Thursday, January 28, 2016

Writing about Other Cultures

I recently completed a middle-grade historical novel about a Japanese American girl who lived in California at the start of World War II. Now that Desert Jewels is circulating to publishers, I am working on my second middle-grade historical. Creating Esther is about a Native American girl who leaves the reservation in 1895 to attend an Indian boarding school.

This year I’m going to depart from the legal theme and write about lessons I’ve learned from writing outside my culture. But I’m going to use this first post to answer the most basic question: Why bother?

It would be easier to stick with what I know, and there are dangers in writing about races and cultures I don’t belong to. These days “political correctness” trumps intent, and many well-meaning authors have been condemned for their perceived insensitivity and bias.

Earlier this month, Scholastic pulled a picture book called A Birthday Cake for George Washington after receiving numerous complaints that it presented a false picture of slavery. The problem wasn’t that the story and the illustrations were incorrect. In fact, the author had done extensive research about George Washington’s slave cook and his relationship with the family, and the illustrator’s work was consistent with the author’s research. The main reason for the complaints was that the illustrations showed smiling slaves. (Although I wasn't able to get a copy of the book, it appears that they were smiling because they took pride in their work, not because they were happy in their lot. In fact, as far as I can tell, the book tries to point out that there is nothing sweet about living in slavery.) To learn more about this controversy and get the author’s side of the story, read her thoughtful blog post at this link:

This isn’t the first time Scholastic has faced a similar controversy. Its Dear America series included a book called My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, which takes place at the Carlisle Indian School in 1880. That book covers the same subject as Creating Esther, although my story takes place at a fictional—but realistic—boarding school. While My Heart is on the Ground did show some of the negatives of boarding school life and the efforts to Europeanize the Native Americans, the complaint was that the book didn’t go far enough and that the protagonist ended up embracing the white lifestyle.

I’ve read My Heart is on the Ground and done extensive research on the Native American boarding schools. I agree that the book paints too humane a picture of the experience, but I’m not willing to assume—as some of the commenters do—that the white author was attempting to cover up the truth. And it is well documented that some of the graduates of the Carlisle Indian School did embrace the white lifestyle.

I am half German, one-quarter English, and one-quarter French-Canadian (therefore French) in ancestry, so I am the quintessential European American. I’ve never been subjected to any real discrimination, not even when I was a woman working in a male-dominated industry. So why would I step outside my own experience and risk the criticism that can come from writing about other races?

It’s because European Americans like me need to understand our role in marginalizing people from cultures that are different than ours. This gap can be as wide as the one between Native Americans and European Americans or as narrow as the 19th Century divide between upper-class English Americans and working-class Irish Americans. But if we want to be part of the solution rather than the problem, we must understand how those events affect the subjects of our prejudice.

While I’m making every effort to avoid the controversy that surrounds A Birthday Cake for George Washington and My Heart is on the Ground, there is no guarantee that I’ll succeed. I have done my best to ensure that Desert Jewels presents a realistic picture of the loss of freedom and the terrible conditions in the incarceration camps. Creating Esther shows the horrors of the boarding school life and the loss of identity resulting from the schools’ mostly unsuccessful attempts to Europeanize the Native American students. But life in the camps wasn’t all misery, and a number of teachers at the Indian boarding schools truly thought they were doing what was best for the students. Those facts are part of the reality, too, and they must be included to paint an accurate picture. But including them may open me up to criticism.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take.


The photograph at the head of this post was taken at the Raphael Weill Public School in San Francisco, California in April 1942, shortly before the Japanese American children in the picture were sent to incarceration camps. Dorothea Lange took the picture as part of her official duties as an employee of the United States government. Because it is a government document, the photo is in the public domain.


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, January 20, 2016

Authors who Inspire Me Recap

By Kelly Bridgewater

Every month during 2015, I took a writer and showed how I became familiar with their works, then wrote how their writing has improved my writing. If you missed any of the actual post, click on the name of the author, and it will link you right back to that page.

     1.)    C. S.Lewis
Lewis taught me the love of creating stories with my imagination and the ability to create a passion for the written word. He is one of my favorite writers who I return to when I want a good read to explore Narnia or learn more about something in the literary field.

      2.)    J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien taught me that conflict between others is important to creating a good story. Even though we rooted for Frodo and Samwise to reach Mount Doom to dispose of the ring, we still felt bad for crazy Gollum who became obsessed with the ring and could think of nothing else.

     3.)    J. K. Rowling
Rowling has taught me to build a world that everyone will love, even if it is the most popular genre at the moment. Write what you love and what you feel inspired to write. If God allows you to have the desire and the skills to write it, then God will help make it a reality.  With her ability to story build and her sentence structure, I have improved my writing.

      4.)    Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle taught me that adventure is important to a great story that captures the readers’ attention for generations to come. A great story can surpass the changing time and move into the classics if the story is well-written.
       5.)    Alexandre Dumas
Dumas opened my eyes up to the world of classic literature. Before then, I had to read boring books like Animal Farm by George Orwell, which stifled my curiosity toward older books. But Dumas showed me that classic literature could be fun. You just have to find the right one to spark your interest.

      6.)    Frances Hodgson Burnett
      Burnett taught me that if a child’s story is written well then it can be read by any age. Like C. S. Lewis states, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” This is proven by J. K. Rowling with her Harry Potter masterpieces that have been enjoyed by young adults and adults alike. I completely agree with C.S. Lewis, if an adult can’t return to the books they enjoyed as a child, then the story wasn’t well-written to begin with. Being a parent of three small boys, I want my children to return to the stories that have captured their heart when they were innocent and young. A simple written story can capture the imagination and steal the hearts of the readers, which any great story should do.

      7.)    Steven James
      James taught me to push the limits when it comes to writing Christian suspense. Not all Christian suspense books have to be completely planned out and PG for the “saved” audience. We are like the secular audience in that we like a story that grips us and tightens more and more as the story progresses. Likewise, he encouraged me to not choose the first bad thing that happened to our characters. Make a list and allow them to squirm. As a writer, you don’t want the reader to guess the ending before they arrive there.

     8.)    Robin Jones Gunn
Gunn introduced me to the Christian Fiction genre and helped me stand strong as a Christian in a world where being a Christian was frowned on. Her stories comforted me and allowed me to stand strong as I took a stand on sex before marriage and drugs.

    9.)    Dee Henderson
Henderson taught me the love of Christian suspense, mysteries, and thrillers. Without her, I would not have been introduced to the genre, and I thank her for that.
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.

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.

Sundin has taught me that reading historical fiction can teach me about a time period by giving an inside look into the brave women and men who populated our world during that era. I love learning about the horrors of the Holocaust from the eyes of survivors or nurses who bravely went across the front line to help our soldiers.

I really hoped you enjoy taking this journey with me. I truly enjoyed finding out who inspires my writing. What are the names of some of the writers who inspire you? How do they inspire you to improve your writing or reading experience?

Sunday, January 17, 2016


“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  1 Cor. 13:12 (KJV)

The picture I chose to accompany this month’s blog brought this scripture to mind. It also inspired the title and theme, that and a little prayer asking God for help.

The longer I contemplate the word, “Transitions,” the more incidences come to mind of how it can apply to our lives. Basically, our lives are a series of transitions – birth, toddler, preschooler, grade schooler, tween, teen, adult – to name one just one series.

And for the believer, I would say the first transition would be learning what it means to be “a new creature” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). This transition is not a one-time thing either, but a journey, THE journey that takes us into eternity with our heavenly Father – the biggest transition of all.

As a writer, I stink at transitions. Every paper that was handed back to me in college was marked for too many commas and my lack of transitions.

Here’s a bit of irony for you, I’ve noticed a pattern recently during my morning writing sessions. You see, I’m not starting from scratch on my story. I am interweaving original scenes with new ones. 
Guess what the new ones are. Yep, transitional scenes. What can I say? It’s what the story has been missing.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White define “transition” like this, “A word or group of words that aids in coherence in writing by showing the connections between ideas.”

It sounds simple enough, but just like the picture with the castle view on foggy winter morning, transitions are not always so clear to me. Fortunately, the author and finisher of our faith is always available to help me – to help you – when asked in faith, believing.

Learning to write in the early morning has proved to be a life transition for me, as well. But this is one transition I am especially happy to make, and with Christ’s help, I may even master.

May God bless all your life transitions, the ones in your writer’s life and in your writing, too.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Crazy Editor Interference—It Can Be Worse Than You Thought

As an editor, I take pride in not interfering with a novelist’s voice and ultimate decisions. No, really. I always, always have the author’s well-being at heart, and I am always, always nice, not the least bit crazy. At all. Well, except maybe for when . . . 

The Find-a-Synonym Game Goes Wrong

We all know a synonym is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word. But it’s the “nearly the same” that can make me a little crazy. For instance, I think one grimaces when in pain, either physically or emotionally. Yet Microsoft Word lists grimace as a synonym for frown, and I have seen that synonym used in more than one book without said pain, making me want to grab a permanent marker. 

As someone who is sorta kinda entitled to her own opinion, I beg you not to go with grimace for the heroine who is merely unhappy, not even though Word says it’s okay. Not unless she is also in the middle of a grimace-worthy ugly cry or has truly and severely broken bones in her body. For all that is precious, please play the synonym game by my rules. Sniff, sniff.

Notoriety Is a Good Thing

If I made a list of word misuses, notoriety would be at the top. And this time Word's list of synonyms back me up. Notoriety is not a good thing. It does not mean one is “of note.” It means notorious, bad. Downright nasty sometimes.

So if you tell me your character has gained notoriety for his crimes, fine. But if your character comments that Mother Teresa gained notoriety for her good works, I am climbing through the cybersphere to get you. And while I have you by the neck, I might go after you for other possible infractions, like penning anxious when you really mean eager, or jealous when you really mean envious, or . . . Oh, sorry. I got carried away, and some of that goes back to the synonym game anyway. Interfering is hard work.

Bodies Can’t Do That

This is a hard one, I know. But again, I am begging. Unless your hero swallows the tears coming out of his eyes and flowing down his cheeks, those tears cannot clog his throat, right? Yes, I know you don’t want to write about the gross snot that can drain into his throat, making for a nice, debilitating clog so he can hardly tell his love how much she means to him, but, please, work around this somehow. 

And think about your heroine’s poor, poor heart. If it drops into her stomach or lodges in her throat one more time, she might not make it to the last chapter of your book. I can see it now, on page 184: 

Publisher’s Note: We’re sorry, but this novel has ended a little bit prematurely, before the really good, award-winning part, because the character of Mary succumbed too soon. Her heart traveled to and from her stomach one time too many. But we hope you’re still eagerly [not anxiously, unless you are quite concerned about who will replace Mary] awaiting book two in this thrilling series, Body Wars.  

Okay, okay. I’m not really a bug-eyed, crazy editor. Not much. But, yes, if I ever edit something for you, and your novel involves lips, I may have to ask if you are sure lips can form a thin line. Just because my fat lips won’t do it doesn’t mean it's not possible. I’d just like some photographic evidence, please. Is that too much to ask?

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, January 6, 2016

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

by Mary Marie Allen

Image result for graphics for rose
"A rose by any other name..."

I picked out a lovely pen name. It was lyrical. It was easy to spell. It wasn’t competing with other authors of the same name. Alas! It was the same name as a registered sex offender that was plastered all over the web.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with my real name. I like my name. I always have, although I will admit to testing different spellings in high school. That gets a bit tricky when you hit the adult world and deal with legal/business documents.

A few years ago when I started trying to figure out how to differentiate Mary Allen, aka me, from the thousands who share my name, especially from several other inspirational authors named Mary Allen, I started using my middle initial. That’s when I realized I appeared to be Mary Fallen. I didn’t like that at all, after all, I’ve been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. That same scenario arose anytime I filled in another consonant – it looked like the start of a last name. 

Then I considered various names completely different from my own. Some were “too different” – people would have trouble remembering or spelling them. Some didn’t seem to say “Women’s Fiction” – which is what I plan to write. Some choices were hyphenated or used apostrophes, both evidently are no-nos. 

I decided recently to go with Mary Marie Allen. It’s ordinary, yet unusual. Mary Marie sounds lyrical, memorable. When someone is sorting through all the Mary Allen authors, I want her or him to say, “Ah! Yes – Mary MARIE Allen.

Image result for graphics for rose
My brother laughed at me when I told him the name I’d chosen. He didn’t think it worthy of my creativity to stay so close to the original. I explained I already had books out there even if they were poetry and I was trying to use myself as a brand since I’ll be writing across genres:

Mary Marie Allen – God’s Truth & Women’s Fiction.

I may be na├»ve, but that’s what I hope to do. I hope to have people associate my name with good writing. Don’t laugh. It’s possible. Liz Curtis Higgs comes to mind. Debbie Macomber. Writing you like to read so the name alone draws you.

Of course that failed me once. Alexander McCall Smith is a secular Scottish author of gentle fiction following the lives of people in neighborhoods in a few different series. Since there’s always something to figure out he’s been listed as a mystery writer—a bit of a stretch if you ask me. At any rate, he presented an extremely relaxing quick read that delighted me. Waiting for a new release by him was like waiting for Valentine’s Day to be treated to one of Russell Stover’s chocolate covered strawberry flavored marshmallow hearts.

Imagine how you would feel if you bit into a favorite marshmallow-y treat to discover it was filled with sawdust. Nasty. You’d hate it. You’d spit it out. That’s what I felt when I eagerly started to read one of his books and discovered it was about illicit sex of all varieties. Turned my stomach. I approach his new books with extreme caution and honestly have to say the shock was so profound it lessens my enjoyment of his other works. I don’t recommend him to others any more. HE SHOULD HAVE USED A PEN NAME.

I expect one day I will use a very different pen name for a particular genre I want to write,but I will never publish anything that will not honor my Savior, even in the telling of (imaginary) people’s life stories when not-so-nice experiences happen.

So, I’m Mary Marie Allen. I was already pretty far into the process of changing everything before I realized on line it will look like this: marymarieallen running all the vowels together. Well, at least no one will think I’m Mary Mari Eallen. At least, I hope they won’t. Not perfect. Not the name God will one day give me on a white stone, but a name I'm comfortable with anyway. 

What name do you use? Is it your own or a combination? What process did you go through to find a novel (humor!) pen name? Or, did one drop seemingly from heaven right into your lap? 

Image result for graphics for rose

Monday, January 4, 2016

Time to write

Happy 2016!

How exciting to write my very first blog post of 2016 on Hoosier Ink!

I must admit, I wasn't sad to see 2015 go. It was a tough year. And even though 2016 threatens to be even tougher (due to some personal family issues), I'm not afraid. I'm determined not to let the devil stop me from what God has put me on this planet to do.

One of the things I was put on this planet to do is write.  But there are lots of reasons for me to give it up. Plenty of excuses. I'm sure you have them, too: working full-time to put food on the table, chronic illness, chronic pain, exhaustion, lack of inspiration, discouragement. Frankly, if I were to put a line down the middle of a page and write "reasons to write" on one side and all the "reasons not to write" on another, there'd be a lot more listed on the "reasons not to" side.

But that's not a fair way of looking at it because the one reason to keep writing outweighs all the excuses. The Master of the Universe has called me to write. That's reason enough to keep facing the blank page day after day. If He's called me to it, then without question, I must obey.

My prayer for you in 2016 is that you, too, will answer the call no matter how you feel. Feelings, quite frankly, are unreliable and fickle. God's call never is. The enemy has stepped up his army of writers. Just walk into any secular bookstore and you'll see what I mean.

In this new year, it's time for God's Writer Army to take up arms and answer the call to battle. Like King David, we have the power and confidence to enter the fray in the Name of the Lord!

Write on, Writer Warriors! Write on!
(Click to tweet)

Karla is the author of several history books for
homeschoolers including O Canada Her Story, Sacagawea and Jacques Cartier. Her first novel, The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots features a homeschool mom. Her work has also been published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Splickety Magazine, and she currently writes for Happy Sis Magazine. You can find more information about her life and ministry at

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Writing Insights from American Sign Language

For 14 years, my wife Judy worked on the staff of Silent Blessings, a Christian ministry to deaf children and their families. She introduced me to American Sign Language (ASL), which many deaf people use to communicate with one another. Only when stating the proper name of a person or place will an ASL person make a rapid spell-out of the individual letters in a word. Everything else is conveyed by gestures that demonstrate the idea or action. For example, here's the ASL sign for "anger":

Click HERE for video.
It looks like an erupting volcano--a rather accurate way to depict anger! A sign can also communicate a more ambiguous idea, such as "America." Here's the ASL sign:

Click HERE for video.

This portrays a circle of log cabins, which would have been typical of early America.

We English speakers say that a hypocrite is someone who "puts down" another person. ASL demonstrates this in its sign for "hypocrite":

 ASL - Hypocrite
Click HERE for video.

We can draw important insights for our writing from ASL. Foremost is the principle, "Show, don't tell." If deaf persons had to spell out every word, their conversations would be slow and tiresome. But signs enable the deaf to convey ideas quickly, with emotion, free from the limitations of any local vernacular. (An ASL-signing deaf person in Germany would use the same sign for "anger" as does one living in the United States.)

If your narrative seems dull, perhaps words are getting in the way! Try demonstrating those ideas with a character's body language, gestures, or actions. Give your readers a sign--in fact, a whole story of them.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of ACFW since 2010. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.