Friday, July 26, 2013

Congratulations, Mr. or Miss Christian Novelist -- You've Been Drafted Into The Culture War!

by Jeff Reynolds

What is the role of fiction in these contentious, divisive days?  

My original plan for today's blog failed to materialize, and it would have been interesting to see the reaction. The would be interviewee is a cartoonist where everybody would fall into three categories:
  1. They love it -- it's one of their favorite strips (count me in this one).
  2. They hate it -- it's one of their least strips.
  3. They either ignore it or aren't aware of its existence.
While the very busy cartoonist didn't have time to get back, I'm going to look at today's society. Some would say we're in a full blown culture war (I'm one of those), and there are those who'd even dare suggest it could evolve into a civil war. 

An idealist would see fiction as a diversion from this antagonism if not a possible bridge between sides. However, the more likely scenario is that our storytelling is caught in the cross-fire. So allow me to suggest three random thoughts and see if and how they fit together.


 If all you're doing is telling stories, you're safe. However, my hunch is that most of us either don't hide our Christian world-view or we have a Christian theme we're actively promoting. I'd be interested in hearing how many of the published authors get one star reviews on Amazon solely because there lamp's on the lampstand and not under a bushel. One speculative author friend was looking for people to listen to his book on Audible because the only people who critiqued that version panned it because of its faith angle.


In a newsletter Becky and I receive, there is critique of various views, and a pair of novels have been scrutinized. They receive numerous letters basically saying, "Leave them alone. It's only fiction. Who cares if the doctrine is off?"

You know what's interesting? In How Should We Then Live? Francis Schaeffer points out that existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Satre influenced more people through his fiction than his philosophical tomes. And would Scientology have been as successful if Hubbard wasn't a novelist? The truth is that we can influence others through what we write.

On my to-do list is to write a letter to the newsletter stating that if I get published I want that ministry to scrutinize my novel and point out its errors. After all, I'm an ordained minister which makes me a minister of the Word. But in a sense if I'm writing Christian fiction, I'm automatically a minister of the Word. We need to be leading people to the truth - not just evangelistically winning the lost but to give the new believer a solid foundation and the more mature believer edification, comfort and Spiritual encouragement.


One class that made a lasting impact on me was a high school course titled "American Humor and Aesthetics of Film." The textbook for the former part mentioned five types of humor: Low comedy, Comedy of manners, Satire, Black humor, and High comedy. I learned there are two types of satire, both named after Greek satirists -- Horatian and Juvenalian. 

What's the difference? The spirit. Horatian is kinder and gentler; Juvenalian has a mean streak (is it a coincidence it sounds like "juvenile?"). People like Anne Coulter and Michael Moore are good at the latter, as are many political cartoonists. I prefer the more Horatian type, and I think Indianapolis is blessed to have Gary Varvel who fits that description.

Juvenalian satire is good at rallying the camps. Both camps. It gets those who agree laughing and firmer entrenched, and it gives fodder for those in oppostion so they're also ready to fight. Horatian is better at using humor to point out a fault in a way the "target" has a smile on his face, and both sides are then in a frame of mind to have a productive conversation and reach an understanding.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for letting me ramble a little. So what about you? Have you faced opposition because of your message? Have you ever been challenged on the theology of your story? Have you used either Horatian or Juvenalian satire in your stories, and to what effect?


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Case of the President's Words

Former President Gerald Ford wanted to write his memoirs, and he entered into a contract with Harper & Row to publish them. The contract also gave Harper & Row first serial rights, which it then sold to Time Magazine. That means Time paid Harper & Row for the exclusive right to publish parts of the book before it was released.

Then the editor of The Nation purloined an advance copy of the manuscript. He had only a couple of weeks before Time was due to print its first excerpt, so he threw together a quick, 2,250 word article that quoted the highlights of the book, including Ford’s reasons for pardoning Nixon. The Nation intended to scoop Time, and it did. Because Time’s exclusive rights were no longer exclusive, it cancelled its agreement with Harper & Row.

Harper & Row sued The Nation, claiming that the magazine had infringed the copyright in President Ford’s book.

Copyrights exist to inspire creativity, not to suppress it, so the copyright law protects fair uses. Since brief quotations in printed reviews are usually considered fair, Nation Enterprises should have won the case. Right?


The district court judge didn’t think The Nation’s article was a fair use. A divided panel (2-1 vote) of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals did, so it reversed the decision. When the case went to the United States Supreme Court, it got another divided panel—and another reversal in a 6-3 decision saying the use was not fair. If the people who are paid to decide fair use issues can’t agree, what’s a writer to do?

Unfortunately, there is no bright-line test. Still, courts analyze four factors, and the Supreme Court discussed each of them in the Harper & Row case.

  1. The purpose and character of the allegedly infringing use—in this case, of The Nation’s article. News reporting is normally a fair use, as are criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, research, and anything that transforms the work. But normally doesn’t mean always. Here, the magazine’s motive was purely commercial, and its “commentary” was mostly a cut and paste of selections from the book. So even though the piece was written as a news article, this first factor counted against it.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work—meaning the nature of Ford’s autobiography. The more creative the work, the more it deserves protecting. Fiction deserves the greatest protection and most non-fiction the least, with creative non-fiction coming somewhere in between. Under normal circumstances, this factor may have been a wash. But Ford’s memoir had something else going for it. The Court said that whether material has been published is part of its nature, and unpublished material deserves greater protection than published material. Since the memoir was still unpublished when the article came out, The Nation lost on this factor, too.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Generally, the higher the percentage borrowed, the less likely it is to be a fair use. That means you can borrow more words from a book than from a poem. But it isn’t a mathematical test, and if you borrow the heart of the work, it doesn’t matter how small it is. The article used approximately 400 words from President Ford’s 200,000 word memoir, but those words were the juiciest parts of the manuscript. For that reason, this factor also counted against the magazine.
  4. The effect upon the potential market for the copyrighted work. If the new work can be a substitute for the copyrighted work, it is probably not a fair use. People who read the unauthorized article no longer had a reason to buy Time to get the information, so The Nation's article was a substitute for the Time article. The economic loss was obvious, too: Time cancelled its exclusivity agreement and Ford’s publishers lost the money they would have been paid for it. Another strike against The Nation.

All four factors weighed against The Nation, so it’s no surprise that it lost the case. Still, three out of four isn’t an automatic loss, and one out of four isn’t an automatic win. It all depends on the facts.

So if The Nation’s article wasn’t a fair use, what is?

Tune in next month for the Case of the Disappearing Wind.

* * * * *

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Every Minute Counts

My children are deep into the Half-Price Books summer reading program where the Top Reader is determined by the number of minutes read over the course of June and July. In seeking the grand prize of a $20 gift card (think of all those glorious books!), they know that every minute counts.

As of July 14, these are the tallies of minutes read since June 1 ~

13yo ~ 5,850 minutes
11yo ~ 5,170 minutes
9yo ~ 2,675 minutes
7yo ~ 890 minutes
4yo ~ 670 minutes
2yo ~ 590 minutes

While life as an adult has prevented me from amassing these amounts of minutes, I, too, have been known to sneak in minutes of reading…while stirring supper, brushing my teeth, sitting in line at the ATM. I even tried reading while driving when I was in college, but that’s not exactly conducive to concentration on the printed page.

But what about with writing? What if I snatched and sneaked and stole every spare minute for writing?

What if I jotted down a bit of dialogue whenever I passed my computer…a bazillion times each day?

What if I brainstormed ideas for setting while rolling biscuits and then wrote it out during the ten minutes of baking?

What if I made mental notes for character names and quirks while picking up after the two-year-old and then scribbled them out as he pulled all the toys out again?

What if I moved my laptop to the dining table and, in between discussing O. Henry with the eighth grader and diagramming sentences with the sixth grader, I added a few sentences or even paragraphs to my WIP?

What if, while my husband watches yet another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, I sit next to him on the couch and research a few details?

What if, instead of quizzing the fifth grader on insect heads, abdomens, and thoraxes (Blech!), I edited my chapter five? Well…we do need to fulfill our commitments, don’t we?


When my moment comes and I get that call, I want to be ready with bunches of books and fleshed-out ideas.

Every minute counts.

Q4U: How do you make your minutes count?

Meghan Carver is a 2013 ACFW Genesis semi-finalist and the author of several articles and short stories. After achieving a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Millikin University and completing a brief stint in immigration law, Meghan heard God calling her to be at home. Now homeschooling her six children with her college professor husband, Meghan has returned to her first love of writing. She blogs about homeschooling and homemaking at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Three Cheers for Anonymous

by Rachael Phillips
If there’s one thing I love, it’s to see my name on the cover of a book.

You, too?

Neither of us would object, either, if our names outsized the titles of the books, sure signals that our literary babies, regardless of title (The Love Song of the Garbage Man? Vampire Recipes?) have hit The New York Times Best-seller List.

Yet some of the most famous literary works in history were written by people whose names have never appeared in Publishers Weekly, ancient epic poems such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf, and stories like Arabian Nights. Think of the long-term marketing opportunities those authors missed. Not to mention, the royalties.

The Bible itself embraces numerous works written by “Anonymous,” including some of my favorite Psalms and the book of Hebrews. Not surprising, I suppose, as the Bible teems with unnamed God-followers who thumbed their noses at earthly “immortality” and instead, imprinted His name on history.

All of us, for love of Jesus, have written or edited anonymously at one time or another. We've banished lousy spelling and offending apostrophes from congregational song lyrics, bulletins, and signs; rewritten church holiday programs and VBS skits that feature Dick and Jane; and slogged through eager friends' and relatives’ manuscripts that make us want to disappear into the Writer Protection Program.

Though no spotlights shine on us for such service, and our names may be forgotten on earth, they will show up one day, shiny and indelible, in the book that really counts.

The Book of Life. 





Monday, July 15, 2013

The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get! by JoAnn Durgin

Ever heard the expression, “The faster I go, the behinder I get?” That’s how I feel sometimes. I’ll admit in the last year, I’ve started to feel older, physically as well as in other ways. Granted, my schedule is full and active and I’m still able to get most of what I’d like accomplished each day. . .except for the one thing I want to do most. Write. As recently as three years ago, I could stay up until almost 2:00 a.m. every morning writing or editing (I could tell time by the old television comedies that kept me company). Now, I need at least five hours sleep or I can’t function in my rather demanding, full-time day job. Well, I can function, but certainly not as well as when I have more sleep. I’m also craving more vegetables, trying to get more exercise and being more faithful in taking a daily vitamin supplement. I’ve finally started to face the fact I need to give my body what it needs in order to stay healthy and function better in all phases of my life, including my writing.

I’ve also lost a few friends my age in the past year or so. I’m in my 50s, not my 80s. These losses have also brought home the hard truth that my life as I know it will one day cease to exist. Of course, knowing where my future lies in an eternity with the Lord is an unbelievable comfort, and I can’t even imagine living without that hope I have in a risen Savior. But I also understand each book I write could potentially be the last one. I’m not being morbid, just realistic. Simply put, our written words need to count. Whether it’s in an e-mail, in a blog post or in a book, we never know what seeds we might plant or how our characters or stories might impact or affect someone’s life for Christ.

Recently, I’ve seen something interesting happen with my books. I’ve had a few women on Goodreads rate my books—with varying results—who’ve never read a Christian book before. Let me qualify that statement. Women whose favorite books are, well, decidedly not inspirational in a Christian way and, quite frankly, fall under the “smut” category. You know the books I mean. At first, I was shocked and wondered, “How on earth did they find my books?” One woman said, “Your books were the first Christian books I ever wanted to read.” Another said, “I wanted to believe a man like the hero in your book existed.” One more said, “The covers are really pretty and made me want to read them.”

My first reaction to one especially low rating from one such reader was to get a little steamed. But then, as He always does and for which I’m so grateful, the Lord got hold of me. I searched my heart and He helped me see the truth. Why am I writing? For myself? For good reviews? What’s my purpose in writing these books? Yes, it’s my overwhelming passion to write, and I’m blessed to be able to do what I love. However, I can admit the joy would be drained from me if I couldn’t weave spiritual truths into my books. What would be the point? To me, they’d be empty words.

I’ve often heard it said that if you take the spiritual components out of a romance and it can stand on its own, then it’s not a Christian romance. My books would absolutely fall apart without those elements. There are some who believe you can’t draw readers who aren’t believers to read a faith-based book. I disagree, in large part because of my own experience as an author. My books are clearly labeled as Christian romance and the descriptions also label them as such. Granted, I don’t have non-believers in droves rushing to buy my books, but they’re not “watered down” in terms of a strong Christian message. Redemption, grace and forgiveness are huge themes I always touch on in one way or another in my writing.

The bottom line? If I’ve touched one reader with a spiritual truth she might remember somewhere in the pathway of her life, then I’ll have done my job. The way I look at it, we have a responsibility to share our faith, as the Lord commands, and what a joy it is!


JoAnn Durgin
Matthew 5:16

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28: 19-20

Sunday, July 14, 2013

WARNING: Toxic to Writers

My youngest son is on a live-off-the-land kick. He’s cutting timber to build a wickiup, filtering his own water, and most interesting of all--to him--trapping and cooking his own kill and gathering his own greens to accompany the feast. But those greens are tricky. Which ones are toxic? It matters.

And that got me wondering: what’s out there that poisons writers and their writing? Here’s a deadly sampling to beware


I've tasted them all but find Psalm 90 a potent antidote that not only clears my thinking but also orders my loves.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations (v. 1).

From everlasting to everlasting you are God (v. 2).

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night (v. 4).

You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence (v. 8).

Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you? (v. 11).

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (v. 12).

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all of our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands! (vv. 14-17).

All references from the ESV.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dad's Missionary Memoir: My Surprise Book

Hey everyone, yours truly has a new SURPRISE LITTLE BOOK!

A few weeks ago, I decided to use my dad's unfinished memoir as the epilog for my WIP. Jade Cross: A Stone Ten Novel is the third book in my China/Taiwan trilogy, stories inspired by my family's experiences there for more than a century.

As I was working with Dad's memoir (b. 1904 in China, d. 1992 in Illinois), I thought: WOW, my brother Doug and I should "finish" this, add photos and explanations, and print it to give to our kids and grandkids. About two weeks ago after adding the photos, I thought: DOUBLE WOW, why not make this a Kindle e-book to share with others, with relatives and friends who know our family, plus with readers of my novels who are interested in historical China and Taiwan.

And of course, a CreateSpace paperback was a fairly quick and easy followup to the Kindle version. So HERE IT IS for your interest! The Kindle has been available for nearly two weeks, and I just released the CreateSpace paperback this week on YAY! I do so love surprises, including special little ones of only 38 pages!
A Missionary Memoir by A. Fred Nelson is $5.11 in paperback, the minimum price Amazon would permit. As you can see from the cover photo, Dad served with the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII. He was an intelligence translator in China, and after the war, a "weekend" chaplain in Taiwan. But for most of his life, Dad was a wonderful missionary and often called a "white Chinese."
The Kindle version (only $.99) has a temporary red cover. Should you get this surprise little book of mine, I'm sure you'll especially enjoy the 25 rare photos and maps it contains, thanks to Dad's photo collection that includes some of his parents' photos from the late 1800s.

As you read this blog, I'll be in Colorado Springs celebrating my darling grandson Joe's 4th birthday with him. Guess what one of his presents will be? This little memoir by his great-grandfather, of course. . .   :-)
I hope some of you will comment on YOUR surprise book/s, or even on mine!

Millie Nelson Samuelson
"Yesterday's Stories for Today's Inspiration"

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Procrastination: A Learned Way of Solving Problems

I sell or give away old books when I feel I've absorbed what they have to teach me, but hang onto those that  have something important for me which I haven't learned. Small wonder, then, that a book I bought some twenty years ago keeps showing up on my desk: The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore.

Fiore's subtitle is, "A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play." That's something vital I need to learn, not only in my writing but in the rest of my life.

This clinical psychologist says we teach ourselves to procrastinate because "delaying is rewarded and learned as a way of solving problems." Here are some of his examples (from p. 14 of my yellowed copy). See if they don't apply to some half-written story you keep putting off:

  • "Occasionally a postponed, boring task is completed by someone else." (Ever stop writing because you come across a similar story by someone else, so you told yourself that you'd better replan your entire plot?)
  • "If you delay long enough making a decision about buying something, it will eventually reward you by either going on sale or going out of style." (Did you start writing a story that was your own "spin" on some other writer's premise? Then you keep stopping because you suspect a dozen other copycats will beat you to it?)
  • "Procrastination often goes unpunished; in fact, somewhere in almost everyone's childhood is an experience of great anxiety about not preparing for an exam, only to have that enormous tension ecstatically relieved by the news that a storm or strike had closed your school..." (OK, Fiore, who told you this? Probably my kid brother. He knows how I agonized over the impending disaster of a school play I wrote in the fourth grade, and my euphoria when a snowstorm closed school that day--canceling the play forever!)
  • "Difficult decisions will eventually resolve themselves if you wait for additional information or allow the opportunities to pass." (My wife must have snitched on me now. She knows this why I keep researching a novel about Roosevelt's first Presidential campaign of 1932. I planned to pitch it as a great way to celebrate its 80th anniversary  in 2012, but more research gives me more time to write a really great novel for the centenary in 2032. Let's see, I'll only be 82 then...)
Fiore says, "When we identify our worth with our work ('I am what I do') we naturally are reluctant to face challenges and take risks without protection." (p. 15). So we keep on procrastinating because it's an effective way to protect ourselves. On the other hand, writing is a public way of taking unprotected risks--like walking a high wire across the Grand Canyon. 

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, July 4, 2013

God Uses Fiction

by Rick Barry

Authors of Christian fiction, has anyone ever considered your writing unimportant simply because it is fiction? In other words, has anyone (even yourself) regarded your fiction as frivolous because it isn't a Bible commentary, or a tome on theology, or at least a devotional book?

Although much fiction amounts to simple entertainment, make no mistake: God can and does use fiction to mold people's lives. For instance, 2 Samuel 12 includes a remarkable work of fiction. In this passage, the prophet Nathan visits King David (who had committed adultery with Bathsheba and hid his deed by getting her husband killed in battle). By God's prompting, Nathan launched into a short story. The story was fiction, but David assumed he was hearing a true incident. In the story, a selfish rich man who owned large flocks of sheep seized and butchered the sole pet lamb of a poor man in order to feed a meal to a visitor.

Hearing of such an heartless act, David (a former shepherd who could relate to pet lambs) smoldered with rage. "The man who has done this deserves to die!" he declared.

Nathan replied with four chilling words: "You are the man!" He proceeded to deliver God's message of judgment on the king who--despite already having many wives--abused his power by seizing the wife of an honorable soldier in his army.

Nathan's powerful short story hammered home David's sin as nothing else could. He had no defense. "I have sinned before the Lord," he confessed.

Was Nathan's piece of fiction frivolous because it didn't explore the writings of Moses? Not at all. It became the stake with the perfect sharpened point to penetrate the hard shell around David's heart. Fiction became a tool of God's Holy Spirit.

Jesus, too, used fiction. He often told short stories. Whether the story starred a kind Samaritan, or a farmer sowing grain, or someone else, each one of these short stories tucked spiritual applications into fictional settings the listeners could picture.

I'm not claiming that all fiction penned by Christians is inspired by God. Just like unbelievers, Christians can invent characters and weave plots simply for entertainment, or to earn money. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the skilled writer who goes beyond entertainment and subtly weaves spiritual truth into stories joins the ranks of godly people like Nathan, who served God and worked in lives even with fiction.

Rick Barry is the author of over 200 published short stories and articles, plus two novels. Visit his personal blog at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reality: A Good Source for Fiction

News can be a wonderful source for ideas about fiction. Even without capitalizing on the actual people in a particular event and thus opening yourself to litigation. If you merely ask a few simple questions, you can unearth multiple story ideas in any genre, to use as the main part or the backdrop. How do you go about it?

While news reports of a tragedy may seem the logical choice, tucked between ads for insurance and mortuaries can be other thought provoking items. (Read the story in the photo above.) Here I used a headline without connection to death – at least one that no one realizes... Bwhaha...(Cozy Murder Mystery)

Women’s Fiction/Contemporary
Had this woman made someone angry? Was the wrong address recognized/posted by the angry party who decided to use it as an excuse to upset/ harm her, even steal her kitten? If so, what was the original grievance? Was it legitimate? What if this woman was an up-and-coming personality? Was it an act of cruelty or revenge or jealousy? Was it a prank? How does the woman deal with it? Or, how does the perpetrator change and grow through the consequences of this deed?

Romantic Suspense:
Does a police investigator become emotionally involved with the victim? To what lengths will he go to retrieve the missing items, especially when she reveals that they include a journal with notations of a highly critical matter? Does an old boyfriend that she’s afraid of still possess a key? Has the locksmith she’s hired to replace the locks kept a copy of the key? What about that hunky neighbor or boss or faithful old friend whose been in love with her and now has a chance to finally show it as he helps her though this difficulty?

Science Fiction:
Will some secret government agency become involved in tracking down the missing kitty because it really is an information gathering robot that was tracking a terrorist cell? Or, maybe the kitten is an extraterrestrial intelligence who knew that the new DVD this woman bought actually contained the plans to overtake the earth.

Young Adult
Does a ten-year-old child return the kitten, only to discover that the owner looks like an older version of herself and is actually the sister that she was separated from when the Department of Child Services took them away from their family? How do they get together again? What secrets ripped the family apart? 

Or…maybe the kitten is a werewolf/ shape-shifter…

Most of these are well-used, but you get the idea. 

What recent news item do you think would make a really good diving board into the pool of fiction?

Mary Allen has authored many articles and two books of poems, “Journey to Christmas” and “Ten Days to an Empty Tomb”.  She was named La Porte County Poet Laureate 2010 and currently is Poetry Chair for Arts in the Park La Porte, but that doesn't stop her from writing fiction.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Spotlight on Hoosier Author: Gene Stratton Porter

Gene Stratton Porter.

This month I'd like to share what I've written about one of my favorite Hoosier Authors: Gene Stratton Porter.

Swing on over to The Barn Door and enjoy learning about this fascinating author.

Click here for part 1: A Girl of the Limberlost

Click here for part 2: A Girl of the Limberlost Part 2.

Thanks for reading!

Karla Akins is an award winning author who loves to ride a motorcycle. Her book, The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots is due out August 9, 2013. You can contact Karla via her website at