Author Archives: Judy Bodmer

Publicity Tips from Author Lynnette Bonner

Do you remember the song from Finding Nemo that Dory-the-crazy-blue-fish kept singing?

Just keep swimming,
just keep swimming,
just keep swimming…

Yeah, publicity is a lot like that. You just need to keep at it.

Sometimes you will feel like you are the only fish swimming upstream, while everyone else is swimming down, but you just need to keep swimming. Keep pressing on. Keep putting yourself out there – but make sure you are swimming in the right direction.

I realize that many of you may still be in the stages of looking for a publisher or agent. I want you to stop and remember that everything we do, whether we are thinking about it or not, is publicity. For the good or for the bad. (To keep with my analogy, all us little fishies are constantly swimming, whether we are going in the right direction or not.)

The Internet is a vast place, but with the ability of search, it shrinks right down to small-town-barber-shop size. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY ON THE NET. (And at writers conferences, and to agents and publishers you may talk to. Because if the Internet is barber-shop size, the writing world is even smaller. And agents and publishers do talk to each other.)

I read several agents and publishers blogs and I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve heard about an agent or publisher being interested in an author until they went on a Google hunt and started discovering some things the author had said.

Put yourself in an agent’s shoes for a moment. Let’s say they get two promising queries. Query A is from Suzy Sweetwater. She always has nice things to say on her blog about the industry, agents, and all things publishing. Query B is from George Grumpypants, who is constantly griping and complaining on his blog. Which person do you think the agent is going to request more information from? Of course it is Suzy Sweetwater because the agent doesn’t want to risk the fact that they might be a subject of one of Mr. Grumpypants’ tirades in the future. Not to mention that any future publishers will probably also check him out and the bad attitude might prevent them from offering a contract, which will keep the agent from getting paid.

Now this doesn’t mean that you have to say nice things about something that just drives you crazy. But the old adage “sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all” will serve you well. And if you just HAVE to say something, make sure that you say it in a respectful, thought-out way, or it just might come back to haunt you.

These principles apply whether you are brand new to the industry, or have just signed your 20th contract.

Lynnette Bonner has a brand new release, High Desert Haven, a Christian historical romance. She would be happy to give away one electronic copy of the book to a commenter on this blog post. The drawing will be held Monday, April 16th. To enter the drawing just leave a comment about one policy you have for being careful on the internet.

Below is the back cover copy from the book.
Is Jason Jordan really who he says he is?
Everything in Nicki’s life depends on the answer.

Nicki Trent is left with a toddler and a rundown ranch when her husband dies in a mysterious riding accident. Determined to bring her ranch back from the brink, Nicki hires handsome Jason Jordan as a manager. But when her neighbor, William, presses for her hand in marriage, the bank calls in a loan she didn’t even know about, and bullets start flying, Nicki questions whether this ranch is worth all the trouble.

To make matters worse, terrible things keep happening to her neighbors. When Jason is blamed, Nicki wonders how well she knows her new hand…and her own heart.

Two yearning hearts. Powerful enemies. Surprising love.
Set in the adventure and danger of the Wild West.

Walk Down Main Street

“I’m sorry the news isn’t good,” said the doctor on the other end of the phone. She had called to tell me the results of an ultra sound biopsy I had undergone two days before on my left breast. When you hear news like this, your senses sharpen, but you also go into shock. I remember where I was sitting, that the day was sunny, but I cannot recollect calling my husband. I do remember trying to get the word across my tongue the first time I had to tell my son. It stuck and I had a hard time saying, cancer. I needed to tell the people I loved, but saying this scary word was the most difficult task I’d ever undertaken.

The next few days were a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments and more tests. I needed to listen and ask questions; yet, all I wanted to do was curl up in my chair and do nothing. I couldn’t hide from the diagnosis. I had a job to do and it wasn’t just getting through the surgery and radiation treatments.

As a writer, I knew God might use my experience to help someone else someday. Encouraging words people said, how others prayed for me, the notes, the phone calls were all possible ideas for articles and devotions. Other women shared their stories. My cancer journey was a walk down Main Street compared to others who had to go through the wilderness. Maybe I could use these in a novel. Through it all, I listened carefully to what God wanted to teach me. I’m reminded again that when we take up the calling of author, nothing we go through is ever wasted in God’s economy.

Character Chart

There are numerous ways to create a believable, unique character. One is to fill out a character chart. By the time you have answered all of the questions below, you will know more about the key players in your novel than you know about your friends. This chart should also help trigger some plot points.

Character Chart

Name of your character (first, last, and middle):
Meaning of name. Reason parents named character. Nickname? As a child or adult? How do they feel about that nickname and how did they acquire it?

Age: Height: Weight: Race/ethnicity:

Hair color: Eye color: Skin tone:

Physical illnesses or afflictions:

Any scars or birthmarks? How did he/she get the scar?

Way of dressing/style/favorite outfit:

How does he/she feel about their face and body?

Characteristic gestures:

Speaking style (talkative, taciturn, soft, loud, formal, etc.):

Where were they born? In what city? Specific details, if important.

Where do they live now? Why?

Describe their living space (neat, cluttered, sparse, etc.)

Education: Level of school finished. How did they fit in at school? Favorite teacher. Favorite memory. Most embarrassing moment. Friends. Enemies.

Occupation(s): How does he/she feel about job? Have he/she lived up to parents’ expectations?

Income: earned? Inherited?

What is character’s skills/abilities/talents/expertise?

Marital Status: Married? How long? Happily? Living with someone? Who? Single? Children? Status of marriage. Spell out relationships.

If children, spell out names, ages, etc.

Parents: Write out a paragraph about relationship with parents.

Siblings: How many, relationship with each.

List any other important relative and influence on character such as grandparents, aunt, uncle.

List childhood traumas, moments that shaped character: arrests, rejections, failures.

Describe greatest fault: anger, unwillingness to confront, etc.

Describe greatest strength: ability to keep a secret, loyal, trustworthy, etc.

What does he/she do for entertainment?

What kind of food/drink does he/she like?

Physical activities?

Does he/she have any pets? As a child?


Any quirks? Admirable traits? Negative traits? Bad habits or vices?

How about prejudices or pet peeves?

What embarrasses your character?

Greatest fear?

Religious beliefs. Write out his/her testimony.

Opinions on politics, environment, crime, gun control etc.?

What is your character’s biggest dream?

Long term goals/short term goals.

What major problem does he/she have to solve or overcome?

What character growth will there be by the end of the story?

What lessons will your character have learned?

How will his/her life change by the end of the story?

Deadly Writing Mistake #7: Cardboard Characters

If you write fiction—it’s easy to create two-dimensional characters, or what some call cardboard characters. Even in nonfiction, we can be guilty of describing people in one dimensional terms.

Poor: Elaine is five-foot-six, has brown hair, and is thirty-two years old. She’s the divorced mother of two.

It takes time, thought, and hard work to fashion individuals, people who feel real to our readers.

Better: Elaine’s heavy brows knit together in pain and worry; a child of two clings to one leg, nervous as a wild cat. In her arms sits a baby who keeps grabbing at her mom’s long, greasy nut-brown hair. “He never meant to hit me,” Elaine says, touching her blue and yellow cheekbone. “It was the drinking that made him do it. If he’d just stay out of the bars, we’d be okay.”

The first example tells the reader who Elaine is. The second one leaves a mental memory, something the reader won’t forget. We know volumes about her life, all in three sentences.

Here’s an illustration I took from a book I recently read:

“Michael Archer found it hard to look at the young man before him. Ben Carstairs, only twenty-two, stood like a boy grown too tall, too soon. Each strand of his of his sandy hair grew as if it had a mind of its own. Handcuffs encircled his fine-boned wrists in loops of heavy iron. His lips quivered. Fear raged in his brown eyes.” Henry McLaughlin, Journey to Riverbend (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011) pg 1.

To create memorable characters do a character chart (a sample follows). This will help you with the facts of your character’s life. But you want to go deeper, get into their head and heart, actually hear their voice in your head. Ways to do this is to put on the persona of your character and write three pages as fast as you can. Now discard this and begin over. Once more, hit delete and start again. By now you will have gotten past the critic who sits on your shoulder and you will have dipped deeper into your creative mind than you may have ever gone before.

For an excellent book on this topic, I suggest Brandilyn Collin’s Getting into Character.

Deadly Writing Mistake #6: Repetition

No one wants to be tagged as a newbie. Repetition of words or sentence structure shouts to an editor you don’t know what you’re doing.

An example of word repetition: Raspberries taste best right off the bush. Ways to serve raspberries include: raspberry pie, raspberry crisp, raspberry crepes. Others tell me they like their raspberries on breakfast cereal, yogurt, and with ice cream.

A bit over the top, but you get the point. Writing this same paragraph using the word raspberry only once is a challenge, but it can be done. Try it.

Sometimes we write using repetition thinking we’re making our point stronger. In fact, repeating words takes away from what we’re trying to say. Example: Texting while driving causes accidents—accidents which are entirely unnecessary.

When speaking, this repetition would work. Not for the reader.

Another form of repetition is in sentence structure. All complex or all simple sentences can create a dull piece. The reader may not even realize what is bothering them about the writing. By mixing up your sentence lengths and complexities, you create interest.

Once I edited a book where almost every sentence began with a gerund (a word that begins with –ing). Most of us would catch this right away in our own writing, but we might not notice overuse of words like but, and, or as.

To catch repetion read your material aloud to someone else. I highly recommend a writing group.

Deadly Writing Mistake #5: Using Cliches (Part Two)

Clichés can also be an overused idea.

Have you ever read a novel and thought, I’ve read this storyline before? Some common plot lines I’ve seen in my years of being a writing teacher and contest judge are:
1) a woman goes home for her class reunion and meets her high school sweetheart,
2) a chemical company is polluting a small town’s water and people are dying of cancer,
3) an old woman (or man) is suspected of being mean in a children’s book, but in the end, the character discovers she is really nice. I’ll bet you can add to this list.

Settings can also become cliché-like. Examples include: conversations that take place in a restaurant, at a kitchen table, or while driving in a car. Why not spice up your book by picking an unusual place for those dialogues? Why not use an attraction like a park or museum or special place that shows off the uniqueness of town where you’ve set your novel? In Seattle we have Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and ferries. Or give your character an unusual occupation and hold the conversation while he’s putting on scuba gear, butchering a hog, or climbing out of a combine.

Most of us use clichés of setting, plot, and description without realizing it. We grab for them when we are in a hurry. They may even feel fresh, like something no one has ever written about before because we’re writing about something that happened to us. Or we do it because we’re trying to meet a deadline.

The best way to guard against clichés is to read, read, read, especially in your genre. If you write murder mysteries, you will soon discover common themes, settings, plots and you will soon learn to avoid them.

Also, take time and dig deeper into your creative mind. Even a cliché can become fresh if you find a new way to approach it. The woman who goes home to her high school reunion is a common story line for a reason. Many women have this fantasy and want to read about scenarios such as this. The challenge is to put a new twist on an old familiar theme.

Can you name a cliché you’ve seen recently?

Deadly Writing Mistake #5: Using Cliches (Part One)

A cliché is a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse. An example would be cute as a bug’s ear or dead as a doornail. What exactly do those phrases mean? Does anyone know what a doornail looks like? Have you ever seen a bug’s ear? Sure, you might never use these obvious clichés in your writing, but you might use others without knowing it. When a reader comes across a cliché, they read right past it. No image is triggered in their mind.

Why do we use clichés? Usually we reach for them when we’re in a hurry. They are on the surface of our brain and we grab for them when we’re searching for an easy description. They may even feel fresh. But if we use them too often, an editor may label us as hackneyed. Coming up with fresh similes and metaphors takes time. Some authors spend an hour trying to describe the sound of the ocean or the face of dead person. An example from P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “Rhoda Gadwyn was lying on her back, her two arms were raised awkwardly above her head, as if in a gesture of theatrical surprise.” Not only does this feel fresh, but her words trigger an image that sticks with the reader.

To avoid using clichés, learn to recognize them and cut them from your work. Below is a list of common ones.

Cliches of Comparison

As the day is long
Ate like a pig
Behaved like a lamb
Bigger than life
Black as night
Blind as a bat
Cold as ice
Cool as a cucumber
Cute as a bug’s ear
Dead as a doornail
Deep as the ocean
Drop like a hot potato
Drunk as a lord
Easy as pie
Eager beaver
Feeling your oats
Filled to the brim
Free as a bird
Free as a breeze
Fought like a tiger
Fresh as a daisy
Gentle as a lamb
Gentle breeze
Green as a gourd
Green as grass
Green with envy
Happy as a clam
Happy as a lark
Heart of gold
Hot as a firecracker
Hot as hell
Hungry as a bear
Jack of all trades
Lay low
Light as a feather
Like a flash
Like a graveyard
Like walking on eggs
Like water off a duck’s back
Naked as a jaybird
Naked as the day he/she was born
Out like a light
Please as punch
Pretty as a picture
Pure as a lily
Pure as the driven snow
Purple with anger
Quick as a flash
Quick as a mouse
Quick as a wink
Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson
Ran like deer
Silent as a tomb
Slept like a log
Sly as a fox
Smooth as glass
Snug as a bug in a rug
Sober as a judge
Soft as silk
Straight as die
Smooth as silk
Straight as an arrow
Strong as an ox
Stubborn as a mule
Sweet as honey
Sweet as sugar
Swift as a bird

Clichés of Description

Absent minded professor
Brilliant student
Brink of disaster
Briny deep
Burning question
Burst of applause
Busy executive
Calm before the storm
Cheeks like roses
Collapse of civilization
Dawn of hope
Debt of gratitude
Depths of despair
Forests of masts
Fund of knowledge
Harried housewife
Heart of gold
Impossible dream
Laurels of victory
Lips like cherries
Liquid brown eyes
Long arm of the law
Looked like a Greek god
Madonna-like face
Man of integrity
Mona Lisa smile
New horizons
Question of life or death
Remarkable technique
Rich reward
Ripe old age
Road to success
Rewards of industry
Sea of faces
Ship of state
Special occasion
Splendid achievement
Startling phenomenon
Straight and narrow
Sumptuous repast
Supreme sacrifice
Tall, dark, and handsome
Tide of events
Trials and tribulations
Ultimate goal
Unexpected turn of events
Word to the wise
Unknown factor
Unpleasant surprise
Veritable gold mind
Victor’s crown, spoils
Viselike grip

** Pat Kubia and Bob Howard, Writing Fiction, Nonfiction, and How to Publish, Reston Publishing Company, Inc., A Prentice-Hall Company (Reston Virginia, 1985), 89-90.

Deadly Writing Mistake #4: Unwilling to Rewrite

I have two writing friends who have both written several novels. Janet submitted her first novel to a major publishing house. The editors at this house asked her to rewrite her manuscript at least four times before they published it. Her seventh and eighth novels are due out in the coming year. Each of her books has required at least one or two rewrites, which is the norm in her genre, middle grade and YA fiction.

Robert has submitted his novels to major publishing houses and several agents. He too has received requests for rewrites, but he refuses to do them. He says he can’t be bothered. They need to take his books as is. He finds rewriting boring. Robert has never published and complains about how difficult it is to get published.

What would you do if asked to rewrite your manuscript? Do you think the hard work would be worth it?

Deadly Writing Mistake #3: Failing to Submit

I once had a student who flew helicopters in Vietnam, drove truck, worked as a policeman, fireman, and did just about every manly job you can name. His poetry about his war experiences made the class weep. He confided in me that he’d penned similar poems, but doubted he’d ever publish because he didn’t think he could ever overcome his fear of submitting. At that moment I became aware of how scary it can be to put our writings out there—for someone to judge, to say yea or nay to it.

No matter how great your idea, how beautiful your prose, how perfectly you’ve slanted your piece to fit a market, you’ll never publish something sitting in a file in your computer.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how difficult it is to take a chance, send something out, and risk rejection

If you’re struggling with submitting-itis, you’re not alone. I see this problem among the most gifted writers, including myself. I use the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to help me. You may find another verse works for you. Go to Christ and pray, ask him to help you overcome this malady so you can fulfill your calling as a writer.

During my teaching year, I held a contest every year. I gave a prize to the person with the most rejections and a prize to the person with the most acceptances. Surprise! The same person won every single time.

1923 Teacher Code of Ethics

The Idaho Education News published the following code of ethics a teacher in 1923 had to sign. She must agree:

1. Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries.
2. Not to keep company with men.
3. To be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless she is in attendance at a school function.
4. Not to loiter downtown in ice cream parlors.
5. Not to leave town at any time without the permission of the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
6. Not to smoke cigarettes. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found smoking.
7. Not to drink beer, wine or whisky. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found drinking beer, wine, or whisky.
8. Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brothers or father.
9. Not to dress in bright colors.
10. Not to dye her hair.
11. To wear at least two petticoats.
12. Not to wear dresses more than two inches above the ankles.
13. To keep the schoolroom clean; to sweep the classroom floor at least once daily; to scrub the classroom floor once a week with hot water and soap; to clean the blackboards at least once daily; to start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm at 8 a.m. when the children arrive; to carry out the ashes at least once daily.
14. Not to use face powder, mascara, or paint the lips.

The monthly salary for a teacher was $75.00.

Ilo-Vollmer Historical Society, School Bells & Ink Wells, (Craigmont, ID, 2011) pg. xix.