Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Another Take on Thomas Nelson's Decisions

It seems like all eyes (in the publishing world, at least) are on Thomas Nelson.
Scoti's most recent post, Finding Good in Bad News, talked about TN's recent decisions to:
  • not attend two major trade shows: ICRS and BEA
  • cut 10% of their work force
  • cutting their list of titles
Lots of folks are weighing in on TN's decision. Just read all the comments on Mike Hyatt's blog.

And, if you'd like to consider one more person's thoughts on all this, check out agent Chip MacGregor's blog. I've known Chip for a few years now and he's someone who is in the know in the publishing world. So, when Chip talks, I listen. It doesn't mean I always agree with him, but I do listen. Chip is a smart guy--and he's an experienced traveler along the Writing Road.

Here's one of Chip's observations about TN's decision to cut their title list:

Mr. Hyatt notes that he wants the company to focus on titles that "are typically written by known authors or from authors who at least have media platforms ..." Authors and agents are worried that means there will be more of a focus on celebrity, and fewer chances for new authors to be discovered and break out.

The reality is, this isn't anything I haven't heard at writers conferences for the past 5 years. To improve your chances of getting published, have a platform or get a platform. It just seems like, for writers wanting to get published by TN, the volume has been turned up on that message.

So, what's a writer to do?

The biggest lesson to learn in all this is that you have to be knowledgeable about what is going in in the writing world. It's not optional. Subscribe to Mike Hyatt's blog. Subscribe to Chip's blog. Subscribe to this blog! We'll keep you posted on what's going on along the Writing Road. And while we're at it, we'll talk about developing a platform in future posts. Becoming a celebrity--well, that's up to you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finding Good in Bad News

“Our greatest fear is not missing a few publishing opportunities. Our
greatest fear is not being good stewards of the opportunities we have been
Michael S. Hyatt, President and Chief Executive Officer of Thomas
Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the
sixth largest trade book publishing company in the U.S.

In the last two weeks, I’ve experienced writer’s fright and bouts of writing frenzy. What induced these emotional states? A book proposal requested by a publisher. I’m passionate about the subject matter and want my proposal and chapters to convey that.

I've also been following Michael S. Hyatt's blog regarding events at Thomas Nelson Publishers (TN). He announced on his blog:

* TN will no longer participate in the publishing industry’s two major trade shows: Book Expo America (BEA) or the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS).
* TN laid off 10% of their workforce.
* TN is cutting 50% of their annual new title output (they published 700 last year).

And I thought a rejection letter was painful. Can’t imagine Hyatt’s emotions.

Is this bad news to writers pursuing publication? Not necessarily. It's a challenge to motivate writers to write well. My blog today adapts thoughts from Thomas Nelson’s mission statement “We inspire the world.”

How Can I Improve My Writing?
TN is committed to teamwork. Find a writing team. Start or find a writing critique group to help you develop your unique gifts and insights to fulfill your calling.

What and Why Do You Write?
Questions to Ponder: Do I want my writing to—
* effect people in a positive way
* provide direction, advice, hope, and practical guidance to desperate, hurting people
* make a positive emotional impact on others
* inspire people to take action leading to noble actions
* encourage change in individuals and our culture?

Who Inspires You to Write?
Michael's blog states: “The world is the focus of our inspiration. While this work begins initially with the individual, it does not end there. Our goal is to inspire a chain reaction that ultimately influences the whole world. Our purpose will not be realized until our products are readily available and changing lives in every part of the world.”

Well…when he wrote about the Greek definition of “inspired,” which means God-breathed, that warmed my researcholic’s heart. I looked up a chapter “The Anatomy of Gossip” for a book I’m writing, because all words emanate from the soul. The power of God’s holy breath (Hebrew, neshima) infused life into man’s physical body and his soul (neshama). I want my 70 or 80 years of breath to connect to God, rather than sucking air and dying for 70–80 years—disconnected from my Creator and his purpose for my life. I pray that my words draw from the Divine breath in my soul to touch hearts and change lives. Again, I ask, “What, why, who, and Who inspires you to write?”

Dream Big—Work Hard
Do you strive to exceed your reader’s expectations with quality writing? Do you write to influence lives by offering wise, honest insight? If you have the gift of wisdom and the ability to write, be a good steward. Don’t pass up the opportunity to write, because it’s hard work.

© 2007, Michael S. Hyatt. Used by Permission. Originally posted at www.michaelhyatt.com.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Interview with Author Dianne Butts

One of the best things about traveling along The Writing Road is the people you'll meet along the way. I met Dianne Butts at a Colorado Christian Writers Conference a few years ago--and we've been friends ever since! We've kept up with one another's writing careers--sharing e-mails and crossing paths at conferences and a local writer's group. And one of these days, I'm going to get a ride on her bike!!

After 9/11, Dianne wrote Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation. She has an excellent Web site for writers where you can sign up to receive her newsletter "About Writing."

What got you started along the Writing Road?
I’m not one of those writers who knew she wanted to be a writer when she was three years old. I didn’t read a lot when I was younger. I wasn’t a library-aholic. I didn’t know any writers. There weren’t any poets in my family. And yet…there was God (even when I didn’t know it).

Do you think He knew I was going to be a writer when in high school He put me in Mrs. Hodges’ English class? I wrote some corny teenaged poem and did something I never thought I’d do. I showed it to her. Her response was to take me down to the school library and introduce me to the Writer’s Market. She told me how to format my manuscript, explained I’d need to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE), and helped me find three markets to send it to. You mean we’re going to send it to a real magazine? To be published?! I thought, amazed. Does this mean she thinks it’s good?

We got two rejections. We never heard back from the third place. I remember one of the rejection letters said, “This sounds like a Hallmark card.” I took that as a compliment, though it wasn’t intended that way.

Fast forward a decade. Married. Moved to a new town. Gone from the old friends; making new friends. Came to know Christ. Didn’t know how to share my faith, and suddenly thought, “Hey, if I could write an article maybe I could get it published.” Because of Mrs. Hodges I knew what to do. I knew where to find Writer’s Market in the library and I was off and running.

About that same time (1989) I heard an interview on Christian radio about an upcoming Christian Writer’s Conference. My husband agreed I should go. I signed up, took the time off work, and drove the two hundred miles to attend. There, I sat in on a continuing session for beginners taught by Marlene Bagnull. The rest is history. Marlene made me believe I could actually get published. I wrote a few short articles and sent them off. All came back rejected. I wrote an opinion piece about the first Gulf War and sent it off to The Lookout, doubtful they would accept it. Their response came in the form of a check and my first published article appeared in December, 1991!

Since then I’ve placed more than 200 pieces for publication including contributions to fifteen books and produced my own book, Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation after 9/11 through Marlene’s Ampelos Press.

What are your greatest obstacles to progressing along The Writing Road?
I think there are two kinds of roadblocks I run into:

The first is…oh, I don’t know. Maybe it could be called a lack of confidence. I want to write about what I have learned about Jesus and the Bible. However, since I have no seminary degree I wonder if this will be a roadblock for me to publish the books I wish to write. With no formal education in my credentials, will publishers allow me to “teach” or write on how I understand the Bible? I have laid groundwork by publishing articles. Now I wish to move into books. If anyone thinks I don’t have the education to write in these areas I hope they will see me as the Sanhedrin saw these two uneducated, ordinary men who told them about the Lord: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John a nd realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, NIV). I will write what is the burden of my heart to write. Beyond that, I will depend on the Lord to open the doors.

The other roadblock might be too many ideas! In articles you can quickly jump from idea to idea, but in books? Well, they just take longer. Too many ideas can be stifling. In the last couple years I have really had to decide which book projects are priority to me, zero in on them, and then work on one at a time. Get my thoughts on paper. Get it outlined. Gather what I need for the proposal. Write the proposal. Get it circulating. Start on the next project. All the while trying to keep articles circulating. I may work more slowly than other writers, but I’m like the tortoise in the story of “The Tortiose and the Hare.” I just keep plodding along, making progress at my pace.

What keeps you motivated to move along The Writing Road?
The more I learn about the Lord, the more I want to share what I’ve learned about Him and the more I have to write about. I’ve had my bouts with discouragement. I’ve had a big project that I put my heart and soul and tons of hours into fall through. Things like that cause me to wonder if I should hang it up and go get a job that actually pays me for my work. The Devil really uses those discouraging events in our lives to try to run us off the road. But when I consider the source, why would I let the decision someone else made stall me out? Besides, when I really think about it, I don’t know what else I would do. I have too much invested in this career to quit now. And I have too much to say. I will spend my life telling people about the Lord. If, for some reason, I couldn’t do it through writing, I’d find another way.

What's coming up for you next along The Writing Road?
I just signed with an agent who liked my nonfiction book proposal. While she takes care of business with that, I’m working on my next nonfiction proposal. And each morning I spend about an hour researching for the nonfiction book after that. This project has grown out of my Bible study and has morphed from one book to two (one out of the Old Testament, followed by one out of the New Testament.) I have more nonfiction ideas to follow after that, but I’ve always wanted to write fiction and I have several projects in mind. I want to teach what I know about the story of the Bible through fiction, with possibly some nonfiction projects to go along with those. (Did I mention something about too many ideas?)

These are the projects that I want to write the most, but I’m still developing my fiction-writing skills and paving a way for myself to write books. In the last year, I have sold two short fiction stories to Sunday school take-home papers, so those are my first fiction sales and I’m thrilled! I hope to do more of that as time allows. I also publish two free e-zines each month (one for concerned citizens and the other for aspiring writers) and I started blogging at http://www.buttsaboutit.blogspot.com/.

Friday, April 25, 2008

12 Self-Editing Tips for Beginners

"Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination." —Louise

A critique group is not a free editing service. Before you submit a manuscript to members, use this basic self-editing checklist.

1. Proofread your manuscript for rhythm and flow.
2. Spell and grammar check the manuscript. (On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab. Under Spelling or Grammar, select the options you want.)
3. Insert page numbers. (On the Insert menu, click Page Numbers. In the Position box, choose "top of page." In the Alignment box, choose "right.")
4. Delete adverbs. (To find adverbs, on the Edit menu, click Find. In the Find what box, enter "ly." Click Find Next.)
5. Check homonyms, contractions, possessives, and plurals. Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently: there, their, and they’re. Confused between its and it’s? For “it’s”, I read the sentence and insert, “It is…” If it isn’t, then it’s its. Possessives do not have an apostrophe: his, hers, theirs, our, and yours. Contractions have an apostrophe: don’t, won’t, can’t. Plurals never need an apostrophes.
6. Delete unnecessary words, overused phrases, clich├ęs, jargon, and repeated words. Most writers with repetition problems employ sentences that average between 12 and 18 words. Delete unnecessary words: that, just, then, only, very, really, thing, lifestyle, the real world, stuff, kid(s), guy, good, bad, great, a lot, kind of, sort of, so, truly, completely, positively, and such. Use repeated words sparingly, but deliberately for emphasis, irony, or rhetorical effect. Delete repeated words or replace using a thesaurus (You can highlight each repeated or unnecessary word throughout the document. On the Edit menu, click Find. In the Find and Replace box, enter the word or phrase. Then click on the Replace box. Select Highlight. Then Find All.)
7. Make passive sentences active. Grammar check points out passive sentences.
8. Edit out redundancies (same meaning conveyed by other words): "young baby", "a variety of different", "an added bonus", "to over-exaggerate", "and plus", "and etc.", "end result", "free gift", "future plans", "hot water heater", "unconfirmed rumor", "killed him dead", "past history", "safe haven", "potential hazard", "completely surrounded", "false pretense," "ATM machine", "HIV virus", "PIN number". Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redundancy_(language)
9. Simplify dialogue tags. Instead of "he moaned", "he hissed", "he hollared", use “he said.”
10. Delete and replace weak verbs. “To be”: is, are, was, were, being, it is, it was. “To have”: has, have, had, having, has to. “To do”: do, does, did, doing. “To get”: get, got, getting, gotten. “To use”: use, uses, used, using.
11. Double check punctuation and spacing. Look for missing periods, overused commas, opening and closing quotes, and extra spaces. Delete exclamation points.
12. Vary sentence length and construction. To maintain interest, keep sentences readable. Reader’s Digest length sentences are 5-7 words. 1-20 words are easy to read. 21-25 words are easy to understand. 26-29 are difficult to follow. 30+ words are confusing.

One advantage of being in a critique group is to learn from the expertise of others. After editing rules, common mistakes or misspellings are pointed out several times, apply what you learn to future manuscripts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Don't forget the fun

Remember when writing was fun?
Maybe it's time to push away from your computer, get out of your office, ignore that deadline--and go find some fun.
What's the well-worn saying?
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
Beth's paraphrase: All work and no play makes Beth a bored and boring writer.
When all the fun disappeared out of my writing world, I walked away from my Word documents and did some other things. I read. I relaxed. I napped. I had coffee with friends--only I drank tea. And yes, I even groused that writing wasn't fun. About the only thing I did related to writing was editing my critique group's submissions. And I even did that with a very light red pen. They probably loved me for that.
When I did sit down to write again, I decided to write just for the fun of it. I tried something completely out of the ordinary for me. Not on deadline. Not for pay. Not for possible future publication.
Just for fun.
It's been my most refreshing time along the writing road in months.
What I've written may never have a byline posted on it and be labeled "real" writing. But it's served an extremely valuable purpose.
It's made me want to write again.
Not because I have to.
Not because I should.
But because I want to see what happens next.
I'm writing just for the fun of it--and sometimes that is the best reason of all to write.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing Critique Group Synergy

"A friend loves at all times,and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17 NIV

A friend called. She’s experiencing frustration with the writing critique group that she started six months ago. As she talked, I recognized similar situations I faced.

When I initiated a writing critique group six years ago, we started with “the basic rules”—what’s expected. Time. Place. Critique and Manuscript Rotation Schedule.

Early on, one person hijacked the group. More time was spent trying to resolve or keep her anger and personal agenda in check than the group spent writing or critiquing. That hurtful experience was a turning point in my life. I realized that pursuing my calling and the passion to write was more important than pleasing her.

Getting on the Same Page
I thought everyone in the group was on the same writing page. Not.

My expectations included:
* Write on a regular basis
* Polish writing skills
* Achieve writing goals
* Obtain honest and constructive feedback
* Have manuscript critiqued not once, but many times
* Discover writing strengths
* Overcome writing weaknesses
* Share rejections
* Applaud accomplishments
* Be a safe place.

Sounded reasonable to me. As time passed, our group excitedly shared articles on how to improve our writing or market our manuscripts. Everyone in the group paid heed and applied everything we were learning together. Trust developed.

Then we started to set the bar higher. We—

* Asked submitters to spell check and paginate before submitting a manuscript to the group.
* Wrote group guidelines.
* Created manuscript submission guidelines.
* Explained the kind of critique we wanted: Big picture? Fine line? Brainstorming?
* Requested target audience and writer’s guidelines for target market so we could critique more effectively.

At some point, these standards became automatic, which can be frustrating to a new member.

Distractions I Never Expected
It’s the unexpected that throws a group into conflict.
* Hurt feelings.
* Insecurities.
* Jealousy.
* Whining.
* Control freaks.
* Negative, angry attitudes.
* Uncommitted members don’t meet manuscript deadlines or provide critiques.
* A member consistently arrives late.
* One member has a different agenda than the rest of the group.
* Asking someone to leave.
* Meeting starts or ends late.
* Meeting schedule isn’t followed.
* Someone takes and doesn’t put an equal effort into giving.
* Different agendas of what the group is—writing group, support group, prayer group.
* Disagreements whether we pray at the beginning or end of our meeting time.
* Individuals creating endless rules to control others.
* Misunderstandings blow out of proportion.
* Shutting the group down.

The Evolution of a Writers Group
Every issue was a crossroad. Which direction would the group go? Beth and I reevaluated: What is our group about? Through good times and bad, we evolved from a beginning writers group to professional writers group.

All Beat Up and Grown Up
Even though Beth, Tiffany and I have different gifts, writing voices, opportunities, and target audiences, our writing goals and hearts are united. Our meeting time is nonnegotiable—but we are not meeting today.

There are rare cases when unexpected circumstances turn our lives upside down. That’s when nonnegotiable becomes flexible. Tiffany’s merciful heart is helping someone in crisis. Beth and I decided not to meet and to use the time to write at home. Beth said, “Scoti, put your book proposal aside and just write chapters today.” Will do.

A critique group evolves.

In the beginning, the members met weekly and only critiqued manuscripts during that time. Now Beth, Tiffany and I sacrifice time during the week to help each other meet short and sometimes many deadlines.

We have no rules. They aren’t needed. Mutual respect reigns.

When I write, I hear Tiffany’s voice in my head, “Tell me more, Scoti.” Beth’s voice says, “You have three articles in this one article.” My voice cries, “Help me focus!”

Recently I expressed to Beth, “I’ve been rejected, betrayed and abandoned so many times that sometimes I’m afraid. What would I do if you weren’t in my life?”

Beth admitted, “I’ve thought the same thing.”

I’m not sure how to explain our critique group’s synergy, but here is where we are today. We—
* give each other grace
* admit our weaknesses
* think the best of each other
* commit to each person’s success
* embrace each other’s insecurities
* guard each other’s hearts and backs
* sacrifice to help each other—no matter what
* care about each other’s personal triumphs and struggles
* understand and accept that we are not perfect as people or writers
* appreciate and applaud each person’s writing voice, expertise, life experiences, and passions
* And we want to be joined at the hip for the rest of our lives. God willing.

Our group has become a safe place to open our hearts and writing veins. We bleed words and tears onto paper. We’ve become a place where grace abounds and dreams come true.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wishing for the good old writing days--or not

Last week, Thomas Nelson Publishers announced they will no longer participate in two major two major trade shows: Book Expo America (BEA) or the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS).
Michael S. Hyatt, the president and CEO of Thomas Nelson, explained the change was because the current economic downturn forced them "to re-evaluate every marketing dollar we spend. This is not the reason for our shift in strategy, but it is the catalyst. The reality is that these trade shows provide very little return to us on a hugely significant investment."
So, instead of attending BEA or ICRS (what used to be known as CBA), Thomas Nelson hosted their own "Open House," a conference attended by their top 100 Christian retail accounts.
The question is: Will other publishing houses follow Thomas Nelson's lead?
Next question: Is this a change for better or worse in the publishing world?
Whichever it is, there's no denying the world of writers is changing.
Sometimes I find myself wishing for the good old days. And then I realize that's a waste of my time. I am a writer living and writing in 2008. That means I need to know how to make my way along the writing road--whatever that looks like--in 2008. There's no use wishing things were different, except for the sake of nostalgia.
I live in a world where writers need agents. I live in a world where most magazines take e-queries--but then again, some still want an old-fashioned SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope.) Since I've been writing, the Writers Market has morphed from 1 volume to 5. I have friends who have jumped on the POD (Publish on Demand) bandwagon--and others who have let it pass them by, thank you very much. In my writing world, I can find a critique group just down the street in Scoti's house or online. I can subscribe to too many writers magazines and become a conference junkie, thanks to all the choices I have. Writers need blogs and Web sites and platforms. And I can think about podcasting my book on late in life motherhood or devising a YouTube video to hype it. People can sneak a peek inside my book on Amazon or read it on a Kindle.
That's the writing life in 2008--take it or leave it.
I'll take it--and try to keep up with all the changes.
Forgive me if I get a bit nostalgic every once in a while.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Do You Write to Impress or Express?

There is a difference between writing to impress or express.
Writing to make an impression—

Pleases others.
Gains approval.
Achieves success.

I’ve worked in organizations where I wrote honestly. Sometimes, it ruffled feathers. Bemused, upper management preferred to hear what they purported.

No discussion.
No thinking.
No respect.

There was only one way to think—theirs. “Respect” only flowed in one direction—upward towards those in control.

When someone disagrees, it gives me an opportunity to reevaluate my assumptions and beliefs. Telling others what they want to hear, disrespects them and prostitutes your writing soul.

A writer’s life expresses what we know. For me, writing comes from personal struggles and betrayals. I’m not alone. It’s my desire that what I write encourages others to think for themselves…to evaluate what they believe…to be braver…to grow stronger…to heal.

Where do you struggle most in life? You are not alone. Find a way to express it through writing. It frees others trapped by the lie of trying to impress.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One More Thing About Editors--For This Week, Anyway

As much as I didn't want to rewrite my article one more time, I wasn't willing to give up on it.
Because the editor wasn't giving up on it.
Even though we were in round three of "tweaking" my article, I told myself, "She must like something about the article to keep working with me on it."
And work with me, she did.
The editor had taken the time to shuffle some sections of the article around--and then highlighted them in a different color. When she sent the manuscript back, she also sent an e-mail with three questions she wanted me to consider. She never said, "Write your article this way--or else." She was trying to make sure the article was clear for the reader and that I wasn't repeating myself. And because the article spanned 7 years, the chronology was tricky. The editor wanted to make certain we had that right.
All things worth considering.
All in all, this article is getting published because of the hard work of several different people:
  • me, as the writer/owner of the original idea
  • my writers group, as the "supporting act" who stuck with me through the whole process
  • and the editor, who was thorough, considerate and professional throughout the entire process

I hope I get to work with her again some day.

And yes, I'll do any and all re-writes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

When An Editor Says, “I’m Baaaack!”

“Never throw up on an editor.” —Ellen Datlow

Behind the Scenes
I felt Beth’s pain when the editor returned the article for a rewrite. This article was beginning to feel like “Groundhog Day.” She did not want to see the article again—and neither did I!

Our unanimous cheer was, “Just accept this article and leave us alone!”

While analyzing it, Beth and our critique group struggled to make sure the chronology of her story was clear. After turning it into the group a number of times, I knew the story so well that I lost a fresh perspective.

I laughed when the editor wrote, “We’re almost there…I’m so glad you like rewriting.”


Beth was burned out. I was burned out trying to critique it. I did not think I could possibly add one more insightful comment. Thankfully, the editor rearranged some paragraphs to clear up confusion. God Bless her sweet editor’s soul. When she returned the article to Beth, she brought it to the group—again.

None of us could open the article. Finally we did. However, by this point, we were not sure if any comment would help. It only needed a bit of tweaking.

Use your critique group as the place to “throw up.” The synergy of a critique group

* keeps you up when you're down
* encourages you to keep going when you want to stop.
* And stays with you until that blasted article finds a publishing home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Thought and a Correction

"More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina." ~John Irving, author

Rewriting is worth it.

There. That's my brilliant thought for the day.

Type those four words in the biggest, boldest, most eye-catching font you can devise and then post it so you'll see it whenever you are writing.

Yesterday was a wonderful writing day for me. I got an e-mail from an editor accepting one of my articles. In large font, she wrote, "YES!" And then she wrote: The article works.

The sentence could have been: The article works at last!

I would tell you how many times I rewrote that article, but I'm not sure I want to take time to count. Lots of times. Dozens.

Towards the end, I confess I was a bit weary of the rewriting process. But after I slogged through it again--with the ever-faithful presence of my writers group--I could see how the article improved.

And now I have an article slated for publication.

Was the rewriting worth it?


Correction from Scoti's post on locating hard-to-find books:

Jeffrey Ball with Dove Booksellers contacted me to give me the updated information for his store:

Dove Booksellers

9219 Allen Rd

Allen Park, MI 49101


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Writing for Dollars

“Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks.” —Richard Curtis

On file-your-income-tax day, it seems appropriate to direct writers to ways to make money. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” Do you have something to say, but would enjoy being paid for it? I discovered a website that includes ten years of articles that provide a wealth of practical ways to make money writing. Check it out. www.writingfordollars.com/ArticlesDB.cfm

Monday, April 14, 2008

Getting to Know Them--You're Characters, That Is

A question for all you fiction writers out there: How do you develop your characters? Do they pop up in your head and just start talking to you? And, more importantly, do you talk back? Do you develop an extensive personality profile for each of your main characters? Do you run them through a Myers-Briggs Personality Test to determine if your hero is an ISTJ or an ENFP?
I 'm reading Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. McCutcheon promises that if you use his book "you, too, can create characters who think, hope, love, cry, cause and feel pain, save the day--and seize readers by the emotions."
Impressed me--and I'm a nonfiction writer.
The book contains a "Character Questionnaire." You're supposed to fill it out before you start writing your story. If I filled in all these blanks about Characteristic Gestures, Areas of Expertise, Short-term and Long-term Needs, Prejudices, and Most Painful Things in One's Life, I'd know my hero better than I know my best friend!
I'm a bit of a thesaurus junkie, so I devoured the "Character Thesaurus." Lists and lists and lists to help you describe the people in your novel. Complexions. Noses. Body types. Bad habits. Occupations. Words to describe fear, suspicion love, laughs.
How about these for love:
  • gaze at candidly
  • exchange predatory looks--works for me if you're an elk
  • eyes dark and smoldering
  • regard provocatively
  • exchange scorching looks
  • stare adoringly
  • regard with open fondness
  • beam fondly

Okay, okay ... you get the idea.

Any other suggestions for creating believable characters in your novel?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Locate Hard-to-Find Books

Ever discover a book you want to read or need for research, but it's out of print? The following bookstore and search services are helpful to unearth those must-have titles.

Advanced Book Exchange
415 Dunedin Street, Suite 4
Victoria, BC, Canada V8T 5GB
Phone: +1.250.475.6013
E-mail: buyertech@abebooks.com

Online Community of Booksellers
E-mail: abook@redshift.com

Abracadabra Booksearch International
32 South Broadway
Denver, CO 80209-1506
Phone (toll free): +1.800.545.2665
Phone: +1.303.733.5700 Fax: +1.303.871.0172
E-mail: abrabks@abrabks.com
URL: www.abebooks.com

1250 45th Street, Suite 100
Emeryville, CA 94608
URL: www.alibris.com

URL: amazon.com

The Archives
1387 E. Washington Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91104
Phone (toll free): +1.800.204.2-63
URL: none

Baker Book House Used/Out of Print Division
P.O. Box 6287
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Phone: +1.616.957.3110
URL: www.bakerbooksretail.com

E-mail: admin@bibliofind.com
URL: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/books/misc/bibliofind.html/103-5330325-7991860

URL: www.bookfinder.com

Phone (toll free): +1.800.223.0540
E-mail: sales@booklook.com
URL: www.booklook.com

BookStreet, Ltd.
800 Park Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13204
Phone: +1.315.422.1564
Fax: +1.314.426.9620
E-mail: infro@rarebookroom.com
URL: none

Carol Butcher Books
3955 New Road
Youngstown, OH 44515
Phone: +1.330.793.6832
URL: none

Dove Booksellers
9219 Allen Rd
Allen Park, MI 49101
URL: www.dovebook.com

El Libris Theological Books
1340 E. 55th Street
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone: +1.773.955.3456

Kregel Used Books
P.O. Box 2607
Grand Rapids, MI 49501-2607
Phone: +1.616.456.9444
Fax (toll free): 1-888-USD-BOOK
E-mail: usedbooks@kregel.com
URL: http://kregel.gospelcom.net/usedbooks/

Loome Theological Booksellers
320 N. 4th Street
Stillwater, Minnesota 55082
Phone: +1.651.430.1092
Fax: +1.652.439.8504
E-mail: loomebooks@prodigy.net

Steel's Used Christian Books
214 East 18th Avenue
North Kansas City, MO 64116
Phone: +1.816.300.2665
E-mail: steelbooks@sbcglobal.net
URL: www.abebooks.com/home/STEELBOOKS/

Tuttle Antiquarian Books, Inc.
28 South Main Street
Rutland, VT 05701
Phone: +1.802.773.8229
Fax: +1.802.773.1493
E-mail: tuttbooks@together.net
URL: www.tuttlebooks.com

Windows Booksellers
150 W. Broadway
Eugene, OR 97401
Phone (toll free): +1.800.779.1701
Phone: +1.541.485.0014
Fax: +1.541.465.9694
E-mail: WindowsBk@academicbooks.com
URL: www.academicbooks.com

The Worn Bookworm
177 B Short Street
Bishop, CA 93514
Phone: +1.760.873.6074

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tickling the Editorial Funny Bone

I edit Connections, which is a leadership magazine put out by MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International.
I like editing. This is a good thing, since I've read each issue at least a dozen times before it goes to print. When I'm on deadline, I'm not laughing when I catch a mistake. I'm usually heaving a huge sigh of relief that a misspelling or grammar error didn't sneak by my editorial eye.
Yesterday I visited one of my favorite writers' Web sites: Visual Thesaurus. The site is just what it says it is: a visual take on a thesaurus. When you type in a word, they map out different words that mean the same thing. It's so colorful--kinda' like mindmapping.
But I digress.
The site highlighted an interview with Editorial Emergency, an agency that provides branding, copwriting and non-profit messaging.
As I was strolling through the site, I saw a link labeled "Our Customers." Then I saw a link labeled "Not Our Customers." And that's the section that got me laughing. It's 23 pages of mistakes. Spelling errors. Grammar errors. On signs. In newspapers. Advertisements that make you shake your head and think, "How did someone not catch that?"
If you're an editor or writer, you know it happens. You're just glad when it happens to someone else.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Books: Writing and Research Buddies

“When I first moved to NY and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I just felt it fed me more.”—Carrie on Sex in the City

Like Carrie, I can relate to the value of a magazine or book re-filling my soul. My books are my buddies, available any hour day or night.

I collect archaic, renowned religious writers and am collecting the “All” series by Herbert Lockyer. I squealed with delight and scared my friend to death when I discovered at Goodwill Herbert Lockyer’s All the Teachings of Jesus. Cost? $1.50! Woody Allen’s stream of consciousness dialogue and narratives are so quotable, so I grab any Woody Allen movie at thrift stores or pawnshops.

Screamable Bargains
A few thrift store bargains include: Strong’s Concordance ($2.99), Christ and the Arts ($1) and the Readers’ Digest series of books on biblical topics for $2-$3 each, Andrew Lloyd Webber: His Life and Works ($1.99) and Soul of Africa: Magical Rites and Traditions ($1).

Never pass up an opportunity to scour for inexpensive resources to add to your personal library.

* Thrift stores are great places to find books for a dollar or two.
* Used bookstores also offer books that are less expensive than a Barnes and Noble merchant.
* Pawnshops sell videos and CDs available for $3-$5.
* Friends of the Library used book sales are the best opportunities to buy books on any topic. Because most people have little interest in theology, religion, or writing, these books are usually dirt cheap.
* Used books on www.amazon.com are the first place I go to find something I need. With gas at $3.00 a gallon, the $3.99 shipping fee is a bargain.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Call for Submissions: Cup of Comfort

Looking for somewhere to submit a story? Here's a suggestion:

Share Some Comfort
Call for Submissions

A Cup of Comfort is a bestselling anthology (book) series featuring uplifting true stories about the experiences and relationships that inspire and enrich our lives. These slice-of-life stories are written by people from all walks of life and provide unique personal insights into powerful universal truths.

A Cup of Comfort for Military Families
Submission Deadline: 4/15/2008
A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers
Submission Deadline: 6/15/2008
A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families
Submission Deadline: 6/15/2008

Writer's Guidelines
How to Create a Savory Cup of Comfort Story
A Cup of Comfort stories weave powerful life lessons into vividly told tales. They are nonfiction stories that read like fiction but always ring true. They are real-life tales that reveal the positive aspects of humanity; that inspire, entertain, and enlighten readers; and that bring tears of compassion and joy to our eyes, hope to our hearts, and comfort to our souls. Cup of Comfort stories are original, creative, slice-of-life depictions of the most important and influential experiences and relationships in our lives.
Each Cup of Comfort anthology includes a balanced mix of stories of varied themes, such as:

  • Extraordinary achievements and experiences of "ordinary" people
  • Life-changing, life-affirming, or life-defining experiences and relationships
  • Epiphany, synchronicity, serendipity
  • Finding/giving comfort in difficult times
  • Triumph over tragedy; overcoming adversity or challenges
  • Life's blessings and miracles, big and small
  • Finding the silver lining in a dark cloud; turning lemons into lemonade
  • Relationships and experiences that bring hope, understanding, healing
    Catalysts for and examples of positive change; acts of kindness and compassion
For more information about submitting to Cup of Comfort, go to their Web site.

Monday, April 7, 2008

When Scholars Disagree

"Scholarship is polite argument." — Philip Rieff

Confessions of a Researchaholic

As the editor for the CD-ROM, Jesus, The Man, The Message, The Messiah by Ray Vander Laan, I was chief fact checker. Ray wrote statements that sounded like irrefutable facts about baptism, the mikvah and the Essenes. My two Baptist proofreaders went ballistic. Ray’s viewpoint differed from their theological understandings.

Upon further research regarding the Essenes, I discovered that the scholars disagreed. To alleviate potential unnecessary arguments, I prefaced opinionated assertions by introductory statements:

“Some scholars believe…”
“Based on the author’s research, he thinks…”
“In my opinion…”
“These studies found…”

Writing Considerations

Who is your audience? What is your writing angle? How will you try to persuade the reader to consider your viewpoint?

If scholars have disagreed about something for hundreds of years, you might consider the following.

* State the conflict between scholars or experts to prevent alienating readers.

* Acknowledge both points of view, and then state your arguments for and against.

* If you feel strongly about a topic, study the subject in-depth. Before writing, become skilled enough to state what you believe and why you believe it. After writing, accept without offense and respect differing opinions from readers.

* You may decide it is best to avoid “pet” or divisive theologies, ideologies, philosophies, or political stances.

* Focus on points of agreement and steer away from explosive issues.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Doing Nothing May Be Doing Something

"Procrastinating is part of the writing process. Your subconcious is working on the story. You can procrastinate--just make sure you finish."
~ Jerry B. Jenkins, New York Times Bestselling author

Sometimes when I look at what little writing I've accomplished lately, I feel guilty. I'm a writer. I should be writing.

And yet, I'm not ready to write.

I keep pushing myself away from the computer, waiting for the answer to the question: What next?

Reading Jenkin's quote gave me some breathing space. While I may not be spinning words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into articles or a book proposal--I am working. My subconcious is mulling over ideas. I'm wondering if my recent talk at a women's conference could become a book topic. I'm wondering if some of the things I'm blogging on over at The Accidental Pharisee are worth writing about in some other format.

Right now I am a procrastinating writer. My hands are idle--but my brain is on overdrive. I like to say writing is rewriting. Sometimes writing is not writing. Sometimes writing is thinking about what you're going to write. And then thinking some more--until the thoughts finally oveflow onto the page.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Pain and Glory of Writing

“Remember we’re all in this alone.”—Lily Tomlin

Many say writing is a lonely business. I never feel alone when I’m with my friends—my books, research and computer.

Author Paul Tillich said, “Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

To nourish my writing soul, solitude is where I live and write all alone. It provides a place to:

* allow pain to emerge from deep within myself
* find peace and insight
* listen to the whisperings of my soul
* write what people think but are afraid to say
* express thoughts buried in the reader’s soul.

Writing that inspires others expresses every man’s unspoken words. The wonder and glory is—writing honestly heals the writer and comforts others.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Book Suggestion: Reading Between the Lines by Rick Hamlin

It's said you can't judge a book by it's cover, but we all do.
And, the truth is, I picked up Rick Hamlin's book Reading Between the Lines because I liked the title and the cover.
And once I opened the book, I liked the way Hamlin wrote. He has an unassuming writing voice. He doesn't yell at you with lots of over-the-top action or leave you dangling with cliff-hangers.
Instead, Hamlin's writing drew me into the lives of his characters. I cared about what happened to Jim and Elizabeth. I found myself wanting to read at stoplights ... and when I'd finished Reading Between the Lines, I skipped back to favorite sections of the book to re-read them.
I'll borrow one of the reviews from over at Amazon to give you a feel for Hamlin's book:

"Reading between the Lines is a unique tale of faith and romance, written
with surpassing charm and humor. Rick Hamlin finds magic in the lives of Jim
Lockhart and Elizabeth Ash, two busy but lonely New Yorkers. Beautifully drawn characters and imaginative plot twists make this a truly engaging -- and
enormously satisfying -- love story."
-- F. Paul Driscoll -- Editor in Chief, Opera News

Why a review from Opera News, you might wonder. Hamlin's book is set in the world of actors and actresses and musicians living and working and falling in love in New York.
So, there's another suggestion for your To Be Read (TBR) pile. I know I'll be looking for more books by Hamlin to add to my TBR pile!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dip Your Pen Into Your Soul

"Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures."—Henry Ward Beecher

I'm amazed when a truly gifted writer doesn’t pursue his gift, but someone who aspires to be a writer but their writing lacks spirit, originality, passion, and sparkle has the moxy to pursue publication.

Recently I talked to a man who is a gifted writer.

The problem? He doesn't believe it.

His writing is lyrical, beautiful and passionate. I encouraged him to attend a writer's conference hoping he'll find the courage to write. He's lucky. His wife encourages him.

I was close to a woman who is a gifted writer. I encouraged her to write.

Her problem? Her emotionally abusive and controlling husband.

Her children recognized her gift and encouraged her. She began to write. Her husband said, “Why are you doing that?” She stopped writing—to the disappointment of her children.

What prevents you from dipping into your soul and painting those words on paper? Fear? Family circumstances? Procrastination?

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