Category: Writing

What a Secular Novelist Taught Me about Writing for God


pam speaking
photo courtesy Grace Thorson


This last weekend I was privileged to join other authors and editors at a local event in our area. We filled the coffee shop with authors and aspiring authors who came to “stir up” the gift of God in their lives. 

I spoke to them about how the novels of Clive Cussler challenged me to re-think my own writing. You may have heard principles like these listed elsewhere. For me, it was a master novelist who brought them to life. 

Below are my notes from the presentation. May you be “stirred up” to write for God with boldness!


I have a hard time reading books for leisure. I spend so many hours at my computer that I can’t turn off the internal editor in my head at the end of the day. I can’t get past poor plot lines or sloppy editing in a book. The little bit of reading I usually do is Christian, and I have often been discouraged by some of what is currently being churned out in the name of God.

My introduction to Clive Cussler was through his novel, The Silent Sea, a gift to my husband from a friend. I was immediately engaged by the story and the fact that it was clean.

I’m almost finished with another of his books, Mirage, and as I read this one, I took the time to analyze it. I was entertained by it and challenged to rethink my own writing. I have found seven principles that I believe make Cussler’s books bestsellers for the right reasons.

If you’re not familiar with Clive Cussler, here’s a little background information on him. He is a prolific writer, having authored or co-authored 60 action-adventure novels, two children’s books, and several non-fiction books. His books have been on The New York Times bestseller list more than 20 times.

Cussler began writing in the evenings and on weekends in 1967, and he published his first novel in 1973.

His first non-fiction work, The Sea Hunters, was released in 1996. The Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York, considered it in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis and awarded a Doctor of Letters degree to Cussler in 1997, the first time in its 123-year history that the university bestowed such a degree.

Cussler is the founder of the National Underwater and Maritime Agency, or NUMA, a non-profit organization dedicated to American maritime and naval history. He and his team have discovered over 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites.

Two of his novels have been adapted for film. The most recent of these is Sahara, an action-comedy film released by Paramount Studios in 2005 and starring Matthew McConaughey.

His most recent novel, The Assassin, just came out on March 3rd of this

year. Clive Cussler is also a serious collector of classic automobiles. And he’s

83 years old.

Here are seven principles I learned from a secular novelist. Note how they vitally intersect to create a powerful message.

Live the Adventure Boldly

Proverbs 28:1 tells us “The righteous are as bold as a lion.” When God commanded Israel to enter the Promised Land, He told Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous.” Joshua 1:7

Is our writing bold? Cussler sends his characters into improbable situations and court danger. His canvas is expansive.

He isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In Mirage, Cussler takes his hero from the Delaware breakwater to an old Soviet prison in Northern Siberia to California to the Aral Sea. One moment he is exploring an underwater shipwreck. The next he’s fighting for his life as a torpedo speeds toward the wreckage where he is trapped. In a later scene the good guys are cutting open the red hull of a luxury yacht that has capsized Poseidon-style. The promotion blurb for his newest book, The Assassin, which just came out last month, promises to transport the reader from the oil fields of Kansas to Washington D.C., to New York, to war-torn Baku oil-fields on the Caspian Sea, and back to America.

Literary agent Chip McGregor once told a group of us writers that in the Christian publishing world, it’s said that if you want to sell your book, “Put a bonnet on it,” a reference to the current popularity of Amish romance. I have no problem with Amish romance novels, if God has called the author to write them. But why should Christians limit ourselves to cheap devices for the sake of selling a book?

We, of all people, can be living the adventure. We have God’s entire universe at our disposal. The Bible has revealed to us wonders that we can scarcely fathom. Good and evil are played out at our very doorsteps. Demons oppose us. Angels minister to us. A being not of this world lives inside us and guides us.

Be Creative.

I remember the time I wrote a short story for a creative writing class in high school. The teacher was very taken with the story, and I had my first taste of the thrill of actually using words to create a picture in the reader’s mind. It was the first time it occurred to me that “To write is to paint worlds with words.”

Read the page one of the Prologue to the first paragraph on page 3 of Mirage. Can’t you see this being the opening scene in an action movie? Notice that he doesn’t take much time setting up the scene and he doesn’t give long descriptions. But in just two pages he has given us a lot of information and engaged our imaginations. You know the name of the ship, the name of the captain, the fact that he is a veteran seaman, they just passed through a hurricane, and that it’s about nine o’clock at night. You can hear the water flowing against the ship and the feel cool metal plates under your feet. You can envision the captain in his ridiculous outfit and even breathe an inward “ewww” at his hairy chest and back. You stand on the bridge of the ship and are enveloped with the others in the mysterious blue light.

“Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory.” ~Maya Angelou

Whether we’re writing fiction or non-fiction, fantasy, biographies, devotions, or children’s books, our challenge is to tap into the limitless creativity of God. It was God who thought up kangaroos and daffodils and gave lions their teeth. He painted the stripes on the zebra and gave pandas their teddy bear eyes. He sends the lightning to split the sky, the thunder to speak His mysteries, and the rain to wash away the storm. It is those wisps of glory we are called to capture for our readers.

We’re finite. We have only so much brain power at our disposal. But by letting God in on the discussion, we open new doors to our craft. I’m convinced that God loves to partner with us in the creative process. He wants to reveal Himself to others through us. In fact, that’s His plan.

Be Disciplined

“As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly.”
—Paul Rudnik

“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”~1 Tim. 4:7

Cussler must be a disciplined writer, to have produced such a body of work. We can be full of ideas, but unless they make it to the page, they never see the light of day.

Develop a plan for writing that fits your life. Don’t worry about what other people do. Do what works for you. Just be disciplined.

Do the Research

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing” ~Wernher von Braun

     Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, research is the foundation of our story. It gives the story an air of realism. If we know our subject well, we will write with authority and speak with confidence.

In Clive Cussler’s books, especially in Mirage, I occasionally had no idea what equipment he was talking about. But the extra effort he put into being accurate gave integrity to the scene and convinced me of his knowledge base. Because his novels are so expansive, it also lends credibility to the story lines.

He has also taken obvious care to know the physical settings in which his characters play out the plot. In one of my favorite scenes from the book Mirage, the protagonist searches for a lost ship among the rusting hulks that litter the exposed seabed of what was once the Aral Sea. I was so taken by this image that I had to look it up and discovered that, indeed, the Aral Sea is shrinking.

Challenge Your Readers

Go ahead. Use the big words. Your readers can handle it.

Cussler’s use of military jargon and knowledge of the settings of his scenes reveals a careful study of his subject. I found myself occasionally pausing to mull over a new word or picture a piece of machinery he described. I had to look up words like “panamax,” (size limits for ships passing through the Panama Canal) “subaltern,” (a person holding a subordinate position, specifically a junior officer),“lateen-rigged dhows,” (A broad-beamed shallow-draft vessel with lateen-rigged sails), and “fusillade” ( a number of bullets fired at the same time or one after another quickly).

Oddly, I didn’t find this distracting. In fact, it was refreshing. It felt GOOD to read fiction that made me think. I was engaged and learning and still being entertained by the story.

It’s okay to challenge your readers. Writers have been told that readers want to be spoon-fed, instead of being encouraged to think. Whatever genre we’ve chosen as our outlet for our writing, it’s possible to elevate the craft and perhaps even society with our words. And I believe it’s possible to do this without being preachy or assuming a pseudo-intellectual tone. It just takes more work on our part so we don’t lose them along the way.

“There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.” ~Brian Aldiss

Obviously, we want to be the former. We want them to think, but we don’t want them to be totally lost. You can tease your readers along and pull them into the story. Then challenge them to rise above and beyond mediocrity.

 Know Your Audience

“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” ~Jimmy Stewart

     Cussler knows his audience well. In this Oregon series, his use of military terms and non-stop action is clearly geared to lovers of government intrigue and action movies. He knows his readers aren’t looking for steamy romance. He doesn’t sell politics or try to solve interpersonal relationship problems. He gives them action, and lots of it.

Write what you love, but treat your readers always as partners in the experience.

Strive for excellence.

     “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

I’ve been challenged by the high standards of the two books I’ve read. Along with Cussler’s superb writing, the editing on the book is impressive. You’re not likely to find typos or dangling participles or unfinished plot lines in these novels.

This is especially interesting because he produces a lot of books. He often co-authors with other writers, which is probably why he can be so prolific. As an author who has used both the traditional and self-publishing paths, I’ve learned that either way, it’s important for the writer to insist on quality control over the finished product.

One Final Thing…

Seek God’s anointing.

“Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it.”
Psalm 127:1 NASB

Along with these principles of good writing, we have a greater charge: Whatever we write should honor God. When we have partnered with Him in the process, He delights in breathing life into our words.

May you be inspired to write courageously.


So You Want to Be a Writer: Now What?

Last week I shared a questionnaire from our recent local event for aspiring authors. It was designed to help you understand yourself and your calling a bit better as you step out into the world of writing on a new level. If you took the time to fill it out, send me an email and tell me what you learned about yourself.

This week, I’m offering some specifics to help you in your quest. To these I would add this one thing: BE BOLD. It takes a warrior’s heart to persevere in the publishing world. Walk in the confidence that God has put a story in your heart and He will equip you to tell it. After all, it’s really His Story, isn’t it?

Now What?

 Now that you’ve put your first thoughts down on paper, it’s time to take the next steps. The following are some guidelines to help you in the process. Blessings on your journey!

Read all you can, especially in the genre in which you’re interested.

Get to know who the best authors are and check out their websites to see what they’re doing. Why do you enjoy their work so much? In what ways do they connect with their readers?

Invest in some good books on writing and learn the craft.

Thomas Edison is famously quoted as saying that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This is especially true for writing. It takes a considerable investment of time and hard work to get what’s burning in your heart down onto paper. The Chicago Manual of Style is the gold standard for correct manuscript style as you begin to edit your writing.

Write regularly.

Sure, it helps to have some natural talent in writing. But like any profession, repetition is crucial in training for the best results.The more you write, the easier it will get and the better you will become. You can’t wait for inspiration to hit. Set aside a regular time and treat it as an important appointment with God. Without discipline, your dream can’t get into print.

Be willing to be vulnerable.

Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure, one wrote, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact your reader.” As hard as it is, it’s important to let yourself be vulnerable as you write. You will also feel vulnerable when others begin to read and critique your writing. It can be painful to have the baby to whom you’ve given birth casually tossed around by others. But once again, the ability to allow criticism and critique is crucial to becoming a better writer. These things give us perspective and help us to see our work through the eyes of our readers.

Join at least one writer’s group.

It can be a national group or a local group, but the fellowship and information-sharing between writers is critical for success and growth. Other writers can help with providing an objective critique of your writing and pray for you when the going gets tough. Go to a writer’s conference if at all possible.

Check out the many resources online.

Today’s Internet offers many great resources for both the beginner and the advanced writer. Take advantage of these free sites and learn all you can.

Begin to build your platform.

This generation of authors is expected to be proficient in social media. Work to make contacts through such media as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. You’ll meet some great people and begin to get your message out to others. Take advantage of any opportunities to speak at church, work, on community events.

Commit your writing to prayer.

The Bible tells us:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it.

Psalm 127:1 NASB

Let the Lord let you. You want His anointing on everything you do, say, and write. If you let Him guide you on this journey, you will have the satisfaction of knowing your have been obedient to your calling, no matter where your writing takes you.

Stir It Up: Do You Have the Gift of Writing?


I love to write!

And I love meeting others who share my passion for words. Last month, I was privileged to be part of an event hosted by His Story Christian Gift Center in Lewiston, Idaho. We had a lot of fun meeting and working with aspiring writers. As part of this day, we handed out a worksheet to those who wanted to write but didn’t know how to get started. Today, I’m sharing this worksheet with you. Whether you’re a person who likes to carefully plan your writing projects or like to write without a net, it helps to get to know yourself a little bit better. It took me years to discover what my focus is and what motivates me to write. Here’s the first segment of the worksheet:


Getting Started

You’ve felt for some time that you have a story in you. It could be a novel that’s been shuffling around in your mind for years. Or you have an incredible life story that you long to share with others. Perhaps you yearn to write for children or parents or youth. You know God is urging you to step out in faith and put the dream to paper.

Now what?

The journey to publication, whether through independent or traditional channels, is an arduous one. Although it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s within your reach. It takes a lot of discipline, hard work, and willingness to learn. So where do you begin?

It’s best to write down a few things to help you solidify your goals. These next questions will help you put into words what’s brewing in your heart. Take your time, think them through, and commit them to prayer.

1. What genre are you interested in pursuing (non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, young adult fiction, devotional, children’s books, etc.)?


2. Why did you choose it?


3. Who are your favorite authors, and why?


4. What Scripture(s) best describe your walk with God?


5. Describe your life’s calling in one sentence.


6. What gifts and talents do you think God has placed in you that qualify you to speak to others?


7. If others could describe you in one word, what might that word be?


8. Do you have the support of your family to take on writing?


9. What is your educational background?


10. What do you hope to accomplish through writing?



Fill this out and keep it. Pull it out occasionally and see where God has taken you in your journey. Next week, I’ll post the second half:  Now What?


Spinning My Tires

spinning wheels pic


Around and Around

It should have been a banner year. How many people get to be authors? And have an article published in a print magazine? And get to work at a job they love? How many parents see their children and grandchildren living solid lives of faith and hope?

  • This year I had the honor of working with my daughter Grace, who, by the way, is the best office assistant/publicist ever.
  • I had the joy of seeing our youngest son get his own place and grow in a job he loves.
  • I celebrated when our eldest granddaughter was accepted into the college of her choice.
  • I joined my beloved family for a nine-day trip to my favorite Pacific beach and attended my first Hot August Nights car show in my hometown.
  • My precious husband and I celebrated forty-two years of marriage with a two-day trip to the Big Town, where we got our Cabela’s fix and my husband finally bought a buffalo picture. He’s maintained for years that a log home needs a buffalo pic. I maintained otherwise. We finally agreed on one that would nicely grace the upstairs hall at the top of the stairs. At a vintage lamp shop downtown, I bought my first Quoizel Tiffany lamp, something I’d been coveting  for several years.
  • The ancient mint and green carpet in our house is giving way to a handsome porcelain slate tile that will hold up better to country living, wheels, and our son’s German Shepherd/cross dog.
  • I’ve been able to share our story and God’s comfort with others through my writing and speaking. My first book, Song in the Night, recently was re-released in e-book form. I’ve met and re-connected with many wonderful people and heard inspiring stories of faith across this country.
  • I even learned how to use Google+ Hangouts to make a video presentation at a virtual caregiving conference, no small feat for a sixty-year-old woman who still struggles with the t.v. remote.

Yes, 2014 should have been a great year. In fact, it has been. And for that I’m eternally grateful to my Savior.

So why did I lose steam mid-summer? Why did I feel like I was spinning my wheels?

Mostly, I think, it was because in the midst of everything else, I am, first, a caregiver. Everything that I do comes after and along with my caregiving duties. Simple things like a trip to town involve a a lot of work and planning.

Every step is hard work. Every victory comes with much warfare. The joys have been interwoven with sorrow.

We lost Aaron’s beloved mother in January; my dear uncle in July. Kevin had an infection and sternum injury in May. He received emergency care during our coastal trip and again back at home. My father endured a hard winter of medical struggles. Then I suffered a severe lumbar strain and was completely out of commission for a few weeks. The family had to take up the slack in the daily chores.

It was during that time down in bed that I finally could stop. The enforced rest gave me a chance to re-think what I’ve been doing and what I want to achieve. One thing I know for sure:

I never want to be spinning my wheels on this journey. I want to listen carefully to God and only go where He guides. That may not mean a smoother ride. In fact, that may only increase the warfare in my soul and on the home front.  The road to Zion is narrow and often filled with detours. I’m thankful to be on this trip, though. My destination is assured; a room in God’s mansion is already reserved for me heaven. It’s just a matter of staying on course, listening for God’s guidance, and remembering to enjoy the view along the way.

I will not spin my tires.
I will not spin my tires.
I will not spin my tires.

Photo courtesy Kevin Thorson/copyright 2014

Vulnerability: The Writer’s Dilemma


It’s the question that inevitably comes up in writer’s group meetings: Do I really have to use social media to market my book? How can I use Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites without sacrificing my privacy?

There are, of course, some things we can and should do to help protect ourselves. The world can be a scary place, and none of us should take unnecessary risks. But lately, I’ve realized we are asking ourselves the wrong question. The real one digs deeper and is more costly, revealing our hearts’ deepest fears and motives.

This is the Christian writer’s true dilemma: What are we willing to sacrifice to be God’s witnesses to the world through our writing?

Humans hate being vulnerable. It’s one reason we obsess over our author head shots and count the likes on our Facebook posts. It’s why we construct the careful public image we hope others will have of us. We want to be accepted and liked. No one wants to be hurt.

Writing is a hard enough profession on our self-image as it is. We spend countless hours bleeding over a keyboard, only to have a manuscript rejected by a succession of editors. It often takes many years and tears to get established in the publishing world. Along the way we sometimes buy into the promotional poster we have crafted. We have AUTHOR emblazoned on our chests. Cue the book trailer.

The Author of Life, on the other hand, has given us the ultimate example of vulnerability. God, the Bible tells us, is all-knowing and all-powerful. He didn’t need us. Why did He create a universe He knew would turn away from Him? Can we fathom the magnitude of the pain to which the Creator became vulnerable in order to give us life?

We pushed away God in the Garden, and mankind has mocked Him ever since. Yet, after suffering generations of rejection, God has continued to pursue humanity. He didn’t even spare His own Son for us. Jesus came to this planet knowing our rescue would mean sacrifice, hardship, pain, and death. Why did He do it?

For pure love.

He cared more about mankind than He cared about His reputation or His own welfare. He didn’t care what it cost Him, if it meant the deliverance of His beloved creation.

These are the footsteps in which we follow. The Bible, the greatest book, was written in blood by those who were willing to sacrifice their lives and honor for others; who walked behind the Master into the minefield of suffering for the love of mankind.

We who write are part of that great chain of faith. Our words may or may not cause the world to take note. But the world can’t miss the passion for others that causes us to lay down our masks of invincibility to reach a planet dying to live.

It doesn’t hurt to be wise in the ways we interact with others. God will guide us in every step we take as we write for Him. It’s time to be bold. Be courageous.

Be vulnerable.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!
Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9 NASB



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Marketing with Social Media: Pinterest -Guest Post


Do the words, “social media” strike fear in your heart? Today we are treated to a great guest post by Grace Thorson. Pinterest can be a powerful marketing tool, and Grace has some terrific ideas to help you make the most of this site.

Marketing with Social Media: Pinterest

It takes time to build up followers on Pinterest, because if you follow someone, there is absolutely no obligation for them to follow you back. To gain followers, you will need to stand out and remain patient. In the meantime, you can use these tips to bump up your chances of new followers.

Choose genres for your boards that best suit your focus. Are you a writer? Create boards for grammar tips, book-themed gifts, and quotes for yourself and others. Are you a gardener? Make a board filled with things a green thumbed individual would find useful. Do you homeschool your children? Are you a Dr. Who fanatic? Love dogs?

Pinterest is a great place for the homemakers, the crafters, doers, writers, moms, idealists, dreamers, artists, bloggers, advocates, teachers, and marketers. Pinterest is rarely used for chatting or conversing, but you can leave comments. Mainly though, this social media website is visual – all images – everywhere.

1. Connect your account through Facebook and Twitter – this will help you establish follows from friends and acquaintances. Unfollow any that don’t follow back.

2. Get the most traffic. Suggested peak times are: Thursdays from 2pm – 4pm, and on Saturdays from 1am – 8pm. Experiment and see what times receive the most response.

3. Use specific titles for your boards (use literal, but catchy titles – visitors will find it easier to search for and understand what each particular board holds) – add appropriate hashtags to your pins for others to discover – write a short, but creative sentence within your pins – add a simple, but welcoming introduction for each of your boards.

4. Find like-minded users on Pinterest and follow them. If you like all of their boards, then go ahead and follow them. If not, just follow one of their boards – this option is nice when you wish to follow someone back, but you just don’t find their boards to your liking.

5. After you’ve followed a pinner – pin, like, or comment on one of their pins. They may or may not follow back; this is where Pinterest gets finicky. At least, you got their attention in their activity feed. Give the new pinner some time for their curiosity to spark, and if they don’t show interest in your boards, unfollow them.

6. Remember, Pinterest is visual. Pin from either Pinterest itself, directly from the web, or upload your own. Add a Pinterest button to your blog posts for others to use – this should be easy to do. With your newly installed button, share your own blog posts onto your blog board through Pinterest. Don’t forget. Be inventive with your posts! The best pictures and photos get noticed the most.

7. Be aware that it’s possible to commit copyright infringement. Make sure the content you pin is from sites that encourage sharing.

8. Use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about your boards on Pinterest. Mention following any new followers that follow you back. You’ll be showing others that you’re fair and will give the common follow courtesy to them.

9. Encourage people to interact. Create group boards for others on your profile. It’s a super fun way to connect, but invite only trusted members to pin to your boards. All group boards are exclusively invite-only. Example: The Cat’s Meow – members invited can contribute.

10. Suggest an activity for entrants to follow you on Pinterest for a +1 entry in a contest or giveaway. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Run an image contest on Pinterest for your own product or giveaway. Be clever with this, but don’t get carried away.

11. You don’t want to annoy your followers. Check your pins to make sure links lead to the correct subject matter. Some links to a blog/website will be broken or misplaced. I also recommend not pinning the same grouped images all at once – it will show in everyone’s home feed. Pin only a couple at a time – interspaced with various pins.

12. Don’t fit in, but don’t fall into the shadows either. Pin the best pictures, tips, quotes – find quality pins. Visit a well-known pinner, and be inspired by their collection. Create a home-like atmosphere with an inviting feel. Pin images and ideas to your boards that cohesively mesh together. Be sure to situate similar boards in row with each other:

Example: Your Blog – Writing Inspiration – Book Obsessed – Bookish Gifts

You want visitors to stay, follow, and pin. Run a powerful story of boards detailing your likes, loves, favorites, dreams, inspirations, goals, and ideas.

The possibilities are endless with Pinterest, so don’t be afraid. Venture out there and start pinning. Be sure to follow mine and Pamela’s boards on Pinterest. We follow back.

~ Grace Thorson


Grace Thorson is an editorial office assistant and a CMADDICT Contributor. She spends her spare time weaving stories, writing reviews, trekking on adventures with her camera, and reading books. Notes, coffee, and fuzzy socks are her constant companions.




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