Wednesday, May 31, 2006

So You Think that Idea is Unique?

It began with a conversation over dinner.

Over sixty Christian novelists had come to Atlanta for the Christian Booksellers Convention, and about ten of us went out to a restaurant to talk--well, what we almost always talk about: books. And writing.

It wasn't long before the conversation turned to ideas, and we chuckled as we talked about how beginning writers want to guard their idea at all costs. Experience had taught us that ideas are in the air, you really can't guard a concept. New writers often worry about someone stealing their idea, but trust me, no one wants to take it--most writers want to write up their own ideas. With few exceptions, what matters isn't the idea, but how a writer brings that idea to life.

So we proposed an experiment--we'd give our internet group the opportunity to take four common elements and write a short story. We'd publish the book and give all the profits to a worthy charity. And in the process, we'd have a lot of fun.

That dream became a reality last February when the novelists of ChiLibris released What the Wind Picked Up and designated that all royalties will support the work of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.

Our stories had to begin with this unspectacular first line: The wind was picking up. Each short story had to include 1) a case of mistaken identity, 2) a pursuit at a noted landmark, and 3) an unusual form of transportation. Finally, each story had to end with So that’s exactly what she did. We'd heard that Hitchcock used those three elements to create North by Northwest, so we figured a few stories had to be lurking in there . . .

In addition to the twenty-one entertaining and incredibly different short stories by authors such as James Scott Bell, Karen Ball, Robert Whitlow, and Jefferson Scott, the book includes a section of advice on writing from many other novelists. The entire book was a volunteer effort, including the cover design, donated by Kirk DouPonce from Dog-Eared Design.

The twenty-one tales range from romantic to hilarious, but the writing advice section will be especially valuable for anyone who might like to write for publication.

So, if you're looking for an entertaining read and a worthwhile project, order a copy of What the Wind Picked Up. And you might be amazed at how many ways authors can spin a tale.

What the Wind Picked Up

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

AG: Blogs and the Bypass Generation

Did you hear that?

There it is again?

Whoa, there goes another.

I recognize the sound. It is the noise made when a new blog is created. Blogging has caught on with amazing alacrity. The numbers boggle the mind (bloggle the mind?). According to Dave Sifry, founder of Technorati, there are over 35 million blogs in the blogosphere and that number grows by 75,000 every day, roughly one new blog per second. He also notes that 3.9 million bloggers update their sites at least weekly. The number of blogs have been doubling every six months and the blogosphere is over 60 times larger than three years ago. There are 50,000 new posts on blogs every hour.

That’s a lot of blogs. That’s a lot of words. People who would not write a letter, send a postcard, or compose an article are quick to toss their words on the tide of the Internet and see if anyone will fish them out.

A random sampling of blogs can make the creative writer shudder. Much, if not most, are postings of miscellanea, personal reflections on the vagaries of life, and navel gazing. Let’s face it, most blogs are a waste of electrons.

The downside of blogging is this: Everyone has an opinion and many assume the world wants to hear it. That goes for this blog. Something on the topic of books, writing, imagination, or creativity strikes me and I pen my thoughts for others to read, and I do so bathed in the hubristic belief that there are folk out there waiting for it.

So, are blogs bad things? Not at all. On the positive side, information that would have had to wait for placement in an article or a book can be disseminated in minutes. I have a list of blogs I visit on a regular basis. They range from bioethics, FastCompany, author blogs to news outlets. Some are serious and chockablock with more information than I can absorb. Other’s are light as Cool Whip, not very nourishing but a pleasure nonetheless.

Blogging is evolving faster than most know. In the few short years it has been around it has spawned podcasting which is a form of audio blogging and now the “Vlog”—video blogging. Sites like the (warning, the site is not everyone’s cup o’ tea and I list it for illustrative purposes only) have had sudden and unexpected success. Despite (or perhaps because of) it’s cheesy, silly approach, it has become a big hit.

Digital Life ( is operated by a crew formally associated with TechTV. TechTV, had a short but productive life until Paul Allen (cofounder of Microsoft) sold it to G4, a Canadian company. The sale doomed TechTV in the U.S. What's an employee to do? Some started their own television station on the Internet, something that would have been impossible a few years ago.

Now here’s the thing, blogging, podcasting, video blogging have created a bypass generation—people who get done what they want without publisher, studio execs, or other large corporations. Relying on viral marketing, word of mouth, and the Internet’s ability to reach any home for next to nothing, these upstarts thumb their noses at the traditional and let their creativity flow. Some of it is really good.

When the Internet still wore diapers its proponents touted it as the way information would be retrieved in the future. Well, the future arrived early and the Internet proved to be far more that a conduit of facts, it has become the place to disseminate ideas, stories, books, homegrown television shows, movies, commentary, and much more.

The question is what will we do with it? How will it change the publication business? It used to be that writers penned articles, short stories, or books. Now they write for web pages and blogs. Is a new breed of writer coming?

Did you hear that?

It’s another new blog, and this one has real potential.

Alton Gansky lives and writes and blogs in California.

Monday, May 29, 2006

HA: The Good Comeback

Everything has now fallen into place. I know why I write!

Have you ever had the experience of a friend, relative, stranger or enemy asking you a question you didn't know how to answer, or making a wisecrack for which you didn't have a good comeback until three days later?

That happened to Mel and me at a booksigning a couple of days ago. This woman came to our table holding a copy of our book, and asked, "Why do you call it inspirational fiction?"

I should have allowed one of our publisher's staff members to answer the question, since I actually wasn't the one who came up with that description, and that staff member would probably have had a much more effective answer. I said, "Well, uh, we', you know, Christians? And we, uh, you know, write from our own Christian world view? We feel God offers hope to the world, you know? So that's kind of...well...inspiring." Honestly, I don't always reply that poorly, but the sneer on her face caught me off guard.

She made a big show of placing the book on the table as if it were a piece, you know. "There are a lot of other things besides God that can inspire."

Then she promptly went to the other table with other writers of inspirational fiction and did the same thing to them. We compared notes later.

So that's why I write. Because when I'm writing a story, I get to shoot my zingers at people like that. I get to explore all the options of different replies. For instance, what if I'd have said, "Why don't you share your ideas with me? And then I'll tell you why I think God inspires me." Or I could have said, "So what's your problem?" Or I could have said a dozen other things.

In real life, I'm convinced that just about everyone on the planet is more intelligent than I am, and I don't have the words with which to share my heart. On paper, in my imagination, my characters are smarter than I am. They can say and do things I'd never dream of saying or doing. It's how I tell others about my God, about His goodness, mercy, love for them. Writing is the voice I don't have.

Cheryl Hodde writes with her husband, Mel, as Hannah Alexander. Check out their books at

Friday, May 26, 2006

BJH: Tell Me a Story

The Columbus Dispatch recently ran an article about the importance of storytelling. One early childhood expert speculated that included among the many reasons for telling stories to children is the fact that storytelling is still the best way to convey what it means to be human. "We understand the world through the stories we tell and the stories we hear." (Karen Crockett, Ohio State University)

And yet storytelling is increasingly becoming an endangered art. Consider the competition, for example, at bedtime: sports and extra-curricular school activities; video games; cable television; homework. Busy family schedules often make it a challenge to create a slot for the bedtime story, and it’s especially difficult for the single parent who bears the entire responsbility of raising the children, managing a career, and maintaining the home to set aside a quiet time for storytelling or reading every night.

But video games eventually become old stuff. Television offers less and less of anything of real value. And while sports events are great for physical well-being and learning teamwork, nothing else can engage a child’s imagination or nurture his dreams or enlarge his understanding of the world in which he lives and the culture of which he’s a part like the story. And in addition to the obvious contribution to literacy, the fostering of a love for reading, and the opportunity for asking questions and making observations, "story time" also helps to make "bedtime" something to enjoy, a time to anticipate, rather than a late day tug-of-war session. Especially when storytelling becomes a creative, interactive experience, it can go a long way in problem solving and stress elimination.

In America, the storyteller has never been held in as high regard as in other countries. I suspect that's because we're such a young nation and peopled with such diverse cultures. In some countries, those with the gift of telling stories are revered and, in some cases, even sponsored financially. For generations, the Irish Seanchai (the Storyteller) was greatly esteemed. Every door was open in welcome to him as he traveled around the country, taking the oral tradition of story and poem with him to share along the way. To not offer hospitality to a Seanchai would have been tantamount to shunning royalty. ( Ireland's case, far worse, since shunning "royalty" was an okay thing to do, so long as you could run fast enough to escape the repercussions.)

When our daughters were small, we read to them or told them a story almost every night until they reached the age where they wanted to take over for themselves. Then they read to us. They loved to embellish some of their favorite stories, adding characters, and planting surprise endings. Today, as adults, they still love stories and and now read them to their children.

There’s something about reading to a child and telling stories that tends to become a tradition, and when you see your children carrying on that tradition with their own families–that’s when you realize that among the mistakes you undoubtedly made as a parent, you also did a few things right.

Don't believe it when someone says that "nothing lasts a lifetime." A good story will endure.

The author of A Distant Music, An Emerald Ballad series, the American Anthem series and other historical fiction, BJ Hoff still loves reading stories...and telling them.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

DR: Time Management 101 For Writers

1. Lower your standards for household chores. There is no law or rule in this world that says you have to dust every week, mow the lawn twice a week or clean closets twice a year. I dust about once a month. I have not lost one friend over it, nobody has come to arrest me, no one has developed allergies from all the dust. In fact, I opened up the newspaper a while back to discover that scientists suspect one reason people have so many allergies today is because we live in environments that are TOO clean, thus we haven't been able to build up any immunities to dust mites, etc. (It's no coincidence that no one in my family is allergic to ANYTHING!)

2. Delegate. When I started writing, my family treated it as if I'd taken a full-time job outside the home. My husband started doing laundry (something he'd never, ever done before, except maybe when I was in the hospital having babies), my kids picked up the slack with the housework and yard work. No, they didn't always do it quite to the standards I would have preferred, but it got done, and they gained all kinds of good life-skills as a result. If you already work a full-time job besides writing, maybe you can cut back somewhere else and hire someone to mow your lawn, change your oil, clean your house, or send the ironing out occasionally.

3. Ban television from your life. For ten years while our kids were small, we didn't even own a TV, so it’s not much of a sacrifice for me to turn off the tube, but even today with two TVs in the house, the only time I watch is for 30 minutes each night while I ride my elliptical trainer, and occasionally on Friday or Saturday nights if my husband and I rent a movie. I simply do not have spare time to sit and watch TV. On the other hand, if you find inspiration in movies or sit-coms, or if watching TV is truly relaxing for you, then quit feeling guilty and count it as “work.”

4. Add a few good, nutritious fast foods and convenience foods to your weekly menu. Or teach the rest of your family how to cook. My kids all learned to be good cooks, thanks to my writing career. We also started ordering frozen entrees and convenience foods from Schwan’s, a frozen food delivery service. Yes, it's a little more expensive than home cooking, but we decided it’s worth it. If that's not an alternative for you, maybe you could spend one day every couple of weeks cooking a freezer full of entrees. Then all you have to do is thaw something out and pop it in the oven each night. The Crock-Pot is also a writer’s best friend.

5. Multi-task. If I do watch a movie or a newscast in the evening, I try to clip coupons or fold laundry, sew on a button, or clean out the junk drawer while I watch. If I go for a walk, I brainstorm the scene I'm working on. If I'm playing cards with my kids or Scrabble with my husband, I have a writing magazine beside me to skim while they shuffle. (I can usually get through three magazines while my husband tries to spell one word in Scrabble! Of course, he beats me every time, too, so…)

6. Practice the art of "just say no." When I started writing, I tried to stay active with all my volunteer work, social clubs, church activities, etc. I finally realized that I just could NOT do it all. In the past three years, I've turned over the church newsletter to someone else (I still teach Sunday School with my husband), gave up freelance proofreading for our weekly newspaper, dropped out of one of my women’s Bible studies, and retired after my second four-year term on our city's recreation commission. I also learned to become unavailable to people who don’t get that just because I work at home doesn’t mean I don’t really work. I use Caller ID to screen my calls, I don’t feel obligated to answer the door just because the doorbell rings, and I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to go to work,” even though “work” is just down the hall.

Writing takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and commitment. If you’re serious about writing as a career, you will probably have to give up some other things you enjoy. But oh, to be able to say, “I am a writer” makes it all worthwhile.

Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (newly revised and expanded, from Steeple Hill, June 2006) and Remember to Forget (coming from Howard Publishing/Simon & Schuster).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

BC: Debriefing From A Blog Tour—Part II

Yesterday we talked about the history of the Christian Fiction Syndicate—a blog tour for Christian novels. Today—my own experience on a blog tour (shortened to blour, because it just sounds so right).

Sometime last February, T.L. (Tony) Hines put out the word to his Syndicate folks that Web of Lies was their featured book for April. I was willing to send out free copies to whoever wanted to do reviews (this is optional for the author). I received about 15 requests for books, and into the mail they went. Then numerous bloggers wanted to interview me. So I said okay.

Man, was that a lot of work.

It takes time to type answers and make an interesting interview. It takes energy to do this for one interview after another. Fortunately for readers the bloggers were creative in their questions, and very few overlapped. This led to unique interviews on each site. However, it meant all the more work for me. But I wanted to make each site interesting for any reader who hopped from one to another.

Once those interviews were done, I could finally relax. For the three blour days, on my own blog I simply listed all the various blog URLs that were featuring me for that day, and gave teasers as to what the interviews contained. (e.g.--One of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. And it was pretty dumb.) Then I hopped around on the various blogs to read comments and make sure to leave responses.

During the blour, Web of Lies moved to #6 on Technorati’s most talked about books list. That was pretty amazing. It was only a couple books behind The Da Vinci Code. Sales numbers on also dropped significantly for those three days.

All in all, a good experience, and worth the time. I met new bloggers, they were introduced to my work, and their blog readers were introduced to me as well. I also think I picked up new readers for my own blog along the way.

If you’re a blogger, I certainly recommend signing up to be a part of the Christian Fiction Syndicate. You’ll learn about new books and have an interesting extra topic to cover each month. For authors, I recommend going on a blour, with a caveat—don’t schedule it close to a deadline. It really does take time if you grant interviews. Fortunately, I’d recently turned in a book and had adequate time for all those questions.

Any bloggers out there who want to be a part of the Christian Fiction Syndicate? Go to this page on T.L. Hines’ Web site. Enter your email address, and you'll be put on a mailing list that tells you which upcoming books are going to be featured. If you’re an author and want to be featured—go bug Tony. And tell him I sent you.

~ Brandilyn Collins, Seatbelt Suspense™

Monday, May 22, 2006

BC: Debriefing from a Blog Tour—Part I

Recently I and my latest novel, Web of Lies, zipped around the country—and world, actually—on a blog tour. (At my own blog, Forensics and Faith, known for its word-coining among other strange things, “blog tour” ended up shortening to “blour.”) These virtual road shows are the latest thing in online book marketing—and they have real merit. Herewith, I impart to you what I learned on my blour du jour.

First, some history. The Christian Fiction Syndicate (blour idea) is the brainchild of T.L. Hines (author of Waking Lazarus, releasing this summer from Bethany). Currently about 60 people have signed up to be a part of this group. (About half participate each month on a regular basis.) A year ago, Tony saw the idea of a literary "blog tour" being hatched, with a couple of places even running the tours for money, then matching authors and their books with appropriate blogs. Tony liked the idea, but wanted to create something a bit different.

First, it wouldn’t involve money. Second, whereas typical blog tours feature the author guest-blogging at individual blogs over a long span of days, Tony wanted to feature an author on several blogs all at the same time—over a tight, three-day span. During these simultaneous blog appearances, the posts would include an agreed-upon link for the book. Why? All of these extra links posting at once would help push the book onto the "most talked about" lists in blog search services such as Technorati and BlogPulse—lists that many bloggers visit every day. Such a blog blitz could also boost search engine rankings (such as Google) for the author and book in various categories.

In addition to creating this online buzz, Tony sought to create a connection between writers and readers. Bloggers get to interact with authors and have interesting topics for their blogs, writers get to promote their own work, and blog readers get to discover new writers. Everybody wins.
The Christian Fiction Syndicate holds a blour once a month. During this three-day span, some of the bloggers review the selected book. Some run interviews with the author. Others simply mention the book and show the cover. Whatever they do, the important thing is to include the assigned link for the book that Tony sends them.

This link goes to, but it’s not the typical long URL you’d find if, say, you visited the Web of Lies page at Amazon. The link that Technorati and other blog search engines like best for a book is: This link is always accepted by Amazon and auto-refreshes to the book’s product page. (The “asin” part of the code string refers to books.)

So, what happened on my blour du jour? And how far up the Technorati list did Web of Lies go?

Part II tomorrow.

~ Brandilyn Collins, Seatbelt Suspense™

Friday, May 19, 2006

JC: Literary Anarchy

WARNING: The views expressed in this blog are graphic in their portrayal of lawless composition. Reader discretion is advised.

I broke a rule today. I admit it. In fact, I’m proud of it. Given the same circumstances, I’d do it again.

I violated a point of view rule. Switched points of view in the middle of scene. Without a section break.

Does that make me a bad person?

It gets worse. When my editor attempted to correct it, I persuaded her to let it stand. I seduced her to the dark side. Not only am I a transgressor, but I’m tempting innocent editors to transgress with me in this vicious downward cycle of depravity.

Am I wicked?

That’s the danger of rule breaking, isn’t it? You get a taste for it. Violate a point of view today, and tomorrow…what? Deliberately misspelling words? Intentionally crafting run-on sentences?

Oh my, where will it end? We’re talking literary anarchy!

Blame John Milton. He resisted efforts to create order out of spelling chaos. Had he a dictionary, he would have burned it in protest. Milton opposed standardized spelling. He argued for the freedom to vary the spelling of a word for creative emphasis and impact.

Think of the chaos! If we didn’t have standardized spelling, what would happen to the National Spelling Bee?

Blame Dean Koontz. In an early book on writing bestselling fiction (now out of print; the publisher sites declining sales, but I suspect a rogue consortium of editors got to them), Koontz advocated writing sentences that were a page and a half long. He cited a time conundrum, when it takes longer to describe an action than it takes to enact it.

The accepted way to quicken narrative pace is to shorten sentences—a time-honored technique approved by editors. But sometimes short sentences make the narrative choppy. Koontz advocated using commas, semi-colons, and colons to create one long breathless sentence.

It works.

But the technique comes with a price. Publishing houses have reported that incidents of editor apoplexy are on the rise. They point to page and half sentences as a contributing cause.

Another example of literary anarchy is e. e. cummings who slaughtered capitalization rules with abandon. He got away with it because everyone thinks poets are cute and no one takes them seriously.

Breaking literary rules is a serious matter. Don’t try it at home. Leave it to the professionals.
If you break a rule and it works, everyone copies you. If there’s a ground swell of public rule breaking, they’ll change the rule. The split infinitive is the poster-boy for recent changes. Once the favorite target of editors and English teachers, now it’s acceptable to occasionally split those pesky infinitives.

If you break narrative rules and it works, English Lit teachers will read your prose aloud to their classes as a brave example of stylized writing. You’re a genius.

But what if you break the rules and it doesn’t work? Simple. You’re a hack.

Call me a rebel, a throwback to the lawless sixties and tie-dyed shirts and psychedelic posters and protest songs, but a little literary anarchy now and again is a good thing. Sometimes authority must be challenged. Sometimes Strunk and White and Webster’s are wrong. (Gasp!)

Sometimes a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

ADVISORY: No rules were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Jack Cavanaugh is the co-author of Storm.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

LS: A Fit of Rage

Michelangelo wasn’t even 25-years-old when he finished one of the most masterful sculptures ever created, The Pieta. I’m always thrown into a state of numb humility, shocked into amazement of how much genius can be placed into a single human being, when I view Michelangelo’s sculptures. The musculature, the notion that if you reached out and touched the ribcage, the flesh would slide slightly over the hardness of bone. And the folds of the fabric? It’s almost easier to imagine him bending the stone itself than actually releasing those folds from its prison of granite chip by chip.

This piece of artwork began as a block of stone. And inside Mary and Christ? It is not somewhat cavernous, and filled with organs, it is merely rock, solid, plain, just like the parts that were removed by the artist’s chisel.

Only days after The Pieta was installed in Saint Peter’s Basilica, a conversation took place between two pilgrims, overheard by Michelangelo himself. It went something like this.

“Nice statue!”

“You said, Bob. Look at that skin! I swear you could just reach out and touch it, couldn’t you?”

So they did. And it really was just stone.

Debby said, “Christoforo Solari sculpted it. It’s his best work yet, I’ll bet.”

“Solari, you said? I’ll have to tell my family. We all are big fans of Solari.”

And off they went to pray, or prostrate themselves, or whatever it was that pilgrims did in those days in St. Peter’s.

Behind a pillar, Michelangelo fumed. “Cristoforo Solari? Cristoforo Solari? Cristoforo Solari couldn’t begin to sculpt that piece. Yes, he does muscles well, but there’s not life to the skin. His folds are all loose, they flow yes, but they do not bend and lie in tension with the form they are draping. No! He shall not get the glory for my work.”

That night Michelangelo grabbed his hammer and chisel and stormed back into the church, rage carving his features into a harsh mask. He pounded an inscription on the sash that divided Mary’s breasts.


Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.

“This was my work. Not Cristofor Solari’s. How dare anybody think otherwise? Well, let it not be mistaken again! Very well, then, let it not.”

But the sun rose the next morning. The anger subsided and Michelangelo walked into the church. There across the mother of Christ lay his name. She, her son, the work of art over which he had labored was now his alone. Not God’s. Not the world’s. And in that moment, perhaps something living inside the sculpture died under the weight of his own name.

We can’t know what he thought, but we do know that Michelangelo never signed another work, regretting the outburst of pride.

Who am I writing for? God? Others? Or myself? And if a master like Michelangelo, an artist that no one has ever eclipsed, could meet his work with such humility, surely I must meet mine with a great deal more.

lisa samson blogs at and lives in Kentucky.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

JSB: The Three Rules for Writing A Novel – Part III

John D. MacDonald's third desire in a novel was "a bit of magic in [the] prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing."

This is the matter of style, and it is the "rule" for a novel that is least amenable to being taught. Some writers have a pleasing style that seems effortless. It may well be (I think Stephen King is like this), while others have to work harder at it.

The key word in MacDonald's quote is unobtrusive. If the prose stands out too much, shouting "Look at me! I'm wonderful writing!" then the suspension of disbelief takes a hit.

A lot of the examples I like come from the hardboiled tradition. Such as Robert B. Parker's Pale Kings and Princes:

The sun that brief December day shone weakly through the west-facing window of Garrett Kingsley's office. It made a thin yellow oblong splash on his Persian carpet and died.

Or John D. MacDonald's Darker Than Amber:

She sat up slowly, looked in turn at each of us, and her dark eyes were like twin entrances to two deep caves. Nothing lived in those caves. Maybe something had, once upon a time. There were piles of bones back in there, some scribbling on the walls, and some gray ash where the fires had been.

Fiction of a more literary stripe is usually built on a foundation of unobtrusive poetry. In John Fante's Ask the Dust, the would be writer Arturo Bandini has severe writer's block, typing only two words in two days: palm tree. Because a palm tree is outside his window:

[A] battle to the death between the palm tree and me, and the palm tree won: see it out there swaying in the blue air, creaking sweetly in the blue air. The palm tree won after two fighting days, and I crawled out of the window and sat at the foot of the tree. Time passed, a moment or two, and I slept, little brown ants carousing on my legs.

The repeated phrase blue air is ironical and mocking, like everything Bandini comes across in his quest for success. And the word carousing completes the passage – this celebration of ants mocking a young writer's pain.

I'm sure you have your own favorites. The question is, how do you get this sort of thing in your own writing?

One tip is this: give yourself time to write a lot, quickly, without editing. Say you want to describe a hat in one sentence or two. Describe this hat in 200 or 300 words. Let the images a fly. Only then go back and find the good parts and edit them down.

In fact, the right brain/left brain dynamic is crucial here. Find ways to write without the inner editor, for long periods of time. Write hot, then revise cool.

And read some poetry. Ray Bradbury reads poetry every day. The lilt of the language will help you tap into different parts of your writer's brain.

So there you have it. Three "rules" for writing a novel. Perhaps it would be better to describe these as ideals. Strive for them. Work to be better than you are. Make your reach exceed your grasp. You may never write the greatest novel of all time (Mr. Dostoesvky has probably taken care of that little item). But your work will kick up to a higher plane than you've known before, and that's a nice feeling for a writer.

James Scott Bell is the author, most recently, of Presumed Guilty (Zondervan) and Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure (Writers Digest Books). Among his many awards are the esteemed Charis "It was a Dark and Stormy Night" Snoopy Award. "The Suspense Never Rests."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

JSB: The Three Rules for Writing A Novel – Part II

John D. MacDonald also said, "I want the writer to make me suspend my disbelief . . . .I want to be in some other place and scene of the writer's devising."

This gives us the second "rule" for writing a novel—we must weave the "fictive dream." We have to create the impression of something really happening in a real world, even if that world is in the future.

Readers WANT to suspend their disbelief. They start out on your side. They hope your words will lift them out of their lives and into another realm.

So how do you do this? First, by being accurate. If you're writing about 1905 Los Angeles, do not include the Dodgers. Or if you're writing about lawyers, don't have one asking his own witness leading questions without the other side objecting. And so on. You have to know your world before you write about.

One way to get it right is through experts. People love to talk about what they do, if you approach them correctly.

The other day I needed some detail about the Los Angeles Police Department. I have nurtured a contact at the Police Academy, and called him up. He invited me to the Academy and even bought me lunch. He was glad to answer all my questions.

A few days later, I was downtown and dropped in on Parker Center, the headquarters of the LAPD. I did so because I wanted to absorb the actual physical details, which will be in my book, and also to ask some questions. At the desk I asked the uniformed officer if I could speak to media relations. He got someone on the phone and I asked my questions, got some answers. Then I asked the desk officer if I could ask a couple of questions of him.

He frowned. I gave him one of my cards (with a book cover on it. See, writer!) and explained that I was writing a novel that would have a scene here and I wanted to get the details right so that 'if the book ever gets into your hands you won't think a complete doofus wrote it."

He smiled then and went on to give me all the information I needed and some police forms I could keep. He was happy to talk to someone who wasn't complaining for a change.
When you get details like this, even if the reader doesn't know they're authentic, it will add an air of verisimilitude to your novel.

Want to know how a master does it? Read Michael Connelly. He usually writes about LAPD detective Harry Bosch, and as a former Times reporter knows how to get the details right. It gives his books complete believability and heft. The world he paints seems real.

Another way to weave the fictive dream is to use concrete detail over plain vanilla description.
"He jumped into his car and drove away."

Wait. What kind of car was it?

"She was beautiful."

Was she? I don't believe it. Describe her so I'll know it. Show me how other characters react to her.

Some writers, like a James Michener, do a ton of research up front. Others, like Stephen King, wait until the first draft is done and then see what needs to be fleshed out.

I like a method in between. Enough research to write knowingly, then when I come to a place in my WIP that needs detail or depth, I'll leave a comment in my document and then pick a time to research it out more. I do this so I don't end up writing a long scene that is completely off

Whatever methods you use, keep working to build that other world, the one that readers will love getting absorbed by. You will have Rule #2 working its magic

James Scott Bell is the author, most recently, of Presumed Guilty (Zondervan) and Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure (Writers Digest Books).
"The Suspense Never Rests."

Monday, May 15, 2006

JSB: The Three Rules for Writing A Novel – Part I

It was Somerset Maugham who famously stated, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." This is oft quoted in writing classes to give the huddled masses comfort as they approach the mysterious alchemy that is fiction writing.

Well, one rule for the writer of novels might be to unleash a sort of aggressive optimism. In that spirit, I take on ol' Somerset and offer three rules. These are subjective, of course, and may be broken at one's will (though perhaps at one's peril). And I'm cheating just a bit because Mr. Maugham (author of one of my favorite novels, The Razor's Edge) no doubt had in mind the METHOD of producing a successful book. There are without doubt many roads to the same location.

What I will suggest here are the three essentials a novel must have to work. For me at least.
I am taking my three rules from the credo of one of may favorite writers, John D. MacDonald. JDM wrote a series of amazingly good (and diverse) paperbacks in the 50's, then created one of the all time great series characters, Travis McGee. His output was prodigious, but his essentials remained the same.

Here is number one.

"First, there has to be a strong sense of story. I want to be intrigued by wondering what is going to happen next. I want the people that I read about to be in difficulties--emotional, moral, spiritual, whatever, and I want to live with them while they're finding their way out of these difficulties."

Notice what JDM meant by story. The reader has to wonder what is going to happen next. To PEOPLE. That creates the page turning effect, and it applies not just to commercial fiction, but literary as well. All the wondrous prose in the world, without character bonding, will only engage me for two or three pages. Then I start to wonder if the effort is going to be worth it.

Characters we connect with somehow, in terrible trouble. And the stuff that happens to them. This is the essence of the first rule. Leave out the people-trouble-factor, and you lose readers.
Case in point. The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman (the subject of a film all writers should see, The Stone Reader. Rent it but DON'T READ ANYTHING ABOUT IT. IT'S BEST IF YOU WATCH IT NOT KNOWING A THING!) This colossal novel from the early 70's was praised in the New York Times as being on a level with Pynchon and Barth. It did not sell well and was long out of print, until the film came out and Barnes & Noble reissued it.

I read most of it, and it is an amazing thing. Each page of this tome could be read alone, as if it were a prose poem. The language is amazing, incredible, mind bending.

But the story? I wasn't yearning to find out what happened next. Because I wasn't bonded to the characters, didn't buy into their difficulties, either on the inside or the outside. In short, these weren't people I wanted to live with through the story.

In my book on writing and my writing classes, I constantly emphasize Hitchcock's Axiom: "A great story is life, with the dull parts taken out."

No trouble for intriguing people = dull.

So we might sum up the first rule this way: Create characters readers will be drawn to and put them in desperate trouble. Then you'll have readers almost breathless to find out what happens

Note this does not mean the characters must be of the traditional hero type. It is enough that we find some connection. Michael Corleone is not a hero. He's a monster. But he's a very good monster. Power is attractive.

Hannibal Lecter? Not someone we'd like to have dinner with. Or around. But he can manipulate people through his intellect and charm. He is the most interesting character in The Silence of the Lambs.

Do not give us a mere slice of life. Slice someone's life instead. If you write suspense, the knife might be real. If literary, it could be the cutting words of nemesis. Just don't give us a dull blade.
That is the first rule.

James Scott Bell is the author, most recently, of Presumed Guilty (Zondervan) and Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure (Writers Digest Books).
"The Suspense Never Rests."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

AG: Delaware Days

I'm just back from Delaware where I spent the better part of the week talking to budding writers and as usual, I enjoyed every moment of it. (Well, everything except the air travel. Out of the five legs of the trip three were delayed, a connecting flight missed, and my blood pressure tested. I have a new tagline for the carrier: “We’ll get you to your destination…someday.”)

The Delaware Christian Writer’s Conference went well, expertly handled by John Riddle. The seminar is one of the newest and brightest stars in the thickly populated writer’s-conference constellation and I’m hoping for a return invite. The people who put on such conferences don’t receive enough credit. The amount of work and risk is great and most of it happens behind the scenes.

The thing about an author teaching at such a conference is the irony. On the one hand, folk like me love to hang with writers. Writers understand each other. They see the odd character traits and overlook them, mostly because they have the same quirks. Yet on the other hand, the writer-teacher is raising up his/her own competition. Usually, I’m teaching in the fiction track and I stand before people who are going to pitch ideas, prepare proposals, pen novels that will compete with mine and may even cost me a contract.

I don’t care.

From a business point of view, training your competition makes little sense, but writing for the Kingdom is different. It’s not just business. Not in the long run. My “competition” is less rivalry than family, sharing the same beliefs and serving the same God. Why wouldn’t I lend a hand by lecturing, conferring and sharing?

Joy fills me when I see one of my students make it. I know the difficulty that must be overcome and the discipline it takes to sail against the odds. When I look in the faces of the conferees I see the Longing. The Longing is difficult to describe. It defies definition but every writer knows what it is, what it feels like. When I see the Longing in the students my own Longing comes back to life, filled again with a new vim and vinegar and ready to string words together again.

So the invitations to teach come and I go and when I fly home (or sit for hours in an airport waiting) I cash a check that isn’t counted in dollars, but in the renewal of a sometimes weary writer’s soul.

Alton Gansky lives and writes and flies out of California. Visit his web site at

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

JK: Western Landscapes

A nice thing happened to one of my books this month. A Land of Sheltered Promise (WaterBrook Press, 2005) earned a Finalist Spur Award for Best Novel of the West through Western Writers of America. This was a great surprise to me as this was the most overtly “Christian novel” I felt I’d written and I didn’t expect it to earn much notice in a western writing competition.

I don’t think I write westerns with shooting and bad guys and women often more as hitching posts than characters with depth. But this book was based on a ranch that had a fascinating history. In the early 1900s there’d been a murder there and a young wife had to face the prospect of her sheepherder husband receiving a life sentence for the murder he claimed to be an accident. While researching the trial etc. I discovered that he did get life but he also got…a pardon. Wow, that was a surprise!

In the second third of the book, forward 80 years, the ranch was purchased by an east Indian mystic whose people transformed the ranch into a city of red-clad Sannyasins who ultimately self-destructed after attempting to poison 750 people by contaminating salad bars in the town we live near. I placed a grandmother there attempting to get her granddaughter – if not her daughter – out of the influence of this commune and hoped to tell the story that God can use anything to bring glory to his name.

The third section was the story of what happened 12 years later, after all the communal people had left behind 300 buildings at this remote though dramatically beautiful site. A man from Montana bought the ranch and gave it to Young Life, the non-denominational Christian youth organization. The third story is about a young wife who doesn’t want to go to this remote ranch but does, to support her husband. She discovers her own new life as these workers hope to transform what had been a dark place into one of light.

I wanted to show the landscape as a metaphor for God’s faithfulness over time as well as portray for the three main female characters how we sometimes feel separated from God, feel as though we’ve been abandoned, or may feel so insignificant that we can’t approach God with our trials. Perhaps that is a western theme of sorts, how we are carved by the landscapes but also how God reveals himself through creation. Maybe it’s a good reminder to not get so caught up in the present that we forget how short a time we’re really here. And that through it all, God is with us.

Jane’s 12th novel with both Missouri and Northwest landscape, A Clearing in the Wild, was released on April 18th.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

PH: Change

They say that Tiger Woods had to endure three years of an interrupted winning streak to learn a new swing. I get that, the whole self-challenge test. But since this is my year of gut-wrenching authenticity, I think it would be authentic of me to admit that I embrace new challenges while at the same time hating the sacrifice required for change. I like the idea of change better than the commitment to change. Or the isolation of it. I embraced going back to school to close up, shall we say, some gaping wounds in my education. But, as a writer, I wanted a new swing. I was giddy. I imagined school as fun and carefree, like when I was nineteen. I compare the change it brought into my life to the first time I jumped on a bike and climbed the first series of hills in my neighborhood. I dropped to the walk, retching, my clueless glow erased. I wheezed like a geezer, wishing I had carried my cell phone so that I could beg my husband to drive down and scoop me off the walk. School was like that. The same clueless expectancy lured me into the first residency; I hefted too many books into class, nearly wrenching my back. I struggled with petty changes, like trying to remember names and faces when I’m still the one whining at church that we all ought to wear name tags. Scholar-speak and publishing-speak are not the same language. I wasn’t bi-lingual. When asked by cohort members why I came back to school (isn’t publishing the goal?), I muttered that I wanted to embrace something new in my writing. I sounded lame. After the first residency, my resolve was weakening. My days as a reluctant scholar seeped into the wintry months of dissatisfaction and late night revisions and rising early. It didn’t matter that I had written for thirteen years. This was a do-over in the middle of life. A long literary winter. The story I wanted to write had to be chipped out of change. Some days I laid my head on my desk, whispering grumpy prayers, begging God for strength to finish and finish well. Finally, the exit interviews are coming and commencement is a week away. I can’t explain the melancholy. I have a new swing, finally. I’m glad winter is over.

Whisper Town is Patricia Hickman’s most recent release. Earthly Vows will release August 2006. Her thesis and Random House WIP is entitled The Painted Dress Diaries and will release some time in 2007.

Monday, May 08, 2006

DR: Talk is cheap…or is it?

One of the most important aspects of any novel is the dialogue. When I’m reading a novel, my level of excitement goes up when I turn to a page that’s heavy with dialogue. I think that’s because dialogue alone can accomplish so many things in a story. It can:

*move the plot forward
*help us show, instead of tell
*create and sustain conflict
*demonstrate the relationships between characters
*deepen characterization in a variety of ways
*enhance the story's mood or tone
*inject humor, compassion, and a host of other emotions
*cause the reader to empathize with a character

The best way I've found to make sure my dialogue rings true is to read it aloud, complete with body language and hand motions. Usually, in first draft I pound out dialogue almost as fast as I can think. But if I find myself uncertain about a particular line of dialogue, I can discover if it rings true by reading it aloud as though I were an actor rehearsing the role of my character.

This initial read-aloud will also often give me hints as to beats, tags, facial expressions, and character description that could accompany the line. I actually keep a mirror handy on my desk so I can study the expression on my face as I read certain lines. In rewrite, I read every section of dialogue aloud, and do a considerable amount of tweaking once I've heard the words come to life. I'm convinced every writer needs to have a bit of stage actor inside, itching to get out.

As I do this read-aloud-act-it-out draft, these are some of the things I'm looking for:

*Does the line tell us something about the character's beliefs, moral character, background, etc.?

*Does the dialogue add to the conflict of the story, and move the plot along?

*Does the line ring true for the age of the character? (I read a beautifully written, bestselling novel not long ago, but I really had trouble believing the novel's nine-year-old character. She wrote long, lyrical poems, used words like patronizing and fortuitous, and generally thought like an adult. She yanked me out of the story each time she appeared.)

*Does the line reflect the character's level of education and/or intelligence? A college-educated businessman might use the word fortuitous, but it's less likely to come from a high-school dropout. Even less likely for a nine-year-old girl. Of course, occasionally it makes for an interesting character to purposely give him/her a trait that seems contrary to what you'd expect.

*Does the dialogue sound like real life? Is it what the character would say in this situation, this era, society, etc., were it real life?

Dialogue can't be written exactly as it is spoken in real life—or else our books would be filled with pages of um and er and uh. Still, the dialogue we write for our characters should be a good, cleaned-up representation of actual speech. Again, reading aloud will help you spot the places where your dialogue might be stilted or unrealistic.

*Does the dialogue give readers a sense of the setting? Almost any locale has certain catchphrases, colloquial slang, etc. that is unique to that area of the world. Judiciously sprinkling these in your character's dialogue enhances the setting of your novel. (This is one reason to write what you know—or plan to research your tail off!)

*Is the dialogue fresh and occasionally surprising? Sometimes, when I'm writing dialogue in first draft, I'll stop the flow and go back and think "now that's what everyone will expect her to say. What could she say that would be totally unexpected?" It's a good way to create a plot twist, or add to characterization.

In real life, I never think of a clever comeback until hours after the opportunity to use it has passed. I love that when I write, I get to spend months honing my characters’ quick retorts and witty repartee.

Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill, June 2006) and Remember to Forget (coming from Howard Books/Simon & Schuster).

Friday, May 05, 2006

LS: You Gotta Go Forward to Go Back

Willie Wonka was right when talking about his chocolate factory and the words stand true in regards to writing a book.

Of course, there's more than one way to write a book. Let me admit that up front. And for every 80 writers that commit words to paper the 'normal' way, there are twenty who've found their own course.

One thing all working writers will tell is that you must begin to actually write the book. You can research, outline, plot, plan, dream your life away and without actually pulling up a clean file, or laying down a clean page and writing that first word, you will never have produced a novel.

So we all agree. We have to begin. And because I'm the one writing this blog entry, I'm going to encourage you to do what I did this last time around, what so many writers do, what I've said is bunk for so many years, and heavens above (!) they were right!

Just get it down. John Steinbeck said, "Write as freely and rapidly as you can and throw the whole thing down on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with the flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material." Sure, you can already have an outline on hand. I outlined my last project and it worked beautifully, enabling me to more quickly first-draft the piece. Whether you're an outliner or a pants-seater doesn't matter. Write, write, write. Exhale those words onto the page, spray on scenes, blast them on with a fire hose if you have to!

Ray Bradbury, who probably, if I can judge by how prolific the man is, has some of the most rapidly written first drafts ever, alerts us to another advantage. "The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping."

Now I have no idea what deadfalling means, but tiger-trapping? I get that. Don't you, as a writer, feel like you are stalking a beast as you write your novel? It's somewhere in the brush nearby. At times you can glance a flank, or a giant paw. a golden eye, an ear. A fang. Mysterious, and ever just apart, the only thing you can do in the end is jump on that thing, laying a trap that catches it in one fell swoop. I mean really, who wants to actually wrestle a tiger?

But beware. Your first draft will stink.

In the Modern Library WRITER'S WORKSHOP, author Stephen Koch says, "I once heard Philip Roth tell a crowded roomful of writing students that, when it came to sheer stinking lousiness, he would match his first drafts against those of any writer in the place.

"My first drafts stink. But they speak to me, not always in nice little words. As Koch goes on to say, "Your own first draft will probably be ragged and inarticulate, blundering, dull, and full of gaping holes and blank spots--a mortifying mess. Use every mistake. The inarticulate parts point to where you must make the words say exactly what you mean. The ragged parts point to what you must polish. The gaping holes tell you what has to be filled. The dull parts tell you unfailingly what must be cut. The blank spots tell you exactly what you must go out and find. These are infallible guides, and though they talk tough, they are your friends."

Nobody on this blog writes with pens filled with gold ink. We all struggle to trap our tigers, to breathe life onto the page. It's no shame to us or to you if the first offerings of our work aren't ready for the printing press. But we've created a blue print, a map that will point us toward our goal, a publishable novel. If your first drafts aren't what they should be, take heart and join hands with the likes of Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Bradbury, Roth and well, me if you want. If were you, though, I'd rather hold the hands of those other guys. In fact, read one of their works and know that at first round, it was probably pretty bad. Writing a novel isn't easy for anybody.

So give yourself a break, let it all hang out, be stinky. In the end, it's better to have something to go on, than nothing at all.

lisa samson lives in Lexington KY with her husband and three children. You can find her at . Her next book, Apples of Gold: a Purity Parable, releases in August.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

HA: Rejection

I hate rejection in any form, even when I have to be the one who does the rejecting. I'm one of those writers who can truthfully brag that I have enough rejection slips and letters to paper the walls of my whole office, and it's a big office!

I remember one day receiving five complete manuscripts in the mail from a particular house that was planning to publish my work. My dreams crashed, and so did one pane of a French door in my house when I flung the manuscripts away from me as if they were a bundle of snakes. I was devastated. I felt personally rejected by God, though not by the publishing company--they were discontinuing the line for which I was writing.

In spite of that old children's verse about "sticks and stones," words do hurt. Personal rejection can be more devastating than a flu virus or a broken bone. In fact, the shock of rejection can weaken the body's natural immunity and allow a virus to invade our system.

How tempting it is to sink into a black despair of self-pity, afraid to try again, afraid to face the world. Mingled emotions of anger, confusion and despair can convince us that rejection will be our lot in life.

Psalm 147:3 tells us that "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." This is a promise from God if we give Him our pain. His word can speak to us when nothing else can, and give us strength to try again.

Deuteronomy 31:6 says "...the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." Though every publisher in the country rejects me, God has called me to write for a reason. Take note of that statement. He called me to WRITE, not necessarily to PUBLISH. I need to take comfort in the knowledge that I'm doing God's will.

Rejection can make me feel worthless to God and everyone else, but Psalm 139:14 reminds me that "...I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

How dare I believe the lies I tell myself when the God of the universe made me what I am, with my wacky personality, my silly laugh, my tendency to chatter when I'm nervous? Others may reject me, but God fashioned me in my mother's womb. He knew me and loved me even then, when He knew what I would become. The work of God's hands is never worthless, therefore I am not worthless.

It does get old, though, doesn't it? When you've tried and tried again and again, perhaps for years. And yet, God wants us to learn perseverence. Because we are precious to Him, He wants what is best for us. He wants us to grow into the place He has set for us. Job 23:10 tells us "...when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold." So go for the gold. Persevere in spite of rejection.

As I look back over those years of rejection--fourteen of them--so many things become clear to me now. God was fashioning my writer's heart. He was teaching me to persevere, and to learn to depend more completely on Him. How beautiful are those hands of God that bless me beyond belief. How wonderfully and perfectly my Lord cherishes me.

Hannah Alexander, author of Fair Warning, is the pen name used by Mel and Cheryl Hodde

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

JK: Groping

Someone once asked Albert Einstein how he worked. “I grope,” he answered.

I like that answer because I feel like I grope, too. (I write mostly about real people, dead people one might say, and “groping dead people” doesn’t seem like a good way to say it but that’s how I feel sometimes!).

I have a process. I read everything I can find about the person. I answer my three questions before I begin about intention, attitude and purpose. I make my timeline of events known about the character and the historical period. Because I usually write about real people, women primarily, I’m always trying to find out not just what they were doing and where and when but why? I’m always asking as I research, was this the defining event in that woman’s life? Why did she leave the place she’d always lived? Why is she on the census living with only her daughters while her two sons are living with the very person earlier she had great conflict with? What brought about this change? Sometimes I don’t find the answer until well after I’ve started to write. Sometimes I never find the answer and must speculate. This feels very awkward.

Writer Katherine Ann Porter says she writes the last page first. She says if she didn’t know where she was going she couldn’t begin. “I know what my goal is. And how I get there is God’s grace.” Now see, I’d like that. I have this general idea of where I’m going but not the last page.
But then I came across this Arthur Miller quote: “He who understands everything about his subject cannot write it. I write as much to discover as to explain.”

So maybe it’s all right that I don’t have all the answers when I begin. I can be delighted and surprised even as my readers are. In fact, that happened last week. My first book in the Change and Cherish series will be out this month. I’m writing book two and while visiting with a descendant (whom I’d discovered when the first book was in final copy-editing) I picked up a letter that he had to his grandfather that had been translated from German into English. There were several letters to his grandfather that he’d kept and had translated. One from a great uncle who was an ambassador to France, England and Germany. Another from a member of the colony they were involved with. But then I picked up a letter signed by Emma, the very woman I’d been researching and writing about. Her great nephew was as startled as I was as he’d had no idea he had her letter. To see what she’d written and even her PS was delight all over and I’d merely groped upon it.

When I told a friend of this find she said if I ever wondered over God’s call to write in my life, that I should remember this story. Groping is indeed a part of God’s grace that will help me get to the last page.

Jane Kirkpatrick’s 12th novel, A Clearing in the Wild, will be out this month.
See a video interview about it at

Monday, May 01, 2006

RLH: Do the Work

At one time or another, all published novelists are asked questions about their inspiration. "Do you wait to be inspired to write?" is not an uncommon one. My response: "Well, only if I don't want to pay bills or eat until I'm inspired.

"I acquired a "write anyway" philosophy many years ago. I need to write when things in my life are going great, and I need to write when things in my life are going not-so-great.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing. I love it when ideas are flowing like a rushing river. Unfortunately, sometimes my river of inspiration turns into a trickle. I need to write anyway.

1 Chronicles 28:20 reads: "Then David continued, 'Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the LORD is finished correctly.'" (NLT)

I have altered the verse and taped it to my computer. It reads thus: "Be strong and courageous, Robin, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by the number of words you need to write, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to this novel is finished correctly." (RRV, Robin's Revised Version)

In my pre-writing life, one job I held was as a bookkeeper. My employer didn't care if I was inspired to keep the financial accounts in order. He just wanted me to do the work he hired me to do. The same is true of writing. My job is to write. My ministry is to write. And so I write.

I won't pretend that it's always easy. I've had a rough time keeping my thoughts focused when life throws me a curve. And sometimes I feel like there is an entire baseball team throwing curve balls at me at the same time. Sometimes getting words on paper is like pulling teeth. Ouch!

But God's word tells me not to be discouraged. God tells me to be courageous. Most importantly, He tells me to "do the work" that He called me to do. He called me to write. It's my job and my ministry. I write in obedience to Him. If I am strong and courageous and DO THE WORK, He will see that it is finished correctly.

Robin Lee Hatcher (Diamond Place, Hart’s Crossing Book #3, Revell, April 2006) has been doing the work for 25 years and in October 2006 will celebrate the publication of her 50th release, A Carol for Christmas (Zondervan).