Friday, January 31, 2014

The Balancing Act

One of the things I love most about the Writers Alley is that we are all doing this together. Published, pre-published, novice, seasoned, single, married… we all come from different places but we all share a common goal... or LOVE. Creating stories.

While we hope to inspire, encourage, and even teach on occasion, sometimes we just want to bond over what we share. Dreams. Struggles. Successes. Rejections.

Since the grind is so universal, it was my intention this week to come up with strategies for balancing the general craziness of life—whether yours includes any combination of marriage, parenting, dating, working, ministry, school, ect—AND finding time to not only WRITE, but build a platform, work your social media muscles, blog, edit, critique, and for the love of books… READ!

How do you do it all? Wear all of those hats and somehow managed to do even some of those things well? At some point we all get scattered. Too many pieces to juggle and eventually you will drop the ball. Maybe just one. Maybe the whole lot.

Where is that groove? That sweet spot? How will I know if I get there? And even I somehow manage to have a successful day spinning all those plates, how do I keep it up without burning out?

Man, I wish I had some magic formula! Some swear keeping a schedule is the best course. Even planning their day down to the hour. Social media for one hour in the morning. Check. Email correspondence from nine to eleven. Break for lunch. Noon to four, write your fingers to the nub. Check, check, check. Get the kids off the bus. Make dinner. Have some family time. Tuck in the little terrors. Compose a witty and brilliant blog post before it’s late. Write some more until your eyelids collapse. Check, check, check. Day over. Wake up. Rinse and repeat.

How many of you know it’s not always that simple. Schedules are great, but they meet an undeniable force that sadly holds no regard for your best intentions. Life. The unexpected. Change. Shifting the pieces to accommodate the puzzle you’ve constructed doesn’t always work.

Others claim you should wait for inspiration to strike. Then, you ride the wave, forsaking all else until it ebbs back out to sea. Not very predictable but full of passion and productivity for a time.

None of this to say that the writing life is a drag. It’s one of the most amazing things you can do with your mind. Create! What a gift!

But as I have been flailing the past few weeks, struggling to get my groove back (if indeed I’d ever had one) I realized there is no one size fits all. So instead of feeding you some bollocks about how you can be efficient and stress free like me (HA!) I thought I’d opt for a discussion.

Lets chat Alley Cats and Friends! What works for you? What tactics do you employ to help you stay afloat that actually work? What time management techniques have failed you miserably? What is your best advice for being a spouse, a parent, a friend, a co-worker, a crit partner, a minister, a constant student, AND a hopeless dreamer---AKA a writer? J

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little tow-headed mischief makers and wife to her very own swoon-worthy hero. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keep the Spark Alive: Staying Committed to Your WIP

All writers have been there.

The giddy, filled-with-butterflies moment that a brand new story idea comes to mind.

Just like a wonderful first date.

For days, you can think of nothing else. You get up in the middle of the night as a new plot twist comes to mind. You open the pantry door and wonder what kind of cookies your heroine likes.  You see the world through fresh eyes, through the lens of this new, beautiful story.

It's like a new relationship. You have all sorts of dreams for where it might lead. The adventures seem exhilarating, the excitement, overwhelming. Nothing can crush the seed of this beautiful new dream.

But like all strong seeds and new relationships, growth inevitably comes. And with it comes change.

The excitement dwindles.

The confidence fades.

The doubt sets in.

Suddenly, this dream seems hard. The once-vibrant characters may feel drab and dull. The plot may seem weak. The day after day fifteen-minutes-here, forty-five there writing time requires begins to seem more like homework than a glitzy, glittering dream.

And our relationship with writing becomes like that of two people in a long-term relationship who have given up on investing in each other.

So, what to do?

Find a way to keep the spark alive!

All married couples hit periods of rut. It just happens. One day, you wake up and realize you've been wearing your flannel pajamas for the past twelve nights, and you can't remember the last time you shaved your legs (hey, don't pretend that's never happened to you!). When we commit to something or someone for any period of time, we get in a routine. But sometimes it's good to shake things up!

That said, here are some ways to keep the spark alive and renew your interest in your work-in-progress:

  • Write in a different location. If you have money for a writer's retreat or even hotel/cabin for a couple nights, great! But if not, try going to a coffee shop for a few hours a week (or even a day, depending on your schedule). Spend $20 on some pretty new flowers, and write outside on your patio. You'll notice different details--like the song of the birds, or the pattern of the waves--when you change up your surroundings.
  • Read, read, read. Every time I read a book by Denise Hunter or Jenny B. Jones, I want to sit down with my own laptop and figure out how I can be a better writer. Learn from the best by listening to their stories. Other books will help open your mind to new, creative possibilities for your own. If you need a recommendation, try Rachel Hauck's The Wedding Dress
  • Set goals, and stay committed. You may get bored. You may be tired. You will want to eat more candy than you probably should. But stay committed to the goals you set. The only way to get through a rough patch is to keep on walking. If your first draft stinks, welcome to the world of every writer. Keep going until it gets better. It will. I promise. Sometimes you just have to stick with it.
  • Get involved with writing groups. Attend conferences if you can, but at the very least, find an online group where you can engage with other writers. There are so many opportunities available, from local writer's groups, to large organizations like ACFW. Find and join with other people who will cheer you on.
  • Write something unexpected. Let yourself think outside the box from time to time. Write scenes you may never publish. Consider an unexpected plot twist or locale. Write the first chapter of the story that follows this one. Even if no one ever sees these pages, they'll allow you to get your creativity flowing and will help you get to know the characters so much better.

Your turn! What do you do to keep the spark of interest in your story alive?


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, January 29, 2014

The Writer's Notebook

A few days ago I finished reading a book of interviews with writers. All of them are successful Australian authors who've written bestsellers, received critical recognition for their work, and in most cases, earn a comfortable living from their writing.

When you immerse yourself in the mind of writers for a solid 280 pages, patterns begin to emerge. In this case, the predominant pattern was not one I'd been expecting. It's a takeaway so simple that if I hadn't heard it repeated at least a dozen times by a dozen different authors, I probably would have just skimmed right past it.

Simple. Elemental. And yet, it's something I don't do.

Do you want to know the one thing that most of these authors have in common?

Well, let's use a process of elimination. It's NOT any of these things you may be thinking:

  • Their path to publication. Some had agents, some didn't. Some self-published first and were discovered through that avenue. Some wrote for years before breaking in; others wrote a couple of chapters and were contracted on that basis by the first publisher they submitted to (one at the age of fourteen!)

  • Their chosen genres, which were varied - from crime thrillers to literary works.

  • Their approach to research, which ranged from the extreme dedication of one author who learned French in order to be able to read primary sources for her novel set in France, to another author who said "the joy" of writing science fiction is that "you don't have to do any research."

  • The amount of words they write per day, or even the requirement of writing a certain amount of words in a day at all. (John Marsden, author of the multi-million bestselling "Tomorrow" series for young adults, surprisingly said of his writing time, "it may only happen twice a week or it may not happen at all some weeks.")

  • Their approach to platform and marketing, which varied from "out there" to "really not my thing - my publisher does it all."

  • Even their love for the craft. (One award-winning and prolific author cynically remarked, "I mean, there are important things that people can do in the world. Writing more novels in a world that doesn't need any more novels is not one of them.")

So what on earth could it be?

The answer surprised me.

The one thing most of these authors had in common is this: 

They use a notebook to record their observations of daily life.

Image by Stoonn,
So simple it's easily overlooked, and yet actually - the more you think about it - so fundamental.

We're not talking about a notebook where you jot ideas for your WIP - plot twists, character descriptions and the like. That probably comes more naturally to all of us, out of necessity. 

By comparison, the observation notebook seems almost... trivial. Non-essential. 

But when a dozen successful authors, interviewed independently of each other, all cite this one common habit as a foundational element of their work, it sure made me sit up and listen.

It also made me think. What's the big deal? Why is it so important? This is what I came up with. You could probably add more to this list.

4 Benefits of using an observation notebook:
  • It will breathe life into your characters. The personality quirks, physical appearance, facial expressions, modes of dress, habits and reactions you observe in the people around you are rich fodder. If you want to create characters who seem real, instead of cardboard cutouts, observe real people everywhere you go - and record those details.
  • It will enrich your settings. How often do you sketch a setting in a line or two, using the same stock-standard phrases - because you really can't visualize the setting with any certainty in your own head? Our memories are unreliable. We forget the pungent, particular details of the places we've been - unless we write them down.
  • It will keep your writing brain in gear. Many of us compartmentalize our writing and non-writing time. I know I do. But this makes it harder to switch gears when you do have time to write. The habit of keeping an observation notebook has the power to change your daily mindset, so that you approach the whole of life with the curiosity and keen observation of a writer. To use another metaphor, keep your writing brain simmering away with ideas instead of turning off the heat once your writing session is over - it'll be that much quicker to bring it back to a rolling boil when you next sit at your computer.
  • It's an endless source of ideas and inspiration. In an interview with novelist Louise Zaetta, she was asked whether she ever experiences writer's block. Her answer? "No, and I'll tell you why not. There's a beautiful way to avoid writer's block, and that is to have a notebook with you at all times where you endlessly record the things that happen in life. Out and about. Anywhere. At someone's place for dinner. I once interviewed Claire Astley, who said she does that. She has her little basket of bits of paper on the floor. Whenever she gets stuck she just pulls one out, and it may have something on it that she observed a year ago and she'll write about that. Somehow or other you can fit everything you have observed into your work. There's hardly anything you'll ever have observed that you can't use. So if you have a good notebook you should not have to suffer from writer's block, because you can just use something from there. Write that and it will lead you on to something else. It's a marvellous resource." (Literati: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame, 2005)

Image by greenphile,

I don't know about you... but I'm inspired.

I've used an observation notebook in the past, but only very sporadically, and never for long. It was a habit that didn't stick, because I never fully internalized the value of what I was doing, and therefore didn't prioritize it.

From now on I'm making a commitment to carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, and take a minute here and there throughout the day to jot down the rich and colorful details of daily life, which will otherwise be forgotten.

Who'll join me?


One surprisingly simple secret of many successful authors - it's probably not what you think! Tweet 

Many successful authors keep an observation notebook. Here's why you should, too: Tweet

Why a pocket-size notebook and pen could be the most powerful writing tool you use this year: Tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she juggles writing with being a SAHM to three small kids. She's had short stories published in two literary journals and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on her website, Twitter, and getting creative on her home-making blog, A house full of sunshine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rejection: Rooting Out the Lies and Replacing them with Truth

Gualberto107 from
My inspiration for this series is Charles Stanley's Emotions and a fabulous study of Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst, along with over 40,000 other women. Both of these resources have helped further cement the need for more of the "capital T" Truth in my life.
 Do you believe any lies in your writing life?

How do we inspect these lies and replace them with truth?

We need a thorough grounding in God's word  until the lies begin to lose their power.

Lysa TerKeurst says, "The more we operate in the truth of who we are and the reality that we were made for more, the closer to God we'll become."

You open up your inbox to find only deep disappointment. Perhaps (if you're lucky) its the "golden ticket" of rejection letters filled with helpful information to help grow your story. Maybe its a form letter. Or maybe you don't hear anything at all...and as the days, weeks, months go by...the kernel of hope inside you shrivels.

Perhaps for a moment, or a day or two...or maybe even forget about your True Source of Hope. You let the barrage of words drown out the One who is the Word whispering in your ear even in the midst of your doubts.

Have you bought into any of these lies?

Lie: I just wasted a whole bunch of time on this story, and its worthless.

TRUTH: Allen Arnold wrote a wonderful post for the Alley here about how writing is dancing with our father. It is never a waste.

Luke 19:11-27 the parable of the talents asks us what are we doing with the spiritual gifts he has given us. Even though writing isn't listed as a spiritual gift in the Bible it is a gift to be used for his purpose in the body. It would be wasteful not to be writing. God has put this desire in you.

Lie: Maybe I'm not meant to write.

TRUTH: Ashley posted this quote on facebook just today and it is worth repeating.

"The things you are PASSIONATE about are not random, they are your CALLING." -Fabienne Fredrickson

Do you love to write? There's your answer. I don't think you would be here if you didn't.

Lie: My writing isn't going anywhere. Its not influencing anyone.

TRUTH: Even if you think your writing has not affected anyone else, it has probably changed your own heart in ways you haven't even realized. God uses our ministry as a gift to minister to us what we most need: conviction, encouragement, sharpening, a sense of His love and hope.

Perhaps your writing is not meant to change and move the masses...right now. Perhaps not ever. Are you OK with that thought? God wants you to continue on with him as your guide. If he is calling you to write all you will gain on the journey will be well-worth it no matter what the outcome. Because you will grow closer to your Heavenly Father in the process.

Lie: Justifying the criticism in the rejection

TRUTH: We need to accept the areas where we need growth, even when it hurts. Almost all criticism has a valid component, so take from it the stone of wisdom to put in your pocket.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. -Philippians 3:12

This is one of my favorite Bible verses because it encourages me to press on in all that I do. Not because God needs our writing or anything else we can give. But because I want to be my best for him in all I do so it will be a witness to others of the hope that is within me.

Your acceptance of criticism and responding with a note of appreciation will help you grow. We need to surrender the areas of our writing that need growth instead of being prideful of what we have obtained so far and allowing ourselves to stagnate.

Take each comment and turn it into a practical application.

For instance, I need to grow in my grammar. I will study a high school grammar textbook weekly and apply what I've learned about sentence structure and punctuation.

Positive action steps might include: attending a conference, seeking out someone who is better than me in a particular area of writing (and isn't mentoring a benefit for all areas of life as well?) and humbling myself to ask for their help, reading a book on writing, or even putting aside the money for professional advice.

Lie: My worth lies in what someone else thinks.

TRUTH: People pleasing is a lie that can saturate us in many areas of our life. Because we have not let the truth infiltrate and overflow that God has made us for His own pleasure. We hear so much about the audience of One, but are we really only singing for him? Are we allowing his whispers to drown out in the possibility of other's applause?

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

If God is for you, how does that speak into all these lies?

If God loves you with a love that is shouted out through nature's beauty and whispered in our moments of despair, how can we allow any room for these tiny thorns of lies that spring up in our minds and hearts?

Are there any lies of rejection you've heard whispered from the enemy, in your writing life or any other aspect of life? Share any that I missed.

Do you have favorite scripture you meditate on to speak truth into your writing life?

Julia writes contemporary fiction to mirror truth. A former assistant librarian, she now channels her card cataloguing skills into homeschooling her elementary aged littles and writing for Library Journal. She has reviewed for a variety of websites for several years.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Why IS the Heart of Your Story

So it's pretty basic. We've learned it since primary school...the 5 W's...the what, the when, the who, the where, the why (Okay, I wanted to ignore the how, because really, isn't that what we're doing now?) As authors, a few of these basics become a little more complex than a simple one word answer.
On by Stuart Miles

When you start a new story, usually the when and where are pretty quickly established. The what is a lengthy answer...but we're all trained to sum it up to a two page summary, a one page synopsis, a blurb, a promo sentence...a tagline. It's “what” it's about.

But the why? It's so much more than a simply-put answer. The why is something that I want to look at today, because it is essential to a story's believability, credibility, impression, expression... hmmm. It's answer(s), in my opinion, is the very essence of a good story.

Today, I will use the story that's near and dear to whose “whys” took many many tries to answer. It is my third novel, Her Cotton Heart:

The 5 W's 

When: The beginning of World War II on the home front.
Why? Ugh, already? We have to answer that one already? need to know why at ever step of the way! And I chose this era because my original inspiration is from my husband's grandmother...and this is the time period when she would have fallen in love (and I write historical romance, duh.) :)

Where: This is so fun for me...I love place. There are lots of places out there that I'd like to discover on a fiction level...but for this particular story, I chose rural Northeast Texas just bouncing back from the Great Depression. Why? I was inspired by my husband's family's century old cotton farm (different side than the above-mentioned grandmother).

What: Well this takes a little more thought... a little more planning...or shall we say, plotting? The plot is the what. Sometimes the what is what drives you to write the story in the first place. That's partly the case with this story of my heart. I wanted to write a sweet love story. I wanted to write a character- driven story. Really, the what becomes a second-level type I said before, this might be summed up in a pitch, or a promo sentence. And if you are anything like me, the what might take a while to form, perhaps it takes a whole draft or two to really know what your story is.

My What: A cotton farmer's daughter discovers her true identity when forbidden love unearths family secrets. 
 Why? Wait for it....

Who: Well, a cotton farmer's daughter...a farrier's son...and a whole slew of broken family members and distraught best friends. ;) And really, in my story, the why of the who is VERY important because it is character-driven. And perhaps, all my focus on the who (not the band), is what made me realize how important the why really is. Wait for it...
On by David Castillo Dominici

So we have the what, the when, the where, the who, with a sprinkle of why...but not the kind of why that's the Why—the big giant scalpel cutting through all the layers to really get to the core of every element of the story...the what, the when, the where, the character, the scene, the conflict, the name it, you've got to dig into each with this tool in's the WHY. And just like the what, the first broad sense of Why drove me to write my story...

Why write it? To show Grace vs. Legalism. Simple? Eh. How many stories out there can use this answer to my why? This is good to know, good to show, but why cuts so much deeper in so much more than a birds-eye view of the story.
The answers to why should run through your story like blood in the veins. Every part of your story should seep with the answers to why.

 Not just: Why is it when it is? Why is it where it is? Why is it what it is? Why'd you write it? Why is it storming at this moment in the story? Why is Gwyn the fifth child? Why is her sister mean? Why is her father hateful? Why does Will love her? Why does Lyddie take risks? Why did she hold her books just so? Why did she look to the horizon? Why, why, why?

Why did I WRITE THAT? Ever felt like you wrote a line because it sounded good, and then you realize it answers a major why? Sometimes you don't even realize the why is needed until an a-ha moment comes out of your character that had been a part of him in the first place. This next passage from my story kind of wrote itself but gave me the answer to a major why:

“I don't understand it all.” He nodded his head toward the dingy window, which no doubt hid Mr. Stanford in all his hatred, and then turned to Gwyn. “Do you?” Gwyn's lip trembled and her brows knitted together. 
Consideration shimmered in her ice blue eyes just before she squeezed them shut and slightly shook her head.
She doesn't understand it, either. She's not like a Stanford at all. 
Will swallowed back a smile and the pride that swelled from deep in his heart. Over eight years, he'd been right to think that Gwyn was different than her family. 

 Before I wrote this, I figured Will just saw Gwyn as a victim, a beautiful one, and wanted to rescue her. But when I started asking why, I discovered a whole layer of Will's backstory and perspective that would have remained hidden without the why. Why has he been attracted to Gwyn these years?Because he felt a connection with her. She didn't buy into the feud, either. She was the one way he could cross the forbidden line drawn between their families and find acceptance on the other side.

Why is essential in every aspect of your story. Why is a critical thinking element that gives depth, width, height to the “what” you are trying to accomplish. When you have your reason behind each element, then you have purposeful, meaningful, writing that might just pour the heart of your story into the heart of the reader.

And when they understand the answers to all the whys along the way, the what that you write, might change a life or two...on purpose.

What's your big why? Have you stumbled across another answer to why in your story lately?


Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous, mothering days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across historical cultures and social boundaries. Angie is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What's Up the Street Next Week?
Winter weather is sweeping through the nation once again this week, but we're sure to keep you nice and toasty at the Alley. From what the forecast says - it's going to be 70 degrees with a slight easterly breeze blowing across the lake which laps almost to our Alley. There's a brick walk running the length of the sandy beach at the edge of the lake and winding its way along the street to create a scenic pathway toward the distant hillside. The air holds the faintest blend of sugar and citrus from the daphnes growing along the rock wall separating the beach from the Alley, and of course, we have rocking chairs waiting for you to relax and enjoy the view.

So close your eyes, picture the moment, and let the snow and cold wait outside your imagination for a little while :-)

On Monday - Angie has something for us to start off the writer's week.

Tuesday - Julia continues her series about Dealing with Emotions in the Writing Life

Wednesday - Karen is talking about The Writer's Notebook.

Thursday - Ashley joins us to talk about Keeping the Magic Alive in your writing.

Friday - Bring your best circus skill, Amy's talking about the balancing act of life and writing.

Don't forget to enjoy your snow-free day here at The Alley and tell us what you're sipping as you sit by the lake.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Chocolate Cafe with Myra Johnson

This wonderful author's newest series has some of the loveliest book covers. They certainly match her personality as well. Lovely. Myra Johnson is another Seeker-extraordinaire. She is known for her contemporary Heartsong Presents novels and added her first historical series, Till We Meet Again,  from Abingdon Press in 2013.

We are pleased to have her with us today.

So Myra, if you could pick a memorable character to chat about, who would it be...and why?

The character I've chosen is Mary McClarney, the heroine of my Spring 2014 release, Whisper Goodbye (Till We Meet Again, Book 2). I love this character because she is spunky and independent yet sweetly vulnerable and loyal to a fault. Of Irish descent, Mary is a competent and caring army nurse who is passionately in love with a wounded veteran of the Great War. Though her sweetheart is deeply troubled, Mary refuses to give up on him until she's convinced there's no more hope. Of course, every romance must have a happy ending, and Mary won't be disappointed!

There is something to be said for a faithful character. I can't wait to meet her, Myra, and to see how you bring about her happily-ever-after.

Writers - how do you show a character to be faithful?

Readers- what is one character you've read lately who would be described as 'faithful'?

"Where the battle rages, there is where the loyalty of a soldier is proved." - Martin Luther

Friday, January 24, 2014

HUNTING for Your Agent~ A Guest Post with Jaime Wright

Photo credit
Acquiring an agent is like hunting. Minus the weapon—unless you consider your manuscript a weapon, but then slamming an agent upside the head probably won’t make the best first impression, however lasting it might be. No. I’ve learned a lot this past year as my husband took it upon himself to teach me how to bow hunt. Enter Katniss, Hunger Games, and all those wise cracks—I’m used to it—but I’m not shooting people. FYI.

Hunting is an art. Learning wind direction so a deer can’t smell your apparently crazy repugnant scent. Showering in scentless soap, using scentless deodorant, wearing clothes left hanging outside so you smell like the wind (yeah that’s warm clothing to crawl into, I’m tellin’ ya), and so on and so forth. Whether you like hunting, think it’s inhumane, or are just plain not interested, if you’re looking for an agent…we learn to hunt.

I’ve been writing since I was 13. That a mere 10 years ago. (That’s a lie, but I’m allowed one for 2014 so I’ve been told and I just used it up). Now that I’m 23 (wink), it’s been an awfully long journey. If you’re a regular agent-hunter, you’ll already know you need to study what you’re going for. The agency—its credibility, the agent—their clientele, the published books they rep—prolific and widespread or obscure paperbacks. Once you pick your favorite, you print out their picture and hang it on your fridge, stare at it every day until it fades after years of staring back and your quest to find that perfect agent becomes a hobby with slim rewards. But as every good hunter knows … you Never. Give. Up.

After—ok, let’s be real—24 years of writing, looking, learning, going to conferences, a few pathetic excuses for queries, I was ready to pitch the crazies at ACFW 2013. And I did. I landed 4 pitch sessions. I mailed in my full manuscript to two of them, and a proposal to the others. Within a week, my email blinked. And I quote:
  • “Your hero is incredible awkward” (well, I wrote him to be that way, but—whatever)
  • “Your heroine is boring” (also wrote her to be a bit dull and plain—success?)
  • “You’re not ready for the big time”
…and wait for it …
  • “But keep it up, you have potential”
Joyful. I have potential. With a capital P. Yeah. *Jaime bangs head against wall

My crit partner told me not to let it drag me down. It did. For five minutes. But, I’m like that. I poured myself a cup of coffee and then took a scentless shower and went hunting. For real.

Can I give you some sage advice? When you finally get THE email—you know, the one that says “I loved your story! I’d like to talk to you about representation”—don’t be deer hunting, twenty feet off the ground, in 20F weather, with a face mask on and the inability to scream let alone make a peep. Especially, when your insanely die hard, hottie, bow-hunting husband is not too far away and will probably shoot his arrow in your direction to get you to be quiet.

Yes. It happened. To me. The email from my agent, Mary Keeley, of Books and Such Literary Agency, blinked across my smart phone while I was perched in a tree. The only thing I could do was feverishly text my husband “I GOT AN AGENT” (well not quite, but it was coming), then hop on FB Messenger and tell one my besties to scream for me since I couldn’t. Which she did, and scared the diaper off her baby girl. And my husband’s delightful response via text? “Cool.” He’s not prolific—which is why he married me.

The grand point in all of this…don’t discount what God can do. In the end, I hunted, I planned, I coerced, I planned, and I targeted the agent who deemed my hero incredibly awkward. But my agent? Our Spiritual connection is out of this world. God aligned it for us to meet…why?...outside of another three blogs worth of “happenstance”, her son had just texted a picture of him, you guessed it, bow hunting. Now THAT is not a coincidence. God will bring you, in HIS time, to the agent HE has meant you for. In the meantime, don’t just “keep it up” as if you have somewhere you’re supposed to be. KNOW that you ARE where you are supposed to be as you seek His will and His perfect timing.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Castle Time -- HOOKS!!

Oldie Pic for an Oldie Post!
Doing a repost for a few years ago.... but considering Castle is back on this month with all new episodes, I thought this super appropriate!

The only difference is---I'm more likely to catch Sherrinda on Facebook lately, vs. Twitter! (am I the only one using Twitter less?? Hmmm, maybe that's a topic for another post!)


I love watching Sherrinda's tweets on Monday night between (central time) 9 and 10.

Even if I'm not able to be watching Castle (perish the thought!) I can always feel the tension from her tweets.

Usually it's something like, "HOLY COW!! _________________ just happened! AHHHH!!!"

And it's usually during a commercial break.

I can just picture spunky Miss Sherrinda. jumping up and down on her couch, yelling at the TV, "HURRY UP, stupid commercial, who needs Covergirl Makeup or insurance or a dumb car at a time like this?"

Because there is something Castle always does an amazing job at.

It HOOKS you.

It makes you hate commercial breaks... And at the end of seasons... when the main character gets shot (seemingly) dead... (Or engaged to... or almost broken up...)

That's what we want for our books too.

We want to grab the reader's attention and make them hurry through potty breaks, eat with a book in their hand, and read until their eye's cross at 2 in the morning when they have to be up for work at 5.

When they get to the chapter end, you want to entice them to read "just one more chapter."

But how do we do that?

A few ideas:

Leave the reader on an inhale. I think about this every time I end a chapter. My goal is for the reader to take a sharp inhale of breath when they read the last sentence. Don't explain a thing. You build, build, build through the chapter, then KABLAM something happens and end of chapter.

Leave the reader with emotion. Leave the reader crying, or jumping for joy, or scared. We don't like to have unfulfilled emotions.

Leave the reader with a sense of foreboding. Even a subtle illusion to "something might be coming" is enough to perk the reader's interest enough to turn the page to see what that something might be.

Really, it boils down to one thing:

Leave the reader wanting more.

This applies not only to chapter ending hooks, but to our novel as a whole. Until the end, when we reach our satisfying conclusion, our readers should always be wanting more of our characters, more of the story.

Discussion: What are some methods you use to end your chapters? Some recommend to automatically chop the last paragraph off of your chapter ending... agree or disagree? Any examples of good chapter-ending hooks that you've read lately?

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance . She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at She is represented by the fab agent, Rachelle Gardner.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Defibrillate Your Story

Photo Courtesy

I had quite a different post nearly done for today. 

I must admit; I almost fell asleep proofreading it. 


Then the moment came. You know how this feels. You're struggling with what to write. The blank scene sits there doing absolutely nothing to help. You walk to the kitchen for chocolate and then a When-what-to-my-wondering-eyes-do-appear moment jars your mind. You run--don't walk--back to your computer leaping over the kids, sidestepping the dirty laundry while changing into your super writer cape. Your fingers can't keep up with the thoughts. YES, yes. You type faster and nod your head. This is happening at this very moment. 

1. My husband called this morning. "I'm on my way home from work, but will be late."  Good that he called, but not out of the ordinary. He typically is late due to his job.

2. "The roads are icy, so this call will be brief."  He was cautious. Good man.

3. "There is a car in the median. The guy isn't hurt, though. He's standing outside his car yelling." Hubby must be driving on the expressway. The man he sees must be in the median on some soft, grassy section. Maybe buried in snow. Will need a tow truck and will be late for work. Poor guy.

4. "I'm still in the city." Changed the picture in my mind to the fifth lane in the middle. Maybe the car is facing the wrong direction. Maybe he ran over debris and has a flat tire. He'll be late for work. Poor guy.

5. "It's really icy here. I'm still near the center of town where the big statue is. That car is at least three feet off the ground. Probably totaled." Wait! This was not the picture I expected. 

Needless to say we hung up and agreed to talk once he arrived home.  While he drove, I ran to my computer and wrote this post.

Not all of us write suspense or adventure stories. However every story needs a climax, dark moments, and etc. I am not going to talk about these. I wanted to clarify this before your mind took you there.

Instead, I want to talk about one unique--eye popping scene in your story, nestled safely, serenely, and  securely in the middle of your manuscript. This is a moment when caffeine hits the words.

Events in the plot have move forward. They've become predictable ONLY because you've done a great job helping the reader get to know the characters, their issues, their journey, et al.  This is the moment for a jolt. Infuse this section of your story with an energy juice so strong it catches the reader off guard and propels her through the remaining pages long into the night.

Strangely enough two real-life jolt incidents recently happened and were mentioned by my friends on FB.

** A friend sat at a Starbucks sipping her hot beverage. She and her date chose a romantic table, one of those raised ones near the window. So engaged in a delicious conversation they reached across the table and held hands. Seconds later the glass behind her shattered. She leaped from her chair and witnessed a car now smashed into the building--inches from her seat. No one was harmed other than the car and the building. JOLT Now there was a romantic coffee shop trip to remember.

** A friend and her family slept soundly through the early night hours. A loud thump woke her from her sleep. She got up and walked through the house searching for the source of the noise. Everything looked normal until she opened the door to the garage. The neighbor had driven his car through the side of her garage and hit her car. No one was harmed. JOLT I doubt she went back to sleep.

These true life situations remind me of the Liberty Life commercials, a great place from which to spin ideas. The motto for these commercials is: Humans, even when we dot our i's and cross our t's we still run into other problems--namely other humans.

Directions for defibrillating your story:
1.  Look at the middle of your book. Find a place to insert one scene.
2.  Consider one event that could jolt the scene (idea: recall the Indiana Jones' conflict when he had to find a way across the cavern to reach the Holy Grail-and had to use the step of faith).
3.  Insert scene like a Liberty Life commercial.
4.  Return reader to your regularly scheduled story.

Your turn: Ponder a place in your story where you can insert a scene. Consider what plausible crazy can happen to jolt your characters, yet enable them to return to the story. 

1. Is this something you can add to your story?
2. Would you like to discuss your thoughts? We here on the Writers Alley are listening and can help.


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, is honing marketing and writing skills, 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