Friday, March 29, 2019

Writing People Off

Sometimes I write people off.

One thing tips the scales and that's IT, I'm DONE. No more. Deal BREAKER.

This seldom happens with people I actually know. I know humans are nuanced, complicated, and full of contradictions. Much as I'd like people to be all good or all bad, I know they're not. For instance, my mom was funny, creative, brave, and generous, but the truth is she passed on some unhealthy and sinful patterns that I'm still trying to overcome. I recognize her humanity and the complicated factors in her life. I wouldn't think of writing her off. She was a treasure.


When it comes to authors and such, I try to be tolerant and then one thing tips the scales and ka-whishk, [sound of sword slicing the air] that's IT.

Many Christian women have read Debbie Pearl's book, Created to Be His Helpmeet, which seems to be the book of choice that well-meaning and cruel people give to women in struggling marriages. 

I had heard of it, so I decided to read it. 

And I got to the garbage episode.

As I recall, Mr. Pearl, whom Mrs. Pearl holds up as a hunky, wise, amazing man of God, is taking out a bag of garbage. Mrs. Pearl is watching from an upstairs window as he winds up in very macho fashion and pitches that bag of garbage...on the edge of the dumpster, where it spills all over.

Mr. Pearl looks miffed and walks off, leaving the mess.

Mrs. Pearl laughs and laughs at her funny husband, then goes downstairs and happily picks up all the spilled garbage.

Are. You. Kidding. Me?

As my hunky, wise, amazing man of God husband said, "What in the world? You wouldn't even tolerate that behavior in a 15-year-old."

So I wrote off Debbie Pearl right there, although my sister says, and I grudgingly have to agree, that her description later on of the three types of husbands is spot-on.

[Later: full disclosure: I recalled today (Thank you, Holy Spirit) that one time years ago I gave a copy of Created to be His Helpmeet to a woman because I thought she deserved a dose of Debbie Pearl. I regret this. It was cruel.]

We had to read lots of Larry Crabb's books for the counseling course we took. I am trying to think of a diplomatic way to write that I hated his writing style. Even so, I plowed on, making up hashtags to describe his message--#yourenotactuallyhappy #orniceeither #youhavewrongmotives #13layersdown.

But then on about page 65 of I think it was Bold Love we read how he got frustrated with the little plastic band holding a packet of new socks together--and we have all endured this little frustration if we are lucky enough to have new socks--but he interpreted it as proof that deep inside, he hated God.

DONE. That's IT. I can't even hear anything else you say. Who has time to think like this?

"Bear with me here," he pleaded. "Keep reading."

Nope. I'm done. I kept reading only for the assignment's sake, but he had left me far behind.

[Oops. I just went to verify my sources here and realized it's NOT a Larry Crabb book after all. The author is Dan Allender, with some help from Tremper Longman. Well, Larry and Dan are definitely cut from the same cloth in terms of writing style and making life awfully complicated, so I had a similar reaction to both.]

Then there was the preacher from Pennsylvania who came to our church. How this subject came up in a revival meeting sermon I'll never know, but he insisted that women's ski suits were immodest.

All my interest in his talk screeched to a halt right there. Ski suits? Those bulky inch-thick full-coverage garments worn over layers of other garments?

After the service, my intrepid daughter asked him to clarify. Had he really said that? Did he really mean it?

Yes and yes. He said disrespectfully, like how dare she ask?

I wrote him off then and there, and also determined that no daughter of mine would come within ten yards of him, ever again. CA.REE.PY. 

I also wrote off Stan Dale. I feel bad about this, because my husband admires the man and has often had his students read his biography.

Stan Dale was a flamboyant missionary to a tribe in the mountains of Irian Jaya. However, he wasn't the first missionary there. He and his family were preceded by a Dutch family. The Dutchman had tried to make their house warmer in the damp mountainous chill by cutting vents above the doorways between the rooms so the warm air could circulate better.

Well. Stan Dale was all about being a tough soldier for Jesus, so when he and his wife and little children moved into the house the Dutch family vacated, he plugged up the vent holes, lest they all get too comfortable.

He lost me right there.

I know he did amazing things for the Gospel, was courageous and committed, and ended up being martyred, and as a result many of the tribe came to faith.

But I am stuck on those vent holes and his miserable little children and his poor patient wife, stuck in the wilds of Irian Jaya in a cold house with such a husband and no way to escape.

I am quite sure he could have been just as heroic if he had been considerate of his family.

I know the risk of sharing all this, because I also write and speak. Do I want people to trip over one thing and immediately write off me and everything I have to say?

Actually, I happen to know that that's already happened, judging from a few letters I've gotten. I think Paul taking me to a college football game was a dealbreaker for some readers who don't believe in attending sporting events.

I see a big difference between readers and real people. I expect my family to give and receive grace as we all work life out together. We know each other's faults but we are stuck, so we're going to love and enjoy each other despite our differences.

But readers have the privilege of writing me off. I think that's part of the package, and writers have to acknowledge that. I stand by my use of the word "kids" for "children," posting a "lie" on April Fools Day one year, Paul taking me to a game, and joining Facebook.

But if those were dealbreakers for you, and you can't hear anything else I say, that's your right and privilege. Although if that's the case, I guess you won't be reading this.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Poem--The Counseling Course

In the last 5 months, Paul and I flew to Pennsylvania three times to take classes at Life Ministries. On the last day, we were all supposed to talk for a minute or two about our experience. I read this, which I am reprinting here by special request of one attendee who wanted to read it to her husband.

The Counseling Course

I thought I would be a dutiful wife
And come with my husband to classes at Life.
I knew all about feelings and stories and such
But Paul was in need of a counselor’s touch.
So we read Larry Crabb and we packed and prepared
And headed to Portland as late as we dared.
Paul on his phone would tell all of gate ten
That six tons of oats should be bagged by his men.
Then we took off for Denver or Phoenix or Midway
Arriving in Baltimore at the end of the day.
Our marriage endured much testing and stress
From rental car lines and baggage claim  mess
We took a wrong exit and had more dissension
When Google said turn and I didn’t pay attention.
It’s good we were headed for three days at Life,
Where they know how to remedy marital strife.
Daily we studied and listened and turned
In papers we wrote, and gradually learned
Of passions and longings, volitional beings
Structures and stories and new ways of seeing.
We listened to others and then in return
We told them our stories and were happy to learn
That here with these folks was a safe place to be
I could even be honest with sad parts of me.
Of course all this time I was trying to see
How the practical husband was faring, for he
Has very few feelings and might be confused
By longings, emotions, and other words used.
But to my astonishment, he was just fine
With classes and small groups and then down to dine.
Meanwhile his wife who knows all about feeling
Was disrupted, confuzzled, and quietly dealing
With things down inside that she couldn’t quite name
How could this be, and who could she blame?
So Paul used his newfangled counseling skills
To calm her emotional upsets and ills.
Then back on the airplane went Paul and his wife
Grateful for all their new training from Life.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

How to Write and Publish--15--Your Experiences

Here are some of your experiences:

I needed to hear this. I've had a story nudging me for many years. I started writing it and it made me realize I need therapy. I am back at it, but verrry slowly, with therapy sessions in between. I hadn't expected writing to be a healing journey as well.
--Monica Krampien

I have learned (the hard way) to read through my editor's suggested changes and then put the manuscript away for a couple days before I look at it again. Invariably, I begin by being upset by how much red there is, and then after a couple days I look at it again and it isn't nearly as bad as my first impression. Then I can start to go through my work and acknowledge that that changes are actually really good things. :) One creative payment method I've used, and this only works is if the friend/editor has a market for your books, is to pay in books that they can resell. I've done this on piano books where my editor was a piano teacher and could sell the books to her students. I'm paying for books at cost, and she makes a lot more than I could have paid her by selling them at retail prices.
--Donna McFarland

I learned that one should always have the contract signed BEFORE the editing begins. I didn't do that and after all the work was done and I felt obligated to the publisher, the contract offered me requested complete control of my family story forever and ever. Fortunately we were able to come to a fair agreement with a time limit and I think we were both happy. But I came SO CLOSE to signing it because we tend to treat publishers like God -- their word is final.
--Catherine Beachy Yoder

Could I add a detail that Ervin R. Stutzman told me when collecting historical material? He said taking photographs of items like grandma’s quilt or great grandpa’s Bible are good ways to document stuff that you might not even own but exist and you would like your descendants to know about.
Let’s all do our offspring a favor and leave them with more information than just our name, birthdate and death date!
--Sharon Nisly

I made a digital Heirloom Catalog of my stuff. I went through each room taking pictures of everything that came from previous generations and then put it in a file on my computer with descriptions for each picture of what it is and where it came from. I put a copy on a flash drive and gave it to my daughter so she will know what things are. She said she was glad to have it. "I was always afraid we'd get rid of something we should keep and treasure something Dad salvaged from the dumpster."
And while you're at it, recommend they write full names on the back of pictures to identify the people. We get lots of pictures at the historical society that are almost worthless because the people are not identified. Your posterity will not know who Aunt Lena or Grandma's brother was. My brother-in-law's mother had a photo marked "all of us last Sunday." Very enlightening! 
--Romaine Stauffer

Our recent discussion about the pro’s and con’s of self-publishing and being published by an established house reflects the changing landscape that authors should consider today in a crowded field that emerged during the self-publishing era.
More than two decades ago, I sold a home school writing textbook to a Christian publishing house. My manuscript was evaluated in detail by an editor, but I was granted the choice of making suggested changes in the manuscript. I helped promote the book during a series of workshops throughout Central Oregon, and the book appeared in a catalog of Christian educational materials. Several years ago, my offer to revise and to repackage an updated second edition was declined.
I began attending writing conventions a decade ago as I considered writing memoir and fiction. It appeared that the speakers were established writers and that the delegates were wanna-be published authors looking for the “secrets” of success.
It was relatively easy to write memoir and to package a group of essays into book form. Because I was uninterested in making profitable book sales, I turned to self-publishing through CreateSpace.
Then, I toyed with writing books of fiction. The first one, a teen Christian book of fiction, was published by a firm that charged a fee for layout, design, etc., but didn’t market the book aggressively. However, one copy was sold. I now have regained the property rights to the book.
Five years ago, I talked with a Eugene agent, who suggested he might be interested in an advice book. I wrote “Touch All Your Bases, Advice for my Great-Grandchildren,” which the agent returned.  I then turned to Luminaire Press in Eugene for help. Patricia Marshall, a former student of mine, is publisher of the publishing company that contracts with the authors to edit, layout and market books. This is an excellent firm for writers who wish to retain control of a book’s content. It is, however, an expensive enterprise.
A decade ago I decided to give fiction a try. Sent inquiries and manuscripts to a series of agents. Didn’t hear from any of them. 
Five years ago during a writing convention, I paid to have an “expert,” not an agent, read a couple of chapters of my first book of fiction in a series. He suggested that as an 80-year-old I might consider self-publishing, which I did.
I turned to CreateSpace again, which landed my books on Amazon and Kindle. Sold a couple of copies but received such a cut-rate price for self-purchase that I began the practice of giving away copies to friends and family members. 
Five years ago, I started writing “Appleton Annie,” the third book in the series, then put the manuscript on the shelf until being invited to join the Fictitious Five last year. That novel is now completed and is being self-published on Amazon Kindle Direct, the former CreateSpace site.
The process in setting up an account, choosing cover and layout designs, etc. is relatively simple and can be followed by most anyone. It is a no-cost operation for the author. You can purchase marketing help, but that is another story, one with which I am unacquainted.
So, what would I do now if I were two or three decades younger?
I would begin writing a novel, join a critiquing group, take the manuscript to conventions for potential editors/publishers to read. I also would seek an agent, which may require a couple of years or so to accomplish. 
Otherwise, I’m not a fan of conventions for several reasons: primarily because I don’t recall learning much about writing and/or marketing and because of the cost/benefit ratio. For example: I never once heard that you should write in the past tense or that romance yarns require at least two protagonists.
So, what about the future? 
I’m hammering out another romance novel set in a retirement home, and I’m writing in past tense, which is fitting in view of the subject matter.
Do I plan to self-publish? Probably, if I survive.
--Dean Rea

I can only speak to my experience with a publisher but friends have shared bits and pieces of their stories with me. 
A royalty paying house usually:
provides an editor, or two,
three proofreaders (important!)
a cover designer ( some take your pictures and ideas and submits them, then gives you final say --not all publishers do this)
sets up the ISBN
the account with Amazon,
provides a publicist and some a marketing specialist (I have a friend who has a marketing team promoting her books)
promotes from their house website
Adds you to all (trust me) the online reader groups
Includes you in their newsletters
My publisher was very easy to work with, plus I believe they improved the original story. We can get too close to our work to see its flaws. 
My friend who self-published
Did not use an editor ( it shows)
Did not have it proofread (it shows)
Her cover was good, but it was professionally contracted
She was experienced at setting up book signings and had a huge following on FB and a good support system to provide reviews--judging from the glowing reports they were also loyal ( i.e. they lied)
Her story could have been phenomenal but the errors were so glaring it ruined the story for me. So I made my review very general which is also like lying. But she was my friend.
Self-publishing has become an accepted and creditable way to go, but the author MUST do his/her homework.
--Anonymous friend

Saturday, March 02, 2019

How to Write and Publish--14--Eating the Elephant; Getting from Here to There

I was digging in some old files the other day and found a handwritten list. It was well over 20 years old, and it listed everything I had published up to that point. Two articles in Keepers at Home. Three stories in Companions. Two letters to the editor. A story in a Pathway magazine. And so on.

It wasn’t a long list, and every item was of great import and carefully noted. I’m sure I didn’t forget anything.

Most writers want to accumulate a body of work. It’s not enough to publish an article and then move on to hiking or furnace repair. We want to have created something of substance, a large pile of words, a collection. We want to have improved our skills over time. We want to have influenced the world.

A few days ago, I got a reminder on Facebook that five years ago, an article I wrote about my mom was reprinted in the Budget. I had totally forgotten.

The last time I spread out my books on a table at an authors’ event, someone came by, looked at the array, and exclaimed, “Wow! When did this happen?”

How did I get from hoarding every little success to actually forgetting that someone was reprinting an article, and from zero books, to one, to more than half a dozen?

One word at a time. One sentence, one paragraph, little by little, over and over.
Writers never have a sense of being finished. Even with my variety of books, I seem to end up sitting near Bob Welch or Jane Kirkpatrick at library fundraisers, and their stash of published works makes mine look sparse and a bit desperate.

Good writers also keep learning. You never learn everything about the craft, I’m told. In fact, Carrie Stuart Parks, the author/speaker I mentioned previously, told us that she was at a writers’ conference and there was Frank Peretti in the front row, taking notes, still learning how to write. Frank Peretti!

When we went to Kenya to revisit where Steven had come from, and then on to Poland to visit Paul’s brother John and his family, my friend Anita in Poland asked if I’d consider bringing her a little carved elephant from Kenya. She wanted to set it where she could see it often, and it would remind her of this adage: How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time.

As I recall, her elephant was the task of learning the Polish language.

Now, I have an elephant in my Sparrow Nest to remind me of the same principle.  

On another scrap of paper around here is another list, carefully and thoroughly compiled. It’s a list of all the fiction I’ve written, and it’s a short and a bit pathetic. Everything I complete goes on that list, and believe me, I don’t forget anything. The only stories that have been published are two flip-books designed for vacation Bible schools that I wrote for Northern Youth Programs while we served in Canada a long time ago.

I know that if my body of fiction work is to accumulate into published stories and a table spread with books, it will do so like my nonfiction did: a word at a time, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book.

It looks like a huge elephant. It will take lots of bites.

When I remember all the early mornings in front of the computer the last 18 years, writing my articles, and all the words squeezed reluctantly from my brain on down to my fingertips and the keyboard, it’s overwhelming. So I don’t dare think in such large terms.

I can set the timer for fifteen minutes and scoop words onto the page like sand into a pile. Drink some tea, change position, write for another fifteen. An early morning here, an afternoon there, notes scribbled while I’m cooking.

I hope to be a better writer in ten years, but I won’t get from here to there if I don’t read, practice, learn, and keep writing.

Little by little, a bite at a time. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a story.

Thus is a body of work created.

Tomorrow: a few of your stories.

Friday, March 01, 2019

How to Write and Publish--13--Decisions About Your Book

Note to email subscribers who are getting tired of all these posts in your feed: we're almost done!

Publishing a book involves decisions and lots of steps, and this list doesn't cover every situation.

You can do it, though. Step by step.

1. Royalty publisher or self-publishing? We discussed this before. The following information is for you if you decided to self-publish.
2. Do I want to hire a publishing helper to oversee the process or do it myself, either as a general contractor or learning to design covers and pages myself?
3. If I’m the general contractor, where do I get it printed?
4. How will I pay for it?
5. Editing. You’ll need someone to review the content in a general way and someone to look for the tiny details. This can be the same person, if they’re willing. Don’t try to DIY the editing.
6. The title of the book.
7. What type of book should it be, with what sort of binding? Hardcover, paperback, stapled booklet, spiral binding? 8 ½ x 11 workbook? 8 ½ x 6 ½ paperback?
8. What kind of paper—weight, texture, and color (white or cream)
9. The cover—
a) Design it yourself or hire someone (often, printers have someone on staff who can do this) Mine were done by a graphic designer, with Adobe InDesign.
b) Cover font, colors, design
c) The spine
d) The back cover—includes a description of the book, your photo and bio, and a bar code and ISBN, which you can buy online.
e) Extras such as embossing or glossy accents
10. Dedication and/or acknowledgments
11. Copyright page. This will include disclaimers such as the standard fiction paragraph that no one believes—"Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental,” and, if needed, a line about Scripture references for each Bible version you quote in your book. Also get and include permission for quoting other works such as books, articles, and song lyrics.
12. Information on how to order books. This is often on or near the copyright page, or on the last page.
13. Foreword or preface
14. Table of contents
15. Index—needed for genealogies, textbooks, how-to’s, and such
16. Illustrations and photography. Printing a picture book for children is a very different process from printing a novel. Your printer will know more about the specifics than I do.
17. Interior graphics—fancy swirls at each chapter heading, that sort of thing.
18. Font and type size. Size of margins. Books are printed in 16-page groupings called signatures, so the printer might tweak your margins and such so you don’t end up with 15 blank pages at the end of the book. 
19. Number of books to order. With print-on-demand, you can start with ten, 300, whatever you want. With other printers, the price drops per book with every 500 or 1000 you order. If no one has heard of you, start with 50 books. Romaine Stauffer ordered 5000 and sold them in a short time. I was somewhere between with mine.
20. Setting your price. This will appear on the back cover near the bar code. You can also have the price printed elsewhere on the cover, if you like. Remember that bookstores normally get a 50% discount, Amazon and other book distributors get a 60% discount, and Choice Books requires something like a 75% discount.
21. Publicity, advertising, and marketing. If you want to sell your book, plan ahead how people will find out about it.

Yes, it's a big job, but I've discovered a few things. It's ok to ask lots of questions, even when you know so little you hardly know what questions to ask. Book people are helpful people. You might surprise yourself with the skills you pick up in the publishing process.