Saturday, August 31, 2013

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

It's another week of delicious dinners and meals to make while on the go, especially as the ACFW conference is only getting closer and closer! I can't believe I'll be leaving in less than two weeks! Who will I be seeing there??

From "Chips and Pitches" with Pepper (have your pitch ready, there is going to be a mini critique session here on the blog!

To "Tag-line Appetizers" with Mary.

And a meal in pictures from Casey (a new recipe she plans to try from Pinterest), this week is sure to give you PLENTY of new options to give your family while you're on deadline.

Here is one for you to try this weekend:

French bread (or homemade bread)
Sliced tomatoes
Basil (fresh is best!)
Mozzarella cheese
Olive Oil

Fry the bread until it is as brown/crusty/yummy as YOU like it. (there is no right or wrong way). Layer on sliced tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. (Tip: the original recipe called for a basil pesto, but basil leaves were just as yummy). Continue to fry until the cheese is well melted. Serve warm. Talk about delicious!!

What's your favorite go-to recipe?

Friday, August 30, 2013

What’s for Brinner?

I don’t know about you but there are just those days, whether I’m on a time crunch or not, when the appeal of breakfast bursts the boundaries of morning tradition and I get a hankering for some Brinner – around here that’s what we call “Breakfast for Dinner.”

Mmm mmm! The nerve of those poor misguided folks who think delightful culinary treats like omelets, bacon, pancakes, waffles, fried potatoes, cinnamon rolls, and biscuits and gravy (to name a few of my favorites) are only allowed to dazzle in those dreadful morning hours.

But the problem is, most often to do breakfast up right, you are juggling three or more different preparations, orchestrating like a frantic maestro to get everything done and hot at the same time, and then you’re left with a huge mess in the kitchen.

This is my super simple solution to a delicious and painless Brinner that will satisfy every appetite. Mega healthy! And it’s pretty... so it's great for entertaining too!

Easy-Peasy Egg Soufflé

Prep Time: 5 mins

Cook Time: 20-30 mins

You will need:

A dozen eggs
1 package turkey bacon
1-2 green onion
12 grape tomatoes
Cheese of your choice.
12 Paper cups for cupcake tin.

Preheat your oven to 350. Line your cupcake tin with paper cups for easy clean-up, or coat with non-stick spray if you prefer.

To start out, curl a piece of turkey bacon around the inner edge of each cup (inside the paper liner.) After that I like to also use an extra piece, tear it in thirds, and pop the little scrap on the bottom of the cup so there is bacon on every side.

(Note: The turkey bacon is straight from the package. If you wish to use real bacon you have too cook it most of the way first and blot it, otherwise it will boil over with the grease and drown the egg.) I’m not a huge turkey bacon person but for this recipe it works best, and is really quite delicious and figure friendly. J

Then crack one egg in each cup, and poke the yolk with a fork. Top with your favorites. For this recipe I use a sprinkle of diced green onion, one (quartered) grape tomato, and a pinch of goat cheese, feta, or a shredded cheese mixture like Colby-Jack over each egg. Or mix-and-match if you like.

Salt and pepper those babies and pop 'em in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the egg is fully set.

Easy meal, easy clean. Happy family. And happy mama who can get back to work writing that masterpiece! Bon Appetite!

PS... If there are any left over, they are GREAT reheated the next morning!!!

I’m curious: What’s your favorite food for brinner?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Protein Boost Fruit Smoothie Recipe!

Hi everyone! Ashley here-- I'm actually a vegetarian and have been for years, so I'm always looking for  ways to get protein and vitamins in things that still taste like food. So not a fan of tofu or any other cardboard-like substances.

I'd hear for a long time that Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein, but -gag!- I don't like regular yogurt, much less the Greek stuff. I envy all of you yogurt fans who can just eat it right out of the container! I've never been able to do that.

So my husband, who's watched enough Alton Brown shows to be a chef, came up with this delicious recipe, which is easy to make, very quick, and packed with tons of protein and good-for-you nutrients. It's the perfect choice for a quick breakfast to take on the go.

Depending on the time of yogurt you use, this smoothie has about 12 grams of protein. Not too shabby! It also is packed with antioxidants.

You'll need a blender of sorts, preferably a small one like the Magic Blender.

Here's the recipe!

Take a regular cup of Greek yogurt, and scoop it in the blender cup along with about 6 or 7 frozen strawberries (we've found frozen ones help with the consistency) and a handful of frozen blueberries. Depending on how thick you want the smoothie, you then want to add between 1/4-3/4 cups of orange juice. My husband likes to add a splash of almond milk, but I usually skip that step. Blend it up, and you're done!

These are perfect for healthy after-school snacks or breakfasts. You could always multiply the recipe in a regular sized blender if you wanted to make it for multiple family members at once. And if you have trouble getting it to blend well, I've discovered the trick is putting the yogurt in before the frozen fruit.

Enjoy! Now you can feel good about eating something healthy and get back to your writing!


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, August 28, 2013

Idiot-proof oven-baked risotto

This week on the Alley we're all about serving up fast and fabulous meals that get us out of the kitchen quicker and back to our writing.

Enter: Idiot-proof oven-baked risotto.

Photo credit: yours truly. 

Now, before you break into a cold sweat at the thought of standing at the stove stirring the pot for an hour, let me just tell you, this recipe is E.A.S.Y. (An acronym for Extra fast, Absolutely healthy, and Sensationally Yummy.) No stirring involved!

It's a flexible recipe, meaning as long as you get the proportions of rice and stock correct, you can add WHATEVER quantity of vegetables you like, depending on what you have kicking around your fridge.

But that's enough yabber from me - you have a book to be writing! Let's get dinner on!


1. Preheat oven to 390 degrees Farenheit. (Or 200C for any fellow Aussies out there.)
2. In a casserole dish with a lid, add 1 cup arborio rice to 2.5 cups chicken stock.*
3. Add one diced onion and a couple of handfuls of sliced mushrooms.
4. Bake for 45 mins.
5. Cube some pumpkin, place it on an oven tray and give it a light spray of olive oil, and roast it on another rack in the oven for 20 mins, or until soft.
6. Once the rice is done, add 1 cup of frozen peas, the roasted pumpkin, and some cubed feta. Stir through and return to the oven for 10-15 mins.

- Use a couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves instead of peas.
- If you're a die-hard carnivore, add some cooked and diced chicken, or prosciutto if you wanna get fancy.

* Note: quantity serves 3 - increase proportions if desired! You can also use veggie stock for a vegetarian version.

So that's it! Even my 1-year-old loved this recipe and devoured it! The 3-year-old took a little more convincing, but hey, you can't win 'em all! For a meal that took about 15 minutes prep, this was a winner.

Now get outta that kitchen and get writing!

Do you have a favourite super-fast recipe for deadline crunch-time? Please share!

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after three small children, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dinner's in the Freezer...Some Freezer Friendly Recipes

Sometimes something's gotta give.

You can't do it all.

Many things can't come off our plate.


You can't take the day off from work to finish your manuscript.

Your kids need clean underwear and socks for school. As much as we hate tackling that laundry pile.

As a busy mom and writer like many of you, I have been thrilled to find something in my life that is negotiable, meal time. Now, don't get me wrong frozen fish sticks and tater tots will work occasionally but not for day after day. That's why I have a plan of attack for dinner. An appliance that saves me hours and hours per freezer.

This 5' by 3' cubic appliance is a God send! Here's how I use mine to not only save time but also dollars!

Have a meat cooking day:

When you come home with your groceries think about the meals for the week. And if you don't have a plan, check out a service such as emeals to create simple meal plans. Meal planning will not only save you time, but also money in the long run. You can always switch your plan to fit the day.

Now, since you know your meals for the week, divide your meat as needed for each meal. It takes only a few minutes to cook your ground beef or chicken and pop it in a freezer bag. Later, you can add dressings or marinades and vegetables for simple great meals.

Here's a favorite super simple meal using frozen ground beef and macaroni and cheese mix. Cheap and easy:

Macaroni Mexicano:

You'll need:
2 boxes Kraft Macaroni & Cheese mix
1 lb ground beef, precooked
1 packet taco seasoning
1 cup salsa
2 cups Mexican cheese blend shredded
1 cup sour cream

1) Make macaroni and cheese according to boxed mix. Preheat oven to 400F.
2) Stir in ground beef, salsa, 1 cup of the Mexican cheese blend, 1 packet taco seasoning, and sour cream. Place in large baking dish.
3) Top with final 1 cup of Mexican cheese. 
4) Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.
5) Serve with corn and a salad.

-Cut up vegetables and freeze them after your grocery run. You can grab a meat packet, grab a vegetable packet and voila stir fry. All you need to do is keep stocked up on a few marinades such as Garlic Sauce or Hoisin Sauce. Check your local Asian department.

-Have a party. A freezer meal party. If you are intimidated by this idea, there are Tastefully Simple consultants who hold parties where you bring your materials and leave with ten tasty freezer meals. There are meal stations around the country where take-home containers are provided. It can be a great excuse to get friends together.

Here Ree Drummond talks about Freezer Cooking.

Prolific blogger and author, Crystal Paine has a step-by-step on freezer cooking at Money Saving Moms.

Need more great recipes? Check out Martha Stewart's Freezer-Friendly Foods.  

Do you freezer cook? I would love to hear your recipes in the comments section. What is your best meal for when you're on deadline?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Plottin' Pizza in the Oven

So, my children have witnessed Mom on the computer more this week than the whole summer. Yep, deadlines are just around the corner and I am trying to take on the mad rush.

There's no reason quick food can't be semi-healthy and fully-hearty at the same time. Here is a recipe that is a sure winner and SUPER easy! Wish I had a picture, but I have a pic of what might be going on during bake time!

plotting away!

Easy French Bread Pizza:

1 loaf of garlic bread-in-the-foil at your local grocery store's bakery dept.
1 lb. of ground beef or turkey
1 jar of your favorite organic spaghetti sauce
1 8 oz. bag of pizza blend cheese
1/2 tbsp. of Olive Oil
1 grated zucchini or squash or 2 carrots (gotta hide those veggies in there for my picky eaters)

1. Turn the oven on according to the temp on the garlic bread package
2. Brown the ground beef or turkey. Season if you'd like. Drain fat.
3. Pour the jar of spaghetti sauce in your meat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.
4. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan and cook the zucchini until soft. Mix with meat/sauce mixture.
5. Divide the garlic bread into two sides (should have lots of delicious garlicky butter on each side),  spread meat mixture evenly on both sides.
6. Sprinkle with cheese in generous amounts (LOVE me some cheese)
7. Stick in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

My boys devour this...and we still have leftovers! I recommend heating leftovers in a toaster oven!


Saturday, August 24, 2013

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Click through for the pin...and the recipe!
Swamped getting ready for the conference?

How about meeting that deadline?

Or trying to fit in your writing around the family and back to school snacks and planning the family dinners?

The Alley has the solution for you!

All this next week, the Alley Cats will be sharing their favorite EASY recipes perfect for throwing in the crockpot of pulling the left overs out of the fridge. We're keeping it simple and smelling yummy around here.

And trust me, this is bound to get good. So join the fun. Share your favorite them to pinterest and let us know how they turned out!

Sidewalk Talk...

Our Krista's book Sandwich with a Side of Romance is currently FREE for Kindle! We don't know for how long, so check before you buy. It's such a fun romantic comedy. :-))

The winner of the novel from last weekend's edition is:'ve been emailed, so check that inbox!

While you're waiting for all the yummy ideas, check out the Alley Cat's Pinterest Meal Boards!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Are YOU Conference Ready?

Pepper, Jeanne, me
It's getting to be that time of year, and if you're anything like me, you keep checking your watch, sure that the ACFW Conference is going to jump up behind you like a naughty two year old.

If you're headed to the conference this year, what's still yet to do on your to-do list? (we won't even get into mine...) If you're not going to the ACFW Conference (maybe this is the first time you've heard about it) I encourage you to look into it. It's one of the best Christian conferences around for immersing yourself on a national level with great teachers, industry professionals and hundreds of other writers in various stages of publication who all understand the "voices" in our heads.

Have you requested your agent and/or editor picks? What are they looking for? I know I still need to get my first chapter ready. More and more this is becoming the go-to request of all agents/editors. Make sure to have those first few pages polished right up and read up on which one is currently looking for/requesting and what they expect from you when you sit down across from them.

Have you finished your one sheets yet? Angie did mine, and it was worth every single penny!! Goodness, for someone (me) who has no artistic eye, I will definitely be calling on her designer skills again. One more thing off the list without the headache!

Written that pitch yet? You'll need: an elevator pitch (could double as your story question if written correctly too) and a slightly longer pitch for those moments around the lunch table or the agent appointments. Then of course make sure you have a shorter paragraph in the back of your mind should more questions be asked of you for deeper content. It seems like a lot, but just takes the time in the actually writing of it. SLEW of great posts on writing your perfect pitch. I know I'll be perusing them more!
Katie Ganshert, Rosslyn Elliott, me, Becky Wade
Talk about a challenge! But check out this link for a

Do you have your learning attitude? I know this will be true for 90% of all the conference attendees. But I personally saw where this truly helped my pitch in front of an agent, who specifically wanted more of my story, not only because she liked the story, but also because she saw I was willing to learn. Agents and editors are looking for writers who are not married to their words and are willing to take some constructive criticism.

Maybe it's just me who is OCD, but it's great to have a schedule for all your classes, appointments and where you might be volunteering. I know this year, I've got a finger in a lot of pots, so keeping everything straight is going to be something else. But don't be afraid to ditch the class to chat with a new friend or a mentor. It's invaluable and some of my best gifts from God. I get excited just thinking about. :)

Go with a spirit of prayer. A spirit for God to move and work. He's brought YOU all this way to a national Christian writer's conference. You've invested no small amount of money. Now stand back and watch God work. Watch what He brings across your path. Discovery is half the joy and most of the excitement, even if you don't see it all right away.

Have the roomies? Packed the cookies? (Carol M. ;-)) Got the travel plans all set? Bought the gala dress/suit? Picked a good book for the plane/car drive? You're set.

And hey! Come find me and save a hug! I want to meet ALL the people I can! I'll be the one with the name tag that reads "resident Alley Cat".  :-))

What are your best conference tips??

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. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 20-step Process to Publication

Sometimes we complicate things a wee bit too much, so I thought we'd get back to basics today. Here is my 20 step program for writing and publishing a novel. Easy, right?

How To Write and Publish a Novel

  1. Think of a fun, hooky story idea, and complete your research.
  2. Create some quirky, realistic characters
  3. Outline (or if you are a SOTP writer like me, start writing...)
  4. For those who outlined... start writing. For those pantsters... keep writing.
  5. Finish your perfect first draft!! (Pansters will get to this point sooner...)
  6. Call your mother (or whoever your cheerleader is) and let them tell you how wonderful your book is and how it will probably be the next bestseller and promise to buy them a car out of your seven-figure advance.
  7. Read your first draft and realize what a pile of crap it is. (Panster's drafts will be much more crappy though...)
  8. Cry.
  9. Get over yourself and sit down to edit.
  10. Finish editing and pat yourself on the back.
  11. Repeat steps 6 - 10 until you really hate your novel because you've read it so much.
  12. Let a paid-editor/crit partner/crit group read your book and splatter it with red ink.
  13. Repeat steps 8 - 10.
  14. Go eat some chocolate.
  15. Submit some agent queries.
  16. Get rejected a billion times, edit some more, repeat steps 1 - 15 on more books
  17. Finally snatch an agent.
  18. Lose all your fingernails because you bite them while waiting for answers from publishers.
  19. Resort to biting your toenails when an editor takes your manuscript to pub committee.
  20. Throw a big party because, WOOHOO, you've got a contract, baby! 
(Please note, the time frame for this process varies depending on the author/agent/publisher/book)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Readers Crave Certain Books

Have you ever had a craving for the weirdest food? (maple sugar on snow with pickle-served in Vermont).  Perhaps something you've never  combined with another food item before? Maybe pizza with nutella? Or maybe you just had to try orange/pineapple juice mixed with Worcestershire sauce (the base for barbecue sauce- wow, who figured this out?)

Sometimes we crave salt, cucumbers, spinach, etc. Each craving is based on something our body needs at the moment. (Sorry, reader, sweets really don't fall in this category).

Our emotions have cravings, too. Have you craved:

a hug
to be left alone
to be with people
to move forward with a project
to step back from a situation
to rest
to exercise
to learn
to veg
to pray
to share a prayer request

Sometimes the hug can't be delivered because the giver is not there. But, God often will provide a temporary substitute, such as a scene in a movie or a book, a stuffed animal, a pet, etc.

Our books can also provide an avenue to help someone who has a need, even a need for good entertainment.  Perhaps their issue has them convinced they cannot seek help from a friend, parent, or pastor, but they are willing to spend a few hours or more diving into the lives of well portrayed characters struggling with the same situation.

Each reader is an individual with a distinct personality. They have different backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs, age, gender, and etc. It would be impossible to meet all of their needs. For this reason, many are called to be quality Christian Fiction writers, to spill their heart's passion, the concern driving their thoughts, into a meaningful story pattern on the page.

Francine Rivers said she wrote one of her books after asking Jesus to be her Savior. The impact of the salvation experience was so great, her heart was stirred to share her passion with others in story form. What followed became a best selling book.

God kindles passion in our hearts as well. What are you passionate about? What good should be made better or herald? What woe should be soothed? What wrong should be made right? This should be written into your manuscript.

In actuality, there is only one book that will truly satisfy a craving heart and that is the Bible. Unfortunately, there are times readers are not willing or are not ready to seek God's tender loving help. This happens to Christian readers, too. The purpose of our books and manuscripts is to reflect the light of God's Word, directing our audience to God's Holy book.

Think about your WIP. What need does it address and how does it direct a reader to God's word?

Let's dialogue about this. There are many aspects to learn about writing, but if we perfect them all but leave out God, what good is it? Your thoughts could help someone else. We'd love to hear your ideas.

photo courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trumanizing Your Life...Your Story

I watched The Truman Show last night and it made me sad. This one man, Truman, had lived his whole life in a controlled environment. He was born on the show and was the star of the show. On a special set that included a whole town, Truman was the only person who didn't know they were on a TV show...a show that had been going for 30 years. The poor man lived a life that wasn't really real. His best friend was an actor who acted like his friend. His mother wasn't a real mother, but just a woman acting like a mother. Even his wife wasn't in love with him - she pretended to be in love.

And Truman wasn't content. And the audience was uncomfortable.

It got me to thinking how we are often like the creator of The Truman Show. We want to control everything in our lives. We want our children to be perfect and successful. We want our house to be spotless and "model-home-decorated". We think if we write a certain number of manuscripts, read great books on writing, or attend as many conferences as we can, we will finally get a publishing contract. We want to control the outcome of our lives.

I don't know about you, but isn't it hard...even make our lives like we want them? There comes a point when we have to release control, let God be God and trust Him for the path He wants us on. We live life fully, trusting that God has our best just around the corner.

I think sometimes as writers, we are much like that creator of The Truman Show. We have a path lined out for our heroine and methodically write the words to take her down the path we have created. Sometimes though, we have to let our characters really live and go the way they want to go. Characters take on life when we let them breath and experience all that the pages have for them...whether good or bad.

Good fiction needs a compass, but a great story needs life and freedom. Freedom to fall hard. Freedom to live big. Freedom to love with abandon. So let your characters live free on the page and see what happens. Trust God for His timing in finding your story a home. The journey is just as important as the destination.

Are you letting your characters really come alive on the page? Do you allow them freedom? Or do you like to keep them on the straight and narrow?


Is your manuscript Trumanized? Find out at The Writer's Alley. Click to Tweet

Are you letting your characters living free on the page? Find out at The Writer's Alley. Click to Tweet

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born an

Monday, August 19, 2013

Is There a Knot in Your Plot?
Have you been there?

Everything is going along fine and BANG - you've entered the land of a 'tangled mess', walking through a perpetual fog of obscurity and your entire story grinds to a slow and somewhat agonizing stop?

I've been there. More times than I care to count and in an attempt to help other weary travelers along the tangled path I have five things for us to consider if we've come upon a few Knots in our Plots.

Of course the perfect plots hold fabulous elements of twists and turns, taking us in directions as readers, we didn't expect to go - but a knot? A tangled web of indecision or confusion? NOT what we're looking for as writers OR readers.

So what can we do to un-braid the painful bunch?

1. Know Thy Characters - Lots of times our story crashes to a stop when we haven't really gotten to know our characters. It's difficult to dig deep in a novel if we've not taken the time to 'get in the heads' of our main characters. What do they want? What drives them? What would hurt them most? What do they need the most? My Book Therapy is great at digging deeper in character development to sort out the Lie your character believes, the Wound they've had in their past, and the desperate Truth he/she must discover by story's end.

I always start with a clear idea of my main characters internal conflict and motivation, as well as their external conflict and motivation, then I start digging deeper (asking the 'why' question)
When we know our characters, their stories begin to untangle our knotted plots with their own unique story-lines and personal desires to propel us forward.

2. Don't forget the Dynamic Duo - Holy Plot Lines, Batman! It takes TWO??? Yep, whether you're a character-driven novel writer or a plot-driven novel writer, it's difficult to write a good novel without both! It's fine to have a stronger element, either character or plot, but if you've not given enough attention to one or the other, your story may come to a strange, obscure place - like two pieces not fitting in a puzzle. Maybe do some super-sleuthing and figure out if you need to beef up a weak hero or strengthen up a few plot points to turn dastardly into dynamic :-)

3. Take a Mountain view instead of a Tree Climb - Sometimes we just need to step back and get a big-picture view of our story to figure out why we're stuck. It's easy to get lost in the trees, sorting through a wild conglomeration of story-stew. Perhaps you just need a mountain-top experience to bring your full story back into view. What's the purpose of your story? What does your heroine want? Why does she need it so badly? Stepping back can give us the view of our dark and murky forest and help us see the detour around the knotted path.

4. U-turn OFF of Easy Street - Yeah, who doesn't want to join with Annie's crazy villain and dance on 'easy street'? However, easy street does NOT a story make. Easy plotline = bored reader. If you've come to a frustrating stop in your novel maybe you should do a quick complexity check for 3 important aspects to steer you into inspiration alley.
a. How complex are your main characters?
b. Do you have some interesting and supportive secondary characters?
c. How are you story-enhancing subplots driving your novel?

5. Hurt somebody - The secret weapon of fiction writing is CONFLICT! Oh yes! Mary Connealy once said that if you get stuck in a story, shoot somebody. Okay, so not everyone writes 'those' sorts of stories, but figuratively it works too. If you've reached a point of inertia, MOVE something! Add conflict. Throw in a twist. See what happens. Why did the story of a poor girl-turning-to-a-princess work for Cinderella? Evil stepmother - conflict. And just when you think everything is going to work out swimmingly, throw in a nasty cat named Lucifer (aptly named, btw) and you have MORE conflict.

There are lots of other ways to get out of sticky situation, so let's hear from you. Are you stuck? Have you been stuck? Did you figure a way out of the knot? Share your strategy with us!

 Pepper Basham writes Blue Ridge romance peppered with grace and humor. She's a mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and lover of chocolate. When she's not aggravating the wonderful AlleyCats, you can visit her at her personal blog, Words Seasoned With Salt. She's represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What's up the street for next week? (And giveaway!)

What do the Alley Cats do when they don’t know what to write?

They have a Grab Bag week!

That’s right. This week is a mix of writing, fun, romance, and laughter – but you won’t know what’s happening until you stop by.

Who are your hostesses this week?

Pepper, Sherrinda, Mary, Krista and Casey

It’s a surprise week! Which means we’ll probably be surprised too! :-)

Don't go away yet!

Leave a comment to win a Christian fiction release Casey's brand-new perfect fiction stack! Think Julie Lessman and Susan May Warren and Nancy Herriman and more!

What are your plans for next week?

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Perfect Pitch: Hook, Line, and Sinker

In a lot of ways pitching your book is like fishing, casting a line and hoping for some bites. Okay, let’s be honest, we’re not really looking for bites so much as we want to hook a BIG FISH!

But if you’ve ever gone fishing you know that it’s not always as easy as it seems.

Whether your six-pound bass is that superstar agent or your dream publisher, you’ve got to go in with a game plan because we all know when we start talking about our book, well . . . lets just say we have a tendency to ramble. And with so much pressure and competition, and very little time to cast the lure, how can you be concise and still utterly unforgettable that ten minutes will have your big fish catching the vision?

Here are a few tips on how to make a splash:

1. Prepare your tackle box in advance.

Do your research on all those fish and go in armed with knowledge. Read their bio. Know what they are looking for. Who they represent.

If it’s an agent, read their blog, get a feel for their personality so you know how best to present your story. Mention things you like or respect about their blog or their authors so they are confident your meeting was intentional and not a blind cast with the wrong bait.

If it’s an editor, research the author’s they’ve worked with, better yet, read some of the books they’ve edited. Then you’ll have a point of reference.

Be armed with sample chapters, a one sheet, a business card, and a short synopsis, just in case they want a nibble. Be prepared.

2. Be some tasty bait.

We know underneath that squirmy worm or flashy spinner there is a nice sharp hook. We’ll get to that in a minute. What I’m talking about here is the thing that gets them swimming along a bit faster, tempts their mouth to start chomping.

So, how’s your presentation? Have you rehearsed your elevator pitch--in front of a mirror, then in front of another human being? Do you sound robotic or conversational? Have you considered what types of questions they might ask you and how you might respond? You won’t be doing all the talking, so are you prepared to answer questions about your story?

Have you chosen an outfit that is both professional and portrays your style? Your personality will be something that is slathered (in one way or another) on every page of your novel as if imbedded with your fingerprints. But before they crack open your pages (if they ever do) YOU are the open book they get to read first. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in your Thanksgiving pants, a wrinkled shirt, and with bed head, would you? As much as we hate it to be true, our first impressions are generally visual—Ahem! We all sometimes judge a book by its cover. Moral of the story here: Don’t wear something that makes you look like everyone else. Wear something that looks like you! The best version of YOU you can put forth. Something that makes you feel confident, and just as unique as your story they should publish!

Smile! This one seems so elementary but when we get nervous, often times our baser instincts skip town faster than the pitch that just flew out of our head while standing in the elevator with Agent X. Take a deep breath, remember the joy of writing your story, think of how your book could touch the lives of so many readers, and waltz in with that enthusiasm.

Make eye contact. Don’t be that weird introverted writer that only converses with imaginary people. J Sometimes these things don’t come naturally. Don’t panic. Agents and editors are people with nerves and flaws and feelings just like you. Take a deep breath, look into those beady fish eyes, give them a firm finn-shake, a smile, and a cordial introduction. See that, you are some tasty bait! All those fish will be circling.

-Hook ‘em!

Writing a book is no easy task. Boiling it all down to a few compelling and eloquent sentences is even harder! You may have written a great story, but even if it’s there, you may struggle to figure out exactly what the hook is. (Read Ashley’s post yesterday for some great hook tips!)

Your story might be a romance, but there’s definitely more to it than that. Think about your main conflict and how it relates to some kind of irony. For example: A woman running from the law under an assumed identity falls in love with an undercover cop. Your hook lies within those parameters. Then think about the theme of your story. Is it redemption, forgiveness? Does the main character have a hobby or passion that characterizes the way they think or act on the page? Draw those words out and weave them into your hook. That way you will not only get a sense of the plot, and conflict, but a sense of the “feel” and takeaway as well.

If you’re still drawing a blank, start with a story question. Beth Vogt is great with these! For Wish You Were Here the question was something like…Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right? Use yours as a spring board to toy with hook ideas.

Alright your turn! Anything to add? What are your greatest fears about pitching? Your greatest pitfalls? Need some help? Let’s get you ready to reel ‘em in! Cast a question, the lines are open!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Know Your Hook-- Your Secret Weapon

Ever watched a movie or read a book where the writer let you in on a secret? Isn't it amazing how the knowledge of something deep about characters or plot can drive us to keep reading or watching?

Think about your favorite stories. I bet almost all of them have some kind of secret that's used as a hook. It may be a real secret--something one of your characters is purposefully hiding. Or it may be a secret that's a bit more subtle-- hidden love, for instance, or something that happened to your characters when they were young that shaped their mindset today.

Your "secret" is also (in most cases) your hook. If you're prepping for conference season and working on your pitch, consider this. Your pitch doesn't have to be difficult to write. It's the thing that drives your story. That deep heart of your book-- the thing that keeps you writing. It's often tied to the moral of the story as well, since it cuts so deep down into the characters' story arcs.

You should incorporate this hook throughout every chapter of your story.

Now, you may be thinking, "Oh no! I don't have what you're talking about. My story is just about two people falling in love, plain and simple." If that's what you're thinking, don't despair. Most likely, your book does have a hook, but you just need to find it. If you don't know your hook yet and you've just started writing, not to worry--it'll probably come in the process of writing your first draft.

So how do you make use of your hook, your secret weapon?

  1. Find your hook. What's the secret? Usually it's interwoven with the conflict of your story. Maybe you write suspense, in which case the secret might be a killer or thief. Maybe you write romance, in which case the secret might be hidden love, or something that happened to the heroine/hero prior to the start of the story that keeps the romance from developing. I think of Denise Hunter's Seaside Letters, and how the hurt of the heroine's past with her former fiance keeps her from opening her heart to the hero. You need to figure out what makes your story unique, and then develop that--make the most of it! Think of what you do when you go into a job interview. You make sure you know the high points of why you're right for the job, and then you highlight those as much as possible. You want to do the same thing here. Know your strengths--the fibers of your story--and pull out those secret weapons throughout, so they can be well-developed. 
  2. Incorporate the hook through the dialogue. Make your characters uncomfortable. Readers love this kind of thing! Is your character hiding a secret past? Have another character almost stumble upon it. Use words with double meanings that might be misconstrued by your characters. Think of all the things that would make you uncomfortable if you were had a secret to hide, and then use those against your characters. You may feel cruel. It's okay. You're a writer.
  3. Incorporate the hook through descriptions. In my most recent WIP, I've really been working on this. The moral of my book is living a vibrant life, so I have been making a point to incorporate imagery of color throughout each chapter. You don't want to be too overt about using descriptions to convey your hook-- it's a delicate balance. However, so long as you are subtle about your imagery, you can create a story world that affects readers on a subconscious level and is very powerful because it allows every element of your story to line up: characters, plot, the moral premise, dialogue, and setting. Use each element carefully and purposefully. Find words that are not only precise, but also convey a sense of your theme and hook in the story.
In the end, think of your hook like your own personal secret weapon. You want to make the most out of it you can. Especially as you revise your novel (and as you write a pitch!), look for opportunities to hint toward that secret weapon all throughout your story, because it will ramp up tension and keep readers turning the pages (and editors alike)!

Can you think of examples of movies or books that know their secret weapon and use it well? What's the hook you are working in on your current WIP? How are you developing it throughout?


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, August 14, 2013

Six Vital Questions to ask your First Readers

You have a polished draft, and now it’s time to get feedback before submitting to agents or publishing houses.

Those friends and family members who’ve been bugging and bugging you? (When-can-we-read-your-book? Are you finished already?) – finally you have something to offer them, in the hope of garnering solid feedback you can use.

So you hand the manuscript over, ignoring the tumbling free-fall in your gut and the sense that you’ve just placed your newborn child tenderly in the middle of an expressway.

Photo by imagerymajestic,
Then you wait for the feedback.

When it comes, it sounds like this.

“Oh, I loved it. I loved it so much.”

“You are such a talented writer.”

“This was a great story. Really great. Wow – just wonderful.”

Flattering? Yes.

Affirming? Absolutely.


Not so much.

The problem here is that most people you ask for feedback (experienced critiquers aside)… well, they know you, and they love you.

They will be kind.

Maybe they did honestly enjoy the book. They may have sensed that some parts were a little “off”, or not quite there, but either they haven’t thought through their response deeply enough to analyze exactly what was lacking, or they simply feel it would be rude to point out any deficiencies.

Generalized praise may make you feel good, but what’s the point if it’s not even a truly accurate indication of what that person thought? Remember, the purpose of engaging a first reader is to make your book better, not to make you feel better. (Click to tweet.)

You must give your first readers permission to give honest feedback.

Image by David Castillo Dominici,
What’s more, you need to do this in a practical way. Don’t just say, “Oh, and please feel free to tell me what you REALLY think!” because the majority of people will be too polite to take you up on that. It’s like asking your best friend what she really thought of your 10-year-old daughter’s debut karaoke performance.

Yeah, it stank, but absolutely NO-ONE who loves you is going to tell you that.

The instinct to preserve the feelings of a friend runs very deep.

On the other side of the equation you have zealous Aunt Harriet, who is a whiz at spotting punctuation errors and spelling slips, and will tell you with relish that you used the wrong form of the word “you’re” on pages 39, 117, and 248.

All of which is well-intentioned, but equally unhelpful. There’s simply no use doing line edits with a fine-tooth comb if your plot is fundamentally flawed and a third of the book has to be rewritten from scratch.

To elicit the truly helpful responses, therefore, you must dig them out. Ask specific questions. This achieves three things:

      1.     It helps the reader focus on the big picture.
      2.     It helps him/ her be analytical about what worked and didn’t work, and why.
      3.     It gives him/her practical permission to give specific feedback.

What questions should you ask? Keep it short and simple.

Here’s some I’ve used.

1. Did the characters’ actions ring true? (Did you understand the motivations behind what they did?)
2. Which parts felt slow or lost your interest?
3. Were there any parts that didn’t make sense to you?
4. What are the strongest and weakest aspects of the book?
5. What (if anything) took you by surprise?
6. Did you find the ending satisfying?

Face-to-face questioning is confronting, and people will shirk from total honesty. A better approach would be to print out a one-page sheet with spaces after each question, and give it to the reader with your manuscript. Your readers will take this responsibility quite seriously. It’s validating for your first reader to know that you truly desire their thought-out opinion, not just a pat on the back and a bit of ego-stroking. 

By asking specific questions, you bypass the emotional pressure of thrusting your newborn manuscript into a friend’s arms and asking with breathless hope, “Do you love it as much as I do?”

Do your book a favor, and get some REAL feedback.

Have you ever done this? What questions would YOU ask?


Is your first reader telling the truth when she says she loves your book? Find out here. (Click to Tweet)

Six vital questions to ask your first readers: (Click to Tweet)

Do your book a favour, and get some REAL feedback. Here’s how: (Click to Tweet)

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after three small children, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.