Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Timeless Advice from Mark Twain on the Art and Craft of Writing ~ Suzanne Woods Fisher

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, the host of a weekly radio program called Amish Wisdom and a columnist for Christian Post. She has twenty-one books under contract with Revell–eight published, thirteen to come…she’s contracted all the way into 2016. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011).

Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, who was raised Plain. She has many, many Plain relatives living in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and travels back to Pennsylvania, as well as to Ohio, a couple of times each year for research.

Suzanne has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world. In both her fiction and non-fiction books, she has an underlying theme: You don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate many of their principles–simplicity, living with less, appreciating nature, forgiving others more readily–into your life.

When Suzanne isn’t writing or bragging to her friends about her first grandbaby, she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Keep up on Suzanne’s latest news on FacebookTwitter and on her blog!

Timeless Advice from Mark Twain on the Art and Craft of Writing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Mark Twain

Can you call up a Mark Twain quote from memory? Bet you can, even if you might not realize he had coined it: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” or “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” or “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

See? You know more than you think you know.

Even in 2012, Mark Twain is just as relevant as in 1884, when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (considered his masterpiece) was first published. Mark Twain has been credited for transforming American literature into something purely American by his original use of language, setting, and colorful characters.

But were you aware that Mark Twain was sought after for his advice on the art and craft of writing? Here are a few memorable suggestions he offered—some serious, some not—that are just as timeless today as they were in the 1800s. (Note: Whenever possible, I cited the quote’s source.)  

The Best Time to Start Writing: 

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” 

“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.” -Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903 

Finding the Right Word: 

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."  

“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”  

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. . . . Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” -Letter to Emeline Beach, February 1868 

On Verbosity:  

“The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”  

“As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” -Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894 

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." -Letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880 

On Revising: 

“You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.” - Letter to Orion Clemens, 23 March 1878 

Mind your Grammar:

“There is no such thing as the Queen's English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares.” -Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894

“Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar.” -Speech at the Annual Reunion of the Army and Navy Club of Connecticut, April 1887 

“I like the exact word, and clarity of statement, and here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness.” -The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924 

“I am almost sure by witness of my ear, but cannot be positive, for I know grammar by ear only, not by note, not by the rules. A generation ago I knew the rules--knew them by heart, word for word, though not their meanings--and I still know one of them: the one which says--but never mind, it will come back to me presently.” -The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924  

The Importance of Reading Good Books: 

“Let us guess that whenever we read a sentence & like it, we unconsciously store it away in our model-chamber; & it goes, with the myriad of its fellows, to the building, brick by brick, of the eventual edifice which we call our style.” - Letter to George Bainton, 15 Oct 1888  

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” 

The Writer’s Life:   
“Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gran Torino and the Atypical Hero

I love it when a movie packs a powerful message, but it's even better when I can learn something about writing from the story. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is one such movie. At first glance, it's a rough movie with a not-so-likable, atypical hero. It is filled with violence and foul language which might turn off many people, but I gave the movie a chance, and I'm glad I did because not only did it touch my heart, it showed taught me several lessons about storytelling.

Writing the Atypical Hero
Clint Eastwood’s character, Walter, a racist, foul-talking, cantankerous old man, is not what you’d think of when you think of a hero. But a hero he was in the end.  I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I do want to share a few points on how I think an offensive guy like Walter can play the heroic protagonist.

The Power of Characterisation 
Walter’s use of foul-language and racism had a place in this gritty, gang-infested movie. It was raw and hard to listen to at times, but it wasn’t over done. The movie opens at his wife’s funeral, but Walter’s hardened disposition to life was well solidified before his wife’s death. Despite his in-your-face bigotry, you can’t help but like the man. Mainly because those he’s “bigotring” can’t help like him. And that softens his character and turns him into a likable hero.

A Lesson in Character Growth
Little by little you see Walter's redeeming qualities sneak out. Though still cantankerous and demeaning in speech, his actions reveal his heart and betray his hardened exterior. He’s growing as a character and touching the lives around him (the same people he demeans) in a profound and life changing way.

Spiritual Symbolism
When the movie starts, Walter wants nothing to do with God. But as the movie progresses you see the struggle he has with wanting redemption. Though he claims to not need any, he desperately wants it. You see his struggle with his own sin and how, in the end, he plans on earning his forgiveness.
Though the story doesn’t give a Christian message that “there’s forgiveness in Christ alone,” it’s spiritual symbolism is touching and poignant. It’s a great example of how a gritty, ugly, story can present the gospel in a subtle but powerful way, and how an unlikable character can touch our hearts and be a hero.

How about you? What movie has taught you about writing? 

And if you saw Gran Torino, what did you think? SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read the comments if you want to be surprised by the movie!

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. "the other Gina," is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. She's the founder of Writer...Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012 with her second novel Digging Up Death recently contracted with Stonehouse Ink and will be available this fall.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Looking for Love (And Other Weird Things)

We're nearing the last lap of our Launch Pad Contest. But if you're a romance writer and have never published that sweet novel you've been working on, it's not too late to get in on it. We'll be taking entries in the Contemporary Romance category up through September 10.

Or, if you're like me and give romance wide berth on your way to the Sci-Fi shelf (or fantasy, or horror, or anything else that fits into the "speculative" category), there's room for you as well. That category closes on October 10.

So check out the official rules on the Launch Pad Contest tab, take a deep breath, and plunge in! If you have any questions, email us at NovelRocketContest @, and you'll receive a prompt response. We're swooning to hear from you!

When Yvonne Anderson isn't writing fiction that takes you out of this world, she's our contest administrator. WORDS IN THE WIND, second book in her Gateway to Gannah series, released August 1. She shares her wise words on a variety of subjects on her blog, Y's Words.

Fiction . . . A Waste of Time?

Ruthie Lewis is an Author, Speaker & Life Coach. She resides in Edmond, OK and is the mother of two amazing grown sons, and a daughter who was a life-long dancer and brought light into the lives of everyone who knew her, and now dances with Jesus.

“Fireflies” is set for official release on Sept. 11.  Until then you can get your pre-release autographed copy on her website:

If reading this, it’s a pretty sure bet you love books.  But let me ask you: Do you read fiction? If not, why? Have you ever thought, or heard it said, that reading fiction is a waste of time?

I’ve always been an avid reader but as I walked into adulthood, committed to living a life pleasing to God, I unconsciously tapped into a mindset that fiction was a waste of time and even trashy. In fact, the more time went on, the more I wouldn’t allow myself to read anything that wasn’t emphatically about God and faith. You know, books telling you how you “should” live.

Oh, there were times I would glance at a novel in the Christian bookstore and think boring or waste of time.

And the truth is, at that time, there was little to choose from except “prairie romance.” As my children got older, I had more time to read and found myself actually searching for good books. I began noticing the fiction section at the “Christian” book store growing. I couldn’t help meandering through the section, giving in for a moment long enough to scan a back cover. Can’t even tell you what the book was but as I read the blurb, I was riveted.

Releasing the book back to its space on the shelf, I went searching for the book I’d come for, but couldn’t leave the store’s book section without going back to the novel. As I stood staring at it, it hit me: You loved fiction as a kid. All the books I had read to my own kids were fiction. I carried the book to a nearby chair. Delving into the first pages, I was still trying to talk myself out of spending money on fiction. Money was really tight and I probably shouldn’t have even been in the store in the first place.

Call it a light bulb moment, call it whatever; as my adrenalin pumped, I heard that sweet voice I was so familiar with lighting up that place in my soul. I could almost literally hear and see Jesus as he poured forth yet another parable. I remembered Sunday School stories; I remembered my favorite school teachers were those who had told stories or used powerful analogies - and aren’t the most memorable and effective speakers those who weave in a story or two?

I bounced from the chair, purchased the book (forgetting about the other one) and hightailed it home. As I unveiled the book, allowing the bag to waft to the floor, I landed in my comfy chair and was transported to another place. I don’t remember exactly, but within a couple days, I closed the book washed with a satisfaction I couldn’t describe.

Of course, everybody loves a story. Where had my thinking about fiction come from? Little slivers of religious teaching had carved away at my love of reading, especially fiction. Why in the world would we read wonderful stories to our children, then suddenly rip it away as they become adults. I even know people today that tout, “I don’t read anything but the Bible.” Wonderful; but wow, are they missing out!

Today there is an amazing array of wonderful Christian fiction from young adult, to contemporary, to historical, to Amish, to bite-your-nails-till-they-bleed thrillers, all spilling words of life changing stories. My book shelves are crammed with them, my own novel, “Fireflies” now among them. Maybe this time it will be you who will pull a parable from the fiction section for the first time in years.

Hmmm, I wonder what section of the book store Jesus would wander through if you saw Him at Barnes and Noble today?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is the price of your e-book?

As we wait to see how the law handles the charges that Apple and five publishers met to fix e-book prices, I've found myself surprised at the price point I've seen thrown around in the news. I mean, there's only so much I'll pay for "air" before I'd rather upgrade to a physical copy of the book. It's left me wondering what's the highest price people are willing to pay for an e-book. They say in real estate the house is worth whatever someone will pay--and the same is true for us. So here's the Question:

Feel free to post this poll at your blog, too! I'd love to get an idea of what price range gets the biggest percentage of buyers. Here's the HTML for the poll:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Must Christian Fiction Contain Sound Theology?

Things happen in life that don’t fit neatly into our theology. So why do we expect our fiction to?

I was thinking about that after reading THIS REVIEW of my latest novel The Telling. The author gave it three-stars, called it “eerily good,” and said some very nice things about the story. Nevertheless, they had some issues. At the top of the list:
The theology. It was definitely wacko, so unless this book is entitled STRICTLY Science Fiction, then some people could possibly be deceived into thinking this was reality… Use caution when reading this book
It’s one of the most peculiar, yet most defining, characteristics of the Christian fiction community: We demand sound theology in our fiction.

Confession: I don’t think that’s reasonable. In fact, I don’t think any work of fiction can possibly encompass and/or articulate any theological system. In whole or in part. Furthermore, can any one person or a series of events — especially fictional ones — ever live up to theological scrutiny?

  • Did King David’s life fully represent sound theology?
  • Did Jonah’s life fully represent sound theology?
  • Did Rahab’s life fully represent sound theology?
  • Did Judas’s life fully represent sound theology?
  • Did Samson’s life fully represent sound theology?
  • Did Peter’s life fully represent sound theology?

So why should we expect any single story, much less a single story about a slice of life of any particular character, to be a model of sound theology? 

I’ve gone on record about my issues with Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, both the book and the movie. What I haven’t done is deem it (specifically, the movie) as artistically flawed because I don’t agree with its entire theology. Despite my reservations, I really appreciated pastor Larry Shallenberger’s recent critique of a review of the Blue Like Jazz film. In Christianity Today’s Odd Straight-Jacket for Christian Art Shallenberger summarizes:
The purpose of art, and even religious art, isn’t to proselytize, or to affirm a body of doctrine. Art exists to reveal beauty and truth. No story, sculpture, bears the whole weight of that task…
As long as we expect the arc of every faith-based story to touch a set of arbitrarily determined bases, Christian art will continue to earn the stereotype of being sentimental, emotionally dishonest, and stilted.
It’s time to take the straight jacket off our artists and let let them tell all kinds of stories. Only then will our stories of God escape the Evangelical ghetto.
No “story [or] sculpture” should “bear the whole weight” of “affirm[ing] a body of doctrine.” Much less one person! I mean, does your life always reflect good theology? All the time? Could I determine what God is like, what the Gospel means, the nature of God’s relationship with Man, grace, evangelism, eschatology, prayer, atonement, etc., by simply observing you? (Much less doing so over a short period of time, which most stories encapsulate.)

So why do we expect our fictional stories to? 

Good fiction can contain bad theology in the same way a bad life can contain good theology. Just ask King David, Moses, Saint Peter, Mother Theresa, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, etc., etc., etc.
“Good Christians” live in ways that don’t match “sound theology.” Things also happen in life that don’t fit neatly into our theology. So why do we expect our fiction to?

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, and an ebook novella, Winterland.  You can visit his website at

Inspiration, Guidance and Love Letters

If you found a letter written to you by your earthly father, you would no doubt read it so many times that the paper would soon become worn. It wouldn’t become something you knew by rote; every word would instead be taken to heart and meditated upon. As believers, God’s Word should hold the same kind of draw for us as we think of it as a sort of history lesson and guidebook for spirit-filled Christian life, combined with the exquisite expression of our Father’s deep and abiding love for us.

Psalm 139, for instance, tells us that our Father knows us...He pays attention to the most minute details of our lives. In addition to so many similar love letters throughout scripture, the most valuable education we might ever receive also comes by way of God’s instructions for us through scripture. Rather than mandating that we become obsessed with the letter of the law in religiosity, the scriptures offer us a blueprint for our lives as followers of Christ, directly from the heart of our Father.

God’s intention is that we study and know His word so that we can adjust our lives to follow it as well as come to understand it so well that we can easily share it with others. Particularly in the New Testament, the letters assembled clearly point the way toward better serving God through our lives within the church. For example, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul warns the church not to fall into the trap of looking at leaders, or comparing them so that one seems better than the other.

1 Corinthians 4:6 (New Living Translation)
6 Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another.

When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul admonished the church leader to work hard and study the Word so that he could correctly explain it to church members looking to him for guidance.

2 Timothy 2:15 (New Living Translation)
15Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

As members of the church and servants of Jesus Christ, our life’s blood comes directly from him; and his guidance, inspiration and love for us trickles down from every scriptural word. Like reading a love letter from our precious Father, the more deeply we know and understand scripture, the closer we become to him, and the more enabled we will be to share his love with those around us.

# # #

Sandra D. Bricker is a best-selling and award-winning author of laugh-out-loud romantic comedy for the Christian market. Her most recent book, Always the Designer Never the Bride is the third of a series of four novels in the Another Emma Rae Creation series from Abingdon Press Fiction. Check out her BLOG and sign up to receive her weekly posts by e-mail.  

Sandie leads a team of writers in creating the Living It Out daily Bible study for CedarCreek Church. Today's devotion is borrowed from her Living It Out study on the role of God's Word in our daily lives. If you enjoyed it, feel free to check out the daily studies by e-mail or audio podcast by clicking HERE.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Christians in the Culture

Here’s a little quiz for you. Who do you think might have said this:

Any guesses?

Maybe Michael Landon said it, speaking of his warm and fuzzy, family-friendly TV shows.

Maybe Tim Tebow said it, wanting to explain why he Tebows on TV.

What’s your guess? Which TV show that speaks to young people would get your vote as being the one that takes seriously its responsibility to make the world a better place?

Jonathan Chait tells us, in an article in the New Yorker, that  the person who is taking seriously his responsibility to teach young people is Doug Herzog, president of MTV.

Here’s the paragraph that contains the material I quoted above:
The history of Hollywood is a long tug-of-war between artistic conscience and the bottom line. Louis Mayer, fearing the backlash from William Randolph Hearst, offered $850,000 to the producer of Citizen Kane to suppress the film and burn the negative. The show Thirtysomething endured a series of advertising boycotts. One scene, with two gay male characters in bed together, cost ABC $1 million in advertising; another, of them kissing, cost an additional half million. Network president Roger Iger cited his “social and creative responsibilities,” and the executive producer noted, “I am grateful that ABC was willing to air the program at a loss.” Even some of the cheesiest and most commercial ventures feel the pull of social conscience. “We’re talking to young people every day, and a lot of responsibility comes with that,” said Doug Herzog, president of MTV. “We believe that through the medium of television we try to make the world a slightly better place.”
I have some respect for a man who believes in his message so strongly, that he’s willing to lose a million dollars in order to get it out. And it worked. He, and others like him, have done a great job of convincing the world that the homosexual lifestyle is normal.

What about Christians?

Are we willing to spend money promoting our message? Sure we are. The Christians I know are the most loving and generous people around. They believe they have a message that saves lives and they are willing to spend on missions.

Then why doesn’t the world think Christians are great the way it thinks the homosexuals are great?  

For one thing, our message is, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and that’s not what the world wants to hear. Repenting doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. It brings to mind, struggle and pain and a need to put sinful desires to death.

We can’t do much about that problem. The message is what it is.

Another problem might be that we’ve treated this country as a rebellious Christian nation, instead of as a foreign nation needing to be evangelized.

The Moral Majority sounded more like Old Testament prophets calling down fire from heaven upon the prophets of Baal, and less like Paul who became all things to all people so that by all means he might save some. And as it turns out some members of Moral Majority weren’t all that moral and they’re no longer the majority. Oops.

Chait wonders why the Conservative Right gave up the fight to make Hollywood clean upbut I’m not sure the conservative right should have ever fought to clean up Hollywood to begin with.

What if conservatives moved into Hollywood to live? Maybe Christian readers and movie-goers could look at Christian writers the way they look at missionaries. What if we allowed Christian writers to follow in Hudson Taylor’s footsteps and dress their novels and scripts to look like Hollywood movies? 

I believe Hudson Taylor was criticized in his day for dressing like a Chinese man, but now, most missionaries do what they can to adapt to the native culture. How can Christian writers adapt to the culture without compromising their faith and witness?

Taking a jab at impotent conservatives, Chait says, "What passes for a right-wing movie these days is Dark Knight Rises, which submits the rather modest premise that, irritating though the rich may be, actually killing them and taking all their stuff might be excessive." Very funny line. What about the Christian message, though? Secretariat had a modest Christian message: God created horses. Can we do more?

What is the Christian version of two gay men in bed?

Any ideas?

Hat tip to Justin Taylor via Rebecca LuElla Miller, for links to Chait's article.
 is the editor of the Best Books for Young Readers newsletter. Subscribe for a chance to win a Kindle Fire or a Google Nexus. Winner's choice, and it will arrive in time for Christmas. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Critiques, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Critique—just the word can make me break out in hives. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to get feedback on my writing, as long as it’s positive. But there’s the rub, nothing but positive critique doesn’t help me grow as a writer. Now, I’m not one of those who believe positive feedback is worthless. I like to know what I’m doing well, so I can do more of it. But, I also want to know where I need improvement.

You might say I’m a glutton for punishment. I regularly enter pieces in contests. I’m a member of a monthly critique group and a member of an intensive, weekly critique group. And that doesn’t count all the rejection letters I have in my files from articles and manuscripts that haven’t made the grade. I’ve definitely had my fair share of painful critiques. But this post isn’t an invitation to a pity party. I just want to share some of my coping techniques when it seems like no one can say anything good about what I’ve written.

  • Take it in, then let it sit – I have to have time to process negative comments. (I don’t seem to need the same time to process the positive ones—go figure). I usually go back and reread the negative comments 48 hours later and that gives me the perspective to know what I need to do to improve.
  • Realize you’re in control – ultimately it’s your story and you can decide what works and what doesn’t. Just because a critique partner says it doesn’t work, doesn’t mean she’s right. You get to make the call.
  • Seek out a second opinion – sometimes I don’t know if a comment is truly valid or not. When that happens, I ask several people I respect for their opinion. If one person stumbles over a sentence, it’s not a big deal. But if half the people you show it to stumble you probably need to do something.
  • Be polite – generally, someone who takes the time to critique your work wants you to succeed. It helps make the negative comments easier to take if you remind yourself of that. Occasionally you’ll run across someone who rips your manuscript to shreds just to prove how smart they are. It happens to all of us and we just have to consider the source of the critique and move on.

So don’t be afraid to show others your work. Ultimately, no matter how painful, it will improve your writing. I’ve had hundreds of articles published through the years, and I can assure you that all those painful critiques are a large part of my success.

Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for processing a negative critique?

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.