Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interview with Suzanne Hartmann

by Jeff Reynolds

There are some stories that are hard to pigeon hole. One of these are Suzanne Hartmann's Fast Track Thrillers. But I'll let Suzanne tell you about that.

Jeff Reynolds: Welcome, Suzanne. I've enjoyed reading Peril, the first of the Fast Track Thrillers. What inspired these stories?

Suzanne Hartmann: Thank you for having me here on Hoosier Ink, and thank you for your kind words about the first book in my series. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

The stories that eventually became the Fast Track Thrillers originally began as a bunch of scenes I created to entertain myself while sitting through violin lessons, soccer and baseball practice, and the innumerable hours spend driving the kids to and from their various activities.

The twist of NASCAR came about after my daughter decided she had a favorite driver. I knew almost nothing about NASCAR at the time and had never heard of this person. In the process of researching the driver to decide whether he was someone we should encourage our daughter to root for, I realized racing would make an interesting setting for some of the scenes I had created and began incorporating racetracks into my stories.

JR:  The second installment of your Fast Track Thrillers is approaching the starting line. Could you tell us about the series and your new release?

SH: Conspiracy picks up only a few months after the dramatic, surprise ending to Peril, and we rejoin Joanne Van der Haas, a top-secret agent with enhanced strength who works for the nation's most clandestine intelligence agency. When her boss is accused of selling government secrets, she must choose which to trust: the man she's worked with for many years or the NSA’s evidence. While things heat up at the agency, Joanne must also deal with her husband's serious illness, but when bad turns to worse, her friend, NASCAR Champion Stuart Jackson, follows through with his promise to always be there for her. His willingness to help leads him into danger. Joanne would rather not involve him in, but when she doesn't know who to turn to in the intelligence community any more, she has little choice. Joanne’s final assignment for the agency leads to disaster, yet opens the door to surprising information from an unlikely source. But is there enough time to prove who the spy is before Joanne is implicated too?

JR:  I have the impression that you've dealt with several obstacles both on the writing track and off. What has it been like, and what lessons has God taught you through the false starts?

SH:  Yes, I have, Jeff, both the typical obstacles any new author must negotiate and medical issues, including over twenty surgeries. The main thing I’ve learned from both types of obstacle is the need to keep my eyes on Jesus. When I put my focus on people, I will inevitably be disappointed. But when I lay my troubles at God’s feet, I can rest in the knowledge that He will meet all of my needs. Much easier said than done, but He continually shows His faithfulness when I am able to do so.

JR: Besides this series, you also have a book out titled Write This Way: Take Your Writing To a New Level. Any other interesting facts that might help writers here in their literary qualifying attempts? How did this book help with the Fast Track series? Or was it the other way around?

SH: I wrote Write This Way after writing Peril. It is based on the many lessons I learned during the process of revising the very rough draft of Peril (my first attempt at novel-writing). When I realized the issues I dealt with were common among new authors, I began blogging about them to teach others how to recognize and fix them. Eventually I had so many blog posts that it just made sense to compile them into a book to create an easy-to-use reference tool.

One stylistic error I address that I don’t see talked about much is the unnecessary use of small movements: turning, reaching, walking across the room, etc. Every action involves multiple smaller actions, but we don’t want to bore our readers with every single, tiny action required to accomplish something. For example, I could write, “James made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” That involves many steps, from reaching into the cabinet to pull out the jar, to spreading the jelly. But since readers are familiar with how make a PB&J, we don’t need to include every little step. In the same way, readers automatically fill in little actions like reaching out before touching someone, or walking across the room to answer the door, or turning towards the window before looking outside. So we can leave these small motions out when writing.

JR: In my opinion, Peril didn't fit neatly into a typical genre, combining elements from romance, suspense, science fiction, and auto racing. Did the uniqueness of this story create some roadblocks in dealing with agents/editors? 

SH: I believe it did. Even though the story was well-written, it didn’t fit nicely into a particular slot—an oval instead of a circle, and many publishers don’t like to take a chance on such things. Thankfully, OakTara not only takes chances on novels that don’t quite fit the molds, but seeks them out, because they know there is a huge audience out there looking for books that are unique and break the mold.

JR:  I know that you're working on Revenge, the third leg of this series. Have you thought about what you'll do when your trilogy has crossed the checkered flag?

SH:  Although I have been pondering the idea of a prequel, I have decided to move on for now and concentrate on finishing two partially completed novels. One is also NASCAR-related, but it is a romantic suspense novel. The other—like the Fast Track Thrillers—has a twist of the unusual, but it is women’s fiction.

JR:  Thank you very much for your time. As I've mentioned before, I'm looking forward to reading Conspiracy. Any web pages you want to mention so your admiring fans can keep cheering you on?

SH:  Thank you for hosting me on Hoosier Ink, Jeff. Your readers can find out more about Peril and Conspiracy at my Fast Track Thrillers website at, where they will find lots of extras like character interviews and articles about some of my own personal experiences that are reflected in Peril, and the book trailer for Perl is located at

G_LzhD4zE&list=HL1330442585&feature=mh_lolz For more information about Write This Way: Take Your Writing to the Next Level, readers can visit my blog at, where they will find tons of advice about writing. And I would love to connect with readers on Facebook.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Can YOU Take A Joke And Write A Serious Novel As A Result?

Interview with Kerry Nietz

by Jeff Reynolds

This month I have the honor of interviewing Kerry Nietz, who's published by Marcher Lord Press.  I especially thank him for doing a quick interview when I found my planned interview fizzled out last minute. 

By the way, last year I interviewed Eric Wilson, author of the Jerusalem's Undead trilogy, which I thought fit with the holiday celebrated the end of the month. Maybe I'm supposed to interview authors of vampire stories this time of year? Actually, I'd rather celebrate Reformation Day on the 31st, so if you know anybody who has a good Martin Luther novel...

Okay, let's get to the interview.

Jeff Reynolds: How did you come to faith and how did you start getting into writing?

Kerry Neitz: I’m one of those fortunate individuals who came to faith in Christ at an early age. My parents were (still are) very dedicated Christians, and while not perfect, were great models for me growing up. Plus the church we attended was like family. 

I usually say I was eight when I came to know the Lord, but it might have been even earlier. Best decision I ever made. Doubtless saved me from a lot of poor decisions and heartache. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3:6 “In all your way acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” In the course of my Christian walk I’ve found nothing more accurate than that. God gives straight paths to those who acknowledge Him.

As for the second part of your question, in some respects, I have been writing most of my life. Scraps of things I wrote as a kid still turn up at my parents’ house. I didn’t get serious about it until fourteen years ago, though. My first book (non-fiction) was published in October of 2003, so this month marks a writing anniversary for me.  It has been an interesting ten years.

JR: Could you tell us about your latest book and how did you get the idea for that book?

KN: Love to!

The story’s genesis goes back a couple years. Amish novels were all the rage, and my publisher, Jeff Gerke, sent out a mock cover to the Marcher Lord Press authors. An obvious spoof. It featured a bonneted female vampire with some Amish paraphernalia behind her. Also behind her was a large window with a view of an orange planet. Enough to make it clear that the setting was in space. The novel’s title was Vein Pursuit and it was part of the Amish Vampires in Space series. Jeff said it was the ultimate speculative novel! A genre crossover that was sure to be a hit. It was a joke he shared at writing conferences he attended, as well.

A year or so passed, and at one point I told him that someone should write that Amish Vampire in Space book. I didn’t think it was me, because I tend toward hard science fiction, and the title screams: Camp! Plus, I had a trilogy of my own to finish. (The DarkTrench trilogy, which started with A Star Curiously Singing.)

Then last year I got this idea about how it all might work, and not be campy. A theme emerged along with a couple key characters, so I started writing. Before I knew it, I was 30,000 words in. I emailed Jeff to tell him what I was doing. When he stopped laughing, he encouraged me to continue. I finished last June and sent it to him. He liked what he read, so here we are.

JR:  Was this book as fun to write as it sounds? What was the greatest challenge you faced writing it?

KN: It was great fun to write. It felt like a speculative novelist’s playground to me. Plus the characters really drove the plot. They just started showing up on the page and took over. The book is my longest, but I felt it could’ve been much longer if I hadn’t reined them all in a little.

The biggest challenges were a) creating authentic Amish characters, and b) contriving plausible science fiction vampires. I had some help with the first one, in the form of a friend who’s an Amish romance writer. 

With the second, I was pretty much on my own....but not really. God is always gracious to me when I’m doing research. Providing just the right science or intriguing idea when I need it.  It is a difficult process to describe, but it has happened with all my sci-fi books. It is typically like “Well, Lord, I’ve written myself into a corner here...whoa, oh wait, this will work. Thanks!”

JR:  You mentioned your name's in half a dozen other books. Could you tell us about them? And is one of them "But Who Would Be Dumb Enough To Even Try It?" (Former ACFW Indiana Chapter member and Hoosier Ink contributor Morgan L. Busse also worked on that project.)

KN: Sure! I’m fond of all my “children.” I have a sci-fi trilogy that speculates a world under sharia (Islamic) law. The main character is this technological slave named Sandfly. He has an implant in his head to connect him to the future version of the internet, while also keeping him on the straight and narrow via little shocks called “stops.” 

The trilogy starts with A Star Curiously Singing. The third book in the series, Freeheads, won the Epic award this year, and was just named a medalist in the Readers Favorite award competition. What is neat there is that in both cases the book was entered in the mainstream science fiction (not Christian-specific) category, even though it is clearly a Christian book. 

This February my standalone sci-fi novel Mask was published. It takes place in the Pacific Northwest in the not-too-distant future where everything is decided by a vote. The main character, Radial, is a collector. If you get voted out of the city, he’s the one to come get you. It was just named a finalist for the 2014 Epic award.

I also rereleased my memoire FoxTales this summer. New cover, new revisions, and the addition of some fun souvenirs from my files (maps, funny memos, and whatnot).  I’m happy with how it turned out.

That brings us to the two collaborative projects I’ve been a part of. One of those is a short story anthology, Ether Ore, which showcases many of the Marcher Lord authors. (Though unfortunately not Morgan...she wasn’t one of us yet!) I think my story, "Graxin," is tons of fun, but all the stories are great.

Finally, there’s the collaborative fantasy story that many of the Marcher Lord authors helped craft: But Who Would Be Dumb Enough To Even Try It? Each week, for fourteen weeks, a different author would pick up the reins of the story—often from the perspective of a different character—and run with it. It was terrific fun and really seat-of-your-pants writing. There was very little overall planning, so you were at the mercy of whatever the last author left you the week before. Challenging, fun, and a bit chaotic. Despite that (or maybe because of it) I think story turned out quite well. 

That’s one advantage of being part of the Marcher Lord fold. Literary experimentation is encouraged. 

JR:  Probably, for anybody coming up with a new novel is having a tough act to follow. For a novelty story that stretches a genre, I'd guess the challenge is greater. What's next on the agenda? Or are you planning a historical romance next?

KN: LOL. No, no historical romance planned as of yet. You know, I’m at one of those places where I’m open to wherever God wants to take me, writing-wise. There are several things I could do—step back into any of the worlds of my other books, but right now I’m really busy with promotion of what I’ve written already. That takes more time than you might think. 

After that...we’ll see.

JR:  Thank you for your time. Is there a web-page people can keep in touch with you at?

KN: Absolutely. My website is www.nietz.comI’m also regularly on my Facebook author page here:

Thanks for inviting me!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Case of the Sarcastic Spy

Did you ever use CliffsNotes in high school and college as a supplement to the novels assigned in your English classes? (Notice I used the word “supplement” rather than “substitute,” because I know the good Christians reading this blog would never have even considered that second use.)

When Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group and Spy magazine collaborated on a one-time issue of Spy Notes, they adopted a cover that replicated CliffsNotes’ trademarked design with its yellow color, black stripes, and black lettering. The cover also included the words “A Satire” printed five times in red, the Spy magazine logo, and a clay sculpture of New York City (instead of the clay mountain sculpture found on CliffsNotes covers).

Cliffs Notes, Inc. was not amused. Instead of laughing it off, the company sued Bantam for trademark infringement.

Trademarks identify the origin or sponsorship of goods, and the CliffsNotes trademarks told consumers that the guides were produced by Cliffs Notes, Inc. In order to win its case, Cliffs Notes, Inc. had to prove that the public believed it produced, sponsored, or endorsed Spy Notes. If there was no confusion, there was no infringement.

Parody is a frequent defense in trademark cases because a successful parody makes confusion less likely. The imitating work doesn’t have to be a good parody, but consumers must recognize it as one.

Although Spy Notes used the word “satire,” it made fun of the CliffsNotes summaries and was a parody for legal purposes. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was a successful one, as well. As a result, the appeals court concluded that the potential for confusion over Spy Notes’ source was outweighed by the public interest in free expression, and Bantam won.

Trademarks share some characteristics with copyrights, but the differences outweigh the similarities. So what happens when trademark claims clash with the copyright laws? Check back next month for the Case of the Crusade Wars.

* * * * *

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Perils (and Blessings) of Publishing by JoAnn Durgin

I’ve seen a lot in the last (almost) three years since I’ve been a published author. If nothing else, you can always count on me for being honest and upfront about my life, including my writing career. Something happened in the past few weeks that might have devastated me six months ago…but now? Not so much. Let me explain: the publisher of my Lewis Legacy series decided he didn’t want to publish anymore. “Nothing personal,” he said, and I know he means it. He simply wants to concentrate on his own writing, editing and publishing projects. So, I’m being cut loose. I liken it to the bird in the nest who's now ready to fly on its own. So, on a wing and the proverbial prayer, here I go.

What to do now? Well, I could shop the series (four books out now and more to come) to other publishers, but I don’t think I’m going that route. You see, I believe the Lord prepared me for this to happen and I’ve expected it for some time. Like so many in the publishing industry, including the CBA, I’ve kept a close eye on several well-respected, multi-published authors who’ve taken to self-publishing their backlist titles or new, shorter works and listing them for sale at a low-cost price. And now these same authors are saying they’re earning their “bread and butter” from these books. Interesting, eh? Sure, they’ve been traditionally published and have earned a strong, large and loyal following…that certainly helps. Keep reading.

Let’s face it. There used to be a certain “stigma” attached to self-publishing. As Michael Hyatt told his audiences at writing conventions two years ago, “The stigma is gone.” Honestly? I never expected to be published by a big CBA house, if I was published at all. Not because I didn’t believe my writing measured up, but for the very fact that my writing is “different.” I write outside-of-the-box, non-formulaic contemporary Christian romances. From the beginning, I wrote because I simply love telling a story. I understood—if I was published at all—it would most likely be with a small, independent publisher. I wasn’t personally willing to compromise to make my stories fit the “safe” mold required by most mainstream publishers. Among other aspects, my books are longer in terms of length, and my characters unashamedly refer to scripture and things of the Lord (without “beating them over the head”), and support conservative “causes” many publishers don’t want to touch. So far, the readers aren’t complaining, and my books are reaching an audience beyond the typical “Christian” mainstream reader, and I now have a small but strong and loyal following upon which to build. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Praise the Lord!

To test the waters, perhaps, I released Catching Serenity on my own a few weeks ago, something I’d planned to do before I learned of my publisher’s decision. Again, I believe it’s because I knew this was coming. I’ve been harder on myself and agonized over this one book because it’s all mine. Put it this way: it’s a good thing Amazon doesn’t charge for reloading a file when changes are made. Self-publishing is a scary proposition and yet an exciting one. To be clear, I’ve also published with a couple of other small CBA publishers and I plan on producing more books with those same publishers in the future. As always, I’ll continue to follow His leading first and foremost, in writing as in all aspects of my life. Like anything else, writing and publication is a journey. I’m sure I’ll stumble at times, but hopefully I’ll also have times when I’ll soar. But I’ll have the freedom to help design my book covers, set my own deadlines and schedule, but more importantly to me? I’ll have the freedom to tell my story my way. And that’s just fine with me.


JoAnn Durgin
Proverbs 3:5-6

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five Ways to Use Social Media as a Ministry Tool

When I first joined Facebook, I really wasn’t sure what to do with it. As a somewhat isolated homeschooling mom, I loved reading other’s updates. But I didn’t think anyone would be interested to know that I fed my children PB&Js for lunch.

Then, when I joined Twitter, I was completely and utterly lost. It seemed to be all self-promotion, and self-promotion just makes me feel icky. Plus, I didn’t think I had anything to promote.

Next came Pinterest and another ten pounds along with elaborately impossible plans to renovate and decorate my home. J

We all know that in the publishing world we authors are expected to be involved in social media, reaching out to potential and current readers. I’m not here to tell you which outlet or how often you should post. Pray about it, and mind the Lord.

But with social media, the world is at our fingertips…literally. We have the opportunity to inject a little bit of hope, a little bit of encouragement, a little bit of the gospel, into people’s lives. 

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” {1 Thessalonians 5:11}

Two necessary cautions:
  1. Be careful of your time spent.
  2. Be careful of whom you follow or friend.

So, what can you post to be encouraging on social media?
  1. Scripture. Can’t get any better than that. Gospel truth, and you don’t even have to write it yourself.
  2. Quotes from devotional books, like Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. You don’t have to write that either, but make sure you give proper credit to the author.
  3. Prayers. Something like “Praying for the peace that surpasses all understanding for you today.” Or “Father God, bless us with the peace that surpasses all understanding today. Amen.”
  4. Request for prayer. Either pass on someone else’s prayer or share your own. (Obviously, don’t make it something you don’t want the whole world to know.) Those who feel it a burden to pray for you will just keep scrolling. Others will be blessed by the opportunity.
  5. Encouraging or just plain pretty images, perhaps with some Scripture or perhaps not. In a hectic day, a glimpse of a picture of an empty bench sitting along a winding path can calm the harried soul. Mountains, beaches, cottages, whatever you find refreshing.

Sometimes I still share about peanut butter and jelly, but I try to write it in a way that encourages, or at least amuses, my friends.

And the next time you read a verse online or are soothed by a pretty picture, thank the Lord for that bit of encouragement.

Q4U: How else can we encourage others on social media?

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sneaking Off to God

by Rachael Phillips 

How dare He?

 Everyone was looking for Jesus, including desperate people with nasty diseases and nastier demons.  

Yet He had the nerve to sneak off.

Jesus’ fans harassed His disciples, his closest friends, for information. They had no clue where He was.

Duh. How embarrassing.

They discussed the possibility of buying Jesus a cell with better coverage, but declared that idea futile. He’d turn it off, anyway.  

When they finally tracked Him down, Jesus heard a mantra far too familiar to mothers, pastors, doctors—and writers: “Where were you?”

Jesus didn’t attempt to justify His time alone with God. He didn’t worry about how his actions would affect contributions or His marketing statistics. He affirmed the direction God had given Him: “Let us go somewhere else … so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

How simple.

How impossible.

As Jesus’ ministry grew, even He, though perfect, found it difficult to spend intimate time with His Father.

C.S. Lewis, who wrote these lines from The Weight of Glory in 1949, echoed that complication: “Even where someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be … never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”

Why do we, married to our phones, think we should find it easy?

Today I hear the Father’s call. Not an audible one.

More than audible.

I just flushed the afternoon’s to-do list down the toilet.

Unlike Jesus, I don’t always respond to Him with immediacy.

But I feel empty and gooshy as a hollowed-out pumpkin today, a jack-o-lantern smile carved into my face.

My mom has terminal cancer.

I need new direction in my writing.

I must hear from God. I need to touch His hand.

Where can I go?

When a young mother, I sat just inside the open garage doorway where I could keep one eyeball fixed on my toddlers watching Sesame Street. Or I breathed prayers while in the bathroom during the 2.3 seconds before small fists banged on the door and indignant wails shredded my concentration.  

Surely, I can find a place of prayer now. After all, I live near a Christian college with a beautiful prayer chapel that includes small private, glassed-in rooms. I’ve also tucked myself into corners of college libraries, especially during breaks. Lakes, cemeteries, museums, bookstores and nooks in shopping malls during the day can serve as prayer “closets.” One can even pray in a church. (Beware, however, of vacuum-wielding janitors or those who lie in wait in shadowy hallways, recruiting for committees).

Today my destination is a tiny, well-kept though neglected park, with a bench where Jesus and I can sit and hold hands in the fall sunshine.

Where do you sneak off to be with God?        









Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Do You Write Christian Fiction?

By Darren Kehrer

Simple question. Extensive answer.

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Why do I write Christian Fiction?"

When someone asks you that question, do you always respond the same? Has that answer changed as your writing life (and your Christian Faith) has grown and expanded? As a Christian writer, I would assume your answers may not be motivated by finances, fame, and fortune.

I would wager that most of you answer:
  • I want to tell a story of Faith.
  • I want to write about characters going through struggles.
  • I want people to see Christ in my characters.
This list can probably go on for as many lines as are available on this page. Some of you might even answer, "I want to write to explore Christ in me."

My answer: As a writer of science fiction, "I write to explore the infinite realms of time, eternity, and imagination" with a Christian element mixed in. I truly believe that with God, all things are possible. Let's face it, if God didn't have an imagination, we wouldn't be here!

So, what's your motivation to write Christian Fiction?

Friday, October 11, 2013


Maybe you remember this booklet photo from my blog a month ago? It's contents should interest EVERY writer and reader, especially Christian ones!

Last August I enjoyed a week in Orlando with family. If you think Disney World, Harry Potter Park, etc, were the most fun for me, you're wrong (although doing those parks with kids and grandkids was super fun). However, the highlight of the week for me was a day at The Holy Land Experience, largely because of The Scriptorium.

Years ago I read with great interest about the Van Kampen Collection of rare Biblical artifacts, but I had no idea or recollection it was in Orlando. LO AND BEHOLD (is that a cliche, Rick?), turns out it's in The Holy Land Experience!What a surprise treat!
(To read Rick Barry's blog on cliches, click here: Cliches.) 

Are you vague about what a scriptorium is? Here's the explanation in the guide pictured above: "Before the invention of printing by moveable type, the actual work of reproducing a manuscript was done in a scriptorium, a Latin word that means 'writing room.' The scriptorium was a room, located in a medieval monastery, where the Scriptures and other religious books were copied out by hand."

And how about The Scriptorium in Orlando? Obviously, it's a re-creation of the medieval ones. It has many rooms that portray in spectacular and dramatic ways the story of the Bible, starting in 3000 B.C. with Abraham.

When you walk into a room, the lights dim and all kinds of special effects surround you  including narration, projections, life-size scenes, and ancient artifacts in display cases. In other words, you feel THERE when Abram leaves his home to follow God 5000 years ago; you are THERE in Babylon looking at one of Nebuchadnezzar's actual 2600 year-old tablets; you look THERE in awe at one of the 2200 year-old papyrus scrolls of the Septuagint (the Greek transalation of the Hebrew Scriptures ordered by the directors of the Alexandrian Library, one of the Seven Wonders of the World); and THERE you "visit" a Byzantine bindery in Constantinople and see one of the early illustrated codices of the New Testament from the 1100s.

OKAY, I'm not going to summarize every re-created scene and amazing ancient artifact, but how can I not mention Wyclif's final study where he speaks to you, Gutenberg's print shop with one of his first edition Holy Bibles from 1455, Tyndale's frighteningly ransacked print shop, a 1537 Matthew's Bible with blood-stained pages, Bunyan's prison cell, and so much more. . .

Has anyone reading this blog visited The Scriptorium? If so, I expect you feel as strongly as I that EVERY Christian, especially every Christian writer, should visit it! Although nothing can replace a visit in person, you can get a DVD tour from and from Marquis Laughlin's website. Not sure why The Holy Land Experience online store doesn't carry the DVD.

John 1:1 ~ In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with GOD, and the WORD was God. My Scriptorium experience has helped me to understand that verse just a teeny bit more. Praise God!

Below: Enjoying the Creation and Noah's Ark animals at The Holy Land Experience.

Millie Nelson Samuelson

Monday, October 7, 2013

How can your writing bless your pastor?

October is Clergy Appreciation Month. There's a reason this is an important even to participate in, and I'm not just saying so because I'm a pastor's wife.

According to Dr. Richard J. Krejcir,1500 pastors leave the ministry each month, 50% of pastor's marriages will end in divorce, 70% constantly fight depression, and 40% have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

(Stay with me, I'm getting to the writing part of this post. But I think it's important to share these startling statistics.)

According to Focus on the Family, 70% of pastors state they don't have close personal friends or anyone in whom they can confide. Most pastors work 60-70 hours a week and great demands are placed upon them and their families. 80% of pastors say ministry negatively affects their families. As a pastor's wife, and mother of of pastor's kids, I can say this is extremely true. Two of our children highly resent growing up as a pastor's child, and it breaks my heart. Not because of what we as parents expected of them, but because of how they were treated by church members.

I recently had the privilege of speaking one on one with a prominent evangelist's daughter, and she confirmed this. "Mother and Daddy never put any pressure on us, but other people did because of whose children we were."

So what does all of this have to do with you as a writer?

It's important for writers to share their gift. Christian writers have been given a powerful medium with which to change lives. Every time you write a poem for someone, a thank you note, or a tribute, you are using your gift for God's glory.  Too many times we measure our worth as a writer by what we've published, but that's not at all how God measures success.

Words are incredibly powerful and you've been given a precious responsibility. Writing a card or letter is just as important as anything else you will publish.You can use your gift of words to write a personal letter or note card for your pastor to take home and enjoy. Your written words will last a very long time, perhaps a lifetime. My husband keeps all his cards and letters and even puts some of them under the glass top on his desk. They are fuel for when the going gets tough.

Here are a few more ways to use your writing gift to show your pastor you appreciate them:
  • E-mail your pastor an encouraging note each day of October.
  • Text your pastor each day with an encouraging text. (I'm planning a "text mob" for my husband and have the congregation send him loving texts all on the same day.)
  • Write an encouraging note or text or email to your pastor's kids.
  • Write a tribute on the church's Facebook wall, your wall, the pastor's wall or use other social media to sing the praises of your pastor.
  • I have a friend who owns her own store and she uses her store window to write encouraging
    words about my husband on her windows during pastor's appreciation month.
  • If you attend a small church and the pastor's wife does a lot of the administration (typing bulletin, newsletter, etc.) offer to help her for a month -- or year!
  • Use your writing gift to encourage the congregation to love their pastor. Send them each a note and suggest ideas.
  • Write a letter to the editor extolling the virtues of your pastor.
  • Write a prayer that your congregation can pray daily for your pastor and his family.
  • Write a poem for your pastor (or a song).
  • Write a skit about the gift of a pastor and recruit your friends to act it out. It can be funny or serious. (We did one years back called "Super Pastor" and it was hilarious.)
  • Write a note telling your pastor something you learned from a sermon. That will knock his socks off!
  • Write up some coupons for your pastor such as "a night out with childcare" -- get creative.
  • Write a tribute to his wife. She needs encouragement too.
So what ways can you think of to use your writing gift to bless your pastor and others? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up... 
Thessalonians 5:11a, NIV

Karla Akins is the award-winning author of The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots. She's been a pastor's wife for more than 32 years. You can find Karla via her website and blog at

All images in this post are public domain or provided/created by the author.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What Supporting Characters Can Show Us

In high school, I built a reflecting telescope to explore the skies over East Tennessee. We didn't have much light pollution on the farm where we lived, so I could see faint stars and distant planets that would not have been visible in the suburbs. Early on, I learned a trick that helped me see more: Look beside the object you really want to see. This allows its faint rays to fall on more sensitive parts of the eyeball--not the center of the field of vision, where daily exposure wears out the optic cells.

Try it sometime. You'll see more detail by not looking directly at the object of  your interest, but beside it.

The same sort of thing happens when we try to understand another person. Seldom do we get a complete picture of their personality and values by talking only with them. However, as we look at  their family, friends, and surroundings, the real object of our interest comes into focus. Supporting characters do that in fiction.

For example, we only get a flat, two-dimensional understanding of Jay Gatsby if we watch him ply his guests with drinks at a glittering Saturday night party. But by watching Daisy, his long-lost love; her husband, Tom; and Tom's tragic mistress, Myrtle, we see the wide swath of ruin that Gatsby wrecks wherever he goes. They reveal more about Gatsby than he himself can show us.

A skillful writer uses supporting characters with this purpose in mind. Let them truly live and breathe, because they know things about your protagonist that she has artfully concealed--so artfully, in fact, that even she has forgotten them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Too Cliché, or Not Too Cliché… That Is the Question

Clichés. They're so common that finding them is easy as shooting fish in a barrel. In fact, because we're so used to clichés, people take to using them like a fish takes to water. However, I want to caution you against them. Avoid clichés like the plague. Don't touch one with a ten-foot pole! After all, amateur writers use them most often, and since birds of a feather flock together, you won't be able to pull the wool over any editor's eyes if you use them, too. 

So, what exactly is a cliché?  In essence, any time someone begins a phrase, and the listener (or reader) knows exactly how the phrase is going to end, that’s a cliché. A cliché is almost like a joke that is as old as the hills. The punch line of an overused joke is light as a feather. Likewise, the original clever wording of a cliché no longer rings like a bell. Its oomph is simply gone with the wind.

“Oh, I would never use clichés,” you might think. Well, don’t be too quick to blow your own horn about it. (And if you make that claim, I’ll have a bone to pick with you.) These expressions try to creep into the pages of even seasoned authors. In order to spot them in your manuscripts, you will need the eyes of an eagle and must be sharp as a tack. You’ll need to keep your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone!

However, don’t be discouraged. After all, every cloud has a silver lining. If you’re willing to go the extra mile in exterminating these lazy expressions, you won’t need to run around like a chicken with its head cut off when it’s time to revise your manuscript for submission. In fact, right off the top of my head, I can think of several reasons why a personal war on clichés will make you happy as a clam. For starters, cliché-ridden stories are automatically dead as a door nail in the eyes of a literary agent or editor. (Any wannabe writer who disagrees is simply barking up the wrong tree.) Clichés make a manuscript ugly as sin, but if your stories don’t have any, then your manuscripts will be clean as a whistle, which will certainly be a load off your mind. So, looking before you leap will make you appear as wise as Solomon in the publishing world.

“Oh, let sleeping dogs lie,” some might blurt. “Don’t open a can of worms,” others suggest. However, I suspect those who say such things have already been caught red-handed. They are guilty of this very crime, and here I am, rubbing salt into the wounds of writers who have a chip on their shoulder.

“It’s a nice rule, but rules are made to be broken! You’re just beating a dead horse.” Yeah, right. The ones who complain this way might believe they march to the beat of a different drummer (with a superior tune). That’ll be the day. It’s high time they wake up and smell the coffee instead of resting on their laurels. If they truly believe that, then they have a few loose screws and simply are not playing with a full deck. Instead, what they truly need to do is bite the bullet and take the bull by the horns in an effort to jump on the bandwagon to improve their writing skills. Yes, yes, I realize this decision will keep them busy as a bee. It might even make them feel as though they have bitten off more than they can chew on this wild goose chase we call writing for publication.

However, look on the bright side. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. But, good things come to those who wait. So even though time is money, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Take that first step and resolve to eradicate the clichés lurking in your writing. No more Mister Nice Guy, because nice guys finish last. 

When he's not rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off, Rick Barry is the author of over 200 published short stories and articles, plus two novels. Visit his personal blog at