Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Batting our Bicuspids for Books”

NOTE: At the end of today’s post, I’ve got an exciting announcement about the first ever interview to appear on this blog! I’m so excited I could scream (but I’m in the library at the moment, so I won’t).

The Apostle John and the Apostle Peter are seated at a table in a nice cafe in Jerusalem, enjoying a kosher breakfast, when in stomps the Apostle Paul, frustration furrowed across his brow. He’s rubbing his bald head and muttering.

“What’s wrong?” asks John as Paul paces next to the table.

“I’ve just come from Parchment Express. The business cards I ordered are still not ready!”

“Oh, for my sake,”Peter blurts. The two other Apostles turn and stare at him. His hand freezes inches from his mouth, a piece of dried fish pinched in his fingers. “Was that out loud?”

John nods. Paul rolls his eyes.

“Sorry,” Peter adds. “That’s a bad habit I’ve got.”

“As I was saying,” Paul says tartly, “I healed two guys in line, only to find out my two-colored cards–with all the relevant contact information for my next missionary journey–are not going to be ready on time. I’m going to have to head across the sea, and when I step out of the boat…no cards!”

“No cards,” mumbles Peter. “Try doing it with NO LAND!” His eyes go wide. “Opps…did it again.”

“Do you want me to oppose you to your face again?” Paul yells.

John bolts to his feet. “Brethren, let us love one another!”

Paul rubs the bridge of his hooked nose. “I’m sorry, Peter. It’s just that it was my whole marketing campaign.”

Peter downs the rest of his non-fermented grape juice (after all, it’s not yet 9 a.m.). “I can understand the frustration, Paul.” He slaps his hand on the table, his cheeks growing redder than usual. “I can’t get the scroll host for the church scrollsite to respond to any of my epistles! And my mother-in-law’s wanting to post recipes.”

“Have either of you ever tried animal stickers?” John asks.

“What?” Peter and Paul say in unison.

“You put them on the back ends of horses, mules, or camels. It’s a new marketing idea. I’m not sure it’s going to stick around,” John says, then busts out in a deep belly laugh. He finally catches his breath. “Stick around” Get it?”

Peter and Paul banish John from the cafe.

Friends, the best marketing strategy known to man hasn’t really changed. It’s called WORD OF MOUTH. Business cards, bumper stickers, bookmarks, and coffee mugs are fine, but they’re not a substitute for getting the word out by “batting our bicuspids.” (I use that phrase in honor of Dr. Howard Hendricks. I heard him use it in a sermon many years ago). I believe that, as writers of Christian fiction, we have a duty to one another to tell other people about the many great books that are available. Most people will pick up a book that someone they trust recommends. So if you loved a book, let someone know. Talk up other authors and their books. If you’ve been blessed by a book, chances are many other readers will be also.

Pick a book you’ve loved recently and tell ten people about it in the next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“How To Build A Writer”

If we put on ill-fitting lab coats and gathered in a dank laboratory, in order to give life to the next great writer, how would we start?

How would we build a WRITER from scratch?

What necessary parts would we need to stitch together so that our Franken-writer would do more than keep polishing the same three chapters while moaning and stomping around like there’s a rusty bolt lodged in an uncomfortable place?

We’d probably want a writer with a noggin stuffed with the type of grey matter that can remember the lessons that matter, while shoving aside the unhelpful stuff. And this build-it-yourself cranium needs to be sturdy enough to ram its way through writer’s block, have a face that looks good in author’s photos, and have a nose that can be held to the grindstone. Not to mention a mouth that knows when to open and when to stay closed.

Next we’d want to give this writer a heart. Not just any old blood-pumper either. It needs to be a heart that’s strong enough to love, and hard enough that it’s not easily broken when people don’t love back. The heart will be soaked in a strong solution of passion fluid that will keep it tender. And this heart will have room to care for the needs of readers and other writers.

Give Franken-writer a godly soul, and this prototype will keep the right priorities in the correct order, desire to follow God through thick and thin, and consider each story to be an offering to God.

At some point–and much to our disgust, perhaps–we’ll need to turn our attention to Franken-writer’s rump region, and tack on a fairly generous amount of seat-meat. It needs to be padded well enough to endure long sessions in a desk chair, yet firm enough to withstand a good, hard kick from friends and foes alike. And, yes, it will have to be able to take repeated coatings of butt-glue when Franken-writer needs to stay in the desk chair, but doesn’t “feel like” writing anymore.

And Franken-writer’s entire body will need to be covered with a thick hide that can withstand the barbs of criticism, and scrub clean with soap and water.

That’s just some of what we’ll need to give our Franken-writer. On second thought…why don’t we just concentrate on how WE can be the greatest writer WE CAN BE? After all, we have some ideas on what it takes, right?

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“Top 10 Ways to Tell if YOU’RE a Writer”

“Am I a writer?” Many people wonder about it, so how can you really tell? [Cue drum roll, please]…from the bottom of my heart, I offer these “tips” as a way to answer the “Am I? Am I not? dilemma:

Top 10 ways to tell if you’re a writer:

#10:  Your spouse tells you that you mumble “What if? What if?” in your sleep each night.

#9:  You’re trying to invent a laptop that dispenses coffee from one of its USB ports.

#8:  Your best conversations are with people who don’t really exist.

#7:  You put more time into naming your characters than you do your children.

#6:  When you holler at your children it sounds like: “Barnes! Tell Noble to share his drink with Starbucks while I go change Amazon’s diaper. And would someone go tell Scrivener to turn down his stereo or I’m going to track change his epilogue! And, Macintosh, clean up your dangling participles or I’m going to google your father! And don’t query me like that!”

#5:  When someone cuts you off in traffic, you roll down your window and yell, “That’s it! You have no idea what I’m going to do to you in my next book!”

#4:  You’ve seriously considered using a Porta-Potty as a desk chair.

#3:  You have a wristband with the letters WWJSBD on it, which stands for “What Would James Scott Bell Do?”

#2:  You’re constantly tempted to stop and line-edit your King James Bible during morning devotions.

#1:  You know entirely too many ways to kill someone with exotic poisons, before disposing of their body using a Swiss Army knife and Ziplock freezer bags.

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“This is Writing”

To journey far to the places in my mind,

to touch, smell, see, taste, hear, and find

the words that wait for the breath of life;

This is writing.

To give life through labored anticipation,

to join with God in the gift of creation,

in awe of the life-giving power of words;

This is writing.

To bring forth from my soul this offering,

to my God, the first-fruits of story I bring,

then bare my soul for the sake of another’s;

This is writing.

To watch what I’ve nurtured go on its way,

to caress, then release it–never forgetting to pray,

 that, with God’s blessing, I can give life again;

This is writing.

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“Getting the Max from your Ax”

I stared into the kind eyes of my Youth Minister and waited. He cleared his throat and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk. “I’m thrilled you believe God wants you to preach His Word. But,” he said as he leaned back in his chair, “while I admire your passion to go from town to town and preach on street corners and places like that, it’s probably not the best strategy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me put it to you this way,” he said. “there’s an old saying, you can cut down more trees with a sharp ax than with a dull one. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Kind of, I guess.” Actually I wasn’t sure.

“It means that you need to take time to prepare…to stand over the stone and grind a sharp edge on your ax so you can be ready to chop away. Additionally, you need to learn how to handle an ax from people who’ve used one effectively and often. What I’m saying is that you need time to mature as a believer. You need to learn the Bible so you can handle it accurately.”

He was right, of course. And that conversation, thirty-one years ago, led me to Bible College to “sharpen my ax.” The grinding process was a combination of education and experience. I leaned theology. I learned preaching and teaching. I learned discipline that strengthened my devotion. And I had plenty of opportunities to preach while doing it.

The same lessons applies to writing. Passion, while important, isn’t enough. I have to work at writing, study writing, and live writing–while keeping the flame of passion from being smothered by discouragement or frustration. Another wise person (a writer for whom I have the highest respect) reminded me recently that patience is important. In other words, take time to sharpen the ax. Go to conferences. Join a writers group. Enter contests. And keep writing and submitting your work, my friend. Keep swinging the ax, just remmeber…you’ll cut down more trees with a sharp ax than with a dull one.

So I’ll see you around the grindstone.

 

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“Top 10 Worst ways to start an Elevator Pitch.”

The moment has finally arrived. You and the agent or editor of your dreams are alone in an elevator. Here are the top 10 worst ways to start the dreaded elevator pitch:

10:  By blinking uncontrollably and proclaiming, “I’ve only got a few seconds before my medication wears off. Listen carefully!”

9:  By snickering and saying, “Bad hair day, huh?”

8:  By yawning, then saying, “Eight hours…that’s how long I’ve waited on this elevator just to get the privilege of talking to yoooou.”

7:  By running up the elevator as the door is closing, sticking your face in and with wild-eyed enthusiasm yelling, “heeeeeer’s Johnny!”

6:  By foaming at the mouth.

5:  By removing your shirt and saying, “I’ll prove I was born to be a writer…look at my birthmark. Doesn’t it look like Edgar Allan Poe?”

4:  After throwing up on their shoes, you say, “I feel like we’re bonding. Let’s talk about my story.”

3:  After failing miserably at your first attempt, and just as they are preparing to step out of the elevator, you jump in front of them, punch the button that closes the doors and tearfully wail, “Do over!”

2:  By grabbing their hand and praying, “Dear God–Who called me to be a writer and has promised to pour out scorching wrath upon any person who stands in my way of publication–please help this person to be open to Your gracious will.”

1:  By staring at them and mentioning that an agent tried to test you once, and then adding, “I ate their liver…with some Fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

Happy pitching!

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“I dedicate this book to…”

Yes, I read the dedication page in every novel I read. And, yes, I think about what I’ll put on the dedication page of my debut novel (when that day comes). There’s a special kind of emotional energy spelled out in that small section of thanks and appreciation. And I’m willing to bet that many writers put a ton of thought and effort into the words they use there–at least on their first few books.

So I was thinking…since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, I wanted to share an idea with you. If I had the great privilege of turning in a dedication page for my first novel, and it needed to submitted today, it would read like this:

Loving. Supportive. Sacrificial. Honest. Patient. My Beloved. All these words describe the person to whom I dedicate this book: my wife, Kristal. Your understanding and encouragement has made this writer’s journey possible. My dear, I count my life blessed because you are in it. And I look forward to the new chapters that God has yet to write in our life together.

If you were preparing a dedication page today, what would it say?

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody.

 

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“Seeing With Your Ears”

Would you be willing to try something for five minutes? It’s safe, legal, and free. Ready? Great! Here’s the idea:

Find a comfortable place and stand/sit there for five minutes with your eyes closed.

Listen–really listen–to what is around you. How would you describe what you are hearing? Were the sounds layered? Was there one predominate noise that took charge of the space? Did sounds come from many directions? Distances?

When speaking to blind people and how they function and interact with the world, many times we learn that they see with their other senses. Their ability to hear, smell, or even taste their environment often leaves them more acutely aware of their surroundings than those of us with sight. I’m certainly not saying that it’s good that they are blind, nor am I saying that those of us who aren’t should want to be blind. Not at all. But I am saying that the privilege of sight often is allowed to overpower our other senses. And we need all of our senses to work at a high level if we’re going write stories that capture our readers from page one. But for this post, let’s concentrate on the sense of hearing.

Back to my original challenge:  Will you try this experiment once, then let me know what you observed with your ears? Write a reply to this post and share with my readers. I can’t wait to hear–or should I say see–what you discovered.

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“Top 10 Bad Ways to Start a Proposal Letter”

One of the jobs of a writer is to craft and send out query and/or proposal letters. There are many wonderful resources available to help a writer do so with professional flair. Below is a list of a few ways NOT to start a query/proposal:

10:  “Have I got a deal for you! And if you’ll lower your commission to below 10%, I’ll let you represent me–at least for my first book.”

9:  “I was talking to my cat, Mr. Wiggles, and he told me I should let you be the first one to see this book.”

8:  “I wrote me this here book, see. It ain’t not like any book what’s been wroted before.”

7:  “I have to use a pen name because I’m being pursued by the FBI. For  a current “author’s photo”, you can see me in just about any post office. If you’re interested, tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree. I’ll be in touch.”

6:  “Hello, dear. I’m writing you because my thirty-five-year-old son–who is unemployed and lives in our basement–has written a book. He’s a decent writer when he’s sober.”

5:  “Hello. My name is Suede Beefcake…” (couldn’t resist 🙂  If you’ve read my posts, you know…) However, as a bonus, let me offer another number 5:  “UFOs are scary. I should know. I wrote this novel when I was held captive on one.”

4:  “Since I’m sure you’re going to want to be my agent, I’ve taken the liberty of signing you up for your choice of either a gift certificate for Kilts-R-Us, or a year’s subscription to the “Laxative Of The Month Club” as a token of my appreciation!

3.  “You seem like a nice person. I’ve been following you for a long time. But since you lock your car doors everyday, I’ve decided to email my book to you instead of leaving a copy on your driver’s seat.”

2.  “I’ve written a book in secret code. If you’re ready to represent me, I’ll send you the secret agent decoder ring.”

1: “I’ve tried everyone else on this list, so now I’m sending this book to you. You’ll probably hate it too.”

Just keep this list handy when you’re ready to send out a query letter or a proposal. Can you suggest any other bad beginnings?

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That Small But Loyal Band”

One of the disciplines that I try to keep up as a writer–and one that I recommend to writers at all stages of their writing journey–is to keep two types of reading a part of your regular routine: First, always be reading a novel or two. Read novels of all genres. Learn to appreciate the skill of another writer’s ability to tell a story. Second, always read, and reread, books on the craft of writing. And don’t limit your reading to only your particular type of writing–fiction writers can learn from those inclined to the non-fiction side of the table, and visa versa).

I’m glad to tell you about the craft book I’m reading now, because it has been a tremendous blessing to me. It’s published by Writer’s Digest Books (they have several great ones), and is called Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I highly recommend this book by Rebecca McClanahan. It’s impossible to quote every line or paragraph that has wowed me (I think there are laws discouraging such liberal borrowing), so let me share just one quote (emphasis mine):

“Unlike visual artists, we [writers] have no brushes, no clay, no glazes, no many-colored palette to aid us in describing our world. And unlike performing artists, we have no keyboard, no trombone, no toe shoes, no tutu, no midair leap with which to stun our audience and ourselves. What we have is the alphabet, that small but loyal band of vowels and consonants.

Since the word is our only tool, we cannot afford to be imprecise…”

Writers are artists. I’m awed and humbled by that concept. Moreover, we’re using what has been entrusted to us as writers–namely words–to paint new worlds, or at least new perspectives of the old world, for our readers. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But writers know that the right words–precise and evocative–can be worth a thousand pictures in our readers minds.

So paint away, my friend. Gather that “small but loyal band of vowels and consonants” into a work of art. The world will be a more beautiful place because you did.

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