Thursday, August 25, 2016

Writing Outside Your Culture: Reading Research, Part II

Desert Jewels was easy to research. Not only was I able to interview one couple who had been in the camps when they were about my protagonist’s age, but there were a myriad of memoirs written by people who took the same path. That’s because the events occurred in a short time frame and many of the people who took that path were students or professors at the University of California at Berkeley—including writers and artists who recorded their experiences.

Researching my second middle-grade historical was much harder. As mentioned in my last post, Creating Esther is about an Ojibwe girl who goes to an Indian boarding school at the end of the 19th Century. There are plenty of memoirs about the Native American boarding school experience, but few come from the right perspective. Most took place several decades later, when the students knew what to expect. Others came from the male perspective or that of a white teacher.

The three most helpful memoirs are (1) three essays by Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin), which can be found in her American Indian Stories; (2) No Turning Back: A Hopi Woman’s Struggle to Live in Two Worlds by Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White); and (3) Red World and White: Memories of a Chippewa Boyhood by John Rogers (Chief Snow Cloud). The Zitkala-Sa essays tell about her experiences as a Native American student and teacher shortly before the time of my story, but they are short on details. No Turning Back begins at about the right time and provides a few more details, but it spans a number of years and is written by a woman from a different tribe than my protagonist. Red World and White provides a more detailed look at Ojibwe (Chippewa) reservation life around the right time but gives little information about the male author’s boarding school experience.

I also read a number of academic books about the Native American boarding school experience or the Ojibwe tribe. Putting all this information together with what I learned from location research, I believe I have portrayed an accurate picture for my readers. But it wasn’t easy.

Picking the right pieces was hard, but cultural respect requires it.

Next month I’ll talk about the location research that helped me understand the broader picture.


The photo at the head of this post shows one of the abandoned buildings from the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. I took the picture on my research trip last year. And before you ask, I wasn’t intentionally trying to make it look old. Somehow I set my camera to grayscale and didn’t notice it until later.


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, August 17, 2016

Stein on Writing

By Kelly Bridgewater

Stein on Writing is one of my favorite writing instruction books. I first checked it out at the library, but I found I wanted to highlight a lot of things, so I had to purchase the book for myself. This book is different from a lot of writing instruction books because it is actually written by an editor. (I know; it has become a trend lately for editors to write instruction books, but in 1995, it wasn’t. I believe.) I really enjoyed getting down and paying attention to what Sol Stein had to instill in me. I want to become a better writer, so this book does exactly that. 

From Amazon

 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.

Stein has a huge chapter on creating interesting characters. You want to give a character a background that makes them interesting. Who really wants to read a story about a character that is good all the time and nothing bad happens to them? They don’t make bad choices. They marry the perfect guy and have the best behaved children. BORING!! So not real. Life has a bunch of bumps and bruises to it. So should your character. He breaks down tricks on how to breathe life into your character. What makes them stand out? What made Sherlock Holmes a household name? He solved crimes, but that isn’t the most rememberable characteristic of him. He was quirky and had social issues, but he was smart and saw things others didn’t see. Even the trained Scotland Yard officers. I want to create characters like that.

I really enjoyed the chapter entitled “How to Use All Six of Your Senses.” It is short, but there is a lot of information in those few pages that really help you draws the reader into the pages of your story. I’m still working on how to incorporate all six senses into my story. I have been studying Susan May Warren’s books to help improve my techniques on using my six senses since she is good at inviting her readers into their surroundings.

In conclusion, there is a lot of important information in Stein on Writing, that this blog post doesn’t do the book justice. Take my advice. It is a good book to have and read over a period of time to improve your writing.

What is an area of your writing that you are still working on to improve? Is there a book that jumps out at you that has helped improve this area for you? Have you studied an author who is a master at your point of weakness?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Author’s Voice? Or Character's Voice?

by Jean Kavich Bloom

The two main characters, destined for love in this romance novel, had only just met. They were strangers from different coasts and different worlds, and the author’s imagination had thrown them together in a middle-of-the-country state.

So why, I wondered, did they use such similar expressions in dialogue? I don’t mean phrasing they might have both absorbed from, say, media, but unique phrasing one would expect to hear only from two people from the same region or family, or who were influenced by a common dialect or colloquialism.

My conclusion? I was fairly certain I was hearing the author’s voice in all the dialogue, not necessarily each created character’s voice. Fortunately, we were in the editing stage, so it wasn’t too late to address whether the author was happy with the way the dialogue was (maybe), whether she felt her readers would notice and be distracted (I was), and whether we were also facing an issue of repetition (we were).

When you’re editing your own work, the unique quality of each character's dialogue is one factor to consider: Do my characters all sound like me, the author? If I have favorite expressions, which character(s) should speak them and why? 

I was not familiar with all the author’s novels, but my suggestions for this particular book were to give

·         the female lead most of the unique phrasing because she drove the story line and had a personality with which I suspected the author resonated; 

·         the male lead the rest of the unique phrasing because he reacted to, more than instigated, the action; and

·         each of the important minor characters his or her own unique phrasing, if necessary to give them distinction and life.

Making these changes wasn’t all that hard to do, even in a late editing stage. And in my opinion, they made the story, the dialogue, and the entire novel stronger.

We sometimes say to others, “Don’t put words in my mouth.” But if our characters could speak without us, they might say, “Don’t put your voice in all our mouths without being sure that's what you want!”

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 a  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.  

photo credit:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Amazon Restricts Promotion of Books with "Religious or Spiritual Content"

I promised in my previous post to share the results of my experiment with various marketing tools that Amazon and its subsidiaries offer to self-published authors. The newest edition of my book, Setting Goals That Count: A Christian Perspective, went "live" with Amazon and Kindle in mid-March. With recent advances in print-on-demand and e-book technology, as well as Amazon's commitment to make its publishing platform as user-friendly as possible, production is now the easiest aspect of the whole process. It's possible to produce a steady stream of new books in print and electronic formats with minimal distraction from my writing routine.

Marketing and promotion are also easy with the tools available from Amazon and Google. However, I encountered a snag with Amazon's marketing platform that was quite unexpected: They reserve the right to restrict the advertising of religious or spiritual books, so they rejected the ad I submitted for my book. Here's the beginning of the e-mail I received from Amazon Marketing Services:

Thank you for submitting your ad campaign "________" for review. To help provide a welcoming experience for customers of all faiths and beliefs, we restrict religious advertising at Amazon. Our creative acceptance policies for books available at, notes that we are unable to approve your ad if it contains overtly religious or spiritual ad copy, images, or symbols (for example, the Star of David, a crucifix, the Star and Crescent).

Please re-submit your ad after bringing it into compliance with our creative acceptance policies. 
I thought my ad copy was fairly innocuous. It simply said, "What Is Your Calling? Use simple worksheets and questionnaires to find your way. For Christians of all ages." Perhaps I just needed to reword the ad to "bring it into compliance" with Amazon's policies, so I followed their link and found this:

3. Restricted Ad Content and Books
There are several customer experience sensitive categories that are not appropriate for a general audience. The following categories may be restricted from the homepage and Kindle E-reader placements: 
  • Non-fiction self-help books relating to dating and relationships
  • Non-fiction books that allude to sensitive financial topics (e.g. bad credit or bankruptcy)
  • Non-fiction self-help books that refer to topics of grief, mourning, and loss
  • Books for weight loss
  • Religious or spiritual content
  • Books about political parties, issues and related content
Apparently, my book's overt Christian message excludes it from the usual Amazon promotions. I wonder, have any other ACFW members stumbled across this problem with their Christian fiction?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Art of Interruptions

In an ironic twist, Blogger wasn't playing nice when I was writing this post. So I wrote it on my own blog, which uses WordPress.

You can find the post here.

Thanks for reading!

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 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.