Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Christmas Gift to Myself

Sometimes I don't have enough money to attend a national writers' conference, but that doesn't prevent me from reaping the benefits. If the budget is tight, I can still choose a few audio recordings for my personal training. And if I receive a few cash gifts for Christmas, that's enough to buy several conference recordings. Call it a Christmas gift to myself. 

For example, I can buy and download recordings of the 2023 ACFW Conference in St. Louis at this website. If you attended this year's conference, which workshops and plenary presentations would you recommend? Why?

I'm making my list and checking it twice,
        so please pass along your Conference advice.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Hi Ho. Hi Ho. Cleaning Up My Resource Library I Go...

Over the Thanksgiving Week Holiday, I decided to take some extended vacation time to work on my home related projects. It was extremely productive and very theraputic. 

One of those many, many projects stacked up on the plate was to dig into my office to sort and reorganize my resource book library...most of which has become a monument to "creative stacking."

To that end, I decided to clear out some space in one area by re-organizing what I had on bookshelves to open space, but more importantly, use the existing space I have more wisely.

My end goal was to refresh my knowledge on the resources I currently own (that may have become lost in the void,) to group like items, and to make my books easier to find by not having so many books stacked in front of each other on the shelf (or even on the top of the bookcase).

It was a win-win-win scenario that I even carried over to my DVD-BR collection (which is another source of inspiration to my creativity flow). 

Do you have a writing resource library or source of inspiration that could do with a refresh? If so, the Holidays could be a wonderful time to tackle that task and have a few side benefits as well.

It's a Christmas treat when you find old reference books that proved to be an inspiration when you first started your writing journey "back in the day." See below:

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Who Are Our Customers?

Tsunami-sized changes are sweeping through Great Britain’s publishing industry as they are through ours. It’s instructive to eavesdrop on what British publishing professionals are saying about this. I believe they are asking questions we should ask ourselves in this time of radical change.

The May 18 issue of The Bookseller (Britain’s equivalent to Publishers Weekly) featured an article by Hannah Macdonald of September Publishing, who challenges publishers to ask who their customers are. Twenty years ago, most publishers said their customers were retail bookstores. They thought that if they persuaded stores to carry their books, readers would find and purchase them. No more. The number of retail bookstores has shrunk radically and large store chains have disappeared altogether because fewer readers find and buy books through brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Publishers have responded with a variety of new schemes—free e-books with the purchase of print editions, special editions printed on demand, etc.—but none of these strategies have swept back the tsunami. So Macdonald reminds publishers:

Retailers are just a part of our customer base… Readers are the point of it. And authors are our partners in it, sales channels of their own. We should be rethinking all our processes, structures and ambitions—everything—through that new perspective. We sit at the centre of that glorious, electric, world-changing relationship between book and reader (or listener). That human creative exchange is our single most important purpose….

Note the main points of Macdonald’s argument, because she identifies some changes for all of us:

a Retailers are just a part of our customer base...Readers are the point of it. Publishers who try to cater to bookstores by imitating cover designs, popular characters, or settings of best-sellers, they may sell our books into stores but not through them. Readers spot knock-offs and avoid them.

a Authors are our partners in [publishing], sales channels of their own. Too often we are tempted to think, I’m the creative part of the publishing equation. I’ll do the writing and the publisher will do the selling. However, each of us has a network of contacts with family, friends, and members of the same congregation, alumni of the same college, etc. If we tell them about our latest books, we can start sales rolling.

a That human creative exchange [between book and reader] is our single most important purpose. We can take this cue from innovative publishers if we visualize our readers at each step of the writing process. We can imagine them asking questions as we write and listen as they respond to our stories. This will make readers our co-creators, not merely consumers of what we write.

Widespread change can be frightening, but loyal readers are loyal customers. If we satisfy them, they will come back for more of what we have to share. So take heart. It's time to recapture the principles that used to guide Christian publishing. They can determine where we land when the publishing tsunami passes by.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

That's More Than a Museum... It's an Idea Bank!

My wife and I are museum fanatics. We don’t simply amble through the halls, looking for interactive displays that seem like video games for jaded adults. We peer through display-case glass to read exhibit captions and cross-reference them with the artifacts, and we discuss what we see along the way. We especially like to connect the museum’s holdings with antiques we’ve seen in the attics and cellars of our friends. (“See that wringer with a handle? It’s a laundry mangle. Mrs. Bloom used to have one.”)

Occasionally, we’ll find a modest-looking item that’s extremely rare and we wonder what kind of value it would have in the eyes of an “Antiques Road Show” appraiser. It’s all the more interesting if we think we have one like it in our garage. Perhaps we could dust it off and let Sotheby’s auction it for a fortune.

Yet that’s not our main take-away from a museum. We’re looking for ideas that might grow into a magazine article or book manuscript. We find plenty of inspirations in any sizeable museum, and we often use the trip home to brainstorm what we might do with them.

We spent last month in Oklahoma City, which has an extraordinary number of niche museums. After seeing the most popular venues (the Museum of Art, the First Americans Museum, and the Cowboy Museum), we still had our choice of the Female Aviator Museum, the Pigeon Museum, the Skeleton Museum, the Snake and Venom Museum, and lots more.

We learned that the original state capital was in nearby Guthrie, whose spacious Carnegie Library has been converted into a Territorial Museum. It has the sort of exhibits you might expect—about land rushes, Indian treaties, territorial disputes, etc.--but it also has a large exhibit about the state’s various attempts to treat mental illness. There’s a whole room devoted to the state’s most notorious bank robberies, and an exhibit about how the state capital was moved. (Legend has it that the first governor stole the state seal late one night and smuggled it into a rented office in Oklahoma City.)

Don’t underestimate the potential of a good museum. It’s not a reliquary of the dead and dusty past, but an idea bank for creative writers like us. Plan to spend an afternoon at a museum that you have not visited before—and be sure to take a notebook!

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.         

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Seasons of Writing

     This is the month when seasons change. Fall officially begins with the equinox on Saturday, September 23, when daytime and nighttime are of equal length. The Farmer’s Almanac says our first frost in central Indiana will occur soon afterward, on or about October 11. If you grow flowers or vegetables outdoors, it's time to trim your hibiscus and other perennials, then cover the stems with straw or mulch to keep the plant from freezing. Time to dig up marigolds and other annuals so your flowerbed will be ready for a fresh planting. If you have root crops that over-winter, such as turnips, make sure they are well covered with mulch so they don’t freeze. You can harvest and cook them all winter.

     Writing projects are like those plants. They require different kinds of care as the seasons change. If we keep them well-nourished and protected from harsh weather, they can provide beauty and food, even when the weather is harsh. Think with me about the various seasons of writing:

      Winter. From time to time, your best markets will be glutted with manuscripts and editors will ask you to stop submitting new material. What better time to pull out some manuscripts that didn’t hit the target when you first submitted them? Spend some time polishing and correcting them to submit when editors are soliciting new material again.

     Spring. This is a good season to submit manuscripts that you reworked when markets were inactive. Scan the Internet to see if any recent events may draw new attention to these pieces. The Christian Writers’ Market and other sources can alert you to new markets that are eager to launch with fresh, imaginative material like yours.

      Summer. You’ve been waiting for this season. There’s strong demand for new manuscripts, competitive pay for books and articles accepted for publication, and agents visiting writers’ conferences to scout out writers with promise. This isn’t the time to find your cupboard is bare. Be ready to query agents and editors with proposals that you’ve prepared to pique their interest. They are aggressively looking for material to publish in the next active season, so make it yours!

     Autumn. Here we are again, ready to turn the corner from the most active season to the most dormant. What you do now will determine whether your well-cultivated projects survive the harsh blasts of winter. Do you have a book proposal that several editors rejected with suggestions for improvement? This is a good time to act on their recommendations, so lay out a timeline to correct those manuscripts in coming weeks.

     As the sage of old wrote, “To everything there is a season.” Every season is a different opportunity to write for success. Will you make the most of it?      


Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.         

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Missing Details

I came to the last page of a crime novel, closed it and laid it aside. It had been a fast-paced, satisfying read. As my mind walked through the plot and visualized scenes where the robberies had taken place, I also tried to visualize the robber, but couldn’t. The author had not described him.

For one of the crimes, the protagonist had worn a disguise with brown contact lenses, but the author didn’t say what his natural eye color was. Another crime, another disguise—this time he was an elderly man with a gray-haired wig. Again, the author didn’t say what his real hair color was.

My wife read the novel at the same time. If the police interviewed both of us as witnesses to those crimes, I imagine each of us would give them different descriptions of the perpetrator because most of our details would come from our imaginations.

Readers don’t need highly detailed descriptions to enjoy a story because readers like to participate in the creative process with us. In fact, the more details they supply, the more likely they are to enter “the fictive dream”—the imaginary world that takes us away from our current surroundings.

Media expert Marshall McLuhan categorized some media as “hot” because they supply detailed, multisensory information that leaves nothing to the imagination. Movies are good examples. McLuhan called other media “cool” because they supply sketchy information and we must create the rest with our imaginations. Books are “cool” media. (But you knew that, didn’t you?)

There’s another advantage of providing scant details: It keeps the pace of our narrative moving. If we don’t belabor our description of characters and settings, we create stories that readers truly can’t put down because they’re eager to see what happens next.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. 
He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Your God-Given Vocation

I recently came across a book on Christian academic vocations written by A.G. Sertillanges, a French Catholic university professor. He says:

A vocation is not fulfilled by vague reading and a few scattered writings. It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort, so as to attain a fulness of development which will correspond to the call of the Spirit, and to the resources that it has pleased Him to bestow upon us.[1]

He emphasizes that our vocations are God’s gifts to the church, so we cannot neglect them “without impoverishing the group and without depriving the eternal Christ of a part of His Kingdom.” He adds:

If you are designated as a light bearer, do not go and hide under a bushel the gleam or the flame expected from you in the house of the Father of all.[2]

Our Creator has entrusted us with the light of truth, which the world needs more urgently than any other. “Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you” (2 Pet. 1:10a, Phillips).

Any God-given vocation deserves our steadfast commitment, in season and out. This is certainly true of Christian writing, Here's a suggestion: During your next meditation time, reflect on the  way you write. Think not only about the amount of time you give to the task, but the way you invest that time.  As Sertillanges reminds us, a vocation "requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort."

If you know God has called you to write, begin writing that way. Today.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. 
He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.

[1] A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1998), 3.

[2] Sertillanges, 5.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Your Library of Knowledge

Over the years, I have collected a large repository of books of all kinds. At the same time, I've learned a new skill: creative stacking.  Yes, I have books stashed in every corner of my office and adjacent rooms.  I have enough to open either a used bookstore or street corner library.

Yes, I'm all for digital, but nothing can replace the look, feel, and smell (yes smell) of a paper book.

To that end, I just keep adding to my library.  Do I need it? My answer: How do I know? I mean, you just never know what resource you will need until you need it.   Yes, I know these are things and they do add a lot to the clutter factor, but as writers, I feel like we get some leeway in collecting books.  Plus, I like walking into the other room and just referencing the book I need and move on. 

Yes, I buy books now that I know I will not read for years because I'm not sure if it will be in print by that time (not to mention I'm not a fan of musty odor books).

Ok, yes, rationally speaking I do run the question "do I need this book" through a series of filters to ensure it's something "I might" need at some point (if only to avoid having to build a new house or add a room, lol).

I know several writers who have started "the great book purge," but, as long as I have room, I will continue to build by writer's library.  Instead of a walk in closet, I have a walk in writer's libarary.

There is no right or wrong to this, and necessity is in the eye of the collector :)

Que Será Será

When I was just a little girl, I loved Doris Day's signature song, "Que Será Será." (And those of you who know the song as well as I do, know what I just did there with my opening line!)

The lesson in Doris Day's song is the translation of the title:

"What will be, will be." 

I idolized Doris Day. She was so cute, so sweet. If I were to ever become a famous singer/actress like she was, I wanted a similar reputation. But—que será será. 

Like the first line in the song, I also wondered what I would be when I grew up. A teacher? A writer? A singer? Que será será, but I was willing to bet language would be a major part of my future.

Sixty years later, I can look back on my life and see what came to be. I became all three—just wasn't as famous as Doris Day! While the song sticks to a secular message of fate or destiny, I’ll take it a step further with faith.

We are not in control of our lives.

We couldn't see what our future held when we were children. We can't see the future now. Not in our personal lives. Not in our professional lives. But unlike the song, we can trust that God is in control and He knows our future.

I was a member of the ACFW Indiana board for several years, and I've had the privilege of getting to know many of you, something that probably wouldn't have happened if I had remained a member at large.

Some of you are in the prime of life, raising children, eager to see how God uses the talents He has given you. Some are in the autumn of your lives. I count myself among you. We deal with health issues and generational issues as we watch the world and our families. Sometimes, our grown children crash and burn, and sometimes we have the joy of watching them thrive. But all of us look forward to what is ahead in eternity. And that should be the message to our readers. No matter the circumstances on earth, we have a Savior waiting for us, waiting to welcome us home.

In the meantime, how do we use our writing gifts to mine for the jewels God buries in our lives?

Do we guide our characters into their future? Do we offer them hope?

In my YA books, my main character struggles to do the right thing. She learns what is most important for eternity.

My women’s fiction follows the same tensions. How can she make up for her sins? She can’t, but God shows her the way out of the mess she created. Her faith has an effect on what her family's future will be.

Que será será.

Some of us are highly successful in the writing world. Some of us are still struggling for an agent’s attention. Others of us have chosen to step away from the traditional and publish our work independently.Who knew that would be a possibility thirty years ago?  No matter how we seek to get our books into public view, we know God has called us to write.

Stay true to your calling, and...que será será

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She has completed a  middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister. Book One, Reaching Into Silence, was a Carol Awards semi-finalist, an ACFW Genesis Contest semi-finalist,  and a First Impressions Finalist.

Linda had always figured she’d teach teens and tweens until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair and rolled her out the door. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to becoming an author.

A wife, mother of three, and grandmother to eight, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!

Where Linda can be found on the web: