Thursday, October 28, 2010

Haunting Words by Katherine Harms

I am not a big fan of Halloween. It appears to me that this day gives people a chance to display ugliness that most of us would rather not look at. I have never liked anything that smacked of “horror,” and I don’t find horror amusing. I made peace long ago with the “trick or treat” concept, because I enjoy the little ones in costume. Playing dressup is fine. Being as ugly and revolting as possible is not on my bucket list anywhere.

However, as I was thinking about a personal challenge lately, comments about the upcoming Halloween events,comments sprinkled liberally with the word "haunted," caused me to reflect on the way writers can be haunted by what they have written.

It happens like this. A writer has a great idea and writes extensively on the subject. The writer may engage people in conversation on this great idea as well. The writer writes and speaks with conviction about principles for living, and assures others that these truths are part of a solid foundation for successful living. Then reality implodes on the writer. That great idea, or those firm principles, may be ground into dust, or it may stand firm. Either way, the writer is called to account. Was this great idea really that great? Are the firm principles really firm, or are they really more like quicksand?

It happened to me.

Last winter, I read Thomas Mann’s fabulous novel "Joseph and His Brothers." I had the good fortune to acquire a copy of the latest translation, and that meant that the translation I read avoided the earlier tendency to couch the dialogue in forms reminiscent of the King James Bible. This translation used contemporary language and idioms. It was completely engaging, and I gorged myself on it like a starving man just rescued from a desert island. Thomas Mann did not simply retell and enhance the story; he built his work on a foundation of intense research that fleshed out the setting and culture masterfully. Further, the book was as much a statement of faith as it was a novel, and I was as completely captivated by his testimony as by his storytelling. This novel is 1492 pages long, but it is worth the effort. In fact, I didn’t perceive it as effort to read this book; I could hardly put it down.

I did put it down regularly, however, in order to go to the Bible and read the biblical text for myself. I did not want to confuse Mann’s storytelling with the revealed text. I didn’t want to mistake Mann’s testimony for revealed truth. I did not want the fact that I was completely consumed by this book to interfere with my own responsibility to read and understand the biblical revelation for myself.

The outcome of this reading was what seemed like a huge discovery. It appeared to me that among the many values of the Joseph story was a persistent theme of victories that looked like defeat in the life of Joseph, God’s victories that overshadowed any apparent defeats in Joseph’s experience. I found in this story a model for us all to use when facing the challenges in our lives, events that feel like defeat. The story of Joseph clearly demonstrated some principles for facing events in our own lives that might initially look like defeats or failures.

In the Joseph story I uncovered four foundation principles, and as I began to write about them, I realized that this looked like material for a book. I gave it the working title "Don’t Panic: How the life of Joseph teaches us to thrive when the world turns upside down." In August, I had an opportunity to teach at church, and I used that opportunity to teach the four principles in four sessions as a workshop with the same title as my book manuscript. The four principles are these:
· Trust always in God, not in people
· Know that God is sovereign always, even when it looks as if his perfect plan is being defeated
· Build relationships in keeping with the teaching to love our neighbors
· Do not become a victim

The experience of teaching the workshop enhanced my understanding of the material, and I was deep in the work of crafting my manuscript when disaster struck. I became sick, seriously sick. After being sick a week at home, I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for ten days. I had surgery and was sent home for recovery expected to take no less than 4 weeks and perhaps as much as 8. Talk about the world turning upside down!

For many days, the doctors scratched their heads trying to understand what was wrong with me. My husband and I felt real fear as it seemed that nothing they tried was making any progress against my illness. Then, after the surgery, I felt much better, so it was clearly the right treatment. However, the surgery was so drastic that recovery from the treatment as destined to be slow and painful.

During these days, I often thought about the workshop I had taught. I thought about the principles that had seemed to manifest themselves in the face of the disasters that fell one after another into Joseph’s life. Here I was in the midst of a disaster that made me ask, can I really live by these principles in this very real challenge in my own life? The words I had written and taught rose up to haunt me. I asked myself if I had taught truth, if my writing had real value for everyone, including me, or was it all a big sham? I had plenty of time in my hospital bed to contemplate these questions.

I asked myself if I really trusted God. I was in a huge teaching hospital where the finest minds were being applied to my case. Yet it was clear that these minds were being seriously challenged by the realities of my illness. I really could not trust that these minds by themselves would find a successful treatment for me. I put my trust in God and prayed that he would guide those brilliant minds to find the right solution. I saw with great clarity that my fate was beyond the capacity of mere mortals to handle.

I asked myself, too, how this state of affairs could possibly fit into God’s perfect plan for me. Why would God want me to be so sick? Why would he want me to lose all this time from productive work that was necessary for my husband and me to do the things we thought God had called us to do? This experience looked like a terrible backset to everything I thought I was supposed to accomplish in life. Then I began to realize that I was looking at the whole situation from the standpoint of my understanding in the reality bounded by time and space. In God’s reality, in the infinite and eternal realm where God reigns on his throne forever, things looked different. I had to trust him that this experience that looked like defeat to me was no defeat for him. I had to believe that God was still in charge of my fate.

I learned that relationships really do matter. As more and more people heard about my illness, we heard people say over and over, “We are praying for you.” My church prayed for me. My daughter’s church prayed for me. Friends all over the country prayed for me and asked their friends to pray for me. I was in the center of a great bath of prayer that sustained me and all the caregivers who were trying to help me get well. Larry and I were not alone. We were part of a vast family of believers who kept their petitions before God around the clock. We were wrapped up by the Holy Spirit and by all these prayers. I had prayed for others for years, but this was my first experience at being in the center of such a prayer storm. It was immensely comforting. My relationships of love and friendship truly did sustain me as I faced my scary health challenge.

I found, also, that I did not want to be a victim. I did ask frequently how this could have happened to me. I thought there had to be some explanation. I thought surely I could learn something not to do in the future in order to prevent such a disaster from recurring. The doctors told me that they could speculate about the cause, that they have a few hypotheses about the cause, but they really do not know with any certainty how this condition developed. There was no cause to blame, no fault to assign, no action to take against anything or anybody.

Further, after the surgery, there was a temptation of sorts to be a victim. I felt much, much better after surgery than before, because the raging bacterial invasion had been defeated. However, I still had to recover from the surgical wounds and bruises and I still had to be treated to kill off any remaining bacteria that might restart the infection if left alone. The war was won, but there were a lot of final skirmishes yet to be fought. I didn’t feel like eating, and if I did eat anything I couldn’t taste it. The inside of my mouth was shredded from all the tubes they had used during the surgery. I had tubes in the lung cavity, too, draining the surgical site for six days. The ribs that had been pushed apart in order to allow the surgeon to work really hurt as they began to return to their normal place. I could only find one position for sleeping that was even minimally comfortable. Everything I tried to do hurt in one way or another, and besides that, I was completely weary. I had no strength.

However, by the grace of God, I recognized how thankful I felt to be on the mend. I couldn’t see much value in wallowing in self-pity or in railing against circumstance. The truth was that being a victim would have doomed me to be an invalid for I don’t know how long. Abandoning victimhood meant that I could push forward with the strength I had and trust that my recovery would continue to give me more strength each day. And so it was.

The consequence of this dramatic interference with my plans was that my written and spoken words haunted me and tested my work in a very scientific way. When I wrote about the principles I saw demonstrated in Joseph’s life, I drew a logical conclusion from the written word. When I tested those truths in my own dark hours, the truths were confirmed in a powerful way. My experience proved that I had drawn the right conclusions. The teachings I thought were embedded in Joseph’s story proved to be true and reliable in my own life.

To be haunted this way and to find that my work was confirmed was a wonderful experience. I don’t think I want to go so far as to say that God made me sick so I would learn this truth, but I will say that the experiences of life always put a person’s stated values to the test. I pray never to write words that will come back to bite me in the crucible of life. I pray always to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit when I prepare to write anything in order that my words may be true, even if I have not been in the refining fire with them.

I think every author needs to think about this experience. We are accountable to our readers for every word we write. We can be sure that we will be called up short by our readers if we fail to hold ourselves accountable for the truth of our work. We are all subject to be haunted by our words. If we have written with integrity, we need not be spooked by that experience.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Jesus You Can't Ignore

"Spiritual truth is not "academic" .... What you believe about God is the most important feature of your whole worldview. Look at it this way: of all the things you might ever study or reflect on, nothing could possibly be greater than God. So your view of Him automatically has more far-reaching ramifications than anything else in your belief system. What you think of God will automatically color how you think about everything else - especially how you prioritize values; how you determine right and wrong; and how you think of your own place in the universe. That in turn will surely determine how you act...."* writes John MacArthur.

Yes, Jesus is most often remembered as a meek and humble teacher who lovingly healed the sick, calmed the fears of his followers, and turned the other cheek. The author acknowledges these attributes, however, he seems to place more value and importance on the violent and angry actions of The Son of God.
The Jesus You Can Ignore is a detailed look at scriptures, paying special attention to the gospels and is informative and at times well-written but the book lacks balance. The author clearly and often pushes his interpretation of what is important for Christians to know ... and how to live their faith. John MacArthur comes across as passionate about his beliefs, yet impatient with Christians who have a more personal relationship with the gentle Jesus.

Note: This book was provided by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for review.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing is not a Solitary Sport by Katherine Harms

Most people think of writers as recluses. They just assume that writers hide out in attics and the deep woods where nobody will interfere with the torrent of words we need to etch on paper. There may be a few writers who can live and work in solitary splendor, but not many.

We writers know that we need a degree of isolation in order to be productive. I had friends in school who did their homework while watching television, but it never worked for me. I simply could not study and watch “Mash” at the same time. I cannot write and watch television, either. I cannot write and talk on the phone. I cannot write and cook dinner at the same time. Writing may intrude on cooking if I get a bright idea while I am waiting for water to boil, but to start a cooking project when I am momentarily stuck for the right phrase to close a chapter is counterproductive.

Nevertheless, I do need family and friends even though productive writing time requires isolation. I am not always sure they love hearing about what I am doing, but telling them encourages me. Sometimes their reactions to my narrative help me to craft a better story or to find a good resource I would never have thought of on my own. The fact that friends and family will ask me how I am doing with my projects motivates me to be sure I am actually making progress. Human relationships nourish me in many ways. I need them in order to be a better writer.

Recently that truth came home in a deeply special way. I have four friends whom I regard as my circle of mutual encouragement in the Christian faith. Only one of them is a writer. Their place in this circle was established over years of shared prayers and conversations about the challenge of living faithful lives. One of them is currently exploring a new direction in her own sense of call to serve our Lord. We recently spent a lovely summer afternoon talking about the art and gift of discernment, trying to clarify together what she perceives as her next step. In the process, I shared with her some relevant insights I had gained while working on my current book draft. She shared with me, and I shared with her.

The next day, I received an e-mail from her. She said to me, “The Holy Spirit is convicting me to further the kingdom through your writing. Would you like to borrow the Interpreters Bible volume on Ecclesiastes you were looking at yesterday?” That e-mail arrived at a time when I felt very discouraged about my project, almost ready to abandon it, even though the day before it had seemed terribly important. My friend could not know that the enthusiasm and confidence I had expressed to her had suffered meltdown as I sat empty-worded in front of my computer screen the very next day.

When I read her mail, it was as if a cool breeze had brushed my cheek on a hot day. The book in question had belonged to her beloved pastor father, a man who now rests among the cloud of witnesses who encourage all of us in faith. She had brought the collection of books out and touched them lovingly, showing me this fabulous resource that she would use in her own studies. For her to let me borrow even one, even if only temporarily, was a huge risk. What if I damaged it or lost it or who knows what? I realized that in this gift God was telling me that this project is important to him. My friend’s faithful encouragement spoke dramatically of God’s desire for me to get over myself and get back on track to do the work he had given me to do.

My friend could not do the work for me. My friend could not discern God’s call for me. All she could do was to hear and obey God’s message to her. Still, if she had ignored God’s nudge, I might still be sitting in front of a blank screen, or worse, I might be off working on some less important task while my manuscript goes dead. Thanks to my friend and her faithful encouragement, my manuscript is growing and my project is alive and well.

I may put words on paper in isolation, but I know very well that I need my friends. We all need healthy relationships with friends and family in order to be the best writers we can be. Jesus said it very well when he said that the most important things in the world are to love God above all and to love our neighbors. When everybody is on track with that teaching, our neighbors love us, too, and that is a rich blessing for a writer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Susan Isaacs on Writing

Author Susan Isaacs is currently on tour with her latest novel As Husbands Go.

"Writing is sometimes an art, and it certainly is a craft. But it's also a job. I go to work five or six days a week (depending how far along I am with my work-in-progress). Like most other people, there are days I would rather be lying in a hammock reading or going to a movie with a friend. But whether you're an artist or an accountant, you still have to show up at work. Otherwise, it is unlikely to get done."

The bestselling novelist advises to write for yourself by gazing inward
at what is unique and true in you ... a copy of the article can be found at her website:

Forbes Article - Author Janet Evanovich

It's a Plum deal for Janet Evanovich.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meet The Author Kyoko Mori

Breathe Books
Wednesday, July 14, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Meet Kyoko Mori the author of YARN: Remembering the Way Home

Yarn combines memoir -- Mori's story as a Japanese woman trying to make a home in the Midwest, and later striking out on her own -- and knitting lore -- its history, meditations on knitting as a loose, intuitive, and forgiving craft. She will read from the book, talk about home-making and creativity, and invite attendees to discuss topics that are so important to smart, creative women: how to live as an independent home-maker and artist who is equally at home alone and with others. (free)

Breathe Books
810 W 36th Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21211
Susan L. Weis, proprietress

Monday, July 12, 2010

Where Do We Find Miracles?

Being a writer is a tough slog. I think most of us would agree that what we really want is to have written. The process of writing is hard, even tedious. What we want is a letter from an editor accepting a completed project for publication. It is a major challenge to motivate and trick ourselves into doing the work it takes to get to the goal. One writer said that the key to success as a writer is KBOC – Keep Butt On Chair. I am working on a project right now that has been on my heart for months, and I still think it will be a miracle if I stay on task and finish it, despite the fact that it nags at me every minute that I am not working on it.
Some people think miracles only happen when five thousand people are fed with a little bit of bread and fish, or when a man born blind can suddenly see. I think God works another kind of miracle. The early Christian writer Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” I believe God works miracles that bring us to that state of being fully alive, and I believe they happen in many walks of life, including writing.
Recently my husband and I faced our biggest challenge so far with our sailboat. The auxiliary diesel engine would not work, and we were outside the US in a place where we had no idea how to find a reliable diesel mechanic to help us. We concluded that we had to sail our boat back to the US, a very long voyage, without the engine, just like Columbus or Magellan did. Larry asked me one day, “Do you think we could sail this boat back without the engine?” and I replied, “Well, it is a sailboat, after all.”
Larry’s question was not idle or silly. One reason we have an auxiliary engine is that there are situations in which it is very difficult to maneuver under sail alone. We had always used our engine to get in and out of anchorages or to avoid the necessity of sail management during a storm. Without an engine we could not go into anchorages with tricky entrances, and we would not be able to douse the sails and turn on the engine if a storm arose.
We also needed our engine to charge our batteries. We needed electricity to run our electronic charts and our auto-pilot. Without electronic charts, we had to read positions from a handheld GPS, chart them on paper charts, and draw our course with a pencil. Without the auto-pilot, we had to steer manually 24 hours a day, trading positions at the helm every 2 hours.
Finally, we had always used the engine when cruising after dark. We had made round-the-clock passages before, but always with the engine and auto-pilot. None of our overnights had been longer than 50 hours, but this voyage would be six days under sail without an engine or an auto-pilot.
It was hard to convince ourselves to begin. It was a lot like sitting down to write and discovering sixteen things we needed to do before beginning the real task. We waited through one weather window by convincing ourselves it was too short. We waited through two days of the next weather window by convincing ourselves there was not enough wind. Unlike a writing project, we truly could not stop after we started, but like a writing project, we were beset with challenges to our successful completion. There was too much wind, or too little. An unanticipated current coupled with a lack of wind drove us south when we wanted to go north. We were battered by tempestuous seas, torrential downpours, and a wild ride in the Gulf Stream. We had to use every sailing skill we had ever learned or even heard of before we arrived at our destination. Was it a miracle that we arrived safely where we wanted to go?
I think it is exactly the same kind of miracle that happens when I finally complete a writing project and send it off to the editor I hope will love it. Before we departed on this voyage, we stood on the aft deck and prayed Psalm 62. This Psalm opens with these words:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

We relied on God throughout our voyage. He kept the promise Jesus made to his followers as he ascended into heaven, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We prayed at the end of each day, and we prayed through our troubles. When we looked up at a roiling wall of clouds filled with lightning and thunder, we prayed for courage. When we couldn’t figure out how to prevent ourselves from drifting onto a shallow bank, we prayed for guidance. When we had exhausted every skill we knew and still had not solved our problem, we prayed. We did not receive any ecstatic visions nor were we suddenly lifted out of our troubles. Instead, God nudged us in a more fruitful direction. He led us to rethink the obvious and see what was not obvious before.
It was a lot like helping a baby learn to walk. When the baby falls down, Mother doesn’t run every time and pick the baby up. Instead, she encourages him to laugh and try again. This is what God did for us, and like the baby, we learned and grew in the process.
The same thing happens when I write. God doesn’t write the piece for me. He doesn’t dictate the words. He inspires me to use to the fullest every gift he has given me. Then, after I have exhausted my gifts and my skills, he leads me one step further. I grow and mature, and like the baby learning to walk, I gain confidence and competence. I become more than I was when I started.
If anyone asked us now what was the best part of our trip this year, I would answer, “The voyage home.” We embarked on that passage due to a problem we could not solve, but making that passage blessed us in ways we could never have anticipated. We learned things we would never have learned if everything had continued to work as expected. It took God’s surprise to yank us out of our comfort zone so we could grow up as sailors. I think it is a miracle when God leads us to use his gifts to exhaustion and then, after we realize we must depend on him, he takes us forward to his wonderful surprise. He leads us to come fully alive.
That is what happens when I write, too. Some projects take me way beyond my comfort zone as a writer. I fidget. I check my email. I remember that I didn’t put cinnamon on my grocery list. I know I need to wade into my writing project, but it is hard. I see my goal, just as we could look at our charts and see our sailing destination, but I don’t see how to get there, just as we could not initially see how to escape a powerful current. I need to pray Psalm 62 and truly wait on the Lord. My own abilities are used up. I have stretched myself as far as I can go. If God wants me to write this project, then he will have to lead me. Like the baby learning to walk, I have fallen down, but like the encouraging mother, God calls my name and says, “Look here. Come to me!”
Katherine Harms

Writers Group - Thursday

Hi All,

We meet every third Thursday of the month, 6:30 p.m., at the Havre de Grace Library.

Bring something you've been working on to share with the group and be prepared to give feedback in return.

Enjoy the attached Notes.

See you on Thursday,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Evening of Poetry

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: An Evening of Poetry

Monday, August 2nd
Readings begin at 7 p.m.

The Vineyard Wine Bar
142 N. Washington St.
Havre de Grace, MD 21078

Join us for readings of original work by members of the Harford Poetry and Literary Society, and the mid-day poetry group, Lunchlines.

Many thanks to The Vineyard Wine Bar; the Cecil County Arts Council and the Elkton Arts Center; and the poetry groups, Lunchlines, and the Harford Poetry and Literary Society.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Choosing Plan B - A Prescription For Hope & Healing

Plan B - What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?
By Pete Wilson

Wracked by feelings of despair? Fear? Panic? Overcome by hurt, doubt and anger? Need help deciding what to do in your life? Are you a Christian who feels as if God has deserted you? Author Pete Wilson, the pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville has written a book that offers help and encouragement to those of us who feel all alone and overwhelmed.

Change, both good and not so good, is a constant in nearly everyone’s life and can leave one reeling (if life never disappoints you probably don’t need this book). Things, people and places we take for granted can change in the blink of an eye. Jobs are lost, people get sick, friends and family can turn their back on us, money disappears and divorces happen every day to millions of people. Some see themselves merely as disappointed victims, but Pastor Wilson suggests that change can equal opportunity if only we can change our thinking. “God is still with you. And things will turn around, one way or another. Maybe not the way you planned. Maybe not the way you assumed God would handle it. Maybe not even the way you hope. But you will see God’s hand at work – if not in your circumstances, then in your heart.” (page 22)

Perhaps choosing Plan B is the smartest plan of all.

Note: This book was provided to me by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for review purposes. This review is my opinion of the book.

The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

The Sacred Journey
By Charles Foster
Foreword by Phyllis Tickle

When Jesus said, “Follow me” Peter and Andrew dropped their nets and picked up their feet. Moments later James and John stopped squinting at the sun, hopped out of their boat and heeded the call. Without instruction, baptism, confirmation, repentance, or a supply of weekly envelopes to stuff these first followers began moving. A drop what you are doing, leave the familiar behind, get your feet dirty walk with Jesus.

Author Charles Foster bluntly and forcefully introduces his readers to the “theology of pilgrimage” one of the seven ancient practices of our faith. He shows us what it means to physically seek God and the inherent dangers associated with remaining still. The journeys he describes are varied … walking the Stations of the Cross at your local church or one across town, a trip to an unexplored shrine, or roaming an ancient city. The idea is to see ourselves, our world and others in a new and different way. When we pick ourselves up and experience the unknown we must do so with a willing and open mind and the curiosity of a disciple. The scared journey isn’t about arriving at a specific destination, instead it is the small momentary “ah-ha” moments that take place when we realize we all called to journey … to leave the familiar behind and seek God.

Notice: This book was provided by the publisher for review. The comments are my own.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

No Bad Reviews

_I regularly receive copies of newly released books or books that will be published in the near future. Publishers, PR firms, and authors send books to reviewers to help get the word out and hopefully build an audience. It is estimated that 40,000 books are published each year which means that too many good books can be lost in the shuffle.
_Whenever I receive an ARC (advance readers copy) or galley I can hardly wait to tear open the padded envelope and look inside ... some books are anticipated (I've already been approached with the offer to accept a copy), while others seems to find their way to my door unannounced.
_All are welcome. I am after all a reader and there is nothing like a brand new book to stir the imagination of a compulsive bookworm. Along with the anticipation there is also a heartfelt thank you sent to the author. As a writer, writing instructor and writing coach I know just how difficult it is to capture fleeting ideas and turn them in readable pages of text for waiting readers. I appreciate writers. I enjoy being in the company of writers. I love to hear the story behind the story. I'm always curious about their workday ... do they write first thing in the morning, or when the house is quiet and chances are the telephone won't ring. Details, I love the details of this crazy way of life.
_I've had the privilege of reading books about usury (Popes and Bankers), business (The Women's Small business Start-up Kit), more business (I'll Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse written by former mob boss Michael Franzese), a saint (Saint Patrick), leadership secrets (Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton), South of Broad the breathe taking novel by Pat Conroy, sports (James Brown) and more ... books that I might have missed. Books that I can't wait to share with others. I continue to buy books and offer reviews like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ... which is the best book I have read in years.
_I am a reader first, but I also view most books and novels through the lens of a writer. Some books grab me from page one and refuse to let go ... Ms. Skoot did that. Occasionally I cannot connect with the book and since all book reviews are selective I have decided that I will not write a bad review. I did that early on and I still regret it. Instead, I simply choose to pass. To allow another reviewer to step forward and find the nugget that I missed. I believe that books are written to be read and my job is to tell you about the ones I've read and enjoyed.
_FTC Full Disclosure mandates that I reveal how the book came into my hands. Be assured if I offer a written review it is because I enjoyed reading the book and want to share it with other readers. Also, I agree not to sell any books I receive for free ... and I do not. Instead, I either keep them or pass them along to others whom I feel will enjoy them. (In the future I will offer these books to interested readers.)

Don't Just Start a Business -- Start the Right One

Don't Just Start a Business-Start the Right One
By Peri H. Pakroo J.D.,
Author of
The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide

Most prospective entrepreneurs I meet already know they want to be self-employed, but they're less sure of exactly what kind of business they want to run. (Sorry, "One that makes a lot of money" or "One where I can set my own schedule" are not specific enough answers.) Most people have a general idea of what business they want to start -- say, a yoga studio or a health care consulting business -- but they don't always know the specifics of what will make it a success (more on how to define "success" below).

The truth is, no business idea is ready to go right out of the gate. Every entrepreneur needs to poke and prod their idea to varying degrees and usually tweak it a little (or a lot) before it's ready to launch. But folks new to the worlds of small business often wonder exactly how to go about this.

Here's the nutshell version of the advice I give to my students and clients. At the most fundamental level, every business has two basic elements that will either help it succeed or drag it into the ground: the business idea itself, and whether the owner(s) are well-suited to run it. If either the idea is flawed or the business isn't a good fit for the folks running the show, failure (or at least some serious stagnation) is probably just a matter of time.

Let's look a little more closely at each of these in reverse order, starting with the "you" part of the equation, then looking at the business idea.

What kind of business is a good fit for you?

Here's the easy advice first: The best business for you is generally one in which you have key skills or experience. The more skills you have -- either general business skills like sales or financial management, or skills specific to the business, like software engineering, jewelry making or running a café -- the better you'll be able to handle the key tasks and systems involved in running the business without having to rely on others. And experience in an industry will shorten your learning curve, giving you a head start in figuring out how to turn a profit.

But here's some advice you might not hear as much: Business success isn't just a matter of profits. It's also incredibly important that your business supports the life you want to lead. While some Type A overachievers might disagree, my opinion is your life matters. I think this is especially true for entrepreneurs who are putting in the effort and taking the risks inherent in starting their own venture. Why bother to take this all on if not to nudge (or even shove) your life closer towards your ideal vision?

Remember, you are starting the business, and you get to define what success looks like. For some people, success means big profits, but for plenty of others it means freedom and ample personal time. If you neglect to consider the bigger picture of your life and how the business will serve it, who's going to do it for you? That's right: no one. It's up to you.

There's a tradeoff dynamic here that I think is very helpful to understand: Generally speaking, a business that offers short-term freedom and lower financial risk tends to come at the expense of greater long-term freedom and a higher potential for big profits. For example, starting a simple freelance business with no employees typically involves very little start-up money and allows a lot of personal freedom since you don't have to worry about managing an office or staff. The downside, however, is that the business truly can't run without you. If you take time off, the business essentially shuts down. And this will continue to be true unless and until you transition the business to one with staff (either employees or contractors) that are well managed, requiring policies and systems to be implemented.

Contrast this with a business that is started with a higher investment of both capital and time -- say, a retail store with a couple employees. It will be a more intense start-up experience, involving more money and risk, and a much greater time commitment since it will be essential to train employees well and build systems that will help the business run like a well-oiled machine. But the reward is that in a year or two if things go well and you implemented systems successfully, you'll be able to leave the business in the hands of the employees and managers you cultivated during the intense start-up phase. Hello 4-month (or longer) vacation!

The main point here is to include life planning in your business plan. It's crucial to take the time early on to really examine your vision of your ideal lifestyle, and develop your business so that it fits into that vision. If you're aiming to build an international empire and willing to give your business your all for at least a few years, great! But if you're starting a business in order to get more balance, control, and enjoyment from your life, then you'll need to consciously build a business that supports that.

Is your business idea a good one?

To put it very, very mildly, some business ideas are better than others. As a consultant and teacher I have heard some doozies! Some ideas are truly confounding -- but the good news is that the problem can always be traced back to issues in defining the market.

You've undoubtedly heard all sorts of advice and guidance about "the market." As in, "Know your market." Or, "Target a profitable market." Or, "Make sure there's a market for your business." But what exactly is "the market"? A lot of folks use the term as shorthand for your customer base -- but they're leaving out some important elements.

As I tell my clients and students, your market includes three key components: customers, competition and industry. I actually encourage people to visualize a market like a farmer's market or flea market. To "know that market" means more than knowing who's shopping there, right? You also need to know about the other vendors, and about the general background of the products being sold, like knowing price ranges for collectibles at a flea market or knowing which organic produce sells best at the farmer's market.

So, when developing a business idea, think about these elements:

What customers will you target? What are their buying habits -- for example, do they prefer to shop online or in local retail stores? Are there enough of them and do they spend enough to support your idea?

What competitors will you face? How do their products or services differ from yours? Are they targeting the same customers as you?

What's going on in your industry? Are there trends that your competition isn't taking advantage of that you can?

Be brutally honest when evaluating your business along these lines. If you don't believe there are enough customers to support you, there probably aren't. If there's a ton of strong competition, success may be very difficult -- or at least very expensive -- to achieve. If the industry is constantly changing (as with technology industries), you may find it difficult to keep pace.

Bottom line: There's no substitute for evaluating your business idea by solidly assessing these aspects of its market. And besides careful market analysis, be sure to put conscious thought into the life you want to build by starting a business. By addressing both, you'll vastly boost the chances of finding success on your own terms.

© 2010 Peri H. Pakroo J.D., author of The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide

Author Bio
Peri Pakroo is a business and communications consultant, specializing in legal and start-up issues for businesses and nonprofits. She has started, participated in, and consulted with start-up businesses for 20 years. She is the author of The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit (Nolo) and top-selling business books. Her blog is at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Introvert Personality Test

For all you introverts out there, here is some hope. Christian author Karen Hancock has a great post with links to introvert personality tests and networking for introverts. The publishing industry can be difficult to break into if you prefer to be alone, if you feel weird about telling strangers about your work. But being introverted is not wrong, just different and once you know you aren't alone and you are normal use can use this gift to change your world.

Click here to read this post and to find out if you are a true introvert.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shop Talk with Christina A.--The Hook

By: Christina Adams


It could've been the sound of a door slamming, but as I catapaulted over the wooden fence of Mr. Woodard's farm I knew it was a gun.

When you are writing a story or non-fiction piece, that first line is so important. Depending on the genre you are writing, the tone and theme of your piece, and even your own personality, all come into play for those first few words. (After all, you are the first one who has to like what you are writing, right?) You want to hook the reader, make them care and give them only enough information to help them understand what is happening, not too much or eyes could start to glaze over and lists of to-do's start to muddle the attention. But how do you choose your hook?

Often when I have a story idea I come up with the climax first, next who the main characters should be and then I decide where these characters would need to start to make the climax intense. However, knowing where I want to start the story and knowing the right words to make that happen aren't always the same thing. Some of my stories have had their beginnings rewritten several times, but the key is to not let future rewrites keep you from writing that first one. The blank page can be scary, a monster waiting for the writer to slay, although like a war-scarred knight, the more battles you have fought and won the more second nature your fighting will become.

Once the first line is written and the whole story is finished, it is good to go back to that first line. I have found that after I have experienced the rest of the story I have a better idea of what the story is about, what is important and what I really want to convey to the reader. I want the first line to taste like the rest of the book with a dab of the theme in the words I choose. Is the story dark? I drag my words through the night. Is the story heartwarming? I gather words that are soft and open their arms. But no matter what kinds of story it is I always hide a question, if possible more than one, that will draw the reader in.

This is the way I have discovered works for me. What have you found that works for you? Do you start with intrigue, shock, mood, emotion? What kind of openings do you love to read? Tell me about it and let's talk shop.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fiction Contest

Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize

An annual contest for short fiction. A chance for your fiction to be read by Hunger Mountain editors and guest judges.

One first place winner receives $1000 and publication!
Two honorable mentions receive $100 each.
$20 entry fee
Submit one piece of fiction, not to exceed 10,000 words
The postmark deadline is June 30.

Read complete guidelines at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Popes & Bankers, A Cultural History of Credit & Debt, From Aristotle to AIG

Amidst The Wreckage of FINANCIAL RUIN, People Are Left Puzzling About HOW IT HAPPENED. Where Did All The PROBLEMS BEGIN? For the answer, Jack Cashill, a journalist as shrewd as he is seasoned, looks past the headlines and deep into pages of history and comes back with the goods. From Plato to payday loans, from Aristotle to AIG, from Shakespeare to the Salomon Brothers, from the Medici to Bernie Madoff - in Popes and Bankers Jack Cashill unfurls a fascinating story of credit and debt, usury and "the sordid love of gain. With a dizzying cast of characters, including church officials, gutter loan sharks, and even the Knights Templar, Cashill traces the creative tension between "pious restraint" and "economic ambition" through the annals of human history and illuminates both the dark corners of our past and the dusty corners of our billfolds. (taken from the back cover)

Journalist Jack Cashill creates a highly readable and timely book about the current financial crisis. That he does so in an engaging manner is to his credit. His approach is unique and the writing insightful. He chronicles our economic woes by “tracing the history of credit and debt, and usury (as lending at interest was widely called until at least AD 1800). Usury is a word that is used frequently by the author as he explores the events that brought us to this moment....

The Review
The Bible it seems is quite clear about lending money to neighbors and loved ones: “if thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury (Exodus 22:25). Strangers however, are fair game … “Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury… (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The Hebrew word for usury is neshek and by the 15th century Gentiles were borrowing money and paying neshek to their Jewish brothers.

While the Old Testament has a lot to say about the subject, Jesus Christ it turns out had little to say beyond the parable of the talents and the pounds. Oh, and the time Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. But we really don’t know how Jesus, the son of small business owner felt about making an earthly profit now and again. Instead, Jesus preached about a different type of ROI for those who accepted his offer … the promise of a heavenly reward.

The practice of usury however, continued to be a hot topic prompting Pope Innocent II to define usury as “detestable and disgraceful rapacity condemned by human and divine law alike.” A mere thirty years later Pope Alexander III “expanded the definition of usury to include any sale on credit in which the accumulative price was higher than the cash price.” Later he would argue “that usurers should not only be excommunicated but also be denied a Christian burial.”

Enter the knights … The Knights Templar “a unique monastic order” a.k.a. “warrior monks” who were created by church and secular leaders when 300 cheerful Christians were killed by a swarm of Saracens. The monks lived by the Rule, (“silent meals, coarse clothing, daily prayers, and perpetual celibacy”) while serving the church. They would also “create the first great international banking enterprise.”

These “fighting monks” had the “equivalent of branch offices stretching from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. They also had major complexes in Paris and London, cities in which decisions about war and peace were often made. Even more usefully, the Templars interacted with kings and popes, and they did so precisely when those leaders needed money, namely, on the way to the battlefield.” The Knights Templar, whose reputation preceded them, “did not need to hire security to protect their money transfers” which was also useful.

In their spare time, the Knights “raised taxes for the king, paid bills, minted money, collected tariffs, chased down deadbeats, provisioned the army, supported diplomatic missions, and advanced loans to the kings’ friends and relatives – even Grandma, literally.” They also charged interest. Apparently, a practice now sanctioned by the church. Their demise forty years later had nothing to do with usury, but everything to do with scandal, power, timing, money and debt.

Today, despite the best efforts of government, church and man the need to finance the good life has nearly brought America to its knees once again. Standing in front of the 1933 inaugural crowd FRD railed against the “self-seekers” who proposed “the lending of more money” as a solution to their and the nation’s problems. “To drive the point home about the evils of such wanton usury, he continued with an analogy that America’s biblically literate population surely understood, “The money changers have fled their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.”

Despite the charming fireside chats, “the New Deal did not deliver.” Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. told a Congressional hearing … “We are spending more money than we have ever spent before and it does not work. … I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get jobs. We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of the administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started and an enormous debt to boot.”

The answer to this mess is not blame but accepting personal responsibility for debt and living within (or below our means), saving and investing. Living debt free.

Popes & Bankers is a striking book full of amazing characters and history and will surely capture the mind and attention of those interested in our economic past and present. This book is for readers who agree with philosopher George Santayana’s prediction, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Note to writers: Who was it that said there are no dull stories, only dull writers.

This book was provided by Thomas Nelson for review.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Writer's Book Shelf-Plot and Structure

Book Review: James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure

By: Christina Adams

As you might guess from the title, this is a book for the writer who wants to dive deeper into technical aspects of writing a story or novel. Unlike many writers' book, that only have a chapter to devote to plotting, this book goes into detail on what a plot is, how to tell if it is not working and what to do to spruce it up. It also covers the structure of character archs, complex plots and the twist endings.

Even though this book has the word 'structure' in its title, it isn't only for people who love outlines and structuring. Bell covers both sides of the writing brain and points out the benefits of right-brained creativity and left-brained logic, as well as ways to make both sides stronger.

Reading this book has helped me to be aware of what I am trying to do with the characters and plots in my story. I have been able to create tighter plots and been able to recognize and avoid the mistakes I used to make. I would recommend this book for all fiction writers.

Book quote: "No matter what kind of novelist you are, there's one thing you will have when you've completed your manuscript--a plot.... The only question at that point will be, "Does it work?" By "work" I mean connect with readers. That's the function of plot after all. The reading experience is supposed to transport people, move them through the power of story. Plot is the grid that makes it happen."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Author Hillary Duff

Hillary Duff has just signed a multiple-book deal for a YA series and a nonfiction book on children of divorce.

The Writers Book Shelf - My Favorite Books on Writing - Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer is the author of 20+ books and has published over 300 articles for national publications such as Guideposts for Kids, Focus on the Family, Christian Parenting Today, Today’s Christian Woman and HomeLife Magazine. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from American Christian Fiction Writers, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion Book Award in 2005.

Check out her website especially On Writing.

Here are some of the books on writing that Tricia recommends...

. Sally Stuart's Christian Writers Market Guide:

. Writers Market Guide:

. Sandra Glahn's amazing tutorial about great writing:

. Sandra Glahn's information about magazine writing:

. Sandra Glahn's How to Break Into Publishing:

. On Writing by Stephen King. A bit raw, but one of the BEST books on
fiction writing I've ever read.

. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Again, a bit raw, but very, very good
advice. Anne writes crazily (if there is such a thing) but it works. She's
got a terrific voice.

. Randy Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine:

Also, Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing Tips You Can Use - Advice From Best-Selling Author Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a F.M. Meredith is the author of the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series and the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, as well as many other novels. She recently wrote a blog post "Mistakes I've Seen Lately in Books I've Read" and graciously shares her thoughts here:

Saturday, February 20, 2010
Mistakes I've Seen Lately in Books I've Read

When reading a book someone wants me to review, I'm always sad when I see mistakes that the writer could have learned about at a good writing conference or in a writing class.

One problem I've seen recently is the overuse of exclamation points. Usually if the dialogue (and that's the only place an exclamation point should ever appear)is exclamatory enough, the point is not needed. I can't remember what author said it, but something to the effect that there should only be one exclamation point per book.

The use of too many dialogue tags like, he gasped, she chortled, he explained. Said or question is enough--and better still, have the character do something so that the action can be the dialogue tag.

Far too many pages of description, whether it be of a house, or a historical event.

Yes, I know Margaret Mitchell had all those pages about the Civil War in Gone With the Wind. I read Gone With the Wind about eight times, but after the first round, I skipped the description of the War. Readers are interested in what happens to the characters. If they are involved in a war or an historical happening, let the reader see what is going on through the eyes of the point-of-view character.

Those are just a couple of things I've noticed. The books I read were good, but would have been far better with the help of an editor.

Believe me, I make plenty of mistakes. Every chapter I write is heard and seen by my critique group. After I think the book is done, I make sure it is seen by someone who knows how to edit.

Still mistakes make it through, but not as many as would if I didn't have those other eyes checking for me.

If you are new to writing, take the time to read some good books on writing or attend a writers' conference or two.

I can't tell you how many writers' conferences I've been to over the years and even now, I learn at least one new thing at each one I attend.


Note: Marilyn's newest book An Axe To Grind is now available. Check out Marilyn's Musings here .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Manuscript Critique Group

If you are too busy to be apart of a writers group, or you haven't been able to find one you like, we have a solution for you. Here on "Dialogue" we are hoping to start an online manuscript critique group. We would form small circles, so no one would be overwhelmed by the amount of reading/critiquing, and send off a chapter or short section to each person in the group.

For you budding writers who are starting out and haven't been able to show your work to anyone outside of family and friends, a group like this can really help, not only to boost your own confidence in your work, but to learn from the mistakes others have made. Often I would hear writing professionals comment on amateur writing or certain rough techniques that glare from the page, but I wasn't sure what they meant until I joined a writers group and began to see my writing through other eyes. Things I was sure were clear to understand, sometimes weren't.

Even if you are a seasoned writer, it's good to have a place where you can bounce off new ideas and experiment with different writing styles. For myself, I am always inspired by my contact with other writers. There is an energy from meeting people who love the same things you do.

If you would like to be apart of our online manuscript critique group you can comment to this post or e-mail Patricia at the address in About Me. We would also love to hear any experience you may have had with writers groups before. Was is a good or bad experience? What do you look for in a writers group?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Indies Choice Award Finalists
The ABA announced the nominees for their annual book awards. Member booksellers can vote during most of the month of March, with the winners to be named in April.

Adult Fiction
Border Songs, by Jim Lynch (Knopf)
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin (Scribner)
The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt (Knopf)
Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese (Knopf)
Generosity: An Enhancement, by Richard Powers (FSG)
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Holt)

Adult Nonfiction
Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Lit: A Memoir, by Mary Karr (HarperCollins)
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann (Doubleday)
Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small (W.W. Norton)
Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder (Random House)
When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins (Little, Brown)

Adult Debut
The Earth Hums in B Flat, by Mari Strachan (Canongate)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)
The Piano Teacher, by Y.K. Lee (Viking)
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larson (Penguin Press)
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (Pocket)
Tinkers, by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)

Young Adult
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman (Dutton Juvenile)
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson (illus.) (Simon Pulse)
Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic)
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking Juvenile)

Middle Reader
Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko (Dial)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt)
Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck (Dial)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

Picture Book
All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon, Maria Frazee (illus.) (Beach Lane Books)
The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Listen to the Wind, by Greg Mortenson, Susan Roth (illus.) (Dial)
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca (Richard Jackson Books)
Otis, by Loren Long (Philomel)

How many have you read?

Saint Patrick, Myth vs. Fact (Book Review)

My review of Saint Patrick by Jonathan Rogers PhD is available at our sister blog Inspiring Words here's the link:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shop Talk with Christina A.--The Olympics

By: Christina Adams

I love watching the Olympics. In years past I preferred the summer games over the winter, but this year has changed that. There are still many things I don't understand about sports like curling or hockey and I am okay with that. It's the individual stories that has me riveted to the television, the journey of one person toward winning a gold medal, the dreams and hopes of a country holding their breath. Sometimes I get so excited it feels like my heart stops as I wait to see who will win.

I am amazed at the things a human body can do and when they talk about how much the athletes have to train to prepare for this event, this one chance every four years, I can't help but feel thankful that I am a writer not an athlete. I don't have to wait for one opportunity every four years for my writing to be recognized or to see the realization of my lifelong dreams. Nor do I have a whole nation counting on me and a world routing against me. Over all I have a pressure-free life and, even better, I have the rest of my life to write with no end to my physical ability to create.

Watching the Olympics inspires me to become the best I can be. It stokes the hope that dreams can be realized, if I persevere and don't give in to doubt. The only thing that can stop me is myself.

Have the Olympics inspired you in any way? What helps motivate you to keep writing? I'd love to know. Let's talk shop!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Writer's Book Shelf: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

A new edition of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is due out in March, 2010. This new edition, advertisements say, includes a new preface by the author.

My copy is copyright 1986, and Goldberg's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life (1990) is combined in this particular printing. I return to this volume again and again.

This is not a writing how-to, exactly, though it is full of how-tos, as the following two sentences from the chapter "Original Detail":
"Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transplant the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York into a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness."

Goldberg is a teacher as well as a poet, essayist, and novelist, a fact that reflects in every one of her short chapters that weave together a myriad of details about technique and discussion of the reasons for the effort itself. Reading her work is like sitting in conversation with a very talented writer friend.

Robert Pirig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, describes her as having "the simple style of a Zen archer who looks like he's not even aiming, yet sends arrow after arrow to the bull's-eye time after time."

A few more illustrative quotes:
"The problem is we think we exist."
"Learn to trust the force of your own voice."
"If something works, it works. If it doesn't, quit beating an old horse. Go on writing. Something else will come up. There's enough bad writing in the world. Write one good line, you'll be famous. Write a lot of lukewarm pieces, you'll put people to sleep."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is the story of how a cell sample taken from a poor, black Baltimore mother of six as she lay dying of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 turned into one of the most important tools in medicine. They are still alive today and whether or not you recognize her name her cells, the HeLa cells, have traveled the globe and have impacted your health and your life. This is a fascinating story told with great skill, intelligence, and compassion. One of the best books I have read in years ... this is an author to pay attention to.
My review of science journalist Rebecca Skloot's first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is available on Basil & Spice

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'll Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse

Insider Business Tips From A Former Mob Boss
by Michael Franzese
(c) 2009 Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Author Michael Franzese, a former mob boss, ex-con, and the youngest individual on Fortune magazine's survey of "The Fifty Biggest Mafia Bosses" (at one point he was earning millions every week) has advice for anyone who is looking to beat the odds. Since being released from prison (he served eight years of a ten year prison sentence for racketeering) Mr. Franzese has reinvented himself ... this time on the right side of the law.

When Mr Franzese joined the Colombo crime family his philosophies were pure Machiavellian (the end always justifies the means). Today the author has this to say about his past, "... following the Machiavellian philosophy doesn't make you a bad person by itself. But I can tell you this: if you follow his line of thinking, it does make you susceptible to your own failings and moral corruptions."

Today, he follows Solomon's path believing that business and life should be managed with integrity, following a reliable moral and legal compass. King Solomon (whom he refers to as "the original wiseguy") does not allow one to compromise (either values or integrity - both of which he places a high premium on) to be successful. Solomon's way does not repay an injustice with a further injustice. Instead, he deals with it appropriately and wisely ... he does not spread false rumors ... or resort to unfair business practices ... or work to obtain money dishonestly ... nor allow the dishonest actions of another to cause him to compromise his own high standards. Chapter titles include: First, Nail Down the Basics; Lead with Your Brain, Not Your Mouth; Get the Right Idea About Success.

Using stories from his own life Mr. Franzese tells it like it is. No hiding, no excuses. I'll Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse is well written and told in a straight forward manner. At the end of each chapter there is a GET THE MESSAGE summary of the chapter's important themes. The book addresses the current housing crisis, the country's massive debt, arrogant CEOs, and the need to rethink business practices.

The author is a man on a mission, he considers himself lucky to be alive, now he wants to share his experiences with others. This book would make a good gift for the college graduate, Father's Day, or any student of life, or budding entrepreneur.

note: Purchasing this book means that you also get a free ebook and an audio version. Perhaps this is an offer you shouldn't refuse.

This book was provided by Nelsonfree, Thomas Nelson, Inc. for review.

Lucille Clifton 1936 - 2010

Lucille Clifton, National Book Award winner and former poet laureate of Maryland, died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 73.

Mrs. Clifton, a resident of Columbia, was a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and was honored on many other occasions during her career. She was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Maryland and Towson University. She was the poet-in-resident at Coppin State College between 1971 and 1974. The second woman and the first African American to serve as poet laureate of Maryland, she was also the first black woman to win the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize award, in 2007, among the most prestigious awards that can be won by an American poet. It included at $100,000.00 stipend.

Besides her eleven poetry collections, Mrs. Clifton published 20 children's books, and her poems have appeared in more than 100 anthologies, according to her biography.

Mrs. Clifton and her husband, Fred Clifton, a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo, moved to Baltimore in the 1960s and had six children. Her husband died in the 1984. (source The Baltimore Sun February 14, 2010)

James Arden Holstine 1949-2010

James loved books ... read Lesa's tribute here:



The wind carries an antiseptic bite and also
the clicking sound of ice-coated branches.

A male cardinal calls,
He flits like fire through the shimmering
glisten of his ink-drawn world.

Winter is not silent, still like death.
It is only a cleansing pause, the quiet season.

~~~~~Carol Bindel

Previously published in Chesapeake, a publication of the National League of American Pen Women, 1996; and again in "From The Front Porch," Spotlights #19, The Harford Poetry and Literary Society, 1997.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Quote: Rest

"During the initial stage of dormancy--called quiescence--the plant slows in response to environmental cues. If there is too much cold or nor enough light, a Douglas fir seedling will become quiescent, and cease its growth. But if those conditions change--a cold spring warms, a neighboring tree is cut down-- new buds will elongate and a second flush of growth will develop.

"But the second stage of dormancy--called rest -- is controlled from within. A seedling in the resting stage will not grow, no matter how favorable the environment. A warm January will not tempt it out; it heeds an inner clock, and emerges from dormancy only in the fullness of time, under the most deeply favorable conditions. This aids in the safe and healthy propagation of life."

—From Sabbath, "Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest," by Wayne Muller (Bantam Books, 1999)

How, then, do we balance our busy-ness with rest? How do you find time and space in your life for deep refreshment?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Courage Quote

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
Mary Anne Radmacher

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writer's Book Shelf-Writing Children's Books

Book Review:Lesley Bolton and Lea Wait's Writing Children's Books

By: Christina Adams

This little book covers every topic in children's literature from its history to what can be expected in the future. It discusses nonfiction, fiction, how to know if you are a writer, whether you should illustrate your own book, how to deal with writer's block and what to expect when you get a contract in the mail. This is not a book on the writing process of writing for children, but an overview of the children's book industry, what it is like and what to expect.

Writing Children's Books is one of The Only Writing Series You'll Ever Need series and is more of an everything you need to know about than an all encompassing book on how to write for children. There is only one chapter devoted to writing and revision, but the book covers the whole process from concept to marketing.

The sections I found helpful were the chapter where the rights a publisher could offer you were explained and the chapter where the different age groups were defined by topic and word count. If you have a book for children, but you are not sure what age to target this is a good book to check out. This book is great for writers who are starting out and for any writer who wants a better handle on the world of publishing for children.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lesa and Jim Holstine

Earlier today our friend* Lesa shared news about her husband Jim. Jim has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Followers of Lesa's Book Critiques ( ) know just how much this generous and gracious (and funny) couple loves books, cats, and each other. Please keep them in your thoughts and if you are inclined, you can post your thoughts and words of encouragement on her blog.

* Meet Lesa, December 5, 2008

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Good Deal Is Better Than A Nice Deal

Writers love to talk about money ... but hate to bring it up. I teach noncredit writing courses at our local community college and online. Most beginning writers have no idea what kind of money they can expect to make ... when they sell their first book.

"A nice deal is worth $1 - $49,000.00." I give them time to to consider the possibilities.

"A very nice deal means you will receive $50,000 - $99,000.00." I watch as eyes light up and smiles are exchanged. A few students nod their heads.

"While a good deal pays just a little better ... $100,000 - $250,000.00." The room becomes very quiet. No one says a word. But I'm not finished.

"A significant deal ... means the book deal is a big deal and the range is between $251,000 - $499,000.00." I look down at my notes.

"And the final deal is considered a major deal and is worth $500,000 and up." And we all laugh.

Poetry Contest

Each year more than 200 poems are entered in the Upper Eastern Shore's Regional Poetry contest. Now in its 14th year, the contest invites both experienced and beginning writers to submit entries to this exciting annual event which is presented by the Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot County arts councils.

Cash prizes of $100, $50, and $25 dollars are awarded for first, second, and third place in each of four categories: children/youth (grades 1-8), students (grades 9-12), adults (ages 18-59) and seniors (ages 60+). In addition to the cash awards, winners enjoy a public reception where they can recite their winning poems.

This event is unique to the area and offers an excellent opportunity for aspiring and accomplished poets to have their work judged by working writers and to read to an audience. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the contest into classroom studies and to submit student work for the contest. Entrants must be residents, students, or employees in the participating counties. They may not submit previously published or award winning poems. Staff members of the participating arts councils are not eligible. Winners will be notified no later than the second week of April. Full details and rules are available with each entry form.

The deadline for submission is March 1. Deliver entry forms with poems to the Queen Anne's County Arts Council by Feb. 28 or send with postmark by March 1. An entry form is required for contest consideration. Entry forms are available through the participating local arts councils: Caroline 410-479-1009, Cecil 410-392-5740, Kent 410-778-3831, Queen Anne's 410-758-2520 and Talbot 410-310-9812.

For more information:

Thanks May!

Publicists First, Successful Writer Second

Rebecca Skloot dreamed about going on tour. She envisioned herself, her boyfriend, the dogs and her best friends traveling cross country in a great big tour bus to promote her first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But her publisher Crown had other ideas: "We really don't do books tours anymore." Her agent agreed. "They're just not the best investment of publicity funds." Instead, they offered banner ads, buzz campaigns, bookstore placement, blogs, Twitter, FaceBook, and radio tours.

Ms. Skloot agreed, at least in the beginning.

Later that night, at home, she changed her mind. And with the help of her brain-damanged father Floyd Skloot (also an author, who has written about the neurologic damage he suffered from a virus in the 1980s) they went public (Ms Skloot has many friends on Twitter and FB) and The Immortal Book Tour was launched. Within days an expense -paid trip was booked at a medical school in Ohio ... and a nearby bookstore later that evening.

Ms. Skloot: "Now, I'm not suggesting that posting a request for help on Facebook will miraculously result in a successful book tour. Far from it. A plan like this requires an established social network, something writers should start developing years before publishing a book...."

To learn more about the author and the book tour

How To Connect With Readers -
Topic for discussion: Writers do you have a presence on Twitter ... Facebook? Do you have an active blog and or website? Do you know what to post and how often...

Please share your thoughts with us....

(This post is based on an author interview. PW November 2009)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sign Up for The Catholic Writers Conference by February 15, 2010

M E D I A   R E L E A S E

CONTACT: Karina Fabian Ann Margaret Lewis

E-mail: e-mail:

For Immediate Release

Catholic Writers Conference Online Provides Practical Help

World Wide Web--This year's Catholic Writers’ Conference Online, which will be held February 26-March 5, 2010, will focus on the practical things the writer needs to succeed.

The conference is held via chats and forums at Sponsored by the Catholic Writer’s Guild, the online conference is free of charge and open to writers of all levels who register between October 1, 2009 and February 15, 2010.

"We've always concentrated on workshops and chats that teach the writer skills or provide information in the areas of crafting, publishing and marketing their works, but this year, we're adding critique workshops and some incredible opportunities to pitch to leading publishers," said organizer Karina Fabian.

This year, publishers hearing pitches include well known Catholic publishers like Pauline, large Christian publishers like Thomas Nelson, and smaller presses like White Rose. Thus far, eleven pitch sessions are scheduled, running the gamut from Christian romance to Catholic theology.

In a new program, at least fifty attendees will have the opportunity to have pieces of their work critiqued by successful editors and writers. In addition, there will be forum-based workshops and chat room presentations covering topics from dialogue to freelancing to how Catholic fiction differs from Christian fiction.

"Even in good economic times, it's hard for writers to attend live conferences," said Fabian, "but this year, we think it's even more important to help careers by utilizing an online format. We're so grateful that our presenters are willing to share their time and talent."

Early registration is recommended. Although the conference is offered free of charge, donations are accepted; proceeds will go toward future conferences. Non-Catholics may attend, as long as they respect Catholic beliefs and the conference's Catholic focus.

To register or for more information, go to

Writer's Book Shelf-The Elements of Style

Book Review: William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White's The Elements of Style

By Christina Adams

The Elements of Style is a classic rule book on the basics of grammar and fundamentals of style. The whole book is written as a long list of rules separated by glossaries. In five brief parts, each covering its own topic, the English language is broken down into understandable mechanics.

The first part covers grammar and punctuation, or as they call it, Elementary Rules of Usage. The second part goes deeper covering composition, from using the active voice to keeping related words together. The third part goes over the use of form, such as referencing, quotations and headings. The fourth section covers misused words and expressions. This was my favorite section because the authors went into detail on how these words are misused and the proper way to use them. They go through word definitions for farther/further, effect/affect, aggravate/irritate, disinterested/uninterested, nauseous/nauseated and give the actual meaning for everyday words like data (which is plural) and hopefully (which means 'with hope' not 'I hope' as it is now often intended). The fifth and last part goes deeper into style and outlines how to make your writing a clear, communicating tool. There is also a glossary and index at the end pushing the page count to a mere 105.

While this book originally came out in 1935 and definitely has an older, textbook-type, feel to it, the passion and understanding of the English language, as well as what it stands for, shines through. It has been updated, several times, since then, although I can't help imagining the horror they would have at the direction technology has taken our communication. I found this book a helpful reminder of the respect I should have for the boundaries of language and a deeper insight into the power of the written word. This book is one of the few universal writers book and can be beneficial for fiction or nonfiction writers equally. If you want a short read this book is for you.

The Help - New York Times Article

Since it came out in February 2009, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett has been embraced by book clubs and bloggers who can't stop recommending it to their friends.  Below is the link for November 2009 New York Times article written by Motoko Rich ....

A Southern Mirrored Window

“The Help,” a novel about the relationships between African-American maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi, has the classic elements of a crowd pleaser: it features several feisty women enmeshed in a page-turning plot, clear villains and a bit of a history lesson.
The book, a debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, also comes with a back story that is a publishing dream come true: at first rejected by nearly 50 agents, the manuscript was scooped up by an imprint of Penguin and pushed aggressively to booksellers, who fell in love with it...

Note: I purchased my copy of "The Help" last week and glanced at the numbered print run (my copy is part of the 44th print run). Curious, I did a quick Internet search ... this book is a first novel that was rejected over and over. Lesson for aspiring writers, write a good book and keep it out there. Dreams do come true.

While I haven't finished the book I am hooked. Have you read this one?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shop Talk With Christina A.--The First Conference

By: Christina Adams

The first time I went to a writers conference I had no idea what to expect. I brought a story I had recently changed the tense of for a private critique session and I was nervous. The first few hours I was introduced to more people, more concepts and more information than I thought existed. By dinner my head ached and I sat next to a man who told me this tragic story about his family, only after I left did I realized he was probably talking about his book.

The woman who critiqued my story instantly recognized that the tenses had been changed and kindly told me to keep working. I felt great, although I determined never to change tenses again. It wasn't until later when I saw the same woman asking another conference attendee to send her more did I realize what she didn't say. My story was not good enough and by association neither was I.

As the end of the conference drew near, I was depressed. I had decided to scrap that story and try something different. But I didn't know what. The focus of the conference was on how God needed all kinds of writers; everyone had a place God had specifically designed for them to fill. I went outside and listened to the birds while the wind combed my hair. I thought about all the story ideas I had and I began to notice a pattern. Some stories like the one I had brought were for adults, but the stories I felt more excitement for were the ideas I had for the middle school/teen genres. That conference was an eye-opener for me, partly because I had found my niche and partly because I grew to appreciate the other writers who can do what I can't. I will never be a poet, believe me I've tried. I may never be able to write for the little ones or craft a decent mystery, but I can write from my passion and grow where God has placed me.

What was your first writers conference experience? What did you learn? What surprised you? If you haven't gone to one yet what is your opinion about writers conferences? I'd love to know. Let's talk shop.

Writing Contest Announcement

WestBow Press is having a writing contest. WestBow is an imprint of Thomas Nelson and specializes in self publishing. The contest is open to all writing, fiction and nonfiction (with the exception of children's and picture books. Young Adult is fine.) as long as the manuscript is 100 pages and completed. The only catch is that to win you have to be present at the OC Christian Writers Fellowship on May 1, 2010. For more information and official submission guidelines click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Writers Needed for New Book for The Catholic Market


You can contribute to a Catholic book being published, “Letters to Priests, Thanking The Men Of The Catholic Church.” At last an opportunity to thank priests for their every day dedication to healing, help and support of those who seek help.

Authors Anne Hughes and Teena Adamick are looking for writers.

This new publication will be a compilation of letters of thanks written by people from all over the world who have been helped, supported and encouraged by a priest/priests. Please join us in this opportunity for healing.

Sharing your letter of thanks may be healing for you and others. Many of us share the same sorrows and in thanking your priest you may be a source of hope and healing for others as they read of your journey and have deeper hope for their own journey. Please join us in this new publication dedicated to healing through expressions of thanks, hope and encouragement.

E-mail Anne Hughes or Teena Adamick

at, or visit


or send a letter to

Anne Hughes
P.O. Box 482
Ada, Michigan, 49301.

Please consider writing your story of gratitude. It will make you proud to be a Catholic. What a great gift to give your children on their wedding day. This is a book in progress. Your post may be published. Healing comes in many forms. Gratitude, and thank you notes, are profound for both the writer and the receiver. Catholics have tools to help them through life’s struggles, prayer, the Rosary, and Priests.

You can write about divorce, grieving, loss of jobs, happiness, whatever part of life a Priest helped you with. Thank them for words that guided your life. 

My Favorite Book on Writing ... by Peggy Frezon

"... if I had to recommend one writing book, it would be On Writing Well by William Zisnsser. Everything you need to know! If they are looking for more specific publishing type info, anything from Writers Digest Books is solid. I especially like Make a Scene. Hope this helps!

Peggy's a freelance writer specializing in pets, with a twice-monthly column, "5 Things About Pets" and stories in The Ultimate Dog Lover, Miracles and Animals, and others. She writes on assignment for Guideposts magazine and is a regular contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her agent has Peggy's first book out on submission.

Monday, February 1, 2010


"You see, in the end, it's about the common property that is all around us: the air we breathe. It belongs to everyone on Earth-- and no one-- at the same time."

Larry J. Schweiger, "A Grandfather's Lament," National Wildlife: World Edition, February-March, 2010, 6.

Excerpt, a stanza especially for writers:


WHOEVER'S found out what location
compassion (heart's imagination)
can be contacted at these days,
is herewith urged to name the place;
and sing about it in full voice,
and dance like crazy and rejoice
beneath the frail birch that appears
to be upon the verge of tears.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~

(Poems New and Collected 1957-1997,
trans. by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Write or Not To Write, or How Do You Manage Your Time?

by Carol Bindel

I was feeling really lonely Monday, for mysterious, still undefined reasons. It is strange to be in this place, in this winter time, when there is no work pressing hard on me, where the structure of my day is more up to me to create anew each morning, to create a daily schedule out of the thin air, out of the passing minutes, than at any other season. In other seasons, after all, I have assigned myself to care for this property, as best as I can, chosen that "job," and that has its own structure and rhythm that I then follow. But Monday it rained hard, so I didn't even spend my normal hour walking out in the world. What was I to do with myself?

Over the past years I have been intentionally emptying activities (and thereby people) from my life in order to find that place where I am strong enough to carry my commitments. And now I find the hours looking at me, empty-eyed. I have this time-space within which I can see so clearly that all the structure is up to me. What will I do with my energy/time, my energy time?

I believe this is how it always is. The structure is always up to us. We just don't see that, with all the covering commitments-- the job, the family, the church-- that usually hold and keep us. Held tight in the structures we have agreed to, that we have created, held by the structures that then hold our lives, totally. All our joy and sorrow, all our knowing and sharing-- all held within the structure of whatever lives we create. I am puzzling over this.

And I am wondering about my writing. So I made a list: Reasons Not to Write. It was and is a good list. Of course, I AM a writer. An introvert by nature, yet with ordinary needs for companionship and human sharing, I love words as a form of communication. So I have, indeed, been writing letters and emails and journal entries. I need competing lists, to write vs. not to write. And do I have reason to write for publication?

I am puzzling; I am a perfectly fitted piece of the puzzle. So are you. We are different; we are the same. I want to write, I don't want to write. All true. The world as paradox. Am I paralyzed by paradox?

How do you structure and fill your days? What criteria guides your action or non-action? Why do you write? How do you value your own writing, if it goes without remuneration? How do you structure and include it, or not, in your day? Is publication and payment the ultimate goal? How do YOU settle these questions?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shop Talk With Christina A.--Organization

By: Christina Adams

There are as many different types of writers as there are personalities. I am an organizer. I love organizing. I love lists. I love goals. And I love organizing my lists of goals. I have boxes, binders or folders for every scrap of paper I have written on and I have a whole shelf devoted to storing the binders and folders.

I enjoy organizing all my stories and ideas. There is a binder for finished stories I now think are silly or unpublishable, a binder for unfinished stories I don't intend to continue and a folder for every short story I have written. I also keep a binder devoted solely to my early stage ideas. When one of these ideas develop enough into a full fledged book idea I move it into a binder of its own, if an idea turns into a short story I move it into a folder. Or after staring at it for years without wanting to work on it, I move it to my unfinished story binder. There is a place for every stage of writing. This is my system, and it works well for me.

Now before you think my writing space is sparkling and sterile, you should know I have a habit of tossing all current papers into piles until a time--often once every six month or so period--where I can't take it anymore and purge my area of anything not bound or filed. After hearing about my binder obsession I am sure piles of loose, unconnected papers may be hard to imagine, but I like to think of it as my creative side expressing itself. Even if my piles are more organized than I would like to admit....

Every writer has their own method. Are you messy? Are you neat? What works best for you? I'd love to hear about it. Let's talk shop!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Writing Contest Announcement

A Quick Contest Alert!

There is a writing contest at for writers of young adult and middle grade novels. The first 500 words of a finished work can be entered to win a critique of your story. For more information on how to enter click here. The deadline for this contest is Jan 31st so you better act fast!