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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Glimpsing the Forest - M. Laycock

I remember a day when I stood on a high mountain top in the middle of the Yukon Territory. I looked out over range after range of mountains and forests and knew there were very few people out there looking back. It made me feel small but it overwhelmed me with a sense of being part of something huge - a creation so vast and beautiful that it made me weep.

I came to Christ in a tiny mission church in a far northern corner of the Yukon. For about three years I attended Sunday services in a small run-down building that held almost the entire Christian population of that town, somewhere around 30 people. For those three years that was my entire exposure to the Christian world.

Then my husband and I began to feel that God had something planned for us and within a short time we found ourselves selling our home on the banks of the Klondike river, loading up all of our worldly belongings, including two little girls and a full-gown Husky dog, and making the long journey south to attend Canada's largest Bible College located in the middle of the Canadian prairies.

I didn't expect the culture shock that hit as we settled into life in a place that was not only very different geographically, but also culturally. Coming from a small town where there were very few Christians, it was astounding to realize we now lived in a community where everyone was a believer, from the postmaster to the mechanic, from the hairdresser to the doctor.

I remember standing on a street corner on that first Sunday, watching more than 2,000 people walk toward the large building where Sunday services were held. I remember standing in the congregation, in absolute awe at the sound of those 2,000 voices singing praises to God. And I remember weeping. I was once again standing on a mountain top and realized that the Christian world was not small and insignificant, it was many and mighty. Suddenly I glimpsed the whole forest.

It made me feel small, but it also overwhelmed me with the knowledge that I was part of something huge, a part of God's kingdom, a part of the wider family of God.

There have been times, as a Christian writer, that I have felt small, alone and isolated. I have wondered if there really was any significance to what I did. But then I would hear reports of how God moved at a large writers' conference or hear about a response to a friend's work or get an email about my own work from someone in a foreign country, or be overwhelmed with well-wishes from every corner of the continent and beyond, when I posted news of signing a writing contract. And once again I would be on a mountain top, glimpsing the forest, the vast congregation of God's people, writing and ministering for and with Him.

And I weep with the knowledge that I am privileged to be part of it.

"Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel."  Psalm 68:26


Abundant Rain, Marcia's devotional ebook for authors of faith is now available on Amazon. For more information on Marcia's writing and speaking ministries visit her website.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Marathon of Publishing

I began 2012 with a New Years Resolution to start jogging. I figured it'd give me the best work out in the shortest amount of time. Unlike most New Years Resolutions, I actually stuck to this one. My sister recommended I try an App called "Couch Potato to 5-K."

Having nothing to lose, and since my only plan was to just "jog" I took her advice.

Here's the way the App works. Over nine-weeks you alternate between walking and jogging. At first, you walk a lot more than you jog, but by the end of nine weeks, you only walk to warm up and cool down.

It went something like this:

Week One: Wow, this is so easy. Why haven't I always done this! I LOVE jogging! This is my new exercise for-ever!

Week Five: Oh my gosh, how many more minutes until I can walk again? Are you kidding me?  I can't do this! These people are insane! Who can do this? This HURTS.

Week Nine: I will not quit, I will not stop. I am capable of doing this.

By the end of those nine weeks, discipline alone kept me grabbing my iPhone and sneakers. It wasn't fun, but it was no longer painful. It was akin to reaching maturity.

Often while I jog, I mentally compare it to publishing, encouraging myself to glue myself to my seat when I get back home.

True, I am not experiencing the "honeymoon" period, where I could write every second and I squirrel away—and I'll never-ever-ever-ever get tired of writing.

I'm moving past the second stage, where I've looked at the big picture (writing + the right agent + the right publisher + marketing skills + publicity skills + small business skills + lots and lots of prayer + wondering who can keep up with this?) and feel overwhelmed. 

I'm heading now into the third stage—where in discipline, I work, I write, I research, I market. And yeah, it's a lot of work and not a 'typical' life. For a little while, this stage confused me. I wondered why I wasn't having "fun."

But as I jogged recently, I realized that when an Olympian runner trains, he/she doesn't think Wow, I'm running and this is great!, It's not. They don't think. They just do. They're pursing a difficult dream without the promise of reward. And if they make it, what really counts as they crouch at that starting line, is the unseen hours of hard work that prepared them for that moment. So they dive in. They simply work. 

So, which stage are you in?

Paralyzing Fear

Writer's block is a tough wall to breach

Paralyzing fear, also known to those of us who scribble as a living as writer’s block. Most writers have experienced this at some point in their career. Traditionally, we define it as a time when the well runs dry in the middle of a project.

I have a different opinion. I’ve talked with (okay, occasionally ambushed) many writers over the years and find the conversation might go something like this.

Me: “Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block?”

Anonymous Writer: “No, never. Once I start a project I just keep going, no matter what I’m feeling.”

Me: “What about before you begin a project? Have you ever postponed it because you doubt your ability to do it justice? Or maybe you needed to think about it some more - just work out the details in your head?"

At this point the person I’m speaking with usually takes a step back and begins to stammer. Most writers don’t include being afraid to start a project, as writer’s block. I would beg to differ—anything that keeps you paralyzed and unable to write is, by definition, writer’s block.

Success can sometimes make us more
afraid of failure
Funny thing is, the people who suffer most from writer’s block are writers who’ve had a modicum of success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or two, or written regularly for a while. Usually they’re afraid they can’t live up to what’s gone before.

I also find it crops up when a writer is trying a new genre. They might be going from fiction to non-fiction, or from writing devotions to writing a column or even romance to science fiction. Let’s face it, trying something new is always a daunting prospect.

Now that we’ve defined it, how do we combat it? 
  • First, quit putting it off. Make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer—writing—and do it. Sound hard? Of course it is, otherwise everyone would be a writer.
  • Begin by writing what you’re afraid of. Fear of failure? Write why it matters. Fear of inadequacy? Define it. You’ll find it looks small and more than a little silly when you actually write it down.
  • Next, remember how you got here. Recognition in the writing world comes (99.9% of the time) from putting in time. It comes from being willing to let others see your work and getting back at it after rejection. Give yourself some credit, you’re obviously not a wimp or you wouldn’t be trying to become a writer.
  • Finally, give yourself permission to try and fail. Just because this one project doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. I would say the contrary is true. If you succeed at everything you’ve tried so far, I suggest that maybe you’re not trying very much. 

Quit procrastinating under the guise of ‘I have to think this through before I start.’ Get out there, and blow a raspberry at writer’s block and hit those keys!

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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Love Inspired Suspense Fast Track to Publication

Authors, in case you haven't already heard, Love Inspired Suspense is looking for new authors, and they're running a fast track submissions period (submit a synopsis and first chapter in Oct, get a response by Nov.).

All the details are here:

Thanks to author Lisa Jordan for sharing. 

Snippets from ACFW Conference

At the recent American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas TX, much wisdom was shared in the 31 workshops, six continuing education sessions, and two keynote addresses from Michael Hyatt, author of the book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World.

If you have never attended this conference, put it on your bucket list. The time and money are well spent. As the editor of the ACFW Journal, I coordinate coverage of the conference, assigning sessions to various volunteer reporters. Some of the highlights I'm sharing come from my experience, but others come from members of my corps of reporters.

Hyatt’s first keynote address 

Michael Hyatt
After referencing Ecclesiastes 7:10 (Do not ask, “Where have all the good times gone?” Wisdom knows better than to ask such a thing. The Voice translation) he said: “We often get stuck in a version of how things were and we pine for the old days. But they aren’t coming back. In the future you will look back on this day and think of it as the good ol’ days. You are living in the good ol’ days. God is doing a new work today and you have the privilege of being a part of it.”

Then later: “One of the reasons your role (as a writer) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing. (They need) a way of thinking about the world to help them make sense of it. “What do you choose to do with the gift—the future—you’ve been given? Will you lean into it and believe that God is with you?”

Karen Ball on voice

Karen Ball
From Lee Carver’s notes: Find your voice by writing a lot. Do not try to sound like someone else, or compare your voice to another writer. Maintain your voice despite critiques and edits. Don’t be caught up in others’ opinions of “You should write it this way.” You are unique.

Allen Arnold/Jim Rubart on living free

From Lacy William’s notes: Arnold urged attendees to “Hold on loosely.” Rubart phrased it this way, “We have to die to all of our dreams, all of our passions, so we can be reborn.”
If writers are to write free, Arnold said they must be willing to give up control. “If God has called you to be an author, He is going to take care of that (selling your book).”

Mary Sue Seymour on getting published

From Donna Schlachter’s notes: “Digital books and the e-book market have opened the publishing market wide for many authors who wouldn’t ordinarily be published.” Seymour also noted most new publications are available as e-books.

Kathleen Samuelson on retailers

Kathleen Samuelson
From Lacy William’s notes: Many authors find retailers and retail employees standoffish, preoccupied, and indifferent. The reality is, Samuelson noted, many are overworked and underpaid. They want to align themselves with authors and the author’s message. “The retailers are your tribe,” she said. “Once a relationship is developed, these people can be your biggest evangelist.”

Chip MacGregor on proposals

From Linda Matchett’s notes: “Too many authors spend three or four years writing and only three or four minutes on their proposal,” said MacGregor. “Many of the proposals I get look the same. You need to stand out. “Don't be in a hurry. This is art. If you are a writer, you are an artist and it takes something to ask people to pay for art.”

Want more?

ACFW’s ezine Afictionado will have stories on these sessions and more. Publication date is scheduled for October 15. You do not need to be a member of ACFW to read the ezine—but becoming a member will help you on your publishing journey in many ways. To read the ezine when published go the ACFW Journal page, then click on ezine in the right navigation. If you go there now, you'll see last year's conference ezine.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at, where each Tuesday he takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Motivate Our Characters

I'm always so motivated when I come home from a writers conference. Obviously, the ACFW conference this year has me even more motivated, since I finally got my first contract. 

But motivating me is a lot easier than finding what motivates our characters.

That's trickier. 

I use Debra Dixon's GMC chart to discover my character's motivation. It's not easy. I often mistake a goal for the motivation. It takes time to find the core motivation, but it's worth the trouble.

I've found over the last year or so Motivation is a key element to story. Without it, your plot flounders, your characters aren't layered or real, and the story isn't captivating.

Since I've learned more about plotting through the character's motivation, my outline is easier. Yes, I'm one of those Plotters. However, even if you're a Pantster, knowing your hero's motivation will make writing much easier. You don't hit as many walls.

Motivation opens doors to conflict. And conflict drives a story.

So what have you learned this past year that has heightened your writing?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Making of a Bestseller -- Donald Maass' Take

Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary AgencyHis agency sells more than 150 novels every year to major publishers in the U.S. and overseas. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004) and The Fire in Fiction (2009, and Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012), and former president of the Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc.

Maass believes that the New York Times Best Sellers List is today a two-tiered list: commercial fiction with short runs, and a different kind of novel altogether that runs for much longer.  He expands on that in the following comments.

Have you noticed a pattern in your many years in the publishing business of what books have a good shot of making it to bestseller status? If so, what do you think they have in common? 

I've written a book entirely devoted to that subject Writing 21st Century Fiction (Writers Digest Books, September 2012).   What's interesting is how in the 21st Century literary fiction has started to sell at blockbuster levels, spending a year or more on the NY times best seller list while thrillers (say) stay on the list for only a few weeks.  Why is that?  Boiled down, such fiction does what both literary and commercial fiction do well: It tells a great story and also is beautifully written.

Many books that aren't that well written top bestseller's lists, because of a good story. What, in your opinion, makes a story good enough to earn word of mouth sales? 

A good story alone isn't enough.  The are plenty of terrific commercial stories that sell only moderately well.  To reach top best seller status, a novel must also bring beautiful writing.  Now that doesn't mean beautiful imagery, which is the quality that many commercial writers think of as bestowing "literery" status on a novel.  Beautiful writing is many things.  It's parallels, reversals, symbols, a rich story world, meaning in the form of theme, and more.

Besides a good story and great writing, what do you think helps catapult a book onto these coveted lists? 

If you look at novels that run on the best seller list for one to two years, they're all highly personal.  They spring from an author's unique experience and liberation from genre (and literary!) rules and conventions.  Sure, you can say that The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a romantic story.  It is.  But it's told from the unique perspective of a Chinese American boy in Seattle during WWII.  Is The Art of Racing in the Rain merely a dog story?  No, it's the story of a single dad's struggles and dreams, narrated by a warm, loyal and self-sacrificing friend.  Even transparently commercial stories like The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones are written with plenty of literary craft.  

What will not catapult your book onto best seller lists is traditional publishing, e-publishing, promo budgets, self-promotion, Facebook, Twitter, your blog, glowing reviews, movie deals, reading groups or anything else outside the covers of your novel.  Traditional publishing often fails to make best sellers of sure-fire bets.  Self-publishing has produced best sellers, sure, but few.  Reviews are seen by hardly anyone.  

Movie deals are invisible to the public.  Movies, if made, hit theatres long after books have become best sellers.  Reading groups get on board only late in the game.  Facebook and Twitter...please.  If that's all it took, becoming a best seller would be easy.  No, it's your stories--or rather, the personal passion you bring to them, the degree to which you set yourself free from fear, and the power of your telling.  That's what lifts novels to the best seller lists.


Wings of Glass, now available for pre-order 

On the cusp of adulthood, eighteen-year-old Penny Carson is swept off her feet by a handsome farmhand with a confident swagger. Though Trent Taylor seems like Prince Charming and offers an escape from her one-stop-sign town, Penny’s happily-ever-after lasts no longer than their breakneck courtship. Before the ink even dries on their marriage certificate, he hits her for the first time. It isn’t the last, yet the bruises that can’t be seen are the most painful of all.When Trent is injured in a welding accident and his paycheck stops, he has no choice but to finally allow Penny to take a job cleaning houses. Here she meets two women from very different worlds who will teach her to live and laugh again, and lend her their backbones just long enough for her to find her own.