Friday, March 30, 2012


An Author Needs a Teachable Spirit

A teachable spirit is a major key to success in all areas of your life–family, work, any kind of relationship. You obtain wisdom when you become teachable. Giftedness is a dime a dozen, teachableness (Writers like to create their own words sometimes.) is a great treasure.

All through the book of Proverbs, we are admonished to learn. We can’t do that if we don’t have a teachable spirit. Pride, independence or rebellion, and insecurity lead to an unteachable spirit.

When we have a teachable spirit, we graciously accept correction. We seek wise counsel. We submit to authority and stay accountable. How does this apply to our writing lives?

Seeking wise counsel from the right people will help us grow in our craft. Critique partners can be a major asset as we grow. Use critique partners who understand the call of God on your life. They need to be honest in their assessment of what you wrote. Not someone who will flatter and not someone who will tear you down. Always filter what you’re told through the Lord. Just because you listen to the partner doesn’t mean you must accept every single thing they say. That person might not understand what you’re trying to say or might not recognize your voice or the voice of your character. You need balance. But always be open to learning from every critique partner God brings into your life.

Others who will be wise counselors in your life are editors. Those you’re trying to sell to as well as those who have bought your book.

Two things you need to understand about editors are: It is an editor’s job to make books better.
And without authors, editors wouldn’t have a job. You should form a mutually beneficial working partnership. When that has happened in my life, my books have been better for the cooperation.

The key to your success as a writer is having a teachable spirit–but keep everything in perspective, in balance, and in Jesus.

Copyright 2012 – Lena Nelson Dooley

Sometimes it's hard to listen to other people. Who do you handle getting constructive critiques that you might not agree with?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A New Beginning and a New Name

Much of this post is being re-posted from an article I wrote for my own site a few weeks ago. It's big news, though, and I want to get it in front of as many people as I can.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to try something new. I’m not afraid of trying, not afraid of failing. I am afraid of regrets.

Go back with me to 2009, I’ve just finished a year-long battle with colon cancer and am having a horrible time getting back into writing. I’ve lost my inspiration, my will, my drive. Cancer has sucked every ounce of fight out of me and has drained me emotionally.

Over the next few months things begin to normalize, I start writing again, begin to feel like I’m regaining my creative momentum. Only something is different. I see life in a new light now, view things differently. I still love writing suspense but seem to want more. I want to touch readers on a different level, more personal, more where they are as they live life and struggle through it as I have.

It took me awhile to figure out exactly what was going on inside me but when I did I ran it past my agent and publisher and they both agreed. I needed to branch out and write something that wasn’t suspense, something that was more aimed at the heart, something that dealt with life and love, heartache and triumph. Something that could and would reach a wider audience.

So . . . I began work on my first contemporary drama, A Thousand Sleepless Nights. But there was a problem. Mike Dellosso writes suspense. Readers know that and expect that. And we didn’t want to confuse the market by throwing something totally different at them. So I assumed a pen name–Michael King.

From this point forward I will be two writers: Mike Dellosso who writes suspense, and Michael King who writes contemporary drama.

For Michael King I've created a Facebook author page and a blog where I'll discuss things of faith and family, love and heartache, trials and triumphs.

A Thousand Sleepless Nights releases in October. It's a book for everyone, especially those touched by cancer, either personally or through the life of a family member, friend, relative, neighbor. Watch for it.
How have you been touched by cancer? How many people can you name off the top of your head who you know have had or has cancer?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Word Painting with David McCullough

This is a post that appeared on my personal blog at one time but I wanted to share it with you here this week because I think the topic is so fascinating and because I'm a David McCullough fan.

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough fascinates me both as a reader and a writer. One of my friends at work asked me if I'd watched the extra features at the end of the John Adams DVD. I typically do watch all the bonus material at the end of these movies but for some reason hadn't got around to it. I don't think I even realized it was on this particular DVD. If you get the chance you must watch it, he's so very personable and inspiring. I found the videos on YouTube and you can see them listed below. I wish I had a version of his world headquarters in my backyard. :) Painting With Words Part Four  This section is wonderful for writers but the entire thing is awesome!

Painting With Words Part One

Painting With Words Part Two

Painting With Words Part Three

A few things I've learned or been reminded of  by David McCullough.

1.)  Find your favorite work space. That may sound simple but it's not for some of us. I recently lost my workspace because we needed an extra bedroom at home so now my desk is in the dining room. Noise cancelling headphones and possibly a room screen will soon be part of my world headquarters.

2.) "You can only learn by doing it. You can't learn to write without writing."

3.) "History is about life, about change, about consequences, cause and effect . . . it's about music and poetry and drama and science and medicine and money and love . . "  This man knows how to make history fun.

4.) "Marinate your head in the time and culture you write in."

5.) Excel.

6.) "The work is the reward."

7.) Develop a list of ideas that you want to write about eventually.

8.) Sing a song even if it is off key. :)

9.) "Count your blessings."

10.) "The pen and the voice died on the same day. Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence."

I think artists of all kinds will love his new book, The Greater Journey. You can see a video trailer here, and listen to him talk about the book.

In one section of the video McCullough talks about being a fly on the wall in one favorite place in history.  If you could choose only one place to be a fly on the wall in history what event would you choose? Is there something here that resonated with you?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Who's in Charge Here?

I find my stories taking on a life of their own at times. I think I’m going one way with the plot and it turns a corner without asking me. The same goes for characters. You think you have this guy/gal all figured out, and then they do something you never thought they would. I was really stumped by the heroine in the present story I’m writing. She started out being somewhat of a pushover, a pleaser, and the next thing I know she’s putting the hero in his place. Then she ends up with another guy all together. Could have fooled me, and she did.

I came across an article in the Smithsonian magazine interviewing Judy Blume. She started out by saying that writing is incredibly hard for her. What writer can’t appreciate that, and love the honesty of her sharing it. She also claimed that she’s not the world’s best mother. But everyone expects her to be due to the type of books she writes, mainly about coming-of-age issues. Blume said there’s so much she doesn’t know when she starts writing a book, and that’s the best part of writing for her. The surprises along the way. When writing her most popular book, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, she thought she was writing about organized religion, yet the book became famous for dealing with puberty. People glossed over the personal relationship Margaret has with God.

It makes me wonder how much control we really have as authors. I write all over the place, which is obvious by my pushy heroine bossing me around. But between the independent characters, the wayward plots, and readers taking away something different than what you meant for them to, I get a little confused. This was my idea to start with, right?

I try to cover three elements in each of my books: A faith element, a takeaway that hasn’t been overused, and a relevant topic to motivate discussion. But frequently, by the time the story is finished I look back and they have all changed into something different. Like my Amish hero leaving the community to experience Rumspringa (running around) in the city, became second to the heroine going, but she went for a completely different reason, to evangelize. I don’t know where she came up with the idea, but I liked it.

Question: Do your stories surprise you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thoughts on writing endings

*SPOILER ALERT: for any of you who actually read Amish fiction and play Xbox's mega-hit Mass Effect, you have been warned.

I completed playing a video game trilogy last week: Mass Effect 3. Each game in the series has taken approximately 40 hours to complete, and the decisions from the previous game are imported into the next. Characters who die in the first game are dead in the second and the third. They don't come back. They are dead. Kaput. And the whole story has been building (since 2006) to a final conclusion, which millions of fans were able to play starting March 6th. Tiny problem: the ending - which we've all spent more than 120 hours building toward, carefully crafting the story, interacting with the characters, making things exactly the way we think they should - is a stinker of an ending. It's bland. Confusing. Depressing. Nonsensical. A violation of it's own canon and internal logical consistency, and flat-out unsatisfying. Reminiscent of the third Matrix film. Nothing happens. And what does happen, is depressing. No matter what choices you make, the story is ushered down a cattle pen toward slaughter. There are tiny, tiny variations among the 16 possible outcomes, but none of the 16 are satisfying, and all of them are depressing.

Out of fans polled (more than 60,000 at this point) 98% hated the ending, with only 2% thinking it was even remotely satisfying. So, why is this a problem? Video gamers have shown themselves incredibly receptive to creative, literary, and even flat-depressing endings to video games. So what's wrong with the end of Mass Effect 3?

I did some research on endings, and found a pretty universal theory about what makes an ending good: People have no clue.

The closest anyone has come to expressing what a good ending should look like is this: "A good ending should feel both surprising, yet inevitable". That's all well and good, but it's a bit like telling someone, all you need to do to solve this puzzle is be smarter. Thanks for nothing.

So I assert this: The key to great endings is pretty universal. If you look at the most popular story and film endings you will discover a universal trend: rebirth.

Every story has an end. Yet every human being really knows that the ending of one matter is simply the beginning of another. Yesterdays enemies become today's friends. Today's friends are tomorrow's enemies. The tragedy of now, are the seeds of a much brighter tomorrow. The cycle begins again. Rebirth, and the freedom to imagine a new tomorrow.

Great endings: The Sixth Sense, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, The Matrix. Every one of them ends with the promise of something new beginning. Romeo and Juliet ends with the tragedy of romance ending, but with the brilliant rebirth of two families leveraging that tragedy into restoration and reunion. As one thing ends, something new and bright begins. More to the point: the world has the chance to become what it was always supposed to be. That's what makes it inevitable - the fact that this is the brave new world we've been working toward all along. Which is also why the ricocheting redirect/bailout of the third Matrix film does not satisfy. It doesn't bring anything really new - just the end of a great many things. There is no true rebirth--just death.

And what makes it surprising? The cost your characters must pay to get there. There are million things they might have to sacrifice to get to where they're going. A million things that can die. But in the end, there's something inevitable about the new life which comes at the other end.

Rick and Elsa part, but the fight for freedom is born through renewed relationships. Neo dies, but is born again as a hero for those who need one. The Deathstar might be destroyed, but Luke is now on a new path to become a Jedi. As I walk out of the theater, or put down a book, I'm involved as an audience member, my own imagination working like mad, caught up in the story. I am no longer watching - I'm co-creating. I am interacting, and I'm also, on some level creating.

Because - to quote the final line of one of the 20th century's most beloved films - "Tomorrow is another day."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Losing Heart: Overcoming Discouragement

There is a word that writers hate. It’s discouragement.

Actually, writers don’t hate the word they hate the feeling – the doubt, self-doubt, the disappointment, the depression. These 3-D words are as hated as discouragement itself, but seem to accurately sum up the emotion. After all, discouragement is multifaceted.

Doubt & Self-doubt

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing a story the enemy of my soul’s voice drowns out those of my characters. He says, “this story stinks,” “no publisher will ever buy this novel,” and “you think you’re a writer? Ha!” It’s hard to stop listening to the lies and stay positive. Why is it so much easier to believe lies than the truth?

I think in answering that question, one has to ask, “What is the truth?”

If you’re a Christian and believe the Bible, the truth is that if a story is burning in your heart, God put it there. Seek His will for what you’re to do with it. Should it be in book form? Should it be self-published? Should it be posted on the Internet? A blog? Should it be hand-written on a legal pad and read to your child at bedtime? There are lots of possibilities. But we need to be confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

This goes for all our talents and gifts – spiritual ones included. Since every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17), we need to be confident – and not doubt or self-doubt.

Sure, you might think. Easy for me to say. NOT SO! I doubt more than the biblical Thomas! But that only makes me have to trust God more.


Sometimes expectations run higher than reality which causes a letdown. Book-signings, for instance, are a primo source of disappointment for me. Whenever I have a scheduled signing at a store I plot and plan, make brochures, announce it on FaceBook and in emails…and then six people show up. Six very important people, mind you! But when I expected twenty-five, six is a bit disappointing.

In writing, as in life, disappointments occur. We all experience them; however, some of us just feel them deeper than others. That’s where the discouragement comes in, the temptation to say, “Oh, just forget it. It’s not worth it.” It’s sort of the Eeyore syndrome (remember Pooh’s friend?). Always looking on the disappointment side of life.

As Christians, we ought to believe that even life’s disappointments are God’s will. He has a sovereign plan that includes the ups and downs. They all make us who we are and cause us to depend on Him.


When trust and dependence on God get tossed depression can set in. Depression can also be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. If you’ve been depressed for a lengthy time, consult with your physician. We live in a sin-cursed earth and just like people can develop pneumonia from a bad cold virus, people can develop clinical depression. It’s a horrible feeling and an uphill battle for chronic sufferers. 

However, if your depression has developed due to a situation, it might be time to take the bull by the horns and analyze the root of your feelings surrounding it.
Just like the waves are sure to crash against Lake Michigan’s shoreline, trials will certainly come our way. They’re inevitable. The question is how will we handle them?

I can tell you honestly that there are times I’ve wished I handled situations better, with more finesse and grace. Like the time my tenant called and yelled at me because we’d put our duplex up for sale and she didn’t want to move. Instead of being patient and diplomatic, I threw the telephone handset across the room. After having to purchase a new set of cordless phones, I proceeded to mentally beat myself up because I’d reacted badly. Depression set in. Not because of anything my tenant did, but because I’d lost sight of an Almighty God who, even when circumstances seem out of control, rules the world and all things in it (including us human beings). Discouragement followed and I found it difficult to stand my ground – which Christians are allowed to do albeit politely. The Bible says “Be angry and sin not.” Anger is human emotion. But when we start breaking telephones, we’ve crossed the line (pardon the pun)

I’d be lying if I said I’ve conquered the aforementioned 3-Ds. I haven’t, but please…who has? I can tell you that as a published author and certified Christian life coach, I am very well aware of them in my life and in the lives of others.

Recently had a friend announced that she’s giving up writing. After almost thirty books in print, she feels her work is pointless, meaningless because she’s not making much money. She took down her Facebook page and web site and she rarely looks at her emails. Why should she bother?

The opposite, however, is true for this dear friend. She has touched many, many lives with her fiction and nonfiction. It broke my heart to hear the discouragement in her voice when we talked that day. But she couldn’t hear my voice of encouragement over the lies pertaining to her check-less royalty statement.

So who did she trust? Where was her dependence? I respectfully submit to you that it’s not in an Almighty God but in the almighty dollar. Sure, money talks. But we’re not required to always listen.

As for my friend, I hope she’ll reconsider. I’ve been down the same sad road she travels and I know from experience that our God is also the healer of discouraged hearts. For myself, I plan to trust God with my writing ministry and persevere.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How To be Routinely Inspired

Most writers need routines. But we also need inspiration. And those two items couldn't appear more antithetical. Being “routinely inspired” or “inspired by routine” seems about as logical as being “programmed for spontaneity.” The two don't mesh. So how does a writer craft a routine that cultivates inspiration?

Some would say you can't.

Henry Van Dyke wrote, "As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge." Isn't that what artists are about: uncovering "new dimensions of the soul"? However, Van Dyke suggests that when routine "dictate[s] the pattern of living," inspiration suffers. Formulas and systems may work for accountants, but artists require elasticity. You never know when the muse will strike. So the last thing you want to do is force her into "your schedule."

But we need schedules. So isn't it possible to make one that accommodates muses?

Kathryn Lindskoog seems to think so. In her wonderful book, Creative Writing, For People Who Can’t Not Write, she catalogs a plethora of peculiar ways that authors have sought inspiration.

If creativity is partly a matter of having the right brain waves going in the right part of the brain, what can a person do physically to enhance creativity? Many writers and thinkers have come up with ideas of their own. Bosset wrapped his head in furs, Schiller wrote with his feet in ice water and smelled rotten apples, Prouse lined his room with cork and kept the windows shut tight, Turgenev kept his feet in a bucket of hot water, Swinburne isolated himself, Oswald Sitwel wrote best in hotel bedrooms, Thackery wrote best inside the busy Athenaeum Club in London, Voltaire dictated while sitting in bed, Descartes and Rossini created flat in bed, Victor Hugo composed on top of a bus, Samuel Johnson thought best in a moving carriage, Trollope wrote in a train, Thackery and Sothey could get ideas only when holding a pen, Balzac drank poisonous quantities of black coffee, Tennyson got his best ideas in spring and summer, and Einstein got his best ideas while shaving. Woody Allen prefers to write on a bed, with no noise or music to distract him. Agatha Christie said that the best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.

If this collection of oddballs reveals anything it's that inspiration has no blueprint. It's as varied as the people who receive it. Which may be the key to how it is received. Whether it's "doing the dishes," submerging your feet "in ice water," or drinking "poisonous amounts of black coffee," you must find the routine unique to your creative muse. Some like listening to loud music; others want complete silence. Some like sitting in a mall, others prefer being locked in a study. The point is not "what works," but 'what works for you"?

I had a pastor friend tell me about the time he was confronted by a church member regarding his use of sermon notes. "If the Holy Spirit had really inspired you," they objected, "you would not require notes." To which my friend responded, "But the Holy Spirit inspires me when I write my notes."

If inspiration is like lightening, then it strikes randomly, unpredictably. However, this should not prevent us from sending up kites whenever possible. Whether it's A.M. or P.M., indoors or outdoors, seat-of-the pants writing or strict plotting -- get that kite in the air! Like good ol' Ben Franklin, you never know when that string will become a fiery conductor of your next "big idea."

Sure, routines can become ruts. Your challenge is to maintain a writing routine without quenching that creative spark.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's in a Name?

Have you ever thought about the word charisma and what it means? The name of our parent company has many definitions. One interesting thing I discovered is that in a World Book Dictionary from 1960, the word doesn’t even appear. Charism and charismatic are there, but not charisma. It is in more recent dictionaries, and the definitions are as varied as the volumes containing them.

However, one definition is prevalent in all the ones I explored. They all seem to agree that to have charisma is to have a compelling attractiveness or charm, a magnetic personality, and an enthusiastic interest in others.
We speak of certain people who have “charisma” and those are usually people who have a great following or seem to draw people to them. We can think of many celebrities who have that quality and have hordes of fans following them.

In terms of Christian books, I like to think that each one has a rare personal quality that points readers to the knowledge of Jesus’ saving grace and forgiveness. Jesus possessed that magnetism that attracted people to Him as He taught and led others to know Him. He aroused devotion in his followers that was rare in those days.

If we portray that magnetism in our books, we show our readers who Jesus really is and how He works in the lives of our characters. Our characters are flawed, just as all of mankind is, but God works in them to bring about reconciliation and redemption.

No matter if we write historical, suspense, contemporary, romance or fantasy, we want our readers to get the message of a Savior who cares about each one of us no matter what our background.

I like the name Charisma and am so glad to be a part of a publishing company that shows such enthusiasm and interest in their authors as well as their readers. Each of us wants to attract readers for our novels and create a loyalty and devotion that keeps them coming back for more.
As long as we keep our eyes and heart on the One who deserves our own devotion, we will write what He wants us to write, and our books will reach those who need the truth. We want "Just the Right Charisma."

Question: How do we balance our story so that we don’t come off as being “preachy” or as “pushing” our beliefs onto others?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Controversy Sells!

Controversy sells! At least that’s how it seems to me. You know, I look at other authors on facebook/twitter/blogs and I see them go off about the publishing industry, or I see them up in arms over some political thing, or I see them making fun of this religious group or that group without religion, or ranting about any number of hot button topics like gay marriage, abortion, or Republicans. It’s no secret that the Internet is an engine and hate is its fuel. Discontent keeps the engines turning. Controversy sells.

It strikes me that perhaps I’m not controversial enough. I have opinions, sure. Strong ones, even. But I usually keep them to myself or only express them when asked in a setting where we can have polite discourse (a rare creature in the world wide web). I don’t really feel the need to bring out a particular soapbox and shout to my “followers” on a regular basis. Maybe that’s why I don’t have more followers...Hm. It seems people want to follow others who are controversial. Who get out there and stir up the waters and “tell it like it is”--or, at least, “like it is” according to their point of view.

Now that’s not to say I’m wishy-washy. I talk about my Christian faith and I don’t know if you can get much more controversial than walking around saying you’re one of those quacks that really believe the Bible is true and that Jesus is the only--yes, the only--way to get to Heaven. That’s pretty controversial, but not in a good way, I suppose. At least, not as far as sales are concerned.

Perhaps in a rant-filled world where, thanks to the Internet, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a bullhorn to shout out their opinions that we need controversy to stand apart? Is that true? I certainly hope not, or I'm seriously outgunned.

In an effort to keep up with the masses, however, I shall lay out a helping of my own controversial opinions. I am ready now, followers. Flock to me, all ye who are discontent, and rally under my loud voice. Buy my books!

Here we go!

1. I hate cheese. Seriously. I like it on pizza, but not on my sandwich. Every restaurant I go, I order plain hamburgers. No cheese, no ketchup, no mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Plain.

2. I find the color orange to be physically repulsive. I mean, I don’t go fleeing in terror at the sight of it or start smashing things whenever someone brings it up, I just don’t like orange. Not really much for yellow, either come to think of it. Yellow is the ugly cousin of orange, and that’s saying something.

3. I prefer dark chocolate. I used to be all about the milk chocolate, but as I get older, I’ve grown quite fond of dark chocolate. My wife thinks I’m developing a more mature palette. White chocolate is not that great, but it’ll do in a pinch.

4. I bite my nails and I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with it. You’ll never convince me otherwise.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel liberated. Exposed, in fact. I should really do this more often. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by declaring my hatred of cheese... No, wait, I hope you are offended! Yes, I’ve come--not to play nice--but to rock this boat of a cheese-loving world. I’m here to start a revolution. I hate cheese and I’m proud! Who’s with me!!


Ah, well, it was worth a shot. Buy my books, anyway, will ya? That dark chocolate doesn’t pay for itself :p

Is controversy necessary to stand apart? Is it a necessary “weapon” in the arsenal of a young writer looking to make a name for himself?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can Christian Authors Change the World?

I am stick to my stomach!
I am repulsed beyond repulsion!
I cannot believe what I read last week.
Two medical ethicists working with an Australian university have written a post in the Journal of Medical Ethics that if abortion of a fetus is allowable, so should be the termination of a newborn.
That’s right! If you missed your chance to have an abortion, then just have the newborn killed! And, we’re not even talking about throwing babies in the fire to worship Baal!
Here is more of what they said:
“Alberto Giubilini with Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne write that in ‘circumstances occur[ing] after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.’”
They want to change the name of such a “procedure” to “after birth abortion” instead of infanticide because it 

“[emphasizes] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.”
You must read this article NOW at this link:
Why am I making such a big deal, other than the obvious reasons this is INSANE and WRONG?
In the past year I have read blog post after blog post from our own authors here at Charisma and many of their own personal blogs. In these posts we have raised questions of what is the responsibility of authors of Christian fiction? How much of the Christian worldview should we put in our stories? How far do we go to “compromise” the Gospel in our fiction in order to be relevant to non believers who might read out books? Or, should we stay comfortably within our realm of safe Christian fiction readers?
As published Christian authors, we can help to shape and mold public opinion. Writers have for centuries represent the forefront of cultural change mostly for the worse. But, we can do the opposite. We can write blog entries, essays, emails, Tweets, and, yes, stories that champion the kind of values that our culture has lost. We can be salt and light in the world, raising the beacon of Truth to a world steeped in darkness and evil. If we don’t speak up; if we don’t put into words our outrage over such changes in society, then God will hold us accountable for every letter, every word, every paragraph that was put forth for the world to see that failed to raise the light of Jesus Christ.
What do you think? What is our responsibility as writers of stories that champion Truth? What can we do to help reshape a broken culture?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Surprises - Are They Good Or Bad?

A writer's life is full of surprises. Some are good and some not so good.

Signing a book contract usually comes as a surprise, because you or your agent submits your manuscripts a number of places. At first, I expected the publishing house to buy the proposed book each time a submission went out. When a, "I'm sorry. This doesn't fit our current needs" or something like that came, it was a surprise. Not a good one.

I soon learned not to have that kind of expectations. I told the Lord that I would trust Him to choose the publisher He wanted to buy my manuscript. So when a, "No, thank you," email came, I took it to mean that it wasn't God's choice.

Now when I receive an offer of a contract, it is a surprise. A good one.

Sometimes, we get really good reviews. They are good surprises. Sometimes, a reader doesn't understand what you wrote or even didn't like what you wrote. That's a not so good surprise.

I received a totally unexpected good surprise last week. A person who has an active blog where she reviews books follows me on Pinterest. She had pinned the cover of my next book Mary's Blessing on her board with the books she was looking forward to reading. I commented that she might like Maggie's Journey as well. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she had chosen Maggie's Journey for her list of top ten books of 2011.

Sometimes when the royalty statements come, they are good surprises. Other times, they are not so good surprises. But surprises are part of a writer's life, just as much as waiting is a constant in a writer's life.

So I'm thankful for the surprises in my life. Some encourage me. Others help me grow in some way, so I welcome all of them. The good and the not so good.

Have you been having surprises in your life lately?

Have they been good surprises or not so good surprises?

How do you deal with them?

--Lena Nelson Dooley -

Monday, March 5, 2012

Royalty Statements and the Profound Disillusionment That Follows

So I got my royalty statement the other day. I never know exactly why I look so forward to receiving it. Mostly, it's a downer.

I study it thoroughly, pour over the pages trying to decipher the numbers, trying to make some sense of the final statement in the larger context of industry trends and buyer tendencies.

Then I mope around for days wondering why I get up at 4:30 am every day and pour so much of myself into my stories. I contemplate throwing in the towel, finding another outlet for the creative itch that constantly gnaws at my insides.

Then the fear comes. The voice that taunts and says my publisher will disown me forever, cancel the rest of the contract and cast me into the wilderness where all the other once-were writers wander aimlessly mumbling indecipherable prose. I fear my agent will snicker and wish he'd never wasted the time on me.

They're never what I want them to be, the numbers, never enough . . . or so it seems. I have high expectations for myself, for my stories. And reality isn't cooperating.

This time around I turned to a friend to help me make some sense of my disappointment. Another writer, surely he will wallow in self-pity with me. Give company to my misery.

But I was wrong. While he understood and has travelled the same path many times, he pointed me toward the light. He reminded me why I write, why most of us write; he told me ultimately it isn't about the numbers, isn't about the contracts and best-seller lists. It's about Him, writing for God, serving God, and being used of God. It's about plugging on when the road ahead looks bumpy and dim; it's about doing what God has called us to do regardless of the perceived success or not.

Friends are like that. They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They put their arm around you when you need it or give you a swift kick in the seat when you need it.

I've said this many times and in my heart I mean it: If only one person reads my book and is touched by it or moved to change or challenged or encouraged then it has all been worth it.

I still mean that. Sometimes I just need to remind my head what the agenda is.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why I Write Amish

I had a completely different post for today but my heart told me to write something different. My 96 year old grandmother passed away yesterday. I lost my 98 year old grandmother less than five months ago. Both were strong, Christian women. I was very close to both of them as I grew up, and later when we all lived in the Denver metro-area for many years. My children loved going to their homes because they were filled with things they weren’t familiar with, things of the past, heirlooms, and black and white pictures of unsmiling faces who were their ancestors.

It piqued their curiosity, and opened a new world for them to see Grandma Maurine darn a sock or crochet a blanket for them, instead of throw it away or buy one. She was a master story teller, so I told her to write them down. She did and had the stories published to give to each of her seven children. They returned the favor and gathered their memories together, and had the book published for her. I use some of their stories in my books. This grandma was a prankster, who loved a good joke. She played five instruments and was runner up in the Miss Senior Colorado Contest.

In her younger years my Grandma Isal taught in a one room schoolhouse. Later she lived on a ranch and was the best cook, ever! She canned fruit and vegetables, and made fried chicken that put KFC to shame. This was the real deal, going out to the chicken coop and…you can figure out the rest. But the best were the peaches she canned, straight from the Rocky Mountain orchards on the western slope. She also taught the kids to make their own ice cream, which they still say is better than any store bought.

Remembering all of this made me realize all over again why I like writing about the Amish. It takes me back to my grandparent’s ranch, and to the farm by dad grew up on. Riding horses and pretending we were cowgirls or cowboys if my cousins were there. Winters riding in the sleigh, and summers swimming in the river. And there’s no better place to play hide-and-seek than a farm. We worked hard and played hard. I can still hear my grandmother’s talk about the land, and how they joined together as a family every day doing chores. It’s a lifestyle I’m glad I was able to experience. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to create that world in my writing.

Question: What life experiences inspire your writing?