Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If You're Stephen King, Ignore This Post

Have you ever wondered if your work is making a difference in the world? Do you question the validity of your writing? Do you wonder if anyone would notice if you never wrote another word or if your books were never published or ceased to be published?

If you’re a writer (and not Stephen King) and you have these doubts, you’re in good company. If you’re Stephen King, you may stop reading at any time. None of this will interest you. But if you’re a writer and have never had the aforementioned doubts, well, let’s face it, you’re just plain weird.

As uncomfortable as those questions are for those of us who write daily and hope and dream our words will one day become articles, short stories, books (both non-fiction or fiction), or any one of a myriad of other publication possibilities, they nevertheless run through our minds with alarming frequency. Because our hearts and souls are poured into our work (not to mention tons of time and more often than not, money), the way in which we view ourselves is important and validates our worth as writers. Whether or not that’s a reasonable way with which to view our worth, most writers I know (and I’m one of them) evaluate their contribution to society by asking ourselves those same questions.

If I ever become puffed up (hahaha!) about my publishing record, all I’d have to do to rectify that condition (i.e., de-puff) would be to visit a Barnes and Noble or other equally large bookstore. It never fails to discourage me when I see the vast array of books that have already been published. And that doesn’t even count the ones in the queue, or those that aren’t featured on those bookshelves, of which there are thousands upon thousands. Does the world really need anything written by me? What difference could it possibly make if my book lands on those hallowed shelves? Should I quit while I’m ahead and let the world continue spinning without my input?

There are just two answers to that last questions. Yes or no. Yes, you could stop writing and chances are, aside from some family members, co-workers, friends, or fellow writers, the world would continue on its merry way without a hitch. Or you could answer no—for a very good reason.

Very few of us will write bestsellers. I know, I know, it hurts to hear that. It took me a long time to rid myself of the fantasy that my work would not only garner me some nice, hefty royalties, but would change the world as we know it. But once I got past that hurdle, I realized that I really don’t need to write a bestseller. Even if a book sells millions of copies, does it change the world? In some instances, yes. The Holy Bible is a good example. Fifty Shades of Grey is another. But look at the ways in which those particular examples changed the world. Yeah. Get my drift? So writing a bestseller doesn’t mean your work will impact the world in an earth-shattering, life-changing manner.

What if we lowered our expectations to impacting just a few people? Maybe a stranger needs to hear precisely what our novel imparts, what our article or short story or non-fiction book points out to the reader. Maybe a loved one needs to witness our dogged insistence that the project we’re working on is important enough to give up some television or golf or extra sleep. Maybe someone will read what we have to say, share it, and change the course of a co-worker’s day. Maybe they’ll discover their own self-worth through something you write that you’d never guess in a million years would impact them the way it ultimately will.

The fact is we’ll never really know how much good our work creates because we aren’t inside the minds of everyone else in the world. All we can do is examine our own minds, delve deep, and write what seems important to us in the best way possible. Someone, somewhere, at some time or another, will be affected in a positive way.

And isn’t that the real reason we write?

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Daydreams and Reality, Guest post by Betty Thomason Owens

When it comes to writing, I’m an expert in…absolutely nothing, but I’m good at pretending. Which is a great thing if you’re a fiction writer. I grew up living in a fantasy world. It was a safety mechanism. I had a brother fifteen months older than me. He was mean. He loved to pick on me, make me lose it, then leave me to take all the blame.

We made a lot of long trips, San Diego to West Tennessee. Days in the car—hours sitting next to big brother. In between torture sessions, he slept. I ventured into my own little world, dreaming of beautiful horses and amazing flower gardens.

As I grew older, my dreams changed. The beautiful horses held dreamy-looking cowboys. The gardens had moved to Hawaii where I lived in an amazing glass house overlooking the ocean. And dreamy-looking surfer-types admired my roses.

Then I grew up and real life sent me a dreamy-looking guy. Before long, there were several little dreamy-looking juniors who tortured each other and reminded me of my brother. The safety mechanism kicked in—I rediscovered my happy place—a beautiful seaside garden with a hammock so I could sleep. I’d long since forgotten sleep.

About that time, it occurred to me that someone with such a vivid imagination should try recreating the scenes in her head. I read a lot—another safety mechanism—and I was positive I could write.

Fast forward several years. You can imagine what happened. I loved writing, but found I didn’t really know much about it. I took a college course and did very well. I was pronounced a storyteller by my professor. I moved on from short stories to western romance novels (now safely hidden away, never to see the light of day). I tried my hand at this and that, then finally wrote a fantasy which no one wanted. Except me. I loved it, so I self-published it.

A quick aside about self-publishing: don’t do it. Unless you are ready—really ready. Don’t think your work is perfect, it’s probably not. Find a good editor and pay them, then take their advice. Pay an expert to do a really good cover. I went back, rewrote those early fantasy novels, paid for a nice cover, and released a second edition, done much better than the first. It was a learning experience. Why must I always learn the hard way?

A couple of years ago, I came up with an interesting idea. The Biblical book of Ruth inspired me to write a similar story, and incorporate my mother’s early life and struggles. She left her middle class home in urban Seattle to go and live with her new husband’s family in West Tennessee. She was only seventeen, and expecting a baby (that brother I mentioned earlier). Our dad was in the Navy, thousands of miles away. Her middle class existence had not prepared her for what she faced in Tennessee.
Annabelle’s Ruth was born, and I had learned a very important lesson. Writing from my own memories and experiences lent realism to the story. My characters, loosely based on reality, were folks I’d known in my childhood. They came alive on the computer screen. I heard their voices. It was easier to write.

I guess that’s why we’ve always heard, “write what you know.” I’m just making stuff up, I’m drawing on truth and embellishing. And some of my childhood fantasies tiptoed into the story. My main character hails from Hawaii, and she loves flowers. And the guy she meets—you guessed it. Dreamy-looking farmer.

Betty Thomason Owens is a multi-published, award-winning author of historical fiction, and fantasy-adventure. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), where she leads a critique group, and serves as vice-president/secretary of the Louisville area group. She’s a mentor, assisting other writers, and a co-founder of a blog dedicated to inspiring writers. She also serves on the planning committee of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference.
Her writing credits include a 20’s era romance, Amelia's Legacy (2014), Carlotta’s Legacy (2016) Books 1 & 2, Legacy Series from Write Integrity Press (WIP), and the Grace-Award-winning Annabelle’s Ruth (2015), and Sutter’s Landing (2017), Books 1 & 2, Kinsman Redeemer Series, also from WIP. She has two fantasy-adventure novels, The Lady of the Haven and A Gathering of Eagles, in a second edition published by Sign of the Whale BooksTM, an imprint of Olivia Kimbrell PressTM.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Reasonable Life

Author Kimberli McKay offers an alternative view on encouraging writers.

We are a culture of encouragers. Artists who advise the young to go ahead, chase that dream.

But should we?

I’m not suggesting we crush aspirations beneath the boot heel of our experience. I’m saying encouraging others to chuck it all to reach their writing goals may not be the wisest advice we who have trudged the road to publication can give. A conclusion I reached after a lifetime of longing to write and fourteen years of concentrated effort toward that goal. When my husband began attending seminary, I had the time and means to finally pursue my dream of getting published. I worked during the day and wrote in the evening. And when my husband was called to a church in eastern North Carolina, instead of finding a job on the economy, I became a self-employed writer.

Over the years, I won a few awards, published a few articles while working on novels, attended writers’ conferences, and met some wonderful people. When the criteria for Christian fiction changed to widen the audience and boost sales, I published independently.

But at what cost? When I looked at my life and the lives of my comrades in arms, battered and bruised by constant rejection and concern as to whether a (or another) contract would come, and drained financially by the costs our business incurs, I wondered if the path we had taken was the best way to go. By comparison, people around me who had maintained steady jobs, whether their collar be blue or white, were the ones building up savings, purchasing new cars, and taking cruises, while my job kept chipping away at our bank account.

It isn’t about the money, some may counter. It’s about the craft.

That’s fine, but we can still be practical, earning a living while honing that craft and our stories. Just recently, a teenager told me she wanted to be a writer. I expressed my pleasure and then proceeded to suggest she go to college, get a solid education and then a career she'll enjoy. One that will pay the bills. She could still write and be brilliant at it, but with over eleven million books available on Amazon (210,017 of which were released in the last thirty days as of this writing) she’ll need a steady income to sustain her.

I could sense the girl’s disappointment (and her mother’s relief) but traditional publishers only publish so many titles each year. Switching to indie to get that book "out there" includes hiring an editor, a cover artist, a formatter if an author is unfamiliar with the formatting process, and paying for numerous, often expensive ads. It's costly enough for one book, but to bring in a somewhat consistent income, authors need to publish new books often and then continually market those releases. And that takes money.

We can dream all we want, but instead of encouraging young people to chase those dreams, we should tell them while the world will always need good books, it also needs nurses, respiratory therapists, park rangers, engineers, and more. And to live a reasonable life as an author, a writer needs a job that will help them support themselves, their families, and their writing career.

Kimberli is the author of Dash of Pepper, part of the Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection and more. In addition to writing, her hobbies include genealogy, knitting, and the study of Carolina history. She resides in eastern North Carolina where her husband has served as senior pastor for nearly ten years.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Miracle in a Dry Season: A Book Review

Sarah Loudin Thomas was unknown to me before I read Miracle in a Dry Season. Now Ms. Thomas has another fan for life.

The small town of Wise, West Virginia, is much like other towns in 1954--conservative, quiet, gossipy. When Perla Long comes to stay with her aunt and uncle with her little girl, Sadie, she's seeking anonymity and peace. But the rumors follow her like an unwanted dog that tags along and makes messes along the way. Perla has a secret, and the townspeople of Wise are more than willing to not only seek out the truth, or their version of it, but also shame Perla as best they can.

Casewell Phillips is a bachelor who never found a compelling reason to marry and have a family. He wants it, but just never found a woman with whom he was willing to share the rest of his life. When he sees Perla and her little girl, he's drawn to both of them, but senses something in Perla's past that keeps him at his distance.

Perla has an uncanny skill in the kitchen. Not only can she prepare mouth-watering meals with just about any ingredients on hand, she always seems to have more than enough food no matter how many people she's serving. She longs to hide that ability, but a severe drought that summer brings her, her daughter, and her strange ability to the forefront of the town's collective consciousness. Midst the anxiety caused by failing crops, dried-up wells, and dying livestock, the residents divide into two camps: those who appreciate Perla's ability and are grateful for her generous nature and those who think she's a witch. Among them is the town's hellfire and brimstone preacher, Pastor Longbourne, who insists Perla's gift with food can only be from the devil, and her past makes her a harlot.

Not everyone lines up against Perla. Casewell sees her for the gentle soul she is, and finds himself falling in love with both Perla and her precious little girl. Others--the town drunk with a strange past that links him to the spinster twin sisters in town, along with Perla's devoted aunt and uncle are among those who know there's no evil in the young woman. As for Perla herself, she knows she's falling for Casewell Phillips, but also knows she's not good enough for him--at least in her eyes.

Miracle in a Dry Season is a well-written, gentle story of a small town in crisis. I look forward to reading more work from Sarah Loudin Thomas and can heartily recommend this book to all readers.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tales Of Denial

An Ode to Rejection

When I was a fresh/brash/new/eager young Author

With “How to” manuals in hand
I mimed another fame-hunting writer
Who sought a hundred rejections a year

A hundred misses means offering your self/words/blood/Rear
On the block of publication land
Where said buyer must be hungry for your wares
No backsies, no buts, no artificial sweeteners allowed

Humorous essays on fighting bugs/papering the ceiling/lost in a Crowd
Net me “loved it, just bought one like it
“No thanks, “why are you writing a query
“Just send it, “not my taste, “too early, “too late, “lost in the mail”

Agent queries result in okays/nays/maybes; all a Travail
Rarely a bite, never a shield, little cheer
“No passion, “can’t get behind it, “send a different one
“Do this, fix that, format like so, put this scene here,” no word

Publisher wish lists call for new age/space operas/tropes/AngryBirds
I pitch an old series, they ask for the full first,
Reluctantly I agree, say it’s dated, needs work which I’ll do
They say “no blood, needs more sex, I like it, but…it’s dated

Masochism keeps us humble while self-publishing is Debated
Sometimes it’s not me, it’s the process/timing/mood/publisher call
As long as we Authors seek approval from Strangers
We accept feeling like Sticking an Icepick in our Eyes

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