Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Writer's Guide to the First Amendment: Introduction

What does the First Amendment say, and how does it affect you as a writer? These are the questions I will be answering in my monthly posts in 2014.

Let’s start with the actual language:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Not all scholars agree on the number of protections in the First Amendment. Personally, I count six, divided this way:

Congress shall make no law (1) respecting an establishment of religion, or (2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or (3) abridging the freedom of speech or (4) of the press; or (5) the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and (6) to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Do you notice something strange about the way the amendment begins? It says “Congress shall make no law.” So why do the courts apply it to states and schools and other governmental entities? I’ll answer that question in next month’s post.

This month I’ll end with a bit of historical trivia that even Supreme Court justices get wrong. Did you know that the First Amendment was really the third? Congress sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification, but the first two didn’t pass.
So the third became the first.

* * *

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent 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, January 20, 2014

Making Your Setting Work (It's a Character, Too!) by JoAnn Durgin

For a long time, I don’t think I truly understood how important the setting is for a novel. For a novel to be successful and resonate with readers, the setting should be a critical component, and so much that it actually becomes an actual character in the book. Think about some famous novels and their settings. Would Gone With the Wind be the same? To Kill A Mockingbird? Tom Sawyer? Would John Grisham’s Pelican Brief (or many of his legal thrillers) be the same without that unrelenting Louisiana heat? It’s difficult to imagine these particular books in any other setting. Sure, it’s the way the author wrote them, but they work. Well.

We’ve all heard it’s best to write what you know, and that extends to setting. I believe this advice is sound and good. Most authors make the settings of our books places we’ve either lived, currently live in, or else we’ve visited and done a lot of research in order to make it authentic. I wrote about San Antonio in my debut novel, Awakening, but I’ve only visited once for three days, and longer ago than I care to remember. But that’s all it took to ingrain the sights, sounds and general “feel” of this marvelous city in my mind. I visited some of the missions, the Alamo, the Riverwalk and the downtown open air markets. It was enough to spur the creative spark in me, and I knew I wanted to make it the setting of a book.

One of the biggest compliments you can get as an author is for the natives of a region you use as a setting to tell you, “You nailed it.” Here’s a confession: my second novel, Second Time Around, takes the reader from Massachusetts (where I lived for nearly eight years) to Montana. I’ve lived in Massachusetts, and the house used as my characters’ home in that book was based on our house outside of Boston. However, I’ve never even flown over much less set foot in Montana. For a large portion of the book, I needed a setting with lots of wide open spaces and freezing cold weather in November (representing the hopelessness and isolation of the main character when they first arrive), but also a setting with great opportunities for adventure and danger (on a working ranch). Being a romance, of course, there has to be a place which can also offer romantic possibilities (cold weather, warm fires, hot chocolate…you get the drift). But at least I have writer friends in Montana (thank you ACFW), and thank the Lord for the wonder that is the Internet and Google. This writing journey would be a lot harder without technology, wouldn’t it? 
In subsequent books, I’ve based the setting on places I’ve lived or visited in person, but I’ve gained some details from citizens of that locale and also gleaned information online. My current novella, Echoes of Edinburgh, is based on the famous city in Scotland. Yes, I’ve been there long enough to get a good “feel” of the people, the region, the culture, the customs. But having cousins who visited every summer for 30 years with photography students gave me the American “insider’s scoop” that I never could have found elsewhere. Invaluable details…

What makes a setting memorable? In my opinion, it’s all in the details, folks. They can make all the difference. Anyone can say Texas is hot and dusty during the summer. But how do you show it? By sweat snaking a winding trail down your characters’ backs, or having them frequently wipe perspiration from their foreheads or gulp down water to keep hydrated. They wear lightweight clothing and pray for rain – and when it comes, it can be torrential. Dust swirls around their boots as they walk. Mountain ranges are beautiful. You have tall trees, pathways to follow, beautiful, winding, babbling streams. Rocks to climb. The gorgeous creation of God is all around us, and in many different settings. Make it work for you and your novel!

Cities are sometimes more boring as a setting. They’re full of concrete, glass, passivity and the impersonal. Fill your book with these things, and who’d want to read it? So, what makes a city non-boring? Any number of things. Take Rome, Italy, as an example. I’ve been blessed enough to have visited twice. I will write about it someday because it’s so vibrant and alive in my mind. For such an ancient city, there’s such an absolute joy in living exhibited by the Italian citizens. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to make an impression. But I’d no sooner step behind the wheel of a car in Italy than I’d bungee jump off a cliff. You can almost feel the history oozing as you stroll the city streets, eat pasta in a sidewalk cafe, or sit around a fountain in a piazza eating strawberries purchased from the street market. Paris, France, is full of citizens who aren’t as friendly to tourists, but they sure know how to make pastry. What am I really saying here? There are other aspects such as the weather, circumstances, events, the social mores and customs—they all factor into the overall effect and impact of your novel. Make that passivity—or the liveliness—of a city work as a reflection of what’s going on inside your character.

Of course, conjuring a setting in your own mind can work equally well and, as an author, you have the freedom to create places along with your characters. Personally, I love doing this since no one can point a finger at you and tell you that you got it wrong. Real places change, but fictional locales are at the authors discretion and whims. What fun. I’ve created two fictional settings thus far: Croisette Shores, South Carolina, in my most recent full-length, stand alone novel, Catching Serenity, and Starlight, Iowa, for my Christmas novellas. Small-town, fictional locales definitely have their own unique charm.

I’d love to hear about what settings you either write about or love to read about. What makes them work? No matter your setting, embrace it, indulge yourself in it, fully explore how it can work for your plot and characters. Above all, keep writing and keep reading! Until next time, blessings my friends.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. 1 Chronicles 29:11

JoAnn Durgin
Matthew 5:16

JoAnns most recent release is Starlight, Star Bright (November 2013), a Christmas novella and sequel to Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (2012) with Pelican Book Group. She is the author of five full-length novels (four in The Lewis Legacy Series). She’s currently working on edits to Echoes of Edinburgh, a Passport to Romance novella, also with Pelican Book Group, in addition to working on Moonbeams, Book #5 in the Lewis series.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My 2014 Reading Plan

One year. Fifty books. That’s the absolute bare bones of my reading plan for 2014.

In the past, my reading has been purely seat-of-the-pants. Cover, title, recommendation… whatever catches my eye I jump right in to. But I’ve been inspired by other writers and readers who actually formulate a plan for their reading for the year. I’ve embraced this idea for two reasons.

  1. A plan of attack means it could actually happen in an orderly fashion. Reading time is precious. I don’t want to waste it. J
  2. The plan gives me permission to read books other than writing craft books and books in my genre. Intellectually, I know it’s good to read history and psychology and missionary books, but I’ve been so intent on studying my genre that I couldn’t convince myself to read anything else.

For me, the Bible is a given, so I’ve not included it on my list.

So, here goes. My already-been-tweaked-several-times-and-that’s-why-it’s-just-now-coming-out-in-the-middle-of-January reading list for 2014 ~

·         2 R.M. Ballantyne books
o   The Dog Crusoe
o    The Lonely Island
·         2 Jane Austen novels (possibly all six) to discuss from the perspective of motherhood
o   Pride and Prejudice
o   Sense and Sensibility
·         6 contemporary romance, including Love Inspired {absolute minimum!}
o   Millie’s Treasure, Kathleen Y’Barbo
o   Smitten, Colleen Coble, {Just need to finish it.}
o   Nicholas Sparks?
·         2 historical romance {absolute minimum!}
o   Rebellious Heart, Jody Hedlund
o   Love’s Awakening, Laura Frantz
·         1 legal suspense – Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales, Randy Singer
·         5 favorite fiction authors
o   Cynthia Ruchti’s new book coming in May
o   Lady in Waiting, Susan Meissner
o   Not in the Heart, Chris Fabry
·         3 new fiction authors {absolute minimum!}
o   The Bone Box by Bob Hostetler
o   Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
o   Richard Mabry
·         8 young adult
o   Gunner’s Run and Kiriath’s Quest by Rick Barry
o   The Legend of Annie Murphy by Frank Peretti
o   The Caroline books from American Girl {It’s always good to keep up with what your young adults are reading. J}
·         4 writing craft books {absolute minimum!}
o   Stein on Writing, Sol Stein
o   The Moral Premise, Stanley Williams
o   Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King {just need to finish this one}
o   Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell {need to finish this one as well}
·         3 assigned missionary books from our church conference
·         2 creative non-fiction history
o   “They Have Killed Papa Dead!” The Road to Ford’s Theatre, Abraham Lincoln’s Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance, Anthony S. Pitch
o   Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, Rush Limbaugh
·         1 creative non-fiction/memoir
o   Gifted Hands, Dr. Ben Carson
·         5 non-fiction {absolute minimum!}
o   Ragged Hope, Cynthia Ruchti
o   You’re Made for a God-sized Dream, Holley Gerth
o   When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, Beth Moore
o   Large Family Logistics, Kim Brenneman
·         1 marketing book – Rob Eager?
·         1 uncategorized – The Book of Useless Information – Doesn’t that just sound intriguing? J
·         2-3 Christmas books
o   The Christmas Candle, Max Lucado
o   The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
·         1 daily devotional – Praying God’s Word Day by Day, Beth Moore
·         An untold number of children’s picture books. J

I’ve allowed myself some wiggle room in the numbers to allow for decisions along the way, although I would love to read far more than fifty. If a fantastic book comes available in May, I don’t want to have to put it off until the New Year.

I’m also allowing that I may have to extend myself some grace. I have six children, I homeschool, we’re building our own home, and my husband is contemplating a Ph.D. program. Whew!

It’s not too late to make your own reading plan. Keep track of what you read through the year, and let’s meet back here in December.

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mapping the Future of Your Writing

By Darren Kehrer

Published Author Ahead!
When you sit down to plan a trip to a place you have never been before, you pull out a map (or like most of us, use some form of online mapping tool). When you wake up in the morning and start planning your day, you might use some form of day planner (electronic or not) to plan out your day. In each of these examples, you are using a tool to plan out your path of travel or the tasks you wish to accomplish. Even the helmsmen of the starship Enterprise uses sophisticated instruments to plot the path he wishes the starship to take (and thus arrives at the desired destination).

I would postulate that your writing journey is no different. By listing, plotting, and planning your writing journey, you are visually formulating a plan of action for your writing career. Let me say right off that this is not a rigid plan, but evolves as you sail through the (now) charted waters of your writing career.

Each January, for example, I create a yearly writing chart. This is more than just a simple New Year’s resolution to “write more.” It consists of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals...all in a visual format. Beyond that, I even list things such as:
  • Interesting titles that I have come up with that need content (article, blog post, short story.)
  • Places I want to submit articles, short stories, or blog posts (publishers, etc.)
  • Story outlines (general one line descriptions.)
  • Any contests I want to enter into.
  • Blog ideas.
  • Hoosier Ink newsletter ideas.
There is something very satisfying about seeing all of this “in writing.” I can make notes on my writing map as to how I am doing and adjust the map as I go along. The bottom line is that I have another tool to hold myself accountable and have a map to follow instead of just “writing in the dark.” Your map might have these or possibly other elements, but the key is that it becomes the blueprint to the foundation of your writing journey.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Publishing Dilemma! HELP!

What do YOU think? Should I publish an incomplete novel?

That's my dilemma, and here's why I'm considering doing so.

I'm about halfway finished with the third novel, Jade Cross, in my Yangtze Dragon Trilogy. My novels are stories inspired by my family's China and Taiwan experiences, dating back to 1882 until the present time. At the rate I'm progressing, I doubt I'll finish this third novel before the end of the year.

My problem?

I plan to dedicate Jade Cross to several significant others from my life when I was growing up in Taiwan. They are now elderly, and recently one moved to Glory. I would like the others to see my forever gratitude in print before they, too, finish their days on earth.

So I'm considering publishing part of Jade Cross and sending it to them. Incidentally, they have read my first two novels, and have expressed eagerness to read the final one.

Since I can quite easily do this as a self-published author,
should I? Or am I overlooking some serious drawbacks?

Plus I'm curious!

For those of you who've read the first two novels in my trilogy, would you like to read a few more chapters of the story while you wait for the finished novel?

I hope you'll let me know what YOU think!

Millie Nelson Samuelson

PS: To celebrate our New Year, all four of my Kindle books are on sale for only 99 cents each this month of January on Amazon: Hungry River, Dragon Wall, A Missionary Memoir, Women of the Last Supper.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stopping to Plagiarize on a Snowy Evening

No, as an author I don't really endorse the pilfering of another author's material. However, once the idea for the following poem took root in my mind, creativity took over, and I simply had to write it, but just for fun ! The effort was a nice change of pace from the snow shoveling I've been doing the past couple days. Enjoy!

Stopping to Plagiarize on a Snowy Evening
By Rick Barry (with inspiration from Robert Frost)
  Whose words these are I think I know.
  His lawyer isn’t watching though.
  He will not see me scanning here       
  To steal his words, which nicely flow.
  My little dog must think it queer
  To filch these lines without fear,
  To pinch the words and be a fake,
  The darkest cunning of the year.

  He gives his dog tags a loud shake
  As if to warn, “A lot’s at stake!”
  The only other sound’s the beep
  My printer gives as lines I take.
  These words are lovely, rich and deep,
  But me? I have deadlines to keep,
  And pages to type before I sleep,
  And pages to type before I sleep.

When he's not spoofing Robert Frost, Rick Barry is the author of over 200 published short stories and articles, plus two novels. Visit his personal blog at

Monday, January 6, 2014

Want to get more done? Get a plant!

A study from Texas A & M University found that plants increase productivity and creativity by up to 30 percent!

I'm pretty bad with plants. Mainly because I forget they're there. But the study also shows that plants also help reduce headaches and fatigue so maybe I should give this a try!

Some other things I've learned to be more productive are posted in my blog post: "Write Like You're Hair's On Fire!"  They include things like using the planner I designed to keep my writing life organized. You can get your own copy here: Karla's Writer's Planner.

In addition to my planner, I keep a desk calendar dedicated only to my writing. It includes my deadlines, blog topics, and word counts in addition to my planner. Because I have a touch of ADD, I need to double up on my reminders.

My goals for 2014 are:
  • Stand more. If I'm on the phone, I'm going to stand and walk. 
  • Say "no" more. This is a hard one for me. 
  • Have more fun. Another hard one for me. But I'm determined!
  • Watch more movies. 
  • My two words for 2014: Courage and Grace.
Head on over to my blog post and glean more ideas on how to be more productive in 2014. Then come back here and let me know what your goals are or what helps YOU write like your hair's on fire. With the Lord's help and encouragement from one another, we can get more done!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy Birthday Indianapolis. . .and Me! by Ramona K. Cecil

Indiana State Capitol Building, Indianapolis

While researching the history of Indianapolis for a possible future novella, I was surprised to learn that I share a birthday—January 10th—with our state's capital city!


As it turns out, we also share unpropitious beginnings. I was born in a small town; actually the small town John Mellencamp referenced in his song of the same name. Indianapolis, too, had humble beginnings. It began as a backwoods swamp. Nearly everyone outside the handful of visionaries who saw the benefit of situating Indiana’s capital city in the center of the state, considered the choice both baffling and a grand folly.


In 1816 when Indiana became the 19th state in the Union, Corydon, on the state’s southern border, served as the capital. In those days, rivers and other major waterways were the superhighways of their time. Situated near the Ohio River, Corydon could be accessed by boat from any point in the country.
However when Indiana gained statehood, the U.S. Government set aside land in the central part of the state for a capital since most states were centrally locating their seats of government. In 1820, prominent members of the Indiana legislature embraced the notion of a new capital city set smack dab in the center of Indiana.
Native American village
Fall Creek, Indianapolis
Most residents of the new Hoosier state considered the idea lunacy; the central part of the state was but a wooded swampy marsh still peopled exclusively by Native American tribes, and not accessible by a major waterway. Undaunted, the proponents of the move insisted that the west fork of the White River, which did flow through the proposed site, would allow access to the new capital. Later, that stream proved far too shallow and pocked with sandbars to be navigable by most boats, but by the time this fact became evident the deed was done. January 10th, 1825, the little capital that could was moved from Corydon to Indiana’s swampy midsection near a little pioneer settlement called Fall Creek. The town’s new name would be Indianapolis, joining “Indiana” with “polis,” the Greek word for city.


Soldiers and Sailors Monument at
 Monument Circle, Indianapolis
Architects Alexander Ralston and Elia Pym Fordam were chosen to design the city of Indianapolis. Ralston, an apprentice to Pierre L’Enfant the French architect who’d designed Washington D.C., plotted Indianapolis on one square mile centered by a circular common. That circular center, originally called Governor’s Circle and planned to be the site of the governor’s mansion, later became Monument Circle; the site of the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, completed in 1901.


Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Thanks to the National Road which reached Indianapolis in 1831 and the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad that arrived in 1847, the lack of a navigable waterway was no longer an issue and the city flourished. By the turn of the last century Indianapolis became a leader in automobile manufacturing which, in 1911, spawned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its now world renowned 500 mile open-wheel automobile race. Throw in the NASCAR 400, a professional basketball franchise, and a professional football franchise, and Indianapolis has come a long way from that miasmic backwoods swamp.


As for me, hey, Indianapolis proves that however humble your beginnings, anything is possible. At the start of this new year, in our birthday month, the achievements of Indianapolis encourage me to dream big, ignore all naysayers, and reach for the stars.





Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why I Started Writing Fiction

I'm writing these words on New Years Day 2014, an overcast afternoon here in central Indiana, just a couple of hours before a Winter Storm Watch is due to begin. So it's a good time to sit by my window and reflect on the turn of the year.

January takes its name from the Roman god of doors, Janus, depicted as a two-faced fellow who looks into the future and the past at the same time. I usually spend New Years thinking about the future, but there's just as much to gain by looking back to learn how I got to this place in my life, which brought me to the question I've been mulling this afternoon: Why did I start writing fiction?

I've been a journalist for most of my adult life. My first job was as a cub reporter for the Herald & Tribune, a county-seat weekly in Jonesborough, TN. I worked as a copy boy at the Herald Bulletin while attending Anderson College, then as editor of the campus newspaper and news editor for Vital Christianity, our denomination's semi-monthly magazine. Eventually, I began editing reference books and textbooks. I seemed to be obsessed with getting the facts straight and getting them down on paper. So why did I start writing fiction?

I didn't do it to engage in stealthy preaching. The public sees right through that. I agree with the hard-bitten Hollywood film magnate who told his producers, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union."

I wasn't trying to demolish cultural stereotypes of naive evangelical Christians, though I certainly wish we could do away them. And even though fiction can take me away from the painful realities of family feuds, job stress, and health problems, I don't write fiction for escapism. However, as soon as I started pondering that possibility this afternoon, the real answer became apparent:

I write fiction because life's truths are bigger than life's facts.

The truth about global hunger is far bigger than all the statistics that UNESCO has compiled. The truth about human trafficking is bigger than the latest report about the breakup of an immigrant smuggling ring. The truth about terrorism is bigger than the horrific photos of bomb victims coming out of Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan. We grasp the truth about these human problems by hearing stories of people like ourselves, caught up in these problems.

For example, we understand prejudice when Scout Finch tells us the story of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. We understand community when Clarence Odbody tells George Bailey how his story might have turned out differently in It's a Wonderful Life. We understand shame and guilt when an ancient Hebrew narrator tells us the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

("Wait!" you may say. "Adam and Eve's story is not fiction!" But few Bible readers care about that question. Whether it's factual or fictional, they know the Eden story is true.)

So I believe that's why I started writing fiction. "The writer's job is to tell the truth," Hemingway famously said, and I agree. Though it's much more difficult than gathering statistics for a news article, it's also more likely to confront readers with the truth about themselves, their world, and their Maker.


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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 - A Year of Destiny and Purpose

Dear Fellow Writers,

     2014 looms ahead like a bound book of blank pages waiting to be filled. For some, all that white is paralyzing. Others itch to fill the pages. Still others press the first page flat, prep the pen, and plan. Whatever your style, I encourage you to include God for only he can cause us to get it right. Do you doubt me? Look at 2013 one last time before you file it on the shelf.

     The Book of My Life 2013 is filled with scrawls, inkblots, and scratch outs, as well as exclamation points, underlining, and stars. So is yours. Evaluate it through God’s eyes and you may be surprised. What you marked as failure may have held important God-moments that will help you succeed in your writing life or as a person. The success you did reach may have not been as sweet as you anticipated. Why not? The Bible is filled with men who followed God and knew success, only to become prideful, neglectful of family or driven by accolades.

     As writers, we incorporate our experiences into stories of impact. We describe what we see and feel so that readers identify with us. With written words we define and clarify what escapes others. In effect, we are God’s reporters weaving truth into fiction in such a way that light comes to dark minds.When you look at it like this, every moment has the potential of being a God-moment.

     You have a destiny, a purpose to fulfill. This next year will move you closer to it if you let two truths guide you. They are true whether 2014 is a mountaintop or a desert experience.

1.   God has a plan, a destiny, for you that is good. He tells us straight out in Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper and not harm you, to give you hope and a future.”
2.   You choose your destiny. This destiny is not assured. It requires a decision to follow Christ’s direction. He gives us freewill, yet invites us to follow him and obtain full joy. “I set before you today life and prosperity or death and destruction…now choose…” Deuteronomy 30:15-19

     The year 2014 will hold surprises. Some will delight you. Some will devastate you. One thing is assured. God is faithful. Listen to him. Each day search for the God moments. Be grateful. Then you will say, “Look what the Lord has done!”

Happy New Year! 

May this year be the closest you've ever been to the Lord. Live for him. Write for him. 
              Mary Allen