Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hearing God in Fiction

by imagerymagestic
I recently read A Bride Opens Shop by Keli Gwyn and loved it! It had everything I love in a story - a great plot, awesome secondary characters, and heart-thumping romance. The unique thing about Keli's book was that I heard God whisper to me while I turned the pages. How cool is that?

In the book, widow Elenora Watkins is an independent woman. After being under the rule of a mean husband and then an overbearing father, Elenora wants some freedom. She packs up, heads across the country, and puts her savings into becoming a partner in a thriving mercantile owned by Miles Rutledge. Only he doesn't know she is a woman and refuses to allow her to be a partner when he finds out.

What I loved about Elenora is her independence and strength to do what women didn't normally do back in those days. Instead of running home to Papa, she opens up shop across the street, becoming the competition to Miles. Maybe I like her so much because I want to be like her...independent, confident in my abilities, unafraid to step out and try something new.

The problem comes when our independence gets in the way of seeing things clearly. It becomes all consuming...it becomes an idol. We want to be seen as invincible. We want to be the best. We want to win all the time and show others we are just as good - if not better - than everyone else.

Elenora faced that very thing. She felt like she had to prove herself in almost every aspect of her life...her business, her violin playing, and even in her shooting skills. Doing so caused a rift between her and Miles, because even though they had growing feelings between them, pride on both sides made them compete even harder.

Really what Elenora wanted more than anything was to be loved and accepted as she was...someone capable of being a partner, being a helper, being able to run a business and bring something to the table buisness-wise.

I could see myself in Elenora. I tend to want to prove to others I am capable, that I am skilled at many things, that I can be counted on for excellence. I compare myself with others and strive to be as good...or better. But really, all I want is to be accepted and appreciated, no matter what my accomplishments and giftings are.

And here's the kicker. I AM loved. I AM accepted. I AM appreciated...by the One who really matters. God loves me with an unconditional love. He is the One who has gifted me and enabled me to do the things I do. He would love me just as much even if I couldn't do a single thing! I just need to accept that love and revel in the beauty of it. I don't need to compete with others. I just need to be me and be open to the lover of my soul...my Lord and Savior.

Don't you love it when a piece of fiction like A Bride Opens Shop speaks truth into your heart? Stories have a way of showing us God's truths in way that really hits home, rather like the parables that Jesus told.

When God places a story on your heart, write the words boldly, knowing that God will use them to bless His kingdom. The stories you write will speak to encourage, to motivate, and to strengthen. They will be words of life to those who read them.

What have you written lately that you knew was from God? Or what have you read recently that touched your heart? 

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, July 30, 2012

Prepping for Conference - A quick to-do list

Writers Conferences are happening all over the place and I'm sure that you'll have plenty of opportunities to read about how to craft the perfect one-sheet or design the most eye-catching business cards, but I wanted to take the opportunity to offer some other ways to prepare as well.

Here's a short list (or as short as my long-winded self can get :-)

1. Pray – The one I need the most, but end up doing last. (Sorry, Lord) As Christians our first response to any situation should be to pray. Pray about who you should meet, which courses you should take. If He guides your writing, He’ll guide you in the industry too.

2. Research – if you have opportunity, check out the websites of the editor and agents you plan to meet at the conference. Even if you don’t have a formal appointment set up with a certain agent, you’ll have opportunities to meet them in other ways – such as in the elevator, at a meal, perhaps in a lecture. Know what they’re looking for and how your manuscript might fit into their line.

3. Etiquette – When you have that opportunity to meet editors and agents, remember your manners. They are people too. Accosting a poor editor with your terrific idea while she’s in the bathroom may make an impression, but not the kind you’re going for. If it is outside of your scheduled meeting time, introduce your question something like this “May I ask you a question?” or “Do you have time for me to give you an idea of my story?” Don’t hog the conversation at meals, but offer an out. Editors know you’re at the conference for that reason, but don’t be pushy. Be confident – but not overbearing. Listen to what the editor or agent has to say too. Listen more than you talk.

Oh, and BE ON TIME for your appointments. That’s a professional touch too.

"Please" and "thank you" never grow old.

4. Meet people – If you have spare time, try to meet people. It’s a great way to network, of course, but it’s always just fun. Finding other people who ‘speak your language’ can really be a boost of confidence – and decrease that general loneliness feeling authors have a tendency to feel. I CANNOT stress this one enough. You will make some of the most wonderful friendships and touchpoints by stretching beyond your comfort zone and engaging people in conversations. If nothing else, start with the simple question, "So, what do you write?"

As you well know, we writers LOVE to talk about our stories.

5. Be prepared, as much as you can – If you have novels in the works, create one sheets or one-pagers. Or make a projects sheet. Do NOT take your entire manuscript. If the editors want to see the whole thing, they’ll ask you to send it to them.
Research (like from #1) is a way to prepare. Try to review a map of the vendor before you get there, so you’ll know ‘kind of’ where the presentations will be held – it’s a stress reliever.

6. Dress – Unless the conference is in a temperate setting…I don’t know, like Hawaii, it would be wise to pack with varying weather in mind. For example, at the Blue Ridge mornings were cool, but afternoons were warm, so I'd wear a light jacket over short sleeves in the morning. Easy fix :-)

Also, when you have your scheduled meetings with editors and agents, you’ll want to dress like the professional you are. I don’t mean a three-piece suit. Slacks and a nice shirt will work, but enough to show you are serious about your writing.

7. Make wise use of your time – If you do #4 and prepare ahead of time, you will already make wise use of your time. Knowing the schedule ahead of time and getting a general idea of where you need to be…and then where you WANT to be, will help you make wiser and more effective use of your time.

8. Have FUN! This is an opportunity to celebrate your writing with tons of other people to "get it". I can't WAIT to spend time with my fellow AlleyCats, the gals from Seekerville, you wonderful followers of The Writers Alley, and the other amazing people I've met through writing. View your day through the balance of God's hand, with each appointment (whether planned or not) being an opportunity He's placed before you.

9. Be 'teachable'.It's probably not in your best interest to say you can’t change the book because “God gave you this book and it can’t be changed.” It hints that the editor or publisher will be out of God’s will if they change your story at all. We should approach writing with the same attitude as our faith - God is continually teaching us, whether through His Word, our experiences, or the people we meet.

10. Pray. Hmmm, didn't I say this already? Well, it's worth repeating. When our heart and mind are in the 'write' place all the circumstances around us come into the proper perspective. God's provided this opportunity for you to go to conference. In the start and the finish, keep Him in view.

What conference tips would you add?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Credit: Free Digital photos. net
It's the dog days of summer! But boy am I enjoying this warm weather.

What's your preferred way to pass the hot days? Cold lemonade and a good book? Or air conditioning and a round of edits? 

Right now I'd really go for that book and cold drink, but should probably (not probably, I know I need to. ;-) take that editing. 

Share your summer plans in the comments!

Hope you find a few minutes to squeeze in a bit of the Alley in this coming week...

Pepper is your Alley hostess on Monday. Sure to be witty and filled with wisdom, start your week out right! ;-)

Sherrinda is talking about Characters as Truth Tellers. Looking at A Bride Opens Shop... by Keli Gwyn and how it spoke truth into her life

Why writers should read: this week with Mary featuring a Karen Kingsbury title. Join the challenge on Wednesday!

What to expect when you're expecting a (book) delivery with Krista on Thursday!

Genesis Finalist, Amy Matayo is the guest blogger on Friday! Don't miss out on a post sure to have you rolling in laughter...and learning another aspect of this writing craft. 

Have a great summer weekend, all! We'll see you right back here on Monday. :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Three Easy Plotting Ideas

Plotting easy? Is that what I said in the title? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. Some of us are plotters and some of us aren't. Even those of us who are still find plotting a challenge on occasion. (Maybe even frequently.)

So what better than to share our plotting tips and make that challenge a little less hard on ourselves?

Sticky-Note Timeline

Photo by Rameshng
What writer isn't a fan of sticky notes? And here's a new way to put those little guys to use.

When thinking about your story, list as many singular events as you can that will happen in your story.

Jake arrives in town and it's different than he remembered...Jake meets Shannon...the bank forecloses on Jake's house.

Write down every big or small event, in any order, you can think of that could happen in your story. When you're finished writing each event on a sticky note, put those sticky notes in chronological order. This gives you a chance to see how fleshed out your plot is, if you want to fill in the gaps, or transfer the timeline to a sheet of paper and go from there. You can even write from what you've got on your sticky notes and throw away each piece after the event happens.

The What-If Conflict Question

I know when I'm initially plotting I sometimes have trouble thinking up different disasters to put my characters through. So I ask strangers. Okay, maybe not complete strangers, but people who don't know what my story is about.

I'll say to my family, "What if I just moved to a small town and ran out of money? What things could happen to make life (and finances) harder for me?"

And they'll just shout out ideas.

The water heater breaks!

Someone steals your car!

Monsters attack! (This from my five-year-old. She likes to play, too.)

I do this with all sorts of what-if questions and my family or friends help me fill in gaps I'm struggling with so I can round out the plot, and do so with a different perspective.

Divisions and Subdivisions

Sometimes I need compartmentalized structure. Because there are so many different aspects to a story, knowing GMC, external and internal goals, etc., I make categories for each main character.

Spiritual Stance and Goal
Motivation (back story stuff) and Goal
Internal Conflict
External Conflict (Can be several things)

You can split this up however you want, but basically you're putting big categories that are going to represent your character's wants, needs, and why, and what's going to hinder that. Then you can start filling out the space under each header. This will keep you organized with each character and you can be as extensive (or not) as you want. Hopefully it will help you stay away from plot holes, too

I LOVE plotting because it really helps me write a solid first draft. But I do it at different levels for different stories, hence the varying ideas above.

How much do you plot? Would you like to be a more extensive plotter or not? And hey, while you're at it, if you have any easy plotting tips, do share!


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 lot of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog, www.cindyrwilson.com

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Preparing the Perfect Pitch

Be honest. In the middle of the night, during conference season, you've had nightmares of Chip MacGregor telling you he thinks your concept is totally dull and an impossible sell. Nooooo....

Face-to-face rejection. It's every writer's worst nightmare.

I vividly remember my first pitch. It was the 2010 ACFW conference, and I had an appointment with Ami McConnell. Yes, I've always had lofty aspirations. My appointment was the first one after lunch, and I made a point to leave lunch early to join the line of other panic-striken writers. Suddenly the ability to even remember your name had become an asset. "What do you write?" One of us would ask each other. "Who are you pitching to?" The answers were different, but the look in the eyes was (and is) always the same. I like to describe it as that feeling you got waiting outside the principal's office. Even if you knew you had done nothing wrong, he would find something. The assumption was, these people are waiting for us to fail.

That's problem #1.

Editors and agents do not want to see you mentally and socially flailing. Well, at least most of them don't. Just kidding! Remember that these people are in the book business. And the book business doesn't work too well without authors. There's no reason to be afraid. You're looking to enter into a partnership. That's all there is to it. I know it feels like they have your every dream in the palm of their hands, but really, those are in God's. And He has a much better idea who your book will best fit with anyway.

With that in mind, I've created three lists of three things that should help you get your pitch prepared for conference season. I hope you find them helpful!

3 Things to Do Before You Leave Home:

  • Research. Nothing is more embarrassing than pitching your YA manuscript to a publishing house that is currently only buying Amish historicals. And believe me, editors don't like this. If you were them, would you? Do research on your target editors and agents before you leave so that your pitch comes across as intentional. Even just browsing through a publishing house's website and reading a couple of their books can go a long way.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Yes, I know this makes you feel silly. You will feel even more ridiculous if the first time you pitch is in front of your dream editor.
  • Reread your book. If the appointment goes well, an editor or agent is likely to ask you more about the story, but there's no way to really predict what they will ask. In order to keep your answers as natural and eloquent-sounding as possible, before you leave, take note of your major plot points. If someone were to ask you about the major conflicts in the novel, the dark moment, or the character arc, would you be able to answer? What if they asked you what you ultimately hope readers will get out of your book? Why you are a good fit for their publishing house? If you are prepared, your answers to these questions can make you seem golden. 
3 Things to Do During Your Appointment:
  • Be professional. Oh my goodness, I am always amazed by how many people ignore this one. You should treat your appointments as if they are a job interview, because--let's face it, they are. That means even if the appointment does not go as you'd hoped, you still have an opportunity to leave a good impression. Next year's conference might seem like a long time away now, but next year, you'll wish you hadn't burned a bridge.
  • Take a deep breath and introduce yourself. Jumping into your pitch and rattling it off like a 10th grade oral book report project is not a good strategy. You want your appointment to be a conversation, a chance to get to know an editor or agent. Slow down, introduce yourself and maybe even tell them what you write or offer a one sheet before you jump into your longer pitch. Otherwise it's too much for them to process.
  • Take cues from the editor or agent with whom you are speaking. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and politely tried to end it with nonverbal cues, only to have that person continue talking about themselves with no end in sight? Don't be that person in your appointments. Give the editor or agent a chance to think and ask you questions. Remember that your book idea is new to them. They need at least a few seconds to process it.
3 Things Your Pitch Should Include:
  • Goals/forward motion. This can be anything from a new job to a heroic quest to save a princess, but it should be clear what your main character is working toward.
  • Conflict. Conflict is usually the most interesting part of the story, so this is your chance to really "pack a punch" so to speak, with your pitch. Be sure you are very clear what your character has working against her, and don't shy away from using external conflict. "She feels hesitant about dating him," is not a strong enough conflict to sustain a book-long project. "He put a restraining order against her because he thinks she's stalking his children" is a different story. Got your attention, didn't it? (Side note: if any of you have written stalker romances, my apologies.)
  • A compelling hook, using your writing voice. You need a wham! moment to stand out amongst the hundreds of other pitches these people have to hear throughout the day. Sometimes using a question works well. Other times it's just in the phrasing. I would recommend having someone you trust, like your critique partner, work with you on this. Ideally, you want your wham! moment to correspond with your biggest source of conflict. And even beyond that, be sure it reflects your voice. This is the first chance you get to showcase your writing voice, so make it memorable.
You also want to remember to keep these short. It's a good idea to develop both a short pitch and a longer pitch. And when I say "short pitch," I mean short. We're talking, 7 words, ideally. Your longer pitch should be around 3 or 4 sentences. The short pitch should be just long enough to really catch their attention, and then the longer pitch develops the main conflict a bit more. But even the long pitch should not tell your whole story.

What you want to happen in an ideal situation is for your short pitch to lead to your long pitch, which then leads to a one sheet or even a proposal request, and then to your book.

A note on pitching etiquette: Sometimes it can be hard to determine when it is and is not socially acceptable to pitch. Generally, most people tend toward one side or the other. If you're an introvert, you might have to get a little out of your comfort zone. If you are an extravert, you may need to tone it down a little. Remember that editors and agents are human, which means they all have different preferences and moods. If someone is on their cell phone engrossed in what looks like a very serious conversation, or an agent is having a one-on-one with one of their authors, please do not interrupt them. It's considered rude and will really work against you in the end.

That said, on the other hand, agents and editors know you have come to the conference to pitch to them, and some will deliberately hang out in public areas so they can get to know potential authors and clients. In some cases, it can bode well if you recognize your dream editor or agent because it shows you have done your research. You've paid a lot of money and put a lot of effort to come to this conference, so if a good opportunity presents itself and seems like it may even be a God-thing (i.e. you end up on the elevator at the same time), it may be best to seize the chance while you have it.

Here's a normal way to have that conversation: "Hi, I'm Delilah Dopplerfritz. Aren't you _______?" "Yes, I am. Are you enjoying the conference?" "Yes. I'm glad to run into you because I was hoping to have a chance to pitch to you this weekend. Do you have a minute to hear about my book, or are you in a hurry?" "Sure, tell me about it. But make it quick." (Insert pitch.)

It's always a good idea to ask if they have time to hear your pitch if you're not in a formal setting like an appointment or their appointed lunch table. And if they say they don't have time, don't be offended. It's not you. They are busy people!

Above all else, be yourself. You are selling yourself as an author just as much as you are selling your book. Remember that, and it will be easier. 

Your turn! Do you have any pitching advice or funny stories to share? Do you have a pitch you would like input on? Feel free to share it and get the group's feedback!

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. 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 blogFacebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Write What You Know (And Love)

Karen here. So thrilled to introduce you to another of my extraordinarily talented crit partners, Jennifer Rogers Spinola, a multi-pubbed author who was a 2012 Christy award finalist. I'll hand right over to her and you'll soon see why. (This gal sure can write!!) Please make her feel welcome!


Writing is something that's caught me - and held me fast - my entire life. I remember the little house where I turned five, in a rickety old Virginia coal-mining town close to the West Virginia border. Clifton Forge smelled like paper mill, sickly sweet, and it was there my younger sister was born. I planted my first geraniums and sang “My Country Tis of Thee” before lunch in my first-grade classroom. And it was in tiny Clifton Forge that I wrote (scribbled/drew) my first books, stapling them together in crooked lines.
Ever since those days writing has been my constant companion. I wrote during summer vacation, on reams of green-and-white computer paper stapled and then glued together, on the school bus on wintery Shenandoah Valley days, in high school in between tests. I loved writing. I still love writing. It is one of the glues that holds all my memories together, my years, my moments.
And until I sat in front of an ancient computer screen in our hot apartment in Brasilia, Brazil, a zillion years later, trying to craft out a story to ease my homesickness, I didn’t get the “magic wand” that made the light come on in my head. It was just that: for the first time, I was writing from memories. From places I missed. From things and places that I loved and longed for, and the rush of nostalgic emotion they poured out when I tapped them into black-and-white words.
You see, all my life I had chosen writing topics that required research – lots and lots of research. Historical novels from the 1800s. Modern stories about places I’d never been (like India). Topics requiring weeks of research about adoption law.
While there’s nothing wrong at all with these topics, I realized, as I sat there with the brilliant Brazilian sun glimmering on our gray tile floor, that I’d missed the *life* of my stories. I’d chosen topics that interested and excited me, picked exotic settings, and crafted narratives that were hard (I thought) to put down. But I’d missed one important factor: emotion. The stories excited me, but they didn’t move me—because I didn’t know them.
This whole idea of “writing what you know” was brought home to me by a novel I had just read—a novel of dubious quality about a female cake decorator. I had a hard time working through the clichés and trite plot, and the whole story just felt… wrong. When I read through the dedication and acknowledgements, there was a clue: “Thanks to all the people who taught me about cake decorating.”
And… that was it! I felt like a bright light had just beamed upon the whole thing: the author wasn’t a cake decorator. She didn’t know anything about cake decorating. She got people to show her about cake decorating, which she replicated in the book—but it didn’t evoke any emotion for her or her characters. The text was accurate, but flat. It had no heart.
Right then and there I got out a sheet of paper and decided to make a list of the things I knew well, determined to come up with something I could write about from experience.
And I sat there. And sat there. With a sad little 1) and a blank line.
What did I know about? And know about well enough to craft a story and draw on my emotions? Unfortunately, not much. And when I finished the list, it had simply two items: 1) Japan and 2) rednecks. I kid you not.
While my exercise was a bit humbling (humiliating?) it did narrow down my search for topics quite a bit. Could I possibly combine the two and create a story using my (ahem) vast expertise?
I doodled on the paper, brainstormed ideas, got a flash of inspiration, took a walk, wrote a hastily-scrawled outline, and…  the “Southern Fried Sushi” series was born. Shortly after that I sent chapters to a published friend, and he in turn submitted them to his publisher (Barbour). The women’s fiction editor contacted me directly, and within a few months she’d offered me a contract for the series.
Why? Because my prose was so poetic and polished, or my plot so riveting? Hardly. Actually I think it’s because you can see my heart in the locations I wrote about—the memories and the stored up emotion. The longing for places I had once known and left, and the marks they’d left on my soul.
Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you can’t ever use research or chose a topic you don’t know much about. All of those things are fine, if the topics evoke emotion in you. If that is the case, then you do “know” them—from a lifetime of study or focused research or some sort of experience. But they’re not foreign to you; blank; lifeless. They are not simply crafts to be studied; they are long-lost loves. But to write about topics simply because they’re interesting or worse, trendy, can leave readers smelling a “rat.” Even a carefully crafted “rat.”
Pay attention to the emotion in these paragraphs by John Steinbeck in his wonderful book “Travels With Charley” as he describes the Dakota Badlands as barren, unworldly, uninhabitable, and even unfriendly:
“I went into a state of flight, running to get away from the unearthly landscape. And then the late afternoon changed everything. As the sun angled, the buttes and coulees, the cliffs and sculptured hills and ravines lost their burned and dreadful look and glowed with yellow and rich browns and a hundred variations of red and silver-gray, all picked out by streaks of coal black. It was so beautiful that I stopped near a thicket of dwarfed and wind-warped cedars and junipers, and once stopped I was caught, trapped in color and dazzled by the clarity of the light… and the night, far from being frightful, was lovely beyond thought, for the stars were close… And I thought how every safe generality I gathered in my travels was canceled by another. In the night the Bad Lands had become the Good Lands. I can’t explain it. That’s how it was.”
I don’t know about you, but I read that section over and over again, devouring Steinbeck’s descriptions and words, and the change in his tone. I am not even a Steinbeck fan, but his description here moved me, made me see, made me thirst to read again. Why? Because he saw the Badlands first-hand—and he was moved by them. And thus I am also moved.
Writing from experience, or love (or even hate, so long as it evokes emotion in you) is the singlemost thing that, in my opinion, makes a book or a story authentic.
Even if we can’t identify from our own experiences, we are moved by his (or her) presentation of the events, and it often strikes us as dearly as if it were our own.
Another example I love is from a book called “The Sacred Romance” by John Elderidge. He opens the book by recalling nights on his family’s childhood farm—the feel of soft sand between his toes as he visited the river at dusk, the scent of hay and grass, the crickets and stars, and the feeling that everything was all right. He writes about returning to the same spot years later as a cynical young college student, hardened, in the beginnings of winter, and standing on a bridge looking out over that same stream on that same farm. The water was muddy and cold, choked with dead branches and leaves, and the friendly “haunting” he previously described had disappeared. His cynicism was right; the farm was lifeless and had always been. He had been fooled, cheated—everything never was all right, and would not be.
This chapter brought tears to my eyes. I read it so many times I lost count; I felt Elderidge’s pain, his disappointment, the feeling we all have of cynicism and wounding. I could not put the book down, all the way through his woven stories until we realize, in the end, that all is not lost—the farm and the river at dusk were not lying but speaking greater truth than we can ever realize. It moved me profoundly, and it remains one of my favorite books of all time. Not because of his poetic words or descriptions—although he is poetic—but because of his heart.
I would encourage you as writers to take stock of several things:
1.     What do you know (and love)?
2.     What do you hate?
3.     What moves you?
4.     What are your areas of expertise?
5.     What do you miss? (This one was key for me!)
6.     What are some of your most emotional memories or experiences?

This is just a rudimentary list of beginning questions to make the writer think and probe—I’m sure you can come up with more. Ultimately, though, remember—your writing is not just for practicing craft and selling books. It’s about YOU—your emotions—your disappointments and triumphs in faith and walk with the Lord.
Apart from that it’s just a book on the shelf, sterile and cold, that readers will praise but put back, unmoved and unconvinced. And even if we sell a million copies, we will have still failed, for our hearts know the truth and cry out to be heard.

Jennifer Rogers Spinola lives in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, with her Brazilian husband, Athos, and three-year-old son, Ethan. She has lived in Brazil for nearly eight years and served as a missionary to Japan for two years. Jenny is the author of Barbour Books' "Southern Fried Sushi" series (first book released in 2011) and an upcoming romance novella collection based on Yellowstone National Park (also with Barbour Books). Her first novel, “Southern Fried Sushi,” was a Christy Award finalist in 2012.

You can purchase "Southern Fried Sushi" here.


Jenny, thanks so much for being our guest here today! Make sure you check out her books - they are all wonderful reads!

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after two small boys or gazing at her brand-new baby girl, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website, on Twitter or getting creative over at her mummy blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Qualities of a Great Critique Group

I see so many posts on forums and in chats about finding a critique partner and critique group. I think it bears noting once again: There is no perfect critique group. There is no perfect critique partner.

There is a great-fitting critique group or partner.

You and I are sinners. We have flaws. And God has a way of bringing us critique partners that gently nudge at those edges, so God can mold us into who he wants to be...because this journey isn't just about our writing.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.-Philippians 1:6

So with the goal in mind of shaping us into Christ's image as writers. What should we look at in a critique group or partner? Does the standard of allowing God to mold us affect this decision? I believe very much so.

First off, to find the great critique group, we must be a great critique partner. Krista has a great post about that here and Casey's post about the link between reading and critiquing here. Not to mention, Mary has been doing a wonderful series about reading and our writing, which bears reading if you want to be a better critique partner, in my opinion.

Conversely, I find that God has used my group to shape me into a better critique partner. I'm not there yet, not at all. 

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.-Philippians 3:14

Our goal as writers should be the same as our goal as Christians to be ever obedient to the Spirit and continually pressing toward the goal of hearing "well done, good and faithful servant."

Your critiquing is a way to encourage others along the path and to witness your journey.

Use your words well. If you belong to a secular critique group, your words may be the only Christ-honoring novel your partners pick up. Don't stumble them. Likewise, we have the same responsibility toward other believers. 

Will your words offend someone? The Gospel in itself is offensive, but if we are offending readers because of our language, sensuality, or violence that's another matter altogether.

Here are some characteristics of a great critique group:

1) It is a place where you can be honest...but with kindness.

First, we must make sure we can take the honesty. Face-to-face groups can be harder, because you can't put that distance between yourself and the critique. You can't put it away to read tomorrow. 

The first published author who critiqued my writing asked me to put it away before evaluating or responding. Good advice.

I think there is a place for both types of critique. However I think there is a lot of value in building a tougher skin. For me, face-to-face group has been where I have done that.

Learn to express your critique in an honest but kind way in writing and in person. Its an excellent skill to bring into business and other areas of your life.

2) Recognize different personalities and styles to the group members.

You may have one person who gives you one word answers about your story. Another person may suggest changes in every single sentence. 

One might be more blunt. Another expresses it as a question. 

Find a good critique group and pretty soon you're a better critiquer yourself.

3) Be open to reading different genres.

I have to be honest, I would never choose to read science fiction on my own, with the exception of Mr. Tolkien's series AFTER watching the movie. However, someone in my group is an avid science fiction writer.

At the beginning, I had the most difficult time critiquing him. But good writing is good writing. Its not always about what we prefer.

So be open to these other genres and likewise realize that not everyone is a fan of your genre. Don't always take it personally. 

But it helps to find a group where there is an openness to different genres.

4) Dedication to craft.

Be dedicated. Show up when you say you will. Be on time. Don't commit to things you can't follow through on. Bring your work every time, even if you feel insecure. 

Likewise, find others who are dedicated to improving rather than staying stagnant. 

5) Diversity of experience.

It helps to have a wide-variety of ages, occupations, etc. in your group. Strange areas of knowledge can be extremely valuable.

I belong to a secular group, but this diversity allows me to share my beliefs through the context of story and often in a very non-threatening way. 

What about you? What do you consider the most important qualities of a critique group or critique partner? What can you personally work on to grow as a member of your critique group?

  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 currently reviews for The Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough

What’s the one word we keep hearing from all the best writing teachers?
What’s the one thing all of our books MUST have to survive?


And we, as readers, love it! We thrive on the story of someone overcoming the obstacles of their storyworlds and fulfilling their goals. We are hooked by their struggles, cheering them on, and celebrating with them when ‘the end’ comes with beautiful resolution.

But, many times this is NOT the case in our REAL writing worlds.

Conflict doesn’t always  come in with guns blazing like a Mary Connealy novel. Lots of times the most powerful conflicts in our lives are the subtle whispers or ‘unassuming’ doubts.

A dear friend and I were having a conversation about this recently. She has a tender heart, ready to find God’s direction in her life and her writing. The writing world is a tremulous place – a world where comparisons are made, dreams are supplanted, and ‘publication’ seems to be the measure of all that is good.

And I think that’s where a lot of dreams falter through time. Though publication is a wonderful goal, and certainly something many of us would like to see happen at some point in our writing career, when it becomes the standard by which all other things in our writing are measured….we’re inevitably going to become discouraged.

If you’ve lost your vision, try to remember the joy of your writing, before the murky monster of doubt crept in. Go back to the moments of pure creation, for the sake of creation, and remember the God who called you.

My friend said, “If I could have an hour of free time, I’d write.”

That spoke chapters! It proved the call in her life. If the pressures and expectations were removed and all that was left was the dream, she’d write.

I believe that too many times we lose sight of God's call for us to write and get lost on the quest to publication. It is certainly an exciting goal, but not the heart of any Christian writer. God uses us - in our big and small writing- to minister to ourselves, our families, our friends, and others, but most of ALL to glorify Him. I'm pretty sure that all of us struggle with the pressures of productivity.

But real productivity comes from the inner workings of the Holy Spirit as He refines us through whatever means God uses.

My point? To encourage you.

Remember your first love.

Find joy in the journey.

And hold unswervingly to hope – because we serve the Author of the Incredible!

 How would you encourage a fellow writer who feels like a failure or who is questioning their call?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week

Congratulations are due to the Christy award winners announced this past Monday! What a great organization it is and a fantastic witness for Christ in the world of literature.

Maybe...someday...we'll be able to celebrate with fellow alley friends and authors who will be celebrating their own Christy success! ;-)

What's up for next week?

Pepper steps in as a substitute for Angie, who is away on vacation (yes, we all envy her). It's all about when the going gets tough on Monday.

Figure out some of the characteristics of a good critique group on Tuesday with Julia.

Christy-Finalist and multi-pubbed author Jennifer Rogers Spinola is Karen's guest on Wednesday!

It's conference season! Fine-tune that pitch with Angie on Thursday.

Plotting?? For a panster?? Cindy treads dangerous waters on Friday.

Sidewalk Talk...

Julia was the featured guest on Debra Wallace's blog. Check out a story excerpt here!

Christy Award winners courtesy of Wynn-Wynn Media

Friday, July 20, 2012

Five Tips to Make Your Synopsis Stronger

Credit: Free Digital Photos
I recently had to write a synopsis. It seems every time I turn around I need a 500 word synopsis for a contest. Then I need a 1-2 page synopsis for a submission. Or I need a FULL synopsis for a proposal. Why can't everyone just agree and use the same one? But I didn't make the rules (and no one has bothered to ask me...)

Can I just go on record and say I'd rather have my teeth yanked with unsterilized tweezers?

It's gruesome, gritty, dirty work. But let's face it: unless you get an agent pounding on your door in the middle of the night, dying to read your book you're going to have to write a synopsis. Suck in your gut. If you live in Harney County, slap on your chaps and stick your backside in the saddle. It's time to ride. If you don't live in Harney County, then well...use the cliche that best fits your part of the country and let's go...

Tip #1: Write tight, tight, tight, tight.

Whip out a rough draft. Write what needs to be written. Include the funny scene with the neighbor's cat keeping your heroine awake all night long which makes her crash her car into the hero's car and end up in the hospital with a handsome doctor distraction for half the book. Pound out all the words you can and get that synopsis written.

Now. Time to have fun. Yes. I'm being sarcastic.

You need to write tight. What you said in 10 words say in 5. Look for twisted phrases that you can iron out and say in 3 words instead of five (my issue all the time). NIX passive. Passive is the death of a synopsis. On the flip side of that coin, don't get too flowery.

That description at the beginning? Cut the part about the cat, and only keep where the car accident starts the story. What is your inciting incident? The car crash. Not the cat howling outside the window. It's backstory and backstory should stay far, far away from a synopsis.

 Tip #2: Keep your point clear.

Don't rabbit trail down hidden paths and pot-holed roads. Keep the story on the straight and narrow (and avoid mixing your metaphors as I'm so dangerously close to doing. ;-) Plot your story out in paragraphs, one for each character's turning point. If you're writing a shorter book, say a category romance, keep the character's growth and changes in the same paragraph, not separated for the separate characters. They will interact more strongly together in a shorter book, thus the need to write a shorter, tighter synopsis. Avoid subplots especially if you're attempting a short contest synopsis. You can afford to delve into a subplot with a proposal synopsis, but even then, you should be focusing strongly on the main point of your story.

Tip #3: Make it read like a story.

Credit: Free Digital Photos
This is probably the hardest one to follow and put into action. When you write the synopsis the first time, as I said, just write it out. Think through your story paragraph by paragraph. This keeps the story manageable and don't let your mind become overwhelmed with everything going on in your story.

When you go through the synopsis again, you're going to end up re-writing a lot. Don't let this discourage you, just dig deep and embrace it. Evaluate your synopsis and read through it--out loud and inside your head. Strongly weigh each word you're using, the importance of story concepts for the length of your synopsis and if you can possibly combine two points into one.

This last comment will become your best friend: consider your words worth their weight in gold and be careful with which ones you use. Saying less with more is the key to a strong synopsis.

Tip #4: Write in the voice of your story.

Write in present tense, your entire synopsis through. But if you write romantic comedy, keep your synopsis light and funny. Entertaining. If you write suspense, give it a darker edge. Women's fiction should be more serious. If you have an especially poignant scene that you've written-- perhaps it's a turning point in your story, but something funny or significant happens, then find a way to include that into the wording. For example...Ellie’s ambitions have taken the same trip as the pot of boiled-dry noodles—straight to the floor. This is a line in my synopsis which hints at a scene for my character, but also speaks for character journey and depth that I have taken the reader of my synopsis on up to this point. 

My character is a chef, she makes Italian food and she's struggling to get it all done. Thus the reference to the pot of noodles...straight to the floor. But your references to such things have to make sense. Don't add it for the sake of purple prose, make it matter for the sake of the synopsis.

Tip #5: Don't make it harder then what it needs to be.

Credit: Free Digital Photos
Yes, writing a synopsis is hard work. Yes, your family most likely will not want to be around you before, during and after the process. But don't stress. Don't worry. Just keep writing. If you stop and stare and try to make it perfect on the first try, you will only succeed in having a very bald head. Push through the brain blocks and finger freezes. It is possible to finish this thing, no matter how the mind warps it's way against you.

After the first draft, put it aside for a couple days. Then go back and make every single change you possibly can. Word to the wise: do not over think this process. Let it come in stages. Layering changes as you go. 

Send it to your critique partners for them to red and bleed on. Make their changes and if you can send it to a different pair eyes completely, then do so. What I did recently is had an author friend read it. Made her changes. Sent it to my crit partner. Made her changes and finished it up for a third round with the same author. Consistency is the key. 

Finally, take a deep breath...and call it good. The proof lies in your writing to speak for your true ability, but the synopsis is the first thing a judge or agent or editor sees. Make it a good impression!

Do you sweat the synopsis process?

(if you don't, then you're not human and we possibly can't be friends... ;-)


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.