Tag Archives: writers

ICYMI: The inner-workings of a writer’s mind by Leslea Wahl

Where 3DBecause I am a writer who doesn’t use an outline and usually just lets the story go where it may, I often have trouble remembering exactly how each story is formed. I truly believe the Holy Spirit guides my work and I love seeing the twists and turns a story makes along the way. I always have a starting idea and some rough thoughts of where the story should go and maybe even a scene or two that I want to include but getting to those points is often a fun and unexpected journey.

The idea of my YA novel, Where You Lead, started as a momentary incident that happened years ago when my husband and I were first married. We had recently moved to Washington DC from Colorado and one afternoon we were eating at a Pizza Hut restaurant. I was returning to our table from the restroom and saw my husband sitting at our table. His back was to me so I only saw his dark hair. For some reason I thought about other Pizza Hut’s I had been in throughout my life and how they all looked the same. And I thought, wouldn’t it be crazy if I sat down and instead of looking up and seeing my husband’s face it was actually someone from my past, and all the amazing memories I had of us dating, getting married, and moving to DC, had never happened.

This, I thought, was the beginning of a great novel. I pictured it more as a novel for adults – the leading character abandoning her life and searching for this mysterious stranger that she was sure existed. But since I wasn’t a writer back then, I just stored this thought away.

Fast-forward many years to after my first novel, The Perfect Blindside, was published. This story idea was still rattling around in my head, but I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly be made into a YA novel because there was no way a teenager could drop everything and search the country or world for a mysterious stranger. I again put the idea on the back burner and began writing my second novel, An Unexpected Role. But that little spark wouldn’t leave me alone.

Finally, a few ideas on how to change it up and make it work for YA began percolating in my mind. I decided to set the story in Washington DC, since that is where I first had this idea. I began jotting things down in one of my daughter’s old notebooks. (I’ve kept this notebook and it has been fun to look back on my notes and thoughts.)

The notebook includes lists of places that I had loved when we lived in DC. As I began thinking about those years when we lived inside the beltway, so many memories came flooding back. I still could remember those feelings as young newlyweds when living on the east coast, and especially DC, felt like a different world from out west. But we loved our time there. The history, the old buildings, the civil war battlefields, it was all so fascinating. In this book I’ve not only included our favorite places but also some of the quirky things and incidents that we encountered.

This story has been a labor of love but also required quite a bit more research than any of my other books. In a way, Where You Lead, is part history lesson, city tour, and mystery all combined with a message of listening for God’s call in your life. I hope readers enjoy this fun adventure.

Pirates, Shares and Thieves, or It’s Only an Ebook



by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson


Not too long ago I and some other writers were told about the differences between piracy, filesharing and theft. I’m sure there are true and legal distinctions, but as far as I am concerned, taking/using/sharing/profiting from the work of another without compensation to the owner is stealing, no matter what kind of label or fancy definition is put on it.


Simply, as I understand it, a pirate is one who takes a digital copy of a book and puts it up on the web for free. Presumably they get their money from the advertising that invariably proliferates on the site. A fairly new wrinkle in this form of theft is that on some sites there are no books actually involved – the site is a ‘phishing’ site preying on the something-for-nothing crowd by getting their information (credit card and otherwise). I find this vaguely pleasurable – a kind of instant karma. Gotta love it!


File-sharers are just that. They get a digital book, then put it up for free on what are called torrent sites where anyone can download. Sometimes there are subscription fees which must be paid for access to the site – in other words, the reader has to pay money to be able to steal. The torrents are notoriously unresponsive to writer complaints, because they say as there are no books stored on their servers there is nothing they can do – the exchanges of books are done between individuals and the individual must be contacted directly. Of course, they have a policy not to release the names or addresses of the people who post on them.


When cornered, file-sharers claim they have done nothing wrong; people have always shared books. There are used bookstores. There are libraries. People pass on paper books to others once they’ve read them. This sounds like a reasonable excuse – until one realizes that paper books have a built-in limitation. Books get old and decay or even disintegrate. There are only a certain number of times they can be read. By contrast, a digital file can be copied almost ad infinitum with little or no loss of clarity.


Thieves are in it for the money only. They sell copies of stolen books for enticingly low prices. A new and distressing facet of this practice is that some writers are seeing digital copies of some of their older books being sold – books that were never released in electronic format. Apparently some enterprising scofflaws are finding early paper books by popular writers, scanning them and selling them as e-books.


Need I say that the authors, the creators of these books, receive nothing out of all this?


(Also, I hasten to say that none of my vitriol is aimed at those writers who put one of their own books up for free as a promotion on a legitimate sales venue or on their own website. Offering a book for free is a popular gimmick by which some writers swear, and I have no problem with it as long as it is the writer him/herself who does it. Their book, their choice.)


DRM (Digital Retail Management, I believe) was once believed to be the Great Hope against theft. What a joke! All it does is anger legitimate purchasers who have more than one type of device, and generally it can be removed by a smart ten year old in a couple of minutes.


Every few days on a writers’ e-list someone will post that they just found their books on such-and-such a site. Others go to look and, more often than not, their books are there too. There’s a flurry of DMCA notices (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and copyright infringement protests, outraged reports to publishers’ legal departments and – if the writer is lucky – the books come down. For a while. They seldom stay down. Some writers I know keep lists of sites and check them every week or so for violations.


There are those writers who say that taking the time to go after thieves is counterproductive, that it’s a form of free advertising, that people who steal books would never buy one anyway, so there’s no loss involved. They have the right to believe such things, but I disagree with every instance. Taking something without authorization and getting some form of gain from it without recompense to the owner/creator is theft, pure and simple, and theft should not be tolerated.


Yes, I am a hardnose. I believe in the law.


Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the laws don’t seem to care about us ‘It’s only an ebook’ is a phrase I’ve heard often. Only an ebook? Even if it were just a single ebook – which it never is – don’t these people care about principles? Imagine how the author who has labored months, perhaps years, to create that book, who has spent years learning her craft, feels when she learns (as happened to a friend of mine) that there have been 40,000 stolen downloads – 40,000 copies of her book stolen and she hasn’t received and won’t get a penny for her work.


When digital theft is discovered, unless the author has a powerful and responsive publisher with a big legal department, most if not all policing falls on her. She must first find if the site has a copyright infringement contact – or any kind of contact information at all. Then she must send a DMCA notice. Sometimes sites will have their own take-down forms that are so Byzantinely complex they are almost unusable. Sometimes the sites are offshore (China and Russia are two of the biggest offenders) and they just ignore everything. If things get too hot for the site, if there are too many take-down requests or if their ISP usage is threatened, many sites just close their doors and open up a couple of days later under another name and URL. The whole process of getting them shut down is rather like an obscene electronic version of whack-a-mole.


A good analogy would be someone stealing a loaf of bread from a grocery store and the police saying ‘hey, it’s only a loaf of bread – we can’t be bothered.’ Well, if Thief A got away with it, what if the rest of the alphabet gang think they can get away with it too? Pretty soon there’s a mass assault by thieves on loaf after loaf of bread, and the poor grocer is expected to take care of it himself – catch the thieves and, since the law is disinterested in punishing them, try to keep the thief from taking another loaf and then another on a regular basis.


It’s alarming that so many people regard anything on the internet as fair game. ‘Information should be free,’ they cry. Well, a book can be informative, but it is not information. It is a commodity, created through the work and sweat of an author, and stealing it is no different from carrying away a paperback from a brick and mortar store without paying. Digital is just a delivery system, not a license to steal.


What alarms me most, however, is the entitlement mentality of some thieves. ‘It’s the writers’ own fault,’ one young man in a chat room cried indignantly. ‘I’d buy their books if they weren’t priced so high. My appetite for entertainment is so great that I simply can’t afford to buy everything I want.’


Wonder what happens when he gets hungry? Does he go into the grocery and take what he wants based on such startling illogic? Along more basic lines, has he never heard of living within his means? Nor, apparently, does he believe that the owner/creator has a right to charge what she wants for her work. The author and the marketplace should set the price – not the unbridled greed of some consumers.


Writers write books for any number of reasons – a message, a compulsion, a calling – but most of us work at writing like we work at day jobs. It is a profession, and one for which the author, like any other professional, should be compensated. The ideas of writing for no other reason than the sheer love of it, for the satisfaction of knowing people are reading and enjoying our words, that it is an intrinsic part of our profession for an artist to starve in a garret are pretty ridiculous. Writing is a profession, and professionals deserve to be paid for their work, not to have their works stolen without punishment.


One thing that these thieves have never realized – or do not want to accept – is that for most writers, for the good writers, for the popular writers, writing is a business, and that the purpose of a business is to make money in exchange for their work. Most professional writers don’t write for fame, or adulation or the knowledge that their words are being read by thousands of people. Those are nice perks, but they’re not the main reason. Writers write for money. It’s a job.


I have heard from many, many writers that if they can no longer make a decent return for their work, they won’t quit writing – they’ll just quit publishing. ‘I can always write for my own enjoyment. There are always other outlets for my writing; I don’t have to publish and watch my work being stolen. People don’t value what they don’t pay for.’ I’ve heard variants on all of these statements from more writers than you can count.


I wonder what will happen when theft is so overwhelming that the professional writers stop writing, leaving a vacuum filled with nothing put bad writers and wannabes. Will the thieves blame themselves? Of course not. ‘It’s only an ebook,’ as one thief said. ‘Writers are rich and I’m not. They should be glad people are reading their books. They’ll never miss just one ebook.’


Oh, yeah. And I’m so not going to get into those lower-than-the-low scum who copy a writer’s book, change a couple of names (maybe!) and then republish under their own name as their own work. My blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.


So what can be done about this, short of rewiring the brain of every ebook-stealing thief? The only thing I know is to keep after them. Complain. Even if the thieves are in a foreign country, usually the money passes through an American credit card or on-line payment company. Complain. Their sites are usually hosted by an ISP in this country. Complain. Send DMCAs. Complain. Report the offenders to the cybercrimes division of the FBI and any other law enforcement agency that might be appropriate. Complain. Sometimes you can find who owns the theft site (and be prepared for some surprises!) through Whois.com and other such sites. Complain. If you have a publisher, even a small one, send all the information, including specific URLs to them. Complain. Hire companies whose job it is to track down such theft and have them send the notices for you. Speak out!


Yes, writers shouldn’t have to do this. Writers should be writing books, not being forced into spending their time chasing thieves, but if we don’t do it, it won’t get done and the problem will only grow. This is a problem that affects everyone who wants to write or likes to read, and right now it seems the solution is in our hands.

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Janis Susan May



Fan Into Flame Your Writing Gift

If you consider yourself to be a writer, then you are likely gifted in two ways: You see visions and you feel motivated to share those visions with others.

The 16th-century artist Michelangelo once wrote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your gift as a writer is to see the angel in the marble and then to search for just the right words to help others to see what you see.

By “fanning your gift into flame,” I mean to recognize and value your specialness as a writer and to diligently pursue the course that your gift lays out for you. I suggest four principles to help you do this:

1. Know Who You Are. Before you sit down to write, work up a character profile on yourself. Force yourself to think about the difficult issues:

  • What do you really believe? What doubts do you have?
  • What are you angry about? What are you afraid of?
  • If you were in charge of the universe, what are the first three things you would change?
  • What sort of people do you dislike and why?
  • What is your favorite kind of book to read when no one is looking? Would you like to write a book like that?
  • What questions do you long to have answered? Chances are your readers are looking for answers to those same questions.

2. Use Your Own Voice.  Now that you know who you are, write out of who you are. Ask yourself, what especially qualifies you to write about this? Consider your personal history—traumas, problems you’ve overcome or felt defeated by, external forces that have shaped you, perhaps a teacher, an abusive parent, or a loving neighbor. What makes your perspective fresh and different? This quality is important not only for marketing but because it gives your voice authenticity and authority. When others see what you see, they will take it seriously. They will believe you.

3. Find Joy In Your Writing.  Like the Eric Liddell character in the movie Chariots of Fire, write for the sheer pleasure of doing something that you feel you were created to do. Enjoy your giftedness! If writing is not a joyful experience for you, perhaps you are not yet writing out of your own truth, or perhaps the genre you’ve chosen is not a good fit for you right now. Explore and experiment until you find that “sweet spot” of writing for sheer pleasure. Authentic joy in your work gives you emotional confidence. It also infuses your writing with energy that will resonate with your readers.

4. Stand Behind Your Work.  Believe in your work! If you have applied yourself to Principles 1, 2 & 3, then you can trust that you have produced a work of integrity, which will give you confidence to speak about yourself and your work without apology. Writing with integrity also changes your definition of success. If you have written with authenticity, the authority of your own truth, and the joy of exercising your gift, then you can count yourself successful even before the first copy of your book is sold and without comparing yourself to other authors and their successes.

As a final note, don’t take it personally if people don’t like what you’ve written. People respond out of their own needs, and you cannot control their reactions to what you write. Commit to writing from your heart and then stand behind your work. Be willing to talk about it, blog about it, promote it. Boldly offer your vision to the world in a voice that only you can speak.

*This article was taken from a speech given to the California Writers Club on 12/10/11. For the complete speech, please visit http://www.judithingram.com/links.