Thursday, December 22, 2016

Writing Outside Your Culture: Dealing with Religion

Both Desert Jewels and Creating Esther are written for a secular audience, but religion was a part of both cultures. Some mention was necessary for authenticity.

That wasn’t a problem with Desert Jewels. Although most Japanese Americans were Buddhist, many were Christians, and that included the person I used as my model. So I made my protagonist a Christian and avoided the issues I would have faced if she were Buddhist.

It wasn’t as easy with Creating Esther. Yes, some Native Americans were Christians by then, but it was still an anomaly. And the boarding schools did not understand how to integrate Christianity into the local culture. Since I wanted to show a realistic picture of what it would be like for most of the children attending the Indian boarding schools in 1895 and 1896, I had to include the conflict between Ojibwe religious beliefs and Christianity as taught by the boarding schools. My challenge was to be sensitive to Native American religious practices while remaining true to my Christian beliefs.

In the end, I decided to show the conflict between the two without resolving it. Here is a passage from the protagonist’s first boarding school Christmas:

“What is Christmas?” Ishkode asked Mrs. Hansen. “Everyone talks about it coming next week, but what is it?”

“It’s the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.”

Even though Ishkode had been attending chapel every Sunday for three months, she still didn’t understand who Jesus was. Sometimes he sounded like Wenebojo, who was born of a human mother and a spirit father. But she had asked a minister after chapel one day, and he said Wenebojo was not Jesus.

Now Ishkode rubbed her forehead. It was too confusing.

Actually, the book even shows the negatives about how the boarding schools practiced and taught Christianity. The Christianity I found in my research is not the Christianity I find in my Bible. I’m sure many of the teachers and administrators were sincere, but they were also misguided.

Boarding school staff tried to convert the Native American students by forcing religion on them. That approach doesn’t work in life, and it doesn’t work for fiction writers, either.

So use a soft touch when writing about religion.


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. Desert Jewels is searching for a home, and Creating Esther has just begun circulating to publishers. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Writing Books That Encourage Me Recap

By Kelly Bridgewater

From February until November in 2016, I took a writing book and showed how the book has improved my writing. If you missed any of the actual post, click on the name of the book, and it will link you right back to that page.

James’ is a huge supporter of writing without an outline or a plan. Too many writers create a story with an outline, and they don’t allow the story to take them where it needs to go. They are controlled by the outline that they made before they started writing.

       2.) On Writing by Stephen King

The first half of the book is an autobiography of Stephen King’s life or his CV as he fondly calls it. It includes how he started writing and showed the many times he wanted to even quit, but he kept at it. Secondly, the second half of the book talks about his writing advice.

As a budding writer, I have a hard time understanding how a scene goes together. Why internal dialogue? Why do you need to know the other character’s facial and body expressions to understand the story? When reading, I understand it completely. But as the writer, I have a hard time including that in my writing. I create the emotions from the main character’s perspective for each scene, but the Stimulus-Internalization-Response sequence confuses me. I have a really hard time with Deep POV too. I have read and studied Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s book on the subject. But once I sit down to include it in my writing, it doesn’t happen.

Swain also talks about a number of different areas that writers need help on. There is the “Beginning, Middle, and End”, “The People in Your Story”, and “Preparation, Planning, and Production.” Luckily, you don’t have to read Swain’s book straight from front to back. You can pick and choose what you want to read. If you don’t really want to sit down in a comfy chair and read for hours, you can pick up the book and read a chapter once a week or whatever makes you comfortable. It took me about a month to finish the book. Not that it wasn’t interesting, but I needed to read and digest what I had read to see how I could use it in my next book.

It is a great resource for any suspense writer who wants to make their stories ring true without having to actually go to an actual crime scene and figure out the answers to our questions. I don’t know about you, but approaching an EMT, firefighter, or police officer isn’t something I have done, but I really want people to believe what I have to write.

Plot and Structure uses tons of examples from many different contemporary pieces to draw the writer in. Bell will explain an idea to you like using Raw Emotion to start the novel, but then he will show you an example of raw emotion from The Quiet Game by Greg Iles. Even though I haven’t read the book or even heard of the author, it doesn’t stop me from understanding Bell’s example.

From the first page in the first paragraph, Stein grips my attention. He says, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions—how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place” (3). His book does exactly that. It teaches how to make the basic writer better and keep teaching those who have been published or who have been reading book after book for a while on how to be a better writer. The book doesn’t discriminate. There is something for everyone.

Writing for the Soul is a quick read that you could sit down and read straight through for a couple of hours. It really doesn’t throw anything at you that would require you to do exercises upon exercises. It grips your attention and comforts you. At the end of each chapter, there is a Q and A section where Jenkins answers questions.

The Killgallons take simple grammatical words like appositives, gerunds, infinitive, and noun clauses and shows how to expand the sentences using these grammatical devices. She starts each section defining what each term means with at least three different examples from classic literature. Then the review section is usually pretty big. First, you will exchange sentences by switching up the infinitive or gerund with something closely grammatically related. Then you will practice expanding by adding an infinitive phrase or gerund phrase to the bold face section. There is matching. Multiple choices. More practice.

Warren helps you with everything from writing the synopsis to defining the Dark             Moment in your character’s past. She explains it in an easy to understand format so that I    think she is sitting right next to me offering me advice to, hopefully, someday give me a    complete book that is ready for publication.

I really hoped you enjoy taking this journey with me. I truly enjoyed finding books that improve my writing. Is there any other books that you would add to this list? I'm always looking for other writing books to improve my craft. Thank you! God bless!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Slay Belles Wring

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Very few adult writers would mangle spelling words in our tricky English language as badly as “slay belles wring,” but I find it interesting how many holiday word misspellings I see in memes, in posts, in articles, and, more to the point, in manuscripts. So here’s a list I’ve been constructing (and grew on my personal Facebook page) to help you ensure those cozy winter and Christmas scenes you write don’t make your editorand certainly not your readerscringe a little. Especially if at the same time they're enjoying eggnog or a roaring fire!

1.      A mantle is a cloak or responsibility, so believe me—fireplaces have mantels, not mantles.

2.      Baby Jesus slept in a manger, not a manager.  That extra A makes for a confusing nativity scene.

3.      Donner is one of the helpful reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, but don’t expect much from a donor when it comes to that Christmas Eve trip.

4.      It’s a Fraser fir tree, not a Frazier fir tree—though Frazier from the TV show with that title would probably think naming a tree after him was fitting.

5.      Many stand in wonder at Jesus’s birth. But in wander? Not so much.

6.      Angels are important to the story of Christmas, but angles seem out of place.

7.      Goodwill is what you want to see at Christmas (not that a good will isn’t important to have).

8.      Speaking of legal terms, it’s not Santa Clause (except in that movie with Tim Allen). It’s Santa Claus. Do not make the jolly guy upset by misspelling his name.

9.      Make sure your Christmas candles have flares. If they have flair, they're just showing off.

10.   Don’t use holy for holly or holly for holy. Just don’t.

Have you seen any others out there this season?

Have a merry and blessed Christmas!

Photo credits:

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

'Even Thou Art a Little Queer'

Social reformer Robert Owen, who founded the utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana, was exasperated to discover that his closest associates held beliefs quite different from his own. He once told an investor, "All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer."

Many American Christians feel the same way after last month’s election. We are horrified to learn that close friends—often members of the same church—voted for a candidate we voted against because of her/his stance on a particular issue. We wonder, How could any Christian support someone who did that or believed that or advocated that?

This reality is as old as the church: Members of the Body of Christ are not only very different from the rest of the world, but different from each other. We need to recognize these differences within the Body to portray Christians authentically. In fact, these differences can propel our story forward.

I come from an evangelical Holiness tradition, but some of my best friends are Roman Catholics. (Already you feel the tension, don’t you?) We have different beliefs and practices concerning worship, church authority, the use of alcohol, etc. I have other friends who are Lutherans, Episcopalians, and “Holy Rollers.” Ditto, ditto, and ditto.

Such differences are apparent within the same town and even the same family. They can cause friction, misunderstanding, and outright conflict. If that is true in real life, why not in our fiction?

For example, I’m writing a story about a newlywed couple living in the Appalachians during the Great Depression when the husband begins campaigning for FDR—you know, that candidate who wants to repeal Prohibition. This creates conflict with his wife, his pastor, and other members of his church. Does it make him less of a Christian? Does it cause him to alter his behavior at home and “on the road”? This is a powerful undercurrent to the main plot of the story, just as our differences with other Christians influence our relationships today.

“Even thou art a little queer,” we may think. But you are still my brother or my sister, so we need to acknowledge this tension in the stories we tell about one another.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Writing Outside Your Culture: Language Issues, Part II

As with everything else, dealing with language usage in Creating Esther was much more challenging than it was in Desert Jewels. Except for an aunt and uncle who don’t appear very often, everyone in Desert Jewels is fluent in English, and it’s the only language my protagonist knows. In an attempt to get the aunt and uncle right, I based their customs and speech on real characters described in memoirs. Desert Jewels also used a few Japanese words, which I included in a glossary. Overall, however, language was a minor consideration.

Creating Esther is very different. At the beginning of the book, Ishkode understands some English but speaks and thinks in Ojibwe. Once she reaches the boarding school, she still thinks in Ojibwe but is forbidden to speak it. So how do I distinguish between the different languages without confusing my readers?

A second issue is how to write the dialogue and text when Ishkode and her friends speak or write English. At a conference I attended last year, a speaker said that broken English and grammar errors tell the reader that the character is unintelligent, even when that is neither the reality (to the extent fiction reflects reality) nor the message the author intended to convey. The speaker said the better option is to keep the character’s English sentence structure and vocabulary simple at first and to make them more complicated as the character learns the language. Good advice, and something I may not have thought of on my own.

I bought a number of books to help me bridge these language barriers, including two scholarly studies on how students acquired English language skills in the boarding schools, two basic books on Native American sign language (which I ended up not using), and two Ojibwe dictionaries. But although they gave me some help, I had to figure it out myself.

So what did I do?

I made Ishkode a quick learner who had been attending the reservation day school for several years, which allowed me to start her with a decent command of English. But her vocabulary and word patterns would still be simpler than in her native language? Since I concluded that all of Ishkode’s narrative thoughts were in Ojibwe, they could be more complex than if they were in English. I didn’t have to simplify them at all.

I still needed to signal which language my characters were speaking when there was dialogue. I solved that problem by specifically stating when people are speaking English in Part I (on the reservation) and Part II (travelling to the boarding school), which tells the reader that the rest of the dialogue was spoken in Ojibwe. I reversed the process for Part III (at the boarding school), which mentions when people are speaking Ojibwe. And yes, Ishkode and her friends do defy the ban on speaking Ojibwe.

As far as I can tell, I have succeeded in distinguishing between the languages without confusing my readers. My beta readers all followed the story, and none of them mentioned any problems with how I handled the language issues.

But it wasn’t an easy puzzle to solve.


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. Desert Jewels is searching for a home, and Creating Esther has just begun circulating to publishers. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From the Inside . . . Out

By Kelly Bridgewater

Mostly everyone has heard of Susan May Warren in the book industry. She writes great books. Is the sweetest person to meet in person. I was lucky enough to sit down to coffee at the 2014 ACFW conference. Warren is totally approachable and doesn’t allow her writing stardom to go to her head. People at the book sales at the library or my local Christian bookstore are surprised when I tell them I have met Susan May Warren after I recommend her books to them. I have a picture on my phone of us having coffee at Starbucks in the hotel in St. Louis. Big fan moment for me too.

From Amazon

I have had her two books From the Inside. . . Out and Deep and Wide for quite a while now. I can’t honestly say that I have finished them because I found a gem that I need to work on, so then I find another book that talks about the same topic and jump to that book to see what they have to say on the same topic.

Since Warren is a published author, and I love her writing, I take what advice she can give pretty seriously. I follow her blog, which used to be called My Book Therapy, but now it’s called Learn to Write a Novel. I have a three inch binder where I have printed off articles from her blog and look at in addition to these books. Warren’s success rate is off the charts, so I wanted to find out what all the fuss was. I need to learn more on how to make my writing jump off the charts, so I bought these two books. I need to purchase The Book Buddy, which I haven’t gotten yet.

Warren helps you with everything from writing the synopsis to defining the Dark Moment in your character’s past. She explains it in an easy to understand format so that I think she is sitting right next to me offering me advice to, hopefully, someday give me a complete book that is ready for publication.

Do you enjoy getting writing advice from some of your favorite writers? Does it make you pay more attention to the words they have to say? Why?