February 25

Me Tarzan, You Jane

1-IMG_4645It absolutely astounds me just how badly some otherwise educated people write. I was reading a post today about a technical issue, and it was mostly gibberish—not because the technical information was beyond me (even though, admittedly, it probably was), but because of sentences like the following: “Want stay in the web business might start learning how to bake and ship cupcakes.” Me Tarzan, you Jane.

It may be that he was trying to say, “Those who want to stay in the web business . . .” but who knows for sure? And trust me, there were other sentences with syntax that was even more tortured.

I chose this particular sentence because I think I know what the author was trying to say (though I’m not entirely sure). I did not cite other sentences that made no sense at all, because I am sure the author would say I could not understand them simply because I am not technically astute enough (as if bad grammar and syntax were irrelevant).

I suspect that the failure to communicate here was simply the result of publishing a first draft rather than reviewing the material. Posting is too easy, isn’t it? That “Publish” button sits there on the page, begging you to click on it. But before you succumb to that temptation, take a few minutes to READ (not skim) what you have written. Is it going to be understandable to those of us who do not live inside your brain? If you don’t take the time to double-check what you’ve written, you may fail to communicate. And no matter how technically smart you are, your credibility will suffer if you end up with sentences that make you sound like George of the Jungle.

January 10

And the Winner Is . . .

Congratulations to April Korianitis, the winner of our book contest!9780891124504 April wins a copy of Kathy Collard Miller and Larry Miller’s latest book, Never Ever Be the Same.

For those who are interested in such things, here is how the winner was chosen:

To be eligible, you had to read Kathy and Larry’s post here, and then post a comment. We had six commenters (excepting Kathy and myself), but there were two others who tried to comment, and for some strange reason the website wouldn’t let them do it, so I added them to the list.

I numbered each name, randomly, 1 to 8. Then I took a calculator and multiplied eight random numbers. Finally, I used the last digit of the resulting total and chose the corresponding name, which happened to be April.

Does that sound random enough for you? If not, too bad! Those who lost, lost fair and square. You’ll just have buy a copy of Never Ever Be the Same, I guess. Kathy and Larry will appreciate that, I’m sure!

January 3

Make Your Words Hit the Heart!

0036_MillerIn this blog post, my good friends, Kathy Collard Miller and Larry Miller, share a technique for aiming your words straight to the heart of the reader. Check out what they have to say, and at the end of this post, we’ll tell you how you may be able to win a free copy of their latest book. — Dave Fessenden

How can words, which are read with the mind, touch the heart? That’s the challenge for any author: both fiction and non-fiction. And that was certainly the challenge for my husband and I as we wrote our book Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today (Leafwood Publishers).

The reason? Our non-fiction book is about encouraging and equipping Christians to become more holy! But we wanted to encourage holiness at the heart, not only in behavior. Because of counseling and being open to God revealing the hidden—and often sinful—motives of our hearts, we were having a heart change. And we wanted that for others.

But how to touch our readers’ hearts with words?

We found the answer in sharing stories. Yes, we included Bible instruction and practical ideas but we knew we needed “story” to impact the heart. And so we shared our own stories—and those of others—in powerful, fiction kind of techniques. We remembered how to do that using a DEA acrostic:

D: description and dialogue. Give descriptive details of the setting and people. Write out the dialogue.

E: emotion: how are you and other characters feeling?

A: action: include body movements, setting changes, character reactions.

Let me give you an example from our book.

I, Larry, was taking a walk with Kathy recently and she asked me, “Honey, remember how you mentioned that you rarely prayed before a potentially dangerous situation that you faced as a police officer? Why do you think you didn’t pray?”

I paused and stroked my beard. “Well, I would pray for the safety of other officers but frankly I never gave a thought about praying for myself. I was so confident in my training and decision making skills that I believed I was prepared for anything.”

Kathy looked curious. “That seems a little presumptuous. Could your prayerlessness be tied to your first acting role?”

(For the sake of word count, I won’t give all of the interaction but Larry recalled how as a junior higher he had all-consuming stage fright in a play and stood mute on the stage stopping the play. As a result, he vowed to never be out of control again so that his weakness wouldn’t be exposed.)

Then we pick up the story:

I turned to Kathy and my voice raised because I knew an “ah-ha” moment was coming. “I was presumptuous because I was terrified. I falsely believed there was no room for God in those crisis situations. My training, skill, and mastery over my job just took charge. I spent my entire life honing that strategy of depending upon myself to prevent any weakness from being exposed.”

We continued chatting and the puzzle pieces fell into place. “I realize now that anything that threatened my image must be handled by the only one I really trusted: me! I left God out of the equation so that I could maintain control. Of course I would gladly pray for the protection of my peers. That cost me nothing. It didn’t make me look weak—only them!”

As we walked, headed for home, I felt a sense of sadness and repentance that my prayerlessness was rooted in a rebellious spirit that instinctively rejected anything that a sovereign God might place in my path. I exclaimed, “Oh honey, it’s a good thing I am redeemed!”

Kathy Collard Miller is the author of 50 books and has spoken in 31 states and 8 foreign countries. Kathy and her husband, Larry, have been married 44 years and he is a retired police lieutenant who also speaks and writes. Larry and Kathy speak often together and individually on a variety of topics. They live in Southern California, and have two grown children and one grandson. Visit them at www.LarryAndKathy.com and www.KathyCollardMiller.com.

9780891124504Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today (Leafwood Publishers) offers Christians hope that they can change their destructive patterns of behavior through identifying their sinful self-protective strategies and then being empowered to trust God instead. Their book includes biblical principles, insightful stories, and helpful instruction. It also provides discussion questions that can be used by individuals or groups. Never Ever Be the Same is available at your local Christian bookstore and in both print and digital versions at:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy
CBD: http://bit.ly/1AuJZSX
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1BJz3lC

Would you like a free copy of Kathy and Larry’s book? Just leave a comment to enter the drawing, and “one lucky winner” will be sent a copy of Never Ever Be the Same!

December 6

Switching Gears Can Improve Your Message

gearsA really common and helpful little rhetorical technique that will make your writing far more easy to understand is something I call switching gears.

Essentially, it is the act of changing the direction of your argument, by either discussing the opposite of what you have been talking about, correcting possible misunderstandings that may have arisen, or bringing up a related or contrasting topic. You have been making a point, and reiterating that point, until you begin to realize that you are on the verge of making a nuisance of yourself. So just stop beating your drum and come at the issue from a different angle.

You probably already practice this technique. Anytime you start a paragraph with “On the other hand . . .” or “This does not mean that . . .” or “In the same way . . .” you are doing gear-switching. You do it without thinking, but it’s always better to do something consciously, so that you can do it with more finesse—and avoid doing too much!

Which leads to the point that you don’t have to use this technique with every argument. (Notice that I just switched gears myself? It’s addictive!) But it’s often helpful when you want to avoid beating your argument to death.

November 22

A Word of Encouragement (?) from H. Allen Smith

H. Allen Wolfgang Smith

For those of you out there who don’t know the name, H. Allen Smith was a journalist and humorist of the 1940s and 1950s. I’ve admired him for years, ever since reading his book, Lost in the Horse Latitudes. However, in preparing this blog post, I learned a few new things about him, like the fact that his first name is Harry and his second middle name is, incredibly, “Wolfgang” (I’ll bet the kids in grade school had a field day with that one!).

It is probably safe to say that he was the epitome of the hard-bitten reporter, and almost everything he wrote was sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek. So when you read the following quote from him (you were probably wondering why I was talking about this guy, weren’t you?), you have to realize that he’s really just pulling your leg. So, here goes:

In America we know writers for what they are—insufferable troublemakers. Unless he can catch a lot of fish like Ernest Hemingway, a man who writes in America is a man who is incapable of making an honest living, a pantywaist sort of person indulging in a profession that is close kin to working in needlepoint, rug hookery and crying at weddings.

Aren’t you glad I warned you? Smith goes on to say that when he applied for a passport in New York, he made the mistake of identifying himself as a writer. While other professions were processed through quite quickly, he was cross-examined at some length!

Why do I call this a word of encouragement? Well, let’s look at the point of his comment. You have to realize he’s telling us not what he really believes (he’s a writer himself), but what society at large thinks of us writers.

I’d like to say that the church has a different attitude, but I’m not so sure about that! And maybe that’s to be expected. Christian writers often have a prophetic function in the church, and as Jesus said, we don’t like to listen to a prophet’s words until he’s safely dead, buried in his nice, tidy, whitewashed tomb.

Why? Because we’re troublemakers, that’s why. We shake up the status quo, butcher sacred cows and generally make a nuisance of ourselves. After all, what was the first thing nasty old King Ahab said when he saw Elijah? “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah was called a troublemaker, so why shouldn’t we?

So let me, and H. Allen Smith, give you this word of encouragement: Go out there and stir up some trouble, in the spirit and power of Elijah!


October 21

Blog Hop!

bloghopHello, friends. I have been asked to participate in a “blog hop.” This is an exercise similar to a chain letter, but without the threat of dire consequences if I break it.

Here’s how it works: Last week, Brenda Hendricks answered a series of questions about her book on her blog (check out her answers at http://myquotesofencouragement.com/). She then passed the baton to me, so I am answering the same questions (below) about my latest work-in-progress, the sequel to The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, which I have entitled The Case of the Boomerang Body.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic? 
The name of my main character is Thomas Watson, the only son of Dr. John Watson, sidekick to the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. So he obviously is fictional, but the setting and some of the other characters are historical, as you will see in my answer to the second question.
2) When and where is the story set? 
The story is set in Philadelphia in the 1920s, just as in my previous novel.

3) What should we know about him/her? 
Thomas left London a few years earlier to become a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia — and to escape from under the twin shadows of his famous father, and his even more famous friend. In the first novel, his father has died, and Thomas is saddled with the responsibility for Sherlock’s elder — and smarter — brother, Mycroft.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 
Thomas goes to a lonely spot on Forbidden Drive in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park to meet with banker Nicholas Wolfe, and finds him dead. He reports it to the police, but when they return to the spot, the body has disappeared. Thomas returns to the newspaper office to write up the story, but then Nicholas Wolfe shows up — alive — and accuses Thomas of perpetrating a hoax to get a front-page story. Thomas is fired, and his reputation is destroyed.

5) What is the personal goal of the character? 
His goal, not surprisingly, is to clear up the mystery of the “resurrected” Nick Wolfe, restore his reputation and get his job back. Mycroft, with his laid-back but brilliant sleuthing ability, assists Thomas in untangling the problem.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
As I mentioned, the working title is The Case of the Boomerang Body, and I will have a website about it available soon.

7) When can we expect the book to be published? 
I am furiously working to complete it with the hope that my publisher, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, can get it in print in late 2015.

And now, to continue the blog hop, it is my privilege to pass the baton to Hope Flinchbaugh. Hop on over to her blog next Tuesday at www.liftjesuscross.com, and learn about her work-in-progress, with the main character lifting Jesus’ cross in China. After that, hop on over to Michelle Baker′s blog, www.soldiersheartnovel.com, and find out about her Civil War-era story, Soldier′s Heart.

September 1

Do You Use “Big” Words?

DiegoDo you ever get accused of using “big” words in your writing? Your critics don’t really mean that the words are long, necessarily. They mean that the words are obscure or infrequently used, and suggest a pretentious attitude: “Look at me—see what a big vocabulary I have!”

I can appreciate the annoyance that a reader might have with such an attitude. It is similar to the hidden message that jargon and specialized terminology can have in a piece of writing. It tells the reader that if they do not understand the terms being used, they must not be part of the “in” crowd.

I don’t think writers do this on purpose all the time; in other words, I don’t think they are always being arrogant and elitist. For some people it is just the way they talk, and they don’t realize other people don’t talk that way. It can also be a form of shorthand; in specialized fields, certain terms (or abbreviations) are used to refer to a concept that does not have to be repeatedly explained to the audience it is written for.

Christian writers do this all the time. We mention salvation or justification with the assumption that our readers understand the theology behind these terms. This kind of shorthand is necessary, but we need to know our audience so that we don’t end up using words and phrases that readers don’t understand—or worse yet, terms they think they understand, but which they define differently than we do.

But often, that is not the case when we are accused of using “big” words. Our critics may know the definition of the words used, but but they are annoyed because the words are seemingly out of place. When you use an unusual word, it places an undue emphasis on a part of the sentence that is not appropriate. For example, if I wanted to quote a Bible verse, and I said, “The Bible articulates . . .” it is odd-sounding, because the emphasis should be on the words of Scripture, not on the verb that precedes them. It would be far better, of course, to simply say, “The Bible says . . .” Whenever you use a word that is out of the ordinary, check to see if you really want that part of the sentence to stick out.

Using “big” words is vain, and often hypocritical as well, because the inappropriate use of a word may indicate that you do not really know the definition (or, more likely, the connotation) of the word you are using. The next time you use a twenty-dollar word, look up its definition in a dictionary. You may be surprised to discover that it doesn’t mean what you thought it did!

By the way, a pocket thesaurus that does a good job of clarifying connotations is The Right Word II: A Concise Thesaurus Based on the American Heritage Dictionary, published by Houghton Mifflin (Mark H. Boyer, ed.).

August 15

The Writer’s World Blog Tour

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack PhotographyI’ve been invited to participate in the Writer’s World Blog Tour by my good friend, Ava Pennington, a fellow board member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN). She participated last week. I want to thank her for the opportunity, and suggest you get to know Ava and her books, because she is a gifted author, teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is published by Revell Books and is endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precepts Ministries International.

Ava has written numerous magazine articles and her stories have been published in more than 25 anthologies, including 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. In addition to writing and speaking, she teaches a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 175 women from September through May each year. She is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in engaging audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. She can be contacted through her website: www.AvaWrites.com, or through the following:

Blog: http://www.AvaWrites.com/blog

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AvaPennington.AuthorPage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AvaPennington

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/avapennington/

As part of the tour, I have been asked to answer the same four questions all the authors have been answering:

  1. What am I working on?My current project is a sequel to my first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, which came out last fall. This one will continue the story of Thomas Watson, the son of Dr. John Watson, and Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Sherlock Holmes, in 1920s Philadelphia. I’ve entitled it The Case of the Boomerang Body, and begins when Thomas, a newspaper reporter, finds the dead body of Nicholas Wolfe, a prominent banker, in a lonely stretch of Fairmount Park. But after Thomas reports it to the police and begins writing up the story, Nicholas Wolfe appears—alive and well—and accuses Thomas of trying to fabricate his death just to sell papers.

  2. How does my work differ from others in its genre? There are many pastiches (works that imitate the work of another author) of the Sherlock Holmes stories. What makes mine different, I think, is my attempt to introduce a Christian element into the story. While Thomas Watson is wrestling with the murder mystery he is confronted with, he is also wrestling with the mystery of faith.

  3. Why do I write what I do? I love a good mystery! And I have read every one of the Sherlock stories by Arthur Conan-Doyle at least a dozen times over. I’ve often wondered why Conan-Doyle didn’t include Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, into more of the stories—he’s such an interesting character! Also, as a believer, I am eager to share “the hope that is within me.” But it is my intent that the faith element be a natural part of my stories, in the way that it pervades the fiction of C.S. Lewis—obviously there, but never heavy-handed.

  4. How does my writing process work? I typically map out the entire plot before I do any major writing at all. I hear that many novelists just start writing with no idea of how the story will end. It sounds interesting, and I may try to do that someday, but I’m too curious; I want to know how the story ends. Besides that, I am working in a genre—murder mystery—in which the plot is intended to be a brain-teasing puzzle, so it is critical, in my thinking, to have all the details and chronology sewn up before doing any major writing. You have to be sure that someone you’ve killed off in one chapter doesn’t show up in the next—unless, of course, that’s the whole point of the plot, as in The Case of the Boomerang Body!

Now that I’ve shared a little about myself, I want to introduce the friend and fellow author who will follow me on this tour:

LinnetteMullin-5x7LINNETTE R. MULLIN is the author of Life-changing Romance and a freelance writer. Some of her writing credits include her debut novel, Finding Beth, and contributions to the compilations 101 Facets of Faith and Guidepost’s Extraordinary Answers to Prayer. She has also published in Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine and Public Health Alert, a nationally and electronically distributed newspaper for the chronically ill. Linnette is a member of ACFW and HACWN, the founder and director of Palmetto Christian Writer’s Network in Lexington, South Carolina, and the founder of the “We Are Writers” group on Facebook. Her favorite things in life are her family, her church, reading and writing, drinking tea (hot or sweet), and her Savior most of all. She loves to hear from her readers! For more information including her social network links, visit her at LinnetteRMullin.com. (http://www.linnettermullin.com/)

July 26

How to write a query letter

manwritesletterYou will notice that most book publishers will not accept unsolicited submissions of manuscripts or proposals. So how do you break through the submission barrier?

One way is to get an agent, of course, but another way is the query letter. This is similar in content to the cover letter of your proposal, in that you want to present in a few paragraphs the best parts of your proposal. A good way to do it is with a simple, three-paragraph outline:

PARAGRAPH 1: Hook them with a problem, a story, a question. Make sure it’s a good one. If it’s a problem, it needs to be important, with universal appeal. If it’s a story, it has to be a grabber. If it’s a question, it has to be compelling. Don’t use a question that begins with, “Did you know that . . . ?” Some editors are likely to respond, “Yes, I know that, and I don’t care.” And into the wastebasket it goes!

Some authors use the first paragraph of the book’s introduction or first chapter for this kind of opening hook. That can work very well sometimes — and if it doesn’t work, you should ask yourself why. If that paragraph doesn’t grab the editor in the query letter, maybe it’s not the best way to begin the introduction or the first chapter, either!

PARAGRAPH 2: An abbreviated version of your premise statement (what the book is about), and two or three of your most telling arguments from the proposal.

PARAGRAPH 3: Details about length, format (do you envision it as a soft-cover trade book, mass-market, hardcover “gift” book? Usually it’s soft-cover trade), and how soon the manuscript will be ready (unless it’s ready now). Finally, you conclude by asking if the publisher would like to see the proposal, and end with, “I look forward to hearing from you.”

In case you are wondering, no, it does not have to be a postal letter. You can send this to an editor by email. However, finding an editors email may be the hardest part of the submission process! If it isnt in The Christian Writers Market Guide, or in the publishers website, you may be forced to depend on the postal service.


July 24

Plagiarism? Well, I don’t know . . .

DriscollYou may have heard about the recent decision by Tyndale House Publishers to put the next book by mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll on hold, and not to reprint his previous one. Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism, because passages in his last book sound very similar to that of another author.

Even though I’m not a real fan of Mark Driscoll, I do wonder if he really was fully to blame, and if Tyndale should be assuming more responsibility for the problem. The passages would have been fine, the critics say, if they had been put in quotes and been footnoted. As an editor, I know that would normally be the responsibility of the author, but I also know that publishers who want to sign with a big-name author have to do a lot of the extra work, such as checking on quotes and footnotes.

So many of these preachers get books published which are little more than edited transcriptions of their sermons, and it is very common for quoted material in a sermon to be mistaken for the preacher’s own words. Sometimes a preacher will indicate that he is quoting by just his tone of voice; he thinks he is making it clear what he’s doing, but not everyone in the audience knows that he’s quoted someone else. Then the transcriber doesn’t always catch it, and then the editor, getting it second-hand or even third-hand, transcribed from spoken to written form, misses it completely, especially if the editor is not experienced with editing a transcriptions (a very difficult process, I can say from experience). And of course, in a sermon, a preacher would not quote someone and then say, “From the book, Faith, Hope and Love, by Joe Schmo, pages 53-54.”

Tyndale’s editors may or may not be at fault here, but one thing I can say for sure: editing transcribed material can be very difficult. I went crazy one time working with a transcription of A.W. Tozer sermons—I found that the transcriber even wrote out quotes from hymns and poems as regular text, making it look in the transcription like Tozer was saying it, not quoting it. I only caught those because they rhymed!

Mark Driscoll is quite controversial, and there are a variety of other issues for which he has fallen under criticism, all of which may be well-deserved. But as for this charge of plagiarism, I suspect he should be given the benefit of the doubt.