Tuesday, August 04, 2015

6 Ways to Encourage Your Writer Friend

1. Be interested in their writing journey. (The writing life is emotionally draining. They’ll need both a cheer squad and a shoulder.) 

2. Read what they write. (You don’t have to love it. You just have to love them.) 

3. Give honest feedback sprinkled with lots and lots of positives. (If their writing blesses the world, they too will be blessed.) 

4. Challenge them to stretch themselves. (Brainstorming together about new ideas, plotholes, or marketing strategies is so helpful!) 

5. When they do get published—even on a small scale—repost what they share and tell your friends. (Let the world know!) 

6. Don’t let every conversation be about them. (Writers tend to get sucked into their own made-up worlds. But good writers must experience real life.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How the Word "Homophobia" Hijacks Genuine Dialogue


I hate, hate, HATE the word "homophobia." It's a misnomer, at best, but a blatant, close-minded, hateful attack most of the times it's used.

Wikipedia defines "phobia" this way:
In clinical psychology, a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.

I also looked up common phobias here: The Phobia List

So the word "homophobia," according to these two sources, actually means: An anxiety disorder manifesting in a persistent, irrational fear of sameness, monotony or of homosexuality or of becoming homosexual, from which the person experiences marked distress and a significant interference with social and/or occupational activities to a degree disproportional to the actual danger posed.

Here's a question for you: Do you actually know ANYONE who fits this description?

I sure don't. And I know a lot of people, several of which could be considered pretty caustic and cruel toward homosexuals. However, their cruelty is in no way an indication that they have a clinical anxiety disorder. The one thing does not equal the other. Sometimes people are just mean. Other times they just disagree. Neither situation, though, means they have some kind of mental illness that should be medicated.

So, why is the word "homophobia" used so much? Why is it slung around like a bag of crap at the head of anyone who dares breathe a conservative word about marriage and family?

Because it's a conversation stopper. It's a way to get what you want, not through logical, charitable discourse, but through name-calling. It's an intimidation tactic used by people who want to avoid genuine dialogue. Because, if genuine, open, charitable dialogue did take place, they might discover their arguments to be lacking. So, why test them at all? Let's just demand what we want, ignore the scientific and social and political and historical and biological and medical and spiritual arguments, and call anyone who dares stand in our way a "homophobe." That should stop them.

You see, calling someone a "homophobe" is the same as calling him/her clinically irrational. Naturally, anyone who is clinically irrational can't possibly have anything of value to add to the conversation. We shouldn't listen to them at all. That's the upshot of what is happening in just about ANY conversation in which the words "homophobia" and/or "homophobe" are used. The speaker of this word has his/her ears and mind closed. They're done listening. They're done thinking. They're done caring what anyone but themselves has to say. The arguments don't matter. The evidence doesn't matter. The relationships don't matter.

And that is why I hate that word.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Don't Really Like "Church." But I Still Go.

Honestly, I don't really like "church." But I still go. Why?

Church, after all, is not about church. It's not about the sermon or the free childcare or the $2 lattes or even about the worship service.

I can read the Bible, study a good theology book, or listen to a sermon whenever I want to right on my laptop from the comfort of my fluffy chair. I can send my kids to school. I can make my own coffee. I can turn on the Christian radio station and worship Jesus to His heart's content. And, yes, He does meet me in those times. Whenever I want to meet with Him, He's already there waiting. I don't need church for that, frankly. So, why do I go EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY?

I go to church because I like people.

Church was never intended as a mere means for us to learn "about God." It was intended as a dynamic, relational means through which we can come to know God Himself (and ourselves) by engaging with His Word, worship, and relationship, via His people.

God is not best understood/known as a mere subject of study. Just a concept to be explored and examined. God is relational. God is triune in nature: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--and that should mean something to us. God, in His very nature, is and always has been relational. He does not exist in monistic singleness. We were created in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27) We were designed for relationship with God. We were also designed for relationship with one another. (Genesis 2:18) Any biological being will be at his/her/its healthiest when it is living in accordance with his/her/its design. Therefore, we are at our healthiest (physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) when we live in accordance with God's design of us.

Can you get to know God outside of church? Of course.

However, church (the fellowship of believers) provides a whole new and ever-changing side of relationship with God. I'm not talking about just sitting around talking in Christianese, I'm talking about having to put up with a crying baby during the sermon, finding out that the woman you sit next to every week is dying from cancer, the feeling of annoyance you get when some man makes an off-handed remark about "the little wife," hearing something in the sermon you don't agree with and asking the pastor about it. I'm talking about journeying through life within a community of people who all struggle, all fail, all annoy you... and will all surprise you if you give them a chance. Together we learn to be in relationship through all the hard stuff and all the great stuff. We learn how to forgive, and how to ask forgiveness. We learn how to love even when it's hard. This is how the experience of church teaches us how to be in relationship with Christ Himself. It draws us closer to His heart and builds God's wisdom in us.

Thinking up an excuse not to go to church is easy. But when you start trying to think up excuses, perhaps a reason why you should go is also percolating somewhere in the back of your mind or in your heart. In fact, the excuses you come up with may be the very reasons why you should go.

As long as the Word of God and the Person of Jesus Christ is being faithfully represented by the leadership, little else should keep you away. After all, as the saying goes, "Church is full of crazy people. But don't worry. There's always room for one more."

Friday, April 10, 2015

How To Know When Your Book Is Ready to Publish

The answer to this is actually quite simple to understand, but not always so simple to execute.

Basically, your book is ready to publish when it is error-free.

So, how do you know your book is error-free?

You put it through several editors who will tell you the TRUTH, and then you must follow their suggestions. This process sounds simple, but it is not, and it can often take years to move competently through it. Here are a couple of ways to do it, though:

1. Join a Hard-Hitting Critique Group. 
I have discovered that, for me, the best and most cost-effective way to go about this is to be an active member (I'm the founder/president, actually) of a writers' group filled with competent writers and editors. It's not always easy to find these people. But, once you do, you can trade your editing skills for theirs and end up paying nothing (but time and effort) for a good edit/critique.

2. Hire a Competent Editor (or several)
Though it's important for every writer to be an active member of a hard-hitting critique group (it gives you feedback and hones your editing skills), you may also need to hire a competent editor. Determining who is competent and who is not can be difficult, given that there is no "editing degree" or licensing needed for a person to call themselves and editor and start charging copious amounts for their services. My suggestion: find someone who comes highly recommended and give them a try.

Bottom Line: If your writing isn't stellar, it won't sell. And, worse still, you'll get a bad reputation, making it nearly impossible to sell subsequent novels, no matter their quality. So, best to get it right the first time.

Fact: The more eyes you have on your manuscript, the more mistakes you'll find. I suggest having at least six people read your entire manuscript and give you feedback. Additionally, if you're writing for teens, make sure a few of those are well-read teenagers who will be willing to be honest with you. Again, hard to find.(Your mom probably won't help you much with finding mistakes, but she'll give you the encouragement to keep going--so definitely have her read it.)

Pitch: (Shameless, I know, but I am an editor and this is my blog, so....) I charge $15 per hour for an intensive critique, with a minimum charge of $45. You can find out more about my services here: http://www.thedramaticpen.com/#!editingservices/c1cko

Here is a recommendation from one author who received a critique from me:

"Susan Thomas edited the first draft of my novel, Disgraced, and I was amazed at the excellent work she did. Susan not only tightened up the verse by eliminating the mistakes in punctuation and spelling, but she also helped me to see errors and problems in my style, plot, and flow. These are areas which, if not corrected, doom any literary work. And the nice thing about working with Susan is she never leaves you bleeding to death with her red marks. She "always" sees something good in your work and leaves you with a word of encouragement. And it is no coincidence that after having Susan edit my novel, a major literary agent asked to look at it." --Michael Lapinski

Friday, April 03, 2015

Review: "How A Star Falls" by Amber Stokes (Audiobook)

Product Details
Review of Amber Stokes’s “How a Star Falls” Audiobook, a Christian novella of about 2 hours in length.

Amber Stokes crafts a creative story about a mysterious girl who claims she is a star that has fallen from the sky. Derek, our protagonist finds her both strange and alluring, but has no idea what to do with her. He must discover the truth behind what she seems to be and find his own place in this unusual, romantic adventure. 

The audio recording is skillfully done and easy to follow. The narrator’s voice is clear and he uses inflections to help move the story along at a natural pace. There is no background music or sound effects, but there is no background noise either, and listening to the story is a pleasant, relaxing experience.

The writing could be improved by tightening up the prose, removing passives and grammar errors, and showing more consistency within the characterization of the female protagonist. However, Ms. Stokes’s use of imagery and description is excellent, and the story is intriguing with a satisfactory and interesting resolution. The characterization of Derek is very well executed, and the listener will find it easy to relate to him. 

Ms. Stokes includes some Christian, spiritual insights and refrains from any use of course language or offensive material. Very family-friendly.

This review provided by:
Susan E. Thomas, M. A.
The Dramatic Pen Press, LLC
322 Cumberland St.
Lolo, MT 59847

Friday, March 27, 2015

Would You Read A Self-Published Book?

At the March 2015 Inland Northwest Christian Writers' Conference, this question was asked of the senior editor from a major Christian publishing house. This is what she said, quoted as best as I can from memory.

"I would never pick up a self-published book. I believe there should be gate-keepers in the world of publishing so that the reader can be assured of receiving a quality product."

I found this response interesting, but not surprising.

This editor works for one of the top Christian publishing houses. To describe them as "traditional" doesn't really cover it. But, it can't be easy for the large publishing companies (which, before self-publishing became so easy and popular, were the golden ticket for any success-starved writer) to now find themselves forced to compete with a vastly increasing market of books so that they now only take on already established, successful writers or risk losing copious amounts money. After all, they have to pay a large staff and they do everything themselves. They also have to compete with a market that can release a book in a matter of hours (minutes, really), whereas their turnover time is approximately 18 months. Indeed, traditional publishers have become mere services to the celebrities. In other words, if your name isn't Max Lucado or Ann Graham Lotz, don't bother approaching them. They're not interested.

So, this comment is not surprising, given that this editor is one of those gate-keepers. She wants to be the one to tell you whether or not your work is good enough for the masses... to be worthy of competing with the material they publish. Sadly, most of us already know what her answer is going to be. "No." The good news is, you no longer need her permission. The bad news is, if you release a sub-standard product, your sales and your dreams are going to go up in smoke.

So, let me put the question to you: Would you read a self-published book?

Here's how I would answer that question: Yes, but I would have to get a recommendation first or I would have to have seen it around a lot in advertising and find the topic interesting. But isn't that the case with anything we read? Just because a traditional publisher releases a book doesn't mean it's any better or more personally appealing than a self-published book.

P.S. Are you an author looking to publish but need someone to point you in the right direction? Check out the writers' services at www.thedramaticpen.com or contact me, the publisher, at thedramaticpeneditor@gmail.com. Blessings!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Can You Find Complete Freedom In Christ In This Life? (The Answer Might Surprise You....)

On October 14, 2012 I lost a very dear friend to cancer. The following January, I moved in to a new state and left my home of eleven years (and my entire support system). Needless to say, 2013 was a really sucky year. Everything made me cry. And I mean everything. Commercials. Songs on the radio. Silent moments. Small frustrations.

Now, as my regular readers know, I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. I don't just believe--I know--He is in control and that He is coming back and is going to kick some serious butt in the suffering department. He will wipe every tear away and show us something so awesome that nothing we have suffered will matter.

But that's then....

I have to live right now. In this time. In this place. In this mess.

And so do you.

Sometimes (okay, always) it's hard for me to try to explain my burdens and sorrows to other Christians because I’m afraid I’m going to get some kind of pat, "versish" answer, like, "Just cast all your cares on Him and He will set you free." Or, "You just have to trust in Jesus to get you through it." Or, my most favorite (NOT!), "Well, you know God will never give you more than you can handle."

(OK, that last one is not even in the Bible. Look it up. I don’t care if there’s a popular song by Group 1 Crew right on the Christian stations that say it. It’s still false. The Bible says He will not tempt you beyond what you can bear. (I Corinthians 10:12-13) It even says He can’t tempt anyone to sin. (James 1:13) And most suffering—unless it’s actually God disciplining us, which is rare—doesn’t and can’t come from God anyway, (Job 34:10-12) so that misquote is seriously messed up. So let’s all just stop saying it.)

The fact is, in this life we will suffer. (That’s actually in the Bible—John 16:33. Not surprisingly, it’s one of Jesus’s less quoted promises.) But, that fact is not what I really struggle with. I expect to suffer and I know Christ suffered, died, and rose again to conquer the cause of our suffering—to break sin’s hold on the world and our own allegiance to it. But the Christian can find a sort of eternal perspective for most bad things that happen. When my friend died, I knew I’d see her again in Heaven. It doesn’t make me not miss her now, but I can look forward to a time I will no longer miss her. And Christ can bring amazing healing in what seem like insurmountably bad experiences—broken marriages, abuse, neglect, addictions, etc. Granted. (But it’s still pretty awesome and amazing!)

…But I still have some burdens that I feel will never go away. What about all those people who do not know Jesus? What about all of my friends and family and the strangers in China or down the block who suffer needlessly because they either don’t know or have rejected Him? I have this incredible burden for the people who share this world with me, and yet I often feel so incredibly powerless to really help them. I have cried and prayed about this often lately. That even if I am being incredibly blessed (which I am), I yet constantly grieve for those around me—I wear my sorrow for them like a heavy blanket I can’t put down. This doesn’t feel like “freedom in Christ.” It feels like being burdened by Christ. How can I find joy in my salvation knowing so many don’t yet know Him and, maybe, will never know Him?

The other day, as I was again contemplating these things while driving home, I was suddenly struck by a thought.

Jesus, too, was deeply emotionally burdened for the lost and suffering people of the world.

Duh, right? I mean, it’s pretty simple. It’s not like this is new information. But, to me in that moment, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. When the Bible says we have “freedom in Christ,” it’s talking about having freedom from our own sinfulness (if we so choose to accept it), it does not mean some kind of blanket freedom that means we should always be happy or jumping for “joy in the Lord.”

Even Christ didn’t have that kind of freedom in Christ!

He was a seriously miserable guy a lot of the time. (He weeps: John 11:35, He loses His cool: Matt. 23:33, He really loses His cool: John 2:15, He is in so much anguish His sweat fills with blood: Luke 22:44.) And I believe He STILL feels that way—for every man, woman, and child who is suffering in this moment, who feels rejected, who is fighting cancer, who is being cruelly abused, who is blinded by sin or pride, who has lost someone they love… who has not recognized God’s saving grace through Jesus’s sacrifice.

Freedom in Christ is not complete freedom from any and all feelings of despair or sorrow or longing. Christ mourned for the lost (John 11:35), He felt deep sorrow and anger at the lack of faith of His own disciples (Matt. 16:33), He longed for our salvation so desperately that He was willing to die a horrific death to make it possible (John 3:16-17).  

Some sufferings in this life we get over, we heal, we see beyond. Some we don’t. Sometimes we have to wait and trust and hope even as we go through it. And that’s okay. God wants us to be burdened by the sufferings of those around us (Col. 3:12-13 & a boat-load more). He wants us to empathize and sympathize with those who need help, a leg up, a word of encouragement, a second chance….

So I can now pray, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours,” and know that I’m not giving up my joy in the Lord. I’m just sacrificing some of my temporary happiness so I will be motivated to share that lasting joy with as many people as I can, while I can.