Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Little Red Writing Hood: 35 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”—Cyril Connolly
Once upon a time, you wanted to be a writer or wrote regularly. Have you wandered off the writing path? Or has the big bad wolf devoured your writing dreams? How do you begin writing or return to writing after a break or a personal crisis?

1. Review your writing progress. Where am I? Where do I want to be next year?

2. Appraise your writing goals. Don’t have any? Without setting at least one goal, the big bad procrastination wolf will swallow your writing dreams in one big gulp. Come next year, how close will you be to kick starting your writing?

3. The 5-Day / 2-Hour Writing Plan. Re-evaluate how you spend your time. Work eight hours. Sleep eight hours. Use six hours to eat, play, do bills and chores. Take weekends off. Reserve two hours five days a week to write. By the end of the month, that’s a 40-hour work writing week or 520 writing hours a year.

4. Stop talking about writing. Begin writing that novel, article or short story.

5. Write down all the reasons you procrastinate. Determine how you will overcome self-limiting beliefs.

6. Set a daily goal. Concentrate on writing for a certain amount of time or determine a word or page count. Don’t let the specter of a finished manuscript intimidate you. Break your writing projects down into small chunks.

7. Pencil in writing time on your planner. Prioritize writing in your daily To-Do list. Set aside a specific time to write. Keep your “appointment.”

8. Create a space that invites you to write. Clean up your desk. Create files where you can plop writing ideas, magazine articles or research. Find a quiet place where you can close the door. Rather than having a screaming fit at interrupters, lock the door. Turn on a fan or classical music to create white noise to block out distractions.

9. Buy a red writing hood or cape. Put on your red hat or cape. When anyone sees you wearing your red writing hood, it’s a stop sign, “Don’t interrupt me unless you are prepared to die!”

10. Force yourself to sit down and write. Position: Derriere in chair, fingers on keyboard. Once you begin, you will not want to stop.

11. Open a document and write every day. Write a few words or sentences. You’ll be surprised how much flows.

12. Set a timer. Determine how long you will write. You’ll be fifteen minutes or one hour closer to making your writing dreams come true.

13. Don’t worry about editing. Get your thoughts down on paper.

14. Write in 15-minute spurts throughout the day. Write on a work break, during lunch at work, when you wake up in the morning, or before going to bed. Whether you pump out one paragraph or two pages, at least you wrote something.

15. Write 500-1000 publishable words a day. If you write 1000 words a day you’ll have one book of 85,000-100,000 words in three or four months. If you write 500 words a day, you can crank out a book a year.

16. Keep an idea journal or file. Write down writing ideas when they hit, which could include an idea, thoughts, snippets, or even paragraphs. Don’t have an idea journal? Scribble on anything handy—journals, scraps of paper, backs of receipts. File them in a writing idea file. Look through your journal or file for inspiration.

17. Carry a writing notebook with 3-hole punched ruled sheets of paper. Write first drafts. Print out drafts that need editing. Three-hole punch the pages and place in the notebook. Edit on breaks, at lunch, while waiting in a line, or at a doctor’s office.

18. Carry a pen, paper or small notepad everywhere you go. Jot down inspired thoughts or ideas. Note overheard humorous or interesting dialogue. If you don’t write it down, you won’t remember what seemed to be so memorable.

19. Turn your words into text. Log on to http://www.jott.com. Sign up for their FREE service. Call 866-JOTT-123 on your cell phone. Speak your idea into your phone. JOTT captures your voice, turns it into text and sends it to you destination of choice: email, Twitter, Google Calendar. You can capture notes, To-Do lists, set reminders for meetings, birthdays, anniversaries, and calendar appointments.

20. Journal on paper or online. http://www.inboxjournal.com sends reminders to write.

21. Take part in online writing prompts. Writer’s Digest provides writing prompts.

22. Go to a coffee shop. Write a page or two on your laptop or in a notebook. When my children were small, I unleashed them in the McDonald’s play area so I could write.

23. Enroll in a creative writing class. Assignments force you to write.

24. Send a query letter. Snagging a paid writing gig with a deadline will boost your adrenaline and motivation to write.

25. Blog. Knowing people expect to read something will keep you accountable.

26. Enter a writing contest.

27. Work on several projects at a time. If you’re bored or develop writer’s block, move to another project.

28. Join or start your own writer’s critique group. Be accountable to others to provide one manuscript for critique each month.

29. Participate in online writer’s critique groups.

30. Start a writing improv session. Meet regularly with another writing friend. Write for one hour. Use writing prompts or brainstorm your writing topic, then write. Near the end of the hour, exchange manuscripts and provide feedback.

31. Turn off TV. Flip on your computer. Write.

32. Do not waste time online. Avoid unproductive online distractions. Ignore emails, Facebook or web surfing. Write.

33. Turn off your inner critic. Write for fun.

34. Affirm yourself. Repeat this as often as necessary, “I can write.”

35. Believe in yourself. Tell yourself, “I believe my passion is worth writing about.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How Many Times Can I Rewrite the First Chapter?

I glanced at my watch. Two minutes to spare—or sweat—until time for my fifteen-minute appointment with an agent at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. I took a deep breath, exhaled, then mentally reviewed my checklist: pitch, first chapter, one sheet, business card, bottle of water (for my dry mouth). I sat down in the chair offered by the agent and gently laid my baby, A.K.A. the first chapter of my novel, on the table in front of her.

She read the first few pages, then suggested a major change. I should drop the humor and heighten the drama. Later that day, during another appointment, an editor made the same suggestion. What had they done—compared scripts?

I was one very unhappy momma. I loved my baby just the way she was.

Now, I had two choices: rewrite the story and continue pursuing publication, or keep the story as it was and be content with the results.

I want to publish this novel. With two professionals sharing the same opinion, I’d be foolish not to listen carefully to their criticism. But contest judges and first readers, who’ve all read more of this story, have loved the humor. So instead of making it more dramatic, I’ve decided to ease up on the tension so the jokes can remain, which means I’ll have to rewrite the chapter—again.


How many times can I rewrite the first chapter?

Apparently, once more.

Contest Buzz:

At present, publishers are not looking for Chick Lit or any other Lit books.

With the economy in a slump, and Americans tossing $50 or more into their gas tanks, consumers must choose between necessities or entertainment. Publishers are feeling the pinch. They’ll continue to publish new books, but those books will be written by established authors.

New authors will have a harder time selling, but editors will always buy a compelling story with a high concept and a great hook written in a unique voice about unforgettable characters.

No problem.

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to write?

~ Roxanne Sherwood ~

Monday, September 22, 2008

Interview with the Authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's Your Book About?

Once you reveal that you’re writing a book, it’s a natural question and one that you should be able to answer briefly and without hesitation. If you’re talking to an editor or an agent, you’ll need to pitch your story in a concise sentence or two.

For an example, think of a brief description of the last movie you saw. Here’s mine: A girl who is about to be married wants to know who her father is. She finds her mother’s diary and secretly invites the three possible candidates to her wedding. Add an exotic Greek Island and a slew of ABBA songs, and you’ve got the hit movie, Mama Mia.

If you’ve got a plot-driven book, it’s not as difficult to say what your story is about, but character-driven stories can be harder. You’ve created as much conflict as possible, then added a many-layered character, so it can be difficult to boil your story down to a sentence. You may flounder when asked, “What’s your book about?”

Author James Scott Bell offers this pitch formula:

An ADJECTIVE, ADJECTIVE NOUN (describing main character) does BLANK and BLANK (verbs).

A rebellious Southern Belle risks everything to save the family home.

Naval Historian and CIA Analyst Jack Ryan deduces that the captain of a Soviet sub wants to defect and aids the sub in escaping the Soviet fleet.

Award-winning Author and Physicist Randy Ingermanson, a man who thinks in both the left and right sides of his brain, has developed “The Snowflake Method” of writing a novel. See his web-site: www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php.

Step one creates your pitch:

INGERMANSON: Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: "A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul." (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool…

Author Kathy Carmichael has developed an Interactive Pitch Generator. See her cool web-site for an automatic pitch: http://www.kathycarmichael.com/generator.html.

The next time we’re asked about our books, we’ll have a ready answer.

~ Roxanne Sherwood ~

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: Sweet September by Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer is one of the first writers I met when I ventured back on The Writing Road--and it's been delightful to watch her writing career thrive! She's written both historical fiction (The Liberator Series) and nonfiction (life interrupted and Generation Next).
Sweet September is her first contemporary fiction.

Tricia won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. Tricia has also been published in Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family.
Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana.

Sweet September was just that--a sweet read that reinforced the importance of faith and family-and believing that God's grace is sufficient for all things.

To read an excerpt of Tricia's latest book, go here.

Tricia's hosting a blog tour contest to celebrate Sweet September!

Since Sweet September is all about family, Tricia wants to meet yours. Leave a comment on the Tricia’s blog tour post (http://triciagoyer.blogspot.com/2008/09/sweet-september-blog-tour.html) sharing who your favorite family member is and why and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win William-Sonoma’s Pumpkin Harvest Loaf Pan & Quick Bread Set.

To visit other bloggers posting about Sweet September, go to Tricia's blog!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Traveling Along the Writing Road

“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” ~Jessamyn West, Quaker author

Writing is a solitary life--I've heard that over and over since stepping back on the writing road. Today, I did a bit of research and found out exactly who should be credited with that thought: Jessamyn West, a Quaker author who wrote novels and articles.

But, with all due respect to Ms. West, I must disagree with her.

Oh, sure, there are times when it is me and my computer and words, words, word. Writing and rewriting. Or maybe it's me and my computer and no words--and a high level of frustration. Pretty solitary, that.

But there is so much more to my writing life--and it involves all the other people I've met along the writing road. The ones who've encouraged me as a writer. Mentored me. The ones who said, "Let me help you out here," expecting nothing in return.

There are the people I've been able to lend a hand to--maybe an editorial hand, reading through a manuscript before it's submitted. Maybe it's posting a book review or just posting a blog entry about an upcoming contest.

Don't get fooled into thinking the writing life is a solitary one. You'll miss half the fun of meeting all the other folks sharing the writing road with you!

Don't forget that The Writer Mama is having a wonderful contest all month long and giving away prizes every day! Check it out over at her blog!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Word Painting in Fiction

I’m a minimalist when it comes to description. My journalism training taught me brevity, so I always look for extraneous words to cut. Haven’t we all been in a hundred different kitchens? If I write “galley kitchen” or “country kitchen,” does that draw a picture in your mind? That’s all I need to imagine the perfect kitchen for the scene, but it’s not enough for most fiction. We’ve got to dig deeper and paint the scene with our words.

Here’s the first draft from one of my Works in Progress:

Arriving for work at The Hot Tamale, a restaurant on San Antonio’s Famous River Walk, April tried to ignore her problems and do her job. She greeted customers with a smile and took their orders. She sashayed between the crowded tables, careful of the heavy tray she carried filled with tamales, enchiladas, refried beans and rice.

I pulled a good bit of my hair out, but I stayed in my writing chair until I produced this revised version:

April hustled out the door to her job at The Hot Tamale, a restaurant located on San Antonio’s scenic River Walk—three miles of riverfront, winding under the bridges and busy streets of the downtown.

The colored lights and festival atmosphere had charmed April when she’d first arrived. She loved strolling among the caf├ęs, boutiques, street vendors, and hotels that lined the shallow, murky water. Anonymous in the crowd of tourists, Latinos, and cowboys, who flooded the riverbanks seeking entertainment. No one called her name. No one needed more than she had to give. She was free!

But the sultry afternoon heat drove her into one of the air-conditioned restaurants. In the evenings, she sipped margaritas and sat beneath one of the bright umbrellas at tiny, wrought-iron tables next to the river, listening to Mariachis—musicians wearing traditional black, short jackets and tight pants. The musicians filled the air with the rich sounds of their vihuelas, or round-backed guitars, along with their sweet violins and brilliant trumpets.

One night, April rode in one of the guided, flat-bottomed boats, meandering among the buildings and ancient cypress trees. From her seat, she watched an inebriated customer lose his footing and fall in the San Antonio River.

Now that she worked on the River Walk night after night, the place had lost its allure. Tonight, the carnival atmosphere wearied her. April tied a red apron around her waist and tried to ignore her problems. Mindful of tips, she took her customers’ orders with a smile, then sashayed between the crowded tables, careful of the heavy tray she carried filled with tamales, enchiladas, refried beans and rice as scents of chili peppers, spicy meat, and garlic wafted in the air.

Join me in digging deep to paint the best fiction we can.

~Roxanne Sherwood~

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Do Your Beliefs or Faith Affect Your Writing?

"It was my Southern grandmother who once charged me to "never speak of religion or politics in polite company." She may have been right, though I have done little else ever since. Still, her counsel was not lost on me, for I realized even those many years ago that she was urging me toward a gentler manner with others, one of graciousness and consideration rather than the sharp and divisive way."—Stephen Mansfield, The Faith of Barack Obama, (p.145)

But By The Grace of God—There Go I
The Faith of Barack Obama tapped into many feelings of mine and others—both positive and negative. I found my emotional responses to content in this book swinging from strong agreement to equally intense disagreement. This book was a real seesaw of a read. Many times, I stopped to reread word for word for context, because my first visceral reaction re-contextualized what Mansfield wrote to reinforce misinformation or my partialities.

I find it interesting that Mansfield will not be voting for Obama, yet he wrote an evenhanded book about a man many people view as controversial. I asked myself, Could I write about someone without trying to influence the reader’s opinion one way or another about that person?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of political pundits and writers on the secular left and the religious right slamming the other. I'm repulsed by those who prejudge or condemn those who don't agree with then. How do we, as writers, communicate with wisdom and grace, respectfully considering someone else’s opinion with whom we strongly disagree? Am I a mature and secure enough writer to let others draw their own conclusions?

God's Inspired Writing
God respects every person’s decision to accept or reject Jesus or biblical guidelines for living, yet God’s heart stays ever fixed upon each individual on planet earth. Nothing I do, say or believe nullifies God’s love for me. His love never wavers not if, but when my faith, my opinions and my actions are hurtful or reveal immaturity. Why is it so hard for people to love and respect others the way God loves and respects us?

God continually redirects me back to living authentically before and for him. The most difficult task in my life also challenged Mark Twain who once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” How can my life exemplify God's precepts that I already know? I can write about the “shoulds,” and “don’ts,” but is my life a spontaneous living example of my faith? How do I usually respond when my beliefs about God and others are challenged? Do I challenge others to rethink their biases?

Facebook asked me to describe my religious and political affiliations. I am a "conservative independent liberal." Conservative describes my theology and moral choices. Independent describes my political self, voting based upon the person's character and issues important to me. I’m liberal when it comes to listening to and examining all sides to stimulate my personal understanding and growth. I do not limit my reading or relationships to people who agree with my faith, my culture, my ethnicity, or my viewpoints. In fact, I read and listen to those who think differently. I enjoy testing my faith and beliefs.

I don’t want my current understanding of biblical values or politics or theology to blind me to discovering deeper biblical context, to curtail spiritual intellectual pursuit, or to limit personal inquiry into truth. An unexamined life or beliefs cannot reveal my true self—a sinner saved by grace. God helps me to examine my heart, my motives, my unbelief, my prejudices.

How Does Your Heritage Expand or Limit Your Writing?
I am deeply grateful for my biological and spiritual heritage. Eight generations ago, my family and Abraham Lincoln shared the same grandfather. Nancy Hanks Lincoln was Abraham’s mother. When I was two years old, Christ radically changed my parents' lives. Nancy Hanks Springfield, my mother was a Methodist and Billy J. Springfield, my Daddy, was a pagan. As first generation Christians, their zeal for Jesus' message transformed prejudice into compassion, hatred into love, and their life purpose into Christ's passion.

Their examples taught me to love God's Word, to think for myself, to embrace my personal faith, to respect the life of every child that God weaves together in the womb—whether they are believers, nonbelievers or make believers—and to resist the ugly underbelly of sin, immorality, greed, hypocrisy, and religious and political intolerance.

If we are to write honestly about our lives, our flaws, our wrong choices, our maturity, and our faith that directs or draws others to Christ's love, God calls for us to judge ourselves—first.

What beliefs, mentors or cultural influences inspire your writing?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Factoids from "The Faith of Barack Obama"

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, made an offer to bloggers to send a free copy of The Faith of Barack Obama in exchange for their agreement to write a book review. He did not require that the reviews be positive. Since I knew that Barack Obama said he is a Christian, I was curious about his faith. Michael Hyatt’s blog links to all the other bloggers’ posts. If you are interested in reading other bloggers reviews, click here.

The Writing Road does not endorse any political candidate. However, we review books—some that readers may consider controversial. We welcome your feedback.

Obama has won more Grammy awards (two, for the recordings of his books Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope) than Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley combined (zero). (P. xx)

Should Barack lose the presidential race in 2008, he can run for office as often as he likes for the next twenty-four years and still be younger than John McCain. (p. xxii)

If Obama ascends to the presidency, he will be the first American president to do so having not been raised in a Christian home. (p.2)

Elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama was assigned the same desk that Robert F. Kennedy used, the culmination of a political journey begun forty years to the day after Kennedy was sworn in on January 4, 1965. (p.xxi)

Obama voted in the Illinois senate against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which sought the same treatment for babies who survived abortions as was routinely provided for babies born premature and thus given lifesaving medication attention. A federal bill—called the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act—became law. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), one of the nation’s most powerful pro-abortion advocacy organizations, issued a statement declaring, “NARAL does not oppose passage of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. State Senator Obama voted against the Illinois version. (pp. 96-97)

His rating by the National Abortion Rights Action League? 100 percent.
His rating by the American Civil Liberties Union? Around 80 percent.
His rating by American Conservative Union? Always in single digits. (p. xxii)

Obama’s grandmother rose to become the first female vice president of the Bank of Hawaii and did so without a college degree, an astonishing achievement for a woman in that era. (p. 10)

Obama’s biological father, Barack Obama, Sr. was sent abroad by his government to study on a scholarship created for rising leaders for Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya. (p.10)

Barack Obama Sr. rejected the Muslim faith of his youth just as he rejected the babblings of all witch doctors. (p. 11)

Barack Obama Sr. was married in a Kenyan village ceremony long before he met Ann and already had other children. (p. 11)

Barack Obama Sr. and Ann Dunham conceived Barack Obama out of wedlock and married when she was six-months pregnant. (p.11)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Can't Decide

My younger kids pester me with a game they call, “Would You Rather . . .?” Would you rather be totally hairless or be covered in fur? Would you rather be boiled in oil or frozen in ice? Would you rather eat a truck full of ice cream or drink a pool full of cherry slushy? The game always deteriorates into the utterly ridiculous. Would you rather have a swollen lip the size of a football field or fifteen knees on the left leg?

My teenagers ask for on-the-spot decisions. As one walks out the door, “Mind if I go to Harry’s?” I agree, then realize I won’t have a baby-sitter later. “Can we eat out?” I don’t know. I haven’t checked the budget. “What if I wanted to get married at eighteen?” No, I don’t panic. This one isn’t currently dating. But she constantly asks hypothetical, paragraph-long questions. My fear is that she’s recording my answers and will hold me to them in future, non-hypothetical situations.

I’m directionally challenged, so it’s ironic that I worked through college by routing car trips for AAA. My problem isn’t reading maps. I just can’t decide if I want 410 East or 410 West when I’ve come from a different direction. Have I gone too far or not far enough? As a result, I spend a lot of time making U-turns or asking for directions.

Some people thrive on making decisions. Not me. I hate making them. Not having the money to replace mistakes, I’ve lived with my decisions for a long time—even small, unimportant ones, like choosing curtains that I wish were a different shade or the shoes that didn’t match an outfit the way I’d envisioned. So I hate making a quick decision. I was raised with the philosophy that you sleep on it, then decide in the morning.

In my novel, my heroine hates making decisions too. As she says, “I hate being responsible for the consequences.”

Our fictional characters need to make wrong decisions. Let them regret their choices. Ask them what they want, then make the opposite happen. (Yes, these “people” talk inside your head, so go ahead and interview them.) Give them terrible consequences as the result of their decisions. Bad decisions increase the conflict. This compelling conflict will keep our readers turning pages.

If only I could decide what my hero does in my latest chapter . . . Will he leave to provide medical care for orphaned children or stay to marry the woman he loves? Is the medical mission in Columbia or Kazakhstan? If he stays, what keeps the heroine from saying yes too soon?

(Sigh.) I can’t decide now. Maybe I’ll sleep on it, then make a decision in the morning.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Colored Blind: A Book Review of "The Faith of Barack Obama"

“You must read this perceptive and well-written book. Then you will know why Barack Obama has such a passion for justice and equality, such a gift for filling people of different generations with a newfound hope that things can and will change for the better. His inspiration comes from his faith; he is an ardent believer. Yes, he is a Christian and proud of it.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, made an offer to bloggers to send a free copy of The Faith of Barack Obama in exchange for their agreement to write a book review. He did not require that the reviews be positive. Since I knew that Barack Obama said he is a Christian, I was curious about his faith. Michael Hyatt’s blog links to all the other bloggers’ posts. If you are interested in reading other bloggers reviews, click here.

The Writing Road does not endorse any political candidate. However, we review books—some that readers may consider controversial. We welcome your feedback.

Book Review
Stephen Mansfield
164 pp. Thomas Nelson, Nashville. 2008. $19.95.
By Scoti Springfield Domeij

When I was six-years-old, I visited Meemee, my grandmother, for the summer in Kosciusko, Mississippi. As my bare feet scampered over Kosciusko’s red earth, so did Oprah’s. I don’t know if Oprah ever sipped water at JC Penney, but I did. Two signs hung over two water fountains. The tall fountain’s sign proclaimed it to be “white.” The word on the sign over the short fountain sign said “colored.”

My first thoughts upon reading the signs were, “We don’t have colored water in Indiana. Is the water is pink or blue?”

Like Goldilocks in The Three Bears, the short fountain seemed “just right.” With excited expectation, I pushed the button. To my disappointment, white water spurted from the short fountain.

I wondered, Why isn’t the color working?

Every day that summer, I checked to see if pink or blue water would gush from the short fountain. Before leaving with my parents to return to Indiana, I insisted on running downtown.

I just wanted to see if the color was working yet. It wasn’t.

I consoled myself. Maybe next summer when I visit Meemee, the color will work.

What Color Is Barack Obama’s Faith?
In “The Faith of Barack Obama," Stephen Mansfield, the best-selling historical and bibliographical author, reveals how Barack Obama’s step onto the political stage has aired national wounds and sins that need healing. This book challenges individuals to look beyond politics to “be more Christian than Republican, more American than Democrat, more noble and righteous than crassly and callously politically.” Readers are invited to consider “if a man’s faith is sincere, it is the most important thing about him, and that it is impossible to understand who he is and how he will lead without first understanding the religious vision that informs his life.”(p. xxiii)

This short book recounts Barack’s eclectic exposure to differing faiths in his childhood and what influenced his personal decision to submit to God’s will and commit to Jesus. It refutes the “Barack is a Muslim” poison-pen email smear campaigns. While this is the only book that deals with “The Faith of Barack Obama,” it deviates by looking at the faith journeys of Jeremiah Wright and Barack’s political rivals.

The Parallel Universes of US Versus THEM: The Reds, The Whites and The Blues
Whether you plan to vote for or against Barack Obama, you will find justification in this book to defend your political support—or lack of. Many pro-life, neoconservative Christians may slam this book shut before finishing the Introduction (p. xv) that quotes Obama’s bold statement:

“Those of us on the political Left who believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion and who defend the rights of our gay friends and who care for the poor and who trust that big government can be a tool of righteousness—we also love God.”

The best way to read this book is to put aside bias, note your emotional responses to the content and thoughtfully consider, How do others judge my faith and compassion?

Chapter 1: To Walk Between Worlds: This chapter provides a compelling backdrop of Barack’s loneliness and "otherness" that tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. Obama’s white grandparents went against the red versus blue religiosity of their day when Madelyn Payne, a middle class, Methodist, married Stanley Dunham, a blue collar Baptist. Madelyn rejected the gossipy, cruel, racist, intellectually thin, and zealously intolerant hypocrisies of rural Kansas. Her astute observations of religious pretense—that still exists today—did not go unnoticed by their firstborn and only daughter, Ann.

Obama’s mother intellectually embraced the baby boomer counterculture. Barack’s mother and grandmother were thinkers and post moderns at heart—intellectually, religiously and culturally—before their times. Both Obama’s father and stepfather’s examples rejected their Muslim heritages. Obama’s eclectic background and “otherness” reflects the cultural and religious diversity of today’s American culture. What Barack’s parental role models could not give, he embraced—discovering God’s grace and truth for himself.

Chapter 2: My House, Too: Mansfield offers a gentler, less strident look at Jeremiah Wright, his biography, personality, theology, and his church, Trinity United Church of Christ. In this warm Christian family, Obama found Christians engaging in the world’s struggles—not retreating from them. Mansfield provides context for readers who have never attended black churches, to understand the black plight and the role of the black church in the lives of African Americans.

Chapter 3: Faith Fit for the Age: Obama reflects the respect that his mother taught him for all people and religions—including the father who abandoned him. Her assorted religious beliefs and atheism condensed down to The Golden Rule, “underlying these religions was a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself, but also for the greater good.” (p. 55) This chapter will disconcert those wanting to pinhole Obama into their particular faith tradition. “The Faith of Barack Obama” celebrates God’s ability to draw a lonely, searching soul to Him and champions spiritual growth in sinful men that is ongoing, not static.

Chapter 4: The Altars of State:
Individuals who need to hear Obama speak Christianese to affirm his faith and agree with their pro-life views on abortion, may brand his conversion “less than.” Barack Obama challenges liberals to stop rejecting people of faith and find common ground. When he urged believers to engage in respectful dialogue and not to use faith as a tool of attack to divide and belittle, it unleashed the fears and prejudgments the religious right targets towards Barack. I suffer from religious self-righteous burnout and zoned out when Mansfield provided a theological and philosophical discourse regarding civil religion.

Chapter 5: Four Faces of Faith:
Digressing from “The Faith of Barack Obama,” this chapter examines the biographical faith journeys for John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Chapter 6: A Time to Heal: This chapter pointed out shocking details I wasn’t aware of, but my southern-born mother knew. For example, our government behaved like Nazi’s when they used 400 black men with syphilis as test subjects to study the effects of how syphilis spreads and kills. The men were not advised of their medical diagnosis nor were they given antibiotics to clear up their STD. And political pundits deride Rev. Wright for distrusting our government?

Obama approaches the pain of poverty, race, religion, and age with a detached perspective not as one still trying to recover from pain or suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mansfield brings up the question: How can compassionate Christians ignore injustice in our democracy? Is the faith community merely religiously fluent, like Bill Clinton, or is our faith sincere that confronts double standards with Christ’s love, mercy and grace?

Who Owns the Religious Voice of America?
Rather than espousing shrill judgmentalism, Mansfield presents a fair and well-rounded backdrop for Obama’s life, faith and political views. So fair, in fact, that those who differ with Barack’s political agenda will most likely question the validity of his faith, and those who agree with his politics may be irritated by his openness about his faith in Jesus.

Subtly the book presents Barack’s sense of destiny, linking him with Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and bringing healing to our wounded nation. The author points out refreshing characteristics that endear Barack to those repulsed by self-righteousness: transparency about admitting wrong choices, unselfconscious spirituality, unapologetically Christian, questioning certain tenets of his Christian faith, and comfortable co-existence and respect for non-Christian religions. What a sharp contrast to the US versus THEM religionists who wear the I’m-right-and-perfect masks, only admitting sin when caught with their pants down.

The Outsider
This book purports that Obama’s cultural disconnection derives from being a mulatto. However, Barack reveals many of the characteristics of Third Culture Kids (TCKs), which includes Missionary Kids (MKs)—children who have spent significant time during their developmental years in one or more culture(s) other than their birth or parent’s culture. TCK’s will relate to Obama’s struggle and the search to find his “own tribe.” The advantages of growing up in a cross-cultural world allows TCK’s, like Obama, to process their views through a multicultural lens, to comfortably cross between cultures and build relationships, and to assimilate aspects of those cultures into their personal “third culture.”

What Color Is Your Faith?
Blacks versus Whites: Our country has made some strides forward regarding racial prejudice, but is it enough? I think not.

Us versus Them: Will we ever make headway to overcome “pet” theological hardheartedness or religious prejudice? A balanced spiritual life includes more than just claiming fire insurance through the redemption of the cross or debating "Who's going to heaven or hell."

Reds versus Blues: Can Barack Obama “wed faith to a political vision that leads to meaningful change in our time”? (p.144)

As for me, I prefer to embrace others with eyes of grace and compassion and remain colored blind.

Don't Miss Interesting "Factoids from The Faith of Barack Obama" on Friday, September 5, 2008

Read How Do Your Beliefs or Faith Affect Your Writing? on Monday, September 8, 2008