Tuesday, December 07, 2010

If This Isn't a Quote of the Day, It Oughta Be

"The gift of wine warms the soul and creates an experience with memories that will be cherished long after the occasion is over."

Isn't that simply marvelous? I mean, it's hokey as hell, but I love hokey, so that in itself doesn't disqualify anything. :-)
But I freely admit, I'm especially fond of the "warms the soul" part. :-)

I stole it from an e-mail from Franciscan Estates, which has gotten it into their heads that I want to order great quantities of wine for gifts, or for whatever. I DO...only most winemakers and wine merchants, for whatever reason, cannot deliver to Indiana. 
So it's kind of a waste of time to order wine gifts that cannot be delivered to...me.

I do want wine, however, and a sizable quantity of same, as I have just received REJECTION #1 from the list of agents to whom I have sent my latest submissions.

I don't intend to overindulge...but if you're pouring, I'll be right over. I could use a bit of soul-warming right about now.

Just sayin'.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

God Is Good!

...just know that.

More to come later,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Okay, Now I'm Officially Gonna Beg

If you have ever, and I mean EVER, thought this blog was worthwhile and you'd like to see the CWC continue to operate without losing too much sleep...

I have a donation button over on the side, and I would be truly blessed if you used it. :-)

The immediate needs:
--DH's prescriptions, which ran over budget
--Desperately needed work on both cars (like rear brakes, trans work, and body repair on the van PM commutes in, engine work and brake work on the Stratus, and tires for both)
--Needed work on house (everything from carpet cleaning to floor repairs)
--Spare money for groceries, utility catch-up, and medical bill repayment

Other bloggers have successfully managed to raise enough funds for, say, putting their cars back together and/or paying off a looming bill. The cars are pretty desperately in need, probably the worst need we have--in that if you don't have running cars, you can't get to work and earn the money to pay for running cars...


I'm trusting God, but I'd love to see Him work through His people!

Okay, begging over. New blog post of actual value (!) to follow soon.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Giving God a Blank Check...and Other Good Ideas

Several weeks ago, I dropped the ball big-time.

I was out to dinner with the hub and two people I hadn't seen in awhile, and the conversation touched on how we'd ended up in Indiana, anyway. (That question always gets asked when you're from anywhere other than Indiana, especially from Chicago.) I responded that, while it was a question with a much longer answer, essentially, it was a matter of a) Patrick was losing his job, b) a desperate financial situation that necessitated our finding a different place/manner to live, and c) my desire to get out of the suburban nonsense and traffic and noise.  So, as I wandered up the stairs, I said to God, "Well, if you want us to live in a small town, you're gonna have to provide a JOB in it."

...and then I logged on to Catholic Jobs.com, and the rest was history.

(Not before, I said, of course, "Where the HELL is Huntington, Indiana?")

My friends were quick to laugh and tell me that was my first mistake: telling God that if He wanted something, He'd have to provide a way for me to do it, and leaving the rest to Him.

Or, as one of them said, "You see, you can't give God a blank check, because then...watch out!"

I laughed along, but I shouldn't have.
I should have stood up for my God, and what He means, and what giving Him a blank check is all about. Because the woman who gave that advice--as intelligent, savvy, and creative as she is--is wrong.
Of course you're supposed to give God a blank check.
What else is being a child of His all about?

When we're children, our parents have those blank checks, don't they? They can write anything into our lives that they see fit. And we, as children, don't have much to say about it.
Now, in the hands of good, caring parents, this blank check is no problem. 
We all know about the other kind, and we needn't dwell on them here...because that's not what we're talking about when we're talking about God.
Because God isn't that "other kind" of parent.

But joking about "Don't ever give Him a blank check"...makes Him sound like one.
That makes God sound capricious at best, and sadistic at worst. Like He's sitting up there just waiting for one of us to "put our foot in it" and give Him too much leeway, so he can pull a "gotcha."
And that's wrong.
And I should have stuck up for Him.
Not because He needs me to stick up for Him. He's GOD, after all. Like he needs me to do that?


But for my own sake, for the sake of what I'm truly trying to do--which is live my life under the parameters of "Be it done unto me according to Thy word"--I should have spoken up.
I should have said, "What do you mean, you can't give God a blank check? What else would I do for the Father who created me, who loves me, who sent his Son, for heaven's sake, just for me?"

A favorite Scripture verse for many of us is, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
But what does that mean, exactly?

Do we really know?

The fact is...when we say that, we commit ourselves to just that precise "blank check" that this woman, and so many people in our culture, abhor so much when it comes to God.
Because we're saying we're going to serve.
As in, "You say jump, I ask how high." 
As in turning our own selves over to Him, to use as He sees fit.
As in this isn't about me. It's about what You're going to do with me.
I should have said so then...but at least I can say so here. Saying it late is better than never saying it.

My job isn't to give God some kind of "marching orders." I'll take this, but not that.
My job isn't to dictate to Him, to give Him conditions, or to hem Him in. Yeah, I want to live in a small town, but not in Indiana, please. Oh, and not in the South, I hate the heat. And not in California, either, because that place is just plain nuts. And...
Because in the end, who do I think I am to even consider praying like that?

This is not to say that I haven't prayed like that, and continue to do so. Old habits die hard, and I'm as much a seeker of creature comforts and convenience as anybody, if not more so.
But as a Christian, I ought to know better. Heck, I do know better, even if it's hard to remember sometimes.
I'm trying to trust more. And the first step to that trust is being willing to see that I'm not here on this earth to fill out forms and write manuals full of rules by which I believe God has to abide or He's not being "fair."

The Scripture doesn't say, "As for me and my house, God is at our convenience."
It has to be the other way around, or it ain't real Christianity.
It ain't real anything.

So, to me, real starts with giving Him as many blank checks as He wants.
And then hanging on tight.
Not because you can't trust Him to write something good for you...
...but because what He writes will probably be so far beyond what you can presently even imagine that it'll blow your socks clean off, knock you from your chair, and send you darn near airborne.

The flight may not be what you've got planned. In fact, it probably won't be.
But it can still be a glorious journey, if you're willing to ride it out on, and underneath, His wings.
That's what I should have said.

I apologize, Lord.
I'll do better next time.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

A true story...which explains a lot

Yesterday, my crit partner mentioned one underlying problem we all have now and then when trying to create: the bad mix of trying to "fit our work in a box" versus trying to truly write what's in our heart, the story that begs to be told, and then worry about the "box" it'll fit in afterward. She finished up with hoping I wouldn't "hem myself in" with "Must color inside the lines...must color inside the lines..."

Little does she know how accurate that is.

True story. 

Little Janny, as a first-grader,  is assigned to color something (you're always assigned to color something in first grade. Like they have to persuade you to color?). She colors it. 

Now, Little Janny LIKES crayons. She does bold strokes. She tends to stray over lines. She tends to use intense sorts of coloring, and it's not a neat product when she's done.

Sister Rosemary, in conference with parents, expresses Grave Concern about this.
"Little Janny's coloring is very sloppy," Sister says. "Does she have fine motor control issues?"
Parents, to whom fine motor control is something you find in a Cadillac (which may as well be a DeLorean, for the likelihood of them having one), are puzzled.

Sister Rosemary explains further.
"See, she's pushing way too hard on these crayons, and the movements are jerky. She goes outside the lines. Does she have problems seeing?"
Parents, who understand word "seeing," say, "Nope."

Sister Rosemary  goes on.
"Well, to color properly, she needs to put way less pressure on her crayons." Sister holds up exemplary picture from classmate, colored in careful pastels. It's a thing of beauty. Looks like it was professionally printed.
"Like this. See? She doesn't need to press down so hard to get color out. If she presses lightly, she'll be able to stop short of the lines, and then just fill in the edges, and her work will be neater."
Parents, who think Little Janny is already pretty neat for a six-year-old (they remember her careful arrangements of stuffed toys and toy animals on the bed), are still a little puzzled. Is neatness so important for coloring at this point? She got the "right" colors on the sky and the trees and the apples, so that was good, wasn't it?

The nun smiles indulgently.
"Of course, that part's excellent. But she'll have to be neater. This sloppiness is unacceptable. These scribbles at the edges of things--does she have some kind of problem? Maybe self-control?"
Parents, who are constantly urging her to be less shy, don't think so.
"Okay. So we don't have to worry yet. But just tell her...color lightly. Not so hard on the crayons. She'll break them and wear them out too soon that way, anyway. And when she colors lightly, she'll stay within the lines, and her work will be so much better."

Parents, who attribute wisdom to Sister, go home and tell Little Janny what Sister said.
Little Janny frowns for a second. "But that'll make my pictures too light. I like the colors darker."
Parents sigh, and tell her apparently what Sister wants is light colors and within the lines. Maybe she ought to color that way. That's the "right" way to color, after all. It'll make Sister happy.
Little Janny wants to make Sister happy.

So she internalizes this...until seventh grade.
Then Sister Carmen comes along and says, in art class: "Enough of this mamby-pamby pastel stuff. That's not what these crayons were made for. Crayons were made to put COLOR on the page. If you're not pressing hard enough that I can smell the wax on the paper, and if you're not wearing out a box a semester, you're not doing it right."

By then, it might well have been a little late.
Because in many ways Little Janny's still remembering Sister telling her the "right way" to color when she was six.

On the other hand, it's probably no coincidence that Sister Carmen, who turned me loose both to speak up and be heard (a whole other story in itself) AND color outside the lines and PRESS DOWN HARD ON THOSE THINGS...had a given baptismal name of Janet.

Sister Janet, wherever you are, when this book of my heart is done...I hope you can smell the wax on the paper.


Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dorchester Disgrace...and (all of) Our Part In It

If you don't make a habit of following publishing news and scuttle, it could be that maybe you don't know that Dorchester has done some very...er...interesting things to authors of late. I'm not going to publicize all the sites that talk about it, because there are a lot of them. But I'm also not going to talk about it so much from the "poor author" side of the desk, either...because the disgrace of what's happening with Dorchester has two sides, and one of these gets glossed over and/or dismissed all too often.

Yet it's precisely the option that gets ignored, rationalized away, or backed away from, that could deter this kind of thing from happening again--or at least happening so easily again.

What never ceases to amaze and astound me, in this case and many others, is the reluctance and/or refusals of authors to band together and initiate the class-action lawsuit that situations like this are custom-made for. Yes, going to court is a pain, but that's what you have lawyers for. Yes, it costs money, but in cases like this, your lawyer can set things up so that the defendant pays the court costs if they're found guilty--which they would be. And yes, you could end up getting nothing in a bankruptcy proceeding; but D's not in bankruptcy yet. They're trying to avoid it. So if you strike now, your chances of being heard on this issue and actually recovering some monies increases tenfold over waiting to see what happens. Nothing of any positive value is going to come from waiting to see how much further this company will screw people.

Another point that is extremely well taken is that Amazon and B&N are complicit with this fraud--so even if D has no money, these other two do. And they can be just as liable. Which means that authors stand a chance to at least be paid something for what's been done to them. And something is always better than nothing. That's certainly the case for authors who've been owed  thousands of dollars in back royalties and have been prevented from even seeing an accounting of what they're owed...for years now. 

Think about that, because that's the crux of this matter.

What were they waiting for

Are these authors truly in the business of writing, or are they just pretending to be?  

You'll forgive me if, on more than a few occasions, it appears to be the latter. 

Yes, Dorchester has no business screwing authors. But authors also have no business screwing themselves by not availing themselves of every legal avenue available to them within a reasonable time of when things start to go south. If they lose money, shrug and walk away, or sit around waiting patiently for answers and results long past when a reasonable person should have sought relief, they are as much the problem as the publisher is...because they're in effect relieving the publisher of consequences. Are they so naive as to think that the next publisher down the road who gets in trouble isn't going to do exactly the same thing Dorchester's doing? Why would they think not?  

In plain English, Why in the world are so many authors afraid of simply enforcing their own contracts?

If you buy a fridge from Sears and you don't pay the bill, they don't let you keep it. If you try to keep it, they sue you to get it back, and they collect legal fees and damages from you.

If you sell a book to a publisher and they don't pay for it, don't let them keep it. Pursue the legal avenues you have available to you. Period. End of sentence. That's how business is done in the real world...except, curiously enough, when it comes to authors and publishers.

Sheesh. Sometimes, I truly believe we as authors not only allow ourselves to fall into ditches, but we take up the shovels and dig them ourselves. So despite all the hand-wringing, mud-slinging, and shock and dismay, on the other hand...it's really, really hard to work up too much indignation for authors who allow themselves to be taken advantage of, so egregiously, for so long. Especially since, in the long run, that reluctance to act just makes it easier for publishers to do it again, to another group of us, in the future.

As long as we let them...someone will.
A business doesn't get away without paying its utility bills. Or its rent. Or its phone bill.
Neither should it get away without paying its other vendors...the authors without whom a publisher has no product to sell in the first place.
If we let them get away with it for months, or years...we shouldn't be surprised when this happens.
And happens again. 
And we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for the losses we take and the pain we suffer.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best. Baseball. Story. Ever.

...although the San Francisco Giants' treatment of Bobby Cox is a close second. :-)

More in a bit,

Monday, October 04, 2010

Quote of the Day...

...from Alton Brown, when asked if he was a "born-again" Christian:

Yeah, "born-again" is kind of an odd term because that's like saying a see-through window. But yes, I am a Christian.

I love this for two reasons:
1) it's so "Alton" in its dry approach.
2) it's true.

He's absolutely right. If you're a Christian, you are "born again (as many people understand it)," by definition. But it's much more true to Scripture, and more accurate, to say you are "born of the spirit." Notice that when Nicodemus asks Jesus how a man can be "born again," Jesus corrects him: He does not tell Nicodemus, "You must be born again." (Despite what you may have been taught in Bible class, even when Nicodemus presses that point, Jesus answers in different words. Allowing for Jesus always saying what He means, that is worth noting.) He says, "You must be born of the Spirit (or, in some translations, 'from above.')." This does not at all convey the same meaning as the "second birth" that some folks talk about. And I think that by continuing to use incorrect and/or unclear terminology, we unduly separate ourselves one from the other and continue to perpetuate some interesting misunderstandings about who is, and who is not, a "Christian."

If you're trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation, you're a Christian. If you're born of water and the spirit and confessing Jesus Christ every day of your life, you're a Christian. So I would submit that it's far better not to continue to confuse this issue and let jargon get in the way of acknowledging who we are and Whom we serve. 

Alton says it extremely well. Calling someone a "born-again" Christian is like saying "see-through window"--it's simply putting in a redundancy, and one that's guaranteed to set people apart rather than to bring them together. In that context, I would maintain that--for many reasons--"born-again" is a term that probably needs to be retired...permanently.

I always knew there was more than one good reason to be a foodie. :-)


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crisis averted, sort of...

Well, the dust has settled. And I did the thing I swore I wouldn't do, which was take from the budget to go to ACFW. But something kept telling me to do it. I don't know what the "something" was...whether it was just my, "Oh, fer pete's sake, I need a getaway," or whether it was the voice of God. (You know the old saying--if you talk to God, you're praying, but if you hear from God, you're schizophrenic? 'Nuff said.)

It was a great experience overall, although until the very last moment (pretty much literally) I still wasn't sure if I'd actually make it to Indy, make it there when I wanted to be there, or have a hotel room--or TWO hotel rooms--or roommates--or...(agh!). And yes, there were the usual political goings-on that happen in large organizations, things that set our teeth on edge, things that were eye-rollers. I found I had little patience with "worship" this year,  for a number of reasons...so I did my best to blow most of it off. I made it a point to attend the Sunday morning session to see the choir sing, however, which was worth the trip. So...food was good, Indy was good (although there were far too many annoying Colts fans), the weather was good, the rental car was OK, the room was fabulous, the pool was relaxing, the church was awesome.

But now I get to play catchup moneywise, which is always an adventure of another sort.

And once again, I find myself thinking mutinous thoughts--and widely contrasting ones.

I'll post more in the next few days, but I have to organize it first. As for today, it's a vacation day--my "cushion" day I always try to build in after a conference/travel situation like this. It'll be well worth the time, even if it is going to be 90 degrees outside today. Bring on fall, is what I'm saying. And it can't come soon enough for this woman, who is thoroughly sick of air conditioning and summer heat. It's almost the end of September, already. Let's get ON with the cool weather!!!!

More in a bit,

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crisis time....

No, no, fortunately, not of the health variety!
Or of the relationship variety--also good. :-)
This crisis is of the dollar variety.
Or more accurately, the dollar-versus-what-feels-like-a-necessity variety.

I have a quandary.

I am registered for the ACFW conference this September in Indianapolis. It's an important thing for me to do, to participate in writers' conferences. They're part of my job, the overarching writing career that I love. Yes, it's about two and a half hours away, so I don't have to fly (saving $$). And yes, I got a partial scholarship from my home ACFW chapter (saving even more $$). So I managed to scrape together the registration fee from that scholarship, some freelance money from a new client (!), and a little from the household budget.

Problem is...there's also the hotel bill. Also, because we only have two cars, I am strapped for transportation to GET there...which means I'll have to rent a car, borrow a car, or the like...without visible means of support to do so. Carpooling is an iffy option at best for a trip of this distance, so I'm reluctant to get involved in it.

You may be saying, "But, Janny, didn't you plan on all this?" Well, yes and no. I anticipated a certain figure for a hotel bill and/or car. But, despite the fact that Indianapolis isn't exactly New York City, the hotels are VERY pricey. (I'm wondering how they get away with it, frankly, but that's another subject for another rant. :-)) In plain English, the hotel bill's going to run me almost twice what I anticipated it would run. So much for the budget to rent a car, or even to chip in for someone's gas. And that's not even talking about the hotels' charging you to PARK.

Yes, I could camp in someone else's room and get away for a fraction of the cost. But there are two factors involved in that scenario that make even that option problematic.

First...when I go to a writers' conference, I spend the entire day in the company of other people. Networking. Comparing notes. Workshops. Communal meals. In ACFW's case, all this plus "worship" time in the mornings as well as spontaneous "divine appointments." I'm looking forward to it all...but I'm an introvert by nature, and all this stuff EXHAUSTS me. I don't feed off the energy of other people. I need to be alone, in quiet, to recharge my batteries and give my mind and spirit a rest. So even sharing a room with one other person, in these situations, is stressful. I know. I've done it. I don't want to do it again.

Second...even sharing a room would tap into resources I do not presently have, and don't know how I'm going to get, AND be stressful on top of it. Like I need that? (Note: this is not a trick question.) Even if the hotel bill had been within what I expected--the plain fact is, I didn't have THAT figure on hand, either.

How did I do these kinds of things on a shoestring before? I would say to myself, "This is something I truly need to do. I will just have to find the resources somewhere, even if it means putting off paying another bill to do it." In other words, I did a lot of "pretending" over the years, then scrambling to play catchup. But the trouble with that approach is, you never really catch up from that kind of outlay. Or, if you do happen to catch up, any emergency puts you in the hole big-time.

And, let's be honest about this: in our present living situation, we are doing just-the-basics, ma'am, so it's not like we're paying off our fabulous Vacation to Tahiti with tons of spare discretionary cash around. If I'm slighting a bill to do this, it's a living necessity--a utility, a mortgage payment, a car payment--that I really can't afford (literally) to let slide. That way lies sleepless nights, which I also don't need.

The other way I've recently dealt with these shortfalls is to go onto my freelance sites and apply like crazy for writing jobs to earn the money to pay the bills AND do the "extra." And, yes, that's an option I've used in the past. Unfortunately, it's not reliable income. And also unfortunately, the jobs I'm seeing come down the pike now don't pay nearly in proportion to the work that they entail. It's not uncommon to see people put out ads for "fixed price" jobs asking for an author to write a 40-page-plus e-book for $40--or, as one I actually saw today indicated, asking for an editor of a 250-page book for $20. If you have no idea how "off kilter" those pay rates are for what they're asking, I'm not going to inform you...it's too depressing. As a musician friend we knew years ago used to say, "That doesn't even pay me to unpack the (instrument) case."

When you factor in the additional point that doing projects like that also cuts into the few hours I actually have to pursue my OWN writing (yeah, the career as a novelist--remember that one?)...it's a doubly bad deal. I've done that deal, when I was trying desperately to scramble for every penny. It didn't work, and it wore me out in the process. So, no, thanks. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I do have freelance money that is actually owed to me. If I had a way to actually collect it, that would definitely help. Unfortunately, the site through which I procured this work has little or no enforceability on certain kinds of contracts...which, of course, this one was. That $300, for a project I started a year ago and has been stalled in the water since November, will probably never materialize. If it does, it'll be gravy.

But I can't pay a hotel bill, or an electric bill, or a car payment, or a dentist, on gravy.

I don't want to throw in the towel yet. But I don't want to do things the old "risk-taking" way, either. I'm plumb out of energy to want to live on that edge anymore. Who knows what damage I did to my body, my mind, and my spirit living that way for all the years I did?

So the "old way" is not an option.

The "adventure" of sleeping in half of someone's bed, or in a rollaway in someone's hotel room, is also not an option. I will be too miserably stressed to get anything out of the writers' conference, and there's nothing worse than going home after an event like that wondering why you just did that thing to yourself. :-)

The very real question is, then...do I stop now?
Do I say to God, "Okay, You provide the wherewithal" and continue "as if" until the last minute, hoping and praying it materializes?
Or do I do what may be the prudent--even if it feels like the defeated--thing and write to the ACFW people with my cancellation?

I do have a "donation" button on this blog, for just this kind of purpose. But if enough people read this thing and actually throw money into that donation button--to the tune of the $1000 or so I will need to do this conference comfortably--I will consider that God HAS, indeed, provided the wherewithal...and I'll rejoice in the miracle.

Other than that, I have a decision to make. I'm just hoping I can make the right one.

In thought,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, YES!

Of COURSE you want to be Catholic...if you're truly seeking Christ. This wonderful article above just gives you an eloquent, honest, and loving explanation for that "tug" you feel in your soul.

Don't fight it. Come to Mother. :-) We'll welcome you with open arms.

(Holy Hat Tip to the Ignatius Insight blog.)


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Yet another star on the horizon...

 This time around, we talk to Deborah Kinnard (otherwise known as my fearless critique partner) about the writing life, about her SEASONS of imminent fame and fortune (!), and...well...stuff.  

1. What was the first thing you ever wrote? Not seriously, for publication...I mean the thing you started on maybe when you were a kid, a story you thought up "just because."  Do you see any influence of that kind of writing in your publishing life now?
I’d better not “see any influence” – the first thing I remember writing, other than my infamous fake “Bonanza” episodes, was a poem about how snowflakes dance when they fall to the ground. I think I was 7 or so at that time. Eww. Mom liked it, though.

2. Other than some obvious moral considerations, how has your faith impacted what and how you write? Do you choose subjects about which you're intrigued, or do you sometimes feel that subjects "choose you"?
The latter, disconcertingly often. I mean, how many authors yearn to write stuff the major publishers avoid like a virulent case of measles?
As far as the faith element, I’m an evangelical Pentecostal with an inborn impatience for doctrinalism in most of its guises. For me, the relationship with Jesus Christ is primary, not what you do on Sunday and what music you enjoy when you sing. So I’m comfortable out of my own personal comfort zone – which of us can tell what kind of believer we’d be in an era with fewer choices?
When I wrote SEASONS IN THE MIST, the story had just come to me, right after I got home from England…a great trip, in which I spent a week wandering Cornwall, just me, a bag of crisps, and a hired (rental) car. In one spot there was an old well with a ruined stone building—little more than the foundations—and my mind instantly insisted the building had once been a chapel, and the well had been holy. The lovers getting acquainted by that well, back in the middle ages, just “popped” into my head and they stuck there until they came out as Bethany and Michael. I can’t help it!
As far as its faith story, SEASONS didn’t have an overt one at first. That came to me slowly—how a noncommitted Christian could take the atmosphere of faith that pervaded the medieval centuries, and use it to bolster her own walk. Bethany starts the book as a lapsed Christian, and ends…well, different. Quite different.

3. You've never been known to be at a loss for a new story idea. Where do you get them all? Is there one "book of your heart" story you still want to tell...someday? 
I wish I could say I have a specific storehouse with 4,367 more ideas in it. I don’t. They just come to me, or I mentally bludgeon an idea until it blossoms a bit more. I do have one story I’m itching to tell—that of the great 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich. I’ve got notes for the book but nothing solid enough to start writing, as yet. Since virtually nothing is known of her, aside from her writings, it should end up as a “fictionalized biography.” I hope to do this great woman justice.

4.  What authors would you most like to emulate? Are their styles similar to yours, or so radically different that that's what intrigues you? Do readers tell you your style reminds them of any particular authors?  
 I’ve been told my voice sounds a little like Linda Windsor’s, but that’s both flattering and hard to believe. As far as whom I’d like to emulate, I can’t think of a specific author. How about a blend? The intellectual honesty of Lois McMaster Bujold. The lyrical style of Blythe Gifford. The storytelling ability of Jean Auel (minus the long paragraphs of description!). Given my choice, I think I’d like to be able to write so that readers would say, “Aha! That’s Kinnard!”

5. What do you dream about for your writing career? What advice do you wish you'd listened to more closely earlier on, and what advice have you learned to disregard because it doesn't work for you?
I doubt this makes me unique—I dream about a “Very Nice Deal”! I wish I’d listened to those folks who told me to keep going, since I haven’t always been productive as I’d like. Yet I have no regrets, for the most part. Yes, I went to e-publishing quite early, but it’s been an invaluable education. Particularly now that e-books are gaining sales traction and therefore legitimacy in the market. There are downsides to small press and e-publishing, of course, but I’d never categorically tell an author not to pursue publication unless s/he can get a Big Horking Publisher interested. And I’ve learned not to listen when people tell me there’s no market for medieval!

Thanks, Deb, for the insights!
Order Deb's books through www.debkinnard.com, through Sheaf House,  or the ubiquitous Amazon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

And now...a star is born!

Today, we're thrilled to hear from our buddy Donna Alice Patton, whose first novel, The Search for the Madonna, can be ordered from either Amazon.com or http://www.eccehomopress.com. She will be glad to send a signed bookplate if you write to her at searchformadonna@yahoo.com. Or, if you would like an autographed book, you can also order from her at the yahoo email. Watch for information about Donna's upcoming website and book trailers at mailto:www.layers-of-life@blogspot.com.

1. What was the first thing you ever wrote? Not seriously, for publication...I mean the thing you started on maybe when you were just a kid, a story you thought up "just because." Do you see any influence of that kind of writing in your publishing life now?

The first thing I ever wrote? Hm, that's a hard one. I loved to make up stories even before I began to read. Once I discovered the library and books, my imagination soared! The first actual 'story' I remember writing down was in 3rd grade. My wonderful teacher, Mrs. Ann Springer, passed out magazine pictures to every student. I happened to get a picture of a collie dog. We were told to write a story about what we saw in the picture. It was the first time my brain made the connection that, 'hey, I can write down all these cool ideas in my head.' My story ended up being very lame - something like, "This is a dog. Her name is Lassie. Etc." (I actually still have the paper somewhere in my school box.) And even though I wasn't able to write down all my great ideas as a third grader, I spun this very elaborate, involved story in my mind the rest of the day. It really was the first time my mind was open to the possiblities in writing.
By the time I was in 7th grade, I'd begun to write little 'books' just for myself and my friend's amusement. In fact, I wish I still had the mystery that I wrote which made the rounds of my class that year. I can even remember my 'stunning' opening hook. The swing swang idly. Obviously, my writing career was all uphill from there.
I guess those early attempts have influenced what I write now. I still write for children, and I'm still writing mysteries. On another level, I still write mostly to please myself, and I'm happy when someone else enjoys what I write too. It also helps when I get bogged down in 'getting it right' to remember something that I rediscovered last year through the eyes of a child. I believe it's a 'lesson' we all learn as children, something we knew when we first began to write. It's so simplistic we often forget in our push to be Writers with a capital w. The 'lesson' is to first, have fun. When I get too harried at seeing myself as a Writer, I try to remember the joy of looking at that picture of the collie dog and thinking about all the exciting possibilities of a story.

2. Other than some obvious moral considerations, how has your faith impacted what and how you write? Do you choose subjects about which you're intrigued, or do you sometimes feel that subjects "choose you"?

Don't you ask any easy questions? LOL! Am not sure how my faith has impacted what I write other than the fact that I try to write 'moral' fiction. Not that everything has to have a happy ending or my characters are all perfect and never do anything wrong. Most of my characters - even the children in my books - dare I admit it? They commit sins and they - gasp - learn from their mistakes!

I've had many people read some of my children's books and make comments about how their children could never relate to such a 'naughty' character. My thoughts are that we are all 'sinners saved by grace'. If a book character is not perfect but shows improvement in their behavior - well, isn't that realistic fiction? Might that not have more of an impact on a child than having a character who does everything right?

I like to write about real people. The might not be the best Catholic or Christian on the block. They might do everything wrong while having an interior dialogue with God on how they HAVE to do it their way. But, I like to think in the end I bring my character full circle and they've learned something about God and themselves that they didn't know at the beginning of the book.

Another thing my faith has done for my writing is given me hope. Writing is a long, hard road sometimes but I've always believed it to be my 'calling' in life. As long as I kept hope alive, getting a book published had to happen and it did! And for some reason, many of my books deal in some way with the theme of trust - trust in God, trust in other people, or learning to trust oneself.
Most of my books have happened to be subjects that intrigued me - or they start out that way - but then the story chooses me! LOL. I can't write about something that doesn't have something in it for me - learning about a new time period, or exploring what it would be like to live a certain person's life.

3. Why Ecce Homo Press? What impressed you about them? Has your experience so far been good?

I found Ecce Homo Press because I was familiar with their books via our church's Little Flower's Club. My mystery, The Search for the Madonna, had been written and made the round of a couple of contests and publishers. It had some Catholic content but not the level it has now. When no one else seemed to want it, due to the Catholic content, I looked around to find a Catholic publisher who might be interested. Ecce Homo Press was starting a new series of historical mysteries - An American Saint in Progress. I submitted the manuscript and thankfully, they loved it!
My experience so far has been wonderful. Joan, my editor, actually improved the book so much by suggesting that I add even more Catholic content. In fact, it was at her suggestion that I highlighted the sections about the Memorare and learning to trust in Mary, the Mother of God. It is a much better book now that the first manuscript I wrote.
I'm very impressed by their books and their goal to create books that appeal to Catholic girls. I was also very impressed by the illustrations by Julia Fahy in my book. The cover is wonderful and it's exactly how I pictured the twins, the statue of the Madonna and even Aunt Sophie's farm. I'm looking forward to working with them on the sequel, The Mystery in the Maze.
Julie and Donna Celebrating!

4. What are your new books going to be about--or don't you know yet? (See latter part of question 2, I guess. )
Yes, I do know what my new books are going to be about! The sequel to The Search for the Madonna is tentatively titled, The Mystery in the Maze. In this book, Maggie and Em come up against a new girl named Lily and a mystery in a garden maze.
I actually have a second book contracted by another publisher (just since July 12th) that is titled Snipped in the Bud. It's the first book in a series of gardening mysteries that will be part of  "A Tale from the Garden of Mysteries." Here's the back cover blurb:

Who’s the mysterious rose-napper on the loose in Becky McGuffey’s neighborhood? Can she stop the rose snipping thief? Or is her plan to win the Flower Show at the County Fair doomed to wither and wilt? Becky is sure she knows the identity of the flower snatching menace. Amanda Quint. Digging in to find the answers, Becky discovers that working together - even with someone you don’t like - can lead to a surprising harvest. Such as solving a mystery and making a friend.

The sequel to that book is set at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and features the world of giant pumpkin growing. I've always been fascinated with the fair and growing giant pumpkins. A man named William Warnock grew a 403-lb. pumpkin for that fair and it was a world record that lasted for 76 years. My main character, Lucy, goes to the fair with a giant pumpkin of her own and uncovers a mystery. It's a fun book and I've just started working on it.
At the same time, I'm finishing up an adult mystery (which will hopefully be accepted by the Wild Rose Press) titled, Roses are Red, Diamonds are Blue.

5. You do a lot of writing aimed at young readers. Was this a deliberate choice? Do you simply enjoy writing for children more than writing for adults? What children's book author would you most like to emulate?

Writing for children is harder than writing for adults, and I never actually made the choice to write mostly for young readers. Most of my earliest books were written for adults -none published. It wasn't until about ten years ago that I started a book for children and discovered I really enjoyed writing it. These days I find myself switching around from projects for adults to projects for children. Most days though, I'm a kid at heart and I'd rather be writing for anyone under twelve.
I love to read children's books, so finding just one author to emulate would be hard. I do admire an author not many people would probably remember - Lenora Mattingly Weber. She wrote a wonderful series of YA books with Catholic characters - one of the main characters even becomes a priest! Her books are realistic and portray teens from WWII to the '70's. I love her characters because they have problems, do the wrong thing - sometimes more often than the right thing - but they always learn a valuable lesson without being preachy. If I could be any Catholic author, it would probably be her. If I could emulate any children's author, it would have to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love her books and the world they portray.

6. And finally, how long has it taken you to become an "overnight success"? What advice do you wish you'd listened to more closely earlier in your writing career, and what advice have you learned to disregard because it doesn't work for you?

There is no such thing as an "overnight success!" Hm, let's do the math here - not my favorite subject. I actually began writing 'seriously' at 18 - don't ask me how long ago that was! I had a few things published, wrote some scathing letters to the editor that actually drew fan mail and calls, and began writing a long forgotten (and rightly so) Gothic novel. Think I discovered Writer's Market about then and sent out scads of very bad non-fiction and short stories to everyone under the moon. I have drawers of rejection slips from the best in the business.
Real life entered and I got busy working and living. Every so often, I'd get an idea for a story or an article, dash it off and send it out. Along the way, I made some writing friends, went to a few local conferences and took some creative writing classes in college. I worked for the college magazine, Expressions, and finally got some great advice about my work. It was just the boost I needed to keep writing despite my lack of acceptances. Somewhere in those years, I discovered craft writing and actually made my first sales of "How To" articles. I also decided to get some experience by applying to become a PR writer for the Greater Cincinnati Autistic Society. I didn't know anyone autistic but I wrote reams of PR material for them and made some great friends. It also gave me some terrific experience in writing copy on very short notice. I began to write my first children's book which took 10 years to finish in between working and life.
I probably wrote for 25 years - yup, years - before I actually began to make money at it. For awhile in between doing PR and a book sale, I actually gave up writing for good. That lasted about two months. :) Then, about five years ago, I decided if I was ever going to do anything with my writing I should get serious. I began to go back to my writing 'roots' and started with Writer's Market. I sent out articles and began to get some acceptances. I wrote recipes, helpful hints, anecdotes, poems, etc. and sent them out. At the same time, I began to get serious about writing books. Re-read dozens of books on writing craft, went to a few more conferences and tried out a lot of contests!
Almost by chance, I applied for a writing job at an educational website and began to write curriculum. It only lasted about a year but it was a wonderful opportunity and it paid well. That also gave me credibility to apply for another job - which I still have - with an educational provider. I was actually writing for pay! It's a heady feeling. :) Things seem to happen rapidly after that. I met two other writers at a local writing group and we approached our local paper about doing a page for children. Four years later, Cookies and Milk is syndicated in four Ohio counties.
From there, it gave me confidence to start sending out more non-fiction articles for children and to work harder at my fiction. In 2008, I placed Second in the Mystery/Suspense category of the Genesis contest and one of my children's books, The Cattle Rustling Catastrophe won an honorable mention in the Smartwriters' W.I.N. contest. In May of this year, Ecce Homo Press, published my first book, The Search for the Madonna. Then in June, I met with a new publisher, Philothea Press. My book is only their fourth book and the only book for children. Snipped in the Bud (working title) will be in print sometime this fall. It almost seems like a dream some days.
Best advice I ever received - and discarded too many times - is to try out a lot of things and never think you are only a writer if you write books. Books are only a small part of the written word. If I'd have tried to keep writing just books, I'd have never discovered that I am perfectly capable of writing - and getting paid - for children's non-fiction. If I'd have thought only adult books mattered, I'd never have discovered my greatest joy - writing for children. It's advice I wish I'd listened to early on. Another piece of advice I wish I'd taken to heart is that no piece of writing has to be perfect the first time. I'm still trying to learn this!
Through the years and a lot of trial and error, I've probably tried every method or idea on how to write 'the' best way. I think I've finally discovered that there is no one and only best way. Everyone works in different ways and what works for someone like Angela Hunt would probably not work for me. Just because you can't write according to the latest book that has THE BEST WAY TO WRITE doesn't mean you are not a writer. In writing, as in life, it's always best just to be yourself and do it your way. :)
Thanks, Donna, for this great insight into your creative processes! And remember...
The Search for the Madonna can be ordered from either Amazon.com or http://www.eccehomopress.com. She will be glad to send a signed bookplate if you write to her at searchformadonna@yahoo.com. Or, if you would like an autographed book, you can also order from her at the yahoo email. Watch for information about Donna's upcoming website and book trailers at mailto:www.layers-of-life@blogspot.com.
Check it out!!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Publisher "Approval"--The Bad Idea that Needs to Go Away

The first time I encountered the idea of a writers' organization having a list of "approved" or "non-approved" publishers was several years ago, in RWA. The idea, on its face, was presented as an honest effort by a major national organization at some author advocacy.

Unfortunately, that's not how it turned out. And it's an idea whose time was never good in the first place...one that needs to go away.

For those of you unfamiliar with how "approval" works, it breaks down this way: certain publishers are "good" for authors, while others are "not so good." In a well-intentioned effort to differentiate the two, RWA came up with criteria by which it would judge a publisher as "good for authors," or "approved."

Those publishers would then be the only houses from which authors could consider their books "recognized" in RWA as "real books." If your publisher was "approved," you could send your "new sales" information into the RWR, and it would be printed; if your publisher was not, it wouldn't. If your publisher was "approved," you could enter your book in RWA contests, including the national RITA awards. If your publisher was not--for the first time--you were ineligible for all of it.


Overnight, the complexion of many writers' careers changed. No grandfathering, no provisions for previous achievements, no retroactive crediting...nothing was going to crack that "approval" wall except publishers who could document that they met certain criteria.

Those critera included longevity/stability (the publisher had to have been in existence at least a year); sales (the publisher had to have sold X number of copies of X kind of book--specifically, romance fiction); and adherence to conventional "publishing norms" (the publisher had to pay royalties). Those don't sound so bad, do they? On the surface, no, of course not.

These rules were also--once again, to be fair--put forth in an effort to counter much of what was increasingly emerging as "publishing" but wasn't legitimate in one way or the other: scam "publishing," in which authors would underwrite anything from a portion of book production costs to the whole bill--and then might be left holding nothing at all, including the rights to their own work, when the companies went under. Added to this the number of non-subsidy "presses" that came and went, either from vast undercapitalization or sheer larceny on the part of the "owners" (or both!)...and the time might have seemed right for something like this, especially to protect newbies from the Web predators out there.

What was unfairly discriminatory about this policy, however, was something discovered only after many e-publishers had dutifully requested the paperwork, filled out the apps, provided the numbers, and jumped through hoops to "prove" themselves just as good as the big traditional guys: the "copies of books sold" had to be print copies.

You can see where this is heading.

E-book publishers, of course, raised a stink--as they had every right to do. This came about in the era before Kindle, Nook, and iPad...but that didn't mean that e-publishing was nonexistent, or that its books shouldn't have been considered "real books" if they were produced by royalty-paying publishers who could prove both longevity and the ability to market the books to readers to download in sufficient quantities that the author was paid for X sales of X number of books.

So, after having their collective heads slammed into a few walls enough times (executive boards don't do subtle), the powers that were at RWA at last decided to make a magnanimous, outside-the-box offer: they decided that the word "print" could be removed from the regulation of "approval." But, at the same time they took away the word "print" from the regulation for e-books, they added another new twist to the formula; by the time they got done, e-publishers would have to sell more copies of an e-book than a publisher would have to sell of a print book to get the same recognition.

Unfair? Yep, you bet it was. Deliberately targeted to eliminate e-book competition? RWA claimed not. The big monoliths--who, of course, cleared "approval" almost instantaneously--claimed not. But at least one e-publisher--who also put out print books--went through hoops not once, but twice, and still failed to qualify. As they put it, "Every time we filled out the paperwork and gave them figures, they raised the numbers." So they stopped. They warned their authors that this was how things were going down. They thanked their authors for being willing to be part of their adventure...but they would also understand if their authors decided not to submit any more to their house--since those books were no longer going to be considered "real" books by RWA anymore.

If this sounds crooked to you, it ought to. People who knew about what had happened to this reputable e-press began lobbying, and lobbying, and lobbying...only to be stonewalled. And when the dust settled, what was appallingly clear was that this kind of "approval," in the hands a few multipublished authors who all had firm footings in the "big guns" on the block, could be doled out as they saw fit--with rules changing as they saw fit--and with no accountability whatsoever to the membership. Why? Because this whole idea had never been put to the membership for a vote in the first place.

Now, since I've been out of the RWA circle for a couple of years, I don't know if anything has changed substantially in the interim. But the basic idea behind this "protection" was never a good one; was always biased against new voices, and smaller or newer firms, in the publishing world--no matter how successful they were proving to be, or maybe because of how successful they were proving to be; and, since it was never put to the membership as a question but imposed from above, it at best appears arbitrary and at worst verges on restraint of trade.

No, no one's saying you can't sell to a "non-approved" publisher...just don't expect your professional writers' organization to give you credit for having a real book, a real sale, or any standing in possible award or contest eligibility, no matter if you've written the next Gone With the Wind.

Fast forward to the ACFW decision to also have "approval" for publishers...and many of the same things are possible. That's scary.

No, I don't assume that because ACFW is a Christian organization, that that means this process will be above reproach. We're all sinners. We're all human. If we get a chance to seize power and apportion out "approval," some of us, eventually, are going to abuse it. But even if that never happens--even if by some miracle the ACFW use of "approved" publishers is always evenhanded, fair, and non-discriminatory--the point remains that this is a stupid provision. It divides authors into "real authors" and "those who aren't quite real yet." It divides books into "real books" and "those that aren't quite real yet."

And it sets up a "pecking order" that puts yet another burden on already understaffed and overextended publishers, to "prove" that their authors "deserve" to be recognized for selling "real books"--on the basis of a writers' organization's say-so, rather than where the recognition, the sales credits, and the kudos ought to come from...which is the marketplace.

Yeah. Readers and book buyers. Remember them? They're pretty smart people, yanno? They buy books, they like books, they write about books they like on their blogs...they tell other people...and those people buy books. "Real" books deserving of real honors come out of that kind of "sorting" process...not out of some artificial designation of "real" versus "not real" arrived at by a foolishly self-important organization of writers.

Writers don't determine what succeeds in the marketplace, except as readers and buyers. They shouldn't determine who can consider themselves a "real" publisher or a "real" author, either. That's not their decision. It never has been. It never will be. And the notion that a writers' organization's board should be able to "mother hen" the process like this is only borrowing trouble from one organization and putting it into a place where, if anything, the discrimination could be based on even more nebulous criteria than mere sales or print versus e-books...

This "approval" mechanism was never a good idea in a secular organization. It's far worse an idea in a religious one. It's a disaster waiting to happen...it's pandering to big guys while reducing a great many members to "nonentities" despite sales contracts...and it needs to go away.