphs, you will end up with fewer words for the day.

A – Aerobic exercise is a must each day.

Make sure you take time to go for a walk or run, or even jump some rope while on a break from writing. Aerobic exercise reduces stress and blood pressure, and improves mental health and circulation.

S – Smell the Christmas pine tree.

Smells trigger your emotional memory. The woodsy aroma of pine trees are everywhere right now and easily accessible. They can create feelings of nostalgia. Just make sure it’s a real tree. The sense of smell is also great for story writing, because it can give the story a livelier picture.

Merry Christmas!

~Marjorie DeVries

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Writing as if for God

My unpaid writing deadline looms, and I'm grumbling.


I wonder when I'll get the big gig. You know, the mammoth contract that enables me to shuffle around in my house slippers, sip chai, and call myself a professional writer--the one that justifies the hours I've spent tip tapping keys in moonlight, kissing sleep goodnight.

For, once I'm recognized, I'll churn words into a New York Times bestseller. My hubby will rejoice over every conference fee, craft book purchase, and hour spent watching our two boys in support of "mommy's writing hobby". I'll never be a poor writer again.


I pull my head out of the cumulus clouds and realize my miniscule writing job stares me in the face like a homeless man. I'm losing spare change. To make matters worse, my article's final home is in the newsletter of obscurity and zero readership.

So, I desire to w
rite something fast, for I'm convinced the publication will be tossed out anyway. Besides, I'll do my best work when I'm a professional, when I'm in the limelight.

I write a sentence. Hit backspace. Rewrite. Hit backspace again. After fifteen minutes, it's just me and the blinking cursor.

My mind is on a downward spiral, and my thoughts akin to a tornado. I realize I haven't prayed. I need God to reorient my thinking--my writing.

"God, please forgive me for looking at the size of the audience and dollar signs. Let me write each piece as if I'm writing for Christianity Today or The New York Times--as if I'm writing for you."

This prayer opens my eyes to the reason I write, and shortly after I utter the words, God brings to mind a quote from one of my favorite Charles Dickens' novel, David Copperfield, where David says he "reads as if for life" (Chapter 4). He later says, "...whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest" (Chapter 42, e
mphasis mine).

David's statement reminds me that regardless the size of an assignment, I'm writing for the greatest audience--the Creator
of the universe, and even if I write for the magazine of anonymity and modest circulation, God will find my words.

Perhaps, if I'm faithful in the small things, God will entrust me with larger tasks? Yet, if He decides my authorship is best left anonymous, I'll let Him have His way.

So, what does it matter if my name is never mentioned, or I only make ten cents?
God's "well done" is the greatest reward.

And today's assignment is my test.

A rush of inspiration runs down my fingertips; My words chase the cursor. I write until I experience carpal tunnel; I punch out my deadline. There is a song on my lips, a tune in my heart, and the piece I'm writing may as well be for a major publishing house.

For, I'm writing as if for God.

How do you view your art? Would you continue writing even if you never
made a penny?

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, November 25, 2011

Book Review – You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through A Christian Lens" by Scott Nehring

This blog is being posted on Black Friday. Many of you are on the look-out for the ideal Christmas present. Others are content to let your spouses do the shopping (my hand's up here) and may be more interested in seeing a movie. If you are a shopper whose significant other is heading to the theater, I have the ideal gift for you.

But wait a minute. I hear some protests. This blog is not about watching movies, and definitely not about shopping. Objection noted, but allow me to continue and I should prove why this book about movie watching should be on the must-buy list for every Christian writer.

I had the privilege of hearing Christian film critic Scott Nehring on Chris Fabry live (3-5pm on WGNR-FM, 97.9). Nehring's reviews have been syndicated on several websites including Reuter's, USAToday, FoxNews, and The Chicago Sun Times.

Chris mentioned Scott's book You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through A Christian Lens in the course of the interview. I read this book based on my interest in movies and having a cinemaphile for a father. Through the course of reading, I discovered things to think about as a Christian novelist.

The epigraph sets the tone for the book: “We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of true light, the eternal truth that is with God.” (J. R. Tolkien)

Nehring's book is divided into three sections. The first establishes the role of movies in our society for better and mostly for worse. He shows that today's films are helping lead our culture to collapse and Christians have the role of setting our society back on solid ground.

The second section captured my attention as a writer. It establishes the fact that a movie is a story and deals with structure and character types. His premise is that in essence every film has the same structure with the same types of characters popping up here and there. He believes this story structure is engrained in us.

I found this part very helpful for having more knowledge on my craft. It points out what readers expect from a story. Of course, there is a part of me wondering where I can bend the rules in a way that will surprise the reader and keep them reading, as opposed to shocking them and having them throw my book across the room.

In the third section, Nehring challenges Christians to take an active role in the culture. This includes a discerning eye in watching movies (and I believe the principles apply to other forms of entertainment, such as reading novels). He also challenges Christian artists to engage the society with high quality product that deals with real-life issues.

This is added: There are two interesting appendices to the book, looking at the structure in Pulp Fiction and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I found the latter to be very interesting.

Next month, I'll be having an interview with Scott Nehring about the book and writing. If you want more information on the book, go to You can also access Scott's movie reviews at And of course it's on Amazon, where you'll see a variation of this review by yours truly (among a few others).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

From all those behind the scenes at the ACFW Indiana Chapter. We are thankful for all of you!

Lesson 11: Borrowing Can Cost You

You love the sentiment in a popular love song written last year, and you want your hero to sing it to your heroine. If you include the lyrics, you probably need permission to use them. And if your autobiography says terrible things about your brother, those things had better be true.

But this is a post on book contracts, not on copyrights or defamation. So what's the point?

The point is the representations and warranties clause in your contract. Actually, the difference between representations and warranties is minimal and too technical to worry about here, so I will lump them together as "warranties." A warranty is a promise that you have or haven't done something (or will or won't do something in the future). For practical purposes, the warranties clause makes you promise that nothing in your book is likely to get the publisher sued.

The main warranties promise that:
  • You own the copyright and nobody else has a legal interest in it;
  • You didn't plagiarize or infringe on anyone else's copyright; and
  • The book doesn't defame people or violate their privacy rights.

If you are selling a previously self-published book to a traditional publisher, you don't want to warrant that it has never been published. But even if the publisher knows it has been, the publisher may forget to remove the warranty from its standard contract. So make sure you point it out and get it deleted.

Be sure to read all of the warranties and make sure they are true--or at least that you honestly believe they are. But what if the publisher gets sued anyway?

The indemnification clause in your contract says you will reimburse the publisher for any legal fees and judgments it has to pay.

If you were at fault, it's only fair that you be the one to pay. But here are some things to watch out for in the indemnification clause.
  • A provision that covers any lawsuit, including one that is the publisher's fault. Indemnification should be limited to claims on matters you have warranted and should exclude any material added by the publisher.
  • Wording that allows the publisher to settle the case without your approval. As an author, a good clause requires your approval of the settlement and says that the publisher will pay half (since a settlement isn't a determination that you did anything wrong).
  • Language that says you have to pay the publisher's legal fees even if you and the publisher win the case. Publishers may argue--with some validity--that this provision is fair since the publisher is defending you, too, and the case was about what you did, not what the publisher did. Still, the publisher has more incentive to keep legal fees reasonable if it bears some responsibility for them. A clause that says you don't have to reimburse the publisher for legal fees if you win the case is best, but one that splits the fees in half is better than making you pay them all.
  • A provision that allows the publisher to withhold all royalties from all contracts until the lawsuit is over. Try to limit it to the contract for the book involved in the lawsuit and to no more than a reasonable estimate of the expected damages and legal fees.
"Can't I get insurance to cover this?" you ask. You can, but it's expensive. On the other hand, the publisher may be able to add you to its liability insurance for little extra cost. If your publisher agrees to do that, get it included in your contract. Insurance isn't a perfect fix since you will still be responsible for the deductible (which may be quite high) and any amount over the limit, but you want it if you can get it.

Let's go back to the warranty clause for a minute. You have probably warranted that you will not use copyrighted material without permission. "Fine," you say, "I'll use it with permission."

But whose responsibility is it to get permission, and at whose expense? That's the function of a permissions clause. The typical clause requires the author to get the permissions and to pay any related costs. But what if you have to give that famous songwriter $1,000 to quote his lyrics? If your book is illustrated or contains photographs, maps, and charts that you didn't create, that can get expensive, too. So make sure you know the expenses before you sign the contract (and calculate a generous overrun for the unexpected). Then decide whether the royalty is high enough to make it worthwhile. Or maybe you can live without the lyrics to that popular love song.

Because borrowing without permission can cost you a lot more.

Kathryn Page Camp

Saturday, November 19, 2011

To Everything There is a Season: Autumn

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.            --Stanley Horowitz

To many people, autumn is springtime’s ugly, older sister. While spring is all things beautiful and new, autumn is a fading away, a death. But to this farm wife, autumn is so much more. And, like He is always faithful to do, God teaches me lessons in the fall. Lessons about life and lessons about writing. Here are a few.
Photo credit: Igor Spanholi
Celebration: For a farm family, harvest is evidence of hard work, sweat, and even tears. Proof of weeks spent sowing, tending, and nurturing tiny seeds, tender sprouts, and towers plants. Fall is a time of celebration. And for writers, those oft-solitary creatures, harvest is a time to answer the question, “What do you do all day?” It is proof of the countless hours, days, and sometimes years, spent rear-in-chair checking facts, turning phrases, and tending the stories of our hearts.
Community: Harvest on the farm is a time of communal busyness. The days stretch from early morning’s light to hours past sundown. Extra hands hire on and even the littlest member of the family pitches in and helps out. For writers, that final push to see our work in print involves lots to do. Marketing, negotiations, and social networking keep us immersed in self-promotion from the time our eyes open to the time our head hits the pillow. Our family might need to sacrifice during our harvest time and additional folks like influencers, agents, and editors come alongside to help us  finish strong.
Continuation: Fall isn’t just about endings. Each year as we bring in the harvest, almost immediately, preparations begin for the next growing season. Fertilizer is applied and tractors work the ground, ripping and enriching it in preparation for the next crop. Seed is ordered and plans are made based on predictions and market research. For the writer, our work doesn’t end with submission or publication. New article or story ideas rattle around in our brain and maybe on our storyboard. Plotting begins for the next book or series based on hot topics,  whispers of coming trends, or the passions in our hearts.

If you find yourself in the harvest season of your current project, let us know so we can celebrate with you. If you are in another season, let this be your encouragement that one day you will reap the benefits of all the time, energy, and passion you sow into your writing.

 Read the companion post, To Everything There is a Season: Spring.
Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Love to Tell the Story

by Rachael Phillips
Not everyone appreciates a good storyteller.
I learned this early as a missionary kid, when my parents attempted to return to the United States after ministry in Mexico--not easy, with still-limited Spanish and less money, driving a rickety car full of preschoolers who needed to pee. The fussy month-old baby, born in Mexico, did not have a visa. As we wide-eyed chidlren sat in the back seat, uniformed officials ordered our mother and father out of the car and searched it.
My little sister clung to me. I urged her to take courage, cross her legs and join me in keeping surveillance on these evil secret agents, who obviously plannned to smuggle diamonds in our teddy bears. Silent and sinister, they also fit my perfect profile of kidnappers. I readied my teeth. If they dared touch my baby brother. . . . But they didn't. I survived to share this terrifying ordeal with the world. But no accolades rewarded my storytelling efforts. Instead, scorn and ridicule--mostly from my prosaic six-year-old brother--greeted me.
Perhaps you, a fellow fiction writer, suffered similar persecution at home or school when your alternative reality, far more interesting than 2 + 2 = 4, did not fit the boring facts. An excellent imagination also came in handy when I was a teen. In fact, I preferred my fictional planet, where every Friday night, a handsome prince, sans Clearasil, swept a Barbie-shaped me away from narrow-minded parents, algebra and hostile driver's ed teachers.
Attending a secular university, however, brought a fresh realization of the value of truth, especially when it came to Jesus. If the Bible's account was fiction, then He rated as just another dead guy who, cast in concrete, looked great in a park flower bed. I chose to believe--and now understand more than ever--Jesus is the resurrected Way, the Truth and the Life.
Still, the Gospel record also assures us this Master of Truth was also a Master Storyteller. He told parables about salt with no taste, exploding wine bottles and a friend who, in the dead of night, dragged his ex-friend out of bed. His audiences heard stories about a prodigal son and a Good Samaritan--fictional characters who have caused millions of readers the past two thousand years to scratch their heads, search their hearts and turn the pages, making the Bible the all-time best seller.
We can attend every writer's conference in Shaw's Guide. We can accumulate Writer's Digest books until we have to move out. We can stalk writing celebrities and mug mentors for tips. Yet we fiction writers can't hope to affect our audiences the way Jesus did. But He has given us words and desire and His infinite, creative Spirit in order to offer Christians and non-Christians alike bite-sized portions of His truth--attractive, nourishing morsels that will help them "taste and see the Lord is good."
Still, not everyone will appreciate the stories we tell. Like my brother.
But Jesus does.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Those Not-So-Little Moments of Life

Life's "little" moments are sometimes not so little, after all. I'm talking about those events that give you incredible encouragement or joy--at unexpected times, in unexpected ways or perhaps involving someone unexpected. Let me give you an example. I enjoyed my second book signing ever yesterday at the church where I grew up (and my mom still attends). A woman came over to the table, whipped off her sunglasses and introduced herself. She said, "I was your high school typing teacher." Well, sure enough, she was. I smiled and waved my hand at the stack of books and told her, "As you can see, I haven't stopped since. Thank you."

What was so gratifying (besides her telling me she'd read my first book and wants to read my second) was when she told me, "I've always remembered you. I gave the class an assignment to type one paragraph telling about a favorite Thanksgiving memory. You wrote the sweetest sentiment, and it touched my heart." She went on to say how it didn't surprise her in the least when I became a writer. Seeing her and hearing that story touched MY heart. A short while later, going through the luncheon line, the woman at the checkout said, "Well, hello there, Famous Authoress." I looked over my shoulder to see if she meant someone else. She laughed. "I meant YOU, JoAnn." Those two moments yesterday were surprising and unexpected, but they are two of those wonderful "little" moments that will stick with me for a long time, thus making them pretty BIG. A few hours, and two unexpected memories.

Of course, the very sweetest of moments are those involving my children, and they transcend anything concerning my writing, as passionate as I am about it. My son, Matthew, is 15 now and high-functioning autistic (Aspergers Syndrome). When he was six, we took him to an esteemed child developmental psychologist in Boston who basically told us to have his IQ tested and questioned Matthew's mental capabilities. We're his parents, and we knew better; he's incredibly bright but learns differently than other children. When our son recently brought home his first report card from high school, it was all A's and B's. He made higher grades in freshman biology and math than I did way back when. I received an e-mail from his biology teacher last week telling me he'd received the highest grade on a recent test for the second time running! Even more gratifying? The comments from his teachers on his report card. Things like, "Great kid, the light of the classroom, Matthew makes my day . . ." You see, Matthew has the love of Jesus Christ in his heart. For a person with autism, he's atypical in being highly social. He expresses love to others both verbally and in unspoken ways. At times, his peers and adults don't know how to respond to Matthew since he will say and do things they don't expect. But, I tell you what: my son touches hearts. If you met him today, he'd ask your name and find out about you (if you'd let him). Even if you didn't see him for another couple of years, he'd still remember your name, where he'd met you and what he'd learned from you. And he'd ask how you're doing. And say, "I love you." Matthew amazes me every single day, and I have no doubt the Lord has great plans for my son. In his 15 short years, he's made an impact on many and provides me with a treasureload of those unexpected, incredibly precious memories.

In terms of writing, I like to infuse the plots of my books with similar "little" moments to intersperse with the bigger events. It makes a book resonate with readers when they can identify with the characters and their situation. What may be seemingly mundane or even silly to some may be poignant and meaningful to you or someone else. In writing contemporary romance, if I can touch the emotions and the hearts of my readers, they'll want to keep reading (and hopefully pick up the next book). I think that's true in most genres, don't you? It doesn't have to be anything big or significant, but simply a kind word, a sweet gesture, or a good deed, in an unexpected place from an unexpected source--that ultimately can mean so much.

What "little" moments of life have you had in recent days? Please share with us! I, for one, would love to hear about them!

Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16

JoAnn is the author of the popular contemporary romantic adventure, Awakening, and its follow-up, Second Time Around, both published by Torn Veil Books. She is an estate administration paralegal in Louisville, Kentucky, and lives with her husband and three children in southern Indiana. Visit her at

Blessings Writers Count

It’s November, a fitting time for storywriters called by Christ to take to heart the words of the old hymn.

1) Intimacy with Christ Himself, the Word Incarnate—the One and Only Who delights and satisfies the soul.

2) Desire. Writers are creatures imitating the Creator, the One Who Spoke everything that has been made.

3) For talent deposited within, invested and multiplied for the Master’s profit.

4) Opportunities to write whole reams or a page here or there, for a solitary reader or a world-wide audience.

5) Time. The minutes and the hours, these, too, are a gift.

6) Experiences. Writing occurs in the chair after you and I have lived in the street, in the shop, in the classroom, in the office, in the field, in the park.

7) God’s directing the forming-thinking-writing process in the telling of specific stories

8) Courage to risk both ideas and forms beyond the pale.

9) Successes of all kinds and sizes.

10) Failures, probably greater than successes not only in number and size but also in impact.

11) Writer friends both within our writers groups and outside them. Where would we be without comrades in often lonely trenches?

12) Mentors: my mother, who taught me to read; a father who loved books; for unsung writers of Sunday School papesr, whose words I deciphered during Sunday sermons; for Mrs. Amstutz, who slowly unfurled one letter, one case at a time the mysterious world of cursive writing; for Miss Barbara, whose skilled voice brought fiction to life; for Mrs. Peterson, who knew when to focus on the skill of diagramming sentences and the art of Greek mythology.

13) An unending future with the One Who, with a shout, will call us Home.

When we arrive will there be anything more to say? Another old hymn probably answers.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How I became a Writer

How did I become a writer? Most authors I know begin their story with something about when they were six they knew they wanted to be a writer. Not so with me. When I was six I wanted to be a pegasus unicorn (probably explains why I write fantasy now).

I never dreamed of being a writer. In high school, I loved science and math, not English and certainly not writing. So how did I start? It began when I walked into a Christian bookstore and asked if they carried any Christian fantasy. The woman gave me a strange look and pointed to a lone Frank Peretti book at the end of the book aisle.

I went home stunned. That’s it? Just Frank Peretti? (by the way, I like his stuff, but I wanted more). After talking to my husband, he suggested maybe I should write. Yeah right. But the thought stuck with me. Then on a long car trip to Seattle, I had an idea for a book. I went home and wrote. I was na├»ve back then. I thought a writer sat down, wrote a book, found someone to publish it and that was that. Eight years later, I now know there is a whole lot more to the writing process.

I wrote for two years, just writing out the story in my head. Then I discovered there was a writing group in Oregon and that they were having a one-day conference in a couple weeks. I signed up. That one-day conference changed my writing life.

I met Randy Ingermanson (who was the guest speaker that day). For anyone who is thinking about writing fiction, you need to check out his website here. I went home and immediately signed up for his ezine and began to follow his blog. A couple months later, I followed Randy’s advice and signed up for the Mt Hermon Writing Conference.

Mt Hermon was another pivotal point in my writing life. For five days I met with hundreds of other Christian writers, learning how to write better, how to seek publication, met some great agents and publishers and came home ready to take my writing from a hobby to an earnest pursuit.

I spent the following year just writing. By the end of that year, I had a finished, polished manuscript.

In 2010 I was able to attend Mt Hermon again and this time had a manuscript to share with publishers and editors. At this second conference, I ran into Rebecca Luella Miller, another pivotal person in my writing life. It was Becky who told me I should blog. Once again my thoughts were yeah right. How? When? And what would I write about? But with her gentle encouragement, I jumped into the blogging world.

It is now 2011 and I am still on my writing journey. Writing is a long, patient process. It requires self discipline, a willingness to learn the craft, and lots and lots of time. I’ll admit if I had known eight years ago what it took to be a writer, I would have been overwhelmed. But here I am and I love it. I thank God for this medium by which I can share my life, my creative ideas, and His truth.

Morgan L. Busse is the wife of a pastor and mother of four children. She is passionate about authentic Christianity and shares from her own life her doubts, fears, and triumphs as a follower of Jesus Christ. Along with blogging, Morgan also writes speculative fiction and is contracted with Marcher Lord Press for her first book Daughter of Light. To find out more, visit her blog In Darkness there is Light.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Carving Out a Writing Life with Your Soul's Passions

This week has been a difficult one for me in that I'm learning to focus all of these things about myself into my own writing. I'm still working on other authors' work, but finally, I'm pulling those things from my life, so I can go where I want to, as I develop my own writing career further.

A writer and co-author friend of mine told me I had to do a couple things:
1. Answer this question: If you were taking a trip on a plane, and had to choose one book or author, what would the book be? (Wow. That is a very difficult question for me. Also, she said to exclude the Bible as this is an essential book to all Christians.)
2. List all of your favorite books (of all time.) Number them from favorite (number 1) to least favorite of the favorites. (ha) Go with your first instinct and don't agonize over it. (Boy, does she know me, or what?)

I have to admit to you right now--I have maybe a thousand books.(First step: Admit your illness.) I am not kidding you. I did give hundreds of books to a church library and also quite a few to schools. (I'm a book reviewer since 1998.) This was not easy for me. One of the books I let go of was instantly the pastor's favorite, and since he is also a dean of students at a local Christian university, he is influencing a whole community there with this book. (I may have to buy that book because I did love it, too. Drat.) My therapist, (I mean, my friend,) tells me I have to distill from my life, and my collection of books, the things that are in common with all of them--those threads of passion.

At first I looked at these books and thought, "These books are about as different as Cajun food is from baby's pabulum--A through Z! Ack, I'm a mess! (There are people who agree with this--about me being a mess.) But then, the thick smoke started to dissipate, and common threads appeared--strong, clear and bright--and they ran through my entire soul. I saw them and it was amazing to me. And what I saw, I liked. I liked it in the books I loved, and I liked it about me. I thought that I was all over the map with my favorites and my habits, but I'm not, really. Not only did I have a false view of myself and beat myself up for having those loves, I had no confidence to embrace those true things in myself. I did not give myself permission to love stuff that was uniquely mine. It's no good, I told myself. In coming to this realization, I even began to appreciate what other people liked, or had interest in, and to appreciate their loves and passions. That was them. This was me. And sometimes I share a lot more with people than I thought possible--certain loves or appreciation. It's sweet.

I think wrapped up in this exercise of my soul's passions is a realization that I must bring these threads into my life every day to be whom God intended for me to be. If I do this, I will discover the happiness that is in my life, even on a bad or sad day. We rob ourselves of joy if we do not keep these threads running in our daily lives.

Ok, so what? you say to me. How does this apply to me? Here are the threads to keep running constantly in your life (and mine) that I have discovered:  

1. Have a sense of curiosity and feed it. 
2. Keep inspired. 
3. Help someone else. 
4. Do something you are good at. 
5. Read. (Easy!)
6. Don't watch so much. Do something. 
7. Love what you do, and if you're not loving it, find a way to get rid of it.(This is only in what you do. Just say no.) 
8. Exercise. (Your body, mind/creativity and spirit.) 
9. Face up to your fear(s). Meet them head on and stare them down. Call in back up in the face off (I think God is big enough for that role for me, but it's ok to have friends in the trenches with you.) 
10. Believe in what God already knows about you--and embrace it. It is what is true. 
11. Stay close to your family, friends and those people who are positive to you. (Limit the poisonous relationships or set boundaries.) 
12. Follow your heart whenever it is something good--don't follow your temptations, evil or unethical, immoral impulses. Discern which is which!

Hope these things help you as much as they are helping me in learning to be happy with living in my own skin. As a writer I have stories to tell and I want to tell them my way. After all of this time to find that I'm OK to be who I am is a great freedom.

Suggested reading:

1. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson
2. Make a Name for Yourself: Eight Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success by Robin Fisher Roffer (I know, I know, for women. Guys, suggest a book for you in the comments?)
3. 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life: A Psychologist Probes the Mystery of Why Some Lives Really Work and Others Don't by Dr. Henry Cloud
4. Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend

What are some of your greatest obstacles in carving out your writing life?(And if you say "my day job" I'm going to argue with you.)

Crystal Laine Miller is a...
Freelance Christian writer and editor who enjoys motorcycles, golf, trapshooting, music,the outdoors with dogs thrown in between the pages she reads, edits and writes. She's also rescued a few cats in her day. Married to an ER doc, they have four sons. Life is always on the edge with grit and joy combined.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

P-I-P (Poem-in-Progress)

I'm posting several days early this month, using an open day.

Fall's Rainbows

Summer leaves, reluctant.
Pensive, Chow and I meander in the woods.

Farewell, our friends! We’ll miss them all!
We'll not forget their early sounds of softest green,
nor their next tones of vibrant verdancy.

Now in rustling murmurs, in multiple shades of flame,
they promise we’ll survive the dark'ning days of winter,
and join their spring descendants in a new alluring summer.

Exultant, our eyes and hearts uplift.

Millie Samuelson

PS -- Next blog (Dec 9), I plan to focus on some bookselling tips.
I'd like to include suggestions from both authors and readers.
Do you have any memorable suggestions or experiences to share?

Photo above: Fall view these days from my writing deck.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing on the Run

Gone for me are back to back hours to write. These days I’m learning to write on the run. (I’m pursuing another degree.)
Agatha Christie got her start writing that way. During World War I she worked as a nurse and later at a dispensary. She spent every spare moment during her down time and in between patients writing.
I may be getting a degree, but I find that first and foremost, I’m a writer. There are too many stories in my head that I’ve got to get out, so I plot and write during boring lectures. While I’m waiting in lines or doctor’s offices, I pull out my notebook and begin to write where I left off during a dull class. When I’m in the car and Mr. Himself is driving, I pull out the notebook and take up where I left off while in the doctor’s waiting room.
I’ve found some advantages to these writing spurts:
  • When I rewrite it on the computer, I do an immediate rewrite.
  • It gives me a new perspective when I’m typing it out – I think of new things to add or delete.
  • My brain is able to slow down and think deeper when I’m writing long-hand on paper than when I’m typing a story. (Of course, the flip side to this is that I can’t write as fast as I can think.)
  • I’m becoming an expert cryptologist as I work to decipher my scrawl.
I do miss having long delicious hours to languish at the keyboard and write. But to be honest, writing for long blocks of time can sometimes be frustrating. Writing in small spurts is really fun. I never have writer’s block. And when I have to stop, my brain is more free to ponder what I’ll write the next time I get to pull out the notebook.
What about you? How do you write on the run?
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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Supplementing Your Publisher's Marketing Efforts Part Two: How To Start a Project With a Designer

© graur codrin /
Once you've found a designer you want to work with what is the next step?

No matter which way you find a designer the first few steps will involve interaction between you and the designer to determine what your needs are. Whether this is done on-line, over the phone, or during a face-to-face meeting depends on what you are comfortable with and how close you live to the designer. In most cases it is totally up to you if you wish to meet in person. If your life is completely crazy and even thinking about rearranging your schedule to meet with someone gives you a migraine ... well, chances are the designer can relate. The entire process can be done remotely without affecting the quality of design.

Where should you meet?
If you do choose to meet in person your designer might be able to suggest a good location. Many of my first meetings with potential clients have happened in coffee shops - whatever public location offers a comfortable environment and is the most convenient for both parties. I always bring my portfolio to show a prospective client some physical examples of past work I have done and a notepad to take notes about what their particular design needs are. I suggest not meeting in your own home, even if that is where your office is located - a neutral location is best for the comfort of both you and your designer.

What should you bring to the first meeting?
This first meeting is your opportunity to bring physical samples to show the designer (or mention online samples of things you like) and might wish to emulate. If you have published books you might also want to bring copies of these for the designer to see or possibly even for them to borrow and read. This will give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with your writing style and try to match it as closely as possible in their designs for you. The more they know about you, your writing style, your personality and your readers - the better their designs for you will be.

What if you don't meet in person?
If you can't meet with your designer in person they will likely either send you e-mails full of questions to get to know you and your needs or possibly a form for you to download, fill out and return. I have also had FaceBook or Skype chats with potential clients that can work just as well as a face-to-face meeting.

What happens next?
After the designer knows more about you, your readers and what your immediate design needs are they will usually provide you with at least an estimated price of what the design will cost. Some designers will roll the costs of stock photos or illustrations into their pricing and others will let you know that photo costs will be in addition and only purchased upon your approval.  (Note: The second option sounds more complicated, but is actually how I prefer to work so that I can keep the price as low as possible and increase awareness of the costs involved for me to fulfill the project as well.)

One you have gone over the estimate provided by your designer you have the opportunity to accept it, ask questions, attempt negotiation, or let the designer know if it is simply not within your budget at this time.  The designer will not start working until they know you have reached an agreement on pricing. On larger projects, such as web site design, the designer may ask you to pay in installments. One payment at the beginning of the project and others after certain stages of the project have been reached. This is usually due to both the fact that the costs involved in these projects are higher and that these projects also take more time to complete. Spacing out the payments is to help both parties manage the costs and encourages fast responses and the meeting of deadlines!

Once an agreement has been accepted the designer will begin work on your project. Tune in next month for more on what the next steps in the process will likely entail, and what your role will be.

If anyone has questions about this post, or ones they wish me to tackle in next month's post please comment below.

Suzanne Wesley has been a member of ACFW since November of 2009. She considers herself still very much a student to the craft of fiction writing, plunking away on her stories in only her spare time. She makes her actual living supporting other writers and businesses large and small by creating marketing materials from her home office. She has been a professional graphic designer and copy writer for over 15 years. Visit to see samples of her work.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lost in Translation

I travel--a lot. As part of the Christian ministry that I work with, I've traveled to various corners of the former Soviet Union over 40 times. I've passed through more airports than I can remember. The reason I mention my globe-trotting is because, over and over, I've seen signs for travelers that are posted in English, but which don't convey the intended meaning.

Here's one example: Last July, I was in the Kiev-Borispol Airport in Ukraine. My flight to Moscow wouldn't leave for hours, so I roamed the building to pass time. There, near the arrivals gate, I saw that painters had recently been at work spiffing up the arrivals area. Evidence of their labor was the abundance of signs taped everywhere warning in English, "Carefully painted." I laughed out loud and snapped a photo. Obviously, the message was supposed to say something more akin to "Caution, wet paint," but the translator didn't pick quite the right words.

Another time, in Istanbul, Turkey, I decided to visit the restroom before leaving the airport. Once again I found what was surely a mistranslated message. Permanently posted above the toilet in every stall was an official request to help them save water--but flushing twice! (Did some Turkish translator trust his memory instead of checking the dictionary for the difference between once and twice?)

The point here isn't so much to laugh at human mistakes as it is to point out that a communicator can believe he has conveyed one message, when in fact he's delivered a totally different meaning. While in the white-hot heat of creating fiction, a writer knows exactly what he means as he types sentences onto the screen. However, ambiguous words and phrases can creep in. "He picked up the hammer and took a threatening step forward." Is "he" the character who was already in the room, or is "he" the newcomer who just arrived? The writer knows, but the reader doesn't. For this reason, I try not to submit any manuscript until it's had a chance to set and cool off for a day or two. With the passage of time, I'm better able to read my own words with the fresh eyes of a reader rather than the author. That way I stand a better chance of spotting my own failures to communicate exactly what I hope to say.

Ya know what I mean?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

God is Faithful To Complete His Work

Writers write. That’s all there is to it, however that covers an area as large as life and as diverse as people themselves are. Those who aspire to be authors of published works of fiction may discredit writing for newspapers, magazines, brochures as somehow on a lesser plane. With this line of thinking, poetry or personal journaling falls even farther down the scale. This is simply not true. It may not be your dream assignment, but it is forming and molding you.

Remember that Abraham waited until he was an old man to see the promise of a son fulfilled, but the point was it was fulfilled! God is still in the business of fulfilling promises today.

Pride, self-sufficiency, prejudices, personal relationships, current obligations are some of the blockades God may choose to remove before you find the promise of publication. God wants not only an eager servant but a malleable servant, not just a willing child, but a devoted one.

Before you get out the whip and start chastising yourself for all the ways you’ve failed to write, first consider what you are doing in your life that honors God. Society and our desire to succeed would tell us that we must make it happen. In truth, when we move in God’s timing as God directs, He will make it happen.

That doesn’t give us license to sit in front of the TV eating Cheetos all day long, but it does give us the freedom to be the spouses, parents, children of aging parents that we need to be. It doesn’t mean that writing/publication won’t come with effort and moving beyond uncomfortable boundaries into unfamiliar and terrifying territory, but it does mean you can trust that God’s timing is the best plan.

So all you newbies, all you still-working-at-its, all you frustrated word artists take heart. "Let us

hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23