Friday, December 31, 2010

Reverse Retail Psychology

So you've decided to take the plunge and ask her to marry you. You're pretty sure you know what you're doing. You're at the diamond store for the engagement ring and you're ready to make your purchase. Before you bite the bullet, you go to the washroom for one last gut-check.

And there you see this:

Hat-tip to Cory Doctorow.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is Psychology at Odds with Christian Writers' Beliefs?

This week, AC is pleased to share with you a guest post by Carolyn Kaufman. Carolyn’s first book for writers, The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior, is now available on Amazon. You can visit Carolyn’s WGTP website for more information, including a detailed table of contents. Follow her on Facebook, visit her YouTube channel, check out her Psychology Today blog, visit her on the QueryTracker blog, or send her your psychology and writing question at Archetype Writing, her website on psychology for writers.

Is Psychology at Odds with Christian Writers' Beliefs?

As the author of a new book that debunks myths and misconceptions about psychology for writers, I’ve had the privilege of exploring some of the most common inaccuracies with writers on various blogs. These include things like the belief that schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are the same thing (they’re not) and that modern “electroshock” therapy is barbaric and painful (It’s not – you not only don’t have convulsions as part of the modern treatment, you’re also not awake). Here on AuthorCulture, however, I thought it might be fun to talk a bit about a misconception I occasionally run into but am not always welcome to address.

Here’s the misconception: that psychology and Christianity are fundamentally at odds with one another, and that Christians need to be wary of psychology and the people who are trained therein. In some cases, the concern is so strong that Christian writers are wary of guides to psychology like mine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s never a good idea to accept everyone and everything under a certain umbrella (including “psychology”) carte blanche – we have to look at the fruit a tree bears. (And just as in any other profession, there’s some rotten fruit out there.) But it’s also frustrating to see people and websites that misrepresent what psychology in general is all about. In most cases, the individual who’s arguing against psychology has seized one (typically inaccurate or outdated) facet of the field and then proceeded to claim that all psychology promotes the same thing.

For example, Andrew Wommack argues that psychology says we are all products of our environment, and then claims this is incompatible with Scripture because it exempts us from personal responsibility. In fact, there is no theorist in psychology who says we are purely products of our environments, including the radical behaviorist BF Skinner. Wommack goes on to say that the Bible says our thoughts make us who we are, and that psychology does not agree with this. At which point I have a massive *facepalm* moment, because one of the most influential movements in psychology (cognitive-behavioral theory) is all about how important and influential our thoughts are! “Taking responsibility for our actions is the big difference between true Christianity and psychology,” Womack goes on. “Psychology has influenced our society to such a degree that no one is held accountable for their actions.” But that’s not true, either. Existential and Gestalt psychology in particular argue that we must all be responsible for our choices. Cognitive behaviorists, too, argue that the way we think about things affects our behaviors – and we can choose to think about things rationally and realistically, rather than irrationally. In other words, we can choose truth over untruth.

Some more radical Christians argue that there is no such thing as mental illness, only spiritual illness that God must heal. While there may indeed be a spiritual component to mental illness (and in some cases the illness may be primarily spiritual), every day we learn more about how incredibly biological many mental illnesses are. Schizophrenia, for example, seems to be caused at least in part by an oversensitivity of the brain to a chemical our bodies produce called dopamine. Many of the medications for schizophrenia–those called antipsychotics–reduce the amount of dopamine in the brain and thereby reduce the symptoms of the disorder, often helping the person live a more normal life. Does that mean that medication is the only answer? Absolutely not. Research demonstrates that medication alone almost inevitably leads to relapse. Getting the family involved in treatment, as well as re-teaching the individual how to function in society, are just as crucial as the medication. Dealing with spiritual concerns will also make an enormous difference in whether or not someone continues to improve.

I invite those who are wary of psychology to see it as a tool for understanding, appreciating, and helping people (and characters!). I encourage them to seek out psychology resources that have a strong Biblical basis–for example, try writers like Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. Frank Minirth, and Dr. Paul Meier. If you’re interested in learning how the biggest psychological theories match up with Scripture, I highly recommend Jones and Butman’s Modern Psychotherapies. I don’t necessarily agree with everything these writers say (just as I don’t agree with everything psychology says), and you may not either. Pray about it if you’re unsure.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to double-check what you think you know about psychology for your stories. (And since the whole purpose of my Writer’s Guide to Psychology is to debunk myths, I think that’s a great place to start!) Even writers like Ted Dekker, who has a strong Christian background and publishes with a Christian imprint, makes mistakes based on outdated assumptions. In his novel Thr3e, Dekker portrays a psychiatrist as a clueless, money-grubbing jerk, and contrasts him with a spiritual leader who can seemingly do no wrong.

I don’t know why I do it, Doctor, [says the main character, Kevin] but I think the strangest things at the oddest times.

So do all men, Kevin…. [responds the doc] You’re just a man finding his way in a mad world gone madder, madder, madder hatter. We’ll break that down next session if you drop another check in the pay box there. Two hundred this time. My kids need…
Here’s the mistake Dekker made: psychologists and psychiatrists don’t make the kind of money most people assume they do.

Again, there are bad eggs in any profession (personally, I'd be concerned if my therapist started talking about Mad Hatters during my sessions!), but people who want to be rich don’t last as therapists—it’s a tough job, and you can make a lot more money for the same amount of effort in other industries. (To read a detailed explanation of why this is so, check out my discussion on the topic over on Archetype Writing.)

So are psychology and Christianity fundamentally at odds with one another? I don’t think so! In fact, I think that psychology–real psychology, not the stuff of myths and misconceptions—is a way for us to better understand the way God made us. You may also find it to be a helpful tool in your writerly arsenal!

Stay tuned in the next few months for a review of Carolyn’s new book The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Resource Roundup: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style

Enjoy this month’s roundup of sites designed to help you perfect the finer points of grammar, punctuation, and style.

Better Writing Skills: Writing tips about ampersands, punctuation, character spacing, apostrophes, semicolons, and commas.

English Style Guide: Contains various hints on how to use metaphors, punctuation, figures, hyphens, etc.

40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation: Covers the parts of speech, punctuation, and spelling.

Grammar Girl: Short, friendly tips and memory tricks make complex grammar questions simple.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing: An older site that still offers useful info on word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and essay and research paper development.

How to Use English Punctuation Correctly: A useful crash course in English punctuation.

HyperGrammar: Take an extensive grammar course (via the ‘Net) from the University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre.

Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style: An assortment of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage.

Paradigm Online Writing Assistant: Explains common grammar mistakes, basic punctuation, basic sentence concepts, etc.

Writer’s Block: Cover abbreviations, capitalization, numbers, punctuation, word usage, and writing styles.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Interview With Cathy West - ACFW Beyond the Borders Zone Director

     Hi Cathy and Welcome to AuthorCulture. Tell us a little about yourself and how you fell in love with writing.

Thanks, Lynnette, thanks for having me! Well, let’s see – I was born and raised on the beautiful island of Bermuda, went to school here as well as in England for a couple of years and finally Canada, where I graduation from The University of Toronto with a BA in English. My husband, a pediatrician, is Canadian so we lived there for a few years, but moved back to Bermuda once our two children were born. Canada is way too cold for me! It’s a wonderful place to raise kids and is much like living in a small community. Our children are now college-aged, so life is looking a lot different for me now.

I’ve always loved to write. I can’t really remember a defining moment where I decided I was going to be a writer. I think I just knew I was one. I wrote my first romance ‘novel’ when I was in tenth grade. It read kind of like a soap opera, but my friends loved it! Thankfully I’ve improved since then!

     You are an ACFW zone leader. What is ACFW?

ACFW stands for American Christian Fiction Writers. I can’t say enough about this amazing group of people. About ten years ago I decided I would focus on writing for the Inspirational market. I’d joined Romance Writers of America, and their Faith Hope and Love Chapter, but I’d never heard of ACFW. I stumbled across them one day online, and realized I’d found a home.

Being on a small island can sometimes be isolating – I wasn’t a part of a writer’s group here or anything – I really didn’t know what I was doing at all. ACFW provided me with the necessary tools and education I needed to move ahead with my writing, as well as giving me some amazing mentors and critique partners, friends for life! ACFW holds a conference once a year as well, which is a great time of teaching and fellowship. For anyone interested, you can learn more about ACFW at

     How did you become the Beyond the Borders zone leader?

I blame Ane Mulligan. J Well, actually, it’s my fault. The organization is set up into Zones, so when you join, you’ll be filtered into the Zone closest to where you live. Some Zones have a lot of members and actually meet in person. Others function through online communication. Not living in the United States, I couldn’t be put into a Zone. I knew that there were many members like me, who lived in other parts of the world, so I suggested we create a Zone for overseas members, thus Beyond the Borders was born, and I was asked to be the Zone leader. You know they say be careful what you pray for…no, seriously, it’s been wonderful to see this group grow. We’re currently going strong with over sixty members living all around the world!

      Has being a leader of that zone taught you anything about writing? If so, what?

Not specifically about writing, but more about the beauty of being connected through what we do. It doesn’t matter where we live, we’re all after the same goal – to bring glory to God through the gifts He’s given us, which in our case, would be our writing.

     I see that you are represented by agent Rachelle Gardner. I always love to hear stories of how authors got connected with their agent or publisher. Tell us, what brought you together with Ms. Gardner?

Actually, blogging! Back in 2006, I started reading Rachelle’s blog. At that time it was mostly a personal blog. We had a lot in common, and we struck up an online friendship. She was working as a freelance editor for various publishing houses and also had her own editing company. We didn’t really talk writing until I got an idea for a new story, about a female journalist who goes to Vietnam to report on the war. I asked Rachelle’s opinion and she gave me some great feedback. Once that story was completed, she asked if I would send it to her. I had no idea why she wanted to see it, but shortly afterward she told me she was about to launch a new career, as a literary agent with Wordserve Literary Agency. And a few months later, she offered representation.

      Have your goals and writing changed since signing with an agent? Are you more focused? Dedicated?

Goodness, I’d love to say yes, but…! I’m a very disorganized person. However, once I’m working on a story, and it’s going well, there’s no stopping me. My goal was always to become a published author, so that hasn’t changed. And I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder either! J

 I’ve always been open to criticism, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to improve my writing. Having an agent has helped give me the confidence in myself that I think I lacked prior to having Rachelle in my corner. We’ve been able to define who I am as an author, which genre I should focus on and that sort of thing. It’s great to have someone to work all that out with. Rachelle has also been great about giving generous amounts of time to the editing process. Because of her editorial background, I’ve learned so much from her already. I realize not all agents do this, so I feel very fortunate in that regard.

      Recently you sold a book to OakTara Publishing. Can you tell us a little about it?

Yes! I’m still so excited, can you tell?!

It’s called Yesterday’s Tomorrow, an Inspirational Contemporary Romance. It also happens to be the book I’d sought Rachelle’s advice on, five years ago! Although the premise of the story remains the same, it has undergone several rewrites, been shelved for a while, and finally brought out again, and on the last round of submissions, found a home with Oak Tara. The projected release date is March 2011. Here’s a brief synopsis:

It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined.

As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while trying to find her only brother, who enlisted some months before, but both tasks seem impossible.

When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.

In an unexpected twist, Kristin and Luke are forced to work together. With war raging all around them, they engage in their own tumultuous battle of emotions. Headstrong and willing to risk it all for what they believe in, they’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill their own private agendas. Kristin is after a story that might get her the Pulitzer. Luke wants retribution from the enemy that took away his family. In the face of death, Kristin and Luke must decide if they’re willing to set aside selfish ambition for the love that seems to have ambushed them and captured their hearts.

     What are your future projects?

I have another completed women’s fiction manuscript called Hidden in the Heart, about a young woman, Claire, who makes the decision to go in search of her birth mother. The story is loosely based on my own search and reunion journey.

I’m also working on two other novels at the moment, as I can’t seem to decide which one to move ahead with first, so at the moment it’s sort of whichever mood strikes me! I love family-sagas, so a lot of my stories have pretty interesting characters in them, and a good dose of romance as well.

     Pretend you could go back in time 10-15 years. What advice would you go back and give yourself about writing?

Ah, yes, the ‘if I knew then what I knew now’ question! I’d tell myself to chill out. Stop taking everything so seriously. Back in those days, every rejection was devastating. I really thought I was the next Danielle Steel and I couldn’t understand why editors didn’t agree! J I’d say take a step back, join a critique group. Get some honest feedback on your writing and listen to advice from authors who know what they’re doing.

Thanks for being here today, Cathy. Any final thoughts?

Thanks for having me! I guess I’d just like to encourage all those wonderful writers out there who are journeying along the path to publication. It was only a few months ago when I thought it would never happen to me. It’s really easy to get discouraged and want to give up. Don’t. If you truly feel called to be a writer, and you want to be published, keep at it. Learn all you can, go to conferences, get your work out there, and take every opportunity to improve your craft. When the timing is right, that door will open! 
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ I Am Writer, Hear Me Roar

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review of Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy

I've been a fan of Randy Ingermanson and his blog, Advanced Fiction Writing, for a long time, so when I heard about Writing Fiction for Dummies, I knew there would be lots of fabulous information in it - and I wasn't disappointed!

Ingermanson pens a succinct  yet comprehensive overview of good fiction writing. He talks about everything from setting your goals as a writer to psychoanalyzing your characters. And at the end of the book he discusses editing, proposals and reasons manuscripts are rejected.

One unique feature of the book is that the authors designed it so you don't have to read it from front to back. You can use the table of contents at the beginning (which is very detailed) to find just the sections you need help on right now. The book does a good job of making statements like, "If you need to know more about "said topic" please see our discussion on page "#." So that makes it super easy to find the topics that will be of most benefit for where you are in your writing journey right now.

Also included in the book are many diagrams and charts that illustrate the topics. As a visual learner, I always find these type of aides very helpful.

I have found the book to be both helpful for overview purposes and at times insightful as to why certain things need to be done a certain way. All in all, I highly recommend the book and think it is must read material for anyone serious about their writing career.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Are You Afflicted With Nice Writer Syndrome?

Hi, I'm Johne, and I have Nice Writer Syndrome. Perhaps you're familiar with this infirmity.

Janice Hardy paints the picture like this:

This is a common malady. We spend hours and hours creating our characters, interviewing them, filling out complicated character sheets, determining which personality they are on the Myers-Briggs Scale. They become like family, and we can't bear the thought of doing anything bad to them.

But as Dory from Finding Nemo said: "If nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him."

Who wants to read about someone nothing ever happens to?

Stories are fun when readers get to watch the struggle. They want to see someone overcome a terrible problem and win. To do that, you have to put your characters in terrible situations. You have to be mean, be evil, be cruel. If it breaks you heart to do it to them, then you're on the right track.
I come from the Space Opera genre, where Lois McMaster Bujold is an absolute genius at afflicting the characters she cares most about. This creates empathy from we readers and also takes her stories in entirely unexpected directions. This has been a successful tactic, earning her four Hugo awards for Science Fiction and two Nebula awards for Fantasy. In The Warrior's Apprentice, her hero is Miles Vorkosigan, whose parents are both noble and regal but Miles himself was poisoned as an infant in an assassination attempt. As a result, he grew to a height of only four foot nine and had a slight hunch back and very frail bones. Despite his physical condition, he had a lively intellect and intended to overcome any adversity. Lois gives him plenty of opportunity to practice. When he was competing in the obstacle course he needed to complete in order to be accepted in the Barrayaran Service Academy, seventeen-year-old Miles breaks both legs during the beginning of the course, effectively ending his dreams of being a heroic warrior like both his parents. The pain is exquisite, racking both his body and mind. But then Miles becomes Miles if you follow my meaning, and the story tracks a course unlike any I've ever read.

It takes a bold, determined author to own up to NWS. Let's see if you suffer from this, as well. Borrowing the concept from Janice, let's take a quiz.

1. Jill goes to her garage to start the car. The garage door is open when she specifically closed it the night before. She looks nervously around but sees no other obvious clue as to what's going on. She presses the wireless button on her key fob to unlock the door.
A. She opens the door, a little unsettled, but the car starts right up. She wonders what it all means on her way to work. She stops for a latte' to settle her nerves and meets a charming single man. It's love at first sight.
B. After a moment, the door locks itself again. Mystified, she unlocks the door again. Again, it relocks itself. She sees movement outside the garage window and sees somebody looking right at her. He has a device in his hands. She realizes he's hijacked her wireless signal and now has the unlock code to her car. She turns and runs inside and calls the police. There will be no latte' for Jill today.
C. The car explodes in a ball of fire and Jill's body slams against the garage wall. She crumples to the ground bleeding and unconscious while her garage burns around her.

2. Felix has a charming girlfriend. He takes her out to a fancy restaurant to ask her to marry him.
A. She hesitates before she says yes.
B. She hesitates before she says no, she's not yet ready to marry.
C. She hesitates and confesses she used to be a man and asks if that's a problem.
3. Stella needs a break before she inherits the family business passed down from one Studebaker to the next. She's in the attic cleaning out an old wood chest when something sounds weird at the bottom of the chest. She removes everything and discovers a false bottom. She holds her breath in expectation and opens the compartment.
A. She finds the Rehnhold Diamond, worth over $12.2 million. She screams in excitement.
B. She finds a metal box. She opens the box and finds a dusty note crumbling with age. "Smile," it says, "You're on Candid Camera!" She looks around her suspiciously. She thinks she sees something in the corner. She pulls back an old curtain and shrieks. It is the bones of a human and fifty year old film camera.
C. She finds a birth certificate and discovers she's not really a Studebaker and won't be inheriting anything. Also, her parents lied to her about her heritage and now she doesn't know who she is.
4. Ving the Vicious is circling planet Earth.
A. He sends a delegation to the surface but changes his nefarious plans when a Goldilocks girl gives his emissary a yellow dandelion in a gesture of faith and good will. Instead, he builds her a new Orphanage.
B. Ving holds the little girl ransom until the U.N. submits to his demands.
C. Ving blows up the U.N., spirits the girl away, and creates an army of Goldilocked little robot killers bent on destroying the world, bwahahaha!

5. The captain falls asleep in a cave and awakes in a distant land in need of a hero.
A. He wears no clothes, but neither does the princess he's apparently there to save. And she's ok with that because that's the norm for Barsoom. And it's love at first sight. Beats sleeping in a dank cave, right?
B. He meets a giant, green, six-armed monster with huge fangs. The monster has a club the size of a small tree. The captain has, well, his wits. Maybe caves aren't so bad after all.
C. The monster clubs the captain into unconsciousness, kidnaps the princess, and disappears into a world so hostile it would earn an R-rating to adequately describe. Where's a good cave when you need one?
How'd you do? Borrowing again from Janice Hardy, here's the key to the quiz:
Mostly A: You suffer from NWS. The thought of doing anything really mean to your characters is painful to you, so your stories often lack real stakes to compel readers to keep reading.

Mostly B: You have a good sense of author cruelty, but you could go further. Readers often find your stories interesting, but they have no trouble setting them down if something cool is on TV.

Mostly C: You know how to make your characters suffer. Readers stay up late at night to finish your books and can't stop talking about them the next day.
I have struggled with NWS. But I'm getting better. By which I mean, for my precious protags, it's getting worse.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Puns for Educated Minds
(aka, High-Brow Groaners)

1. The fattest 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 whiskey 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. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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

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

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

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

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

11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

12. 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.'

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

14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

15. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

17. A backward poet writes inverse.

18. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

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

20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you'd be in Seine .

21. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'

22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says 'Dam!'

23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, 'I've lost my electron.' The other says 'Are you sure?' The first replies, 'Yes, I'm positive.'

25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

26. There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Centurion's Wife, by Davis Bunn & Janette Oke

Set immediately after the crucifixion of Christ, this historical novel, written by two old pros, has a lot going for it. The authors explored how the people who were present after the event responded to it. They included all the key characters from Pilate and his wife, to Herod and Caiaphas, to the centurian whose servant was healed, to Lazarus and his sisters, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus--virtually the entire cast sans the apostles.

Bunn and Oke explored this from a couple of directions: How the event affected the lives, not just of those who believed, but also of those who didn't, and those whose political power demanded the story be false; and how independent investigators (actually a centurian, Alban, and a servant girl, Leah) of the era would go about discovering the truth of the empty tomb.

The authors did some serious research, and Davis Bunn is well-acquainted with the region their novel is set in. And yet, when I glanced through the reviews in Amazon, I discovered it was the authors' research that was called into question most.

Of all the lessons I imagine Bunn and Oke would want drawn from their novel, the last would be one in faulty research. But I'm writing this not just to emphasize how important research is, but to point out the self-proclaimed experts who bring an author's research into question.

One person in Amazon's reviews pointed out the frequency with which the characters drank tea. She wasn't sure, she said, but was tea even around west of China two thousand years ago? Well, yes. I found a treatise that tracked the tea trade along with the silk trade, truly indicating its antiquity. Whether Romans or Jews drank tea, I don't know. It was available to them. Tea is made with water, and both societies of the time were careful with their water supplies, so it's possible.

Another person wasn't happy about Leah and her backstory. Leah had been a young woman of society in Rome, but once her father fell into ruin, she was sold to Pilate to serve his wife. Pilate and Herod used Alban the centurion's attraction to Leah to purchase his services to investigate the empty tomb. Since Leah was part Judean, her betrothal to Alban would give him access to information he may not otherwise have. To say Leah wasn't happy about the situation would be an understatement--and that's where our self-avowed historian's review comes to play. She believed Leah's frequent complaints about being betrothed were unwarranted.

According to her, Leah, having once been a lady of Roman society, would be accustomed to the practice of women being "married off" without having a say-so. Such trades were made to advance political goals or alliances between nations. Perhaps. But nowhere did the authors indicate Leah's father was political. If he were a merchant, for instance, trading Leah off may not benefit him. I was of the impression most Roman women were free to choose. But I could be wrong.

Now if the reviewer had indicated that selling or marrying off a servant was common, and Leah had no real expectation of remaining unwed because of this, she may have had a point. Either way, it's moot. Leah didn't want to get married at all, and expecting that fate wouldn't have changed her mind.

In my opinion, the authors did an excellent job. I admit, I balked at the word "cronies" found in the text and stopped reading to look it up. (The word was popularized by college kids back in the seventeenth century, a bit late to be written into a centurion's POV.) But the discovery certainly wasn't enough to change my opinion of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Perhaps the reviewers really are experts on the Roman era, I don't know. But I have no doubt of Oke and Bunn's research into their subject matter primarily because neither author would've risen in their careers if they had shoddy research practices. Because I'm more familiar with these writers than I am the reviewers, I trust the writers.

The lessons from these pros are 1) thorough research is mandatory, 2) you're not going to catch every mistake, and 3) criticism, like opinions, is free--and not always worth the price.
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Monday, December 6, 2010

Making the Most of Amazon

As one of the chief platforms for book sales in this emerging era of e-readers and online shopping, Amazon is an irreplaceable resource for authors. Most of us shop there, check our sales ratings there, and watch our reviews there. But if that’s all we’re doing, we’re not taking full advantage of all the tools Amazon offers to help us sell our books. Following is a checklist of the important basics:

Create a secondary account (one with a different user name) and start creating lists that include your book. When readers browse a book on your list, they may well stumble across yours as well.

Amazon hosts a thriving online community. Find a group that matches your book’s subject matter and dive in. Don’t be afraid to mention your book when it flows easily in the conversation, but make sure you’re not jamming it down anyone’s throat either.

  • Author Central Page
    • Add your books. Check to make certain all your books are available on your page. Customers will click your name to discover what else you’ve written.
    • Add a blog feed. Type in the RSS address of your blog, and Amazon will automatically update your Author Page whenever you publish a new post.
    • Utilize images. You’ll want to include your author photo to provide fans a visual connection. But you can also get creative and utilize other images (book signings, etc.) as a marketing feature.
    • Upload videos. Don’t forget to include your book trailer, interviews, and perhaps even a special message from you to your readers.
    • Add your biography. Use a little imagination and use your biography to state more than just the boring facts. You might want to include a mini interview with yourself, like I’ve done.
    • Update events. Keep your groupies up to date on book signings and readings. Amazon shares posted events with their partner site BookTour and sends them around the web to local media outlets, event listing services, and other book-friendly sites.
  • Tags
Amazon uses tags to rank books within various categories. Choose your categories wisely, scroll down your book’s page, past the reviews, to the section titled “Tags Customers Associate With This Product,” then insert your tags. Encourage readers to tag your books and make use of the site Tag My Book on Amazon. The more tags your book has in any given category, the higher it ranks.

If you have extra ARCs or used copies lying around, take advantage of Amazon’s Marketplace to sell them for slightly less than the new copies from your publisher. If you have an author’s discount, you may even want to go further and purchase copies directly from the publisher to sell online. What you make through the Marketplace may be more than what you earn through royalties.

  • Reviews
Amazon reviews are crucial to success. Solicit (politely) reviews whenever you can and go out of your way to thank reviewers whenever possible—even if their reviews are less than stellar.

If your books aren’t already available on Kindle, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. Some authors are discovering that their Kindle book sales are outpacing their hardcopy sales. If you have a blog, you can also offer it as a subscription to Kindle readers for a nominal fee.

Because Amazon is in the business of selling, it makes it easy for authors to promote their work. Take advantage of those opportunities and watch your sales climb!
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Friday, December 3, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: Private Jedeye

In which Ben Kenobi changes his name and takes up a great new career with an unfortunate nickname. (I probably shouldn't have said that.)

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Edna Ferber's Show Boat

I can’t recommend this book for everyone, but when I found a first edition of Show Boat in an antique store, I couldn’t resist. That it was published in 1926 (by Doubleday, Page & Co.) should give everyone a clue about what rests between the covers: Purple prose, and lots of it.

Very few modern readers are like me–I love prose, particularly if it’s done well. Good prose isn’t intended to be read at the lightning speed readers tout today. It’s intended to be performed. Orated. The words are to be tasted; sentences should be swirled on the tongue like a fine wine. The rhythm is set by sentence length, the pace by punctuation, the intensity by word-choice.

Prose is musical, beginning softly and rising to a crescendo and fluttering back to the earth like a leaf in autumnal death. And it’s a lost art in today’s let’s get on with it! society.

The only other modern person I’ve found who appreciates prose as much as I is Ursula K. Le Guin. The examples she used in her Steering the Craft–prose from Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Virginia Wolfe–are excellent choices for performance prose.

Edna Ferber’s style is curious. She managed, somehow, to wrest a story about the bonds of family, the pull of the Mississippi River, and the blood-deep desire to perform, from page after page of character and setting description. She opened and closed the book with Kim Ravenal, a character who had little to do with anything in between; she wove past, present, and future with amazing disregard to structure. Yet the novel still made sense.

And she loved lists. The bulk of her descriptions contained an amazing number of lists. Consider the introduction of a play performed on the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre:

Now the band struck up. The kerosene lamps on the walls were turned low. The scuffling, shuffling, coughing audience became quiet, quiet. There was in that stillness something of fright. Seamed faces. Furrowed faces. Drab. Bitter. Sodden. Childlike. Weary . . .

The curtain rose. The music ceased jerkily, in mid-bar. They became little children listening to a fairy tale . . .

They forgot the cotton fields, the wheatfields, the cornfields. They forgot the coal mines, the potato patch, the stable, the barn, the shed. They forgot the labour under the pitiless blaze of noonday sun; the bitter arrow-numbing chill of winter; the blistered skin; the frozen road; wind, snow, rain, flood . . . Here were blood, lust, love, passion. It was Anodyne. It was Lethe. It was Escape. It was the Theatre.

And the chapter closed.

Her lists weren’t restricted to setting descriptions. Here is the reader’s introduction to Parthenia Hawks, wife of the show boat captain and mother of the main character, Magnolia Hawks Ravenal:

This lady’s black hair was twisted into a knot . . . Her face and head were long and horse-like, at variance with her bulk. This, you sensed immediately, was a person possessed of enormous energy, determination, and the gift of making exquisitely uncomfortable any one who happened to be within hearing radius. She was the sort who rattles anything that can be rattled; slams anything that can be slammed; bumps anything that can be bumped.

Personally, I got a kick out of many of her lists, but I don’t recommend this style of writing for anyone who wants to be published–and read–today. But I’d love to see modern prose, short and utilitarian as it is, mount to something akin to the purple hue of the past. Fewer words can be used to describe the theater scene or to illustrate Parthy’s indomitable spirit, and if writers choose the right words, these descriptions can be even more powerful--not as musical, perhaps, but powerful.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: Things We Say Wrong

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you be richly blessed this holiday season
and remember those in need of blessings.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Resource Round-Up for Historical Fiction Writers

A few months ago I gave you a resource round up post focused on Fantasy. You can see it here.

This time, I'd like to focus on links that might help those of you who are historical fiction writers.

1.  This is a complete bibliography of books and journals from Hearth's Home Economics Archives: Research, Tradition, History, organized by both author and title or by publication year. The complete issues of Harper's Bazaar can be found here for many years.

2. Fascinating Blog with lots of great historical facts - Jane Austen's World.

3. You'll find tons of information on presidential elections at The American Presidency Project.

4. On this website you'll find some great Historic Hospital Records.

5.  I found some wonderful historic maps on Maps Etc.

6. Historical Uses of Herbal Products, has some very interesting information on the history of healing remedies.

7. Need to know about dancing? Check out the Victorian Dance Society.

8. Sometimes I need that correct architectural term. This list has been helpful to me in the past. Architecture Glossary.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ A Little Fun with English

A king reigns, but he never reins, or rains. However, he might reign in the rain, or rein in someone who objects to his reign. (BTW, why isn't a king's reign pronounced "rin"? After all, someone from another country is "foreign," right? But wait, maybe "foreign" is the odd ball out because we also have "deign" and "feign.")

A bare bear has no hair. But a hare definitely bears hair.

A beau holding a bow can bow while balancing on a bough, but it is probably rather hard to do. However, if he bows while standing on the bow of a ship with his hair in a bow, that might be easier.

You can write with your right hand about a Scottish rite, but be sure you get it right.

Once upon a time, two boys chopped a cord of wood to sell for four cents. There at the fore, their mother cored and baked apples to sell too. However, the scents stole their senses and now they're singing chords that rhyme for thyme.

Due to the dew, do you think the ewe will lay under the yew?

Eight bald babies bawled as they ate.

When it comes to betting dough, you may need to know whether a wether can weather the weather better than a doe.

And one last one...

Merry Mary was all set to marry principal Larry, but now he's overdue, and she's standing at the altar feeling quite hostile and piqued. She doesn't want to overdo, but it's the principle of the thing. Perhaps she will alter her plans and peek at the Apennine peaks and roam the hostel in Rome on her own.

Happy Friday, everyone! :D

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does (My Character) Kiss My Mother With That Mouth?

One of my favorite online magazines of the last decade was Deep Magic magazine, whose tagline was 'Safe Places For Minds To Wander.' I thought that was a clever tag.

But what if you're looking for something just a little less careful, a little riskier? Is there room for authors to let their characters explore darker or edgier themes?

Doug TenNapel defies description. (One reviewer called him 'a genre unto himself.') Doug is an author, graphic novelist, videogame designer (The Neverhood and Earthworm Jim), animator, Eisner Award-winning artist, musician, and blogger. His 2007 graphic novel, Black Cherry, tells the story of a two-bit mob wannabe who steals a body from his own boss. Only the body's neither dead nor human.

Eddie Paretti fell in love with a stripper named Black Cherry. He was about to propose to her when she vanished, after which he hardened his heart against women and God.

But TenNapel has more up his sleeve than tragedy and clich├ęs.
Mary is a crack-addicted ex-stripper who doesn't know if she is forgivable. She keeps returning to her junk and questions if she is just destined to be 'bad.' Eddie Paretti has scars up and down his arms from his dad using his arm as an ashtray…these are the scars left by bad father figures in his life. Father McHugh is the only good dad he ever knew, yet Eddie clearly isn't cut out to be a card-carrying Catholic.
There is a common theme in Black Cherry that is the dark side of religion, what about the condemned? That's why crime-noir became such an important aspect of this story because it often deals with heroes that are too bad to be redeemed. It's like life has chosen some men to be ground up and left face down in the pool.

There is an another character who feels redemption is denied him because Christ appeared to die for humans, not his kind. There are demons and angels and surprises so weird and uninhibited I wasn't sure whether to laugh or gasp. Most times, I did both.

Doug TenNapel uses the grittiness and anti-heroic elements of crime noir to explore both the mean streets of present-day LA and the redemption waiting for those who have ears to hear. He doesn't shy away from showing skin or violence, and the character's street language would make even sailors blush. And so when the final twists unfold, we cheer for Eddie in his battle against demons within and without, and his final sacrifice is both touching and unexpected.

TenNapel blazes a trail and shows how a raw, brutal story can pack a wallop of a punch. Personal failures leave ragged wounds, however, healing and victory mean that much more when we grow with such a damaged character to the place where love conquers all and the guy has the opportunity to finally get the girl. TenNapel manages to march us right through the sewers, down into Hell, and back out again. These aren't stories you'd want to read to your kids, but you might want to save them for when they're older and are ready for something more real than safe.

And then you might want to start taking some risks yourself...
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Checking for Plot Holes

This week, AC is pleased to share with you a guest post by Joseph Bates. Joseph’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. For more information please visit Nighttime Novelist and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Checking for Plot Holes

To make sure your plot is as solid as it can be—before some legendary film director discovers a plot hole while trying to adapt your work—consider the following questions and see that you have them answered in your novel.

  • Have all subplots and supporting character arcs been concluded? You might want to go back through the novel and mark those moments with subplot and supporting cast that seem to demand revisiting later . . . and make sure you did revisit and conclude them in some satisfying way.

  • Do you find any of your characters indulging in excessive monologue toward the finale? Late-novel monologues often indicate that certain information should have been introduced earlier but wasn’t—and now your character is trying to catch the reader up on that omitted information in one big breath. These one-breath wonders suggest a hole in the plot that the character is now trying to plug, poorly. Be aware of any such information dumps you come across, and consider how you might plug the hole yourself earlier in the text.

  • Do the events in your novel follow the rules of the story as you’ve set them out? We already discussed rule breaking in terms of the “twist” ending, but the same applies to every turn your story takes. If your protagonist is launched on his adventure when he saves a young woman from drowning, but then at Plot Point 1 he lets the antagonist get away because he’s not a very strong swimmer, that’s obviously a problem, and everything that comes after that point will be looked on with suspicion by the reader (if he’s still reading at all).

  • Do the events in your novel follow, and account for, the rules of logic? If it’s revealed at the end of your novel that your time-traveling hero has fallen in love with his own grandmother and is now his own grandfather, your reader will likely either scratch his head or kick your novel across the room, depending on what kind of day he’s having. It’s absolutely true that, as an author, you control the powers of time and space in your book, but even so you’re still bound by the general rules of logic; what you do has to make sense. Thus anything that doesn’t seem possible, or at least believable, is a problem you’ll need to fix.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the momentum of our story, in the fun of telling it, that we forget to properly account for, explain, or excise inconsistencies along the way; even Raymond Chandler can let a dead chauffeur slip past him. But the smallest plot hole might still be big enough for your reader to fall straight through, so be mindful that your plot be as solid as it can be. And if there’s anything in the story you can’t reconcile, you may want to consider what the offending element is doing there in the first place.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

How Not to Succeed at NaNo

1. Sit in a straight, comfortable chair in a well lit place in front of your computer.

2. Log onto MSN and ICQ (be sure to go on away!). Check your email.

3. Review yesterday's work carefully, to make certain you know where you left off.

4. Walk to the kitchen for some chocolate to help you concentrate.

5. Check your email.

6. Call up a friend and ask if he/she wants to go to grab a coffee. Just to get settled down and ready to work.

7. When you get back, sit in a straight, comfortable chair in a clean, well lit place.

8. Read over what's already done again to make absolutely certain you know where to start.

9. Check your email.

10. You know, you haven't written to that kid you met at camp since fourth grade. You'd better write that letter now and get it out of the way so you can concentrate.

11. Look at your teeth in the bathroom mirror.

12. Grab some mp3z off of kazaa.

13. Check your email.

14. MSN chat with one of your friends about the future(ie summer plans).

15. Check your email.

16. Listen to your new mp3z and download some more.

17. Phone your friend and ask if she's started writing yet.

18. Head to the store and buy a pack of gum. You've probably run out.

19. While you've got the gum you may as well buy a magazine and read it.

20. Check your email.

21. Check the newspaper listings to make sure you aren't missing something truly worthwhile on TV.

22. Play some solitare (or age of legends!).

23. Check out

24. Wash your hands.

25. Call up a friend to see how much they have done, probably haven't started either.

26. Look through your friends' Facebook photo albums.

27. Do some more serious thinking about your plans for the future.

28. Check to see if has been updated yet.

29. Check your email and listen to your new mp3z.

30. You should be rebooting by now, assuming windows is crashing on schedule.

31. Reread your work one more time, just for heck of it.

32. Scoot your chair across the room to the window and watch the sunrise.

33. Lie face down on the floor and moan.

34. Punch the wall and break something because you let the night go by without making your word count.

35. Check your email.

36. Mumble obscenities.

37. 5am - start hammering on the keyboard until it's time to go to work.

38. Complain to everyone that you didn't get any sleep because you had to reach your word count.

39. Start over again tonight.

And the winner of Billy Coffey' debut novel is:

Congrats, Lorna!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Snow Day, by Billy Coffey

Before he appeared in the "Breaking In" segment of Writer's Digest (November/December 2010 issue, page 18), debut author/philosopher Billy Coffey showed up here in AuthorCulture for a two-day interview event (Part One and Part Two).

And I got to review his book!

By law, I have to reveal that the publisher, Faith Words, provided a book for me in return for a review. But the truth is, I was half-way through the copy I bought before the freebie ever entered my mailbox. I was that anxious to read it.

This means I have an extra copy to share! If you leave a comment, you'll be eligible to win this inspiring novel in a drawing to be held at the end of the week.

Snow Day rolls the wisdom of Max Lucado and charm of Norman Rockwell into one reflective novel. Peter Boyd is facing a pre-Christmas lay-off from the best paying job he can get in his small Virginia town. His snow day couldn't have come at a better time. He needs to think, evaluate, learn. And God has lessons for him. Eye-opening, stirring life lessons that offer hope, faith, and promise, all delivered through some very enchanting, quirky characters.

A man who rests in the security of God's guidance can face the worst with optimism. If the readers get nothing more from Billy's novel than that simple tenet, they will come away full.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

What Isn't Said: Subtext in Dialogue

Dialogue is all about getting things said—usually important things:

“I am your father.”

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

We spend a lot of time polishing our dialogue and learning how to make it sound as lifelike and powerful as possible. But amidst all this polishing, we can’t afford to miss one of the most important dichotomies in fiction.

Sometimes the most important moments in dialogue are about what isn’t said.

Words aren’t always strong enough to convey the impact of certain emotions. At times, silence speaks louder than words. And, surprisingly often, silence (or its equivalent in the form of seemingly mundane dialogue that pulls double duty by communicating far more than the face value of the words themselves) offers blinding insight into characterization.

So how do you know when you’re better off telling your chatty characters to stuff a sock in it?

  • When strong emotions are at play. “I hate you” just doesn’t get the message across as strongly as an icy stare (and, yes, Revenge of the Sith I’m looking at you).
  • When an action communicates more strongly or more succinctly. Whether that action is something as dynamic as an angry wife throwing a chicken at her husband’s head, or something subtler, such as her pretending to be so absorbed in cutting the chicken that she doesn’t have time to respond to his entreaties, it’s hard to argue with body language.
  • When dialogue adds nothing important. If small talk isn’t moving the plot forward, cut it. On the other hand, if that same small talk is offering insight into the situation at hand (such as, perhaps, the characters’ fear of discussing deeper subjects), the very “uselessness” of the dialogue becomes a sort of silence unto itself.
  • When too much information damages the suspense. If your characters are spouting off everything they know, it’s probably time to clap a hand over their mouths. Characters with secrets are always more interesting. Just make sure you’re making the existence of those secrets clear to readers. A character who avoids answering a question or who chooses to change the subject skyrockets the value of what he doesn’t say.
  • When it best serves the character. Some characters just aren’t built to be motormouths. The strong silent type can be a challenge to write (as I discovered in my medieval novel Behold the Dawn), but their taciturn natures give authors the opportunity to make sure every word counts.

Never be afraid of the silence. Use it to your advantage (as do experienced interviewers) to make characters and readers alike perk up their ears and pay attention.

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