Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Myth #1: Starting is easy for writers

I’d like to share a series of common writing myths and the humorous ways I’ve tried to help non-writing friends and acquaintances understand what I do a little better.

Case in point. At church on Sunday, a friend told me how much he would like to write a story.

Me: Everyone has a story to tell.
Friend: I just wouldn’t know where to start.
Me: Starting is hard.
Friend: How do you start? How do you know where to start?
Me: I sometimes write multiple introductions until I decide what works best. It’s hard for me too.
Friend: Ha, ha, you’re just kidding.
*Sigh* I wish I were.
Starting anything – a new job, a new school – is hard. Starting a new story is no different – even for those of us who have written and published books.

Dear reader, if you think writers have some special gene that makes the words flow from the tips of our fingers magically onto the document on our screen, well, we don’t. We call ourselves writers because we keep at the occupation long enough that we don’t know what else to call ourselves.

And we love it. Really, we do. Most of the time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Book Review: Seven by Jen Hatmaker

You may have heard about Seven on the radio or seen it on the shelf at your Christian bookstore. I first heard about it when I started some part-time work for Stone Island Communications, an agency that represents some of today's finest Christian women speakers.

Seven. Seven. Seven. The inquiries I answered raved about this book, how it had transformed their lives, families, and their life groups at church.  Jen Hatmaker is a Christian author and speaker whose writing makes you feel as though you’re her intimate friend, and she isn’t afraid to share all her shortcomings, victories and defeats.

She undertook her Seven project, “an experimental mutiny against excess,” along with her family and close friends, whom she calls “the Council.” She chose seven areas needing reform in her own life, and then tackled each one a month at a time.

Clothes. Spending. Waste. Food. Possessions. Media. Stress.

The book reads like a journal through each month, and entries range from anecdotes that will make you laugh out loud to heavy concepts you may need to pray about.

One word of caution. This book is not Tozer’s The Pursuit of God (which I also loved). Hatmaker takes an honest, sometimes raw, point of view which some readers may find not very church-like, perhaps slightly offensive. I may not have agreed with everything she said, but I appreciated her sincerity and courage to embark on “a journey of less.”

However, Hatmaker's voice is a strong one. Although she identifies her target audience as middle- to upper-middle class parents, this book will appeal to twenty-somethings and up who are willing to set aside consumerism and comfort for practical Christianity.

Seven reveals the truth every believer should confront: Simplifying your life provides more space for amplifying God.

I love this idea. This weekend is a garage sale at my church for our summer youth mission trip, and I’m searching my room to see what needs to go.

But that’s just one small application.

Read Seven, and you’ll find yourself looking at your stuff, your time and your priorities in a different way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thoughts on the New Adult Genre

Sally Stuart recently posted about a new genre in books called New Adult fiction. She explains that New Adult books target “the 20+ crowd” and “contain more mature themes and are meant to appeal to this age group’s needs.”

The Guardian defines it as ranging from ages 14-35. That’s quite a span. However, this source does provide a helpful definition, explaining that in these books, “the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life…”
ABC calls it the new “smut” fiction. Yuck.
I resent the inference that new adults in their late teens and twenties are only looking for trashy, explicit, “coming of age” stories. With all the changes this generation is facing, they need compelling, clean fiction with decent role models more than ever.
But I’ll get off my soap box. Suffice it to say that there is clearly going to be a dramatic difference between everyday New Adult fiction and Christian New Adult fiction.
Young Adult vs. New Adult

I first heard the term New Adult at the 2013 Florida Christian Writer’s Conference when I was pitching my Wings of the Dawn series to an agent. When I described it as a young adult series with a transcendent quality appealing to adults as well, the agent suggested it might better fit the New Adult genre.

Me: What’s New Adult?
Agent: It’s a genre that shows a post high-school character confronting and dealing with life changes throughout the course of the story.
Me: That kind of sounds like my heroine.
In addition to the protagonist’s age and stage of life, the content and issues explored in the story also factor in when determining if a book could be categorized as New Adult.

Think about Nancy Drew books. If I remember correctly, Nancy is eighteen, which is border line between Young Adult and New Adult. However, I read this series in middle school – or maybe even elementary. The content level is an easy-read mystery, not a story exploring complex issues.

Why New Adult?
From personal experience, I think New Adult is oftentimes an overlooked age group. I’ve been a part of college and career groups and also currently work with my church’s youth group. Teens and Twenty-Somethings are facing so many challenges in today’s society, and the transition from high school into advanced education, career and commitments can be confusing. Designing fiction that targets the needs of this age group makes perfect sense.

However, I think New Adult fiction should approach tough topics honestly but also in a clean way. This content will likely appeal to younger adults (12-18) who may be looking for role models in their reading or find themselves thrust into circumstances that force them to “grow up” faster than expected.

The bottom line? Christian New Adult fiction should help this age group see the truth of God’s Word applied to the circumstances characters face.

After all, the Bible is the ultimate guide to the challenges and changes of life. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Have you read any good New Adult Christian fiction lately? What did you like or dislike about it?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I quit my day job to be a writer

Sort of.

I’ve always wanted to say that, so now that I have, let me tell you the story.

After working six years in catalog and product development, I parted ways with my full-time job while staying on as a freelance contributor. As a result, I have more time to dedicate to Wings of the Dawn, Book 3.

However, I didn’t quit my day job to be only a writer (although being only a writer would be a most admirable occupation).

I am also pursuing my interest in becoming a teacher, so I am taking an education class and am now the substitute teacher known as “Miss H” (because “Hogrefe” is a mouthful to learn in one day). Side note: Substitute teaching is opening a brave new world of anecdotes and character sketches that you, my dear reader, will be able to enjoy right along with me.

The reason I share my new adventure with you is simply this: I know there are others who have interests and dreams they are perhaps too afraid to develop – because quite frankly, failure isn’t fun. (If you need the failure pep talk, re-read my post on Failure: Friend Not Foe.)
And yes, anytime you start something new, you are bound to face challenges. My classroom management textbook states that the top goal of first year teachers is survival.

Not success. Not strategies for student development.

Survival. Ouch.
I have two brothers, so I have seen almost every John Wayne movie imaginable. Though I don’t remember half of them, I like something this movie actor and director once said.

“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
In other words, “saddle up” even though you don’t know where the horse is going to take you.

That’s where the adventure begins.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Eight Things to Take to Your First Conference

Aside from the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference (FCWC) which I attended last month, there are several other Christian writers’ conferences this year. Crossbooks summarizes them on their website. If you’re interested in attending a conference, see if any of these events are in your neighborhood.

During FCWC, I scribbled smiley faces next to some items that contributed to a smooth, first conference experience  and also jotted down a list of things to bring next time. If you’re a soon-to-be, first-time conferee, I hope these eight items will help you prepare for your conference.

What I'm glad I brought with me:
  • A goal. Yes, you should have a goal in mind, even if it's as basic as, "I want to learn how to be a better writer." The orientation speaker asked us first timers to share with another conferee our reason for coming. Verbalizing your goal makes you prioritize how you will use your time and which workshops you will attend.
  • Business cards. You can make them yourself or order them. Many conferees I met used Vistaprint. Make sure to include your social media and contact information.   
  • A flash drive. Writers, even if you come prepared with your proposals, be aware that the atmosphere at a writer's conference is full of creative ideas that may set the wheels of your craft spinning. I revised my proposal a couple times at FCWC – and became good friends with the staff who supervised the printing station.
  • My homework. I had done my research on publishers who would be present and was prepared to schedule appointments.
What I'll bring next time:
  • A highlighter. Yes, I missed my highlighter. You will have handouts thrown at you (literally, in the case of Steven James’ workshop, one of the most enjoyable, stimulating classes I attended).
  • My Nalgene bottle. Workshops are back to back, and if you don’t rehydrate, you will wilt.
  • An author flyer. I think as writers, we become so focused on our books that we forget to market ourselves. Another writer gave me this idea, and I recommend it for next time. (Editors and agents don’t want to collect lengthy proposals but may accept a single-page handout.)
  • My pitch on the back of my business card. This is another tip I learned from a fellow writer, and it makes beautiful sense. After all, your pitch should be concise enough to fit on the back of your business card.
What else might you do to help prepare for your first conference?