Thursday, October 22, 2015

"But I Didn't Use Her Name!"

Writing about real people can be dangerous. Writing about the mob can get you a pair of cement shoes. But writing about your best friend can buy you a lawsuit.

This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone from writing about real people. But the responsible writer will weigh both the benefits and the risks and take steps to minimize the latter.

So what can you do to avoid a lawsuit? Unless you are the Godfather of movie fame, there is no foolproof way to keep people from suing you. There are a number of things you can do to make it less likely, however, and I’ll talk about them November and December. But first you need to know what defamation is.

Generally speaking, defamation is 1) a false statement 2) about an identifiable person 3) that is communicated to others and 4) harms the person’s reputation. If it is written or recorded in a tangible medium, such as a book or a television news tape or a Facebook post, it is libel. If it is merely spoken, such as a comment made at a party, it is slander. Libel usually reaches a larger audience than slander does, and putting the statement in writing or some other tangible medium also increases the chances that it will reappear, so libel usually gets a larger damage award from the jury. Other than that, there are no significant legal differences between the two. Libel and slander are both defamation.

So what are the legal requirements for defamation?

1.         A False Statement

First, the statement must be false. Truth and falsity aren’t always what they seem, however. You can defame someone by using real facts that carry a false implication. “Uncle Charlie sleeps around a lot” may be literally true if he takes frequent overnight business trips, but that isn’t what people will think you mean.

In a defamation lawsuit, the judge or jury decides how an average reader or listener would interpret what was written or said. If they decide that a reasonable person wouldn’t give the words a defamatory meaning, then it is not defamation. Remember, however, that it is the reader/listener’s interpretation, and not the writer/speaker’s intended meaning, that counts.

2.         About an Identifiable Person

A statement is not defamatory unless it refers to a recognizable individual, business, or other entity. So are you safe if you change the names to protect the guilty? No. Changing a person’s name isn’t enough if readers can still recognize the person from the description.

3.         That is Communicated to Others

The statement must be communicated to someone other than the person it refers to. If you write something negative about your mother in your diary and she is the only one who sees it, it isn’t libel.

4.         And Harms the Person’s Reputation

Finally, the statement must harm the person’s reputation. If it refers to something trivial or is clearly an opinion, it’s not defamatory. “She can’t even boil water” is trivial—unless the subject makes her living as a cook. But even if she is a professional chef, the reader or hearer probably understands the words as pure opinion. Either way, the statement does not harm the person’s reputation.

So what if the person’s reputation is so bad that you can’t possibly make it worse? Then you’ve found your perfect victim—theoretically. However, few people have a reputation that bad. One appellate court even found that a convicted criminal known to engage in violent behavior might conceivably be harmed by being called a hitman or a pimp.

Now you know what defamation is, how can you limit your liability?

The answer depends on what you write. Next month, I’ll cover fiction.

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Susan May Warren Means to Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

I hope that this past year you have joined this journey with me on sharing the twelve authors who have influenced my writing. This will be the tenth month. I have discussed C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Steven James, Robin Jones Gunn, and Dee Henderson.

From Amazon
Today, I will be discussing an author who writes fabulous books while using her God-given talent to teach others through her My Book Therapy. Of course, I’m talking about Susan May Warren. I have met her twice at the 2013 and 2014 ACFW conference. She is always smiling and giving away free hugs.

I was introduced to Susan May Warren after my family moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, and I was checking out about 15-20 books a month at the library. The library was only a fifteen minute walk from my house, so I would load up the boys and head there practically every other day. It was a great way to get my toddler boys out of the house. Plus, they loved to explore the neighborhood.

I was perusing the books and came across Happily Ever After, one of the first Deep Haven books written by Susan May Warren. In the upper right hand corner is a yellow promotion bubble with the words, “I enjoyed every minute. Dee Henderson.” Being an avid reader of Dee Henderson (if you read last month’s entry, you’ll know why!), I took her advice and checked out my first Susan May Warren book. I agreed with Dee Henderson. The book was great.

Then I found out she wrote a three-book series called “Team Hope,” which was romantic suspense. They had those at the library. I checked them out and devoured them within two days. Just in time for me to return to the library and check out more.

Susan May Warren creates stories that grab at your heart and doesn’t let go. I still buy her books and review them the moment they are offered by the publishing company. I couldn’t ask for someone who writes so well and uses the talent God has given her to teach and encourage others to write better.

Susan May Warren
From Susan's Amazon Author Page
During 2015, I have taken a number of her books and studied how she uses the senses to captivate her audience. That is one of the strongest things about Susan’s writing. I can always feel the wind on my neck as the characters stand in three feet of snow. I love feeling like I’m the character, struggling and feeling overjoyed with them. I know other writers do it well too, but for some reason, Susan May Warren just tugs at my writer’s part of the brain when I read her books.

I thank Susan May Warren, personally, for all her time she spends helping unpublished writers, like me, who are working and studying the craft, hoping to earn her first publishing contract.

What author do you study for inspiration to improve an aspect of your writing? What is that aspect of writing you hope to improve?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Where Does a Writer Go?

by Rachael Phillips

Are you the kind of writer who can write in a parked SUV until your muddy soccer players (at least, you hope they’re yours) pile onto your seats? Can you outline a novel while sitting in a drive-through line, not bothering to look up when you shift gears to edge ahead? Can you pound out a chapter in a Starbucks invaded by an entire middle school of coffee connoisseurs armed with video games?

Then you, my writing friend, are blessed with qualities of concentration I can only dream of.

In order to write, I need a peaceful place where I can park my creaky frame in a cushy sofa or chair. Desks stifle my creativity. So do real waistbands—elastic, please, or none. I want a room with windows I can open or shut, according to my body’s hot flash weather report, with a view of something green or pretty that doesn’t need watering, trimming, or re-potting. Two cups of real coffee early in the morning are a must, then a large, steaming pot of decaf to warm me throughout a fall or winter day. When temperatures rise, a pitcher of iced tea or water is my constant writing companion.

But most of all, I need quiet—sweet silence or muted small-town noises, enhanced by the audio velvet of classical music.     

I am spoiled because I began my writing career during midlife—after my children had lost their last residue of mom admiration and either rolled eyes or ran screaming when I addressed them. As they left, one by one, for college, I grew accustomed to my everyday quiet writing kingdom, where I can plan my schedule and wear jammies all day, if I so choose.

However, small, not-too-distant rumblings have begun, barely perceptible now, but growing louder with every day … retirement.

My husband’s, not mine.

He is a considerate, supportive spouse, mindful of my need for solitude.

But if he reads, sitting near me, he just has to share passages that excite him.

Deeply spiritual, he loves to discuss what God has been teaching him. In great detail. 

He sneezes. And flushes. He crunches big bowls of mixed nuts and guzzles ice cream my diet-starved soul longs for.

Can it be that I may have to banish my laptop and me to my [gasp!] office?

How about you? What writing-space issues have you faced, and how did you solve them? 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What Is Your Gold Standard?

by Jean Kavich Bloom

In a novel I recently edited, the author wrote a scene where a man collapses in grief upon learning his father has just died. It reminded me of my personal gold standard for "a man in grief."

In a scene from the film Return to Me, actor David Duchovny plays a man who has just returned home from the hospital where his wife died from car-accident injuries suffered earlier in the evening. If you don’t mind a little gut-wrenching, you can watch this early-in-the-film scene at about the 12:30 mark on YouTube. It’s brief, but it gets me every time.

We probably have all experienced scenes from books or films that have become our gold standard prototypes, even if we don’t realize it. As I have written here before, Anne of Anne of Green Gables is a character that for many women is the ideal prototype for a young girl, forever in our minds and hearts though the setting is a hundred years ago. Perhaps Jan Karon has written the gold standard prototype for many as she creates a particular kind of place with the small town in her Mitford series. The possibilities for gold standard prototypes are endless, from character and place to . . . well, you tell me!

Can you cite a gold standard from a book or film that inspires your own writing? What is it? We’d love to know!

After twenty-four years with publishing house Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, most recently as an executive managing editor, Jean Bloom returned to Central Indiana to be near family and take her freelance editorial business full-time (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she often posts articles about the writing life. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review of "Cherry Blossoms in the Storm"

by Mary Allen

After the death of the father, an Japanese American  family is forced to separate for financial reasons. Two sons are sent to live with an uncle in Japan while the youngest remains in America with their mother. By the time Pearl Harbor is bombed the oldest son has yet to return. The family finds their loyalty and patriotism questioned on both sides of the ocean and their faith is tested. 

Akira, the son in Japan, is in love with a beautiful young woman whom he may lose when her father arranges a marriage for her. Meanwhile, their attendance at forbidden Bible meetings puts them both in danger. As the war heats up and personal rivalries break out, his American citizenship makes him a target. Conscripted into the army will he survive? Will their love?

The second son and his wife consider themselves fully American despite being rounded up at gunpoint and treated as enemies. They are moved into an overcrowded internment camp where their family of five lives in a single horse stall with others. They seek peaceful, godly ways to change the terrible conditions in the internment and prove their loyalty to the country they love. Will his efforts cause his death?

The youngest rails against being imprisoned unjustly. He chooses a more volatile path to draw attention their desperate situation. After the heavy price he pays, will he ever throw off hatred and submit his life to Christ?

The story pulled me along. I wanted to know what happened to each of these characters. I was concerned whether the family would be reunited. Would healing and forgiveness?   

The experiences at Japanese internment camps in WWII was an eye-opener, even though I was aware of this piece of American history. "Cherry Blossoms in the Storm"  is a historical romance that will interest anyone who enjoys reading about that time period. However, I think the telling of a Japanese story puts a different twist on this era. I also believe that it would make great supplemental reading for history students as it displays a little known event of WWII in an understandable and interesting way.

Alternating chapters deal with the simultaneous stories. The Japanese culture, formal and polite, is felt in the cadence of the writing. The familiar American culture is also expressed. In fact, the dialogue of the youngest son held a relaxed, even cocky tone that is common to American teens.

Authors Robert and Gail Kaku are third generation Japanese. The story is not based on family experience, because the family chose not to reveal this painful part of their history. However, it is close to their hearts. While the story is one of  hope despite tragedy during WWII, the message of hope of Christ in any circumstance is universal and true. May that message touch every reader.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Free Pass into ACFW 2015

For those who didn't attend the national ACFW conference, it can be a bit painful to read about all the fun folks had. But try not to think of it as missing out. Think of everyone sharing their experiences as your FREE pass to an inside scoop on what conference provides.

I've always been grateful for the opportunity to attend an ACFW National Conference. They get better and even less overwhelming each year I go. And this year? For some reason, there was a gracious peace that settled over me. I don't know how many others felt that at this conference, but I know I did. God's presence was felt by me both in the atmosphere and in the people I met.

I learned a ton from the classes as I always do. And I think I even came back home with a little more clarity as far as the direction the Lord wants me to take in my writing. This is something I've been wondering about. What better place for the fog to lift than at a writer's conference?

Here are some of my most fun highlights.

Night One: Genre Dinner. I dressed as a Steampunk Biologist. I've only written a few short stories in the Steampunk genre, but it's such a fun way to dress up, I couldn't resist. I put the outfit together myself and rediscovered how much I enjoy working with costumes. (More than 32 years ago I spent my fair share of time in theater costume shops.)

The second night I got to have dinner with my fabulous agent and meet my crit partner, Tom Threadgill, and his beautiful wife, Janet, for the first time. We joined other clients of my agent, Linda Glaz.

The last night is the highlight of the conference--the reward banquet. I have no idea how or why, but somehow I ended up on the front row in the middle. I've never been that close to the stage before. In the past I've always been in the very back in the corner, barely able to see even a screen.

It's been a difficult 2015 for me, and this gift from God was precious. It was if He was reminding me that He's got my back. He's there. And He's guiding my steps. I only have to trust.

To be inspired by so many authors is an overwhelming blessing. To be just feet away from Francine Rivers as she gave her speech while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award left me, well, speechless.

It was great fun listening to people give their speeches for their awards and imagining what it must feel like for them. Congratulations to fellow Hoosier, Denise Hunter for wining the Carol Award for her book, The Wishing Season!

Denise Hunter accepting the esteemed Carol Award
And the meal? So delicious. All the food all the time was the sort that you dream about when you get home.

The Salmon was amazing. I wish I could have eaten the steak, too!
Too much food!
I need to learn how to make Creme Brulee
Huge berries in Texas! And so delicious!
Next year's conference will be August 25-28 at the Omni in downtown Nashville. And the Keynote Speaker is Ted Dekker!

Excuse me for a minute.


I'm going to start saving my pennies now. Nashville is one of my favorite places in the world, and to get to hear Ted Dekker speak?

Is it greedy to hope God gives me another front row seat?

Karla Akins is the author of The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots and countless short stories, biographies and other books for middle grades. She currently serves as Vice-President of ACFW-Indiana Chapter and resides in North Manchester with her pastor-husband, twin adult sons with autism, and her mother-in-law with Alzheimer's. Her three dogs and two cats are attentive editors.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Atheist on the Moral Impact of Stories

I'm an avid listener to National Public Radio, so I routinely monitor programs such as "Weekend Edition" on my car radio, even when they feature guests hostile to Christianity. That is how I came to hear Scott Simon's interview of Philip Pullman last Saturday morning.

Pullman (who describes himself as a "religious atheist") wrote the children's trilogy called "His Dark Materials" twenty years ago, beginning with The Golden Compass. He incited the wrath of Christians everywhere with his 2010 book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, a fictional version of Jesus' life. While I'm not recommending Pullman or his books, I want to draw your attention to a couple of his comments from that NPR interview:
Simon:  You’ve suggested that stories are the way to teach morality.  
Pullman:  Well, ... people remember stories better than they remember commands. One of the greatest storytellers of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, told stories in order to make his moral teaching more memorable, more explicit, more clear to everyone.
Simon: Why do you think that is?
Pullman: We like hearing about people in circumstances, situations, or problems that we can relate to in some way. It’s intriguing to see how people resolve the difficulties they’re in, ... inspiring to see them overcoming hostility, difficulty, and outright hatred.
In other words, morality is forged in life conflict. Our sense of right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness grows out of wrestling with the obstacles that life throws across our way. And that struggle is best portrayed through stories, not pious sermons or philosophical lectures (with all due respect to preachers and philosophers). I agree with Pullman at that point, don't you?

I liked the interview for another reason: It proved that unbelievers care deeply about morality. Eminent atheists of every age, from Aldous Huxley to Christopher Hitchens, have focused on the moral questions of life. Couple that interest with storytelling skill and you have an author who can influence millions of people. Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis are Christian authors who come readily to mind, but atheist authors such as Pullman can wield just as much influence.

Pullman uses his storytelling gift to challenge the values we normally teach our children, such as the importance of telling the truth. He expects to shape the convictions of a new generation by telling them memorable stories.How about you?