Saturday, March 31, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Happy April Writer's Alley and guests! Boy it feels good to be heading into the warmer months...though someone needs to be telling that to where I live. ;-)

With a new month comes new novel releases! Have you seen the new books hitting store shelves this spring? There is enough out there to salivate my reading glands and then some. Enjoy the few snapshots through the Weekend Edition, courtesy of ACFW Fiction Finder.

Winner of Jessica Nelson's debut book, Love on the Range is:  Faye! We will contact you to get your snail mail address. Congratulations and happy reading!

Coming up next week...

When to hit send? It's a tricky question and even trickier to answer. Angie will be unraveling a bit for us on Monday.

Tuesday brings Julia to the Alley...the places to weed in the garden of our MS's.

We either love 'em or we hate 'em. A day in the life of a contest judge, where Sarah will give us perspective from the other side on Wednesday.

Cara Putman will be Ashley's guest for the blog on Thursday, chatting about her newest release, A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island.

You have to know your reader to write for them. Cindy will discuss on just a few aspects of this broad topic on Friday.

News Stand...

Debut author Jessica Nelson is on Casey's blog with her Cold Call author interview. Find out whether she likes ice cream or M&M's better. ;-)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Throwing in the Towel...Again

This is a repost of one of my favorite posts by Krista. She was busy this week preparing for her little Annabelle's heart cath yesterday and so I found a post that many of us can use or relate to. Enjoy...

This publication thing is hard. The faint at heart need not apply.

So, you've decided you're in it for the long haul. You write a few books. You send out a few queries. You attend a few conferences.


So you get a critique group, you read a few writing books, you edit a few of those books you wrote, then start the process over again.


Nothing except rejection that is.

So when is enough enough? When do you throw in the towel, raise the white flag, slink back to your only-in-my-dreams world?

Some say never. And this might totally be valid. I've heard MANY an author encouraged to "keep going, keep persevering" because publication might be one step around the corner. The stories about pursuing publication for twenty years before it actually happened come to mind.

And that might totally happen to any one of us!!! (well, let's all hope it doesn't REALLY take 20 years!)

But... it also might not.

I don't have the answers to this for you. But I do have a few suggestions.
  • Don't give up. If you're going to do anything, give in. Giving up says "I can't do it." Giving in says, "I can do it, I just want to do something else for a while first." One is quitting... the other is changing your mind. Quitting is for those who are weak, changing your mind or changing direction is for those who are wise.
  • Don't listen to everyone else. "Keep going" might totally be right on track, but if God is whispering for you to move another direction for a while, keep going is being disobedient.
  • Pray. Ask for clear guidance. Be in prayer, talk to your family, and make sure you are on the path God wants for you.
  • Don't be overly sensitive. A rejection letter isn't necessarily a "no" from God about publication in general. Neither is a harsh critique of your work. Many times it just means, "Not yet" or "Not this agent" or "Not this editor" or "You have some more work to do."  It might be backbone building. But don't see every bad writing news as a lightning bolt from Heaven that you're doing wrong. You'll be shocked most every time:-) 
  • Take a break. I can't remember where I heard this first, but I've heard it many times. When all else fails, walk away for a little while. Take a week, a month, a year sabbatical. Then reassess. If that pit desire in your stomach is still there, then go back. If it has fizzled, then you have your answer as well.
Most of all.... HAVE FUN WHILE YOU WRITE!!! This reminds me of playing basketball in the 5th grade. I was HORRIBLE at it. But I had so much fun doing it! And I tried my VERY best. Never got on the "A" team... but I sure had fun trying. If you're going to be writing for 20 years... it would stink to be miserable the whole time!!!

Having fun makes the journey, no matter the end, much more enjoyable!

Because there are sometimes... when you are scratching your head and about to take the throwing towel plunge, something amazing happens. Last week (revised... last YEAR now!) that happened to me when I finally landed my dream agent, Rachelle Gardner. I'd had a year of struggling with my writing while I went through a personal tragedy with my daughter, and when I was really trying to reassess just how much effort I needed to be spending on my writing, confirmation came that the towel needed to stay firmly within my grasp. 

Discussion: Have you thought about taking the throwing towel plunge? Since you are reading this... odds are you haven't yet, or decided to keep going. What kept you going? Have you ever taken a "break"?

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and a contemporary romance author. She recognizes that life can be frustrating and just plain not fun sometimes, but believes that laughter and smiles can make the not-so-fun a little better! She blogs about the amazing things God has been doing and her journey as a busy momma of 4 and caregiver to a daughter with a rare congenital heart defect at She is represented by the fab agent, Rachelle Gardner, and her debut novel, Sandwich, With a Side of Romance, releases September 1, 2012.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Writing that First Line

Jody's great first line! ;-)
I adore first lines.

Or rather obsessed would probably be a wiser descriptor. There is something about a first line that completely intrigues me, something about it that pulls me in with either incredible dexterity or pushes me away with a grunt of dismissal.

A good first line means everything to a writer. It makes the critique partner beg for more. The contest judge sit up straighter (without the aide of coffee). The agent raise a brow. The editor keep reading another line. And ultimately the reader who picks up your book from store shelves, licks dry lips and walks without hesitation to the counter and plunks down $14.99.

Of course, much has to follow up a good first line to make the novel a true winner from cover to cover. And many authors obsess about that first line and don't put the same amount of time into the rest of the manuscript. But that still doesn't negate how important a good first line is.

And since I have such an obsession about first lines, I thought there would be nothing better than to take some of my favorite books down from the shelf and dissect what makes each first line work so well.

Shall we begin?

Line: Larson Jennings had lived this moment a thousand times over, and it still sent a chill through him. Rekindled by Tamera Alexander (2006)

Dissection: Rekindled is a historical novel, so there is more leeway in how fast this first line can take off. But word choice is everything with a historical novel. Words that jumped out at me? Thousand, chill and cadence. The rhythm of this sentence makes you want to find out why it sends a chill down his spine.

Line: They say everybody has a guardian angel watching out for them, but I'd never needed one half as badly as I did after Frank Wyatt died. Hidden Places by Lynn Austin (2001)

Dissection: This prompts the WHY question from the reader. Who is Frank Wyatt and why does this unmet "I" person need a guardian angel? The WHY factor is just as important to readers as it is writers. Every good first line should have leave the reader asking WHY?

Line: Fire captain, Scott McKenna bolted through the doors of Pacific Mercy ER, his boots thudding and heart pounding as the unconscious child began to stiffen and jerk in his arms. Disaster Status by Candace Calvert (2010)

Dissection: Action. This first line is roaring with action. We already have an indication from the cover and back cover copy that this book will be no slow romance, but the first line promises so much more of what your going to find within those pages. Plus the author did elicit the emotion factor by adding a child. Hurting children is one of the things that makes a reader sit up quicker than just about anything else.

Line: Tonight is the night. She could feel it. Adelaide Proctor stared at the man across from her, so many flutters dancing in her stomach she couldn't possibly eat a bite of the apple pie he'd just ordered for her.  Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer (2010)

Dissection: Again the WHY question, but also an unspoken glimpse into the heart and longing of this character. Obviously she is waiting for her date to ask her to marry him. Or at least she wants him too. But from the tone of the sentence we can tell she isn't going to get what she wants. And that makes us hurt for her already and we don't even know her.

Line: The red light on Kate Lawrence's cell phone blinked a staccato warning. The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter (2008)

Dissection: Word choice is everything for this opening line. Red (warning) blinked (anxious) staccato (harsh, to the point) warning (nothing good can come of this)

Another great line from Julie Lessman! ;-)
Line: If running late showed a streak of rebellion, Miranda Hanford was already in trouble. When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley (2011)

Dissection: This also gives a great glimpse into the character of this story. A name is awesome, gives us someone instantly to identify with, though not always necessary. But it shows that Miranda does not disobey the rules. And if the author does her job well (which she did) it foreshadows that Miranda, won't be obeying the rules later and it won't be a simple, running late.

Line: Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman (2008)

Dissection: Wowsers. Tension right off the bat! Family dynamics, story motivation and foreshadowing all wrapped up into one line.

Line: When Suzanne hugged the oversized scrapbook to her chest, a whirlwind of memories flittered by like leaves kicked up in an autumn breeze. A Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh (2012)

Dissection: Hints at what this story is about. Memories. Some lost, brittle, dry, needing to be revived and shared. But many are destined to blow away and never be returned to the owner. It's an excellent metaphor to what is coming. Readers won't often get it right away, they don't need to. You just need to write a great line and back it up with a great story otherwise it all falls apart.

Line: If Uncle Lazarro hadn't left the mob, I probably wouldn't have a story to tell. Fools Rush In by Janice Thompson (2009)

Dissection: Good ole fashioned humor. I read this first line to my uber-picky of a reader father...we read all three books in the series in a matter of a few weeks. The power of a great first line. ;-)

Line: Nothing deepens a stream like a good rain...or makes it harder to cross. Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes (2010)

Dissection: These are my favorite kind lines because it's my favorite kind of fiction--the kind I write. I love a first line that makes you stop. Think. Digest. And read on. It's all about word choice, cadence and genre.

Line: If forced to endure Roger Gordon for five more minutes, Marguerite Westing would die. Dead. Gone. Buried. Six feet under Greenlawn Cemetery. Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad (2010)

Dissection: This one also has great humor, but also shows who this character is. She's a bit dramatic, and not prone to like the person she is with and most likely it's someone she is being asked to court/date etc. But boy she really doesn't like him and we want to know why. Plus I don't know you, but I'm instantly endeared to this character. Punctuation makes a big difference here as well. One word sentences are sharp, to the point and show characterization here extremely well. Warning: don't overdo it. They should be used sparingly and only in the most appropriate of circumstances. Like this one.

Line: "I would rather boil in oil than marry Noah Brenin." Marianne tossed the silver brooch onto her vanity. Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall (2010)

Dissection: Dialogue. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue is a GREAT place to start a novel. How often do you open a book, see a block of writing and put it back on the shelf without reading a word? I do a lot. Less than I used to, but I still do. Dialogue instantly gives white space and it's a fast easy read. Make it GREAT dialogue and you've probably scored a sale.

Katie's amazing debut novel!
Line: The summer I turned twelve, I tried to kill myself. At least that's what the lifeguard told the paramedics and the paramedics told the doctors and the doctors told my mother. Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert (May 2012)

Dissection: I think this line might be my favorite of this post and one I just read a few days ago. It's an excellent glimpse into the heroine of this book. Some might find it too dark, but keep reading and I really fell in love with how this character saw life. It's unique, but not depressing. Use your first line as an invitation to know your character. To become their best friend.

Discussion: What makes a good first line for you? Remember, it needs the why factor, cadence, a character glimpse, stay true to the genre and move the reader.

Seems like a very tall order, but just a few words can do so very much and set the tone for the entire novel. So write it right! It makes a huge difference pages and pages forward.

Share your WIP's first lines or the first line of your favorite novel!


Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gift of Writing

I received a gift recently. It was small, simple, in fact it was only a card. And even though it was a store bought card, it had a timely message directed uniquely to me.

Of course I was immediately drawn to this gift. I held it for a time in my hand, looked at the front, back, and inside then set it in a prominent place in my writing nook, the corner of the house belonging to me.

Even today, during my work break when I am writing this post, I thought of the gift carefully written in such a way to touch a heart in need.

God gave me a gift for writing. It needs a few more bows, ribbons, perhaps packaging. He has given me the supplies to finish off the gift. Each time I study the art of writing or write a work I am adding these touches to the gift. Each time someone reads my work and is touched, I have shared the gift with them and brought a smile to God's loving face.

At times I take the gift and hoard it.

I choose to waste freetime set aside for writing or learning the craft.  This is not referring to important family time or other important tasks, but true time set aside for writing. At times like this, I have set the gift God gave me in the back corner of a closet where it is dark, dusty, and ignored.

Other times I work hard to write a work then get lazy or arrogant, convinced that the first draft was great work. I become offended when crits offer little praise. I use "something shiny" as my excuse and toddle off to a different work, ignoring the one God prompted me to do at that time.

And other times I work diligently on my ms, listening to crits, judges, and friends editing and polishing the work to be pleasing to God, but then heed the words of a few who say this work is not of today, no one would read it, no publishing company would want it. I lower my head and allow sadness to fill my heart and snuff my drive. The work is set aside.

I have often heard the words: to be a writer you must be strong, have steel skin, Mt. Everest tenacity, a Fisher Price heart (unbreakable), and a wild passion.

All these are true.

Sometimes God sends a kindred spirit to rekindle these in us.

May we here at the Writer's Alley offer you the spark to start, complete, polish, and/or submit your work today so that you may offer your gift to others.

How can we pray for you today?
(if you prefer you can email us your prayer request-our email address is in the upper right corner of this page.)
Photos courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee
Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes Christian young adult fiction (pirate tales, missionary and Bible adventure stories).

Come Step into Someone Else's World with Mary's writing

To learn more about Mary, visit her blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jessica Nelson's Debut Novel: Interview & Giveaway

I am so excited to have Jessica Nelson here at The Writer's Alley! Jessica writes historical romance and she is well qualified to write it. In keeping with her romantic inclinations, she married two days after she graduated high school. She believes romance happens every day, and thinks the greatest, most intense romance comes from a God who woos people to himself with passionate tenderness. When Jessica is not chasing her three beautiful, wild little boys around the living room, she can be found staring into space as she plots her next story. Or she might be daydreaming about a raspberry mocha from Starbucks. Or thinking about what kind of chocolate she should have for dinner that night. She could be thinking of any number of things, really. One thing is for certain, she is blessed with a wonderful family and a lovely life.

Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being? 

Oh, I had bunches of dreams. Journalist, Spy, Undercover detective…Hmmm. Now that I think of it, it looks like my dream careers turned up in my story. Now that’s a little freaky! LOL

How long did you write before you sold your first book? 

I think I hit the five year mark? So I’m pretty sure I fit in with the average.

How many manuscripts have you written and which is your favorite? 
I have written four and I love them each in different ways. No favorites here.

I've never heard you talk about an agent. Do you have one? If not, why? If so, how long did you write before you sought representation? 

I do have an agent. Les Stobbe. I started looking for an agent for this book after I’d typed The End. Teehee. No waiting for me. However, Les became my agent based on a different book I submitted, not this one.

How long does it take you to write a book? 

That’s a question I honestly don’t know the answer to. I believe it will take me six to eight months but I’m not positive on that.

What do you like to do when you are not writing? Are you ever NOT writing? 

Oh, I’m a great procrastinator. I love to write once I’ve started, but it’s opening the document that gets me every time. Besides writing, I love to read and eat brownie mix. *unashamed grin*

Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?

Ooh, there are so many good ones! I personally like “go with your gut” the best. Writing is incredibly subjective. There are certain craft things that are a must but there are other things that are very stylistic. A great writer, imo, learns what works and what doesn’t. My other favorite tip comes from the movie You’ve Got Mail. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Rejections aren’t personal, neither are critiques. I think it’s important for writers to be stubborn and persistent and to have a very thick skin. J That’s a lot of favorites, isn’t it?

Love on the Range releases in April. Tell us a little about the book. 

The story is about a perky young woman who aspires to be a journalist and also to be independent of her family. To do this, she’s determined to get an interview with an elusive secret agent (who she also happens to have strong feelings for based on what she’s heard about him.) Trouble is, this secret agent is doing everything he can to stay out of light and undercover.

If you could only share one line from Love on the Range, which one would you choose and why? 

I shared this on another blog, but I really love the one where my heroine convinces herself that “A man should know when a woman falls madly in love with him.” :)

Tell us what new projects you’re working on. 

Right now I’m working on a story for the secondary characters in Love On The Range.

Now for a little fun…tell us 3 FUN facts about yourself that you don't think anyone knows. It doesn't have to be writing related, but a funny writing quirk would be FABULOUS!  

Oh, dear. Some people might already know this stuff. I’m not a funny or quirky person. I have extra bones in my feet? I sometimes laugh out loud when I’m reading. Okay…sometimes I snort when I laugh. Does that work? :)

Oh yes, that definitely works! (and I have been known to snort too!) Jessica, thank you so much for letting us get to know you better. You are delightful!

You can purchase Love on the Range HERE.

Jessica's Website:

We are giving away a copy of Jessica's debut novel, Love on the Range. Please leave a comment and your email address to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be picked via a random generator and will be announced on the weekend edition. No purchase necessary. Only U.S. residents may enter. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries. 

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is wife to "Pastor John" and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Interview with Ruth Logan Herne

I'm so excited to have Ruth Logan Herne on The Writers Alley today. Not only is she a fantastic author, wonderful grandma, and fantastic cook - she's also one of the best encouragers I've ever met. In fact, I've been trying to talk her into becoming my Writing Mama :-)

You can find out about her amazing book list on her website at and check out Seekerville to learn more.

1. Okay Ruthy, I don't know if many of THe Writers Alley readers know your story. Could you fill them in? When/how did your Call come and what led up to it?

My call came when I was in New Jersey, babysitting my granddaughter while my daughter and son-in-law were heading to Ethiopia to pick up their new son....

But they couldn't remember their Internet lock code, so I had no Internet on my computer and their computer was slower-than-molasses-in-winter. My family called from home and said I'd missed a call from Harlequin, but which Harlequin? Winter's End was under consideration at Love Inspired and Superromance through two different contests a year apart. So I wasn't trying to shoot myself in the foot, but I nearly did inadvertently. I asked my family for the area code... Toronto or NY?

It was 212... New York City! That meant Melissa Endlich was calling me. Oh my stars, I hooked up my daughter's dinosaur-era computer and snail-crawled into my Yahoo account, and there was an e-mail: Greetings from Steeple Hill....

And yes, I still have that e-mail. AND .... (okay, dorky, I know!) I still have the original message from Melissa on my phone. I still pinch myself to make sure it's real, that I now have ten books done with them (three that were written and needed revising for LI, and seven fresh books) and I'm proposing a new series for 2013.... FEEL FREE TO PINCH ME, TOO!!!! I am truly blessed.

2. What are you working on right now? (okay, can you narrow it down to the 2 or 3 things you are working on :-)

I always work on multiple things. Like getting the back room clean and painted for puppy-mania, due to occur in the next 6-14 days! (my laundry room cupboards were beyond disgusting... Really kind of frightening in an old farmhouse kind of way. If you do not believe me, thank you. I owe you. Big time.)

Right now I've sent in my proposal for Katie and the Trooper, the last contracted book of the Men of Allegany County series. While waiting on that, I've begun my three book proposal for Love Inspired tentatively called "The Lawmen of Allegany County", a great series that Melissa and I have discussed that centers around totally hot and wonderful cops... and the women they long to love and protect all the days of their lives. I love a man in uniform! ;) And on the side I'm writing a fun Y/A fantasy for my local young friends because they wondered if I could write them a story. To which I said, "Of course I can!" I also wrote a short non-fiction children's book about my friend Lisa's breast cancer, and how her ten-year-old daughter Taylor wanted to plan a party to help lift her mother's spirits. Working with kids makes it fun for me to sideline with things for kids now and again. I think that's only fair because I USE THE LITTLE MONSTERS in a bunch of my books, LOL!

I love writing kids. And animals. And farms. And people. I just plain love, love, love writing stories.

Great minds, Ruthy ;-)

3. As aspiring writers, what advice would you give to those of us who are pursuing publication (and might have been pursuing it for a while)

The same thing I always say, Pep. Write, write, write. A friend quoted this to me once (and I know you've heard me say it before) "If you can quit, do so."

Writing is a heart and soul endeavor and if you can walk away and be fine with that, it's probably better to do that because it isn't an easy business. If they stopped paying me tomorrow, I would still write stories because that's my dream come true. I waited for this chance for decades, and I'm half-mule. Hence the big teeth! :) But heart and soul means that thinking you can jump on board and change things to your liking usually doesn't happen. But I've found you learn a great deal more if you listen and obey. Very much how I deal with toddlers, LOL!

4. What are a few of your favorite ways to find inspiration for stories?
God sends them via whatever avenue it might happen to be. An overheard comment... (Mended Hearts) A visual of a soldier at a Memorial Day Parade (His Mistletoe Family, due out in December 2012) old memories... (Made to Order Family) Seeing a young woman defy advice and become a hairdresser (A Family to Cherish, due out in July, 2012) Fixing old wrongs (Waiting Out the Storm)... A friend fighting breast cancer (Lisa's story...)

And I bought Lisa dinner a few weeks back for feeding me all this FREE RESEARCH on breast cancer. That's when you know your friends love, love, love you, when they risk their lives to further your writing career. Supper was the LEAST I could do, right???

5. I know you are just LOVING Love Inspired - Why are you having such a blast with Steeple Hill stories and what advice would you give to authors who want to submit their work to Harlequin?

This kind of advice should really require chocolate to grease my palm, shouldn't it? This is like Wall Street, total Raj Rajaratnam stuff... I could TELL you, but then I'd have to KILL you. Or serve prison time. All kidding aside, I love working for Harlequin. I made that clear from the beginning.... Years ago Nicholas Sparks' agent called me. I was new. Raw. So far beyond diamond in the rough that I was barely COAL... but she saw something she liked in my work. What a compliment! But Harlequin had also asked for three early manuscripts. (I will not tell you how TERRIBLE they were... I'd learned how to open a story, but still needed to learn how to arc a plotline, so terrible doesn't begin to cover it. Really)... Anyway, the agent told me that if I submitted to Harlequin, she wasn't interested in talking with me.

I had no idea what to do. None. I was that new, that raw, that I didn't realize an agent could actually guide your work even if they weren't quite ready to sign you...

But I knew that I was targeting Steeple Hill. And I knew that was my goal.

It took a bunch of years, but here I am, and yes... Loving that people can get a gentle, sweet Ruthy-read for $5 give or take. And that's a blessing because a lot of my life has been spent on the bottom side of a dollar bill, looking up. Sharing sweet stories with people at that price just makes my day!

6. Okay - a very important question: We hear you are a baker extraordinairre. Would you share one or two of your favorite recipes with us? :-)
Oh my gosh, I love baking. I have always loved baking. It's like writing, creating new and wonderful treats is just part of me! But (although this is probably bad etiquette), folks can find a bunch of my recipes at the Yankee Belle Cafe, one of the "Stores" in the Seeker Village! Missy Tippens and I run the cafe with the help of that gorgeous Texan Mindy Obenhaus and we share all kinds of fun recipes there. Mine should all be listed under "The Yank"....

We Yankees are proud of our heritage, LOL!

And don't be dismayed that I use cake mixes. I love mix cakes. They're finely constructed and they never taste "floury" the way some home-made cakes do. But having said that, I do love homemade brownies made with the recipe on the Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate Bars box. (It's on the inside label). That recipe gives you an old-fashioned TO DIE FOR chocolate fudge brownie that I haven't had any mix compare to. And if you double it and put two LARGE Symphony bars in the middle (layer half the brownie batter in a 13 x 9 pan, then the Symphony bars, then spoon the second half of the brownie batter over the top.... And bake at 350 for 40 minutes or more... If you do this with a single batch, the baking time is greatly reduced. I like my brownies a little on the well done side. They taste better with ice cream that way, LOL!
A Blue Ridge Mountains’ native, Pepper Basham is a pastor’s wife, mom of five and university instructor. She writes in various fictional genres but spices them all with grace and humor. She is a 2011 Genesis double-finalist and can be found causing mischief at her group blog, The Writers Alley, or at

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Photo Credit
All rights reserved by Microsoft Office

What a lovely word. And as writers, we know how much words mean to us. ;-)

I hope that the seasons have promised lovely new images of God's amazing creation and the beauty that comes after the cold and gray of winter.

Are the daffodils poking up in your yard?

They are in mine...underneath all the snow on the first day of spring. ;-)

Coming next week...

The Alley is excited to welcome guests posters, authors in their own right with knowledge to share with us about Love Inspired lines, their novels and the writing journey from the road ahead of us.

Monday will be fabulously funny lady Ruth Logan Herne and Tuesday we will welcome debut author Jessica Nelson to the party. :-))

Mary shares on the gift of writing here on the blog Wednesday.

Writing that first line is so important to your story. We'll read and break down those first sentences in successful books with Casey on Thursday.

Friday will be Krista's day to post on accepting and finding those first endorsements....and find out who was the first endorsement for her debut novel!

You still have a week to enter The Frasier contest! 
I just sent my entry in yesterday...have you sent in yours yet?

Enjoy Spring wherever you are! :-))

Friday, March 23, 2012

Does Your Character Wear Purple Converses?

I don't think I've ever had a character who wore purple Converses, but I've had one who owned a mustard leather purse. One who referenced specific paintings whenever she entered a new setting and wanted a way to express how she felt. Another who would only use a purple pen when note-taking for her job.

Characters come alive with specifics. So maybe if your character doesn't wear purple Converses, she should. Or, at least something specific and fun for her.

There are many ways you can use specifics in description to give your readers a simple, but quick look into who your character really is. And even better, it will help your readers relate to your characters.

So what ways can you use specific descriptions in your story?


A great way to say lot about your character with a few words is how he/she looks - in an original way, of course. Your MC is a fashionista, and you show it through Jimmy Choo's or Valentino originals. Your MC is low-key, and all about comfort. He wears shorts in the winter, no gel in his shaggy hair, and drives a beat-up Chevy pick-up the color of a strawberry.


This encompasses everything from how a character decorates her house to how she views other homes or settings. Is she organized or messy? Does he step outside and notice the trees and clouds shaped like mythological creatures?


Dropping hints here and there, like your MC kicking off her shoes at the door to indicate she's not overly concerned with organization, is a great insight to her personality and doesn't take up many words. Does your MC bite the tip of a pen when she's thinking, or always twirl her hair around her finger when she's nervous?

Drawing detail from what's around a character will spice up your writing and give more insight into your character.

You can use specifics with word choice or bigger things like how they treat their job or their relationships with family and friends. Sometimes it's just for the sake of the reader getting a more vivid picture in their mind, like specifying the color of a rose, and others, it's to help the reader get to know your character.

Do you write specifics in your story and do you enjoy reading them? What kind of specific descriptions do you like to use?

***photo courtesy of kirstinmckee


Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A TV Guide Approach to Hooking Your Reader

Ever read those little TV Guide blurbs? When I was little, I used to love flipping the television to the TV Guide channel and watching all the shows scroll past. I think it’s because I’ve always liked to know all my options. :)

Some of those blurbs have made me wonder, “Who wrote this and what in the world were they thinking?” Ever had that moment? Last week I saw a Boy Meets World episode that had recovered on my DVR (yes, I still watch Boy Meets World) and the caption was, “Corey and Eric find lingerie in their mother’s bowling bag.” Seriously? First off, who came up with the idea to make a whole episode out of this? Secondly, please tell me there’s something else going on in the episode! And perhaps most embarrassing of all, I actually remember this episode from when it first aired! So clearly something about it was worth remembering.

A well-crafted blurb will make you tune in to something you would’ve never otherwise considered watching or reading. A cupcake baking marathon under water with only Reese’s pieces, butter and squash as the ingredients? What channel is that on? A reunion of the old ABC Family Night casts? Sign me up! Don’t laugh—you know this has happened to you too!

So how do we use this power of interest to our advantage when it comes to catching the attention of agents, editors, and even, eventually, readers? I’m glad you asked. To help with this question, I’ve made a list of things to ask your book. These should apply to all hooks you might need to craft, whether they be pitches, query letters, or even proposals.

1) What do my characters have to lose? What are they most afraid of? If we’re only reading/hearing one or two sentences, we need a reason to worry about your characters. “A baker is robbed at gunpoint while icing sugar cookies” is a lot more interesting than “a woman pursues her dream of becoming a baker.” Because we all want to know . . . what happened to the cookies?

2) What rhythm, voice, and tone do I want to achieve? One of my favorite examples of this point is Kristin Billerbeck’s Spa Girls Series: “Three Friends. One Spa. And an infinite amount of oversharing.” See how she gets straight to the point with only a few words and how her voice really sparkles? If you’re working on a pitch, query, or proposal, you have a very limited amount of space to show off your unique writing voice. Use every little bit of that space to your advantage! You want to pick words, tones, and rhythms that are “you,” because you’re selling your voice every bit as much as you’re selling your plot.

3) What are the most important elements of my story? Often, editors get a bad rep for being grouchy, but let’s face it—you’d probably be cynical yourself if you were getting thousands of e-mails a day with queries like, “Sandra struggles with a broken ankle on her twenty-third birthday, but when her cousin twice-removed challenges her to a hockey match anyway, she runs into the cute cashier she saw at the grocery store three days before, and sparks fly as he helps her redo her bandage.” When you walk into a library, a book has to prove to you that it’s worth reading, right? Think of your own work in the same way. Pull out only the most important and interesting details. There will be time for all that other stuff later.

What do you think? Do you have any hooks you’re working on that you’d like to share with the group for feedback? Can you come up with some examples of hooks—television or literary—that work well? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

*Bird photo from

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story time. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog and her Tumblr. She's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

3 Unique Ways to Incorporate Holidays Into a Novel

This isn't a time of year when holidays are predominant in our minds. But with last Saturday being St. Patrick's Day, I recently got thinking about all the different holidays we celebrate every month. (August is the only month of the year without a federal holiday.)

And they can play a key role in our novels as well. Here are some ideas to freshen up your story:

1) Turn a holiday into a deadline. We all know how effective the "ticking time bomb" effect can be. Why not ramp it up and pair it with a holiday that holds significance to the characters?

Sure, you could always do the kiss at midnight on New Years Eve. But what about something less obvious, like Ash Wednesday? What if your character is an FBI agent who's chasing down a Ponzi scheme that patterned itself after a popular TV show? But the agent is giving up TV for Lent, which starts in two days, and he needs to unlock the code before Ash Wednesday?

2) Play up the quirks of lesser-known holidays. Remember earlier when I mentioned every month has a federal holiday except August? Chances are extremely high that a holiday will fall during the timeframe of your novel, whether it's a popular day or a lesser-known one.

Anybody seen the movie Leap Year? What if your character's birthday is February 29th and they only get an actual birthday every four years? How can you play this up in your book? Or what about federal holidays when the post office doesn't deliver mail? What if your character mails an important payment, but it arrives a day late because of Presidents Day?

3) Incorporate holidays with wardrobe. Although these may not be major players in your novel, they can add authenticity and quirks that set the stage for conflict and characterization.

We can all think of costume parties where guests' identity are concealed. Or what about a misfit teenager who forgets to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and shows up at school as the outcast? Or what about the family who for 20 years has taken a group portrait on Christmas Day in matching red sweaters, but on Year 21, the "perfect child" shows up in all black?

The idea behind all these points is this: Be mindful of the timeframe of your novel and be aware of the holidays that may take place. Are there ways you can incorporate them into your story to add depth and conflict? You never want it to be forced, but you may just find that missing piece that will make your novel shine.

Let's talk...What sort of holidays have you incorporated into your novels? Have any lesser-known holidays wormed their way into your stories? What fun twists came to mind as you read this post?

*St. Patrick's Day photo from
**Mail photo by digitalart /
Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prune Hard and Risk Mess: Lessons in Writing from the Garden

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My husband and I moved to a new house two years ago. The first year we were clueless about how to handle the garden. Let’s just say I’m an “indoor gal” and my husband has been termed the “mushroom” for similar reasons.

Now our garden still looks like a mess, it’s a mess in process…

Hmmm…not unlike my current editing project. I like to see it as mess with potential.

Along the way the lessons I’ve learned about my garden could just as easily apply to my manuscript:

Just do something. We spent time formulating the perfect garden arrangement until we realized we were victims of the infamous analysis paralysis. Nothing in our garden was going to look pretty until we started making some decisions.

On a recent loop someone mentioned that they didn’t have time to write at this a stage of life but read many craft books and kept a folder of information. I’ve been there. Its like spending hours pouring through the Harris Seed catalogue while your garden lies untended and neglected.

Its your garden. The former home owner had cultivated an all-white garden. It was beautiful, full of daisies, lilies of the valley, jonquils, and carnations. But it wasn’t our garden. It didn’t fit us.

Likewise, no one else can write your book. Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged. Remember that God gave you this story, not someone else. Likewise, you can’t force yourself into a mold that doesn’t fit who God created you to be.

Mess comes before beauty. Last year we did some weeding, a process that takes continual repeating. Then we covered the ground with mulch. Not attractive.

Think of your first draft. Sometimes we have trouble allowing the ugliness, forgetting that what we are working with is the bare mulch. I let perfectionism rear its ugly head.

Throughout the messy period, keep your vision alive. Without a vision for what your story can be there is little motive to slog through. Think of the finished product. What are you aiming for and allow yourself to celebrate progress along the way as things get less messy.

Be willing to prune back hard. When my husband and I attended a seminar on bonsai, we learned that the best bonsai artists are willing to risk overpruning. They cut back, often until there is only one main branch.

Editing for me has been a heavy rewriting process. So far the removal percentage has been high, higher than what I’ve kept. Attempting edits the first time I was tempted to just ditch this manuscript and start something new.

But I take a lot of hope in the gardening process. Because sweat pouring down brows, dirt-encrusted fingernails, aching knees are all the beginning of what has the potential for beauty. It will need lots of tending and the process of making the garden your own often takes multiple years. As I watch the daffodils and jonquils pop up in my garden I’m hopeful of small beginnings.

What does a season of new beginnings mean for your writing? Is there anything you want to change in your writing life this spring as a writer in process? 

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What's Up The Street for Next Week?

We're wearing a wee bit 'o green around here!

Hope you remember the color so you don't end up with a pinch. ;-)

All the pinches you'll get around here are the teaching kinds. Pinch of this...dash of that...(oh sorry, wrong theme. ;-)

So speaking of is what is coming up next week...

Mind the gaps in your story. Emotional, plot or character wise Angie will be blogging on the topic Monday.

All I learned about editing I learned from growing and tending bonsai with Julia on Tuesday.

Sarah talks holidays in our books and going for the unusual days of the year on Wednesday.

(like this unusual green holiday our lovely Sherrinda is totally rocking here!)

Admit it. You read the TV guide too! And Ashley has tips on turning that into secrets to hook your audience on Thursday.

Description can make or break a story. Cindy talks on how it helps connect our stories to our readers on Friday.

Happy St. Patty's Day all!

*** The winner of Krista Phillips' debut book, Sandwich, With a Side of Romance is Tracy Krauss!