Sunday, July 29, 2012

Writing Christian Science-Fiction

by Darren Kehrer

"To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before"
"A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away..."
"To Infinity and Beyond..."
"Roads? Where we are going we don't need roads..."
"Beam Me Up, Scotty!"
"May The Force Be With You!"

Several of these phrases might conjure up images in your mind's eye, a remembering of movies you watched at some point in your life, or even something you just watched yesterday. Yes, these are all science-fiction references. But, science-fiction can also be Christian themed (or flavored if you will). If you are not 100% sure what Christian speculative-fiction is, then here is a brief description: Christian speculative-fiction is speculative fiction that uses Christian themes and incorporates the Christian worldview through devices of science-fiction or fantasy-adventure.

My translation: Using science-fiction or fantasy themes, Christian speculative-fiction imagines what if, what could be, what could have been, what happened, and what will happen...all focused through a Theological, Biblical lens. Being speculative, the story does not have to take place in our own time, on the planet Earth, or even in our own "reality." For example, The Left Behind series takes place in the future, but on our Earth as we know it. The Chronicles of Narnia is set on our Earth, in the past, and in Narnia (which is not on our Earth nor in our modern day time-frame). And yet, both tell stories structured with Christian themes.

Christian speculative-fiction, while a small percentage of Christian fiction, has seen a steady growth over the past several years. Speculative-fiction has several sub genres within it by the way: science-fiction, fantasy-adventure, historical-future, etc). I prefer the science-fiction side of the coin. With the popularity of The Left Behind series and The Chronicles of Narnia (also helped via the movie versions), the growth of Christian speculative-fiction is growing (as noted by more and more of this genre type on the book shelves). Young adult and young readers sections are becoming the popular place for this genre. There is even a new publisher that strictly promotes titles in this field: Marcher Lord Press. Even at the ACFW conference in Indianapolis, there was even a class on this subject.

The trick in writing Christian speculative-fiction, however, is to make sure you do not cross any theological boundaries or contradict Biblical principles. This can set you on the wrong path and turn your readers away. A writer must remember that speculation does not mean contradiction. One must keep that in mind when telling stories that use these elements.

One advantage an author has in writing in this genre is that fact that it is a relatively "new" genre....meaning, it's easier to come up with a "new" concept. You can only re-invent the wheel so many times. In this area, the wheel has just been invented.

Bottom line: God's imagination makes ALL things possible. If God didn't have an imagination, we wouldn't be here. I feel blessed to be one that God has allowed to write in this genre. To imagine what is, what was, and what could, or anywhere. Don't be surprised if you continue to see this genre grow.

A few published Authors who write speculative Christian-Fiction:
Sharon Hinck Bryan Davis
Karen Hancock CS Lewis
Donita K. Paul Robert Elmer
The Miller Brothers Kathy Tyers
Chris Walley Morgan Busse  
Austin Boyd              Steve Rzasa
LB Graham Chuck Black
Alton Gansky            Jeff Gerke
Kirk Outerbridge
Stuart Vaughn Stockton
Rick Barry

Until next time, remember that thirty minutes of creative writing a day, keeps your imagination here to stay. Write from the past, write in the present, and always write into the future.

........Oh, and for those readers that have followed my previous posts, this post has been written to the soundtrack of Kung Fu Panda.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Three Individuals You Need In Your Life

By Jeff Reynolds

I had a coworker who had a sign which read, “Each day, I do the work of three men.” Underneath were pictures of Moe, Larry, and Curly. Sometimes I can relate, though in my case I'd be more likely to have photos of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

I once heard that we need three people in our lives. No, this isn't a reference for the Stooges, or the Marx Brothers for that matter.

Maybe the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler? I think not.

How about the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion? Believe it or not, that's a correct step down the yellow brick road. And a guess that I'm referring to Randy, Paula, and Simon (with a case for Ryan being the fourth) will get some favorable comments from the judges.

Seminary professor Howard Hendricks writes in his contribution to Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper that every man needs three individuals in his life: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy. I guess in a woman's case it would be a Pauline, a Barbara, and a Tina – or in roles, maybe a Naomi, a Deborah, and a Ruth; possibly a Priscilla, a Phoebe, and a Rhoda.

If you're guessing I'm speaking about mentoring, give yourself a pat on the back. And I doubt Groucho and brothers or Moe and his friends would be the type of mentors you'd like – though I consider the Riddler a major influence in my life. (I grew up a couple of miles from Disneyland, and consider my role models to include Goofy, Dopey, and the Cookie Monster.)

Hendricks was dealing with life in general, or is it our Spiritual life? Same difference. Not at all disagreeing with him (and I doubt you would as well), I would like to narrow his concept for the sake of this blog to writing. In other words, we need a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy as authors.


A Paul (or Naomi or Priscilla) is the typical mentor role. It's fitting I'm writing this on Father's Day, since fathers and mothers are the prototype for that role. Others who fill that spot include teachers, pastors, and coaches. A writer needs this leadership as well.

I currently do not have any conscious writing mentors – meaning those who fill that role do it without knowing they're doing it. Agatha Christie, Allistair MacLean, Frank Peretti, YA baseball author John R. Cooper, and Randy Singer are those I consider mentors, and I hate to admit Stephen King fits in that role as well (his worldview is 100% the reason why I hate to admit it). Some songwriters also deserve some credit: Steve Taylor, Keith Green, Rich Mullins, and Don Francisco would fit the bill, as would hymnists Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.


A Barnabas (or Deborah or Phoebe) is a peer. Hendricks puts this as a person who likes you but isn't impressed by you. For those familiar with Toastmasters, the evaluation program fills that role – a good evaluation points out the strong points but also has a point for the speaker to improve.

My Barnabases – actually, they're more the Deborah/Phoebe types – are my critique partners. Since November, I've been in a small critique group with fellow ACFW members Marguerite Gray, Kristi Ann Hunter, Joanne Meusburger, and Ellen Parker. That has been a great experience working with these ladies, each of which have different styles of critiquing as well as writing. Kristi and Ellen, by the way, were Genesis semi-finalists (Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense, respectively). I find it interesting having critiques from people who aren't quite my genre.


A Timothy (Ruth/Rhoda) are people to be mentored. After an elective session at the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference last November, Keith Drury told me that writers are looking for people to mentor them when they should be concentrating on looking for someone they can mentor. I say a hearty amen to that. As an unpublished author, I'm not sure if I'm at a place of being a valuable mentor, but then you never know.

Do you have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy? Or are you settling for a Moe, a Larry, and a Curly?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Just the Facts, Ma'am"

"Just the facts, Ma'am." That was Sergeant Joe Friday's standard request when interviewing victims on the classic television show, Dragnet. At least that's what the lore says. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, Sergeant Friday never uttered those exact words. Still, he did make it clear that he wanted to hear only facts.

Even facts can be spun and distorted, but in most situations giving "just the facts" is less likely to get you in trouble.

That's also true in copyright law, and the reason is simple. Facts can't be copyrighted.

The U.S. Supreme Court explained it this way: "[F]acts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship. The distinction is one between creation and discovery: the first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its existence."* Since facts are not original works of authorship, they cannot be copyrighted.

According to the cases, the following are uncopyrightable facts: telephone numbers, names, addresses, information on the current status of basketball games, recipe ingredients, quotes from third-party interviews, and historical events.

But can't you copyright a biography or other nonfiction built around facts? Yes, you can. Although you cannot copyright the actual facts, you can copyright the words you use to describe them. Those words do have to contain a minimal level of creativity, but note the word "minimal."

Biographies easily meet this test. You can't stop people from writing about Beatrix Potter's life, but you can prohibit them from using your words to do it.

Is that also true for telephone books and cookbooks and other compilations of facts? Stay tuned for next month's post.

Kathryn Page Camp


* Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 347 (1991).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Keeper by Suzanne Woods Fisher

A Writer’s Book Review 
by guest blogger Dawn Crandall

There were four reasons I decided to read The Keeper, the first in Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Stoney Ridge Seasons series earlier this month.

          1.) I was invited to take part in a Litfuse Blog Tour for the second book in this series.

          2.) I got this book for free for Kindle back in May... and it was just sitting there waiting for me.

          3.) I have NEVER once read an Amish novel in my life. I thought I should try the genre.

          4.) I’ve decided that it’s probably a good idea to read the authors who are also represented by my literary agent, Joyce Hart.

This was my first go at this, and since I am a rather picky reader, I went in praying.

What I found out right away was that I adore Suzanne Woods Fisher’s writing voice! I think she could have been writing about drag-racing farm equipment through muddy fields and I would have wanted to keep reading. I LOVED the characters, their farm, the name of their farm, their dynamic family relationships, their community... EVERYTHING. I started reading this book on Tuesday night... and I didn’t want to stop.

But I had to. I’d told my mother I would go with her to Shipshewana, Indiana on Independence Day. I’ve been there before. It’s small a town at the heart of an Amish community that’s only about an hour from where I was born and raised. I don’t even know how many times I’ve been there in my life... but not once before this last Wednesday did I feel like I had an inkling of where they were coming from. I thought about them constantly, wanted to study them (I’m a people-watcher anyway), and most of all, I wanted to get my kindle out and keep reading The Keeper. When I got home that evening I finally had my chance. I sat on my bed for the whole rest of the night until I was finished.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this book. And I’m not able to say that very often. Suzanne Woods Fisher made me love every word and how she placed them together. It wasn’t just the story—although the story from start to finish was perfection—it was the way she put the story together that had me hooked. She uses her words so wisely! There were so many times she amazed me by the depth and meaning she was trying to portray to the reader—I’m sorry I can’t even remember a single one! I really should have taken better notes... but I was so enthralled! I just had to keep reading!

The title, The Keeper, is a great example... in that the hero in the story is a young drifter of an Amish man who hasn’t kept anything in the last six years... except for the bees he keeps... although no one ever calls him a bee-keeper, but rather, The Bee Man. And he, of all of the people in the story is the last person who would want to be called, or anyone else would even dare call a keeper in reference to falling in love and getting married.

Poetical is a perfect word to describe it. 

Celebration is in order!... for I’ve found another one of those “go-to” authors who I know will not disappoint. And she has so many other books for me to find and read! I have The Choice and The Haven setting right here beside me waiting for the next chance I’m free! Can you tell how excited I am? Sometimes I go weeks before finding a book that I actually ENJOY reading!

I give Suzanne Woods Fisher’s The Keeper 5 stars
Dawn Crandall writes long inspirational historical romantic suspense from first person point of view and is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She has written two books which are on submission as part of a series, and is working on the third. Soon after finishing her first book and becoming a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) in July 2011 she attended the ACFW national conference where she gained literary representation and soon-after became a 2012 ACFW Genesis Contest Semi-Finalist. She has a BA in Christian Education from Taylor University, writes full-time and lives in northeast Indiana with her ever-supportive engineer husband, Jonathan, and their two cats, Lilly and Pumpkin. Dawn co-hosts a book review blog called A Passion for Pages at and tweets those reviews at @dawnwritesfirst. To find out more about her, visit her author webpage at or her Facebook author page:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Study in Character

Well, if anything will cause you to think about character, it is a house full of 9- and 10-year old boys. Son #2 turned ten today and last night he invited just a few of his buds for an evening of swimming, video games, playing outside in the dark, and eating way too much food.

On my personal blog I call Son #2 Jot because jot means "the smallest character". He is my littlest guy and he is for sure a character. He adores collecting rocks and bones and discovers fossils nearly every week in random places. His tender heart always roots for the under-dog and never wants to see anyone left out, teased, or hurt. As the baby of the family he excels at making us laugh and lightening any tense situation.

As I served up pizza, cake and ice cream last night, I listened to their banter, their negotiating skills, and their humor--all in light of their individual personalities. I have a fondness for studying personality, so this was fascinating to me.

Of the five boys sitting around my dining room table there was the Peacemaker, the Sports Star, the Entertainer, the Old Man, and the Loyal Friend. It was a study in characterization just listening from the other side of the door.

So today I've been thinking about character and my favorite characters.

So, my question for you is: How do you create believable, interesting, three-dimensional characters? What sources, resources, websites, books, charts, or other things do you use when you develop your characters? I'd love to hear some dialogue about how you get those gripping heroes, heroines, and villains.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, July 20, 2012

Times and Seasons ...

Given that Indiana's two seasons are winter and road construction, of course I was in a "cone zone" on the way home from work. As I waited, the radio station played an old song by The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" which is surprisingly based on Ecclesiastes: A time for every purpose under Heaven.

(Hoping that the linkie works!)

I had not heard that song in years. I remember listening to it as I drove down to Huntington years ago on assignment to take livestock photos for The Farmer's Exchange newspaper. At the time I was single and figured it was statistically improbable that I would ever marry and have a family of my own.

Some of my newspaper assignments made me feel like I was on the outside looking in as others lived more meaningful lives. People my age were married, had families and some of their older children were showing their animals in 4-H. "Lonesome me" took their pictures, then returned home to my little apartment and whatever the cat had fixed for supper.

Those years at the newspaper were one season of my life.

Seasons change as the Lord works in our lives. Along came my husband, and children of our own, cows, calves, a horse and a pony. Any and all of them could be at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair this week. Along with me -- the tired mom dealing out sandwiches, washing cow tails and keeping track of kids' show clothes and entry numbers.

Seasons can change over a long period of time, or in a day. Although we are in a drought, today the farm was blessed with almost three inches of rain. The season changed from certain disaster to hope that the hay and soybeans at least will make a crop. We're not sure what will happen to the corn.

And so it is with writing. For me there have been seasons of doodling and writing stories in long hand on legal pads. Then came college classes in English and news writing. After a brief season of unemployment I began working at the newspapers and thinking "All grist to this mill"as journalism took me way outside my comfort zone. Later I was a stay-at-home mom and farmer's wife starting on an epic 400-page romance about a farmer and a news reporter. That story is under the bed somewhere. But somehow I blundered onto the Internet, discovered ACFW and writing friends including Lisa Lickel and Mary Allen. So now I'm in a season of writing fiction.

You might be in a season that looks like a long drought, or worse yet, a permanent late February and early March mud season.

But seasons change, and the Lord guides us on our writing journey as in everything else. Sometimes it seems to take years for a season to change but other times just a day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Do I Have Answers for You!

by Rachael Phillips

This summer at family reunions, weddings and anniversary celebrations, you, a writer, no doubt have encountered numerous questions regarding your career. Though you are a wordsmith, a master of communication, you often find yourself at a loss for answers. Fear not. After extensive research (mostly eavesdropping in restrooms at writing conferences), I offer succinct replies that should help you navigate such inquiries with aplomb. For example:    

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I plagiarize.

Q: You work at home, don’t you? I wish I could. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about looking good, either.  
A: Yes. [Staring hard at questioner’s hairdo and outfit.] Are you sure you don’t work at home, too?

Q: Writing is a nice little hobby, but I’m sure you have tons of time. Would you please: unlock the door for my plumber/move my baby grand(s) up the stairs/watch my kids, who have head lice/sand and paint our fleet of church buses?   
A: No.         

Q: Did you know God told me you’re supposed to write my book for free?
A: [Big smile] That works. He told me you’re supposed to be my free maid for a year.

Q: Do you write only when you’re inspired?
A: William Faulkner answered that: “Yes. And I get inspired every morning at nine.”

Q: You keep saying you’re a writer. When are you going to publish a book?
A:  It’s only a matter of time before someone appreciates my brilliance. Yours? I’m not so sure.    

Q: My brother/cousin/cocker spaniel published his book with Premier Predator Press. Why all this bother with agents, editors and publishers? Why don’t you just sign a contract with the PPP?      
A: I prefer to keep my literary integrity. Also, my gold fillings and my first born.       

Q: How did you get your agent?
A: I held her at gunpoint.

Q: I’ve never actually written anything, but would you introduce me to her?
A: No. She has her own gun, now.

Q: A writer. Wow, is your family proud of you?
A: Absolutely. I’m sure they’ll tell me so, once I track down their new identities.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Love Letter to My Son (by JoAnn Durgin)

My theme verse is Matthew 5:16 (NASB): Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” I’d like to tell you a little about my son, Matthew. The above photo is out of date now, but it's one of my favorites because--although a more relaxed pose--it shows the distinct personalities of all three of my children. His “light” shines bright, and as a writer, I try to see the world as he does. As a result, it’s made me a better writer. You see, in Matthew’s eyes, the world is beautiful: there is no hate, no distrust—only a deep compassion and love. In essence, the way God wants us to see others.

Matthew is now 16 and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. It’s often misinterpreted by others as a mental deficiency, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he met you today and didn’t see you for months or even years, he’d call you by name from memory. He disconcerts strangers by waving, saying hello or telling them he loves them. Our son is atypical for the syndrome in that he’s extremely social and looks others straight in the eye. Experts don’t have definitive answers as to what causes Asperger’s, and there is no “cure.” In Matthew’s case, I wouldn’t want a cure. He’s not perfect, by any means, but he accepts life—and all that comes with it—with an untold measure of grace. He teaches me more than he knows.

We lived in the Boston area when we first understood Matthew was developmentally delayed. He didn’t walk on his own until he was 15 months old, didn’t speak “our” language until well past his third birthday. He wandered off and got lost at a busy mall when he was a toddler, found by an anonymous angel of mercy we never met. Not long after, he wandered out the front door and into the middle of our fairly busy street. I thank the Lord every day for His faithful watch care over our little guy, and know He has big plans for him.
The church secretary heard him “preaching” in the sanctuary one day. He’d pushed a chair to the podium and was pointing to the Bible. She couldn’t understand anything he said except for “Jesus!” every other word. When he was six, we took Matthew to a highly-esteemed child developmental psychologist in Boston who basically questioned his IQ and gave us the “he can become a functioning member of society” speech.

Through the years, Matthew was in special needs classes. He wore a weighted vest to keep him upright and received help for speech and motor skills. He’s always been coordinated, never clumsy. His drawings and Lego structures reveal an uncommon sense of depth and perception. He’s never been bullied in school and his schoolmates and teachers have overwhelmingly embraced him. What a blessing! Now, he only needs extra assistance in English; he made the honor roll last term with the highest grades in his biology and algebra classes.

Matthew looks “normal,” but when he speaks, others notice something is different. It’s in the slight head tic every now and then or his body language. He adores his sisters and has always been a loving child, but with none of the emotional difficulties often associated with autism. At a special school event, he befriended a girl born with no arms. He asked her, “Does it hurt?” and ended up pushing her wheelchair all evening. In church, he asked an elderly widow, “How are you doing today?” In both instances, he listened, he cared, and he gained a friend for life.

We dropped off Matthew at church camp recently. It was the first time he’d ever been away from home without anyone he knew. My husband, Jim, seemed hesitant to leave him. I felt a peace and said, “He’ll shine.” When we picked him up six days later, Matthew was on the front row, clapping and singing along with the praise band. The kids made posters where they wrote their names and others added comments. Beside Matthew’s signature? “An angel in disguise” and “Lives and breathes his faith.” The director of the camp as well as several counselors told us our son led the prayer in chapel twice. Many embraced him and hugged Mathew goodbye. Part of Asperger’s is inappropriate emotional reactions. He used to laugh in sad times, but this time he cried when he said goodbye to his new friends. Our boy is growing up.

When I write, I try to incorporate that life-affirming positivity and let my light shine for His glory. My characters struggle with the inevitable challenges of life, but strive to live for Him the best way they can. My Matthew is embodied in a young boy named Michael coming later in my Lewis Legacy Series, at a time when I’ve hopefully gained more readers to bring more awareness and attention to autism. All in all, I strive to live my life the way my son does—for the Son.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting an Eyeball on Your Writing

Getting an eyeball on your writing
 I've been writing blog posts for many years now. I started after a couple published writing friends said I needed to have a blog if I was a writer. We (writers) now have so many places to get a "presence" on the internet, that it has become a topic of conversation among writers where to spend precious writing time. But back then, blogging was about the only place to do that. I started my blog so I could find my "voice" in writing again and just see what interested me. 

I had the blogspot with the title "Christian Book Scout" for a full year before I ever posted. All I knew is that I had published a lot of book reviews and read a lot of manuscripts and books. I wrote magazine and newspaper articles and tried my hand at several nonfiction book proposals and manuscripts, too. I did a stint on a mini-syndicated parenting column, but I found that I hated revealing too much about my four boys and the privacy issues. I wrote a book column in a magazine for many years and liked that assignment. But on my blog and on others' blogs I've posted on just about everything that interests me. It's a topic list about as jumbled as my brain. 

Sometime back something clicked after I had yet another disaster at my house. I'm describing my disaster in great detail to my friends and they were laughing at the way I talked about it. This has been my whole life--one "disaster" after another and me making fun of myself through it all. Me, leaning wholly on God while in the midst of it. God keeping me from a much worse outcome. Somehow I always picture myself in the middle of chaos, falling back on God (tripping into His waiting arms!) and Him smiling down at me. It's like Peter in the middle of the storm at sea. I have mentioned more than once how I'm like Peter. I can really relate to him.

Because of all this, I think my focus has cleared and my sweet spot in writing emerged. I have been in some very serious life and death situations, am married to a man who helps people through their own life and death situations, and I've learned that I just have to trust God and keep smiling through my gritted teeth. Grit--it can be dry as sand or sweet as sugar.In whatever circumstances, I'm looking for the way closest to God and Him calming me in the storm. It's the only viewpoint from which I can make sense of everything.

If you write enough, you start to see a pattern in theme, how you express it, where you feel you best express a character's conflicts. Writing becomes like your life. You begin to view the writing you're doing in the same way you view your life and your worldview.It does take a bit of standing back. You try to see your writing from a perspective outside yourself. 

So, do you think you're finding your sweet spot in writing? How do you get perspective on your voice, your characters, your choice of genre/settings? How do you see yourself as you're writing? (And is there anyone in the Bible you can relate to??)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Conversations That Matter

Diplomats like to use code phrases to describe what transpires in conversations behind closed doors. Examples:

“There was a candid exchange of views.” Meaning: We made no progress at all. Each side staked out its position and stacked sandbags around it.

“The talks were businesslike.” Meaning: We made a good beginning. Both sides put their demands on the table, agreed on an agenda to deal with them, and may have reached agreement on a few minor points.

“The meeting was cut short.” Meaning: We should have stayed at home. Our counterparts threw angry words (and perhaps a few shoes) at us, then stormed out of the room.

“An announcement is forthcoming.” Meaning: We’ve agreed on something rather significant. In fact, this might be one for the history books.

Thoughtful readers can discern in these communiqu├ęs whether a summit meeting made real progress or was just another stalemated “exchange of views.” So can the readers of your story dialogue.

Ask yourself these questions about each significant conversation in your narrative:

Do my characters simply state or restate their positions, or do they begin to change positions? Do they reveal their emotions or speak with cool detachment? Do they give the reader any clues about what will happen next? In fact, does their conversation advance the plot at all?

 Of course, you won’t be able to answer any of these questions if you have no significant conversations in your story, but that raises a bigger question: Why aren’t there?

Joe Allison and his wife Judy live in Anderson, IN. Joe is writing the second in a trilogy of historical novels set during the Great Depression.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Here’s an odd question for my fellow authors: Have you ever built a campfire?

If the answer is Yes, then pause and think how you did that. Do you find one dry stick and light it, then stand back to enjoy your “campfire”? Probably not. Even though you can put a match to one dry twig and get it to burn, thus producing a little light and a bit of heat, you gain a more exciting and dramatic effect when you combine a good number of crisscrossing pieces of wood. Built this way, those combined ingredients result in a brighter, hotter flame!

The campfire illustration reflects just one of the benefits you gain from meeting with fellow American Christian Fiction Writers. Sure, you could sit alone at a computer, pecking away in solitude to create manuscripts, and you can achieve some degree of success that way. However, you do your creative compulsion a great favor when you occasionally meet with fellow servants of God who enjoy linking words to fashion stories and articles. Discussing all the components of quality writing creates an atmosphere of creative synergy that is truly inspirational!

Very soon, on August 11, ACFW-Indiana will be offering another writers’ luncheon meeting in Kokomo with author and editor Holly Miller. Holly is a guest speaker you won’t want to miss. Not only has she served many years as editor at Saturday Evening Post, but she has written 14 books and thousands of published articles and short stories. She definitely knows publishing from both sides of the desk and will bring plenty of experience and advice. Her topic is a valuable one you may not have considered: “Building Your Platform as a Crossover Writer for Magazines.” I’m looking forward to her presentation. Please Mark August 11 on your calendar now, and then email your RSVP to right away to guarantee your reservation at The Quarry restaurant. We look forward to seeing you there! (See full details at

Rick Barry

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What if Romeo had been called Baxter?

"Oh, Baxter." "Oh, Amelia Bedelia"
Despite Romeo’s claims to the contrary—all that business about roses—names are important. Juliette would have loved him the same, but for readers and viewers, “Baxter, oh, Baxter, where art thou, Baxter?” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.
As a child, the Good Girls in my head had names like Aurora and Raina and Annie while the boys were Alistair and Alexander and John. Names I thought had integrity and strength. Bad Boys were Butch, Bill or Joe. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Others would have considered these fine, upstanding names. Whatever your personal preferences, names definitely leave a perception. When you name a character for strength, what names do you choose? Is it the same method for naming the evil or insincere personalities who populate your manuscripts?

Recently it was suggested that the names of two of my protagonists were outdated and readers might relate better if they underwent a name change. Hmm. I wonder. Is why I had trouble connecting with them myself? I usually choose names with care, but these two were such minor characters in the long ago, original version that I hadn’t bothered. I named her after someone I knew whose eyes I’d given her. I didn’t know she was a diva who would claw her way to center stage.

When choosing a name here are some points to ponder:
  • Names can reflect nationality and culture. Would you have a Hindi character named Rajesh MacGyver? Possibly, but it better not be by accident. 
  •  A strong name for readers from a different culture may not work for readers in mainstream USA.  I have known American men named Evelyn, Kaye, and Gayle. Uncommon in the US, but respectable British male names. Is your character carrying on the family name? Has a boy been named for Evelyn Waugh, his mother’s favorite British author? How will that affect him? 
  • If a famous or infamous person shares that name, how will readers respond? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind at the name Lex Luther? Martin Luther? Luther Vandross? 
  • When was the name popular? There are many sites to help you with this or you can check  for popular names in the birth year of your character. I was always comfortable with my name even though there were three girls named Mary in my parochial school class. Today, Shanika, Mackenzie, or Flaherty are common. If you’re writing a book about a contemporary character should she be a Mary or a Flaherty? Popularity and age aren't the only considerations. 
  • Be aware of nuances of meaning. Does your character personify his name? Does he grow into it as the story progresses? Is the name at complete odds with his actions? Does he like his name? 
  • How does the name sound aloud? Is it rhythmical? Is it too similar to another character’s name? A reader may have difficulty differentiating between a Jack and a Jock in the same story, unless you plan for it. What kind of emotion does the name elicit? Think Amelia Bedelia.
  • Watch for how the initials or nicknames would look. Did you ever consider the potential travel problems for Karen Kay Kline and her boyfriend Albert Qaeda?  

A well chosen name can help a reader connect to a character.  The character’s personality, strengths, flaws, even her relationship with her family should influence the decision. If the name doesn’t seem to fit or doesn’t resonate with beta readers, choose another. Now, back to 100,000 Baby Names by Bruce Lansky.

Mary Allen is taking a break from renaming full grown characters to celebrate July 4th by attending the big parade with her family and by reading her poetry at the Arts in the Park concert. Have a safe celebration, especially those in drought stricken and fire damaged areas. Remember, in Christ we are truly free.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Three Tips for Researching Your Novel

Last spring when my writing bud Nicole O’Dell asked me if I wanted to be part of a novella collection with her, my initial reaction was “of course!” Nicole is so prolific and accomplished I couldn’t imagine not writing with her. And if it also meant I could help a Valerie Comer, a debut author, get her first contract, then my enthusiasm for the project only went up.

Then they told me the topic for Rainbow's End.

Geo-caching? It sounds fun, but I’ve never tried it. Never been to the Ozarks either.

Still, I wanted to be part, so I put on my research hat. Here are some tips to help you when you find yourself in a similar position.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Soapy Writing

Wikimedia Commons
The same tricks that hook a soap opera audience are the same ones that can keep your reader turning the pages. What follows are some of the ways writers of soap operas get their audiences tuning in day after day.
  • Secrets. Untold ones. Soap operas overflow with secrets. People find them out and tell them to others and the secret gets twisted and people who aren’t supposed to know them find out and then stuff happens. But there are also secrets that the audience doesn’t know yet and they tune in faithfully so they can find it out. Readers love secrets. 
  • Open-ended possibilities. A character dies, but soap opera viewers know they could somehow rise again. Maybe it was a twin and not really the character themselves in the coffin. Or someone who had plastic surgery. Or a robot. Or…That type of wondering, leaving the viewer with the “I just gotta know if that guy really died” feeling, works for your novels, too. Create several scenarios for the outcome and leave the reader turning the pages wondering what might happen next. 
  • Relationships with the characters. Because the audience loves the character or hates them, they develop an emotional attachment to them and want to know how they are doing, what’s happening to them each day, and whether or not their goals will be fulfilled. They cheer or boo for them and it’s a very real relationship. Forget to record a soap opera addict’s episodes and see what happens.   
  • Curiosity. Humans are inquisitive, curious creatures. We want to find things out. The only way to learn what happens next is to watch. Create events in your stories to entice curiosity. Will he or won’t he? Is that rumor really true? What’s on the other side of the door? On the next page?
  • Drama. We say we don’t like it but the fact is, we do. Our culture bears this out. We may not like it in our own life, but human nature does enjoy watching it outside our family circle. Our logical side likes think about what we’d do in that situation. Or judge the character for the choices they make. Give the reader an emotional ride with drama.
  • Escape. Riches, jewels, designer clothes, mansions, fancy cars, exotic locations—we wonder what it’d be like to have them. Readers open books to escape. Give it to them. Soap Operas are a great escape for people because they last longer, and the viewer can escape every single day from their dull routine and fall into the fictional world of glamorous people. Are your stories providing a great escape?
  • Reality. Even though readers want an escape, it has to be realistic. That’s where relate-able characters come in. If characters feel reachable, then viewers will become attached. Create characters readers can relate to as easily as they do their friends and neighbors. Make them touchable, relevant and accessible in their experiences of people they know. Create people they can identify with.
  • Cure for loneliness. Some people watch soap operas because they perceive the characters as people they invite into their home each day. Are your protagonists and their friends the sort of people readers would enjoy inviting over for coffee or tea? On the other hand, are they people they'd like to fantasize about meeting? Will they want to open the book when they’ve been away to visit with them again and again?
  • Feelings. Soap Operas create dramatic feelings as people grow to love the characters, develop relationships with them, and begin to have visceral reactions to the things they go through. Are you writing in such a way that the reader feels what the characters feel? Does your book leave readers feeling good? Wanting more? Wishing the story wasn’t over?
What are some books that have kept you turning the pages? I’d like to know so I can read them, too!

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