Friday, October 30, 2009

Writers Are Painters

When I was a teen, I took up oil painting. One of my favorite shows was The Joy of Painting on PBS, and I figured if Bob Ross could make happy little trees, maybe I could too. For awhile I actually thought I was going to be a painter rather than a writer, but that was before the writing bug bit me really hard. But here's the thing, and probably why I was confused for a little while---writing really is like painting.

These days I occasionally take up my oil painting between projects. Even though they're different (one changes a canvas, the other a computer screen) writing and painting have many similarities. One of the paintings I hope to finish someday features a rough looking cowboy (he's pictured above). He's been a work in progress for longer than I care to admit, but as I work on this painting, here's what I'm noticing:

Underpainting/rough draft

For this project I started with an acrylic underpainting, made up mostly of grays. It's like a rough draft. I can see the outline of what I want to accomplish, and the hints of where I want to be, but in no way is it complete.

Laying down the color/second draft
Then it's onto the color. I applied it generally with little thought to detail. The important thing was to get the darker colors where the shadows would be, and the brighter colors where the light would hit this character's face. Second drafts are like this for me. Since I tend to underwrite, often I'll be going back and adding layers of dialogue, character thoughts, etc. It's at this point I'll probably doubt my ability to see this project through. What was I thinking?

Getting the likeness/third draft
This is where things get tricky. This portrait must look like a human being. All the nuances of my character's face must be just right. It's the same with writing. The story needs to make sense. The character's motivations need to ring true. I'll need to sculpt away the excess, keeping only the important.

The fine details/final draft
I enjoy this step the most in both painting and writing. I can finally see I'm going to make it! I'm going to complete this project. The image in my head has finally (if I've done everything right) materialized. It's now I really step back and examine to make sure I'm satisfied. There might be some fine tuning still. I might decide I have to make the nose or chapter longer. That's okay. The hard part is done. The hardest part now is knowing when to sign the picture or type "The End".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Setting a New Creative Standard

Betsy's recent post really got me thinking about God and writing and how those fit together in our respective WIPs, so thank you for that, fellow Scribble Chick. :)

I'll be honest, sometimes I don't always love being referred to as a "Christian writer." Not because I don't love Jesus, of course, I do. He not only saved my life, but He's my best friend, and I've enjoyed my journey of walking with Him for more than 21 (!!!) years now.

But when it comes to art, specifically art with the word "Christian" in front of it, there's an undeniable stigma that goes along with it, and I feel it all the time...when I'm doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble or Borders and I'm relegated to the "Christian Fiction" section (where people are naturally afraid to go unless they already believe), when my books are reviewed in a publication that's not faith-based or when I'm describing my novels to would-be readers whenever someone asks me what I do for a living.

It's not always fun, but I'm always hoping to win people over.

Not only is there a lot of baggage with the word "Christian" because of the many ways we've all fallen short in the eyes of those who don't know Christ personally, but our art is often thought of as "subpar" or a mere copycat of something that's already popular (i.e. the slew of "Christian" vampire books that are releasing, thanks to the Twilight phenomenon or all the Donald Miller-esque memoirs that have popped up following the release of Blue Like Jazz). And I don't know about you, but I'm ready to put those assumptions to rest. For good.

Although I write chick-lit, or as I like to call them, romantic comedies in book form, I deliberately tried to switch things up and paint with a different brush if you will. I wasn't interested in simply being the "Christian" Bridget Jones or a "safe" alternative for believers looking for something fun to read. Instead, I hoped to tell an intriguing story with real, living breathing characters that resonated with people—all people.

Since I am a Christian, that worldview can't help permeate what I do. So no, you didn't find a string of expletives in my books. Or a push-the-envelope plot in terms of gratuitous sex or violence. But what I was intent on was creating genuine conflict where my characters were dealing with real-life struggles and pain. After all, Christians are also hurting people in a hurting world, so I didn't create a world that was all daisies and butterflies and Bible studies.

And I've found that's exactly what readers are looking for, too. In e-mails I've received the past couple of years, countless people have talked about their disillusionment with "Christian" art and thanked me for writing something that exceeded their expectations. Imagine that? Something a fellow believer created "exceeded their expectations?" I don't know about you, but I'm ready to rock their socks off, and I share that only to serve as an encouragement in whatever you're working on, too.

Let's continue to defy people's expectations of what Christian art can look and read like. After all,
we serve the Creator of the universe—the same God who created stars, rainbows, oceans and yes, even llamas. So if we've got a little of that Creator living inside of us, just think what we can create! It can lovely, unique and truly breathtaking because of God's influence and presence in our lives...not just something worth skipping over because it's "Christian."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Empty words...

As Christian writers, I believe we have a pretty heavy-duty responsibility on our shoulders. This responsibility is a gift and a burden. It's the choice we make, the choice to use the words God gives us to show the world His grace. His mercy. His love. The world is dark, and our novels are a light. Some books feel more like pinpricks in the dark than a bright, light-house worthy beacon, but nevertheless, light is light. Light always brightens the dark, no matter how small in quantity.

Have you heard the song by Addison Road called "What Do I Know of Holy?" I blare it loudly in my car almost every day, and no matter how often I play it, the meaning grabs my heart every time and I usually tear up. (not good for interstate driving!) There's one line that really gets me.

Here's a blurb of lyrics...I bolded the line I'm talking about. Please find this song online and download it if you haven't heard it yet.


What do I know of You

Who spoke me into motion?

Where have I even stood

But the shore along Your ocean?

Are You fire? Are You fury?

Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?

What do I know? What do I know of Holy?


I guess I thought that I had figured You out

I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about

How You were mighty to save

Those were only empty words on a page

Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be

The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees


Empty words on a page. The Bible is the living, breathing word of God. It's not empty. But I know what the artist means here - it's all in how she translated it, how she comprehended. Only reading the words doesn't make them effective. It's got to be a process of soaking in. When she really read the words, they changed. When she really heard the heartbeat of God behind the words, SHE changed.

I can't get over that, and how it applies to us as every day Christian writers. Have you stopped lately and really considered the responsibility and the honor we have to write for Christ? Have you thought about what our words, the words God gives us, means to our readers? The power in them, through Christ alone, to change lives and bring souls to Jesus? We get to have a part in that. Do you have any idea how huge that is???

If you haven't thought about those things lately, then stop. Put down your WIP. Shove the keyboard or notepad away, push aside the Diet Coke and Candy Corn, and soak in the depth of it all.

I guarantee you you'll hit your knees.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rejection and Dying Roadkill Syndrome

A while back I was hanging out with some kids. They wanted to watch Bambi (insert gag reflex) and after much begging (my begging them not to) I finally agreed.

Everything was OK until we reached the scene where Bambi's mom died and one of the little boys started to cry.

"Don't worry," his older sister comforted him, "Maybe Bambi will get a step-mother."

I love the way children think. They're so resilient. Bambi's mom is dead? No big deal. We'll find a replacement.

Me? I'm not so optimistic. Of course, I am the girl who strung herself over the sofa this week and moaned like a piece of dying roadkill because my ear hurt. I was convinced I was drawing my final breath.

Turns out I had a simple case of strep throat. (Throat? Ear? I think my pain receptors were a little confused.)

Much to my surprise, the strep throat did not kill me. This little fact may clue you into the fact that I'm not an optimist.

What about you?

  • Do you find it difficult to feel positive about your writing?
  • Do you experience fears and doubts that your words will ever accomplish anything?
  • Do you store manuscripts on your computer in hopes that one day it will crash and you won't have to send out your work?

Are you like me? Are you a non-optimist?

I have good news for you: optimism can be developed.

And it must be developed. Because in the publishing world, optimism is like oxygen. You need it to survive. Otherwise you will curl up and die.

Eventually, you will lie on your couch and moan like a piece of injured roadkill. It will happen. Rejection will hurt.

Get up off the couch.

You are not drawing your final breath.

You are not dying.

Your manuscript is only a little sick. Get the help it needs. Go to conferences. Learn the business. Study the craft.

You can do this. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep moving forward.

And when you are rejected, watch Bambi. Lie on the couch. Moan a while.

Then be grateful. Your life is not as bad as his.

After all, he never got that step-mother.


B.J. Hamrick is a journalist, newspaper columnist, and Real Teen Faith editor-est.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pedaling Against the Metal

I have a love/hate relationship with many things in my life:

1) Walgreens. Most of the time, they don't have what I need. However, there are those rare days where they have exactly what I want and it's 50% off.

2) Tapered Candles. Love the smell, hate the drips.

3) Parking Lots. Aside from the Frogger-style dodging of cars, carts and pedestrians and discounting the fact that I can never find those cart return thingies, I have no problem with them.

4) Deadlines. Oy.

Today, I'm dutifully trying to accomplish my 2,000 word goal in my current WIP. So far, so distracted. I put a pork roast in my Crock Pot this morning for dinner and the garlic has been teasingly wafting through the house the whole day. My husband came home for lunch (which was great! Still distracting). It's freezing cold in my house, so I keep stopping to refill my coffee mug or warm my hands.

I love deadlines because I feel like I get so much more done. I'm happier, I'm focused, I stick to my daily schedule.

I hate deadlines because of the forced creativity, the poor food choices (Chex Mix. M&Ms. Candy Corn. Need I say more?), and the fact that I have friends, I just can't spend time with them.

Pros and Cons though? I think the Pros win. Which is why I highly recommend setting a deadline - whether it's a WIP under contract or one you're writing for the fun of it (or maybe one you're writing to get a contract!).

Not only would slapping a date on your manuscript and sticking to it help you stay focused, but it will also give you tons of practice for when you do get a signed contract! Publishers love writers who make their deadlines - and especially the ones who make them without having panic attacks!

The key is to stick to your date. My current deadline is February 1st. The second secret is to realize that you don't have any other options. There is no "Oh, sorry, I got busy and didn't finish it." Find a date maybe four to six months out (to really mimic a publisher!) and do whatever you need to do (legally and morally) to get that deadline met.

And don't discount the fun of working on a deadline. Chex Mix have to be the best salty snack around. And who doesn't love M&Ms?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Favorite First Lines

There's nothing like a dynamic opening line in a novel. How many books have you kept reading simply from their clever or intriguing first line? Sure, a perfect first line isn't going to redeem a bad book, but a first line is really like a fish hook. Once you catch someone on the other end, it's a whole lot easier to reel them into the story.

Here are a few of my favorite first lines.

"She ran, tree limbs and brambles scratching, grabbing, tripping, and slapping her as if they were bony hands, reaching for her out of the darkness."
--The Oath by Frank Peretti

"Valkerie woke up screaming."
--Oxygen by Randy Ingermanson & John B. Olson

"The pickup had been tailing me for at least the last thirty miles."
--On the Run by Lorena McCourtney

"Josee found the canister while seeking firewood in the thicket."
--Dark to Mortal Eyes by Eric Wilson

"'If I eat any more popcorn, I'm going to hurl.'"
--The Big Picture by Jenny B. Jones

"The dead man's mother lives on Castlewood Street, in a battered gray house guarded by a mean echo of 'No Trespassing' signs."
--The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello

"Even in high school I didn't mind sleeping on the ground."
--Forsaken by James David Jordan

Your turn! What's your favorite first line? What makes it memorable to you? How about the first line of the novel you're writing? Feel free to share in the comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Celebrating The National Day on Writing...

Fellow writing friends...did you know that Tuesday, October 20 was the first annual National Day on Writing?

Yeah, I didn't either until someone tweeted about it (on a side note, that last sentence just cracked me up...who would've ever predicted that one day we'd be getting pertinent information from something called a "tweet?").

But I digress...

Had I known about October 20 sooner, my hubby (who also moonlights as a writer) and I could have exchanged gifts. Or at least celebrated with a few cupcakes that I whipped up especially for the know adorable little treats with a semi-colons, commas and question marks written in yummy icing?

Hmmm, maybe next year.

Late to the party or not, however, I must say that I'm pretty thrilled that the Senate authorized a National Day on Writing. I really think it's about time that working writers get their due, even if it's just for a day. Yes, while the career is romanticized in many a film (usually rom-coms), it's still hard work, something I think people forget sometimes when they ask me (and I'm sure this has happened to you, too) what I do for a living.

After a patronizing smile and the requisite "oh that's nice, have I seen your work anywhere?" I'm pretty sure a good percentage of people who don't know me that well think I just sit around, watch Oprah and gobble down bon bons all day. Now wouldn't that be nice...

As any writer worth his/her salt knows, it's takes a lot of work to actually make a living at writing. Not only are you keeping up with deadlines and dreaming up new ways to say something worth reading, but you're constantly looking for a way to spread the word about what you're doing without being tacky about it.

It's amazing how much time I have to set aside for things that don't involve actually working on my latest manuscript at all. You know what I'm talking networking. Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, podcasting, sending out newsletters, updating your personal Website and other fun time-wasters. These days, actually writing your book is really only half the battle. Actually marketing your work is an entirely different prospect that requires just as much time and creativity.

Now if I sound like I'm complaining, please don't see it that way. I absolutely, positively, thoroughly love what I do. It's a privilege, and I feel honored to share my thoughts, ideas and crazy characters with the world. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be recognized from time to time for our efforts, so next year I plan on celebrating The National Day on Writing in style. And maybe I won't even write at all. But I know there will be cupcakes. Who's with me on that?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Do or Dye

BJ's posted yesterday on eyebrow waxing reminded me that I have a hair appointment tomorrow morning to touch up my hair's roots. It's bad. As in, I'll walk in the door and they'll, like BJ, immediately know why I am there and usher me to the back before the rest of the salon can see and think they somehow were involved in all my rooty glory.

I change hair color like some people change socks. I go back and forth from blonde, to blonde-blonde, to blondish-brown, to brown-brown, and back again like a color wheel out of control. Traditionally, women like to go lighter in the spring/summer and darker in the fall/winter. Well right now I'm blonde, and I'm considering going browner again for the coming season, but...I can't decide. So I started a mass poll of family and friends, asking which color they preferred better, and somehow feeling borderline insulted regardless of their answer.

Its like that with writing.

Sometimes, we have to let the opinions go. We have to take the advice with a smile and gritted teeth and then do what we want to do.

I'm not talking about "rules". Some rules in writing, especially Christian fiction writing, really must be followed to produce a quality project. Readers (and editors!) expect certain things that really can't be bent.

I'm referring to the "other stuff". Like when a friend proof-reads your manuscript and somehow has you doubting your heroine's name, even though you spent hours researching the meaning and making sure it fit her personality perfectly. Or when you spend forever forming a really neat metaphor that you think totally rocks and a crit partner says doesn't work. If you're brand new to writing, get a second opinion and investigate. If you're not, then....DO WHAT YOU WANT. It is YOUR story.

I hear alllll the time of writers growing so frustrated because, in their insecurity, they asked for too many opinions and after implementing all the changes, realized there were too many cooks in the kitchen and the once delicious, bubbling pot of stew now tasted like their favorite leather pump.

Too many opinions can kill a writer's story.

So trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Write YOUR story. Yes, get second opinions. Yes, listen to someone if they tell you that something really jolted them from the flow or if you have a typo or a grammatical error or something else along those lines. But for the parts of the story that make it yours, keep it yours.

I still have no idea what color my hair will be after ten o'clock tomorrow morning. But I do know that I am making the choice =)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Tweezing and Writing

I always wanted cute eyebrows like the other girls. You know -- the kind that curve and then come down perfectly in just the right spot. But no. My eyebrows wander haphazardly across my forehead like a village of lost caterpillars.

"Don't do it," my friend Amy warned when I told her I wanted to fix my brows. "Don't touch them."

Amy and I have been friends since we were three years old. She has seen the effects of my impulsive self-makeovers.

"Do you not remember the perm that made you look like Richard Simmons?" she asked. "Or the rub-on tan that turned you into a crunchy carrot stick?"


"I'm telling you," she said. "Leave this to the professionals."

"Leave this to the professionals," I told myself as I walked into the salon. "Leave this to the professionals." But somehow placing my fuzzy face into the hands of a stranger with hot wax was not comforting… no matter how professional that stranger was.

"Waxing?" the man at the counter asked when he took one look at my caterpillars.

"Yes. How'd you…"

"Right this way."

What happened next is a secret every salon guards more carefully than the government guards its most filthy dirt.

"Lie down," the woman with the hot wax said. That's right. You read that correctly. She told me to lie down.

"Excuse me?" I asked. "What is this? Minor surgery?"

"No speak English," she said. "Lie down."

I made her job easy, because with the words "No speak English," every hair on my entire body stood on end.

What was I doing? I wondered. What was I thinking?

RIP! RIP! Suddenly my face stung like I'd spent 2 days on the beach with no sunscreen.

"Did you leave my eyelashes?" I asked.

Hot Wax Lady eyed me suspiciously as she plopped the mirror in my lap. Shakily, I picked it up and stared.

"You like?" she asked, smiling.

"I… I… I…" I tried to breathe.

It's a good thing I was already on my back.

I'd never seen anything like it. Tiny strands of hair wandered aimlessly above my eyelids. Everything else was gone. Gone.

I didn't like the caterpillars, but they were better than the little line of picnic ants now wandering across my skull.

My puffy eyes welled with tears. How could I ever show my face in public again?

"Looks nice," Hot Wax Lady said. "Seven dollars."

It's been 2 days since I almost slugged Hot Wax Lady. I taught her a few new words in English, but I'm not sure I can repeat them here.

What I can repeat here is that I learned something from all of this. The more I thought about it the more I realized -- my eyebrows weren't the only thing that could be over-waxed.

No, I'm not talking about the hair on my upper lip. I am talking about my words. That's right -- my words.

I don't know about you, but sometimes a little voice inside of me whispers, "Hey you! Your prose is wild, fluffy, and distracting. Rip it out!"

That voice is right. Unfortunately, I take it a little too seriously. My self-edits leave the piece looking like a red, puffy, swollen wordless wonder. The journalist inside of me screams, "Just the facts! Just the facts!" And I obey.

If you're like me and you tend to over-edit, here's a piece of advice: ask someone else to do it for you. Or in the words of my friend Amy, LEAVE THIS TO THE PROFESSIONALS.

But do yourself favor. If that editor says, "No speak English," run out of the door as fast as your hairy little legs can carry you.

B.J. Hamrick is a journalist, newspaper columnist, and Real Teen Faith editor-est.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What writers can learn from Project Runway

I'll admit it right now. I love Project Runway. And for someone who's totally not into high fashion (or any kind of fashion, really) that's saying something.

I've been trying to watch all the episodes in order this season, and I wonder... What can writers learn from fashion designers? After all, we're both creative types. We both can be attached to our work in sometimes unreasonable ways. Here are some random things writers can learn from Project Runway:

1. Writers need to have confidence in themselves.

The fashion designers who succeed on Project Runway are confident in their abilities. Sometimes too confident, but that's another story! It is possible to be confident without being cocky. Believe in your work. Believe in yourself. With God's help, you can become a great writer!

2. Stay true to yourself, but learn from constructive criticism.

Don't be so confident that you aren't open to the advice of experts, but still be confident. Be careful who you let read your work. Or at least be careful who's advice you believe. I'll give a lot more weight to the critique of a published novelist than I will say, my neighbor across the street. :) The designers, and writers, who excel are the ones who weigh the criticism carefully and apply what feels right to them, but also discard the extraneous.

3. Don't be afraid to have fun!

If you enjoyed "designing" a piece of writing, chances are your readers will enjoy reading it. Now go, go, go, writers ... and make it work!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Aha! Moment

While it wasn't really a crossroads because I always knew I loved words and had to do something, anything, to get a few in print one day, there was a brief moment in high school when I actually considered studying education, rather than my beloved journalism, in college.

And can I just tell you that my Mom loved, loved, loved this brief diversion?

See, Moms are loving but also very practical people. And when you grow up in a family where you're the first one to actually go off to college, well, there's some pretty great expectations. As in, you better land a good job once all the studying is through. None of this starving artist stuff is going to do...

While I know she believed in me and my potential, landing a job in writing just felt infinitely more difficult than oh, say, teaching. But for some reason, and I like to think it was a God-thing, I simply couldn't resign myself to the second best career opportunity. While grading papers and getting students excited about literature and writing definitely had its appeal (and me, ever the optimistic, actually believed I could inspire them, even if I wasn't always the epitome of grace, elegance and paying attention in class either), I knew that I had to learn more about the craft of writing to have any shot at actually pursuing it for a living.

So I majored in journalism...not education.

And now more than 10 years into my writing career, I'm sure glad that I did. These days, in particular, it's not always easy being a working writer. The statistics are stacked against us, the gigs not nearly as plentiful as they have been in year's past. And frankly, sometimes it's not that much fun waiting for checks and hoping your books will actually sell. But all things considered, there's still something that makes me all giddy about telling a story, or in many cases, other people's stories, and I'd encourage anyone who feels the same way to pursue his/her writing dreams, too.

After all, there will always be an opportunity to teach if writing doesn't work out. Or in my case, you can do a little of both sometimes. In fact, that's what I'm doing in about an hour. I'm off to Bethel University, where I'm going to be talking about blogging and social networking within the framework of building your writing career. Basically, I'll get to live out my Mom's former dream for me for a little less than two hours, and I won't even have to dress like this lady (see pic on the left). Thank goodness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rain, rain go away...

don't know about you guys, but it's been raining here in north Louisiana for literally weeks. I'm starting to wonder if I somehow unwittingly relocated to Forks, Washington with Bella and Edward. I miss the sun!

I think too many rainclouds affect your mood. It feels dreary and heavy on the soul. The occasional rainy day is fine - enjoyable, even - perfect for snuggling up with your favorite sweatshirt and hot cocoa and a good book. But too much of anything changes everything.

Maybe the lack of Vitamins from the sun have made me extra metaphorical, but I can't help but feel there's a lot of rain going around lately that has nothing to do with the drops outside. Everyone I know has something major happening in their life, hovering like a big gray cloud. Miscarriages. Unemployment. Deferred dreams. They need some sun.

Some Son.

I'm a little concerned myself today. There's been talk about the city where my husband is a fireman being in debt, and that layoffs for city officials are basically inevitable. It's just going to come down to how many spots they relieve, and from where. Firemen and policemen at this point are not yet "safe". That's pretty scary. I'm a stay at home mom, remember, and if Hubby lost this, I'd be going back to work, if I could find somewhere. Worse yet he'd be without his beloved career, be without the job that makes him happy, complete, purposed. It would be a nightmare. Talk about a thunderstorm!

But I'm trusting in the wind and rain. I'm holding to God's promises that He provides for His children. Of course I'm hoping that we won't be affected by this city's debt, but if we are, He still has a plan. We should all know something more in a few days.

Lots of humidity and around these parts lately. For some authors, that makes it easier to write, to escape, to get out of reality for awhile and control a universe somewhere when they can't control their own. But for me, its just distracting. I have deadlines I need to meet, as well as personal goals, but to be honest, it's really hard right now.

I don't want to be the girl hiding under the covers with a flashlight, terrifid. I want to be the one calmly going about my daily life as if the storm wasn't raging, because my faith is that firm. How about you? How do you handle the down times in life with your writing? Do you escape or do you feel extra inspired? Can you focus or are you a wreck until the storm passes?

No matter how long the clouds linger, one thing I know - if we just look hard enough, we'll always find the Son. Always.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Agent

Recently I boarded a plane and prepared for the longest flight of my life – seven hours from coast to coast. No problem, I thought. I’m sitting in the front row. There’s easy access to the bathroom.

I didn’t count on the Gatorade.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I was dehydrated. After six days of crying my way through the beautiful sessions at the writers' conference, I had no tears left. I needed to replenish.

The literary agent on the plane home was nice about my emotional state. “One of the editors at the conference really liked your stuff,” he said. "I think." Then he shuffled to the back of the plane while I tried not to focus on my swelling bladder.

Six minutes and six Gatorades later, I knew I needed to use the bathroom. Uhoh, I thought. Getting to the bathroom in the front of the plane was somewhat like trying to gain an audience with the Pope. Only more difficult.

This is because after 9/11, flight attendants were trained to – in the words of Napoleon Dynamite – use their “illegal ninja moves from the government”. If a person lingered anywhere near the cockpit hoping for a glimpse – just a tiny glimpse – of a “vacant” sign on the door, the crew reacted like the plane was spiraling into oblivion.

This mood fed a passenger camaraderie, somewhat like the Harding-Kerrigan friendship in the 1994 winter Olympics. Passengers were allowed to, in the name of good competition, bash each other in the legs in order to make it the bathroom first.

After about 10 minutes of observing this Harding-Kerrigan dynamic, I could hardly believe my eyes. The competition was over. I could – without risking my life – simply walk up to the bathroom and open the door.

My heart pounded. My feet darted. My fingers grasped the door handle.

So close.

“B.J.,” a voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “Please be seated at this time.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were making me sit down. My bladder screamed. My mind reeled. My eyes stared at the carpet.

How could I have been so stupid? How could I have thought the bathroom was empty? How could I have let all these people stare at me?

Wait a second.

How did the flight attendant know my name? With all the time-consuming illegal ninja move training from the government, how did he have a spare second to know who was sitting in the front row?

He didn’t.

My gaze wandered to the back of the plane. There he stood – right next to the microphone – the laughing literary agent. The one who could talk anyone into publishing anything had just talked the flight attendant into publishing my humiliation.

In a cruel twist of fate, a 4-year-old beat me to the bathroom. As the door slammed in my face, I realized just how much like the publishing world this plane ride was. Last year an editor loved my work – presented it to the rest of the team – and I was turned down in a later round of decision-making. Just when I was close – so close – I was asked to sit down.

Beware, publishing world. I am tired of your jokes. I am not above your games. My creative bladder is swelling, and if you don’t watch out – things are going to get messy.


BJ Hamrick is a journalist, humorist and editor for

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got

I started writing when I wasn't quite five years old. I wrote and illustrated my first novel around that time. "The Pupe (meaning Puppy)" was an enthralling tale about a little black puppy who took a nap and then woke up. I drew the whole thing on pink paper, then I cut it out and Mom helped me staple it together. I still have it.

I turned seventeen and decided, thanks to the encouragement from my parents, that I wanted to be a writer. So, Mom and I went to writing conferences together (some of my favorite memories!). At each conference, I would ask published writers what their best advice for me would be.

"Always start with an action scene," one author told me. So, I cut the first six pages of my WIP and worked on a new proposal.

"Stick with it and don't be afraid of rejection," another writer said. So, I stuck with the writing. Ideas came and went - some ideas I stuck with, some I didn't. I proposed without abandon and took rejection with a deep breath.

"Read everything you can get your hands on," another author mentioned. "But don't read as a reader, read as a writer." I tried to read with a discerning eye and discovered that my favorite books possessed a flow and poetry that I never noticed before.

But the best advice I ever got came from my Mom. We were talking late, late, late one night in our hotel room at one of the conferences and she said something that has stuck with me. "The writers I respect the most are the ones who are humble," she said.

A Christian writer is much more than just a writer. If the pen is mightier than the sword and the Word is sharper than a two-edged sword, think of the power that goes into each word you type. And be humbled.

CJ, Betsy and BJ talked about being called to write last week. Think about that call and think about the audience that you want to reach. And be humbled.

My copy-editor reminded me of the everlasting quality of the written word a little while ago. She was asking what my least favorite thing about writing was and I said that I hated how long everything took. You have to brainstorm an idea and really feel it out. You have to write a fabulous proposal. You have to find a great agent to propose this fabulous proposal. Then, you have to wait for what feels like forever for a decision from this magical entity called "The Publisher" and if it comes back as a "YAY!", then you get to write, wait for edits, make corrections, wait for copyedits, make more corrections, and wait for the finished product.

Tia said, "But words last for all eternity in a book!"

Be humbled.

If God has called you write, don't be proud. Don't be boasting about your talent. If anything, be scared. Wars begin and end with the written word. People live and die by the written word. God shares His love through the written Word.

Hone your gift. Work hard at what you do. Learn from the best. Words do last for eternity.

But humility is exemplified in Christ. And that is what we should aspire to.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How can you know you're called to write?

How can you know God’s calling you to be a writer? It's a question all of us have asked ourselves. If you knew you were called, then you'd stick through the tough times a lot easier, right? You'd press on and pursue your dreams knowing you were on the right track.

I remember as a teen I begged God to show me what I was supposed to do with my life. I prayed and yearned to know. Right then. But if I had looked closely, I would’ve seen He was already leading and guiding me through my childhood dreams. I loved to read as a kid. One of my favorite activities was visiting the library, and I’d come home with bags full of books. I loved writing little stories about animals. My sister and I started a newspaper/magazine we peddled around the neighborhood for fifty cents.

When I was fifteen I started writing a story about two sisters. I had no idea that story would eventually become my first published novel, Thicker than Blood. Those first pages were horrible, but I kept at it because it was something I couldn’t not do. That’s another way to recognize a God-given dream. Does it burn within you? I asked Jerry B. Jenkins once how beginning writers could know they were called to write, and he said if you can’t not write you may be called to write.

God puts desires and dreams in our hearts at an early age to guide us into our calling. And why wouldn’t He? Doesn’t it make sense He’d plant ideas in our hearts as children? As Psalms 139 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” It’s only as we get older that those dreams begin to fade due to the distractions and pressures of life. Take time and look back. Remember what you dreamed about as a kid. Maybe you’ll discover God’s been calling you for longer than you think. Often God will give us natural inclinations as children that coincide with our calling as adults. Have you always had a fascination with stories, books or writing? Chances are God’s put that in your heart.

Which isn't to say you always have to know what you're supposed to do as a kid. I certainly didn't. And I still have doubts. But it's not really even about skill. My early writings were nothing to shake a stick at. And even now my rough drafts can come out a mess most times. The point is, you can always develop skills, but you can’t fabricate a calling.

Know today that God can call you to be a writer as much as he can call a preacher to preach. Words are powerful. Think about this---God could’ve imparted his Word to us in many ways. He could’ve branded it on our minds or invented CDs sooner. But what did He choose? He wrote His words down in a book. How many lives have been changed by that one Book alone?

Currently, I'm on the Opposite of a Roll

Ever have one of those weeks?

You know what I'm talking about right? It starts with the greatest of expectations for your writing on Monday and lands with a thud by the time Friday rolls around.

This was supposed to be the week where I really got my new novel going. I had all sorts of fantastic plans for my characters, ideas for fun scenes, even a few recipes tucked away in the back of my mind for everyone to fail at (yes, I'm going a bit foodie with my next novel...guess all that Food Network watching is going to pay off, huh?).

But thanks to a unexpected run-in with Sniffles McManus (my alter ego with a bad, bad cold)and some last-minute deadlines with my freelance writing clients, well, I didn't get to write a single word. And I'm seriously bummed about this...

I know, I know, I should be making lemonade with those lemons, but it's easy to let discouragement creep in when your great expectations end up being nothing more than simply that, expectations. And so goes the journey of the're going to have a bad week on occasion. That self-imposed, 2,000-word deadline may not yield any fruit at all.

If anything, though, it makes me more fiercely determined to stay the course. When you're chomping at the bit to get your thoughts down, that's a good, good thing. Sure beats staring at your keyboard for hours on end, that's for sure.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to sulk for just a couple more minutes before I hop in the car and drive an hour-and-a-half to meet my Mom for lunch. We writers have a flair for the dramatic, after all, don't we?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Writing - A Call or a Choice?

Most of you have heard my story before from older posts - how I've been writing since I was a little girl, how I started attending conferences at the age of 18, how I was first published by a small press at the age of 22, acquired a literary agent at 23 and was published and multi-contracted by Steeple Hill at age 24.
I can't tell you how many times at ACFW conferences (American Christian Fiction Writers) fellow authors have grabbed my arm and with eyes shut tight against the remorse, told me "If ONLY I had started writing as young you did!!"

I've always wanted to write. Since I was a young teenager, when someone asked me what I "wanted to be when I grew up", I would answer "That's easy. A wife, a mother, and an author."
It's never been a question in my mind, but at times, it has been a doubt in my heart.

Do you ever wonder about that difference?

Authors often debate being "called" to write. Does God specifically call every published author to write for Him, as he "calls" to the ministry and to the mission field? What about unpublished authors, who feel the same burning passion the published writers do? What then? Is writing a calling, or a choice? Both? Neither?

It's a tough puzzle to piece together, and I am by no means qualified to do so. But I want to bring up the questions so that you can ask yourself.
Are you doubting your call today? Are you wondering if you misheard God's command? Realized you've been reading His map for your life upside down?

You're not alone! I think we've all been there at some point or another. No one wants to admit it, because they want to think their lives are going just as they expected. Well, can honestly say that??? =)

I think the reassurance from the doubts come through the little things - and even the little things that turn into big things, like with the previous entry on this blog. Powerful stuff! (go back and read if you haven't!)

For example, I recently became a stay at home/write at home mom. It's been literally my dream come true, and I'm grateful every day for the opportunity.

Except on bill-paying days.
Those days I tend to panic, and think I'm being selfish to have my husband work two jobs so I can stay home and write and raise our daughter and bring in the sporadic paycheck from my publisher. Those days, I tend to forget the investment we're making into Little Miss's life, and I forget how my husband chose this for us - not me. I tend to heap on the guilt and anxiety and forget that we prayed about this decision - that God led us to this point.

He reminded me today, as He did months ago, that even though its often scary, I'm still on the right path. I opened up the mailbox after fretting over our credit card bill and there, in all its manilla glory, was an envelope with a paycheck from my publisher.

God's timing is never, ever late.

So once again, I was humbled. Reminded of my calling. Reminded of my choice.

Because for me, it truly is both.

What is it for you?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Writing Saved My Life

It was the summer of 2001, and I was 17 years old. I wanted only one thing that summer: to die. For seven years I'd struggled with an infection that affected my brain and my heart – leaving me depressed, alone, and afraid. I wanted to end it all.

Then I met Annette.

It was an accident, actually. I was surfing the Web one day when I came across Teen Light Magazine, an online journal published by Annette Dammer. I submitted poetry to the
site, and Annette immediately e-mailed me back. "This is great!" she said. "You have a gift."

At first I didn't believe her, but I kept writing. Working for Teen Light gave me something to do on dark sleepless nights – nights when the pain was so great I wanted to die – nights when suicidal thoughts raged through my mind.

Annette's words kept coming back to me. "You have a gift…" The question haunted me - could she be right? What if writing was the reason God had put me on earth? What if my life actually had a purpose? What if I could write to encourage others – even if I had to do it from my mattress?

Slowly, Annette gained my trust. I told her about myself, my illness, and the hopelessness I felt inside. "God is using you," she told me. "Don't give up."

That summer, Annette taught me how to write a query letter. She slammed my inbox with writing-market information. Before long, I started to secretly send out queries. My first article was soon published by Focus on the Family Magazine.

I danced around the living room as the slippery white pages rubbed against my fingertips. At that moment, something inside of me came alive. I knew. My struggles weren't in vain. God was using them to encourage other hurting people through the words He gave me.

It's been eight years since the day I danced around my living room. Eight years since I wrote my first query letter. Eight years, and I've been published over 150 times – each article a gentle miracle from God's hand. But there's another miracle from God's hand: the miracle of my healing. Not long ago, He touched my body and made me whole.

Then the real crisis came. What should I do with my life? What should I do with my new-found health? I spent months on my knees before God, crying out for guidance.

The answer came clearly one cold winter day - go to journalism school.

"Journalism school?" my friends asked. "Are you crazy? Writing is a hobby – not a calling. Why be a journalist when there were so many other jobs out there?"

My answer was simple: everyone has a story. Every story needs to be told.

From the beginning of time, God penned the words of our lives His book. We may not understand why He chooses the tragic – the painful – or difficult moments.

But we'll love the ending – if we'll stick around long enough to see how it turns out.

I'm so glad I did.

BJ Hamrick loves to live out the dreams God has for her. One of those dreams is Real Teen Faith, a place where she mentors teen writers - just like Annette once mentored her.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When You Don't Have Time To Write

There are few things in life that can drive a writer more crazy than not having enough time in the day to write.

Actually, I can think of only three things that bother me more:

1) Mistaking baking powder and baking soda
2) Missing a flight
3) Talking to someone who hasn't brushed their teeth in a while.

But, it will happen. Inevitably. You'll get sick, move or end up spending three hours at the grocery store longing pushing the cart past the Oreos (guess what I did today?).

So what do you do when inspiration strikes at the least opportune moment?

First, write it down. I don't care if it's on the back of the receipt for those Oreos, but write down something that will jog your memory enough to remember your grand idea.

Second, don't put it off. As soon as life settles down for you, get to work! Roll up your sleeves and start plotting.

Third, don't forget about the off-time you've got. Chances are you do one of the following at least once a day: Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, drive somewhere, clean something, make dinner... (and if you don't do any of these, refer to my #3 at the top of this post). Take advantage of the time when your brain isn't really being used. Flesh out characters while you take a shower in the morning. Brainstorm about locations for your next blockbuster novel while you're driving.

My most important piece of advice when it comes to making time to write?

Don't forget your priorities.

If the thing getting between you and your writing is God, family or friends, forget the writing. Put the pencil down, step away from the keyboard, pull your eyes off the glowing screen and focus on what is really important. Writing is a hobby (or maybe a job), but family and friends are a gift. And the Giver of all of this is God.

And now, I'm going to take this to heart and go spend time with my husband who just got home.

Have a great Monday!

Erynn :)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Writing Helps that Won't Break the Bank

Let's face it. If you go into this writing profession expecting to become rich and famous you'll probably be sorely disappointed. Most writers keep their day jobs.

We usually can't go out and by the latest MacBook or expensive writing desk. But don't let this discourage you! There are so many cheap (or free) writing helps that can make the journey a little easier. Here are a few I've found:

1. Google Maps

I can't tell you how excited I was when editing my novel to realize I could actually see the street view of where I wanted to set my scenes. Not every street is available, but in major cities they are. In one scene, I had a character who traveled to the Albuquerque Greyhound bus stop. I looked it up on Google Maps and was actually able to see the Alvarado Transportation Center. This prompted me to research the place a little more and add some description I wouldn't have known to include otherwise. We're no longer limited if we can't travel to where our stories take place!

2. Writing Notebook

When I get stuck in a story (and let's face it, all writers do), often I'll get away from the computer, pull out my notebook, and just start talking to myself on paper. There's something about holding a pen in hand that gets the creative juices flowing better than typing. Maybe because it forces me to slow down and think since I can't write with a pen as fast as I can think, or type.

I also have this new ritual. For casual notes a legal pad will do, but when I start a new novel I go out and buy a nice notebook. Last time it was a $9.99 leather one at Barnes and Noble. Then I'll use my "novel notebook" and try to figure out what story I want to write next, usually asking myself the question, "What I really want to write about is ..." and then writing down my response. It's fun to go back and read these and see if I kept true to my gut responses.

3. Laptop Desk

I don't have an office, or even a real desk I use for writing. I wish I did, but money and space don't allow for it right now. But that's okay. A couple years ago I bought an $80.00 fold-able laptop desk that can slip behind my dresser or in a corner. I couldn't find the exact one I got, but Target's selling one for an affordable $49.99 here.

4. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Someone beat me to the punch on this one, but I highly recommend this book too. If you can only buy one writing how-to book, this is the one I'd suggest.

Can't afford a pricey writer's conference? Do family responsibilities keep you from traveling? No problem. James Scott Bell's latest book is the perfect solution. Like a week-long writing course, Bell covers it all in easy-to-read chapters. From the Top 20 Ways to Get Hundreds of Plot Ideas to Stretching the Tension, I'd recommend Plot & Structure to beginning writers for its soup-to-nuts approach, but it's also a must-read for veterans. The advice is timeless. It's available for $11.55 at

The point is, you don't have to have top-of-the-line equipment to make it in this biz. Your brain is the most important asset. If you can dream and imagine, then you can succeed as a writer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Making it Work

When it comes to my writing, the oh-so-wise words of "Project Runway's" Tim Gunn often apply: "make it work."

If you've ever watched the show (a complete guilty pleasure of mine, for the record), you'll notice he says this to the contestants a lot. In fact, I've watched "Project Runway" so much that I can often guess, with great accuracy, when and to whom he'll say it. Sad, I know.

Back on topic, though...okay, okay, I know what you're thinking...

Yeah, that sounds great in theory, Christa, but how does that actually work in practice? Well, that's precisely what today's blog entry is all about—a few tools that "make it work" for me (and here's hoping they'll help you, too).

First off, the right attitude is a must. Sometimes as much as I love writing, it simply has to be done, even if I'm not really in the mood. Like anything really worth pursuing, it's a discipline, and I'm not always great with discipline. But nonetheless, I must forge ahead. That doesn't mean I shouldn't have a great atmosphere to complete the task in, though.

So I always make sure to have some great music playing in the background (Radiohead, Sinatra and the soundtrack from Julie & Julia have all been favorites lately) if I'm working at home. If I'm at a coffee shop, however, I'm at the mercy of whatever they're playing, which is always an important factor to consider.

As far as coffee shops go, the music at Starbucks is consistently good. Well, unless it's whiny songwriter's day. But in the case of the crazy coffee shop across the street from my apartment, The Black Dog, a place that smells like a pungent combination of hummus, B.O. and incense, the music is usually bad. Last night, they were playing Egyptian hip-hop. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for diversity, but focusing wasn't particularly easy with those strange, pounding beats in the background at a volume my mother certainly wouldn't have approved of.

In addition to a great selection of music, I enjoy copious amounts of caffeine with my writing. Whether it's a caramel macchiato, a cup of cocoa or a diet coke with lime, it's makes the process go so much faster. A snack (something usually involving chocolate) is helpful, too.

Now that the atmosphere is right, I'm actually ready to write. So here are a few more things that often come in handy...

*A good thesaurus. I don't know about you, but I find it really annoying when authors use the same words, particularly adjectives, over and over again. My husband also shares this conviction and regularly points out how many times John Grisham uses the word "gawk" in his novels. I mean, really, what's so special about the word "gawk?" But I definitely have my pet words (every writer does), so a thesaurus definitely helps when you're stuck.

*A copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Yes, there are probably an infinite amount of great books that'll help kick your writing into shape, but this particular tutorial has certainly helped me with everything from crafting great dialogue to solidifying my point of view.

*A green Pilot Precise V5 pen. Yes, I'm still a little old-school when it comes to editing my manuscripts (I chalk it up to my magazine-editing years) and will routinely print whatever I've got (on recycled paper, I promise) and do copy-edits with my favorite pen, a green Pilot Precise V5. I find that actually seeing it in print helps me catch things that I wouldn't otherwise.

*My hubby's .02. I am very blessed that I'm married to another fellow writer, and his input is absolutely essential when I'm writing because I trust him implicitly. In fact, he's the one who chose the crucial first line in both of my novels. Apparently, I'd buried the lead a few sentences down, and he was absolutely right on the money. Just because I cook his dinner every night doesn't mean he holds back on criticism, and it's exactly what I need.

*Trusted friends. It still amazes me how invested a few of my friends are in the stories I tell. They definitely have opinions and aren't afraid to share them, which is great feedback to have. When I'm having a bummer day or feel like I'm never going to finish my deadline, they pray for me, too, which makes all the difference.