Monday, August 31, 2015

The G.O.D. Factor in Fiction

Three is a pretty special number.

In fact – it’s used a LOT
3 Stooges
3 Little Pigs
3 French Hens
3 Blind Mice
3 points on a triangle
A trilogy
3 is important. Even for God.
The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit :-)

But how does it play out in our novels?

Well, in most of our novels there are two main characters, but in Christian fiction there is an ‘invisible’ third.

So I’m going to chat today about the God factor in your fiction.

Since we are Christians, our worldview tends to be different (or it ought to be) so that difference automatically comes out in our writing. But how?

Here are some aspects of this G.O.D. factor in your fiction.

Does your story have G.O.D. in it? J

1.       Genuineness – or plausibility. Is the spiritual thread believable? Have you created a spiritual arc which presents the truth of the Gospel in a believable way with your characters? Your story?
This one will go hand-in-hand with #2.

Siri Mitchell does this extremely well in her historical novel, Love’s Pursuit. In the beginning, the Puritan heroine would not just up and leave her community to go with this heretical man – but the pull of faith and wealth of questions posed to her along the storyline, makes her end choice believable. Are you characters making believable spiritual choices?

2.       Organic – Does it flow naturally from your story? From your characters?

The way God works with his people is a beautiful conundrum of generically-the-same and mysteriously unique.

Not everyone has the same ‘story’ of salvation. Not every relationship or sermon connects to our hearts the same way. Why should it with your characters?
Because God’s gifts to his kids are specific to THEM, then His way of touching and shaping their lives will be different too. God’s whisper to a quiet, more timid character may shake in complete opposition to his ‘shout’ in a bolder, more extroverted character’s life.

He may have asked both Andrew and Saul-turned-Paul to ‘follow him’, but the way in which he called them was uniquely set for their circumstances and their personalities. Paul needed a slap, not a nudge.

3.       Dependable – or consistent? Do you keep the amount of your spiritual thread consistent throughout the story? Is it all housed within one area? The middle? The end? Do you keep it light throughout? Subtle throughout or is your thread deeper and more overt?

I’ve been surprised in books before where God’s name emerged on the last page, but he wasn’t mentioned (or even alluded to) in any other part of the book. Whether overt or covert, the spiritual thread should be consistently interwoven.

Some of us are going to write the Christian thread in an overt manner. Some in a more subtle manner; And others will weave it in with barely a hint. None of them are right or wrong, but each is as unique as the way God touches our own lives.

In my novels, the spiritual thread is my focal point. Characters start dancing in my head along with a story question. Then, as the characters emerge, I ‘look’ at them and ask questions like:

“What does God want to do in your life?”
“What is a need in your life that only God can fill?”
“How can God use the hero/heroine to be His fingerprints in your life?”

But not every Christian writer takes this focus. Their spiritual thread may shock them as they write the novel, or readers may tell them later of the spiritual thread they didn’t even know they had written about in their stories. Again, God is a BIG God – he’s using us for our good and his glory, right?

So…what do you think? Is the G.O.D. factor important to you in your writing or in the books that you read? Everybody has a worldview – does yours make a difference in your novels?
As a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pepper Basham enjoys sprinkling her Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can. She’s an award-winning author of both contemporary and historical romances, mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and lover of chocolate. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina with her family. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in April 2015. Her first contemporary romance novel, A Twist of Faith, released in December. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at

Friday, August 28, 2015

Get on with your BAD self!

Amy here, working under my first editing deadline for my publisher! I needed to add a few scenes with my killer and so I looked back over this post I wrote almost EXACTLY one year ago today and WHAM! Inspiration struck! Apparently sometimes I just need to go back and relearn my own advice. ;)

Ahh, villians! Such royal pains in the keester and yet so vital to the story. Even our own.
I’m mean, one can’t easily develop muscle without resistance. So most often character is honed and forged through trials. You can hardly have conflict in the plot if there isn’t an antagonist of some kind throwing a wrench in the plan here and there.
And yet, villians come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes your villain is as dark and creepy as your worst nightmares. A murderer, a stalker, someone with a dangerous edge or volatile temperament. Some have warts and slime and are easy to recognize for the toads they are.

Other times it’s the devil in disguise. (Ever thought about the term Handsome Devil?---deception and second guessing are keys.) A meddling mother or a jealous best friend secretly unraveling things behind the scenes. A boss, an ex, a bully. Ever been bullied? Boy, I have! And I’ve got to say those people aren't generally inclined to leave you alone. They insinuate themselves into your story. They pick at your insecurities, they taunt, cheat, lie, manipulate, slander mercilessly. Sometimes we can see the devil in that villain without question. Other times they are right under your nose and you don’t even know it! There isn’t exactly a mold for what a villain should look like so how can you be sure your pest pulls the right strings?

Here a three things to think about for creating an adequately BAD bad guy…


Your villain must (MUST) impact the plot in some way.  I’ve seen it happen… some flimsy little antagonist is lurking in the shadows with a threat or some kind, making the hero or heroine shake in their boots but ultimately, the villain doesn’t move the story one iota. They are hardly a character. Evil is relentless. Bullys bully. Make your words count. Sure, throw in a red herring here and there, use subtly, be clever and intentional, but make an impact with each character that has significance. Do it by tossing some surprise twists on the page. And be sure your put your villain there as well. Trust me, those pages will be a turnin’! It’s not enough to have your villain tucked away, bring him out to play and let the games begin.

The willies…

Whether your reader knows who the villain is or not, there should be a check (however small) in their gut when the villain waltzes onto the page to dismantle a scene. How do you respond as a reader? It’s that little curl of dread.

 Oh, that pesky ex is annoying, sure, but what if they ruin it all? That stab of fear plunges deep, what if it all falls apart with that one vindictive strike? Or, what if that girl in the alley turns her back at just the wrong moment and you know he’s waiting there…

The reader empathizes right there at that anticipated encounter. The TENSION says it all. When that antagonist walks in, you FEEL it on the fine hairs at your nape, the shiver trips over your nerve endings, dread balls up in your stomach. You become the hero or heroine right then. And all of your long buried bullys and demons resurrect in your mind. You shield yourself against the hurt that comes barreling out of nowhere. You prepare to fight for the happy ending. Just like you had to do in real life. (How awesome are stories, right?) The willies evoked in sympathy put you in your characters shoes and you walk through the battle because of what the enemy makes you feel. 

The imagination is a powerful thing. Be sure you utilize your senses on the pages so it can take you places. And so your villain can adequately give your reader the willies.

The fall…

Whether there is vindication or forgiveness, a battle to the death or turning the other cheek, the conflict has to peak and your villain should be present in most cases. The climax has to pack a punch and what better way to do that than to draw out your hero’s greatest fears or doubts. Shake them up! Step into the villian’s shoes for a moment as a writer and do a little tormenting yourself. Sadistic? Perhaps. But stories without the right tension fall flat and lay limp on the shelf. And your villain is the puppeteer pulling all the right strings.

So go on… get on with your bad self. Your story will be better for it because let’s face it… villians are real and we face them every day. Suit up and battle through your own story. The battle isn’t easily won but it’s absolutely worth it. 

Lets dish and do a bit of brainstorming: Tell me about your current villain? What makes them effective in creating conflict in your story?

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is a member of ACFW, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 
Look for her debut novel due out this fall with WildBlue Press!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing the Perfect Pitch

I first wrote this post several years ago about my first ACFW conference. As the annual conference draws near, I thought it'd be fun to revisit this post. I hope it's helpful to those of you who are preparing pitches for those agent and editor appointments!


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

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

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

That's problem #1.

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

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

3 Things to Do Before You Leave Home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashley Clark writes 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 blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preparing for ACFW & Other Writers Conferences

Attending a conference is nerve-wracking.

Let’s face it, you’re taking huge risks by going.

You’ve invested a lot of money: registration, hotel, airfare, some meals, and other incidentals. You’ve invested who you are – by attending you’re joining the ranks of those who have moved from wanting to write, to those who have taken steps to actively chase a dream. You’re risking your heart because you’ve gone public with your dream.

Bundle that with the fact that you might not know many people and you might be pitching the book of your heart to an editor and agent, and suddenly your stress is through the roof.

It’s okay.

Sit back, take a deep breath, whisper a prayer for peace and help.

You’ll be okay.

As someone who’s been in your shoes, and helps those first-timers attending ACFW each year, I’d like to offer a bit of advice.

Pray, pray, pray. If God has lead you to attend ACFW or another writer’s conference, then He has a purpose and a plan for your time there. It may not be what you intend. But pray and ask for His will to be done. Ask for opportunities to serve others – nothing better to take your thoughts off your fears than to focus on others. And ask Him for peace to carry you through the days.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. ACFW has a conference blog that is packed with fabulous advice on everything from how to get from the conference to the hotel, where to find food for Friday’s free night, and how to get ready for that editor appointment. Take advantage of that repository of advice. Get your one-sheet ready if you have time. Polish that first chapter, and have it in your bag for appointments. Have business cards to leave with those you meet. Get your toolbox loaded and ready.

Research, research, research. Take the time to know what the houses you are pitching are currently publishing. How does what you write line up with that? Is it a new niche? Different from current authors? Etc. Google the editors so you can learn what you can. Same with the agents. Some of the agents have blogs. Read them. It is a wealth of information not just about the industry and their firms, but also on personality. You can tell so much from how a person writes for a blog.

Relax, relax, relax. ACFW, at least, is one big family. You may not think you know anyone, but you’re wrong. You’ll spend the conference giving and receiving hugs from folks you’ve met on the loop or first timers loop. Reach out to others with a smile, and they’ll be delighted to reciprocate. At my first conference, the friend and I who had driven down together grabbed a gal who was flying solo for lunch. Before conference officially began, we’d connected in a very cool way.

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. By serving others you will find yourself relaxing, meeting others, and having a great time. There are so many ways to do it that don’t take much from you, but help the conference run efficiently and smoothly.

Rest, rest, rest. Sometimes you just have to skip a workshop because you’re brain is on overload. Or you can’t fathom the thought of another meal surrounded by people. That’s okay. Escape to your room. Put your feet up. Take a bath. Read a book. Do whatever it takes to recharge. We understand.

And at ACFW don’t forget the prayer room. It is open all the time, and the perfect place to escape when you’re rattled and overwhelmed.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing as ADVENTURE...and What to Do When It Stops Being One...

This weekend was one of the best of the summer for my family. We attended a Young Life family camp here in Virginia with church friends.

It was a Christian camp that included the Gospel message, great meals, and lots of outdoor fun activities.

Some of these fun activities included: a rock climbing wall, a ropes course, a zip line into the man-made lake...and lots of surprises.

God has been teaching me this year to embrace adventure in my writing life and in my day-to-day life. Its an uphill battle for this gal who prefers everything planned and scheduled and is not a fan of surprises.

My question is...are you still viewing your writing life as an ADVENTURE? If not, WHY? And how do you get yourself back on the path to excitement?

Here's what I learned about the writing life at summer camp....

1) Rock Climbing: The writing life can be a struggle and requires hard work and training. The view from the top makes it all worth it.

"I didn't make it to the top," my daughter's friend exclaimed in frustration.

But I'll bet she will make it even farther next year.

Push until all of you is sore. But the ability to climb is built in the times of weight lifting, running, building endurance for the way up.

To get that moment of adventure looking down from the top, what can you do now?

-Persevere. Keep going even when rejection or other's opinions seem to build up a wall.

-Day-to-day: Each day builds you up for the top. But remember when you are on the top, the view is beautiful but God calls us to the humility of coming down once again.

Don't live for the peaks in your writing life, dreaming of the day when an agent or editor calls you or you win a contest. Live in the daily adventure of building up your writing muscles 1K words at a time. Its not about the race to the top, its about the climb.

2) Ropes course: Everything is easier with a little help from your friends. Slow and steady keeps us ready.

Another important element in our writing adventure is enjoying those he's put in our path and being humble enough to learn from them.

Ropes course makes me a bit shakey. The truth is I get a bit nervous with walking on narrow beams and shaky boards.

-Steady, girl! Keeping our foundation in Jesus keeps us strong when we feel our strength fading or when a tremble comes on.

And remember sometimes we might FEEL that way, but we just keep on going in spite of our fears trusting in the God who walks on water and calms the stormy seas.

Pray, pray, pray about your writing life. Put Jesus first in all your life so you can have a Godly response when trials come into your writing life.

-Have a little help from my friends. Being humble enough to ask for help and willing to use it is essential in the writing life. Our friends are the ones that keep us on the adventure helping us to keep going. Try to find at least one who is supportive of your writing journey, it sure helps with endurance.

3) The old pie in the face trick. Put others first in your writing journey and be willing to find adventure in their adventures.

One of the most fun parts of Young Life camp for the kids was a special carnival they set up one night in the front yard. Impressive feat as the workers set it up during the time we were in worship. The kids earned tickets which they could either redeem for fair food such as fried dough and snow cones OR (the more palatable option) the opportunity to throw a pie in their parent's face. My son and daughter chose the pie, so both my husband and I were covered in whipped cream by the time the night was through. It was lots of fun in a strange way!

-Take a stance of humility in your writing journey. Be willing to put others first, esteeming their journey and their work above your own. Be willing to take a pie in the face and find the fun in it. Putting others first can be fun when you see the joy in their eyes as they rise.

4) The whirlpool: More effort yields more fun in the end and relax and enjoy the journey.

Both tiring and relaxing, creating a large whirlpool in the outdoor swimming area with everyone's participation was fun. You have to push hard against the tide, there were times when I thought I was going to lose hold of my 7-year-old son who I was pulling along. Its hard work pushing against the current. But then comes the fun part. Swirling and floating along the vortex created by all the effort.

-More effort yields a great time! Creating the whirlpool like a book is tiring work and work that requires help. You can't create one on your own, the more people the better. Just like the more eyes on your book, the better the end result will be. Sometimes you must move against the current, doing what is best for you individually. It is hard work to be a writer, and even harder to be a Christian writer. We must swim against the tide hard and not give in to temptation to follow the world's ways.

-Relax and enjoy the ride. At the end and even at some points during our journey it is time to relax and remember why we chose this writing thing in the first place. Writing is exciting and fun! If you stop viewing it that way, maybe you need to take a break to work on something new to renew your joy.

Julia Reffner lives in central Virginia. She is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal magazine. At the site Wonderfully Woven she writes about her faith and life on alternating Thursdays. She is active in ACFW as a Carol Awards Assistant.