Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

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  • BLOG NEWS

    Thank you for your encouragement and support for the past three years. We've had fun connecting with you and hope you've found useful material here on Reflections. And here's the but... Reflections In Hindsight is closing on December 21, 2012. Elaine and Sophie and I can be found over at http://authorculture.blogspot.com; April can be found at Clash of the Titles, http://www.clashofthetitles, http://www.aprilgardner.com and watch for news for more novels from her!; Janet is ever-present on the Internet with her very special words of wisdom and grace at http://www.janetperezeckles.com, and Luther--who knows where he'll show up next, but I'd watch my back if I were you... Book Reviews are always important, so I, Lisa, will continue to offer them through my blog, as well as those promotions for your new books or book launches, or your news.
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End of the Line

Posted by Ben Erlichman on March 1, 2012

As I sit here in the hallway just outside my condo (I locked myself out—my house and car keys are inside so I’m stranded), I can’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come since I first started blogging for Reflections in Hindsight. I began awhile ago upon seeing an admonition from our very own Lisa Lickel via the ACFW Midwest loop for anyone interested in contributing to this blog. I answered her call and offered to contribute, and soon I was posting once every other week.

Not long after that, I began posting every week when the gentleman I was co-posting with had to step back from the blog, so Thursdays became “my day” at Reflections. It worked well for a long time. I could probably go back and tell you exactly how long it’s been, but I haven’t any desire to try to figure out how to do that on my iPad via the WordPress App and risk losing an entire post (it’s happened before) in the process.

I’ve shared on a great many subjects during my time here, some of which still attract readers even though the posts have been live for months. Some of my top posts include my thoughts on witchcraft in YA books (above and beyond the level of Harry Potter, which I think is mostly harmless), a fun post entitled “WWJBD? What Would James Bond Do?“, and my personal favorite, An Obituary for Harold, a squirrel to whom I paid tribute a few days after I ran him over with my car.

All in all, it’s been a great run, but as I said in a previous post about how much I hate blogging, I just don’t have the time, energy, or the drive to continue to write anymore. Part of it stems from the fact that I don’t enjoy reading blogs very much, and I hate the idea that I have to blog in order to be a “successful” author as far as my books go. If I hate blogging, why am I doing it?

I apologize for my negative outlook on this subject. As this is my last post at Reflections, I want to leave on a positive note, something I have done for basically everything I’ve posted. I’m that type of person: the optimist who sees the glass as half full—usually.

So here’s my positive spin on all of this: in not blogging at Reflections, I will have more time to write books, work on Splickety Magazine (which you can buy here), and be a good father to my son (or possibly daughter), who we’re expecting to be born within the next few weeks. Posting at Reflections has been an obligation that I worried about fulfilling every week, and now I won’t have to worry anymore.

Thank you all for reading my posts throughout the last year or so. You’ve walked along with me on this journey, through the good times and the bad, through the well-planned posts and the not so well-planned posts. I am forever indebted to you for your support.

As I sign off for the last time as a regular contributor (that’s right, you may see me again at some point, it’s just that I won’t be the one driving the carriage) I have to make three final requests of you.

1. Please continue to read Reflections authors’ posts. As you well know, I’m not the only one here at this site. Never was. Please continue to support this site, and tell your friends about it. I owe so much to Lisa and the other contributors for what they’ve taught me, so please check them out often, if not every day.

2. Keep reading on Thursdays. My replacement is the very able, intelligent, creative Luther D. Powell, a young man with a bright future ahead of him. You can check him out on our author page soon. He will continue to bring the heat through his posts, a heat that has cooled in my recent posts. Give him more than a fair shot—I think you’ll be impressed.

3. Finally, keep your eyes open. I’ll be around. I’m at conferences, I’m not leaving Splickety Magazine any time soon (just started it—duh), and I’ll eventually have a book or 19 published that you all can and should read, and then buy more copies for your friends and family. When that day comes, I’ll appear on Reflections again, probably for an interview. Until then, support Splickety, and if you see me wandering the halls at some conference you happen to be attending, come up and say hello. I’m okay with faces but horrible with names, so please pardon me if you have to remind me who you are.

With that, thank-you again, and God bless you all.

-Ben

This is me preparing for my undoubtedly bright future.

Posted in Anxiety, Author Marketing, Author Spotlight, Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Heart and Home, Homemaking, Hospitality, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Music, Parenting, Publishing, Till death do we part, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

1000 Pounds

Posted by Ben Erlichman on February 23, 2012

Last week Thursday, I accomplished something amazing. Check out this video: 1000 Pounds

If for some reason you can’t open it up, it’s a video of yours truly and my friend Steve Carter leg pressing 1,000 pounds multiple times. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so amazing to you weight-lifting blog-reading types, but I’m six feet tall, 185lbs, and can’t even bench press my own weight, so this is actually pretty darn incredible.

1000 Pounds

I previously accomplished the feat of leg pressing 900 pounds, which spurred a fun response from some of my writer friends. One in particular has asked me to create a blog post featuring things that weigh 1,000 pounds, or the equivalent of what I can leg press ten times. Here is that list.

  • In the American measuring system, 1,000 pounds is a half-ton.
  • The internet says that if you were to cut a killer whale into three equal-sized parts, each would be about 1,000 pounds.
  • The median weight of a male polar bear is about 1,000 pounds. (Yes, I could probably leg press a polar bear if he cooperated. Maybe if I gave him a Coca-Cola.)
  • Speaking of Coca-Cola (or Pepsi, which I prefer), that would equate to about 1,334 standard 12-ounce cans, or a little more than 111 12-packs of cans.
  • I mentioned that I weigh 185 pounds. While I can’t even bench press my own weight, I leg pressed more than five times my own weight (5.4 times, actually).
  • 1,000 pounds equals $1571.80 in US Dollars, but those are British pounds (their currency) and so it doesn’t really apply to this list.
  • Someone in Pennsylvania made a butter sculpture that weighed 1,000 pounds.
  • Adult male sea lions in California can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
  • An eight-month-old baby elephant in the Oregon zoo weighed about 1,000 pounds at the date of the article connected to the link I posted.
  • Certain types of horses can weigh around 1,000 pounds.
  • 120 gallons of water weighs about 1,000 pounds (actually a little less).
  • According to this site, a blue whale’s heart weighs about 1,000 pounds.
  • 50 reams of 500 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets of paper weigh 1,000 pounds. That’s 25,000 sheets of paper.
  • Or, if you want to take the environmental approach, 1,000 pounds of paper is about 12 trees.
  • Cows can weigh 1,000 pounds. I suddenly want steak…
  • So do some moose, oxen, and bison.
  • In smaller terms, we would need between 571 and 1,000 gray squirrels to equal 1,000 pounds, depending on their weight (16-28 ounces).
  • This ice cube maker is 1,000 pounds.
  • Snowmobiles can weigh 1,000 pounds.
  • This guy was executed via a machine described as a “shooting gallery of steel” in Nevada in 1913.
  • Someone actually took the time to figure out how much a million dollars weighs. If a million dollars in $1.00 bills weighs 1.1 tons, that means that a half a ton (1,000 pounds) would equal about$445,000 in $1.00 bills. (If my math is wrong, oh well. It’s a LOT of money either way.)
  • Apparently Christina Aguilera, 5’2″, weighed 100 pounds in March of last year (or so she claims). That means that I leg pressed ten Christina Aguileras.
  • A barrel of honey weighs 100 pounds, so I leg pressed ten of those too.
  • Since mama grizzly bear weighs 400-500 pounds and papa grizzly bear weighs 500-600 pounds, it’s conceivable that I could leg press them both at the same time. (Baby grizzly bear can watch. Maybe I’ll give him a Coca-Cola too.)
  • Really, really big cougars can reach 200 pounds. I could leg press five of them as long as I wasn’t distracted by them trying to eat me. (***NOTE: these are the large cat-type, not the older-woman-going-after-younger-men type. I won’t venture estimates for how many of those kinds of cougars I could leg press.)
  • Two bales of cotton weigh about 1,000 pounds.
  • As an author, I deal with books a lot. A hardcover book weighs about a pound or two, so that means I could leg press between 500 and 1,000 of them. Paperbacks weigh less, so I could get more literature on the press. Ah, but here’s the kicker: if I used my wife’s Kindle 3 (8.5 ounces), I could leg press about 2125 of them. Given that each Kindle 3 can hold 3,500 books, I could leg press 7,437,500 e-books, or a little more than a fifth of the entire Library of Congress’s collection of books (if they were in e-form).
  • Your standard North American beaver weighs about 99 pounds, so I could leg press about ten of them, each with a stick in its mouth.
  • And finally, speaking of beavers, we end our list with a bit more pop culture: according to the internet, Justin Bieber is fabled to weigh between 120 and 130 pounds. I could leg press between 7.7 and 8.3 Justin Biebers.

Well, that’s my list. If you have things to add to it, please post your findings in the comments section. Tune in next week when I introduce my replacement, Benjamin Lucas Powell, a good friend and a great writer, who will be taking my place here at Reflections in Hindsight.

Posted in Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Publishing, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Observations on the Aftermath of Whitney Houston’s Death

Posted by Ben Erlichman on February 16, 2012

Whenever a celebrity dies, especially one of the caliber of Whitney Houston, or Michael Jackson, or Larry King–wait…he’s not dead yet? Oh, he just kind of looks like he’s dead. My bad.

Whitney Houston

Anyway, there’s a predictable pattern of reaction from the media, from social networks, and from other celebrities. It’s horrible, but true, and most of it infuriates me. Here are two of my observations regarding Whitney Houston’s recent passing:

1. The media was well-prepared–too well-prepared. I think we all know by now that major media outlets have obituary files and footage already picked out for most of the world’s major celebrities, so all they have to do is pull out that file, mash together that footage and have the anchors/reporters practice going through some of said celeb’s lifetime highlights, low periods, and everything in-between before going on live and presenting the obituary.

That means that these news outlets not only have those files and footage, but that they update them regularly, and they also probably prioritize them based on who they think is going to croak first. In a way, this is a totally heartless and cold approach to the death of an important person, but if you stop and consider it, isn’t that kind of news exactly what everyone is supposed to get? Even-tempered, unbiased reporting of the facts?

I still don’t think I like it, though.

2. Idiots used Whitney’s death as a chance to advance their own agendas. This is the reason why I felt I should write on this topic today. I’m flummoxed at some peoples’ stupid behavior in response to Whitney’s death. If you thought the media outlets were bad for being well-prepared for Whitney’s death, you’ll be disgusted at some of the things coming out of celebrities’ mouths and from social networking sites like Facebook.

Two examples in particular really made me fume. Tony Bennett, who, for our younger readers, is a very famous singer/performer from yesteryear, made one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever heard after a celebrity’s death: he said, “I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs. So they have to get it through a doctor, not just some gangsters that sell it under the table.”

Tony Bennett

Look, I’m not going to comment on the validity of his argument. Maybe he’s right, maybe not. But that’s not the point. The point is that he stood up in public and used Whitney Houston’s death to advance his own agenda. Wow…what a way to pay tribute to a friend–use their death to tell the government that drugs should be legalized. How do you think the population would have responded if reputable pastor like Rick Warren (not that he would) came out in public and said that everyone should accept Jesus and live fulfilled lives so they don’t end up like Whitney Houston? The universe, including a lot of Christians, would throw a conniption fit. To sum up, Tony’s comment was poorly-timed, and inappropriate.

Here’s another dumb thing I saw, this one on Facebook:

Yes, I know this is Steve Jobs and not Whitney.

I used Steve because I saw this meme used after his death first–and also because the one I found with Whitney had a picture of her with her chest halfway hanging out. You get the idea, though, right? Millions “cry” when a celebrity dies, but no one cries for the millions dying from AIDS in Africa, or from ethnic cleansing/genocide, or from hunger.

::Sigh::

I won’t argue with the premise. Yes, the world is a place of a profound injustice, and this does a good job of showing that discrepancy. That said, this is just as opportunistic and inappropriate as Tony’s comment above for exactly the same reason: the author is using a tragedy to advance their own agenda at the expense of the departed person immortalized in their meme, as if subtly implying that somehow, it’s partly Whitney’s or Steve’s fault that millions are dying. Or, at the very least, such memes are made to make us feel guilty about how we react to celeb deaths.

I’m probably not the best example of how to react to a celebrity’s death because I generally don’t spend much time following their lives in the first place. That said, you’re getting my opinion anyway.

When Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson died, and even more so when Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter) was skewered by a stingray a few years back and died, I felt very sad. I didn’t go out and place flowers or notes or teddy bears on their graves (or in front of their chain of Apple stores like folks did with Steve Jobs), but their deaths impacted me (less with Steve Jobs, as I’m only a recent convert to the cult of Apple).

The meme above makes the assumption that we stupid, spoiled Americans care more about a person (who has actually affected our lives in some way) than we do about those suffering and dying around the world. Honestly, I’m sure that is the case with a lot of people, but to use a celeb death as an opportunity to guilt-trip the rest of us, including people close to Whitney or Steve or Steve or Michael, is wrong.

Sorry, but you’re just being a jerk. You haven’t considered how many people those celebs actually did touch in a profound way, who are already hurting at the loss of a friend, family member, or loved one (celebrity), upon seeing your meme, feel guilty and used as a part of a scheme to raise awareness for an issue that most people would already agree with anyway. In other words, your timing sucks because you don’t have the balls to try to promote your ideas in a time of normalcy and instead do it at the expense of someone’s death and others’ grief.

Alright. I’m done ranting. I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Next week, stay tuned for a much anticipated post, probably the second-to-last one you’ll get out of me here at Reflections: Things that Weigh a Thousand Pounds (aka things that I can leg press).

-Ben

Posted in Anxiety, Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Hospitality, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Music, Publishing, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Blogging is the Devil

Posted by Ben Erlichman on February 9, 2012

Why do people blog? What makes them think that anyone else  in the world wants to know about the new recipe for mongoose flambe they just created? Who actually reads blogs?

I’ve been pushing myself for the last year or so to blog once a week here at Reflections (occasionally I’ve missed a few weeks, but hey, one of them was on Thanksgiving, so there). In that time I’ve learned that, for me, blogging is the devil.

See? I told you it was.

What I mean is that like the devil, blogging distracts me from what I should be doing. Also, I hate the devil. likewise, I’ve grown to hate blogging. I have never enjoyed reading blogs, and I’ve always felt like I was supposed to blog as a part of my life as a writer because that’s what I’ve been told I’m supposed to do.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m attempting to write four novels this year. Correction: four GOOD novels this year, not just some garbage books that I don’t care about. In my mind, each word that I write on a Thursday morning (or before if I’m really prepared) is another word that won’t get written in one of my books because I’ve written it here. I’m not okay with that.

Perhaps this springs from my lack of interest in blogging as a medium of communication. The only time I read blogs is when a friend asks me to, or when I see something on Facebook that’s of interest to me and it happens to link to a blog post. I don’t go out trolling the internet for blogs. That’s not my idea of entertainment. I don’t enjoy that. The closest I come to that is Cracked.com, a site that I visit regularly because it’s funny and informational (but not always appropriate–you’ve been warned). That’s not really a blog sight, though.

Randy Ingermanson has sent out a lot of good stuff in his Advanced Fiction newsletters since I’ve been a subscriber (and probably before that too). In his last one he suggested that an author should ascribe a value to every business-related thing he does, as follows: $1 work, $10 work, $100 work, $1,000 work. The dollar amounts represent how much money you make from the various tasks you perform.

For instance, I run Splickety Magazine, which takes up a lot of my time. At this point I’m not privy to how much I’ll make from that rag, but I’m imagining it will be in the high $10s or the low $100s. I anticipate it will go up over time as I’ll get better at producing it as time goes on, plus I’ll hopefully make some money by selling some advertising for it. Compare that with my novel-writing: that’s definitely $1,000 work. Sure, it hasn’t actually made me any money thus far, but once I do get published, then I’m confident I’ll be in the $1,000 range.

This formula pertains more to marketing in my case than anything else. The idea is to focus either on A) what I’m good at/enjoy or B) what makes me the most money. I’m good at writing books, I’m good at running Splickety, and I’m good at Facebooking, plus I usually enjoy those things most of the time. I’m kind of good at blogging–of the top five most-viewed posts here at Reflections, four are mine (not including the Author page or the site’s homepage)–but I don’t like it. As of right now, it hasn’t made me any money that I can see, so it falls into the $1 work category. I think you can see where this is going.

I’m going to stop blogging. Over the next few weeks you won’t see me around here much anymore, and then eventually I’ll be gone, with perhaps an occasional guest appearance here and there. I just can’t justify the time I spend blogging anymore. I’ve already spent too much time on this one as it is to make it a decent post.

As such, I need to find a replacement. If you or anyone else is interested, comment on this post and the rest of the Reflections staff/administration will consider contacting you about it. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve benefited from this experience in ways that aren’t as tangible or measurable as money. I’ve made new friends and connections, I’ve learned to be more concise in my thoughts when blogging, and I’ve grown as a writer and as a person, but it’s time for me to move on.

This isn’t my last post here, but it’ll be one of the last. I’ll see you around, okay?

-Ben

Posted in Anxiety, Author Marketing, Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Music, Publishing, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Road Trip Fury

Posted by Ben Erlichman on January 26, 2012

I am not a fan of road trips. Sorry to start this post with such a negative statement, but I really just don’t enjoy them at all. Of course, I’ve taken more road trips in the last few months than I have in a couple of years before that, and I’m due to go on a few more in the next several months.

The problem with road trips, as I see it, is twofold: there is a significant physical distance between me and the destination of the road trip; and I have to be in a small space for a long period of time, which is uncomfortable.

I prefer flying. It takes less time, the quarters aren’t quite as cramped (though they’re close) and it’s usually reasonable in cost if you plan far enough in advance or find a good deal through one of the airlines. Sure, there are hassles like going through security and not being able to bring fireworks with you, but those are things I’m willing to go along with if it means a shorter trip.

“But flights don’t fly everywhere,” you say.

True. I concede that. In some situations, I just have to bite the bullet and deal with the road trip. For example: we just went down to Beloit, WI to visit a client for an inventory on Monday and Tuesday this week. You can’t fly the hour and a half distance (driving) from Milwaukee unless you have a helicopter and/or a chartered plane, both of which would be waaaay more expensive. So, I had to suck it up and endure the road trip.

“That’s not a road trip!” you yell with fury. “It’s too short.”

Not as far as I’m concerned. Anything longer than an hour is a road trip in my book. At least it wasn’t an overnight thing.

Well, as I said, I’ve got more road trips coming up (more details on what those are in future posts) that are either writing-related, business-related, or both. I’m planning on driving at least one of them (a 2-hour trip to Illinois), but I might fly to another location in Indiana if it ends up being too far south (both writing-related). I have multiple business trips coming up as well, all of which I will be driving (or riding along as a passenger). All in all, I’m going to have to deal with them.

What’s your take on road trips? Does the destination or the reason for the trip matter as far as your attitude toward the trip is concerned?

-Ben

Posted in Anxiety, Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Hospitality, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Music, Publishing, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Snagfest

Posted by Ben Erlichman on January 12, 2012

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. A perfect example of that is our first issue of Splickety Magazine, which debuted yesterday, only to be recalled today because somehow the wrong version got uploaded to the website that prints and sells it for us. I’m not pointing any fingers. Sometimes mistakes just happen.

The whole process of getting it to print took an extra two-plus months longer than it should have, partly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and partly because things not in my control didn’t work out as I had planned. All in all, we have a magazine that should be polished and ready for the public by this afternoon.

It’s tough to run a magazine, even one as basic as Splickety. It’s tough to rely on other people who have skills and talents that I don’t have (I wish I could do the layout and design on my own, but I can’t). I don’t have the ability to do certain things, so I need help. I have a great designer, and the staff at Written World Communications is marvelous, and I couldn’t have put Splickety together without them.

Well, enough about that. On the bright side I’ll be speaking at some upcoming conferences soon. More details on that next week, I think.

-Ben

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New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Ben Erlichman on January 5, 2012

Well, it’s that time of the year again–the beginning. By this time a lot of people have already made and forsaken their New Year’s Resolutions. As for me? I’m just getting started.

I learned this nifty trick from Randy Ingermanson, a titan of fiction writing and teaching, and an all-around nice guy, too. It’s not so much a trick as it is a strategy to make sure you’re on task with your New Year’s Resolutions, especially if you’re a writer: create a writing business plan.

Randy talked about this in one of his past e-zines and I decided it would be a helpful tool for me. You can visit his website (just click on his name above) to search for the actual article yourself if you want all the details he included, or you can just read my summarized version in this post.

My business plan includes some key elements that you may want to put into yours. What follows is a list of what those are and a short description for each one.

Introduction: I used this section to articulate my major career goals as a writer. I listed five of them, the last of which is “To fully financially sustain myself and my family through writing-related revenues.”

Section 1 — Significant Achievements of 2010: This one is self-explanatory. I have yet to update it to 2011, but you get the idea. In this section I detailed the novels I wrote, connections I made with agents,  publishers, and other authors, achievements for my writing (in 2010 I was an ACFW Genesis contest finalist), the conferences I attended, blogging, short story-writing, stuff I did to work on my brand, and other stuff too.

I also took the time to list out every book I plan to write in a table by title. I included details like genre, production status (where I was in the process of writing these books), and whether or not it’s part of an intended series.

Here's a list of everything I'm working on right now...some more than others, of course.

Section 2 — Business Details: I didn’t write much in this section as most of my business isn’t happening since there’s not a lot of money coming in or going out at this point. I anticipate that it will grow as time passes, as will the amount of money I bring in. In 2010, I made a few bucks from selling my first ever short story, and then I made a few more in 2011 from selling a couple more short stories.

You can also put the amount of money you spent on your writing career in this section, and perhaps some spending you anticipate for the upcoming year. It’s important to remember that the money you spend is an investment in your writing career (it should be helping you make progress in your writing–if it’s not, then don’t spend the money on it next year).

Section 3 — Major Projects to Complete: This is for the upcoming year, of course. These are practical, achievable steps you can take towards fulfilling the goals you might list in the introduction. For me, I said that by the end of 2011 I wanted to have three publishable novels ready to present to publishers (meaning they were written and edited). To date, I have three novels and one novella (it would have been four, but one of them ended up kind of short).

At the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013 you can look back at these projects and assess  your progress on them and whether or not it’s a huge failure on your part that you didn’t accomplish or finish them. It’s also important to note that things like brand development and marketing projects can fall under this section too.

Section 4 — Continuing Education: In this spot I detailed the books on writing that I wanted to read and the ones that I read the previous year. I also mentioned critique groups/partners that I had and conferences I planned to attend in 2011. Then, of course, there were fiction books I wanted to read as well, so I started keeping track of those.

Section 5 — Conclusion: I wrapped the document up by making a statement of what I will look like by the end of 2011–it’s kind of another goal, if you think about it. I said I would be much closer to realizing my overall goal of becoming a published novelist in the action/adventure genre. I also promised to revisit it in 2012 and create an updated version.

I encourage all of my author friends to create something like this if they’re trying to make a career out of writing. It has really helped to focus my attention on what parts of my life and career I should be developing, and it provides a guide to follow for the course of the year. It provides self-accountability, which is huge when you’re a writer since it can be such a solitary endeavor. Will you be writing a business plan for your writing this year?

-Ben

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Critiques: Friend or Foe?

Posted by Ben Erlichman on December 29, 2011

Writers fear rejection more than anything else (in my opinion). That rejection can come in lots of forms and will likely show up at multiple points in your career as a writer. You can’t avoid it.

Even best-selling authors get bad reviews on their work. Jim Rubart, best-selling author of Rooms, Book of Days, and The Chair, has a total of 305 reviews for Rooms on Amazon.com. Of those reviews, 89 are 1-star ratings (the worst), and 134 are 5-star ratings (the best). I know Jim fairly well (for only seeing him once a year at the annual ACFW Conference) and have had the privilege of listening to him speak at that conference a couple of times about marketing. One of the best things I gleaned from his talks was that it’s better to have people either really love your writing or really hate it because that means you’ve achieved the goal every writer is shooting for: you’ve inspired a strong emotional response in your reader.

Critiques can be helpful tools in getting you to that point, but frankly, they suck sometimes. As writers, we put ourselves out there. We empty our souls onto the page on a regular basis. That’s often a very messy process. Critiques help to clean up that mess so others can read it without cringing at our excessive use of adverbs or other goofs while creating our first draft.

Here’s my typical process for writing as far as critiques are concerned:

1. I do my pre-writing work (includes research, outlining, writing synopses, etc.)

2. I write the book

3. I edit the book at least once on my own (probably no more than twice, though)

4. I send it to someone I trust for a first peer critique

5. I implement the changes I like from the critique

6. I send it out for a second critique (either to the same person or to a different one, or sometimes both)

7. I implement the new changes from the second critiques

8. I write a book proposal and try to sell the thing.

More or less, that’s my plan. I’ve got a novella, Lions and Serpents, that I just got a line-by-line critique back from a good friend of mine. I haven’t looked at it yet, but we discussed it on Facebook chat for a bit and he gave me some overarching thoughts.

In short, he said that a big chunk of the story after a certain point really slowed down and wasn’t as enjoyable to read since not much was happening–the characters were all just plotting how to proceed next instead of just doing it. He also said my characterizations weren’t consistent in the two main characters, Paul and Marty. Also, my minor characters (mostly the evil henchmen) all seemed kind of bland and boring. On top of all of that, he thinks I may have invoked a form of Deus Ex Machina at the end (which I kind of disagree with, but I can see his point).

In other words, it stung to hear some of those things. Most of those things.

But that’s part of the process of making your work stronger, of making it more appealing to your target audience. It certainly is part of making your work more “publishable” through traditional mediums, as professional editors have responsibilities to their respective publishing houses, who need to make money off of your work. Sometimes you just have to do things their way, and a good critique can help you get closer to providing them with something that they not only can use, but also want.

As with all criticism in life, eat the lollipop but not the stick. In other words, apply the constructive criticism that you think will help your piece get better, and ignore the stuff you disagree with. I guarantee that I won’t implement every change my critique partner suggested, but I will use most of it because I trust his judgment and know that he’s trying to help. Ultimately it’s my story and I’ll do what I want to do with it.

Another thing to look out for is negative criticism. If you’re eating an apple and run across a big bruise, you don’t eat the bruised part, right? Eat around it. Get back to the stuff that tastes good and is nourishing you. Same with critiques or reviews: if someone says you’re a horrible writer because your characters are shallow and your plot has no structure so you should probably never write again, what good can you take out of something so negative? Well, ignore the insults and the meanness and get the actual critique content out of there: you need to work on plot structure and character development.

Don’t be afraid of critiques. They’re a good way to put your work out there just a little bit, and hopefully to receive some constructive feedback while you’re at it. Send it to someone you trust to be honest and give you a helpful review of your work. Doing this will help you develop a thick skin for when you finally do get published and someone writes a scathing review of your work that makes you want to crawl into a cave and hide forever. Go ahead, give it a shot.

-Ben

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Here’s a Friend’s Blog Post

Posted by Ben Erlichman on December 22, 2011

I thought this was a great post and pretty accurately describes how I felt about the whole “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” debate, so I’m posting the link here. Check it out, will you?

http://charisseeley.blogspot.com/

Posted in Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Heart and Home, Hospitality, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Finishing Your Novel

Posted by Ben Erlichman on December 15, 2011

I finished my fourth novel on Friday. (Cheers) It was an interesting process–one I’d like to expedite going forward. I started writing the outline near the end of August and finished it at the beginning of December, meaning it took me roughly three and a half months from start to finish. Not bad, but I think I can do better.

My goal for this month is to revise the entire thing so my wife can read it starting January 1st. She is a huge Twilight fan (nobody’s perfect, right?) and my novel has vampires in it, so she’s anxious to read it. My vampires don’t sparkle, though.

Vampires don't sparkle. Fairies do. Draw your own conclusions. (He should be going up in flames right now.)

Anyway, I’ve come to realize that finishing my novels is an incredible feeling. I can remember my sheer elation at finishing my first one, The Dreamer, on Thanksgiving day of 2006 while home from college at my parents’ house watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I felt a comparable feeling, one more of relief than of joy, at finishing my second novel, Lions and Serpents, at the close of NaNoWriMo 2010. I was relieved to just be done with the thing. Finishing Unlucky, my third, gave me the feeling of having completed a long, painful journey inside the skin of my protagonist through the arid Arizona Territory in 1850.

Each experience was like a new flavor of ice cream: all tasty, but different. Upon completion of my vampire novel (tentatively titled Blood for Blood–don’t steal that or I’ll hunt you down), I experienced a feeling of relief similar to when I finished Lions and Serpents last year, but also an incredible satisfaction in knowing I had just completed my fourth novel. Wow. I’ve written four novels.

Ted Dekker gave me a hint at his Ragged Edge Conference in August:  the more books you have written, the more likely you are to get noticed by a publisher. Finishing your novel tells them that you can finish what you start. Finishing multiple novels tells them that you’re in this for the long run. Finishing more than 18 novels before you’re published (like my good friend Lynn Rush) is ridiculous, but hey, it works! I hope I don’t have to write 18 before I get pubbed, but I’m going to keep writing until I get there.

What about you? Is finishing your projects an issue? Do you get hung up on revising them? Is it hard to tie off all your loose ends at the end?

You can find a way to overcome those issues. I wish you the best as you try to do so.

-Ben

Posted in Authors, Encouragment, Friendship, Happiness, Inspiration, Life Experiences, Living Our Faith Out Loud, Uncategorized, Working from home, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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