Thursday, November 26, 2015

Don't be a Turkey

Today is Thanksgiving, and most of us will sit around a table with family and friends eating turkey. These dinner companions are the people we know best, and some of them may have led fascinating lives. So it’s only natural to want to write about them.

But that could make you the turkey at the feast. So how do you get away with it without wrecking your relationships or getting sued for defamation?

As mentioned last month, nothing you do will guarantee that you don’t get sued. Still, there are actions you can take to make a lawsuit less likely or to make winning the probable outcome if you do get sued. They also may save your relationships with family and friends.

This month’s post gives suggestions specifically related to fiction. Don’t assume that you are safe just because of the label. While fiction gives you a little extra leeway, “little” is the operative word. And the main function of a disclaimer is to give you a false sense of security. Disclaimers may discourage some lawsuits, but they don’t usually work as a defense.

The basic test is whether people who know the person claiming to be defamed could reasonably believe that the fictional character portrays the real person. If they could believe it, the jury gets to decide whether they would believe it. So what can you do to keep people from believing it?

The best approach is to disguise, disguise, disguise. Change as many facts about the person as you can. Does it really matter that the character is tall and blond like your friend, or could she be short and dark? What about changing his age and profession? Depending on the story, maybe you can even change the character’s gender.

I call this the amalgam approach to creating characters. Let’s say you are fascinated by Aunt Becky’s profession as a stunt double and you want to turn her into a fictional thief who uses her skills to get into places most burglars can’t go. Give her a different name and physical description and mix in several noticeable characteristics she doesn’t have, such as your friend Mary’s shrill laugh and your boss David’s habit of rubbing his left leg when he’s nervous. Now Aunt Becky is no longer recognizable. Or at least you have changed her enough so that the reader who knows her will realize the character is mostly fictional.

For some types of fiction, you can also make the character or the character’s behavior so outlandish that nobody in their right minds will believe it. This isn’t a “nobody who knows her would believe she would do something like that” defense. It’s closer to “even if they don’t know her they’d be fools to believe it.” That’s how most people get away with parodies about famous people.

If you want to write about real people and situations in your fiction, change enough facts to disguise the characters. That takes more work, but it is also more creative. And isn’t that the goal?

Next month I’ll turn to non-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, November 18, 2015

Why Julie Lessman Inspires Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

Here I am with my eleventh month of authors who inspire my writing. If you have missed any of them, go ahead and look back at my previous posts. I have written about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Steven James, Robin Jones Gunn, Dee Henderson, and Susan May Warren.

Today, I’m going to talk about Julie Lessman.
From Amazon

Lessman writes romance, which is not what I typically read, but I read her book A Passion Most Pure because I downloaded it for Free for my Kindle. But I was surprised how much I loved Lessman’s writing.

She does not write a simple romance story with obstacles in their way. Lessman really understands the internal, physical, and emotion behind the love. The hero and the heroine have to fight against the demands of love.

The characters are written so well with great obstacles to overcome. Plus, the stories are historical romances, so the reader can learn something about the 1930 in Boston and San Francisco.

I’m glad that Lessman has written ten books to date. I have read almost all of them and loved reading about the O’Connors, which were featured in seven books. As a reader who enjoys returning to familiar characters as they are the heroine or hero in the book, then returning to them as they grow and make an appearance in a future book, I was glad to see Lessman created seven book, which start with the story of how the parents fell in love, then moves on to tell the trials and tribulations of their six children as they handle the waves of romance in their personal lives.

Lessman has taught me how to construct a romance that is realistic and grabs the reader’s attention. I have spend time reading her book that she wrote on writing romance titled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Inspirational and Sweet Markets. I have spent time studying and losing myself in the romance she sparks between her hero and heroines.  The Love is realistic and grips my heart with every story. Lessman has also shown me the love between a man and woman should also parallel the love that we have for God. It is passionate and demanding of our time, but the more time we invest in our significant other and God, the better return on our investment. What a great lesson from a great writer!

How many of Julie Lessman’s books have you read? What is your favorite aspect about her writing?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The same yesterday, today and forever

I hadn’t intended to write about things for which I am thankful, it seems a bit cliché since its November but that’s exactly what I am about to do.

I wasn’t able to attend the ACFW conference a couple of months ago. I had a choice: go to the conference or invest in my fellow Thistles’ first writer’s retreat. I chose the Thistles this year.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, along with belonging to ACFW, I also belong to a local writer’s group. It’s called The Thistle Club. We chose thistles as our emblem because, among other things, they are tenacious.

Anyway, I felt a little denied this year not being able to attend ACFW’s conference but I believed that the retreat would be God’s vehicle to speak to us Thistles as His children and as writers. And you know what? It was and He did.

So, firstly, I want to thank God for showing up and spending the weekend with us. I stand amazed at how He knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Which leads me to the next thing for which I am thankful… the blessing that is the ACFW newsletter, specifically the current edition. If you haven’t had a chance yet to read the November newsletter, I highly recommend you do.

I appreciate Michael Ehret’s notes on Bill Myers’ Second Keynote Address, because they laid the foundation for Allen Arnold’s presentation – “The Wildness of Writing with God: ‘Have fun, God.’” Arnold’s presentation was apparently a well-articulated version of what God also spoke to the Thistles during our retreat.

God is so cool.

Arnold’s definitions of the "Realms of Creativity" really hit home with me personally, and at their heart confirmed what God has been speaking to me for a while now.

So, secondly, I’m thankful to God for His timeless, and timely, Word, and to Michael Ehret for sharing his notes. If I have learned nothing else lately, it is that the writer’s life is not accomplished alone. We need God and each other if we are to finish the race God has set before us.

The greatest part about all this is that God already knew what we would need from the beginning of time and has already prepared it, we only have to ask.

Thank you, God, for being You - yesterday, today and forever.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Word Counts Gone Wild

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Especially if you publish or hope to publish traditionally, you probably already know word counts should be kept in check. Oh, I have edited some novels that were well over the typical length, but I also know those authors’ appeal and sales had to be “worth” the extra paper in print and the higher price point for the consumer. 

So how do you pare down your word count without losing what’s essential to your style, your voice, and your story? We know about ridding manuscripts of unnecessary words, like very, just, really, so, and that. And we know about killing your darlings, purple prose, tight writing, and so on. But here are a few other ideas:

·         Look for characters who repeat themselves. Sure, we repeat ourselves in real life, especially when we are upset or excited. And we want dialogue to be realistic. But our characters don’t have to follow suit. If a character says “I can’t stop thinking about what happened” over and over in one conversation, well, does she need to?

·         Look for repeated description. Really, after the first couple of times you tell your readers the hero’s eyes are blue, they probably already have him firmly formed in their minds, baby blues and all. It’s okay to say, “She looked into his eyes” sometimes, sans color. One author and I just had a laugh over her tendency to describe the use of napkins at almost every meal her characters enjoy. Sometimes we can let readers assume common action rather than repeatedly describing it.

·         Look for unnecessary phrases, not just words. Did you know you can almost always replace “in order to” with “to”? Try it! Google “unnecessary phrases” and you’ll find lists of what you can safely delete or replace.

·         Look for pet phrases, not just words. I don’t want to be unkind, but I once heard someone say “as far as that goes” so often I thought I might scream. Sometimes I feel that way when I read a book where the author uses the same phrase over and over--and that goes for a character who uses the same phrase over and over too! I recommend keeping a list of pet phrases as well as words to address. If you decide to replace any, try to ensure your new phrase has fewer words.

·         Look for redundant words. Added bonus? Final outcome? We don't need two words. Check this and this. (Notice I did not say check this out, but I wanted to!)  
    What other ideas do you have?

     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:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Need for Heroes and Heroines

David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character (Random House: 2015), attempts to understand what motivates people to serve and sacrifice for others. He begins with the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, which describe two different visions of humanity that he calls Adam I and Adam II:

While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I wants to venture forth, Adam II wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam I’s motto is “Success,” Adam II experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption” (xii).

Brooks admits that he’s an Adam I personality. A newspaper columnist and political pundit, he is more anxious to look good than to be good. To put it in his own words,

I was born with a natural predisposition toward shallowness…I’m paid to be a narcissistic blow-hard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am…Like many people these days, I have lived a life of vague moral aspiration—vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary, a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even a clearer knowledge of how character is developed and depth is achieved (xiv).

What a striking description of the kind of person who reads our novels! He may seem eminently successful by outward appearances, but inwardly he knows how deficient his life is. He wants a life that really matters, so he looks for moral heroes and heroines.
Make no mistake: The world is desperately wants decent life models. As Christian authors, are called to describe such people. And yes, we are called to be such people.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sick of Your Own Words

by Rick Barry

I confess: By the time I emailed my publisher the final edits for my new book, The Methuselah Project, I was sick of my own words.

Understand that I did not dislike my story. It's just that I was past the point of tired when it came to reading and revising my own pages. How can an author love his story, yet be sick of looking at it? I wrote the original draft in 2009. Then I sent copies to a number of friends for their input. Using their remarks, I changed paragraphs here and there. The timeline needed adjusting too, as did some chapter headings. "Yay!" I thought. "That took some work, but the story is better."

Next I asked a few more friends to look over the edited version. Once again their objective eyes caught details that needed fixing. A missionary friend in Germany (a former editing colleague) pointed out inaccuracies about the Autobahn. She also suggested I change the name and hair color of a German character to match better people living in modern Germany. I made the changes. "That took time, but it's even better."

Finally I began pitching the story to editors at writing conferences. Several liked the concept, but declined when they saw sample chapters. The beginning was too long. I needed to begin the story further in, close to the real action. The ending didn't grab another. That epilogue was dead wood. Back to the drawing board I went. I chopped, sliced, diced, and rearranged scenes. I toyed with multiple titles, eventually brainstorming 40+ variations. The story became better, but I was already longing to move on to another project.

Next conference, instead of seeking out editors, I pursued agents. When I told one I intended my suspense story to appeal to both men and women, he shook his head slightly, read a page, then declined. No smile or business card from that chat! Later, as I pitched it to another agent, I glanced up in time to catch her rolling her eyes. "Sounds like a big coincidence," she said. And so it went.

Discouragement accompanied each decline. But in my heart I believed in my story. I resolved to tighten the pace, to polish my prose, and to perfect my pitch. Yet, in the meantime, I also began writing another novel just in case my special baby never sold.

Enter literary agent Linda Glaz. Because I assumed she represented only romance, I had never considered pitching The Methuselah Project to her. Spotting her in a corridor between workshops, I struck up a conversation just for fun. When I mentioned my story, she perked up. "You've got a suspense story? What's it about?" I gave her a brief description, and she handed me her business card. "Send that to me."

Long story short, she loved the concept as much as I did. But her fresh eyes still found flaws that needed improvement. Back to the computer I went. But now hope glimmered on the horizon. I had an agent!

Once again, multiple publishers turned down the proposal for various reasons. At last, though, an editor at Kregel Publications read the whole story and immediately loved it. So did the pub committee. They sent me a contract! But I wasn't off the hook. Working with Kregel, I went through three more rounds of edits, with different editors suggesting various ways to enhance the plot, to flesh out the characters, etc. Even the excitement of an actual publication date couldn't keep me from growing weary of reading my own novel over and over. And over. And over again....

But now that the book is out, were all those re-readings and edits worth it? You bet they were. The published story shines much brighter than the one that caught my agent's eye. Judging by the exuberant reviews on Amazon, the story's blend of WW2 history, suspense, a touch of romance, and a sprinkle of sci-fi truly has appealed to both male and female readers. I had prayed over every chapter, and God has blessed, despite the way I'd grown weary of my words. May He be praised!

 Do you grow sick of your own words? Are you tempted to take shortcuts just to get that thing off your desk and into the mail? ("Ready or not, here I come!") If so, be careful. Yielding to the shortcuts might sabotage your chances of success.

Rick Barry speaks Russian, has visited Eastern Europe 50+ times for mission trips, and has even prowled deserted buildings in the evacuated zone of Chernobyl, Ukraine. He has freelanced hundreds of articles and short stories. In September 2015 Kegel Books released his suspense novel The Methuselah Project. His author site is



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Creating Covers that Sell Books

By Mary Allen

You can pour your heart into creating a story for months, even years. You send it through critique groups and when, at last, it is polished and ready to be launched into the world there is another hurdle to jump: creating a cover that sells.

If you are traditionally published, you may have little or no say in what the cover looks like because your publisher’s marketing and creative art staff handles this. However, if you are publishing as an independent author, creating the cover is your responsibility.

You can buy a ready-made cover that fits with your story line for about $30, but you may not be the only one to use that cover. For a greater outlay of cash, you can hire a cover artist to create an individualized book cover for you or using your basic ideas. This may seem a huge outlay, but it could save you time and money in the long run. Finally, you can create a cover of your own.

I created covers for my first three books of poetry, which I intended to sell locally, and was satisfied with the results. Now that I’m ready to launch my first fiction into the world, I have my sights set higher. Still, I had some definite ideas about the cover.

I hired Danielle, a virtual assistance, working as to help set my cover ideas up in Create Space. She did everything I asked very quickly. The results were pretty close to what I’d envisioned. 

This first is a close-up shot of the stairs I wanted to use.The stairs (of my protagonist’s apartment) is a symbol of her steep climb to health, independence, and reestablishing a relationship with God. The scripted title seemed to speak of the gentleness of God. Finally, I accepted the idea of the road on the back cover as another symbol of her journey. I still like this general idea of stairs the best, but I’m not selling to myself. I’m selling to a public with varied interests and experiences, who are influenced by trends in our society. What we have in common is an interest in Women's Fiction. I have to speak to them in picture, then in words.

I re-shot a different stairs to include the baby carrier for added interest even though motherhood is merely a complication of the woman’s grief journey. Also, I used it because my human subject didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I liked the red in the following cover.

When I ran both covers by a diverse group of indie authors and cover artists at C.I.A, the approval wasn’t great, but the advice was invaluable and worth sharing here. I feel blessed and excited to have their help because I want to do this well. I want a cover that sells. Flattery would not have helped and would in fact have harmed me. Here’s what they suggested.

  1. No blur -In the first it felt unfocused rather than creating the introspective mood I’d intended. In the second it made the baby carrier difficult to identify.
  2. A person, or part of a person would serve as an anchor.
  3. The sepia didn’t work for the time period of 1995. One person, from a missionary family felt the monochromatic look inferred missionary life was dull.
  4. The title script could be difficult to read when selling on-line. A bolder, un-fussy title font would be better.
  5. The title so far from the baby carrier made a single focal point difficult.
  6. “a novel” isn’t necessary, but if used it shouldn’t be near the author’s name and should be small.
  7. “by” in front of the author’s name is the mark of a newbie.
  8.  The author name should be bigger.
  9. The back cover background did not seem related to the stairs.
  10. The Bio needs more delineation, perhaps an author photograph.

These helpful suggestions didn’t mean I was back to the drawing board starting from scratch. Someone once said about writing, “Sometimes you have to murder your darlings.” It’s the same way with cover art. Sometimes you have to leap to a new idea, or one you had and discarded. That’s what I’m doing.

The cover at the top of this blog is an idea I liked but discarded because I was tied to the stairway idea. It's the rough draft, still needing tweaking. The reworked copy didn't come in time to be included here. 

Click on the photos to read the back cover copy. Study the front. Feel free to comment. I value your opinions, Hoosier Ink authors.