Thursday, March 24, 2016

Writing Outside Your Culture: Researching Location, Part I

As I mentioned in last month’s post, my protagonist in Desert Jewels lives in Berkeley, California when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. She has a Japanese father and a Caucasian mother, but that is more than enough Japanese blood to send her to Tanforan Assembly Center (a converted racetrack) and Topaz Relocation Center.

I wanted to do on-site visits, but I had a significant problem. Tanforan is now a two-level shopping mall, and Topaz is open desert. That means I had to (and did) get most of my knowledge about both from reading memoirs and newspaper archives. Even so, visiting added a sense of place that I couldn’t get from books.

The books told me that Topaz was isolated and desolate. Being there made it real. It took hours of driving through mountains and deserts to get to Delta, Utah, which was the closest town, and then my husband and I drove another half hour in the car before we reached our destination. The residents of Topaz spent two nights and a day on a train to reach it, with each mile taking them farther away from their beloved San Francisco. After transferring to a bus at Delta, they finally arrived at their destination to find nothing but rows and rows of tar-papered barracks in the middle of nowhere.

I grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the isolation at Topaz suffocated me. Think how it must have affected people who were born and raised in a major metropolitan area.

Then there was the size. I already knew that the residential part of the camp was a mile square, but that was just a number until I walked and drove it. Now I can’t imagine how they managed to cram 8,000 people, two elementary schools, a high school, a hospital, and a number of offices in such a small space. More suffocation.

Topaz was disassembled after the war, and there is very little left at the site. However, part of the original barbed-wire fence still stands, and it confirmed the impression I got from my reading. As you can see from the picture, there was plenty of space to crawl through, and the residents often did. Not to escape, though. The War Relocation Authority used the surrounding land to grow crops and raise animals to feed the people in the camp, and many of the residents worked outside the fence in the agricultural areas. Although the Topaz Times contained frequent pleas not to climb through the fence, many residents used that route as a shortcut to their jobs. (And no, the fence was not electrified.)
Dust storms were a frequent experience for the Japanese Americans who lived in Topaz and other desert camps. Crazy as it may seem, I wanted to experience one while I was there. Unfortunately, it had rained the night before so the dust stayed put. Driving through Utah and Nevada the next day, however, we did see a number of dust clouds in the distance.
At Tanforan, the inhabitants would have felt a different kind of isolation. They were in the middle of a bustling metropolitan area that was closed to them. Still, during the five months they lived there in horse stalls or barracks with gaping holes in the walls, at least they were still in their home state of California. And they were close enough that their Caucasian friends could visit them occasionally.
The building in the middle of this picture is the current BART station. Imagine that it is the grandstand roof and you are sitting there, as many of the residents did in 1942. They could see civilization all around them, but they were forbidden to join it.

From our hotel near Berkeley, it took a hotel shuttle, a bus, the BART (with one transfer), and 2 ½ hours to get to San Bruno, where Tanforan is. On the way back, every connection came right away, and even the hotel shuttle arrived just as we were getting ready to call for it, so the return trip took only 1½ hours. The Japanese Americans made the trip by bus and with no stops or connections, but they also had to contend with traffic. I’m assuming it took them at least two hours, and probably much longer. Hours filled with apprehension and uncertainty.

I did the trip backwards for practical reasons, but at least I did it.

As writers, we can’t always visit the locales we write about, but we should if we can.

Even if everything has changed.


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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

From the Archives: Life-Proof or Life-Resistant Writing?

It's usually my (Linda's) turn to post on the third Tuesday, but I'm in Florida visiting family and wanting to make the most of my time with them. Life happens, both good and bad, and I know many in our family at ACFW Indiana are dealing with life's (divine) interruption. H.T. Lord has a beautiful analysis from the archives analyzing how to handle those times when writing is just about impossible.

Even though we are 20 or so years away from it, my husband and I have been talking about retirement plans lately.

I want to move to Iceland where there are no mosquitoes. He wants to move to Florida where there exists more mosquitoes than in any other state in the U.S.A.

Besides the prolific insect populations (and alligators), the other reason I am hesitant to move there are the hurricanes. How often have we been hearing about people who have lost everything because of a hurricane? Often!

If you can’t tell, I did not grow up near a large body of water. My husband did; it’s called the Atlantic Ocean. We have been living in a part of the country I’m used to for the past 20 years surrounded by corn fields, green grass, tall trees and cricks, otherwise known as “creeks.”

He’s given up what he loves for my comfort, so it’s only right I at least consider living out our golden years where he feels most at home.

That said, I’m still uneasy. So I prayed, “Lord, is there anything out there that can stand up to a hurricane?” It turns out there is. There are a few options actually, but the one that caught my eye is a round home.

Believe it or not, round homes are tornado, earthquake and hurricane resistant. I guess no one can claim hurricane-proof, because, let’s face it, stuff happens. But the few companies I found that make round homes have testimonials of round home owners who have lived through recent hurricanes and their houses emerged unscathed. Cool, huh?

So all this got me to thinking about whether or not it’s possible for writers to “life-proof” their writing.

I’m coming off a three-week unscheduled, unwanted hiatus from my cherished writing schedule. Life happened.

My father-in-law could no longer live on his own, so we found a way for him to move in with us until better arrangements can be made. I contracted a stomach virus that left me incoherent for 10 days. Our youngest daughter caught a cold that turned into a lung infection. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Maybe for some life-proofing their writing is possible. What does that really mean but to choose writing every time something comes up? I commend everyone with that kind of determination and discipline. You rock! My hope is to join your ranks someday.

But for me, now, I’m thinking life-resistant writing is a pretty good option. So what does that mean? I think it means to have a writing schedule, to have a plan, but also to be flexible so when life happens you can resist the guilt and hopelessness that inevitably comes.

Your heart for writing hasn’t gone away, it’s just weathering the latest storm. And when the wind calms and the water stills, you pick up where you left off.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stephen King: On Writing

By Kelly Bridgewater

I know that most writers have this book on their shelf or have been told to buy this book and put it on their shelf. A couple of years ago, I found it at a used book sale and bought it. I wanted to find out what the fuss was all about. Now after finishing On Writing, I understand why the writers truly use this book to help them improve their writing.

From Amazon
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. Something about writing even when we don’t want to is important to every writer. I have found a number of times where I want to quit this gig and do something that makes more money. He divides the books into little subchapters that don’t really start on the next page. It flows smoothly together.

The second half of the book talks about his writing advice. We get to see inside King’s office with his use of descriptive words. One of my favorite quotes is: “Practice is invaluable . . .skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clearly (without using a lot of tiresome, unnecessary adverbs) (195). I try to write at least a minimum of 1000 words a day. If not more. Sometimes I start with a short scene and just allow myself to free write for a while to get the imagination flowing.

One thing I really enjoy about this book is the feel of the writing. I feel like Stephen King is sitting right next to me, giving me advice. It is simple to understand but totally resonates with me. I want to sit in my blue Queen Ann’s chair where I do all my reading and writing and allow reality to disappear. It is very conversationalist. I don’t feel threaten or overwhelmed by anything he offers.

If you have read On Writing, what is your favorite part? Share some of your favorite quotes from his book and let’s have a discussion. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The 5 Love Languages for Writers

By Jean Kavich Bloom

At present, my primary calling is to work with authors as an editor. Yet I do identify with the task of every writer: effectively building bridges to readers. Though writing books is, if ever, most likely in my future, I do write—for clients, for blogs, and for myself. 

I know how it feels when encouragement is hard to come by, when the words won’t come, when giving up seems like an option (but isn’t). When the thought I have no talent and why doesn’t God just send someone to tell me the truth so I can move on? rumbles while staring at a blank page. Or at the kind of draft Anne Lamont says is a given.

This morning I reread my last post for this blog, “Authors Need Love Too,” and soon found myself channeling Tina Turner. (Yes, I have an inner Tina Turner!) As I imagined her singing "What's Love Got to Do with It?" I thought about Gary Chapman’s best-selling book The 5 Love Languages.

Though developed for the marriage relationship, this concept has been made applicable to other relationships as well. Perhaps we can apply it to writers. The five love languages are
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

Now, let's think this through. As a writer, does a thumbs-up or “Good job!” help to make your best work feel like your best work? Does having (or the thought of having) a trusted writing or critique partner give you constructive feedback seem like heaven? Do you feel affirmed when someone sends you a meme or gift specifically for writers? 

What about when a loved one gives you the sacrificial gift of uninterrupted time to write? Do you crave appropriate physical connection with other writers in the form of a handshake, an understanding pat on the arm (or on your actual back!), or even a hug, perhaps at a writers’ conference or in a group of writing peers?

No aspiring writer wants to end up with Tina's giving-up, settling-for-less lament, "Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?" Maybe the struggles, doubts, and disappointments that threaten us can be lessened if we recognize the heart encouragement most likely to keep us going. 

What’s your writer-ly love language? Can you use that knowledge to seek the support you need? Do those closest to you know what it is? (I confess many in my life probably don't, because I haven't told them.)

Perhaps these questions, because God calls us to be other-centered, are also important to consider: Do we know the love languages of fellow writers we are positioned to support and influence? Can we use that information to more actively build bridges, not just writer to reader, but writer to writer? 

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 one of many contributors to a new blog for women, The Glorious Table. 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.

bridge photo credit:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why Christian writing is more important than ever

I don't know if you've noticed, but we're living in perilous times.

Wars, rumors of wars, crashing meteorites, earthquakes, and volcanoes in diverse places: Jesus spoke of these things.

As in the days of Noah, when Nephilim walked the earth, and fallen angels tampered with the sacred genes of humankind, those created in God's image today splice genes, implant chips, and embrace the future of singularity.

If there was ever a need for us to be the light that Jesus said we are, it's now.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid" (Matthew 5:14)

 Notice this scripture doesn't say you should be the light. It says you are the light.

What are you doing with it?

Are you hiding it because you're afraid of failure?

Are you hiding it because you're lazy?

What is your excuse for hiding your light, Dear Writer?

The world needs Light in this dark, dark world.

Where and when will you let yours shine?

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, March 5, 2016

Two Marks of a Good Ending

At the beginning of a recent webinar, the host invited us to submit questions for the presenter (writing coach Jerry Jenkins) to answer at the end. When we reached the Q&A period, our host said we had an overwhelming number of questions about endings. Many of us felt that our stories ended poorly, and we hoped Jerry could give us some pointers for improvement.

After a moment's pause, Jerry said, "Oh, my. That deserves a webinar in itself. We'll have to deal with endings another time." I could imagine the collective groan in cyberspace. This wasn't the kind of ending we expected for the webinar!

My wife felt that way at the end of many a TV drama. After an hour of plot twists and complications, the final credits would suddenly begin to roll. She would reach for the remote and growl, "I can't believe they left things hanging like that!"

In all fairness, endings are not easy. At one time or another, all of us have been tempted to try the escape hatch that some of my fourth-grade classmates used when we were assigned to write short stories. One after another put themselves in an impossible situation, facing imminent death, so that we were all on the edges of our seats. "Then I woke up," they would say, "The End!" (Our teacher banned that ending after the third or fourth time it was used.)

So what does a good ending look like? How will we know we've brought our narrative aircraft in for a smooth landing? Ansen Dibell notes that a good ending will have these two characteristics:

  1. It is fitting. "The characters seem to have gotten the ending they deserved by their actions during the story, for good or ill."
  2. It is definite. "The story's resolution is clear, appropriate, and decisive. It's really over." (Dibell, The Plot, 136-39).

This doesn't mean every loose end will be tied up, but the Problem that drives all of the action will be resolved--at least for now. It  may not mean the protagonist gets what our readers hope she will get, but if not, they will understand how she got this outcome. And it may not leave our readers feeling happy, but it should leave them satisfied. "In a given story, [if] you have to choose between happy and satisfying, choose satisfying," Dibell advises. "It lasts longer" (137).

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN.