Friday, November 29, 2013

Silver and Gold

As writers we are encouraged to come into the 21st century, making sure our presence is well-represented on all forms of social media, maintain our own websites and blogs, and arrange for an e-book version of our books. Many of us “traditionalists” struggle with this focus on electronic media and are reluctant to let go of our beloved hard copies. Few things thrill us more than the feel of a book in our hands and the scent of paper and ink. But if we are to survive as authors in this “brave new world” we must make some adjustments in our attitudes and activities.

At a recent workshop on building our platform, one writer asked the leader how we accomplish this without sacrificing too much of our writing time. The instructor, Stephanie Keyes, author of a popular young adult trilogy, outlined a sensible, doable strategy that works for her. She stressed that this type of activity helps us to connect with our readers in ways previously not possible. It makes us real and provides opportunities for personal connections with them.

On the other hand, I recently became acquainted with a young man in his early thirties. Steve is well-educated and a voracious reader but unlike many of his generation, does not own an e-reader. Why? Because he loves and collects books, just like us. Steve rarely visits a library. Instead, he feels compelled to own and keep nearly every book he reads. They are his friends, companions, and company. Finding another kindred spirit who shares my passion for books always thrills and delights me. It also proves to me that the demand for physical books will continue well into the future.

Many of us struggle with this great paradigm shift. Many of us are bibliophiles like Steve, yet if we as authors are to survive in this changing industry we need to learn how to reach out to our technologically savvy readers. Too often when such dramatic changes occur, we tend to react with an either/or mentality, forgetting that with work and understanding, we can, and must, strike a balance between the old and the new. Ultimately, it can end up being the best of both worlds. Or, as I like to think of it, the old adage rings true: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

May we all acquire much of this silver and gold.

Susan Reith Swan is a freelance writer and editor who has loved St. Davids since 1991. In addition to writing, she can frequently be found crafting, knitting, or snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel while she reads. Check out her blog, Li-tea-ra-ture at

Friday, November 22, 2013

Less is More

One of the traditions at my house is to bake cookies at Christmas. Both my kids love participating in the process, and I love watching them dig in and have fun. By far their favorite cookie to make is the sugar cookie. The mixing, rolling, cutting, and decorating appeal both to a sense of dependable structure and wild creativity. While I tried to encourage their creative bent to its fullest, I remember shaking my head over the cookies they chose to over-decorate. You know the ones--cookies thick with bright green icing and heaped with every sugar sprinkle in the cabinet. No matter how much fun the kids had in making those special cookies, I will admit that I could never stomach eating one. I love sugar as much as anyone, but this is one instance where less is definitely more.

Learning to write can mirror the cookie decorating process, and many novice writers make the mistake of using descriptors to decorate their writing the way my kids used sprinkles to decorate a cookie. They believe that the extra flair accentuates their creativity, when often it only highlights a glaring misconception. What they need to learn is that strong, vivid writing is accomplished with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. 

 Take a look at the following excerpt from Tamera Alexander’s novel From a Distance:
“A chill fingered its way past her woolen coat, into her shirtwaist, and through the cotton chemise that lay beneath. She pulled the coat closer about her chest and viewed the seamless river and valley carved far below, the mountains heaved up and ragged, draped in brilliant dawn to the limits of sight. She peered down to where the earth ended abruptly at the tips of her boots and the canyon plunged to breathtaking depths.”

Notice the strength of the italicized verbs: fingered, carved, peered, plunged. Each one is descriptive in its own right, giving the reader a clear picture of the scene, so there is little need to add embellishments. Also note that the author does make use of adjectives and adverbs—seamless, ragged, brilliant, abruptly, breathtaking—but they accessorize the scene instead of monopolize it.
The key to good writing is balance, and acquiring that skill requires not only recognizing the basic parts of a sentence, but also understanding how those parts work best together. The end result is the perfect combination of creativity and artistry—a delicious treat for any reader. 

Vickie Price Taylor has a bachelor’s degree in English Education and has spent the better part of the last decade sharing her passion for writing with high school students. A lover of fiction, she is most often either reading a good book or working on writing one of her own. Her stories have earned finalist positions in both the 2007 Molly Contest and the 2011TARA Contest. She has served on the St. Davids’ board for three years and is currently the conference director.  When she’s not hanging out with her family or jogging the trails in her home state of West Virginia, you can find her on her blog at

Friday, November 15, 2013

My First Tutoring Experience

  "Seriously?"  Marsha Hubler peered over her glasses at me.  I felt like a third grader.  As her blue eyes stared at me, I gulped.  She handed my manuscript back to me.  

  Maybe signing up for tutoring my first year at St. David's Christian Writer's Conference wasn't a good idea.  When it came to writing, I didn't really know what I was doing.  Family and friends said I should write my stories down, but when they read what I'd written, their eyes glazed over. 
  "Okay," she said, "Your first problem is that your book starts with the hero sitting at a table telling his story.  That's a classic beginner's mistake.  First, we will write a one-page synopsis of your story."  So we wrote down everything that happened in the book.

  "Go back; rewrite this synopsis," Marsha ordered.  "I forbid you to use the verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, been.  Those verbs belong in dialogue and nonfiction, but not in fiction.  When you use them, you are telling the story and not showing it."  Scrutinizing every sentence I met became a game to change my verbs from passive to active voice.  I struggled, but we persevered.  When Marsha saw me take her advice to heart, she helped me cram action into my writing.   
  "Take your synopsis and break the action into chapters.  Then write each chapter from the movie playing in your head.  Use the tools I've taught you," she urged.

  Marsha Hubler knows her craft, because she authored the Keystone Stables Series for young readers who love horses.  She lifted my writing to a new plane.  When I edit and toss out my weak verbiage, I thank God for her telling me the truth.     

  I return to St. David's every year because I learn so much.  I've found others there like me who want to hone their writing skills.  We tell the truth to each other about what we write at St. David's.  It's the only way to grow.

Sue Boltz
Forever a Fan of St. David's Christian Writer's Conference

Friday, November 8, 2013

Deadlines, Schmeadlines!

I'm not always good with deadlines, especially if they're my own. If I've told myself to get that old furniture up to the attic by Thursday, you can bet it'll still be sitting in the hallway on Friday ... five years later. I can't even trick myself into honoring my own deadlines because I know they're fake. I know I won't punish myself if I miss a deadline that I created randomly just to guilt myself into finishing something. It has to really bother me before I'll take it seriously.

Which probably means I shouldn't be a freelancer. And yet, I am.

Why? Because missing other people's deadlines does bother me. And I'm grateful for that easily poked guilt and shame sometimes. As a Christian, I suppose I ought to find ways to get rid of unwanted or overblown guilt. Christ paid for my sins, right? And yet, too many times it's precisely my sense of never-ending guilt that gets me to do something on time. Either way, it's a good thing my husband and I don't rely on my income to pay the bills. Otherwise, we'd be living in the back of an old 1989 Ford Escort we bought for $200 about a decade ago. (Don't ask—it's now serving as an inadvertent planter out on his grandfather's property a few miles from here.)

As a writer who is not writing for a newspaper (deadlines!) or a magazine (more deadlines!), I find that my writing comes in fits and starts. (Lots of fits. Several starts. Fewer finishes.) There's only one time of year when I churn out writing consistently, in a way that makes me feel as if I'm a Real Writer. That's always in November ... yes, during National Novel Writing Month.

This is my tenth consecutive year doing NaNoWriMo, and I can confidently state that the combination of discovering NaNoWriMo and also Alphasmart devices in 2004 was a writing epiphany for me. Prior to November 2004, it had taken me fifteen years to write my first novel, which clocked in at a mere 55,000 words. I'd been editing the thing to death. Suddenly, I had a distraction-free writing device and a ridiculous deadline of 50,000 words in a single month.

That deadline was the most freeing thing that's ever happened to my writing. I soared through the month easily, and when I finished that novel a little while later, it went on to place as a top-four runner-up in Jerry Jenkins's Operation First Novel in 2006.

And, for the record, I've hit that 50,000-word goal for NaNoWriMo every year since. Looks like this year will be no exception. Deadlines, it turns out, can be my friends.
 Linda Au’s short humor essays have garnered numerous awards. Two books of her humorous essays, Head in the Sand…and other unpopular positions and Fork in the Road … and other pointless discussions, are currently available on and 

Linda works behind the scenes in publishing as a proofreader, copy editor, and typesetter. She has worked with publishers such as Carroll & Graf, Shoemaker & Hoard, Crown & Covenant Publications, Christian Publications (now WingSpread/Zur), Pegasus Books, and F+W Publications.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sisterhood of Saints with Melanie Rigney

God’s a funny guy.

I always considered myself an editor, not a writer. And, unchurched from the age of sixteen, I considered myself spiritual but not religious. I believed in Christ. I believed nearly all the things I had learned in catechism. But that part about Him loving me… not so much.

Wonderful editing jobs kept coming my way, including five years as the editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. While there, I put a Christian author—Allison Bottke—on the cover for the first time in the magazine’s history. I put together the WD’s first special issue on inspirational writing. After all, the Left Behind series was selling like crazy. I’d heard Marianne Williamson at the Maui Writers’ Conference, and was puzzled by how offput and uncomfortable her message of God’s love made many of the attendees and other presenters. I spoke at Christian writers’ conferences on basic craft and marketing topics. At one of those conferences, I acquired more articles for the magazine than at any other conference I’d ever attended. But it never occurred to me God was knocking on my soul. I figured it all just made good business sense.

I lost that job, and ended up speaking a couple years later at another Christian writers’ conference because a friend told the director she had to ask me. And there, on my forty-ninth birthday, I asked someone to pray over me for the first time. I returned to full communion with the Catholic Church six months later, and began to believe in and work on a daily basis the two greatest commandments. The following year, I started writing for a Catholic blog; a few years later, I began writing for a large Catholic devotional publication, and co-authored a book on how parishes can set up programs for returning Catholics.

This year, my first solo bookcame out. It’s a 366-day devotional about female saints. In promotional material, the publisher referred to me as “a freelance religion writer.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Then I realized, that is exactly what I am. It has nothing to do with business sense. It’s what I’m called to do—and I love it.
As I said, God’s a funny guy.