Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Too real to be fiction...

Does your real life affect your fiction writing?

Or does your fiction writing affect your real life?

Think about it... 'fess up.

Have you ever been guilty of picking a fight with your spouse or family member or friend because you were at that point in your novel and wanted the emotions to come across realistic? lol

Have you ever been guilty of forcing yourself out of a bad mood in order to write a happy scene, or found yourself feeling somewhat melancholy while writing a melancholy scene when minutes before you started writing, you were on top of the world?

No wonder people think writers are crazy! :)

Emotions definitely need to play a role in our writing. I'm not suggesting you pick fights (unless your husband enjoys making up, but hey that's a post for another day!!) but next time you find yourself in a particular mood, try to write a scene for your WIP at that time, even if that means skipping ahead in your story. Just try it out and see if the emotions click better than when you force yourself to write scene by scene in order, regardless of mood.

You never know what creativity this exercise might unleash!

Sometimes as authors all we need is one step outside the box to beat writer's block or reach a new level in our author-reader connection. (or author-editor connection!)

Of course, it might backfire...

So if you all come back to me weepy instead of happy, happy instead of weepy, and/or with a line of unhappy husbands behind you, hey, I apologize in advance =P

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pushing: Not Just for the Delivery Room

A half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts was enough to send Mother Theresa over the edge… so what was my co-counselor thinking when she gave the same amount to Rodney, the camper voted Most Likely To Grow Up To Be Ted Kacznski?

Maybe Tina thought Rodney would shut up once the dough stuck to the roof of his mouth, but the only thing that actually stuck was my eardrum to the roof of the car while Rodney’s belches set off volcano alarms as far away as Asia.

Since we couldn’t actually ship him there, we decided to do something that, looking back, was only slightly more dangerous. We decided to let Rodney navigate his way back to camp… on his own.

At first glance, it looked like Rodney would be okay. He sauntered casually from the bottom of the two-mile uphill dirt driveway to camp. As the dust clouds swallowed him, we approximated that in about ten seconds, he would come back into view… throwing up dust like an Olympic track star on steroids.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Just as we were about to check on him, a blue car pulled into view. There was Rodney in the passengers’ seat, whiter than my mother’s Persian cat. His fingers trembled as he rolled down the window.

“B… b… b…” he tried to eek.

“B… b… b…”.


“We saw a bear,” the driver said, just in case we’d failed phonics. “If I hadn’t come along, who knows what would have happened.”

Words can’t describe how I felt at that moment. I had never seen Rodney like this. Speechless. Belchless. And hopefully not the son of a prominent lawyer.

We were screaming, Rodney couldn't speak, and suddenly every person on that hillside was the complete antithesis of their usual personalities.

Which is the point here, folks. We need to push the characters in our stories to the same place. We need to build the tension so much that our characters do something completely, totally, and awesomely out-of-character.

So go ahead. Give Ted a Krispy Kreme. And if you want to see something interesting, pass the box this way...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reading Time

I've been thinking about something the last few days, probably because it's only been in the last few days that I've had the time to! :)

Last week, I read a fiction book (front to back!) just for the fun of reading for the first time in about six months. It was SO nice! I love, love, LOVE to read and all these months of not having the time to has been hard.

I finished the book early Saturday morning. I set it down and just felt so invigorated and inspired to get my laptop and start writing. Have you ever felt that way after reading a novel?

And - if you have felt that way - have you noticed that what you read typically inspires what you write? For example, if I read a creepy, scary story and love it, I immediately want to write one! Or, if I read a sweet love story, I want to write a story that makes me feel as good as that book did.

And writer's block? The best way I know how to fix writer's block is to put my computer away, change into my comfy clothes and lounge on the couch with a good book. After a few days off from writing, I have the motivation I need to keep going.

But - there are times when reading a great novel doesn't seem to fix my writer's block. Same for you?

When that happens, I have to check and see how much time I've been spending reading the best Book ever written. When you are lacking in creativity, going to the Creator of creativity is usually a good place to go. :)

So what are you reading? How is it inspiring you? And are there specific verses that have helped you in your current WIP?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Looking back to encourage us today

What if everything that's happened in your life thus far was to prepare you for today?

I had the chance several months ago to sit in on an interview my sister Tracy did with Duncan Phillips, the drummer for the Newsboys. He had a lot of great things to say not only on the band, but on living positive and being a Christian. A few of his quotes stuck out to me:

"I look at how much hard work it was [the early stages of the band] and also how loyal and faithful our Creator was through all this. There were so many what-ifs. I look back on it now with hindsight. I can see the hand of the Lord there in various situations. There was no way they could've happened by chance. Looking back encourages me when I look forward. I look forward now with courage because there have been a lot of times in our careers, especially just recently, where it was like, “Oh my gosh, what are we gonna do? This thing's over; we're not getting anywhere.” But the Lord has been good."

Notice his quote, "Looking back encourages me when I look forward". That says something to me today. I daresay all of us have experiences where God has moved in our lives, only we didn't recognize God's hand until later. In hind sight. Duncan continues:

"I know in my heart that He is real. I've seen what He's done in my life over the years. It's one of the great things about being a Christian for a while now - I can look back and see all the incredible things that could not have happened by chance. They happened because of an ordained process that can only come from the Creator, Someone greater than me."

As a writer, I see how true these statements are in my own life. Every experience, good or bad, can be used in my writing. In order to write deeply I need to have something to draw from. I'm turning 31 this year, but the Lord has blessed me with some amazing experiences.

I was traveling the country in my early 20s for our family business and have been in all but four US states. I saw my first bald eagle outside Flagstaff, Arizona sitting high and mighty in a huge pine tree. I helped put out a forest fire on the road up to Estes Park, Colorado. I saw a grizzly bear eating a dead animal carcass in Yellowstone National Park. I've driven down the streets of San Francisco at one o'clock in the morning. I saw the Twin Towers a week before they went down.

The funny thing is, as I was experiencing these things (and many more like them) I had no idea I would need them later in life. But as I write my novels I'm finding myself using these specific details. Recently I wrote about watching a hummingbird diving toward a stream, its shrill tweet sounding like a distant policeman's siren. That came from my own life too.

But here's the thing that goes back to what Duncan was saying. We ALL have experiences in our pasts that color our today. What if an experience we first thought of as negative actually developed our character into something that will impact our future? Our ministries?

I don't believe God purposely causes bad things to happen in our lives to teach us things, but I do believe He can help us through them. We can learn from the negative. And maybe we can use the experience in a book someday!

God has a specific plan for your life. He's ordaining your steps even now. Knowing that can change our outlook on life.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The #1 Reason You'll Never Finish Writing Your Novel

I know, I know, the title for this post definitely sounds a little ominous.

But Betsy's post yesterday really inspired me in terms of providing you, my fellow fiction writers, some useful tips for keeping your novel writing chugging along at full steam.

On one of my favorite writing websites, Write it Sideways, Suzannah talks the hurdles that inevitably hold us back from making the real progress we're always striving for.

Here's what she had to say...

If you find the process taking longer than you want, and you’re beginning to lose motivation to finish, consider if you’re making any of the following choices that affect your writing:
  • Are you stalling to correct typos, spelling mistakes and grammar?
  • Do you feel the need to perfect a passage of writing before moving on?
  • Are you obsessing over whether to delete things you might not use in the finished product?
  • Do you find yourself constantly interrupting your writing to conduct research?
  • When you re-read passages you’ve already written, do you stop to criticize yourself?

What do these 5 behaviors have in common? What is the #1 reason you’ll never finish writing your novel?

You Aren’t Actually Writing

Making corrections isn’t writing. Conducting research isn’t writing. Re-reading, criticizing and tinkering aren’t actually writing. The ugly truth is that you’re actually procrastinating.

If you’re engaging in these 5 behaviours, you’ve become your own worst enemy. You’re not allowing yourself to move on. You’re not letting yourself get the first draft written.

And (at the risk of sounding obvious) if you don’t write, you can’t finish your novel.

How to Get it Written

Don’t get in the way of your own success. Follow these tips to help you get back on the road to finishing your book:

  • Don’t self-edit. Don’t worry about making minor technical errors, or spend time fixing them. That’s what revision and proofreading are for. Besides, you’re more likely to notice these mistakes once you’ve given your first draft some room to breathe.
  • Use a writer-friendly program. Writing a novel in a regular word processor seems like madness to me–only, that is, after I discovered a number of wonderful writing programs. Scrivener is my choice because it makes it easy to organize my scenes and chapters. When I wonder whether I should delete things or hold onto them, I simply create a new text file and paste in the passage. That way it’s easily accessible whenever I want to refer back to it. No obsessing needed.
  • Research later. The major research you need to do for your novel should be done ahead of time. But, when it comes to minor details or fact-checking, simply highlight, underline, or otherwise mark areas that need to be researched. You can then continue writing, uninterrupted, and not forget to fill in the details once you’ve got your first draft completed.
  • Get down the bones. Some writers make the mistake of worrying about getting every scene perfected before moving on to the next. Spending too much time perfecting means you’ll be moving along at a snail’s pace–hardly good for productivity. If you know a scene must appear at a specific time, but you’re having trouble writing it, simply jot down some dialogue or description that indicates what will take place when you flesh out the scene. Move right along to the next scene, and come back to the difficult one a bit later.
  • Be kind to yourself. What are the chances you’re going to write perfect prose in the first draft? Not likely. Instead of looking back at what you’re written and beating yourself up over its lack of refinement, give yourself a pat on the back, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Remember, you’ll probably be making significant changes later.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Top 10 Mistakes of New Fiction Authors

I found this a while back and thought it very helpful for new writers. (written by Sally Zigmond) This was written as advice for short stories but the content here still applies to all genres across the board, for any length novel.

See what you think! Are you guilty of the mistakes? We all are at some point! The question really is...are you learning from them and moving forward in growth?

Here we go....

Lack of Editing. The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to think that editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spelling errors. That's the very last thing to do. The first draft of a short story is like a lump of wood. Removing unnecessary waffle, sharpening up images and choosing the exact word will reveal the beauty of the grain.

Dull Writing. Too many new writers don't give their imagination full rein. They seem afraid look beyond and beneath the surface. Their characters are dull and lead dull lives. Above all, fiction must intrigue and entertain. Avoid stereotyped characters and situations. Why can't a rich business man be kind and compassionate? Why are unemployed men always lazy and sit around in their vests swigging out of cans? Why can't one or two learn Latin or take up line-dancing?

Too Much Irrelevant Detail. In short fiction especially, include information only if it furthers the plot, aids characterization and provides a sense of place and time. Too much background information makes a story all tell and no show. Don't go into detail about characters if they have no significant part to play in the fiction. Never give bit part players a name. If all a postman has to do is deliver the all-important letter, don't say he's Stan, the postman whose wife nags him and has a bad back after falling off his bike in 1976. His function is just to be a postman. Don't lead up to an event. Jump in straight away. Drip-feed vital information subtly. Don't drop in heavy indigestible chunks of history or description. Make it a central part of the current action.

No Attention to Language. Too many writers are so busy "telling a story" that they fail to choose their words carefully enough. All writers should try to increase their vocabulary; not by using fancy words just for the sake of it -- writing should always be clear -- but by using intriguing language in new ways. Wind doesn't only blow. It can rip, roar, strangle, whip. Be imaginative. It's not only what you say but the way you say it.

Absence of Imagery and Reliance on Cliches. Too much fiction is flat because it lacks vibrant images. Cliches are similes and metaphors that have been so overworked they cease to mean anything and sound limp and stale, like as cold as ice, as black as coal. Don't say, "she sighed with relief"; think of another way someone might show relief. Match your imagery to the story and character. If your main character is always rushing about, use imagery relating to speed. Send him to the greyhound track to act out his scenes or place him by a railway line where express trains thunder past. If your character is depressed then send her into tunnels, underpasses, cellars and basements. Reinforce the prevailing mood, but avoid the obvious. Don't draw the reader's attention to what you're doing. Just do it.

No Sense of Place. People are not only the result of their genes, but are shaped by their environment. Show the readers where your characters live and work. If it's the sprawling suburbs, then show us. What does a suburban avenue, sound and smell like? How does the light shine on it? Show us its life -- a man delivering charity bags from door to door, wheelie bins standing by gates. If someone lives in a filthy hovel behind the gasworks, let's see, hear and touch it. Too many writers let their characters float around in a vacuum. Don't forget to engage all the senses. Most writers describe how things look, but how does fear taste? How does anger smell? What does beauty sound like? Be adventurous.

No Shape or Structure. All fiction, but especially the short story, works best when it concentrates on one person in one situation that takes place in a reasonably short space of time. A short story expresses a moment of change and charts the journey through this change and shows what happens at the far end. Begin the story as close as possible to the moment of change. Don't waffle on once the change and its aftermath has happened. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked. Learn how to pace a story, when to give and when to withhold information, when and how to create tension, speed things up, slow things down. This is done by carefully choosing words, not only for the sound they make but the length of syllables etc. Writing is a craft as much as an art. If a writer needs to introduce flashback, it should be carefully sign-posted in and out, to avoid confusion. Shifts in viewpoint should also be carefully introduced.

Poor Dialogue Skills. Dialogue in fiction isn't real but it must sound real. Keep it sharp. Don't allow your characters to make long confessional speeches or engage in too much cozy chit-chat. Use it to provide essential information and above all to show character.

Lack of Technical Knowledge. All writers should learn or brush up their grammar by learning why things are so. The most common mistakes, such as confusion of "it's" and "its," "your" and "you're" mark you as a beginner. Learn the reasons behind the rules and you can't possibly get it wrong. Only when you know the rules inside out can you be brave enough to break them. The best way to learn how to do it is to read as much published fiction as you can. If you read plenty by a variety of authors you cannot possibly "pick up" their style. It will, on the contrary, help develop your own.

My Top Tip. When you think your story is the best you can make it, put it aside and leave it for as long as possible -- minimum one week. Then read it out aloud. Your errors will leap up at you like snarling dogs! Now rewrite it.

What do you guys think? :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Bare Naked Truth About Jaguars

A cologne presumed to attract women was recently proven to attract something else… jaguars. says Calvin Klein’s Obsession (for men) was experimented with by the Bronx Zoo as one of several scents they hoped might draw the big cats.

After the initial, shall we say, positive results, Biologists decided to also use the scent to lure jaguars out of their natural jungle habitats as well.

It worked.

I'm sure the last thing Calvin Klein expected was to attract was jaguars. In fact, I can relate. The last thing I expected to attract with my writing was teenagers.

I was, by far, the most awkward teenager that ever lived.


My skin frightened small children at the beach.

My teenage years were not ones that I recalled with warm fondness.

But after my first article hit the press, guess who responded?

The jaguars.... er... teenagers. They wanted to relate; they wanted to talk; they wanted to share their hearts. A teen ministry was born.

Nine years later, working with teens is still outside of my comfort zone.

There are the good times. But there are also occasional nights when, like one night last week, I sat on the bathroom floor and cried.

Maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you've been bathroom floor lately. Maybe discouragement has hit; you question whether you're called to do this thing.

You are. God has placed you here -- in this moment -- to attract people to Himself.

His plan may not look anything like what you expected. But I guarantee if you'll hang on tight you'll have one wild ride... even if it is on the back of a jaguar.

BJ, the author of The Bare Naked Truth About Purity, will be the first to admit she's worn her husband’s deodorant in a pinch. At the moment, however, she will step away from the Calvin Klein.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Technical

This is going to be one of those posts that will more than likely land me square in the middle of the big circle drawn around Geek Land.

I mean, my Nerd Alert is going off and when your own Nerd Alert is blaring against you as the culprit? You know it's pretty bad.

But. It must be written. I'm going to talk about the margins/settings you need to have down when you submit your manuscript. And I do hope that it's at least marginally helpful (um. No pun intended).

It's all about first impressions though. And if a publisher can open up your proposal's sample chapters and notice that you've already got the settings correct on Word, that's free points for you right off the bat!

So. Push up those masking-taped glasses and adjust those pocket protectors, because here we go!

First off, always submit your proposal sample chapters in one Microsoft Word document (and preferably the latest version). Don't have two different files for the publisher to have to open - one is just fine. When you first open a new document, go to the "Alignment and Spacing" section (note: I have a Mac, so these directions might be slightly different for PCs). You need to set the entire document to double-spaced.

Next, find where you can set something called the "Indentation" and set it to 0.5. This means that every time you start a new paragraph it will automatically indent, instead of you needing to use the tab button (you will win SOO many extra points with the copy editor if you do this!).

If you want to see an example of a fiction proposal (the one I used with Miss Match), send me an email at and I'll be sure to send it to you! It has all the settings correct and shows you how to format each page.

Okay. You can all turn off your Nerd Alerts. I'm done. :)

Hope you are having a great Monday afternoon!

Friday, June 18, 2010

What to do with your emotions

Courtney had a fantastic question recently in the comments about a writer and her/his emotions. Here's what she asked:

I'm not sure if this is just me or all writers, but I always have so many emotions when writing or thinking of a story. This isn't always bad but it can be hard to be on the top of the world one second and on the bottom the next. How do you deal with the mood swings that come with being a writer? Again, this might just be me...

Um, Courtney? It's not just you. Trust me, ask any writer you know and I bet they'd agree with you on this a 100%. I have had so many ups and downs during the process of writing that it's not even funny. One minute I love the story, the next I hate it. One day the words flow like a river, then next it feels like pulling teeth to write a sentence. This is completely normal. Sometimes I want to bemoan the fact that writing can cause all these crazy emotions, but then I realize that we can use these emotions to our benefit.

I'm noticing that many, many creative people feel deeply. It's how we're wired. It's what gives us the drive to do things like sit in front of a computer for hours on end writing about imaginary people!

I believe recognizing the fact that feeling all the emotions you're feeling is completely normal is the first step in conquering them. Because even though we can use them to our benefit, let's face it---it's not fun to go through a low time.

Here are some tips:
  • Step away from the computer (or notepad) and do something completely unrelated to writing for a little while - this will help you recharge. Try not to think about your writing at all during this time. Sometimes a break is just the thing you need.

  • Often we'll feel low when our perfectionist tendencies kick into gear (this is what happens to me, at least), so give yourself some slack and permission to just write. Don't edit, just write. You can edit later.

  • Watch a funny movie with a friend or family member. This'll lighten your mood. We writers can be way too serious sometimes!

  • Remember that God is right there with you ready to lift you up---but often we need to take the first step toward him. Ask Him to help you. He will, because He loves you!

  • Write through it. For some the best cure is to keep on writing no matter what you feel, and eventually you have to do this anyway, so why not get some words under your belt!

  • We are often our worst critics and way too hard on ourselves. Remembering that will help.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Truth About Christian Authors Part 2

Before I offer my additional .02 on Tonya's fantastic question about whether or not I'm uncomfortable telling people that I'm a Christian writer, I must first commemorate a Scribble Chicks milestone. Ladies, this is officially our 200th post.

Now how cool is that? I feel like I should buy some party poppers or something...

But since I'm guessing my neighbors wouldn't appreciate all the noise involved with said party poppers, I think I shall celebrate that, along with the glories of beach reading now that summer is officially here in a mere four days, by hosting a contest. I will be giving away four copies of my books (two copies of Around the World in 80 Dates and two copies of Blessed Are the Meddlers) on my Facebook fan page, so be sure to check that out!

Now back to the matter at hand...

I'll just go ahead and say it: Yes, I am often uncomfortable saying that I'm a Christian writer. Mind you, I have no trouble owning up to being a Christ-follower...that's an entirely different story altogether. But when it comes to admitting that I'm specifically a Christian writer, well, that automatically has a stigma attached to it, even when I'm talking with my fellow believers sometimes.

The trouble with the "Christian writer" label is that it's often associated with something that's inferior or low-quality—a shame, really, considering we ultimately serve the Creator of the universe, the very One who dreamed up everything from the vast array of stars in the sky to the softly scented lilacs of spring to simply mystifying creatures like llamas. And since we all have a little bit of that Creator in us, shouldn't we be the most creative and inspired artists, too?

But from time to time when a Christian writer's need/desire to minister is thrown in the mix, the art has taken a beating. And I think that's something that each and every Scribble Chick has tried hard to rally against in our respective novels. I think every once of us is desperately trying to shake off that low-quality stigma by offering up something original, fun and faith-filled without beating people over the head with "the message." We want to create characters who are relatable yet inspiring—people who have Jesus in their hearts but also a firm grasp on the complicated world we live in.

And truth be told, it's not exactly easy convincing potential readers that we are, indeed, different from the perceived norm. Whenever I do a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble or Borders, I'm so much happier when I'm sitting in the front of the store, rather than relegated to the "Christian Fiction" section because I have an opportunity to explain what my books are about without having the huge "Christian Fiction" sign over my head. Now do I hide that there's a faith-filled perspective in the stories of Sydney and her pals? Absolutely not. But I'm the one who gets to share that, rather than having the sign doing it for me. And in my experience, that has made a world of difference.

Since I've worked in the Christian music industry, I know this battle also exists with many of the artists I've interviewed over the years, too. Simply because of the word "Christian" in front of their musical genre, they often lose a lot of respect and aren't taken seriously either. And if you think about it, Christians are really some of the only people who have art that specifically reflects their beliefs. Case in point: Madonna may practice the teachings of Kabbalah, but we don't refer to her as a Kabbalah artist. Same goes for singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik who is a Buddhist or Beck who does the Scientology thing.

So I guess that's why I've always related to what Switchfoot's frontman Jon Foreman said when he told Rolling Stone that he was a Christian artist by faith, not by genre. I feel the same way. But at the same time, when you are writing about God, that is the "label" assigned to us for better or worse. So rather than always feel like I have to apologize for that, I always try and make the best of it by challenging myself to be the absolute best artist I can be.

I don't know about you, but I'd love for Christian fiction to lose that nasty ol' stigma for good because there are exceptional novels written by people of faith, and I believe they deserve respect not only from fellow believers, but culture at large. It's like what author Madeleine L'Engle once said, "We can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts."

Q & A

Have we Scribble Chicks answered all your questions? Did we miss any? If so please repost. And we need new questions - this last week or two has been really fun and I feel like we're starting to understand more of what our blog readers are really needing to know to take new steps in understanding the industry.

Keep the questions coming! And just for fun, to get the brain revving, here's a few fun questions for YOU...

1. What has no beginning, end or middle?

2. What goes up and never comes down?

Answers later ;)

And now for a fun quiz, with the answers provided for your amusement...

Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A. Noah: he was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.

Q. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible?
A. Pharaoh’s daughter: she went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.

Q. What kind of man was Boaz before he got married?
A. Ruth-less.

Q. Who was the first drug addict in the Bible?
A. Nebuchadnezzar: he was on grass for seven years.

Q. What kind of motor vehicles are in the Bible?
A. Jehovah drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury. David’s Triumph was heard throughout the land. Honda... because the apostles were all in one Accord.

Q. Where is the first baseball game in the Bible?
A. In the big inning. Eve stole first; Adam stole second. Cain struck out Abel. The Giants and the Angels were rained out.

Q. How did Adam and Eve feel when expelled from the Garden of Eden?
A. They were really put out.

Q. What is one of the first things that Adam and Eve did after they were kicked out?
A. They really raised Cain.

Q. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden?
A. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

Q. What do they call pastors in Germany?
A. German Shepherds.

Q. What is the best way to get to Paradise?
A. Turn right and go straight.

Q. Which servant of Jehovah was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A. Moses, because he broke all 10 commandments at once.

Q. Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
A. When Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court.

Q. Which bible character had no parents?
A. Joshua, son of Nun.

Q. Why didn’t Noah go fishing?
A. He only had two worms!

Q. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A. Samson; he really brought the house down.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Bare Naked Truth About the Christian Author

Tonya asked, "Do you ever feel uncomfortable telling people you are a Christian writer?"

Yes and no. I don't shy away from this question because I am ashamed of my faith, but frankly, because some people in the general market feel that writing for the Christian market must mean my work is substandard.

I'm not saying everyone believes the Christian market is substandard, but some people do. Part of the issue is because the Christian market is much smaller than the general market. But it's a complex issue; one that my writer friends hash out on an almost constant basis. (I personally think the ABA and CBA are both responsible for publishing their share of crappy authors... but then you find the gems like Erynn, CJ, Betsy, and Christa.)

So yes, I'm not afraid to admit I'm a Christian, but that doesn't mean I'll introduce myself as a "Christian writer". I don't want to be limited to one market or the other. Look at Debbie Macomber and John Grisham and you can see that good writing is still good writing... no matter which market you choose.

Now it's your turn -- what's your take on being a "Christian author"?

BJ loves being a Scribble Chick, and the author of The Bare Naked Truth About Love Blog.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Down With The Analyst!

Last week, I answered a few of the questions that BJ's open forum had given and one of you had a great comment afterward asking about over-analyzing yourself when writing fiction, particularly after writing lots of background info on your story.

Ah, the fun of outlining! :)

Sorry - I make lots of fun of outliners but mostly it's because I don't have the talent or the attention span to outline an entire novel, write pages and pages of character histories (most of which won't end up in the book), create an entire town's layout and history and then go back and write the actual novel. So my making fun is really a cover-up for being very jealous. By the time I've finished writing one character's personal history, I could care less about what happens to him or her in the story since I already know everything about them.

Here's what I usually start with: Name, approximate age, a few rough details about their appearance and maybe a quick line about their work, past, fears or goals (whatever is more applicable to the type of story I'm writing).

Then, I sit down. I open a Word document, fix the settings and start typing. When I finish writing that day, I close it without reading back through it. The next day, I read back through what I wrote the day before, make any corrections that need to be made and start typing again.

So, how do you write a novel without over-analyzing it?

If you can write anything without over-analyzing it, I want to know your secret!! The truth is, you will never think your work is good enough, regardless of what you are writing (I can't even accept a grocery list is good, much less a manuscript!).

Turning off your inner analyst is going to take more than just you - take time to pray about it. Memorize verses like 1 Peter 5:12 - "My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens." If you can keep the purpose for your writing at the front of your mind, somehow the inner analyst tends to quiet down.

Or at least he stays quiet momentarily.

Another good rule of thumb? Do your best to edit your work, submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent and DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES open the manuscript back up to look at it if it is accepted! You'll see every mistake in glaring detail - let the copyedit team take care of that and you just try to remember that your work is done.

Take that, Mister Analyst!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Motivational Thought For Today...

Although I've never read one of Tori Morrison's novels, I love what she had to say about why we should get to work on our respective magnum opuses.

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. —Toni Morrison

Kind of makes you want to start typing right away, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Questions and Answers....

Tonya asked: What are normal word counts for different genres?

This varies per genre and publishing house, but a basic breakdown that should be pretty close is as follows...

Young Adult: 80-90k (used to be much less but with the rise of Harry Potter and Twilight, publishers of YA are realizing that teens want longer reads that are more fleshed out)

Historicals: (85-100+k) and usually on the longer end of that scale. Historicals can get away with being well above 100k, whereas that's pretty much a no-no in other genres.

Contemporary romance: 75-90k

Category romance (like Love Inspired novels): 60-65k (Heartsong Presents are shorter, more like 55k I believe)

Suspense/Romantic Suspense: 85-90k

Thriller: 85-90k

Women's Fiction: 85-90k

Scribble Chicks, if you have heard differently lately, please let me know in the comments! This is what I understand the market to be right now but of course I could be off.

Hope this helps, Tonya!! =)

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Questions!

First off, I want to apologize for missing my post the last few weeks. This week marks 35 weeks pregnant and I've been having fun with baby showers and family in town and Memorial Weekend barbecues!

It is officially summer out here which means my husband is off from teaching school for a few weeks until summer school starts. So, between him being home and me being done with deadlines and tons of stuff going on as we get the house ready for a baby, we've been keeping busy in the way that means we're also sleeping in every day. :) I love that! I'm trying so hard to soak up these last few weeks when it's just me and my husband, but at the same time, I can't wait for our little guy to get here. :)

Anyways. Enough of the sappy stuff. :)

Big thanks to BJ for opening up a fabulous forum on here!! I'm going to try my best to answer a couple of questions today. And keep 'em coming!! We love questions!

Is it possible to publish a book without a contract? Like a one time deal?

Yes - it's called self-publishing. Basically, there are two types of publishers - traditional and self-publishers. In a traditional publishing house, they will pay you for your work. In a self-publishing house, you pay them to publish your work (in exchange, they give you an ISBN number). As far as I know, there isn't a contract with self-publishing because it's all based on you - you decide how many copies you want printed and they print them. And then you would be the one selling them.

With traditional publishers, though, there is always going to be a contract. They need your word that you'll finish your manuscript by the deadline. And you need their word that they'll pay you. :)

Is it hard being a full-time writer? Do you struggle a lot with having enough money?

There is a LOT of truth to the saying "starving writer", let me just start with that. :) If you are in this for the money, you might as well direct your attention to a different career because you can definitely make SO much more doing something else! Writing is not a lucrative career. If my husband wasn't working, I wouldn't be able to afford to write full-time.

Some of you say you don't outline when you write a book. Do you make notes about characters beforehand? Do you literally just have an idea and free write?

I'm one of those non-outliners and yes, I usually do have a general idea of characters when I sit down to write. Before writing proposals first became a way of life, I used to literally just sit down and start writing - no notes, no ideas, nothing. And I loved it! There is SO much freedom in that!

Now, I start by writing down a really loose description of the basic plot (and I mean REALLY loose - it's usually about a page or a page and a half). I try not to go into too much detail though - I really love when I get to find out what happens in the story as I'm writing it - it makes it so much more fun for me.

My character notes usually look something like this: Adelaide Warner - 25, single, brown hair, blue eyes, average height/weight, wants to work on a big-budget film but all the job offers she gets are for movies taken with a home video camera.

See? Short, simple. I know a basic plot now (is Adelaide ever going to get to work in Hollywood?) and I also have a mental picture of what she looks like.

Now I have a question for YOU - what is your absolute favorite thing about summer? And how could you work that into a story or article?

Have a great summer day!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Two Questions Answered

Hi, friends!

Here's my attempt to tackle two questions you guys recently asked:

Tonya asked : When you write do you ever get stuck with two directions to the story? If so what do you do? Sometimes I think of more than one way things can go, should I write both?

All the time, Tonya! In fact, I often get stuck with the possibility of many directions in a story, and it's frozen me in the past. Different authors tackle this in different ways. One way I'm learning is two-fold. First, I am trying to make it more of a practice to ask the Lord for help in what to write next when I'm stuck. I'm learning it helps to get in a really quiet place, say a prayer, and then rest and listen. I have been surprised more often then not how quickly an idea I didn't see at first pops into my head! I know that's the Lord. Maybe he was just waiting for me to shut up and ask Him!

Another technique I use is to ask myself, "If I were watching this book as a movie, what would I personally want to see happen next?" Often an answer is right there, and I figure if I would like to read/watch it, then others might too.

Some authors I know will write several different directions and then pick which one they like best. Whatever works for you is the way you should go!

Courtney: For fiction, how much can you make up while still keeping it real? If your story is set in a certain town, would it be ok to make up stores and streets even if they don't really exist? Or is that going too far?

I struggled with this question while writing my novel Thicker than Blood. At first I wrote the story without naming the state in which it took place, or the town. I made everything up. Then I got to talking with my editor and realized it would be better to use real places. Here's how I made it work. I named the state (in my case Colorado), but then I fictionalized the town. If you name a real town, you run the risk of losing your credibility with the locals if you completely change things. Now this isn't to say you can't name a real town and make up the name of your coffee shop. But if you go to changing things too much, people will notice. I tried to avoid that headache by using a fictional town based on a real one.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Few More Thoughts on Editors and Editing...

While I don't know Tonya personally, of course, I'm guessing she was a lot like me before an editor worked her magic on my first novel—afraid that her much-beloved baby was about to get chopped and hacked into something that barely resembled its former self.

If you have the right editor, and mine has been downright fabulous, they will also love your baby, but a bit more objectively. They won't have quite the same mother-to-manuscript attachment that you'll have, but they'll love it enough to suggest a few ways that it can even be more lovable to the masses.

I'm sure there are plenty of editors out there who get a major rush while marking up someone's work with the proverbial red ink. But the truly great editors are your friend, not your enemy. If anything, they are working with you toward a common goal—of producing the best novel possible.

Now, I'm going to lie, the process involves some serious pain. You'll quibble over minor points and argue (respectfully, of course) about the ones that matter the most to you. You'll spend time rewriting scenes that you thought were fine in the first place but will realize are much, much better with a bit of tweaking.

But no matter how painful the process, in the end, you'll have a draft that's even better than the first, and if you're lucky like I've been, you'll even learn quite a bit along the way, too. For the record, my second novel was way, way easier to write than my first, and a lot of that is because I had such good developmental editing notes the first time around.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Revisions, revisions

Great questions to the open forum from BJ! Thanks for the feedback guys and PLEASE keep the questions coming. I picked this question to answer today since I actually just finished an article about revisions for a summer ezine.

"What do editors really do your manuscript? What kind of things do they change? Do they change things so drastically that the story isn't even the same?"

The answer is...yes and no.

Usually, no. When you sell a manuscript - whether that's a full manuscript as a first time author or a proposal as a multi-pubbed author - you will have revisions. That's a guarantee. But there's different levels to it.

For instance, sometimes, the editor will say "we like this story, but before we can contract it, we need you to change this or that plot thread." And then the choice is up to you as to whether or not you want do it.

The first book I sold to Steeple Hill Love Inspired, RETURN TO LOVE, was handled that way. They liked the story but said that music-themed books didn't do well for them numbers-wise in the past. So they wanted me to eliminate the music thread - which meant changing a bunch of scenes and having to completely reinvent the main elements of the external plot (what kept the heroine and hero in constant contact with each other during the novel) Originally, they were writing a song together. But in the revised and published version, they were working on a fundraiser together for the acquarium. I still got to keep a little music, because the hero was a former rockstar and he got to sing at the fundraiser...but that was no longer the main point of the book.

Sometimes those big revisions can be frustrating, but you do them, because you want to be contracted. But here's the thing - almost always in hindsight, you will see that the editor was right, and your story is better for the change, even if it took a lot of work.

Other times, editors like the main plot as is and there are no big revisions up front. But there will be still be small things like "your hero is coming across a little girlie in this scene." or "wouldn't the heroine's natural reaction in this situation be to this instead of that?" etc. Those are usually handled in the line editing stage. Those are also quick fixes and easy to change, and are part of what really shape up your story. That's the magic of an editor!

However, there are still other times that editors will ask you to change something big or small, and you know in your heart it will just completely lose an essential part of your story. That's when you "fight" - respectfully, politely, and in a way that your editor knows you respect their input and wisdom and that ultimately you will do what THEY want - but if they could just hear you out for a minute... Sometimes that works. But sometimes the editor insists and you do what they advise. Just fight sparingly, don't be a diva. That's the fastest way to never get a second contract!!

Manuscripts typically are submitted, contracted, and then go through revisions (which can be big or small and involve any plot changes, and involve the most actual rewriting) Next (months later!) are line edits, where the editor combs over every sentence and marks up the manuscript for all the little small things as well as prepares it in their specific formatting. That's when they notice if your heroine was wearing a different outfit a paragraph above or if this portion dialogue really slows down the scene, or if you used repeated words on the same paragraph, or if you got adjective happy describing a sunset, etc. Then finally, your manuscript goes to copy edits, where it is checked by a third party, usually a freelancer hired by the publisher, for typos and grammatical errors, etc. The author also gets a last change to view the manuscript before printing, usually just a few months or less before the release date, and this is called AA's or Final Galleys (depending on what publisher you have) Sometimes its before the copy editor, sometimes its after. But that's your last chance to change anything that maybe the editor missed, or that you suddenly freak out over. This is the stage though where the editor encourages you to only change something that's incredibly essential, because from here on out, the chance of errors increases the more the manuscript is messed with.

Did this answer your question? =)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Step Right Up...

Today is an open forum! What questions would you like to see addressed in future S.C. posts? How can we be more brilliant, witty, amazing?

Scratch that. How can I be more brilliant, witty, and amazing? (The other S.C.'s have already topped out the brilliant, witty, and amazing scale...)