Guest Blogger ~ Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck is a multi-published author living in sunny central Florida with her husband, Tony, a pastor. They have two ornery pets. She is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeyes football fan. Rachel serves the writing community as a member of the Advisory Board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).
The Romantic Obstacle of Newness
The summer between ninth and tenth grade, I fell into twitterpation. Working as a cashier at a south Florida Publix, I fell for a dark-eyed stockman who winked at me when he walked past, flashing his Eric Estrada smiled.
I lost twenty-five pounds in a month. I went to work early, hung around after I clocked out. I wrote pages and pages in my diary of what each little wink or nod meant to me. Between those pink pages are cash register receipts of my thoughts and feelings, oh, angst galore.
This was in the ‘70s, so I couldn’t text or Facebook him. The only time I saw him was at work. Oh, what a dreadful day when the manager posted the new schedule on Thursday and I saw my-man and I worked opposite shifts.
He was a flirt and liked to tease me. Our at-work teenage conversation swam in the shallow end of the baby pool.
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What are you doing?”
“Watching you.”
Giggle, blush, fiery flutter behind my ribs.
As a romance writer, I work to find all kinds of internal and external obstacles to keep my hero and heroine apart.
For example: She’s already in a relationship. He’s recently widowed. She’s wounded. He’s too career minded. She is raising her nieces. He’s trying to reestablish is professional credibility. Or, a favorite of mine, he’s attracted to her but can’t stand her. She thinks he’s an arrogant buffoon.
As writers, we need to find real obstacles to keep our H/H from declaring their love too soon⎯thus wrapping up the story⎯while convincing the reader, “these two need to be together!”
Over on Billy Mernit’s Living The Romantic Comedy blog, he advices that the real purpose of a romantic story is to show the reader or viewer WHY these two people need to be together.
Often, writers spend too much time showing why the hero and heroine need to be apart. But what readers want it to be convinced there is no one for Harry but Sally.
While writing my newest romance, Dining With Joy, I realized something simple but profound: the newness of my hero and heroine’s relationship provided plenty of internal and external obstacles.
I didn’t need to scale mountains or leap over city walls to build a believable conflict.
Think about the first time you met your spouse. Or think back to your first major romance. Even if sparks flew at first meeting, it took time to let down your guard and discover each other.
In the beginning, it was hard to determine how much the relationship meant to you. Was h or she worth your time and effort?
The idea of changing your schedule to met his wasn’t a priority. If he called, that was cool, but you didn’t wait by the phone. She might have stopped by your work to say hi, but you merely smiled, said it was good to see her, then met your friends at a restaurant.
All of these “newness” factors provide wonderful, believable conflict.
By nature, men are emotionally modest. They only open up when they feel the woman has become their friend. Women are physically modest. Even in this modern sexual world, we are shy about first kisses and touches.
How does this translate to your romantic story? It is very plausible to show your hero and heroine testing each other, wondering about their motivation and character, standing back to wait and see.
Is she sincere? Can I trust him? If I share my deepest thoughts, will she still love me? If I allow him to kiss me, will he want me tomorrow?
New relationships are fraught with complications and misunderstandings by the mere fact two very different people are trying to merge their lives.
There’s the fire of the first kiss. Emotional and physical temptations. Combining social activities and sharing friends. Meeting the parents. Realizing you’re in love but afraid the feelings may not be reciprocated. Breaking up. Getting back together. Finding the common ground on which you might build a life together. What goes, what gives, what takes?
In the movie “500 Days of Summer,” Tom and Summer meet while working at the same greeting card company. He’s too shy to ask her out. She’s bohemian and enticing. As the viewer, I was hooked with the idea of “newness.” How will he ask her out? Will she accept? I know they will get together, but how?
After a few dates, Tom gushes, “It’s official. I’m in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.”
Newness! The discovery of Summer drew Tom to a place of love. At this euphoric point, she is perfect to him!
What a excellent set up for a great romantic disaster. Boy meets Girl. Boy thinks Girl hung the moon. Girl can’t believe she met the last good Boy on earth. He takes her to his favorite hang out. She drives him to her favorite picnic spot.
Readers go along, too, believing these two people are destined for eternal happiness. THEN, it happens. Disaster. The power of newness has worn off and becomes⎯for our storytelling purpose⎯the obstacle.
Tom loves Summer, but she doesn’t believe in love and ever after. Their ideas and life experiences begin to pull them apart.
Tom quickly changes to say, “I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs.”
The loss of “newness,” and the eye opening truth of who Tom and Summer are become the very obstacle that drives them apart.
As you plot your next romance, brainstorm all the emotional and physical obstacles the hero and heroine face from the moment they meet. Then build in a story world that adds to their conflict⎯he’s blue collar, she’s blue blood⎯then weave in all the trouble of being “new” to one another.
Brainstorm ways the newness wears off. What is the fall out of the relationship when that “fresh” feeling fades? How vulnerable are your characters when the relationship ends after confessing their love and pouring out their hearts to each other?
Brainstorm the obstacles and possible conflict that arises after worn-off newness. He stops sending her flowers. She stops shaving her legs. He forgets to call when he’s late for dinner. She admits she can’t stand his best friend.
But remember⎯these two belong together. As you work the newness factor through your story, remember to keep in the shadows of the disaster why these two need to are ultimately a match made in heaven.
In Notting Hill, William Thacker is perfect for Anna Scott because he sees her for who she really is, not the superstar actress. In While You Were Sleeping, Jack is the same kind of dreamer as Lucy. In The Proposal, Drew and Margaret share a love for the written word. And deep down, Drew gets Margret’s vulnerability. She admires his determination and strength.
So, let’s recap. Newness is a huge factor for our romantic leads. Have fun dreaming of the discoveries and conflicts a couple just starting out faces. Yet, keep to the real heart of any great romance⎯convincing the readers there is no man for the heroine like the hero. No woman for the hero like your heroine.
Write well.
Visit Rachel’s website to learn more about her books. 

Tips for Live Interviews (pt 2) ~ Kathy Willis, Publicist

To continue our discussion about being an effective interview guest, here are more helpful tips for you whether you’re on television, radio, or being interviewed for print and Internet publications.

DO:
· Use humor (but only sparingly). Improvisational humor is better than canned jokes.

· Smile—Have Fun. Being prepared, relaxed, and confident helps a lot.

· Focus on the host and not the camera (or crew).

· Tell brief stories to make your points instead of rattling of statistics.

· Know what you want to say, practice it, and then say it when the camera’s rolling.

· Think in terms of 8-second sound bites. Have about 5 points to make and learn how to integrate them into the interview no matter the questions.

· Forget that youʼre talking to millions of people. Just speak to the interviewer naturally—in your normal tone and volume—as if he is a good friend.

· Stay calm. A TV studio is a hectic place, whether itʼs a local news station or The Today Show. Donʼt panic if the staff seems stressed and disorganized; thatʼs just life in television. Ignore the hubbub and take control.

· Stay on track.

· Be yourself. Try to relax and speak to the reporter in conversational language. Avoid using “buzzwords” specific to your industry or organization that the reporter or the audience will be unfamiliar with; they will likely not make it into the story.

DONʼT:
· Over-think your responses or they will sound canned.

· Repeat the question, because it comes across as giving yourself time to fabricate the answer. So, reword the question only as a last resort to buy time to think of the right answer.

· Take notes with you except to review briefly before the show.

· Answer questions that are either irrelevant to you or for which you do not know the answer.

· Argue with a reporter, especially when you are on-camera.

· Feel that you should fill empty space after you’ve given a response. If you are not prepared to elaborate—donʼt. Sometimes interviewers use the pregnant pause, hoping you will panic and blurt out something to fill the quiet space. Just sit there and smile and wait for the next question after you believe youʼve sufficiently answered the question. If the pause is awkward, then if all else fails, offer to fill it with an anecdote rather than a fact you arenʼt sure of.

BONUS TIPS:
· Whether youʼre on TV to promote yourself or something else, youʼre there to convey a specific message. When itʼs your turn to speak, make sure you get your point across.

· Avoid being sidetracked into a subject not directly related to the subject of the interview. Also avoid rabbit tracking.

· Watch the pace of your reply. Talk too fast and it will appear you think you have more material than time and youʼre trying to cram it all in. Too laid back and you donʼt appear passionate about the subject.

· Beware of being monotone. Allow your voice to naturally rise and fall in pitch, volume and tone.

· Enunciate. Thereʼs nothing worse than an audience misunderstanding because you didnʼt properly enunciate a word or phrase.

· Beware of the “s” and “p” sounds because they tend to hiss and pop with certain mics.

· Make sure you know which time zone you are scheduled for any phone call interviews.

· Be clear in advance if they are to call you or if you are to call them, and have phone numbers for both parties (the guest and the host), just in case.

· Set up your phone so you don’t get call waiting, which can interrupt the interview and create a silent pause each time it rings.

· Use a landline if at all possible for phone interviews, to cut down on risk for cell phone static interference and disconnects.

· Send an interview sheet in advance, but be prepared for other questions aswell.

· On the interview sheet, also put your bio, and your photo. Even if theyreceived your press release, it might not be in front of them. This will help the host know not only know what questions to ask, but also feel like they are connecting with you since they see your face on the sheet.

· Don’t forget to ask permission to get an mp3, CD or DVD of the interview, to use for promotional purposes after the show. See if you are allowed to post it to your site. Some prefer you to link to their online archives and others will give you full permission to use as you wish.

· Have talking points, but don’t be obvious about your talking points–youwant to come across as an expert on the topic or someone passionate about the topic, rather than a politician.

· The same goes for mentioning your book–you want to mention it, but limityour phrases of, “Well, in the book…” “When you read the book, you’llfind…” And the worst is, “I’m not going to answer that question. You’ll haveto get the book to find out!”

The final word on interview guesting is this: if your main goal is to sell books, you will come off sounding like an infomercial. But if your main goal is to connect your message to the audience, then God is going to use you in a might way. He’s all about making sure your motives are pure. And the great thing is, when your motive is to shine HIS Light, He takes care of those other loaves-and-fishes sorts of needs in your life, such as selling books and getting exposure.

Kathy Carlton Willis own her own communications firm and enjoys shining the light on others as they shine THE Light. She’s also wife to Russ, mom to fur babies, family and friend to many, and pastor’s wife to her church family. Find her on all the social networking sites, as well as her professional blog: http://kcwcomm.blogspot.com/

Write Kathy at WillisWay@aol.com with your questions on how to promote your books and your branding.

Is “The Lord of the Rings” Christian Fiction?

by Mike Duran

When it comes to defining Christian fiction, Tolkien’s epic fantasy is a reminder of the genre’s inherent stickiness. While many Christian readers embrace The Lord of the Rings novels for their literary depth, depiction of good and evil, redemptive themes, as well as the author’s religious worldview, those same readers are not so quick to label the tale “Christian.” Why is this?

However one chooses to define Christian fiction, the following three elements are usually contained therein:

  • Author — Christian fiction is written by Christians
  • Audience — for Christians
  • Message — and contains at least a marginally accessible Christian message

These three earmarks — author, audience, message — serve as a barometer for much of what we call contemporary Christian art.

But by those standards, Tolkien is only 1 of 3. He was definitely a Christian author. (In fact, his greatest accomplishment may, in the end, not be his fantasy trilogy, but his role in C.S. Lewis’ conversion.) Yet in regards to audience and message — two pivotal planks in the prevailing argument — he strikes out.

David Dark, in his book Everyday Apocalypse, expounds upon Tolkien’s “moral aversion” to message-driven fiction:

In his efforts to overcome the popular misreading of his work on Middle-Earth as a project in allegory, J.R.R. Tolkien expressed a distaste for the domineering quality of the allegorical while offering a helpful distinction: “I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader; and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

“Purposed domination” is a wonderfully illuminating phrase in Tolkien’s explanation not only in regard to what he assures us he isn’t doing in The Lord of the Rings but also concerning a mode of creative expression to which he feels an almost moral aversion. Purposed domination, we might say, is the method of propaganda. It leaves the audience with no room for “applicability,” and the propagandist wouldn’t have it any other way. The tightly controlled “message,” after all, was the point in the first place, not the dignity of the reader or the story (if we can even call it a story).

The very thing Tolkien eschewed, this “tightly controlled message,” is often a defining factor in Christian storytelling. Like it or not, much Christian fiction relies on the “domination of the author” rather than “the freedom of the reader.” As I suggested recently, if it needs interpreting, it ain’t “Christian”. Multiple opinions as to what your novel “means” (especially opinions that lack Gospel distillation) could be evidence that your “message” wasn’t “tightly controlled” enough.

Dr. Ralph Wood, Professor of English at Baylor University and a Tolkien expert, in his wonderful essay, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: A Christian Classic Revisited, states that Tolkien, “…called The Lord of the Rings ‘a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.’ Its essential conflict, he insisted, concerns God’s ‘sole right to divine honour’ (Letters, 172, 243).” But despite the author’s stated intent, Wood affirms that “Tolkien’s work is not self-evidently Christian.”

And herein lies the rub.

Even though J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, an expert at his craft, and his work was “fundamentally religious,” it is the subtle, nuanced, non-explicit presentation of those themes that keeps him outside the camp of “Christian fiction.” In other words, the very thing Tolkien decried — i.e., “the purposed domination of the author” and unwillingness to allow “the freedom of the reader” — are the very things that cause many believers to paint his masterpiece as un-Christian (or at least, spiritually neutral).

It makes me wonder whether we have collapsed the boundaries of Christian art too far. Unless there is “explicit Christian themes” and overtly Christian characters, or a “tightly controlled message,” the artist, no matter how Christian she is or how “fundamentally religious” her work, falls outside the pale of Christian art. How many great Christian writers, musicians and artists are not embraced by the Christian subculture simply because their work does not adhere to a predetermined template? Well, if it’s any consolation, neither did Tolkien’s.

So is The Lord of the Rings Christian fiction? Your answer will ultimately determine what you think Christian fiction is or should be.

Home Movies and A Procession of Importance

Marcia Laycock is a pastor’s wife, mother of three daughters and an award-winning writer and speaker. Her novel, One Smooth Stone won her the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award in 2006. The sequel will be released soon. Marcia’s devotionals have appreared in many publications and go out to thousands via email. Visit her website – www.vinemarc.com

Watching old home movies can be a hoot, especially if the amateur moviemaker was as technologically challenged as my father. We have reams of family memories on film, but you have to know the people well to figure out who they are. “Oh look, that’s Mom’s knee … isn’t it?” “And Ron’s feet. I’m sure those are Ron’s feet!”

When my parents made a trip to San Francisco, the camera went along. A few weeks later the rest of the family enjoyed seeing China Town – superimposed over an inverted Golden Gate Bridge. It was a little blurry, but no one seemed to mind.

On one occasion my father relinquished his camera to my eldest brother. He was somewhat better at capturing the significant events of our lives on film. In fact, the footage he took on the main street of our hometown, one day in the mid 1960’s, could be called a classic. It’s a bit bouncy, but that was because Ron was running as he filmed. It’s a bit blurry, but that’s because the vehicle he was filming wouldn’t slow down. In spite of these disadvantages, my brother managed to capture a brief picture of Queen Elizabeth II, waving to a large crowd.

Well, okay, the film isn’t really a classic, but somehow it does capture the wild enthusiasm of the people. We see them leaning forward, smiling, hands upraised, eager to dispense their praise as the procession flows by. Somehow that blurred, bouncy film makes you lean forward eagerly too, straining for a brief glimpse of that person of importance.

Such was the atmosphere surrounding the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowd leaned in, chanting their praise, waving their palm branches, laying them at the feet of their hero. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they cried, “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1-11). If we had been among them, we would have been chanting and waving palm branches too. This was indeed a man of importance, they said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

A few days later they crucified Him. When He rode into Jerusalem they thought He might take over the city, or set himself up as a King, or at the very least, lead a revolt. Instead, He allowed himself to be arrested. He allowed the hated Romans to beat Him and execute Him. And He did nothing to save Himself. So those who had leaned in close with praises on their lips now spat on Him and demanded his death.

If we had been among them, we probably would have done the same. But His mercy and grace is poured out on us anyway, as it was on those who were there that day.

The procession Jesus led into the city looked like a triumph and His death looked like a defeat. In reality, His death was His victory. In reality, His death was our victory.

“Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”