Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed . ~ 2 Timothy 2:15

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Deborah Dunn: Smart about Life

Her heart is in helping others. So she took her counseling career to a higher level: writing, speaking, and creating a conference ministry just for women whose time and budget won't allow them to attend women's events that would feed and nourish their spirits.

A wife, mother, and grandmother, Deborah Dunn, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice near Raleigh, N. C. She is the author of four books, the most recent being Stupid About Men: 10 Rules for Getting Romance Right (Simon and Schuster/Howard Books), and the creator of Southern Christian Women.

"My goal is to unite women of all ages, races, and denominations through regional conferences, retreats, and an online community," she says.

Her conference model ideally teams SCW speakers with local talent and testimonies to support church outreach and ministry.

"I love to speak to women everywhere about the absolutely crucial importance of making wise life decisions, especially about romance," she says.

Southern Christian Women ™ is a traveling team of seasoned authors and speakers from below the Mason/Dixon Line whose purpose is to celebrate the joys and struggles of being a woman of faith regardless of age, cultural background, geographical origin, or religious affiliation.

"The day is designed to inspire, encourage, and enlighten women from all walks of life as they come together to hear wonderful praise and worship, speaking, fellowship, and testimony," she says.

Worried about the toll of the current economic crisis on women and their families, Dunn says that about two years ago she prayed that God would give her a fresh vision for reaching out and helping women in small towns, especially those areas of the south with more challenges than others. 

A veteran speaker herself, Dunn had just released Stupid about Men, her second book, as the recession hit. Like most Christian authors these days, she struggled with getting her message in front of her intended audience. Frustrated that most women’s conferences were too expensive and required too much time for most busy women, she conceived of a way to design events that would eliminate those challenges. The idea of a team of funny and inspirational southern female speakers traveling to churches and calling themselves Southern Christian Women popped “seemingly out of nowhere” and within a few weeks she had booked her first conference.

“I knew then that it was a God thing!” Dunn says.

But as word got out, event coordinators from different parts of the country began emailing her about the feasibility of bringing the conference to their areas. Surprised, Dunn quickly reassessed her original goals. She began to realize that the stories of Southern women appealed to people everywhere.

“Women everywhere have had to face a lot of hardship, but especially those in the South. We seldom get credit for how strong, savvy, smart, and self-supporting we can really be, especially during economic downturn," she says.

"Southern or not, ordinary women are doing extraordinary things under difficult circumstances, often on a daily basis. The truth is that without women, the church would simply fall apart.

"This conference is about celebrating those strengths, while admitting our weaknesses with grace and humor. We are sisters in the Lord; it is our job to support each other, laugh at ourselves, and praise God for it all, regardless of where we were born. After all, being Southern is just a state of mind.”

Visit Deborah's website.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing the Breakout Novel

When I first decided to try my hand at writing a novel, I was at the St. Davids Christian Writers Conference. The year was 2005.* Although writing fiction had been a lifelong dream, I'd been afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone and that I didn't have what it takes (mostly the latter). Well, you don't know unless you try, right? So I asked for recommendations for some good how-to-write-a-novel books. I was at a writers conference--the best place to be to ask and receive good, solid writing advice.

Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel was highly recommended, so as soon as I got home, I ordered it online, along with the accompanying workbook. The person who recommended it to me preferred the workbook, but I read the book first--and loved it. It's one of those books you highlight, underline, scribble in, and use up a whole packet of sticky notes to make it easier to get to the pages that have material you want to remember.

Now, you don't have to purchase and read and pore over and study and memorize every how-to-write book there is. You just have to find one that inspires you and teaches you--one that you absorb like a sponge. How to Write the Breakout Novel promises to help you "take your fiction to the next level." It did for me. Considering I started at level zero--all I had was a desire and an idea. Today I have two completed (not-yet-published) novels, and ideas--solid ideas--for two historical trilogies and a contemporary stand alone. I'll be delving into Maass's book and workbook again.

Maass writes in a straightforward style that gets straight to the point. He uses lots of examples to show you what he means (show-don't-tell), and he challenges you to take these concepts and apply them to your work-in-progress.

The book contains 11 chapters, plus an introduction. He deals with story premise, stakes, time and place, characters, plot, contemporary plot techniques, multiple viewpoints, subplots, pace, voice, endings, advanced plot structures, and theme. The final chapter is appropriately titled, "Breaking Out." Everything you need to know about writing a novel in one, 264-page book.

From the back cover:
Maass details the elements that all breakout novels share--regardless of genre--then shows you writing techniques that can make your books stand out and succeed in a crowded marketplace. You'll learn to:
  • establish a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place
  • weave subplots into the main action for a complex, engrossing story
  • create larger-than-life characters that step right off the page
  • explore universal themes that will interest a broad audience of readers
  • sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish
  • develop an inspired premise that sets your novel apart from the competition
OK, you say, this is all written to get you to buy the book. True, but consider this: my first novel went to committee at four publishing houses--before I'd gotten an agent. And you know how hard it is these days just to get an agent. Sure, I got a lot of "nos"--that's par for the writing course. But for a first novel, it has a good track record. And it opened the door for my second novel: An editor from a major Christian publishing house who liked the first novel is working with me on the second.

The workbook is divided into three sections: Character Development, Plot Development, and General Story Techniques. Appendix A helps you to outline your novel, and Appendix B is a follow-up work checklist. use the workbook after you've written your first draft. (Read the book before you write the first draft.)

Investing in books to build your professional library is as vital to your writing as watering, feeding, and cultivating your garden. Writing the Breakout Novel and the accompanying workbook are two you definitely want in your library. 

*Click here to find out what else happened at that conference by reading my friend and fellow Novel Bud Melanie's Rigney's blog on her new website. And while you're there, do explore her new site. It's soooo Melanie!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Writers Write Day

Writers, there is a tug-o-war going on for your attention. It mostly comes in the guise of the Internet. To combat this, someone declared a "Writers Write Day." The goal of this all-day event is to immerse writers in their manuscripts without the distractions of blogs, Facebook, social networking sites, news sources, etc. Let's admit it, they do pull us away, and sometimes hours go by, and we have lost valuable writing time. Officially, Writers Write Day was yesterday, but I need to make "Writers Write Day" every day. How about you?

Here is what to do:
1. Put a "do not disturb" sign on your door.
2. Write for at least three hours in the morning. If you start at 9 a.m., that will bring you up to the noon hour.
3. Take a lunch break.
4. Write for four hours in the afternoon.
5. That evening post on your blog, Facebook, etc. how it went. How much work did you get done?

Here is what you CANNOT do:
1. Do not peruse the Internet. That includes Facebook and other social networking sites.
2. Do not make phone calls unless absolutely necessary, and make them during your break.
3. No text messaging.
4. No television or radio, but by all means listen to inspirational music that helps the creative juices flow.

Let your family and friends know that you will be going into a day of seclusion to work on your manuscript. Hope you have an incredible time writing.

Why not make every Wednesday Writers Write Day?

(Adapted from an email I received.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

10 Commandments for writing people stories

Everyone has a story.

But not everyone can write his own story. That’s where you, the writer, come in. Following are 10 ways to craft your people stories like a pro.

1. Thou shalt do thy homework. Obtain background information on your subject and have a basic understanding of his area of expertise. Before interviewing a local man who helped develop NASA’s Landsat satellite, I learned all I could about it. This saved time and freed me to ask more personal questions, providing fresh material.

2. Thou shalt prepare thy questions beforehand. This gives purpose and direction to the interview, and saves time. But don’t limit yourself to the list, and do skip irrelevant questions.

3. Thou shalt dig deep. Get behind the eyeballs and into the heart of your subject. Ask “why” questions. An article, like a good soup, is only as good as the ingredients. You won’t use all the information, but getting more than you need will give you choice material.

4. Thou shalt listen carefully and follow your nose. When the subject says something intriguing, explore it. Don’t be afraid to go down a path that opens up. You never know when it’ll lead to a gold mine.

5. Thou shalt get a healthy dose of anecdotes. Stories show, don’t tell, and are more fun to read than exposition.

6. Thou shalt get an abundance of quotes. When writing the article, use quotes for the subject’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, and attitudes, not factual information. It’s OK to tweak the grammar—people don’t want to sound stupid—but don’t mess with the meaning. Never use “When asked, [subject] said . . .” Weave the information into the article seamlessly. And just use “said” for the attribution, not “stated,” “commented,” “replied,” or anything other than “said.”

7. Thou shalt start strong and end strong. What is the most intriguing thing about the subject? Which quote, story, or fact will hook the reader’s interest? Which will serve as a good takeaway?

8. Thou shalt keep thyself out of the article. No using first person pronouns unless in a quote, no referring to your reactions to the subject or what the subject said, no expressing your own opinions (editorializing). This isn’t about you. Let the subject speak. The message will come through loud and clear.

9. Thou shalt let the reader see and hear the subject. What was he wearing? What does she look like? How did he say that? What mannerisms did you observe?

10. Thou shalt provide accurate information. Check other sources and don’t be afraid to call the subject back to verify accuracy or meaning. No one likes to be misquoted or misrepresented. It’s your byline, and you want your name to be associated with honesty and integrity.

Well-written stories about people overcoming obstacles, beating the odds, and achieving their hearts’ desires are always in demand because they inspire, encourage, and give us hope that we, too, can do the same.