Archive for December, 2009

Hidden Greatness

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “What The Dog Saw,” he tells the story of Shirley Polykoff, the advertising copy writer, who penned the famous Miss Clairol “Nice ‘n Easy” line: “Does she or doesn’t she?”
In the 1950s when Polykoff worked for an ad agency, the world was at peace. And changing. For the first time in two decades, people were no longer hungry, living just to eat, and it was possible for the suburban housewife to think the unthinkable.
“Go blonde!”
“Be a redhead!”
The ’56 Clairol campaign offered women the luxury of changing their exterior to match their interior. Easy and at home.
For the brunette Polykoff, it was to be a blonde. She wrote, “If I’ve only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde.”
Coloring one’s hair became respectable and mainstream. Any ole housewife could change her look, her self esteem, by merely coloring her hair.
The campaign literally changed women’s lives.
Fast forward to 1973 where young, eager, aggressive ad copywriter Ilon Specht worked for the Madison Avenue firm hired by the French based L’Oréal to challenge Clairol’s dominance in America’s hair coloring market.
In the early ‘70s when feminism was coming into it’s own, Specht was a “girl” trying to be a “woman” in the male dominated ad world. In a fit of anger over the word woman being scratched out and changed to girl in her copy, she penned the now famous L’Oréal campaign that begins, “I use the most expensive hair color in the world…” and ends, “because I’m worth it.”
Preference by L’Oréal stole the market from Clairol on that phrase alone. In 1997, L’Oréal made “Because I’m worth it” the company slogan.
Can you imagine? Remember when you were young, eager, in your early twenties and the world seemed so… obtainable?
For these two women, Polykoff and Specht, the feeling was true.
Until I read Gladwell’s story, I never heard of either of them. Had you? But I’d repeated “Does she or doesn’t she?” and “Because I’m worth it,” in every day conversation.
I paused to consider how their lives might inspire mine. And yours. I don’t write advertising copy, but I do write novels. I am a crafter of stories and words.
In recent reviews of The Sweet By and By, reviewers have quoted actual lines in the book that impacted them and caused them to ponder.
What Polykoff – a natural brunette who felt she was really a blonde – did was live true to herself. Same with Specht. A young feminist ticked off at her male colleagues came up with one of the most famous advertising lines of the 20th Century. She wrote from her heart.
As writers, as lovers of Jesus, we must write from our hearts. We have to dig deep and find that core value and passion that drives us to put words on the page. While we must let our characters speak, we can certainly infuse them with our passion and wisdom.
Too often we limit ourselves. Polykoff and Specht did not. They took chances, pushed boundaries, lived true to their passion.
As citizens of a greater Kingdom, we above all should have no limitations. No fears. No crisis of identity.
If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us…
This life is an internship for eternity. My goal is to live as close to the heart beat of Jesus as I possibly can, knowing, believing, trusting He has way more good for me than I can imagine.
In the process, write words that change people’s lives. Look, I don’t anticipate writing a novel that changes Thomas Nelson’s fiction brand – though I’m open to the idea – but I know I can write novels that can peer into the heart of the reader and whisper, “God loves you.”
Why? Because they are worth it!

Contributed by Guest Blogger and Thomas Nelson author,
Rachel Hauck


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Life Lessons from Superman

As most of you know, I’m a huge Superman fan. More from the comics than from the movies. I started reading them as a boy. And even now, every Wednesday I still head to the local comic store to pick up the week’s new Superman comic.

I realize most of you aren’t likely to start reading Superman comics…but there’s still some great life practices you can learn from the Man of Steel.

In no particular order, here are my Top Ten Life Lessons from Superman. Some apply to writing. Some to life. Put on your cape and try a few in 2010!

·        Sees life from an outsider’s perspective

He’s an alien – from the planet Krypton. So he sees everything from his unique vantage point – through new eyes. As a storyteller, you have the gift of seeing things through new eyes too. Never lose that.

·        Never uses his power to kill

It’s an oath he took – to never kill. Authors work in words and know the power they hold. As Scripture reminds us, words can kill. It’s always good to check if our words in stories and our words to others ultimately leads to life…or to death.

·        Avoids his personal “kryptonite”

For Superman, the element that saps his strength is green kryptonite. Each of us have something that drains our power and energy. What is your personal kryptonite that drains or destroys you – and how successful are you at avoiding it?

·        Is absolutely bulletproof

Superman never worries about the bullets flying at him. They bounce right off because he has a strength none of his enemies possess. Do you have that same peace when bullets fly your way?

·        Lives his brand

Truth, Justice and the American Way. Not a bad brand to live by. When you see the red S, you know what it stands for. What words define your brand? And…is your definition for yourself different than how others define you? If so, why?

·        Understands where his power comes from

Without the Sun’s energy, Superman couldn’t fly or have super strength. He craves the Sun. Our power come from another Son. Though we sometimes rely on our own power and creativity, our true strength is found in Him alone. When we try to fly on our own strength, the resulting fall is only a matter of time.

·        Has his personal Fortress of Solitude

In the middle of the Antarctic, he has a hideaway of ice that only he can access. It’s his place to unwind, renew, refresh. Find his bearings. Where is your fortress of solitude?

·        Maintains a secret identity

Ok, granted, even as a kid, the Clark Kent glasses seemed a lame disguise. But the point is – he didn’t walk around every minute of the day as Superman. He humbled himself as a normal every day guy. As a writer, you have a public persona just like Superman. Fans think you walk on water. But hopefully, you also have those around you who regularly bring you back down to earth. Even if you don’t wear glasses!

·        Doesn’t worry what others think

Come on, the guy wears his red underpants on the outside of his suit! How often do we shy away from what we really want to write or say or do because of how someone else might respond?

·        Brings his strength to crisis situations

Think about it. Superman never looks to be rescued. He doesn’t have panic attacks or sleepless nights. He is the ultimate other-focused super hero whose genuine strength sets others at ease specifically in the midst of trials. How about you?

Wishing you a SUPER 2010!

~Allen Arnold

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This month, I was honored to write to the Christian fiction community at large by sharing the publicity column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine. Only disappointment with this setup? No way to comment on the site itself. Much more of a one-sided speaking gig than the conversation we’ve grown accustomed to having online. So I’d love to hear your thoughts… How do you step back from your work to consider the story you’re telling through your career? If you’ve been an author for a while, what kind of advice can you share with those who are just getting started with this writing life? And if you’re new to the craft, what kinds of challenges are you facing in balancing the many aspects of this career? Let’s talk! By the way, when preparing for this column, so many great stories came to mind as I thought back through the past couple of years working with you all. I think we foster a good spirit of camaraderie on our team here. Thanks for making my job enjoyable—it’s easy to get excited to tell media about professional, personable authors who love what they’re doing. Check out the article, click here!


Katie Bond


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I never imagined a day when I’d have to specify the kind of book I was reading —printed, audio, digital?

When I started as a Fiction editor nearly five years ago, I took a hard stance on audio books. They weren’t actual books to me, just inferior derivatives—especially the abridged versions.

I’ve recently shifted my stance, except for the abridged versions–those should be banned altogether. But I discovered some positive attributes about the audio book in spite of my prejudice. I’ve noticed that listening to novels provides two additional facets for me in the story experience:
1.    I fall into the story more completely, focusing less on the construction and more on the actual story.
2.    And this is the editor in me, but it’s easier for me to hear the authorial tone in an audio.
Now if I’m in the car (without the kids), I’m listening to a novel. I’m very particular about the kind of novel I’ll listen to. I try out fiction I’m curious about, usually new authors or secular bestsellers. Those books I wouldn’t necessarily purchase, but since the library stocks them, I’ll check them out. Afterall, if not for the audio books, I’d just be listening to talk radio and that just makes my blood pressure go up.

Audio pitfalls: a bad narrator. Nothing makes me give up faster on a story than a reader who gets on my nerves.

Accepting audio books is proof of how far I’ve come in my affair with “the book.” My love for the printed word started very young—and now that I see my children with the same affection—I know it can happen even before one’s first birthday!

I remember pretending to be a librarian, stamping my hardcover books (Piggle, Raggedy Ann and Andy, The Days of the Week, Frog and Toad…) with my mom’s notary stamp, writing in the due date and the make-believe Dewey decimal number on the inside front cover.

When I was eleven, I got a typewriter for my birthday, a Brothers model, and I made up vignettes, aspiring to one day become a writer. That same year someone in my family got me a subscription to Writer’s Digest.  I remember reading those magazines, not wanting to apply the tips and advice, but standing in awe of the amount of work it took to just write a book. This was an early glimpse of the same awe I have for authors and the work it takes to craft their stories. I knew then that my destiny wasn’t as a writer but as an editor.

It was in college that I knew that the only thing I cared to study were books. Not just their interiors, but their exteriors, the process of making a book. A book suddenly was not just a solitary item: they were front covers, spines, endsheets, ink, and paper.

Paper: another facet to my love of books. I took a class on paper my junior year and discovered the complexities of a seemingly simple item. Paper has grain, weight, and texture. I could make paper out of the lint in my dryer or the leaves in the yard. Paper has a scent.

Reading a book is a five-sense experience for me. The first thing I do when I get a new book is flip the pages, lean my head in, and smell the paper. The mixture of ink and paper makes my pupils dilate. In hardcover books, I take off the jacket to see what the hardcover board texture feels like, what is stamped on the front and spine, what color the designer chose. I touch the endsheets and run my hand over the first sheet of paper. Sometimes it’s smooth, other times the paper has a texture that reminds me of the paper in rare books, where the pages were spliced manually and fall unevenly against the thumb on my right hand.

When my husband and I were dating, I went to a rare bookshop and found an old book of French poetry. I don’t speak French, but I knew it was the language of love. I bought that gem for more than I’ll admit because the book as an object was so beautiful. It was small and fit perfectly in my hands. It had marbled gray and blue endsheets, a hand sewn spine, and the words on the pages had been typeset by hand on a linotype machine. The text on each page constructed by an artisan whose job it was to select and align type blocks.

Typefaces. One last element of a book that makes me swoon. Typefaces are works of art–each one telling a story of the person who created it. Some typefaces are masculine, some feminine. Some make a bold statement, others are subtle. Some set large, others are more delicate. I’ve always liked the font (modern day translation for typeface) Quadraat, see sample below.

AaBbCc Handgloves

I love letters and the relationship they have to their neighboring letters. The space between the letters, or kerning. I’m fond—as the typesetting group here at Nelson well knows—of ligatures. Ligatures are the running together of letters. See sample below:

fidget fidget

waffle waffle

fluff fluff

If you pull out one of your novels, you may find the “fi” or the “fl” connected. This is because, without the ligature, the dot in the “i” would overlap on the tip of the “f” and that looks sloppy. Ligatures, unfortunately, are going away with the digital age since the element that makes the ligature doesn’t translate well when converted to an e-book.

E-books. It appears this is the wave of the future. I have mixed feelings about this direction, but that’s for another day. My entire life I’ve spent in a love affair with the printed book, so my allegiance is to that form. That isn’t a knock on digital books; I love the thought of reaching new readers any way we can.

But for me, I’ll be a life-long purchaser of the old-fashioned book, dust-jacket and all.

By Natalie Haneman

Senior Editor

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