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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Day in the Life of Author, Karen Halvorsen Schreck

By Elizabeth Ludwig

Karen Halvorsen Schreck
Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the author of two previous novels, Dream Journal and While He Was Away. She received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her short stories and articles have appeared in Literal Latté, Other Voices, Image, as well as other literary journals and magazines, and have received various awards, including a Pushcart Prize, an Illinois State Arts Council Grant, and in 2009, first prize awards for memoir and devotional magazine writing from the Evangelical Press Association. A freelance writer and frequent visiting professor of English at Wheaton College, Karen lives with her husband and two children in Wheaton, Illinois.

Hello, Karen! Welcome to Novel Rocket. I love Illinois. Tell me a bit about where you’re from. 

I was born and raised in the western suburbs just outside of Chicago, near Wheaton, Illinois. I grew up in the kind of subdivisions that were springing up everywhere in the 1960s and 1970s, where aluminum-sided colonials and ranches butted up against cornfields. I’d look out my bedroom window, and there (for a few years at least, would be cornstalks, springing up tall and green, or rattling dry and brown in the wind, or hidden by the snow, depending on the season.

My parents were musicians who taught in the Conservatory at Wheaton College, where my husband teaches photography today, and where I sometimes teach writing and literature. That academic setting has been a kind of second home to me. We spent (and spend) a great deal of time in Chicago as well, and to say that I love that city is a bit of an understatement. Chicago is very much interwoven with my personal history, and the history of the generations of my family that have gone before.

How did you become a novelist, and did you always want to write? 

I was an only child of two working parents, and often had to keep myself occupied, so if I wasn’t reading a book or writing a story in a spiral bound notebook (a la Harriet the Spy and her ilk), I was pretending a story, realizing it through my play all around the house and in the yard. Sometimes my parents would come upon me, standing on a chair, imaging I was about to swing from a vine or leap from a cliff or swim to an island, and as I grew older and self-consciousness kicked in, that became a little embarrassing, so I turned to writing and reading more. But before that time, when I was younger, I treated the world around me pretty much like a page for me to write on with my play.

Tell me three things about yourself that would surprise your readers. 

When I was seventeen I had lunch with the Queen of Holland.

I received my favorite compliment from my 16 year old daughter around about New Year’s Eve, 2013, and it was: “Considering your age and your RA and everything, you are still a really good dancer, Mom.”

Gladioli are my favorite flowers.

Now let’s talk about your writing… List three of your favorite opening lines to novels. In what ways did each captivate you? 

1. “The gravel pit was about a mile east of town, and the size of a small lake, and so deep that boys under sixteen were forbidden by their parents to swim there.” From So Long, See You Tomorrow by
 William Maxwell.

William Maxwell was the editor of the New Yorker for a long time, (and the editor of my teacher and another one of my favorite writers, Larry Woiwode). I love the clarity and simplicity of this opening line. I love its gentle understatement, and the way it makes me think about what’s underneath the words, the issues of desire and danger and loss and memory which the slim, beautiful novel will reveal. Plus, how beautifully does it establish the key element of setting? This novel, like Sing for Me, is set in Illinois, and Maxwell teaches me in that very first sentence how important it is to ground your readers in the place where your characters live and move and have their being.

2. “My name is Ruth.” From Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

I could have picked the first lines of Robinson’s more recent novels, Glead and Home, as well, but I thought I’d go with Housekeeping, her first novel, published many years before these other two better known books came out. There it is, plain Jane, four words to launch a novel that has the weight and depth of a once in a lifetime dream.

“My name is Ruth.”

The prose to follow is graceful and gorgeous, all filtered through the visionary character of Ruth. As a reader and a writer, I fell into Ruth’s point of view the first time I read that first sentence (and I’ve read it and the rest of the book many times since). Ruth taught me that less is sometimes more, and that less also allows more to be more, when more should be.

“My name is Ruth.”

Hello. Nice to meet you. I’ll follow you anywhere.

3. “124 was spiteful.” From Beloved by Toni Morrison.

As a writer, Toni Morrison teaches me about fearlessness. Right there, in that first sentence of Beloved, she’s fearless. A number is a subject, a character? What the heck does that mean? Who, where, what is 124, and why is 124 spiteful? Why do I feel unsettled, possibly afraid? (Because I did, first reading those words, and I still do, reading them now.)

Three words, mysteriously brief, charged with emotion and tension, compel into the next sentence, and the next, and now I’m hearing a story I’ve never heard before, that I so desperately needed to hear, about race and these United States, and how we are all, on some level, haunted.

Where did you get the idea, as well as continued inspiration, for your novel? 

“Tell me a story,” I’d say to my dad as a child, and he would whole-heartedly oblige. I grew up laughing with his stories, and learning from them, too. I was fourteen when my quiet, lady-like mother died, and her passing cemented my desire to search out stories from the past—most particularly hers, but also those of others. It became my habit to seek out stories, a kind of sustenance, and a way to bridge the chasm of forgetfulness and loss.

Howard Books, April 2014
SING FOR ME was inspired in part by my dad’s stories of growing up as the child of Danish immigrants in the first part of the twentieth century, his childhood and young manhood in Oak Park and Chicago, the reality of having a beloved younger sister with cerebral palsy at that time, and his nostalgia for what had been abandoned—most specifically, a more pastoral life in the upper reaches of Wisconsin.

This novel is also inspired by my love for music, and my desire as a white woman to try and understand as best I’m able the experiences of African-Americans in these United States, and my belief that one’s calling is a divine gift. Accepting one’s calling—or, sadly in some cases, being able to accept it—is all other very human matter.

Tell me a bit about your main characters. Who did you have the most fun creating? Why? 

Rose Sorensen, the central character, has a gift that she feels like she has to qualify or suppress because of the demands of her life. I felt deeply for Rose, as I was writing her. I longed for her to embrace her gift and seek out her desire. It was a challenge and a joy to work out this hard and wonderful season of her life on the page—in part, because I realize that many women (and men, too) have been in Rose’s position—certainly in the past, but even now, today. I care about this kind of struggle deeply, and I wanted to write one woman’s journey through it.

Theo Chastain, the pianist with whom Rose falls in love, was also a joy to write. I came to love him, too—his grief and anger, his gentle and creative spirit.

Probably the hardest character for me to write was the character of Sophy Sorensen, Rose’s younger sister who has cerebral palsy. I tried my best to understand what it would be like to live in her body. Just trying was an honor.

Introduce us to your villain. Is there a flicker of good within him/her? 

I don’t really think in terms of villains. I think in terms of people. All of us have good and bad inside of us, and I work as a writer to explore complex characters with strong desires without judgment. I work to do justice to them, whether they make good or bad choices. I guess Rose’s dad, Jacob Sorensen, makes some bad choices over the course of the book—choices which up the stakes for Rose, and make her desire harder to attain. But I like to think Jacob also reveals his good side by the end.

Share a little about your faith.

My parents were both Christians, and I was raised in many different kinds of churches because my parents were also musicians, and always had church jobs (my mother was an organist; my father a choir director). I grew up attending Christian schools, chose a more liturgical tradition in my 20s, and in the last year or so have returned to a more traditional church setting, where the message and the music and the community are all deeply connected, engaged with matters of social justice and art and worship. I find God in this community, and in prayer, and in my writing.

Who does your intended audience include? Believers and nonbelievers? In what ways do you believe your story reaches each?

I write from my heart for readers of all kinds—women and men, believers and nonbelievers. A good story reaches every one, I believe.

What do you think is significant about Christian Fiction? 

I think we are all spiritual people, and Christian Fiction openly acknowledges that fact.

What message do you hope your readers will take away after reading your novel? 

 Embrace your gifts and follow your calling.

How has being a novelist impacted your relationship with Christ? 

As a writer, I try to understand the stories all around me in the world and on the page. It is a gift to do this work, but it is really hard too, and it makes me reflect all the more on the life of Christ. Jesus walked through the press of a crowd, and turned to a suffering woman when she touched the hem of his garment. He wept at the loss of a friend. He sat down with people who were otherwise shunned. He listened to children. He took time, saw people, accepted and embraced people, and He understood their stories. He is my greatest example of how to live life in this world.

And finally…what has surprised you most about being an author? 

That really, being an author is all about keeping the faith. 

Learn more about Karen and her writing by visiting her at:

Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of the EDGE OF FREEDOM series from Bethany House Publishers. She is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit

The Six Best Podcasts for FICTION Writers

by James L. Rubart

There are a vast number of podcasts for writers—what I've tried to do is narrow it down to podcasts designed specifically for scribes of fiction.

Two disclaimers before we dive in: First, I don’t know if these are the best—just one man’s opinion, and second, the third offering down is mine, and unfortunately I’m completely biased about it being on this list.

Writing Excuses

How can you not love a podcast where their tag line is, “… fifteen minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.” They are that smart. Even though they talk a lot about speculative type stories, the advice they dole out applies to all fiction.
Website  iTunes 
Helping Writers Become Authors 

For the aspiring writer as well as the vet, K.M. Weiland’s podcast offers excellent teaching. It focuses on a variety of common challenges we all face, regardless of genre.  Named one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers.
Website  iTunes

Novel Marketing

Many of you know my day job is running a marketing company for authors and businesses, so I suppose it was natural to start a marketing podcast. The difference is this podcast is focused exclusively on fiction writers and we cover everything from pitching to social media to interviews with a variety of experts. I do this podcast with Thomas Umstattd, the owner of Author Media and one of the brightest men I know. Length: 10 – 20 minutes. Website  iTunes 

The Dead Robots' Society

The title alone makes it worth checking out! While the Writing Excuses podcasts are short, The Dead Robot’s Society’s are loooong. Usually more than an hour, but hey, take it on a run and promise yourself you’ll keep working out till the episode is over. TDRS covers a variety of topics relating to fiction.

Website  iTunes

The Secrets

Warning: If you like this podcast, you’re out of luck long term as it’s been moth balled (and some of the info is slightly outdated). But it’s still a great resource, especially if you’re new to listening to podcasts. Episodes are short and to the point. The Secrets tackles everything from character development and editing to the publishing world in general and a career as a writer.

The Writing Show

By podcasting standards, The Writing Show is almost ancient. It started in ’05 so if you like it, lots of archived episodes to listen to. It’s packed with info for novelists, and even copywriters (which is often fiction right?)
Website  iTunes 

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Just in case your definition of fiction means writing for film or TV, this podcast might be worth looking at. Well done interviews and insight into the world of movies and the small screen. (Be forewarned, this podcast can be explicit at times.)
Website  iTunes

Okay, friends. Help me. Which fiction podcasts did I miss?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, THE CHAIR, SOUL’S GATE, MEMORY’S DOOR, and SPIRIT BRIDGE (May ’14). During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stephen King Breaks the "Writing Rules"

You heard that right -- Stephen King, gazillion-seller, award winning author, household name, breaks the rules. The "writing rules," that is. 

Last year, I finished King's opus, "The Stand." One of the takeaways, to my shame, was how often I noticed King violated some of the most basic writing rules. Namely in his use of passives and head-hopping. Lots of jumping from one POV to the next in the same chapter. And then there's the "had been's" and "was's." This book would drive some of my old mentors crazy. 

More importantly, however, King's infractions haven't kept me from enjoying the story. That's the weird thing about it. 

Like many writers, I spent the first couple of years learning about the rules. Show don't tell. Avoid passives. Maintain POV. Stuff like that. I took it as gospel and worked darned hard to apply it. Now, some six or seven years later, I'm trying to unlearn them. If my reading of The Stand is any indication, I've got a long way to go. It feels like a bad hangover -- only time and abstinence will cure it. 

I can only imagine how many other writers have been ruined by the "writing rules." No, I'm not suggesting there are no rules or that teaching them is wrong. Fact is, before gaining fame as a novelist, King taught high school English, an experience that informs his book On Writing (Scribner, 2000). In that book, King freely expounds upon some of these same rules, things like Active Voice and Over-use of Adverbs. So it's not like he's advocating literary anarchy or something. 

Nevertheless, it bothers me that the I have to work so hard, at least make conscious effort, to enjoy novels nowadays. I never had that problem before I became a writer. In a way, I wish I'd never have learned about the writing rules. 

Perhaps it's true of all artists or crafts people. Once you learn the inner-workings of any medium you're bound to look at it differently, more critically. How could a trumpet player NOT listen to Miles Davis more acutely than a massage therapist? In this sense, my sensitivity to King's rule-breaking might be... natural. All writers are aware of another author's stylistic propensities. I also wonder if it may be indicative of a shifting consensus among writing professionals. (The Stand was written in early 90-something, I think.) People always talk about how readers' tastes are evolving. Could it be that the writing rules which I learned in 2005-6 were just not as applicable in 1990? Or not as enforced? I don't know. 

Whatever the answer, I can't help but feel there is an inordinate emphasis placed on new authors to learn to follow these writing rules. By over-emphasizing writing rules we unwittingly create a “checklist mentality” that places style above story, pointlessly constricts writers’ options, and narrows their range. Of course, new writers need to understand the rules. But if we’re not careful, we will turn the creative process into a formula and make literary
Pharisees out of our proteges. 

Not to mention, potentially diminish their enjoyment of some very good books.

* * *

Mike Duran 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, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


by Cynthia Ruchti

I know I'm not alone.  When the author copies of my latest release arrived today, my first reaction was joy, immediately followed by brokenness, humility, on-my-knees gratitude and pleading for God to use the book, give it wings, propel it to the readers for whom the story was written.

Most of that day, I wavered between that internal dance an author knows when they see a book in print, in hand and that blown-off-my-raft sense of the enormity of this amazing process in which I'm privileged to participate.

This isn't my first novel. Not my first book. Not my first rodeo (if I wrote about rodeos). I got this. Right?

No. I don't. None of us do.

I had the idea, didn't I? No, even that was God.

Well, I wrote the story. Not alone.

I came up with those clever turns of phrases. No, I participated in the creative process.

It took hard work, but I fixed what the editor suggested. After much prayer.

I need Him every hour. Every moment. Every stage. At every turn. I don't have this. He does. What I have is Him.

I need Him, oh I need Him. Every hour I need Him.

He's the one who wakes an author in the middle of the night with a thought He planted in the subconscious. He's the one who implants an empathy for crises we've not experienced ourselves. He's the one who DOES something with our words, breathing life into them as poignantly as the Father breathed life into Adam, as transformational as Jesus' first breath in the tomb in which He didn't belong.

Ask the author who's been at this far longer than I have. The thought remains. We will fail if we say, "I've got this." We will see His blessing unfold if we say, "He's got this…and I'm with Him."

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels, novellas, devotions, nonfiction and speaking events for women and writers. Her latest release--All My Belongings (Abingdon Press Fiction)--launches on May 6th. She needs Him every hour, for every book, and every breath.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ten Laws of Critique Groups

by Chip MacGregor

Chip MacGregor
Chip MacGregor is the president of MacGregor Literary, a full-service literary agency on the Oregon Coast. A former publisher with Time Warner, he has worked with authors as a literary agent for more than a dozen years, and was previously a senior editor at two publishing houses. An Oregon native, Chip lives in a small town on the Oregon coast. Chip is also the author of a couple dozen books and a popular teacher on the craft of writing and marketing.

I recently had someone write to me and say, “I’m going to a big writing conference that encourages us to join a critique group. You’ve talked before about the benefit of being in a critique group, but I was in a critique group that didn’t work. What I’m wondering is how to make a critique group actually WORK. Can you help?”

I’m a huge fan of critique groups, and have participated in several until I moved or they wised up and threw me out. The experience has taught me a few principles for getting the most out of the group. 

Here are my Ten Laws of Critique Groups:

Why do you want a critique group?
1.  Ask yourself why you want a critique group. What do you hope to get out of it? You ought to have clear expectations going in, so that you’ve got something to evaluate the benefits later. Some people basically want to hang out with other writers — more or less the same reason they attend writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your reason for joining, you should easily find a group that fits your needs. Others really want a dedicated group of professional writers to take a careful and thoughtful look at their material. If that’s what you’re after, you’re going to need to put a lot more thought into your group.

2.  The value of a critique group is based almost entirely on the membership. So look for people who are AT YOUR LEVEL or maybe just a bit better than you (if your ego can take it) and talk to them about the group. Basically, people want to know what the commitment will be (a weekly or maybe twice a month meeting that lasts a couple hours), what the expectations are (that members will actually READ the other member’s writings before coming to the meeting), and what the benefit is to them (you’ll hear advice for improving your writing).

3.  Personally invite people to participate. Don’t put an announcement in the neighborhood bulletin or the local paper. One of the maxims of organization is that people perform at the level at which they are recruited. If you tell them “this is an open time for everybody,” you’re going to get the bad poets, the unteachable storytellers, and the “I’m-in-pain-let-me-share-my-angst-with-you” types.

4.  At one of your first meetings, set some guidelines. These can be simple: You have to come as often as you’re in town. You have to submit your writing to others at least once a month (or every other month). You have to read the work of others before the meeting. You have to offer constructive advice, not just negative criticism. You have to be willing to listen to everyone, even if you disagree with their opinion. (And this is a perfect time to quote Jim Bishop: “A good writer is not, per se, a good book critic. No more than a good drunk is automatically a good bartender.”)

 5.  Make sure the group has a leader. Without a ramrod, a critique group turns into a therapy session for the most needy in the bunch.

Creative types need a regular meeting time & place.
 6.  I think creative, artsy writer types need a regular meeting time and place. It offers discipline to the group. Of course, you all disagree with that, being creative, artsy types. So sue me. You probably also like William Faulkner, even though he is boring and pretentious, but your college writing professor insisted he was deep, and since you want to appear deep too, you tell people at parties that you “loved ‘Soldier Pay’ but thought ‘As I Lay Dying’ lacked focus,” or some such rot. Your group will meet at Starbucks once, at your house once, then you’ll skip a couple months, meet for dinner somewhere, and fade away. So put some regularity and discipline into the meeting schedule.

7.  Above all, listen to criticism. Scottish people have a saying: “Learn to unpack a rebuke.” There’s no point in joining a critique group if you spend all your time defending your writing. So have a rule that you have to listen to people’s ideas, even if you’re going to ignore their insipid, Neanderthal advice. Jarrell once wrote, “It’s always hard for poets to believe that one says their poems are bad not because one is a friend, but because their poems are bad.”

8.  The membership in the group dictates how much you’ll listen. There’s nothing worse than being in a group with one guy you really don’t like, and you don’t respect his lousy writing, but he always wants to talk for a half hour about that terrible state of writing in publishing today. If you find people who are at your level, both in terms of quality and experience, you’ll find yourself much more open to hear what they have to say.

Feedback is easier if you trust the person offering advice.
9.  Find a writing partner who you really trust. One person, maybe two, that you’ll listen to. When he or she says to you, “Farnsworth, I know you love medical mysteries, but I question your use of including each character’s dental records in your story,” you’ll know that they aren’t criticizing just to build themselves up. This your friend. He (or she) LOVES you. He’s only saying it because he wants you to improve your story. That one person will make you better, and you’ll find yourself becoming a much better critiquer of others and member of a group. Really.

10.  Insist people write. I was once in a critique group where people argued about the merits of “Left Behind” and debated which trends were hot in bookstores, but we never really got around to writing anything or examining each other’s work. Write something each time, insist others do the same, and submit that work ahead of the meeting so that everyone can read it and tell you how awful it is. (Or how wonderful it is, depending on how you’re feeling today.)

In closing, a note from Lillian Hellman: “They’re fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talk about writing. Or themselves.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

How I Turned my Struggle into Success—Confessions of an ADD Writer

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Writing is the best and worst career choice for me.
Writing is both the best and the worst career choice for me. I used to joke about the fact that if it wasn’t illegal or immoral, I’d write about it. A very true statement. You see, I’m definitely an Attention Deficit Disorder Writer. Today I want to share how I turned my struggle into success.

Freelance writing and blogging are both good fits for me, in that they give me lots of varying subject matter. They also give me the opportunity to work in small bites and find success with short pieces. But even working with small projects I had to find a way to manage my time and not get distracted.

Book length projects are more of a struggle. I’ve had to learn how to apply the work habits I developed for short projects to the long ones, and instead of being a liability, it’s helped me become a more productive writer.

Here are the things that help me—not just to cope—but to excel as a writer:
I've learned to embrace the creativity.
1. Embrace my creativity. One of the things that happens with my mind is that it’s always coming up with new ideas. Instead of shutting out these ideas, I keep a list. Now, I never lack for a blog post topic or article idea.

2. Work in small bites of time. I get twitchy if I have to sit still for more than an hour, so I plan my day in hour-long blocks of time.

3. Don’t stress about working on more than one project at once. There is lots of advice out there about only working on one thing at a time. The problem isn’t on how many things I work on at once—AS LONG AS I’m finishing projects regularly. The problem comes if I only start things and never finish them.

I write THROUGH the rabbit trails.
4. Write through the rabbit trails. In high school and college I learned how to write papers and articles by coming up with a theme sentence and focusing on that through-out the paper. That’s good advice, for the final draft. But the rough draft is supposed to be…well…rough. That’s the time to experiment and try things out. I’ve come up with some really good stuff by following a rabbit trail to its end. Often I come up with two or three good things. Good for a freelance writer.

5. Let your boredom be a barometer. Often when I get bored with a project it’s a symptom of a problem—and not with me. It means I’ve lost focus or need to add something to what I’ve written.  I’ve discovered I’ve got pretty good instincts and I’ve learned to trust them.

6. Freewriting is my friend. Sometimes my mind is spinning with so many ideas I don’t know where to start. That’s when I pull out the pen and paper and start writing. No rules, just words. In very short order my brain has pulled some order out of chaos and I’m ready to get to work.

I keep track of time and set limits.
7. Keep track of time and set limits. I could research for hours. Every fact seems to lead to another, and then to another and then…well you get the idea. I give myself a time limit for research and that helps limit the distractions.

8. Keep research and writing separate. When I’m done with my allotted research time, I start writing. If I come across something I need to check, I make a note, but I don’t stop writing. Otherwise it’s hard to get things finished.

These are the things I've found to help me succeed. What could you add to the list? Or am I the only easily-distracted writer around?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Writing That is Powerful, Not Preachy!

Karen Ball has been blessed to use her love of words and story during over 30 years in publishing. Karen built  and led successful fiction lines for Tyndale, Multnomah, Zondervan, and, most recently, the B&H Publishing Group. As a literary agent at The Steve Laube Agency, she’s had the honor of discovering several best-selling novelists, including Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Sharon Ewell Foster, Liz Curtis Higgs, and, most recently, Ginny Yttrup, whose debut novel Publisher’s Weekly declared “a masterpiece!” Karen has also worked with numerous top authors, including Angela Hunt, Robin Jones Gunn, Robin Lee Hatcher, Brandilyn Collins, and many others. In addition, Karen is a best-selling, award-winning novelist and a popular speaker. She lives in Oregon with her husband, father, and two four-legged, furry “kids.”

Can we write about spiritual things without being preachy?
Thanks to Shirley Buxton for asking in the comments of my blog on writing that sings, “Can someone help me understand how to show spirituality without being preachy?”
Why, yes, Shirley, I can. At least, I can tell you my perspective.
It’s the difference between telling people how they ought to live, and showing them. It’s not spouting Scripture when someone is hurt or struggling, but coming alongside them, sitting with them, holding them, asking how you can help. It’s entering into their struggle and being Christ to them, acting as he would.
Think about it. When Jesus shared spiritual truths with the crowds around him, how did he do it? He showed those truths through a story. He didn’t say, “You faithless fools, God tells us to use our talents for him, not withhold them!” No, he told a story… “A man was going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them…”
Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, the way to communicate spiritual truths is to show it, not tell it.
Consider the following paragraph:
Forgiving in marriage is not an option. It’s a command, straight from Jesus. If your spouse had done or said something that hurt you, forgive them. If you’ve done or said something that hurt your spouse, ask to be forgiven. You don’t have a choice. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And a verse or so later, he says: ““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If you’re a Christian and you aren’t forgiving your spouse, you are in the wrong. And God won’t forgive you. It’s as simple as that.
Don't beat your readers over the head.
Okay, feel beat over the head a bit? Yeah, me, too, and I wrote it! That paragraph is preaching. Telling you how you’re supposed to behave, and that you’ll regret it if you don’t. All of which may be true, but not many are drawn to right living by that kind of presentation of truth. Now, try this…
I’d only been married a few days when I made a shattering discovery: the man I married, the man I saw as a knight in shining armor, could do and say things that hurt me! It didn’t matter whether or not he’d intended to hurt me, all that mattered was he’d done so. And then I made an even more shattering discovery: Forgiving your spouse is hard. When I said I do, I knew he’d be there to shelter and protect me, to love me unconditionally. He wasn’t supposed to hurt me!
It’s hard, isn’t it, letting go of expectations, loving someone for who they are, warts and all? But here’s the thing. When we don’t forgive someone, we put them—and ourselves—in a kind of prison. I found that out all those years ago after nursing a hurt for days. I was miserable. Don was miserable. Even the poor dogs were miserable! Life at the Ball household was not much fun. Then, one evening, God tapped me on the shoulder and reminded that—ahem!—Don was not the only imperfect human in the marriage. And that love wasn’t about not hurting each other, it was about forgiving and surrendering my hurts to Him. When I finally did that, oh! the freedom that washed over me! My heart was light, our home was warm again, and I swore I could fly.
Writing with power means you don't
hit people over the head with Scriptures.
Friends, don’t let hurts in marriage fester. Don’t let them weigh you down and imprison you. Let them go. Forgive. And know the beauty of God’s freedom, not just in your marriage, but in your heart.
When you show truth in your writing, you draw people into the experience. They live it with you or with your characters, and they learn alongside you. In the process, they may even change.
So writing with power means you don’t hit people over the head with Scriptures, you don’t give a sermon, you don’t stick in a conversion scene unless it’s a natural outgrowth of the story. Writing with power means you show what’s right, through story or illustration, through your character’s journey.
So that’s my take. Now, how about you all? What do you think makes the difference between preachy writing and powerful writing?