Friday, March 30, 2007

Ask the Authors: Friday

The real world is full of foul-mouthed people. Especially if you are writing a story with an urban setting, how do you depict this without treading on the sensibilities of your readers?

I've never seen the problem in this. It's no more difficult to say something as simple as "he swore" or "he uttered an oath" instead of turning the air blue with trash-talk as it is to say "he lost his lunch" or "he threw up" instead of describing in detail the regurgitated contents. One of the laziest forms of writing I've seen has to do with the unprofessional and immature practice of peppering the text with profanity or clinical sexual descriptions. That's not creative--it's simply childish and an insult to the reader. It's no great challenge to find a workaround for profanity and graphic sex. And our readers aren't stupid--they get the picture. --BJ Hoff

Is it possible to write a story about war and sailors on a ship without them swearing? Herman Wouk did, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for his effort. Here’s what he says about the subject in the front matter of The Caine Mutiny

“The general obscenity and blasphemy of shipboard talk have gone almost wholly unrecorded. This good-humored billingsgate is largely monotonous and not significant, mere verbal punctuation of a sort, and its appearance in print annoys some readers. The traces that remain are necessary where occurring.”

My comment: It has been my observation that the use of profanity is a cheap way for an author to portray evil, a shortcut in characterization. Evil and villains are best portrayed by actions, not because characters cuss. The same can be said for portraying a cultural setting (say, Jr. High). To reduce a coming of age story to the fact that young people cuss in an attempt to appear grown up is a lazy approach to storytelling. — Jack Cavanaugh

This is easy. I write, "He cursed" or "He uttered a foul curse." If your reader is someone with delicate sensibilities, she might read "cursed" and hear something in her head as mild as "darn." But if that person has lived in a tough urban setting or watches movies with lots of foul language, that person will read "cursed" and hear something far darker, grittier, more foul. As writers, we aren't required to spell everything out. It can be good to leave some things to reader's imagination. This is one area where I think less is more.

I wrote thirty books in the secular market before I answered God's call on my heart to write for Him. I was free to use curse words in my books, and I did, although they would be considered mild by most. But looking back, I can tell you that not a one of those words strengthened my writing or improved the books or made them more realistic. Not a one. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

I can only speak for myself. I don't write stories with urban settings, for the most part. I live in a rural setting, so that's what I write. My books don't contain obscenities because I choose to filter my novels through the realities of my world. I don't hear a lot of swearing around me--in our area of the country, people tend to watch their language more carefully. My characters say what I want them to say, and if a reader doesn't like that, then the reader has the freedom to choose not to read any more of my books. I've never had a lot of trouble with this situation. --Hannah Alexander

Fiction is representative of reality, not reality itself. Law & Order,
the 1990's version, is a great example of a show that was able to
represent street crime without using foul words. To me, that's a
greater accomplishment of writing technique than unbridled use of
language. It can be done. -- James Scott Bell

The real world is also full of people who use the bathroom daily, but most writers don’t feel the need to put that on stage, even though it would be natural and realistic. I think there are many more creative ways to get the point across without risking offending even a few readers. It can often be far more effective to simply say “He cursed under his breath” or whatever. Those who desire more realism can let their imagination fill in the blank with what they know to be reality, and those who would be offended needn’t fill in the blank at all. –Deborah Raney

I just finished a novel about undercover cops. Knowing several, and having researched it extensively, I knew this was no place for "aw-shucks". Here's the key: Write around the place that would be natural to have a cuss word. What I mean by that is to start the scene late, after the cussing has occurred, or get out early, before it starts. Or, if you can't do that, focus the reader away from the dialogue on to something else. You can give the appearance of it being there without it being there. It's when you try to replace it or substitute something else for it that you get in trouble. If you creatively write around it, though, your readers will get the idea and if you're really good at it, will be so focused on the story that they won't even realize there isn't a cuss word there. It takes some finesse and some thinking, but it can be done. -- Rene Gutteridge

Again, I can return to Flannery O’Connor who warned about the temptation of gratuitous writing yet herself took risks writing in a Southern grotesque genre. I will be honest. There are times when my character should swear. So I’ll sort of plug in what the character actually would say. (My editor probably sees that but she never says anything.) Then on revision, I concentrate on artful characterization but try not to “sanitize’ that character. If she is foul, she acts foul and her language is still prickly but not so much that I’ve ever gotten a complaint. But if I do, I’ll accept it graciously because it isn’t my aim to offend, but to be true. Emotions are potent tools that if used artfully can convey the things we need to convey. --Patty Hickman

The beauty of writing historicals is such language concerns are largely a non-issue. If I need to have a character say something disparaging or utter a mild oath, I simply do it in Scots! When Rose in a fit of anger calls her sister a howre, we can easily figure out in context what she's saying without having the English word on the page. --Liz Curtis Higgs

This is one I sort of allude to in my posts this month, having to do with authenticity and historical accuracy versus honoring sensibilities. I think a writer has to find a way to create the emotional level of foul-mouthed people without using the foul language. Sometimes it might be talking "about" the person's foul language without ever using it. It might be creating a word that is made up but that the character uses as though it was foul but the reader can read it without being offended. It takes more work for the author but just as it takes more work to create really romantic scenes or very touching scenes without using graphic images I think we can do that without being explicit. Language is our friend here. Word choice will get us through. --Jane Kirkpatrick

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ask the Authors: Thursday

What makes a “Christian novel” Christian?

Some time ago I read that a Christian novel should be known by its love whether one ever mentions the word Christ or Jesus in it at all. I don't think a salvation scene is required; I don't think a conversion scene is required. I do think that the protagonist needs to find compassion, grace, come to a new understanding of herself in relationship to God but that doesn't have to be explicity said. Gilead is a Christian novel (won the Pulitzer) and we see the struggles of the characters, the flaws of minor characters, but most of all we see his hope in his faith and that to me is a Christian novel. Jane Kirkpatrick

I've changed my answer to this question several times over the years, but from a purely pragmatic standpoint I think we can look at it this way: What makes a banana pie a banana pie? Is it banana flavoring or the chunks of banana on top? Either one, I think--but if it's a banana pie, there has to be SOMETHING of a banana in it. A pie isn't banana just because it ISN'T cherry. --Angela Hunt

A storyline that explores genuine faith issues from a Christian perspective and seeks to share a redemptive message (though not necessarily a "happy ending"). --Liz Curtis Higgs

I think it depends upon who you’re asking. I’m suspicious of didactic language even in describing what is meant by Christian writing because it can be a polarizing tool. But if you look at the writings of Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty, those women were considered Christian writers because faith informed their lives and thus their writing. That doesn’t mean that they were using stories to manipulate readers; there were some really bad novels even back then that claimed to be moral or Christian and of course we don’t know what happened to them. The important thing is that a writer is true to the truths that have informed her life; second of all the writer needs to train her eye to see life up close, even if life is a little raw or dark. O’Connor was in essence a critic of the church and as a Christian she cast that sort of prophetic shadow through her literature. That is why her stories ring true because she was seeing the Church up close and then was honest to paint what she saw with a specific stroke. If you are trying to write with a glut of people in your head that you’re trying to please, your writing might be “Christianized” but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to carry value into the next generation. If my novel is Christian only because the current culture says it is, then what kind of a voice am I projecting in literature? I challenge new writers to plow new ground, take risks, and don’t be afraid of critics who don’t understand the art of literature. Be true and write true. God can plant such profound realities in our writing when we write true and artistically. --Patty Hickman

I’m not sure I like the term “Christian novel,” but if pressed to define that, I suppose having the story written by a Christian, and therefore the novel’s worldview being from a Judeo-Christian perspective, tends to produce a “Christian” novel. I think, too, having protagonists who are sympathetic Christians means that the ideas and themes the reader walks away with will be, if not somewhat evangelical, at least redemptive. –Deborah Raney

See my post of Feb. 5, 2007, by going to:

--James Scott Bell

I've asked that same question for many years. There are so many ways to point to Christ, and there are as many books. My concern is that we not judge one another and our audience. Some people write romances with a gentle message that leads the reader to consider Christ. Other people write deeply spiritual books that can win thousands to Christ. I read one secular book last year with multiple swear words, and yet there was one character in this book who epitomized a Christian, and honestly, I believe there could have been readers drawn to Christ through this "obscene" book. Who is writing a more Christian novel? I think that's something we'll be able to ask God when we see Him face to face. --Hannah Alexander

What I want when I read Christian fiction is to wrestle with spiritual truths and be forced to grow along with the character. I want to feel the hope that comes from knowing Christ when I reach the end of the book. I don't need all the threads to be tied up neatly at the end. Life is messy, and it's okay if a book is too. But I want the reader to leave me with hope.

A book cannot, of course, be Christian. Only the writer can be Christian. So it is the writer's beliefs and worldview that will shape a story and infuse it with the traits that we have come to think of as "Christian fiction." -- Robin Lee Hatcher

No book out there is spiritually neutral because everything is written by a person with a set of beliefs about the big questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Inevitably, the author’s beliefs are going to be embedded in the text like clues on a treasure map. A Christian novel isn’t a book with an altar call; it’s a story in which the clues point to biblical truths. Because the author himself holds a biblical worldview, his story will not only conform to biblical values but will also contain themes of hope, redemption, and faith. --Ann Tatlock

Ask a dozen people, and you'll likely get a dozen different answers. I've heard some really bad definitions of "Christian novels." I don't actually think in terms of "Christian" novels, but more from the standpoint of fiction written from a Christian's worldview--or not. If you're a Christian and a writer, your worldview is going to be an integral part of what you write. -BJ Hoff

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

What’s your favorite POV? What do you find the most difficult to write in, and what do you find the easiest POV to work with?

The most difficult POV for me is third person because that makes me one step removed from my characters. I love to write in first person because that’s “up close and personal;” I’m writing as though I am the character. I also love to read first person novels. Unfortunately, though, I’ve heard this isn’t true for the majority of readers out there, who prefer third person! (Which I also read and write.) --Ann Tatlock

Definitely third person multiple is my favorite POV and the one I find easiest to work with. It's also my favorite choice to read in. Although I also enjoy reading in first-person, I don't like writing in it. It's too restrictive. --BJ Hoff

I like 'em all! Seriously, each serves a purpose and some stories are better served by one POV than by another. Completely depends upon the personality of the protagonist and what you, the author, are trying to accomplish. For instance, in THE NOTE I needed my protagonist to have secrets--couldn't have used first person fairly, because then the reader should have had access to all her memories. In THE PEARL, I needed my protagonist to make a really wild decision--so I needed my reader to have access to her reasoning, so the wacky decision seemed rational. It all depends upon your story. --Angela Hunt

I don't really have a favorite POV. What makes one easier to work with depends upon if it is the write voice for the story. What I write is whatever the story demands.

Out of 55 books, 53 were written in third person, past tense, with multiple character POVs. One was written in first person, past tense, with one primary POV and smaller vignettes in the POVs of secondary characters. My 55th book, which I'm writing now, is in first person, past tense, with only one character's POV.

The two books that I've written in first person were because the story refused to be told in third person. And another book that I tried to write in first person refused to be told that way; I had to go with third. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

I love writing in the first person, though I've seldom done it. Third person is very simple for me, after doing it for almost twenty-three years, but when I'm writing first person, it's much easier to dig more deeply into my character, to see through their eyes, and to feel their pain and relate it to the reader. --Hannah Alexander

I love first person POV, because it's the most intimate and you can
really get into a character. It was what I chose for Breach of
Promise, which became one of my most popular novels, partly based on
the POV, I believe. There's a danger with first person, though, the
tendency to "run off at the mouth." Not everything a character says is
worth recording. You have to walk a delicate line. And the voice needs
to be distinctive enough, in and of itself, to sustain interest for a
whole novel. -- James Scott Bell

I almost always write in third person, multiple POVs (one POV per scene, of course). I think I’d find first person present very difficult and awkward to write. Third person feels most natural for me. For some reason I particularly enjoy writing a third person male POV. –Deborah Raney

Without a doubt, my favorite is 3rd person multiple POV. I love to change POVs, and it works great in comedy. I find 1st person very difficult, mostly because I can't switch POV, so I find myself having a hard time moving the plot along. I had to learn that I don't need to be in my character's head every second, even if it's the only head I'm in. I think the easiest in 3rd person, single POV--one POV per scene. -- Rene Gutteridge

I love first person pov or close third. All of the POV’s are something I have to work through. For me, deciding what is best for that particular story is trial and error. I wrote my current WIP in first person on the first draft, then switched to close third. I hated it and it ripped the heart right out of the story so it’s rightfully restored to 1st person. I wrote my first few books in omniscient voice back when that was still popular in the CBA. I’m happier with the challenges of 1st and 3rd because of the higher literary quality of those voices. --Patty Hickman

I've written in first person for my nonfiction books and third person for my fiction. Both have their advantages/disadvantages. I'm toying with first person for my next series of historical novels, simply because of the intimacy and sympathy that view quickly builds. But I'm afraid of losing the page-turning suspense one can create when the reader knows something the protagonist does not because she's traveled elsewhere in a different character's POV. I'll probably try one POV for a couple of chapters and see how it feels! --Liz Curtis Higgs

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ask the Authors: Tuesday

How can you concentrate on writing when you are in the midst of difficult emotional trials?

The reality is that, for some, writing can serve as an escape from emotional turmoil by "taking us away" from our surroundings. As we become immersed in the fictive world we've created, we can forget--or at least temporarily put aside--the difficulties we're going through. For me, the tough part is to will myself to work "in spite of" a situation. Once I get started, I'm able to keep going. --BJ Hoff

I have to say that writing is often the thing that keeps me sane in the midst of difficult trials. It's also helpful, even theraputic, because the Lord helps me find answers for my own problems even as He guides and teaches my fictional characters. --Angela Hunt

Writing has, for me, always been therapeutic. It has actually helped me get through some tough times by lifting me up out of my own world and taking me to a safe place of my own making. I do think, though, that life could throw some trials my way that would basically shut me down for a while. I imagine that’s true for just about everyone. That would be the time when I’d stop trying to work, sit myself down in the presence of God, and soak up His healing grace. Some things are more important than meeting a deadline. --Ann Tatlock

I have gone through a number of difficult emotional trials during the years I've been a full-time writer, and my only answer is that you treat your writing as you would any job. You show up and you work. You probably won't produce at your usual rate or your usual quality, but you show up because your employer is counting on you to be there. When I was in the thick of an emotional trial recently, I counted myself as successful if I could produce one or two good pages in a day. It isn't much, but it helped me stay in the story. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

Writing is a balm to my soul when I am struggling with other situations in my life. Entering a world that I'm able to control gives me relief when I'm in an uncontrollable difficulty. When I'm sitting vigil at the bedside of a dying loved one, when I'm under unfair attack from others, when the struggle becomes too great, I can always retreat to the place I've created, where the characters will do what I want them to do (sometimes) and where I have more control. Writing creates a wonderful hideaway. --Hannah Alexander

Great question. The mark of a professional is the ability to work
under all conditions. As a lawyer, I couldn't leave my client sitting
in court because I had the blues or a case of "lawyer's block." But I
well know there are times that are SO tough, the fingers my not
respond at all. On such occasions, treat yourself well. Don't take
yourself to task mentally. Take some time off, and don't stop writing.
Instead, journal. The act of writing out your pain, like David in the
Psalms, will work hand in hand with your determination to rely on God.
If you keep writing like that, eventually you will be led back to your
fiction. -- James Scott Bell

It’s not easy. I have a very hard time compartmentalizing emotions. Too often, if I’m going through a difficult emotional time, I discover that I take it out on my characters and they might “overreact” to what’s happening in their story world. On the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to project my own emotions about something going on in my life onto my characters. -–Deborah Raney

On one hand, it is slightly theraputic, a way to get away from it all. But speaking from experience, it's still very difficult to do. In every life crises I've had, it's been in the middle of writing a comedy. To this day, I still don't know how Boo Hiss had anything funny in it. Well, yes I do. God worked through me when I couldn't work my way into a smile. And I think one of my most poignant and powerful passages is in Boo Hiss, during one of the hardest moments of my life. Scoop was also written during a very difficult time. I think the key is to allow yourself to escape. For me, there were times when I almost felt guilty for not thinking about the trials, for wanting to leave it all behind. It's okay to go, as long as you come back. Also, it amazes me how often what I'm going through at the time actually applies to the theme of my book, or even creates a new one. My trials have created more depth to my characters, more strength to my themes. Use it as a tool. And pray. Lots and lots of prayer. -- Rene Gutteridge

It seems that there are always difficult emotional trials. I’d like to know what it’s like to write without them. No matter the trials, the writer has to commit to the responsibility of the creative work. So concentration is mandatory. Maybe the truth is that when I’m focused on the character and her situations and trials, it makes mine seem a light and momentary pain. --Patty Hickman

Oh, my. Good question. Especially with fiction, I find it almost impossible to write when I'm emotionally distraught. And yet write we must, and so we do, through tears and gnashing of teeth. I'm never more dependent on the Lord than when I'm emotionally or physically drained and yet must keep writing. And perhaps, when all is said and done, that state of dependence is precisely where he wants us to be. --Liz Curtis Higgs

I find that during those times, writing is like praying for me. It's where I can go and experience the Holy Spirit moving within my heart so that I can know I'm not alone. My characters sometimes help me work out the issues within my own life. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer and then developed TB, it was being able to walk across the hall and write that allowed me to come back to give to him what he needed and for me to trust that God was with us. My prayer is that God will help me write and He does. --Jane Kirkpatrick

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ask the Authors: Monday

Welcome back to "Ask the Authors" week. We have several unrelated questions for this week and will use one each day. If you have a question you'd like to see answered, send it to .

Which character in all of your books do you feel grew the most in the novel? Would you please briefly describe the process?

In A Sweetness to the Soul I had a character named Eleanor. She was mute and initially just served as a conduit for something to happen to the main character. But I spent way too much time describing her and keeping her in the action, deciding I'd later have to go back and cut much of it because I didn't want a reader to expect to see her again, and they would with all my time with her. Then well toward the end of the book I needed someone to appear as part of this gift that my protagonist and his wife gave to a family. I didn't even need to name the family, just have them receive it. But low and behold, Eleanor showed up! She was the perfect recipient of the gift, and I didn't have to cut her earlier appearances. It was a gift to me. -- Jane Kirkpatrick

Jamie McKie in my Lowlands of Scotland series matured the most through the trilogy. He began as a selfish, greedy young man, incapable of genuine love or sacrifice. Over two years' time (and 1,536 pages!) he slowly grew into a husband and father who put the needs of others before his own and honored God above all else. Even when Jamie became a prince of a man, a few flaws were still apparent. Perfection makes for a boring (and unrealistic) hero. --Liz Curtis Higgs

Jeb Nubey, The Millwood Hollow Series. Book One, Jeb uses the church to hide from the law posing as a minister. Three displaced children have latched onto him and they, posing as his children, add not only to his believability as a widowed minister, but they add tension and levity, but also serve as change agents in him. Jeb as poser is selfish and desperate. But forced to not only learn how to read but to read scriptural text and apply it, he is a vulnerable candidate for a softening to spiritual growth. But to have only used the Bible as a change agent would have been contrived. So Jeb is also challenged by the generosity of the parishioners and the humility of a love interest. His attachment to the people creates a longing in him to belong to them. And of course he can’t belong if his devious secret is out. Tension, fear of being discovered, a love interest, scriptural application, and a fatherly attachment to the children all work to make a new man of him, even if faced with imprisonment. --Patty Hickman

Probably Natalie Camfield in After the Rains. The book begins with her being a rebellious high school senior, and ends with her living in Colombia, South America working with her physician father as a missionary. Her growth takes place in a span of years when most people mature greatly, so I just wrote the progression many Christians make from self-centered teen to compassionate young adult. Naturally, like most people, her growth took place as a result of the trials she endured—some self-inflicted, some life’s inevitable tragedies. -–Deborah Raney

I did a series character named Kit Shannon. She's a young woman who
comes to Los Angeles to practice law in 1903. Women were just getting
into law, and having a woman do trials was unheard of. She had to face
all sorts of prejudice, of course, but also the crazy world of Los
Angeles in those days, when a mix of wild west, urban progress and
wide open spirituality was in play. I developed the character with my
co-writer Tracie Peterson in the first three books, called The Shannon
, and then on my own in the last three, The Trials of Kit Shannon.
She grows in her faith and her skill over the course of time, finds,
loses and recovers love, and mixes with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt,
William Randolph Hearst, John Barrymore, Jack London and Harry
Houdini. I was gratified to receive letters and e-mails from young
Christian women who've been inspired by Kit. I love the character so
much I gave her a cameo in Glimpses of Paradise. Who knows? Maybe
she'll be back, circa 1930. By then, she's become a legend. -- James
Scott Bell

We had a character in our Healing Touch series by the name of Mitchell Caine, who started out as a bad boy doctor, proud of his accomplishments and antagonistic toward all patients and other doctors. In the end, he was brought to his knees, nearly caused the death of a colleague, and had to come to terms not only with his own drug dependency, but also with his daughter's drug addiction.--Hannah Alexander

This is a difficult question. In my women's fiction, my protagonists have to make some major adjustments (i.e. emotional growth) before we reach the end of the book. But if I had to pick just one, I would go back to Claire in The Forgiving Hour. She was so embittered by the affair of her husband and the divorce and financial hardship that followed. More than a decade later, she still wouldn't let her son talk about his dad around her. Then the "other woman" enters her life again, and Claire is forced to come to a place of forgiveness, not only for her sake but for the sake of her son and the other woman. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

Friday, March 23, 2007

JSB: Carried Away

In the Stephen King short story, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," a traveling salesman pulls into a Motel 6 to commit suicide. Life on the road, the isolation of it, has caught up with him.

The only thing keeping him from eating a bullet is his odd journal, a collection of bathroom graffiti he has kept over the years. He thinks people will consider him crazy if they find the journal. He had once wanted to write a book about it.

You'll have to read the story, found in the collection Everything's Eventual, to find out what happens (I write suspense, see?) But it's one of King's best stories, with a haunting subtext about it.

What do we do when we see that which we love carried away?

I've thought about this recently after some postings by a few of my novelist friends who are being dropped by their publishers for lack of sales. Or others who can't seem to land a new contract, despite well reviewed and even award winning novels.

When we are unpublished, we all think breaking into print is the key to the Kingdom. We have arrived in a literary Valhalla to take our place among the gods of print. Odin, looking like Jerry Jenkins, and Thor, a golden-maned John Grisham, welcome us with pints of Mead and promises of immortality.

It's all an illusion, of course. There is no Valhalla. It's more like a dusty Barnes & Noble. And whatever shelf space we have can dry up in an instant. As General Patton once put it, "All glory is fleeting."

You know, I think my most joyful writing came before I was published. Partly it was ignorance – I didn't know that much about fiction (I'd come over from screenwriting) and was just having fun putting down a story as it flowed.

So happy was I that I wrote something in my journal. I said that I would always write, even if I never got published. Even if I had to print out copies at Kinko's and force them on my family at Thanksgiving and on perfect strangers outside Safeway. I wrote because I was compelled to write.

Well, I did get published and it turned into a career, but that does not mean it's all roses, or that it might not go away sometime. No writer is fully immune from such thoughts.

What to do if it happens, if the publishers' doors slam?

I hope I would respond like one of my favorite writers, Preston Sturges. He was a blazing comet of success in the early 1940's, writing one great film comedy after another. He considered the possibility that all he had might be taken away and said, “When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb with a pencil and a ten-cent notebook, and start the whole thing all over again.”

Try to keep that attitude, no matter where your writing goes. If you get published, don't rest and think you've got it made. Keep the PHD mindset: Poor, Hungry, Driven. Half the battle in this game is sticking around.

So stick, and write. And if you must, go to Kinko's. They can carry away your contracts, but they can't carry away your determination.

More about James Scott Bell can be found at

Thursday, March 22, 2007

JK: Historical Authenticity, Part 2

The same kinds of questions come up about authenticity in characters who might have used swear words often. Would I use them in my story to be authentic to the time period? No.

I don't use vulgarity (even though we know those fur trappers sure did!) and I don't use explicit sexual images either (because I have this agreement with my characters that I won't reveal their little idiosyncrasies and then they won't reveal any of mine!). It takes more time and skill, I think, to convey the emotion we want by not using those terms. I also don’t use words for the human anatomy that are slurs even though a character might have used them back then. Some historians call this “wriggling” and rewriting history. I don’t. I think it’s making choices today that can reflect the attitudes of that period without replicating the racial slurs for posterity, assuming of course that we are writing for posterity hoping our books will be forever in print.

I’ve been gratified to hear from readers that because of the way I’ve portrayed Indian people, as real with strengths and flaws, that they’ve come to see another side to their experiences and to be less able to stereotype them as a people. I’m grateful for that.

Another note, I often suggest people read Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird and tell them that there are four letter words in there that are not "love" and to try to step over those and not miss the good things this author has to say. At one event a woman came up to me later and said she appreciated that comment and that she could step over the word while reading; but with books on tape, it was a startle to hear profanity and very difficult to step over. Just one more reason for me NOT to use that kind of volatile word and to find some other way to convey the emotion.

As a writer we’ll have Indian readers; young readers; people who might not know how people were referred to in that uprising of 1862 that Erica is writing about. She’ll be giving them a good story, authentic, while not turning them off because of words that were meant to demean, and I think that's a great gift to give us all.

I’d be interested in your comments and thanks to Erica for asking (and she said I could post the question and answer here!)

Jane Kirkpatrick, Look for A Tendering in the Storm, book two in the Change and Cherish series from WaterBrook Press/Random House.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

JK: Historical Authenticity

One of this blog’s readers asked a question of me, about how to refer to American Indians in a book she was writing about a massacre that occurred in the 1860s. I responded and also posted my answer on another listserv that has generated some interesting discussion. Here’s my answer to her wondering if one should go with political correctness and not use words like “squaw” or whether to be “authentic” since people back then would have used those words.

I've decided to go with political correctness for two reasons: one, I know a lot of Indian people and the word squaw really is a diminishing word. Brave appears to have fewer evocative reactions as does half-breed so I'd be less concerned with using those last two. But I wouldn't use squaw. Oregon State has just gone through the process of renaming every geographical site using that name with an Indian name meaning "woman" using the words for several tribes. I'm glad about that.

The other reason I tend to go with political correctness is something Joyce Carol Oates said at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and that's that a writer should do three things in a story: to create empathy for a character and the flawed world in which they live; witness to people who otherwise might not have a voice and three to memorialize. So given those, I think that when we use the more acceptable, present day terms, we are memorializing something with integrity rather than something foul. We hope our stories will be widely read and why wouldn't we want them to remember it with words that respect the dignity of human beings rather than those once used to diminish them. Authenticity to me means not just factual accuracy but as writers, that we've done the work to convey the time period without demeaning the people even though people then might have done just that.

I think we can witness to what happened then and create the emotional impact of those kinds of words without ever using them, and I think that can be even more powerful than actually using the words. To have a narrator say "He called her that despicable word that he'd heard his father say, then spit, because she was a woman, an Indian woman, and he didn't think she deserved better" or something like that takes more time, but it also conveys a quality of the character that just using the word "squaw" doesn't. We might know something about the man, his father AND the woman then. Since it was a term used by a whole range of people with differing relationships to each other, some words might have been used as friendly banter between husband and wife or even a friend to friend. But we also know those same words were used derogatorily. So I just choose to find some other way to describe the relationship without using the offensive words. I’ll have more in my next posting.

Jane Kirkpatrick Look for Jane’s latest to be released April 17th. A Tendering in the Storm.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In Memory of Jane Orcutt

We at Charis Connection wanted to take a day to remember our friend, novelist Jane Orcutt, who went to heaven on March 18, 2007 after a struggle with leukemia.

Jane was an editor by day and a novelist by night. Among her many novels are All the Tea in China, The Fugitive Heart, The Hidden Heart, The Living Stone, Lullaby, Dear Baby Girl, Porch Swings and Picket Fences, Restoration and Romance, as well as several novels in Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series.

Jane corresponded with many of her fellow novelists, any one of whom could tell you that she was warm, witty, devoted to Christ and a firm believer in the power of Christian fiction.

I dipped into my email archives and came up with just a few snippets that show the sort of person Jane is. If you weren't fortunate enough to meet her on earth, be sure to look her up in heaven.

---Angie Hunt

In her own words. Emails from Jane Orcutt:

BTW, I was thinking about Christian fiction the other day. I probably told you that a while back, I made a decision to write fun, lighthearted books with a small message tucked in. With my health problems, I crave something not too depressing, you know? . . . I knew I liked Kris Billerbeck's books because they're fun, ditto Penny Culliford's, but with a message.
* * *
Yes, "Romance Plus"--that's a good way to put it. I actually like a really good romance. I'd love to be able to write like LaVyrle Spencer--did you ever read anything by her? Good relationship stories are actually pretty hard to do. I like a good relationship with a good, tight historical background. *Not* a history lesson, but where the characters are seamlessly woven into the times.
* * *
I did get tickled when you said that Texans thought Dallas was the best city in the world. hee hee People in Fort Worth (including me) don't think so, not by a long shot, but I laughed when I read that.
* * *
On this last trip to the hospital I got to go courtesy of an ambulance ride since I passed out cold. I can't believe that as bad as I felt, physically, I still thought of that Seinfeld episode where George has turned purple and is riding to the hospital in an ambulance with Jerry and Kramer and the paramedics start fighting. I hoped that my two paramedics were on good terms....
* * *
BTW, while I was bedridden-before hospitalization, mostly-I watched a lot of Seinfelds. Very cheering when you're down and ill. I think my favorite one is where they go to the opera. When Jerry sings the theme song to the Bugs Bunny show, I crack up every time:

Overture, curtains, lights,
This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part
We know every part by heart
Overture, curtains, lights
This is it, you'll hit the heights
And oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it

And who doesn't love/hate Crazy Joe Davola?
* * *
I loved this story in the paper because it was about two strangers with lives that intersected for a brief, but important time. It certainly makes you think about the people you step into an elevator with (!), or stand in line with at the grocery store, etc.

I loved that God sent someone special to comfort the dying woman and rejuvenated the comforter's life, as well. On paper, it's sappy, but it's God working out his good purpose and plan. Yay!
* *
Sorry I didn't get a chance to say good-bye to you. Was sticking my tongue out at you while you were in a meeting close enough?

:-) Jane

Monday, March 19, 2007

NH: Come on In

I have nothing against baptism by sprinkling….really I don’t. Some of my best friends have been sprinkled. I was sprinkled too. It happened when I was seven. My parents decided I should be baptized and so one Sunday our rector baptized me by sprinkling some water on my forehead and appointing my godparents to watch after my spiritual life. This was, as you might imagine, a liturgical church. And looking back from my life now in a decidedly non-liturgical church, I sometimes miss the pomp and formality I knew as a child. I often miss the beautiful words from the Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition please!). What I do not miss is the wool suit I was made to wear every Sunday, with my pajama bottoms underneath the pants to stop the infernal itching.

By college I had drifted from my second-grade faith. I was spiritually aimless. But by my junior year I had become one of those maniacal Jesus people of the 1960’s. I loaded up on Larry Norman records, devoured my newly purchased Scofield Bible, and could whip out my Four Spiritual Laws with the ease of Matt Dillon drawing his pistol at the beginning of “Gunsmoke.” And, I was baptized again. This time by full immersion. And I made sure every bit of me went solidly under. I did not want even one strand of unsaved hair on my head.

Now I’m an editor and a writer. And I constantly meet other editors and writers. And among the writers I meet—wait, let me amend that—among the published writers I meet, I find that most of them have, like me, been fully immersed, not sprinkled, in their compulsion to be a successful writer. I meet many others who I suspect have been merely sprinkled. They enjoy writing (don’t they know real writers agonize at the process?), they dabble in this or that project, and they might even attend a writer’s conference or two.

What brings this to mind are two recent events I can’t quite shake. One of the events was meeting a writer who had a great idea for a book and was going to send me a proposal. Months later, I heard that she was no longer writing, but had moved on to something else. She had been sprinkled as a writer, but not immersed. The other situation was similar. This would-be author told about the book she was writing and as I listened, I just couldn’t catch the vision for what she wanted to do. But then she mentioned one of those “back-burner” projects that she had set aside. And it was a dynamite idea. I loved it from the moment I heard about it. I told her I’d be happy to look at a proposal as soon as possible. “That?” she said. Well, it’s now almost a year later and I have yet to hear from this author. She too had been sprinkled, but not immersed.

To repeat: I have nothing against sprinkling—either as a means of baptism or even as a writer. But regarding the latter, I can’t help but notice that I personally resonate better with writers who have been fully immersed. They hunger to be published. They’d wash dishes at Hard Rock Café for a month in order to go a writer’s conference. They write when they feel like it—and they write when they don’t feel like it. They understand and accept rejection. They don’t whine about the fact that it takes more than just writing talent to get published these days. They devour writing books like a new convert devours the Gospel of John. And they daily read the blogs of several writers whom they admire. They are immersed as writers….and they have a distinct edge when it comes to getting published.

So my word to aspiring writers is get immersed.

Come on in the water’s fine.

Nick Harrison edits fiction for Harvest House Publishers.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

PH: The Satisfied Writer

The taking up of the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all; it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.” John Henry Newman

Today I was salivating over a job that would take me away from home for several weeks, a writer’s residency in another state. The writer-in-residence would teach one class a week and then spend the rest of her time doing nothing but writing. It sounds heavenly except for the fact that during those weeks away from home my duties as a wife, mom, and ministry leader would fall into neglect. But the thought of it lured my thoughts into a tranquil reverie.

Seriously, do you ever daydream about a life where all you have to do is write? No taking care of children or spouses or church duties. No answering emails or telephone calls. No strain or stress of the responsibilities to hold body and soul together. Morning and night, writing and more writing.

In the middle of my daydream, reality broke through. I imagined that hour in the afternoon where my youngest son comes lugging his book bag up the stairs, grinning, telling me about his day, the prom and the girl he’s invited to escort there, or the good grade he made on a test. And then I imagined missing that or missing my oldest running in between college classes and his job to give me a kiss. I get a kiss in the morning and one at night. He never forgets me. Then there’s that spoon thing I’d miss every evening when my husband crawls into bed next to me and we talk about all that happened that day and what the Lord did and how hard it was or how amazed we were. Or excited. Or let down, but still, even that is living. Or what would I miss if I couldn’t attend my small group? Would I continue to grow and stay challenged to mature in my faith? And what of the myriad of people I meet in my life because the Lord has seen fit to place me right here in this tiny apex of the universe that is occupied only by me and God in me? How would my life be enriched without those generous souls?

Then I wondered what in the world I’d write about if all I ever did was write, write, write. Would there be another story to tell and would it be worth telling? In Jeremiah, God says, “I will satiate the soul of the priest with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” There are times when carrying the load of wordsmith feels too heavy and I want to give it a new shape, dissatisfied with the old shape. I strain under it and fantasize about relief. I forget what goodness is poured into my life through, as John Newman once said, “the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.” I have to remind myself that the load I carry is not one of words but of souls. My hope is that I’m able one day to say to God that the things I carried in life were, okay, heavy; but only with humans.

Patricia Hickman writes wild and warm stories of faith like Earthly Vows and Whisper Town. or

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

JSB: Art and Grace

I believe it was Flannery O’Connor who said that the center of her stories was the idea of "grace being offered." Not necessarily accepted, but offered. Without that, there is no true art, she implied. And with that I agree.

In an earlier post I opined that great art must have a positive vision. That does not mean, however, that a novel or film must have an upbeat ending. But grace must be offered.

In Stephen King’s masterful miniseries, "Storm of the Century," a demon actually "wins" in the end. But the message is quite clear: if you deal with the devil, you will lose your soul, your humanity, everything. In this way, the "downbeat" ending was actually working for a positive theme. It’s even biblical.

I thought about this all again when my film critic son, Nate, sent me a link to a controversy over a film called "Chaos." I’ve not seen it, but it has received almost universal condemnation by film critics. It is, from the reports, nothing but a depiction of outright evil. Nothing redeeming. It’s as if a mirror had been held up to the likes of the BTK killer or Charles Manson, and just left there. Several well known critics were sickened by the whole thing.

One of these is perhaps the most well known of all, Roger Ebert. He gave the film a scathing review and all but begged people not to go see it.

This brought a response from the film’s director and producer. They challenged Ebert, saying this was art, that it was "well made," and in a post 9/11 world, that’s what they were trying to show. The letter was taken out as an ad in Ebert’s paper, the Chicago Sun-Times.
Ebert then wrote a response, which concluded:

"Animals do not know they are going to die, and require no way to deal with that implacable fact. Humans, who know we will die, have been given the consolations of art, myth, hope, science, religion, philosophy, and even denial, even movies, to help us reconcile with that final fact. What I object to most of all in "Chaos" is not the sadism, the brutality, the torture, the nihilism, but the absence of any alternative to them. If the world has indeed become as evil as you think, then we need the redemptive power of artists, poets, philosophers and theologians more than ever. "

Precisely. Now is not a time for Christian artists – or any with a positive vision, for that matter -- to retreat. The world needs us. Our job now is to hold ourselves to the highest standards of our craft.

The full Ebert essay may be viewed at:

James Scott Bell

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

BJH: Fun with Punctuation

This is a lightweight entry, and I hesitate to sneak it in among so many others that go much deeper. "Sneak" is the operative word, especially since it's about--punctuation. Who wants to read a blog entry about that? Who wants to read anything about punctuation? It's one of those writing basics that guarantees a big yawn just by its very nature: it belongs to what some think of as the "boring details" category.

But--whether we like it or not, we can't do justice to the more interesting and fun elements of the craft if we don't have a substantial command of most of those "boring details." So allow yourself the big yawn, but let me just insert this: this is about a fiction writer's use of punctuation which, because of the nature of our work, will ... and should ... vary at times from what we learned in college English courses and, in many cases, creative writing courses.

Were you taught, and do you perhaps still deal with the mindset that sentence fragments are forbidden? They're not in fiction. They're widely used by many, if not most, of our best novelists. But they're used in the right places, at the right times, and punctuated correctly. They're used for effect, for emphasis, for "punch" and for other reasons. Repeat this: sentence fragments are not bad.

What about semicolons? Have you been told not to use them, that they're archaic, unnecessary, and superfluous? Not. Check out some of the finest authors writing fiction, and you'll find that they use semicolons. (They may use them sparingly, and some may use them against their editors' wishes--but they're using them.) It's all right. Trust me. Semicolons are okay in their place. Just don't use them for the sake of decoration.

And there's the matter of long sentences. Remember your high school English teacher warning you against them? "Keep your sentences short and to the point." That's exactly what you want to do if you're a journalist--and sometimes as a novelist as well. However, there's a place ... and a need ... for the longer, flowing sentence. You can't make music with all staccato quarter notes, just as you can't sustain rhythm with all legato phrases and cadences sans rests. On the other hand, if you're an academic, you might be accustomed to dealing with mostly long, complex sentences, seldom the short, simple variety. As a novelist, however, you'll need the variety of being competent with both kinds. Remember, Faulkner did not write only long, winding sentences. And the more contemporary Dean Koontz--a master in the many and varied uses of punctuation who clearly enjoys the wave-building stream of consciousness style of writing and employs it with great finesse--is just as masterful with the short, "gunshot" sentences that ratchet tension up and over the edge.

Writing fiction requires both short and long, simple and complex, "breathless" and serene sentences. Paragraphs. Scenes. Chapters. Beginnings and endings. All this demands a certain expertise and facility in handling punctuation. We need commas, not only periods. Semicolons and colons. Dashes and those elusive ellipses. And--sometimes--even parentheses. (Tread lightly, very lightly, with those.)

Which still goes back, of course, to what you've heard way too many times from writing instructors and editors: don't try to break (or even bend) the rules until you know what the rules are. Heed that advice.

And let me be clear that I'm not advocating breaking the rules. Far from it, we need to master those rules. But a novelist can't--or shouldn't--always use the periods and the commas and the dashes, and all those other little squiggles in exactly the same way as a journalist or an academic does.

This is a huge subject, so broad that entire books have been written about it and will continue to be written about it. Writing workshops and online courses teach it. A blog isn't the place to try. But I promise you that no matter how deeply you're inclined to delve into it you won't lack for instruction. My point with this entry is a simple one: there are myriad resources available that claim authority in the use of punctuation and the other mechanics of writing, so choose your resources wisely. And as you do, think like the novelist you are (or hope to be).

If you know that you're weak in the basics, not to worry. You'll find an excess of help: handbooks, articles, workbooks, conferences featuring at least one class on the subject, and more conflicting advice than you'll ever be able to use.

If you consider yourself a writer with a good grasp of the basics, then you already know that those basics don't always supply all your needs where fiction is concerned. If you want to advance your knowledge of the different shades and uses of punctuation for novelists, look for the resources that will enable you to do just that.

Among some of the excellent books on this subject, here are a few I favor for fiction writers, (but please don't throw away your Chicago Manual, your Strunk and White, or your Fowler's): A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, by Bryan A. Garner. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman. The Careful Writer, by Theodore M. Bernstein. And Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

Monday, March 12, 2007

JK: Riding Through

A friend called today to tell me that a mutual friend of ours, 55 years old with five young girls and a lovely wife, had a heart attack last night and died. The call came in while I was speaking to my step-daughter about our 59 year old son in law’s impending, previously unscheduled by-pass surgery. I was writing. I don’t usually take calls while I’m writing.
The calls caused me to pause.

I want to be sure that how I am spending my time, the hours at the computer, the delights I discover through reading some tidbit of research, the sense of purpose I’ve been blessed to have by writing, do not ring louder in my ear than the smile on my husband’s face when I come out of my office, finished for the afternoon. I want to be sure that the passion I have for what I do does not outweigh the gifts of friendships and family that take time to nurture and maintain. I want that balance between appreciating the gift and using it well and not disappearing from the world around me because my fictional world is more in my control or lacks the pain and misfortune that will touch me if I stay within this world of relationship and loss.

There is pain and loss while writing deep within good fiction, which is what I try to write. But there is joy there, too. Sometimes, for me, there is more joy there than in my life. Someone once said writing was a lonely sport and I disagreed because I never feel less alone than when I’m writing. I have all those characters lives to think about.

But the truth is, sometimes writing lets me stay away from those living people I say I love. Sometimes I ride through life instead of in it. Mary Oliver’s words ring true. If I want to be able to say I was “a bride married to amazement” or that I was “a bridegroom opening my arms to the world,” I’ve got to shut the computer down and re-enter the real world I’ve been given, embrace the people in it and love them before they’re gone. I’m doing that now.

Jane Kirkpatrick,

Friday, March 09, 2007

AD: Using All the Colors

(Spoiler alert—I’m about to give away some secrets from River Rising, so you might not want to read the following if you ever plan to read that novel.)

Yesterday someone I respect told me allegorical fiction will not sell well to Christian readers. Today a colleague mentioned that her pastor did not like “Biblical” fiction because it can confuse readers about the truth. While both points of view might be correct in many cases, I don’t think this is a reason for Christian novelists to avoid the use of allegory. That would be like telling a painter not to use the color blue.

It's true that allegorical stories told without care can run into trouble on a couple of fronts.

For one, they can tempt authors to sacrifice the basic rules of good fiction for the sake of an artificial construct (i.e. forcing characters to behave irrationally or leaving their struggle unresolved if what they “want” to do conflicts with the allegorical scheme). This mistake can be avoided with exhaustive plotting and an unflinching willingness to make certain the allegory never trumps the basic rules of fiction. Nothing can ever rise artificially from the allegorical scheme. The allegorical level must always submit to the natural flow of cause and effect. Even in a fantasy, there ought to be rules that trump the author’s “hidden” message, different rules from those of our world, perhaps, but just as inviolate once they are established. A dogged respect for the laws of other worlds is one reason we will accept such wildly allegorical propositions as Narnia or Hobbits.

Another problem involves the increased danger that comes when any kind of symbolism is substituted for plain talk, to wit: we run the risk of leading a reader astray if they misunderstand because we are too vague. This may be more difficult to avoid if one relies upon a sixth sense about how far to go without overstepping, but in River Rising and The Cure (not yet out) I adopted another strategy I think works pretty well.

Simply make the same point on both levels, literal and allegorical.

For example, River Rising has two church congregations divided along racial lines. In the ending members of both congregations leave ongoing church services (services led by preachers known to be hypocrites) to join together in labor on a community project for the poor. They sing hymns while working, thus forming a third congregation then and there. So the message is not allegorical, but rather very blatant. Meanwhile, the allegorical message is also there, with slaves as lost unbelievers, rotten cotton fields as the fallen world, etc. The same points are made in parallel, through both allegory and plain language. Then, to avoid any sense of a schism, there are bridges between these levels. For example, the protagonist tells both congregations the slaves will not seek freedom until they see black and white people together in peace "out in the Jesus world." So the allegory and the literal converge, the same point is made in both ways, and hopefully all of this flows naturally from the cause and effect of believable human choices.

This is a very difficult way to write, not so much in terms of the author’s ability as in terms of effort. Just to develop a reasonable synopsis might take months of torturous brainstorming, whereas a more basic story of simple cause and effect might come to an experienced author on a single inspired afternoon. It’s simpler to create people, put them in difficult situations, and let them do what people do. That’s probably why most creative writing teachers insist their students adopt that approach. On the other hand, layering allegory into an authentic storyline requires working inward from both ends, establishing artificial rules at one end (initially) and authentic characters and events on the other. One must then bounce back and forth between them in search of ways to merge the two considerations, converting the artificial into realism, and the realistic into symbolism. Compared to a story driven solely by events and characters, allegorical plotting is more complicated by a factor of ten, in my opinion. Because of this, it becomes very tempting to bend the basic rules of craftsmanship ever so little to accommodate the allegory, to allow people to behave in ways that stray ever so slightly beyond the bounds of authenticity. Giving in to that temptation would make the job much easier, but it must be resisted at all costs.

I do think this kind of novel can be worth the trouble. If all the pieces come together properly, if the story is an exciting and believable page-turner with an intriguing setting and with living, breathing characters locked in struggles we care about, and if there is also an unmistakable sense of deeper meaning to everyone and everything, then one we have a story that takes full advantage of all the tools available in the art form--a full color oil painting versus a black and white pencil sketch, if you will--and that, to me, is when the novel really comes into its own in terms of communicating soul to soul.

There's nothing wrong with the black and white kind of novel, of course. For pure entertainment I love it as much as the next person. But take a page turner and make the setting, actions and characters stand for something more, and suddenly a novel becomes the closest imitation of real life I can imagine in any art form. Think of all the things in God’s creation that mean something else, speak of something else, and teach something else to those who will pause and look beyond the obvious. With so much allegory in real life, does it really make sense to leave it out of stories imitating life?

Athol Dickson is the author of River Rising and The Gospel according to Moses, with The Cure coming in June.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

LS: Lessons from Ernest

My book in play right now is A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. My daughter's been telling me to read this for two years now and thankfully, I finally listened. Ensconced in the world of Hemingway in Paris as he was seeking to learn to write prose, I'm learning a lot about the writing process. Hemingway gives some great insights:

1. On the day's work.

"It was wonderful to walk down the long flight of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day."

2. On getting started.

"I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally, I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard somebody say."

3. On not mulling 24 hours a day. (This one made me feel vindicated. I'm not one of those writers who walk around with her characters yakking in her head all the time! I always felt like a poseur because of it.)

"It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when I had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris."

Hemingway, by the way, saw reading as a way to keep himself from thinking about his work. See? Another reason to make reading a big part of your writing day!

4. Finally, it's okay if you can't write at home.

Now, there's no quote that says this, but for the most part, while in Paris, Hemingway did not write at home. This makes me feel so much better. I have such a hard time writing at home, the only way I can see significant wordcount per day is to, I kid you not, drive to the gas station, get a cup of cheap coffee, and head to the parking lot of the grocery store! I can't write in coffee shops anymore. They all have wi-fi!

Great ideas from Hemingway, and if you read A Moveable Feast, like me, you may find that some of your idiosyncracies aren't so strange after all. The lesson I'm learning? We writers are a mottled lot, bearing many stripes and colors. How you structure your day isn't so important as that you make your day count.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PH: The Ten Deadly Sins of Writing

I have been reading some points that John Ortberg shared at this years National Pastor’s Convention. He called the message “The Ten Deadly Sins of Preaching.” I noticed how well the deadly sins might fit into the writer’s arsenal, so I played around with the wording a bit and came up with a writer’s list: (hoping Dr. Ortberg won’t mind loaning it to us.)

#1 The Temptation to be Inauthentic: In order to please readers, I might be tempted to invent a protagonist and world who does and says all of the correct platitudes within the safe setting of a world where a deux ex machina wraps up the heroine’s chaos in a tidy little ball while at home my own world continues to come unraveled never again to be wound back tidily onto the original spool.

#2 The Temptation to Live For Recognition: After my novel lands on the shelves, there is that temptation to hold my breath, waiting to see if the readers approve, tell all of their friends, and then spread the word like mad that a literary phenomenon has entered the world.

#3 The Temptation to Live in Fear: What if I fail? What if I never sell another book? What if I die and my books tossed into the grave after me? What if I write too honestly and the readers turn their backs on me? Our identity must be hidden in Christ and in no other.

#4 The Temptation to Compare: There are only a few famous novelists, especially Christian novelists. But readers tend to flock where other readers flock rather than around writers. If we attend the International Christian Booksellers Convention, there’s that dread of the long line at the bestselling author’s booth and the comparisons we’re tempted to make. The temptation to check the bestseller list as soon as it’s posted is another way we compare. Our culture of celebrity nags us into comparisons even though Christ asks only that we compare ourselves to him.

#5 The Temptation to Exaggerate: I once sat on a platform with T.D Jakes. One novelist sitting next to me said, “You know we can claim now that we shared the platform with T.D. Jakes.” I’m glad she was kidding, but I’ve seen that type of exaggeration when it comes to publicity and how we try and create a measuring stick for readers that makes us appear successful in hopes of creating our own bandwagon. Walt Wangerin once said, “But isn’t propaganda, after all, a lie?”

#6 The Temptation to Feel Chronically Inadequate: (Is John Ortberg reading my mail?) I think that if you add together, 1,2,3, 4, and 5, you get #6. The erosion of the soul, IMHO, is taken into avalanche mode when I deceive myself into believing that by attacking my own worth in God’s plan I’m self-abasing. I’m a lot more effective when I’m focused on the task at hand rather than self-absorbed nit-picking. Surrender mode is a perpetual struggle for me even when I know that it will ultimately give me peace and contentedness.

#7 The Temptation of Pride: It can crop up when we get reader mail or, if unpubbed, when we get the first kudo from an editor or an author reader at a workshop. Pride slides in the door with good reviews, top sales figures, fan mail, a book contract, or awards. The old cliché is “New Level, new devil.” So we have to avoid success? No, just fixing our eyes on it. Think of success as the Medusa of writers. Avert eyes, keep eyes on the cross. A post-it note to myself: “Don’t believe your own fictions.”

#8The Temptation to Manipulate: I am tempted to write overtly evangelical language that might manipulate the Christian reader into believing that because she understands the codes, her unsaved single-mom neighbor will too, (buy my book and your friend will get saved, is the message) when in fact the temptation to do that is rooted in writing in Christian codes to keep our readers close and feeling safe while alienating the people who are blocked from the spiritual message due to a codified language. Instead we need to educate our readers by telling them that Christian-ese wasn’t used by Jesus; therefore kindly remember that while we aim for their friends in our language, our intent is not to overlook the Christian reader but to provide an artful story that might open a closed heart.

#9 The Temptation of Envy: It creeps in when a close writer friend gets a highly starred review or an award. I have to train myself to remember #4. It’s hard.

And finally #10 The Temptation to Be Angry: Writers might get mad at readers who fail to follow and promote their writing ministry; or who email complaining if Christian novels are not overtly Christianized or too overtly Christianized, or if we don’t write fast enough to suit them yet want their books highly and skillfully wrought. A writer might get angry when caught between the cultural gap of Christians who want books that portray a Christian ideal and those who want their fiction kept real. They might get angry when they quit a job to stay home and write and then run out of advance money before the book is finished. Ortberg quotes Henri Nouwen, “This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

Patricia Hickman is the author of Earthly Vows and Whisper Town. She blogs at Food For the Journey at Website at

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

JK: Missionaries, Indians, and History

I have a little pet peeve and that’s that those who talk about the West often assume that missionaries were the greatest downfall to Native American people. I'm not sure if this muddles an issue, but in my own research about the impact of missionaries on native people, I came to see that another group had an even more significant impact on changing native lives and that was the commercial world of business and engineering. The earliest diseases were brought to the northwest by merchant and exploring ships (as early as the 1700s, long before missionaries arrived) taking out furs and leaving smallpox behind. By the time many missionaries appeared in the Willamette Valley in the 1830s, most of the Oregon tribes were already decimated by diseases, and the missionaries found themselves less engaged in saving souls as in building up orphanages for the children left behind.

If one adds to that those who came to commercialize fur trade (Lewis and Clark, 1805-06, David Thompson (Canadian, 1805 +) John Jacob Astor, 1811-1812 etc) or to commercialize fishing operations, drying fish for shipment back to the states (1830s) and the road builders who thus opened areas for settlement and then those who put in dams and fences and built the railroads, the very landscapes of native people and thus the foundations (spiritual, traditional, familial aspects) of their lives were changed forever, especially as the landscape was/is such a significant aspect of their religious experiences and family traditions.

There is also significant evidence that the earliest missionaries to western native people were other native people who had become Christians via the Jesuits (Iroquois, for example). The Nez Perce, as early as 1825, sent four men back to St. Louis requesting missionaries to come west (which is how the Spauldings got out to the Clearwater and published the primer of Nez Perce, the first book published west of the Rocky Mountains in 1838). Granted, all did not go well as other missionaries showed up among the Cayuse, uninvited and ultimately brought about the Whitman massacre and later devastation of the Cayuse tribe. But the real changes to the Nez Perce and other tribes, in my opinion, came not from missionaries but from settlement and accompanying business ventures and their impact.

I remember a Spokane legend reported as early as the 1700s that said one day a white man would come west carrying a book that would change the native lives forever. I'd always thought that referred to missionaries until I began writing about that era. If you follow history and disease and business development, it's hard not to see that it was a surveyor's book perhaps or a bankers book that was the real life-changer for native people.Just a couple of additional thoughts about history....

Jane Kirkpatrick,

Monday, March 05, 2007

LS: To read or not to read . . .

Do you really want to go there? or Why I don't put harsh reviews up on bookselling websites.

I remember when The Church Ladies released, my first women's fiction book, my first offering of "the real Lisa Samson." In fact, I had a tag-line back then (when I thought branding would help me--it didn't) "Real Fiction for Real Women." I think when Angie Hunt and I thought of it in a hotel in DC, we thought it might just skyrocket me to popularity! (Thanks anyway, Angie. It was still fun to brainstorm and the Pad Thai was great!) I was excited, loosed to write like myself, delve into situations that seemed important to me as a woman and as a Christian, to explore contemporary metaphor and setting.

Six years ago this March The Church Ladies hit the shelves to great reviews, healthy sales, wonderful emails from ladies all over the country, particularly pastor's wives who claimed I'd somehow crawled into their heads. Even those who'd had extra-marital affairs wrote to tell me the Lord used the book to allow them to forgive themselves and move on. God knew I needed all that. My mother was dying. I was caring for her. It was the most difficult time of my life.

A few months after the release, enter the Amazon reviewer. I don't read my Amazon/ reviews anymore as my friends know, because as a person of words, (like a horribly violent scene in a movie or book) I can't get the words out of my head. The positive reviews aren't enough to offset the damage of the nasty ones. I don't remember the woman's name who wrote a long, scathing review of the book, but these two lines have followed me around like hecklers for six years now and I doubt they'll be leaving anytime soon.

"Samson is no wordsmith."

"She smears words around like a kindergartener smears fingerpaint."

Believe it or not, I haven't read that review in at least four years.

So I know firsthand what these reviews can do to a person. Don't misunderstand me. I can appreciate an honest review. Not everyone is going to like my work and it's fine to say that. It's the internet; we can say whatever we want. But know what you might be doing to that writer when you cross the line from critical to mean-spirited. Realize your words won't simply go further and further down on the Amazon reviews page, they may become the voice the deceiver uses to discourage and whisper words, sometimes, of debilitating doubt.

Or maybe that lady was right. Maybe I am no wordsmith, just a kindergartener smearing words like cheap paint.

See how it works?


Friday, March 02, 2007

AT: Unusual Weapons

On her CBS talk show, Tyra Banks lined up that day’s guests so they could answer any final questions from the audience. Seated on the stage were three “good witches,” two “dark witches,” two Satanists (including the grandson of the founder of the Church of Satan) and one Christian.

The lone voice for Jesus was Sarah Anne Sumpolec, a novelist who has written the Becoming Beka Series for teens. During her appearance on The Tyra Banks Show, she told of how the Lord brought her out of witchcraft and into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Not unexpectedly, Sarah afterward found herself inundated with emails from witches, Wiccans and others in the pagan religions. In something of a cyberspace blitzkrieg, Sarah was derided, ridiculed, cursed and threatened.

While I was challenged by Sarah’s courageous witness--could I have done the same?--I was reminded of a hard truth: It can be nasty out there.

When I first started writing novels, I thought only of the thing itself--the story, the words, the art form. The thought of awards never crossed my mind and, on the flip side, neither did criticism or attack. I just wanted to create something beautiful and offer it to the world as a gift.
Well, guess what? That might have worked in the Garden, but it’s not going to work in the war zone we know as the world. Like it or not, there’s a spiritual battle going on, and if we as Christian writers are speaking out for truth, then we’re on the front lines. Your fellow soldiers might slap you on the back and tell you you’re doing a good job, but even while your friends are shaking your hand, your enemies are out there firing up the missiles and taking aim.

You have to be ready for that. Just ask Sarah.

Jesus knew it would be this way for his followers, and so he equipped his disciples with a couple of unusual weapons. When you’re attacked by your enemies, he said, you’ve got to fight back with love and prayer.

That’s what he said, and it shows up three times in the gospels. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28, Luke 6: 35, Matthew 5:44).

It’s not easy, I know. After teaching at a writers conference about the dangers of New Age and postmodern thinking, I found myself blasted on various sites on the Net (though not nearly to the extent Sarah was). My first thought was, “How dare they!” But after the sting subsided, I could understand that their ridiculing me was simply the common human response to a world view completely contrary to one’s own. In speaking out against relativism, I had to expect to take some flak from the relativists. I also had to decide not to take it personally.

When we’re lambasted, when we bear the brunt of people’s rebellion, I think it’s important to remember that it actually has little or nothing to do with us. What people are really lashing out against is God. What they are really rejecting is his gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this lies the tragedy: The loss, ultimately, is theirs. And that should break our hearts.
The thing is, non-Christians aren’t the enemy. Satan is the enemy. You and I are speaking the gospel not to defeat people but to defeat Satan by winning people to Christ. Those men and women who revile you today just might be your brothers and sisters in the Lord tomorrow--if you love them; if you pray for them.

They’re pecular weapons--love and prayer--but you’ll want to learn how to use them as you move forward with your writing. If you’re going to be on the front lines, it’s best to be ready for battle.

Ann Tatlock

Thursday, March 01, 2007

RLH: One Woman's Inspirational

Every so often, discussions erupt in the general writing world about "inspirational" novels. Readers and writers who are not of the evangelical Christian persuasion object to the fact that there aren't "inspirational" novels published for or about Catholics, Hindus, Jews, New Age, etc. Actually, there often are books published that feature such characters, but they are not a defined market as is the CBA market. (The CBA, made up of Evangelical Christian booksellers and publishers, has been around more than 50 years.)

First of all, let me say that few (if any) of the Christian writers I know refer to themselves as "inspirational writers." We know that what we write is Christian fiction. That's our worldview, our belief, our passion. However, the common use of the word "inspirational" to describe our books has made it impossible to completely avoid the term. I have won many awards for my Inspirational fiction, but they all come from secular, not religious, organizations. I can't say for certain how far back said term goes, but Romance Writers of America presented "Inspirational Awards" to Christian romance fiction back in the mid-1980's.

Readers seek books that affirm their worldview and belief systems. Of course, we enjoy books that reveal other cultures and customs and religions. I personally loved the novel, The Kite Runner, about a Muslim in Afghanistan. And what appealed to me the most about The Kite Runner was the thread of redemption that ran through it. Redemption, of course, is a huge part of the evangelical Christian faith. So when I read that book, while learning new things about another culture and another faith, the novel also affirmed my Christian worldview.

I can understand the frustration of readers who would like to find more "inspirational" fiction about their own faiths. What I cannot understand is why they level their displeasure at the CBA publishers for not publishing said books. It's unrealistic to expect Evangelical Christian publishers to release books that aren't written from an evangelical Christian worldview. Evangelical Christians are the target audience. CBA publishers don't target readers who are Hindu or Jewish or New Age for the same reasons a romance publisher doesn't target readers of horror or sci-fi. Because that wouldn't be good business. CBA publishers know the readers they are publishing their books for the same way marketing giant Harlequin knows the readers they are publishing their books for.

Redeeming Love, the awesome book by Francine Rivers, is an example of just how gritty and real and deep CBA fiction can get. For anyone who thinks Christian fiction readers are afraid of such things in their novels, make note that Redeeming Love hasn't left the bestseller list since 1997 when Multnomah first published the book. This story is about a girl sold to a pedophile who is later forced into prostitution. Even after finding a man who loves her, she returns more than once to a brothel.

Anyone who says that Christian fiction is about perfect characters and that flaws are only alluded to and not explored in depth hasn't been reading much of the fiction being released in the CBA market today. Edgy, gritty Christian fiction about complex characters who are flawed and entirely human abound. I write novels about imperfect Christians because that's the only kind of people I know. And the Christian novels I read are filled with flawed characters who reveal their deepest, darkest thoughts and emotions. I would run out of room if I tried to list all of the CBA authors who are writing such books.

Author BJ Hoff had a wonderful Charis Connection post along the same lines. I invite you to read: Writing Grace

I wrote 30 books for the general ABA market. I was free to use curse words (I did to some extent), name intimate body parts (I avoided for the most part), write sex scenes (I did), etc. But I was not free to write about my Christian faith except in very general, euphemistic terms. As my faith and my relationship with Jesus deepened, so did the need to write more openly about what mattered most to me. Which is what drew me to write for the CBA — the freedom I was offered by the CBA publishers to write about adultery, family secrets, alcoholism, rebellion against God, etc. To tell stories about realistic characters, struggling with real-life issues.

So when I hear griping that a writer can't use curse words in CBA-targeted fiction, I want to tell them first that restrictions and requirements are everywhere in publishing. They're just different, depending upon the market they are writing for.

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