Monday, October 21, 2013

Reclaiming Hallowe'en

Gentle readers, I highly recommend Dr. Albert Mohler's blog article on this subject, also.

[Note: Whenever I refer to the Church, I mean the regenerated followers of Jesus Christ, not some brick-and-mortar structure.]

The Church has allowed Satan, the ancient enemy of Creator God, to steal, or at least taint, many of our celebrations. The man Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave his all to follow the Savior, has morphed into a jolly, rotund, caricature we call Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny continues to try to usurp the position of the resurrected Savior. Children are taught erroneously that Thanksgiving was a time when the Pilgrims thanked the Indians for helping them to survive in the wilderness.

All Hallows' Eve also has suffered at the hands of the enemy, though not as much as the afore-mentioned, since it was never purely Christian and has clearly pagan origins. Most agrarian cultures celebrate significant events in the seasonal growing cycle: harvest time, solstices and equinoxes, and planting time, for example.

The origins of All Hallows' Eve--Hallowe'en (don't forget the apostrophe)--go back 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The word means "end of summer." Pumpkins, apples, and various gourds were a significant part of that event. The Celtic new year began on November 1. Make no mistake. Samhain was not an innocent harvest celebration. Blood sacrifices--both animal and human--were offered to Druid gods.

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered the Celts, and within the following 400 years, had integrated their own pagan festivals into Samhain, including Feralia, occurring in late October. Feralia was a day to commemorate the dead.

"Christianity" spread through the Celtic lands by the 800s. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III established that November 1 would be All Hallows' Day. According to Roman Catholic belief, All Hallows' Day was when souls were released from Purgatory and allowed to wander the Earth for 48 hours. Apparently, Pope Gregory was attempting to supplant Samhain with a Christianized version. That was Pope Gregory's M.O. He often claimed pagan celebrations and buildings and imposed a "Christian" significance on them. For example, he claimed the Pantheon (which was dedicated by the Romans to "all gods") for a Christian purpose. His All Saints' Eve was celebrated much as Samhain had been, with bonfires, parades, and people wearing costumes of saints, angels, and devils.


Why would any Christ-follower want to celebrate a day that represents everything for which Jesus Christ gave His life to destroy?  


Today, many people claim that Hallowe'en is an innocent harvest festival, but a quick trot through the costume section of the local Wal-Mart tells a different story. With a glance backward to Samhain, Feralia, and, yes, All Hallows' Eve, one can see that the culture of death lives and thrives in today's celebration. The holiday is no holy day!

It amazes me that many Christian parents continue to celebrate this time of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and witches, labeling it "innocent fun." What is innocent about rubber masks that portray people who have been maimed, disfigured, frightened out of their minds, or murdered? Parents who encourage such "innocent fun" are opening the creaking door on the occult and nudging their wee ones over the threshold. Hallowe'en always has flirted with the macabre.

Why would any Christ-follower want to celebrate a day that represents everything for which Jesus Christ gave His life to destroy? Hallowe'en's origins are completely occultic. But children follow the leadership of their parents. May our all-wise LORD grant to those children the wisdom that their parents and grandparents lack. (Consider Deuteronomy 18:14 and Galatians 5:19-21).

Some parents think to avoid the dark side of Hallowe'en by dressing their children as Disney character, vegetables, or historical figures. After all, children love to role-play and dress up. (So do many of us who are adults, in fact.) If it's done at Hallowe'en, it's in celebration of Hallowe'en, even if Snow White doesn't have blood dripping from enlarged eyeteeth. Kids can play dress-up throughout the year. No one day of the year has a corner on that.

Jesus says that He Is the Light of the World (John 8:12). As His followers, we are commissioned to reflect that light in today's dark world (Matthew 5:14), to be imitators of our Lord (Ephesians 5:1).

As for Hallowe'en, we need not reclaim it; we never owned it. Nor should we want to.

Because of Christ,

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Something New for Me

As autumn dons her golden garb and temperatures begin their decline toward winter, I'm transitioning, also. 
       After publishing my first middle-grade novel, Up a Rutted Road, as an e-book, I spent the summer revising my second novel, The Second Cellar, an MG historical fantasy. Now, even as I seek a home for Cellar, I'm embarking on two new projects at once. One is another MG novel entitled The Daddy Letters, and the other is an historical romance, The Sun Catcher.
       Never before have I tried working on two manuscripts at the same time, but I couldn't decide which one to write first, since both are plotted. Other writers have multiple projects going at once, so I decided to give it a try. If one begins to take over the spotlight, then so be it. In God's timing, they'll both be completed. 
       What beckons me today? Yesterday, I got a strong start on Daddy, but on this first day of October 2013, I'm drawn to The Sun Catcher. The main character in that story, Irene Delacroix, keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

Your turn! If you're a writer, please share your experience with tackling multiple book-length WIPs (works in progress) at once. How do you juggle them? Is it something you commonly do? I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Coming in April 2014! Stories by the Falls!


Cumberland Falls Storytelling Festival

April 11--13, 2014


Cumberland Falls State Park, Corbin, Kentucky

Celebrating Southern Appalachian Oral Tradition and Culture

Introducing the Cumberland Falls Storytelling Festival in conjunction with Cumberland Falls State Park's world-famous Moonbow! Featuring Stephen Hollen, Pam Holcomb, Buck P. Creacy, and Jack's Mama (Sharon Kirk Clifton)! Mark your calendars now to attend this inaugural event.

More information to come!

BIG NEWS! Stories by the Falls!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Delicious Revision Delight

I love real citrus flavored goodies, so when I saw this bit of lusciousness on my Facebook wall, I knew it would be the perfect treat to nibble with a cup o' joe while I revise The Second Cellar. With zucchini in abundance right now and everyone scrambling for more ways to use it, I thought I should share the recipe. Enjoy!

P. S.: You don't have to be working on a novel (writing or reading), but it helps! :-)

Zucchini Orange Bread

Orange Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves (freezes beautifully sans glaze)

3 cups flour
2 cups zucchini
1 teaspoon salt, scant
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup applesauce, or egg substitute
1/3 cup vegetable oil
zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/3 cup walnuts or raisins

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon zest
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans.

2. Wash and dry the zucchini. Using a box grater grate 2 cups worth and set aside.

3. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Mix well with a whisk and make a well in the center of the mixture.

4. Wash and zest the orange. I wash it with vinegar water.

5. In another cup mix the egg substitute (or applesauce), orange zest, juice, vanilla, oil and sugar until combined. Add to the flour mixture, folding gently until combined.

6. Fold in the zucchini (and walnuts or raisins if you are using them) and split the batter between the two greased loaf pans. I line the bottom with parchment paper. If I don't have parchment paper, I use copier paper, cut to size. It works, too!

7. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.

8. Prepare the glaze: Mix the remaining orange juice and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl. Add the remaining zest and stir until smooth and combined.

8. Cool the bread for 10 minutes in the pans. Then, run the blade of knife around the loaf to gently separate it from the sides of the pan. Invert the loaves and the bread should slide out. Place on a wire rack with a large pan or plate below it to finish cooling.

9. While the bread is still hot spoon half of the glaze onto the top of each loaf. It will almost immediately drip down the sides of the loaf. Cool completely before serving. (Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Mystery of the Misplaced Modifier

One of my favorite writers' blogs is The Sentence Sleuth, where I notice that the writer Bonnie Trenga has written a book entitled The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier. While I would love to read the book, I'm not sure I dare. You see, misplaced modifiers have a peculiar effect on me, one that has caused me great embarrassment through the years.

In my college freshman English class, the professor distributed a sheet of examples. Naturally, I began perusing it before everyone had a copy, so I had a head start on the humor.

It all started with a smile that progressed to a quiet snort and on to a chorkle. By the time the professor had gotten through the third sentence<>

I flashed a furtive glance around the room, only to discover that I was the only one thus affected. Again, I made eye contact with the professor. She raised one eyebrow, and I lost all control. I rushed out of the room and down the hall to the nearest restroom. Once inside the security of that room with its stainless steel stalls and porcelain lavatories, I doubled over with laughter, likely frightening a student exiting a stall.

"Misplaced modifiers!" I tried to blurt. She gave me that same deer-caught-in-the-headlights look I'd received from my classmates and hurried toward the door. "You know!" I called after her. "Dangling participles..." She was gone. Without washing her hands.

Eventually, I regained some semblance of composure. Making my way back to the classroom, I stood outside the door, just out of sight, listening, testing my resolve. The professor peeked around the door at me.

"Are you okay?" she asked, broadening her smile. "You can come back in, if you like." I lost it, again, and returned to the sanctuary of the restroom.

When class was over, I hurried to the classroom to apologize profusely to the professor. "Are you an English major?" she said. I told her that I was. "I thought so. You had to be. Did you notice that you were the only one so affected?" I nodded. "They didn't get it. They didn't see what the sentences actually were saying."

If sentences with misplaced modifiers make you laugh, you can stop reading here, unless you're a glutton for punishment. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read on.

A misplaced modifier is a word, clause, or phrase that is separated from that which it modifies (or describes), making it seem to modify a word, clause, or phrase not intended. Here are a few examples:

On the way home, Karen found a gold man's watch. [Oh, really? I'd like to know where she found that gold man. Or could it be that she found a man's gold watch?]

The child ate a cold dish of cereal for breakfast. [Poor kid. He likely would have preferred a dish of cold cereal.]

We ate the lunch that we had brought slowly. [Does the writer mean that it took a long time for them to get their lunch to the place where they ate it? Or does she mean We ate slowly the lunch we had brought or Slowly, we ate the lunch that we had brought?]

After being fingerprinted, the officer put the prisoner in the cell. [So they're fingerprinting officers now, before putting the prisoner in a cell. Hmmm....]

Perhaps you now understand why my reading of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier could prove fatal to me.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ten Steps to Writing Great Book Reviews

You read the book and loved it. Chances are you'll tell a friend about it, especially if she likes the same genre. You may go so far as to mention it to a few of your friends or post it on Facebook and Twitter. We authors thank you. But could we ask you to go another mile toward promoting worthy Christian fiction? Would you be willing to take some time to write a book review and post it on various book-centric sites such as, Barnes & Noble,,, Sony, and other such sites? In most cases, you need only write one review, copy, and paste.

Below are ten steps to writing book reviews that will win you favor with customers of bookseller sites. I certainly appreciate a well-written book review. Don't you?

  1. Give the book a careful reading. Don't rush through it. If you know you'll likely write a review when you finish, take notes (including page numbers for quick reference) along the journey. Highlight quotations and stylistic snippets--colorful phrases, idioms, creative similes and metaphors, for example. Name the author and the book's name in the first paragraph, if possible.
  2. Determine your purpose in writing the review. While you don't have to explicitly state it, you need to keep it in mind as you write. Complete this sentence: I want the readers of this review to _____.
  3. Identify the author's overarching theme: Examples--
    • When one forgives the most egregious of wrongs, then the heart is free to heal.
    • Marriage and family are worth fighting for to preserve.
    • Prodigals can still return home and be restored and reconciled.
    • Those who commit evil deeds in the dark will be revealed in the light.
  4. Explain what drew you to the book. Had you read other works by the author? Is it a favorite genre? Did you hear about it on a social site, or did a friend recommend it?
  5. What does the author do especially well? (Note: always write about literature in the present tense.) Examples--
    •  Characterization--Who are the main characters? Does the writer develop realistic, believable, multidimensional characters? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their achieving those goals? How far were you into the book before you cared about the protagonist? Is s/he likable?
    • Story development--Were you captivated by the story by the end of the first page or the first chapter? What hooked you? Does the author employ an unusual plot structure? Is the pacing appropriate for the story?
    • Details of setting--Did you feel that you were in the place and time of the story?
    • Evidence of thorough knowledge and/or research on the part of the author--Does the author accurately portray the time period, circumstances, environment, etc.?
    • Writing style--Do you especially like the author's imagery, diction, artistic elements, or writing style? Be specific.
  6. If possible, incorporate some quotations that exemplify the points you've cited in Number 5 above.
  7. What weaknesses in style, structure, or content did you notice? Be gentle, remembering that what you perceive as a weakness others may consider a strength. Follow the Bible's directive to "tell the truth in love."
  8. Give your readers a taste of the plot, but DO NOT INCLUDE SPOILERS! Hint at the climax, but DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE ENDING!
  9. Tell a little about the author. What makes her life unique? List some of his other works and awards. Include some interesting tidbits, if you know them.
  10. Describe how the book affected you emotionally. Did it live up to your expectations of the genre? Do you want to read more by this author? To what audiences would you recommend this book? 
Note: If the book was provided to you by the publisher or the author, make that known. Be sure to read "The FTC's Regulating My Book Reviews!" by Kathryn Page Camp on Hoosier Ink blog, Thursday, 23 September 2010.

* * *

Recently, Rose McCauley wrote a review of a book by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Dan Walsh. She graciously granted me permission to use that review to illustrate a well-executed book review. Thank you, Rose!

Book Review of The Dance by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

I have read and enjoyed several of Gary Smalley's books, both fiction and non-fiction, and all of Dan Walsh's books with great admiration, so looked forward to reading The Dance. 1. I wasn't disappointed!  2. Although this was a review copy given by the publisher, that in no way affected my review. 3.
I love books like this that teach spiritual truths through story, similar to Jesus's parables. We start with a couple who seem to be very successful in life, but not in love/marriage/relationships. I've known guys like Jim Anderson  4. who have no clue how unhappy their wife is until it is too late. And even when she tries to explain, he doesn't understand what she is saying. They aren't speaking the same love language! 5. 6. 7.

Things look pretty dire for this couple until Jim meets a little old lady who used to run a dance studio. By following her dance lessons (something he has always refused to take!) he begins to learn the lessons of love he had forgotten and some he had never known. But it will still take a miracle to unharden his wife's heart after all the years of pain. As we know, God is a God of miracles! What better place for this miracle to begin to take place than at a wedding, where Christ's first miracle began His ministry on earth? 8.

Like all of Dan Walsh's books and the books Gary Smalley co-authored with Karen Kingsbury, while reading this story you will laugh awhile and cry awhile and come away better for it! 9. And the great thing is it's the first of a series of books (The Restoration Series) written by this team!10.

* * *

Notice that not everything I included in the ten steps is included in Rose's review, but she covered most of them, and very succinctly, at that.
  1. She named the co-authors and the book in the first paragraph.
  2. She gives us her opinion of the work.
  3. She slips in the fact that she read the publisher-supplied ARC.
  4. In this second paragraph, she names the main character.
  5. She reveals the main problem or conflict of the story.
  6. She hints at the solution.
  7. She tells what is getting in the way of solving the problem.
  8. She reveals just enough of the climax to tantalize us--well, me, anyway. :-)
  9. She gives more info about her emotions during the reading of The Dance.
  10. She announce the forthcoming series.

    Rose, you definitely whetted my appetite to read The Dance. Thanks, again!

    Now, gentle reader, it's your turn to write a sterling review about the book you just finished.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,

Dear Writer Whose Book I Don't Prefer,

This is to set your mind at ease. I will not review your latest release, even if you provided it as an ARC [advance reader copy]. You wouldn't want me to. Besides, I didn't even finish it.

Please don't take offense. Not every book is for every reader. I'm sure you know that. You're receiving much acclaim for your skill as a novelist, acknowledgement you well deserve. Congratulations on your success. It's just that this latest work becomes very dark very quickly. I found it oppressive. Horror, explicit crime, and anything that reeks of the occult or guts and gore I quickly exit, if ever I dared to crack it open. It's not that I read only "Christian" fiction, because my tastes do extend into the secular, but anything worth my time needs to respect the Christian world view--and yours does that. Fact is, some Christian fiction, including your book, leads to places I don't want to go.

I respect that many of your readers already are hooked on your genre in its secular form and that you offer an alternative that points to Christ. That's commendable. Nonetheless, I had to close the book and play some traditional jazz on Pandora to escape the thundercloud that threatened to rain down on my head.

While I won't review your book, many faithful readers will, and I'm thankful for that.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." ~Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

CRASH THE ROADBLOCK! Six Rules of Brainstorming

Most writers run into roadblocks at one time or another, something that keeps their story from progressing. It may be as simple as trying to come up with a name that's true to the story's era and a character's nature, or it could be more complex, say, a major plot twist that isn't playing out well. At such times, we send out frantic S.O.S. for a little help from our writerly cohorts. Observing a few simple guidelines can make our idea sessions more productive.

Rule One:  Pray. Ask the Lord to make your brainstorming fruitful. Also ask Him to give you wisdom to recognize the best choice from many.

Rule Two:  Be specific about your purpose for brainstorming. Clearly articulate what your need is. If the group starts chasing rabbits, tactfully draw them back to task. 

Rule Three:  Accept all ideas as being equal--yours and others'--no matter how random, wild, far-fetched, bizarre, awkward, or exaggerated, without judging them. No put-downs, rolled eyes, or smirks allowed!

Rule Four:  Allow, indeed encourage, piggybacking! Let one person's idea spark another possible solution. And another. And another. Etc.!

Rule Five:  Understand that as a member of the brainstorming team, once you voice an idea, you relinquish ownership of it. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. You've essentially given it to your friend who sought your help.

Rule Six:  In light of Guideline Five, be courteous. Someone asked for your help, and you agreed to participate. If your idea turns out to be the accepted solution, congratulations! It is considered rude--not illegal, but definitely rude--to snatch back an idea you've tossed into the brainstorming ring and use it yourself in your own writing. If you really want to use it (in a different way), meet privately with the person for whom you were brainstorming, explain your plan, and ask her permission. Once again The Golden Rule rules!

Brainstorming is a pleasurable, productive way to solve problems with your fellow scribes. Keep it friendly and . . .

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Watch Your Language, for Jesus' Sake

I just closed the book I am reading to come write this article.
The author is one I’ve read before and liked. I’ve even heard her speak in person. She impressed me favorably. She’s a well-known ACFW member and author of a prodigious number of books—both fiction and non-fiction. Most of her work is published with CBA houses, including the one I’m reading. My guess is that she’s in her forties or early fifties. I would further surmise that her critique partners and editors are under fifty-five.
“What has age to do with it?” you might ask. Perhaps a lot. It might explain some naïveté on the part of younger writers.
It doesn’t take a lot of discernment to realize that slang words and phrases such as gosh, golly, jeez (or geez),  cripes, judas priest, and the like are actually euphemisms for God, Jesus, Christ, and Jesus Christ, and are therefore equally as profane as using the actual names of deity loosely and without reverence—in vain. Other words are fairly obvious: heck, shoot, darn, tarnation (a form of damnation), for example.
Then there are the words that have insinuated themselves into common usage, even among Christians, including the one that prompted this piece. Here’s where age comes into play. I’m over fifty-five; therefore, I remember the original words and their meaning. The enemy has done an excellent job of disguising some of that language—drop a letter here, change a letter there, you get the idea—so that people either really don’t know what they’re saying, have forgotten, or don’t give a hoot. (Did you catch that? Insidious, isn’t it?)
The word that sent me off and writing this is ragging. If you’re about my age, you may be blushing about now. Today it means nagging, giving a hard time, being downright hateful. As a woman might be when she’s on her cycle, which is, by the way, the original meaning. It was meant to be insulting, crass, and vulgar. Do I think for one minute this godly author would have used that word had she known what she was saying? Absolutely not! Further, it was the Christian main character who said it. Ms. Writerly simply didn’t know.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, any slang word beginning with the letter “f” –please don’t make me list them—probably is a euphemism for the great-great-granddaddy of “f” words. Do you really want that in your manuscript? (Side note: when a student would use that ancient word in my English classroom, I assigned them to do a thorough etymological study of the word. That deflated their sails quickly.)
My advice to writers would be this: If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit indwelling. Listen to Him. Listen for that still, small voice. He’s really good at waving red flags. Pay heed to those, and “if in doubt, CHECK IT OUT!” Though I don’t recommend it as recreational reading because it has plenty of extremely offensive content by nature of its purpose, is a good source.

“. . . keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings . . .”
 ~1 Timothy 6:20

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”  ~Psalm 19:14

Write on!
Because of Christ,
Sharon Kirk Clifton

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

About Debut Novel UP A RUTTED ROAD

Up a Rutted Road, is available for download through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, Apple, Diesel, Page Foundry, and Baker & Taylor. It is a middle-grade novel set in eastern Kentucky in 1950.

(Notice: Blogger is playing with the fonts again. I apologize for any reading issues that might cause.)

"I often wished I was a bird and could fly away south. I'd dream of running through tall pasture grass with Elsie Blue at my heels."
~Camie McCain, Chapter 1, "Up a Rutted Road"



"Uncle Glen had always told me dogs could smell fear. I wondered if roosters could, too." ~Camie, Chapter 2, "The Rooster"

"I hadn't noticed any bad smells coming from the old hermit. To me, he smelled like the woods—like dampness, old leaves, and fresh air. If he took only two baths a year, wouldn't he stink to high Heaven?" ~Camie, Chapter 3, "The Hermit"

Are the rumors about the old hermit true? Does he live in a barrel out in the woods? Does he bathe only once or twice a year? Are "all manner of vermin" swarming through his clothes and long beard, like Aunt Charlene says?

What ever made Claude become a hermit in the first place? Had some woman jilted him? Did someone hurt his feeling real bad? Had he escaped from jail and come to the mountains to hide out? What if he'd murdered somebody?

Can a channel catfish be taught to play catch ball?

What eternal lesson does Camie learn from a locust (cicada)?

How did Uncle Glen come to be such good friends with Claude?

What's it like to live in a wagon on top of a mountain and go to church three times a day every blessit day for a week?

Does God punish you if you pray the wrong way? Is there a "wrong way"? Can people die because of faulty prayers?

Read Up a Rutted Road for the answers to these and other burning questions. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Writerly Sisters

I love the final Friday of each month because that's when a handful of writerly sisters converge on my little writer's cave--usually bearing some yummy nibble. We rejoice in one another's triumphs, encourage through disappointments, chat about current projects, brainstorm through writer's roadblocks, and discuss various aspects of our craft.

Please don't get offended, but you're not invited. We decided early on we wanted to keep the group small enough for each writer to get her fair share of the spotlight. We rotate through a schedule of presenters, each month featuring a primary and a secondary writer, The primary has the floor for as long as she needs to share her work, teach a mini-workshop, or discuss some writing-related topic. If time remains, the secondary takes the floor. The next month, that secondary will be the primary, and so we proceed through the rotation. It works well.

Last night, there were four of us; one was out of town. Fifty percent of our number arrived bearing gifts--books, of course! Writerly books! Huzzah! I am now the very proud own of five more volumes: Writing for the Soul by Jerry Jenkins, The Writer's Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing, The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books by James Cross Giblin, Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, and A Home in the Woods: Pioneer Life in Indiana by Howard Johnson. (Thank you, Kathi and Natalie!)

It was my turn at primary. We had a lively discussion about e-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

If you're a writer, I hope you're part of such a group. We'd love to hear about your experience.

Write on!
Because of Christ

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Evolution of an Indie Author


1970-ish: How vain would a writer have to be to slap down good money in order to see his work in print? What unscrupulous publisher would take advantage of such self-aggrandizement? Vanity presses, indeed! I eschew the like.
Mid-1980s: As a college student, I concede that certain academics, writing on esoteric topics, could find it beneficial to self-publish in their field. But never fiction!
1990s: Several of the members of our local poetry club have published chapbooks. That’s quaint. Not something I would do, but I see the value, especially for their families and friends.
1992: I begin my first book, a picture-book with quite a bit of text, Up a Rutted Road. When it comes time to submit it, I begin at the top with a major publisher. One of the high-ranking editors likes it and asks if I would be willing to rewrite it as a middle-grade novel. Uh, yes. No self-publishing for me!
1993: The rewrite of URR is finished. I resubmit to the same editor, who eventually responds with a lovely personal note. "Unfortunately, our MG list is full now. We cannot consider another title for a couple years." Though discouragement rears its ugly head, I continue to study fiction writing, but abstain from submitting, waiting for the wound to heal.
Early 2000s: What in the world is going on in publishing? I hear of many writers who, after forfeiting all hope of being pubbed traditionally, now turn to print-on-demand, whatever that is. I’m pretty sure it’s a type of self-publishing. Meanwhile, I continue to study my craft and write occasionally.
2001: I co-founded Southern Indiana Writers' Salon, a group of local writers. A few of us intend to seriously pursue a writing career.
2002: My friends, Ron and Jo E., support my writing. They seem to think I have some talent and want to sponsor the—here it comes—self-publishing, vía POD, of my manuscript. I decline. “If I can’t find a traditional publisher, I’ll go unpubbed. I’m leaving my writing career in God’s hands.” And He would never want me to do such a vain thing. Would He? No. No. Of course . . . not. But is vanity the only thing that drives one to . . . ? Never mind.
2003: Now I can say I’ve met people who have published their own work. As for quality, that varies. Some works are very good. Most could benefit from a careful, critical editing by a pair of knowledgeable, objective eyes.
             I’m sticking to the traditional route. I approach the same editor again, ignorant that that generally is not done. She agrees to take another look. Alas, again she rejects it, saying it needs more conflict.
            At some point around this time, the Lord—always gracious and merciful—leads Ramona K. Cecil to SIWS. We become friends, and she urges me to look into ACFW membership, attend conferences, and beat up my darlings.
Late in the first decade of the 2000s: I’m following Ramona’s advice by attending conferences and having sit-downs with editors, never giving a thought to self-publishing, though I hear more about the issue, especially following the release of Amazon’s Kindle in 2007. (One of our SIWS writers actually brings one to a meeting for us to see. What a fun toy, much like the little Connect Four electronic game I carry in my purse. Nothing to take seriously.)
            At the first major conference I attend (the now-defunct Central Ohio Writers of Literature for Children Conference, Columbus), I present my work to two editors, since I now have two MG manuscripts to pitch. The first editor requests to see the full of Up a Rutted Road. “Your style reminds me of Cynthia Rylant, but for slightly older readers,” she said. Since Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains is one of my favorite picture books, I was pleased by the comparison. Unfortunately, that editor had to take an extended medical leave and never got to read the full. The second editor also requested a full, but her publishing house was bought out, and she moved on, so—you get the picture.
            Self-pubbing is looking better. Just teasing. Sickness and loss of position, those things happen. I will keep praying, keep polishing, keep learning, keep submitting, keep attending conferences, keep on.
2011-12: The ACFW Conference, the main event for Christian writers, is held in Indianapolis! An hour down the road from me! Huzzah! When I receive my schedule, I’m thrilled to see the name of one of my favorite agents, and I get to have a sit-down with her to pitch my second novel, The Second Cellar. She likes it and requests the full. I have to admit it isn’t quite finished. “That’s all right,” she says. “When can you get it to me?” We agree that March would be good timing, after the holidays.
She retired from the agency in December, before she could see it, and none of the other agents handled MG.
            Lord, what are You trying to tell me? I honestly don’t know. What’s next? A battle rages within. I enter into a dark night of the writer’s soul. A shadow seems to hover over my computer. I want to write, but doubt my calling, doubt my ability to put words together cohesively on a page. The enemy tells me I should give up, use my computer to play Spider Solitaire and check Facebook.
2013: Southern Indiana Writers’ Salon lived a good life, lasting for seven years—longer than most writers’ groups—but suffered a tragic demise a few years ago. In 2012, a handful of Writerly Sisters, former SIWS members, began meeting at my writer’s nest each month.
          One of our scribes publishes some of her children’s books using and suggests I consider doing the same. She presents me with my own copy of Publishing E-Books for Dummies and some other resources. They sit gathering dust until—
May 2013: I have an internal debate:
Why do I write?
Because I must. It’s been in my soul since fourth grade. I can’t not write, not for long, anyway.  
What if I never get published traditionally?
That’s possible because publishing is changing.
Do I want to make money with my writing?
Well, that certainly would be nice. But it’s not my priority.
Then what is the true and important thing?
That my work glorifies God. That I write winsomely, pointing readers to Him.
No one is reading my work now. It’s languishing in my computer.
What if I go to all the work of e-pubbing and still no one reads it?
I have grandchildren, my "grandtreasures." They’ll read it. And if they’re the only ones, it’s well worth the effort. Maybe someone else will, also. And perhaps—just perhaps—the right agent or editor will stumble over it and decide it has possibilities. It happens!
But I’m writing middle-grade. Research shows that few middle-grade readers read e-books.

As fast as things change in the world of publishing, that could turn overnight. Up a Rutted Road waiting for them.

I have no plans to e-pub my second MG novel, The Second Cellar, or my third. I’ll leave those decisions to God’s leading. For too long, I held the misconception that members of ACFW eschewed indie books. I've since learned that many of my brother and sister scribes have self-published. I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed some of their work without knowing it because they took the time to do it right through careful revision and editing and by creating (or paying a professional to design) a professional-quality cover.
This topic came up for lively discussion on our ACFW members loop recently. One writer put it in perspective by reminding us of how blessed we are to have so many options open, considering that in closed and threatened countries, any type of Christ-proclaiming publication is outlawed. Apparently, those who would muzzle Christian writers understand the power in the printed word.
* * *
I would love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences with indie publishing. Please leave a comment.
Write on!
Because of Christ,

Friday, May 24, 2013


CAMIE McCAIN had never met a hermit, not until Claude shows up smack-dab in the middle of Aunt Charlene’s old-timey kitchen. Camie reckons Uncle Glen is the recluse’s only friend. Off and on that summer, she spies Claude in the most unlikely places, but he vanishes before she can catch up to talk to him. Does he really live in a barrel in some lonely holler like the kids at church say? Is he on the run from the law? How come he shies away from folks like a skittish colt?

Camie has the summer of her life and one adventure after another. She tames an ornery rooster, helps put by for winter, learns to swim, and goes to camp meetin' with all the mountain folk.

Then one day tragedy strikes the mountain. Camie blames herself. Angry and afraid, she bolts into the mountains where she gets lost in a thunderstorm, tumbles down an incline, wrenches her ankle, and encounters Claude—this time in an abandoned mine. She tells him of the grief that has come to her family and claims it’s her fault. After all, didn’t she pray all wrong? And didn’t she keep a deadly secret?

Up a Rutted Road is available for your e-reader at and

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jack's Mama's Loadin' the Wagon!

HUZZAH! Jack's Mama's a-fixin' to be at the Cincinnati Appalachian Festival on Mother's Day. She's all set to tell her far-flung tales about her boy, Jack, 'n' other folks from over home. Take mama to church meetin', then head on out to the doin's. Don't stop fer dinner, 'cause dinner's a-cookin on the grounds.

Some folks says ye can pert nigh hear the screen door creak and taste the ice-cold apple cider when ye hear an Appalachian tale told by Jack's Mama. Jest a plain ol' mountain woman, Jack's Mama has been a favorite of audiences for over a quarter of a century.

More about the Stories Jack's Mama Tells
When this country's first settlers came, many arrived with few possessions. The stories that had been such an integral part of their heritage, however, did survive the perils of sea and land, stored securely in the memories of the people.
Most of the stories that make up Appalachia's oral tradition came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany, France, and Africa. Once in this country, many of the tales - as well as the people - mingled with the Native Americans who already were here, and had their own stock of stories. The Jack Tales constitute an important cycle in this tradition.

Many of the motifs found in the Appalachian stories are found in literary works such as Beowulf, the Arthurian Legend, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's works (including King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew), the Bible, and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, to name a few.

Despite the origin of the tales, the characters usually became Americanized as they were passed down in this country. For example, Jack, the Appalachian giant-killer, is likable and easy-going (except when it comes to giants), unlike his English counterpart, who is a cocksure, arrogant young hero. Jack, in fact, is Everyman.

Research for this program was funded in part by a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant.

With nearly 60 tales from which to draw, Jack's Mama is adaptable to all audiences and ages, as well as a variety of venues, including festivals, schools, libraries, museums, and churches. All of Clifton's shows are family-friendly.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

At the Cross

I huddle at the foot of the Cross.
My arms stretch to encompass it around--
my head bowed,
eyes pinched so tightly they hurt.
Silent sobs wrack my being.

The men are gone.
The Brotherhood, save one, has forsaken the Master.

Other women stand,
lie prostrate nearby,
each alone,
I hear their weeping off in the distance,
at the perimeter of my own sorrow.

Roman soldiers stand silent,

trying to understand,
yet bound merely to duty.

cluster together and mutter into their self-righteous beards,
rehearsing their excuses.
Their mumbling blends, segues 

into the rumbling of a gathering storm.

Messiah, on the Cross, lifts His head to Heaven.
With one last lingering remnant of strength,
He pushes against the spike that impales His feet,
pulls up on the nails that pierce His wrists,
draws in a gurgling breath,
licks His lips to moisten them, to make speech possible,
And cries out to the Father Whose Face is turned away.

"It is finished!"

A pronouncement that will echo throughout Eternity.

I look up as His weary, abused head
sinks to His bosom,
where so many children had rested their heads
and received His blessing.

A drop of His vermillion Blood
rolls down one of the thorns
that comprises a crude crown.
In one interminable moment,
I watch it
I tip my face downward in shame,
knowing my own unworthiness,
yet yearning for His anointing.
That Sacred Drop
Splashes on my head and covers me o'er.

A mourning veil shrouds the sky.

Night invades midday. 
The Earth begins to tremble.

Copyright 2007 by Sharon Kirk

Monday, March 18, 2013

Poetry Break: "Problem Child"

She's a problem child, all right--
always has been,
always will be.
That girl can dream
like no one I've ever seen.
"Wouldn't it be great," she says,
"Wouldn't it be grand," she dances,
"to do something for God?
To bring souls to Him?
To help enlarge the House of the Almighty?
To go to all the world?"
She sings her joyous plan to all
who will listen.

Thank goodness for the small thinkers,
the micro-dreamers
who shove her and her visions
back into a tiny box
where the corners squeeze out hope
and squelch missionary zeal.
If she and her ilk can be
the Church can remain contained,
for a chosen few.

What's happening?
Lord, is that You taking that lid off

~Copyright 2001 by Sharon Kirk Clifton

Monday, March 11, 2013

Playing Catch-Up

Can it be that I haven't written a blog entry since Christmas 2012? Sometimes life intervenes and turns our plans topsy-turvy. Such is the case. By way of catching up, let me wish you, gentle readers, a very happy new year, happy Saint Valentine's Day, and a meaningful Presidents' Day.

Whereas I haven't accomplished much in the way of writing on my third middle-grade WIP, I have been writing and researching. I wrote one 5,500-word creative non-fiction article for a Christian publishing house. I've also been researching for a historical romance that has been niggling around in my brain for at least a year. I had thought to write the MG novel first, but this one won't let go. I have it thoroughly plotted, and it's begging to be set to paper.

When a writer begins to research a story, the journey may take her on some unexpected byways. For this one, I'm learning to paint as an Impressionist. Though I'll never be good at it--my older brother and my younger daughter are the professional fine artists in the family--I can learn the basics so that my MC can speak the language.

In early February, I underwent a bit of major surgery, which tied up a chunk of time, what with the event itself and subsequent recuperation and therapy. Though I didn't get any writing done during that time, I read a few excellent books, including:
  • The Bone Box by Bob Hostetler 
  • Diamond in the Rough by Lisa Karon Richardson and Jennifer AlLee
  • A Quaker Christmas by Lauralee Bliss, Ramona K. Cecil, Rachael Phillips, and Claire Sanders
  • Heart's Heritage by Ramona K. Cecil
  • Instant Menace by Jerry Jenkins and Chris Fabry
Now, I'm preparing a storytelling session for Hoosier Recreation Workshop, to be held in mid-April. I'm also looking forward to Resurrection Sunday and the events leading up to that great day--my favorite of the Church year.

It's great to be writing a blog entry again. Thank you, readers, for your patience during this silent time.

Write on!
Because of Christ,