Saturday, July 31, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Donna Winters on Victorian Costuming

Costuming of the Late 1890’s and Early 1900’s
by Donna Winters

When I was preparing to launch my Great Lakes Romances® series of historical romances back in the late 1980’s, I decided to have historic costumes created that would reflect the era of my stories. The process would allow me to better understand historic fashion, and would provide a gimmick with which I could promote my titles. Both of those goals have been accomplished and repaid me many times over the cost of the costumes. I will share with you the process of dressing Victorian/Edwardian from the skin out, and what it actually means to wear the confining undergarments that are correct for that period.

The first concern I had in dressing for the late 1890’s/early 1900’s was that I needed a corset to obtain the hourglass figure that was the standard of the time. My corset was made from an authentic pattern, and my seamstress informed me that I needed to protect the corset, which could not be washed or dry cleaned, from contact with my skin. The correct way to do that is to wear a chemise or camisole from an historic pattern. Since I am more concerned with the outward appearance of my costume and less concerned with the parts that would not be seen or affect the final appearance (body shape), I use a modern-day garment, a cotton t-shirt, actually, that does the trick. Over this protective layer of cotton, I put on my corset. The corset is actually two pieces held together by laces in the back and clasps in the front. In Victorian times, one would have a maid to assist with donning the corset and tightening the laces to the proper waist measurement. Since all clothing was tailored to exact waist size with the corset on, there’s no option for wearing it looser if you’re not feeling well or your maid has the day off. In my case, the seamstress created my costume to fit when my corset was laced completely tight, edge meeting edge at the back. And since I often had no one to help me tighten the laces after putting on the corset, I learned to keep it laced tight and then clasp it in front by pulling in my gut and expelling air from my lungs. This can be a major struggle at times because the corset shrinks my natural waist measurement by four inches. Techniques that help, I’ve found, are to first clasp the top and bottom, then work on the ones in the middle. But it seems there is always one clasp in the center that does not want to connect. The corset also has three hooks and eyes below the bottom clasp, and these come together easily once the clasps are hooked.

Although the corset creates a wonderfully feminine shape, the effects of long term corset-wearing are quite damaging, and were known and understood as far back as 1890. In order to squeeze the extra four inches of your waistline into a corset, you have to literally reposition your internal organs. When done only occasionally, the results are uncomfortable but not dangerous. For the Victorians, however, the result could be deadly. Here’s a quote from an article that appeared in Victorian Homes Magazine in the summer of 1990.

Carol’s family has told her the story of her great-aunt who died at age 36 just after the turn of the century. She had been a concert pianist and wore corsets and elaborate gowns regularly. Not knowing what had caused her death, her husband, a doctor, performed an autopsy. He reported that not one of her organs was in its proper place. Already, fashion had taken its toll.

I’d like to tell you some of the drawbacks of wearing a corset aside from those already mentioned. The first time I ever wore my corset, I realized how impossible it is to take a deep (full) breath. You literally cannot expand your lungs enough to do it. No wonder Victorian women fainted! Besides not being able to take a deep breath, the circulation of blood to the brain was being hampered by the tightness of the undergarment. As for eating while in the corset, this is not as uncomfortable as one might assume, but a Victorian woman would certainly never be capable of over-indulging while corseted. I find that I can eat small amounts slowly. I also learned that it is not a good idea to drink anything fast, because liquid is severely hampered en route to your stomach.

I discovered another almost humorous aspect of the corset the first time I took mine off. It’s like opening the dam. You quickly realize that you need a toilet, and you need it fast! I learned to do the unhooking in the bathroom. Another aftereffect of removing the corset is the itchiness from heat rash that sometimes develops. And if your chemise or camisole has a seam, you’ll find it deeply impressed into your flesh.

In true Victorian costuming, one would wear a pair of drawers over the corset, or a combination garment that included both a corset cover and drawers. When I dress Victorian, I do not use drawers. I wear my modern day underpants. The waistband of these, I learned from experience, should be pulled over the corset because it’s really hard to pull them out from under the corset once you’ve cinched yourself in.

The petticoat goes on over the combination garment or drawers and closes with hooks and eyes. You may notice that my petticoat has no lace trim on the flounces. The pattern called for over 40 yards of lace and ribbon trim, but as I mentioned earlier, I was more concerned with the outward appearance. I elected to leave the trim off because it would have doubled the cost of the petticoat and I would have been the only one to see it.

I wear a corset cover made from a Victorian pattern. Inside the corset cover I have added Victorian bust enhancers. Unlike today’s approach to the perfect figure, the Victorian bust enhancers required no surgery, could not leak, contained no dangerous chemicals, were easily removed and 100 percent safe…because they were cotton ruffles! Being thin busted as I am, I have sewn two rows of ruffles into each side of my corset cover. I learned about these from the woman who developed the historic pattern for my Practical Promenade suit. She conducted an historic sewing workshop which I attended soon after I had my costume made.

Stockings of the era were cotton lisle stockings held up with lacy garters. I have a pair of these stockings and some simple elastic garters that hold them up, but after wearing them a time or two I switched to stockings made with modern-day nylon because it’s much easier to keep them up. My shoes are modern ones made in a style that has the same shape as the old lace-up shoes of the era. These are not reproduction shoes. Those are quite costly by comparison. Regarding the order of dress, my seamstress warned me to put on my stockings and shoes before putting on my corset because it is hard to bend over to tie shoes while in the corset. I learned firsthand that she is right, but if I forget, I can manage to get the footwear on. It’s not easy or comfortable, though.

My outerwear is either a wool Practical Promenade suit (for fall and winter) or a white blouse and dark skirt (for spring and summer). The wool suit has a small check pattern that includes burgundy, beige, and black as the main colors and is a very close match to the original suit from which the pattern was created. The jacket includes an attached burgundy front which makes it appear that it is a blouse and jacket, but instead it is all one piece. The front closes with sixteen hooks and eyes and the jacket has its own set of steel stays to shape the waist. Another feature of the jacket that I particularly like is a stayband. This is a narrow cotton belt sewn inside the waist of the jacket. It fastens in front with hook and eye. At the back, the stayband has two hooks that connect with two eyes sewn to the outside of the waistband of the skirt and prevents the two pieces from ever separating. The stayband is a truly great way to stay “perfectly put together” as someone once told me.

My white blouse is a Battenberg lace blouse created from an authentic pattern, and the skirt I wear with it was created from the skirt pattern of the Practical Promenade suit. This white blouse-dark skirt outfit was considered the “uniform” of the late 1890’s-early 1900’s. I have another blouse made of ecru cotton and lace that I sometimes wear. The ecru blouse appears to be sewn from an authentic historic pattern and is extremely feminine and beautifully made. I wish I knew more about it, such as the exact era of the pattern and the person who made it, but I have no information on it since I found it at a thrift shop. It was truly the buy of my life because I bought it on a day when the shop was selling a bagful of clothes for $3, and I had seven other items in my bag along with that blouse!

Accessories were very important during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have several “boater” style hats, some of straw and one of wool. One of my straw hats is laden with artificial (silk look-alike) flowers and a wide striped ribbon. That hat works well during warmer weather. My cold weather straw boater is banded with burgundy and black ribbon to match my suit. I also have lace gloves in three colors: black, white, and ecru. And I have parasols: black to go with the suit and white lace to go with the spring/summer outfit.

Also among my accessories are a lace jabot, and an enamel pin that I use to attach it to the neckline of my suit. These were furnished to me by ladies who really knew historic fashion in detail. The enamel pin was hand-painted by a dear friend, now deceased, to coordinate with the colors in my suit. I am especially grateful to have these two items, because they are the perfect finishing touch.

I hope you’ve learned some of the firsthand details that no one else has told you about wearing a corset and that you’ve had a laugh or two. Feel free to contact me with any unanswered questions and I’ll do my best to provide an answer.

I invite you to visit my website, where I list the books available in my series. I always have a free book drawing in progress there. Also visit my blog where I tackle Great Lakes subjects. Here’s the contact information.

Donna Winters
PO Box 85
Garden MI 49835

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kaye's Top Ten Writing Tips

Week One of:

Tips from those who have gone before us

By: Kaye Dacus

Huge thanks to Krista for inviting me to guest post in her spot while she’s on maternity leave (and many prayers for the Phillips family).

Krista asked me to share some of my favorite writing tips that I’ve learned over the years, so here are my Top Ten Writing Tips that I’ve learned over the years, through the seven years I spent learning the craft and honing my skill as a writer and the last two years since becoming a published author.

10. YOU are your best source of motivation.

No matter how many writing groups you join, no matter how active you are in them, no matter how many blogs you write and read and comment on, no matter how many writers’ forums you participate in, when it comes down to it, writing is a solitary venture. Unless you put YOUR butt in YOUR chair and start committing words to paper (whether electronic or wood pulp), your story will not get written. Even if you don’t “feel like” writing today, do it anyway. Don’t give in to the temptation to double-up on word count tomorrow. Sure, you may find that you’re writing drivel that you’re eventually going to edit out in a future revision—but more often than not, you’ll find that once you make yourself sit down and do the work, the inspiration will come.
“You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.” (from The Music Man)

9. Write your passion—but keep an eye on the market.

This is a hard balancing act. Are you seeking merely to be published and chasing the market, or are you looking to tell the story that’s on your heart? Is there a way to do both? Yes. But one takes much longer than the other. If you have a good grasp of the market, of what’s selling, and you can write in a genre that’s selling—write from the heart, not just “knock something out”—and you have a good grasp of the craft of writing and storytelling, you’ll probably find success a lot sooner than someone who’s truly writing the story of her heart. “Heart stories” are typically those that don’t fall neatly into any existing publishing category. They’re not always easy to market. But if you hone your craft in addition to writing the best story you can, you may eventually be able to sell it. What you shouldn’t do, though, is choose to write a certain genre because you’ve been led to believe that it’s the “shoo-in” genre or one that’s easier to get published or easier to market. You must believe in what you’re writing.

“The artist, like the child, is a good believer. The depth and strength of the belief is reflected in the work; if the artist does not believe, then no one else will; no amount of technique will make the responder see the truth in something the artist knows to be phony.” (Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water)

8. Write for you first. Edit for others later.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had so many conversations or read e-mails from multi-published authors, of whose talents I stand in awe, who say they are sure that with every manuscript they turn in, it’s the worst one they’ve ever written and will be the one that ends their career. So, you see, those fears and doubts never go away.

So allow yourself to write stinky prose. Allow yourself to write info dumps. Allow yourself to use clichés and ignore punctuation and write scenes of dialogue with only he-said/she-said attributions. Allow yourself to draw _______________ blank lines in places where you need to research something or you can’t think of the right word. Write longhand and scribble things out and ignore the margins.

It can all be fixed later.

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it . . . If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?’ you let her.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

7. Make lists.

Something every successful con artist or pathological liar knows—you have to keep track of the details; you have to know whom you told what and when. Since those of us who call ourselves writers know that what we’re doing is basically telling lies for fun and fortune (okay, maybe not so much fortune as farthings), we need to remember what we’ve made up. So write it down. Explore software like Scrivner (for Mac) and Microsoft One Note (for PC). Buy a new spiral notebook or journal book for each new project. Put sticky notes up all over your walls. But, for goodness’s sake, write it down.

6. Don’t think, just write.

Try to shut off the left side of your brain when writing. When you’re writing you want to tap into your creativity—the right side of the brain. The more we learn about craft, the harder it gets to write. That’s because learning about craft strengthens the left side of the brain. And that’s a good thing. Really, it is—except for when you’re trying actually trying to create.
“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.” (Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water)

5. Story trumps craft.

My local writing group has adopted a line from Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean when it comes to the “rules” of writing: “The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” It doesn’t matter how many writing how-to books you memorize and how skillfully you apply the rules you’ve learned from them—if you don’t have a good story, none of the rest of it matters. Yes, the guidelines of good writing are important, but don’t let your story get lost in an attempt to “follow the rules.”

Does that mean you can ignore all of the guidelines about showing vs. telling, Limited Third Person POV, using active rather than passive language, varying sentence structures, eliminating as many adverbs as possible, not using embellished dialogue tags? NO, of course not. Just like a contractor needs an architect’s blueprints to go by BEFORE building a house, you need to learn the guidelines of good writing and current accepted style before you’ll be able to express your story in writing well. So do study the craft. Just think of the guidelines as a shepherd’s crook guiding you to a wide-open, grassy meadow rather than a dogcatcher’s tight leash dragging you toward a cage.

The storyteller knows that success in writing is the intangible thread that connects the reader’s and writer’s hearts through the written word.

4. Read five published novels in your genre for every one craft book you read.

So many writers, especially new writers, get caught up in “learning the craft” and they lose sight of “writing.” You can learn more from critical reading of published novels (breaking them apart, learning how/why they work or don’t work) than you’ll ever learn from reading a how-to book.

While it’s great to read books from throughout the ages, from classics to dime novels of the late 19th/early 20th century to mid-century pulp novels to 1990s experimental fiction, it’s very important to make sure you’re reading new releases in your genre and from the publishers you’re targeting—it’s called market research (thus, you can write those purchases off come tax time!) and it’s something every writer and published author needs to do. It keeps us abreast of current trends, current styles, and what non-writing readers are out there enjoying.

3. Start something new.

To help you clear your mind of the manuscript you just finished, one of the best things you can do is start working on another story. It may not be writing—it may be collecting images of characters and settings, doing research of the time period or of the careers you want these characters to have. It may be meeting with your critique/accountability partners and brainstorming story ideas. It may be reading books you’ve determined are similar to or will give you ideas for your new idea. The important thing is to move on to something new as soon as possible. Write something new.

Don’t make the assumption that finishing one or two manuscripts is going to give you the skill-set you need to become a professional author—when being a professional author requires one to be able to churn out multiple manuscripts, one after the other after the other. For example—with three books to write each year I have, at best, four months to write each one. This year, because of due dates, I’ve only had a little more than two months for my two contemporary novels. I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t trained myself to immediately start something new upon finishing a manuscript before I was published.

By writing multiple manuscripts before you’re published, not only are you honing your skill at the craft of writing, you’re doing your internship at being a professional author.

2. Put your manuscript aside for as long as you possibly can after you finish the first draft.

You want to forget as much as possible about it before you start revisions—that way, you can be more objective about it. When we’re in the midst of writing a manuscript, we’re so close to it, we can’t see misused or missing words. We can’t see where we’ve used telling language instead of showing. We can’t see info dumps or excessive explanation or description. It isn’t until we’ve cleared the manuscript from our minds, until we’ve allowed ourselves to move on to something else for a little while, that we can begin to see the things that need to be addressed.

The easiest way to burn out on a story—or to completely ruin it—is to smother it with attention as soon as it’s finished. Give it some breathing room. Clear your mind. Start something new. Work on other non-writing projects. Then, after a few weeks or even a few months, come back to it, and you’ll be amazed at how much more objective you are about your own writing.


Don’t stress out about perfecting your opening hook before you have your entire story written—because until you get to the end, you don’t really know what your story is about, no matter how detailed your outline/synopsis is. It’s all well and good if you can write great openings, three to five great chapters. It’s fantastic if you can win contests with them. But if you never actually finish a manuscript, winning contests is all you’re ever going to be able to do.

How will you know if a story has enough plot, enough conflict, to sustain an entire 80–100,000-word novel unless you write the whole thing? The only way you learn how to write a novel is by writing a novel. You’ll never be a professional author if all you ever write are snippets and snatches and opening chapters.

“Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other. Some writers tinker over their words endlessly, perhaps fearing the end result. It might stink.

Yes, it might. But it’s the only way you’re going to get better.
Finish your novel." (James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers)

Kaye Dacus is the author of the Brides of Bonneterre and Matchmakers series for Barbour Publishing and The Ransome Trilogy for Harvest House Publishers. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and is a former Vice President and long-time member of American Christian Fiction Writers. A Louisiana native, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. She is currently celebrating the release of her two latest titles: Love Remains (Book 1 of the Matchmakers series from Barbour) and Ransome’s Crossing (Book 2 of the Ransome Trilogy from Harvest House). To learn more about Kaye and her books, visit her online at

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Hmmm. These look sooo good, so settle in with a few (no calories, I checked) and enjoy the chance to learn about POV from.... well my POV!

P.O.V. Point of view. It is the head of whoever you are in while reading (or writing). POV needs to be consistent without a jump from one head to another while in one scene. Otherwise referred to as head hopping. A change of POV needs to be defined by a series of *** or ### or just a couple enter jabs on the keyboard. Whatever way, it needs to stay consistent the entire book through.

I really like POV. I didn't used to. It would bother me as I was reading and I would enter another scene where the opposite character would see the other person (upon whose head I was just in) completely different they were just protrayed to me.

Until I started writing my own work. Now I love POV and let me tell you why.

POV gives you the chance to show the reader (notice I said show here not tell) what the other person is really like. When you are in the head of one character you are going to get their personal bias and opinions. Unless you are a self incriminating person, you are not readily going to see some of your faults or what some people are going to consider faults.

But when you enter the head of the character opposite the other character, you get an entirely different view point. You see the other character's bias, and in that opportunity you as the author have the chance to show the reader your hero or heroine's main problems that they need to work out. Let me give you an example.

Mabelle crossed her arms and quirked a brow. The gum between her teeth snapped and popped and she chomped down hard on the defenseless minty rubber. "What do you care anyway? It's my problem." She showed Brad her back and marched away. He just had to poke his nose in her life. Make her feel inferior and good for nothing. She didn't need his help.
Brad groaned and ran a hand through his hair. Why did she always have to do that? Walk away when he was only trying to help. To show her that he truly cared for her. There was no way she could move all of her office supplies, filing cabinet and computer junk all the way across the building on ten inch heels. Brad slapped his hand against his thigh. So be it. If she wanted to be stubborn... well two could play at this game too.

Do you see the difference? In Mabelle's scene you see her opinion of Brad. Nosy, obtrusive, busybody. She wants nothing to do with him. But flip the other side of the coin and you see that Brad really does care. He wants to help and can't understand why she just won't let him. He finds her stubborn and uncaring.

For every coin there are two sides. And for every story there (unless you are writing first person) will be at least two points of view. You as the author have an amazing tool in POV if you just use it correctly.

You can:
~Have a character view another's actions and be completely wrong, which plays into tension later.
~Show a character's true actions for what they really are.
~View the same scene, but with a completely different take away value.
~Play with emotions that another character will not see.
~Pit actions, views, or emotions against characters.

There are so many fun (and challenging) things you can do with POV. And one of my favorite things about POV is used in the example above. You can take each character's actions and pit them against each other. Because no two people are going to see the same scene in the exact same way. Just like a fingerprint, it will always be different.

POV does not have to be just about two different characters working for or against each other. When in a certain POV, you are going to see that world in an intimate way through that character's eyes. Depending on your character's mood, you are going to see the world in that manner. If your character's mood is dark and brooding, no matter the scene, be it bright and sunny, the POV character is only going to see the worst. And the exact opposite is true too for the other way around.

When you write a scene, you need to consider the character and their mood at the moment. Think about when you are depressed or when you are happy. No matter what, nothing is going to get you down. If you are peace, secure in your world and the Father's love for you, you are not going to necessarily notice the wicked and dark. (depending on what you are writing here)

There are many fun things you can do with POV. The options are endless and given the deft hand and skilled writer that I am sure you are, you can expand on this and use your imagination to push your character's POV deeper and wider until you have tapped into an amazing reserve of knowledge about your character's emotions. And that is really what it is really what it is all about. Getting to know your character until you understand their actions on an intimate level.

So, do you have anything to add about POV? I am still learning too, we will never stop, so be sure and share!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Secret to Success

Say you’re standing at the grocery store in the produce section.  A bin of oranges freshly stacked catches your eye.  Anticipation of a delicious treat forces you to grab one of those annoying bags that can’t be opened unless your fingers are moist.  You stand before the bin, study the possibilities then reach for two oranges.  The fruit in your left hand has a bumpy texture, fresh scent, good color, and firm skin. The one in your right passes the same inspection, except it has a small soft spot.  Which orange do you buy?

Our manuscripts go through a similar process.  One could say we stand in a packed room, shoulder to shoulder with other writers.  How can we vie for an editor’s attention?  What can we do to help our manuscript be chosen?

Today’s post will focus on the article.

Editors know their readers; that’s their job.  Amazing issues are passed on to friends who hopefully rush home to subscribe.  As their market fluctuates, editors update writer’s guidelines found on the web and resources like Sally’s Stuart’s Christina Writers’ Market Guide.

I used the guide to offer a children’s story to a magazine.  I followed every instruction in the guideline.  My story had the correct word count, age range, message, dialogue, and action. A grammar person checked for problems, and I read the article out loud to insure flow before stuffing an envelope with an SASE and the manuscript. 

Two months later I received a rejection letter. 

I went to the web site to read previously published articles for the magazine.  Each one had the same components as mine—EXCEPT they were written in the third person while mine was written in the first.

I rewrote the story in the third person, rechecked word count, age range, message, dialogue, action, grammar and flow before resubmitting the article.

One week later I received an email from the editor.  She said she normally didn’t accept anything resubmitted, but this story caught her eye.  She read it over and loved it.  She wanted to use it as the featured story in her special Easter edition.

Thinking back to the oranges in the bin example, the consumer never gives a piece of fruit a second chance.  They look, find one with a good appearance, picks it up and examines it for quality. 

As writers we have an advantage over the orange.  We can read the guidelines, research back issues of a given magazine, and tailor our manuscript to fit the needs of the readers.  When the rules are followed, the likelihood of an editor accepting our article or story increases.

How about you? What success story can you share to encourage us?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Branding With Your Tagline

Taglines. Many of you know what they are, but some may not have a clue. Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

tagline is a variant of a branding slogan typically used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product (like a film), or to reinforce the audience's memory of a product.

You know know a good tagline when you see/hear it. How about these:

"Just do it." ...Nike
"Takes a licking and keeps on ticking."...Timex
"Melts in your mouth, not in your hands."  ... M&Ms
"Reach out and touch someone." ...AT&T
"Snap, Crackle, Pop."...Rice Crispies
"Finger Lickin' Good."....Kentucky Fried Chicken

Taglines are your branding slogan. They are what makes you memorable. A tagline must include your mission and it must give the readers a taste of what you have to offer. It must also encompass the essence of YOU. 

Make is short and make it catchy. Shorter is easier to remember. Use clever puns. Use play on words. Make it memorable! 

I've been thinking of what I'd like my tagline to be. Here is a few of my ideas. What do you like best?
  • Faith, Fun, and Forever Love
  • Romance Full of Faith and Fun
  • Real Faith & Sigh-Worthy Love
  • Romance for the Hopeful Soul
Personally, I like the first one best. It shows my mission, to provide faith filled stories with humor and fun. And is shows that I write romance...the forever love. I think it also shows a bit of me...I love to laugh and have fun, and I love God with all my heart. It's also a little more catchy than the others. Of course, it is very similar to Kaye Dacus's so I probably should keep on trying to find something a little more of my own.

I browsed through writer and author sites and found some wonderful taglines:
I could have searched all night and found more wonderful taglines, but alas, I didn't have the time. I did search some of the New York Times Best Seller List and I discovered something interesting. None of the authors there have taglines listed on their sites. I suppose if you make it that big you don't NEED a tagline...your name IS the tagline. 

This brings up a question that I hope you will help me answer. Do all writers need a tagline? At what point do you need a tagline? Is it when you are submitting and putting your work out there? Is it when you are contracted and starting to market yourself? Or can you have a tagline just because you want one? What are your thoughts?


Monday, July 26, 2010

The Big 4 - Genre Options in Christian Fiction

On Friday, Krista had a fantastic post about the differences between Inspirational Fiction and Christian Fiction. If you want to read about it, go here.

Genre is a tricky thing anyway, I think. There are SO MANY possibilities. And so many ways to mix them together. I’ve been trying to figure them out for a while now, so I wanted to share some of the basics I’ve learned.

Here is a list of the BIG FOUR genres in Christian Fiction, and I’ll try to break some of these down into subcategories.

One of the MOST popular genre in Christian circles is Historical Fiction. Usually the ‘line’ for historical is WWII or maybe even the 1950s. I say ‘historical’ a bit loosely because there are basically two different camps of historical writers.

- People who give great historical detail, including true historical events and even historical figures (such as Nancy Moser’s historical books)

- Others use a historical period as a backdrop for their stories, but use purely fictional characters throughout.
Romance can be a part of these stories, but it usually isn’t the MAIN part of the story. Not if it’s a pure historical. For those of you who write romance in a historical setting, then the next genre is for you ;-)

THE MOST POPULAR Genre in Christian fiction is ROMANCE. Which means, the stories are about love, but that’s about all they could have in common. There are so many subgenre, it’s one of the easiest for first-time writers to enter. MANY of my favorite authors fit into here, of course. Mary Connealy, Julie Lessman, Laura Frantz, Siri Mitchell, Deeanne Gist… you get the point :-)

Historical romance

Romantic Suspense

Prairie Romance

Amish Romance

Fantasy Romance

Romantic Comedy

Those are just a few of the possibilities. We could add various combinations to romance and get another sub-genre, but remember some (BASIC) rules apply to romance. Most publishers want the hero and heroine meeting in the first chapter. The relationship between the hero and heroine is the ‘heart’ of the story and usually the story takes place over a relatively short period of time. There can be some pretty important stereotypes placed on the hero and heroine as well – so researching is an important starting point. :-)

Another BIG Genre is Christian Contemporary Fiction – which is really the ‘catch all’ of novels set in a contemporary world. Christian Women’s Fiction is usually placed within this genre. Chick-lit and Mom-lit would have fit in here, or any character driven novel. Angela Hunt comes to mind and some of Deb Raney and DiAnn Mills novels as well.

The fourth BIG genre (and one of the newest) is Christian Suspense and Mystery. The ‘who done it’ stories as well as the ‘thrillers’. The three main subgenre here are:

Romantic mystery

Romantic suspense

Cozy Mystery – these are your ‘sweet’ mysteries, without the graphic violence.

(Legal suspense novels and the new Christian ‘thrillers’ are becoming a larger subgenre here – Steven James, as an example)

A few other subgenres are – Christian Biblical Fiction (The Centurion’s Wife, Abigail), SciFi & Fantasy, Westerns, Adventure (House of Wolves is a VERY good example here), and even Horror – I might be tempted to put some of Ted Dekker’s books here)

So, when it comes to you – what genre do you read? AND what genre do you write?

Can you narrow it down to a subgenre, or do you get stuck in the gray sometimes like me? I have a historical novel that has a strong romantic element, but the heroine’s journey is as strong by itself as the romantic journey. So what do I do? Is it historical or is it romance?

Do you guys ever get a little lost in the genre fog?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Good mornin’, or afternoon, or evenin’. Whichever it is on your side of the world. Glad to have you stop by for our news at The Writers Alley. Let’s celebrate August with a splash…or two.

Check out one of the top viewed pictures from Yahoo this week. Talk about a ‘whale of a tale’.

Well, there may not be stories as big as THAT on The Writers Alley this week, but we’ll do our best to keep you entertained and/or informed.

Monday – Pepper takes Krista’s post from Friday a bit further by talking about the 4 Most popular Christian Fiction Genres – and what those mean.

Tuesday – Laughlines, Bylines, Headlines,…er…oh, Taglines, that’s it. Sherrinda’s going to discuss taglines, why you choose them and how. You might even get a chance to help her figure out her own ;-)

Wednesday – Don’t miss Mary’s Secret to Success – ways to publication, part one.

Thursday – Casey’s taking on Point of View. Whose point of view, you ask? Well stop by and check it out.

Friday – While Krista’s taking maternity leave, we welcome Kaye Dacus to offer some writing tips.

Saturday – Big hats and corsets? Donna Winters drops by to chat about women's fashion from 1900-1905.


August 7 – Swashbuckling expert, Marylu Tyndal, stops by to talk about writing authentic historical characters.

August 14 – Stop by to read about author Cara Lynn James

August 21 – Interview with award winning author, Angela Hunt.

August 28 – Interview with Margaret Brownley


Krista DELIVERS!!! Krista’s newest baby girl, Annabelle, was born this week. To find out more, check out Krista’s blog – but also keep Krista (her family) and especially the baby in your prayers. Little Annabelle was born with a heart abnormality – so surgery will be very soon.

This week on Mary's blog: Monday--Summer Tip # 7--take a trip to another country from your own back yard. Wed/Sat He was born a slave doomed for murder then secretly whisked to the palace and raised with princes. No adventure story could compete with this man's life. Events taken from Exodus. See you there

Pepper’s been tackling ‘cliffhangers’ on her blog, Words Seasoned with Salt. Stop by to learn more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Shawna K. Williams

There seems to be an epidemic of e-publishing lately. : ) At least here on the alley, but it seems to be popular and many new authors are entering the scene this way, so check out this new author, Shawna K. Williams and the words of wisdom she has to impart from her first publishing experience.

My experience with an e-press has been really positive. I knew from the beginning that I'd be seeking publication through a small press. If you read No Other you'll understand why. It's most definitely Christian fiction, but somewhat atypical for the genre. Some call it edgy, I prefer Grace-Inspired because that's the focus of the story. Anyhow, given that, and also that I was a first time author, I knew that the story's best chance was with a small press.
I think one of the biggest advantages with a small press is that they are far more willing to take a risk with a new author, and a good story that might not fit the standard mold.
For me, it's been really interesting to see the changes taking place in the industry because of electronic publishing. It's telling that every major book chain has an ebook division and their own version of a reader available now. I love the convenience, efficiency and economy that ebooks/epublishing bring to the table. I also see it bringing reading back to young people. My 12 y/o recently purchased a Nook with her own money and reads about six to eight books per month. She'd borrowed my Kindle before buying it. I'm so glad to have it back! Before we had an ereader in our home she read around two books per month. I've heard other parents who own ereaders make similar comments. Two of my friends recently bought Kindles for their kids.
As far as disadvantages go, it's still a small market and sales reflect that. The idea is to be aware of this so your expectations are in line with reality. Lol!

Also, there's still a lot of educating to do. I hear all of the time, "I don't like reading from a computer screen." Many people are unaware of all the ways ebooks can be read, and also that an ereader resembles a print book and not a computer screen. It even uses ink. With the soft covers they feel like a book in your hands, and it's quite cozy to read from while sitting by a fire.

I have moments of discouragement when people ask, "When will it be a real book?" I know they what they mean, but I also know the effort that went into my book, so it smarts a little. Most people are thinking in terms of tangibility, though, and don't intend any offense. And in that regard, I'd be lying if I said that I don't long to hold my book in my hands. I love ebooks, and actually prefer reading on my Kindle, but there is something about having that physical representation of an idea that's been in your head. Just is. While Desert Breeze is currently only publishing in e-format, it is their intention to expand into print.

Shawna's casual bio:
I'm a lot of things: a Christian, wife, mother, friend, author, artist, rock hound, science geek and animal lover. The first four take priority. The rest tend to jostle for my attention. Since I'm always a dreamer, author usually wins.

Indeed, my first two books are the result of a dream -- an actual dream. It nagged me for six months as I mentally tried to fill in all of the gaps. I finally had to write it down. Since then, God has continued to bless with me inspiration at times of His choosing.

Technically, I'm an Inspirational Romance writer. But I like to think that romance includes more than the relationship between two people. It can also be about the era or place, or even a single moment in time, when an elusive whisper reaches inward and ever so gently taps the soul, saying, "This. Remember this."

It's my desire that my stories create such a moment.
Some of my methods for filling my creative reservoir are reading about the histories of small towns, pouring over old photos in antique shops and people's homes (if I'm at yours, I'll ask to see your picture albums) and asking prying questions about your best family stories. Oh! And if you ever see a lady on the side of the road, taking pictures of old, dilapidated houses and buildings, it's probably me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Inspire me please! Huh?

We've all heard the terms. Inspirational Fiction. Christian Fiction. We've also heard the scorn of each off these at one point and time.

"Inspirational is taking the 'Christ' out of it! How dare they!"

"Christian fiction? Seriously? Why does our fiction need to be labeled as Christian? Do we have to have a label? Do we have Christian toothpaste? No! Christian Sloppy Joes? No! "

Well, first, I'm not going into the debate. Mostly because I think it's just plain silly. (No offense...) It reminds me of the whole "Over or Under" debate! Just rip off the toilet paper, okay?

What I will chime in on is what makes a novel Christian or Inspirational. How much "God" must be in your book? Is there a difference between the terms? What boundaries must we have?


Inspirational novels are just that. They are meant to inspire you. To forgive, to love, to hope, to come back to God. Many times inspirational novels have subtle allegories, like Jesus' parables, that inspire you without you even knowing:-) We inspirational fiction authors are sneaky that way!

Christian fiction is also inspirational fiction, however it focuses on God in a deeper and more obvious level. Whereas an inspiry novel my feature a Christian character, the theme may not always focus on the spiritual. A Christian novel, however, will weave into its plot the character's spiritual journey toward a deeper relationship with God.

The best example I can think of off the top of my head would be comparing Denise Hunter to Colleen Coble. (I use these two out of pure fun since they are such good friends and blog together, AND I love both of their books!)

From the books that I've read of each, I would label Denise's novels as Inspirational and Colleen's as Christian. Denise always inspires and her books always carry an allegorical lesson we can learn from, but Colleen takes that a step farther and features characters who have a faith journey as well.


How much God should be in our Christian or Inspirational novels? Is there a test??

Nope. And really, there is no answer to this. This is a question for each author to ask God about, because I'm convinced He calls us each to a different level in our writing. Not one is better than the other. God can/does/will use Denise's novels just as much as He does Colleen's.

All this said, there are boundaries on both sides.

There is a point where an author can get too "preachy" and be out of the bounds of writing good fiction. This isn't because there is too much God in a book, but because God isn't organically (or realistically) woven into the theme. It can get tacked on and eye-rolling-worthy, cliche even, to the point where the message is lost or ineffective.

On the flip side, a lot of non-CBA books have inspirational themes such as love or forgiveness. So what differentiates "Inspirational" fiction from secular novels?

Again, my opinion, but I think it is in the limits we set. Bedroom scenes have a point where the door is discreetly shut. "Potty-mouth" words are left out. Violence can still be there, but there are limits. A Christian world-view is upheld. Bad things can be included, however they are clearly labeled as such. (i.e. characters might, behind doors, have pre-marital sex, however it is not shown as okay or acceptable.)

Within the above limits though, WOW. There are a TON of variables. Just when do you shut the door? What words are "okay"? How much violence is too much? I have distinct opinions on those, and when I'm back from maternity leave, will do a post dedicated just to this. However, my main point is this: You, as an author, are accountable to God. If you are obedient to Him in the content you include, that is what matters. Period.

Sorry for the headings. I feel like I'm in high-school writing a research paper (Intro, key points, conclusion... LOL.)

In a nutshell:

Inspirational fiction inspires toward Godly Values.
Christian fiction inspires toward Christ.

How is that for simple?

Any questions? Do you agree with my definitions? Would you define your books as Inspirational or Christian? Or do you write for the secular market (which I did NOT touch on here, but is an option many Christians choose as well!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Debunking the "It's MINE, Don't TOUCH IT!" Ideology

Me! It’s mine! Don’t touch it!!

That seems to be the pervasive force behind the bulk of writers in today’s newbie industry. “It’s my baby.”

You are really going to hate me, because today I am going to debunk this theory and why it causes so many writers to stifle themselves in a corner and refuse to grab hold of any editor or agent’s words of advice.

When I was writing my first historical novel (what do I mean first? There was only one!) Anyway, when I was working on my HF novel, I hired a wonderful lady, Tiffany Colter to edit it for me. We spent hours poring over my poor prose and weak dialogue. At one point early in the process of working together, I hired her for a phone consultation. And because I had heard it so often, I said the first words that popped into my head “It’s my baby and it is hard to hear tough, mean things said about it.”

I paused.

What? My baby? I sat back and stared at the computer screen. Was I crazy? I could barely stand this story, it was stale and trapped in the middle of a busy intersection. No manner of prodding from me was going to get it to move.

No. This was most definitely NOT my baby.

And forgive me, I am going to be mean and then get nice again: that is problem with many writers. Especially…. new ones.

Okay, are you still here? I am really sorry, but I do believe that we seriously need to step back from our own rose colored glasses and look at our writing and this topic objectively.

I will not deny it, it is hard to have someone look at your work and tell you it needs…. well…. work. It can even sting because words on the screen can often come across as much harsher than in real life. And often times we need to get away from those words and well, if you are any of the other ladies here, eat plenty of chocolate or if you are ME go pig out on a jar of carrots. It is much healthier! O-kay, we won’t go there right now, that argument has already hit the loop, don’t want to start up World War III here-- again.

Seeing the overflowing red ink that stains the computer screen in the form of comments is hard and uncomfortable and the suggestions will not always need to be headed, take it with a grain of salt, but don’t throw in the sweetener in just yet and the spices to cover the bitter taste. You want to see what needs to be fixed in your manuscript, but let’s face it. Adam and Eve sinned and nothing has been perfect since. I know, it stinks, but it is true. None of us are perfect and though we would like to think that our manuscripts are without their faults that is a gross understatement.

The intent of our heart should be to always make something better, even when it hurts us.

Because when it comes right down to it, the story we have written, once it leaves our hands, does not become a part of us. In some ways it is like a child, as that is must be freed into the world to stand on its own two feet. And yes it does hurt the parent when they hear that their baby is being damaged, but just like with children, at a certain point the training wheels have to come off and you have to let ‘er glide on their own.

No great work of fiction ever languished in the drawer of babying. It was brought forth and honed and perfected until it shone.

Because in the end, this willingness to separate yourself from the hard work and sweat and tears you have put into this manuscript will have to land on an agent or editor’s desk and they will either love it or hate it depending on which side of the bed they got up on, and when it comes back either rejected or marked up with plentiful changes, you as the writer, need to be able to see that the person on the other end of the red pen is not murdering your baby, but making it stronger. There is a big difference and I think all too often, we only see the former and not the latter.

Being a person who is easy to work with and is always willing to learn no matter how difficult the lesson may be, is someone an editor/ agent wants to work with. If they have to fight you every step of the way, because “you’re baby” had its feelings hurt, they aren’t going to want to work with you. And in the big picture, this really prepares you for readers, who I am sure from your own experience of writing book reviews or reading them, can be ruthless.

So right now, throw out the ideology that is your baby, and view it as a project, a craft that needs to be honed and perfected, only through hard work, sweat and maybe a few tears. Nothing good ever comes easy.

So, do you agree, disagree, are you hurrying to your blogger account to stop following the Alley? Making a note on your calendar to NEVER return on Thursdays? Go ahead, tell me, so I can go cry that you didn’t like my baby. : (

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Imposing "Write Tight" Rule

A tendency that I suffer from on my writing journey is swinging the pendulum.  I commit some heinous writer’s crime, turn into a blubbering fool over red ink splashed on my manuscript then vow never to violate the rule again.  As the pendulum swings to the pinnacle on the other side, I commit the antithesis writer's crime. 

I’ve grabbed my tissue, blown my nose and wiped my eyes.  I’m ready to give the true confessions of a write-tight-a-holic.

I thought writing tight meant carte blanche to cut descriptors of my characters and settings.  Who needed flowery descriptors of cobwebs hanging down from a skeleton wedged in rafters twenty feet overhead or details about a girl’s voluptuous walnut-brown eyes? The action would set the stage and jump-start my reader’s imagination into picturing each character and setting in his own way. True?

No? But my writing teacher said write tight, right?  That means cut words--make your point and move on to the next scene.

I thought writing tight meant cutting every adverb from the entire manuscript.  Not just –ly adverbs, but every adverb.  Did you know “not” is an adverb?  Thou shalt write strong verbs and meaningful nouns.  I searched my manuscript for any adverb with my handy-dandy “find” feature. I strangled each one with the delete key.  Muwahaha.  Even Sherlock Holmes couldn’t detect an adverb trace. 

I took these and other write tight rules to the extreme and sucked the life out of my novel. 

1.     Characters melted in a stagnant slough
2.     The plot turned to Swiss cheese--moldy Swiss cheese
3.     Themes turned monotone
4.     The flow had been dammed up with rules.
5.   My writing voice suffered from laryngitis

I needed help.  Thats when God reminded me of the saying: All things in moderation.

I scanned William Brohaugh’s Write Tight book for clues and found blessed chapter nine. “How Tight Is Too Tight?”  Brohaugh discusses: when tight writing robs rhythm, misdirects emphasis, draws away from the content, reduces clarity and other occasions when the pendulum might swing towards too tight writing including my favorite: when tight writing is just plain wrong.  I couldn’t believe he wrote those words!

Brohaugh gave me permission to use the necessary words to convey a thought, word paint a setting, breathe life into characters, proclaim a theme, weave a plot, and instill excitement, fear, hope, joy, trauma, etc. Next week I'll discuss how to steady the pendulum when writing tight.

I leave you with a parting example worthy of Goldilocks and porridge:

Too Tight:  Jeff ate the poisoned apple then died.

Too Loose:  Jeff gratefully gave into his hunger pains, reached into the overflowing teak fruit bowl on the marble kitchen counter by the porcelain dog-shaped cookie jar, and ravenously snatched the very first red delicious apple he touched. He hurriedly thrust the apple into his mouth and forcefully chomped deep into the white flesh.  Choosing not to delay satisfying his anguish, he roughly swallowed the meat whole. As he quickly drew the tantalizing apple near his face again he briefly noticed two tiny syringe-like holes near the stem. Jeff gasped in utter terror as he fearfully recalled the words of the illusive Mr. Black, and weakly collapsed on the cool red terracotta floor and died.

Just Right:  Jeff gave into his hunger pains. He snatched an apple from the kitchen and gulped the first bite before chewing. As he drew the fruit to his face again he noticed two syringe-like holes near the stem.  He gasped in terror as Mr. Black’s words replayed in his mind, “You’ll never survive to testify.”  The room swirled.  Jeff grabbed the counter to steady himself.  He couldn’t focus. A dark cloud enveloped him and yanked his testimony to the grave.

Learning newbie writing rules is important. Balancing the spirit of these rules is crucial. What rule have you sparred with in your writing journey?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Overcoming The Dreaded Writer's Block

I have been sporadically reading a book called Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. It is a treasure cove of writing tips made easy! Whether you struggle with grammar, punctuation, capitalization, or pronouns, this book is for you. The author gives great examples in a fun, easy to read way.

Mignon includes a section toward the back called Work It and I loved this chapter! One of the topics she expounds on is Writer's Block and how to deal with it. She wrote,
"Anything you do to overcome writer's block is just a mind game, but I don't mean that in a bad way because sometimes you have to play mind games to get your work done. Writing is a solitary experience; it's really all about you and your mind."
Here are some of the things that worked for the author:

  • Don't play. Don't do something fun if you are going to procrastinate, because that ensures your continued playing. "Sometimes overcoming writer's block means forcing yourself to put in the time."
  • Skip around. You don't have to start at the beginning of a paragraph or chapter. If you are stuck, then write a different scene. Or better yet, start a new story or work on one you have already started.
  • Change location. Pack up your laptop and head to the library, coffeehouse, back porch, or pool. Sometimes the change of scenery will inspire you.
  • Try free writing. Set a timer and write continuously for 15, 20, or 30 minutes. Sometimes this will unstop the dam and let the creativity flow, and sometimes this can be a good way of coming up with story ideas.
  • Get real deadlines. If you are disciplined enough, set your own deadline and meet it. Plan a date, but don't go unless you finish your deadline. Meet with other writers and exchange chapters. Having to meet in person will spur you on to meet your deadline. Enter contests that have deadlines. (Writer's Digest has writing contests throughout the year. 100-Word Stories is a blog that gives writing prompts and chooses a winner from the submissions. NaNoWriMo is a month long marathon of writing where thousands participate to finish a 50,000 word novel in a month.)
Mignon Fogarty has a great blog/website HERE.

Question for the day: What do you do to combat writer's block? What tricks can you share?