I Give In

Monday, April 24, 2017


Once upon a time, I queried agents for an early chapter book. They all rejected it, and they should have.

Later, I tried with Christian women’s fiction. I happen to think that these novels were and are as good as many (although far from all) of the ones published by Christian publishers, and hopefully that isn’t all hubris. But again I found nothing but rejection.

My writing has continued to improve, and I have now found my true passion in middle grade historical fiction. So is it time to try again?

My past experience looking for agents and the wisdom gleaned from other writers has taught me two things.

(1)   First, it’s almost as hard to find a good agent as it is to find a traditional publisher and, as a corrolary, those agents that are easy to find don’t have the necessary connections.
(2)   Second, author and agent need to click together like puzzle pieces. An effective author-agent relationship is also a close one, and personality matters.
Since I don’t need an agent to review my publishing contract and tell me what to negotiate, I was hoping to get away without one. But there is more to an agent’s job than just understanding and negotiating a contract. I’m not a good salesperson, and the larger, more-established publishing houses don’t take unagented submissions. They make exceptions for people who attend conferences where they appear and I take advantage of those opportunities, but that still leaves a number of closed doors. So I have given in and am searching for an agent again.

Let’s hope it goes better this time.

The True Meaning of Chistmas

Monday, April 17, 2017


“Wait a second,” you say. “The true meaning of Christmas? Aren’t you getting your holidays mixed up?”

No. I wrote what I wrote, and I’m sticking to it.

Christmas isn’t about gifts or decorations or family dinners. It is about the birth of a baby who was fully God and yet fully man—about God’s only Son humbling Himself and becoming like me (except without sin, which is a HUGE difference).

But the baby we celebrate at Christmas came with a special mission. Although He came to live among us for a while, His ultimate purpose was to die a painful and dishonorable death. A death He didn’t deserve—but we do. A death followed by a resurrection that He deserved—but we don’t. Or, to put it in Sunday School terms, Jesus died on the cross to save us (me and you) from our sins. But death wasn’t the end. It couldn’t hold Him, and it won’t hold us. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that He is God, and it assures me that I will live eternally with Him.

I don’t understand why God chose to do things this way, but I’m grateful He did.

If Christ had not come to earth as a baby, we would have no reason to celebrate Easter.

That’s why the true meaning of Christmas is Easter.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

ALLELUIA!

_________

This is a reprint from April 5, 2010.

A Shadow of His Image

Monday, April 10, 2017



Sometimes my mind wanders while I’m in church, but it isn’t always a bad thing. This Lenten season I noticed the shadows cast by the altar cross during Wednesday evening services, and they preached their own sermon.  

If you look at the physical cross in the center of the picture, you will notice that it stands up straight and perfectly formed, while the images created by its shadows are bent and distorted. Here is a closer look.


Christ was born and died as perfect Man, while those originally created in His image have been bent and distorted by sin. You could argue that Christ became bent and distorted as well (temporarily) when He took on our sin and paid for it by His death, but He would not have been a worthy substitute if He had not been sinless in His own thoughts and actions.

That wasn’t the case for the two thieves who were crucified on either side. When one of them hurled insults at Christ, the other reminded him, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41, NIV) And yet, in the most important sense, only one of the thieves got what his deeds deserved. Both deserved hell, but one received heaven.

Sin has distorted my image, too. Even so, God sees me as straight and as perfectly formed as the Man on that middle cross. Because He took on my punishment, I won’t get what I deserve, either.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NIV.)

Praise be to God.

Gethsemane

Monday, April 3, 2017


As we get ready to enter Holy Week, I am reprinting a poem that I wrote many years ago. It isn’t great poetry, but it responds to the uncertainty I was going through at the time and that we all experience now and then.

Gethsemane


I often wonder if God understands
When I feel deserted and all alone;
Then I remember three sleeping men
As Jesus knelt on the garden’s stone.

Or does God understand my anguish
When from life’s cares I want relief?
“Let this cup pass” were my Savior’s words
As He voiced His anguish and His grief.

Sometimes it’s hard to follow God’s will
When He asks for a sacrifice from me;
Yet Christ was giving so much more
When He followed God’s will to Calvary.

Whenever I wonder if God understands,
I remember Christ’s love for me;
How, because of that love, He has felt what I feel,
As He had His own Gethsemane.


As Hebrews 5:17-18 says, “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (NIV)

Thanks be to God.

__________

The picture shows the Garden of Gethsemane as it looked in 1998 when Roland, the children, and I took a trip to the Middle East with my mother, my brothers, my niece, and my nephew. The photo is © 1998 by Roland E. Camp and the poem is © 1974 by Kathryn Page (Camp).

Who is Who?

Monday, March 27, 2017


One of the hardest things about writing characters is giving them distinctive identities that stand out on the page. All primary characters and many secondary ones should have identifiable personalities. Still, readers sometimes forgive lapses for less-important role. They don’t forgive the writer if the protagonists are too alike.

My current work-in-progress has two protagonists, and both are point-of-view characters. Julia and Fannie are 12-year-old cousins. They have very different personalities, and that must come through in my writing.

Both girls are upper-middle-class, intelligent, and have good vocabularies, so I can’t use any of those characteristics to distinguish them. But Julia has an imagination while Fannie is practical and has a literal mind. As a result, Julia’s chapters incorporate metaphors and similes and vivid images, while Fannie’s tend to be straight-forward.

That raises another issue. Julia’s chapters are fun to write, and hopefully that will make readers enjoy them as much as I do. But it’s harder to add interest when metaphors and other creative figures of speech are unavailable. So what can I do?

One way to create interest is to fill the Fannie chapters with heart-stopping scenes. Interesting events also occur in the Julia chapters, of course, but Fannie’s experiences are more intense. Another strategy is to make Fannie an unreliable narrator of her own and Julia’s motives. She reports the facts accurately but doesn’t always interpret them correctly, especially when they involve her own feelings. Since the reader has a more objective view, Fannie’s misperceptions produce an occasional laugh.

But however characters are written, it isn’t enough to make them interesting.

They must also be distinctive.

__________

The picture at the head of this post does not represent my image of Julia and Fannie, but it does show two women from that approximate time. The drawing is in the public domain because of its age.

Don't Change My Voice!

Monday, March 20, 2017


Being an effective critiquer isn’t easy, and few people do it well. The first problem is that a good critiquer can’t worry about hurting the writer’s feelings. Yes, the critiquer should be sensitive and respectful, but the point of the exercise is to help the writer improve. That means pointing out what is wrong as well as what is right.

The second problem is distinguishing between craft and voice. The line between the two is thin, but it’s also crucial. When critiquing someone else’s work, craft is fair game. Voice is not.

So what does it mean when we talk about a writer’s voice? I’ve heard many definitions, but the one I like best comes from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Edition), which says voice is:

The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.

As I see it, voice is a combination of tone and style and something even harder to grasp. It’s what makes it easy to distinguish Mark Twain from Jane Austin from Stephen King. Or, to modify the well-known adage, it’s what makes it possible to say “I know the writer when I see his or her work.”

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow writer mentioned that her new critique group has been telling her to use more deep POV. As far as I know, there is no rule that says a writer must use deep POV. In fact, conventions over the type of POV to use change with the times. Just look at Charles Dickens or George Elliot or most of those classic writers who used omnipresent POV with a narrator who knew everything the characters didn’t. That practice is no longer in fashion, although a few writers do still use it. Using a particular type of POV correctly is important if you want to keep your readers immersed in the story, so that’s craft. In my opinion, however, what type of POV you use and whether it is near or far is a matter of voice.

I cringe every time I read a poem by e.e. cummings. I want to go through and add capital letters to make it grammatically correct. But that would be interfering with his voice. Or there is the poet in my local critique group who writes without punctuation. I love his poetry, but it took me a long time before I stopped itching to add commas and semi-colons and periods.

One “rule” says good writers should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. Or some people think that is a rule, anyway. If it is, it’s one I often break. When I edit my work, I eliminate some of the conjunctions that begin sentences, reword other sentences so they don’t need them, or change two sentences into one with the conjunction to join them. But sometimes starting a sentence with a conjunction creates a smoother transition while giving the sentence greater emphasis. Those sentences stay in, and they have become part of my voice.

Different people have different tastes. If I don’t like someone’s voice, I won’t read that person’s work. Or if the writer is a critique group member, I try to limit my comments to craft. When a particular use of voice creates unintended confusion, I mention that because there may be a craft way for the writer to revise it without changing the voice. But I’m not perfect. The line is a thin one, and I’ve crossed it from time to time. Still, I try not to.

Because craft is fair game, but voice is not.

Sell Your Books but Not Your Soul

Monday, March 13, 2017


I’m currently reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi as research for my next book. Although I’m enjoying it, I was finding the structure confusing.

There are many places in Life on the Mississippi where Twain appears to have thrown in material that doesn’t belong. In one instance he even admits it, stating at the end of Chapter 35 (as a lead-in to Chapter 36), that:

Here is a story which I picked up on board the boat that night. I insert it in this place merely because it is a good story, not because it belongs here—for it doesn’t.

At least he was right about it being a good story. But in Chapter 52, he tells a story that I didn’t even find interesting. Although he tried to connect it to the Mississippi River by placing some of it in St. Louis, the story itself had nothing to do with life on the Mississippi. As that example shows, Twain always manages to find a way to transition to the extra material, but the insertion is still jarring. This is especially disconcerting because Twain is contemptuous of writers who use what he sees as unnecessary words.

Almost by coincidence, I’m also listening to a Great Courses lecture series on Mark Twain with Dr. Stephen Railton from the University of Virginia as lecturer. My confusion cleared up when I listened to Lecture 4 on “Marketing Twain.” Now I know that he sacrificed creativity to make money.

According to Dr. Railton (and to other sources I’ve read in the past), Mark Twain loved making money more than he loved writing. Unfortunately, he was a terrible business man. But the one business decision that did bring in an extra profit was selling his books by subscription—using direct door-to-door sales to customers rather than selling through bookstores. He liked subscription sales because they brought in more money, but those customers also demanded longer books and lots of illustrations. The illustrations may have added lasting value, but I believe the padded material in the text detracts from it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mark Twain’s humor, and he deserves to be called the greatest American humorist. But imagine how much greater he could have been if he hadn’t sacrificed creativity for money.

I don’t have a problem with writing for a popular audience, and I’m glad Mark Twain’s writing was a commercial success. I wish my books would do a tenth as well.

But I won’t sell my soul for it.

__________

The photograph at the head of this post was taken by A.F. Bradley in 1907. It is in the public domain because of its age.