Friday, December 29, 2006

Ask the Authors: Friday

What are your most frequently used vehicles for research? (Your public library. The internet. Your own library, including any encyclopedias, atlases, other reference books.)

I've accumulated a personal library that I'm grateful for. Because most of my stories are based on the lives of real people, I do a lot of "hands on" research, visiting the sites of my stories, spending time in genealogoical research libraries, State Archives, County libraries and historical societies. I interview descendants as I find them. History books about the time period or the settlement or the territories are important for me. I have a few of Bancroft's histories published in the late 1890s considered THE research material for the time. The internet was helpful for Hudson's Bay Company records (they keep them back to the 1600s!) so I didn't have to go to Winnepeg, a far distance from my home. I also use the internet for calendars, for researching details (what is a chateleine and how did a woman use it?). I have Lamar's Encyclopedia of the American West and Oregon Geographic Names as two fat books that give me lots of good information. And then I read tons of non-fiction books on medicine, law, everyday life, etc. so I can place my readers into the time period, hopefully without them ever having to say "now, would that have happened like that then?" -Jane Kirkpatrick

My own personal library, including old diaries, articles, and journals, and the internet (with caution). I still enjoy visiting my public library, though, even if it's not a "have-to" case for research. -BJ Hoff

I use the Internet and people. I love using people. I use them as much as I can. They are invaluable resources and always give me more information than I thought I would get, which usually ends up helping me expand my story in a way I didn't expect. -Rene Gutteridge

My husband. Since we write together, and he's the researcher, all I have to do is email him a question, and he looks it up online. Or he already knows the answer. Or he asks a medical colleague. -Hannah Alexander

Internet--almost exclusively. -Lori Copeland

The Internet has become my first stop for researching; is my meat and potatoes. But there is no substitute for a library; personal, public, and university. —Jack Cavanaugh

I have a 1950's set of the Encyclopedia Britannica (my grandfather used to sell 'em) and so many of the entries are still valid and much deeper than the froth delivered up by today's editions (in part because of the dumbing down of education, but that's for another post). When I was doing my historical series for Bethany House, it was priceless for finding gems, such as the history of telephones, movies, etc. -James Scott Bell

Though I don’t often trust the World Wide Web as a source of factual information, I usually start out on the Internet. What I find there might lead me to a book (which I order online) or the contact info for an individual or organization who has the information I need. I’ve also found newspaper and magazine articles to hold good information, but again, I always want to verify that info elsewhere. It boggles my mind to think that virtually all my research for my first novel 13 years ago was done at my public library. These days, I might go to the library once every couple of months. Come to think of it, I actually kind of miss my library! –Deborah Raney

I use the Internet, books, personal experience, and people. Because my books are contemporary, I can talk with people involved in the things I'm including in my book. For example, in preparation for writing Kaleidoscope Eyes, in which the protagonist is part of a K-9 search and rescue team, I'd been a part of search and rescue for a number of years. However, I knew I needed to research the K-9 aspect of SAR. So I was able to go with the K-9 unit when they did training, to video tape the handlers and dogs and ask whatever questions I wanted. Plus I had a member of our area K-9 SAR group review the manuscript for accuracy. So I knew that aspect of the book would ring with authenticity. -Karen Ball

I have an extensive reference library of my own, collected over 25 years of writing. I rarely go to the library because it isn't close/convenient. So when my own reference library isn't sufficient, I go to the Internet. If I find a book there that I need, I try to judge if I will need enough out of it that I should buy it, and if not, then I go to the library. -Robin Lee Hatcher

Vehicles? I prefer Porsche, please. Or a 'vette or Lexus will do. If none of these is available, I'll take the Internet. -Brandilyn Collins

Books, books, books on whatever topic I’m writing, especially the books that are in my Logos reference program (they’re word-searchable). The Internet for quick facts, maps, and names. And my world atlas. –Angela Hunt

The books I mentioned yesterday, plus countless biblical commentaries, dictionaries, resource books, and Bibles. I do use Internet research, but with great care. My own personal library includes 825 reference books on Scotland, including several antiquarian books from the late eighteenth century. I've also done extensive traveling (9 trips to Scotland, 2 trips each to England, France, Germany), conducting interviews as I go, making copious notes about everything I see, and, of course, taking tons of photos! -Liz Curtis Higgs

Definitely the internet. I rarely use anything else. -lisa samson

Used to be my own library, but more and more I’ve been using the Internet. If I want to do any research in depth, though, I usually buy a book or two. –Karen Hancock

I rarely visit libraries unless they are specialized (for instance, the US Navy Historical library on the yard—the campus—of the US Naval Academy... I’ve used that one). I use the ‘Net, but bear in mind that easily 75% of the sites out there contain info that is misleading or just plain wrong. Sites I trust most belong to government agencies, academic organizations and the like. I also find online retailers to be good sources of info on current goods (like guns). I do primary-research interviews, but treat sources with the same grain of salt that I extend to the Internet; one good touchstone is to begin by asking questions that I already know the answer to. Just because someone is a cop, or owns a gun shop, or works for an auto company, or was in the service doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a reliable source for facts. When I need books, I usually buy them rather than borrowing them, as I love books and that way I can highlight and put in my own marginalia. Ditto regarding maps. -Tom Morrisey

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ask the Authors: Thursday

What writer's "tools"--pieces of equipment--are in your office right now that you consider indispensable? Limit of five, please.

Top of the heap is still my AlphaSmart Neo—a two-pound word-processor with full-size keyboard that runs for 700+ hours on three AA batteries. When I’ve a good chunk of writing on the Neo, I can then transfer it wirelessly to my Palm Tungsten E2 (when traveling) or via USB cable to my iBook G4 (when home). I’m also fond of Moleskine notebooks, and prefer the unlined ones, which are better for sketching and making maps. And as I have two offices, I always have a USB flashdrive in my pocket for traveling files. I like the Cruzer 4GB with the retracting USB plug—no cap to lose. -Tom Morrisey

Computer and printer. Pens and scratch paper. And sometimes, earplugs! -Karen Hancock

My computer. And I don't have an office. I don't even have a writing desk. No wonder Anne Tyler doesn't want to be my mentor. -lisa samson

Toshiba Laptop Computer
Random House Unabridged Dictionary
Roget's Thesaurus
The Concise Scots Dictionary
Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
(4 Volumes)
Liz Curtis Higgs

My computer, high speed modem, desktop notepad/to-do list, my mug with freshly sharpened pencils, and a slobber rag (for the mastiffs, of course). –Angela Hunt

1. Mug full of strong coffee. Doctored with lots of cream and nonsense, of course.
2. Cabinets. For kicking when I'm frustrated.
3. A printed, glossy photo of my next book's cover. Gives me something to look forward to.
4. Pictures of my family. They remind me I'm loved.
5. My well-marked Bible. Which really reminds me I'm loved.
-Brandilyn Collins

A 20" iMac computer (with all of its accompanying software); a LaserJet printer; an InkJet All-in-One scanner/printer/copier/fax machine; a Treo Smartphone/PDA; and an Airport Extreme (wireless network modem). -Robin Lee Hatcher

My Mac PowerBook G4 laptop.
My cordless phone with caller ID and call waiting, so I can decide if I want to be interrupted or not.
My digital camera (for research and posting photos to my Web site.)
My HP all-in-one printer/scanner/copier. Awesome! And under $60!
The bookshelf my dad built for me that keeps my reference books at hand at just the right angle. –Deborah Raney

1. My computer, of course.
2. My jump drives, for taking my WIP back and forth between my desktop and my laptop.
3. My CD player or MP3 player, because music plays such a huge part in my writing. --Karen Ball

Laptop. Chair. Coffee cup. Door. Lock. -James Scott Bell

Coffee pot. — Jack Cavanaugh

Tons of data storage disks
Alpha Smart--(couldn't do without)
Windex Wipes (I have a glass desk) -Lori Copeland

Computer, printer, chair, desk, brain. -Hannah Alexander

My ergonomically correct keyboard. Couldn't live without it. -Rene Gutteridge

Top of the list: Downstairs office: MacBook. All-in-one machine (copier/scanner/printer/fax). iPod w/shelf system. Palm Tungsten E2 (PDA). Moleskines. Upstairs office: iBook. AlphaSmart Neo. a Windows laptop. Moleskines. Coffee maker. I have to add #6, because Clever Trevor the Golden Retriever is a fixture up and/or down, wherever I happen to be. -BJ Hoff

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni and King; Robert McKee's STORY; the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology; Roget's Super Thesaurus; a good Concordance. -Jane Kirkpatrick

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

Do you answer critical reader letters? Why or why not?

Yes. Usually to thank them for taking the time to write. I also thank those who aren't critical. One letter in particular, very negative, said a series I'd written wasn't worth keeping or giving to the library especially because I suggested that historical women had choices when they didn't. I wrote back saying we all have choices: at the very least the choice to be clear about what matters in our lives and to have the courage to act on that. We also have the choice to be curious when our life is not what we want it to be, to ask ourselves what part we have in that and what part is the reality of living with its many challenges. And we also have the choice to increase our compassion -- for our neighbors and for ourselves. I think all letters from readers, whether negative or positive, arise from someone's personal journey and if I can suggest another perspective to a reader, a more positive one perhaps, then I feel that I am still being used by God to touch others through my work. I never plan to change their minds just to offer another perspective. Every now and then that reader writes back and thanks me for what I had to say, too so I see it as time well spent. -Jane Kirkpatrick

Thankfully, I haven't received a lot of these, but when I do receive them, answering them depends on the tone with which they were written. When it's clear someone is writing pretty much to trash either me or my writing, then no, I don't respond. Because little I can say will effect good in that situation. But if someone writes out of a genuine concern, then yes, I answer as best I can. Because I do care about what my readers think and feel. -Karen Ball

If a reader takes the time to write to an author, it's only common courtesy to reply. Whether I agree with a criticism is immaterial. I can make at least a brief explanation--but not a defense--of my rationale for doing what he/she might disagree with. I can at least acknowledge the fact that she took the time to address an issue in my book. The exception to this would be a letter that's wild-eyed and a totally incomprehensible rant, one I can sense was written solely for the purpose of wounding: then I don't feel obligated to respond.

I've had more than a few surprises in replying to reader letters. I recall one in which a reader took me to task for giving "too much time" to one set of characters and not enough to another and was just generally griping about how I handled relationships--all minor (it seemed to me). I sensed a lot of personal stress behind that letter, so I gritted my teeth and replied with more kindness than I was actually feeling. I heard from her not long after, with an apology for taking out a "bad day" of frustrations and problems on me. She admitted that the book wasn't at fault--her own angst was. She still writes to me with great encouragement for each book she reads. I think it pays to keep in mind that readers sometimes see us as a safe place to vent--or even a source of understanding. Doesn't hurt to be be here for them whenever possible. -BJ Hoff

I answer every letter I get, even the critical ones. I try to be open to what they're saying and respond in a way that makes them understand that I take what they are telling me seriously, even if I don't agree. -Rene Gutteridge

If you're talking about harsh critical reader letters, no. I figure someone has to release some steam, and they targeted me, thinking maybe I have a tough hide. Or maybe thinking they might wound me just for the fun of it. Either way, a reply might encourage them to take another hit. I don't like hits, so I don't encourage them.--Hannah Alexander

Yes--probably more so than non-critical. I think of my books as a small ministry, and if that means correcting a percieved mistake or a real error then I'm more than willing to do that. Many of my readers confuse my old secular titles with my Christian titles and they write to know how could I write for both markets! Well, I don't--and haven't written secular in ten years so I always make an attempt to explain. I don't answer those who could have written it better, been more accurate, ended it a different way or changed a charectors actions. The story is the author's. -Lori Copeland

I have, and have regretted it. It has been my experience that people who write these kinds of letters are, for the most part, drive-by critics. They want to vent and run. -Jack Cavanaugh

Will saying Yes invite more? -- James Scott Bell

Almost always. I sometimes end up throwing away my first attempt at a response because it’s too defensive, but if I can possibly help a reader understand why I wrote the thing that made him/her angry enough to write, I like to do so. Sometimes I’ve just needed to apologize for the thing that person found hurtful or inaccurate or whatever. Even if I wouldn’t write the book differently in hindsight, I can always genuinely say “I’m sorry that what I wrote upset you.” I’m a big believer in keeping short accounts and more than once, I’ve made a friend of a critic with such a response. ––Deborah Raney

Yes. How I answer depends a great deal upon the type of criticism I'm receiving. For instance, I don't allow myself to be dragged into theological debates. I simply thank the writer for sending me their opinion. -Robin Lee Hatcher

You mean there are people out there who would actually criticize what I write? Good news is, I really haven't received many. Most I have answered. However, the one in which the man ranted against an ending of mine that he hated, calling it "garbage," "malfeasance," and a "miscarriage of writting [sic]"--I figured, hey, what can I possibly say that would come close to this guy's poetic prose? (Chalk to up to my warpedness, but to this day that reader letter remains one of my favorites.) -Brandilyn Collins

Yes, I usually do. First, because I want the reader to know that I’m a real, breathing person who can be hurt, and second, because I want to address whatever issue is being raised. I try to prayerfully consider every point and then say “You were right” or “Thank you for writing, but I stand by what I wrote.”-Angela Hunt

Oh, absolutely! I answer all my reader mail, but especially those letters or emails that are critical. Clearly my writing has struck a chord (however sour!), and the reader is hurting in some way, or she would not have responded so negatively. It's my privilege to minister to her by extending the grace God has kindly given to us. Often the reader writes back, stunned that I answered her at all and admitting WHY she was so unhappy. With few exceptions, it was primarily a personal reason, and only secondarily some dissatisfaction with my book. This is not to suggest that my books are NO means! I learn a great deal from readers and reviewers, including from their often valid criticisms. But sometimes writers take negative comments to heart when in truth it's the READER who is in trouble, not the writing itself. -Liz Curtis Higgs

Sometimes. If it's just mean (and thankfully I don't get many of those) I try to get it out of my inbox right away. If I think I've been misunderstood and that misunderstanding could really keep a person down, I definitely will answer. If it's something I agree with, especially as the letters and emails start arriving a year after you're finished and you can now sit back and look at it more objectively, I'll write back and say, "You're right! And if I was writing it right now, I'd . . ." -lisa samson

Mostly I do answer them, though it depends on the tone and what they are saying. Most critical reader letters are kind of funny. They start out telling me how much they loved my book, in general terms, then list all the things I did wrong, until most of their words are actually devoted to the work’s flaws, not whatever it was that made them love it. I’ve always found that a bit odd. Usually I answer them, express my delight in knowing they’ve enjoyed the work and thank them for their input.

The ones I don’t answer are the ones who lecture me on what I did wrong, how I'm going to corrupt various and sundry readers, and how bad I am. I’ve only gotten a couple of those. I didn't answer them primarily because I didn't feel led to, and because it seemed obvious the letter-writers just wanted to say what they said. In their view what I did was wrong, bad, and inexcusable. Period. – Karen Hancock

I’m sitting here rubbing my chin. I generally get mail from readers every day, and either I have a very selective memory or I’m exceptionally blessed, because I cannot recall a reader letter that wasn’t positive. Statistically, that means I’m due for a lollapalooza of a broadside any day now. -Tom Morrisey (Editor's note to Tom: want me to send you one of mine? )

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ask the Authors: Tuesday

Welcome back to Ask the Authors Week! If you have a question you'd like to ask, send it to Enjoy!

Have you ever had a mentor? How did that work out for you? (Very helpful. Moderately helpful. Not helpful at all.)

A fine writer approached me after I'd written four books and offered to be a mentor for me. This writer was very helpful with insights about the publishing world, suggesting that I write for a particular reader and advised certain books for me to read about writing, yet we didn't remain in touch. It was not a face to face mentoring, which I think might have sustained it; after a time I felt that I was just "using" this person who gave answers to questions. I felt I couldn't give much back to this author and I think that in good mentoring relationships, both parties have to see that they have something to give. I have mentored other authors since then and always feel like I gain something from the encounter. This author suggested the mentoring as a tithe of the author's skills. Maybe I just needed more practice in receiving. --Jane Kirkpatrick

Only if you can consider the books of great writers--their novels and their books about writing--as mentors. If so, I've had many. -BJ Hoff

I can't say I've had one mentor that has helped me all along the way. But I've had several people in my life who, for different lengths of time, have helped me in different situations. I would love a mentor, though. I've always wanted one. -- Rene Gutteridge

Yes, but it was someone who began writing at the same time I did, so what would she know? She was very opinionated and irritating, constantly nagging me about silly characters with no motivation, or irrational actions. She was also always complaining about purple prose. Imagine my amazement as I grew as a writer, and grudgingly took my mentor's advice, to discover she was right most of the time. It worked quite well. She still finds problems, complains about characters, and is often helpful. --Hannah Alexander

Not only very helpful, inspirational. My answer is not meant to be flippant, please don’t take it as such. But I have had, and continue to have, hundreds of mentors, among them: Milton, Dickens, Hugo, Paul, the Apostle, Shakespeare; and the more contemporary, Lewis, Harper Lee, Wouk, Michener, Koontz, Gerritsen, and King. Though some are no longer breathing, they are still very much alive in my library and in my life. I have learned more about writing and what it is to be a writer through the preserved thoughts on my library shelves than any other source. Where else can you so intimately get inside someone’s mind? Daily my mentors teach me, humble me, inspire me. — Jack Cavanaugh

My early mentor, via the printed page, was Lawrence Block, whose fiction column in Writers Digest was my "sacred page" each month. When I began to wander into the thicket of publication, I benefited greatly from the sage advice and encouragement of our very own Jack Cavanaugh. It's 17 novels now. You can blame him. -- James Scott Bell

I’ve not had the privilege of actually working one on one with an older or more experienced writer who took me under their wing, but there are many talented writers I view as mentors, including several right here on Charis Connection. In addition, my wonderful critique partner, though she hasn’t been writing or published as long as I have, has taught me much about the craft, and is someone whose professional opinion I value as I would any mentor’s. ––Deborah Raney

I've had spiritual mentors but have never had a writing mentor. I got started back in the typewriter days, well before the Internet brought people together so easily. If I was starting over today, perhaps it would be different. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

No. Perhaps I should have. Probably would have kicked less cabinets that way. ~ Brandilyn Collins

I've never approached someone to be my mentor in any formal kind of way, but there are certain respected authors whose work inspires me and to whom I turn occasionally if I have questions. Rather than seeking advice from one person over and over, I've asked several different authors' opinions over the years and have learned so much in the process. -- Liz Curtis Higgs

No, I haven't. I'm still looking for one. Madelaine L'Engle said, "Find yourself a wrinkle and travel on out of here!" Annie Dillard laughed in my face and went back to looking at stuff in her creek. Larry McMurtry told me to take the next horse out of town and Anne Tyler said, "You're kidding, right? Here. Because I'm a nice lady, have some Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant on me." lisa samson

I had a mentor I never met. I don't remember where I read about doing this, but I very much admired Dean Koontz's work and he became a sort of mentor for me. I pored over his How to Write Best-Selling Fiction and then studied his work in depth. Some of it he cited as examples in the Best-Selling Fiction book, but the rest I just went through. I copied out parts of it, sentence by sentence to see what he was doing with each word, comparing his openings or characters with my own. It was extremely helpful and I've written about it on my website in an article called "Mentoring Without Meeting."

What was cool was when The Light of Eidon was published, I marshaled my courage and sent him a copy along with a letter explaining his part in what I had done. I figured he’d never see the book, but it was something I was led to do. In return he sent me a long, very kind, personal letter and two signed hardcover copies of his books. That was an amazing day for me! -- Karen Hancock

I had a mentor who was invaluable in showing me the ropes on magazine features writing. It was great because he not only answered all of the questions that I would have felt sheepish asking editors—he also kicked some doors open for me (one magazine he introduced me to eventually hired me and, after a couple of years, promoted me to editor-in-chief). In fiction writing (and particularly in Christian fiction), I would say that my first editor (who is also still a much better fiction writer than I am) did a great job of getting me oriented. -- Tom Morrisey

Not really, unless you count the editors who patiently explained things and the authors of the many writing books I studied. –Angela Hunt

My editor, Julee Schwarzburg, is the closest I've ever had to a mentor where craftsmanship is concerned. She's helped me greatly in realizing my areas of weakness and where I need to continue to improve in my writing. Francine Rivers has been a mentor on the spiritual side of writing. She's a great encourager and I can always count on her to speak truth to me. Both situations have been immensely helpful, and both people are precious to me. --Karen Ball

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas From All of Us!

A blessed Christmas to you and yours from the novelists of Charis Connection.

Friday, December 22, 2006

LS: My Father Led the Way

In my latest WIP I’m writing about a would-be jazz musician. I come by this jazz thing honestly, in a round about way. My husband Will and daughter Ty are jazz people. I am not. Get any crazier than Vince Guaraldi and I begin to melt, slipping out of the room without even thinking about why I’m retreating. Still, if I were a proficient musician, I’d want to be a jazz artist.

I’ve been researching a tad on the lives of various jazz musicians and have come to realize how many of them showed prowess during childhood. Herbie Hancock began studying the piano at seven. By the age of eleven he was playing concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Count Basie’s mother oversaw his musical education, and in the 1920’s he left his home in New Jersey to take on the musical scene in Harlem—and now, who hasn’t heard of Count Basie?

Oscar Peterson, showing great promise as a jazz pianist, asked his father if he could quit school to be a musician. His father said yes, but only if he was going to be the best. There was no other justification for quitting school.

If I could write a book like Oscar Peterson plays the piano, man, I’d be somethin’!

As writers, people of passion who have plonked themselves, or have found themselves plonked, into a world of expression and beauty, of creativity and the desire to usher people into worlds before unknown, who was it who encouraged us? Who told us we were creative people, and told us with such earnestness and assuredness that we believed it ourselves?

For me it was primarily my father. Bill Ebauer taught himself to play the piano by sitting at the old player piano growing up. Listening and watching the keys he ended up playing the songs beautifully, sometimes leading the neighbors in sing-a-longs. He didn’t take lessons, but ended up earning pocket money for college playing boogie-woogie in a bar. Bill Ebauer taught himself to paint as well, and I grew up watching him set up his pallet each evening down in the family room while us kids watched TV. I loved to stand there by his chair and watch him dab his brushes into the pigment and sometimes slide, sometimes scratch them onto the canvas.

Unfortunately when I was about eight, he switched to stamp collecting. But he sunk himself deep into that—and my sister and I’d go with him to stamp collectors clubs after mass on Saturday nights. I’ll never forget the ancient man with the thick round glasses and the cigar.

His voice rumbled like a far away train. Thankfully my father took up painting after retirement, and while his works, with all those years in-between, lost some of the precision they’d once had, I liked them more because somewhere in the meantime, he figured out that artistically, he could express himself as only he could. By my father’s example I learned that drawing and playing the piano weren’t a waste of time and that art was, to him, the highest form of calling.

I’ll never forget standing with Pops in front of Dali’s The Last Supper at The National Gallery in Washington, DC. “That guy could really handle paint,” he said. And even though I was a college student, I stood beside him, feeling so connected, drawn like a bow, because like him, I loved to draw, I loved to play the piano and I loved to create. The writing came later—I’d written my first novel but had yet to hear a yea or nay from the publishers when my father died suddenly. He was a fiery person, a man of great expression masquerading as an eye doctor. But in those sublime moments when all was good, we connected deeply on a level of beauty and creativity.

And it is to him I owe a lifetime of such pursuits. The difference is, I’ve been blessed to do this for a living. I hope he can see me somehow and know what he did for me and realize that I am thankful.

Who was your great encourager?

Who showed you the way?And these days, who is reaping the benefits of your artistry? Not readers, but people? A son or daughter? A niece of nephew? A neighbor kid? Who will you take by the hand and show the wonders of the world? Who will you believe in so convincingly that they will believe in themselves?

Pax Christi,

lisa samson has written 18 novels. The latest, Straight Up, is available on bookstore shelves now.,,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

PH: The Art of Changing Lanes—The Writer’s Lonely Road

Yesterday after church, a large group of us decided to visit a restaurant several exits away. We all took the same route down a town highway missing all of the interstate traffic because we all departed from the same location. However, when it was time to go home, all of the Hickmans (who had come in three cars) needed to get back onto the interstate to head home. There were unbelievable obstacles that we hadn’t anticipated. Road construction seemed to be everywhere. I sat strategizing: how in the world was I going to get back home? Every decision I made led to another road block, every lane change making my route more unstable. I wanted to ask one group of construction guys, “How do you expect me to get home?” I felt ostracized from my own neighborhood. It was as though gatekeepers had been dropped out of the sky to make my journey home miserable. Of course I knew these guys weren’t interested in blocking my journey home, but in finishing the job.

When I set out to write books for a living, I thought the hardest obstacles were behind me after I had gotten that first book contract. But as I navigated through my first book deal, reconstruction was already going on in my heart. God was taking me through changes and he decided an overhaul was more important than a pleasant and easy path. If I was going to continue to travel ahead telling stories, He wanted them told differently than anyone else had ever told them. He wanted me to tell my story through a unique voice that had been earned coming down a road of suffering.

When my family all arrived home yesterday, it was all at different times and none of us had come home the same way, but we were all so grateful to be home and to be back together again. The roadblocks had isolated us but in the end we were not really separated. Three of my closest friends who are all novelists have known one another before readers knew us as faith-based authors, all having gone through the struggles and pitfalls of the publishing arena, and all of us facing changes. Each time we have gone through changes, we’ve all faced a different challenge unique to us. It’s a common bond we share and it is blessed by times of refreshing where we have one another to lean on. We commiserate and realize that while we’ve all gone a different way around our problems, we’ve all faced the same universal challenges. We’ve all had to learn to change lanes, to navigate, and to know that change is out of our hands. The truth is, if those roadblocks had not been placed in our path, we would not have matured spiritually and as writers.

The other universal challenge we all responded to was pressure. If the roadwork had not been going on yesterday, the Hickmans would have all come home the same way that we’ve all grown used to traveling. Isolation caused us each to use our minds and to strategize.

Perhaps you’ve read the stories of other authors and how they’ve gotten published and the thought came to you, “Oh! That’s the road to publishing. Well, I can go that way too.” May I gently suggest that your road to publishing will be uniquely yours? One of my friends had written a thousand articles before she decided to write a children’s book, to hit national bestseller list-dom with that book, to use the revenues to build a career as a writer of women’s fiction, and then to change lanes and begin exploring spec-fic, branding herself as a writer who takes her characters down unexpected roads. My other friend was a bestselling romance author who faced the shock of an unexpected divorce, fell before God in surrender, surrendered everything to Christ including her books, and then began writing bestselling faith-based fiction that has helped so many women facing divorce know that God is with them, even in the middle of divorce. After publishing my first five novels, God led me into a desert of dissatisfaction that caused me to stop and assess my writer’s life and to start writing books of faith possessing a more mainstream aesthetic. My story is unique to me and I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of other authors by now. God brings us all a different way, and yet somehow, this way springs out of the universal truths written by One Universal Author, Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

In a few weeks, these construction crews will disappear and our community will have brand new surfaces on our interstate and on the many roadways that lead to our homes. We will enjoy the nice new surfaces and some will forget the chaos caused by obtaining them these past few months. I like Abraham’s take on change. God told him to set up a pile of stones as a memorial so that others would pass by, point, and remember that God had made known to His people a more redemptive way home. 2 Cor. 3:3 says, “clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” Our life stands as a living stone to those who pass by, so that they will stop, reflect, and remember what it cost to be standing here. Our writer’s voice when developed as a unique aesthetic ought to accomplish the same thing, lingering as a mile marker in the hearts and minds of those who pick up our books.

My life’s scripture is “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lam. 3:22-23. If I had not been taken a different and at times lonely way than all of my sisters in the faith, faced the gatekeepers, the lions of publishing, how would I know that God’s compassions never fail, that they are new every morning, and that God’s faithfulness is great?

Changing lanes is a sign that God is intervening so that I won’t grow stale in my faith or in my journey as a writer. He continues to teach me the fine art of changing lanes to mature me and to venerate His Son, Jesus Christ.

And when I face a gatekeeper in the middle of life’s reconstruction, I’m not really alone. It’s a two-party trip.

Patricia Hickman's ( latest release from FaithWords is Whisper Town.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

AH: What the Wind Picked Up . . .

Photo: most of the dinner group

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.

I was fortunate enough to serve as editor of the project, so I was able to enjoy all the stories before anyone else could take a peek. 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, a worthwhile project, and a wonderful Christmas gift, order a copy of What the Wind Picked Up. (Click on the title of this post to order.) And you might be amazed at how many ways authors can spin a tale.

--Angela Hunt, author of The Tale of Three Trees,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

RLH: Affirmation

With some frequency, secular reviews of Christian fiction include a line that says something about an “obligatory CBA conversion scene” (either its inclusion or its absence).

The interesting thing to me is that I’ve written 18 novels for five CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) publishers thus far, and never once has an editor asked me to include a conversion scene. When it happens in one of my books, it’s a natural outgrowth of the characters and plot, not for any obligatory or gratuitous reason. And I feel confident in saying that I don’t know any CBA authors who put obligatory/gratuitous conversion scenes in their books either.

Having said that, why do said conversion scenes appear with regularity in Christian novels? After all, the readership of CBA fiction is made up primarily of people who are already “converted” to the faith we write about. Perhaps the appeal is because evangelical Christians love to see the regeneration of lives, even in our fictional characters. It’s an important aspect of our faith. It’s part of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).

As a reader of Christian fiction, I’m reminded by a well-written conversion scene of what Christ did in my life when He drew me to Himself. It gives me hope that the people I love who don’t know the Lord will discover His saving grace for themselves. It gives me courage to persevere in my own faith-walk because the flawed condition in which I find myself today is not permanent; God will continue to refine and change and mature me as I walk with Him.

Readers of fiction are drawn to stories that entertain them, but they also look for stories that will affirm their beliefs. Readers of romance want their belief in two people finding lasting love to be affirmed. Readers of mysteries want their belief that justice will be done to be affirmed. And readers of Christian fiction want the truths of their faith to be affirmed. Conversion scenes are a natural part of that affirmation.

Next time you come across a conversion scene in a novel (or next time you write one in your work-in-progress), stop a moment and reflect on the miracle of new life it represents. I think you’ll be blessed because of it.

Robin Lee Hatcher is the best-selling author of The Victory Club and Loving Libby
Web site:

Monday, December 18, 2006

What Do You Get a Writer for Christmas?

Well? What do you get a writer for Christmas? We asked our Charis team and came up with some delightful answers!

For the female writer, I’d suggest this vintage starlet robe . . . because, like the books we work on, it looks most beautiful from behind. (Oh! Were we supposed to be practical? Then get a couple of reams of paper.) --Angela Hunt

You can move this portable laptop desk anyplace in the house. It has room for a cup of coffee, a split top so you can slant your laptop at just the right angle, and a lip to keep pens and flash drives, etc. from rolling off. Best of all, it’s under $100! I bought my husband one for Christmas a couple years ago and I think he suspects I really bought it for me. --Deborah Raney

If the writer or editor is also a loved one and money is no object--then spring for one of the new MacBooks! But back to earth: writers (and most of the editors I know) love anything from Levenger. --BJ Hoff

I'd give the Levenger Lap desk. --James Scott Bell

I'd give Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Second Edition, 2004, by Renni Browne and Dave King. --Liz Curtis Higgs

A subscription to My pleasure reading time is at a premium, and listening to audio books whenever I'm in the car or on an airplane is one way I can still "read" great and/or bestselling fiction. --Robin Lee Hatcher

I'm not sure if this is the ONE gift I'd recommend, but it's what I'm asking for! Used by luminaries like Picasso, Van Gogh and Ernest Hemmingway, a Moleskin journal will receive all manner of scratching and sketchings, and just feels good in your hand. It's a creative tradition I'm thinking I'd like to join. --lisa samson

The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. I find myself returning to this book often when faced with questions about the stickiest situations of real-life. Since those situations are exactly what makes a novel interesting, it's like having a team of theologians vet my novels. Very helpful. --Athol Dickson

I'd get them a gift certificate to Levenger! I absolutely love that place. --Rene Gutteridge

For the writer who's into strange words, I'd suggest Totally Wierd and Wonderful Words. The book is written in conversational style, comes complete with cartoon illustrations, and contains "hundreds of words guaranteed to amuse and astonish." And get this--the best part of all. It contains a guide as to how you can make up your own words using the proper Greek and Latin roots. Is that cool or what? I am thinking how very much fun I could have with the book's defined words--and my own concoctions--in my next manuscript. One every other page ought to do it, don't you think? Ah, the joy such creativity will bring my editor... ~ Brandilyn Collins

A copy of The Sea Around Us by Rachel Louise Carson. This book won the National Book Award in 1952, and it is proof that even a subject as seemingly prosaic as marine biology can be written about with passion and language that is positively poetic in every single sentence. --Tom Morrisey

I would recommend a voice activated recorder. It can be carried anywhere, and is especially useful when you're driving and want to leave a message for yourself for later. --Hannah Alexander

I've had many favorite books on writing over the years, including The Craft of Writing by William Sloane (now out of print), The Art of Fiction by John Gardner (still in print, thankfully), and the entire series Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews (several volumes, out of print). I would be hard-pressed to pick a single favorite, but if I were choosing a book to give a writer friend today, it would be The Writer's Craft, compiled and edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Hersey (hardcover, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1974). Yes, it's out of print, but like the other out-of-print volumes I listed above, you can order it (assuming you can't find one at your local used-book store) through's excellent used-book service.

Hersey himself wrote only the Introduction. The rest consists of an incredible collection of essays and other writings on the writer's craft by a who's-who of writers, including Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Poe, A.E. Housman, Kipling, Thomas Wolfe, John Fowles, and many, many others. Great stuff. The writer on your Christmas list will read it with a highlighter in one hand and a lightbulb continually blinking on over his head. --Dave Lambert, senior fiction editor at the Howard Books imprint of Simon & Schuster and author of nine books, including four novels.

Friday, December 15, 2006

AT: Imagery--when this is like that?

It was 1976 or so and we were reading Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage in English class. Often Mr. Johnson (picture Sabastian Cabot and you’ve got him) would read aloud to us. We were at the end of Chapter 9 and Mr. Johnson read those famous words about the red sun pasted in the sky like a wafer, and from the look on his face and the sheer joy in his eyes, I suddenly knew what it was that changed white-bread writing into prose that is rich and weighty. Similes and metaphors. The comparison of two unlike things that helps the reader see something familiar in a new and unexpected way.

Since then I’ve decided that similes and metaphors generally fall into one of three categories, two of which we want to avoid.

The first of these is the “ho-hum” sort. Rule #1 of writing: Don’t use clichés. I teach writing online and while many of my students are truly gifted, I find myself bumping up against imagery in their lessons that I’ve run into untold times before:

“She decided to run like the wind.”

“His anger reared its ugly head.”

“I felt like a kid in a candy shop.”

While these are legitimate images, they are also over-the-counter soporifics. Guaranteed to make your reader’s eyes glaze over.

Then there are the “huh?” images. One day my husband and daughter were at the black bear exhibit at the zoo when three-year-old Laura blurted out, “He looks like a tomato.” Bob came home singing Laura’s praises for coming up with a simile, but I, ever the writer, was left pondering the connection between this several-hundred-pound bear and a small red vegetable (or fruit, depending on which side of that argument you’re on). Now, in case you think only a child would come up with something as incomprehensible, I recently read a comparison between a man’s face in the wind and a piece of veal cutlet on a chopping block. Though written by a published writer, it just didn’t work. I couldn’t see it. For a simile or metaphor to work, you have to at least be able to see it in your mind’s eye, to make a connection between the two things being compared.

But finally, there are the “a-ha!” images. You know you have an a-ah! image when your reader says in delight, “I never thought of it that way but yes, I can see it!” You’ve offered an image that is fresh, imaginative, and vivid. And it makes sense to boot.

Let me share with you just a few of my favorite a-ha! similes and metaphors:

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor….
- Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman

Gold and gleaming the empty streets,
Gold and gleaming the misty lake,
The mirrored lights like sunken swords
Glimmer and shake.
- Sara Teasdale, Spring Night

This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay, On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost!
- Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

You may see their trunks arching in the woods Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
- Robert Frost, Birches

Can you see it? The road that is a ribbon of moonlight. The light that is a glimmering sword. The weary world that is an unbright cinder drifting among the stars.

While most of these examples come from poetry, we can do just as well when we write prose. It takes an extra reach into the imagination and often a sacrifice of time and effort to come up with such imagery, but it makes for unforgettable writing.

By the way, just this morning my daughter, who is now nine, came up with another simile. Our Mexican Chihuahua, Cinnamon, was curled up nose to tail, asleep on Laura’s bed. Delighted, Laura exclaimed, “Look, Mom! Cinnamon looks like a donut.”

Now that I could see.

Ann Tatlock writes metaphors, similies, and novels. You can learn more about her work at

Thursday, December 14, 2006

JSB: It Shall Not Pass

A few years ago I went to see the movie Red Dragon, the third installment in the Hannibal Lecter series starring Anthony Hopkins. Why did I go? I still ask myself that question.
Mainly, because I love Hopkins. And his Lecter in Silence of the Lambs is one of the all time great performances. Maybe I thought this would be another.

Big mistake. The movie was little more than a gore fest in fancy clothes. I should have known better.

But that is not why I relate this incident. Something even more disturbing than the movie itself unfolded in front of me.

Before the movie started I noticed a 6 year old girl. She waltzed into the theater with her parents, tub of popcorn in hand, chirpy voice yakking excitedly. When she took a seat ahead of mine, I almost leaned over to the parents to shout What are you thinking? But the father had a shaved head and tattoos, and I try to avoid dustups with such citizens.

Well, two hours of mayhem ensued. People stabbed, set on fire, tortured. Your average day at the office for serial killers. Every now and then I'd lean over and see the little girl with her eyes fixed to the screen. But when the bad guy (Ralph Fiennes) bites off the tongue of a screaming reporter, then stands up, mouth bloody, and spits out the offending organ, I knew beyond a doubt that real damage had been done.

How times have changed for movie going families. I remember going to the drive-in with my parents in the early 1960s. Back then, about the worst thing you'd see onscreen was Godzilla stomping through screaming crowds in Tokyo, or Frankie Avalon pretending to surf. On occasion my mom put her hand over my eyes to keep me from seeing something she deemed too scary.

Now we have kids watching slashers, rapists and cannibals because, presumably, Mommy can't be bothered with finding a baby-sitter, or Daddy is so clueless he doesn't see the difference between Disney and disemboweling.

After the movie, I waited outside the theater. I wanted to take a look at the happy trio as they emerged from this uplifting bloodbath. I wanted to glare at them, in fact. The little girl was being carried by the father. She was frozen. Her face was pale, her eyes wide. She looked like she was in shock.

I wept inside for what had just been done to her. What is being done to all of us. And I did not pay to see another R rated film after that.

Until recently, when I paid $8 (matinee price yet!) to sit through Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

I like early Scorsese. When I was a film major in college, we had him come up and I got to spend some time with him. This was early in his career and he was the hot up-and-coming director (Mean Streets; Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). Nice guy, too. I remember asking him if he liked Capra movies. “I love Capra,” he said.

Capra being one of my two favorite directors of all time (along with Hitchcock), I felt Scorsese was an immediate compadre.

He has made a couple of terrific films: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and After Hours are my two favorites. His so called masterpieces I’m not a fan of: Raging Bull and Goodfellas. These are both well made technically and the acting is great, but they were a little too steeped in unredeemed violence. By that I mean the violence existed for pretty much for its own sake. Yes, the films were about violent people, but I never felt Scorsese overlaid these portraits with some sort of robust moral vision.

With The Departed, that problem has come home to roost. This is a nihilistic film, the very kind of art John Gardner decried in his book On Moral Fiction. Gardner says the moral artist renders a vision of life as it ought to be. As opposed to the kind of art we have too much of these day, art that stares into the abyss, because it is fashionable, and never gets out.

Sadly, that's the kind of stuff we keep getting. The Departed is overlong, violent without purpose, and its use of street language so overripe as to be parody. Jack Nicholson’s in it doing…Jack Nicholson. That riff has gotten old, except in comedies (like Something’s Gotta Give, where self-parody is a virtue).

Also sadly, most critics have raved about The Departed. One notable exception is the terrific Armond White. You can read his review here.

The critical kudos disturb me. We are losing the ability to distinguish moral art from amoral or immoral art. Listen to this line from a major critic reviewing The Departed:
“The violence sickens, but the film seduces.”

Honestly, can you think of a more idiotic sentiment? Something that is sick “seduces”?
I wasn’t seduced. I did not like any of the characters (by the last third there is a smattering of sympathy for Leonardo DiCaprio, but by then it’s too late) and the vileness of many of the scenes just wore me down.

And, as if Screwtape himself were setting the reels in the control room, preceding the film was a long commercial for yet another installment in the American Pie franchise. It has this original premise about a bunch of hormone laced college guys in sweaty pursuit of busty blondes.
Haven't seen that one before, have we?

Oh, and if such fare is not your cup o noodles, you can always go see Saw III. It's the third in a series about a serial killer who tortures his victims before killing them in ever more grotesque ways. But since the victims are themselves "bad people," gee, it's not so heinous. As one reviewer put it, the movie "gives us that rare cinematic serial killer who may be more humane than most of his victims."

(Hey, I found it. A more idiotic sentiment than the one above. That didn't take long).

Our society is hacking and wheezing in an agony of slow death. And in no small part because so many of our artists are sticking with the immoral, staying in the abyss. Without the clarity of moral vision, souls are suffering real, demonstrable harm. I still wonder what's happened to that poor girl forced to see Red Dragon.

Writers, write moral fiction. I don't mean preachy or "moralizing." I don't mean sermons between book covers or screeds posing as stories.

I mean real, full blooded fiction with characters who jump off the page, but are vindicated by the moral vision of you, the artist. I mean fiction that shows, as Flannery O'Connor put it, "grace being offered." Or fiction that, in the words of my buddy Barbara Nicolosi, "makes the soul homesick for heaven."

You don't do this with on the nose jeremiads, like Ayn Rand. But you can do it in many other ways. Gardner himself wrote literary fiction of this type (read Grendel and weep). But so does Stephen King. Read Desperation and see Satan battle God.

Write moral fiction. Don't compromise. Don't let down your guard. In some way, in whatever we write, let us turn to what is pouring out of the abyss and, like Gandalf to the Balrog, shout, "You shall not pass!"

James Scott Bell's website is

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

JK: Wake Up

As part of my participation this past month in the Nature of Words, a writing feast set on Oregon’s High Desert, I agreed to judge the Rising Stars fiction entries. The pieces came from kids 15 to 18 and a second group from 19 to 25.

The first piece I picked up was written by a 15 year old high school sophomore. It was less than 1000 words, though they could submit entries up to 2500. It was one of the most exquisitely written pieces I have ever encountered. It was a disturbing subject, about a young man’s watching a girl commit suicide by throwing herself out of a window. (At least four of the entries by teens in that 15-18 age group used death or suicide as a subject, which says to me how they struggle with the ideas of mortality and the meaning of life. My admiration for those who write for young adults always goes up as you address these difficult subjects).

Anyway, Jordan Parson’s piece had a beautiful structure that when he read his winning work out loud yesterday, took the listeners in, then kept us there, holding our collective breaths, letting phrases like “She had torn the fabric of consistency” resonate on our ears and minds. This young writer had a mature grasp of detail. His observation of living, his ability to hold us spellbound, then take us to the place where as the narrator in the story he expresses gratitude that this young woman who died woke him up, suggests someone deeply committed to the work of listening, observing, and risking to express that. He is doing the hard work of a writer.

I asked him later if he had written his piece out of the experience of a suicide of someone he cared about. He said no, that his desk looked out onto this scene of people drinking their wine, talking of meaningless things, not noticing the cry of a child down the street, not paying attention to life, and he’d asked himself what it would take for them to “wake up. To notice.” He said, “I thought I would have to throw myself out of the window to get them to notice,” and that thought had inspired this fine, fine work.

I worried that those who heard him read would be uncomfortable by the intensity of the subject. But I hoped they would also see the talent and the risk inside his work. They did. The applause seemed to go on for minutes. He’d done what each of us as authors should be doing: help others see the world and become awake to it.

Now I need to do that in my work in progress, inspired by a 15 year old boy. I hope your work in progress goes deep, takes risks and helps us as readers wake up.

Jane Kirkpatrick,, author of A Clearing in the Wild.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

KH: Writing to a Deadline

As I write this, I have but two more passes through a single scene to be finished with my fifth book, Return of the Guardian King, the fourth and final book in a series I began writing nearly 30 years ago. I contemplate that fact with a bit of bemusement. It’s amazing and I should feel amazed. To some degree, I do. But mostly I’m so drained, emotionally, mentally and creatively it's hard to feel much of anything beyond cautious relief. Coming to the end of a book is always a humbling experience for me. I think part of it is the intensity – you have to keep working, you can’t get away from the work and, as I’ve said in other places, you seem to see all of the flaws and none of the good parts. Worse, they're flaws you know you aren't going to be able to do a thing about because your time is up. (And with this book, my time is WAY more than up!)

So I just thought I'd take this opportunity to say, if you’re writing your book without a deadline or a contract right now, be thankful for the freedom that gives you. I'm not in any way complaining about being published — far from it! I am still struggling, after six years, to believe it's all true, and deeply grateful for the opportunity the Lord has given me. But I remember how it was before, when I'd longed to have what I have now and failed to appreciate and enjoy what I had then: the freedom to put the work down and do something else for awhile when it wasn't going well; the freedom to pick it up again when I was re-inspired and things in my life had presented me with the means to solve the problems I had been wrestling with; the time to make the notebooks and collect all the data about my created world, to work out all the characters and themes and plotlines just so. I have hardly even looked at any of that since I started writing with a deadline. It's always something I'll do later. Only later never comes.

I don't think it's just me. I read a poll of published Christian writers asking how many of them felt that they had brought their books to a point of being "finished" by the time their deadlines arrived. The overwhelming majority said they never felt their books were really finished when they turned them in.

When I signed the contract for Legends of the Guardian King, I had, over the years, rewritten The Light of Eidon three times from start to finish. After the third rewrite I know I took at least a year off to work on the final draft of Arena. It took me about five years to write the first draft of Arena. Suddenly, I was being asked to write the sequels to Eidon in six months. I laughed. "How about 9 months?" they asked. Ha! "A year?" I said it would take me two years at best. They said everyone would forget about my books in that time and the series would tank. I asked for 18 months. Nope. Too long. Especially for Fantasy, which was a hard sell. So I agreed to 12 months.

Afterward I added up all the days I had spent writing Arena and the final version of The Light of Eidon, minus the days or weeks in between that I took off to make home schooling plans, or go on field trips or clean the house, or do Christmas or Thanksgiving or take vacations, or just because I was sick to death of working on it and needed a break... if I added all those days up, they totaled, in both cases, 14 months.

Because my son was going off to college, I thought maybe I really would be able to work faster. And I think I have a little. But my first guess of when I could turn the books in was right: When I tally up the time consumed, including first draft and second, I find it took me 18 months to write each of them. And the last two have been finished very close to the time they needed to go to print. So I've had no time to dally.What I’ve learned is that the time breaks I was given in the years before publication were actually helpful. Instead of being frantic and resenting them, I wish now I had embraced and enjoyed them. If you're meant to write, you will. If you're not, it's just as well if the details of life can pull you permanently away from it. Because then you'll know.

While a contract may provide some with more confidence in their writing, there's a price to be paid: Now you HAVE to write in a way that's probably different from the way you wrote before. Some people find this stimulating. Others find it too stimulating! Especially when you find out there are a bunch of other things you have to do that you never considered when you said that maybe, at the outer realm of possibility you could write a book in 12 months. Stuff like the rewrites of the book that came before it, like the galleys which take two to three weeks, like trips here and there to promote your book — and the time it takes to get your mind back into the book after such trips. When I said 12 months, I meant 12 months of solid — every day or almost that — working on the book in progress. Not 10 months in a 12 month period.

It takes adjusting to, and I'm still adjusting. I'm not sure how good it all is for the quality of the fiction produced, but I'm also learning more and more to make a lesser deal of that than I did when I was still trying to break into publication. From the beginning of writing my books, I've prayed that The Lord would make them what He wants them to be, that He would guide me in doing that and I believe He's done so. But He's also taught me that if He can use flawed and fallen man to bring glory to Himself, He can also use fallen man's flawed and imperfect works to do so. And that's an important thing to remember when you get to the end of this process, to the place where you finally have to stop, ready or not, and turn the whole thing in, knowing the next time you see it, it'll be in galley form, all but ready to walk out the door and meet its public.
Karen Hancock

Monday, December 11, 2006

KB: Mini-Mentoring Clinic, Round One

Last week, I spent a lovely couple of days in the redwoods, just this side of Santa Cruz, California. Why, you may ask, did an Oregonian cross the border into that dreaded enemy, California? (Think I’m exaggerating? Let me just remind you that when I was in highschool, the boys entertained themselves by taking their BB guns out and pinging any California license plates that happened to drive by. Now, just so you know, I’m not so opposed to California as some of my Oregon brethren and sistren. I’m happy to report I’ve pinged nary a plate, California or otherwise. So you can relax…)

Anyway, why did I hie myself to California? Simple: to participate in the Mount Hermon Intensive Fiction Mentoring Clinic (along with our own James Scott Bell…though, of course, my classes were MUCH more fun. *G*).

I had eight intrepid budding novelists in my class, and we spent the entire four days working together to refine one another’s craft. It was, really, delightful. Even those who had to sit on the hot seat said so. I mean, besides being in the company of writers for four days, we were immersed in the craft of bringing story to life. We read and critiqued and dialogued, and it was grand. This was my second year doing this (actually, it’s the mentoring clinic’s second year), and as happened last year, I was tickled to see what great insights novelists have for each other. And how so many of us see both the same things, and different things, in another’s writing.
It’s a chance to let others in on what I get to do almost every day: give suggestions and insights to readers for them to chew on and digest (hopefully not choke!), and then watch how they take those thoughts and apply them. I’ve seen such wonderful improvement in craft, just during one edit. Not, mind you, because I’m such a wonder, but because true writers long to improve. This year, as happened last year, by the end of the clinic we all were caught up in the delight of iron sharpening iron. It confirmed what I’ve long believed: one of the best gifts you can give yourself as a writer is to join a working critique group. A group where you can get into the meat of the writing craft, where you can help each other even as you, yourself, are helped.

Now, I know that’s not always possible. So I’ll just make a little pitch here for the Mount Hermon Mentoring Clinic. If you wish you had a place where someone would read your materials and give you solid insights and counsel, come to the clinic! You won’t be sorry.
Okay, commercial over.

I had intended, in the course of our group’s time together, to lead a number of mini-workshops on such salient points as Show vs. Tell, Point of View, Dialogue, and so forth. Instead, my brave mentorees asked if we could just sit and talk. They wanted a kind of “Everything-You-Wanted-to-Know-about-Publishing-But Were-Afraid-to-Ask-Because-the-Editor-Would-Hate-You-and-Never-Offer-You-a-Contract” bull session. We covered everything from advances to marketing, retailers to publishing committees, covers to titles, and on and on. It was loads of fun
So I thought I’d do two things here at Charis.

One, give you the same opportunity. Ask me what you’d like to know. If I can answer, I will. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say so. I want to do whatever I can to help you better navigate the world of Christian Publishing. Because we all know there are some serious rocks out there, and we’d rather not end up smashing into them.

Two, since I have these handy-dandy little mini-workshops all dressed up with no place to go, I’ll share them with you. They’re geared to those who wish to write novels, but I think there are applications for nonfiction writers as well.

So please, post your questions in the reply section, and I’ll answer them as best I can. And watch for the mini-workshops, coming soon to a Charis posting near you.
Blessings, all.

Karen Ball writes and edits from her home in spectacular Oregon.

Friday, December 08, 2006

LS: Come Out From Among Them and Be Ye Separate!

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Author Unknown

If you make a mess, clean it up. How many times have we heard that said, said it ourselves, or have seen it emblazoned on one of those kitschy posters at the card store? You know the kind. All of life’s rules line up in vari-colored ink and ten different loads-O-fun fonts trying desperately but not convincingly to disguise the fact that it’s just another guilt trip.

I find I make messes all over the pages of my manuscript. I type “to” when what I really want to say is “too.” How about the old your-you’re foul up? And of course, the ever popular its-it’s boo-boo.

More messes than I’d like litter my manuscript, and you know what?

It’s not my editor’s job to take them out. It’s mine.

This seems like it should be evident, that every writer scours her manuscript with a scrub brush looking for little messes to clean. But guess what? This isn’t always the case. Many pieces I receive at conferences as well as manuscripts sent to me for endorsement are littered with these little messes, these quick-wipe smudges that are only too easily removed.

Simply put, when you submit a manuscript for possible publication, it should be clean. Most editors will understand something here or there. Nobody’s perfect. But a messy manuscript? Who wants to deal with that? Whether published or not, our job as writers is to present the most sparkling piece of work we can, pristine and polished, so our editors can do their real job, locating weaknesses, elongating strengths, (and whatever else it is they do for which I’m eternally grateful) without their vision cluttered by the smudges of simple, dare I say it, grammar school mistakes.

It’s not only what we have to say that separates a good writer from a mediocre writer, but how we say it, all the way down to the small messes and smudges.

Work hard. Work well. And hand in the best piece you possibly can.

Mundane advice to be sure, but something that will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

Lisa Samson lives in Lexington, KY. As you read this, she’s most likely procrastinating on her blog,

Thursday, December 07, 2006

JC: Three Letters

You did it.

You took the plunge. You dared to dream that you could be a writer. You’ve even begun to tell other people you’re a writer. You may have even written something.

Nobody knows nor can they appreciate the effort it took, the sacrifices you made, the fear you had to face down to write your story. You have something to give to the world. You want to make a contribution. Nothing gives you greater joy than to hear people laugh at the funny parts, get teary-eyed at the mushy parts, or take you by the hand and say in all earnestness, “I can’t tell you how much your writing means to me.”

It hasn’t been easy getting to this point. To become a writer you’ve taken classes, read voraciously, struggled through tiresome first drafts and persisted, until now you have something worth sharing. You have even risked delivering your printed dream to the world at a conference, through an agent, or on postal wings to a publisher.

Only to find that the world doesn’t care. A serial editor slashed it with red marks. The publisher... no, many publishers with one loud voice have said they don’t want to have anything to do with it. You’re crushed. You laid your gift at the world’s feet and the world kicked it back into your face.

Now as you sit at your desk—the same desk where you poured out your heart and story—three new compositions are arrayed in front of you. Three letters.

Letter number one:
Dear World,
Take a hike. I offered you a piece of my soul and you spindled it, wipe your feet on it, and mailed it back to me. It is obvious you do not want what I have to give. Well, I have good news for you. I won’t be bothering you again. If I wanted this kind of ridicule, sarcasm, and abuse I would’ve talked to my teenage children. You will find no return address on this letter for good reason. I will retire far from the publishing world with my cat (who loves everything I write), and from now on I will write only during lazy summer evenings when inspiration is heavy in the air. Maybe a hundred years from now some attic adventurer will discover my manuscripts, appreciate their wisdom and talent, and introduce them to a more sensitive world.

Letter number two:
Dear World,
I don’t understand. What do you want from me? I have offered you my skill, my heart, my stories, and you have yawned in my face. Tell me what you want to hear and I’ll write it. Play the music and I’ll dance to your tune. Then, maybe after I have established myself you will be more receptive, and I’ll write the good stuff and dazzle you.

Letter number three:
Dear World,
So, my stories did not make your flavor-of-the-month list. You said they had all the excitement of green beans and broccoli. Touché. First, understand this: I refuse to write whipped cream stories. There are too many all sugar, no substance stories on the shelves already. But I’ll tell you something else…I’m not going away. I’ll win you over. I once heard an old Irish saying, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone join?” Maybe after we have gone a few rounds we will come to respect each other. Put your dukes up. You may have won round one, but the fight has just begun.

Three letters. One envelope.
The decision is made. You select one of the letters, fold it, slip it in the envelope, seal, stamp, and mail it to the world.

Which letter did you send?

Jack Cavanaugh, together with Bill Bright, is the author of Fury, the fourth and final installment in the Great Awakenings series.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

JSB: So You Want to Be a Novelist

I recently read the autobiography of the nineteenth century English novelist Anthony Trollope. What a horrible childhood he had. Right out of Dickens. Coming into adulthood convinced he was unfit for any “respectable profession” (he did go to work for the British postal system), he decided the one thing he might be able to do was write novels.

So he set out to do it. He started work on his first novel in 1843. He had not yet formulated the famous quota system that served him the rest of his writing life. In 1847 he took the finished manuscript to London and it was taken on by a very small publisher who promised him fifty percent of the profits. It was published, but Trollope never heard from the publisher and never got an accounting. It later turned out this guy tried to confuse the public into thinking that Trollope's mother (who was a novelist herself at one time) was actually the author. In any case, the book sold no more than 50 copies.

Trollope finished another novel and got a different publisher. This time he did get an accounting. The publisher printed 375 copies, and sold 140. The publisher sent Trollope a letter, which said, in part, "Thus, you will perceive it is impossible for me to give any encouragement to you to proceed in novel writing." Trollope says of his reaction, "I did not doubt the wisdom of the advice given to me in the letter, though I never thought of obeying it....I would have bet twenty to one against my own success. But, by continuing, I could lose only pen and paper, and if the one chance in twenty did turn up in my favour, then how much I might win."

So he went to work on his next novel. He got 20 pounds as an advance. But the book was another failure, selling under 350 copies. "Alas, alas, years were to roll by before I should earn by my pen another shilling." After the failure of his third novel, "I began to ask myself whether, after all, that was my proper line. I had never thought of questioning the justice of the verdict expressed against me. The idea that I was the unfortunate owner of unappreciated genius never troubled me....But I was clear in my mind I would not lay down my pen."

He tried his hand at a play, and sent it to an old friend who had theater connections in London. He got a letter in return, his friend stating that he had had "great hopes" for the play, but the lead character was so unbecoming that she "meets but little sympathy. And this, be assured, would be its effect upon an audience." This, coming from a friend, was like a "blow in the face!" But to his credit, in later years Trollope re-read the play and concluded his friend was right. At the time, though, it was another crushing rejection of his work.

So Trollope wrote a travel book about Ireland, and was invited by a publisher to submit it. He worked his tail off and submitted the book and didn't hear anything for nine months. Finally he shot off an angry letter, and got the rejected manuscript by return mail.

For the next two years the demands of his job precluded novel writing. But Trollope kept turning plot ideas "over in my head." On a visit to the cathedral city of Salsbury, he came up with the character of an Archdeacon, and was moved to write because of he was outraged by twin "evils"--the purloining by dishonest clergymen of funds that were intended for the poor; but also the vicious attacks by the news journals on honest clergymen who did their work though poorly compensated. He completed the novel, The Warden, and though it did not get to a second printing, it sold enough copies to finally earn him some return. His assessment of its merit (other than the passion he had for the subject matter that I perceive here) was due, he said, to being able to put well drawn characters "so on the canvas that my readers should see what I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this."

He wrote a second Cathedral novel, Barchester Towers, which is the one that began his literary reputation. It is also the novel that started his quota system--a discipline to write a certain number of pages each day. Barchester Towers came out in 1857, 14 years after he began as a novelist. The success of the book enabled him to begin getting good advances, and he never looked back.

He became one of the most productive novelists of all time because of his famous quota system. He rose every morning at five o'clock and wrote for three to four hours in order to meet a self-imposed weekly quota of approximately forty pages. He kept a meticulous record of his production, always meeting the quota.

And this is true: when he got to the end of a novel, and had not met his daily quota, he would take a breath, remove a clean sheet of paper and write “Chapter One” and keep writing. He always had another project cooking in his head as he wrote.

So you want to be a novelist? You would do well to learn some lessons from Anthony Trollope:

1. Develop a passion that won't let you quit, even if it looks as if the road to publication is as far off as a hit sitcom for Jason Alexander.

2. Give yourself a quota. Write a certain number of words each day and keep a weekly goal (so if you miss a day, you can make it up on another). This is what served Trollope so well, and for me it was one of the earliest, and still the best, pieces of advice I ever got on the writing life.

3. Keep turning plot ideas “over in your head.” Most new writers I encounter have a single project in hand. I tell them to get to work on their next project. If their present manuscript is still being written, I say “Finish it, and as you do be developing your next book, and getting ideas for the ones after that.” Keep an idea file, where you jot down one or two line concepts that you might want to develop later. Go over this file from time to time and nurture the most promising ideas. In this way, you’ll never run out of things to write about.

4. Go for those “well drawn characters.” That was Trollope’s secret. Also Dickens’. Also any great novelist I can think of. Characters are how readers connect to stories. This goes for literary, commercial or genre writing.

5. Don’t get discouraged. Look how long it took Trollope. He just kept writing. So can you.

6. Don’t quit your day job. At least not yet. Trollope found time to write and made the most of it. Do this every day, and you’ll generate more than enough material to make it. Many a successful novelist began this way, writing in the hours before going to work, or late at night, or on weekends. The quota system is like compound interest—the rewards grow almost like magic.

Writing a novel is a mix of art and craft, inspiration and discipline, hope and hard work. Go for it.

James Scott Bell’s website is

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

JK: Whose Frontier is That?

“Whose Frontier is that, anyway?” spoke the poet as he told a story of a man coming into a bar and asking about a Nissan pickup parked out front.

The poet, Bob Wrigley, winner of Pushcart Prizes and a professor at a variety of creative writing programs around the country, was responding to a question posed to eight writers at the recent literary event, The Nature of Words, that I attended in Bend, Oregon. The question given to our state Poet Laureate (Lawson Inada) and to Alexandra Fuller, memoir author of Don’t Lets Go Out to the Dogs Tonight and Craig Lesley, winner of a Golden Spur award from Western Writers (among others) and to Linda Hussa, a rancher from northern California who won the WILLA for poetry with her book, Blood Sister I am to these Fields, and David Guterson, who wrote Snow Falling on Cedars, and Bob Pyle, who chased Monarch butterflies from Michigan to Mexico, and James Galvin, novelist and poet, who is a permanent faculty member of the Iowa Writer’s Institute, was “Whose frontier is it, anyway?”

I had the pleasure of emceeing these eight authors serving on a panel before a sell-out crowd. All week they kept saying to each other and to me, “I don’t know what to talk about with that question. What frontier? Whose frontier? Alexandra Fuller grew up in Rhodesia and now lives in Wyoming. What frontier would she talk about?

But when the night arrived, these eight authors, who spend days alone as do we when we write, rose to the occasion and did what authors do: they woke us up. They helped us pay attention to an entire range of frontiers. Development, and what that means to a high desert country (or a village across the sea); fencing and those who do the fencing that ultimately changes the landscape frontier. Spiritual frontiers and how writers will help people explore their own journeys. Even the role of Bigfoot (or in your part of the country it might be Babe the Blue Ox) in the cultural frontier of a region was discussed. How we find ourselves becoming less “self-sufficient” so that our children don’t know where their food comes from, and yet we expect the stores to be filled with foods from around the world regardless of the season--that, too, was seen as a new frontier.

It was a grand evening of laughter and restraint, another word used in conjunction with knowing what a frontier might be and how to live within them. Frontier is defined as that place beyond a settled edge. As a writer, we live in that space beyond the settled edge because we are explorers in ways to bring others along.

I got so caught up in the articulate discussion that I failed to say what I had intended at the beginning, and that was to repeat a phrase from Nobel Poet, Derek Walcott, who said “Where your heart hesitates, there lies your next frontier.”

If any of you are hesitating about YOUR next chapter, or your next idea, wondering if you’re up to the task of writing about it, perhaps that is your next frontier.

Jane Kirkpatrick, A Clearing in the Wild.