Saturday, July 8, 2017

Value in Fiction Not Labeled Christian

The Bellingwood Series
by Jean Kavich Bloom

Although I make no judgment about the fiction choices any Christian reader makes, nor what any author chooses to write, I am sharing about the value I've found in a series not labeled Christian fiction. Nor is this series infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals despite not being labeled Christian fiction, such as the beloved Mitford series by Jan Karon.

Bellingwood is a fictional small town in Iowa created by prolific author Diane Greenwood MuirI would call the Bellingwood series, whose main character is a woman named Polly, contemporary women's fiction, with plots that include mystery and romance, humor and drama. Although primarily wholesome and pro marriage and family, the author doesn't claim these novels are Christian fiction on her website. And let me be upfront about some of the content.

I have never read anything graphic in these books, and I've noticed only the occasional "PG" four-letter word. But then, uncharacteristic to the majority of each book, the author sometimes writes discussions among Polly's group of women friends that make them sound like giggly teenagers to me. One woman in particular loves to make shock-value statements. I've skipped some of those discussions. I found them out of place considering how the characters otherwise admirably conduct most of their lives.

If you never want to read about characters who occasionally behave as I've described, none of whom make an outright profession of Christian faith, then you probably won't be interested in the Bellingwood series. I understand when a reader feels anything he or she reads should specifically point to Christ. But let me share two reasons I find value in this series.
1. It promotes walking worthy, though rocky, paths. Although entertaining (Polly has a somewhat humorous Murder She Wrote way of finding bodies), these books address serious topics such as mental and physical illness, death, abuse, and abandonment. For example, in one book the author touchingly portrays Polly's journey with a dying woman and the young daughter she will leave behind. As Polly grows in a community new to her, she models generosity and an other-centered life. Polly and, in particular, her regularly churchgoing, mentoring friend Lydia inspire me with their hearts for others and caring actions. I also love stories of transformation. From renovating buildings to restoring hope for others, Polly shows us what can be done when we see opportunities and grab them. And yet . . .

2.   Polly is flawed—just like me. Through Polly—a fiery, independent woman in her thirties with some hurts in her past—the author continually explores the question, “What’s the right thing to do?” Polly usually comes to the same conclusion I hope I would, but I don’t always like her reactions to some events. That makes me think of me. And when reading novels like these, I can ask myself, How am I different from or the same as this character? What would I do in that situation? Might that character make a different decision if she or he were a confessed Christ follower? Is God in this scene even if he's never mentioned? How would I write this scene as Christian fiction?

Every believer must make his or her own reading choices. But for me, despite no clearly established Christian message in these books, I'm drawn to this author's portrayals of sacrificial love every Christian should strive to achieve. While I'm entertained by the stories, I am also challenged to sort out the motivations behind her characters' actions.

Muir has also written a contemporary re-imagining of the biblical story of Ruth, in which, her website says, “Naomi finds that she has been given a great gift—an understanding of the way God fulfilled His promise to care for her, no matter what. When He seems so far away, we find Him in those who continue to love us.” When I've caught up with Polly and her world, I might just check out what Diane Greenwood Muir has to say in Abiding Love.

If and when you read fiction not labeled Christian, what criteria do you use?  What value, if any, have you found in novels not obviously infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals?

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How to Help Authors: Write Reviews

Periodically, I'll get to spend time with readers or developing writers. I absolutely love it. There's something so fun about rediscovering books through the eyes of a book club. Or to talk about why they want to write with new writers. Often it will come up that they'd like to help and encourage their favorite authors, but they don't always know how. One super easy way is to write a review. It can be as easy as leaving a 5 star mark on Amazon or as detailed as telling people why you liked a book. Writing a review can be intimidating but it doesn't need to be. I’m always glad to help people feel more comfortable spreading the word about books they love.

I love to tell everyone about books that I love…and now that I’m an author, I know just how much a well written review — even if it’s a few sentences (or stars) can help authors.

Many readers use the number of reviews as one way to decide whether or not to try a book or a new to them author. Some platforms use the number of reviews to decide how discoverable to make a book in its algorithm. Reviews make a huge difference to writers!

It’s really easy to write reviews! Really.

I’ve never taken a course on book reviews, and actually fell into writing them almost by accident.
So after I started a blog more years ago than I want to think about, it made sense to have books be a large part of that blog.

About the same time I joined ACFW. Through it’s e-loop, I got to know many authors. Often they ask for influencers — people who will read a book and if they like it tell people about it. I love to connect people. If you’ve read The Tipping Point, I fall clearly into that category. I am enthusiastic about anything I can do to connect people with a person or product I love.

That’s how I started, and now I can’t imagine not doing it.
While leaving stars and a quick sentence is great (and very helpful), if you want to do more, here’s a review I wrote. I’m going to insert explanation throughout to explain why I wrote what I did….

1) First Paragraph: A quick summary: Happy, happy sigh. This reader was swept away by Courtney Walsh‘s delightful Paper Hearts. It is one of those sweet romances that just has it all! (This is a way to quickly introduce the book and tell a bit about the book in general. Now on to the meat.)

2) Second Paragraph: set the stage. Abigail Pressman has a dream to expand her bookstore set in a tourist town in the Colorado mountains. All she needs to do is scrape together the funds to buy the building. Before she can do that a new doctor swings into town with the cash to buy her building. Before she really meets him, she knows he could threaten her future plans and happiness…not to mention her livelihood. Jacob didn’t intend to destroy her life, he just wanted to create a new one for himself and his daughter. Think You’ve Got Mail. But then the Valentine Volunteers get involved — think a Greek Chorus ala Letters to Juliet, and all kinds of shenanigans happen. (Now I’m telling a little about the characters and the plot. What resonated with me? Why might someone else like these elements? My goal is to give enough to intrigue and give a sense of the story…but never, ever, ever giveaway plot points! Those are sacred for the reader to discover on their own.)

3) Third Paragraph: Dive deeper into themes. This book is rich with secondary characters who beg to have books of their own, yet keep from stealing the show. Abigail is the kind of heroine I would love to sit down with and share cups of her special Love Peak brew. And the paper hearts are an excellent reminder to keep an eye on my personal romance and ways to keep it alive through good and bad times. (Sometimes if there’s a strong spiritual thread that resonated with me, I will include that here. This book has great themes, but the charm of it for me is the characters and the paper hearts. So that’s where I focused. But I always try to dig deeper than a plot summary. You can get that from the about the book section of most online retailers. What’s key here is to give the readers peeks into what makes this book special, memorable, perfect for them.)

4) Fourth Paragraph: the perfect summary and reader. This is a romance perfect for those who love a contemporary story filled with heart, characters you’ll adore, and a romance laced with enough angst and ahhhs to keep you reading. (I always try to summarize really quickly who the book is perfect for. I read very broadly, so all books I like aren’t for all readers. So I describe the reader who will like this type of book. )

I hope this is helpful! And if you write reviews, thank you

Monday, July 3, 2017

Writing fiction improved my nonfiction writing

When I went to a writer's conference three years ago, it was to learn more about the craft of writing Christian fiction. There was a space there to display one sheets. I felt led of the Lord to put a book proposal together for a book about my sons who have autism. It was a last minute after-thought, really. I didn't expect much to come of it. But there was an editor who was interested.  After a few detours, which landed me with another publishing company entirely, my nonfiction book, A Pair of Miracles, will release on July 25. 

When writing this book, I found myself using a lot of skills I'd learned in writing fiction. It was quite unexpected and thoroughly delightful. And while I'm eager to get back to fiction again, I'm looking forward to writing more nonfiction because I've learned so much about the craft of writing itself from writing both. 

If you are writing fiction only right now, don't dismiss the idea of writing nonfiction, too. It's a great way to grow your platform and can open doors you never expected. 

Karla Akins first novel, The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots was published in August, 2013.  A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith and Determined Parenting will be released July 25, 2017.  She writes interactive, biographical narratives and content for iPad applications and has an on-going contract for her World Explorers Every Child Should Know series. Jacques Cartier hit #1 on Amazon in its category. Her hobbies are book-hoarding, swimming, and riding her motorcycle. She is represented by Linda Glaz of Hartline Literary Agency. She has a BA in Special Education and a Doctorate in Christian Education.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Scary Words in Social Media Waters

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Publish. Send. Post. These can be scary words for writers who use social media, especially if they choose to share some of their creative work there.

Everyone knows I’m a writer. What if what I wrote is boring, meaningless, or (my favorite) stupid? What if I didn’t see a (horrors!) typo? What if I “forgot” to make sense?

Well, so what? Not everything we write is great. Not everything we write goes through a professional editing process (but I highly recommend routine self-editing to protect the writing reputation you have or hope to build).

We all make writing mistakes, especially if we’re typing on our phones with those tiny keyboards. But writing is meant to be read. And anything we write that can be accessed through social media will be read, even if only by our moms, third cousins on our dads’ sides, and people who in high school seemed kind of like stalkers, but we’ve connected with them on Facebook anyway.

Besides, look at the benefits. In brief posts, you can practice making even a single sentence beautiful with elegance and clarity. Twitter is a great challenge for that because of its character limit. You can dive into the social media waters with an effort to be brilliantly funny or inspiringly serious and see what floats—or doesn’t! You can encourage your friends and acquaintances with a new insight. If you share a link to a lengthy piece—a blog post, a short story, an essay—you might be able to test the waters with a new genre, a new audience, or a brand-new concept you’d like to develop. You can even devise a concise, to-the-point survey to learn what might help you propel your writing career in some way.

Or you can just have some fun and make your mom proud.

Sure, you must be prepared for no “likes” or “shares” or “comments.” But writers gotta write, and social media like Facebook and Twitter and easy access to blog platforms like WordPress and Blogger make it easier than ever to gain the benefits of putting your writing out there.

All you have to do is get past the scary words and dive in.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

photo credit:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Pill for Writer's Block

In last month’s issue of The Smithsonian Magazine, Robert Anthony Siegel told how he overcame his chronic writer’s block with a pill. Not just any pill, but a custom-designed placebo. A researcher prepared the medication for Siegel, who knew full well that the pill contained nothing more than cellulose.
He took the medication for two weeks before he noticed any change in his behavior. When he felt a strong urge to quit, he took a couple of extra pills instead. (“I was way, way over my dosage,” he confided.)
Gradually, his episodes of writer’s block became less frequent and debilitating. So did his panic attacks and insomnia. His experiment contributed to our knowledge of the placebo effect.
A few insights into the placebo effect may help you overcome writer’s block, even if you don’t use a placebo:
1. Your expectations shape your experience. Robert’s researcher did everything to make the prescription look like a real pharmaceutical: He gave Robert a written prescription for his druggist, who then gave him a labeled medicine bottle with the pills, a disclosure sheet about the medicine, and a hefty bill of $405. (“The price increases the sense of value,” the researcher told him. “It will make them work better.”)
You could do several things to heighten expectancy when you sit down to write. Draft a cover letter to accompany your submission to the editor or critique partner who’ll read it. If you’re going to meet that person to discuss your manuscript, make the appointment before you start to write. And so on. What if I don’t finish? you may be thinking. But if you anticipate failure, guess what happens.
2. Find an empathetic caregiver. The researcher filled that role in Robert’s case. He listened attentively to the consequences of writer’s block, helped Robert imagine how his life would change without it, and checked on his progress throughout the trial.
If you keep getting “stuck” with your writing, find a critique partner or mentor to help you. Your conversations with that person tell your subconscious mind: I am not well, but I’m taking steps to get well. This condition is not normal, but I have a capable friend who’ll help me return to normal.
3. Continue therapy when you see no results. At first, Siegel's writing remained “stuck” and his anxiety began to build. He emailed his lab worker one night to pour out his frustration, and got the reply: “As with any other medicine, it may take time to reach a therapeutic dose.” So he kept on taking the placebos as directed--and he began to write.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.