Police Work and Writers Have a Lot in Common

For the past twenty years, I’ve worked as a 911 dispatcher. In the beginning of my career, I worked the graveyard shift at a busy California Bay Area police department, and cut my teeth on everything from stabbings to suicidal callers.

My husband and I first met over a homicide. I dispatched him to the call, a drug deal gone bad—not your average boy meets girl story, but our weekend-warrior occupation brought us close. Over my career, I’ve taken thousands of emergency calls, and each one has molded and shaped my dark sense of humor and often cynical, quick-to-judge personality.

After all, I’ve been trained to make a judgment in a matter of seconds, type-coding a call that will determine the response of police/fire/ambulance. As an author, the road to publication twisted and shaped the writer I am as well. I can’t help but see clear parallels between a writer and police work.

It’s not always what it seems.

A detective is trained to look for what the untrained eye doesn’t see—things like blood patterns, fingerprints, and previous cell phone activity.

A writer’s path isn’t always an obvious three-step plan either. The craft must be studied, worked on, and almost never is how we dreamed it would turn out, with twists and turns  taking you places you never thought you’d be. My two-page personal essay became a nonfiction book for moms—who knew.

Friends matter.

Whether you’re the suspect or the victim of a crime, who you’ve associated with always comes into play. As a writer, who do you hang out with? Do you network with other writers/authors? Or, do you think your work is so good you’ll be miraculously discovered?  If you truly believe this way, you couldn’t be more wrong. Trust me when I say: it’s only a matter of time before you’re a victim of un-success. Writing can be very solitary. Having someone come alongside who understands the ups and downs can make all the difference.

Word of Mouth.

Home invasions are almost always drug-related, a targeted place where the suspect has planned to regain their lost monies or steal drugs from someone they know—occasionally it’s a friend of a friend who has bragged to the wrong person about their parents’ jewelry and non-belief in banks.

As a writer, your reputation begins as soon as you share, “I’m a writer.” People are listening and will be watching your every step. Once your words are published via blog, articles, or any other venue, your branding begins. Conferences, retreats, writer’s groups, and online relationships form your reputation. Use every connection as an opportunity to help other writers as well. No matter how well you write, your words will never rise above the reputation of your colleagues and readers.

Are you a victim?

There aren’t as many victims as you think. Tough to hear? It’s true.

The media loves to play on viewers emotions. As a writer, are you a victim? Do you suffer from it-should-be-me syndrome?

Do you believe every agent/publisher/editor just doesn’t understand your talent? Are you giving up the writer-ghost while complaining to everyone who will listen? Writer-victims aren’t as common as you’d like to think. If you’re work is really that good and you are actively putting it in front of the right people, it will eventually be recognized. End of story.

Writing and police work have a lot in common. After twenty years, my heart still races when I handle a hot call.

There’s nothing like calming a woman who’s hiding from an intruder downstairs, encouraging someone to live another day, soothing a child who’s called an ambulance for their sick grandma, or the sound of a baby being born.

The same can be said about writing. My heart still races when I submit an article, or speak before a crowd. There have been sleepless nights, anxious calls to writer-friends, and though my first published book is far from the New York Times best seller list—it’s been the ride of my life.

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Joanne Kraft is a recovering too-busy mom and the author of Just Too Busy—Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical. A writer and sought-after speaker, Joanne’s articles have been published by In Touch, Thriving Family, ParentLife, Today’s Christian Woman, and P31 Woman. She’s appeared on CBN News, Focus on the Family’s afternoon show—Your Family Live, Sacramento & Co., and The Harvest Show.

To connect with Joanne, visit her blog: www.joannekraft.com, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter


In Memory of Kathy Shelby

Kathy Shelby has been a member of the Fair Oaks Inspire group since its inception two years ago. Her first published story will be released March 2012 in Inspire’s anthology, True Stories of Trusting God. It is a heart moving story of her faith in a loving God through kidney disease and breast cancer. Last summer she began to experience excruciating pain in her legs, and soon was not able to leave her house. In November a bone scan revealed metatastic bone cancer which finally took her life.

Kathy’s writing expressed her great love and faith in our Lord Jesus. She brought a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye to every workshop and critique meeting. Her writing started during her college days and she came to Inspire to learn how to write her memoir. She wanted her story to show how she depended on God for everything. Her sense of humor kept us laughing, but her stories had a depth of faith that ministered to everyone in our group. Although she didn’t get to write her life story, her family and friends will say that her life is her legacy.

I knew I could depend on Kathy for last minute critiques and prayers before submitting my work for publication. She made herself available no matter what was going on in her life and I loved her for that.

As in any critique group, some manuscripts are harder to critique. Kathy was sensitive to how each person received comments. We all wanted to share our comments in a spirit of love and encouragement. I knew that Kathy and Leota prayed during the difficult meetings, and their prayers were answered. Because of their love and prayers, our Fair Oaks Inspire group is a safe place to grow our writing craft today.

Kathy also contributed at the larger workshops by praying for our speakers as well as working the library table. We will miss her cheerful service and beautiful smile. I’d like to think she is serving our Lord in His library upstairs or writing inspiring stories of faith to encourage the saints. Although we will miss Kathy, I am glad she is Home for Christmas. There is no better place to be.

If you would like to express your condolence to Kathy’s family, please send you cards and letters to Inspire’s mailbox at: Terry Shelby at Inspire Christian Writers, P. O. Box 276794, Sacramento, CA 95827. I will make sure Terry gets your mail. No word yet on Kathy’s memorial service, but I will advise you when I receive that notification.

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Author of more than eighty articles and stories, Sue Tornai lives with her husband John and dog Maggie in Carmichael, California. They enjoy camping and fishing at Lake Almanor and the Feather River in Northern California. Sue has taught elementary Sunday school for more than twenty years. Her most rewarding experience as a writer is when someone tells her that something she wrote touched a heart or changed a life. “That’s why I write,” Sue says. “I write to inspire people about God’s amazing love. I write for His glory.”

Visit Sue on her website at www.suetornai.com.




Sandra Byrd – An Inspirational Life of Writing and Wisdom Pt 2

Sandra Byrd’s excellence of craft is respected by readers and fellow authors. In fact, Liz Curtis Higgs referred to Sandra’s first novel in the Ladies in Waiting series, To Die For, as “a masterpiece of history and heart.”

I was blessed to have Sandra as my mentor at the 2010 Writing for the Soul conference, hosted by The Christian Writers Guild. This bestselling author helped equip me for an adventure of learning to write with excellence for God’s glory.

As a writing coach, Sandra shares her wisdom and experience. It was under her tutelage that I sold my first short story.

Be inspired as this best-selling author encourages fellow writers to seek the Lord as they hone their craft in excellence.


In the beginning of your writing career, what did you imagine life as a published author would look like?

Wealth and creative fulfillment.  One out of two isn’t bad!

As a seasoned and successful author, what does a writing career really entail?

Lots of hard work. Research, and writing and rewriting and humbling yourself time and again to listen and to make changes.

Networking with other writers and taking time to really care for your readers. Reading and educating yourself continually, as a writer.

Discipline to stick to self-imposed deadlines.  Remember – everyone down the line is waiting for your manuscript before they can begin their work, so you don’t want to hold them up.

There are a lot of disappointments and unmet expectations, but then there are moments of pure bliss and joy that cannot be replaced by anything else in the world and which over shine every disappointing moment that came before them.

You’ve had numerous articles published in periodicals. How can new writers benefit from submitting to magazines, anthologies, and themed collection books?

Our goal is, first, to deliver excellent content, and second, to build a growing readership.  It takes quite a few times of seeing your name for it to resonate with readers, so you want to give them many opportunities to read your work, long and short, fiction and nonfiction, and connect with you. Then, when they see your name on a to-be-published book, or in a periodical, they’ll pre-order it, expecting the great material you always provide.

You are passionate about and have seen great success through your role as a writing coach. Why do you feel it’s important to encourage and invest in the development of other writers?

Writing is a difficult profession.  By nature, we’re sensitive people: that’s why we can get into the hearts and heads of the people we write about.  But the business itself can be life draining and brutal.  It’s a maze of unspoken expectations and sometimes, though we want our craft to be good and strong, we’re not really sure how to improve it.  We can miss the forest for the trees and the trees for the forest!

A coach can encourage you, reassure you about what’s normal for the industry (even though it doesn’t feel normal to you), and help see places in your work that can use some guidance and development.

Hopefully every writer has surrounded herself with people who mentor and coach her, peers, and those she can help, too.  I’m here to comfort others with the comfort I myself have received, to sharpen iron, and help writers not grow weary in doing their good work, because eventually they’ll reap the harvest.

How has having a support network of fellow writers helped your writing career?

Oh yes, of course.  Writers can see things in our work that non-writers cannot, and really, don’t we want to find all of the holes and thin places before the work goes into print? They also know how to apply the particular balm of encouragement we often need, and provide fellowship for the journey.

What would you say to aspiring authors who desire fruitful writing ministries that they can grow into?

I’m writing a series of books set in the 16th century, an era in which women chose mottoes for themselves, guiding principles.  For 2012, my motto is: I Show Up.

Show up ready, show up prepared. Show up at the computer, every day, ready to work.  Show up at your writer’s group, show up with your mentor or your writing coach.  Show up to whatever social media you’ve chosen to use.  Show up at worship. Show up with your spouse and your kids.  Show up to learn about e-publishing.

Success comes to those who show up, time and again!

If you need help knowing how, when, where and why to show up, contact me.

Thank you, Sandra, for inspiring writers toward excellence of craft and a deepening relationship with Christ.

Thank you for hosting me; it’s been a real pleasure to visit with you!

CONTEST: When you comment on this interview, you’ll be entered to win a copy of To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

Winners will be posted on the Inspire Christian Writer’s website on December 15.

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.

Sandra Byrd – An Inspirational Life of Writing and Wisdom

Best-selling author, Sandra Byrd, received her first rejection letter at the age of thirteen. Since then, her work has been featured in various publications and periodicals. She has published over thirty books for adults and teens, and is now offering her must-read teen novels as e-books.

I was encouraged by Sandra’s amazing writing journey and am pleased to introduce this inspiring author in part one of a special two-part interview.

Sandra, you received your first rejection letter at age thirteen. What kept you from quitting at such a tender age?

You know, I think I was just so excited that someone had taken the time to send me a response, even one saying “no,” that I felt like a real author.

Real authors hear no from the first day of their career through their last.  So it didn’t seem like a downer.

But we also hear “yes” now and again, which keeps up writing!

Have there been times during your writing career when you felt like quitting? If so, what helped you to persevere?

Yes. I went to college on a writing scholarship, and once there, I got scared.  I thought, who gets published? No one! How will I pay back my student loans? The odds seemed stacked against success, so I changed my major to business and got a degree in real estate/construction management.

Later, after I became a Christian, I felt like the Lord was showing me: don’t look at the odds, look at God.  He is not subject to odds.

The verse, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength,” doesn’t mean I can do anything I want. It means I can do all things that He has ordained, determined, and set aside for me to do.

There is nothing that you are called to do that you cannot do. But there is also no way to open a window He has shut. Once we really get a hold of that, it’s easy to walk away from fear.

How has God used those difficult times to mold you into the writer you are today?

Ha ha.  Which difficult times? I think the difficult times come and go and come again.  I will say that I never write about themes that I haven’t learned personally, first, usually the hard way.

I keep pleading to write a book about a lottery winner but it hasn’t happened yet!

Seriously, though, gravitas makes you a person, and a writer, who has earned a few moments to be listened to. You’re not a tour guide on a trail that you’ve never taken.

God has given some wonderful writing mentors to me, too.  I’m following them on the trail as well.

Describe the biggest obstacle you have faced as a writer. How did you overcome?

One thing new writers should understand is that ours is a business of constant critique. Most of it is offered to help you, and your book, become leaner, tighter, stronger, better. You will love your writing so much more once someone has helped you develop it.

There are people who tear down, though.  One writer, Christy English, calls them the destroyers.  They post on line, they’re snarky and rude.  They’re jealous, or they just like to look smarter than you. There is nothing redeeming in their comments, nothing to help you shape the next book. Learning to tune them out is hard. Their comments still sting, but I get over them faster, now.

God has used your writing to minister to vast audiences, and is now expanding your reach through your new e-books. Tell us a little bit about these projects and share the benefits and challenges of e-book publishing?

I’ve been traditionally published for many years, and I have loved it.  But it’s a new world, and e-books provide opportunities for writers, both those already published and those who have yet to be published.

Some people may prefer to go the traditional route via agent and publishing house, and that’s fine.  For those who aren’t able to find a good fit with an agent or publisher, or who prefer to retain more control over their work, e-publishing is a legitimate, viable option.

You’ll still want to present your very best work. So that means having someone edit the book, acquiring a good cover and either learning how to format the manuscript for Kindle and Nook or hiring someone to do it for you.  But these are fairly reasonable charges, and then 70% of your book’s sale price will be remitted to you.

Even more important, for many writers, is that they will have a guaranteed opportunity to get their book into the marketplace and into the hands of readers.

Come back tomorrow for part two of this interview with best-selling author, Sandra Byrd, to hear her advice to aspiring writers.

CONTEST: When you comment on this interview, you will be entered to win a set of Sandra Byrd’s tween/teen e-books, just in time for Christmas! Winners will be posted on the Inspire website on December 15.

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.

Inspire Member Spotlight: Shannon Dittemore

How long have you been a member of Inspire Christian Writers?

Oh goodness! I’m thinking I started attending the Inspire Sacramento critique group in October of 2009.

What prompted you to join Inspire?

I had (what I thought was) a completed manuscript and I didn’t know what to do next. The gals in my crit group asked fabulous questions and were an instrumental part of the process.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you were a writer?

I’ve just always written. I don’t know that it started as anything other than a desire to capture my thoughts. From there, it evolved. When I finished my first manuscript, there was a definite feeling of success, but being a writer is something I identified with long before that.

Describe your writing career high point and low point.

Well, my career is fairly new, but I’d say the high point was signing that three book deal with Thomas Nelson. That’s such an exciting moment. My low point…. I don’t know that I can identify a singular moment, but I do find juggling my obligations to be a difficult thing. With young children, this is my biggest struggle.

Which of your stories is the closest to your heart?

With only one completed novel, I’d have to choose Angel Eyes. That said, it really has been a labor of love and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Book two in the series is shaping up nicely and I’m hoping they continue to improve.

Describe receiving your first book contract. Or agent contract.

Well! The process is an amazing one. So many people have to say ‘yes’ for the thing to get done and I found the waiting excruciating. Like most writers, there were a few bumps along the way.

Not long after Thomas Nelson—my dream publisher— showed interest, my agent left the agency leaving me a bit stranded. In the end, it all worked out. I was assigned a new agent who is just fabulous and probably the best fit for me. She saw me through the acquisition process and got the deal done.

The editors at Thomas Nelson were fabulous and so excited about the project. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I’m just so blessed to be part of their team.

What project of yours is gathering dust?

With all my attention on the Angel Eyes Trilogy I’ve had to set my other works aside. I have another young adult project I’m dying to get back to that has both paranormal and sci-fi elements. I daydream about it when I get a free moment.

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing line edits right now on Angel Eyes and I have a looming deadline for book two which is still untitled. And then, book three. I’m booked until 2013!

What have you read recently that you couldn’t put down?

So much! I recently fell in love with Jenny B. Jones’ There You’ll Find Me. Fabulous YA book, especially for Christian readers. I love The Hunger Games Trilogy and I’ve reread those a zillion times.

I’m also slightly obsessed with Patrick Ness and his Chaos Walking Trilogy. And just so you don’t think I read only YA, one of my favorite writers is Tasha Alexander and I read her newest Lady Emily Mystery, A Crimson Warning, in one sitting.

What does it mean to you to be a writer?

It means I have an outlet for my creativity. A place for expression. I need that. It means the world.

Was there a book that changed your life?

Several. If I had to choose the biggest influence in my writing career, I’d have to point to JK Rowling and the Harry Potter books. Watching her story unfold, her characters grow, and getting lost in a magical world (again and again) worked wonders for my imagination.

You can get to know Shannon better by following her blog at http://www.shannondittemore.com

She is on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shannon-Dittemore-Author/125564020860245

and Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/ShanDitty

Word Painting: A Review

This is not your typically (sorry) boring book on writing where the teacher drones on and on, and you’re telling yourself, What a waste of good money this was.

Nope. Ms. McClanahan turns your head and gets your attention right in the introduction. She opens her mouth and you find yourself instantly immersed in an experience. Her explanation of why she even decided to write the book shows how description works. You won’t even know that you’re learning.

Rebecca has authored nine books, is an award-winning poet, essayist, fiction writer and educator who conducts readings and workshops throughout the country. So I think you just might learn something from her. And do stop by her website at: http://www.mcclanmuse.com/

She understands our “struggles of describing the world around [us] and the world that dwells only in [our] head.” She also knows “the occasional click of the lock, the satisfaction of words slipping into place, and those few unspoiled seconds, when the images in the developing tray coalesce.” (See what I mean? Gosh! —I so want to write like her when I grow up.)

You’ll fall absolutely in love with her. She’s you, with her passion for words. But her mastery of thought articulation will quickly put you in your place as the student who has much to learn.

Her book comes with exercises too. And if you’re the type who needs to see examples, well, she’s got plenty.

She gives practical suggestions “to increase your attention to the real world.” She discusses “techniques for engaging the eye of the imagination and discovering what the inner eye sees.” She talks about the musical qualities of language…maybe you didn’t know it had any. Now you do.

And she’ll show you how to “form descriptions that are accurate, sensory, imaginative and musical.” She’ll “explore how description contributes to the overall story, poem or nonfiction piece…how to weave description into the narrative arc….” and how to “use description to develop believable characters and settings, establish point of view (POV), modulate tension and move the plot along.”

I can’t say enough about this gal. This book of hers revolutionized my own writing. But don’t buy the book and go off by yourself to read it; bring it with you to Beth Self’s home, as Dana Sudboro leads a gaggle of us each month, chapter by chapter to the last page. We’ll be starting in January, so keep your eyes peeled to the Inspire Writers website for the exact date and time that we begin, okay? We’ll do the exercises and then come together to discuss our answers, perspectives, and the ways her book is growing and deepening our writing.

I can’t wait. Hope to see you there.

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Jennifer Hamilton is a writer/editor who cheers the Auburn/Grass Valley Inspire group toward excellence; ever acknowledging that it is God who equips and trains, who opens and closes doors for opportunity. Her writing affirmations: Daring Faith, a 42-day devotional; two Bible Studies; DaySpring Cards; and freelancing for Cook Communications. Jennifer is also a blossoming grandmother of eight, a reflective mother of six, and the unexpected joy of her very own Solomon of nearly thirty years—all of which, has culminated into a masterpiece stroked in oils of complete surrender.

Find out more at www.jrhediting.com.  And while you’re there, leave a comment at http://jrhediting.com/blog