Sunday, February 26, 2012

Everything You Need to Know about Blogging You Already Learned in Kindergarten

You have a blog, but you’re wondering why the only comments are from your mother and an occasional spammer.

No comment
photo credit: flickr creative commons

It’s not that you don’t have fabulous content, nice photos, or beautiful thoughts. Perhaps it’s just that you need to revisit some simple kindergarten rules.

In fact, I’m realizing that the rules of blogging are akin to those first golden rules you learned while sitting in circle time listening to your teacher with shiny hair and glossy lips. Can you picture her now, friend? She's on the swivel chair beside the flip chart with a permanent marker in her right hand and a painted smile on her face. She's asks a question about classroom rules, and your hand bounces up.

"Oh, oh." You say. "I know."

You want to be the first to answer her query, but she picks the student who has her hand raised properly. And it's the first time you realize there are rules to being picked.

It's the first time you discover the secrets to a happy school year, life, and blog.

  • Do to others as you would have them do to you- Your teacher told you this golden rule from Jesus' sermon on the mount (Luke 6:31). It's a reminder to treat others the way you want to be treated. If you desire comments on your blog, leave comments on others. If you desire others to promote your work, promote theirs. If a new person leaves a comment on your blog, go leave one on theirs. It's that simple. (Did you read Nikki Studebaker Barcus' post titled "You've Got the Power"? It's a great discussion on technology.) 
  • Share- You always wanted to keep the blocks to yourself, didn't you (I know I did)? But your teacher reminded you that when you share, you make friends. Bingo. When you share other people's posts on your blog or facebook page, you develop friendships. Do you spend all of your energy in self-promotion? Philippians 2:3 says, "value others above yourselves." I know I long to focus on lifting up others this year. It's always more joyful, isn't it? (Check out Sharon Clifton's interesting article on how you can use Pinterest to promote other writers.)
  • Be Polite- Your kindergarten teacher told you the words thank-you and please are the magic keys. Indeed, they open up doors to wonderful friendships. Remember the leper who thanked Jesus after he was healed (Luke 17:11-17)? I wonder if that leper had a deeper relationship with the Savior? Thank those who visit your blog by leaving a note on theirs. Write positive and kind blog posts. Is your blog an encouraging place? Is it a welcoming place?
  • Don't take things that don't belong to you- You were taught not to steal your neighbor's fancy mechanical pencil, or his answers on the test. The same applies to blogging. Are you stealing content from others, or are you giving credit where it's due? Your readers want to hear your thoughts, not long blocks of quotes, or regurgitated material. And if you do borrow thoughts, make sure you site it.
  •  If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it- This is age old advice from your teacher and mother, and it still holds true for blogging. Don't clog up the web with unnecessary words. Ask yourself, is this post beneficial?
  • Say sorry if you've wronged someone- You know how your teacher made you look into the eyes of the person you hurt and say, "I'm sorry." It was so hard to do, but it made you feel better, didn't it? If you've hurt someone through one of your posts, apologize. We all need grace.

Kindergarten was a positive experience when you followed the rules, wasn't it? It's the same for blogging. Follow the above guidelines, and you'll begin to see comments from a few strangers who may just become close friends.

And when that happens, be sure to thank your teacher.

*I got the idea for this post from the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Interview with Donna Fletcher Crow, Author of the Monastary Murders

This month, I'll be interviewing Donna Crow, author of the Monastary Murders -- among other books. The reason I selected her is our common interest in theology. The series I mentioned has a major focus on church history.

* * *

JR: Welcome, Donna. Please tell us about your current projects, and especially about the Monastery Murders series. Also, how many novels have you written?

DC: Thank you so much, Jeff. I’m delighted to be visiting Hoosier Ink today. A Darkly Hidden Truth is my 39th novel. Almost all of them reflect my love of British Christian history in some way. The Monastery Murders, while being contemporary murder mysteries, all tell stories of England’s Christian history as Felicity and Antony wade through clues from the past and clamber over the ruins of ancient holy sites in order to solve the mysteries.

These are stories I have wanted to tell for many years, but the series came together when our daughter Elizabeth, a classics major who found she disliked teaching in London, went off to a theological college run by monks in Yorkshire. Anyone who has read A Very Private Grave, the first in the series, will recognize those similarities in Felicity’s background. I got acquainted with the monks and their remarkable spirituality when visiting Elizabeth and wanted to share their story as well. My Community of the Transfiguration is a very thinly disguised Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield.

JR: What inspired you to write this series, especially the emphasis on church history?

DC: At the deepest level I see my passion for British Christianity and my desire for spiritual renewal in England as a spiritual calling. I struggled for years to understand it and then the light dawned when I heard a missionary talking about her longings for Africa.

I also have a great desire that these wonderful stories not be lost. Those who have gone before us in the faith have suffered greatly and struggled valiantly to pass the word of God on to us. It’s important that we remember what they did. I also like to emphasize traditional Christianity because, again, many of the “old ways” are in danger of being lost and I want my readers to see the validity and richness they offer as well.

JR: This series reflects Episcopalian tradition. Is this something that you grew up with? And am I correct you have a son in the ministry?

DC: I grew up as a Nazarene, Jeff. A tradition for which I thank God. Our four children were all raised in that denomination and they, too, are thankful for the excellent teaching they received. All are serving God and raising our 11 grandchildren in the faith, although in various denominations. I like to say that we are a “wildly ecumenical” family. I think this is very important because we all have so much to offer each other and we are all one family.

Yes, indeed! Our son-in-law is an Anglican priest, serving in Calgary. He also studied at the Community of the Resurrection and is a great resource person when I need to know how Father Antony would handle something. You’ll see my acknowledgment to Fr. Lee Kenyon in my books. Also, our youngest son is a student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, studying to become a Free Methodist minister. We are very proud of them both.

JR: In The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Christian Fiction, Ron Benrey suggests avoiding mentioning denominations and having the churches in the stories having names like Metropolis Community Church to appeal to a broader base. What reaction have you received from editors and readers for having an Episcopalian/Catholic type tradition in the story?

DC: Interestingly, Jeff, Ron Benrey’s wife Janet was my agent for this series. Since Janet is English she “got” the Church of England background I was working with and sold the series to Monarch Books— an English publisher who also understands the milieu I’m working in.

Technically, my setting is Anglican— a more generic term than Church of England or Episcopalian. It’s important for readers to realize Antony is not Roman Catholic, even though almost all of the history I recount is, of course. The thing is, I want Antony to be free to marry and I have no desire to rewrite The Thorn Birds, gripping as I found it.

JR: I know there are currently two parts in the Monastery Murders. Are there more on the way? And what else do you have on your burner?

DC: Book 3, An Unholy Communion, is almost finished although I don’t have a publication date for it yet. In it, I tell the story of St. David and also recount the 1904 Welsh Revival. I hope there will be several more Monastery Murders because I have many more stories I want to tell.

I'm also working on book 4 in my Lord Danvers Victorian true-crime series but it’s early days of research for that. I’m also planning book 3 in the Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Each of these has a literary figure in the background: Dorothy L Sayers in The Shadow of Reality, Shakespeare in A Midsummer Eve's Nightmare. Jane Austen will be next. So much to do!

JR: Thank you very much for your time, and we'll be looking forward to reading your latest book.

DC: Thank you, Jeff. I really enjoyed your probing questions. I love your "Who says theology can't be thrilling?" motto. I agree. After all, in more enlightened times, Theology was "The Queen of sciences."

* * *

Please visit Donna's website, It contains information on all her books, trailers for both A Very Private Grave and A Darkly Hidden Truth, and even pictures of her garden.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blowing Off Steam: Opinion v. Allegation

Last month I talked about a case discussing whether bloggers are journalists, and I concluded that the answer is: sometimes. That particular case involved a woman who claimed to be an investigative journalist, and the judge tailored his decision to that category.

But investigative journalists aren't the only people who write for newspapers and other recognized media. What about columnists, for instance? They often deal with opinion rather than fact. And what happens if you use opinion to blow off steam in your blog?

The law says that pure opinion can't libel anyone. But if the opinion implies that it is based on facts and those facts are untrue, the writer could be liable for defamation.

So how do you know when something is an opinion rather than an allegation? The test is how a reasonable reader would interpret the statements, and a reasonable reader considers the context.

Genre or subgenre is a major component of context. When you read a book review, don't you assume you are reading the reviewer's opinion? That's what an appeals court said when Dan Moldea sued the New York Times over a review of his non-fiction book on organized crime influences in professional football.* The review said the book contained "too much sloppy journalism" and gave a number of examples. The court found that the statements were opinion and the paper was not guilty of libel, but the court's written decision implied that the result might have been different if the reviewer had not included the examples.

Context also includes the writing's tone. When Boston Magazine printed an article on the best and worst in local sports, it chose James Myers as the worst sportscaster and described him as "The only newscaster in town who is enrolled in a course for remedial speaking."** Since Myers wasn't taking remedial speaking classes, he sued. The state's highest court described the article as loaded with one-liners that were obvious attempts at humor. Given the tone of the article, the court held that a reasonable reader would understand the remedial speaking remark as an opinion (that Myers should be enrolled in a course for remedial speaking) rather than as a fact (that Myers was actually enrolled).

But labeling something as opinion is not enough if the statement implies knowledge of untrue facts. Thomas Diadiun's newspaper column suggested that a former high school wrestling coach had perjured himself.*** The column used the words "Diadiun says" and "TD says" to describe its content, and the paper claimed that the statements in the column were opinion.

The United States Supreme Court disagreed. According to the Court, if a reasonable jury could conclude that the statements implied the coach had actually committed perjury, then the newspaper could be liable for defamation if the allegation was not true. So the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for trial.

While these cases deal with media defendants, the basic principal that an opinion can't defame anyone is true for all bloggers. Still, it must be a pure opinion and not a factual allegation.

So watch your words when blowing off steam.

Kathryn Page Camp

* Moldea v. New York Times Co., 22 F.3d 310 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
** Myers v. Boston Magazine Co., 403 N.E.2d 376 (Mass. 1980).
*** Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why the Interest in Pinterest?

"Pinterest. Pinterest. Pinterest. Yikes, the noise is deafening," writes Peter Himler on his blog The Flack.

 David Pogue, in The New York Times last week, wrote that Pinterest is "...the fastest Web site in history to break the 10-million-visitors-a-month threshold."

Dealbook's Evelyn Rusli tweeted "the pinterest [sic] love fest is reaching insane levels . . . "

I first learned about from my art-smart daughter, who sent me an invitation to join. When I visited the site, I was hooked. I created a page with a few "boards." Boards are a way of sorting and categorizing one's "pins," images gleaned from other pinners, as well as Web sites. Once users add a "Pin It" button to their browsers' toolbars, they can pin from most Web sites. (Facebook is an exception, which is a good thing.) A pinned image can be repinned by other users to their own boards, and the beat goes on.

Where Did the Madness Begin?
Pinterest was started by two men, Ben and Paul, who were friends in college. "We were looking at paper catalogs," Ben said in an interview, "and thought, wouldn't it be cool if there was a catalog full of stuff that our friends had picked out." The two started developing Pinterest in December 2009. By March 2010, the prototype was ready to share with close friends and family. The site grew as those chosen few invited others to join. Though it's still "by invitation only," it's easy to get invited. Go to the site and ask.

What Do I Like about Pinterest?
  • I'm a visual person, so I love the images. One also can post YouTube videos.
  • It's a social network, so it provides a way to connect with people around the world with similar interests and concerns.
  • I learn something about the people with whom I connect most often through their boards. What do they love? What's their taste in clothing? Are they metropolitan or rural? Do they share my love for all things rustic, historical, Scottish, Amish, literary, and Christ-honoring? Do they appreciate God's Creation? Do they enjoy cooking, baking, and trying new things? How do they feel about chocolate, coffee, tea, and hounddogs? At the same time, I needn't be privy to the more intimate details of their lives.
  • As with any social networking site, there are those who create an account, enjoy a short burst of activity, but soon lose interest and depart. All the publicity Pinterest is garnering right now promotes that. But there is an active core of users who will continue to participate. These are folks who see the potential in such a site and can apply its uses to their benefit: the moms who are always looking for new, appealing recipes, crafty ideas (possibly to use as money-makers), DIY projects, organizational hints, etc.; photographers (amateur and professional) who see it as a way to display their work and gather ideas; home-schooling parents on the prowl for great ideas, and writers.
Pinterest for Writers
When I first joined Pinterest, I had no intention of using it as a writer's tool, but it didn't take long for me to recognize the potential. One of my first boards was "Books and Brew Bistro," where I pinned everything about books, reading, and coffee. The next logical step was to set up a board to corral images of characters, settings, clothing, and other things pertaining to my WIPs.

From my "Writer's Inspiration" board
          My MC in The Second Cellar                         The cellar door in SC                                          Aunt Becky in SC

I'm working on an interview with a fellow writer who has a novel set to release in March. This morning, I pinned the cover on my B&BB board. Within two minutes, another user had repinned to her page, exposing it to a whole new audience. Imagine how many people will see that cover by tomorrow morning! Further, it links directly back to the author's page where they can pre-order it!

The possibilities are endless. How about you, gentle reader? Are you a pinster? How do you use the site? What might you do to promote your own writing, as well as the work of your fellow scribes? What dangers or problems do you see? What warnings would you give? I look forward to reading your comments.

WARNING! (24 February 2012)  If you're on, you probably know you can "click through" to the source of an image, which usually is a benign blog or Web site. Someone repinned a face of a  boy with a big smile from my "Childhood" board. The caption read that he was an amazing young man, so I thought I'd click through to read his "amazing" story. It took me to an extremely obscene site. Ugh! I often do click through, especially if I want to scan a recipe or a DIY idea, but I haven't done that with the people pages. Of course, I immediately deleted the pin. Satan is up to his old, old, old tricks of taking something useful and perverting it to achieve his own agenda.  From now on, I'll trace each image to its source before repinning. Be ever vigilant.
Write on!
Because of Christ,

Monday, February 20, 2012

An Author's Voice: Innate or Developed?

One of the most challenging hurdles for a beginning writer is finding his or her “voice.” What does “voice” mean, why is it so important and how is it different from point-of-view? A well-developed “voice” is a technique used by writers to help a reader “see” the unfolding events in a story through the eyes of one or more characters. Since an author creates those characters, he or she knows their family dynamic, background, environment, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, loves, failures, vulnerabilities and fears. The better the author knows a character, the more real they will become. An effective voice is a crucial element to keep the reader turning the pages, and it’s manifested with active (as opposed to passive) phrasing, dialogue and narrative as it draws them deeper into the fictional world.

Is an author’s voice like a fingerprint, unique to that one person? Some suggest it’s innate and writers are “born” with it. Some believe voice is learned or developed after much practice, trial and error. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it could be a combination of both. Just as some recording artists are easily identifiable (think Adele, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand), other vocalists’ voices are more generic. Authors should never be content to simply “blend in” with the crowd; they want to rise above the rest and shine! But how?

Showing is the best way to illustrate my point, so below are two examples from my March 2012 release, Twin Hearts (third in The Lewis Legacy Series, but it can stand on its own):

Example #1: Weaving his way through the room of a hundred or so women in red hats of all sizes and shapes—pretty much a reflection of their owners—Josh was a wonder to behold. A number of the ladies looked at the guys as if they were dessert, but they smiled and laughed as they went about their task, ignoring the middle-aged hormones in overdrive. It was as close to swooning as anything she’d ever seen. Based on all the fanning going on, there were enough hot flashes in the room to bake a cake.

Example #2: She didn’t want to feel such a strong attraction for Josh, but her heart and pulse weren’t listening. Don’t look at the eyes. If she repeated it to herself enough times, would it keep her from succumbing to his charms? Those eyes had been her undoing before and would be again if she didn’t watch herself. So much for the self-pep talk. A whole lot of good it did. Why he felt the need to dress in one of his fancy power suits was beyond her, but then again, here she sat in a dress costing the equivalent of a monthly car payment for Ladybug. Hypocrisy was highly overrated sometimes.

Both of the above examples are in the point-of-view of my heroine. Do you see where her “voice” comes into play? Even without knowing anything about this character, you get a good sense of who she is, her sense of humor, her powers of observation, and understand she has a history with Josh. Look at the last two sentences of each paragraph. Those are my zingers, but they’re not always at the end of the paragraph. However, writers should always try to end chapters with a word or a sentence that will hook the reader into turning the page in order to find out what happens next. One of the best compliments I ever received is when a reader said, “I’ve learned to stop reading your books in the middle of the chapter. Once I read the end of a chapter, I have to keep going.”

As authors, we love reviews describing our books with adjectives like fresh, innovative, effortless and engaging. More often than not, those words are referring to the writer’s voice. It’s that element of a novel differentiating it from the rest of the crowd which makes the writing shine, stand out and worthy of attention. Finding one’s writing voice can sometimes be elusive, and it can become a source of great frustration. Persevere and don’t allow it to deter you from writing your best. Perhaps it’s hidden, but I firmly believe a unique voice is within every author, waiting to be discovered and revealed. I’d like to suggest the following five ways to help discover your voice:

#1: Know your characters from the inside out.
#2: Keep the voice true to the character’s point-of-view.
#3: Be an observer of people and events, but also the ironies, humor, tragedies and triumphs of life. It makes you a better writer overall, but it also helps infuse your characters with personality so they almost leap off the page—and into the hearts and minds of readers.
#4: Write what you know and write passionately from your soul.
#5: Approach every character and story as if it were your first or your last. Make them count.

Remember this: even the most innovative plot can be dead-in-the-water without that well-developed voice. Conversely, even the dullest, plodding plot can be enthralling if told with a masterful voice.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today, and I wish all of you God’s best as you read and write. Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16

Saturday, February 18, 2012

You've Got the Power

I did something today I've never done before. I walked my 70-year old mother through her first on-line shopping experience. I'll spare you all the gory details, but just picture this: I have the computer; she has the need for new pants. We're on the phone together and she knows nothing about websites, on-line shopping, or the number of the specific Levi's she wants to purchase. So, as I try to find the perfect pair of pants for my gray-haired momma who is under 95 pounds and stands 5-foot, 1-inch, including her cow-lick, I’m also trying to help her understand the art of on-line shopping. We successfully found the jeans of her dreams and I got them for 25% off and free shipping. But I digress.

This experience prompted me to post about it on Facebook which elicited a rather interesting and lengthy conversation with some friends about the lack of techno- know-how of our aging parents.

 I thought about my own journey with technology. Before I graduated from high school 20 years ago, I learned to type on a typewriter. College afforded a little more technology but computers were basically fancy word processors, to use one you went and waited your turn in the lab, and I didn’t even have an email account.

 Since starting this journey of writing, I’ve learned to cut and paste—on a screen, not with art supplies, post a review, send a fax, create and update a blog, post a status update and a tweet, and a slew of other things that seem commonplace today.

 And I’ll likely learn new things, things that haven’t even been thought of yet. And I’ll do it because it is my job. Just as a surgeon needs to comprehend his instruments or a chef needs to know his recipes, I must make it my business to master my business.

 There are a few ways you can learn technology even when you feel like you’ve just stepped from the pages of Stone Age Today.

Ø  Read books, study on-line, or ask questions. Use the knowledge gained by others to your own advantage.
Ø  Take classes at the local community college, library, or computer store. Often they're free or inexpensive.
Ø  Ask a teenager. Chances are whatever new-fangled thing you need to learn, he or she already knows and will teach you in exchange for food.

 So, I’m curious. Are you letting lack of technology know-how hold you back or are you on the cutting edge of all things geek? What do you do when faced when learning something new? How do you stay current in this ever-changing world?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, February 17, 2012

Time, time, time ...

I won't amaze anyone by saying this is written at the county fairgrounds on my laptop via WiFi while my kids are at their 4-H Dairy Club meeting.

These kinds of technological short-cuts surround all of us now. It's new to me, but sometimes my "Oh, wow!" reactions just earn me some eye-rolls from the kids.

To an extent constantly updated technology help all of us make use of our time.

As a writer, though, I often find myself longing for more time. Big uninterrupted chunks of time. Maybe in my sweats, hoodie, fuzzy slippers and with a hot cup of good coffee right at hand. I don't know when I ever experienced that, though. Before working in town, the kids were a lot younger and we had a lot more cattle and things happening on the farm. Now I have to grab bits of time when I can.

However ... so many evenings when I sit down to write, I wander off into the world of Facebook and browsing various sites for the latest news.

So how do I embrace the new normal of working in town and finding time to write and take care of my other responsibilities?

I have to make some choices. Lately I've been trying to "fast" from my favorite news websites, and only checking Facebook once a day. (Sorry, cousins!) I do try to take the laptop with me whenever I might have to wait on the kids at ballgames, 4-H meetings or appointments. I also try to keep a pen and scrap paper handy in case a cool idea crosses my mind. Actually, writing on the laptop while not online has worked out well.

I would love to hear other ideas for making more time for writing. See you all tomorrow afternoon after work!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You Don't Want This Agent!

by Rachael Phillips, with appreciation for help from Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Stevens, "Testing the Agent Waters" in Writers Digest

Given today's publishing climate, most of us find it advisable to procure an agent, a business and literary advocate who will help sell our work, manage our careers, and when nobody seems to appreciate our literary genius, hold our hands.

However, we do not need someone handing us an anvil disguised as an agent contract. The agent industry is largely unregulated, so a plumber with no other qualifications other than he reads Reader's Digest and resembles Charles Dickens can hang up an agent shingle, establish a Web site, and sign unwary authors unless they heed the red flags listed below:

The agent charges fees for reading/representing your work. She can tout these as reading fees, retainers, set-up fees, evaluation, editing, or you-breathe-therefore-you-will-pay-me fees. If you are unpublished, she may say she'll refund your money when your manuscript sells. Run away screaming if you encounter such a person. Good agents make money from selling manuscripts, not inventing fees.

Disclaimer: Some legitimate agents include minimal charges for copying, mailing and/or travel expenses in your contract. They supply you with itemized statements. Never sign with an agent who expects you to foot all the bills.

The agent writes/speaks/presents poorly. Warning signs include typos in correspondence, bad editing, poor phone skills, powder blue leisure suits and picking his nose. Even if this person appears legitimate, do you really want him to represent you to the industry?

The agent conceals his selling history. A new agent should evidence experience as an editor, sales director, author, agent's assistant, publicist, or book packager. A seasoned one should be able to name books she has sold and authors she has worked with. There is no ethical problem with divulging this information. If the agent says, "My client list is confidential," it's probably nonexistent.

The agent displays overall industry ignorance/lack of skill. If you know more than the agent, don't sign with her.

The agent presents an unprofessional Web site and/or e-mail. Freebie sites indicate the agent is not making enough money by sales. Stay away from agents with Homestead, AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo Web sites with long URLs and banner ads. No cutesey e-mails, either. Do you want someone with loveskitties@cybernet to represent you to editors?

The agent tries to re-create clients in his image: "Always keep in mind that although an agent may possess the map to get you to your destination, the car still belongs to you." Christina Hamlett.

The agent makes it difficult to break off the relationship. Do not sign away your life to an agent; We're talking business here, not wedding bells. Most legitimate agent contracts allow either party to send a 60-day notice if she/he wants out.

A good agent (and I'm incredibly blessed to have one) can help make your career. A bad one, representing your work poorly, may cause repercussions long after you've fired him. Editors may dislike your work simply because of the bad agent. And you may find it difficult to persuade a good agent to accept your work, since it's already been shopped in the industry by the loser.

Bottom line: do your homework before you sign on the dotted line!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wicked Hurry

Leave late. Drive fast. Pray on the go. Hurry can be a way of life.

Hurry, according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, is 1a: to carry or go with haste <hurry them to the hospital>, 1b: to impel to rash or precipitate action 2a: to impel to greater speed: prod <used spurs to hurry the horse>, 2b: expedite, 2c: to perform with undue haste <hurry a minuet>

How can hurry be wicked?

Click a little farther in Merriam-Webster's and you'll find that among other things wicked is a state of being 1: morally very bad; evil, and 3b: causing or likely to cause harm, distress, or trouble <a wicked storm>

Hurry harms others. If in my race through a day I notice others' faces, I often don't recognize the pain in their eyes or their voices. Worse, if I do recognize it, I am all too often callous. I might not ask, afraid of that it will cost more than I want to pay.

Hurry recently troubled my husband, who surprised me with a dream anniversary trip. Rather than enjoying the time with him from the start, I took more than a day to fret over a writing submission.

Hurry distresses writing, too. It makes a mind run shallow and words run dry.

Hurry distresses readers, too. Saturday I met my writers group, who had received the fretted-over writing. They shifted in their seats, unsure where to begin their kind criticism. The ideas, though strong, seemed like stones spanning a river. As readers they felt forced to leap from one to the next without a moment to steady themselves. They'd wanted to savor each idea, but I wouldn't have it. In short, I had offered four pages of hurry. Whatever was good in them was all but lost.

On this frozen-silent Sunday morning God pours forth speech and I return to my senses. I repent of self-centeredness, of idolizing accomplishment, of the slipshod belief that writing should come easy, and of coveting others' strengths that, if mine, would enable me to accomplish so much more. I relinquish the expectation that God support my fast-forward modus operandi and place myself under His eternal, altogether lovely rule. His words wash a weary soul.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
(Psalm 90:1-2 NASB)

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
(Isaiah 40:22 NASB)

For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
"I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.
(Isaiah 57:15 (NASB)

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and
My burden is light."
(Matthew 11:28-30 NASB)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Time and Blood

I always wonder how someone can write in coffee shops or restaurants and get anything done. Complete strangers will come up to someone writing and feel free to ask all kinds of questions about it.Usually the verbal exchange will end with, "Oh, you know, I could write a book. But I don't have as much time as you." 

Tell me, writers, how many of you have heard that? Have you even said it before you started? Another common lament is "If only I didn't have a day job!"

In other words, the writer MAKING time to write is obviously a layabout and lazy person who gets scads of money and probably smokes and drinks (or at least drinks coffee) and eats DeBrand's chocolate all day. Their words go on the page like pouring melted butter on hot bread with an ending to leave the reader full and satisfied. Right? Is that how it is with you?

  Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." (Nowadays that's called a keyboard, Ernie.) 

My friend, W. Terry Whalin, a writer and editor and publisher wrote a very helpful book, Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. He has this in his book, "Jerrold Jenkins, CEO of this group [Jenkins Group,] estimates that more than 6 million Americans have actually written a manuscript--just over 2 percent of the population. Publishers Weekly recently said that more than 1,000 books were published each week during 2003."

That sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. Writing the book is the first big battle, but getting it published is a whole new battle. If you have a desire to write a book, then the first thing to do is to find the time to write first. Then, you must find out all you can about writing craft, professionalism and the proper channels to take in order to sell your book, too. 

This takes time, as any published author, editor or agent will tell you. But again, the first thing to do is put your behind in the chair and crank out the story. That's easier said than done. It helps if you have an ending, but most authors will tell you that they did not just sit there bleeding out words and--shazzam!--it was published. There is a lot of stuff in between "Once upon a time" to "The End."

How do you find the time? Well, you cut something in order to become proficient at that thing you desire. A doctor doesn't just decide to be a doctor and walk into a hospital and say, "Hey,I'm going to doctor on you now. I finally made the decision." 

And also, a wannabe writer doesn't just call up an editor and say, "Hey, I've got this idea for a book, I know you're going to love it." Or worse,(well, depends on if you're an editor or a writer, I suppose) you don't approach a writer/author and say, "I have a great idea for you to write for me." (Believe me, most authors have enough of their own ideas. That's another business relationship entirely--one YOU pay for.) 

One prolific author I know was a full-time wife, full-time mom/then grandmother and a court reporter. She typed all day long. But when she decided to start writing fiction and "live her dream," she took a night class with author/professor, Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, at the university where he started a professional writing major in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Taylor University. (This program is now at Taylor University, Upland, IN.) She got up extra early every morning to write before typing at her job all day, never knowing if she’d ever publish. She admitted that she is not a morning person.Then, she’d go to her night class once a week. (I was in that class with her.)

Today she is doing what she loves--an "overnight success"--Diann Hunt took many years to become that overnight success, and a lot of behind in her chair. You can check out her blog with her writing buddies at Even though life hasn't been easy these days, she continues to write. She made the decision to write and make time to improve, too. Check out The Girls Write Out gang of Diann Hunt, Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck and Denise Hunter (3/4ths of these women are Hoosier ACFW authors, and we just love Kristin, too.) :) which just published the book Smitten (Thomas Nelson.) (Also, note Hannah Alexander, another one of the Girls Write Out crew.) Every one of those girls started off putting in time and money to learn to write, the rejections, the years of not publishing.

You make the decision to WRITE and to give up something in your life in order to do what you love. Where you spend your time says a lot about what you are passionate about--but you have to make those choices. Joining the American Christian Fiction Writers is a great place to make that step to excellence and commitment. Once you join ACFW, and if you live in Indiana, do come join our chapter! (And if you live somewhere else, there are chapters all over, even for international members.)

"It's never too late to become what you might have been." George Eliott said. Just start today. Take that step. 

If you're a writer/author, what do you give up to follow this dream? Do you have advice for anyone who might come across this site?

And, if you want to be a writer, what could you do to free up some time each week to write? 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is what you read believable?

One of the lessons I learned early as a writer was to write what I know. That's why my first heroine had the name Dani, lived in Lincoln, NE, and worked at a TV station. That's why my second hero and heroine were based on my grandparents and their love story in my hometown of North Platte, NE. That's also why Ciara Turner, the heroine of Dying for Love in Cherry Blossom Capers, is an attorney living in the neighborhood she does in the D.C. area.

You see, I went to law school inside the Beltway at George Mason University School of Law. One goal of many law students is to land a prestigious clerkship between graduation and that first law firm job. We start preparing for the application process in our second year. Then we send out approximately 100 packets of information to sitting judges. In my case, that packet included a copy of my published casenote, plus cover letter, resume, and more. I was targeting judges in Indiana, Virginia, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, and a couple other places.

Because I thought I might want to teach at some point, a clerkship was an important piece of the puzzle. It plain looks good. But it also gave me an incredible opportunity to see the legal system from a judge's perspective. After interviewing with several US district court or magistrate court judges, I was blessed to land a clerkship with Senior Judge Loren Smith of the Court of Federal Claims. It was a great experience. One that has  opened many doors for me.

So if you read Dying for Love and wonder if the relationship between former clerks and their judge is realistic, it is. When you are working for a judge and taking his thoughts and legal theories to craft drafts of opinions and legal memos, you develop a deep relationship. One that would make you think you are better equipped than the marshals or deputies assigned to find his killer.

Have you ever wondered if something you read was believable?

Learn more about Cara Putman and her books at her website.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing Through Emotional Pain

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Life happens. And sometimes it happens painfully. Professional writers must write even when their hearts are broken, and life is delivering its most powerful punches. 

I’ve lost two dear friends within a few months of one another and have another devastating situation in my family right now. Crying myself to sleep, navigating my days in a vice-like fog and swallowing a constant lump in my throat—these physical reactions to emotional pain challenge my ability, nay, my desire to write. But write I must, because, you see, I’m a writer. And that’s what we do. And the publishing world doesn’t care that I have issues. The publishing world will go right along publishing without me. 

The only way we can write through hard days is to keep our focus. And frankly, the only way we can survive through hard days is to keep our focus. The focus isn’t on the writing. The focus for the Christian writer is on Him.

Psalm 22:5 says, They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed (NIV). 

In Kay Arthur’s book, As Silver Refined: Answers to Life's Disappointments, she writes about how life’s disappointments are really His Appointments. By changing just one letter in the word, we have a whole new perspective because the focus is on Him. 

We can trust Him, even when things don’t make sense.

We can trust Him to give us the words to write even when we’re so broken we can barely move our pen over the page, or our fingers across the keyboard.

We can cry unto God, and not be disappointed.

We will be appointed.

We will write.

"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later"
(Revelation 1:19, NIV).

 Karla Akins is a pastor's wife, mother of five, grandma to five beautiful little girls and author of O Canada! Her Story. She lives in North Manchester with her husband, twin teenage boys with autism, and three silly dogs. Her favorite color is purple, favorite hobby is book-hoarding, and favorite food group is cupcakes.