My thoughts on the closing of The Christian Writers Guild

I just learned that Jerry B. Jenkins has closed the Christian Writers Guild.

And that news brought back a host of memories. Jerry didn’t start the Christian Writers Guild; that was done by another man.

Back in the fall of 1972, I was newly married and working as a supply teacher in a new city.

I’d always wanted to write, so, with my husband’s encouragement, I took a correspondence course from Norman Rohrer. Because I’d been thinking so much about teens, it seemed natural that my first stories were aimed at teenagers. I’d seen his ad in various magazines many times. “I Fire Writers!” His address was La Canada (soft c), California. I found that amusing for some reason.

Norm apparently started the Christian Writers Guild in 1965 in order to raise the quality of Christian writing.

I paid my money—not a huge amount as I recall—I think around $150.

IMG_4448Before long a large brown binder showed up.

There were lessons on both fiction and nonfiction writing, 48 in total. The first 20 or so where on writing fiction and the rest on nonfiction.

Each lesson had information followed by a yellow page with the assignment.  (See photo on the right.)

You had two years to complete the course.

Some of the topics were:

  • Style
  • Characters
  • What’s the story?
  • The story for teen
  • The story for adults
  • The testimony
  • The feature article

IMG_4449I’d write my assignments by hand and then type them on an old typewriter I could barely navigate, and mail them to him. (More than 15 books published and I still don’t know how to type!)

Norm would go over the assignments and type a response on the back of the assignment sheet. He’d first tell me what I’d done well and then give me suggestions as to how my work could be improved, and mail everything back. (See photo on left.)

If he thought what I’d written might have publishing potential, he’d offer suggestions as to places to submit.

Overall, he liked my work. But I got sidetracked. I never actually finished all the assignments. I managed to do roughly half of them. The fiction half.

A short story somehow grew and grew, and I eventually finished one novel and parts of two others before the two years was up. I realized I had little interest in nonfiction so I didn’t worry about completing the rest of the course.

Norm’s last letter to me (yes, I still have it) said he’d love to introduce me to editors. But I was stuck in the Canadian prairies, and he was in California, and there was no social media in those days. So aside from having one article and one short story published (I think it was published—I never got a copy), nothing much happened. And by then I was busy with a young family and church leadership. It wasn’t until 1991 that my first book was published.

I started teaching and mentoring other writers in 1992 and co-founded The Word Guild , a Canadian writing community, in the fall of 2001 (officially January 2002). My goal has always been to pass on what I’ve learned, just as Norm passed his knowledge to me.

Norm kept on until 2003,  at which point author Jerry B. Jenkins purchased the Guild from him. Norm remained on the Editorial Board. It became the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. And more recently began publishing. And today it closed.

Would I have become a writer without Norm Rohrer? I’m honestly not sure. He gave me not only the information I needed but the encouragement to keep at it. He helped me believe that I had the ability to write without glossing over the things I needed to learn or making me think it would be a breeze. And all these years later, I’m still at it; not only writing my own books but also helping other writers raise the quality of their work.

Even though $150 in those days was a lot more than it is today, given the number of hours he spent going over my assignments and writing his responses, I’m pretty sure he lost money on the deal. In other words, he really was doing it to help writers, and not looking for ways to part them from their money.

The world of publishing is going through a huge number of changes right now and no one knows where we’re going to end up.  I have to say I’m in favour of much that’s happening. Even though I’d had three royalty publishers, I long ago gave up on the old model where publishers controlled what made it into print and on the shelves of bookstores. Anyone who thinks the best books sell the most copies needs to take another look at the way the system works.

What I do find sad in the closing of the Guild is that I tried to find a bio of Norm online and failed. But then, it’s not unusual for us to fail to remember and honour those who have paved the way for us.

You can see some of Norman Rohrer’s books here.

And more here.

A new ebook with some of my reflections on life

Once upon a time, I wrote 21 columns for my local newspaper, the Markham Economist & Sun.

That's Life! Basketballs in the Living Room and Other Facts of LifeMy column was called “That’s Life!” and yes, for those of you who are music buffs, the phrase came from a song I remembered hearing Frank Sinatra sing. As in, when things happen, that’s just life. (Okay, you win, I put a video of the song at the bottom of this post.)

So, I wrote about life. Mostly my life. And readers seemed to enjoy the columns. So I put them together in a little chap book. You can see what it looked like on the right.

Whenever I taught or spoke, I brought a few along, and people bought them. Now and then, I gave one as a thank you gift. I remember leaving one at a bed and breakfast Les and I stayed at near Seattle one year when I was speaking at Write on the Sound. We later got an order from the B and B lady requesting four more of the “wonderful little books” so she could give them as gifts.

BasketballscoverApril2014smallOver the years, we sold all of the chap books we’d created. So we decided to create an ebook version.

This is the new cover.

It comes out on August 21, and you can pre-order it now for only $0.99 on Amazon anywhere in the world.

Pre-order this book today

Hope you like it.



When you might as well talk to a wall

It’s frustrating talking to someone who simply doesn’t listen.

MBKfrontcoverFINAL72Jan2015I’ve known a number of people who seem to have a force field that repels everyone else’s words from entering their heads and maybe causing them to change their thinking. On a few occasions, I’ve wanted to knock them upside the head just to get their attention. However, I refrained. :)

One of those people, however, made me write a book.

When I was teaching high school, there were a number of students who wore me out.

I’d read the book and seen the movie Up the Down Staircase, and watched To Sir with Love and Blackboard Jungle, and I wanted to make a difference.

Bottom-line, I wanted them all to succeed. I expect most teachers do. Many students were doing just fine, quite a few only needed a gentle push or better explanations for them to do better, a handful were always going to struggle because of the system.

But the ones who made me want to tear my hair out were those who seemed to have everything they needed to succeed, but appeared to be doing everything possible to sabotage themselves.

One student in particular was good-looking, a star athlete, and (judging from his biting wit) smart. Yet he wasn’t getting good marks in any of his classes. And he was a nuisance in class. Several times, I pulled him out into the hallway to try to talk to him. I was five foot five and he was well over six feet, so I always had to look up, which was in itself a disadvantage. He’d look down at me and say yes and no, and that was it.

I tried everything: encouragement, threats, challenges. Nothing seemed to work. Afterwards, I’d go back to the classroom thinking I might just as well have talked to one of the lockers or to the brick walls as try to reach him.

The good news is that I didn’t give up, and eventually something happened to change our relationship, and he actually became one of my best students.

What did he need? Mostly, I think he needed to know that someone believed in him and that the barrier he’d erected to protect himself by keeping everyone out wasn’t helping. Underneath his belligerent persona was a smart, sensitive, creative person who was afraid to be vulnerable because he was afraid of being hurt or misunderstood.

Later on, I wrote a novel. Not about him, but about someone who is lot like him.

I had two goals in writing this book.

One was that people like my student would read it and realize they aren’t alone.

The second was that people who know someone like this will realize the need that’s hidden below the prickly exterior and keep on trying to break through.

Get this book free when you subscribe to get my email updates.

I have a new short story out

If you like mysteries, I just uploaded a new short story (as J. A. Menzies, my alter ego).

SneezingAcct-ePubCoverJune201472I actually wrote this short story about eight years ago. I remember reading the opening at a Sisters in Crime meeting here in Toronto and watching them dissolve into laughter. Very cool experience. :) I don’t think I had an ending at the time. And then, when I eventually did finish it, I had no idea what to do with it. It wasn’t a thriller, there wasn’t a lot of suspense. It was a sort of comedic whodunit. Which is fine in a book, but what do you do with a short story?

So I put it away.

But it dawned on me recently that you can publish short stories as ebooks now. Although I’d prefer the name estories.

So here’s the cover. You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle right now.

Here’s the blurb:

Marilou Cannelli, a moderately attractive woman in her late twenties, dressed to match the thousands of other professional women in Toronto, strode purposefully along Danforth Avenue. After a quick lunch, she was in a hurry to get back to her office.

Suddenly she felt a sneeze coming.

After suffering from allergies for many years, covering her mouth while sneezing was a reflex action for Marilou. But as she raised her right hand, a knife thrown from a near-by alleyway embedded itself in the fleshy part of her forearm.

Marilou Cannelli was fortunate. If not for her good manners while sneezing, the knife point would have penetrated her heart.

While there was a lot of blood, the pitch and intensity of Marilou’s screams proved to anyone within several blocks that she was still very much alive.

Buy it on

Buy it on

Check out my alter ego’s site