Not Everyone Should

Serious writers who’ve been in this business for any length of time quickly learn that most folks don’t respect the hard work that goes into our craft. Those non-writers who do respect the craft are usually avid, serious readers, though I know a few non-readers who respect it, too (but not many). At least, this has been my experience. Sadly, such serious readers are in the minority these days.

Although I’m an indie author, which I love, I’ve also been published traditionally. Hey, I started back in the early 1980s before desktop and laptop computers. One of the downsides of indie books, though, is that anyone can publish a book now. Good for us professional writers, sure, but bad for the indie industry as a whole, I think.

Why do I say this? Because these days, since anyone can write and publish a book, too many people write them who shouldn’t. Why not? Because they don’t understand writing basics, nor have they bothered to study the craft, nor have they worked to improve. Lots of indie books appear thrown together without any revision, little or no research, and scant attention paid to plot, characterization, and similar things. An unpolished indie book reflects poorly on the indie industry as a whole. Therefore, just because a person can have their book published doesn’t mean they should. That being said, if a person invests the necessary time to practice and study the craft…then definitely, going indie is great.

And this brings me back to what I said in my first paragraph. Oftentimes, when people hear that a friend has had an indie book published, the word “poorly written” comes to their minds. Why? Because they’ve purchased a poorly written indie book in the past. Thus, even though a person may be a serious reader, if he/she isn’t familiar with our work, it may get passed over for a more familiar author. The potential reader automatically assumes we wrote an amateurish book.

As professional indie authors, then, we need to write at the very top of our game. We need to promote our books at the top of our game as well. Approach our writing with a professional attitude, work like a professional writer, and we’ll reap numerous benefits in return.

I know this sounds strange, but it’s something I learned at a writers conference when I started out in the ‘80s—I dress professionally when I enter my writing office. I find that I’m more productive when I’m wearing a nice shirt and trousers (sometimes even a tie and/or blazer) than I am when I wear a beat-up polo shirt and jeans. Writing is a profession, and it’s a calling. Ignore what others may think and say. Be professional in all things pertaining to writing. It pays off in the end!

Benjamin Franklin on Reading

Found a wonderful quote from Benjamin Franklin, which I think is just as true today as it was in his day (though some may disagree).


“The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read.” Benjamin Franklin

Experience Life!

We writers can’t be recluses. Oh, but weren’t we supposed to sit in our office, away from the hubbub of civilization, and compose articles, stories, poems, and books? Well, I don’t know about being away from the hubbub of civilization part, because some writers write best in a noisy environment, but yes, we must write every day. I work best in the quiet of my own office, away from “noisy civilization.”

However, if all we do is withdraw from society and write, our oasis of inspiration will eventually evaporate, leaving us with a dry spell and nothing to write about. It’s vital that we get away from our laptops from time to time and experience new things.

For example, I once rode Amtrak from New Orleans to Chicago to attend a writers’ conference. Am I afraid of flying? No, I’m not. I’ve flown numerous times. My father was a private pilot, and I’ve flown overseas and in the continental United States on commercial jets. Flying? No problem. But I’d never traveled anywhere by train, so I decided I’d go Amtrak just for the experience.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

During this trip, I met many interesting people with whom I engaged in conversation. I also made notes about the train on a spiral notebook for future use in case I ever decided to use a train in a story. I noted the train’s sounds, what its dining car looked like, the food that was served, etc.

So, why not find something different to do every now and then? Experience life. Even make notes if you have to. Who knows? Inspiration for a story may hit all of a sudden. New experiences help make all of us better writers.

Priority: Beauregard

Sunday, March 3, 2019 will forever remain in my memory much like August 25, 2005 does.

On August 25, when I lived in the New Orleans area, Hurricane Katrina smashed the city. It was a Category 4 storm, the second-strongest category in the hurricane rankings.

On March 3, 2019, an EF4 tornado struck the small town of Beauregard, Alabama, just three counties from where I now live. Its winds roared in at 170 mph, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane(the strongest), and the second-strongest storm on the tornadic scale. A monster of a storm, it was!

Exhausted after a sleepless night, not from worry but because writing ideas and plot problems kept swirling through my head till morning, I dragged myself to church that Sunday, March 3, about a thirty-minute drive to Montgomery. Rain pelted my car, wind howled. Ordinarily, I’d have returned home after church, but my pastor called a special meeting with us lay leaders. So, I stayed with a friend during that stormy day and got a little rest till meeting time.

Upon my return home early that evening, I found an urgent message in my email’s inbox. My sister’s note was brief: my brother-in-law’s farm received a direct hit from a tornado. My nephew, his two sons, and their dog, Emma, were there when it smashed the farmhouse. Thankfully, because they hid in its closet (except for Emma who refused to join them), they survived. Emma lived through it, too. According to my brother-in-law, the eye of the storm came within one-hundred yards of the house. I’m grateful to the Lord everyone in my family survived this tragedy. Had the storm come any closer, my three nephews might have been numbered among those who perished.

What does this tragedy have to do with writing? Well, it explains why I didn’t post anything last week. The week the storm hit, I did very little writing. Family was my priority then.

If we want to succeed as writers, writing must be our priority—near the top of our list. However, as Christian writers we can’t make it an idol. Church attendance, worship, prayer and Bible study should always be our first priority. Also, we must always be willing to serve others.

My priority last week was helping my family clean up from the tragedy. This meant putting my writing schedule on the backburner for a while. We Christian writers must learn how to balance our priorities. We can’t always be available for every service project. We must know when to say “yes” to service opportunities and when to say “no,” and we can get burned out by saying “yes” to everything that comes our way. This causes our writing to suffer.

When to say “yes” and when to say “no,” though, is an individual matter. For me, I didn’t have to think twice. My family needed me, so I made myself available. I’m also grateful for all the friends and other family members who came to help. Now, I’m back to writing again.

My brother-in-law told his story on Montgomery, Alabama’s local news channel, WSFA. To watch it, click on this link: http://www.wsfa.com/2019/03/05/family-survives-tornado-that-destroyed-lee-county-farm/?fbclid=IwAR15kh1i3-oYY2GifeUlEppkXBf8B2ESo-SUCXgwI6uP4_oEp30Ix7eGhAE

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

 

Too Many Characters?

books-bookshelf-depth-of-field-1317259Occasionally, I’ve read book reviews where the critic says the author had too many characters. Though in some cases this criticism has validity, in my opinion “too many characters” isn’t always a valid point. A book that has a host of characters is neither good nor bad. The same goes for a book peopled by a mere handful. Everything depends on how well it’s written and its genre.

If a book describes itself as an epic or a saga, then expect lots of characters. One of my favorite writers whose books contain a large cast is James Michener. Numerous bestselling authors other than Michener can be cited as well: Margaret Mitchell, Colleen McCullough, and even Louis L’Amour’s last novel set during the Middle Ages, The Walking Drum, falls into this large cast category.

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Whether readers enjoy a lot of characters or a few, it’s all a matter of style and taste. In short, it’s a reader’s preference.

However, if we write books using lots of characters, we do well to consider the following:

1. Don’t give characters similar sounding names. Similar sounding names may confuse readers, thus making it difficult for them to follow your story.

2. Try to reduce the number of characters in your story. One way to do this is to ask yourself this question: Is the character really important to the story? If not, either get rid of that character or make him/her a nameless walk-on character, or merge him/her into another, more important character.

3. Use a Cast of Characters chart. Write a list of all the novel’s key players and then publish them on the book’s opening pages. That way, if a reader gets lost or confused, he/she can refer to it.

See everyone again next week. Keep those laptop keys hopping!

Quote the Bible, But Don’t Get in Trouble

 

bible-book-business-272337Is it possible for Christian writers to get in legal trouble when they quote the Bible? Yes. This is especially true for indie authors. To quote any modern translation requires written permission from that translation’s publisher. If we don’t get permission, not only is it unethical, it also breaks copyright law.

Of course, the law also has a principle called Fair Use. Under this part of the law, an author may quote a certain amount of material from a copyrighted work without permission. How much may the author quote? Several factors are considered, which we’ll not discuss here. Because claiming Fair Use can be tricky at times, I like to play things safe. This is why I recommend using the Authorized King James Version if we’re citizens of the United States, because in America it’s in the public domain. This means we don’t need permission to quote it.

However, for those authors who live in the United Kingdom, they still need permission before they can use it. Here’s a link for United Kingdom authors:

https://www.cambridge.org/ad/bibles/about/rights-and-permissions

Traditional publishers typically have a contractual agreement with certain Bible publishers. They’ll tell us in their guidelines which translation they use. So, if we go the traditional route, we needn’t worry about obtaining permission since the publisher has already done that.

Of course, indie authors can use modern translations provided they obtain permission first. The best way to do this is to visit the Bible publisher’s website. Once there, go to the bottom of the page and click on “Terms of Use” or a similar link. This page discusses matters of copyright, how to obtain permission, and sometimes it’ll lead us to another page where we can fill out a request form to submit.

As an example, let’s look at B&H Publishing’s website. B & H publishes the Christian Standard Bible. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Visit the website at https://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/.

Step 2: Scroll down to bottom of home page to the “About Us.”

Step 3: Click on the last link, “Privacy Policy & Terms.”

Step 4: Read the “Privacy Policy & Terms” page.

Step 5: Click on “here” under the Licensing and Policy Requests section.

Step 6: Click on “To Use or Publish a B & H product.”

Step 7: Fill out the form and submit.

This is how to get permission from B & H Publishing. Other Bible publishers use a similar procedure.

Till next week, friends. Keep tapping away on those laptop keys!

Books

On My Retirement

 

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As I approach retirement from what I often call my “tentmaking job,” because my real work is actually writing, some folks have asked me what I intend to do. Will I be playing golf every day? Will I go fishing? What about sitting in front of my television set watching old Westerns all day? Nope. None of these. Why? Because I’m going back into writing full-time, something I did for ten years when I was younger. And writing, my friends, though it is my passion…it’s also extremely hard work.

Particularly my genre, historical fiction. It’s easy to slip up on historical details. To my chagrin, I’ve done it. Even the best historical fiction authors have. We must consider so many minute details while weaving our tales! I cannot stress hard enough how important it is for our stories to be accurate. 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.co

In the interest of accuracy, I like doing on-site research whenever I can. This means such things as visiting old homes, museums, and other historical spots. One of the first things I plan to do upon my retirement is visit the setting of one of my  current Works-in-Progress (WIPs).  Sure, I can find photographs of it online, but there’s nothing like onsite research to get a real feel for my story’s setting.

So if your story’s setting is a real place, if possible, make time to visit it  Not only will it help make your descriptions more accurate and believable, it’ll  also help you write more confidently, knowing  that your setting is accurate.

Till next week, friends. Keep on writing.