Thursday, September 11, 2014

Can You Handle Success?

My morning Bible reading carried me back in time to the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Over and over, God stressed that He would help the children of Israel as they entered the Promised Land. He would drive out stronger armies than theirs. He would provide a land flowing with milk and honey. But the flip side was a warning: They were not to adopt the ways of those pagan nations. They were not to grow proud and think that their own might had achieved such great victories. In short, they were to remain humble, to obey God's laws, and to praise Him for working on their behalf.

So how does all this relate to you?

It's easy to be humble and to seek God's direction when you're starting a new endeavor. Maybe it's a new job. Maybe it's writing a book. Unfortunately, some people don't handle success very well. They look back and see how far they've come and swell with pride, as if they reached those heights without God's aid.

An editor friend once confided (without naming names) how even Christian authors sometimes fall into this trap. After their first book or two, they become haughty. Their nose tips upward. They polish the halo a bit as they soak up praise. According to my friend, one author even publicly claimed, "No one has ever edited my material," when in fact the editorial team had thoroughly edited his words.

Can you handle success? If you reach your goals, will you remember to thank God for His help? Or will you ignore the fact that He is the One who gave you your brain, your talents, and your health as you can take all the credit?

Friend, I wish you good success, but I also wish for you the humility and good sense needed to keep success from spoiling you!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"It's Not Quite There."

In response to a manuscript I once submitted to an agent, I received the following reply: "It's not quite there." The agent was polite. The note was even handwritten, which I appreciated. However, as I sat and reread those words, I wondered what my story needed to be "all the way there" instead of not quite there. The problem was, I'd already spent so many hours with my characters and their predicament that I could no longer view my own pages objectively.

After that experience, another writer requested that I take a look at part of a manuscript and give some frank feedback. (By the way, only frank feedback is helpful. Feedback that praises the writer when the quality is lacking actually hurts the writer by instilling false confidence and misleading him or her.) As I read the pages, I truly wanted to tell my acquaintance, "This is great. Keep up the good work!" Instead, the words that came to mind were "It's not quite there." And I understood what the agent meant about my own story.

You see, the draft I was reading simply lacked polish. At times the heroine did things that didn't make sense based on what the story revealed about her. She was also a bit of a cardboard cutout rather than coming across like a real person. For the most part, the grammar and punctuation were okay even if not stellar. Yet, sentence by sentence the story simply unfolded in a straightforward way from Point A to Point Z. There were no clever plays on words. No irony. No red herrings to keep the reader intrigued. The setting descriptions also lacked pizazz. Sure, there were descriptions of locale, so I knew where the heroine was. But those locations didn't come alive. There were sights and sounds, but little or no sense of smell, of taste, or touch.

In other words, as I proofed this manuscript, it certainly was complete as far solving the mystery and uniting the boy and girl. But was the tale polished to the point where a publisher would say, "We'll offer you a contract for this"? Regrettably, no. The story wasn't quite there.

With the input of a professional writing coach, I attacked my story with hammer and chisel. I knocked off rough portions I'd left in the story, injected fresh elements where needed, then grabbed sandpaper and started polishing. The end result is an improved manuscript that caught the eye of a literary agent. Now she is shopping that story to publishers.

What's my point? Try to scrutinize your own words with a professional eye, not with your author's eyes. Step back. Be objective. Compare your style, your phrasing, your everything to the writing of your favorite authors. When you can see why your story is "not quite there," you will have taken the first step toward improving it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

National Encourage an Author Week!

Okay,  I confess: There's no such thing as National Encourage an Author Week. However, over the past weekend I received such an uplifting note from a reader that the thought struck me, "All authors should get such encouraging fan mail."

Here is what that reader sent me. You'll understand why it made my day:

Rick, I don't know if you remember me, but I met and talked with you at the Cincinnati homeschool convention in 2013. You sold me a copy of your book, Gunners Run. I read it today on my plane flight to Atlanta. What a great story! From a fellow historian, and guy who likes the Air Force, this was a good story. I work at Wright Patterson Air Force Base; we talked about the museum there for a while.

I am going to give the book to a coworker here in Atlanta who has two teenage sons. They love all things Air Force and history, and I am guessing they also will like the book. I just wanted to tell you thanks again and that I thought you did a good job. Kind regards, ____________ .

Of course, devoted readers love good books. They talk about stories they enjoy. They recommend some titles to friends. Perhaps they mention them on sites such as But how often does the average reader taken time to Google an author's name, find that person's email or website, and then leave a positive comment or two? Probably not often--which is a shame, since writing any book demands countless hours of toiling alone at a keyboard. 

So, why not encourage an author this week? Even a simple note can uplift a writer struggling with a plot twist or sheer loneliness. One rule, though: Do not send your note to me. I've already received my uplift for this week. Choose another author whose work you enjoyed and let him or her know. I guarantee you will be an encouragement!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interviewed by Adam Blumer

Today I am interviewed on the blog of suspense writer Adam Blumer. Drop by for a chance to win one of my novels for free!