Laughing Matters

hlayer_watkins-u3572A Guest Post by James Watkins

According to Elton Trueblood, in his wonderful book called The Humor of Christ, Jesus was a stand-up comedian.

Yep, “hyperbole,” or intentional exaggeration, was the hip humor in first century Palestine.

So, Jesus would have had them rolling on the hillsides with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. And I can just imagine the multitudes roaring when he told the Pharisees they would “straing out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Or how ’bout camels squeezing through the “eye of a needle?”

Unfortunately, a literal translation of Christ’s words doesn’t always capture the cultural comedy that’s really there. For instance, “hiding a lamp under your bed” isn’t funny until you understand that a “bed” was a flat, dried-grass mat and a “lamp” was an open flame. Grab the fire extinguisher!

Humor is a powerful communications tool

First, humor breaks down barriers between people. If you can share a laugh with someone, you’ve connected with that person. The defenses come down, and there’s a desire to continue the dialog.

Secondly, humor is “laughing gas.” You’re not going to stay in the dentist’s chair and allow him or her to drill away on a root canal unless you’re hopped up with plenty of anesthetic. So humor is the laughing gas that allows us to drill away at the abscessed areas of another person’s life.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer claimed laughter is–and I quote–the “sudden perception of incongruity” between our ideals and our behavior.

And third, you can get away with so much more using humor than you can with preaching. That’s why G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I am all in favor of laughing. Laughing has something in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”

I heard someone at a youth worker’s convention–way back during the Polyester Era–say, “It’s a sin to make the gospel boring.” I’ve always instinctively known that humor was a powerful method to share the gospel. The speakers I remember most–and who had the greatest impact on my life–were stand-up theologians.

Humor is a proven communications tool

It wasn’t until I was taking a grad class on communications at a secular university that I discovered that this is not only good theology. It’s terrific psychology as well. One study showed how humor could increase retention of information in a statistics class. Now there’s a real sleeper of a course. Students in the class, where the prof used humor, scored significantly higher than students in the class where the prof simply presented the same information, but with no humor.

So, if I’m going to be “effective,” I’m going to use all the tools available and humor is a heavy duty, high-voltage power tool. It’s proven that humor increases attention, retention and comprehension.

squeezing-good-out-of-badHumor is a serious–and sacred–communications tool

I’m reminded of a great quote from author Conrad Hyers. “Humor is not the opposite of seriousness. Humor is the opposite of despair.” If anyone has reason to laugh, it’s a person who’s trusting that God does indeed work all out for our good. Romans 8:28 is the ultimate “good news/bad news” joke. God takes our tragedies and adds a punch line.

Squeezing Good Out of Bad addresses the power of that attitude and is written as a top ten list of strategies to cope with life’s lemons.

You can also read about the principles, practices and pratfalls in my college text book, Writing with Banana Peels, which I wrote for my course at Taylor University. It includes 20 ways to use humor in writing to indeed increase attention, comprehension and retention.

But the best way to develop your gift of laughter is this:

  • Don’t take your situation too seriously,
  • Don’t take your senses too seriously, and
  • Don’t take your self too seriously.

Laughing matters, so leave ‘em laughing . . . and learning!

Meet Jim

Known for his love of Scripture, fun sense of humor, and gracious encouragement to other writers, Jim Watkins is a popular speaker at writers conferences across the country and around the world.

We could tell you more about Jim. But we think you’d rather hear from him.

So here’s Jim’s intro in his own words:

Whatever anyone dares to boast about, I dare to boast about it, too. Are they writers? So am I with 20 books and over 2,000 articles.Are they speakers? So am I. I’ve spoken throughout the United States as well as countries in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe—in churches, conferences and colleges such as Liberty and Regent Universities. Are they teachers? So am I having taught writing for 15 years at Taylor University.

But if I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my C in Freshman Composition, hundreds of rejection slips, poor sales figures, clinical depression, mild autism, broken relationships, cancer, four surgeries in three hospitals in two months, and . . . well that’s probably enough. But here’s the point: when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, that’s all you really need to know. I’m simply Jim, a writer saved by grace.

Jim’s Workshop

squeezing-good-out-of-badWriting with Banana Peels

Based on his college text book, this seminar provides practical strategies for communicating more effectively with humor. If nothing else, you’ll laugh a lot!


Writing the Opening Sentence in a Story


A Guest Post by Sandra Robbins

When I was in college and taking a course in writing fiction, my teacher told me something that I’ve never forgotten. He spoke at length about how important the first sentence in a story is. When I began writing, I reminded myself of this as each story took root as an idea in my head. In trying to improve my ability to hook a reader right away, I began to look at what other authors had done in the past. How did their opening sentences give a hint to the story that would unfold in the book? I became fascinated by what I found.

 Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

This opening line from Daphne du Maurier’s story Rebecca sets the stage for a book that has been called the best suspense story of the twentieth century. It tells the story of a young wife who realizes that her husband’s first wife casts a shadow of lingering evil that threatens her marriage from beyond the grave.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, 

must be in want of a wife.

 So opens the love story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. What follows is a delightful tale of the folly of judging a person from first impressions.

It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least not at first glance.

This sentence paves the way for the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser in eight Outlander novels (so far) and numerous novellas and Lord John books by Diana Gabaldon. The sweeping story of a young woman transported two hundred years into the past is filled with larger-than-life characters, sweeping landscapes, historical accuracy, and a love that transcends the distance in time.

These are only three examples of the great opening sentences that have been written through the years. If you have a favorite book, look at the first sentence. See what the author did that piqued your interest right away. Studying what other authors have done can guide us to challenge ourselves to writing an opening sentence that will grasp the attention of the reader right away, making it impossible for them to put the book down. After all, isn’t that what we all want?

Meet Sandra

email-signature-robbins-002Sandra Robbins, former teacher and principal, is the author of twenty-eight published novels. A native of Tennessee, she lives with her husband in the small college town where she grew up. They are the parents of four children and have five grandchildren. She is a two-time winner of the HOLT medallion given by the Virginia Romance Writers of America to honor outstanding literary talent and the winner of the Gayle Wilson Award given by the Birmingham Southern Magic Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Her books have also been finalists in the ACFW Carol Awards and the Daphne du Maurier Award given by the Kiss of Death Chapter of Romance Writers of America.

It is her prayer that God will use her words to plant seeds of hope in the lives of her readers so that they can know the peace that comes from trusting Him. 

Sandra’s Workshop

How to Combine Riveting Suspense with Heartwarming Romance

Participants will understand the elements of romance and suspense that combine to appeal to the reader’s heart. They will learn how to balance a story about a once-in-a-lifetime love that is threatened by the worry and concern of an impending crisis that will keep the hero and heroine apart.

Early Bird Deadline February 25th

canstockphoto37333127Are you still trying to decide whether or not to attend this year’s Mid-South Christian Writers Conference?

Maybe this will be the push you need to take the plunge into conference waters.

The deadline for paying the Early Bird registration fee is Saturday, February 25, 2017.  After that, the fee increases by $10.

Visit the Registration website for more info.


Faculty: Hallee Bridgeman

hlayer_bridgemann-u3502Meet Hallee

Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling Christian author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy. Hallee loves coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her.

Hallee’s Workshop

Seven Steps to Successful Self-Publishing

Best-selling indie author Hallee Bridgeman will go over the seven steps to successful self-publishing and then show you tips and tricks for the current market.

Ten Reasons to Attend the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference


A Guest Post by Patricia Bradley

As  a  writer, I know how important conferences are. A lot of what I know about writing was learned by attending different ones.

But at my first one, I made so many mistakes, it’s a wonder I wasn’t banned for life. Practically stalked a poor editor, certain she wanted to read my manuscript.


But it was at that first conference that I began my journey as an author and where I took my first workshops in the craft of writing.

Workshops can teach writers how to write professionally and get their work in front of agents and editors. (That way you don’t have to stalk them.)

We have workshops at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference that will help you to craft your stories, whether fiction or nonfiction. If you are a writer, or even think you might like to try your hand at stringing words together, and you are wondering if you should attend this one, let me give you a few reasons to say yes.

  1. You’ll find other writers who ‘get’ you. They talk to themselves, too. And a lot of them talk to imaginary people who are very real to them.
  2. You will be challenged. And let’s face it—we all need to be challenged.
  3. You will find craft classes that will help you reach your writing goals.
  4. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, there is something at the conference for you.
  5. You will be able to talk to successful authors, one on one, who can answer your questions about publishing.
  6. The fellowship is wonderful. Writers are some of the most caring and encouraging people I’ve ever met.
  7. You’ll have opportunities to purchase books from some of your favorite authors.
  8. There are non-fiction classes geared to teach you how to write devotionals, blogs, and humor.
  9. Fiction classes will talk about writing mysteries, romance, secondary characters and finding out whether you are a plotter or a panster organic writer.
  10. And one class will teach how to organize your notes. Don’t know about you, but I definitely need that one!

So there you have ten reasons for attending. There are more, but I said ten. If I add another one, I’ll have to change the title.

P.S. The Meet and Greet on Friday night is one of our best kept secrets!

Meet Patricia

Patricia Bradley lives in North Mississippi and loves to write romance and suspense with a twist of romance. Her books include the Logan Point series. She has also written two sweet romances for Harlequin Heartwarming all available at Amazon. Her workshops on writing include two online courses with American Christian Fiction Writers and workshops at the Mid-South Christian Writer’s Conference in Collierville, TN. When she has time, she likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens.

Patricia’s Workshop (taught with Johnnie Alexander)

Telling the Story: I Wrote It My Way

You may be a plotter, outlining every scene before you begin, or you may be an organic writer, writing by the seat of your pants, or you may be somewhere in between. Two experienced novelists share tips and ideas for writing fiction the right way—that is, the way that works best for you and for your story.

Workshop Tales: How Secondary Characters Can Make or Break Your Novel

hlayer_richards-u3552A Guest Post by Ramona Richards

When I open my workshop on secondary characters, I often tell about editing one of the first novels of a best-selling Christian author—and how I delivered the news to her that she needed to cut one of her secondary characters.

She wasn’t happy. I could understand her concern. This young man had a significant role in her book from Chapter 2 right up to Chapter 40. He was the heroine’s friend and sidekick. But, despite all her intentions, he had turned into much more than a sidekick; he was a distraction. He drove much of the action by making decisions that should have belonged to the heroine, and for 300-plus pages, the reader became more interested in him than the hero.

He was a prime example of how secondary characters can easily kill a book, especially in romance novels, in two ways:

1) They’re too weak or too strong. Neither is good when it comes to secondary characters. If they’re too weak, they can fail to perform their duties, which is to engage the reader (and editor!) in all aspects of the H/H’s lives. If they’re too strong, they become as dynamic or more so than the lead(s). They take over roles and duties that should be carried out by the leads, thus weakening the lead’s character development.

For instance, one of the most infamous “secondary who took over” characters in movie history has to be Captain Jack Sparrow. According to the writers, the protagonist of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie is Elizabeth. The film opens with her, and is primarily her story. But it’s not her entrance that people recall when they think of the film.

2) They proliferate like little bunnies. There are so many of them, no one can keep them straight. In addition to having a secondary character who tries to take over, the easiest way to lose an editor’s attention is for your story to be confusing or annoying. By the time you introduce, describe, and give a life history to the 20th secondary character, an editor is going to be both.

For instance, everyone knows that it takes hundreds of crew members to make a cruise ship run smoothly. But if you set a romantic suspense book on a boat that size, don’t involve your reader with everyone on the ship’s manifest.

Take a moment to think about some of your favorite secondary characters, either your own or from well-known books or movies. Any of them take over? Which ones would you like to see have their own story told?

As we go through the workshop, I’ll give tips and guidelines on developing fully your secondary characters—making them special—while still keeping them in line. We’ll also talk about levels of characters, character archetypes, and what role the antagonist plays in all this.

I hope to see you there!

mmq-cover-revised-by-ramona-richardsMeet Ramona

Ramona Richards is a speaker, writer, and editor whose latest book, My Mother’s Quilts, is from Worthy Publishing. Ramona has been an editor for Abingdon Press, Thomas Nelson, Rutledge Hill Press, and Ideals magazine, and has freelanced for more than a dozen others. The author of seven novels, three books of devotions, and numerous magazine articles, she is a frequent speaker for women’s and writers’ groups, and has presented at numerous conferences across the country.

Ramona can be found online at:  Facebook   Twitter    LinkedIn

Ramona’s Workshop

Shoot the Deputy: How Secondary Characters Can Make or Break a Novel

Secondary characters are often too prolific or too underdeveloped. This workshop provides tips on controlling your supporting cast: how different levels of characters should be revealed and built into the plot, explanations of how flat secondary characters can kill a sell, and tips on how to layer your characters in order to build interest and curiosity without taking over a book.

Growth Through Writers Conferences

hlayer_grace-u3532A Guest Post by Nancy Kay Grace

Attending writer’s conferences is necessary for improving skills, learning publishing trends, and networking. Seasoned authors encourage the new writers. The enthusiasm of the new writers inspires the experienced ones. Each time I’ve attended a conference I’ve been at a different place on my writing journey and hoped to hear from God.

Conferences have given direction for my next step. I had planned on self-publishing a book created from the content of my speaking presentations. When the deal fell through, I lost hope for a book. Discouraged, I attended a writer’s conference hoping to hear from God what my next step should be. I hadn’t planned on talking to any publishers, but when an appointment opened up, I took the opportunity to pitch an idea for a book of devotionals from my newsletter. To my surprise, the publisher was interested. God showed me another path, if I would do the work of writing a proposal. Eventually the small Christian publisher offered me a contract. I’m grateful to have attended that conference.

It is possible to get your writing on the web to encourage others in faith, although blending writing and technology can be intimidating. At the Mid-South Christian Writer’s Conference I’m looking forward to presenting the workshop “Toes in the Water: Getting Your Feet Wet in Blogging” to minimize the fear factor so you can publish on the Internet. If you’re new to blogging, I hope to de-mystify the WordPress platform by sharing tips about the elements of a blog post, simple SEO, and online writing.

I hope to see you there!

grace-impact-cover-by-nancy-kay-graceMeet Nancy Kay

Nancy Kay Grace is a speaker and the award-winning author of The Grace Impact. She has published numerous magazine articles, stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and several devotional compilations (Abba’s Promise, The One Year Life Verse Devotional). Nancy is the host of Living Life Unedited, an Internet radio show on the Christian Women Affiliate network.

Nancy and her husband Rick live in Springdale, Arkansas where Rick is the senior pastor of Spring Creek Fellowship. They have two married children and five grandchildren.

Connect with Nancy:  Website & GraceNotes newsletter   Facebook   Twitter   Living Life Unedited   Pinterest 

 Nancy’s Workshop

Toes in the Water: Getting Your Feet Wet in Blogging

This session is for writers who want to learn more about blogging. Nancy will help minimize the fear factor for tech-challenged writers. Topics covered are online writing techniques, simple guidelines for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), elements of a blog post, and tools used in blogging. Nancy uses WordPress and will refer to this platform although some of the basics would apply to other platforms as well.