Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship

In Search of Adventure (The Comrades of Honor #2)
Starbucks's book signing.
No. Not with any person. That title threw you for a loop for a moment there, didn't it?

What is my love-hate relationship?

Marketing!

I love seeing the happiness and interest on people's faces at book signings. I love connecting with readers and fans around the world. I love that royalty check or direct deposit that happens every few months. I love the feeling of my calligraphy pen scratching the page of a fresh-off-the-printer book. I love talking to others about book scenes, who their favorite character was, and ideas for future titles.

But there are definitely some aspects I cannot stand about book marketing!

  • I am shy. Talking to complete strangers in public places such as libraries or coffee shops fills me with panic. The sight of an approaching stranger can make my whole elevator pitch completely desert my mind (What is my book about anyway?)
  • Having to explain to someone what exactly historical-fiction is is slightly intimidating. (If you ever stopped to think about it, historical-fiction can come across as an oxymoron to some people!)
  • Just that whole thing about money. Ever since I started teaching piano at age 15, I have hated talking about  money. I dislike charging people, whether it's for writing services, piano instruction, or book selling. I like to get the money - I just dislike having to remind someone or give them a total.

No matter what your fear about marketing, it can be overcome. It really can. Today, we'll talk about book signings. I've both been to some and hosted my own.

Bonhoeffer Tour with Erix Metaxas.
Here are a few tips!

  • Pray about it. Give God all your worries and cares. Ask Him to let your event be successful - and then just leave it at that.
  • Relax. Take several deep breaths, drink an extra cup of coffee, and smile. Resolve to have fun, to appreciate every sale, and simply love every customer.
Tessa Emily Hall Purple Moon signing.
  • Have candy. Please, this is the number one rule to book signings. I hate to sound devious, but there are tricks to the trade. Kids will come running to the table for the candy, parents will have to chase them down, and viola! They are at your table. If you bring chocolate covered coffee beans or espresso candy, stressed out individuals will appear out of nowhere. Offer them two or three espresso pieces, they'll relax and warm up, and pretty soon you'll be talking books. Trust me, I have personal experience on this one. ;) And, if all else fails, you can pop the candy into your own mouth.
  • Get over the fact that you are talking about you. Because you aren't. I struggled with this (I sometimes still do), but...praise God for my consultants and agents! They told me in the gentlest and wisest way that it isn't my book, but God's. And it's true. God gave us the story, the vision and strength to write it, and now He wants us to share it with the world. Humbly bear in mind that you owe everything to God and it was His idea in the first place, then go give your spill. Give your elevator pitch. Allow that smile to tug at your mouth and that glow to come to your eyes. This is the job God gave you to do. Do it joyfully, with confidence, and with the knowledge that you owe everything to Him.
  • Stop worrying about the money thing. (Yes, I am preaching to myself here.) This is what you do. This is your job just as much as any nurse, electrician, pastor, or barista. They get paid, you get paid. To make it easier, you can do what I do: give discounts, free shipping, or something else. :)
  • Do something unique and fun! I am going to be going in medieval costume to my next signing. If you write historical-fiction, go in costume. Maybe you write children's book. Dress up as a grandparent or a tribal story-teller or maybe even Mother Goose. ;) Do something to put yourself and others at ease and have fun!
  • Give a chance for a giveaway. People love free things!
  • Don't get discouraged. We've all had that experience where someone talks at the table forever, then leaves without buying a book. You can look at it from a loss point of view. Or you can look at it as you've blessed someone by giving them their time. I've had this happen, then go to another social event purely unattached to books and seen that same person again. You know what? They remember you as the kind author who talked to them.
  • Take pictures with your readers! They'll get a thrill, you'll get another photo for your website photo gallery.
  • Lastly, even if you don't sell many books, tell yourself it is OK. Chances are, you've handed out a dozen or more business cards. You've gotten your name out there. That is so important! Did you know most people have to hear about a book 10 times before they buy it? People now know about you. Hey, maybe they'll buy the ebook. :) And, according to my marketing agent, any exposure is good exposure.

What is your experience with book signings? Any questions?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!





Monday, March 24, 2014

Realism vs. Rebellion—How Should We Handle Flawed Characters? Part 1

You might have seen him—the well-muscled hero with a gun in his hand and bitter vengeance in his heart, ready to get even with those who have wronged him no matter what the cost.

Or maybe you've seen a stubbly outlaw pilfering goods from a steam train, swaggering out with a shrug and a toothy grin just before he can be caught again.

Or perhaps you've seen a more subtle version in a different era—perhaps the version with a bonnet and sweet curls—disdaining rules of politeness to the point that she will break them and find an excuse afterward. No great cause is required—no lives at risk or morals at stake—she will cross the line for shock value and for the sake of being “free” and “inspirational.”

As you can probably tell, I've been thinking a lot about heroes lately. We are always being told by page and screen what makes someone admirable . . . but have you noticed how often these characters are just like ordinary folks that have been planted in a different time and place? Have you noticed that they wear the right clothes and speak the right way, but their attitudes are rather, well, not exemplary?

Now, I realize there is a balance here. Sin is as old as the Fall, and autonomy has dogged mankind since before the word was coined. Sinful rebellion is in all of us, and temptations will always arise to make us stop crucifying it.

We want to infuse our characters with a bit of this realism, and this presents a two-fold challenge for us authors: 1) how we treat it, and 2) how we apply it.

How We Treat It

To illustrate my first point, I would call to mind just about any popular protagonist from books, movies, and TV shows. This character, presumably the “good guy,” somehow manages to get away with quite a few wrong things and, chances are, everyone will still be routing for him at the end. Perhaps he only does them to further his all-important

Friday, March 21, 2014

Violence In Christian Fiction: Another Perspective

Hello from Alicia A.Willis! As the Word Painters administrator, I would like to share a few thoughts. First, I am grateful to John for covering the first installment of this topic. I also wish to thank Jason for offering to cover the other side of the subject. Both men did an excellent job, and I am grateful we have both sides of the issue.

Secondly, my own opinion is somewhere in between both men's. My most violent book (not yet published) is rated at PG+13 for the persecution of the believers in ancient Rome. My other four titles are for all ages. Gathering from that, I think I agree with John that there is some need for some violence, but agree with Jason that it can be taken too far and portrayed in an unBiblical manner. Personally, in my own experience, I often pray about a scene before I write it and asked God to show me if anything is not needed or is too violent. I would advise that all writers do the same. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, not what the media or readers want. Honoring Him is the key!
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Violence In Christian Fiction: Another Perspective

The following is a guest post by Jason McIntire, author of The Sparrow Found A House and admin for Elisha Press.

Should Christian novels be violent? Like the previous author who addressed this question on Word Painters, I do not claim to have all the answers, nor am I attempting to create arbitrary rules for others. I am simply seeking God’s perspective on the issue, and my search has led me in a rather different direction.

What’s wrong with violence, anyway?

Before discussing the appropriateness of violence in Christian novels, we should first determine why we’re even asking the question. Why should we bother to avoid mentions of sharp things and blood in our writing at all? Why not just tell whatever story we feel like telling, in whatever way we feel like telling it?

The most common, obvious answer is that violence “bothers” some people. Girls faint; kids have nightmares. Yet this, in itself, isn’t the biggest problem with violence. In my view, the real problem is that it doesn’t bother some people.

Man is born with a propensity for wickedness (Jer. 17:9). Our baser instincts are gratified by violent stories, and this can start a cycle in which we get desensitized to violence, then begin to tolerate and even desire more extreme forms of it. Even small spurts of gratuitous gore can become stepping stones on this downward journey.

The Bible says God hates the love of violence (Psalm 11:5), so clearly, this isn’t something we want to facilitate. I believe we should be leading our readers back the other way – to more sensitivity, not less.

But isn’t the Bible a violent book?

Gruesome realities are undeniably depicted in the Old Testament. From Jael and the tent peg to the assassination of Eglon, we find descriptions that would be scandalous in a modern work of Christian fiction. Yet they’re in the Bible, so shouldn’t this sort of thing be acceptable in any context? In my opinion, that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

2 Samuel 13 goes into rather graphic detail about Amnon and Tamar. Would modern Christian writers do well to feature incestuous assault in their stories? That’s hard to imagine in light of Ephesians 5:12, which says, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.”
The Bible is a true story, not a novel. Those things really happened, and God ordained for us to know about them. Had the writers left them out, they would have been disobeying the Author and short-changing the readers.

When we write fiction, on the other hand, we are neither recounting true events nor operating under biblical-grade inspiration. We can essentially steer the plot however we like, and thus we are completely responsible for the type of content we present to our readers.

In my view, this content should be shaped more by the New Testament than the Old. Jesus made it clear that what was acceptable under the Old Covenant is not always okay under the New (Matt. 5:31-45). We live under the covenant of turn the other cheek, not in the era of smite everything that breathes. Our weapons are no longer carnal (2 Cor. 10:4), and the Old Testament wars are there for instruction, not emulation in the flesh.

What if it’s necessary to the story?

Violence is sometimes unavoidably called for in literature. For example, it’s virtually impossible to write a war novel without any battle scenes. But there’s more than one way to communicate the same essential idea. Stating that a character was stabbed, for example, is one thing. Describing the event in detail, replete with Heinz 57 Varieties, is another.

I believe we should use fictional force in much the same way we’d use physical force in the real world: Only when absolutely necessary, and with as much restraint as possible.

No, there is no thin red line.

If there were a book written by God called The Divine Guide To What Is And Isn’t Acceptable In Christian Entertainment, it would sell out to Christian content creators in the first ten seconds. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. That leaves us walking by faith – which, as it turns out, is the only way to please God anyway (Heb. 11:6, Rom. 14:23).

Scripture does make one thing clear: We’re not under the law, but we are to restrict our own liberty rather than offend a weaker brother (1 Cor. 8:13).

Based on that admonition, here is the general guideline I personally use when writing about violence and other potentially questionable elements. I call it POLO – the Principle Of Least Offense: If what I am writing will likely cause a problem for the youngest, weakest member of my approved audience, out it goes.

As writers, we create more than paintings of words. We create intellectual “food” for others to consume. I believe we owe it to them – and most of all to our Lord – to make that food as pure as possible.

Thank you, John and Jason, for covering this topic!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should Christian Novels Be Violent?

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I write violent books.

At least nineteen weapons are pictured on the front and back covers of my Men of Grit series. My characters have fought on four continents and against more than twice that many nationalities.

Is that okay? Is it biblical to write violent books? If so, how graphic can the violence be?

Those are questions I’ve often pondered, and today I’m giving you my perspective on this controversial subject.

I Don’t Have All the Answers

I want to be very clear that I make no claim to knowing all the answers. What I’m about to say is based upon my understanding of the Bible, and I neither pretend to have a perfect understanding of the Bible nor do I think I’ve perfectly succeeded in following these principles. But that’s my goal.

The Bible is a Violent Book

I think that it’s absolutely fine for Christian novels to be violent because the Book of books is violent.

Cain killed Abel. David gleaned 200 Philistine foreskins. Christ whipped the moneychangers out of the temple.

The Bible is full of violence, and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, so it is obviously okay for books to contain violence.

How Graphic Can Violence Be?

This is where things get fun. Objective answers (yes or no) are almost always easier to answer than subjective answers (how much or how little).

Note: My comments here are specifically restricted to graphic violence in books. Violence in movies and video games is a different beast and is outside of this article’s scope.

Let’s see how graphically the Bible depicts violence.

And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his [King Eglon’s] belly: and the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out. ~ Judges 3:21-22
And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel. ~ Judges 19:29
Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. Hosea 13:16
I think you’ll agree with me that the Bible describes violence graphically. Therefore, I believe that it’s okay to write about violence graphically — but it’s not always wise. There are many times where the Bible references a violent act without going into details.

What is the Purpose of Violence?

The crux of this article is: Violence should not be included in a novel simply to titillate the reader.

Every element of a novel should be written to the glory of God. Specifying the details of an execution just because they will make the reader react viscerally isn’t appropriate. It may be appropriate to specify details if they’re vital to explaining a character’s motivation in the grand scheme of the story. But most likely, the nitty gritty details aren’t essential, and if they are, it’s possible that you’re writing the wrong story.

I believe there is a line beyond which the description of violence is too graphic, but I think that line is going to be different for each author, and I believe it’s more important that an author decides how graphic his/her violence will be based upon what they think is glorifying to God, rather than some defined series of rules.

I don’t think that my own books are too violent (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written them). I’ve heard from a few readers who think they are too violent, and many others who appreciate how child-friendly they are.

Violence is a controversial subject in which it is impossible to please everyone, so I’m all the more glad that my goal is to please God and then let people think of my books what they wish.

Violence Can De-Glamorize War

That sounds counterintuitive. War is all about violence, so how can detailing the violence in war de-glamorize it?

Have you ever watched the old cowboy movies where the hero pulls the trigger and the bad guy falls down — end of scene? It gets the point across (the bad guy died), but it also gives a skewed perspective of reality. War is a horrid thing. The Bible is full of warfare, so I don’t think it’s a problem to write about war, but painting it with sterilized colors doesn’t reflect its true horror.

Violence Levels Should Vary with Audience

Different levels of violence are appropriate for different ages. I wouldn’t choose storybooks featuring fields of slaughtered Saxons to read with my future three-year-olds, but I would let my future eight-year-olds read my Men of Grit series. Children are hugely different, so parents should be the ones deciding what level of violence is appropriate for their children.

In Summary . . .

I think that the amount and intensity of the violence you put into your books should be dictated by (1) your purpose in writing it and (2) the age range which you’re targeting.

What do you think about violence in Christian novels? Let me know in the comments section.

John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Seasonings

Interrupting this post to let you know it's the anniversary of my becoming an author! Check out my blog post HERE. Thank you all for being such a special part of my published life!
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Seasoning is vital. I am a New Mexico gal and I know. Spicy food is my forte - dishes chuck full of paprika, cumin, chili powder, jalapenos peppers, and red pepper. I even like Mexican coffee, just swimming with spicy cinnamon.

For you dear readers all around the world, I'll just explain that we New Mexico people eat dishes called fajitias (chicken or beef highly seasoned with hot spices, mixed with sauteed bell peppers and onions, spooned into a tortilla, and topped with cheese). We also eat enchiladas (my favorite kind is made with browned ground beef; mixed with hot chopped green chili; and layered with cheese and fried corn tortillas in a pan and baked.) We also eat lot of pinto beans and Spanish rice around here.

A word of warning: if you don't like hot food, don't try the above! Hola, fajitas!

Why did I say all that? Because now you know a little bit about the culture I live in. It's very Spanish and Tribal dominated. Think plazas, senoritas, old Catholic churches, tribal lodges, the beautiful Spanish language, rustic guitars, burros, way too many prickly pear and cacti, and ranches.

Now let's apply this to writing. What is your story without cultural spiciness?

Your spices are made up of cultural phrases or lingo. Or the three A's: Accents, Authentic words, and Actions natural to the era.

Here are a few tips on how to apply them.

  • Research words and phrases from the era you are writing about. Some words have very different meanings back then than they do today. For instance, in the Old American West, thoroughbred meant a gentleman. Coffee was called Arbuckles. In the Middle Ages, a form of dagger was a mesericorde.
  • Be careful about which words you insert. :) We have our swear words today - they had theirs then. Research and make sure you aren't inserting a word which had some unpleasant meanings.
  • Don't overdo it on the accents. I've read a book or two that went way too far and I eventually stopped reading the accented dialogue altogether. It was just too much of a pain to sort through. Introduce the fact that your character has an accent one or two times and eventually your reader will naturally start creating the accent in his mind. Don't end with an apostrophe too many times. 
          Example: givin'; takin'; shootin'.
  • Whereas today, someone might finger a cell phone, consider what one would finger in another era. A muzzleloader? A tin mug? A dagger? Maybe a signet ring, the folds of a cape, a belt buckle? You don't always have to give a description of what a character is wearing. Show it instead, by having him/her touch or finger something.
  • Know something about your character's past that you never really explain in words. But it will still come out into your writing and your reader will have some inner consciousness of it. In this case of adding "spice", make it some cultural aspect. 
  • Be natural. While adding spice, don't overdo it or your reader will be overwhelmed. Sprinkle the words, the accents, the actions here and there for a charming effect - not an overwhelming sensation of stepping off a plane into a chaotic jungle.
Special thanks to Caitlin Hedgcock for writing about cooking last time. She inspired me to write about the spices! 

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!


Monday, March 10, 2014

The Writers Bookself: Five Books Every Author Should Have



1. The Holy Bible
Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
This should be the book that we base not only or lives on, but what we write as well.

112 Christian Authors and Publishing Professionals Share Their Best Advice for Novelists
This is one of best books of advice and encouragement for Christian authors. It isn't very expensive either.

Finding the Core of Your Story
If you struggle with telling others what your story is about and/or need to write a synopsis, this is the book for you.

A Novel Idea: Everything You Need to Know about Writing Inspirational Fiction
This book has a lot of helpful tips and tricks of writing fiction, sorted by topic. How do you write romantic scenes? What do you do about language? These and many other questions are covered.


The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression
Although not a strictly Christian book, this is such a helpful resource. How do you show, not tell that a character is angry? this book will help. What are some of the inner thoughts might go through a excited person? Yes, this book can help.


Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of four published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Help One Another

I am a big fan of authors helping one another.

(I'm a big fan of tying all things into the medieval era too, if you haven't already noticed. In this case, it is a squire helping a knight.)

When I was getting started as an author, back in May 2012, I noticed a few things that rather bothered me - and hurt me. Big-time authors had no time for the new kids on the block. Whether it was for writing advice, a quick critique, or just me being friendly, they didn't have the time. Most times, they didn't even respond to me.

And, right then and there, I resolved that no matter how famous (or not) I ever might become, I would always devote some portion of my time to helping budding young authors. We can't always get to that eager email from a younger writer immediately - but we can make sure we do respond in at least two weeks. We can't always accept every book review or endorsement we are asked to do - but we can reply kindly to the email and we can make a point to do as many as is in our power.

Now don't get me wrong. I know how busy authors are. A lot of us don't have the luxury to devote ourselves just to our writing and marketing. I certainly don't! But, as a very, very busy person with a very active lifestyle, I can tell you firsthand that we can make choices about how we manage our time and how we respond to others.

And not all big-time authors are like that. I've been blessed to get to know Betsy St. Amant and Anne Mateer. Both are traditional, big-house authors with successful author careers. Both are sweet, real, and take the time to care about other writers. And they've always made me feel that I can go to them with my author questions. In fact, I have - on more than one occasion! Others, such as Douglas Bond, the office of Francine Rivers, and Priscilla Shirer, have always been very prompt and courteous as well.

But all we all tend to fall into a rut. We can all do better with helping each other out. So here are a few ideas for you to help an author or writer you know!

  • Not only take the time to write reviews, but write good ones. Click HERE for a previous post on the subject. Be mindful of not plastering negativity all over the internet or becoming a hater.
  • Buy a book or ebook every once in a while. By the time the publisher, retailers, and taxes get their chunk, authors tend to not make much. 
  • Like an author's Facebook page, follow their blog, and occasionally send them a card or email to encourage them. Even the big time authors get discouraged. 
  • If a young writer contacts you, be sure to reply. You don't always have to invest hours of time into them, but if you see some promise, be certain to send them some helpful tips. 
Yes, it is a tough marketing world out there. But if we are more concerned about competition and the almighty dollar, I don't think God will bless our books.

Now to practice what I preach!

I'd like to introduce you to two books that I had the pleasure of endorsing and reviewing during the last few months. They are both best for girls 10-16 and are written by two very sweet home-schooled authors.


Adventures and Adversities:

Family Reunion

Check them out!

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Entertainment for Writers

You are ready to spend some time watching a movie or reading a book, after all, you have been writing and editing all day. However, you still want to be inspired while you are enjoying yourself. Why not pick up a tale about a writer? Here are a few of my favorites.

Books

A January Bride (A Year of Weddings, #2)
A fluffy book with with some romance, but a short relaxing read. You can read my review here.

Love Among the Chickens
This a humorous tale about a writer that gets involved with a chicken farm. You can read my review here.

Just Jane (Ladies of History, #2)
Need a break from books filled with romance? Just Jane is perfect. The message in this book was wonderful. Besides, it is a well researched fictional account of the life of Jane Austen. Read my review here.

Little Women: Little Women Series, Book 1
Little Women is a classic story and wonderful, wholesome one at that. Joe's struggles as a writer ones that many of us will face.



Movies
Very clean, family movie about a girl who asks help from a writer who writers adventure books. The writer is afraid of very everything even though she writes about a brave hero.
Modesty warning: the girl does wear shorts and the writer wears a tank top for part of the film

This movie is sad ans sweet at the same time. There is romance in this one and Miss Potter does not have the best of relationships with her parents. However, I enjoyed this film's creativity and the bitter-sweetness of the romance.

Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea
Anne of Green Gables (1985) Poster Anne of Avonlea (1987) Poster
Anne is a very flawed heroine, but lovable. She is an aspiring writer, who wants to leave her readers in tears. These are very funny movies.