September 29, 2013

My Takeaways from the 2013 ICWF Fall Conference - Ruth L. Snyder

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship Fall Conference in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. I especially appreciated our keynote speaker, Murray Pura.

"Don't let anything be greater than the fact that you are a child of God!" (Advice given to Murray when he signed his first book contract.)

In his opening session, Murray gave us two personal examples of why it's important to persevere as a writer.

Mizzly Fitch
-This was Murray's first novel
-He sent queries out and received 3 rejection letters
-He wanted to quit sending queries, but his wife wouldn't let him
-The manuscript was accepted for publication, but Murray didn't like the cover
-The publisher was sold
-After waiting, he was told the new company would not be republishing the book
-After many years, Regent College offered to republish the book
-When they sent the cover art to Murray, he was startled to see they chose his favourite painting as the cover picture
-The book is still in print today

-Murray's second novel, based on two of his aunts
-Submitted manuscript
-Publisher rejected the book because the writing was "too good"
-Agent gave manuscript to 4 large publishers who all rejected it
-Another publisher liked the manuscript, but two experts had a problem with the Christian content
-Became a finalist in the Paraclete Contest
-Publisher offered to publish, but declined after 2 weeks
-20 years later, the book was finally published! and was shortlisted for a $25,000 prize
-The sequel was published two years later and won The Word Guild Award for best historical novel

Sunrise near Wetaskiwin on Saturday, September 29, 2013

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the weekend:

"You have to go for 'the long bomb'."
"God embodies everything he wants to teach us in story."
 "Treat your stories with respect and honour - you don't know where your stories will end up."
 "Take any decent opportunity that comes your way."
"Say, 'Yes I can' and do it 'afraid'."
 "Remember the cloud the size of a fist, which became a storm and filled the land with water."
"Remember that whenever you write a story, you're always writing for Christ."

September 28, 2013


For adults, choosing a church can be a bewildering experience. Doctrines, worship styles, and liturgies vary widely from one denomination to another. Imagine how much more confusing going to a new church can be to children.

I was in that precise position in September of 1964. Having already suffered the shock of knowing I wouldn't return from Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind until Christmas, being forced to attend a different denomination's church each week confounded me even more.

On my first Sunday morning at the dorm, drivers from local churches arrived to bring us sight-impaired children to their worship services. When my supervisor asked which church I attended, I answered that I was a Lutheran. Nobody from that denomination came to the school so she sent me with the Anglican children.

The church was much fancier than the one I attended at home. For one thing, it had stained glass windows and ornately-carved pews. The building was also larger than the Lutheran church I was used to.

Having never seen kneeling pads before, I assumed they were foot rests. "Get your feet off there," a woman scolded. "Those are for kneeling on." I leaned forward and dusted off the spots where my shoes had rested as we waited for the service to start.

The hymns were different too. I didn't understand a word the congregation sang. It all sounded like "blah blah blah" to my uneducated ears. Not being able to read the hymn books, I stood mutely while everybody else sang.

The minister then gave his weekly homily. I recall only one of them regarding a donkey who wouldn't work on the Sabbath. I also remember him leading us in The Lord's Prayer.

Then all the  children were sent downstairs to Sunday School classes while the adults did whatever they did next. I never did find out what mysterious things happened upstairs while we heard Bible stories and played with play dough.

A woman rang a bell at the end of Sunday school and all the children stood in the isle between our cubicles. She prayed, asking God to help us be good little boys and girls. While the sighted children rejoined their parents, we waited for our driver to take us back to the dorm.

I certainly had many new customs and routines to learn at that residential school. Being only seven years old, these sudden changes were hard to take. No wonder I received so many spankings and detentions that autumn.

Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer as well as the author of How I Was Razed, Deliverance from Jericho, and When a Man Loves a Rabbit. He lives in a small Alberta hamlet with his house rabbit, Deborah.

September 26, 2013

6 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction - Bonnie Way

I've always enjoyed reading historical fiction.  As my mom says, that's the best way to get history—as a story.  I've learned about life in Biblical times and both World Wars and even early Canadian fiction through novels that take me into the places and people of those times.  During university, I pursued that interest further by completing a minor in history.  I thoroughly enjoyed my Canadian history courses and told myself one day, I'd turn some of the lesser-known stories into a novel.

Today is that day, as I'm attempting to write a historical Canadian novel I'm developing a huge appreciation for all my favourite historical writers as I begin to realize just how hard it is to write historical fiction.  Perhaps that is, in part, because I seem to have a knack for choosing topics that are hard to write about (e.g., in university I decided to write a paper on a Scottish king about whom nobody else had written, and ended up researching him by reading about his wife—a Catholic saint—and the English kings of the day).

If you are also attempting to write historical fiction, here are some tips I've learned as I start this process...

1.  Create a timeline.  On one line, write the significant dates and events in your main character's life.  This will help you with the plot, as you'll want to "connect the dots" of these events as you are writing.  On a paralell line, write significant dates and events of that time—things your main character would have been aware of and might have talked about, or things that would have influenced his or her life.

2.  Keep a bibliography.  Write down every book you read with complete bibliographical details, including a small note about what information the book contained.  You never know what facts you might need to double-check.

3.  Ask yourself, "Why does this story matter today?"  What makes this moment in history or this historical person still relevant to readers today?  This will give you your "elevator pitch" or theme and may also help you develop your plot (as you include events in your character's life that will show why this story matters today).

4.  Read children's books.   Jane Kirkpatrick says the authors of grade-level novels and biographies often capture the issues of the time.  Then you can go to adult histories to get more in-depth information.

5.  Be creative in your research.  Are there movies about the topic?  Places you can visit?  Traveling exhibits?  Descendants you can interview?  Check the bibliographies of the books you read for ideas for your own research.  Make notes as you research about questions you have and other things you want to find more information about.  And don't be afraid to ask experts or others for help as you work—many people are happy to talk about something they are interested in.  You may be able to get a guest pass at your local university library to access scholarly databases or more resource.

6.  Start writing.  There will always be questions, more research you can do—just start writing.  Jane told me, " I have to start writing before I think I should because otherwise I never will! I'd be too intimidated by all that I don't know."  Make notes as you write about questions you have or facts you need to check, but don't fall into the trap of dealing with writer's block by doing more research.

Some of my favourite historical novels include The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer (medieval England), The Order of Good Cheer by Bill Gaston (early Canadian history), Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth (set in 19th century Texas).  For more suggestions, check out my other book reviews

Have you tried to write historical fiction?  What tips or advice would you share?

September 25, 2013

The Privilege of Editing - Bobbi Junior

       As a writer, I never thought of editing as anything more than a necessary task with my own work.

       As a non-fiction writer, I never put on an editor's hat when I read fiction.

       All that changed last month when a dear friend sent a request via e-mail. "I plan to publish "Charlotte's Rescue" in October. Everyone here has seen so much of it. I need fresh eyes. Do you have the time to read through, check for flow, grammar, all of that?"

       Two days later the manuscript sailed through cyber-space and landed at my inbox. Looking at my busy schedule, I carefully carved out time to work through her book, thinking I was doing my friend a favour.

       I soon realized the opposite was true.

       My friend isn't a seasoned, polished writer, but she has a wonderful, folksy voice, and people love her work. My first challenge was to respect her voice and resist the temptation to mould it into my own.

       My friend writes fiction, something I've never tackled. As the story progressed I discovered how intricate the plot, the details, the character development, the facts or lack of facts have to be to create a good read - something I'd never appreciated before.

       I learned that when editing it's important to pull out and highlight the strengths.  How would my friend know what resonates, what's effective, if I didn't tell her? When something made me laugh, or caught me off guard, or touched my heart, I noted it.

       I learned how important threads of information are; how they need to be drawn subtly from one chapter to the next, so the reader isn't left wondering, "Where did this come from? Did I read something about that way back at the beginning?"

       I learned that grammar, while much more flexible these days, still matters if you want the reader to move forward effortlessly. An awkward sentence or turn of phrase bogs down, causing the reader to go back, re-read, and lose the atmosphere or mood that was being built.

       In the end, I gained much more than I gave.

       If you're ever offered the opportunity to edit someone else's work, jump at it. Yes, it can be time consuming, but the education is invaluable!

photo credit: found_drama via photopin cc


September 24, 2013

InScriber's Review: "Happy, Happy, Happy" - Reviewed by Lynn Dove

Seldom do I read a book cover to cover without stopping, but that's what I did with Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson; once I started reading I just could not put it down.

I will admit that I am a HUGE fan of the Duck Dynasty T.V. show, having followed the Robertson family since the show was first televised. Quirky (or quacky as the case may be :), the family antics are humourous and entertaining, but also filled with pathos and laced with family values and Godly wisdom.

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson clan, writes a book that does not detour from the message and ministry of the T.V. show. God is glorified throughout the book. In fact he admits wholeheartedly that the prime reason for the book and their popular T.V. show is to draw people closer to God.

The book is the powerful testimony of a man who struggled with alcohol and anger until, as Phil says, he "repented" and God powerfully changed his life. It was after his conversion that he sought to invent the best duck call and with God's direction able to see his dream realized.

This is a book that is filled with redneck wit, hard-working know-how, and family devotion. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish!

So You Want to Write a Best-Selling Novel - Lynn Dove

This YouTube video by David Kazzie has been circulating a bit on Facebook and many of my author friends have posted it on their walls. I suppose I can laugh at it now that I have successfully written and published my books, but still I squirmed a little when I watched this for the first time because truly I was that naive once!

So today, for the benefit of some "newbie" authors/writers, I'm asking my more "seasoned" author friends to answer this question by leaving a comment: What was the worst faux pas (mistake) you made when you first started out on this "adventure" in writing and then marketing your "best-selling" novel?

Did you have the gall to write a publisher an email (like I did) without thought to putting together a book proposal for their perusal...? Did you neglect to edit your manuscript and discovered a glaring error AFTER the book was published? (I didn't do that, my books were well-polished thanks to my editor, at Word Alive Press). Anyway, leave a comment and let's laugh at our mistakes. Maybe a fledgling writer will learn a little from us today.

September 21, 2013

Wanna-be Fiction Writers- Sulo Moorthy

In recent months, an interest has sparked in my head to dip my toes into the unknown waters of fiction writing.  Unless a book is based on a true life story, it's hard for anyone to convince me to pick up a fiction and read till the end.

I was once an avid reader of fiction. Today, you wouldn't find a novel or any kind of fiction in my book collection. I've no clue how, when and what had caused the decline in my interest to read made up stories. .

Now that an interest has risen to venture into fiction writing, I did a little research on the topic and and learned some valuable tips that I'd like to share.

 The definition of fiction states that it is a made -up story told in prose with words alone. Because there is no storyteller to make gestures nor filmmaker to articulate lighting and camera for close-up scenes, the fiction writer has the challenge of interacting with the reader's imagination by his skill of words alone. That is the unique art and cleverness of written fiction.

Unlike non-fiction which is direct, fiction is indirect in its communication. It is the expression of the author's imagination. Some writers are so skilled in their craft that they could make even made up story to read like real.

Close observation of life is critical in good writing , said Hemmingway. The key is not only to watch the events, but also to take note of any emotion stirred within us. By doing so, Hemmingway thinks that we could trace back and identify precisely what had caused such emotion so that we could evoke similar emotion in our readers when they read our story.

By giving a title as quickly as possible and writing in the third person view could make the story flow easier.

" Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long." writes Elmore Leonard. The reader is more interested in meeting the characters than warming up to the weather. Opening up with a dialogue or action would grab the reader's attention much faster.

In a dialogue, it's best to use the plain and simple verb,"said" than to modify it with an adverb like "cautioned"," complained," or "grumbled."
A dull rhythm in a dialogue reflects that the writer hadn't studied the characters well enough to write in their voices.

Exclamation points need to be kept under control; Use regional dialects sparingly as possible.

Readers seldom enjoy detailed description of characters. Keep it short and purpose driven.

Because bad writing is contagious, reading widely with discernment is recommended.

Writing is work. Fiction writing is like gambling. Autobiographical fiction requires pure invention.

Knowing about fiction writing wouldn't make me a fiction writer. Nobody is making me to write fiction either.  If I chose to do it, I must sit down and write down with no excuse or complain. Would I do it? That's still a big question!

September 20, 2013

Spell Checker - Brenda J Wood

Spell Checker

Spell checker no’s it’s limits
It strikes when iron’s hot.
It corrects where it is Abel
It says when I am knot.
It’s been working on this pome.
It struggles to secede.
There-it’s got it happy
But spell checker cannot reed.

by Brenda J Wood

September 19, 2013

A New Technique - Linda Aleta Tame

I'm a third-year university student in a Creative Arts program.  Last term I completed a course called, the Multi-genre, Multimedia, Disjunctive Poetic Narrative Dream Text.

My professor, Di Brandt, an accomplished Canadian poet, stated that the genre that includes so much variety has been around for awhile, but has never had a permanent title.  It has been referenced as the Long Poem or Experimental Writing and probably many other non-specific identifiers, but none that took hold as the official title.  In an effort to include all that the genre entails, and to inform students, Professor Brandt created the Multi-genre, Multimedia, Disjunctive Poetic Narrative Dream Text title and course.

We studied several texts, reading through them all at the same time.  This provided the small group of inspired students with a multi-genre-multimedia-disjunctive-poetic-narrative-dream text reading experience.  (Okay, I'll spare you further repetition of the lengthy title, but in class we had a lot of fun with it!)

All the texts were by Canadian authors:
  • Blue Marrow by Louise Bernice Halfe
  • I Knew Two Metis Women by Gregory Scofield
  • Seed Catalogue by Robert Kroetsch
  • Questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt and four others

All of these are noteworthy and inspiring, but my favourite one, and one that has most influenced my approach to writing is NOX by Anne Carson.  I haven't space to describe its many unique and unconventional characteristics, but if you'd like to investigate it further, Google and Youtube have many articles about it.

One liberating factor is that the pages of NOX are not just filled with printed text.  They include photocopies of poetry, prose, word definitions, single-line-on-a-page statements, images, bits and scraps of letters and envelopes, smudges and even some long-hand writing.  Carson's technique inspires endless possibilities, and this freedom seems to alleviate writer's block for me.  I may not use all the ideas, maybe not even more than one, but knowing I can seems to open the creative gate.

I think it was the author's random-but-ordered style that intrigued me most.  Here's what I learned:  You don't have to start at the beginning.  I can't express how this opened the way for me to explore other options in my own writing process.  Start anywhere, organize and compile later.  What a refreshing discovery! If I have a thought, I don't have to write it down to save for a later chapter or paragraph.  I can write it now, expand on it in the moment when the inspiration is fresh and powerful.  It'll all come together when it's time.

I'm grateful for the Multi-genre, Multimedia . . . I think you know where I'm going with this.  It broadened my vision to get a head start on a writing project I've wanted to do for a long time.  Why not give this genre a try?

NOX by Anne Carson

September 17, 2013

INADEQUACY by Bryan Norford

I have previously commented here and elsewhere on the tension between commitment and inspiration: we are often committed to writing when we don’t feel inspired. Depending on our temperament, it can be the difference between light and darkness.

We need to be careful how we think of inspiration. Inspired work is not necessarily easy. Inspiration may simply be an idea requiring a further ninety per cent perspiration to develop. Conversely, apparently mechanical writing often initiates inspiration as it progresses.

While most people may use the idea of inspiration in its mundane sense—an easy flow as we write—the Christian considers its fundamental meaning: drawing upon the wisdom of the Spirit. All Christian writing—fiction as well as non-fiction—depends on God’s wisdom to infuse it.

For many of us, this need leads to a sense of desperation; a looming despair Jesus recognised in the first four of his beatitudes—we mourn our sinfulness, we hunger and thirst for righteousness to cover us, we are distressed and humbled by our poverty of spirit.

But Jesus went further. He set this deep sense of inadequacy as the condition for fulfilment of our needs. Not only is this beginning of new life in Him, I believe it is also the starting point for our writing—a profound yearning for the Spirit to permeate our thinking and imagination.

But mourning our inadequacy is the basis of our comfort, for Jesus tells us our needs will be filled. In the end, neither our goodness nor ability are the final criteria for success; that is gained solely as the Spirit fills us and uses our resources for His plan and will. So we write in faith.

That doesn’t mean our training and experience are unimportant; proficiency in our work is critical for excellence. But of greater significance, any expertise we accumulate is a resource for the Spirit to use. We simply lay at His feet the talents he gave us that we have developed.

Thus, I am driven to pray each day before writing: "Lord, my thinking and understanding is so often fallen and distorted. I desperately need your insight and wisdom, that as I write, I may clearly express your thoughts and desires.”

September 16, 2013

The Sponge Effect - by Marcia Janson

I’m a spongy personality…the type who watches reruns of Reba and develops a Texas drawl. If I read P.G. Wodehouse, I find myself saying things like, “That chap’s got himself into a spot of bother.” And it doesn’t stop there.

Just the other day, I decided to re-visit a chapter of my sort-of-in-progress novel. Things were rolling along beautifully. The dialogue in the rewrite sounded peppier and I did away with some laborious turns of phrase in the descriptive passages. Pleased, I rewarded myself by reading a few more chapters of someone else’s book. That particular mystery novelist has the knack of combining mayhem and humour in a brilliant way. Her dialogue is peppy and all the descriptive passages are short, snappy and…oh. Yup – “sponge effect” in operation. I think I absorbed some of the author’s writing persona into my own. That can’t be good, can it?

I don’t know if this is just a personal quirk or a quality other writers might share, but I have a roving writer’s voice that just won’t say put. Sometimes my tone is serious and intellectual and I write in-depth blog posts on deeply spiritual matters. Or a sense of fun kicks in and Cato, my feline alter ego, posts a story. Then there’s the melancholic philosopher or the cynical observer, neither of whose blog posts you’d like to read, I’m sure.

I used to put this inconsistency down to changing moods that allow different parts of my personality to come through, but now I’m questioning that. I’ve heard other writers say that good writing comes from copious reading. Surely some of them are affected by writing styles of favourite authors. And, if what we read affects our own writing, should we focus only on reading the greats – the writers who produce classic works of quality and craftsmanship? That doesn’t sound like much fun.

I love what Edward Albee said in one interview:
If you are going to learn from other writers, don’t only read the great ones, because if you do that, you’ll get so filled with despair and the fear that you’ll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that you’ll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff too. It’s very encouraging. “Hey, I can do so much better than this." Read the greatest stuff, but read the stuff that isn’t so great too.*
 Hey, if Albee can do it…

And then I found this advice from Stephen King:

The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order...The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen...**

He adds that prolific reading helps our own language to flow. Another plus is that we’ll become familiar with what’s out there - what’s fresh or has become trite and overdone.

Okay, I think I can handle that. Do I like to read a lot? Check. A diverse blend of soul-stirring and fluffy writing styles? Check. Maybe the trick is to let all those words steep, deep down inside, in the place where spirit meets Spirit. Surely, the One I know and love – the One who recombined water molecules into the best of wines – can draw something beautiful from the soul of a sponge.

*  Quoted by Jon Winokur, Advice to Writers, 1999
** Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000
Photo credits:
Sponge -
Water and wine -