Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I could give other advice about honing your talent and staying true to your story. Both are sound, practical advice.
But, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you is something that I learned from a small child that I taught one year many years ago at a Vacation Bible School at my church. We had a small group of, I believe, pre-schoolers and we had them for the evening. It was tough going trying to come up with something to keep them all occupied and interested for the time allotted, but one thing we did was hand out mazes. We passed them out and the kids went to work, trying to get from Start to Finish. They took some wrong turns and a few probably even made it through. But my attention was focused on one little boy. I watched with mild amusement, at first, as he took the crayon in his chubby hand, stabbed the Start line, then drew a straight line, cutting through obstacles, to the Finish line. Blank-faced, as though he wasn't even aware that what he'd done was the total opposite of every child, he calmly handed the maze back to me, without a word, to show me he was finished.
For long seconds I stared at that page and, I kid you not, I had an epiphany. The heavens parted, light shone down, and the scales fell from my eyes. I remember looking at that maze with one simple line drawn from Start to Finish and thinking "Exactly".
It has become an attitude I have adopted in all areas of my life, and especially my writing. There are so many people in this business who will set before you hoops to jump through. They'll tell you you have to get an agent, or go to writers' conferences, or get a certain publisher, or be a New York Times Bestseller, or this, or that. Everyone seems to have a different level they want you to reach before they accept you. Before they deem you "Finished". To that, I say "bah". Set your mind on your goal--what you want to do--regardless if anyone believes in you or not. Then, like that boy in my VBS class, shoot for that goal, never minding the obstacles in your path, never minding the accepted "rules" of "how it's done". Yes, you're going to make mistakes along the way. Maybe you'll have to retrace your steps and try again to find your way through the maze. But don't be afraid to be unconventional. Don't be afraid to blaze new terrain. Be yourself. If I've learned anything, no two writers come to the Finish Line the same way. We all take different paths, some we planned, others we didn't. But know where you're at right now in your life. Then identify your goal.
Then draw a straight line. Don't hold back.
That's probably the best advice I can give you.
To the other authors out there, what's some of the best advice you've received about writing and/or life?
Monday, October 24, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
I'm soing to share some with you today. I have most of the links divided by subject matter, but these have general information on a large array of topics in them.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
It was then that I was born a writer. I fell in love with it and knew it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life, in some form or another.
At first I wrote only for myself. I explored my feelings, questions, thoughts, my anger and frustration. Being a stutterer my whole life I had finally found my voice and there was no shutting me up.
But it didn't take long for my writing to become more focused and my goals more precise. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to be published.
Years went by and my writing evolved from short, vignette-like devotionals to more full-bodied creative non-fiction to, eventually, fiction. I'd finished one book and started on another but that publishing contract was no where to be found.
And I grew impatient. I was sure I was called to write, it was my passion. So why the delay? My frustration grew and spilled over into my day job and family life. I became withdrawn, moody, unfocused. I'd lost my vision, lost my way.
Writing this now and thinking back to those days I'm not proud of the way I handled things, actually, I'm ashamed of it, embarrassed even. But that's how things went when my focus turned to my own plans and timelines and expectations. It's reality in all its ugliness.
My wife, bless her, tried to be a constant encouragement to me. At times she was stern, redirecting me away from the computer when it interferred with family life, and at times she was patient, assuring me that my time would come.
Finally, she said something to me that changed my mindset and brought everything into focus. It exposed my selfish desires and humbled me.
We were standing in the kitchen and I once again expressed my discouragement over yet another rejection. "Micheal," she said. "Do you believe God has called you to write?"
I didn't even hesitate. "Yes. Absolutely. I know it in my heart. I just don't understand why it's taking so long."
"Then it will happen. In His time. In the meantime, live like it's already happened."
That hit me. Those five words. Live like it's already happened. That takes faith, you know? That's putting your heart where your mouth is and going beyond words and platitudes.
I took her advice and put the whole writing thing in God's hands. I stopped trying to control something that was completely out of my control. This was God's deal not mine. I finally understood that. And in the meantime, I would walk by my faith and not just talk about it. And be content with whatever God had in mind.
A year later I went to a writer's conference where the ball started rolling. Less than a year after that I signed my first contract.
Listen, I know many reading this are aspiring writers, maybe established writers. You believe God has called you to write. You believe it in your bones. That's great, but please realize He'll use you how and when He wants to use you. It may be by getting published and reaching thousands with your words, or it may be by writing for your church newsletter and reaching one who needs to hear exactly what you've written. Whether you reach thousands or one it's all good, it's all for Him.
And in the meantime, while you're writing and waiting, hoping and praying . . . live like it's already happened.
Monday, October 17, 2011
The first thing I thought of was that I’d have to do some serious time management to get everything done that I do now plus working. Getting my family used to the idea that I wouldn’t be as available would be the biggest undertaking, and having others do some of the tasks that I’ve always done. In having less time for writing I’d be spending less time with my imaginary friends, meaning my characters of course (If I were writing this to anyone other than fellow authors I’d worry they would question my sanity) along with a number of activities and groups I belong to. I suppose it’s all about prioritizing.
I did a little research about authors who didn’t give up their day jobs, or at least not right away after they were published. Some of these might surprise you.
-Michael Blake, author of Dances with Wolves, had just been fired from his job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant when Kevin Costner called him to ask if he would be interested in writing a screen play of his book.
-Steven King was a high school history teacher and used to write in the furnace room closet of his trailer.
-Both C.S. Lewis and Tolkien served in WWI and then taught at Universities
-John Grisham was a lawyer and member of the State Legislature of Mississippi
-Jack London was an oyster pirate and then a gold prospector.
-Nicolas Sparks applied at Law school but was not accepted, so he tried doing real estate appraisals, waiting tables, selling dental products and starting a manufacturing business
-J.K. Rowling got her postgraduate degree and taught in Scotland. She had a baby and then was divorced. She completed her first novel while on welfare
-Francine Rivers wrote obituaries for the town paper
-Zane Gray was finally published after many years of rejections and quit his job as a dentist to write full time.
-William Faulkner was a post master
This group of writers is a tough comparison, but were the most interesting. I know many writers on this blog manage doing both very well, so help me out with some ideas…how do you create the necessary balance working two jobs?
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Now before you think I've gone completely off the deep end for e-reading, hold on a minute. I still love a book with a beautiful cover and the feel of real pages. I don't think I'll ever not love the smell of a new book, the feel of a new book, a traditional author signature of a favorite novel.
But here's a really scary thought. You can now store up to 1,400 books on a Kindle. 1,400! I thought my bookshelves were way to heavy on the home front. I currently have 91 items on my Kindle. 91! What's going on? This is crazy. Isn't it? I don't need 91 books, do I? Is the invention of the e-reader a good thing or is it going to suck away even more of our cherished minutes per day? What do you think?
Wasteland or treasure chest? Curse or blessing? How many books do you now have on your e-reader? If you haven't bought one yet what do you think about our changing times and our love of reading?
Sunday, October 9, 2011
In the book world there is sometimes the discussion about book trailers, and whether or not they are of any use to authors. Being a guy with a video skill-set, I find myself quite quickly coming down on the side of pro-book trailer--partly because I've seen genuine results with my own books, and partly because I like have an excuse to do them.
That said, video work can take as much as 20 hours worth of work for every minute of final product, so when you do take the time and do the work, you find yourself wanting to see what you've done.
Recently, my agent and I have been putting together materials for a supernatural suspense/fantasy novel of mine, and I decided to do a trailer for it. After many, many, many long hours away from human contact I came up with the following. Since I now have all of you as a captive audience I would like to say this: Please watch, rate, comment, and subscribe! Thank you very much!
Saturday, October 8, 2011
…lack of books where characters consider faith or religion but decide against it for one reason or another.
Rejecting faith is a part of the faith experience like embracing it so do you know of any books where the characters have considered faith and rejected it?
That question probably divides differently along religious and traditional market lines. Portrayal of “faith experience” in the general market can be as stereotypical as that of the Christian market. The conversion-to-rejection rate of the characters no doubt bears that out. Nevertheless, in the Christian market, I think it’s safe to say, “there’s a lack of books where characters consider faith or religion but decide against it for one reason or another.” In other words, most main characters in Christian fiction who are confronted with faith, inevitably “accept” it.
Admittedly, I don’t read enough Christian fiction to comment authoritatively on the actual percentage of conversion-to-rejection ratio of characters. However, the majority of Christian fiction I have read does include — in fact, center around — some form of “conversion,” whether it be a backslider returning to the faith or a seeker discovering it. So I think it’s safe to say that conversion scenes and/or conversion processes are one of the earmarks of Christian fiction.
This conversation fascinates me for several reasons. For one, as Amy mentions, “Rejecting faith is a part of the faith experience.” So why don’t we see more “faith rejection” in Christian fiction?Are we afraid to show someone (albeit fictionally) deciding against the religion we defend?
The second has to do with my debut novel. What I’m about to say may require a minor spoiler alert. So be forewarned. But a central character in The Resurrection, after rigorous “Christian evidence,” remains largely agnostic. While conversion is an issue throughout the story, it is unresolved in this character’s case. After much thought, I believed that ambiguity was so true to the character and so integral to the story, that I could not remove it. When my publisher approached me about edits, I was prepared to concede a lot… but not that. If my editor asked me to convert this character, I would have refused. Which is one of the reasons I am so thankful that Strang let me tell that story.
Anyway, I’m interested in your take in that conversation. Do you agree that most characters in Christian fiction who are confronted with faith, inevitably “accept” it? And if not, can you name some Christian fiction books that don’t?
Friday, October 7, 2011
Crying Wind goes on to say that a man came to the door one night. He'd been newly wed, but his wife died of pneumonia. So he had gone to the medicine man on the reservation and was told he could raise his wife from the dead if he did the following: 1) Took off his clothes and slathered his body with mud; 2) Waited for the full moon to rise; 3) Went to his wife's grave and covered it with a coyote skin.
The man did this and reported that in the third hour of his waiting, the ground began to shake and something ugly and horrible rose from out of his wife's grave "so terrifying that his mind couldn't grasp it." He knew it wasn't the spirit of his late wife and sensed the spirit was despicably evil. The man went screaming off into the night, the evil spirit right on his heels. He went from house to house, seeking help, but found no escape.
The story continues:
“What’s happening, Shima Sani (Grandmother)?” I whispered as I watched the man disappear.
Monday, October 3, 2011
That’s one of the things that makes authors such unique individuals. We all may think alike as far as our writing skills and knowledge are concerned, but when it comes to topics and styles, we all have our own way of doing things. Some are plotters, planners, and organizers. Others of us are Pantsters and don’t know the whole story until we write it.
Those who write mystery, suspense or thrillers have their own way of thinking and keeping their readers on edge until the end. We have gentle, sweet, romance writers who have conflict, but it doesn’t blow up in your face.
I envy those who can write mystery, suspense, speculative and fantasy. That’s just not me, but I enjoy reading those genres. Perhaps that’s because I don’t feel I am competing with them for a reader base. I want my stories to touch the hearts of my readers as they watch the lives of my characters grow and evolve in their relationships with each other and with the Lord.
The libraries and bookstores are full of books for every kind of reading tastes. If readers can’t find something they would enjoy reading, they just haven’t looked hard enough.
Each of us writes with our own style and voice, and that’s how it should be. Being true to ourselves in our writing is what makes our writing sincere and keeps it moving. It also builds our fan base if we strive for excellence in our writing. When the quality of our writing stays true to our voice and style, our readers won’t be disappointed.
So many times we may wonder if that first book was a fluke and if everyone will hate the next ones. As long as God is helping us write, and we rely on Him to supply us with the stories, we will not disappoint.
My greatest concern with my writing is that the quality will diminish the more I write. I’ve seen it so often in the secular world, but only a few times in CBA authors. Later books by well known, best-selling authors sometimes lose the pizzazz of the first few and the plots and outcomes become much too predictable. That’s what I hope I can overcome and write so that each book keeps getting better rather than the same old thing.
Of course in romance there has to be some predictability in the hero and heroine resolving all issues and coming together at the end, but the journey to that end must be exciting and keep the reader turning the pages to find out how the two will finally be together.
What do you do to make sure each book is as good as and even better than the previous one, especially in a series?