Friday, September 28, 2012


This blog will be short today. Originally it was to be about my conference experiences and the fun we had in Dallas last week, but I saw that Lena is posting that on Monday, so I'll let her tell you all about it. 

One thing is for sure, I learned a lot about what I don’t know concerning marketing and publicity. Now to absorb all the information and try to understand what was said in the workshops I attended. That will most likely take a few weeks.

At the moment, I am in the first editing process with Lori on my latest manuscript. The story is loosely based on my great-grandparents love story after the Civil War. A mixture of real and fictitious towns and areas make up the story, but Lori said they all needed to be real towns. Okay, I could do that. Well, it turns out that is more difficult than I thought.

First I had to find real towns along the route my great-grandfather took from Pt. Lookout Maryland back to Louisiana. Google Maps provided the towns, but then I had to research the town to see if it existed in 1865. If it didn’t, I was back to searching the map for another town. Once I thought the route down to Tennessee was all set, and then in working the miles, I realized they couldn’t have gone that far in the number of days allowed.

Now the time line is involved and the miles they traveled and the terrain of the area played into the equation and had me rethinking the route. Some of the places my great-grandfather had mentioned in letters either no longer existed or didn’t show up on the maps I had. Needless to say, this editing is taking longer than usual.

Had I done the research first and used real towns as I wrote the story and incorporated fictional events in with the real, things would be going a lot smoother. Editing and rewriting and making the story stronger are my favorite part of writing, but this time much more is involved.

Research can be fun, and I enjoy doing it because I’m always learning new things. I just wish I’d used the real towns to begin with and had researched them first. It would have been a lot easier on me and probably on Lori, too.

What is your take on research? Do you enjoy doing it or does it become a chore when the findings don't always match what you want to do in your story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can Writers Make Our World a Better Place? What's Your Perception?

Eric McCormack is currently playing a paranoid schizophrenic in a new crime drama called, Perception. It aired for the first time on Monday, July 9th. I'm hoping that it will make a difference for the many people who suffer with any kind of mental illness. One of my concerns with Dr. Daniel Pierce is that he's not on his medication. Typically not a good thing for anyone with Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia: What You Need To Know According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), "Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects 2.4 million American adults over the age of 18.) You can learn more here about Schizophrenia

However, Daniel Pierce has a buddy, Max Lewicki, that tells him when his hallucinations are legitimate. Most people won't have that luxury.  Often we only see and hear about the awful things that happen when mental illness is not caught and treated. But there are many, many more people living with mental illness, that thrive and contribute to their communities and places of employment. Depression and anxiety are mood disorders that are so common place most people in the general public don't realize that millions struggle with these problems and do so admirably. I call them the quiet courageous.

Family members do the best they can in most situations where someone is mentally ill, but they can't always control their loved ones and suffer right along with them. Perception can have a positive impact if they handle situations appropriately. The show could make progress against the stigma of mental illness and provide education. I hope they don't blow this. I think some viewers think that it may already be too late because of the medication issue, but perhaps that's coming later. I think the story of John Nash and the book and movie, A Beautiful Mind portrayed this illness in an incredible way.

I do think Monk had an impact on making television audiences more aware of what it's like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder. Adrian Monk, played by actor Tony Shalhoub won a few Emmy's and a Golden Globe for his efforts. This type of show makes talking about mental health issues a little easier for the general public and that's important.The more we discuss these illnesses the more hope there is of finding a cure and getting those to treatment that perhaps have been afraid to go. I even found this article on WebMD when Monk aired its 100th episode.

I write historical romance with a heavy mystery/suspense component for several reasons:

1) I love it! It keeps me sane in a world gone bonkers.

2) I want to bring to life the history of mental illness and perhaps how we can continue to learn and grow and understand better how to find a cure for this obstinate and debilitating disease of the mind.

3) I hope the novels I write make a difference to help destroy the stigma of mental illness and encourage others to do likewise. How many people living today can say they've never suffered from at least some mild depression? Sir Winston Churchhill called depression his black dog.

"I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation." - Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

If you think the treatment of mental health has changed tremendously in the last couple hundred years, it has, and it hasn't. Yes, we have more medications that work for some and don't work for others. Yes, we have hospitals but not everyone has insurance and not everyone gets the best care in these facilities. Some are excellent and some not so good. Schizophrenia Survey

So what's your perception on the new show, Perception? Why do you write what you write? Have you ever wished you could change the world? Maybe that's just delusional thinking.

Monday, September 24, 2012

98,017 Words in 26 Days

A few weeks ago I finished the process of writing a 98,000 word manuscript in a month. Four weeks, actually—which means 26 calendar days. Considering the fact that I also took weekends, that means I wrote the entire book in 20 work days. That’s 5,000 words per day. Here are a few things I learned:

Eat Well:
Half the problems I have had as a writer over the years have involved not eating enough, or properly. Over the course of the month I rediscover one very important skill other than writing: cooking. Since I went without income for the month it was extremely important to dine inexpensively—and the best way to do that is to cook for yourself. That part of the experience alone was an extremely important personal discovery.

Sleep Well:
There’s absolutely no way to maintain a schedule of 5k words a day without a decent schedule. That meant getting up at the same time every day (early) and going to bed at a prearranged bedtime. It’s a job, this writing thing, and being late to the office isn’t acceptable.

I Worked At Home:
Nearly everything I’ve ever written I’ve written at coffee shops or libraries, but this book I wrote at home. Frankly, it was helpful to have food handy when I needed it (see above for the importance of that item).

Usually I jump around a lot between musical artists while writing, however, for this particular book I seemed to stick almost entirely to one artist: Michael Giacchino. His music, which won him the academy award for UP proved extremely important. Mostly I drew from his work on Lost, Mission: Impossible 3 and 4, and the score to one of his latest films: John Carter. Strangely, the artistic consistency I had with the music helped me remain rather consistent in my own personal art, as well. And now that I’m editing, I’m discovering that though I’m shifting artists (to account for the tonal shift in my edits) it is still mostly consistent: James Newton Howard.

I Could Have Done More:
Like Oscar Schindler, I find myself saying precisely that: I could have done more. As taxing as 5k a word each day sounds, once you FORCE yourself to do it, everything is easier. Several days, one due to a visiting friend, one due to errands I had no choice in running, I got behind. One at least to separate occasions I had to write 8,000 words in a day to stay on schedule—and you know what? I did. Once you break into the habit of writing 5,000 words daily, 8,000 is just around the corner. Frankly, now that I’ve done it, I realize I could have written 8,000 every single day and not had too many problems.

Good Social Support:
Even though I performed the Herculean feat of busting out that many words for that many consecutive days, I went a little crazy each night. I would lay on the couch giggling like a madman as my roommate stared at mean as if I were precisely that. But I had people who were willing to let me be a little insane. Without them, I never could have gotten anywhere.

It Isn’t Horrible:
Most surprising of all is that the writing is actually pretty good. In fact, it may be one of the best first drafts I’ve ever written. Sure, it needs edits—but every first draft does. But the fact that I wrote it so quickly gave a consistency, continuity, and quality to the work I don’t think I could have accomplished if I’d picked at it for a few months, taking it out only every so often.

Final Thoughts:
It can be done. That’s all. Whoever you are, wanting to write, stop whining, stop lamenting writer’s block, and write. Get over your insecurity, or at least let it be overcome by your work ethic. Miracles do happen—but usually you have to make them happen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Rest of the Story . . .

I am in Nashville, Tennessee for Hutchmoot 2012, one of the most awesome story conferences I’ve ever attended. It meant missing the annual ACFW conference, but it is worth it. My wife and I flew to Chattanooga to spend time with one of our favorite couples before I drove up to Nashville to meet my son for Hutchmoot. I was asked by nearly everyone I met “Where do you get your ideas?” There have been many posts on this but I’d like to share with you three sources for a story that I encountered in the past three days.

Lady Belle

Barbara and Harold are our dear friends living in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. They have a lovely pichon dog named Mattie. My wife, Sherry, often Skypes Barbara while they are playing bridge online and I have heard of the dear, sweet Mattie. But, on our arrival, we discovered another dog had settled onto Barbara’s front porch. She was but a puppy, dark as molasses with a white swath of hair on her chest in the shape of a cross. The dog was a mixture of something and black labrador. She was gorgeous. And, she was without a home.

I instantly began asking myself the questions, “Where did she come from? Was she lost? Were her masters worried sick and looking for her? Or, was she abandoned on a lonely highway in the middle of nowhere left to her own devices?” Barbara called her Lady and later, Lady Belle. Barbara, with the most tender heart I have ever found, allowed Lady Belle to come into her home. She fed her and watered her and even let her sleep in the bed with her. Mattie became intensely jealous.

Lady Belle is easily the sweetest dog I have ever met. And, at one time while I was a young boy living in the country, we had over 26 stray dogs who had settled onto our farm as their home so I have met many dogs. I looked into those dark, sweet eyes and wondered “What will be your fate, sweet puppy? Will you end up at the pound and if so, will someone adopt you?”

I began to form a story around Lady Belle. I concocted her history up until the moment she arrived at Barbara’s house. She had been abused by a man, for she was very skittish around men. And, she was desperate for love and play. She chewed up and ate one of Barbara’s favorite house shoes. And, one day, someone showed up at the front door . . .

A good writer can fill in the rest.

Soccer Boy

The hills around Barbara’s house are very steep and the road is carved into the sinuous route encircling the neighborhood. Sherry and I decided to start walking each evening and we soon met “Mick”, a beginning junior at a nearby high school. Mick walked with a bit of a limp and his left leg was stiff. But, this young man was affable and friendly. He and I struck up a conversation about medicine. He had just undergone knee surgery for a sports injury and was trying to walk off the stiffness. I was stunned to learn he was only three days out from his surgery and he was climbing these daunting hills! Mick played soccer and lamented the fact he was missing out on weeks of soccer play. And, he had recently had a bit of a problem with a girl.

After surviving three rounds on the hilly road, Sherry and I returned to Barbara’s house only to find Mick settled into one of the easy chairs. He stayed for almost two hours, talking and sharing his life. It was refreshing. And, frankly, a bit shocking that this teenager would want to spend an evening with the four of us.

I began to ask myself, “What will he do if his knee doesn’t heal? How will he fair in the near future after the problems with his girlfriend? What will this sudden cessation to his soccer career mean to his future? Will he get a scholarship to a famous university? Or, will he settle for less? Will he become a doctor or some other medical related job? Will he always be this kind and talkative and engaging? Or, will he retreat into himself and become a Goth or an Emo? What will happen to Mick and what will his fate be?”

I began thinking of a story. Of how Mick decided to take Lady Belle home with him as his dog and just as he was walking out the door of Barbara’s house with the dog in tow, a black SUV pulled up into Barbara’s driveway. Mick recoiled in fear as the window rolled down and . . .

Well, a good writer can fill in the rest.

The Receptionist

I drove to Nashville in preparation for Hutchmoot. I left Sherry in Chattanooga with our friends. The next day, I would pick up my son at the airport and we would spend the next four days at Hutchmoot. Okay, so some father and sons go fishing or hunting. Sean and I go to weird and unique conferences and listen to awesome music by Andrew Peterson and Jason Gray and Eric Peters and Andy O’Senga and, well, more on that later in my own blog.

I pulled into the hotel around 230 PM and went to the registration desk. A young man with a shaved head greeted me. His lively gaze never wavered. He was friendly and outgoing and for some reason, very familiar. Had we met? Impossible. I am from Louisiana. This is Tennessee. He took my credit card and gave me the usual instructions. “Breakfast starts at 630 and . . .” He looked up at me. “I know a Hennigan. Are you Bruce Hennigan?”

I looked more closely and recognized the eyes and the voice. “Yes. Where do I know you from?”

“Rome, Georgia. Winshape Retreat. Did you attend the Dynamic Communications Workshop in 2008?”

“Oh, my gosh! You’re Steve. But, you’ve cut off all your hair!”

Steve and I had been in the same group of eight people for three days learning how to communicate effectively in one of the most life changing weeks of my life. Like me, Steve was a Certified Apologetic Instructor with the North American Mission Board under the direction of Mike Licona. I was shocked. I was stunned to meet him here.

We stood there and talked for ten minutes. I had gone on to become a busy apologist (one who defends the Christian faith) with speaking engagements and books. Steve had taken his family to Argentina for three years. Argentina? He had just returned to the Nashville area and was ramping up his apologetic “career”. We needed to talk some more and I told him we would connect during the next few days.

He frowned and shook his head as he asked me about the demise of the CAI program and the changes at NAMB that excluded our mentor, Mike Licona. That was when I began asking myself questions. “What had Steve been doing in Argentina? How had his family adjusted to another country? What kind of challenges had he faced in Argentina? What had prompted him to return to the United States? How was his new challenge going to work out for him?”

I have no idea of Steve’s story. But, I hope to find out more. I am sure his story is rich and powerful and filled with moments of encounters with God I can only begin to imagine. We shook hands and when I turned, a dark, surly man was standing behind me. He took off black sunglasses and his eyes glittered with evil intent.

“Move along, amigo. I have unfinished business with your friend!”

You write the rest of the story!!!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Importance of Consistent Promotion

The Importance of Consistent Promotion
By Darrel Nelson and Rebeca Seitz

I was lamenting to my publicist, Rebeca Seitz of Glass Road Media and Management, the other day about the challenges of getting myself as an author known. I live in a small town in Alberta, Canada, and I still have friends and neighbors come up to me and say, “You’ve had a novel published? I didn’t know.” And that’s in my small hometown! What about people in my county, province/state, country, and continent? What about people in the world in general?
How do we as authors get the word out there about our books? Are the majority of us condemned to labor in relative obscurity?
Rebeca wrote this encouraging response that I would like to pass along. I hope it helps. She said:

Wailing raises the hair at the nape of your neck. Long, low moans produce gooseflesh along your arms. Gnashing of teeth. Pounding of keyboards. Breaking of pencils.
    Yep, it’s tough to be a writer these days.
    It’s also glorious to be a writer these days!
    As the owner of an all-service firm catering to writers of story-driven products, I hear a lot of worrying and fretting from authors. How will they break out from obscurity? With millions of books on the shelves – and more being added all the time – how will anyone know any one, specific book exists?
    Some have tried an initiative here or there. A blog tour. A media campaign. A snazzy new website. Something with Facebook. A radio blitz. They see a blip up in sales for a few days, then back to flatline. Did anything make a difference? Is there a way to truly catch the attention of the market and hold it?
    There is a magic bullet. A mystery known by many but practiced only by a select few authors. A piece of wisdom that, when applied, breeds contentment and – more often than not – increased sales.
    No, you do not have to call an 800 number or send me four easy payments of $19.99 to learn it. I’ll share it right now, right here, on Darrel’s blog. Ready?
    Consistent production and promotion.
    Seems too simple, doesn’t it? Way, way too easy. Just keep doing the same thing? Keep plugging away? Where’s the gusto in that? The glory? The triumph of achieving the summit?
    I’ve been in the publishing and entertainment industries a long time. Launched more authors than you can shake a stick at (it’s a Southernism, stay with me). The majority of those are now bestsellers and/or award winners.
    Please go back and read the last three words of the first sentence in the paragraph above.
    Write them down.
    Tape them to your keyboard/desk/screen.
    Those three words are why the majority of them are bestsellers and/or award winners. They stuck with it for a long time. With each book’s release, they did a bit more promotion, a tad more research for the story, a little better writing. The work of each previous title built upon itself.
    I tell authors often, “Do not determine success or failure after book one. Do not assess whether you should keep doing this when book one hits the shelf. Don’t decide if you really can secure a fan base a year after book one has been on the shelf. Don’t use book two for assessment, either. By book three’s release, you might, possibly, maybe, perhaps have enough information to decide what works and what doesn’t with regard to promoting your specific genre and writing style. Do those things for the next two books, while remaining open to new initiatives as well. By book five, you know if you should keep doing this.”
    Consistent production.
    It’s not sexy.
    Not flashy.
    Won’t make you feel all famous and special.
    But it will get the job done.
    Each book’s promotion builds on the last one. With the release of Title One, you begin to make a name for yourself by visiting book clubs, calling/visiting libraries, and posting on Facebook about the process of being published (and pestering your friends and family to death so they know you’re serious about this). With the release of Title Two, you have a bigger audience to whom you can speak. Friends of those pestered friends and family members have responded to Title One, so you let them know – along with the audience from Title One’s promo campaign – about the release of Title Two. Title Three benefits from the larger audience built by Title Two. And so on.
    By Title Five, you have a basic, solid fan base that no longer needs persuaded to buy your titles. They simply need to be informed when a new title releases. They’ll buy it if they know it exists. Now, they need to be persuaded to tell others.
    The thing a bestselling author has that a first-time author does not: a large audience who likes his/her stories and does not need to be persuaded to buy new ones or tell other people about the stories.  
    So, dear early authors reading this post, take heart. You can do this. Don’t hang everything on book one or year one. Let the pressure roll off your back. Being a successful author requires long-term approach, commitment, and perspective.
    Keep producing and promoting consistently.
    You’ll see results in the end.

Rebeca Seitz is President of Glass Road Media and Management, which provides promotion, production, and management services to storytellers. Learn more at

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creating Characters, Part 1

Creating fictional characters is just as much about what you do away from the computer as what you do at the computer.

First, let's get one thing straight. When it comes to stories, characters rule. Above everything else. Plot. Setting. Pacing. Mood. Forget it, characters are what make a story and keep a reader turning pages. If you can convince a reader (hopefully) in the first chapter that the characters in the story are real people then you've got her hooked for the rest of the story. Readers want to know what happens to a character more than they want to know what happens in a plot. Readers want to be engaged, they want to feel connected to a character. They want to vicariously live that character's life.

If you can accomplish this as a writer than you've done your job. Well done. And the reader will keep coming back for more.

Second, what I do off the page has a direct correlation to how I create on the page. Meaning this: to craft believable characters on page I have to become a people watcher off page. I spend a lot of time studying my subjects (people). Wherever I go I observe. I take note of the way people dress, their gait, posture, body language, what they do with their hands. If they're conscious of others around them or in their own little world. I watch how they interact with others, listen to their conversations, pick up on their  non-verbal communication.

Here's a fun article about microexpressions, or the subtle non-verbal hints someone gives to how they're truly feeling.

I work in and around Gettysburg, PA and in the summer there're lots of people milling around the town, the sidewalks, in and out of stores, restaurants, crossing streets, wandering the battlefields. I like to drive real slow through town and just watch humanity pass by. Every day is an education in human nature for me.

Also, and very importantly, when I interact with people I'm constantly paying attention to the subtleties of their behavior. Do they appear nervous? Are they distracted? Engaged? Bored? What do they do with their hands? How are they standing/sitting? I listen to their word choices, their vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure. I pick up on anything I can and file it away for later use.

Thirdly, I love talking to people, hearing their stories, their experiences, their opinions, anything and everything. The more you listen, the more you learn about that person, and more you learn the more you'll understand them as a total individual. I ask lots of questions and try to probe as deep as I can. I don't want to just know that a person is upset about the latest political news, I want to know why he is upset, how he thinks it affects him or his family.

Try it. The next time you're out in public really pay attention the people around you, watch them, study them, learn from them.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Lazy

Cincinnati, Ohio
It can't be Labor Day yet. Where did the summer go? Since I'm going to be incredibly lazy today I thought I'd share the history of Labor Day at one of my favorite hangouts, Did you know?  "Until Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, laborers who chose to participate in parades had to forfeit a day's wages?" Americans worked way too hard in those days just to get the basics and that included children going to work too.

Today many of us continue to work hard to make ends meet. We're putting children through college or trying to help them the best we can, we have adult children returning home because they can't find jobs, we have outstanding medical debt because the healthcare system has been broken for a long time, and many have lost their homes and their jobs in these dark economic times. But life has never been easy in my opinion. We labor every day and we frequently labor through the Sabbath. It's my faith in God that makes life bearable and my hope in the scriptures that helps me put one foot in front of the other each day.

I'm a full time social worker employed as a counselor for nursing students and I'm a writer  working under contract;  two jobs. Yet I'm blessed, I love my jobs and they are both careers for a lifetime. We may be working hard but Americans have always worked hard. I encourage you to examine how you labor, how you rest and to energize through the power of rest on the Sabbath for your body, mind, and spirit.

I plan on spending a wonderful day with my family this Labor Day and I'm sure fireworks will be in the picture. This is also a day when I look back over the summer months, wonder how they flew by so quickly and what was an enjoyable memory. This year I think it was traveling to see my extended family in Pennsylvania with my 87 year-old mom in the car with us. We enjoyed our family and our favorite place to eat pizza.

How about you? Have any fun this summer? What's your plans for Labor Day?