Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top 10 Ways NOT to Improve Your Writing

10) Don't use a thesaurus. Go ahead and say "season" twenty times on one page.

9) Overuse the semicolon; it's such a cute little punctuation mark; and gets so little respect.

8) Always put the period outside the quotation marks.

7) Use cute little "catch phrases" and be sure to place quotation marks around them so the reader "gets" it.

6) Devote your first five chapters to your main character's history. Don't get to the action til the reader has completely lost interest.

5) Write like you text, using hip abbreviations like omg and lol, and be sure to end each sentence with lots of exclamation points!!!!!

4) Writing long and drawn-out sentences will surely entice the reader and lead him into the story by preventing him from lifting his eyes from the page, something that would divert his attention from the intense scene being played out before him and would thus alert him to the fact that he hasn't eaten in several hours or had a drop to drink since he awoke that morning; hence, such weakness may incite hallucinations that cause him to wonder if the characters about whom he is reading are truly fictional or if they are indeed living, breathing people stalking him, hovering over his shoulder, about to throw him from the train.

3) Reciting lofty words and abstract thoughts will educate your reader and require him to utilize a nearby dictionary and encyclopedia.

2) Give your characters unique names that are impossible to pronounce.


1) Be sure to take excessive pride in every word you write, knowing each first draft is a certain masterpiece in need of no editing.

Follow these 10 simple guidelines, and you will definitely NOT improve your writing. In 2010, may God grant you discernment to avoid these fatal flaws, and may you receive lots of acceptance letters!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Once Upon a Midnight Clear

Once upon a midnight clear, Village Jester came out to cheer. “Hip hip hooray!” was his chant and all who heard came to join in the rant. He whooped and he called and he jumped about ‘til his hat it flew off and then went kersplat. A puddle as big as Superior be. He dove right in with giggles and glee. Townsmen frowned; their wives harrumphed. Their kids snicker doodled, their bedtimes trumped. Above flew a fowl who dropped “gifts” aloft. Village Jester smirked, thanked it, and took off.

For who should observe but a Round Little Elf with ears slightly pointed and chin like a shelf. He rolled down the street, bellowed, “Hullaboo,” rubbed his nose with a kerchief and sneezed, “A-a-choo!” A fright to the townsmen, Round Elf he did give. They shuffled their wives and their children inside. One imp turned around and to him gave a wink. Round Elf he did certain not know what to think. He stood, made a wish, then flashed a big grin, kicked up his heels and twirled shenanigans.

Be it Christmas Eve, the people all clamored. “Let’s get us some shuteye not dance,” they demanded. But children aroused from their beds Christmas Eve do not quickly return to dream happily. Visions of sugarplums dashed by disruption. No rest will suffice. “We want gifts!” sprang eruption. So out to the tree in the square they did go. Village Jester and Round Elf trounced through the snow. Glistening boughs sprinkled twinkles and sleigh bells did jingle while laughter and merriment funny bones tingled.

What fun had they all! ‘Twas a grand frolic squall. Each bid a farewell, heeded reverie’s call. Afar in the night, one lone star pierced the sky, bidding dreamers, “Tata!” and a sweet lullaby.

This is what happened when, after years of being stifled, my fiction muse was let loose! I sat at the keyboard one evening to get creative gears cranking. After an hour, I’d written one paragraph. Giving up, I closed out that document and was about to shut down the computer when line 1 above popped into my head. I thought, “That’s cute. Wonder where it will go.” So I started typing and this “Dr. Seuss Meets ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem appeared. Sometimes I just never know where my writing will go, but it sure is fun to follow!

I hope each and every one of you has a blessed Christmas, rejoicing in celebration of our Savior’s birth. And to my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukah!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Homeless Man in Holy Socks

I drove my usual route to work that gloomy Tuesday morning in January. It was 42 degrees, misty, and foggy in Dallas. I was nearing my office, a mile or so away. I drove under the overpass and approached a red light. Along the sidewalk strode a man about forty, in need of a shave, slender, carrying a small duffel bag. Nothing intimidating about him. He did not appear threatening. He just walked. But it was 42 degrees and he wore only a flannel shirt, jeans, and flip-flops with socks. If you can call them socks. They were more like holes held together with string.

I, a young, petite female, was alone in my car and afraid to offer a ride. I had maybe fifty cents in my wallet. I wondered what I could give him. I considered making a u-turn and running in to the convenience store to purchase something, anything to warm him, but feared he’d be gone before I returned. Just days before, I’d had a packing blanket in the trunk of my car. If only I hadn’t stored it away. All I had to offer was a prayer for his safety and comfort.

When I arrived at my office, I asked if anyone else had seen him. Though most had entered from the same direction at about the same time, they had not. I peered down to the street from my sixth floor window. I could see quite a distance, but the only people around were other workers scurrying in from the cold. Where had he gone? When I went out at lunch, I searched street corners. Surely, a homeless man in holey socks would be panhandling. There were no shelters in the area. He was gone!

A Colin Raye song played in my mind. “What if Jesus came back like that?” the song asks. “Where would He find our hearts are at? Would we let Him in or turn our backs? What if Jesus came back like that?” I had turned my back! The stranger was in need, and I had not assisted him in any way. I was unprepared.

When I returned home that evening, I packed the blanket back in my trunk. Then I took a brand new pair of my husband’s socks from his drawer and tucked them under the front passenger seat of my car. There those socks remained for five years.

I drove that same route to work every day, and each morning I hoped to see the man along the sidewalk. I prayed for him, that his circumstances had improved, and if I saw him again, I’d be prepared to clothe the King (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV).

The man didn’t ask for help. He appeared en route somewhere. He didn’t stop and glare at me and guilt me into rendering aid. I doubt he noticed me pass him by for his glance was directed at his steps. Though he did not physically get into my car, he has journeyed with me through the past ten years. I’ve often thought of the homeless man in holy socks and wondered what became of him, or if he was even real.

This angel appeared to me to remind me, “There will always be poor people in the land,” and to instruct me, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11, NIV).

I’ve seen other homeless people on street corners, under bridges. One woman approached me in a parking lot some time after this incident. She held a bird in a cage and wanted bus fare to get home. I’d just come out of a fast-food eatery. I gave her all my change, close to $20. We were beside a liquor store. Who knows if I helped or hindered her. I did my part. I gave when I perceived a need. What she did with it was her responsibility. I just didn’t want her to walk the thread right out of her socks.

This post originally appeared at Godz Anglz. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let's remember to BE Jesus to the world.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Can anyone tell me why some of the blogs I follow (on the sidebar) look like they haven't been updated in months when they indeed have been? Is it something I need to fix here, or is it a Google issue?


Monday, December 7, 2009

Don't Turn It Off!

I’ve read in many publications, “Turn off the internal editor when writing,” but is that really helpful? Is it even possible? Maybe better advice would be not to shut it off completely but to let it nap.

I learned Saturday that squelching my mental critique partner may be hazardous to my health—or to my sleep. That day, I left a personal comment on a friend’s blog. That night, somewhere around 3:00 a.m., my internal editor crashed my dream and nagged my unconscious about wrong word usage. Word usage, the nightmare! I had written “reign” to mean “rein” on a public forum and humiliated myself in front of hundreds of potential readers (or at least of the fifteen other commenters). I obsessed over that error til morning light.

To aim for perfection in my writing I must allow the internal editor to function. That’s what keeps my stories straight, characters coordinated, and words wise. Without that regulator, I end up with a sloppy first draft that needs a lot of cleanup. If I keep my writing in check along the way, I save myself time and effort in revisions.

I think it’s safe to let the copy editor doze off. You know, the one who checks spelling and punctuation. It’s ok to hit its snooze alarm, but keep the content editor awake. I know I rest more peacefully when I do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review of Ted Dekker's Green

Perhaps I chose the wrong book as my first Ted Dekker read. Green, “the beginning and the end” of Dekker’s Circle series, is both a continuation of and an introduction to the good versus evil saga begun in Black. Although Dekker claims Green is a fine place to begin reading the Circle series, I found it difficult to plunge into.

I am not typically a fan of fantasy literature, and maybe that’s what hindered my reading, but I did find Green to be a superb allegory. The events of Green take place in two worlds simultaneously which are linked by one man, Thomas Hunter. In Black, Hunter, raised in the present age, crosses into a parallel dimension, a post-apocalyptic earth 2000 years in the future, where civilization exists much like it did in ancient times, depending on the strength of man and horse in battle and living off God’s provision. In this future world, good and evil are physical. What is unseen and spiritual of the present age is seen and tangible in the future world.

Black, Red, and White cover Hunter’s years in the future world, during which time he marries, raises a family, and fights evil. He leads the Circle, the representation of Christians who follow the ways of Elyon (God) and are literally washed by his blood, against the Hoard, the representation of those who reject salvation and worship evil.

A scabbing disease marks each Hoard member. It is discovered in Green that the disease is more than skin deep. It resides in the brain of its hosts and is a living, destructive reproduction of evil, or the literal and physical effects of sin.

Circle members are referred to as albino because they lack the scabs. They were once affected, but chose to drown in Elyon’s lake, the water turned red by his blood. They literally died to themselves and were born to salvation by accepting Elyon’s cleansing gift.

Over time, doubt has crept into the Circle, and the people can no longer see nor touch the spiritual forces surrounding them. They had been so confident in and reliant on Elyon, “But the realities of life cast doubt on that interpretation” (Dekker 150). The musing of Thomas' son, Samuel, “Absolute good and evil were nothing more than constructs fashioned by humans who needed to understand and order their everyday lives” (Dekker 150), is reflective of the way people question the need for salvation today.

Thomas sums up that need in his conversation with Kara and Monique. He says, “Yes, we die. But it’s life really, because Elyon paid that price so we can escape it.” The women question what the price is for, to which Thomas replies, “The cost of our embracing evil—death. Elyon cannot live with evil; it must die” (Dekker 199).

My one real disappointment was the ending. I understand why it ends as it does, so the Circle will continue. However, it would have been much more satisfying (to me) to end with a final defeat of evil and the redemption of the faithful. You know, a happy ending. As it is, everyone in the Circle but Thomas and Samuel go on to eternity with Elyon, while Thomas goes back in time in hope of saving his son, thus, leading us into Black.

As Thomas tells Mikil after Samuel joins the half-breeds, “There’s much [I] don’t understand.” A second (or third or fourth) reading might fill in the blanks I missed, but I will probably not see the whole picture until I read the complete series. Isn’t that ironic? I won’t see the whole picture of my own life either until its circle is complete. For now, though, I concur with the Roush, “I understand what I’m meant to understand” (Dekker 157).

I recommend reading Green, but only after reading Black, Red, and White. I believe it would be helpful to read the Paradise trilogy and the Lost Books series beforehand also.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Know When to Let Go

I sat down at my keyboard, closed my eyes, and traveled back in time twelve years. As I recorded my initial symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) for my friend Kelly's RAWarrior blog, little "oh!" moments kept popping up. Now, as I've mentioned here before, I am a minimalist at heart, and I usually struggle to get enough words on the page. This time, however, words gushed forth. My typing couldn't keep up with my memories. My friend had asked for two pages; I ended up with five.

I read and revised and cleaned up my contribution and sent the email flying through cyberspace. I apologized to my friend for the excessive length and told her I'd be happy to cut. She said, "No, no! It's fine as is."

A couple days later, Kelly questioned something I'd said about a particular medication. When I adjusted that section, I corrected a few other things and added an entire statement about a symptom I'd forgotten. I then sent her Version 2.0. A day or so later, I realized I hadn't attached my photo, so off it went. Today it dawned on me I'd forgotten to mention an RA related health issue I experienced in high school, and I hadn't even touched on stressors and triggers.

Writing is intimidating. As a writer, I expose my very soul when I put words on a page. I offer my most personal thoughts and expressions up for the judgment of strangers. I want the best of my best presented to minimize negative response, so I could edit and revise my work to infinity. There must be a point at which I say, "The End," and release it from my grasp, though.

As I have had to come to terms with my ailments and release what control I thought I had over this body, I also, as a writer, must let my words go. I can write and edit and rewrite many times over, but when each piece is ready, I must set my words free to accomplish their own work.

My RA onset story is indeed complete. Though I am tempted to continue revisions, it is out of my hands. I've released it and set it free to do its own good work. It is finished. The End. I pray that my experience, posted here (scroll down to second story), will benefit others who are blessed with chronic illness, and I pray that the lessons I've learned as a writer may benefit those who read this blog.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


God has chosen and appointed you, you who have been called to write. However, Satan is a master at distraction, deceiving us with false urgencies and hindering our obedience. When we sit down to write, he whispers thoughts in our ears like, "Check out what @soandso just tweeted," or "Shouldn't you be cleaning the toilets?"

God desires us to work for Him. He needs us to work for Him, to go out into the world and represent Him. Whether we write mainstream fiction or daily devotionals, we need to "work at it with all [our hearts], as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23). When we commit our ways to Him, He helps us resist the devil. James 4:7 reminds us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. He will be unable to distract us or prevent us from doing God's will.

Go sit down and write. Produce fruit out of your obedience to the Father's calling. "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed" (Proverbs 16:3).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Consider Others

Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, recommended I reconnect with a friend I hadn’t heard from in quite some time. It turns out my friend’s family had recently experienced some tough times. When she thanked me for my prayers, her comment caught me off guard. She said, “It’s not often we’re missed.”

My heart broke for my friend, not just because of her difficult circumstances, but because she seemed to be alone in her struggles. I was reminded of Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” We can do that with our writing. Not every word we write is meant for thousands to read. Sometimes our words may be directed to an audience of one.

Last week, four of my friends heeded God’s nudge to minister to me. None of them knew my particular needs, but God did. I hadn’t asked for help. On the surface, I didn’t appear to need help, but the Lord knew what weighed on my heart. Two friends emailed me and two sent messages through Facebook—through written words. God spoke to these ladies and they listened, and they looked to the interests of others, of me.

Remember others. Don’t let anyone slip through the cracks. Be receptive to God’s whispers and hear broken hearts crying out. Let loved ones know when they are missed and reach out to them. A personal note may make all the difference.

Thank you to my dear friends, Suzanne, Pam, Carol Beth, and Lynn. You brought me encouragement, restoration, hope, and healing when I myself didn’t realize I needed it. I am eternally grateful for your compassion and truly blessed by your friendships. Thanks for looking not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others, of me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Magic Words

Manners matter. I’m reminded of a Barney® song that instructs, “Please and thank you, they’re the magic words.” Although we learn these things as children, sometimes we forget to practice them as adults.

Email and social media have led us to a certain sense of comfort with strangers. I, for one, have developed several friendships on Twitter and Facebook, and even by email, with people I have never seen face-to-face, and may never meet. While it’s ok to chat with them in those forums in abbreviated text lingo, it is not ok to address agents and editors in like manner in query letters.

Remember that your correspondence with prospective publishers is a business transaction. You wouldn’t send a resume to Microsoft (or a bank, or an engineering firm, or a church office, or wherever) written in IM speak, would you? Don’t be so informal with submissions either. After all, you’re hoping to get a job with your query, right?

DO address the recipient by name (preferably preceded by Mr. or Mrs.). Present a professional request, and be sure to offer gratitude for his or her consideration. Use a standard font and plain white paper. Winking smileys are alright online, but you won’t receive one back if you include it here. Instead, it will transform into a frown as it lands upside down in the agent’s garbage bin. And always, always, always sign your complete name and make sure your contact information is correct. If the agent/editor wants to see more, you want to be sure they can reach you!

Please remember to be professional. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mary DeMuth's A Slow Burn

Author Mary DeMuth’s A Slow Burn (Zondervan, 2009) presents quality literature that appeals to the masses. In this second installment of the Defiance Texas Trilogy, the reader assumes Emory Chance’s burdens and becomes the mother of a murdered child, a mother consumed by the guilt of love ungiven, of hope neglected, of shame unyielding.

When Emory was a child, her mama warned her the crossed lifelines on her palms destined her to heartache and misfortune. Drug abuse, adultery, and neglect of her daughter, Daisy, brought that prediction to fruition, engulfing Emory in pain and suffering. Believing God created her to fail, Emory tells Ousie Pepper, “I’m really only good at messing things up.”

With Daisy’s killer stalking Emory, lurking in the shadows, she trusts no one, especially not God. In Emory’s opinion, God is weak. He couldn’t protect her little girl from evil. Why expect Him to deliver her? One man, Hixon Jones, a man “more like Jesus than anyone,” accepted God’s charge to protect Emory. Having wrestled with life’s afflictions, Hixon knows firsthand her need for redemption and persistently reaches out to Emory, despite her resistance.

The reader transforms along with Emory Chance and emerges a bit charred but renewed, together receiving a final prayer, “Dear, dear Jesus, Author of everything beautiful, Thank you for changing her, for making her a woman who loves you again...Oh, how I pray that every single day, Emory would know she’s treasured.” As Emory considers the message, she knows she’ll “spend her life living up to outrageous love like that.”

Mary DeMuth is a master at her craft, and A Slow Burn is a must read! Her books are available on her website or at retailers like Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, or Barnes & Noble.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stop. Breathe.

It’s a beautiful September afternoon, cool by Texas standards. A misty drizzle spritzes the window while I relax in the recliner and listen to my children’s laughter. When what to my wandering eye should appear, but a miniature sleigh and…Oops! I guess I got too relaxed for a moment.

It’s a rare occurrence these days to have time to daydream. I’m a freelance writer and editor, but I also homeschool my children. School has resumed, as has all the busy-ness that accompanies the season. We have classes, music lessons, dance rehearsals, ball games, church events, and sleepovers. Not to mention deadlines, doctor appointments, Bible studies, and holidays. Complicate matters with each family member’s unique frustration level and nerves can quickly fry.

My daughter tends to be overly dramatic. Why, just today she threw a fit at Academy Sports & Outdoors because she did not get a soccer ball like the one her brother has. Even with Mom and Dad’s assurance of, “Maybe you’ll get one for your birthday,” she insisted she never gets anything she wants and whined and moaned all the way home.

My husband was tempted to react. He sternly reprimanded her a couple times, but then remembered to stop and breathe. Acknowledging her tantrum rewarded her and encouraged her to continue, whereas stopping to breathe allowed Daddy to maintain self-control and assert his authority more effectively.

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) advises, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The enemy prides himself on the inevitable disasters that loom over the most carefully organized schedules and the conflicts that lurk on every page of the calendar.

And so each day, when you sit down to write and havoc threatens peaceful productivity: Stop. Breathe. Such restraint improves discipline, both the discipline of our labor and the discipline of daily structure. It curbs anxiety and allows God to order our days. By practicing self-control, we resist our enemy the devil and he flees from us, freeing us to go about our busy-ness in a civilized manner.

The clouds have given way to the setting sun, weaving hues of lavender and azure amid soft pink billows…A Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night! Sorry! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Practice Being Scared

Fear. In its grasp, a victim is paralyzed, bound by deception, held captive by miscues. Fear prohibits success, which is probably why it’s a common motivational theme these days. A recent Guideposts article by Phil Keoghan of TV’s “Amazing Race” suggests practicing being scared to overcome angst. He says the more we face fears, the easier it is to handle life’s challenges. Habitually taking on the things that scare us enables us to squelch fears as they flare.

Does writing scare you? A blank computer screen intimidates. What about query letters? Must word them just right. Book proposals drain more energy from an author than writing an actual book! Does the writer’s conference meet-the-editor (or agent) appointment tremble the boots off your feet?

Practice being scared. Open a new journal and record your day. Ask a trusted friend to pose as an editor, then submit an inquiry to him or her. Prepare a detailed outline of a book you’ve read. Use Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals that Sell as a guide. Ask your “editor” friend for a mock interview. Set timers, write without correcting errors, let a peer read a first draft, and practice being scared. Watch yourself escape anxiety’s grip.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fatal Illusions Book Review

A disillusioned counselee, Stacey James, shot Pastor Marc Thayer in his Chicago home, leaving him for dead and implying an affair. Media deluge forces the wounded pastor and his family on sabbatical, sending them to a remote, historic lighthouse on the coast of Lake Superior. When Stacey is found strangled on their Michigan property, Marc is the prime suspect.

Several convenient coincidences pull detective Chuck Riley out of retirement. Back on the case, he unravels ties of this murder to a string of deaths in the Cincinnati Magician Murders. Are the events mere happenstance, or are they God’s providence?

Interwoven throughout Adam Blumer’s debut novel, Fatal Illusions (Kregel, 2009), is a story of forgiveness, letting go, and following God’s lead. Marc Thayer unshackles himself from his mega-church ministry and embraces the small community. His wife, Gillian, begins to accept the loss of her newborn twins while liberating herself of unfounded guilt and learning to trust her husband again. Even the antagonist approaches catharsis.

My only disappointment with this otherwise well-written and suspenseful novel is that the “real” story doesn’t begin until about a third of the way through the book. The author devoted a lot of time on setup in the early chapters, and I found it difficult to sort out the numerous characters and viewpoints in the beginning. However, I was duly rewarded for my persistence.

I enjoyed Fatal Illusions, but I don’t recommend reading it while sitting in a dark house alone at night!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Offense Calls a Timeout

So I was watching a college football game with my husband tonight, and I realized the sport has something I want: the ability to stop time. Granted, the officials don’t actually prevent seconds from ticking away, but they do halt progress of the game periodically. Someone blows a whistle and the teams retreat to the sidelines to rethink their strategies.

I want to stop time.

Imagine how handy that would be. I’d never have to do revisions! Ugly first drafts would be a thing of the past, because I could stop the clock and rethink my strategy as I go along. And writer’s block simply wouldn’t exist. I’d just hit pause until play resumes in my head. Every deadline would be met early and stress would melt away. I’d score a lot more points with publishers.

If only I could stop time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Review of God's Little Princess Devotional Bible

God’s Little Princess Devotional Bible (Tommy Nelson, 2006), written by Sheila Walsh, is a wonderful story book for young girls. Sheila utilizes the International Children’s Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1999) to communicate God’s Word in easy-to-understand terms. Special features that accompany each Scripture passage are fun and interactive, from mini-plays to songs to what-would-you-do-if thought provoking scenarios. Sheila even offers beauty tips to young ladies, advising her readers to adorn their hearts with the love of God and, “Then ask God to help you grow up to become the special woman he wants you to be” (Walsh, 113).

I would have written this review much sooner, but my daughter insisted we read through the book three times. We initially read God’s Little Princess Devotional Bible at bedtime but quickly discovered it piqued my daughter’s interest, awakened her creativity, and invigorated her inquisition rather than quieting her spirit. My little princess has learned much about the King from this book and is pleading, “Read it again!” as I type. I encourage all parents of little girls to devote time to study this book with their own daughters.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Opportunity for Good Exposure

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner, of WordServe Literary in Denver, Colorado, has offered an excellent opportunity for unknown writers. Here's what she said about it in yesterday's post:
I am taking auditions for guest posts from YOU, my faithful blog readers. I need about ten guest posts from readers to provide me with one per week for the rest of this year. (I already have some lined up from clients.) So the "prize" for this challenge is getting your post on my blog. Maybe not a huge prize, but hey, I'm getting more than 10,000 page loads per week so it's not bad exposure for you.

So how do you go about auditioning? Put your query writing techniques to practice by posting a 100-word comment on her "A Blog Challenge for You" entry. PITCH your guest post idea. DO NOT write the whole post and do not email her the post. Auditions will close at 11:59 p.m. ET on September 4th.

IF yours is chosen, you will be asked to write an entry of 500 to 800 words with a 1-2 sentence bio that includes links to your websites/blogs and a photo of yourself. Rachelle, of course, reserves the right to edit your final post.

Good luck!

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Chat with Author Susan K. Marlow

Susan K. Marlow is the author of the Circle C Adventures, a six-book series of historical fiction for middle-grade readers and up, about “horses, adventure, and the Old West.” Susan never planned to be a writer, though. As a child, she wrote stories to entertain her little sister, but dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, poor eyesight prohibited her from shooting for the stars, so she turned her sights to the sea as a marine biologist. After one scuba-diving venture, Susan realized she didn’t like that much water between her and the surface. She then decided to follow her parents’ advice to become a teacher. She taught in Christian schools before homeschooling her own children. Susan’s natural enjoyment of writing stories, however, pursued her into adulthood. At the urging of friends, Susan submitted Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home to publishers. The book eventually found a home with Kregel Publications and came out in 2005. Now that her kids are grown, Susan teaches writing workshops for kids, speaks to school children about creative writing, and helps homeschool her grandchildren.

Although we’ve yet to meet face-to-face, I consider Susan a very dear friend. She has mentored me about editing, prompted me to establish Aim for Perfection Editing, and answered my myriad of questions regarding the publishing process. We are both homeschoolers, too, and Susan has blessed me with much encouragement in that area as well. She’s a treasure!

Q: Susan, your website bio says you started writing stories when you were about ten years old. What did you do with those stories?
A: I saved some of them, but most I threw away when I “grew up” and entered high school. I consider that to be one of my more foolish decisions. I wish I’d kept them. I do have one outer space story, The Stars Know the Way, hand-copied into a blank, hardbound book my grandfather found in the town dump and gave me (this was in the days before easy-to-buy journals).

Q: Did your parents or teachers encourage you to pursue creative writing?
A: My parents did not. Neither did my teachers. I believe that in order to be encouraged in your writing you have to SHARE your writing. I did not. I was too shy. My little sister read them and loved them, but I didn’t offer them to my parents for feedback. And…I would have died a thousand deaths before letting a teacher read them.

Q: What kinds of stories did you write about when you were a kid?
A: Outer space stories mostly. My fourth-grade teacher introduced me to astronomy and I was hooked. My first story was Up to Mars. I can’t remember what it was about. Other outer space stories included Stowaway to the Red Planet, Marra’s Promise, The Stars Know the Way, and Once Around the Galaxy (unfinished). I started a mystery story once, but couldn’t think of a good mystery. I also wrote Castaway Island (this one has been typed into my blog “Suzy’s Stories” if you want a good laugh). As a teen, I wrote Star Trek stories (being a diehard, first-generation Trekkie). The difference with my Star Trek stories is that I included kids in the stories. Always. I’m just a kid at heart, myself.

Q: The Andrea Carter (Circle C Adventures) books are set in 1880s California. Do you have a passion for that particular time period?
A: I love the Old West, but the 1880 date was chosen because I wanted my stories set near the Sierra Nevada range. The closest place I could find was Fresno, and it wasn’t founded until 1872. So I chose the date based on the town. I also chose California because it was considered the Old West but it was also sophisticated (San Francisco). This gave me options of ranch settings and city settings.

Q: What inspired the creation of 12-year-old Andrea (“Andi”)?
A: Along with Star Trek and other outer space shows, I loved to watch old western TV shows. As a kid and young teen during the 60s, I felt the shows would be greatly improved if they included a kid or two as a regular (which they never did). So I made up my own “kid” characters. And I of course made Andi in my “own image”—who I would have wanted to be! J

Q: Do any of Andi’s adventures stem from your own experiences?
A: Not usually. But I’ve drawn on real people to get my imagination going. For example, the Mexican immigrant family with whom Andi stays with in Long Ride Home is loosely based on friends I made while teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to the Hispanic community. The surprise of discovering an unknown older sister who returns home with her three little children in Family Secret came about from a story a friend told me. Her son left home at 15 and never came back or contacted them since. Their daughter, 15 years younger, has never met him. I added the twist that Andi had never even been told about her older, runaway sister. I imagined what it must feel like to be betrayed in this manner and how she might learn to forgive and accept new family members. In Trouble with Treasure, the idea of keeping a rattlesnake’s rattle as a souvenir was sparked by an incident when I was on a trail ride. We met up with a rattlesnake. The guide cut off the rattle and I kept it—blood and all—in the pocket of my white jeans (I still have it).

Q: Not only are you an accomplished author, but you are also a veteran homeschooler. Was Andi homeschooled?
A: No. Although homeschooling was the norm during Colonial days, by 1880 most children went to school. I think Andi wishes she were homeschooled. She doesn’t like sitting still in school for so long, sometimes with a mean, strict schoolmaster (Dangerous Decision).

Q: Were your kids school-aged when you wrote the first book?
A: My older kids were teens and not interested in what I was writing. My little kids were preschoolers. My youngest was 13 when the first book finally was published. Although he’s too old to enjoy the books now, he did agree to be “Cory” (Andi’s friend) for a cover possibility. So the boy on the cover of the new book, Trouble with Treasure, is my son Ryan at age 14 (he’s 18 now).

Q: Was it required reading for them?
A: I read Long Ride Home and Dangerous Decision to my little boys when they grew older, before I submitted the stories. And the kids at my homeschool co-op enjoyed them later on, still before publication. I never even thought about publishing them at that time!

Q: You currently teach your grandkids certain subjects. Are the Circle C books on their reading list?
A: I taught my younger grandsons to read last fall, using the ABCs of ACE. The Circle C books are beyond their reading level. My oldest grandson, Nathan (age 10), has not only read (and loved) books 1-4, but has also read the manuscript versions of books 5 and 6. He likes book 5 best. (Rattlesnakes, gold-panning, bank robbers, guns, and mountain lions. What’s not to like?)

Q: Tell me about your writing workbook.
A: Reach for the Stars is a writing workbook geared for homeschoolers. The easiest way to describe it is to give you the blurb:
“This 144-page workbook for budding young authors includes sections on creating characters, how to “show –don’t tell” their feelings, beginnings that “hook” the reader, creating scenes, plotting stories, and much more! Students can work at their own pace and on their own. Reach for the Stars also works great in homeschool co-ops and in classrooms. Includes a parent/teacher guide with hints for expanding the lessons. Grades 3-8.”

Q: Is it part of your grandchildren’s curriculum?
A: Yes! I’m giving a copy of the book to my daughter for Nathan. Writing is so important, but so many homeschoolers don’t feel up to the challenge. I offered to look at his work. The writing workbook is a good way to introduce writing in a fun way, and little or no parent-directed teaching is needed.

Q: Where can the workbook be purchased?
A: Either from the publisher, Media Angels, from The Old Schoolhouse Store, or from my website. Kids can also sign up for a free writing E-zine that offers writing prompts for kids and hints and helps for parents.

Q: So, what’s next for Andrea?
A: With the series nearing completion, I’m not really sure. There’s always the possibility that the publisher will decide to continue the series at a later date.

Q: As this series comes to a close, do you have new characters entertaining your imagination?
What can we hope to see from you in the future?

A: Although the Circle C Adventures for older kids is closing, Kregel has accepted my idea to write a series for younger readers (ages 6-8), based on the characters from the older series. I’ve tentatively called it The Adventures of Andi and Taffy (Taffy is Andi’s horse), and the first and third books are written. These are early chapter books, which usually include a grade 2 reading level and black and white illustrations in each chapter. I’m having a lot of fun coming up with these.

Jodi: Thank you so much for sharing with us, Susan! We look forward to Andi’s next adventure!
Susan: It was great chatting with you. I loved your questions. Thank you!

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure is due out in February 2010. The sixth and final installment, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth is scheduled for release in September 2010. To read more about Susan and her Circle C Adventures books, check out her website. You can also join the Circle C Adventure Fan Club on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wavy Lines

Hemingway’s endearingly tragic infatuation with the sea was unavoidable given the parallels of its ebbs and flows with those of the writing process. I spent all of last week at the beach and I developed a similar consuming respect.

Every day the water was different. One day, it was calm and soothing. The following day, jellyfish swarmed. The next, clear waves chopped. Our final day, rough storms threatened. I was cut by seashells, burned by the sun’s rays, stung by slimy, floating globs of “jelly”, and chased by tiny translucent crabs. I shared a mom’s panic and prayers for her lost little boy and crumbled in tears of relief when he was found. I watched lightning spark the night sky and stars twinkle from afar. I was lulled to sleep by the steady breakers and laughed at by the gulls.

Every day that I write is different too. One day, everything flows easily and coherently. The following day, nothing makes sense. The next, choppy but fun! And, of course, some days are dark and dreary. Rejections have wounded my spirit. They cut, burn, sting, and pinch. I’ve panicked and prayed over frustrations and wept with joy of discovery. Every now and then, inspiration strikes with great electricity and incites my creative energy. At those moments, my production sparkles. Acceptance letters arrive, relieving my jitters, releasing my tension with a giggle.

After several days of yielding to the surf, my body adjusted to the habit, anticipating the next surge. I’d find myself swaying with the waves of the sea when I was standing on dry land. And so it is with writing, a cohesive oscillation with nature, that in the end leaves me both exhausted and exhilarated.

Monday, August 3, 2009

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

Unable to sleep one night, I randomly opened my Bible to the book of Obadiah. I was startled! The book begins, “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised” (Ob. 1:2). The entire book is devoted to destruction and doom. I thought, “Lord, what are you trying to tell me?”

I read on. The third verse justifies the contention, “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’” (Ob. 1:3) To those whose hearts are so haughty they think they’re immune to opposition, God promises, “Though you soar like the eagles and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (Ob. 1:4).

I received the message as a warning. As a writer, I long for recognition. I like to hear, “Nice article! Great post! Touching message today!” Quite frankly, I am thrilled to see my name in print. It tells me someone valued my words enough to share them with others. It validates my efforts.

I must take care, though, to avoid the snare of hubris, of excessive pride. I must always recognize the source of my inspiration and give credit to the One who assigned me this task. I must always humble myself before the Lord, lest I meet destruction. And whatever I do, I must work at it with all my heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Col. 3:23).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some Days the Fish, Some the Bait

“‘Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:19). If He’d told them they’d be the bait, would they so quickly have bitten the hook? It’s easier to tell someone about Jesus with words than it is to live out faith. It’s a lot easier to stand in front of a large crowd and speak than it is to lose an infant daughter, suffer disease, watch your mother die, and proclaim your love for the Lord while maintaining your hope in Him. It’s way harder to smile through pain than to say, “Jesus died for you.” Bait. When you can be the answer to the question of how a loving God allows bad things to happen, you’re the bait.

When men cast lures into the water, they can’t see the fish. They can’t see the fish. When you’re in the midst of a trial, you’re often too submerged in murky misery to see what you’re fishing for. In those times, pray God will remove the cloudy me-ness and make apparent those who are missing His message. Find them in their hiding places, like the bass among the branches. They’re often hard to spot through the fog of, “I’m fine,” but they hunger for healing that only Jesus can provide. Sometimes living out faith is the only way to catch and relieve a desperate soul.

Gently reel if you feel a tug. Offer sincerity, or you’ll break the line. Reveal God’s provision. Be the bait, meet the fish’s need, and you will demonstrate that God works all things for the benefit of those who love Him and allow His control.

May your writing be crystal clear like the Carribbean, and may it not hurt to be the bait.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't Tease Me!

I'm reading a very wordy book right now. It has a compelling message that needs to be expressed and received, but the author is extremely wordy. This particular 300-page book could more effectively be presented in 200 pages. That's not really what bothers me about the book, though. What annoys me is the tease.

At least once per chapter, the author says something to this effect, "I'll cover that topic in a later chapter." Grrr! I can't stand when writers make those statements. It's as if they're afraid the reader is going to put the book down and not pick it back up unless he's informed of what's coming next. Well, that's what the table of contents and back cover summaries are for. They let readers know everything that's discussed between the book's covers.

Don't tell me what's coming next! Write your material well, and it will naturally transition into what's coming next. Trust me, your reader, to keep reading. I will receive your message.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Christian Writer's Conference in Dallas

If you're in the Dallas/North Texas area, I'd like to let you know about an upcoming Christian Writer's Conference. For only $50 (if registered by July 19, $60 after that), you can attend an all-day conference hosted by Roaring Lambs Ministries. The event will be held at Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House on Beltline Road in Addison, Texas, on Saturday, July 25. Cost includes lunch and materials!

Speakers are Dr. Gene Getz, Mary DeMuth, Karol Ladd, Jody Capehart, Allison Bottke, and more. Don't miss out! Register now at See you there!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oh, the Semicolon!

Strunk and White’s “Elementary Rules of Usage” rule #5 (Do not join independent clauses by a comma) states, “If two or more independent clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.”

How many of you apply this rule correctly?

I read an entertaining blog post today at The Blood Red Pencil. The author calls the semicolon her new love and encourages its use. Ugh! No, no, no! While the semicolon is a valid piece of grammar, and proper usage of it can produce powerful prose, overuse and misuse of this miniscule mark more often than not result in sloppy structure.

Too often writers use a semicolon to “fancy up” their manuscripts. Maybe they get bored with commas, or perhaps they think periods are too finite. The semicolon is delicate. It signals a pause to the reader; it says stop here a bit longer than a comma, but not as permanently as a period. It provides a brief break or a subtle change in thought without taking the reader in a completely new direction. It’s like taking a breath.

Semicolons should be used sparingly. Sometimes adverbs like however, therefore, or besides follow a semicolon to begin the second clause, but never, ever, ever follow a semicolon with a conjunction. My advice? When in doubt, terminate the first clause with a period and begin a new sentence.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Email Funnies

Creative Puns for Educated Minds (Received in an email - author unknown)

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

3. She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, "You stay here, I'll go on a head."

14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then, it hit me.

15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, "Keep off the Grass."

16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, "No change yet."

17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

18. It's not that the man did not know how to juggle, he just didn't have the balls to do it.

19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

20. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

21. A backward poet writes inverse.

22. In democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your count that votes.

23. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

24. Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Do You Need to Edit Your Life?

Recently a friend of mine asked my advice regarding her 15-year-old daughter and the concept of Christianity. Unfortunately, my friend's daughter thinks like the majority of people in the world. They think that "being a good person" is good enough. It's not. Sure, the 10 commandments are a good starting place, but can anyone truly abide by them? No. Maybe you're not a murderer, but have you thought, "I wish he were dead!" in your mind? You're guilty. Maybe you don't worship Allah (the god of Islam), but have you ever given anything in life a higher priority than God (money, relationship, job, fun, etc.)? You're guilty. And don't even try to tell me you've never lied.

If you've committed one sin, your penalty is death--eternal separation from God--eternity in hell. Hell is a real place. It is cut off from God. It is the absence of love. There is no compassion. There is no relief. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is grief. There is torture. Think of the worst thing you've ever seen or heard of on earth--it's worse and endless. Satan is a real person/creature.

Romans 3:23 tells us that we're all guilty, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23 tells us the cost of that sin, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." But here's the relief, Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Are you familiar with John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life." This is all you have to do, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

Is that so hard? For a lot of people it is. They don't think it's necessary. To them, I pose this question: What if you're wrong? If you're (the unbeliever/doubter) right, then it's all for nothing. None of this matters. But what if you're wrong? What if everything I just said in that last paragraph is right? What if you miss out? What will it hurt you to believe me? If you're right, you've lost nothing. But if I'm right, and if you reject salvation, you lose forever.

Is it time to edit your life? Do your beliefs need revision? Don't delay. Your next breath is not guaranteed. Get your life's rewrite done NOW!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Too Be or Not Too Be

Too be or not too be? That is the question without a definite answer.

Not long ago, I advised in a post that commas are no longer required to set apart the word "too" in a sentence. Little did I know pointing out this issue would spark much controversy.

Most publishers prefer to follow the style rules established in The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Well, CMOS does not address this matter directly. It does, however, provide some clarity in the online Q&A at Their answer simply states that commas are not necessary with the word "too" unless the sentence does not make sense without them. They say "it puts too much pressure on the comma" to give the minute punctuation mark the great responsibility of thought clarity. Hello? Isn't that the purpose of the comma in every instance?

My formal advice would be to check the style guidelines of your target publisher. If they want commas, use them. If they don't, don't. Whatever you do, though, be consistent! I doubt the appearance or absence of a comma will be the deciding factor for a publisher's acceptance or rejection. Present your best work and let the writing speak for itself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: The Great Eight, by Scott Hamilton (with Ken Baker)

I recently signed up to be a book review blogger at Thomas Nelson Publishing, Periodically, I will review a selection here on the Aim for Perfection Editing blog. Not every text will apply to the topics of writing or editing, but I hope to help you glean some insight about the writing process from the books I review.

My first choice was The Great Eight, by internationally renowned figure skater Scott Hamilton (with Ken Baker). I ordered this book with my mom in mind. We both enjoyed his skating and his cheerful, upbeat attitude. Mom would call me whenever she noticed a Scott Hamilton television performance in the TV program. Whatever my mood, to see Scott flipping or running across the ice flashing that big grin, would perk me up in no time. His happiness was contagious.

Well, this book arrived in my mailbox the day my mother passed away. Ironically, Scott’s theme is “How to be Happy (even when you have every reason to be miserable)”. Plunged into misery, I set the book aside for a few weeks to finish a Kathi Macias book and to read Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. I didn’t really feel like reading a book on happiness.

As I read The Great Eight, I wasn’t real impressed with the writing style. It’s a bit redundant, doesn’t flow chronologically, and is all over the place with point-of-view. As much as I love Scott Hamilton’s bubbly personality and vivacious skating, I must admit I was bored by the book. Until, that is, I realized the message is valid and the advice pertinent. The chapter titles sum up Scott’s happiness strategy: Fall, Get Up, and Land Your First Jumps; Trust Your Almighty Coach; Make Your Losses Your Wins; Keep the Ice Clear; Think Positive, Laugh, and Smile Like Kristi Yamaguchi; Win by Going Last; Learn a New Routine; and Stand in the Spotlight.

Scott explains that we will not find true happiness until we accept our God-given flaws and reminds us that how we deal with our experiences defines our character. We can choose to let life smother us, or we can choose to let our experiences enhance our lives and provide opportunity for growth. Despite what I would consider relatively weak writing, The Great Eight effectively inspires readers to follow Scott’s “great eight” principles, to take charge of their circumstances and commit to goals, so they too may find lasting happiness.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Words are Marred

I am marred. I am flawed. My body is imperfect and ailing, but it is still useful to the Master who created it. God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house to receive the Lord’s message. He saw the potter working the wheel, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (Jer. 18:4).

I am malleable, pliable. Perhaps I thought I was meant to be a flower pot, but the Lord determined I’d make a better water vessel. “’Can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand’” (Jer. 18:6). He created me, and He can make of me whatever He wishes. He can build me up and tear me down over and over again until I reach perfection. I am His vision. He knows what He needs me to be. Sometimes I need to be reshaped in order to carry out His plan.

We writers shape words not clay, but sometimes our creations need to be smushed, spun, swirled, and shaped into an entirely new production. Sometimes an article or a chapter that looked like a flower pot might actually work better as a water vessel. Can we not do with our writing as the potter does with the clay?

Sometimes what we write is marred and flawed, but words are malleable and pliable. Don’t be afraid to form your work into a different pot, shaping it as seems best.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jesus, Get Him

Ok, friends. I'm bored with these editing posts. Don't panic! It's just that I'm not a very talkative person, so I find it difficult to say very much on a specific editing topic like, say, commas, that hasn't already been covered at length in Chicago Manual of Style or The Elements of Style or any of the numerous grammar books out there. I plan to continue to provide valuable information, like how it is no longer necessary to offset the word "too" with commas. However, I also want to provide you a better grasp of the grand scheme of things and writing's proper placement in our busyness.

The purpose of the comma is to clarify a statement. When placed correctly, the comma brings understanding of a thought. If you want to "quote a phrase", the comma is placed outside the quotation marks. However, if you say, "I already knew that," then the comma belongs inside the quotation marks.

Likewise, the correct placement of Jesus provides clarity to our lives. He should always, ALWAYS be placed inside our hearts! When He's left outside, we find ourselves in confusion. Nothing makes sense. We struggle to complete a thought and our days jumble into frustration. But when Jesus lives within us, oh what a difference! Our days are "numbered aright" (Psalm 90:12), as schedules fall right into place. Our direction is clear, heavenbound. Our purpose is revealed, to bring glory to the Father and to lead others to Him.

While we may not understand everything life hands us, after all, our thoughts are not His thoughts (Isaiah 55:8), accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and inviting His Holy Spirit to live within us allows us to "get wisdom, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:5).

Have you misplaced the Savior of your life? Study God's style book, His Word, the Bible, and you'll find out just where He belongs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beauty Perseveres

Driving down a very busy road today, I caught a flash of pale pink along the curb. I expected to see litter, a piece of trash carelessly discarded. But, a second glance revealed something rare. A group of wildflowers in full bloom sprouted from a seam in the pavement. What a wonderful surprise to find beauty in the gutter!

The written word can amaze in a similar manner. I don't know about yours, but my first drafts look more like sewage than botany. Spelling errors, typos, grammar guffaws, and thought hiccups litter many a manuscript in the early stages. Don't be too quick to ditch them, though.

Always take a second glance at your writing. Of course, correct mistakes, but can any apparent blunder transform into splendor? Carefully consider every word when revising. Beauty can persevere!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Temporary Blog Delay

Dear Friends,

My mother unexpectedly passed away late Saturday night. I am taking a few days away from the blog, but will have a new post for you as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, I covet your prayers!

Thank you,

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Minimalist Revival

In the early part of the 20th century, the Minimalist Movement marked a certain style of art and literature (poetry). I think I'd have been a successful minimalist, because I'm very good at cutting and reducing, being efficient with the written word.

Minimalist style involved not only the use of the fewest words possible, but the most succinct application of imagery imaginable. I love this example:
"Missing" by George Swede

I think perhaps it is time to revive the Minimalist Movement. At least keep it in mind when you write query letters and pitch agents and editors, because in those moments, you'll need to be able to summarize your entire work in one sentence. You will need to be efficient with words and succinct with presentation. You'll want to produce a poetic image in the mind of your audience that makes them yearn for what you haven't said - the rest of the story.

In an Ezra Pound essay on his "In a Station of the Metro", he says, "A Chinaman said long ago that if a man can’t say what he has to say in twelve lines he had better keep quiet." Choose your words wisely.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Ever feel like this guy? I have...many times...recently. Maybe the stormy Texas weather was clouding my brain, but every time I sat down to type today, nothing came to mind. So I ran errands, went to a doctor appointment, did laundry, all those things I normally do when I'm intentionally avoiding rewrites. (You know, when you do things that are much more fun, like cleaning toilets and taking out the garbage.)

I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and changes in the weather can sometimes trigger a flare. Apparently, spikes and plummets in barometric pressure can also aggravate old phobias, especially the fear of facing the blank computer screen. Insecurity and self-abasement sometimes accompany this affliction, but don't worry! These can easily be overcome.

Look up Choose a topic that ignites your creativity. Set a timer for 15 minutes, sit down at the keyboard, and write till the thunder booms, I mean, till the buzzer dings. Don't take time to correct grammar or perfect punctuation. Just roll with whatever pours from your imagination. When time's up, sit back and take a deep breath.

Hey, what's that? Huh! The sun's piercing through the clouds!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christian Book Expo 2009

I had a fabulous time yesterday at the Christian Book Expo! Over 200 authors were present, as well as publishers, agents, and other industry professionals. I attended with a friend of mine, a published author, who so generously introduced me to all of her friends. (Thanks, Brenna!) See me & "Mama T"? Thelma Wells is such a joyful soul!

Brenna and I listened in on a panel discussion on the topic of Heaven and Hell and participated in various workshops. I also met my favorite author, Max Lucado, and got my photo taken with him! I was a bit starstruck, but also honored to meet so many people who are such willing servants of Christ.

If you're in the Dallas area, you've got one more chance to attend this fabulous event, as it ends tomorrow. Check out for details.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Word Harmony

My husband is American - born and bred – and he loves his country. But, he doesn’t love our language. There are simply too many spelling variations. English, the American version especially, is a montage of many voices, harmonizing Latin, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and many others, in a multicultural symphony of the nationalities that form this nation.

The beauty of this unique language, though, often creates editing cacophony. Let me borrow Terry Whalin’s example from his Book Proposals that Sell. Compare these two syntactically correct sentences:
The read book was red.
The red book was read.

Both sentences make sense, but each has a different meaning. Which does the author intend? Most word processing programs contain a spellchecking device. Don’t rely on it! Sure, it may catch some errors, but it does not know what the author has in mind.

Audio perceptions are more sensitive than visual – the ear hears what the eye overlooks. My fingers sometimes tend to be dyslexic when I type. So, occasionally, I may spell a word correctly, but not the word I meant to type. The spellchecker misses it, because it is technically not an error. Only when I read my piece aloud will I catch the mistake. Always be sure to read your work orally before making final edits and listen for a sweet melody.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Refined Like Silver

The first draft is the easiest part of the writing process. You have something to say, you set your fingers on the keyboard, and you let them fly. However, unless you are the very rare perfectionist, or if your words come directly from God Himself, that first draft is bound to be a big, sloppy mess. A once-over reveals misplaced thoughts, missing pieces, and grammar errors. Time to edit.

Rewrites and revisions require gruelling work. It's like digging tunnels with a toothpick! You must scour your writing sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Pick it apart. Try to separate yourself from your story. Read it as if you've never seen it before. Read it aloud and listen for confusing areas. Note sentences that are too wordy or that trip your tongue. Be aware of misplaced modifiers.

The revision process may be hard work, but it is vital to producing quality work. A writer I know is personally acquainted with inspirational author and speaker Thelma Wells and received an email announcement for Mrs. Wells' current seminar tour. One statement read, "Do you want to win those battles against your husband and your children?" Whoa! What editor missed that? Is this a power-mom-family-bashing-smackdown? My friend alerted Mrs. Wells to the misleading phrase, and a rewrite was done immediately!

Another friend despises rewrites. She loathes them so much she even refuses to say the word. She prefers to call the process "refining". That is a very appropriate term. To be most effective, writing needs to be "like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6). Leave the dross behind and present a polished masterpiece.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Today's Quick Tip

A member of my writers' group asked a great question. Sheila is working on a series of articles and wants them to have a certain tone. She asked, "How do I keep it casual and conversational without sounding uneducated?"

My friend will have to walk a fine line here, because she needs to present her material in a way her readers will readily accept, but she doesn't want to offend anyone by writing at a level that belittles them. She'd also like a little humor thrown into the mix.

Sheila can accomplish her goal by following the advice of an old college professor of mine. He said it's ok to break the rules [of grammar] as long as you know the rules you're breaking. When you break a grammar rule intentionally, and consistently break the same rule throughout the piece, it makes sense. The writing, then, is not full of mistakes. Rather, it flows beautifully and is connected, because you know what you're doing.

Sheila will not appear uneducated by mixing it up a bit. On the contrary, if her writing is cohesive, she will be very effective.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Proofreading is a Dying Art

What better way to begin a new blog than with a bit of humor!

I received the following in an email. These headlines left me ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing). I hope it brings you some stress relief, too.

Proofreading is a dying art, would you say?

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
It took the editor 2-3 readings before he realized this is impossible! They ran a correction the next day.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
No, really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that's taking things a bit far!

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
No-good-for-nothing so-and-so's!

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
See if that works any better than a fair trial.

War Dims Hope for Peace
I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Who would have thought!

Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
You mean there's something stronger than duct tape? Oklahoma's new construction program!

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
He probably IS the battery charge!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
That's what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Do they taste like chicken????

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sue by 7 Foot Doctors
Boy, are they tall!

And the winner is...
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Did I read that right?

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Thursday, January 1, 2009


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This sums it up ;)

This sums it up ;)