Friday, June 29, 2007

Ask the Authors: Friday

Any parting thoughts as the Charis Connection goes on hiatus?

Have a great summer! -lisa samson

A wealth of great information has been posted on Charis Connection over the past couple of years, so I hope people won’t forget that the archives are available right here at the click of a button. -Deborah Raney

I’ll miss the interaction with the readers of this blog. For those who read it because they are pursuing the publishing of a novel, I wish you great success. — Robin Lee Hatcher

Angie and BJ have carried quite a load with the Charis Connection, and I believe their efforts have served to touch many. I will always be grateful for their willingness to add to their busy schedules, and I deeply appreciate them. -Hannah Alexander

If you come here because you want to write, take that part of the day that you’d usually spend here, and put words on paper. Novelists think of themselves as architects, but they are not – they’re bricklayers. Novels are built one word at a time. Start laying down words; you may surprise yourself with what you’ve produced. You probably will. – Tom Morrisey

Enjoy the writing ... and share the gift. -BJ Hoff

A verse for those of us called to this sometimes frightening, often frustrating but always marvelous task of writing:
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” Psalm 138:8 - Ann Tatlock

Just how grateful I am for all involved in the blog and all who've stopped in to read our thoughts. God's best to you this summer, all! - Karen B.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ask the Authors: Thursday

What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring novelist?

Just focus on the story and write it. Don't worry about the market, don't worry about what the story is for (to be published? to bless friends and family.) If God has called you to write, just WRITE. Leave the rest to Him. -Karen B.

Don’t confuse your success as a writer with your worth as a person. As a child of God, the first has no bearing on the second. - Ann Tatlock

Read everything you can find by your favorite authors, authors you admire, authors who are writing what you absolutely love to read--just make certain they're writers of excellence. Immerse yourself in good writing, and when you know your "passion"--what you want to write--do it. -BJ Hoff

Make the conflict larger. I’d say 99% of unpublished novelists (and a fair chunk of published ones, me included) could have written a better and more engaging book if they’d taken their premise conflict – the one they had when they first dreamed up the idea for the book – and stepped it up a notch or three. – Tom Morrisey

Don't quit your day job. That places too much pressure on you to write what you think the public wants to read, and not the story that's really on your heart. It forces you to churn out one book after another instead of spending time on that one story until it shines. That kind of pressure, I believe, kills true creativity. -Hannah Alexander

Read, read, read (read everything: Christian fiction, NYT general market fiction, biographies, histories, newspapers, magazines, etc.) — and write something every day. — Robin Lee Hatcher

Study the craft. There are so many wonderful books on the craft of writing, writers conferences, university classes, writers guilds, online writers groups, in-person critique groups, one-on-one mentors...the list goes on and on, and every writer can refine and polish their craft while they wait for that elusive contract. -Deborah Raney

Read well.- lisa samson

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

If you could change one thing about your writing career, what would you change?

Nothing. The things I wish were different are out of my control. lisa samson

Nada. In the sovereignty of God, I am where I am supposed to be. I've learned from my mistakes and I've been thrilled with my blessings. --Angela Hunt

Oh, wow! What a question! I trust that everything that’s happened in my career has happened for a reason, and I’ve enjoyed and felt loyalty toward each publisher I’ve worked with. But I suppose if I could change anything, it would be to stay “married” to one publisher, to write all my books for the same publishing house, never having to feel disloyal to one when I’m writing (or promoting or signing books) for another. -Deborah Raney

If I could go back and do things over, I would have left my secular publishers sooner to write for the CBA. As much as I loved many things about writing my historical romances, it wasn’t until I came to the CBA that I found my true voice and a greater passion for the stories I am now able to tell. — Robin Lee Hatcher

I can think of nothing I would change. I believe my life is God-controlled in spite of the bad decisions I make, and to have it any other way would be to miss out on the blessings He intended for me and for my readers. --Hannah Alexander

I’d sell better. – Tom Morrisey

I would have started sooner. -BJ Hoff

How much I worried about it. It never added anything. -- Rene Gutteridge

It would be a great and wonderful thing to have more readers! - Ann Tatlock

That my call was to train dogs, not write books. JUST kidding. Well...sorta. But what I'd really change is missing deadlines. That puts so much pressure on everyone--the editor, folks in house, design, marketing, sales...not to mention what the guilt does to me. So I'd not only meet my deadlines, I'd be early! Karen B.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ask the Authors: Tuesday

Do you edit as you go or are you of the “just get it down” school of thought?

I’ve tried to get the first draft down fast, quick and dirty. I know that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I can’t. What if I were to die before getting a chance to polish the scene? People would discover what a horrible writer I am. No, I have to assume the worst, that I may not wake up tomorrow morning and ensure that those who find yesterday’s pages won’t be traumatized. — Jack Cavanaugh (who really isn’t unstable, but you get the point)

It's gotta be just get it down. If I let the editor come out to play while I was writing, I'd go nuts! Well...more nuts than I am at present. Karen B.

I claim the distinction of being the slowest writer in Christendom (which isn’t necessarily a good thing). I can’t “just get it down” because it takes me so long to get it together in the first place. The process for me goes something like: think, think, think….write….edit, edit….think, think, think….write…edit, edit…. - Ann Tatlock

I write a day's worth, then before I write the next day, I review what I wrote the day before. -- Rene Gutteridge

I do a lot of editing as I go. I'm not a "first draft" writer. I write in "chunks," writing two or three chapters, doing light editing as I go, then going back and doing more editing on that group of chapters before moving on. Even after the story is told, I revise in sections before going through the entire manuscript again. And again. -BJ Hoff

I feel awful about this when I’m at writing conferences and people talk about the fifth or sixth draft and how not one word of their first draft ever survives – but an awful lot of what I publish is my first-draft work. Maybe 60% of the book comes out the way it first went into the word processor. But there’s a reason for this. I don’t write until I’m ready to write, and by this I mean that if I am forcing words, I realize that a scene has not yet gelled in my subconscious. “Getting it down” produces unusable manuscript for me. So I do something else (tend to yard-work, take a ride on the Harley) until my scene has gelled in my head. And then, when I do write, I immediately go back over the scene and tidy it. Most of my previous revision has been in the area of fixing plotlines, so I have (reluctantly) gone to creating a scene-by-scene treatment of the entire novel, getting the novel in good shape at that stage, and then writing the first draft from that. That’s what works for me, and if I work in this manner, I can also write rather swiftly (probably because the voice in my head can be heard more clearly). Your mileage, of course, may vary. – Tom Morrisey

Unfortunately, I have a horrible habit of editing as I go, and it's so hard to write that way! How I would love to just get the story down in a very short time, then go back over it again and again to polish and shape. Maybe someday I'll be able to develop that ability. --Hannah Alexander

I edit as I go. I used to write faster and do more editing in the revision stage, but over the last decade I’ve found myself slowing down and doing more editing during the first draft. — Robin Lee Hatcher

I'm in the "just get it down" camp. I write in layers, and I write short in first drafts, and enlarge as I go . . . because I'm still discovering all the story's secrets. Four or five drafts is typical for me. --Angela Hunt

I use sort of a leapfrog method, reading yesterday’s pages before I start today’s first-drafting. Then, at about one-third and two-thirds of the way through, I do complete read-throughs of the manuscript, revising again as I go. -Deborah Raney

I edit a bit, but not obsessively. Just usually read over the previous day's work and then move on from there. lisa samson

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ask the Authors: Monday

Welcome back to another "Ask the Authors" week. If you have a question you'd like to ask our authors, send it to (Yes, we will be continuing this feature when we come back in the fall.)

What is your favorite part of the writing process: a. Creating proposals for new projects; b. Writing the first draft; c. Revising and refining the manuscript; d. Reviewing the galley; e. seeing the book in print.

e. I'm like Mark Twain, I like "having written." lisa samson

Well, duh. Seeing the book in print, of course. That means the hard work is done. But next to that is revising and refining the manuscript. I LOVE the rewriting process. I get excited by a 13-page substantive edit letter with suggestions and a list to check off of ways to improve my manuscript. -Deborah Raney

I think it's fair to say that the later in the process it is for me, the more I enjoy it. I despise proposals, dread first drafts, and dislike second passes. But it definitely gets easier after that. --Angela Hunt

None of the above. My favorite part is the brainstorming of a new book, when every idea is a possibility and nothing has been rejected/tossed out because it won’t work. The brainstorming usually happens after the first flicker of an idea when I jot down the premise (option A) and before writing the first draft (option B). — Robin Lee Hatcher

No doubt about it, my very favorite part of the writing process is revising and refining the manuscript. That's when I can develop undeveloped ideas, turn the course of the story, find a theme I missed before, and indulge in the setting. Last month, it was my job to delete a manuscript by a third in order for our publisher to reprint the book. It was the most fun time I've ever had in my writing career. By the time I finished chiseling and polishing, I think that story had more clarity than ever before. --Hannah Alexander

Proposals are always a challenge because you’re trying to convey a 97,000-word idea in a 5,000-word sack. And the insolent prima donna in me thinks of proposals as business documents and wants to get on with producing art. The first half of the first draft is nice, but by the second half, I’m Johnstown and it’s the flood. Revising and refining always gives me this feeling that I’m smearing Bondo on a fender – yes, it will look nice when I’m done, but I know the mess it was underneath. Reviewing the galley is sort of a prolonged panic attack, because I always want to do something drastic – like maybe pitch it all and write a completely different book (like most writers, I am just this great, big ball of confidence). And when I see the book in print, I’m afraid to open it because I just know the first word I see is going to be a typo, or a character whose name I changed in every instance but the one that I’m looking at. Yet, oddly enough, when I read one of my books about five years later, I generally enjoy it, because I’m past all the stress and the trauma. Maybe that’s the best part.– Tom Morrisey

Definitely revising and refining the manuscript. (Seeing the book in print is always nice, too!) -BJ Hoff

I love the writing. The proposal is necessary, as is the revising and refining, etc. But the writing, that's where the fun begins! -- Rene Gutteridge

With the exception of writing proposals, I love the entire process. I particularly enjoy the research and the rewriting (the latter because there’s something there to work with, as opposed to a blank page). -Ann Tatlock

You know that old quote, "I don't' love writing, I love having written"? That's me! The part I like best is seeing it in print. And the revision process. I love working with my editor to make the book as strong as it can be. --Karen B.

For me it’s a tie between creating new ideas and revising the manuscript. For me, brainstorming new story ideas is a writer’s high, possibly because at that stage all the mechanics that make a story good are perfect in my mind (we’re all Shakespeare at this stage). But I also love editing and polishing. That’s when I do my best writing and feel like a craftsman. In between those two stages—the first draft—is pure torture. It’s just bad, bad, bad writing and I can’t wait to begin whipping it into shape. — Jack Cavanaugh

Friday, June 22, 2007

We're Going on Vacation . . .er, Hiatus

Dear Readers:

The original intention of Charis Connection was to band together as a group of published authors and share some of what we've learned about writing, publishing, and the writing life, in hopes that you might find it helpful. With summer arriving with its many activities--including vacations!--we decided this would be a good time to take a break, catch our collective breath, do some future planning and regrouping. So Charis Connection will be on hiatus until after Labor Day.

When we return after that hiatus, it will be with some new features, new approaches, and new insights--but the purpose of Charis Connection will remain the same. Until then, we want to thank you, the readers, for your participation, for your wonderful emails and messages of encouragement and appreciation. We appreciate you--all of you--and we'll let you know when we're back!

*Note: Stay tuned for our regularly-scheduled "Ask the Authors" week next week!

God bless--and have a great summer!

The Charis Connection Authors

P.S. Any ideas for our future? What would you like to see? Let us know in the comments box!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

JK: River Teeth

Last week while doing research at an old farmstead here in Oregon my husband drew my attention to a massive maple tree. It would have taken six people to reach around it I’m sure and it is at least 150 years old. Suddenly, I was back in Wisconsin.

We had six huge sugar maple trees in our front yard too that provided wonderful shade in the hot summer months of Wisconsin. After dinner (the noon meal) my dad would lie for a time in the shade of those trees before heading back to the fields. One of my favorite photos is of me crawling on my dad’s stomach beneath those trees and a later one of my brother doing the same. My mom was the photographer. She was also the keeper of the trees. Every year the power company came by and announced they were cutting the trees down because the branches affected the power lines. Every year, my mom stood her ground. When they sold the farm in 1976, the first thing the power company did was come out and cut them down before anyone could stop them. I hadn’t thought of my mother as a green crusader but she was.

What’s this got to do with writing? Well, David James Duncan, author of such notable books as The River Why also wrote a book called River Teeth. In it, he writes of big trees falling into streams and being rubbed and changed by the current and debris that catches on them or the branches torn from them. Over time, only the branch forks might be left on the trunks and some of those lurk beneath the water. He calls those sections left behind “river teeth” that catch us unawares. They’re the remainder of another time, another story of a majestic tree. He suggests that when an errant thought from out past comes into our heads, we ought to write about it.

I think our writing grows richer when we step into our pasts. Detail gives our story depth, but discovery of the meaning of the detail allows others to experience a depth of their own. I think about my mom, the crusader. She’ll help inform my character, an ordinary woman wanting to make a difference in the life of her family and community. She just might have a green streak in her future.

Jane Kirkpatrick

Join Jane on her new blog or at her website’s monthly memos Her latest book is out now, A Tendering in the Storm.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

TM: Subplots and Sausages

Hemingway once said that if you believe your reviews when they’re good, then you have to believe ‘em when they’re bad.
I tend to forget that when I get good reviews.

And I’ve been blessed with lots of them on my latest book, In High Places. I can honestly say that I haven’t received a single review or reader letter that I wouldn’t be happy to have on the cover of my next book (trust me – that’s highly unusual). Many point out how much both my character development and voice have grown since Dark Fathom (my last book) which I take as solid praise and a high compliment.

Except it isn’t true.

You see, large portions of In High Places – most of it, in fact – were written and already nearing final draft well before I even began Dark Fathom. Dark Fathom, like the three books before it, was a novel sold from a proposal and written under a contract schedule (roughly one a year), while In High Places was a novel written without a contract, in its own time. It was my pet project, the novel I wrote in between my other ones, and I wrote it just because I wanted to write it, not giving much thought to how it would be received commercially. I was experimenting with a new voice, a different form from my usual plot-oriented narrative and (for me) a new point of view. Although several editor friends did see snippets of it here and there while it was in progress, I told them that I was not looking for feedback or offers on it until it was finished. And if, once it was finished, no offers materialized, then I was fully prepared to publish it as a book-on-demand and give it to family and friends for Christmas. Happily enough, that wasn’t necessary (thanks, Bethany House!).

In High Places took a long time to complete – seven years from the time I first started thinking about it until the time I sent it out as a proposal to my publisher friends. Then again, I didn’t work on it every day and often did not touch it for months. But I was always thinking about it.
So the difference between this book and the one that preceded it is not growth. It’s not a novelist warming to his skills. It’s revision. It’s polish. It’s reflection. It’s time.

Time is the reason that so many novelists throughout history have seemingly been cursed with the sophomore slump – the frustration of following a brilliant debut novel with a mediocre second one. The difference between the two is that the first one was often a labor of love, nursed and polished for years, while the second one was cranked out on a schedule. Tight schedules are good for things that must be produced with regularity, like sausages, but they rarely lend themselves to great art.

Think of that if you are an unpublished novelist. I know how frustrated you must sometimes feel about that (trust me – I know). I know that it must sometimes feel as if it’s going to take forever before someone’s going to offer you your big chance. But being unpublished is not the curse it’s painted as. It is a blessing. It is a gift – a gift of time. It is an opportunity to revise, to subplot, to take the world and people and actions that you have created and bring them to the next level.

Use that opportunity. Set your manuscript aside for a few weeks. Use the time to read Donald Maass’s book, Writing the Breakout Novel. Then go back to your book and find its weaknesses.

Eradicate them. Lather, rinse and repeat.

And if you are published, and you are looking at a schedule requiring you to create five novels over the next 60 months, consider doing something crazy. Consider writing a fourth in your in-between moments.

Why? Because the book you write without pressure will give you room to ruminate, to make broad changes, to experiment. You might find something wonderful – a technique that you can use in your contracted novels. And even if you do not, or if (like me) you find that your pet project and your regular work are as different as apples and oranges, you will be one book ahead of the game when you send your next proposal out to publishers.

Better still, you will have learned the value of reflection. It is a skill that most writers once had (or had the opportunity to have had). But sometimes we get too busy to realize we can reclaim it.

– TM

Monday, June 18, 2007

AG: If Only They Had Known

For Mother’s Day, I took my wife to LakeArrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains for a nice lunch and a cruise around the lake. It’s a familiar haunt for us, close enough for a one-day trip, distant enough to feel “out of the area.”

Lake Arrowhead is one of the many manmade lakes in California. Tall pines surround pristine blue waters. It’s the kind of place the rich and famous build homes. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has a stunning house on the lake, Doris Day once lived in the area, and the inscrutable Howard Hughes used to fly his seaplane and land on the lake.

It is one of loveliest spots on our planet.

Lest you think the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce has hired me to shill for them, I’ll get to the point: To buy a home on or near the lake will cost you—cost you big time. Unless you’re the type who doesn’t worry about the occasionally misplaced ten grand, you might find the mortgage payments a little steep. Bare property will set you back a million and half or more. If there’s a house on the lot…well, it goes up a few million.

During the early 1930s the Los Angeles Times undertook an interesting marketing plan. They owned a good deal of property around one of the lake’s bays. Someone decided they could increase annual subscriptions simply by giving everyone who signed up for a year’s worth of papers a lot at Lake Arrowhead. Yes, you read correctly—give a lot to everyone who paid for a year’s subscription.

Of course, in the third decade of the Twentieth Century, property values had yet to skyrocket. Still, property in exchange for a newspaper subscription seemed a pretty good deal, and many people took advantage of the offer.

Then the bill for property tax arrived. Some found the $37 a tad exorbitant and returned the lots. Actually, all the new property owners returned their subscription gift.

If only they had known.

To be fair, getting to Lake Arrowhead was more challenging seventy-five or more years ago, and the Depression had driven many families to their knees. Still…one of those “free” lots would pull in millions today.

One problem with being human is we cannot see the future. Some of us have trouble remembering the past and just making our way through the present is challenging enough. But the future is coming, and we can make a mark on it.

One idea that keeps writers going is the knowledge that their books may live beyond them. It might be in the dark corner of the library, but the book is still there. When we do what we do—writer, engineer, homemaker, whatever,—we make an impact on the future. We don’t know what the impact will be or if it will land like a Rhode Island-sized asteroid, or a speck of dust, but it will be real.

I have no idea what, if any, impact my books have had. On the scale of noticeability my work may barely register, but it will register. No one knows what the outcome of their work will be. We can plan, make educated guesses, but we can’t know with any certainty so the work itself needs to be gratifying.

King Solomon said it well: “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15 NIV)

Al Gansky writes from his home in California. Look for his work at

Friday, June 15, 2007

KB: Endorsing Manuscripts?

There’s an interesting trend on the rise lately, and I’m not quite sure where it started or why it’s gaining such momentum. Published authors are being inundated with requests from unpublished authors to read their manuscripts and possibly offer a review or endorsement that they can send to publishers with their proposal.

I’m curious. Who thought this was a good idea?

As an acquisitions editor, I can tell you that the only review or endorsement that would have an impact on me would be one from a published author who actually knew the author. Or from an author I know and trust. But bottom line, that’s not something I look for in a proposal. Doesn’t really matter to me if such things are included or not. What does matters is the writing, not what someone else says about a manuscript.

Now don’t get me wrong. Published authors in the CBA want to help unpublished authors. Which is why so many of us take part in writers’ conferences, giving our time to teach, critique, and mentor. But there’s no way we can take the time to read all the unpublished manuscripts we’re being asked to read. Many authors (including yours truly) have made it a policy to turn down these kinds of requests simply because we know it doesn't really help. Which means it's not a good use of your time or ours.

So what can you do to ensure your manuscript has the best chance of being acquired? Have it professionally critiqued or edited. Go to a writer's conference and take one of the mentoring classes to refine your craftsmanship. Take the time to revise, revise, revise. (Say it with me: “Send no proposal out before its time…”) Once you've done these things--once you're certain the writing is as strong as you can make it--then send it off to publishers. And don’t worry about endorsements or reviews from published authors. Because there's just no substitute for a powerfully written story that grabs the reader from the very first page, holds interest throughout, and delivers on the promise of a great story that enlightens and entertains.

That’s what will bring you a contract, friends.

God bless.

Karen Ball

Thursday, June 14, 2007

JK: Writing the Historical Novel


1. Begin with an unanswered question or something strange you want to thoroughly explore – a person, an incident, a time period that intrigues – a story that calls your name and won’t let you go. Don’t write unless you have to.
2. Write one sentence each to answer these questions:
What’s my story about?
What do I feel deeply about in this story?
How do I hope a reader will be changed by reading this story?
3. Choose a title to frame your story and post it with your three answers in your writing space where you can easily see them to guide you during the muddle in the middle.
4. Create a timeline of your character’s important life events; create a timeline of world or regional events that might have affected your character or that they’d have spoken about over their suppers. Decide on an opening time period and an ending time.
5. Begin writing before you think you should. (There will always be more to research) Write even when you’re not inspired. (There will always be dry scratchy coughs).Create a schedule and stick with it.
6. With selected language, create a mood, a sense of time, era, and attitude within the first three paragraphs of your story.
7. Give your protagonist a meaningful desire both external and internal and show them doing something interesting as the story begins.
8. By the end of the first chapter, an event must happen that moves the story forward toward your character achieving their desire as well as identifying early barriers to your character’s achieving that desire.
9. Weave landscape, relationships, spirituality and work throughout the plot.
10. Give your reader new information, connection and meaning showing them how historical lives have relevance for living in our contemporary world.
11. Write as though running a race without listening too closely to your interior critic. Pick an ending date by which you’ll finish your novel.
12. Finish with your protagonist achieving their desires, both internal and external, in a climax scene; then quickly get out of the story wrapping up loose threads.
13. Go back and repeat question two to see how the story has changed you and its own direction now that your story is finished.
14. Let the story sit two weeks then edit using Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King or A Writer’s Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon or other excellent craft books.
15. Imagine the back cover copy; write your synopsis and send it out or pitch at a writer’s conference. You did it!
Jane Kirkpatrick,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

AT: Preaching to the Choir

CBA: Preaching to the Choir?

Apparently, it’s a common dilemma for Christian novelists: Should I be writing for the CBA (Christian publishers) or the ABA (secular publishers)? When I started writing novels years ago, I naturally figured I should write for the ABA. After all, if I wrote for the secular market, my message would be reaching the lost, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

I have since changed my mind. Or maybe God changed it. I believe of course there’s a place for Christians in the ABA, but I also believe that my place right now is in the CBA. Maybe writing novels for people who are already believers is preaching to the choir, but there’s a very good reason for doing that. As my fellow novelist Robin Lee Hatcher so succinctly and correctly put it, “The choir is sick.”

No offense. And hey, I’m part of the choir too. But we’ve got to take a good look at the health of the church in America and realize there’s something wrong.

I’m the lady who’s always going on about our postmodern culture, so here we go again. With the loss of absolutes and the rise of relativism, we have no standards of right and wrong--even, in some instances, when it comes to church doctrine. If we think we can’t be absolutely sure about what the Bible teaches, then anything goes.

Unfortunately, anything is going strong. Did you hear about the Presbyterian church that sponsored a retreat for women, inviting them to get away and worship the divine goddess within themselves? The Methodist church that incorporated Wiccan (modern witchcraft) prayers into its morning services? The Baptist church that taught a class on our fellow Christian believers: Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarian Universalists?

I wish I could say it weren’t so. But in fact I attended that class at the Baptist church out of curiosity. My jaw was on the floor throughout. This same church offers a wide variety of New Age literature in its library.

Barna recently conducted a survey to find out how many American adults hold a biblical worldview. The criteria for having such a worldview included believing such propositional truths as: God is the all-powerful and all knowing Creator, Christ lived a sinless life, salvation is by grace and not by works, and the Bible is accurate in all its teachings. The basic tenets of Christianity, right?

Of the overall adult population in America, 4 percent have a biblical worldview. Of those categorized as born-again Christians, 9 percent have a biblical worldview.

What, then, is the other 91 percent thinking?

I suppose among them are those people who call themselves Zen Christians because they simultaneously place their faith in Christ while practicing Buddhism. Also included might be the Methodist witches, the earth-worshipers who revere Jesus as a compassionate guide, the pew-warmers who make their life decisions based on their astrological sign, and the syncretists whose Mr. Potato Head religion is designed according to their own tastes--with a little bit of Jesus thrown in for good measure.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the picture.

Can Christians be deceived? In a word, Yes. Can and are. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth, and will wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). I have a feeling that time has come.

In the past few years the Lord has made it clear to me that helping a person stay firmly rooted in the Truth is just as important as introducing a person to the Truth in the first place.
So until the Lord tells me otherwise, I’m sticking with CBA, because I believe that the ministry done through CBA books is important beyond words.
Ann Tatlock's work can be found at

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

TM: Where Do Novels Come From?

Writers conferences are times when I know I’m going to get a lot of questions, and the question that stymies me the most often is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
In general, that’s easier to answer, because novel ideas come from everywhere. They hit you when you’re in church, while you’re showering, in those moments when you go suddenly deaf and dumb, right in the middle of a conversation. On rare occasions, they arrive prepackaged. I once had the staggering experience of having an entire novel pop into my head – every chapter, every scene, and practically every line of dialogue – while I was crossing the lobby at my publishing house. But such Moses-goes-to-the-mountain moments are rare. The ideas are far more apt to come in increments.

Take my current novel, In High Places. If I trace that back to its genesis, I would have to say that it first came to me in my change at the 7-11. It was 1999, and I was buying – I don’t know what – a soda, probably. Anyhow, when I got my change back, I automatically counted it (a habit engrained in me practically since birth by my frugal Irish grandmother).

As I counted my change, I noticed that there was a quarter in it, and I turned it over and looked at it because my daughter, who was nine at the time, was collecting the state quarters. I wanted to see if it was one that she needed.

But it wasn’t a state quarter. It was a Bicentennial quarter – the kind with the Revolutionary War drummer on the back. And while I might have to pause and think a while if you ask me what I was doing in, say, 1983, 1976 is another matter entirely. It was a year of tall ships and fireworks on the National Mall, a year when red-white-and-blue was in vogue and just about everything was lemon-scented. It was a time that was easy to remember, and as I walked back to my van, I got to thinking about that. In 1976 I had just finished college, and I spent much of the summer rock climbing. As I lived in Ohio at that time, the nearest truly challenging rock was in West Virginia: Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

It occurred to me then that I had, right there, all of the elements of setting. I had a time (1976), a place (Seneca Rocks), and a niche – the athlete-philosopher world of climbing. It was a stage, empty and waiting for its actors.

Who would those actors be? Most good stories are about relationships, and we have in our lives two great mega-relationships. The first is with our parents, and the second is with our soul mates. You only get one set of parents, but your soul mate – or the person whom you think is your soul mate – can change as you grow. And one that always stands out, I think for everyone, is the first love – not the teacher you had a crush on in grade school, but the very first person you ever looked at and truly thought, “This could really be my ever-after.”

Seventeen is a good age for both of those relationships – the age when you’re old enough to have your own car and the trappings of adulthood, but you’re still living at home with your parents. And so, as I already had a hunch that I was leaning toward a relationship novel, I began to get a shadowy glimpse of Patrick, the lead character in my new book. He would be seventeen throughout most of the book, and he would still be living at home. This was a month or two after I got the quarter, and a couple of years before Patrick would have a last name (Nolan).

Now, if I wanted to explore mega-relationships, one of the two was easy. The first love is the first love. But for a parent-child story, I couldn’t be general. For the intimacy that story requires, I really needed to concentrate on one parent or the other.

That was an easy choice, as well. My father passed away in 1985. He was only 65 at the time, an age when most people are just launching into retirement, yet he had already been ill for several years, and it often seemed to me that, although he had seen the world as a young sailor in WWII and come back to raise a family and get his own piece of the American dream, a lot of unachieved potential had died with him. I missed him, and still miss him bitterly, and it almost went without saying that, even though I was now thinking about a story of first loves, and coming-of-age, I was thinking about a father-and-son story, as well.

My father died as a man with gray hair, and I must admit that I put most of them there. There were years when we were very much at odds. Looking back, I felt that I an apology was overdue … and also impossible. But I could find some personal solace by making Patrick an atypical teen – a kid who was tight with his parents, who didn’t sway to social pressures or archetypes, but was individual enough to skip the awkward phase when parents aren’t cool, and embrace at least some of that time that I had so little of with my own father – a time when parent and child can relate as adults.

A story that explored such a father-son relationship would be therapeutic for me, but it would be deadly boring for a reader, because it lacked that most essential element of plot. It lacked conflict. And about a year after getting that quarter in my change, I was straightening my bookshelves and came across a scuba-diving logbook that had belonged to a niece of mine. A dead niece. A niece who had died a suicide.

I hope that you will never have the experience of having someone close to you die by his or her own hand. If you do, I can assure you that the “what-ifs” will multiply and compound your thoughts for years afterward. So will the guilt. It is impossible to lose someone in that manner and not wonder either if you did something to contribute to such an extreme state of despair, or if you failed to help provide some semblance of that essential element – hope – that keeps a person breathing in and breathing out.

That added another brick to the foundation that I was laying. To me, one important element of a Christian novel is that it addresses an issue or question of spiritual importance. And the issue that seemed to be arising as I thought about this still-nebulous book was hope – not where it comes from (to a Christian, that is obvious) but what it really is, its true nature.

The open issue was who it was that should die in that manner. Such a death firmly places an elephant in the room with every survivor, and that aspect would be compounded if the person who died was someone in one of those two mega-relationships with the central character. So I had Patrick and his father come home from a climbing trip in 1976 (that quarter, again) to learn that Patrick’s mother had gone out to the garage that morning, dressed to the nines, and had started up the car and sat in the closed garage until she passed out of this world and into eternity.

When my niece took her own life, I reacted by leaping off the grid. I left the country, and tried to lose my grief in a change of scenery and culture. Of course, the grief followed me. I decided to give Patrick and his father (he had a name by now – Kevin – and a job as an engineer in the auto industry) a similar experience. They would sell their home, Kevin would quit his job, and they would try to start a new life running a climbing shop in the setting inspired by that quarter – at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. And there Kevin would react to the situation ignited by the lingering questions posed by his wife’s death. He would engage in self-destructive behavior, a self-destructive behavior that I arrived at by remembering a phrase from a Dylan Thomas poem (“… and you, my father, there on that sad height…”) and then taking it absolutely literally. Patrick would be faced with the challenge of trying to heal his father without tearing what was left of his family apart – at the same time that he was falling head-over-heels for his first love.

I could tell you more, but then we’d move into spoiler territory. And besides, we have here all the bits and pieces I needed to start In High Places – a setting, characters, and a conflict for the characters to resolve.

So if you’re casting around for your own idea, but you only have parts of it, take heart. The rest will probably come in time. Until then, do what good writers do: read, make black marks on white paper …

… And remember to count your change.

-- Tom Morrisey hangs out in cyberspace at

Monday, June 11, 2007

JK: Revisions

I’m working on revisions. Ivan Doig once wrote that revisions were his favorite time because that’s when he found out what the story was all about. I’ve always liked that, though before I wrote much, I wondered how he could write an entire book without knowing what it was about.

Now I begin with my three questions of intention, attitude and purpose. Just to give you an idea, with my work in progress here were my original answers: Intention: to tell the story of Emma’s renewal within an 1860s religious colony. Attitude: hopefulness can be nurtured and must be to live a full and meaningful life; and humility and ordinary-ness are honorable virtues. Purpose: engagement with community enriches the soul and contributes to the world even if all desires of one’s heart are never met.

Now that the book is finished and has been been sitting for four weeks, and the editors have reviewed it, here’s how I’ll answer those questions: Intention: to tell the story of Emma’s finding a full life within her religious colony despite the constrictions. Attitude (what I feel deeply about): family comes in all shapes and sizes, and being in service to it brings meaning to our lives. Purpose (how do I hope a reader might be changed): the experts suggest the word “prove” should be in this sentence--I want to prove that hope can be learned; that being a good parent is a worthy goal, that reconciliation in family is not dependent on everyone’s forgiveness, and that a worthy legacy can be left by leading a loving and ordinary life.

Now all I have to do is make that happen in the manuscript and hope someone else will want to read it.

Jane Kirkpatrick is busy on the revisions of A Mending at the Edge, book three; book two, A Tendering in the Storm has just been released.

Friday, June 08, 2007

LC: An Ordinary Writing Day

Today I plan to work. I have two chapters left to polish on a Christmas novella; piece of cake. I love this stage in my work. The hard part is done, I’m now shaping the story—it’s fun. This morning would have gone as planned if I hadn’t have accepted a sneaky friend’s dinner invitation last evening.

The phone rang around 4:50 and Jim (very sneaky friend) said, “Hey, you guys eaten dinner yet?”

“No!" I said—expecting to go for a hamburger or to our favorite “Wanna Get a Pizza” place. (This is a great restaurant—whole wheat crust, yummy house celery salad dressing.)

“Want to go eat with us?”


”Great. Meet us at Highland Springs Country Club at 6:30—6 if you want cocktails. Oh-- there’s an insurance seminar tonight—supposed to have this great speaker.”

By now I’m feeling sick. I’ve already admitted we haven’t eaten and by my tone, admitted that we were free.

“Sure. Sounds like fun.”

I hung up and mentally smacked my sneaky friend. My husband mentally hangs me and the sneaky friend when I say he has to wear a suit and tie.

Long story short; we hauled off to the three hour insurance seminar (hard way to earn a meal). The speaker wasa gerontologist (an old person expert), and she was interesting the first hour. She dragged a little the last hour. She went into great detail about the importance of exercise and proper nutrition as we get older, things we all know and have heard but find hard to implement. She said that when we get out of a chair and our bones pop it doesn’t mean we’re getting old, it means our bones are crying out for activity. So this worried me all night long; my bones cry out often.

On the way in my sneaky friend’s wife (my best friend) broke an ankle bone on the stairs, so the message was quite timely.

Instead of working—polishing those last two chapters--this morning I sorted priorities and headed off early for water aerobics. Wouldn’t take but an hour of my day, an hour well spent because I didn’t want any broken bones—accidental or not.

Afterward, I rushed home because I’d gotten a notice from the GOVERNMENT that I owed money on my monthly tax deposit that I knew that I didn’t owe. My accountant said simply ‘give them a call’ and they’d get it straightened out.

I dialed and waited thirty minutes for a friendly voice to help. Fifty minutes later she had the mistake figured out; I can’t read. It supposedly is clearly marked on the coupon that I’m supposed to use lead pencil, not pen. The machine can’t read pen (though apparently it’s been reading it for 23 years because I’ve been signing in pen that long) But now it can’t.

My husband comes home (he’s been working with our pastor-son the past four months converting a warehouse into a church). Lance reminds me we have promised to go to lunch with friends today at 11:30. It’s 11:00. I slap on make-up and run a comb through my hair. We have to stop for fuel and buy a couple of daily newspapers because our son and grandson’s picture is in it today. Russ and Gage took a long walk at the Nature Center about a month ago and a photographer captured them.

The moment I get back I have to work on those chapters.

Lance says that after lunch he has to go back to the church and put up ceiling tile—tile must be installed before he leaves on a pheasant-hunting trip Sunday morning.

Lunch is thirty miles away at a restaurant that holds approximately 15 customers. We’re talking tiny. The quaint eating place is run by a retired minister and his wife. The food is terrific and the couple interesting. We’re there longer than we expected.

Back on the road, we tell our friends we have to go home and work. They understand.

Now it’s 2:00.

“I have to go by the hardware store,” my husband says. “But I need to get that tile up.”

“Go put up the tile, I’ll work. We’ll go to the hardware store tonight.”

I meet Lance in the upstairs hallway a few minutes later and I say “are you going?” meaning to the church.

He says, “I think I’ll take a nap instead.” He’s been up since 3:30 this morning and he’s wiped out.

I don’t need encouragement. I grab my fussy throw, sit down in my chair, and we nap. Not a cat nap—more like a long winter’s, too-much- hamburger and fresh -cut fries coma.

Now it’s 5:00 (we didn’t sleep three hours, but there was this great program on the Discovery channel….) My work languishes on my desk, and the new church ceiling is still pretty much bare rafters.

We still have to go to the hardware store, but while we’re out we might as well eat a bite (neither of us are hungry but it’s approaching dinner hour). Once we leave the hardware store, Wal-mart is around the corner, and Lance needs some peanuts to take on the hunting trip and I need bread and coffee. We stop at Subway on the way home.

Okay. Now it’s 7:00 and to be honest, I’m exhausted from the water aerobics and the big lunch even though I’ve napped. So what’s my point?

I guess it’s this: if you want to be a writer, you have to be disciplined. I’m not. So maybe you don’t have to be so disciplined, just factor in days that you actually work. Today is an ordinary day for me and I wonder how I manage to write books. But through the grace of God, there come unordinary days when pretty much nothing is going on (I have those about twice a month) and then I work. Really work and it feels good.

Lori Copeland has written over sixty novels, the latest of which is The Maverick.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

JSB: Resting From Rejection

Recently, a family member wrote me about a situation concerning one of her close friends. Her friend was living out a terrible choice knowing full well it was wrong, yet not wanting to give it up. It rocked my loved one’s world.

She wrote that she was still not sure how to handle it, but was starting to feel angry. Why? I wrote, in part:

"What you're going through is a grieving process. They say there are five stages of grief:


You are in the anger stage, and expect to go through some other emotions, too. Eventually, though, with God's help, you can "accept" the "situation" (not approve of what she’s doing, but accept that this is the way things are, and you can only go to God with it, and that's a good thing)."

I then mentioned that I was going to be preaching soon on Psalms 6 and 23. It’s interesting to take these two Psalms together. David's life always had trouble in it, but he handled it by determining to remember God's goodness (even when he didn't feel it). Finally, he could look back at the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23, which I think was written near the end of his life. Reading these two Psalms in tandem teaches us an approach to any grieving situation.

Writers, of course, go through this process whenever they are rejected (and remember what one pro said, "Rejection of your work is never personal, unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.") When rejection comes for one of our pet projects, we can go through stages of grief. It’s natural. In times like that, remember David’s words in Psalm 6:

I am worn out from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
But then he turns to remembrance, and declares God’s answer as a "done deal":
The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
Yes, David still faced many an enemy, many a trial. But he always turned his mind back God’s protection, rescue and nurture.

He could finally write Psalm 23. I particularly like verse 2, and particularly in the good ol’ King James Version:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

The term for "green pastures" in Hebrew means "tender grass," the kind of place that is for resting. "Still waters" are what sheep need for refreshing, as they will not drink from troubled waters.

These are the places God leads us, even in times of trouble, times of rejection, times of mourning.

So what do you do when another project returns to you, unaccepted? Well, you’re a writer. Why not write your own Psalm? Write the way David did. Let the emotions out on the page, and end with your declaration of trust in God. Let him lead you to the tender grass beside still waters.

Soon enough, you’ll be ready to get up and send out more work into the world.
James Scott Bell

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

AG: Fiction Matters

I was having a conversation with Jack Cavanaugh when he made a comment that reminded me of the power of fiction. In our chat, he mentioned Gene Roddenberry’s habit of dealing with earthly problems by placing them in an otherworldly setting. Of course, Jack had classic Star Trek in mind. The moment he made the comment, images from several episodes flashed in my brain. The first broadcast of an interracial kiss came when Captain Kirk planted one on the lovely Lt. Uhura. Of course, the writers attempted to avoid criticism by making the kiss the work of mind-controlling aliens. Apparently, Kirk didn’t want to kiss Uhura but couldn’t help himself. (Right, I was a kid when that episode aired and I wanted to kiss Uhura.)

Racial tension and bigotry were shown as foolish beliefs in an episode where one bilaterally, two-tone alien (black on the right side; white on the left) tries to track and kill the racially inferior bilaterally, two-tone alien (white on the right side; black on the left). Although the episode played as a drama, its obvious moral lesson was laughably clear and successfully showed bigotry for the foolish mindset it is.

All of this made me think of Rod Serling and Twilight Zone. He too, despite his statement that he had no social agenda, often crafted stories that dealt with society’s struggles with the significance of the individual (The Obsolete Man), the price of dictatorship (in a half dozen episodes), and dozens of other concerns.

Fiction has the ability to touch areas of the mind and heart often closed to other means of communications. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, documentaries, and the like provide us with much needed facts and insights, but they cannot do what a well-crafted story can: enable the reader or viewer to experience vicariously the event.

Fiction allows us to see through someone else’s eyes, to feel their joy and pain, to think their thoughts, views that might not normally percolate in our minds. Alex Hailey’s Roots may have done more good for race relations than all the speeches and marches combined. Through his words, he put faces on slaves and slave owners, moving the topic from the shelves of history to the coffee tables of our homes and deep into our thinking.

This is not to say that fiction is superior to nonfiction. It’s not. Then again, it’s not the redheaded stepchild as some wish to portray it.

Sometimes a story is just a story, a jaunt into a world with only the intent of being entertained. There is honor in that as well. Other times, fiction is an alarm, a slap to the face, or an apologetic for a meaningful cause.

Jesus used parables for a reason: More can be said in a story than can be in a lecture.

Al Gansky writes from California. Check out more of his work at

Monday, June 04, 2007

JK: Rue

Today I spent some time writing an email to a new writer asking for an endorsement for a first novel. I shouldn’t agree to do this. It takes time. I’m always on my own deadline. But I did. And I had to write to say I couldn’t endorse the book. The writer has good talent in my opinion. A great grasp of description, a worthy premise for the novel. But I found myself skipping the descriptions to find out what happened to the characters. It was an eye opener for me because I find myself having to cut ruthlessly the very things I saw in this book. If I didn’t cut it, my editors would. Nothing that doesn’t support the three questions of the story can be there and that’s painful at times.

It did remind me that I was fortunate to have fine editors who in the very beginning wrote things in the margin of my manuscript like “Let’s hurry along here” when my characters mused a bit too much or when I got lost in the valley of beautiful words. Another editor wrote “RUE” which comes from the Browne and King book Self-editing for Fiction Writers. It means “resist the urge to explain.” Ah yes. So that’s also a part of this revision process, and having the chance to read someone else’s work that I thought might benefit from RUE gave me pause. I’ve been fortunate. My editors, I think, have been good ones. They actually edit. I’m grateful, even if it does mean that the letters for “delete” have been worn off my keyboard.

Jane Kirkpatrick Join her there or on her website or at

Friday, June 01, 2007

BJH: A Community of Writers

Every author knows that writing is by its very nature a solitary experience. We sit alone in front of a computer for hours at a time, day after day, week after week, month after month. In order to produce finished manuscripts and tend to all the other writing and business-related tasks, we accept the fact that this is the way it has to be.

Accepting the reality of our solitary existence, though, doesn’t mean that we don’t at times need something more. Human nature, even that of the most introverted, peace-and-quiet loving writer, sometimes craves community.

Some of us need a connection with those who can understand and appreciate the unique and often quirky needs inherent to the writing life. Others may crave just the opposite: an ongoing association with non-writers.

Unfortunately, it’s that fundamental need for solitude and quiet, combined with the other disciplines and demands that make up a writer’s day, that can lead to a lack of community, a lack that in enough time can become detrimental to our emotional well-being—and, oddly enough, to the writing itself. If we’re not careful, we can spend so much time alone, writing about the lives of our fictional people, that we fail to communicate or develop relationships with real people. And when that happens, the vitality of the life we try to reflect on the pages of our books may dim and weaken.

Whether we’re most comfortable in the company of other writers or seek out companionship with those in non-related areas, we need the experience of sharing and giving (and receiving) within a community. There are more opportunities available to us than we might think, but we first have to consider our personal needs and preferences. Some thrive in critique groups, and not always for the purpose of mentoring or sharing ideas and suggestions, but for the friendships that can develop in a smaller group. Others might prefer one of the larger writers’ organizations. Some of these extend nationwide with hundreds of members, but many also have regional chapters that provide for smaller groups and more frequent contact. Book clubs can also offer community to writers and readers alike. More and more churches are incorporating book clubs into their planned activities, as are public libraries.

It’s easy to take a shortsighted view of this and not look beyond the obvious. If we’re in search of a writers' community, the inclination may be to look only nearby—within our own city and neighborhoods, in a local critique group or university. But the opportunities for community and networking don’t necessarily need to be local. The internet provides numerous outlets for writing-related communities in the form of organizations, critique groups, message boards, book clubs, publisher-sponsored chat groups, and other professional associations. Often some of these online affiliations lead to spin-off groups that become communities within communities.

Instead of professional associations, for some the choice for community is family, friendship, or church-related ties, including civic organizations and charitable endeavors, or just loosely scheduled get-togethers and even occasional weekend getaways with loved ones.

My observation is that writers tend to favor professional associations over civic ties, but that perception extends only to those writers with whom I’m familiar--and many of those are active in both their local communities and in writers' groups nationwide. It would be futile for any one of us to endorse a particular area of community for someone else, because what might be fulfilling for me won’t necessarily work for you. For example, some writers are greatly enthusiastic about their critique groups, and for various reasons. Although these groups tend to draw new and aspiring writers who are looking for constructive advice and even criticism on their way to becoming published, you’ll also find some seasoned veterans there who enjoy mentoring and simply want the companionship of other writers. Others—and I’m among this group—have learned that talking about their work drains them of a certain measure of energy and can have a negative effect on their writing. Again—what’s best for one isn’t always best for another.

Another example: book clubs of a certain type are difficult for some authors, because writers tend to do a great deal of research reading, and so when we do have time for recreational reading, we like to make our own choices and read at our own pace. Reading the “assigned” book and spending an entire meeting discussing it isn't the way all of us want to spend our “free” reading time. But again—it’s all about what appeals to the individual. That’s the point: for those seeking community, there is something for each of us, and sooner or later most of us recognize the need to be a part of the community where we best fit.

Writers, like those involved in other professions, aren’t meant to be altogether solitary, to be alone all the time. Find your place—and fill it.

BJ Hoff writes from her mostly quiet office in the company of her mild-mannered golden retriever and a not-so-quiet, slightly deranged cat.