Friday, September 30, 2011

Learn from MY mistakes

A week ago Monday, I posted an announcement on my blog that was four years in the making.

I'm still pinching myself! I'm gonna be published!


Sorry, just had to get that out of my system.

I began my true journey to becoming a published author in the Summer of 2007. Four years later, give or take a month, I signed a publishing contract with Abingdon Press.

It's funny. I remember that first year, my naive imaginations of some brilliant publisher finding out that I write, reading a few pages, and weeping with excitement at the thought of publishing my novel.

Uh, yeah, not so much. There was probably some weeping, but more crying tears of laughter at my fumbling awful attempt at a query.

Confession time:

You know when you read on an agents blog some of the query bloopers from crazy people who totally shouldn't be allowed NEAR a computer to write a query, much less a book?

Yeah, I was one of those. Once I learned certain, uh, rules of decorum, I lived in utter fear of being mentioned on one of those. Well, not quite, because the poor agent/editor I sent an awful e-mail/fax to doesn't blog. (Note: Even if  I was featured, while I would have felt oh-so-stupid, I am thankful that these are sometimes posted, as it is a good forewarning of what NOT to do. I learned a lot from those blogs! I would have understood if my stupidity was used to teach others the error of their potential ways.)

What faux pas did I commit, you ask?

Well, I have decided to bare all. (Query speaking... no worries!)

When I was first thinking about publishing... I did the most logical thing I could think of. I went to publishing houses websites and looked at their submission guidelines.

Pretty much all of them vetoed unsolicited submissions.

Except one. At the time, they accepted faxed one-page queries.

Giddy with excitement, I typed mine up.

The beginning of my query fax?

"When I was a little girl, I dreamed of...."

Yes. The WHOLE first paragraph was about ME. Actually, now that I think about it, it was more like the first THREE paragraphs.

Query Tip #1: 
INTRODUCE YOUR BOOK first... your bio later! 

And never write the words, "When I was..." or "I dreamed..." Tacky. It really really is!

No surprise here. I never got a call.

Next, I went to my favorite author's websites. Many of them had a section for their tips for writers. One of them mentioned querying agents. A FAB idea, I thought. She also mentioned her agent's name and gave a link to the agency.

I clicked over. The website had a WEALTH of information. Even a sample proposal! I put mine together as directed. 
The website also noted that they only accepted submissions from writers who were already published or were referred to them by existing clients.

I thought. Hard. Obviously I didn't know any existing clients. Had no clue how to get referred. But... I KINDA was referred... right? (You can start groaning now... it's okay.) I mean, the author had linked to the agency and mentioned them and everything. See? Referral!
I sat down and drafted my e-mail.

Instead of starting with my own version of "I had a dream..." I started with mentioning my referral. I give myself props for ONLY ONE THING. I was honest. 
It went something like, "Hi, my name is Krista Phillips, and I was referred to you by <> It was actually their website that referred me to you, but I'm very excited to present to you my novel about <<>>>"

Query Tip #2: 
NEVER say someone referred you unless they, personally, referred you... AND gave you permission to use their name.

Yeah, never heard from her either. GO figure.

After that, I realized I was probably just humiliating myself, and I should probably learn what I was REALLY supposed to do. So I joined ACFW. I joined a critique group. And I joined my local writer's group.
So.... these three things in the works, and one more edit on my novel, I decided to stick my toe in the querying water again.

This time, the poor bloke was agent Steve Laube. (I'm using his name because this one isn't QUITE so embarrassing.) I studied his submission criteria. I followed it verbatum. I was more professional than in previous attempts (although still far from perfect.)

This time, I at least heard back a "no thanks" rejection letter. I have kept and framed said rejection letter. It was my first one, and oddly enough, I was proud of it. I figured every writer has to be rejected at some point. I'd gotten my first one out of the way!

My mistake, however, came just a few months later when I went to my first ACFW conference. I knew a little more about writing then. Emphasis on little. I'd revised my one novel once again. Mostly for grammatical errors and little tweaks that I felt SURE made my novel SO SO SO much better.
How much better?

Yep, better enough to pitch to that same agent who only months ago had rejected my baby-novel.
I went into that meeting, my first in-person pitch EVER, wanting to vomit. It was as I approached his table that I realized that pitching this to him again was probably not a stellar idea.

Query Tip #3: Once rejected, don't re-query unless it is...

a.) a different, improved project
b.) agent/editor gave you permission once edited or 
c.) you've revised your novel so much that it is 1000% better and almost unrecognizable.

Mine fit none of these three categories. However, the wonderful person Steve is, he read the first few pages, LAUGHED (which made my day!) and gave me a few great pointers on my writing. So it was not for naught.

However, if you find yourself in this boat, my agent Rachelle Gardner has MUCH fabulous advice on her blog, and specifically this post on re-querying

*Note* While I think it was bad form for me to repitch this project, I think it is just FINE form to use an agent/editor appointment to garner feedback on your writing/novel, especially if you don't feel quite ready to pitch yet.


Anyone gutsy enough to share your newbie mistakes so we can all learn from them? If not (bawk-bawk chicken,) feel free to point and giggle at mine. I don't mind!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sticking To Your Budget!

You’ve been put on a word budget and each one has an assigned value.

Sweating yet? The word “budget” pops up and the inside of your hands go moist. Your breath gets heavy and you have a sudden urge to pace. You can’t sit in one place and when your child skips in asking for a Popsicle, you march them right back out.

Being put on a budget?

Yeah, you’d rather have your toenails pulled out without anesthesia.

And yet when we sit down to write the next Great American Novel, we can be some of the most verbose, slack-jawed, quick-finger-typing maniacs that use every “and”, “was”, “that”, “just”, “because” and the list heads into infinity.

Our characters don’t just have “dialogue”, they chat amongst themselves for pages at a time about everything from what they ate for breakfast to the new haircut the lady in the fourth pew back in church got last Friday.

They don’t just drive to their destination, they observe all the lovely sagebrush whirling by their window, they see the deer leaping gracefully across the pasture and combine that image with the art gallery painting they saw last week on their date with the guy who was a total jerk and should have dumped yesterday.

I’m exhausted!

The typical novel is 90,000 words. Think about it, that’s not that many words. Yeah, when you’ve written the first 10K it can seem that way, but get halfway through the manuscript and suddenly you realize you still have a whole plot thread that STILL has to be resolved and you have NO IDEA how you can possibly close the thread in the next 30K.

It’s time to go on a budget.

When the goal is 90K and you end with 120K you need to go on a SERIOUS budget. The best way is to go through your manuscript with an eye for a few key things. As you edit you will see more and more that will need to be cut and condensed, but to cut a big chunk of those words that need to go now, here are a few tips of things to look for.

Before you start cutting your precious words think about it this way: you have been given $90,000 to spend on your work. $1 per word. WHICH ONES WOULD YOU CHOOSE? It puts it into perspective. If each “was” was worth $5 would you use as many? If each dialogue section could be totaled at $100 for a conversation about breakfast, would you include it?

Hopefully NOT!

Think of each word you write as having a value and you have to PAY for the privilege of using that word. Choose wisely, because you don’t want to miss out on words that can catapult your manuscript’s value.

“Grape-shot Budgeting”

·         Most “that’s” are NOT NEEDED. Don’t hyperventilate. Read it out loud and you’ll agree with me.

·         Condense dialogue. All “well’s” and “just’s” for example need to go. Make your dialogue punchy and filled with cutoffs and fragments (when it works). It heightens the tension.

·         Don’t describe something UNLESS it matters to the plot. If your heroine is driving across the desert should she give a detailed history of sagebrush? Hmmm, probably not.

·         Don’t let your character go on for pages and pages of introspection. Put action into those sections and once you state a point, DON’T keep going.

·         Cut ALL backstory and include as slivers through the stories. Your readers will be more intrigued and most of that backstory is more for your benefit than the readers anyway.

Grape-shot when fired scatters and takes a chunk out here and there.  When you go through that first couple of edits on your manuscript, these are some of the things you need to keep an eye out for. As the edits get more micro, you’ll still be deleting and tightening, but you aren’t going to dump all those excess words in one round. This is just a good start.

Take each word into careful consideration. Is it worth its weight to be included in the story? Does it truly contribute to the book? Those might seem like overwhelming and weighty questions, but once you start editing you will realize it has become second nature.

Word Budgeting is a great concept to keep in mind when you go through those edits. It can be hard to cut those words we spent so much time writing. But if each one has a value and that value equates the difference between a contract or not, which would you choose? Yeah, the love looses the shine really fast.

No go find a budget and stick to it!

**Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Being Mentored: Thanks Brandilyn Collins, Cara Putman, Robin Caroll

Attending a conference with more than seven hundred conferees in a congested city (especially for country girls) can be intimidating.

Behind the scenes of any stellar organization stand gifted workers willing to help. Three fabulous authors set aside time to guide and instruct over 150 first timers through storms of doubt, earthquake nerves, and mountains of questions. 

A loop was created for this specific purpose. Emails from these ladies first popped into our inboxes in June, opening doors for questions and offering tidbits and trade secrets. Newbies felt the freedom to ask any question.

I present you these godly ladies
 who served as first timer mentors:

Robin Caroll was the ACFW conference director. I found her checking details and assisting anywhere needed. Robin never took the stage-you had to look to see her (you know the type-the one cooking in the kitchen or standing behind the camera--ever present, never seen).

All seven hundred some odd conferees had appointments with either agents, editors, or mentors. Robin kept the pace moving, which enable all of us to enter our appointments at our given time. Because of her efforts, we each had our "Moment" of opportunity.

Robin and her husband, Casey Miller (the poor soul who arranged our appointments) sat with Pepper, Casey and I at the Pizza party. We laughed, sang, and danced to 80's music.  What a fun couple!

Robin, you became a friend in a heartbeat, a tower of strength, and a source of help. Thank you.

Serving as conference MC, Brandilyn Collin's humor and her Zondervan stories from the past made us feel like we were at home with a group of friends who had always known each other.

We laughed with tears dripping down our cheeks to her dramatized stories as if we were all gathered in her living room following a tasty dinner for an hour of stories. 

Many of us noticed a special side of Brandilyn: her loving, caring, giving side. 

One time I walked into the lobby area of the ladies room. Off to the side of this large room sat Brandilyn and a conferee--alone, praying. 

Another time I saw her in the comfy sofa section of the open hall area sharing what she had learned in the writer's craft with a small group of conferees. 

One morning I had slipped out of my hotel room early to go to the prayer room and had forgotten my Bible. I found Brandilyn's laying open on the table in this special room, inviting anyone to use it. As I leafed through the pages for my quiet time, I saw her notes and comments next to passages on almost every page.

Brandilyn, you SHOWED your love for Christ to us.  Thank you

Cara Putman devoted hours upon hours to newbie questions in the months leading up to the conference--she even answered questions repeated several times! 

Cara translated rules, guidelines, and directions (a type of non fiction language not spoken by fiction writers) using her own experiences. She posted links to fun examples of how not to speak to an agent, samples of beautiful one sheets, even photos sites of St. Louis with lists of local restaurants and attractions. WE WERE PREPARED!

During the orientation, Cara's cell phone rang. We laughed. She laughed too. Did she set up the situation? Does it matter? In her uplifting way, she proved people make mistakes, handle the situation in an appropriate way, and then move on. A great lesson to remember prior to those special appointments.

Cara, you radiated a sparky, godly, helping spirit which enabled everyone to sense God's presence.  

Any first time experience needs a mentor/guide to bring about a smooth experience. Have you had someone help you through a first time experience?

Do you have any shout outs, kudos, memories or others comments for Robin, Brandilyn, or Cara?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Conference Juicy Tidbits

Photo by Kristen W.
While I did not attend the ACFW Conference, I did attend the North Texas Christian Fiction Writers conference the weekend before. At the end of the conference, there was an author panel consisting of Michelle Medlock Adams, Mary DeMuth, Steven James, Gail Gaymer Martin, and Tim Shoemaker. These authors answered questions put forth by the participants. In the answers these authors gave, came beautiful words of wisdom that I thought worthy of sharing. 

  • You are writing upon the heart of the reader. Write from your heart to theirs.
  • Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land in the stars.
  • You learn more from writing your book than from studying the craft.
  • You must sacrifice and put your own selfish desires on the altar to follow your dream.
  • You offer your work unto the Lord, and live with the peace in bringing glory to God.
  • Publishing does not validate you - Jesus validates you. When Jesus validates you, you are well-souled
Don't you love that last one? If we live with the expectation that we be validated when we achieve success in our writing, we will be sorely disappointed. It is only when The One and Only validates you that you will be truly at peace and fulfilled. You will be well-souled. You will be freed to write for Him in the peace that only He can give. You will indeed be well-souled.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ACFW - Post conference tips

Hey guys,
Pepper here - and I just got in from the airport at almost midnight, so I cannot promise my words are gonna make a lot of sense this morning.
Needless to say, ACFW was a blast! Exhausting, overwhelming at times, inspiring almost all the time - but definitely a blast!

As people return home from such a high, I wanted to remind us of five important tips AFTER a conference like this:

1. It is well with your soul - It's often the case that after such a great experience, we come back and 'crash'. When you're around such like-minded and like-spirited people, it's easy to feel a rush of encouragement and support....then we return to our 'normal' lives and things can feel a little less exciting.
Or perhaps the conference didn't fulfill the dreams you'd been hoping for.
Remember, there is a perfect time and season for your talent to bloom. God's call, God's timing - our perseverance.

2. Be faithful - If you received requests, SEND THEM IN. Now, editors and agents don't expect them by tomorrow. Polish, refine...and give yourself a little bit of time - but try to get them in within a month of the conference. 'Showing up' is 3/4 of the success.

3. Rejoice in all things - Giving up your time, energy, and money to go to conference makes quite an impression on the people there. They realize it's no small feat to come. So rejoice in the contacts you made. Meeting people is my FAVORITE part!!!!! Especially getting to meet the Alley Cats and RUTH LOGAN HERNE!!! There are so many things to celebrate! Seekers, Alley friends (waving to them now), and SO MANY MORE!!!  We can rejoice in the encouragement we recieved, in the power behind the Word that we heard, spoke, and sang.
Nothing is too small - and as Jenny B Jones said in her devotional. God says "You got nothin'? I can work with that." - so He takes our small and makes it great for His glory. That's certainly worth celebrating.

4. Be thankful - Don't forget the 'thank you' notes. Whether by snail mail or email, get those out! And not only in material form, but ask God to cultivate a heart of gratitude in you (and me). The more we see every aspect of our lives as handpicked by a loving Father - the easier it is to be thankful. I've GOTTA get mine in the mail. I met marvelous people like Julie Gwin from B & H, Karen Ball, Sandra Bishop, Allen Arnold, Tamela Hancock Murray, Amanda Luedeke, Jeff Gerke AND SO MANY MORE, not to mention my fellow writers - who just encouraged me along the way. It's time to visit Hallmark ;-)

5. Friendships are the spine of any conference - Do not forget that at the bottom of it all, a writer's conference helps us develop lasting friendships. What a blessing to show up somewhere once a year and find kindred spirits - not only those who encourage your for a weekend in September - but friendships that spill over into days, months, and years afterwards. That is the heartbeat of a CHRISTIAN writer's conference because whether those opportunities come from writers, agents, or editors, it's all about cultivating relationships.

And rooming with crazy people like Casey Herringshaw, Mary Vee, and Carol Moncado...well...there are stories that will NEVER be told there ;-)

Not all relationships will end in a 'dream come true' as far as publishing, but God provided the opportunitiy for you to meet each person that you did!
My conference experience was a total SUCCESS because of the relationships I built, deepened, and celebrated at ACFW.

I'll share more about ACFW in my next post - but as you come down from the heights of the conference, remember that God has you  right where He wants you to be and He rejoices over you.

Next time? Maybe I'll write about Post Traumatic Pitch Disorder :-) My friend Karen and I thought we might be suffering from it. (And I'll have MANY MORE Pictures - some you can check out at Words Seasoned With Salt tomorrow)

Any tips you want to share?

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week? CONFERENCE EDITION

Look at this great pic of The Alley Cats (Wendy, Mary, Casey, Sarah, Angie, Pepper) who attended ACFW (we truly missed our sister cats Sherrinda, Cindy, Julia, &, Krista). What a crew ;-)

Pepper, Mary, and Casey here.

Are you ready for more conference pics?

Well, we have them for you!

And here's a wonderful pic of Casey, Angie, and Mary. Aren't they cute?!?

Drumroll here... Pepper got to meet RUTH LOGAN HERNE!! YAY! Ruthy is even cuter and snarkier in person than she is online at Seekerville - so Pepper met the people she wanted to meet MOST OF ALL (except Liz Curtis Higgs....but there's always tomorrow!)

What can be better that Christian writing friends meeting, chatting, reacquainting, learning, networking, critting, staying up late to do blogs, writing, rewriting, writing, cyberspace or at a conference?

Have a super day writing--we'll post more from the conference tomorrow.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

LIVE FROM ACFW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As promised, here we are live from ACFW. Mary, Pepper, and Casey are coming to you live from our hotel room (and here's a view from our hotel window).

So to help with info flow, Pepper will type in green. Mary will post in blue. And Casey will post in red.

So far the highlight of the trip for me is meeting my Alley Cats, Mary, Casey, and Angie - as well as a few quick waves to Sarah and Wendy. But also, I got to give a GREAT BIG HUG to Seeker extraordinairre, Mary Connealy.
I'm going to make sure I get a pic of me and RUTH LOGAN HERNE tomorrow - and did I mention that I'm determined to meet Liz CURTIS HIGGS!!! ;-)

It's been such a great intro and I can't wait to share more tomorrow!

Okay, before I get too crazy, I'll hand the reigns over to Mary. :-)

Scootch over, Pepper. 
There I was minding my own business,standing in a long line waiting to check in to the hotel when I turned to my right and saw PEPPER and CASEY...WAHOO.  They whisked me away from the line and up to our room.  Thanks, guys.  I have really enjoyed listening to Dave Long from Bethany House.  He has quite a sense of humor and kept us laughing.  I also enjoyed meeting Angie and her fab baby, Libby. Check out our pick.  So much information...and more to come tomorrow.  I totally can't wait.  More laughing, learning, and lessons.  Lovely.  And now................ Casey :)

Am I allowed to gush???? Alley Cats. Jaw dropping, "That's my favorite author!!!" moments and so much more, I can't believe I am sitting here in my hotel room on PEPPER'S computer with sweet Mary Vee right on the other bed. Awe. Can it get any better than this?? Well...yes GIRLS (and guys) WE MISS YOU!!!

Seekers and Seeker friends, it's been awesome! I have to include a pic with one of my FAVORITE AUTHORS Laura Frantz. The woman is beautiful inside and out. 

More pictures coming your way on SATURDAY!!!

Top 5 Things to Avoid Telling Editors and Agents at Conferences

Since several of the Alley Cats are en route to the ACFW Conference today, it seemed like a good time to recap some conference etiquette. So if you find yourself at home, take notes for the next conference you attend. :)

Here are my top five things you should never, ever, ever tell an editor or agent at a writers conference:

5. [in one-on-one appointment] "This manuscript is my best work yet. Oh, and by the way, my mom wrote half of it."

4. [to Amish fiction editor] "I don't get all this Amish craze. Who gives a rip about bonnets and buggies?"

3. [at the lunch table] "You've got a strawberry seed the size of Russia between your teeth."

2. [at the dinner table] "I came out of the womb with a pen in my hand. Wanna see pictures?"

1. [sliding proposal under agent's hotel room door at 6am] "Newspaper delivery!"

Have you made any embarrassing comments at a conference that you're willing to share? How would you tell an editor or agent they have a strawberry seed between their teeth?

*This list was originally posted on on June 29, 2011.
**Photo by Ambro /

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Setting and Description

Most writers have a basic visual in their minds of the story's setting and the main characters. Case in point, this picture is the hero in one of my manuscripts (rugged-looking, isn't he?). :-)

The challenge is translating what we see in our minds and displaying it for the reader to see as well. When editing my scenes, I ask myself four key questions related to description.

1) Have I grounded the reader in the setting? At the beginning of a scene, do they know where they're at? Do I have my characters interact with the setting, so that the setting is a natural part of the story (versus a paragraph of description separated from the action)?

2) Do I give at least a snapshot description of new characters when they're first introduced in the story? If they're important characters, do I provide more than just a snapshot?

3) Do I filter in character descriptions throughout the manuscript in a way that distinguishes each character and avoids cliches? Jody Hedlund wrote an awesome post on this topic. You can read her article here.

4) Have I written too much description? Is it written in a way that is non-dynamic? The key with description is sprinkling it naturally throughout the scene. Fuse it with action and senses to make it more fluid and dynamic. For instance, instead of having your character run across a room, you can say, "Her heels click-clacked on the wood floor as she ran after him." We get a two-for-one out of this type of sentence. We see that she's wearing heels, and we see that the room has a wood floor. Not only that, but we hear what the heels sound like on the wood floor while getting a sense of the physical action.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Study the introduction of each of your scenes and each character and determine whether you've given them the appropriate level of description. If you have a stagnant descriptive sentence, rewrite it in a way that fuses it with senses, action, or emotion. And be sure to read Jody's post for some super tips.

So let's talk. Do you always have a strong visual of what your setting and your characters look like? Do you tend to write too much description or too little? Any other tips you can add to my list?

This post is part of the Self-Editing Checklist series. For the rest of the series, click here.

*Floor photo by suphakit73 /

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference Archives 2010: What's in a Name? we, not really for some of us. 

I'm reliving 2010 conference through the MP3 set. The audio sets are expensive, but well-worth it and I like to cheer myself with the reminder that I wouldn't be able to hear "all" the speakers in person anyhow. 

Lately I've been enjoying Dennis Hensley. I was thrilled to find he is also a yearly speaker at Writing for the Soul conference, so I hope to download more of his audios.

One thing I've been pondering lately is the renaming of some of my characters.  It took a critiquer to notice I broke one of the cardinal rules of naming characters.  I have too many sound-alike names.  From Jessalyn to Jared to Josiah, I was entranced with "J" names and they fluttered through my story. 

Pondering name changes, I began listening to Dennis Hensley's audio entitled "Mastering Structure, Symbols, 3D Characters..." Let me tell you taking notes on some of these will result in a cramped hand and lots of rewinds to catch the "good bits."

Here are some of the different types of names, according to Hensley:

1) Symbolic names:

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird comes quickly to mind.  Finch and mockingbirds both being small and vulnerable birds.  Finch was also Harper Lee's maiden name.  His name shows the strength of the seemingly small individual.

Literature is stuffed with religiously symbolic characters, like Jim Casy whose initials and character traits make obvious John Steinbeck's purpose in creating him.  Or like Evangeline in Uncle Tom's Cabin who heads up the T.G.T.L. club ("too good to live") along with Beth from Little Women and other favorites too numerous to name.

Baby namer is my favorite site for finding character names, but I'm sure there are loads more out there.

2) Ethnic names:

Behind the Name is a great site if you are looking for the history of a name and its origin.

My novel's main character is exiting a cult. In researching I found that certain names are popular within this cult.

Would your character have a name that's behind the times? Perhaps reading literature from the appropriate time period or country would help you find new name choices.

Pippi Longstocking is particularly Australian, the reader immediately associates her name with a location.

I think its important to be careful that we are being faithful to the ethnicity of our character, but not promoting ethnic stereotypes.

3) Regional names:

OK, the first thought that comes to mind here is Jim-Bob Duggar and Billy-Bob Thornton.  The viewer is not shocked to learn that either man is from the Southern states. I'm a New Yaw-ker and I'm trying to think of New England names.  Anyone help me out here?

Adding last name always works great for emphasis.  The more of our name our mother used the longer our grounding sentence might be.

What are some of your favorite names from literature (or life)? How did you name the main character in your current WIP?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Last Minute Conference Tips

So, I just finished getting my one sheets, sample chapters, proposal, agenda, and business cards all organized... Three more days (less for some of you)! I am so excited. As I get ready for the big conference, I have come across some great tips from fellow ACFW members and would like to share them with any of you conference-goers:

 SCENT-FREE Conference: 

Naomi Rawlings is on the newcomers loop and has some great insight into an unusual but important subject. ACFW is "scent-free", and Naomi clears up what this means:

Some attendees, including myself, are very sensitive to certain scents. So what does “scent free” mean? Do you need to wash the clothes you plan to wear in scent-free laundry detergent? Buy scent-free shampoo, make-up, and deodorant?

No. Nothing that extreme. Just avoid scented lotions, body sprays, and perfumes. Please don’t use hand sanitizers, as the scent-free versions of those smells strong. If you’re a man, make sure your aftershave is scent free or very mild. Meanwhile, those of us sensitive to scents will be armed with inhalers for our asthma or pain killers for our headaches, in case we run into an offending smell.

Also individuals allergic to feathers should call the hotel at (314) 655-1234 and request feather bedding be removed from your room.


My fabulous crit partner, Ashley Clark, gives us advice from what she learned when she attended her first ACFW conference:

From personal experience, let me just say I suspect there may be something Godly about skipping sessions to take a nap. In all seriousness, last conference I stretched myself too thin. I tried to go to too many sessions, meet too many people. That worked well for a couple days, but then I reached a breaking point. I vividly remember going back to my room and finally breaking down, asking God to lead me to whoever I needed to speak with because I just couldn’t keep up anymore. And a funny thing happened. I got a full manuscript request the next day.


Cindy Wilson, one of our Alley Cats, brought up a good point...bring some extra cash to tip taxi drivers, bell boys, valets. In the day of credit cards, sometimes having cash is not the norm. Don't forget!
Also, she brought up a MUST! Leave room in your suitcase for any new books you pick up at the conference bookstore...they will have a BUNCH to choose from! (And that being said, don't forget to bring the books you want signed by the author.)


Alley Cat, Pepper Basham has been a busy lady gathering tips from wonderful authors on her personal blog at . Check it out before you head to the conference. She provides wonderful advice for conquering those last minute jitters, fighting the fear of the unknown, and just equipping yourself for a great time!

And my last minute tip...take a bunch of deep breaths and remember, you've got Jesus on your side! He "did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind." He will give you all you need to proceed forward with this writing dream!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?




Or of our MEMBERS has news!! But I've been restricted not to say ANYTHING.

Doesn't she know she is killing me?? I don't keep secrets well!

I tend to want to blow and yell from the rooftops what has me so excited, but then my fellow Alley Cats probably wouldn't be very happy with me. Until then I must be content with:

WE HAVE NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!

If you want to know WHAT this crazy exciting news is, visit Krista's blog on MONDAY. Be there or be square!

Coming up next week:

It's a last minute post for your conference to-do list on Monday with Angie and guest blogger.

Tuesday rolls back around with Julia as your hostess.

Sarah gets back to her self-editing check list with setting and description on Wednesday

We pull from the archives on Thursday since Wendy will be getting ready and leaving for the conference.

Friday if all goes well, Pepper and Casey will be BLOGGING LIVE from the conference! If something comes up and we can't, Cindy will be helping us out. :-)

Be sure and be back on Saturday for next weekend's edition where Pep and Casey will again attempt live blogging with pictures to go along with your weekend edition!

Alley Cat News Stand...

Our own sweet Angie has won herself a one sheet contest!! Woo-hoo! We're so proud of you Angie!! You can check out Angie's fab one sheets from this post.

MARK your calendars for Krista's news on Monday, ya go that??

Check out this helpful list of industry links on Rachelle Gardner's blog post

There are several top CBA titles up for free download right now, including Julie Lessman and Jody Hedlund. Check out this list here

Be watching next week for ACFW conference pictures!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Books and the Bathroom

Have you ever realized how rare it is for a character in a book to go to the bathroom?

Once in a great while, I stop during a particularly long scene that covers a large period of uninterrupted time and think, "Man, that character must REALLY have to pee!"

If you think it's wierd that I notice these things, please realize it isn't often, and that I'm a mother of 4 children, 3 of them potty trained. It's my JOB to notice bathroom habits!

Then what is the reason we don't see characters go to the bathroom (besides the obvious gross factor?)



Unless your scene needs to have a portion take place IN the bathroom (which I actually have read before) there is no need to go there.

Now, this blog post isn't just about not taking your character to the bathroom. Because that would be kinda weird.

It's about the fine line between showing enough of our characters life to immerse the reader and make it realistic without boring them to tears.

It is realistic for our character to go to the bathroom.
It is realistic for our character to burp.
It is realistic for our character to far.... er, pass air through their digestive system.
It may be realistic for our character to file their nails, do their makeup, take a shower, get dressed, do laundry, clean the house, bake cookies, mow the lawn, surf the Internet, watch TV, get a pedicure, pick a piece of food out of their teeth, blow their nose and accidently get a booger on their shirt.

There are a TON of realistic things our characters do, day in and day out.

But we can't show them all. Otherwise our story will be...

BORING! And gross.

Although we need to show SOME of them, otherwise our story will be...


The key is to show these realistic things in the course of a scene where it ADDS TO OUR STORY. Where it enhances instead of distracts.

If you're in the middle of a discussion between hero and heroine and the heroine suddenly stops and says, "Hold on, I have to go to the bathroom, be right back." Yeah, totally ruins the moment. Although when a girls gotta go, a girls gotta go!

But a scene where a villainous antagonist who is trying to seduce the hero away from the heroine escapes into the restaurant bathroom to collect herself and primps to make sure her dress is showing all the right curves and shoves past someone else coming into the restroom.... it potentially shows her intention, character, and motive through "action" verses telling dialogue.

Or a single heroine who drags out the lawnmower on a Saturday morning only to be accosted by her elderly neighbor who forces her to take custody of the woman's huge fat cat even when heroine HATES animals, then the cat becomes a constant figure throughout the book and shows the woman's loneliness when she resorts to telling her woes to the mammoth feline.

Discussion: What "realistic" scenes do you have in your novel, or have you read in a novel recently?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Write...Be...Who YOU Are

Fingers CrossedIn four short, (loooonnnnggg) days I pile my luggage, laptop and dad into the car and we drive across the country to St. Louis, Missouri for the ACFW conference.

I'm giddy with excitement.

And anxious with nerves.

What if they don't like me?

The agent laughs at my writing?

I go blank when someone wants to know what my story is about?

Monkeys take over planet Hollywood. No...what...wait, what is my story idea again??

Did I pack enough breath mints? Deodorant? One sheets? My roommate survival cheat sheet?

My story idea sucks. My business card font is waaaay too small and no agent/editor is going to give a hill o' beans to what I'm writing or care enough to dig out their magnifying scope to read my contact info.

At one time or another these ideas have run through my head as I prepared for the conference. But I know you don't have to be attending to know what I am talking about. Because at some point in our writing lives (in life period it seems) we have these doubting behaviors.  Those times when all we want to do is give completely up.

It can be so discouraging to watch the changing shifts in the market and know that our 'monkies hit planet Hollywood and crash on the set of Grey's Anatomy' is not going to be bought anytime soon.

Is it worth it to keep going?

Since you can't attend the conference and won't get to meet with all these fab authors/agents/editors is it really worth continuing to write right now? Maybe you should just wait for the muse to come back.

Wrong. That is the last thing you should do.

As humans, but more importantly, as creations of the Father, we are unique and important in His sight. We each bring something to the table of His kingdom. It doesn't matter how long you spend on those manuscripts or how much they aren't 'saleable' in the world's eyes. They are perfect for you right now.

No one can write the story you are writing like you can. No one else had that exact story idea. You were the one to dream up the characters, give them a plot and put them to life on the page.

You spend hours breathing life and editing them into submission and no one else could come up with the exact same string of words like you could.

Don't listen to what the world is telling you should or should not be writing. Or going. Or doing. Fads change like the winds, but because we are anchored to Christ, grounded in what we know we should be doing for Him, we are in the perfect place.

Listen to the voices of reason God has placed around you, sure. Absolutely, don't ignore their common sense, but also, don't forget that you wouldn't be here unless HE put you here.

I'll see you on the other side of the conference!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being Mentored: Featuring Lynn Austin-7 Time Christy Winner

Not all of us have the opportunity to invest one month to envelope ourselves in research for our story, yet we wish we could. Today seven-time Christy winner, Lynn Austin, tells about her exciting opportunity to research details for one of her book series.

Lynn was the keynote speaker at the Write to Publish Conference the first year I attended. She shared this story. Her messages were inspirational and engaging--I still remember what she said six years later! I've asked her to mentor us today.

Hi Mary,
     Thank you for inviting me to share my research process with your readers. The Chronicles of the Kings series was the first set of books I ever wrote. I was still learning how to research.

     Since this series about Hezekiah was set in Israel, I longed to see the setting for myself. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, at first. 

     I began poring over every book I could find on Israel using Jewish sources as well as Christian ones. Since Isaiah was a main character, I read commentaries on the book of Isaiah until I felt as if I knew the prophet thoroughly. I also subscribed to a magazine called Biblical Archaeological Review which gave a host of information on discoveries and ancient practices. The magazine also listed volunteer dig opportunities in Israel—I made up my mind to go on one.

     My kids came down with chicken pox a few days before I was scheduled to leave—and then my husband got them, too! He is my biggest encourager; he told me to GO to Israel! Our oldest son, who was 14 at the time, went with me even though he was still recovering from the chicken pox. Crazy!

     We spent 5 days eachh week on the site, digging from 4:30 am (!) until noon. We spent part of the afternoon with the archaeologists, learning about the culture and the discoveries. We traveled from one end of Israel to the other, listening to lectures at all the sites (and I asked a million questions). It was amazing!

     Of course I knew my research had to include a walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel, still intact beneath modern Jerusalem. I didn't particularly like dark, tight, cave-like spaces, the tunnel was all of those things—plus it still contained ice-cold, thigh-deep water! 

     I walked through the tunnel with only a tour guide and one flashlight. Midway through, the guide turned off the flashlight. “See how dark it is?” I nearly had a panic attack! That's when I decided one of my characters (Eliakim in Book II) would have to experience what I did.

    The best part of the trip for me was to live in Israel for a month and keep a record of the sights, sounds, smells. These sensory details and weather patterns bring a story to life.

    I always purchase books to take home and remind myself of what I learned. Pictures help me a lot. I decorate my work area with photographs and drawings that take me back to the original setting.

     I actually enjoy doing research. But after completely immersing myself in the facts of the story’s time period, it becomes very “tricky” not to start spewing them out in my fiction. I would say that of all the information I collect, only a very small percentage of it ever shows up in the novel. The rest is in my head and my heart, creating an “atmosphere” in which the story is allowed to breathe.

    It took me much longer to research this first series than it does for books I write now. 
    I still spend at least one to two months researching and visiting the site (if possible) before I start writing. And I don’t stop researching. It’s an on-going process throughout the year it takes to complete each novel.


Thank you, Lynn! 

Lynn then blended sights, sounds, textures, information, smells, and tastes from Israel into her story as a weaver would fashion a design into tapestry. When such works of art are completed, the well crafted intricacies go undetected unless pointed out by a guide. 

Here--take a look for yourself--

--from Lynn's book Among the Gods (book 5) p.339

Joshua held the oil lamp in his right hand, feeling along the clammy wall with his left as he slowly groped his way through the meandering tunnel. He had only been inside it once before, with his father, but the suffocating darkness, the weight of the rock closing in around him, the terrible heaviness bearing down on top of him, were all so familiar it was as if he had been inside this tunnel many times. The icy water grew deeper as he sloshed through it, the passageway narrower, like his lungs as he struggled to breathe.

He inched his way forward, searching for nearly ten minutes before he found what he was looking for-Abba's inscription. He held the light close to read the words his father had chiseled into the stone, feeling them with his fingers. "Behold the tunnel..."

Those were the only words he managed to read before a spasm of coughing overwhelmed him. As he fought to catch his breath, the lamp jostled in his hand. The wick sputtered and sank beneath the oil. The flame died. Joshua plunged into total darkness.

"Abba!" he cried out in panic. But his father was dead, and his Heavenly Father was too far away to hear his cries. He knew that his own anger and forgiveness had separated him from God. They were the true source of his darkness, just as Miriam had said. When he'd turned his back on God, he had walked away from the only Source of light.

Joshua's limbs went numb with terror. He wanted to run from this terribly black void, but he was too dizzy and disoriented to move. He shivered, shaken to realize that Manasseh had lived in this eternal darkness, this midnight of the soul, for most of his life; now Joshua was lost in it too. How would he ever find his way out?
from Among the Gods (Book 5) p. 339, used by permission.

Have you visited the setting for your WIP/book in person or with a video media?
How has visiting the setting benefited your story?
How have you blended pages of facts smoothly into your book?

Lynn said she would stop by today to answer questions. What would you like to ask?