Friday, July 31, 2015

July Links



Inscribe Writers Online - July 15 - 'Summer Is For Writing'

Gelatiscoop - July 9 - 'The Search For Meaning In Fiction'

The Word Guild's 'Canadian Writers Who Are Christian' - July 27 - Writing In Perspective' 

Inscribe's Professional Blog - July 9 - 'The Three Act Sandwich'

Grace Awards Book Bash! July 23 - Featuring LONE WOLF and NEIGHBORS

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Cross Over

Can books intended for a Christian audience cross over into the general market? There has been debate for years about this - a debate that I have followed more closely since becoming a published author. The problem seems to be in the expectations of the reader.

Agent Chip MacGregor recently wrote an excellent post on the topic. In his opinion, one of the major problems with trying to cross over is that the two audiences just aren't speaking the same language. Many people within the Christian community don't realize that they speak with idioms that are only understandable to others within their faith. ('Christian-ese' I like to call it.) Another issue is that the average Christian reader has an expectation about the content. Coarse language, sexuality, and violence are usually smoothed over so as not to offend. In contrast, secular fiction - along with its motion picture counterpart - is becoming more and more sexualized, violent, crude and shocking.

MacGregor also points out that inherent to much Christian fiction is the idea of a deeper, redemptive theme. I blogged about this myself recently. Most Christian fiction has elements of a deep inner struggle, usually rooted in salvation or spiritual growth. Many secular readers just want action and entertainment. Naturally, there are exceptions to this and I am over simplifying here, but if one actually stops to examine the difference between the two, there is definitely a huge gap. Christian fiction resides in the land of inner struggle, even when action and intrigue are added.

My own experience with this dilemma is quite extensive. At one point I prided myself on my 'edgy' content. (Edgy in this case is extremely mild in comparison to most secular offerings.) While the term 'edgy' has kind of gone out of fashion, what it means is, I try not to sugar coat my characters or their circumstances. I want my characters to sound like real people in their natural setting, and let's face it. Life sucks sometimes. Of course, I have certain standards - I don't write explicit sex scenes, grotesque violence, and I will never use the F-bomb or take the Lord's name in vain.

Still, my characters have sex outside of marriage, get caught up in violent situations, and may use the occasional mild curse. This last one seems to be the stickler for many Christians. (Go figure.) One lady wrote me to say she had to stop reading when a character used the word "hell." Wow. Really? Interestingly, many reader reviews express the opposite opinion, saying the authenticity of the dialogue added to the believability of the story. It's an anything but clear case of 'you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.' (I apologize to those who may be offended by the use of the word 'damn'...) 

Some Christian authors state that their goal is to evangelize, and therein lies another paradox. In all honesty, non-Christians just aren't reading their books. Books written from a Christian worldview are being read by people who are already familiar with the gospel. When my second book  MY MOTHER THE MAN-EATER came out, I was asked at a library reading if I would prefer my book in the regular stacks or in the religious section. My immediate reply was in the regular stacks. A few months later I got an email from a reader who told me they didn't like my book because it was too religious. (By the way, amazon isn't the only way authors get feedback...) On the other hand, I have had more than one reader contact me to say that this same story impacted them on a deep level and they were sharing a copy with a friend.

It's clear that the debate actually comes down to one thing: AUDIENCE. The old adage that you must know your audience is true, but the problem is we have narrowed the field to these two polar opposite camps and 'gritty' Christian fiction is probably not going to appeal to either. ('Gritty' being my new word to replace the antiquated 'edgy'.) Does that mean that authors like me should just throw in the towel?

NO! There is a readership, albeit somewhat narrow, for fiction that tells an uncompromised yet compelling story from a Christian worldview. Perhaps the demographic is different from the stereotypic fundamentalist, (not saying that's a bad thing...) but could include people who were not raised in the church, who came to salvation through difficult circumstances, or who are of a younger more liberal mindset. The trick is to find those readers, and therein lies the challenge.

Let me end by saying I am up for it. I am beginning to see that trying to be 'all things to all people' is not the best business strategy. Even if I only affect a very few people along the way I am convinced that my message has value. 


If you enjoyed this post or are interested in this topic, I encourage you to visit Chip MacGregor's blog: http://www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/can-cba-novelists-move-to-the-general-market/


Monday, July 27, 2015

New Inscribe Anthology!

Hot off the press - '7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers' (published by Inscribe Press) is now out in ebook format. I have two articles in the anthology - 'Be A Giver' and 'Embrace Rejection'.

Here is more about the book - including some very prestigious endorsements! - 

Could your personal and writing habits be holding you back from becoming a successful writer? There comes a time when every writer must develop the gentle art of discipline - establishing certain practices, or habits, that make it easier to carry out the right and good thing. 
This anthology deals not so much with the technical or how-to aspects of writing but rather, with seven key areas that are seen as essential for Christian writers to succeed. They are:

 
* Time with God 
* Healthy Living 
* Time Management 
* Honing Writing Skills 
* Crafting a Masterpiece 
* Submitting 
* Marketing 
The contributing writers are InScribe members. Coming from all walks of life, they write in various genres for a range of audiences. Collectively, they bring to this anthology an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience. Through fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, such as devotionals, essays, and articles, they generously share their own discoveries, success stories, and their hard-won lessons to encourage and support you on your own writing journey. 

Endorsements: 

“I love seven things about this book: It is practical. It is affordable. It is encouraging. It is worth highlighting, underlining and dog-earing. Plus it made me forget about my toothache. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran writer, you’ll discover 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers to be jammed with instantly actionable advice that will make you a better writer. Dig in.” 
—Phil Callaway (www.philcallaway.com) is the best-selling author of more than 25 books, a popular speaker, the host of Laugh Again Radio, and a grandpa. 


“7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers is an absolute gem! I love that it covers all the basics a writer needs to know, making them simple and practical. I also love that the book has many authors, giving us ideas and suggestions from their own writing journey. I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously considering writing as a vocation or even an avocation, particularly those writers who see their work as a ministry—which it certainly is!” 
—Kathi Macias (www.kathimacias.com) is an award-winning author of more than 50 books. A wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Kathi lives in Southern California with her husband, Al. 

“7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers is loaded with actionable advice that will make you a better writer. Whether you are a multi-published author or a beginning writer, this book will benefit you.” 
—Shelley Hitz, author coach and best-selling author 
www.ShelleyHitz.com 



“This book is a beautiful blend of faithfulness and craft. It will help you answer the practical questions of what it means to be a writer while honoring what you believe. I wish I’d read this when I got started.” 
—Jeff Goins, Best-selling author, The Art of Work 


“There are hundreds of how-to-write books on the market, but none that I know of touches BOTH of the vital aspects of writing as a Christian better than this anthology from InScribe. The practical AND the spiritual are woven into a whole by a remarkably creative group of writers who are in the trenches as we speak. I intend to snack on this fare again and again.” 
—Nancy Rue, best-selling Christian author and creator of Shadow to Shelf, a mentoring program for writers. 

 As a special promotion, the book will be FREE on July 31
!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Putting it In Perspective

There is nothing like the reality of life - or death - to bring one's own day-to-day concerns into focus. A relative's wife was killed earlier this week in a freak accident. She was 38 and the mother of two. It certainly made me stop short in my tracks and re-assess all the things I stress over.

Book sales and conferences and gaining more followers on social media seem rather shallow in light of what my cousin and his family are facing.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have goals and strive toward them. The bible says that God put eternity in men's hearts, so I think it's natural to look to the future. Working toward a purpose is what helps bring meaning to life. But don't let the busyness, or the frustrations, or the disappointments get in the way of embracing the present.

I'm still plugging away at my next novel, determined to have it polished before school starts in the fall. I'm also making plans to attend a conference in Calgary in the middle of August. The Writers' Guild of Alberta is holding their annual 'When Words Collide' conference and the entire executive of Inscribe, a writers' organization I belong to, are going as a form of professional development.

However, I'm taking some time to reflect and also enjoy the mundane moments in the present. It's about balance, I think. The past, the present and the future coming together as a whole without too much emphasis on one over the other. Celebrate the past, enjoy the present, and keep looking to the future.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Grace Awards Book Bash

Check out these great books for your summer reading! The Grace Awards is hosting several authors all week.
Tomorrow's line up features books by Nike Chillemi, Ruth O'Neill, Tammy Doherty and yours truly!




Monday, July 20, 2015

The Search For Meaning In Fiction

A contrived message is like a pill in a spoonful of jam.L.M. Montgomery

Theme – the core message; the deeper meaning; the moral lesson – is what makes a story linger in readers’ minds long after the last page is finished. Yet, theme is an illusive element. It often gets overlooked during the writing process, or it’s forced upon the manuscript, resulting in the ‘contrived message’ L.M. Montgomery was talking about. I have noted this to be true, especially with some Christian fiction, where the evangelistic message stifles the characters or slows down the plot. It’s one thing to want to get your message across but it’s another thing when it sounds like you’re on a soapbox. I’ve got it on good authority (Stephen King and James Scott Bell to name just two) that one shouldn’t write to the theme, but let the theme emerge from the story.

When asked about some of his great sculptures, Michelangelo said, “I carved until I set him free.” Similarly, it’s up to fiction writers to construct the best story possible and let the theme emerge naturally. However, identifying the theme once the first draft is written (or even part way through) will help to deepen its impact during subsequent revisions. Here is an exercise that is helpful in identifying theme. (And it’s kind of fun, too!)

1. First, think of a current work in progress, or for the purposes of this exercise, use the work of someone you admire. Try to identify one word (or phrase) that over arches that story. I was able to do this with my own novels and I came up with the following:

Neighbors – ADAPTATION
Colony Zero (Sins of the Fathers/ Duplicity/ Legacy) – TENACITY/ HOPE
Wind Over Marshdale – ACCEPTANCE
And The Beat Goes On – TRUTH
Play It Again – REDEMPTION
My Mother the Man-Eater – GRACE
Lone Wolf - TRUST

For the rest of this post, visit 'Helping Hands Press' where is originally appeared on July 9, 2015. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Books On Writing - Reviews

I've been doing some professional reading lately and thought I'd share. Below are my take aways from two of the most recent books I read:

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The book is full of sound advice, although the parts that talk about ebooks, advances, self publishing etc. are somewhat dated in light of the changes in the publishing industry. Still, the chapters on actual writing - plot, characterization, setting etc. are excellent. Sometimes I found the detailed examples tedious, especially if I wasn't familiar with the particular book in question. Especially helpful are the 'Breakout Checklists' at the end of each chapter which basically summarize the chapter in bullet points.




On Writing by Stephen King
Okay, now I understand what all the fuss is about. This is one fantastic book. Even with the language warning, I highly recommend it to eery writer. It's practical but reads like a novel. I literally didn't want to put it down. King starts off by chronicling the life experiences that had an impact on his writing and ends with sound advice on almost every aspect of the writing life. There is really too much good stuff here to sum it up in one paragraph. All I really need to say is, "Read it!"