Monday, January 30, 2012

The Best Part of Waking Up...

What’s your best part of waking up every morning? Is it Folgers in your cup? Pancakes and sausage? Reading your daily devotions and morning news?

The best part of waking up for me is the peace and quiet around the house, and a chance to read the day’s devotions from “Jesus Calling,” along with a quick K-cup of coffee.

Over the years, I’ve found that my day runs so much smoother if I connect with God first, and then move on with the rest of my daily routine. And this is an example of what I mean by a smoother day:

I had a leisurely twenty minutes to deposit money at my bank down the road, and then pick up my daughter from school. But twenty minutes flew by quickly when I discovered AFTER I left the bank that they gave me some elderly man’s cash and driver’s license.

I know this doesn’t sound like a smooth day, but looking back—the poor guy got his cash and driver’s license back, my daughter eventually got picked up from school and we’re all okay. Smooth I said, not perfect.

Anyway, there are so many great devotional books to read, and currently I really like this one written by Sarah Young.

“Jesus Calling” is filled with short one-page daily readings written in first person as if Jesus were speaking directly to you. Of course, these readings are not inspired as Scripture is, but definitely a way to draw us closer to Him.

What's the best part of your day, after you're awake? Have you ever heard that your mind is freshest at the beginning of the day? For me, I believe it’s true. It’s the best time of day to schedule writing assignments. I think it would be great to finish my writing quota for the day, before I’m too exhausted to put my fingers to the keyboard.

Notice that I said, “I think it would be great.” What I really need now is some discipline for staying in my chair to write, and staying out of social media until I’m finished writing for the day…

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” --Psalm 118:24
~Marjorie DeVries

Friday, January 27, 2012

Keeping Your Tiggers and Eeyores in Line

Do you ever hear someone get asked a question and wish they asked you?

This was my case in June, 2005. I sat in a Toastmaster club as area governor elect. (Okay, technically I was appointed. Details, details.) The theme for the meeting was Winnie the Pooh, a theme well used by the Topics Master.

My question was what I would write if I wrote a children's book. That was a fun question. I told them I'd write about an otter raised by a family of beavers. You can imagine what that's like. The otter wants to play while his adoptive parents are getting him to work on the dam. This otter would meet a wolf taken in by a cougar family. “I want to be part of the pack.” “What pack? We aren't a pack.”

However, when I heard the next question, I wished I had gotten that one instead.

“You are Winnie the Pooh. You've been given a free counseling session. Now, you're well adjusted and don't need it. Will you give it to Tigger to help calm him down? Or to Eeyore to cheer him up?”

I was about nine when Disney's Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day came out, which introduced Tigger. I fell in love with Tigger. I wanted to be as bouncy and fun as he was.

Growing up, though, I found my companion and mentor to be gloomy old Eeyore. “It will fall off again,” he said when his tail was put back on him. “Always does.”

If I wrote this blog yesterday, I would have dealt with a topic that interested me, one that would give food for thought. But this has been an Eeyore week for me. Just this week? Maybe all of this year. (Fortunately, we're only half way through January; hope this isn't a trend.)

My Eeyore side has been given plenty to be gloomy about. My wife's dealing with health problems. The only presidential candidate I could be excited about finished 6th in Iowa and dropped out. My Amazon review of that candidate's auto-biography has the current line “1 out of 6 find this review helpful.” (My hunch is that the five who found that not helpful did so solely because I gave a five star review to a book they disagreed with, but still it's discouraging.)

Also, I received a rejection letter (okay, e-mail) from an agent who kindly mentions my characters and plot don't resonate with him. Not much to encourage me to write, something I've been struggling to find time to do. To be honest, I'm even wondering if writing is what I'm supposed to be doing.

Did the person who got the counseling question think Eeyore was the one who needed counseling? No, she thought it was Tigger who was too hyper. I can identify. Sometimes, my Tigger tries to compensate for the Eeyore. Time to get bouncy. Find other activities. Keep busy, busy, busy, so I don't have time to be gloomy, gloomy, gloomy.

So how would I have answered the question?

Simple. I would have given the counseling to neither of them. Rather, I'd get them Tigger and Eeyore to counsel each other. Have Eeyore kindly mellow out Tigger, while Tigger gives Eeyore something to be cheerful about.

That's one thing good about the ACFW meetings or critique groups. We can point out areas of improvement but give encouragement at the same time. (This is one of Toastmaster's strengths, by the way.)

And the counseling session? I'd give that to grouchy Rabbit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Are Bloggers Journalists?

The Internet raises some interesting legal questions, including whether bloggers are journalists. The November 30, 2011 ruling in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox answered that question about one particular blogger.* The case has generated a number of comments and, after reading the judge's opinion, I am ready to add my observations to the heap.

The judge did not say that bloggers can't be journalists. He did say that they are not automatically journalists, and his finding that Cox did not qualify was based on the specific facts in the case.

So why did the judge conclude that Cox was not a journalist? Here is his analysis.

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting "the other side" to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not "media."
The judge classified these as examples of the evidence a blogger could produce and did not raise them to the level of factors to be considered in every case. Furthermore, the written decision does not suggest a blogger must produce all seven types of evidence or that some are more important than others are.

The good news is that any blogger who acts with journalistic integrity is capable of producing the last five types of evidence. And although the answer to the question isn't as simple as counting numbers, five out of seven sounds pretty good.

If a court held that a blogger couldn't be a journalist without journalism classes or affiliation with a recognized news entity, I would be concerned. But that is not this case.

The judge's ruling is simply this: if you want to be treated like a journalist, act like one.

And who can argue with that?

Kathryn Page Camp

*Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-HZ (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2011).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Coming out of the Nom De Plume Closet

So, I’m coming out of the nom de plume closet in 2012.

Other Way Around 13/365

 photo credit: flickr creative commons

You may view my picture below and say, "Now, I've seen that face before. Didn’t that girl have a different name?” 

Oh yes, that was my pseudonym, but I’ve decided to tuck it away with my floral print graduation dress and florescent spandex shorts. I may one day shake it out from moth balls and try it on again. Just not here. Not now. At Hoosier Ink, I’m going to be myself, wearing blue jeans and an acrylic sweater. It's more comfortable that way.

Over the past year, I've teeter-tottered about using a pen name. I've considered the benefits, listed the pros and cons, and exhausted the topic with my ever patient husband {whose eyes rolled back when I told him I was writing this post}. I liked the idea of keeping things separate and safe in this web like world. I loved the notion of following in the footsteps of George Elliot, Mark Twain, and George Orwell. And the best part? If you didn’t like my writing, I could hide behind my alias—no harm done. And for awhile, it looked like this identity would work for me.

Until I went to the ACFW conference this past September.

In the company of writers, I thought I could wear my avatar like a comfortable sweater, but the name felt like wool against bare skin. Though I'd used that name in my journal for years, I suddenly felt like I had left my journal on my fifth-grade teacher's desk. My mind turned in circles . How would I introduce myself?

When I met you—a flesh and blood writer--I couldn’t stop using my real name. For that is who I am. And in reality, I’m messy, and my words fumble, and I don’t always look like my best online photo. The truth is when I’m face to face with you, it's nice being authentic. Failures and all. It’s the only way I understand God’s grace.

As I embark on this writing path, I'm learning what works and what doesn't. Leopard skins? No. Cotton knits? Yes. Pen name? Maybe. Perhaps one day.

But at the beginning of a new year, I'm stepping out in faith, and it's both terrifying and exhilarating. For, I'm positive my words won’t tickle every ear, or turn to gold with every click-clack, and I'm certain some days my writing will be something akin to my toddler's tomato-stained onesie.

Even so, I’m pushing the door open, wearing my favorite turtleneck, and— gasp—writing as my real name.

Hi, I’m Melanie Brasher, and I'm a writer.

And you know what? It’s nice being me.


Over this past year, I've thought about pen names more than breathing, and here's my list of five do's and don'ts:

1)  Do keep the first name of your nom de plume the same if you're planning on using it for all writing {and become it}. Believe me it's too confusing and uncomfortable if you use two different first names. However, if you're using the pen name for a very specific circumstance, and your real one for everything else, I don't think it matters if the first name is different.

2) Don't choose a pen name that is the same as a celebrity or an ex-convict's. Do your research and choose carefully.

3) Do consider using a pen name if your real name IS the same as a celebrity or ex-convict's. Yes, this is different from point #2.

4) Don't waste a year fretting about it {experience talking here:)}. The mantra, "when in doubt, throw it out" is relevant for a variety of situations: food in the refrigerator, the tight leather pants in your closet, and the pen name you adored in your journal.

5) Do pray about it. God knows your name, and He knows what's best for you. So, do pray and do disregard all my advice if God leads you down a different path. Let His word guide you.

*For further reading/advice on pen names check out agent Rachelle Gardner's post.

Have you ever considered using a pen name? Why or why not?

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. She's a member of American Christian Fiction writers and a contributing blogger for Ungrind. Though she's an aspiring author, she'll never quit her day job.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sign Here

Photo Credit: Marcel Hol/Stock.XCHNG
By Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Does your hand itch to sign on the dotted line securing an agent or a book contract? Perhaps your fingers long to feel the weight of the pen as you autograph the first copy of your very own published novel. Or maybe you dream of the day when you press your written imprint across the “Endorse Here” line of your first royalty check. 

I recently read an account of John Green, the Indianapolis-based YA author who, before the release of his fourth book, The Fault in Our Stars,  pledged to sign every first edition print of the book. His first three books each ran around 20,000-30,000 copies, so this sounds like a worthy goal. Imagine Green’s shock when his anxious teenage fans pre-ordered enough books to put it in and Barnes &'s No. 1 spot before it was completely written and  the publisher ran 150,000 books in the first printing. Green required steroid treatments, but he fulfilled his pledge to sign every copy.
I thought of this in light of the recent debate concerning the decision in many schools and states to stop the teaching of cursive handwriting. While many Indiana schools continue to teach it, legislators removed it from the third grade standards with the 2011-12 school year. How are our children ever going to sign contracts, give autographs, or endorse their checks? Will a computer sign their pledges of undying love in notes written to sweethearts? Will a mere number suffice as proof on their marriages licenses? Will their fingerprint serve as the only identification next to their child's footprint on a birth certificate?

I hope it never comes to that. The truth is, we sign our name to those things we treasure and want to prove ownership of or to authenticate. A painting is made valuable by the signature of the artist. A first edition book is considered rare because it bears the autograph of the author. An idea is made law by the scrawl of a president.

Did you know you are also a "signed original"? Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” Some versions even use the word "masterpiece" when referring to you and to me. God signs his name to his masterpiece when he put His seal on you. He claims you as His own good work, His rare work of art, His beautiful creation.

And like most things in life, God first sets the example and then asks us to follow. We are told to work at everything as to the Lord. Is your work worthy of your signature? Are you willing to commit your autograph to your writing? What about your relationships? Can you endorse them in good conscience? And your walk with God--does it bear the seal of authenticity? 

The year is still fresh and new, a superb time for making changes and commitments to do things better than we have in the past. Signature-worthy things, both in our writing and in our life. Who's with me?  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Can I Make Funny?

by Rachael Phillips
First, I suppose we must examine why we should use humor in our writing. One look at the U.S. census gives us a mega-hint: America's population stands at 312 million plus. Every single one of these people needs a laugh. Most could use two.
How do we create humor? After conducting extensive research--and being charged with only a few misdemeanors--I formulated the following suggestions:
  1. Do stupid things. Staying in hot water pays off--if not in your insurance rates, definitely in your prose. People who survive telling their mothers-in-law mother-in-law jokes or accidentally overdrawing their bank accounts to write tithe checks either develop a great sense of humor or die trying.
  2. Collect people who do stupid things. If you're married this should be simple. If you're single and have no parents, children, siblings, roommates or relatives, go to the airport, museum, corner convenience store or Sunday school and find some. No one in the history of the world has observed your particular collection of people with your unique twisted point of view. Record your fellow humans' odd appearances, names, mannerisms and actions in written or computer files. Retrieve them later and shake-and-bake as you design characters and plots.
  3. Read the funny papers. Humor gives birth to humor. Barbara Johnson, author of Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy and numerous other funny books, collected clippings, sayings, comics, pictures and other chuckle-inducing goodies in a shoebox to read on her tough days. Organize your own collection of never-fail belly-laughers, including forwards, blogs, articles, etc., in a computer file, folders or shoebox (or a safe, if they're potential blackmail material). When your article, blog or chapter needs funny and you just received an audit notice from the IRS, your collection can help jump-start your sense of humor when you need it most.
  4. Waste lots of time doing nothing. In a multi-tasking world, doing only one thing has become a lost art, and doing nothing is mortal sin. But if we don't think, we won't laugh. Tell jokes to your plants. Sit and stare at your feet a while (feet are always good for a giggle or two). Try to slide a Cheerio from your nose into your mouth. Do anything that takes you out of grown-up mode and gives you a grin. You'll write funnier, and your kids/grandkids will love the Cheerio trick.
  5. Generate lots of bad writing. I've written biographies, magazine articles, Christmas novellas, devotional pieces, Bible reference materials and romance novels. But my weekly humor column often presents the biggest challenge. After five years of columns, I often must freewrite pages of totally lame stuff before I sense it's going somewhere. The key here, as John Vorhaus, author of The Comic Toolbox, says is to "kill your ferocious editor" and simply record the weird thoughts in your head. Of course, you'll have to resurrect him/her later in the final stages of your piece. But humor writing involves relaxing, not reporting, and it always requires taking a risk.

These techniques have worked for me, and so far, my bail hasn't been too awfully exorbitant. What methods do you use to make funny?

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Favorite Things

It doesn't take diamonds, or fabulous trips to exotic locations, or anything expensive in terms of worldly possessions to make me happy. Mind you, that's not to discount my travels or my pearl and diamond ring. It's the memories I have, the memories I'm making, and the things I'm looking toward in the future that make me content. And the older I get, the more the concept of simply being content makes me happy. It's not a feeling of "settling," but a feeling of knowing I've run the race and fought the good fight. I'm secure knowing I'm where the Lord wants me at this point in my life. Lest you worry, no, I'm not ill, but with the dawn of this new year, I am perhaps being retrospective. It's not so much the "things" of this life which make me happy or content, of course, but the memories associated with them that give me incredible joy.

What started me thinking along these lines? I bought a Hallmark Christmas ornament at 75% off the other day. It's a replica of the famous "Cheers" sign used in the TV show of the same name. There's a little button on the side, and when pushed, it plays the theme song. It brings a smile every time I hear that song: "Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came..." I'm going to leave it on my desk year-round for when I need a little pick-me-up. Other things that make me smile: the report card with two A+ grades my 15-year-old Asperger's Syndrome-diagnosed son earned in two tough subjects (biology and algebra); my daughter's smile as she finally got her braces (she's 19); the way my husband looked at the photo on my third book and said, "I really love this photo of you." Those are memories I'll always treasure. Other things? Mountain Spring Tide and Downy. Wow, they sure are expensive these days, but they're the best at stain fighting and smelling fantastic, so I spring for them and skimp on other things. The taste of a cake from my favorite bakery or a homemade chocolate chip cookie also make me smile. The sight of the first daffodils of spring pushing their way through the ground hardened by winter's snows, and the scent of honeysuckle on the there anything quite like them?

When I was a kid, buying three Nancy Drew books with my $5 weekly allowance made me happier than anything (I'm showing my age here, but I'm actually beginning to love and appreciate my current age. It's where the Lord has brought me at this point in my life, and I'm not complaining). Being presented with a doll house made with loving hands by my grandmother and dad filled with me with a sense of pride and family. Going to an antique doll convention with Granny when I was seven and being called "A Living Doll" in a write-up in the Louisville Courier-Journal was exciting. Now, every time I look at that doll, my heart swells with love for my grandmother (the inspiration for Lexa Clarke's Nana in Awakening). She took the doll head I got at that convention (called "Miss Kentucky") and made her into a doll for me, dressing her in a beautiful velvet, beaded dress -- complete with a matching handbag -- and I adored her (still have her, too). Granny always fussed and regretted the doll wasn't "prettier," but to me, she's gorgeous, and is my most prized heirloom from my beloved grandmother.

As a writer, I cherish my book contracts and holding my books in my hands for the first time. There's not much like it. I hope all of you know, or will know, that unique and unbelievable blessing. I always said that even if my books weren't "officially" published, my prayer was that someone reading them (and I had a lot of ladies read the early versions of Awakening) might be somehow touched with the seeds of spiritual truths. You never know how your words might impact someone, so keep writing as He leads you.

What are the things and associated memories that make YOU smile? I'd love to hear, if you'd care to share. Blessings, my friends.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Editor, My Coach

I ran track and field in high school. Hurdles to be precise. I had this one coach who felt I had potential in the 300 meter hurdles. For those of you who don’t know much about track, its one of the most grueling races (in my opinon). You run almost a quarter mile as fast as you can—on your toes—while leaping over hurdles.

As you come around the curve and face the last 100 meters, you wonder how in all the world you’re going to make it to the finish line. You can barely breath, your calves burn, and you’re crying. Somewhere along the haze of pain you wonder why you didn’t chose some other sport, like tennis.

I am finding an editor is much like a coach. You work months and years to perfect your writing so that an editor will finally give your manuscript a second look and offer that coveted contract. But when the edits start coming, you wonder what he or she ever saw in your story.

What your editor saw… is potential. The skills are there, the story is great and it has a possible market. But the manuscript isn’t quite there, not yet.

So a good editor gets to work. And the newly contracted author wonders why she didn’t take up knitting instead :).

I am now entering the last phase of edits. It’s been hard. Really hard. But I have also learned a lot of good stuff. My editor has pushed me, helped me, and encouraged me. He knows I can do it (even when I've despaired). He's a good coach. And for that, I am thankful.


On that note, I am also thankful for the wonderful writers I have met this past year through the ACFW Indiana Chapter. God is moving my family to another state, and so I will no longer be a part of your group. So this is my last official post with Hoosier Ink. However, I will not completely disappear. I hope to see many of you at conferences and online. And once in a while, I might even stop by with a special guest post.

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 fears, doubts, 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.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Photos in Novels?

Real-life photos in novels?

Sure! Why not? Especially if you're basing your novels on real-life like I am!

I read CANE RIVER by Lalita Tademy about ten years ago, and loved it! Since she based her novel on her own family's history, she included photos and other documents in the novel. I thought that was wonderful, and so story-enriching. I decided then I wanted to do the same someday.

And now I finally have!

Last fall, in my fourth paperback printing of my novel HUNGRY RIVER, I included eight photos. The photos are also in my first Kindle version of the novel. Above is one of my favorite HUNGRY RIVER photos. Readers tell me it helps them "get" the setting.

Last week I released both the paperback and Kindle versions of DRAGON WALL, the sequel to HR. I used one of my dad's "old" (pre-1950) Great Wall photos for the cover (below). Plus, I have ten more photos inside. Readers are responding with delight. And I'm delighted I can share several family photo treasures to enrich my family's novelized China stories. (My books are available from Amazon and my website.)

Real-life photos in our novels? Sure! They add an imagery dimension beyond words. . .

Millie Samuelson

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Building Blocks

Writing takes a lot of building blocks. You start with one, and build on it. Last night I tried to place another block in the building, and realized that I've been building on a solid foundation of reading good writing from the early days in school.  I've been thinking about what books I've read that have influenced my writing.  What was I reading to build up my own writing?

You need to be a reader to write. Stephen King says in his book, On Writing: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Then he goes on to say that he's a slow reader, but still manages to read 70-80 books a year.

I spent my first five years of school in a Christian school with very strict rules about what I was allowed to read. It was pretty tough on me because if I could've, I would read everything I could get my hands on--and did--when I could. But in sixth grade I went to a public school and had a Jewish man as my teacher. He loved books and read to us everyday after lunch. But what really opened my world of reading was when he read to us the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I never got over that. My heart pounded and I had to have more. His voice was rich and the words pulled me into the story. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was something I had never experienced before.

We were able to buy books through Scholastic Reading Club, and my mom and I would scan the papers and she'd buy me a couple books each time. I remember it was in sixth grade that I bought a paperback version of one of my all-time favorite books--My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. I read that book over and over. It still makes me laugh.

Then, the summer of magic happened. The summer before I entered 7th grade, my mom decided I could finally read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She actually owned this book, and I still have this book. I read it nearly around the clock for almost four days. I barely ate, and only stopped for necessary breaks (oh, I probably took it with me...) I was so fearful that she would change her mind and take it back, so I read it as fast as I could. It was so good, I read it again, this time savoring the scenes and characters. You can be that passionate when you're 13.

Then, that same summer, mom gave to me To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. They say there are books that change your life. That change you for having read them. Now, I can list many books since then that affected the way I thought, but that book startled me. I ended up reading that book over and over. I read it just to read certain parts. I read it through completely 21 times. I still pull it out to read sections. I wrote my own stories and they sounded like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Because I had been so protected as a child in reading books, it wasn't until I was in seventh grade that I read all of the Nancy Drew books. I could read one a day. I had never heard of Nancy Drew. Then, I read Mark Twain. I fell totally and completely in love with Mark Twain. I did reports on him, thought about wearing white suits and longed to see the Mississippi River.

In high school I had the best English teachers and I took every single English course my high school offered. I won the English department award and was even an assistant to one of the English teachers who had me teaching reading to students (mostly boys) who had trouble with reading. One time we read aloud, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For my own enjoyment, since I worked in the high school library, I read almost every book we had. I found the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck--but I also went back to pick up all the childhood books I should've already read.

It wasn't until I was studying to be an elementary teacher that I discovered Roald Dahl. One of my all time favorites that he wrote was Matilda. I felt like Matilda. The very first chapter is titled, "The Reader of Books." I understood Matilda. Roald Dahl was a genius in my book. 

When I became a sixth grade teacher, I read to my students The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Since my students could barely read themselves, were kids who were kicked around and "outsiders," they related to that book above all of the books I read to them that year. It changed them. They became readers that year.

So, recently I was told to make a list of books I loved and felt passionate about to help me focus my own writing. I had to give up in frustration. Reading books is a joy, and I love to discover a new book. I love books. I have published around 1000 book reviews and have books stacked to the ceiling. But of all the current books I've read, A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel is my favorite in modern times. I finally realized that this book is at the top of my list. Something Is Drooling Under the Bed by Bill Watterson is probably up there close to the top, too. (In case you don't know, this is a Calvin and Hobbes book.)

Anyway, here are a few books. I'm sure it will change soon. It's not necessarily in order, either!

1. A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
3. On Writing by Stephen King
4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
7. A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
8. On the Anvil by Max Lucado
9. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns
10. Jan Karon’s Mitford Series
11. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
12. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
13. Centennial by James Michener
14. Matilda by Roald Dahl
15. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
16. Columns written by Will Rogers
17. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
18. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
19. Lighthouse series (3) by Eugenia Price
20. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

21. All Things series by James Herriot
22. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
23. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
24. Lake Woebeggon by Garrison Keillor
25. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
26. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
27. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
28. O’Malley series by Dee Henderson
29. All of Julie Klassen's books

Ok, I have to stop there for now and I haven't even listed a single Hoosier ACFW book--and I've read a lot of them and love them all. 

What are a couple of your favorite books?Any in particular that stand out from your childhood? Any that have changed you or influenced your writing?

Crystal Laine Miller

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Greater Than

Third grade math was a blast. We kids competed like Olympians when Miss Barbara passed out the timed drills. We knew what equaled what and we sported paper crowns to prove it. Then came the big bump in the road: inequalities. That meant slowing down to compare objects and figure out which was larger and which was smaller, however similar. Gone were the crisp parallel lines. In came the arrowheads, pointy ends accusing the smaller and open arms reaching for the larger.

The memories of early math days tumbled back this week when I came across a paper headed “God is Greater Than.” GOD marked the left side of the page and a few things that turn most of our heads were on the right. I took the liberty of lengthening the right hand column.

GOD fears

Just one of the right side items can feel like a weight only a truck scales could handle. Add the jumble together and they could sink the earth right out its orbit. And then I remember this God, the God of Scripture, God alone, measures the universe in the hollow of His hand like I used to cradle tad poles weighing slightly more than a speck back in third grade.

Someone has said writing requires reverence, really seeing and being awed by the wonders everywhere around us. No doubt. I drive blind through a lot of life, one day plowing down the interstate of fear and confusion and the next day turning off to feast my eyes on every scenic bend in the route to achievement.

Writing forces me to repent. Writing demands me to pull the car over right now and do a one-eighty whether I’m stewing on all that has gone, is going, or will go wrong or delighting in successes I can see for miles. Writing insists on the about-face, turning the back on both the worst and the best. Only then are any of us free to face square into God.

And then we’ll get it right as any child. We’ll draw the pointy end toward ourselves and all that concerns us and draw long arms sporting a very wide angle toward God, who is greater than all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Occasionally (though not as often as my wife would like), I pick a boxful of books from my library and trundle them to the nearest Half-Price Bookstore, where they are sold. Invariably (as my wife will attest), I return with a few others I have bought. She puts up with this because the net result is less apartment space devoted to my books. It forces me to unpack another box of books from the back bedroom, and brings us closer to the day she can use it as a genuine guest bedroom.

On last month’s trek, I snagged a copy of Theodore A. Rees Cheney’s book, Getting the Words Right (Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 1983). It has been in print continuously for nearly thirty years, so it may already be a trusty companion of yours; but it’s a brand-new discovery for me, and well worth the shelf of books I traded to find it.

Two paragraphs from Cheney’s first page have become a smoldering ember deep within my mind. I’ve been exploring the book for the past month, alternately blowing hot and cold over its detailed instructions for revision, but those two paragraphs keep kindling a fire under me. Here they are:

Seventy-five percent of all revision is eliminating words already written; the remaining twenty-five percent is improving the words that remain. Although experienced writers may do all kinds of revision almost as they write, they are apt first to try reducing the quantity of the words.

The Victorian writer Walter Pater said, “All art doth but consist in the removal of surplusage.” The secret is in knowing which words are the surplus words (Cheney, 1).

Michelangelo learned this. Eleven years before he was born, another artist began roughing out a 14-foot block of marble that was to be a majestic statue of King David, but he made a mistake: He chipped off a large chunk of marble on the figure's chest that he did not intend to remove, leaving an ugly crease and bulge that ruined his vision for the piece. The sculptor found no way to fix it, so his unsightly attempt was abandoned for 36 years. On September 9, 1501 (the event is recorded in Florence’s official history), Michelangelo chipped off that bump and soon finished the project.

Reportedly, when someone asked his secret, Michelangelo said, “I just got rid of everything that wasn’t David.”

The removal of surplusage--it's the secret of all masterful art, including masterful fiction.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hope or Fear: It Really Is Your Choice

One unexpected thing I have learned from freelancing full-time is that being fearful is a choice. You can all too easily let fear eat away at your time and your talent – leaving you frozen in place when things don't go exactly as planned. Or, you can keep plugging along, trusting that God is truly guiding your way. In no other job have I ever actually been able to really see God intervening on my behalf. [I'm sure it happened, but I wasn't able to see it as clearly.]

During times when the work has run dry, and therefore the funds have too, God has repeatedly found a way to sneak a little extra cash into our family accounts. One time it was in the form of an extra tax refund check when my accountant somehow forgot to ask if I'd been paying taxes on my own on a quarterly basis? (I'm still amazed that happened since my accountant is the one who had set it up for me to pay quarterly taxes the year before?) More than once it has been in the form of an insurance-related refund ... and most recently a partial refund for paying for all-day Kindergarten. None of the refunds were expected, and they always came when we were starting to worry over how we were going to scrape together enough money to pay the bills.

I don't mean this to sound like I feel like I could sit back, relax, and the Lord would just do my bidding; nor that I should go on a spending spree because 'magic cash' will just appear. Far from it. However, what it does mean to me ... is that as long as I keep doing my part, God is making sure my family's most basic needs are met. [It reminds me continuously of the bible verses regarding the sparrows ... Luk 12:7]

This gives me so much to be hopeful about.

Beyond money, God has also helped me make invaluable connections with people that have helped me grow as a Christian and as a business. Have you ever felt the prompting from God to write an e-mail or call someone you barely have a connection with ... only to find out that they were praying to hear from someone exactly like you? Yup, that happened to me.

It was a pretty amazing experience, yet the most powerful personal example for choosing hope over fear that I have is even more remarkable. During my first year as a freelancer I had a freelance client who stiffed me for over $700 worth of time already spent working on his company's web site copy. I had done everything I was asked to do, the cost had been quoted and agreed upon prior to the first draft, and I had every intent of revising the text until they were satisfied. But instead the client was quite rude, reacting as though my writing was in no way what they had asked for, and they not only refused to pay but refused to explain how it could be improved  - which meant I could not even try to improve it to make them happy. I was devastated. I was angry. And when further negotiations failed I began to question my writing abilities, and my business skills, more than I ever had before.

I had always had very positive client writing experiences in the past - even when changes were necessary. I had also never had someone treat me in so unprofessional a manner. It ate away at me in the weeks following, and I remember at my lowest point crying and praying for God to somehow let me know if I was meant to keep writing. I questioned if it was my will or His to be a writer. [Am I the only one who has prayed this prayer?]

I still get goosebumps thinking about this ... but all I did was walk maybe 20 steps to my office from where I had wept and prayed that prayer ... to do something as mundane as check my e-mail. I had already been on the computer most of that day and checked my e-mail many, many times. However, when I returned to my computer, moments after praying that prayer, in my e-mail inbox was a request to buy an article that I had written and submitted over 6 months prior to that day. Of note is that this was my first article I ever sold that wasn't written 'for hire'.  So this was a very big deal to me. It felt like winning the lottery - though I probably earned a grand total of $150 and it was only published on a blog.

The timing of that sale sounds like something 'made up' even to me. But I still have that remarkably timed e-mail, and I look at it whenever I need a pick-me-up. [I actually sold a second unrelated article only a couple of weeks later – one which was also submitted around the same time frame as the first one. Which reminds me ... I really need to submit queries more often!]

What about you? Have you had moments of fear about your calling to be a writer? Has God ever answered your prayers in a way that gave you every reason to hope and continue writing?

Suzanne Wesley works as a full-time freelance graphic artist and copywriter from her Indiana home. She is also a full-time mom of two girls under the age of 6. (Sometimes the two full-time jobs collide, but mostly it is the best job decision she ever made!) Between filling sippy cups, reading princess stories ... oh, and designing marketing materials, she sneaks in time to work on her secret passion for fiction writing.

She also reads and reviews Christian books and their cover designs on The Book and Cover Reviewer blog - found at

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Alas, Poor Apostrophe!

I feel sorry for the apostrophe. It’s a perfectly fine piece of punctuation, but modern society holds little respect for this nifty little guy. Not only is the apostrophe (’) often omitted (especially in text messages), but—adding insult to injury—he increasingly gets replaced with his cousin, the beginning single quote mark (‘)! Unfortunately, even many budding authors don’t realize the difference.

Please allow me to defend my little friend, the apostrophe. Then, if you still choose to ignore or to abuse him, at least you’ll be doing it on purpose and not by accident.

So, what is the apostrophe’s purpose for existence? Half of the time, he shows the reader that something has been left out of a word for brevity’s sake. For instance, with the aid of our little hero, we can change slightly stilted word combinations into sleek, streamlined, single words.

Exhibit A:
     It is = It’s
     Could not = Couldn’t

Cool, huh? The apostrophe can also indicate possession:

Exhibit B:
     The home of Professor Tolkien = Professor Tolkien’s home
     The ice cream cone of Susie = Susie’s ice cream cone

Also handy: When an apostrophe shows that letters are omitted at the beginnings of words, it makes them more folksy or simply easier to say:

Exhibit C:
     Goodbye! = ’Bye!
     Sic them, Fido! = Sic ’em, Fido!

And this, my friends, is where the apostrophe has most often received abuse. Why? Because when personal computers became popular in the 1980s, word-processing programs (such as MS Word or WordPerfect) couldn’t tell for sure when an author wanted a ’ or a ‘. The programmers decided that, if a human hits that particular key immediately after a letter (see Exhibit A above), then the punctuation should curve to the left since it must be either an apostrophe or a closing single quote mark. So far, so good. However, the programmers also assumed that hitting that key after a space must mean the writer is about to begin a quote within a quote. (E.g., “John sends a warm, Hello’ to all of you.”) Bad assumption! That’s why word processors replace perfectly good apostrophes with an opening single quote mark and incorrectly produce such as expressions as…

     Well, ‘til we meet again! (Abbreviating until should result in ’til.)
     Go get ‘em! (Abbreviating them should result in ’em!)
For a long while, I spotted such gaffes mainly in self-published works by people who didnt use the services of an editor. Now, though, this cancerous error is spreading into professionally produced advertisements. The poor little apostrophe practically shudders. Is it doomed to follow dinosaurs and hoop skirts into the dust bin of history?

Dear friends, rally to the cause! If you need a little piece of punctuation to show you’re leaving something off the beginning of a word, then please always choose the apostrophe, never the opening single quote mark!

P.S.: If you’ve gotten this far and still can’t understand what I’m ranting about, then merely select a nice, sans serif font such as Arial or Calibri instead of Times Roman. Since the sans-serif fonts don’t curve their quotes and apostrophes, they’ll look correct every time!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Story of You

Another January. The year 2012 is an empty notebook, the days waiting to be filled with the Story of You. This cooperative effort—co-authored by God and you—can unfold in various ways.

Perhaps you've already determined what your personal story will be, outlined it in detail, established goals to mark your progress, and asked God to assist you. If so, you may start with one idea only to discover circumstances or characters will drive you in a different direction, maybe even force you into places you'd prefer not to go and experiences you wish to avoid.

The Story of You may fill the pages of this year with heart-wrenching experience and deeper insight. You may even be taken to a place of complete dependence on God. It'll feel like a terrible place, but time will reveal that total dependence on God is the best real estate in the world and leads to an outflow of blessing.Noah couldn't steer the ark, he had to rely on God. Abraham couldn't force God's timing of the promised child Isaac. Joshua's victory at Jericho was God's doing not human effort.

Perhaps you are a timid, crossing the squares off the calendar while you wait for life to happen. The experiences you do have seem faded compared to the bright dream you foresee. Your prayers may grow into mantras of "Why not me, Lord?" The scriptural directive to rejoice with those who rejoice may taste bitter as others enter into your dreamland, leaving you behind.

You may demand an explanation, failing to see that God has been waiting on you to take a step of faith in the Story of You. David had to go out to meet Goliath. Mary had to say yes to God's plan for a virgin birth. Elijah had to pray, pray, pray for the raincloud that brought an end to the drought. Ruth had to bow to the instructions of her mother-in-law. To say no out of fear despite God's urgings can leave blank pages and gaps in the Story of You.

Chances are you fall somewhere between hurtling recklessly forward and frozen stiff. Whatever your approach to writing life, prayerfully ask God to give you a theme for this year's Story of You. Then stop long enough to hear His reply.

Having a theme for 2012 establishes a plumb-line for measuring your choices. Perhaps it's Relate More to Others or Be Gracious or Promptly Obey God's Directions. It may be Act on Every Writing Opportunity or even Mentor.

There will be a Story of You in 2012. 2013 will reveal in detail what it was. However, setting a theme now will unite all aspects of that story—spiritual, mental, physical, relational, ministerial, financial, professional, and recreational—into the greatest Story of You possible.

New Year's blessing on each of you ACFWers. My prayer is that you find a theme for the year and live it out. I've been doing this for a few years now. Anyone wanting to dialogue on it can email me. I'd love to help or encourage you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Incorporating Your Loves into Your Books

One of the things I love about writing is the ability to incorporate the things I love into my writing.

As a gal right out of college I headed to Washington, D.C., to launch my career in public policy. You see, there weren’t a lot of jobs in Nebraska for a girl with a degree in political science. That was all right with me though because I love D.C.

D.C. has an energy, ambition, and pace that appealed to me, the gal from smallish town Nebraska. And my parents acquiesced because the internship I’d landed was at a conservative non-profit that provided housing.

The Leadership Institute and Washington were the perfect places to start my career. But it was also a little lonely. I quickly made friends where I worked, but finding a good home church and community of friends outside work took more effort. Until I moved to Fairlington Village with my husband.

In Fairlington Village, we found a community – some of it ready made because many of our friends from work also owned condos or townhomes there. Ours was an end townhouse steps from a swimming pool and tennis courts. Even better we had friends within a couple blocks in just about any direction. We also could walk to neat shopping areas., the grocery store, Great Harvest, the post office, you name it. And when we got a puppy, it was a rare area where I felt safe being out any time of the day or night.

Sure, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but what made it so special was the people. So when some friends and I started brainstorming a novella collection set in Washington, D.C., I knew we had to model the community our characters lived in on Fairlington Village. I pulled on my man warm memories of our years there. Much like the community we modeled after it in Cherry Blossom Capers, our neighbors became a second family. Next door lived two middle-aged women who became grandmas to our oldest when she arrived. Across the parking lot lived an Air Force chaplain and his artist wife. I could go around the cul-de-sac and mention people who became special to us. Spontaneous BBQs and movie or game nights occurred frequently.

That’s one reason I had such fun writing Dying for Love in Cherry Blossom Capers. I was able to recapture some of that special feel in the neighborhood we created. Why does this matter to you? When you’re stuck in your writing, look for elements from your life that you can pull into your story. It may not be a location, but maybe it’s an experience, a job, a person you know well, a career. Incorporating elements that are important to you may provide just the spark to launch a new plot line. Or the research will inspire you with ideas and challenges to throw at your characters. Or maybe the details will be the precise one that brings the story to life for you.

And that is half the fun of writing…at least to me.

How about you? What techniques to you use to make a story come to life on the page?

Bio: Cara C. Putman lives in Indiana with her husband and four children. She’s an attorney and a ministry leader and teacher at her church. She has loved reading and writing from a young age and now realizes it was all training for writing books. An honors graduate of the University of Nebraska and George Mason University School of Law, Cara loves bringing history and romance to life. You can read about her community based on Fairlington Village in Cherry Blossom Capers, a January 2012 novella collection released by Barbour Publishing. Learn more about this and all her books at or