Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Beverage of Inspiration

It has only been in the last six months that I've started drinking coffee (and decaf at that). Before that, I have always chosen ice tea as my BOC (Beverage of Choice). Over the years, however, it would seem I have developed a food allergy to caffeine. I know, right. YIKES! Not to fear. I'm fooling my brain to think it's regular coffee. Believe it or not, it's having the same effect.

I know many writers who MUST have their BOC in order to write. I was always a bit skeptical, but now I am a firm believer. So what is it about a writer's beverage that facilitates the writing process? Is it the caffeine, the taste, the aroma, or just the concept of it?

Whenever I see someone it on TV, a photo, or out in public, they always seem to have a beverage in hand. As writers, could it be that we have been conditioned to have such a device in our hand? Perhaps our BOC is just another tool for us to wield in our writer's toolbox similar to having comfy chair to spin our tales of adventure. 

Does your beverage of choice inspire you? Do you imagine your character sitting back and sipping a cup of coffee, hot tea, or something more exotic? If you are like me, you have trained your creative brain process not to start until your BOC is in hand. For me, it's a daily dance of ritual and aroma.

I remember being on vacation in Florida several years ago. I was at a restaurant that overlooked an inlet to the ocean (it was the main restaurant at a marina). I ordered a differently flavored ice tea; different from anything I had tried in recent memory. As I was sitting there enjoying and experiencing this new taste, I began to spin a story based on that actual experience. In essence, my BOC inspired my story.

So, as a writer, what is your BOC? Can you function without it? Does it inspire you?

As a note of reference, yes, my coffee mug is quietly sitting next to me yet again inspiring the text on my screen...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fantasy, Critiques, and Homeschooling: An Interview with Author Mary Hall

Are any of you thinking that all I do is interview speculative fiction writers? It seems I end up doing those a lot. You may conclude I'm a die-hard sci-fi/fantasy/horror reader. Believe it or not, I'm more into mystery, with suspense right behind. But I see how God can use this style of fiction as a modern day parable.

This month, I'm interviewing Mary Hall, author of Amberly, the beginning of the Crestmere Series. I  got acquainted with Mary in ACFW's large critique group, and had the honor of reading parts of this story.

Jeff Reynolds: Congratulations on getting Amberly published. Can you give us a brief tease about the story, and how did you get inspired?

Mary Hall: 

 Snatched by coldblooded enemies as a declaration of war, Eleanor Williamston finds herself caught in a deadly snare, miles from home and lost in the wilderness. Her heart is drawn to the handsome guardsman who rescues her, but is torn when Captain Marsten challenges her political ideals. Just when she begins to make peace with her own desires, the captain reveals something that makes her choice even more difficult.

There’s something Ellie’s keeping from Marsten as well, which will threaten all he holds dear. Together they must journey through the spectacular and treacherous Aspian mountains, evading enemy pursuit and wrestling through the challenges of wilderness and budding love, only to run headlong into more trouble when they least expect it.

The story behind Amberly and the rest of the upcoming Crestmere Series has been brewing and taking shape in my mind for many years. Hours and hours spent enjoying stories with my daughters while homeschooling have given us appreciation for good story elements and structure, and now we all love to write!

JR: When writing, are you more structured (plotter) or blank pager (seat of the pants)?

MH: I’m chuckling, because I’ve been surprised to find I’m much more a blank pager than I thought I would be. After reworking dozens of scene-by-scene plot plans, I’ve learned to start with nothing more than a general story idea and just start typing. The story flows onto the page over the course of a few months, and I feel like I’m watching a movie!
Then I spend the next bunch of months revamping, revising, and polishing.

JR: I had the honor of critiquing parts of Amberly on the large ACFW Scribes group, and the rule is two crits for each submission. How has reading and critting various authors of different styles helped your writing? And how did their critiques help your writing?

MH: I love stories! Well-written stories, that is. And I’ve found I love helping others shape and perfect their tales as much as I love crafting my own. The beauty of critique groups is that each writer’s unique eye and style adds richness to the writings of the others. We need other writers to catch the errors we miss while typing late at night, to tell us when the picture in our mind hasn’t quite made it through the words into their mind, to share something new they’ve learned at a conference or through their latest perusal of the Chicago Manual of Style, or just to tell us when our sparkly, twisty plot turns either lost them at the crossroads or (horrors!) put them to sleep. I’ve had suspense writers help me ramp up the tension in my stories, and I’ve helped them improve the descriptions and romance in theirs. When I look back at some of the writing I did before joining critique groups, I just laugh! It’s amazing what a difference every critique makes.

JR: How do you work the faith element and a little politics as well into your story? Related -- with some fantasy in the story, is it kind of an allegory, or just a different world?

MH: Amberly is written in “a world that might have been,” in a setting similar to late eighteenth century England, but where a pair of twin Christian kings rule the land. Born in the forest so the firstborn would not be favored, the brothers learned early to trust only one another. Now they reign together, and the challenges they and their people face stir my imagination to ask hard questions about how God really desires His people to relate to one another and govern themselves. Amberly is not an allegory, but I believe our Lord gives us the gift of storytelling to stir our hearts with Biblical truth in ways that traditional teaching can’t. When I look at the parables Jesus used—or the story Nathan used to bring King David to his knees over his sin—I’m awed by the incredible power that stories have to move our spirits and change our hearts. My prayer is that everyone who reads any of my writing will be drawn into a deeper appreciation of God’s grace and a greater desire to live in joyful humility.

JR: What other writing have you done, and what are you currently working on?

MH: Other than professional writing, research and editing, I’ve done revision writing for Sonlight homeschool curriculum, written articles for Home Educating Family magazine (, and published a short story called Healer in Fables For Japan, an anthology of Japanese-style folktales to benefit tsunami victims (

Currently, I’m writing the sequel to Amberly, the second book of a planned series called Crestmere. Come visit my website and blog at to be swept away into a world of fun ideas, recipes, crafts—and conversation about our loving, magnificent God!

JR: What's it like marketing your book, and how do you balance promoting the published book while working on your next project?

MH: For the writing portion of my life, I’m pounding out the first draft of Book Two, working with my publisher to market Amberly, setting up speaking engagements and expanding my web presence, critiquing other writers’ works, continually studying the crafts of writing and speaking, and reading across a broad variety of genres to broaden my writing ability. I do this mainly while my youngest daughter is at kindergarten. The rest of my typical day is spent partly homeschooling her and my high school aged daughter, and doing all the other things a busy Christian mom does for her family, her church, and her community. I continually remind myself that our Lord gives us exactly as many hours as we need to do what He wants us to do, and I rely on His wisdom and strength to keep priorities in order and fulfill His will.

And from time to time I go out with my hubby or friends to laugh and eat chocolate!

JR: Thank you very much for your time.

MH: Thanks so much, Jeff, for your encouraging words and critiques, and for the opportunity to share what’s happening in the world of Amberly!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Case of the Distraught Wife

This year my blog posts will focus on interesting cases involving writers. And yes, interesting cases do exist.

I'll start with the case of the distraught wife.

The June 5, 1971 edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar carried the following article.


Mrs. Ruth A. Nichols, [address], was treated at St. Joseph Hospital for a bullet wound in her arm after a shooting at her home, police said.
A 40-year-old woman was held by police in connection with the shooting with a .22 rifle. Police said a shot was also fired at the suspect's husband.
Officers said the incident took place Thursday night after the suspect arrived at the Nichols home and found her husband there with Mrs. Nichols.
Witnesses said the suspect first fired a shot at her husband and then at Mrs. Nichols, striking her in the arm, police reported.
No charges had been placed.

Before you continue reading this post, pause and consider your first impression from reading the newspaper article. What did you think was going on?

Maybe I should have called this the case of the two distraught wives. One who was distraught enough to shoot at people, and another who was distraught enough to sue the newspaper for defamation.

The facts in the article were true, though. So the newspaper must have won. Right?


There were other facts--also true--that the newspaper left out. The article did not say that the shooter's husband was one of several people attending a party at the home. Or that Mr. Nichols was also present.

Without those facts, reasonable readers might have concluded that the shooter found her husband and Mrs. Nichols alone in the house and even in a compromising position, leading to the further conclusion that they were having an affair. That's enough for a defamation lawsuit.

So what do we learn from the case of the distraught wife?

Telling the truth isn't enough. While you don't have to give all the facts, your selection should not mislead the reader. Get your implications correct, too, or you may be guilty of defamation.

* * * * *

Stay tuned for February's post on the case of the elderly flight attendant.

Kathryn Page Camp

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bunny trails

Is it research, or going down a bunny trail? What if the bunny trail leads me into conviction?

When I was young, sometimes I tried to follow literal bunny trails, little paths threaded through long grass almost always leading deep into a thicket of multi-floral ("wild") roses. It usually took longer to get untangled and out of the sticker bushes than it did to get in, leaving me with scratches, torn clothes and no bunnies.

So I have to wonder about my research sometimes. Internet bunny trails are just a link away. I don't have to worry about thorns, torn clothes or chiggers, but want to make the most of my time.

While looking for background on Indiana and the Civil War, I have collected several reference books, read on-line sources, leafed through old family letters, and visited re-enactments and Conner Prairie. I keep going back to some favorite sources, especially ones about farming with horses, and of course, hoopskirts, even Victorian jewelry and hair art.

Some of my research nuggets are thought-provoking, though. Uncomfortably so at times.

My WIP has a thread about Spiritualism, a belief that souls of the departed linger near loved ones and can communicate with them. It was a serious movement in the 1800s.

As a Christian, I have all kinds of objections to that, but my characters have to work towards those conclusions. Using the "Nineteenth Century in Print" collection of periodicals from American Memory Project, I found many articles about Spiritualism from the 1800s.

I also wandered to Beliefnet, a site dedicated to spirital life. Several articles covered modern Spiritualism. Some of its beliefs and practices have been renamed and merged into the New Age movement.

What surprised and saddened me was a survey on that site about beliefs about souls of the departed. While most Christians and Jews believed in an afterlife, so did the Wiccans.

Matter of fact, when the survey asked whether the living could contact the dead, the Wiccans were  most likely to believe that was true and to report having such experiences. At the other extreme were atheists, who believe it's all over at death.

As a Christian from a very grounded Midwestern farm family I find both extremes troubling. How do we as Christians share hope with such lost people? So lost that they have not a clue where they are or where they are going? How should I deal with someone with surprising beliefs?

I think fiction -- maybe not my historical romances written for other Church Ladies -- from some gifted writers could work through the thorny hedges around the hearts of such lost people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

So How Did You Start Your Writing Journey?

by Rachael Phillips
Are you one of those people who knew, the moment you picked up a pencil in first grade and wrote your first ABC’s, that you would become a writer?
I’m not.
I wanted to be a singer. And a missionary. And a ballerina wearing a poofy tutu.

In second grade, I did like writing poems and constructed little books of my poetry out of construction paper. For a few years, I produced a flurry of poems, plays and stories.
But I never envisioned being a writer. Perhaps because, in my mind, real books were written by exalted human beings only a notch or two below godhood. And because writing was too much fun. At the ripe age of nine, I already had applied flawless evangelical logic to the possibility, namely: if you really liked doing something, God didn’t want you to do it.

So writing and wearing a poofy tutu went out the window. Singing could be rated as far more spiritual, so I figured God was okay with that—even if it was fun.
Fast forward several decades. At that time, I was serving as a worship coordinator at a church with typical pastoral staff and administrative board—and a secretary who comprised the real power behind the outfit. She lined up all of us and decreed we each would produce an article for the new church newsletter by the tenth of each month.

Or else.
No one wanted to spend his eternity locked in the deep, dark furnace room with Satan’s creepy-crawlies, so they complied. Me? I loved writing. The people in my congregation seemed to know I loved it. They passed my articles on to family and friends, patted me on the back, and told me I should write a book.

A writing workshop flyer from a local college, a hometown editor in desperate need of articles so he wouldn’t have to write them, and encouraging friends all played a part in jump-starting my writing career, as well as the church secretary with a .45 in her desk drawer.

As I devoted increasing time and effort to writing, a few friends regarded it as a sort of mysterious disease I’d contracted. Before long, I’d feel better, get over it, and carry on life as usual.
Fortunately, my husband didn’t see it that way. “God has given you a gift,” he said. “He’s made you a writer.”

He called me a writer.
I couldn’t—even after I’d published four biographies. Somehow the word caught in my throat like a double negative.

Maybe because writing was too much fun, and if I actually called myself that, God might notice.
He did. And He clapped for me.

He’s also offered plenty of constructive criticism. And plenty of life experience—much of it not so pleasant—that translated into writing fodder.
But He has walked beside me every step of this writing journey.

How about you? How did your writing journey begin?      





Monday, January 14, 2013

Creating Characters That Jump Off the Page by JoAnn Durgin

What do you consider the most effective components in your writing? You know, those elements that grab your reader and won’t let him or her go until they’ve devoured one more chapter? Hearing that someone can’t put down your book is thrilling for an author—writing so fresh and compelling the reader won’t want to stop. They’ll want to pick up a book and sneak in a paragraph or two whenever and wherever they can. 

I understand the question posed can have variable answers, and I think it also goes hand-in-hand with our personal writing strengths. For instance, my strongest points are deep internal POV and natural dialogue. One of the biggest compliments I ever received from a reader is this: “I feel as though I know your characters so well that if they walked down the street, I’d recognize them and would want to talk with them.” You see, they’ve become real in that reader’s mind and more than a “person” on the page. They've made the jump from the page in a book into the heart and mind of the reader. This is exactly the type of response you want to evoke. Why? Because it means she cares and if she cares, then she’ll most likely want to read everything I write about them and she’ll tell her friends.  

This month, I’d like to focus on developing and writing deep POV. Mind you, it’s not for everyone, but it works for me and I like to employ it in my books. Through this particular method, you are giving your reader access to your character’s deepest inner thoughts. This includes their motivations, their wants, what hurts them or causes them pain, the elements of their past that have shaped their present, their desires, their needs and their reactions to others. In this way, the reader gains a unique entrance into their thought process and—even if they don’t understand or even particularly like the character—they’ll feel as if they know them. 

Let’s face it, not every reader is going to like every character you create. But again, if you can evoke a response, then you’ve accomplished effective writing. All your characters can’t be sweet, fun, godly and perfect. Of course, no one but our precious Savior is perfect. In fiction, writing about perfect people is boring—for both the author and the reader. And then there's the fact that nothing could be more sad than reading a review or comment that says something like this: “The characters felt like cardboard cutouts. I simply didn’t care about them, so I lost interest.” Thankfully, no one has ever said this about my characters, and it’s my intent they never will.

How do you go about writing such deep POV? Number one, you as the author need to know the character from the inside out. In other words, flesh them out. Expose their frailties and vulnerabilities as well as know their strengths and goals. You need to understand and appreciate them in order to write them so your reader will, too. Love them in their imperfections—even your villains. Actors often say they love playing the bad guy because they’re “more fun” than playing a good one. Similarly, I think sometimes authors enjoy writing the scenes with their bad guys more often than not. Why? Because they stir the emotions and the passion and keep the interest level high. I know confrontational scenes are among my favorite to write. Readers also identify with those scenes because who hasn’t gone through life without conflict? 

Creating and shaping characters is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of writing because it draws upon my deepest sense of creativity. As an author, you are the one in control because you create them. You alone know their childhood background (what events shaped them?), history (the where, when, what and how of their growing up years), family (are mom and dad in the picture? grandparents? what siblings, cousins and people shaped their lives in terms of death and life?), and everything else that is that character. Embrace the challenge of getting to know your characters and take their journey with them. 

Making character charts can also help, if you’re so inclined. Simply start a page for each character in your book, or one chart for all your characters. You can create columns or not; set it up however it works best for you. On this chart, list all those things previously mentioned about your character. Spend some time on it and refer back to it as often as needed. Sometimes you have to start the actual writing first and then your characters will evolve. You’ll come to understand them better as they respond to others throughout the course of your unfolding story. Don’t be afraid to change or alter something in their background to suit your purposes. You’ll know what works or doesn’t work as you continue on in your writing. Write, write, edit, and then do it all over again to refine and hone in on the finer points of your characters and their unique stories.

If you choose not to write deep POV, you still need to know your characters from the inside out to create fully-developed characters your reader will care about. After all, isn’t that one of our primary goals? 

What are your strengths as a writer and how can you use them to your best advantage? I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share with us. Blessings, friends. Matthew 5:16

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thirsty Writing, Good and Bad

Two writers walk into a bar. One orders a big bucks smash box cherry bomb and the other, a komodo chamomile. Both raise and drain their glasses. This they do, day after day. In the first days there is no noticeable difference between the two writers. As weeks pass, bbsbcb looks a bit dusty, maybe even crusty around the edges, while kc looks a bit balmy, maybe even faintish green. Each writer finds the look of the other strange and invites the other to try his drink. “No, no. This one quenches me perfectly,” each tells the other. At year’s end bbsbcb is all but scaly and kc is all but blooming. What made the difference?

The dregs, of course.

There is bad thirst leading to bad drink and good thirst leading to good drink. Do we Christian writers of fiction believe this?

God does.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:1-2a ESV)

Bad thirst is never slaked by bad drink. Having tried to satisfy his thirst with profession, wealth, influence, or pleasure, the imbiber is left thirstier still.

Not so, his komodo chamomile friend.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13,14 ESV).

For what do we thirst? What are we drinking? It matters. Why?

No writer drinks alone. We offer drink to readers, who are as thirsty as we are.

For the fool speaks folly,
And his heart is busy with iniquity,
To practice ungodliness,
To utter error concerning the LORD,
To leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
And to deprive the thirsty of drink (Isaiah 32:6 ESV).


Then the King will say to those on his right, ”Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink..." Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34, 35a, 37, 40 ESV).

Komodo chamomile, anyone?

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Writer's Pyramid

Nope! I'm not a writer who writes steadily every day for a certain number of words or hours. I write in gulps, or snarfs, or blocks. . . know what I mean?
But I prepare thoroughly for these blocks of time. They don't just happen  these blocks of time that to me are the tips of my writing pyramid. Remember Maslowe's Hierarchy pyramid?! I've applied it to many areas of my life  and it usually works great! Another time I'll blog more about my Pyramid Principle. . . another blog when I'm not focused on my coming writing gulp.
To reach the tip of my current writing pyramid, completing my third historical novel, Jade Cross, I've first had to work through all the underlying layers of the pyramid  or the iceberg, in case you identify with that imagery more easily. Sometimes there are many layers to work through, sometimes just a few. To reach my writing gulp or pyramid tip this time, I've had many layers, including the major layers of buying and selling homes, moving approximately 200 miles (in the same state), and resettling. During those months of moving last year, I didn't even try to write. I only jotted down notes from research and chapter ideas.
So that huge layer is now mostly complete. My research layer is also complete (itself worthy of a blog, but another time). The third layer, inspirational motivation, is also complete, accomplished by heaps of reading (including the Bible and devotionals), communication with God and many others, plus a writing conference  this time, last November's Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference.
These days, I'm working on the last two pyramid layers before I soon reach the tip and write for huge blocks of time, ignoring much of everything else. I can do so because I'm gloriously retired. What are these final layers? Filing and deleting my emails (I'm several thousand behind from last year) and outlining Jade Cross's chapters. I'm nearly done with my chapter outlines because this is the final book in my Yangtze Dragon Trilogy. And some of the chapters are written as well.
I'm so eager to finish Jade Cross! For as I write, I love God's blessings and surprises that develop in my characters' lives and experiences (all based on real people and situations, BTW). So hey, if I miss my next couple of blogs, you'll know where I am  enjoying the bliss at the tip of my writing pyramid!

Millie Nelson Samuelson
Millie's books are available from Amazon in both softcover and inexpensive Kindle:
Women of the Last Supper: 4th Edition
Hungry River: A Yangtze Novel
Dragon Wall: A Great Wall Novel

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The View from the Top--How Will You Get There?

A new year has us all thinking about goals and how we'd like to spend the coming year. When you get to my age, you've already spent a lot of time. I've done some amazing things! I admit, I haven't always been purposeful about what kinds of things I do, but I've been happy with much of it. (Not all, but much.) I'm a seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. How do you make sense of everything to move on?

My photograph (taken this summer) from underneath of Cloud Gate. It was sculpted by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor and is in Millennium Park, Chicago. 
This past year I was semi-purposeful about my reading. I read through the Bible (again) with a certain eye on how it came to be and with my faith path in mind. I coordinate the ACFW Book Club, so I tried to keep up with the books (2 a month) in that forum. (You can email me with questions. If you're an ACFW member with published books, your book could be eligible for the polls.) 

I read over 50 books having to do with my spiritual path/faith. I read a set of books (fiction) that were poignant/hilarious that I wish I could've written (but I'd have to have a completely different life. Not in my realm of knowledge. LOL.)

My photograph of a chapel steeple in St. Louis from The Arch area.(Also taken this year.)

This year I've seen some very beautiful sights, but experienced a lot of physical pain, too. I've explored my ancestors and their stories. I've blogged very little. 

I've also put my own writing sort-of-aside as I just didn't know what I really wanted to write, but I continued to help some people get published. I took some writing classes just for me this year and was able to see what I could do in writing (she was the best/most encouraging-to-me writing teacher I've ever had.) I still couldn't move past all those children's' stories this year that I have in some file from the time when Diann Hunt and I were in Doc Hensley's classes.  In the new year, however, I've overcome the genre block and because of that teacher, I am moving on and not writing any more children's stories.

This is what been used on me this year by well-meaning people. Lectures tend to suck the life out of me--how about you?? (Photo taken in the Old Capitol in St. Louis, this year.)

With that teacher's help, I saw that I could write anything I wanted, and she showed me that I could be confident about it. I got some really encouraging words from an agent with a kick in the pants, too, so maybe this year will be different for me. I will move on to stories that are wanted and not hang on to the past stories I've written that I wanted, but because of those novels I read this year that had humor and passion in them, I saw that I could make what I wanted combine with what readers want

My photograph from my car window near Effingham, Illinois from a trip to St. Louis this year.

Questions, Questions What kinds of things have you been doing? Are you working on a bucket list? Did you find a purpose and goal for this year? Are you entering contests? Do you have a certain type of book you're writing? What highway path are you on for the year? And will you take an exit from that path if opportunity presents itself for a side path? Who has encouraged you in writing the most this year? (And hasn't "lectured/preached" at you?)

My photograph of the sky lift at Natural Bridge, Kentucky. I took the hard, narrow path up to Natural Bridge, but even so, I wish some with me had taken this sky lift so we could've seen the view together at the top. Instead, all they got was my lousy photos and my descriptions.There is something profound in that...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Making time to write in 2013

If you’re like me, you have a very full life. Besides being a pastor’s wife with a full-time position at my church, I’m also a full-time college student. I have three adult sons living with me who have disabilities and a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s who also makes her home with us.

How do I find time to write?

If I said it was easy, I’d be lying. It’s not. And that’s the thing you have to accept.

It will never be convenient to write.

Time management is one of the most important skills a writer can learn. As you start out the new year, why not give a few of these ideas a try?
  1. Make a contract with yourself. Think of three to five things you want to accomplish this year, and write out a contract and sign it. Have someone witness the contract (preferably someone who’s one of your cheerleaders) and sign it, too. Then, make yourself accountable to your witnesses. Ask them to check with you to see if you’re fulfilling your contract. I know some people make copies of their contracts and give them to several people who will ask about the terms on deadlines specified.
  2. Map out your life. To help people do this I’ve created The Writer’s Life Quest, a template for mapping out your life.  You can get it FREE on my website. (Scroll down on the homepage.)  If you have ideas of things I should or could include in this project, I’d love to hear them. (I’ll be releasing a Writer’s Life Planner soon, too!)
  3. Make a writing schedule and stick to it. Everyone makes time in different ways. Some set a timer. For myself, I have a certain amount of words I want to complete each day. Whether in a book or column, I write that many words, no matter what. Some best-selling authors only write a few hundred words a day. I admire that. I personally write a lot more per day because I explode onto the page and then spend a lot more time editing later. This works better for me than a time frame, but everyone is different.   
  4. When I was a Mary Kay distributor, Mary Kay taught us to write down the six most important things we wanted to accomplish the next day each night before bed. This has always worked well for me. On days when I have more than six, I write them down, but I prioritize them in order of importance. Also, do the tasks you don’t like doing first. Then the rest of the day is free to enjoy! I have a day plan template in The Writer’s Life Quest on my website.
What things do you employ to stay organized and productive? I'd love to know!

Happy New Year!

 Karla Akins is a pastor's wife, mother of five, grandma to five beautiful little girls and author of the best-selling Jacques Cartier (that went #1 on Amazon in its category), O Canada! Her StorySacagawea  is due for release in Jan. 2013. Her debut novel The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots  is also due out in 2013. One of her columns on was featured on the CNN homepage. Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, she lives in North Manchester with her husband, twin teenage boys with autism, mother-in-law with Alzheimer's and three rambunctious dogs. When she's not writing she dreams of riding her motorcycle through the Smoky Mountains.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

You Don't Need a Cast of Thousands

How many characters do you need in order to tell your story? If you're Hemingway writing The Old Man and the Sea, just two--the elderly fisherman and his trophy. If you're writing "Downton Abbey" or some other intergenerational saga, you need to introduce several dozen people to your readers. Clearly, it depends on the complexity of your plot and the intricacy of your narrative style.

For the sake of clarity and unencumbered pacing, it's best to keep the number of characters to a minimum. By "character," I mean an individual with a distinct name, description, and story role. For example, we may take our readers to a garden party with a hundred or so guests whose raucous laughter and gay apparel contribute to the mood of the evening, yet get acquainted only with our urbane hostess and her scowling maid. We've given readers two new characters and a roomful of party noise. (Trying to keep track of the rest would distract readers, even if we gave everyone name tags!)

So before you introduce a new character into your narrative, ask yourself a few tactical questions such as these:
  • Will this person's identity, ideas, or actions move my hero closer to his/her goal?
  • Will this person thwart my hero's quest? 
  • Will this person's experience give my hero a crucial insight into what he/she must do?
  • Will this person "take a bullet" for my hero--pull away someone who otherwise would encumber my hero, or fall victim to a hazard that otherwise might claim my hero?
If all such questions yield a "no," don't introduce the person as an individual character, but let him/her remain in the background. For example:

     "Have I any messages?" Hester asked, stripping her gray flannel gloves.

     The clerk turned to a rank of mailboxes and retrieved a folded half-sheet of stationery with her name hand-lettered on the outside.

     A chill ran down Hester's spine as she scanned its contents. How had Gretchen found her here?

The clerk performs an important function in this scene, but not so important that we need to be introduced. We don't know whether the clerk is male or female, young or old, natty or slovenly...because it doesn't matter. The note's the thing.

I once worked as an "extra" in a crowd scene for a college drama production. The director told us to mill about the stage doing things that a crowd normally would do in the city square, while muttering to one another, "Peas and carrots...Peas and carrots...Peas and carrots..." That way, the audience saw and heard us in the background, but their attention remained fixed on the main characters.

If an individual doesn't really advance your story, don't make that person a character. Let him be a nondescript "extra": No name, no physical characteristics, no inane dialogue--just peas and carrots.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Can Your Writing Be an Act of Worship?

          Many years ago, I heard a pastor pose this question: “Do you know the difference between praise and worship?”
The question gave me pause. I’d been a Christian for years, but I’d never truly defined the words separately. So often in Christianese, the two terms come bundled: Praise and worship choruses. Praise and worship teams. Praise and worship time. Usually those packages involve music.
To this day, that preacher’s explanation gives me reason for reflection. Although there can be some overlap, he said, praise is ascribing glory to God for what He has done. Worship is ascribing glory to God simply for who He is. That is, even if God had never done all the things for which we thank and praise Him—if He had created His angels and called it quits right there, without ever speaking the heavens and earth into existence—then He would still be worthy of all the adoration—worship—that the angels could muster! God is awesome, even apart from His divine creation.
So, how does that insight reflect upon you, Christian writer? Here’s how: Your attitude of adoration for God need not be restricted to certain hours in a church service, or to a time of singing, or even to a time of prayer. If the Heavenly Father has bestowed on you a knack for writing, then you can utilize every finger tap on your keyboard as an expression of worship to the King of kings. That article, devotional, short story, or novel manuscript that you’re developing? It can serve as your personal act of worship now, as you type it, regardless of whether it ever gets published.
The key, I think, to worshiping the Lord in your writing lies in the attitude of the author. Certainly, not every piece of writing is an expression of worship. Many writers churn out stories that are testaments to their own pride, or lust, or simply to earn a few bucks. However, the writer who acknowledges his or her gift for wordsmithing comes from God and harnesses that gift to create written works as an offering back to Him is already on holy ground. Stylistically speaking, it might not be ready for mass distribution. Spiritually speaking, though, that manuscript can be more pleasing to God than a New York Times bestseller.
Praise God for what He has done. Worship God in all that you do—including writing.

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye  do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

 Rick Barry has published over 200 short stories and articles, plus two novels, Gunner's Run and Kiriath's Quest.