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Thursday, November 29, 2012

3 Ways to Support Your Fiction Habit While Working Towards That Big Contract

Many of us are committed fiction writers, yet haven’t been paid for our efforts in years. Sometimes it’s hard to convince family and friends we’re working when we don’t bring home a paycheck. Sometimes it’s even hard to convince ourselves.

So what’s a devoted novelist to do while waiting to land a big contract?

Before the fiction bug bit, I freelanced for several local magazines. But when raising kids, writing fiction, and freelancing became too much to juggle, I hug up my press hat. Unfortunately, I forfeited the little money I was making that “made” me a real writer. Now almost ten years later and one book contract advance spent, I need to make money while I wait to land a bigger contract. Since getting a J.O.B is not an option for me at this point, I’ve decided to go back to my freelancing roots.

At a recent writers conference, Chuck Sambucino offered great insight on freelancing. In class I realized I had years worth of blog content that I could repurpose for different periodicals, and was inspired to send out queries. My first query to the local paper didn’t get a response, but I got a “yes” twenty minutes after I emailed a query to a magazine I used to write for. There might even be an option for writing a column when there’s an opening. Now it’s official, I’m a working freelancer again and all because I decided to send out a query!

Think about how you can repurpose blog posts or articles you've already written, then send out those queries. 
Last summer I taught story telling/plotting to a group of preteens and had a great time teaching what I love, and I got paid for it! This year I’ve added new classes to my creative writing camps and hope to hold one or two this summer. I also plan on pursuing more speaking engagements with local women's and writer's groups.
Think about what you might be able to speak on. Do you have some blog posts that people have really responded to? Maybe you can create a talk from those!

Remember those blog posts and talks you created? Why not consider converting them into ebooks? If you look at your blog content, I bet you'll see various themes running through the posts. Why not organize your posts by themes and publish them as ebooks? You might not get rich from these ideas, but you may just earn a little money to support your fiction habit while you wait for that  big contract and prove to the naysayers that you are a legitimate writer. Unfortunately, the downside to trying to support your fiction habit is that it gives you less time to actually write. But that’s another subject for another day. Til then… keep writing, one word, one project at a time!
Let's talk: How do you financially support your fiction?

Gina Conroy is founder of Writer...Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. Represented by Chip MacGregor, she writes quirky mysteries full of deep truth. Her first book Cherry Blossom Capers, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012 and her newest mystery, Digging Up Death  is available November 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Breathing Life into Your Characters… Even the Dead Ones

Jennifer AlLee believes the most important thing a woman can do is discover her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her stories. She has written skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s My Devotions series. Her novels include The Love of His Brother, The Pastor’s Wife, The Mother Road, and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, book two in the Quilts of Love series. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and loves connecting with readers on Facebook and Twitter. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas with her husband and teenage son. Visit her website at

NR: Leave a comment or question for Jennifer and be entered in a drawing for A Wild Goose Chase Christmas. Continental U.S. residents only, please.

Breathing Life into Your Characters… Even the Dead Ones

Sometimes, characters fight you. They resist every attempt at making them fit into the mold you’ve created for them, insisting on breaking out. But every now and then, a character presents herself to you like a fully-formed, three-dimensional gift.

When I began writing my latest novel, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, I had my main characters all wrestled into submission. I knew their names, what they looked like, and something about their personalities. The only person who was still a mystery to me was Grandma Isabella, but that didn’t seem like a big problem, since Gran is dead when the story opens. She wouldn’t even be showing up, except when others talked about her.

I underestimated the woman.

Gran makes her presence felt in the first chapter when Izzy is trying to decide which photos to include in a photo display for Gran’s funeral. Here’s an excerpt:

One was a black and white of a young Isabella in a classic dance pose. She balanced on one leg, satin-clad toes stretched into perfect pointe, her other knee drawn up, arms held out in front of her. The rapturous expression on her smooth, unblemished face and the extension of her fingertips gave the impression she was reaching for her one true love.

The other picture was much different. It was a headshot, probably taken the last time her church updated the picture directory. She wore a burgundy sweater with a silk flower pinned to it, her silver hair pulled back into a tidy bun. This was an Isabella mellowed by time, her skin etched with lines, her smile content.

Two pictures representing two very different sides of the same woman. Izzy looked from one to the other and shook her head. “I’m just not sure how she’d rather be remembered.”

When Izzy picked up the first photo, there was Gran in all her glory. I knew exactly who she was. In fact, she could have been my own grandmother… because that’s who I modeled Gran after. I didn’t plan it that way. My original inspiration for Gran was Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy). Apparently, my own dearly departed grandmother had other ideas. I can imagine her in heaven, tugging on the sleeve of God’s robe, grinning up at him and bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Father, I would love to show up in one of my granddaughter’s books. What would you say about giving her a nudge?”

Naturally, there are differences. For example, my grandma had a fondness for wigs, not buns. Before she died, there was a cat living in her home, not a dog. But years earlier, when she did have a dog, it was a black poodle named Bird (a long story). When you use a real, flesh and blood person as the pattern for a character, you never want to clone them. You want to get their essence.

Grandma Isabella captures the essence of my grandma, Marie Staats. She was a former dancer. She had a mischievous side and a slightly off-center sense of humor. Grandma Marie so would do what Grandma Isabella does. Match-making from beyond the grave? Heck yeah!

This woman, who I expected to simply pass through the book, ended up becoming a pivotal character. If you take her out of the story, it would all fall apart. Which is why I dedicated the book to my grandmother. A lifetime of memories came together in the right place at the right time and bonded to form the most awesome fictional grandmother. Job well done, Grandma. Now you can dance off across the clouds to see what new, lovely commotion you can cause.

The other grandkids had better watch out.

A Wild Goose Chase Christmas

Upon her grandmother's death, Izzy Fontaine finds herself in possession of a Wild Goose Chase quilt that supposedly leads to a great treasure. Of course, once the rest of the family finds out about it, they're determined to have a go at the treasure themselves.

If that’s not enough, local museum curator Max Logan claims that Grandma Isabella promised the quilt to him. What is it about this quilt that makes everyone want it? Is Izzy on a wild goose chase of her own, or a journey that will lead her to the treasure Gran intended?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Offending Christian Readers

One of the most common arguments for “clean fiction” — i.e., fiction that is not offensive, contains no morally objectionable elements, and is safe for the entire family — is that it doesn’t offend “weaker brothers.” That phrase, and the concept we import to this argument, is taken from several important sections of Scripture.

Jesus warned about putting “stumbling blocks” before the “little ones”  (Luke 17:1-2 NASV) and the apostle Paul cautioned, in two different places
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (I Cor. 8:9 NIV)
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Romans 14:13 NIV)
When discussing Christian fiction, the argument for keeping it clean, profanity free, graphically innocuous, and family friendly, often comes back to the “stumbling block” concept.

Sex, language, and violence potentially offends “weaker brothers and sisters.” Therefore, Christian literature should avoid such elements so as to not stumble brethren of another persuasion.

That argument, I assert, is skewed on two different counts — one theological and the other aesthetic.

First, the above Scriptures are not sufficient impetus to make “clean fiction” normative for all Christian literature.

In a fine essay entitled The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother, the author exegetes Romans 14 and concludes that the apostle Paul’s concern is to
“…protect Christian liberty in both directions, liberty to partake and liberty to abstain. This protects the stronger brother from the tyranny of the weaker, and as well diligently warns the stronger brother not to ignore the weakness of the weaker brother and draw him into behavior that is contrary to his conscience.”
Rather than “protect Christian liberty in both directions,” the Christian fiction industry appears to have caved to “the tyranny of the weaker brother.” For the moment we say “this will offend them” or “that will stumble them” and adjust our fiction accordingly, we normalize a specific cultural preference or moral sensibility. Christian liberty must exist in both directions, not just toward those who advocate “clean fiction.” 

The second problem with “the stumbling block argument” and how it’s employed is that it potentially “incapacitates” creativity. The Christian artist who submits to “the tyranny of the weaker brother” is creatively hamstrung.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, once gave a lecture on Flannery O’Connor’s work
Some of her most pungent observations are to do with assumptions about ‘Catholic art’ which insist that such art should be edifying and moral; this, she argues, plays straight into the hands of critics of the Church who hold that dogmatic belief incapacitates a creative writer. (emphasis mine)
It’s safe to say that similar “assumptions” are embodied in today’s “Christian art” debate. An entire industry has formed around the notion that Christian art “should be edifying and moral.”  But like O’Connor’s age, this camp “plays straight into the hands of critics of the Church who hold that dogmatic belief incapacitates a creative writer.” How can a Christian writer really explore the horror and angst and emptiness and transcendence of life while fearful of offending someone along the way?

Rather than restrict themselves to only what is “edifying and moral,” Williams contends the Christian artist
…is precisely someone who cannot rule out any subject matter. ‘The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe…He feels no need to apologise for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God’. This imposes on the Catholic writer a dangerous task, since she has to deal with matters that may indeed be ‘occasions of sin’, subjects that expose the worst in humanity. And while ‘to look at the worst will be for [the writer] no more than an act of trust in God’, it may be a source of danger for the reader.
Belief in God, rather than inhibit the writer, forces her to not look away, and makes her “entirely free to observe.” Thus, the Christian artist is “someone who cannot rule out any subject matter.” How contrary to today’s Inspirational market! Rather than crafting stories that may be “a source of danger for the reader” (as in potentially “offending the weaker brother”), we rule out subject matter and insist that “art should be edifying and moral.”

All on the grounds that we might “stumble” someone.

The “stumbling block argument” has been misused far too long in Christian writer’s circles. Of course, the more mature should, on occasion, defer to the weaker brother. I must be careful about my words and conduct in certain situations. However, Christian liberty should exist in both directions — liberty to partake and liberty to abstain. Yet when it comes to Christian fiction, sadly, liberty only extends one way.

* * *
Mike Duran writes supernatural thrillers. He is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea  You can visit his website at

Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS!

Every year, numerous countries hold beauty pageants, including Miss America, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and many more. If you have ever watched a pageant, or perhaps the movie Miss Congeniality, you already know the answer to the interview question, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?”; it’s world peace.

While world peace is a great hope for the future, and a prayer to put in God’s hands, it is unlikely that any of us will work on world peace in our lifetimes. The easiest way to begin spreading peace is to start within yourself. 

How much stronger would our cities be if we worked on peace in our homes and at work? Unresolved conflict leads to disputes, anger, injustice and war throughout the world. This remains true at home. When people refuse to be conciliatory, tension heightens and the conflict goes unresolved.

As children of God, we are called to love one another, which makes peacemaking more natural. A part of loving people is learning to forgive in the way God has forgiven us. While some may believe peaceful people are uninvolved and non-confrontational, peacemaking is active; it’s not silent. It means speaking up when you see a coworker break the law; it means offering amends to those you have wronged; it means forgiving the unforgivable.

In society, peacemaking contradicts the norm and you may face persecution when you work toward it. The disciples suffered endless persecution and even death to share the message of Jesus. Any time we choose Jesus’ teachings on peace, forgiveness and love, we step away from worldly ideas and upgrade our thinking. Though you may be judged, condemned and persecuted, when this occurs for the sake of righteousness, you will be blessed. 

If you want to change your life and find the pathway to the blessed life, stand up for the truth. Speak up. Pursue peace.

Matthew 5:9 (NAS): Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 

  # # #

Sandra D. Bricker is a best-selling and award-winning author of laugh-out-loud romantic comedy for the Christian market. Her most popular series (that started with Always the Baker Never the Bride) will conclude this spring with Always the Baker FINALLY the Bride, which is now available for pre-order at Amazon.

Sandie leads a team of writers in creating the Living It Out daily Bible study for CedarCreek Church. Today's devotion is based on the Living It Out study on following God’s precepts in your everyday life. If you enjoyed it, feel free to check out the daily studies by e-mail or audio podcast by clicking HERE.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blogging Resolutions

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I hear about new sites like PheedcyPOP, and Myspace revisited, I want to toss my computer out the window.

We all want to know how to increase our blog traffic...our Facebook friends...our tribes. "Build a platform," we hear over and over and over again. So we tweet and pin and share like maniacs, and we push ourselves to post to our blogs five days a week.

And then, just when we've finally stumbled upon the way to use StumbleUpon, some jokers decide we need 48.6 new social networking sites added to our lives, because, you know, how can we prove that we're relevant if we aren't spending 17 hours a day promoting ourselves in all the latest virtual communities?

This social media craziness has driven me to get a jump on my New Year's Writing Resolutions this year. I have three blogging resolutions this week.

I Resolve to Blog Less Frequently

In the old days we had to post five days a week. There were not many blogs, and there was no easy way to subscribe. We had to post consistently hoping our readers would bookmark our blogs and check in every morning as they drank their coffee. Those days are gone. Our faithful readers can subscribe to us and they'll never miss a post. We can post once a week and still build a nice following. 

Let me ask you a question: How many of you know interesting bloggers you'd love to follow, but you've found you don't have time?

Thank you. I knew  I wasn't the only totally overwhelmed person with 4,587 blogs in her Google Reader.

And since I'm I good Christian, I'm going to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I'm going to put up fewer blog posts this year.

I appreciate bloggers who limit long or controversial posts to one every couple of weeks and who give me short posts that are funny or inspirational between times. I don't have time to read long posts every day.

Just. Don't. Have. Time.

And I'm assuming you don't have time either.

I Resolve to Put Quality Over Quantity

I know that when we don't post, our traffic drops. I'm thinking, though, that better and fewer posts might be to blogging what whispering is to speaking. They might make readers lean forward to hear us. And having a hundred people leaning in to listen might be better in the long run than having two hundred people skimming.

We start to tremble when we see our numbers drop between posts. Our fingers twitch on the keyboard. We feel a need to post somethinganythingto bring readers to our blogs.

But this year I'm going to try to resist the urge to post when I have nothing to say. I figure it's a win-win situation. My regular readers will thank me for skipping the filler posts, and I'll have more time to do important things like spend time with family, read books, write books, and visit other bloggers.

I Resolve to Comment More on Other People's Blogs

In the time it takes me to write one decent, thoughtful blog post, I can read and comment on six or seven posts written by other bloggers. I think that's a valuable use of time. I think other bloggers appreciate having readers and hearing from readers.

Social media is not all about drawing readers to your blog and building up your numbers. Surely there's some value to be found in being neighborly—in visiting others, in laughing at their jokes, and in tweeting their posts.  

So please comment here and leave a blog address so I can visit your blogs. Maybe I'll add you to my Google reader. While you're here, answer me this: Do you still feel a need to blog every day? And how many blogs do you read every day?

Sally Apokedak
Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She's in the process of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and Toastmasters International.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tag, You're It!

Spend any time researching how to write well and you’ll come across the oft expressed admonition, show don’t tell.

Good advice, but the issue of telling what’s happening in a story, instead of showing it, goes beyond the narrative part of writing. It also bleeds over into the way a writer handles dialogue.

Here are some of the basics to help you handle dialogue in a way that draws the reader deeper into the world you've created.

There are two basic things you need to know, the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, and when to use what.

Speak Tag
A speaker tag is a description of how the words were spoken and who spoke them, like said and asked.
“I can’t believe you did that,” said Susan.

It’s important to keep speaker tags simple. Don’t pull out your thesaurus to find synonyms for said. This is a rookie mistake, and screams amateur. Using the word said, or asked, is almost invisible. It’s so commonplace the reader just skims over the words uninterrupted.

There are two major problems when you use other words instead of said.
First—it’s distracting. The reader hesitates (sometimes just for an instant), needing time to apply the correct definition of the tag you used.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he prevaricated.

Second—you can easily fall into the trap of telling your story through the tags instead of the dialogue, especially if you add an adverb into the line.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered darkly.

Speaker Beat
A speaker beat is a description of what the character is doing or saying. It’s contained in the same paragraph as the spoken words and that’s how the reader knows who’s talking.
I can’t believe you did that.” Susan crossed her arms and frowned.

Either a speaker beat or a speaker tag can come before or after the line of dialogue. The important thing is to make certain it makes logical sense. Some words are spoken as a reaction to an action, so in that case it wouldn’t make sense for them to precede the action.
Susan jumped and placed her hand on her chest. “You scared me. I didn’t know you were there.” In this instance, the action naturally comes before the words.

When used correctly, a speaker beat can also show us what the character’s feeling.
Simon looked down and dug the toe of his shoe into the dirt. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

In this instance, a speaker tag doesn’t let the reader infer what the character is feeling. Instead, it just tells the reader. Because of that, it can lead to less of a connection between reader and character.
 “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered darkly.

Another Common Mistake
Beginning writers sometimes get confused about whether a short phrase is a speaker beat or a speaker tag. One I see over and over again is the phrase, she smiled. She smiled is a beat, not a tag. The easiest way to tell the difference is to ask yourself if the can smile(or laugh or whatever) the words. You can’t smile words so you know to punctuate it as a separate sentence.

“I like you,” Angela smiled.

“I like you.” Angela smiled.

As with any rule in the writing world, nothing is absolute. The goal is to enable the reader to immerse himself in the world we’ve created. When we accomplish that, we find success.

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the Social Media Coach at My Book Therapy.