Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Defining Inspiration

What is your writing inspiration?

Sources of inspiration vary from day to day and even piece to piece.

For my historical novel, The Distant Shore, my inspiration was the amazing true story of the life of Katherine Harrison, grandmother of a friend. Katherine (Emma-Lee Palmer in my book) penned a memoir at age 85 of an extraordinary year of her life when, in 1904 at age 6 (evolved into 9 in TDS because publishers won't touch a 6-year-old protagonist), she was mysteriously sent away from her family to live with an aunt who didn't want her on a remote, untamed Florida island.

The dark family secret she discovered there and the ensuing life-or-death climax just begged to be told as I read Katherine's account in her old lady scrawl on notebook paper.

Inspiration for Grit for the Oyster:250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers was the felt need for a combination devotional/how-to for those just starting out as writers, and even more experienced writers in need of a spiritual motivation boost. Suzanne Fisher conceived the idea and shared her vision with her three co-writers (including me) at a California writer's conference and the concept was gestated and birthed over the next 9 months.

The motivation behind my recent release, Mom NEEDS Chocolate, was to share with future generations of my family that Great Grandma Debbie was a living, breathing person who had a faith that was real. I want them to know, long after I'm gone, that it IS possible to live out your faith and that Papa God can truly be your strength through the muck of everyday craziness.

So what, then, is your inspiration for your recent writing project?

If you haven't defined it yet, give some thought today to pinpointing your inspiration. Why are you sinking countless hours into this project? What is the life force behind your words? Identify and embrace your inspiration. It may very well be the single driving force that propels you forward on the road to publication when inevitable potholes threaten to flatten your tires.

Happy writing and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Story behind the Story

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area--or if you know someone who does--join me at The Door in San Carlos, this Saturday, November 21st, from 2-4 pm! Five authors are going to be sharing their story about how they broke into publishing.

Just an fyi: The Door is the only Christian bookstore left on the SF peninsula. We need to support them!


I received an e-mail last week, out of the blue, from a young woman named Michal. She has created a blog called Volunteer Experiences. She wanted to interview me about my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. We spoke on the phone the next day and this article is the result!

That girl does her homework! She had read other things I wrote, did some fact checking, and sent the post to me for final corrections. Impressive!

If you know of an interesting volunteer (maybe even you?), please pass that info on to Michal at her blog. She's always looking for inspiring stories.

There's just something about volunteerism that is inspiring.

By the way, I'm going to be signing books at the Dogs on the Square Event in Sonoma, California (home of Williams-Sonoma). This Thursday, 4:30 to 7:30 pm, a small part of a larger benefit for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Stop by and say hello if you're in the area!

The Value of Writers Retreats

The Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat last weekend was just marvelous - we had a nice turnout and everyone seemed to have a great learning experience in a fun atmosphere. Larry Leech, president of Orlando's Word Weavers, led a fantastic critique group for Friday's Night Owl session, and nearly a dozen attendees shared their newest projects with the group.

Saturday was jam packed with nuts and bolts of writing: queries and cover letters, grammar and punctuation, finding motivation, time management, the ins and outs of magazine and anthology writing, and learning how the book publication process works. We even did some clever writing exercises to flex our literary muscles.

Lots of talent out there!

If you haven't yet attended a writers conference or workshop, you really should consider it. There's no better way to hone your craft, learn valuable insider information, discover new marketing techniques, network, and laugh your socks off with others who share your interests.

Plan ahead to attend the FIWR next fall! I'll keep you posted with details on my website,

Part of the fun of being an experienced writer is the opportunity to guide others along the paths we've already taken - some fruitful, some, well, not so much. Helping new aspiring writers follow their calling while avoiding those not-so-wise common pitfalls is most rewarding.

I'm looking forward to meeting new friends and signing books at the Oasis Christian Store Grand Opening in Temple Terrace, FL this Saturday, 11/21/09, from 1-3 pm.

If you're in the area, please come join me for a hug and free gift! It's a great time to start your Christmas shopping with signed author copies of Mom NEEDS Chocolate and Everyday Hope for the special ladies on your list!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Enjoyable Learning Experience

I'm excited about the Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat coming up this weekend (11/14/09) at Lithia, FL. I co-founded the FIWR last year with Ruth Ellinger (author of The Wildrose Series for Ambassador International) and have poured my heart into preparations for a memorable learning experience for the attendees.

Our excellent guest speakers this year include Eva Marie Everson, award-winning author of Shadow of Dreams, Sex, Lies and the Media and The Potluck Club Series. Eva's presentations will be "Walking & Falling: The Lessons That Changed This Writer" and "Turning Articles Into Books."

Larry Leech, journalist, author and president of Word Weavers, a highly successful writers group in the Orlando area, will speak about "Organizing and Planning" and "Developing Your Voice." (I almost changed Larry's whole focus with my first brochure draft - I listed his presentation as Developing Your Vice!)

Sue Miholer, an editor and author from the Northwest, will discuss "Self Editing 101" and "Inspirational Shorts."

We've included a Night Owl option this year, which includes dinner Friday (11/13/09) followed by networking, entertainment, writing exercises, a critique session for sharing new projects, led by no other than Larry Leech himself (the crown prince of critique groups), and optional sleepover in the lovely Cedarkirk Retreat Center.

I've almost finished preparing my own "Nuts and Bolts" workshop and am looking forward to spending a fun but educational weekend with fellow writers. Only one thing is missing.


Friday, November 6, 2009

I had a few random questions recently from aspiring writers that I'd like to touch on this week.

What if my book title is similar to an existing book? Can titles be copyrighted?

No, titles cannot be copyrighted, nor can story ideas or character names, but it's just not good form to imitate the work of other people too closely. Approach that great idea you read about from a different view or target a different audience. Personalize information and beware of trademark laws which protect "distinctive" work with highly recognizable phrases or character names. For example, you could write a book about the Civil War, but don't name your protagonist Scarlett and dress her in green velvet curtains.

How should I handle trademarked materials in my novel?

To quote from my chapter "Excavating Ethics" from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, "We must take care to use organizations' logos or trademarks properly. For example, Xerox and Velcro are registered trademarks with specific usage guidelines and should be used only as capitalized adjectives to identify the company's products and services, never as verbs (i.e. "Please xerox that article," or "Why don't you velcro that shoe?"

"Terms like Google and Netflix are beginning to be used generically, but caution should be taken with these and other descriptive trademarked words like Frisbee, Cineplex and La-Z-Boy. "

Is "borrowing" excerpts from other writers considered plagiarism?

As long as you cite your reference (and don't exceed a paragraph or two at most), it is acceptable and even a complimentary to quote another writer. But borrowing without returning (documenting your source) is stealing and not only are you opening yourself up for possible lawsuits, you're lowering your bar of moral standards and damaging your reputation.

What about using material I found on the internet? Do copyright laws apply?

Amy Cook, Writer's Digest legal expert, states that "Original stories, poems and quotes are all copyrighted matieials, whether they exist on a piece of paper or a computer screen. If you don't get permission from the people who hold the rights, then you're stealing thteir material" (3/04 Writer's Digest p. 24).