Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Creativity Doesn't Want to Visit You

A strange title, I know. But there are those times when everything seems so mundane, and I need to spark my brain. When that happens, I like to do unusual things.

One day when was entering another of those series of letters that let me leave a comment on some blogs, I decided to start collecting them. See what they could spark.

I have a list of probably 40 or 50 of the strange words. Now how could I use them. Well if I wrote sci-fi/fantasy and wanted to create a new world, all those things would need names that are different from the ones in our world. Here are some words for a book like that:

Gicasiff - an animal that is low to the ground with a wide body. It sniffs at the swast as it goes along
Swast - tall wheat-like stalks that are good to eat
Angstici - the palace where the Duvalua  of Conthys lives
Davalua - ruler
Conthys - country

Now you choose one or more of the following words and give the definition in your comment at the bottom of this post.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pushing Through

Do you ever get tired of writing?

Yes, I've been asked that, and it's actually a very thoughtful question. Most people think writers write because they can't not write. That's what we writers like to say. It's part of who we are, what makes us tick. It's our passion, our glory, our holy calling. We can't imagine not pouring our souls out onto paper. We can't accept a life without creating, without storytelling. We write because it's what we know, what we feel, what makes us complete.

Okay, some of that's true, yes, the rest, honestly, is a bit dramatic.

Writing is an art and like any art it comes from somewhere deep inside the artist--from the soul or heart or maybe just the right side of the brain. It's what we are, not just what we do. But that being said, it is work as well and like any work it can get tiresome. When the juices are moving and words are flowing, there's nothing I'd rather be doing than writing. But when things jam up and the gears grind to a clunky halt, man, it's tough to get motivated.

True confession time: Sometimes I loathe writing. Sometimes I hit the alarm at 4:40 a.m. and all I want to do is roll over and go back to sleep. I don't want to think about writing, don't want to wrestle with the story, don't want to look at the computer monitor. In fact, at those times I'd be perfectly happy if I never wrote another word in my life.

But I push through. I sit my butt in the chair and turn the computer on. I force myself to write, to form sentences, to create characters and settings and conflict. Like one of those old hand-crank engines, I manually get those gears turning.

And you know what? Once I get going it happens. The right side of my noodle wakes up and starts doing what it does best. The characters find life again.

And that's where life and writing intersect, isn't it? Sometimes we don't feel like going to work, we don't feel like staying married to our spouse or spending time with our kids or talking to the neighbor. Our will rebels against what our soul demands. But if we persevere, if we force those gears to move and connect and push us forward, then eventually we find our inspiration again and the spark ignites a flame which burns into an inferno.

And we are alive again.

So how about you? Have you ever felt like giving up on something only to push through and find new inspiration, new motivation, new life?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amish Overload

After reading Conlan’s blog on Steampunk I thought I’d write about the genre I’m presently writing in. When my agent suggested I write an Amish story I wondered how I would do that without knowing much about them. Having a parent who grew up on a farm and the other on a ranch did help with knowing about country life. And I have always admired their determination to live a life that is from the past, somewhere between the prairie days and a modern day farm, but there is nothing modern about them. And there are a lot of different groups with different names that mean different things. There’s the Old Order, the New Order, the Progressive Amish and the Beachy Amish, Beachy Amish Mennonite, and Amish Mennonite, Swartentruber Amish, and there’s even more. Whew! Are you confused yet? I was

I like to give the reader a real account of the facts with whatever I’m writing but I had no idea how much research there would be about the Amish. That’s when I discovered how many other people were searching for information about them too. I don’t know when it happened or how, but people are crazy over Amish. The conversion rate is up and tourism is at an all time high. There are Amish documentaries, movies and even a reality show called Amish in the City. You can buy a Whoopie Pie at Starbucks and Shoofly Pie at your local Corner Bakery.

So great, there’s a ton of info out there to do research for my books, but once I got started there was so much I had to start piecing together what I needed for each story. There is always research when writing a fiction book, no matter what you’re writing about, but I’d never had access like this. It’s turned out to be just as much work sorting through the information than trying to dig up info on a less demanding subject.

There’s another problem. The Amish don’t want to be the center of attention or have their picture taken, so there are not many ways to get a first account from the very people I’m writing about. Fortunately, I’ve found an Amish group close by so I have some Amish to observe first-hand in case there is something I’ve written that may be questionable or doesn’t depict them correctly. I recently attended an Amish wedding which was very different than any I’ve been to or read about, so the information was important to know before writing a similar scene in one of my stories.

My conclusion as to the fascination about the Amish is that people like to read about them because it takes them back to a different time, when things were simpler and people lived as a community that puts God first.

Questions: Do you have a specific genre you like to read or do you prefer a variety?
Do you like a fast paced life or do you prefer a slower way of living?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Earlier this year I watched ABC's Favorite Movies of Our Time.
I have to admit that I'm a movie nut. Really. I can't get enough of great films, they're like my writing muses for some reason. I guess it's because they are so inspiring. You may not agree with the films and actors, etc. that were picked but the talent is incredible. If I weren't a writer I'd love to have been a film maker.

Gone With The Wind was voted best film of all time. No big surprise there. IF you had to pick your personal best film of all time and it can't be GWTW because it's already been picked :) what would you put at the top of your list?

I'd have to choose REBECCA today. Tomorrow it might be JANE EYRE
The old classics fuel my writing today.

What are a couple of lines that you like in a book of fiction that you are reading now? And tell us who the author is too. Here's my choice. "Heaven banished Lucifer in one air-rending fissure," and, "The mountain plateau lay like an altar, burnt offerings shadowed beneath its smoky pall." These lines are in the first paragraph of Shawn Grady's, Falls Like Lightning.  

What's your favorite movie kiss?  My pick is The Notebook.  A kiss in the rain is so romantic.  It’s perpetual bliss as Faith Hill would say. :)

And remember that near kiss in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy followed Elizabeth from the church in the rain?

Maybe this one? Lady and the Tramp

What's your pick?

Monday, July 18, 2011


This last week I've spent a lot of time diving into the genre of Steampunk. For those who don't know what that is, it is a sub-genre of speculative fiction set during the Victorian or a Pseudo-Victorian era. It's everything we know and love about traditional science fiction: spaceships, time travel, monsters, evil empires, daring duels, romance, adventure, ingenuity, etc but all done harnessing the power of steam, gears, and good old fashioned human brain-power.

Early templates for what steampunk would become include Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. So far modern film examples have been pretty lacking and not received strong critical responses, but they include Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and some even argue the new Sherlock Holmes film can be included because it uses technology far ahead of its time, explained with older methods.

The neat thing about Steampunk is the fact that it has become so popular in the last few years. For various reasons it has become not only a genre of fiction (of which the written examples have been far better received than their film counterparts) but fashion, household 'modding', and even (to some) a lifestyle choice. Many former 'Goths' who have left the movement (some have simply gotten bored, others have begun to resist their association with the Vampire subculture of Twilight) have moved on to the retro-futurism of Steampunk. But strangely, unlike their previous incarnation this one is not repelling people, but bringing them together in strange ways. It's a way to be different by being strangely conservative.

So, I guess it just shows that there's something to the idea of longing for simpler times. In Christian fiction we've had Amish Romance for decades, but what we're starting to see on the horizon something coming out of the mainstream market: a form of fiction that longs to turn back the clock, find a time when things were slower, more beautifully crafted, and better made. And, just like Amish fiction, it's an attempt to very obviously reconcile the perceived peace of the past with the technology of the present.

So, maybe the women reading romance and the boys playing with ray guns have more in common than we thought.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rewriting Your Own Life’s Story

Do you have a dream, a goal, a vision for your life? Does it seem to be just short of your grasp?

I am an author of fiction and nonfiction, but I am I certified Christian life coach also. I enjoy encouraging and motivating others. So I’ve collected 3 ways which might help you attain your dream – and change your life.

1)                  Pray about your dream or goal. If you’re like me, then you have lots of ideas. Not every one is worthy of our time – or is God’s will for your life.

We can get busied up in all kinds of meaningless things. So begin a journal and write down all the things you’re involved in. Pray over each one and ask God which to eliminate so you’ll have the time to journey down the God-given path for your life.
Jesus, Life Coach: Learn from the Best 
2)                  Practice “planned abandonment.”

In her book, Jesus Life Coach,  Laurie Beth Jones writes: Planned abandonment doesn’t mean walking away from something that is difficult or isn’t working anymore. Planned abandonment means choosing between good and great, between better and best. Planned abandonment means that you are able to say no to all that glitters and discern what truly shines.

I like to tell clients to search out all the EWs in their lives. I know EWs crowd in on me when I least expect them. EWs are “energy wasters” and we’ve all got them. They can be the meaningless business I previously mentioned and they can be people who suck your time. So, you know that neighbor who comes over every night to sit on the couch and bloviate? Well, as you begin to eliminate EWs that neighbor may have to find himself another roosting place.

3)                  Participate in your own life. Don’t just talk about all things you want to do someday – do them!

I recently watched the movie The Music Man and near the end of the motion picture, Professor Harold Hill tells Marian the librarian something quite profound, I think. He says something like, “If you keep putting everything off until tomorrow, all you’ll have is a collection of empty yesterdays.” How true that is!

And just remember, Tomorrow and Someday are days of the week on a planet that doesn’t exist! So quit procrastinating (and I’m pointing one finger at myself too!), turn off the “boob tube” (as my father called the television) and take steps toward accomplishing your goals. It doesn’t have to be a leap of faith. Only small footsteps.

Dare to dream – and imagine yourself a part of that dream. It’ll change your life. God has put that power in us all. And with Jesus as our ultimate Life Coach, all things are possible!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Takeaways of Giveaways

As a debut author, I've always heard and assumed that giving away lots of stuff generates buzz. You know, bookmarks, mugs, trinkets, and... books. Conventional wisdom says that a new author should do everything they can to get their name out there. And what better way to force people to look at you than to give them free stuff.

Lately, however, I've been bumping into some un-conventional wisdom.

For instance, Kiersten White, author of the NY Bestseller Paranormalcy, gives this advice in her post Recommendations for Debut Authors:

I got so many requests to send free things to people that I'm really glad I never got anything made. The amount of time and effort it would have taken for me to mail things out, not to mention the cost of creating and mailing the materials, would have been ridiculous. In the end I figured no one was going to buy my book because they won a free bookmark. Having an "I don't send anything out for any contests, ever" policy was one of the best choices I made. (emphasis mine)

Hey, I've entered my share of contests. Even won a couple. I've also staged a few on this site and elsewhere. (And, for the record, will continue to do so.) However, some of the advice I've received lately has forced me to rethink... The Biggest Book Giveaway in Web History.

From the consumer's angle, knowing that an author (or publisher, as the case may be) is kind (or smart) enough to give stuff away, scores brownie points. But what is the ultimate takeaway... other than the product being raffled?

Of course, that may be the point. Giveaways get your product into people's hands. And if some of those winners turn into "influencers" or "buyers," then the freebie has done its job. However, that metamorphosis must occur. Giveaways work when they turn a "contest winner" into an actual "consumer." But in the long run, there's really only one thing that will do that.

A good book.

As Kiersten concludes,

In the end, it's word of mouth that sells books. So you want to get as many mouths talking about your book as you can. And really, the best thing you can do for your career? Be working on your next book.

Funny, but my agent said the same thing.

So do contests and book giveaways really generate buzz for an author? Or is there more giveaway than takeaway?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who Said Writing is Easy?

Greetings from Atlanta Georgia and the ICRS. I've walked a good six miles today according to my pedometer. That's a lot of steps and the day's not over.

This is a wonderful show. I've never seen so many books and gifts and movies and music available in one place. This is a brand new experience for me as an author and I'm loving every minute of it. So much is going on that it's hard to write about it all.

The neatest experience has been meeting some of the people at Charisma who publish our books, market them, and do just about everything else. It's been such a pleasure to see them and put names with faces. I have a book signing tomorrow at 10 AM in our booth. Saw the covers of Lena's book and Jillian's on display and some of the others on exhibit on the book shelves.

Never did I imagine so much went into getting my book into print. I always thought you just wrote it and that was it. Wow, have I learned differently. Edits and galleys were terms I'd heard authors use, but had no idea the work involved. If not for Lori and her expertise, I wouldn't make it. She makes my writing so much stronger with her suggestions. Then when galleys come in, I quickly learned how easy it is to overlook a mistake that needed to be corrected and wasn't.
On top of that, no one had prepared me for the flood of joy that came with actually seeing that first book in print. This writing journey has been one great experience, and it proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Birth of a Writer--Death of a Reader?

I’ve spent my entire adult life daydreaming about my story, crafting the characters, walking in their shoes, living their lives, constructing their world. I’ve been their biggest fan, as though I’ve discovered some wonderful buried treasure that God predestined me to stumble upon. Writing their stories has been a whirlwind of emotions and adventures and now they’re being published, growing legs of their own and running out into the world.

But I wonder, now, if it’s been at a price. Not to say I’m at this point yet (or if I ever will be), but one of the things I wonder is if I will be able to enjoy my story with as much zeal once it’s finished. I always wrote books that I wanted to read--but, when they’re done--will I even be able to read them?

I’ve yet to read The Strange Man since its publication. It’s just too soon. I fear all I’ll see are my shortcomings, the little writer flaws that I hope I’ve finally conquered (only to discover new ones, I’m sure). While I’m immensely proud of the book, I recognize that it’s limited. No more rewrites. No more last minute bright ideas. Nothing to add or subtract.

What’s that saying? No work of art is ever finished, only abandoned?

The book is what it is. While I can live with that--I’ll have to--I wonder how that will affect me as the very first fan of the series. Can I ever be “a reader” again of my own books? Not for ego purposes, mind you, but just to enjoy the characters again. Like looking through an old photo album, I want to revisit the journey, the ups and downs, the accomplishments and setbacks. Perhaps the flaws in the book are part of that journey. Perhaps after enough time has passed, I’ll be able to look back fondly at my shortcomings, realizing I was a young writer with much to learn.

I hope so. Since I was a younger man, my goal was to have the entire trilogy finished, then, one Saturday morning, sit down in my pajamas, in my recliner, put on some spooky music, and read the entire series together. Just for fun. Just to remind myself why I did all of this in the first place.

Will that day come? I hope so.

To my fellow Realms authors on this here blog, have you been able to go back and read your books after publication? Have you wanted to? Why, or why not? I'm curious.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Welcome Surprise

On Friday, I received notification that my book that released last May, Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, has been awarded the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Publishing of Western Literature. This was welcome news.
I don't write books for awards. I write books for readers. But along the way if one of them receives an award, I recognize it as a blessing from God.
And I've gone back to the book I'm writing right now--Mary's Blessing, book two in my McKenna's Daughters series for Charisma House.
An award looks good on a resume, and I'm sure my Charisma House publicist to sell my upcoming books with them to bookstore buyers, but what impact do the awards have on readers?
As a reader, do you take note if a book or author has won an award?
Does it affect whether you buy the book, or not?
If you want to read the winning book, you can buy it or download it to a Kindle. If you buy a print book and want a signed copy, email me. I'll mail you a personally signed book plate to put in your book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Insanity We Fight

Are authors even a little bit insane?

Um, you know the saying, only truly insane people don’t know they’re insane. So, if I said “No, of course authors aren’t insane,” would you believe me? And if I said, “Why yes, as a matter of fact, we are insane,” then you would know we really aren’t.

Wait, is this a trick question?

Seriously, though, the question does beg an answer. I mean, how many people walk around creating make-believe people in their minds? And then creating a make-believe world for those people to live in? We have conversations with our imaginary friends, we dress them in the morning, give them a job to go to, a house to live in, a family to love or hate, and a past to embrace or run from. And what does the future hold for our characters? Well, only we know and only we get to decide their fate.

Here’s my theories. If authors aren’t insane we must be just on the brink of it and writing fiction is our way of waylaying the inevitable plunge into that otherworld of the mind. It’s our outlet. Without our stories we may just do the very things we make our characters do. And that could be bad. Very bad. Especially when you write suspense and your villain is a psycho-maniacal windbag with an obsession with clowns.

If we’re not insane then we must suffer from a god complex. We need to be in control; we need to be calling the shots. And since that rarely happens in our own world we need to create one where our every whim and fancy is obeyed. Where we are all-powerful, all-knowing, and omni-present.

Now for the truth of the matter. Authors aren’t insane. Well, maybe some are, but most aren’t. What we have is a desire (maybe even a need) to create. Man has been endowed by our Creator with a tendency to create. Look around you: The buildings, the cars, the infrastructure, the art. Listen to the music we produce. We’re creators by nature. Authors simply find a different and unique way to express that attribute.

So really, we’re not insane. I’m not insane. I’m not insane. I’m not insane.

What do you think? Are authors insane? Why do feel this need to create? To make up these stories and put them on paper?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Defeating the enemy/Enemy

The cursor blinks…blinks…blinks and still nothing.

The hours tick by and you’ve written two sentences. That’s progress, give yourself a reward and grab that bag of chocolate M & M’s. You finish a page and take a break to check your email, then the phone rings, it’s one of the kids so you answer. Now its lunch time and you make something to eat and go back to your chair to see the blinking cursor again. Ever have one of those days? Or maybe longer when procrastination sets in and the harder you push the further back those words regress?

Through the years I have done pretty well getting my pages done and meet my goal and then some, but lately the Enemy has kept me from accomplishing anything near what I usually do. The present story I’m working on just refuses to cooperate, leading me to one dead-end after another. But the enemy is also me, which Satan lavishes in. He knows what each one of our temptations, fears and the biggest distractions are and uses them to the fullest, bringing out self-defeat.

Because we work in a solitary profession there is no one to keep us on task, we have to be our own self motivators. This is a good/bad thing. We have the luxury of flexibility which is great when your teenagers goes through graduation and thirty relatives come visit for a week, or you finally plan that trip you’ve been meaning to take, or if someone is ill you’re there to care for them, but the flip side is we have to be diligent schedulers so we make that looming deadline. Having a contract doesn’t keep those distractions from creeping up, for many authors the pressure makes it worse. Knowing we’re not alone can ease some of the stress that Satan so cleverly plants into our subconscious.

So what disrupts you? Whatever it is be aware so you know how to face it the next time it pops into your head. I’m not big on TV but love a good movie and want to get out of the house after writing most of the day. If a friend calls and wants to go have lunch or take a walk on a nice day I have a hard time saying no to either. One thing I miss since I’ve started writing is reading. I use to finish a book at a rapid pace but now feel the need to write more than read. I have to be careful about what I can do in good conscious and what the evil one is tempting me to do. The line becomes very thin at times.

Then there’s this little voice in my head that tells me ‘this scene is terrible’ or ‘you’re never going to get this story put together’ and so many more little demons that sit on my shoulder and cut me down. Those are the times I rely on critique partners and readers to help me separate what’s going on in my brain and what the reality of it really is. If I let those negative thoughts sink in it will lead to failure so it’s imperative to have writers groups, good editors and my faith to set me straight.

Some of the tricks authors say they do to stay on task is to set writing goals that allow for flexibility but hold you accountable. Stay in the chair, no matter what the distraction, cling to your writing throne and dictate to your subjects from there. Nothing is permanent, just write, you can fix, fudge and completely rewrite the scene but just going through the process can help the juices begin to flow. Taking advantage of extra time is something I have a hard time with but have learned to do, and some of my best writing has come from those unexpected bits of time. I try to picture getting through the story and writing The End. Sometimes when I’ve done this I think of a good ending that changes the way I write the story.

The most important part is during my devotional time. The days I dive in and just start writing are often the times when I stop halfway through the day wondering what to write next. When I stop and ask God for the words and to keep Satan at bay I feel better even if my writing isn’t better. I’ve learned to know that when I get stuck there’s a reason and that He’ll pull me out when I’ve grasped what he has in store for me to write.

Questions: What tricks do you do to keep yourself from being distracted?
How do you deal with writer’s block?