Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pardon me, but are you Verna Davis?

I know this is the first time we’ve “met,” and I know that by the picture at the bottom of the blog you can tell I’m not always serious and dignified in nature. But I really feel like I need to start our “get acquainted time” with a confession. I hope I won’t shock you clean off your writing chair, but here goes: I love being recognized. Not for being the wife of a fantastic preacher who has a stellar reputation in our community. Not for being known as a speaker of some renown in the Wabash Valley. Not for being the voice behind the microphone on a local religious radio station. Nope. I love being recognized for being a writer.

I’ve been writing a column in the Terre Haute Tribune Star for 17 years. If you subtract the five Saturdays I missed due to serious health concerns, and the first six months when the paper published my columns every other week instead of every week, that means I have written 867 columns. At 500 words a pop that means I’ve had 433,500 of my words published! Mercy, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Over the course of those thousands of words and hundreds of columns, I’ve had my picture posted down by my byline. The picture has changed a few times, and currently I’m using one that’s about 10 years old. I no longer wear my hair in that color or that style, but I leave the picture there because it successfully hides my double chin.

But, old picture or not, it’s really hard for me to go somewhere without being recognized. 

And I love it.

Once, when I was with a friend at a restaurant in Indianapolis, a couple stopped by our table on their way out. They recognized me, said they were avid column readers and wanted me to know they had been encouraged and entertained by things I had written. Made me feel so good I ordered a scoop of ice cream for my pie.

Last week, I was in the stands of our local prospect league baseball team minding my own business, munching on popcorn and cheering appropriately when the Rex team scored. In the middle of the sixth inning, a lady plopped herself into the empty seat beside me. “Are you Verna Davis?” I looked at her and for the life of me couldn’t remember ever laying eyes on her. I sheepishly asked, “Yes. Have we met before?” She smiled and said, “No, but I read your column and I really love the one you did on praising God in the storms.” I thanked her profusely and she went back to her seat, leaving me with a pleasant feeling of accomplishment.

But then, the gentleman immediately behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you really Verna Davis?” Turns out I really was, and he really was a Sunday School teacher and had used some of my columns in some of his lessons. He also told me that he usually read the paper first, but on Saturdays, he was not allowed to read the paper till his wife finished reading my column. That exchange made me feel like I wanted to take my turn at bat, knowing I had it in me to hit that ball right over the fence! I felt that good.

Once, a friend and I were at Red Lobster for lunch, enjoying shrimp scampi and those divine cheese biscuits. I noticed a couple looking at us. They finished their meal and went out of their way to walk past us as they left. The woman gave a little self-conscious wave and the man nodded, but I didn’t think anything more about it. Instead of bringing us our bill, our server brought us a message:  the couple who had walked past us had paid for our lunch. They said it was a way they could repay me for my columns that had inspired them so much.

I’ve been recognized in the mall, in Wal-Mart, in the bank, and in the grocery store. (I’m so willing for someone to be inspired enough to pay for my cart full of groceries. But alas, that hasn’t happened yet!) At first being recognized embarrassed me. I have a gap-toothed smile, too many freckles, and my hair is too thin and too fine to hold a style for longer than five minutes. And I’m not exactly model-thin and gorgeous, either.

But now, I confess, I’m delighted when I’m recognized by complete strangers. See, after just a sentence or two, they are no longer strangers. They are my new friends who share with me a love for the Word of God and how it teaches, guides, comforts, and encourages us every minute of every day. When they begin to compliment my writing, I answer: “God gave me the talent and the desire. He gives me the inspiration and the ideas. All I do is use the gifts He gave me for His purposes.”

That is what my writing is all about. Giving a modern twist and current voice to the ancient truths of the Bible. I sit at home, late at night, in my jammies and pound the keyboard to share God’s message. I stare at blank screens till random thoughts become coherent thoughts. I search my memory for what my high school grammar teacher taught me about the proper use of “who” and “whom.” I get frustrated when I have to delete huge sections of wonderfully crafted words because they just don’t say anything. I struggle with that 500 word requirement. Sometimes what I want to say takes only 300 words, and sometimes I need 3,000.

But when I get discouraged and think it’s all for nothing, God will send someone my way who recognizes me. Some who encourages me to keep going, to keep writing, to keep 
saying what God wants me to say.

I mean, seriously, writers. Don’t you love being recognized for what God has trained you to do? As for me, if you see me out and about in Hoosier Land, and you think you might recognize me, stop me and ask, “Are you Verna Davis?” We’ll laugh and share and talk about writing.

And God will bless us both.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rising to a Challenge

Since this is my first post here at Hoosier Ink, I thought I’d start with a little about me. My name is Abbey and I write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line as Mollie Campbell. I’ve lived in Indiana for 24 years, currently in Kokomo with my husband and our two kids.

Speaking of those two kids, isn’t it amazing how different siblings can be? My youngest is what I call a “try-er.” When she wants to do something, she fights to get it done. She puts in the needed effort and doesn’t let fear hold her back, meeting every challenge head-on.

On the other hand, my oldest…prefers not to be challenged. He would be more than happy to sit at home all the time, playing with the same old toys and never stretching himself. He’s very shy and lets his fear of new situations and new people keep him from doing things, even really fun things. No matter how hard we try to reason with him, once he decides he’s too scared or he can’t do something, he just won’t do it.

As writers, don’t we face this all the time? We all know what can happen when we face a challenge. Failure. Languishing in the process. Or…maybe success. We can choose to face a challenge head-on. Send that proposal to an agent or publisher. Step out and search for a critique partner. Go to a conference in spite of not knowing anyone.

Or we can choose to hide from the challenge. If I’m honest, I can be more like my oldest than I care to admit. Putting words that come from my heart in front of people who might judge or criticize can be terrifying. It’s easier to keep my writing to myself. And for years, that’s what held me back from even trying.

But once I found the courage to start sharing the words I love, I found that I always come out on the other side of that challenge better than where I started. Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what I hoped for, I learn and grow through the experience. And the same applies to all the hard things we come up against in writing (and life). Facing that challenge makes us better and makes our writing better. And that’s worth conquering the fear.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Value in Fiction Not Labeled Christian

The Bellingwood Series
by Jean Kavich Bloom

Although I make no judgment about the fiction choices any Christian reader makes, nor what any author chooses to write, I am sharing about the value I've found in a series not labeled Christian fiction. Nor is this series infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals despite not being labeled Christian fiction, such as the beloved Mitford series by Jan Karon.

Bellingwood is a fictional small town in Iowa created by prolific author Diane Greenwood MuirI would call the Bellingwood series, whose main character is a woman named Polly, contemporary women's fiction, with plots that include mystery and romance, humor and drama. Although primarily wholesome and pro marriage and family, the author doesn't claim these novels are Christian fiction on her website. And let me be upfront about some of the content.

I have never read anything graphic in these books, and I've noticed only the occasional "PG" four-letter word. But then, uncharacteristic to the majority of each book, the author sometimes writes discussions among Polly's group of women friends that make them sound like giggly teenagers to me. One woman in particular loves to make shock-value statements. I've skipped some of those discussions. I found them out of place considering how the characters otherwise admirably conduct most of their lives.

If you never want to read about characters who occasionally behave as I've described, none of whom make an outright profession of Christian faith, then you probably won't be interested in the Bellingwood series. I understand when a reader feels anything he or she reads should specifically point to Christ. But let me share two reasons I find value in this series.
1. It promotes walking worthy, though rocky, paths. Although entertaining (Polly has a somewhat humorous Murder She Wrote way of finding bodies), these books address serious topics such as mental and physical illness, death, abuse, and abandonment. For example, in one book the author touchingly portrays Polly's journey with a dying woman and the young daughter she will leave behind. As Polly grows in a community new to her, she models generosity and an other-centered life. Polly and, in particular, her regularly churchgoing, mentoring friend Lydia inspire me with their hearts for others and caring actions. I also love stories of transformation. From renovating buildings to restoring hope for others, Polly shows us what can be done when we see opportunities and grab them. And yet . . .

2.   Polly is flawed—just like me. Through Polly—a fiery, independent woman in her thirties with some hurts in her past—the author continually explores the question, “What’s the right thing to do?” Polly usually comes to the same conclusion I hope I would, but I don’t always like her reactions to some events. That makes me think of me. And when reading novels like these, I can ask myself, How am I different from or the same as this character? What would I do in that situation? Might that character make a different decision if she or he were a confessed Christ follower? Is God in this scene even if he's never mentioned? How would I write this scene as Christian fiction?

Every believer must make his or her own reading choices. But for me, despite no clearly established Christian message in these books, I'm drawn to this author's portrayals of sacrificial love every Christian should strive to achieve. While I'm entertained by the stories, I am also challenged to sort out the motivations behind her characters' actions.

Muir has also written a contemporary re-imagining of the biblical story of Ruth, in which, her website says, “Naomi finds that she has been given a great gift—an understanding of the way God fulfilled His promise to care for her, no matter what. When He seems so far away, we find Him in those who continue to love us.” When I've caught up with Polly and her world, I might just check out what Diane Greenwood Muir has to say in Abiding Love.

If and when you read fiction not labeled Christian, what criteria do you use?  What value, if any, have you found in novels not obviously infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals?

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. 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.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How to Help Authors: Write Reviews

Periodically, I'll get to spend time with readers or developing writers. I absolutely love it. There's something so fun about rediscovering books through the eyes of a book club. Or to talk about why they want to write with new writers. Often it will come up that they'd like to help and encourage their favorite authors, but they don't always know how. One super easy way is to write a review. It can be as easy as leaving a 5 star mark on Amazon or as detailed as telling people why you liked a book. Writing a review can be intimidating but it doesn't need to be. I’m always glad to help people feel more comfortable spreading the word about books they love.

I love to tell everyone about books that I love…and now that I’m an author, I know just how much a well written review — even if it’s a few sentences (or stars) can help authors.

Many readers use the number of reviews as one way to decide whether or not to try a book or a new to them author. Some platforms use the number of reviews to decide how discoverable to make a book in its algorithm. Reviews make a huge difference to writers!

It’s really easy to write reviews! Really.

I’ve never taken a course on book reviews, and actually fell into writing them almost by accident.
So after I started a blog more years ago than I want to think about, it made sense to have books be a large part of that blog.

About the same time I joined ACFW. Through it’s e-loop, I got to know many authors. Often they ask for influencers — people who will read a book and if they like it tell people about it. I love to connect people. If you’ve read The Tipping Point, I fall clearly into that category. I am enthusiastic about anything I can do to connect people with a person or product I love.

That’s how I started, and now I can’t imagine not doing it.
While leaving stars and a quick sentence is great (and very helpful), if you want to do more, here’s a review I wrote. I’m going to insert explanation throughout to explain why I wrote what I did….

1) First Paragraph: A quick summary: Happy, happy sigh. This reader was swept away by Courtney Walsh‘s delightful Paper Hearts. It is one of those sweet romances that just has it all! (This is a way to quickly introduce the book and tell a bit about the book in general. Now on to the meat.)

2) Second Paragraph: set the stage. Abigail Pressman has a dream to expand her bookstore set in a tourist town in the Colorado mountains. All she needs to do is scrape together the funds to buy the building. Before she can do that a new doctor swings into town with the cash to buy her building. Before she really meets him, she knows he could threaten her future plans and happiness…not to mention her livelihood. Jacob didn’t intend to destroy her life, he just wanted to create a new one for himself and his daughter. Think You’ve Got Mail. But then the Valentine Volunteers get involved — think a Greek Chorus ala Letters to Juliet, and all kinds of shenanigans happen. (Now I’m telling a little about the characters and the plot. What resonated with me? Why might someone else like these elements? My goal is to give enough to intrigue and give a sense of the story…but never, ever, ever giveaway plot points! Those are sacred for the reader to discover on their own.)

3) Third Paragraph: Dive deeper into themes. This book is rich with secondary characters who beg to have books of their own, yet keep from stealing the show. Abigail is the kind of heroine I would love to sit down with and share cups of her special Love Peak brew. And the paper hearts are an excellent reminder to keep an eye on my personal romance and ways to keep it alive through good and bad times. (Sometimes if there’s a strong spiritual thread that resonated with me, I will include that here. This book has great themes, but the charm of it for me is the characters and the paper hearts. So that’s where I focused. But I always try to dig deeper than a plot summary. You can get that from the about the book section of most online retailers. What’s key here is to give the readers peeks into what makes this book special, memorable, perfect for them.)

4) Fourth Paragraph: the perfect summary and reader. This is a romance perfect for those who love a contemporary story filled with heart, characters you’ll adore, and a romance laced with enough angst and ahhhs to keep you reading. (I always try to summarize really quickly who the book is perfect for. I read very broadly, so all books I like aren’t for all readers. So I describe the reader who will like this type of book. )

I hope this is helpful! And if you write reviews, thank you

Monday, July 3, 2017

Writing fiction improved my nonfiction writing

When I went to a writer's conference three years ago, it was to learn more about the craft of writing Christian fiction. There was a space there to display one sheets. I felt led of the Lord to put a book proposal together for a book about my sons who have autism. It was a last minute after-thought, really. I didn't expect much to come of it. But there was an editor who was interested.  After a few detours, which landed me with another publishing company entirely, my nonfiction book, A Pair of Miracles, will release on July 25. 

When writing this book, I found myself using a lot of skills I'd learned in writing fiction. It was quite unexpected and thoroughly delightful. And while I'm eager to get back to fiction again, I'm looking forward to writing more nonfiction because I've learned so much about the craft of writing itself from writing both. 

If you are writing fiction only right now, don't dismiss the idea of writing nonfiction, too. It's a great way to grow your platform and can open doors you never expected. 

Karla Akins first novel, The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots was published in August, 2013.  A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith and Determined Parenting will be released July 25, 2017.  She writes interactive, biographical narratives and content for iPad applications and has an on-going contract for her World Explorers Every Child Should Know series. Jacques Cartier hit #1 on Amazon in its category. Her hobbies are book-hoarding, swimming, and riding her motorcycle. She is represented by Linda Glaz of Hartline Literary Agency. She has a BA in Special Education and a Doctorate in Christian Education.