Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting To Know Your Character: Dead Ends and Giveaway!

Two weeks ago, I challenged some of you to get to know your character deeper. To slip into their skin for some time over these past days, and let us know what you discovered. For my WIP, I chose to check out the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to truly understand the religious perspective of my heroine, an English Protestant in the Protestant Reformation. Here's what I discovered:

It's a lot more complicated than I thought!! The language is difficult and the lines of doctrine are fuzzy to a modern day Protestant. I had taken an avenue to discover something that would not be found in a simple read-thru. BUT, all hope was not lost.
by Ohmmy3d on

Even dead-ends are steps in the right direction! 

Yes, even when you get absolutely nothing (so it seems) out of delving into something the character would surely understand/identify are learning something about them indirectly. I learned that a surface exploration of my character's religious life would not suffice. I had to dig my way out of the dead end and find more about the religious climate of the time...the influences that shaped young Protestant minds like my character. I am still in the process of understanding, but I feel like I am taking that next step in growing a fictional friendship with my heroine, and that's one step closer to understanding who she really is!

Now, it's your turn. 

What have you discovered about your character through walking in their shoes? Would you care to share some writing fresh from the discovery? Check out my last post from last time if you haven't yet. Maybe you'll find some ideas for your own characters.

I can't wait to hear from Ron, Jeanne, and Esther who took the challenge and are in a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card!!

Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous 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 cultures. She is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. Check out Angie's personal blog at

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Alley Weekend Round Up

Alley Cat Round Up

Monday - Angie has been hanging out with Ashley, so there's no telling what fun she will bring on Monday!
Tuesday - Julia is bringing an incredible post to you entitled When Writing Looks Different: Navigating a New Season in Your Writing Life.
Wednesday - Edie Melson is our guest, bringing you more great tips!
Thursday - After having fun with Angie, Ashley will be sure to supply you with a great post!
Friday - Even while juggling life with three kiddos, Amy is able to surprise us with her mysterious flare.

The Awesome Link Round Up

This Is Your Brain On Writing (The New York Times)

Fiction at ICRS: Awards to Celebrate While Publishers Trim Efforts (Publishers Weekly)

3 Myths That Hold Back Your Best Writing (Positive Writer)

Can You Judge A Book By It's Author's Photo? (The Slate)

How Successful Writers Curate Ideas (Copyblogger)

The One thing You MUST Be Confident About (Your Writing)  (Positive Writer)

The 8 Types of Images That Increase the Psychological Impact of Your Content (Copyblogger)

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Friday, June 27, 2014

What/Who Do You Write For?

Photo Credit
Better to write for yourself and have no public, then to write for the public and have no self. –Cyril Connolly

Why do you write stories? Do you write because you want to be published, so you write directly what the market is currently publishing? Or do you write because you love the art of crafting good stories? The exploration of character growth and the telling of the story that God has laid on your heart?

If you’re writing for the market, the market is always changing—like trying to hit a moving target when you still don’t know how to fire the arrow from the bow. What is being published and popular now was purchased by editors over a year ago and the change is already hitting for the next new and great thing.
There is always a time and place to write for the market, especially for the established author when your editor chases you down to write the next first release of a brand new line.

But new writers always seem to walk a fine line. Between writing what they want to write and writing what everyone seems to be publishing. It’s a recipe for a hair-pulling disaster. It draws me back to the quote at the top of the post and the question it prompts: would you rather write for the public or write for yourself?
There is a similar quote I have run across (and forgive the paraphrase): set yourself on fire and people will come from all over to see the flame. People want to see passion and excitement. They want to see joy rising from God’s people and taking off through the stories they are writing.

Publishing is always changing. One thing never does: great stories. Strong writing. A voice that sweeps readers away, so no matter the genre the reader is falling in love with the story. I was talking to a friend recently who had picked up a book in a genre he wouldn’t normally consider and stayed up until one in the morning to finish it.

What is that?

That’s not market writing.

That’s not writing for the sake of having a book that will sell to the publisher and sell to a reader.

That is passion on fire through story. That is great writing that hooked a reader and kept him coming back long after the acceptable expectation of turning off the light and setting the story aside.

It’s not a matter of writing what the market wants. It’s a matter of writing what is on fire in our souls to put on paper. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to publish that book or even get it in front of an editor. It might take years to find the right one and the right time. But we aren’t writing for the public or writing just for the sake of seeing our name on the cover of a book.

We are—and should—be writing for the sake of a story burning in our soul that must be told. The right publisher will come along in it’s own timing. It’s our responsibility in the meantime to perfect our craft and make this the best book we could write.

Our public will find this story soon enough and maybe, just maybe, you’ll change the world—or at least how one person in this world views everything here after.

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, June 26, 2014

5 GREAT reasons to self-publish (plus... my own!)

We've already gone over a few not-so-brilliant reasons to choose self-publishing (not in and of themselves, anyway.)

So I thought I'd give some GREAT reasons to self-publish.

1.) FUN! This is quite a bit different than the "Just because..." reason on the not-so-brilliant reason. Maybe you just love to write, but publishing? Eh, that'd be cool, but really isn't a huge-huge goal of yours. Just icing on the cake. And it'd be fun to see your book on Amazon. You can epub a book pretty cheap these days. If the process sounds fun to you, you aren't in it for ( and don't really want) to make much of any money, just want to cross it off your bucket list, then ya know? More power to you! Don't stress, just have fun and enjoy it.

2.) FAMILY! Have a great memoir that you want your kids and grand kids to have to remember your legacy? Self-publishing is a GREAT option. Sure, you could print off that word document, but having it book bound and available to family and friends is pretty cool. EVERYONE has a story, and self-publishing is a great way to share it with the ones you love.

3.) FINANCIALLY-SOUND-CAREER MOVE for the traditionally published. I've seen more than one article out lately quoting statistics that state the hybrid author, one who self-pubs on top of traditionally publishing, is the one making the most money these days. This is the current state that I'm in right now... but I'll share more about MY story at the end.

4.) FISH ARE BITING but not getting hooked. You're a great writer. You might even have a great agent. Your book is excellent, and you've been to pub board a few times. But something about your book is not pushing you over the edge. Maybe it's a niche market that a publisher is nervous about taking the risk on. Maybe you write just a little edgier than some CBA publishers are willing to tackle. (I'm seeing that as less of an excuse these days, though.) This might be a good book to self-publish then.

5.) FAN-BASE: ACQUIRED! Do you already have a great platform as well as a great book? Do you love marketing? Does selling your books make you giddy with excitement? Do you have lots of technological talent? Do you have funds to invest into things like professional editing/cover design? Do you have time to devote to learning? Then you might totally want to go this whole publishing thing alone! GO FOR IT!


I always said I'd never self-publish.

- It didn't sound like fun.
- My story was not for my family (my family, for the most part, aren't really romance novel readers)
- I fished enough as a kid to know that when you get nibbles... if you're patient enough... the bite will come at some point.
- And I definitely don't have all the qualifications of #5!

My first novel was released in 2012. I was SO excited!

But what some know (but others might not know) is that during the previous 2 years, my life had been a big huge chaotic mess. I gave birth to daughter #4 in 2010. She was born with a severe heart defect and spent TEN months in the hospital, then was in and out of the hospital for the next year. During that time, I signed with an agent, contracted my first book, and then the next year, I released it.

I also had to let go of my day job as my daughter required full-time intensive care at home. She was on a feeding tube/oxygen and needed an unreal amount of therapy. She also came home on TWENTY different medications.

It wasn't an easy time. I struggled through the editing and marketing process of releasing that first book, as I was also struggling with trying to figure out how to be a nurse to my daughter, worrying about how to pay bills without a job (my husband had always been a stay-at-home-dad, but Annabelle's needs were beyond his ability.) And honestly? I deal with a lot of post-stress depression that I'm only recently "waking up" from.

Writing new stuff... well, I tried. I'd go in little spurts, but it was a struggle, both time wise and emotional wise.

So last year, things were starting to calm down a little. The biggest change is that my fuzzy, traumatized heart was beginning to mend.

I took a look at my writing career and was sad. That first book hadn't done as well as I'd wanted. And it was no wonder. It had a struggling author supporting it, and no follow-up books to help back-sell it either.

What was an author to do? I mean, the book hadn't been a total flop. People were asking when the next book was going to come out. Even if I did have something ready (and I almost did) it'd probably be a year to two years, even if I did immediately publish it.

So I talked to my agent at the time about the idea of self-pubbing a book, maybe a novella, to fill in the gap. She gave the idea a thumbs up, and even suggested I do more than one.

The more I prayed about it, the more excited and "right" it felt. So I started on the journey, doing researching and writing.

I'm almost there. I don't have an exact release date, but I hope to firm it up in the next week or two.

A Side of Faith will be the first book, a novella sequel to the first, Sandwich, With a Side of Romance.

The two that will follow will be A Side of Hope  and A Side of Love.

So, this was MY reasoning. A business move, and a way to bring books to my readers while I work on finishing my next full-length and attempting to start the process of pitching.

What about you? Have you ever thought about self-publishing? Are you approaching it as a business decision or a i-don't-know-what-else-to-do option?

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Proving You Really Have The Answer

Photo Courtesy

Too often we allow ourselves to be weighed down from reading comments, writing technique books, classes, blogs, and our own critical eye.

In the middle of rifling words onto a screen, this question sneaks into our heads: Will our manuscript e-ver be good enough for publication? Then POP, our enthusiasm and energy is zapped.

We here on the Alley are your cheerleaders!!! 

Let's get started.

Dear Jesus, I pray for all who are reading this post. May they sense the thrill in Your very being to help them write the story they are working through. Your word says You joy over us with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17). Each one of us. Individually. Drive away the doubts. Strengthen us as we endeavor to serve You. Amen

Since God has given us the desire to write, it is our duty to stand up to doubts seeping into our words and allow our strengths to show. Imitating others is an easy fall back. We like what other authors write then copy their style. Unfortunately we become expert imitators of another person's writing instead of the unique writers we are meant to be.

Some reasons our work doesn't glitter are: 
* We haven't taken enough time to learn the craft
* We didn't write
* We didn't edit
* We didn't write from our soul
* We're afraid readers won't like our story

A contest judge once told a contestant, "It is always better to be more conservative than to add words to impress. In this one section your voice sounded very natural. You bit off a little too much in this other section. Sometimes when you add a lot of extras, it's like unnecessary risks. Famous authors seem to do a lot of things, but they know when to wrangle it in. It is our job to wrangle in what we can do and make it tasteful. Get comfortable with your words, your story. Practice every day. And not just for a few minutes. Strive to become an expert." 

The answer is in you. Deep down you know what your manuscript needs for publication. (see the glitter reasons above)

All around us, we see and witness the answers to our writing. God sends the smells, conversations, what makes people laugh/cry, strife, settings, themes, what triggers a gasp, furry, song, silence. God has given us a whole world of answers from the micro to the macro. The variables are endless. All we have to do is write what we know.

Perhaps we have a fear readers will feel disconnected or hate our story because a necessary scene or character didn't agree with her values. Stand strong if the scene is truly needed to move the story forward. Confidence alongside discretion is needed in every word of our manuscript. 

Breathe when doubts pull you from your work.
Pray daily for God's blessings and direction for your words.

Strength is crucial and control needs to come effortlessly. I think of Francine Rivers who has drawn many to Christ through her books. Her stories are saturated with reality not theatrics. She never holds back and never takes advantage of an opportunity by including something that should not be in a scene. Her stories are true and powerful, personal, and glorifying to God, drawing His children to a closer walk with Him.

Someday when I grow up, I want to write with the same truth and power. I don't want to imitate Francine, but I want to develop into a writer who can impact many for Christ as she does.

When we write with a heart that is in sync with God and have studied the craft, we will find the answers needed to perfect our manuscript for the intended audience. 

The answers are found on the way to publication, through the stumbles, the friends we meet, and the scenic routes God leads us. Go and write for Christ.

So, how can we pray for you?
Do you have a writing question that is bugging you? We can help.
Do you have good news to share. Let us cheer for you!

Let us know in the comment section. Or simply say hi! We love to chat.


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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's Your Writing Motivation? Deep Question Recap

I was having a discussion with a friend recently and we were talking about the journey toward publication.

Publication comes in many forms, you know – but the most common is the long road (not the short cut).

My kids and I have been watching BBC’s Merlin series (we’re BIG BBC fans around here). Whether you like magic and King Arthur lore or not, there’s a lesson to be learned in this series (as in most stories):

Weak motivation leads to an incomplete (and two-dimensional) journey.

In the Merlin series, Merlin is a young man who is destined to protect Prince Author so that he can become the ‘one true king’ of Camelot. What are Merlin's obstacles?

1. The present King kills anyone who has magic, so Merlin has to keep his magic a secret

2. Arthur’s half-sister Morgana wants Arthur dead (but only Merlin knows this and has to keep it a secret.

3. Many other people want Arthur dead (and a few want Merlin dead)

4. Merlin is mistreated because he’s a servant in the king’s house.

Now, it would be understandable if Merlin just gave up. If he said, “Nope, I’m not doing this, Prince Arthur. You make me muck out your horse’s stables, clean your filthy boots, and use me for target practice. Besides the fact that I’m almost killed 3 times a day, am separated from my mother, and I’ve had to save your life more times than I can count without you knowing that I’m the one who saved you, you're not very nice to me. I'm just fed up with it. It's too much.”

But Merlin won’t do that.


Merlin knows his goal - his motivation:
Prepare and protect Arthur for that day.

What am I trying to say in all this?

Publication is third to Calling & Story.

He has a deeper motivation pushing him beyond his frustrations. A more just and glorious Camelot for all. A place of peace - where people are respected and the kindgom shines like a beacon to other kindgoms because of the future King Aruthur.
If your only goal is publication, without the backbone of something greater binding you to your journey, then when the conflict, harsh critiques, massive edits, and daunting deadlines confront you like an army for battle, it will be easy to lose your way, crumble under the weight, or give up.

There has to be something deeper to your writing. Something stronger that holds you to your task.

These two things are:

The Calling – Loving to write is one of the strongest and most enduring weapons in a writer’s perseverance arsenal. Just finding joy in the process of creating and growing through writing. If it is deepset within you – no amount of struggles will dissuade the love. You might have to take a break for a while due to various circumstances, but the thread of creativity lingers. Calls. Waits in the wings of your quiet moments and whispers another story to you.

The Story – As Christians, our hope should be to write a meaningful story. It can be lighthearted, serious, suspenseful, fantastical, or whatever else, but one of our goals should be to make it ‘sing’. That’s why writing is such a tough job…rewarding, amazing, but TOUGH. To write a memorable story, it takes work – but if God has ‘called’ us to write, He will also equip us with the ability (or at least the resources) to build a story worth telling. He creates the stories first and then passes them on to us.

So – what is your motivation for writing?
Is it just to achieve publication or is there are deeper call within your heart?

Have you ever had to take a break from writing because ‘life happened’? How do you deal with those moments and still get back on the writing journey?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Novel Proposal Writing Tips from Chip MacGregor Part 2
If you had an opportunity to read my last post, we talked about Novel Proposal Writing basics - part 1.

Using Chip MacGregor's helpful tips, we covered the purpose of the proposal, hook, overview, and synopsis. Today we're going to discuss the latter section of the proposal that not only lets the proposal readers know about your story, but about YOU. :-)

1.  Genre - where does your book fit. Historical Romance? Contemporary or Southern Romance? Speculative Fiction? Young Adult Historical?

2. Audience: who might be interested in reading your book. For example, Demographics (your people group) and Psychographics (what makes it interesting).
Here are a few examples from one of mine.

If a reader wants to laugh at the plights of loveable characters and enjoy a wonderful clash of cultures, A Twist of Faith is a book for them. The Mitchell’s Crossroads series confirms Pepper’s tagline- Blue Ridge romance peppered with grace and humor. Its light-hearted feel with deep spiritual elements blends romantic tension, humor, and redemption in a tight braid of a heartwarming story. Expanding upon the unique and quirky Appalachian setting, this series showcases clashing cultures and gives a southern accent to classic tales.

Characteristics of the audience:

  • female fiction readers from their 20’s to their 40’s (I’ve even had readers in their 50s and 60s enjoy this)
  • buyers of fiction by Jenny B. Jones, Tamara Leigh, Janice Hanna Thompson, Laura Jensen Walker, Sandie Bricker, Denise Hunter, and Rachel Hauck.
  • readers of historical romance, particularly medieval periods due to the historical subplot
  • readers who enjoy humor and quirky characters
  • people who enjoy romantic comedy/dramas like Kate & Leopold, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, No Reservations, Leap Year, While You Were Sleeping, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. 
  • readers who want to read about how God gives second chances and the healing power of forgiveness
3. Manuscript: how long is your work and is it complete? If you are unpublished, you must have a complete manuscript to be considered
4. Comparables: How is your book like what is already out there? It can be similar in voice, tone, theme, or style. You need to list 3-5 examples and describe how each one is similar.
Here are some examples:
Once Upon a Prince and Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck, published by Zondervan (2013, 2014, respectively) -  ATOF is similar to Rachel’s books because of the sweet, endearing romance and culture clashes.
Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade, published by Bethany House (2014) The romantic tension and deep spiritual thread of Becky Wade’s newest release is similar to A Twist of Faith’s storyline.
Made to Last by Melissa Tagg, published by Bethany House (2013) The locale of Asheville with its delicious small-town appeal is similar to my novel.
Weddings by Bella series by Janice Hanna Thompson published by Revell (2010)
This series takes the plight of a young woman’s infant wedding planning business and follows her romantic relationship – while including her quirky and loveable Italian family. The large and ‘intrusive’ family in Janice Thompson’s book is similar to the one in Here to Stay.
Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck, published by Thomas Nelson (2008)
A small town girl struggles with feelings of insecurity from a previous relationship but finds an unexpected romance in Rachel Hauck’s sweet story – and this is similar to my heroine’s insecurities and unexpected romance.
5. Bio: who are you and why are you qualified to write this book? It's usually about a 1/2 of page and "if you're attractive include a picture" Chip says. Edie Melson had a great post on bio writing a few months ago, here.
6. Marketing Info: All your 'platform' stuff goes here. FB, Twitter followers, social media, blog, organizations...etc. It should be between a 1/2 page to a full page.
Here's an example:
The Author’s Tribes:
Facebook Friends: 1174
Twitter Followers: 937
Website and Blog:
Words Seasoned With Salt has been a great blog to promote writing, host reviews, and inspire. I have an average of 200 visits per day. Many published authors have been guests on my blog – such as Julie Lessman, Mary Connealy, Rachel Hauck, Ruth Logan Herne, Siri Mitchell, and Janice Thompson.
I am the creator (and regular contributor) to The Writers Alley – a group writing blog hosted by 10 aspiring authors. It was created three years ago and have over 600 subscribers. The average hits is 1000 per day.
I am a regular contributor to Christian Fiction Online Magazine and have guest blogged on the popular writing blog, Seekerville. I have been published in ACFW’s Afictionado.
Though most of my presentations are about my profession in Speech-Language Pathology (and mostly related to Autism Spectrum Disorders), I have spoken at women’s conferences on various topics from God’s redemption throughout generations to God’s unique plan for our lives. I have also spoken for writers groups.
I have been a member of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance for over four years, a Revell reviewer for three, and have developed a ‘following’ from my guest blog posts and these articles.
My first nonfiction article, Start Talking 101, was published in Momsense magazine in January 2010.
I am active on social media sites such as FaceBook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
7. Your writing. This is where the editor or agent will probably look first before viewing anything else. You'll include 40-50 pages of your manuscript.
Okay - what do you write best about this part of the proposal? Where do you struggle? Let's chat!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Alley Weekend Round Up

Photo by Detanan
I can't believe summer is here and here in a big way. Where I live in Texas, we don't have much of a spring. We slip into summer fast, sink into the heat and stay there until the end of September. I like to stay inside where it is cool and refreshing. But you know what I like even better? I like reading books and blogs...especially good blogs...and The Writer's Alley is one of them. Boy, do we have a great week lined up!

The Weekly Line-Up

Monday - Although she has just moved this past week, Pepper is sure to have something great for us!
Tuesday - It is Guest Post Tuesday! Stop by for a fabulous guest who will teach us something wonderful.
Wednesday - Want to know about success writing? Mary's topic is Proving You Have the Right Answer. Intriguing, isn't it?
Thursday - Krista brings us 5 Reasons to Self-Publish. You know you've thought about it! ;)
Friday - Casey is writing about your target audience with a post entitled What/Who Do You Write For.

Alley Cat Pal Shout Out

Guess what special Alley Cat Pal is a finalist in the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest? Laurie Tomlinson, that's who!! She is a finalist in the Romance category. You can find the list of finalists HERE.
Congratulations to you, Laurie! We love you!

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Big Publishing is the Problem (???) (Hugh Howley)

21 Harsh but Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors (Thought Catalogue)

Free ebook on Amazon: The Heart of Thornton Creek by Bonnie Leon

Free ebook on Amazon: Michal (The Wives of King David Series Book 1) by Jill Eileen Smith

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Writer? (Copyblogger)

Kick Your Negative Self-Talk To The Curb (Storyline Blog)

What is on your calendar for the week? Any writing involved? Sysnopsis? Brainstorming? Revisions? Share what you are up to!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Power of Story - Guest Post with Wendy Paine Miller

There’s a scene in my latest release, THE FLOWER GIRLS, when thirty-year-old Poppy reflects upon when she used to “story” her twin sister, Daisy, to sleep.

“Tell me a story.”
The moon poured a milky light onto her bed. Daisy curled her body into a fetal position and yawned so wide I could see the back of her throat. We were about to be nine and I remember thinking I could make everything right with the world. I’d become infatuated with reading. My imagination ballooned inside of me waiting to share all kinds of stories. I snuggled up to her and breathed in her orangey scent.
“Witches or monsters this time?”
I grew quiet. A shiver crept over my summer-warmed skin. I could handle her fear of witches and monsters. I knew exactly what to say to get her mind off those. But neither? I’d have to invent a good story this time.

*from THE FLOWER GIRLS, by Wendy Paine Miller


I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I assert stories possess great power. An article entitled “Your Brain on Fiction” in The New York Times explores this further. Click here for full article. “Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

Stories can change us. Poppy seemed to get this as she worked hard to allay her sister’s fears. She wanted to create another world for Daisy to go to when this world proved too overwhelming or confusing. I get this. I’ve been known to pick up a book a time or two for the same reason.

And when I contemplate the following from The New York Times article I quoted earlier, I even more deeply appreciate the intrinsic value of reading fiction.

“Individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do you ever think about how stories influence your life? How much impact and power do you think fiction possesses?


Imagine staring into the face of a loved one with no recollection of who they are. Every person a stranger. Daisy O’Reilly's inability to recognize faces, a cognitive disorder resulting from a childhood accident, causes her to rely heavily upon her twin sister, Poppy. Perhaps too much so.

Overwhelmed by Daisy’s needs, Poppy anticipates the freedom her upcoming wedding will bring—a chance to relinquish her obsessive worries about Daisy and escape the clutches of guilt from one hazy day when the girls were seven. When they were still invincible.

With a thriving floral photography career but a floundering love life, Daisy questions how strong she will be on her own. And who she might become without Poppy living down the hall or offering a deluge of reminders during each social interaction.

But for the O’Reilly sisters to properly let go, they must first understand what they’re holding on to.

Wendy Paine Miller is a native New Englander who feels most alive when she’s laughing, reading, writing or taking risks. She’s authored ten novels and recently released her novella, THE DISAPPEARING KEY. She’s currently writing what she hopes will be your future book club pick. Wendy lives with her husband, their three girls, and a nocturnal Samoyed pup in a home bursting with imagination and hilarity. She’s represented by Rachelle Gardener of Books & Such Literary Agency.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are You Keeping a Healthy Heart?

Today is all about hearts-- disappointment, triumph, and keeping perspective in it all.

Photo by mapichai, at
Turn on the TV, drive down the street, or walk through a grocery aisle, and you're going to get bombarded with messages about having a healthy heart. Take rom com movies, for example. Why is it all the leading heroines seem to be joggers? Do these writers and producers get their best ideas on their own morning jogs or something? Then there are the endless conversations about trans fats, butter, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., etc., etc.

What we don't talk about nearly as frequently is the condition of our writers' hearts. Which is unfortunate, because if you're human, and you're a writer, you're going to have a struggle-of-the-heart at one point or another. And more than likely, this struggle will happen daily.

Our poor writers' hearts are constantly being bombarded, and it's usually with disappointment. Maybe you were really hoping to final in a contest (*ahem*), and you didn't make the cut. Or maybe your dream editor has been looking at your heart story, and rejected it without any feedback. Or maybe you're just plain discouraged. Maybe you've been doing this a long time, and . . . well, you feel like you've had to give up investing your heart in your stories just to survive the struggles of the publishing journey.

This past week, I stumbled upon an audio recording by Robin Jones Gunn from a writing workshop she taught in Africa. You can find it here in her online store. It's a steal at only a few dollars, and I can't recommend this recording enough.

In this workshop, Robin uses Psalm 51:10 as the cornerstone of her teaching: "Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me."

Now, we've all heard that verse before--probably hundreds of times. But have we ever really allowed it to sink in to our hearts as writers?

Robin uses the illustration of our stories being like a cup of water that is offered to readers, and really, to God. At first, that cup of cold water sounds really appealing--especially if you're in a parched place in life. But imagine tossing in just a few grains of dirt and sand. Maybe a little pepper and spice. Suddenly, the glass of water doesn't seem so appealing any longer. Even if there's only a little dirt inside, who wants to drink that?

 rakratchada torsap at
And yet, that's exactly what we do when we sit down to write with bitterness in our hearts. With unforgiveness, envy, pride, and anger as our company. Even if these things have no apparent, direct bearing on our stories, they will naturally and inevitably "come out" in the water. That's because writing as a ministry is different from other types of writing. It takes all of us, all of our hearts. And in that way, it becomes a form of worship.

So let me ask you again. Are you keeping a healthy heart?

Or have you allowed bitter things to take refuge inside?

See, when things happen to us that seem to justify our response, this whole process gets really hard. Because sometimes people really do hurt us. Sometimes they really do let us down, in a big way. And it's easy to feel like we have a right to be mad.

If we're not careful, we begin to compare ourselves to others. Maybe we envy them. Or maybe we think they took our spot in the next-to-be-published line.

Or perhaps it's not an actual person who threatens your dream as a writer. Maybe it's the seemingly- elusive goal of being a bestseller. Or maybe it's a family member or friend who has hurt you and let you down, weakening your resolve to keep writing.

After a while of responding these sorts of challenges, a couple things happen. Either we just begin to give up, or we keep going-- harboring in our hearts little bits of frustration, disappointment, and bitterness we've picked up along the way. So we begin to write with a little bit of dirt in the water, muddying the message God has given us.

But God has called us to so much more.

Romans 2 says we have no right to give these sorts of things free living space in our hearts, because God has forgiven each of us for so much more. Just as the Biblical debtor who was forgiven, then went out and collected the smallest of debts for his own gain, we so often forget the vastness of God's grace in our lives. We are not our own measuring stick. Grace is the measuring stick. And thank God for that.

God has given you a story that only you can tell. If you get so caught up in contests and rejection letters and the comparison game that you forget to listen to the voice of God, the world will lose out.
Your future readers will lose out. Because no one else can tell your story.

So if you find yourself in a position where the water of your heart is a bit murky, or perhaps all-out mud --and really, aren't we all in that position?-- the remedy is simple. Pray. Ask God to create in you a clean heart. Ask Him again and again every time you begin to write. Because the ministry of writing is a mighty calling. And readers deserve nothing short of the whole, beautiful story God has put in your heart.


Ashley Clark writes romance 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, June 18, 2014

Guest post - Mastering Historical Research with Carla Stewart, author of "The Hatmaker's Heart"

I'm so thrilled to welcome to the Alley today a talented writer who is also one of the dearest souls you could ever meet. If you haven't had the privilege of reading the novels of Carla Stewart, you're missing out on one of the most masterful and powerful voices in Christian fiction. This woman can write! Over to you, Carla!

Karen, thanks so much for inviting me to The Writer’s Alley. What a fun and interesting year this has been! To be truthful, it’s also been the most challenging year of my writing career. When I was growing up and put more food on my plate than I could eat, my daddy would say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” At times that’s how I felt when I was writing The Hatmaker’s Heart (and the next book A Flying Affair immediately afterward). I wasn’t sure I could finish all the things on my plate that I’d agreed to.

It all started because I wanted to write in a more historical vein than my nostalgic novels from the 1950s and 60s had been. My agent and editor both encouraged me to do so, and I chose an era that’s always intrigued me: the Roaring Twenties. I have a new respect for authors of historical novels—wow! The research alone was daunting, but I learned so much, and I’d like to share a few of my research tips with you and your readers.

1)    Lay down the fear of tackling hard subjects. Remember how geometry once instilled breath-stealing fear from you? And then you learned the first theorem and the next, and they were building blocks. That’s how research is. Take it in small chunks, expanding your knowledge base. For me, it was spending my leisure hours reading a book on hat making. I didn’t think about my novel; I just became knowledgeable of the terminology, material, and techniques involved. Those hours paid off when I began to write the story.

2)    Develop a system for organizing your material. Do it in a way that makes sense and works for you – Scrivener, Evernote, doc files, bookmarks. The main thing is that you want to “save” virtually all your research links somewhere. You may need them for a date, a minor detail, or to answer your editor’s queries. You will save a lot of time if you have a system to fall back on. I do recommend that you keep a physical folder (s), too, for anything you’ve printed out, notes you’ve scribbled on napkins, calendars (great for showing holidays and moon phases), time lines, pictures of your characters, sticky notes, etc.

3)    Visit your setting in person or virtually. I love research trips and would have loved to have returned to England and New York City while I was writing The Hatmaker’s Heart. Sadly, that wasn’t possible, so I relied on books, maps, photo searches, and watching period films. When watching films, take notes on clothing, hairstyles, turns of phrases, slang/special terminology of the era. YouTube is a gold mine as well. Some things I’ve watched on YouTube when researching: an iron lung in operation, a tour of a working oil rig, a black and white clip of the 1923 Royal wedding that takes place in The Hatmaker’s Heart - Yes! It really does exist.

4)    Be aware of rabbit trails. It’s so easy to get caught up in research that you spend too much time on a particular aspect. While it can add texture and authenticity to your writing, the novel will never get written if you veer too far off course. And yet sometimes, following the trail can lead to important discoveries so learn to strike a balance.

5)    Pinterest is your friend. For the last three books, I’ve used Pinterest to capture images of household items, clothing, settings, and anything that might tie in to the story. While brainstorming, you may want to have a secret board that has loads of images that you will pare down later for your public board. The beauty of Pinterest is that almost all pins link back to websites where you can get valuable description. Here’s my Pinterest board for my new novel:  

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. What I’ve found is that I love the research part of writing, and while it can be exhausting at times, the end result of a carefully researched novel is worth it. Blessings to all of you in your writing!

Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” 
She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then she’s had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla was the 2011 trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”, an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) finalist in 2011 and winner in 2012, a two-time Genesis winner, and an Oklahoma Book Award finalist four times. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more about Carla at 
Back cover blurb:
For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.

But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Carla!