Thursday, December 31, 2015

Forget Not

Bless the Lord, O my soul,  and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits... - Psalm 103

Ashley here! I know you're probably busy this New Years Eve, so I'll keep things short. :)

Every New Year's Eve for as long as I can remember, I've felt a sad. It's not that I don't look forward to the future, but while everyone else is running around starting resolutions and having parties, I can not seem to get my mind off the year that's passed.

So it's only fitting that my blog post day happened to fall on New Year's Eve! And while I do think there's something to be said about intentionally preparing yourself for what God has for you in the future, I also think there's something to be said about intentionally remembering what God has already done.

I love Psalm 103 because it's just that-- an intentional reflection on all God has done. A call to bless the Lord with all we are and remember his benefits. So let's do that together!

Here at the Alley this year, we've celebrated two new Alley kittens, two Alleycats published (Amy's novel When Fall Fades and Pepper's novel The Thorn Bearer), a new Cat in the beautiful Cara Putman, an Alleycat retreat in my own backyard, a new blog design, encouraging contest and editor feedback, and ever-deepening relationships with you, our Alleypals.

What benefits have you received this year? What struggles have you learned from, writing or otherwise?


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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Praying the Bible for Writers

Praying the word has been transformational in my life. I wanted to share a few verses for the writing life.

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.”  Psalm 45:1

Stir my heart towards what you want me to write. You are the person I write for. Grow me in skill that I might better share the noble themes of what you have done for us.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

Give me discernment that I might correctly handle the word of truth in my writing. I pray that my writing would reflect your word, and your truth.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

Thank you for the good work you can do through our writing if we are obedient to you. Help us to be cleansed vessels, that you might use us in this way.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Grow our trust in all areas of life. It is only through you we can grow in understanding. Give us submissive hearts to you.

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4

Build our delight in you. Align our writing desires and all our desires with yours for us.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

Thank you that you have a good plan for our lives if we love you and are called according to your purpose.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

In our writing, as in all things help us to run to get the prize. Grow us in self-control and discipline.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”  Ephesians 6:7

Help us to remember that our writing is first for you. Let us be obedient with our whole heart.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Lord, help us to rejoice in all circumstances, including rejections and other painful times. Help us to be truly thankful, knowing that you use these things in our lives to grow us. Let these things stir us on towards prayer.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

Lord, help us to think on these things and let our writing inspire others to think on these excellent, praiseworthy, noble, pure, true, right and lovely things.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

Thank you that you have a plan for our writing and our lives that is better than anything we could think or plan. Help us to submit to this plan knowing how much you love us.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.”  1 Peter 4:10-11

Lord, help us to use our writing to serve others. Help us to be faithful of the things you have entrusted to us. Help us to only speak and write the words that are in accordance with your word. Help us to quit relying on our own strength and only walk in yours. May you alone be praised through our writing.

"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.-Jeremiah 31:33

What verses do you like to pray? Any favorite verses that encourage you in your writing life?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It's too hard. Just Keep Writing.

My son slammed the car door after swim practice. "It's too hard."
With tears in his eyes, he went on to tell me how many meters he had swam the past 90 minutes. It was a few thousand.
Yeah, that DOES sound hard.
But he did it. And he didn't lose his dinner, or sink to the bottom of the pool, or quit in the middle of practice. After three years of gaining skill and talent, I couldn't be a prouder parent.
"You did it! That's amazing!" I tried to encourage him, knowing that he's growing, and knowing that his practice needs to be tough to get better.
"But it's too hard." All he could do was pout and choke back tears and focus on the difficulty.
Poor guy was exhausted. Not to mention he was a little spoiled with his Christmas video game extravaganza the day before.
Yes, he was probably sore. Probably worn out both physically and emotionally. Having a coach bark, "Another 500!" when he could hardly breathe from the last 500 took a toll on his emotions, I would think.
But all I could do as his mother is encourage him to keep going. "You know, after you swim like that for a week or so, it can only get better. You'll get used to it."

Not the words he wanted to hear. Believe me. He whined and cried all the way home. I even asked if he wanted to quit just to test him...and to be sure I wasn't blowing off his angst (too much). He didn't want to quit.
He really does love it.
He just doesn't like the work it takes. The pain to gain, the constant laps to shave seconds.

Can you relate as a writer?

Have you ever cried, "It's too hard." After your tangled mess of a plot, your muddied critique, your contest loss...again?? Have your emotions been spent, your mental capacity drained, your heart muscle sore from caring too much?
I know that we as writers don't have the physical exhaustion like a swimmer--or maybe, we do--when we pull an all-nighter, when we get tennis elbow from our poor posture over the computer, when our joints ache at the 100,000 word pour out on the keyboard...hmmmm...

But, we really do love it. We need to remember that the practice, the stories, the writing, the re-writing, the editing, the scratching and starting over, is all worth it. Because we are getting better. We are learning more--about ourselves, about our craft, about our endurance.

If we are still writing after just one rejection, we are learning.

We are putting those thousands of meters...I mean pages...behind us, to crank out the next best thing. And it's going to get better...maybe easier in a way (I know that I can whip up a one page synopsis in a blink compared to a few years ago).

My son shaves seconds off his time on a regular basis at each meet he races in. He doesn't realize that those thousands of meters swam at practice help knock off the seconds that get him closer to a qualifying time for State.

I have written at least 300, 000 words in four years. And while I haven't qualified as a published author...yet...I know that I am closer. I see my endurance is paying off in the level to which my writing has grown. Not in a conceited way, just in a difference that must be had to inch (or mili-inch) to my goal of publication.

As a writer, if all this practice does not grow my skill...then what's the point?

And my son knows deep down that he's getting better. He wants to keep going. Because he's seen it pay off in the seconds. One day, he'll see it pay off in bigger ways. One day he'll swim what he pleases at State.

But only if he keeps going. Even when it's hard. Even when it's TOO hard. If he fights through it, he'll be a winner.

Will you keep writing? Even when it seems too hard...on your mind, on your time, on your heart?

If you are a writer, you'll keep going. It will get better. Just don't give up.

Just keep!
Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Friday, December 25, 2015

Ten Years and It’s Still True

Casey here: today I am excited to host my sweet friend, Paula Moldenhauer here on our blog with her brand new devotional, Soul Scents: Awaken. And yes, while today is Christmas (and a very, merry one from all of your friends here on the alley!), I did want to share this sweet devotional with you from the heart of a dedicated writer. I hope you enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Purchase here!
What I found was joyously stunning.

Recently I read through hundreds of devotionals I’d written over a span of more than ten years. I was deciding which devotional thoughts I wanted to include my latest book project, Soul Scents ~ A Journey in the Son’s Embrace, which offers four volumes of devotional reading: Awaken, Rooted, Bloom, and Flourish. As I read, made my choices, and edited my heart rejoiced because I still believed it all.

The journey of the last ten years has been arduous, but the glorious truths our sweet Savior taught me along the way stand the test of time.

I may have been naïve in 2004 before the big storms hit. Back then I wrote in wonder as I absorbed new understanding of who Jesus is.  I may not have understood how deeply the concepts I penned would be tested. I certainly didn’t understand what I was praying as I offered my thoughts of praise and surrender, nor did I guess how God would take me at my word.

But I’m delighted to report it’s all true.

I edited word counts and clunky sentences, but the foundational concepts which I so naively typed many years ago needed no revision. And guess what? The devotionals I penned a few weeks ago are again written in wonder as I “absorb new understanding of who Jesus is.”

In 2004 I invited readers to go with me on a journey into the heart of Jesus. I declared we’d never run out of places to discover, and we never have. He shows us glimpses of His character then allows life experiences to solidify the understanding of the insight. Over time He takes initial understanding deeper and reveals new wonders of His Person.

To be vulnerable, our family rode some difficult waters after the earlier devotionals were written. In spring of 2015 I tried to write about the really hard years, but I often dissolved into tears at the computer.

The Lord called me away from those efforts and invited me to spend time with Him. I journaled, did some more Bible study in the Song of Solomon, and rested. Truth be told I spent a lot of time talking to my plants last summer! And the Lord, always the Healer, did what He does best and healed me.
In the fall the Lord released me back into focusing on development of Soul Scents. I wasn’t really surprised (although I was very pleased) when those months of seeking God resulted in devotions for volumes 3 & 4 of this collection. Even though I believed I was not productive last year, I was writing the rest of this series without knowing it.

I love how organic that is.

I’m excited to offer fellow travelers a year’s journey in the Son’s embrace. It begins with volume 1, Soul Scents: Awaken, and continues with a new devotional book releasing each quarter of 2016. 

Author, speaker, and mom of four, Paula Moldenhauer encourages others to be released into full potential through freedom in Christ and the empowerment of God’s grace. Published over 300 times in non-fiction markets, her first devotional book series, Soul Scents, releases in four volumes beginning with Soul Scents: Awaken. Paula’s first two novels released in 2012. Sometimes empty-nesters, Paula and her husband, Jerry, enjoy four adult children and a wonderful son-in-law. Paula loves peppermint ice cream, walking barefoot and talking to her flowers. For inspirational articles, book information, and speaking topics visit:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hacked by Santa Claus

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the blog.
A few writers were stirring their frothy eggnog.
The stockings were hung, by the booklinks with care,
In hope that readers on Facebook would soon share.

The alleycats were nestled all snug in their homes,
while visions of contracts and booksales made their mouths foam.
And Pepper in her jetpack, and I finally finished baking
Had just settled down to check Amazon rankings.

When out on the Internet, there arose such a clatter,
We sprang to our website to see what was the matter.
Away to the alley I flew like a flash
Tore up Google and ignored all the cache.

The glow of the brightness of the newly opened Window,
Gave the image of hacking on the screen below,
When what to my weary eyes should appear,
But a picture of a sleigh with a handful of reindeer.

With a cartoon driver in jpg not very lively or quick,
I knew in that moment, we'd been hacked by St. Nick.
More rapid than alleycat laughter, my courser did fly,
I emailed and texted my alleycats to come nye.

Now Mary! Now Julia! Now Cara and Amy!
Hurry Karen, Pepper, Ashley, Laurie, Angie, and Casey!
To the net on your computer! To the front page of the Alley!
It's time for us to rally!

(this was getting long -- and my brain hurts from rhyming -- so I'm skipping to the end!)

Santa typed not a word, but went straight to his work.
And filled all the virtual stockings, then uploaded eggnog with a jerk.
Laying his finger aside of his mouse,
And giving a nod, he clicked the X from his house.

I sprang back to bed and let out a whistle,
and was glad our blog didn't get hit by a mistle...
but before I clicked out, us Alleycats said with a grin,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to ALL a goodnight!"

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

(the above is why I will stick to fiction and leave poetry to the professionals!!!)

- Krista and the Alleycats

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Word, The written Word, A Christmas Reason to Keep Writing

Two days left to Christmas.

All those last minuted details are almost done. Time to take a break. Can I tempt you with freshly brewed virtual coffees, teas, hot chocolate, and cozy seating?

Sit back. Take a rest.

Close your eyes for a moment.

Photo Courtesy-"Adoration of the Shepherds"
by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
Think about The Word.

John 1:1 says In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

The Word is Jesus. Where would we be without the Word? Consider all that Jesus has done for you this year. This includes good and bad, ups and downs, joyful and sorrow. Let's focus on the positives.  Go ahead. Name five incredible moments when Jesus just made you so happy. It's okay to smile. We are, too.

Photo Courtesy
Now think about the written Word. 

These words are contained in our Bibles. So many truths. So many lessons. Compassion. Guidance. Truth. Stories told by Jesus and others. Some are parables, some are tellings of events. All were spoken to godly men who recorded them for the benefit of every reader.

Close your eyes again. Think of a verse you learned as a child or long ago. Which one sticks in your mind? Say the words slowly, think about them. Sometimes when we recall a verse, God reveals a new meaning in our heart. Did that happen to you just now? What a great feeling.

Photo Courtesy
Lastly, think about your writing gift.

This gift wasn't a surprise to God. The talent didn't just magically appear one day. Even if you didn't discover you wanted to be a writer until you became an adult, God knew. All those years before you decided to write, He spent preparing you. There is a lifetime of fodder in your mind!

The stories we write under God's calling, are not "inspired" as the Bible is. They are, though, tools used by God to help readers. Some stories lead readers to a fellowship of believers, some help a reader to understand a truth, some illustrate to the reader he or she is not alone in their struggle, etc.

Our stories are so very valuable. God will multiply every gift He gives when used by those who love Him. 

Maybe you are in the beginning phases of honing your writing craft. This is great news! Don't give up. Never give up. 

God told His one and only Son, Jesus, to leave the perfect place (heaven). Jesus allowed Himself to be veiled in human flesh. Thirty-three years later Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying on the cross, and three days after--He rose, victoriously from death.

God has given and given and given to us. 
Let's give Jesus a gift by writing the stories He calls us to write.

God Loves You!

photo courtesy:  1st photo

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

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

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Based on real events in Denmark. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website.  Come enjoy a good story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What I Learned About Writing from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I had a nice, outlined blog post for you about 2016 goals. But then I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the second time today, and my post has officially been hijacked by my nerddom.

There are major, major spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it yet, 1) bookmark this post for a later time and 2) get thee to your nearest movie theater!

This was my first Star Wars movie to view with fresh eyes since I began my journey to publication, so naturally in was the first in which I paid attention to the writing. Here are the writing tips this movie affirmed...

And, I repeat, there are major, major spoilers ahead! 

1) First, it's okay to include popular story elements as long as you do you and as long as you do it well. I read somewhere that there are really only a handful of plot lines in existence when you whittle them down to their bones. The Force Awakens "borrowed" a lot of similar themes and events from its predecessors in the series -- maybe not exactly, but close -- which I loved. In particular, the father vs. son theme stood out to me. Han Solo and Kilo Ren have the whole good vs. evil dynamic working for them just like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader did. Han's death also mirrored the statement Darth Vader made in the murder of his mentor Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. Another example? The Death Star vs. the Super Star Destroyer. Same spherical weapon station, different day.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you haven't been commissioned to pen the next installment in a beloved series, so I'm strictly speaking of story elements and structure and tropes. They can be similar in format to others you've read as long as you put your own original, compelling spin on it and spin it well. You have a great opportunity to draw readers in through your characters and what's led them to this point. Many who are familiar with certain patterns and rhythms in fiction love the predictable nature -- or at least seeing where the writers take it. But this also gives you the opportunity to tastefully weave the unexpected into your story to give it punch. The wow factor. Like a female-for-once protagonist with a lightsaber who kicks some serious booty.

2) I also realized that you have to put as much thought into your villain as your protagonists. I don't write suspense or mystery, but I think this applies to any kind of antagonist. The best kind of villains in my book (the figurative one) are the ones who garner my sympathy even though, on paper, they might not deserve it. I loved the dimension they gave Kilo Ren and can't wait to see what they do with him. His parentage, his betrayal, the devotion to Darth Vader, the fear that he doesn't have what it takes to complete his training.

Since we don't have the three-dimensional benefit of phenomenal acting, we have to convey our antagonists' motivations, goals, and layers in dialogue and our heroes' observations during their interactions. Doing this effectively creates a higher contrast between antagonist and protagonist, raises the stakes, and makes the plot all the more riveting, in my opinion.

3) It's important to be willing, as writer, to obliterate the path to happily-ever-after in order to maintain authenticity. 

Were you surprised that, despite their happy ending at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, Han and Leia were separated decades later? I'm not, to be honest. Unfortunately, the real-life statistics are staggering for marriages after the loss of a child. In grief, the amplified self-preservation instinct can be devastating for a relationship as people deal with a loss in their own way. I'm glad the writers chose to mirror reality for many, because even though it was shell-shocking and sad, it felt real and authentic.

At the end, we want our characters to find peaceful resolution. But it doesn't always have to look like a fairy tale to be a happy ending.

4) Readers can fall in love with your characters from the start, and you don't even have to completely destroy their mystery in the process.

Let's begin with Rey. The story introduced her by showing her daily life with purpose. Though wordless, it spoke of hard work with little return on investment. Hunger. The desperation in scratching the day's tally mark into the wall of her abandoned AT-AT walker dwelling. We later learn, through her conversations, that she's waiting for her family to return after a long absence. We learn through her actions that she's loyal and determined to get the droid BB-8 back where he belongs.

Similarly, Finn's first sequence reveals his internal conflict with the life of a Stormtrooper, unwilling to kill and distraught over the death that's happening all around him. Through his actions, we learn that he has a strong moral compass And even though he doesn't have a plan most of the time, he will do whatever it takes to do what's right.

See the commonalities there? Without giving away the crucial mysteries of these characters that keep the audience thirsty for more, strategic portraits of characters' lives and actions are effective ways to reveal their goals, give a glimpse into why they tick, and help readers fall in love. 


The writers had a huge challenge ahead of them with this film, the successor to one of the most beloved franchises in history. But I think they did a great job of maintaining their brand and showing that with a lot of bravery, extraordinary things can happen to broken people.

Have you seen The Force Awakens? (I sure hope so if you've read this far.) What did you like and dislike about the movie?


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a two-time Genesis Award winner, and the runner-up in the 2015 Lone Star Contest's Inspirational category. 
Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, December 21, 2015

Romance in the Christmas Story?

As a romance writer I wondered what made Christmas such a romantic time of year? The cold gives us a reason to snuggle closer? The family time warms our hearts, and the mistletoe? Well….you know how much THAT inspires our romance J

All those things contribute to the warm-cuddly feelings associated with Christmas, but I think the biggest reason is because we celebrate love coming down to Earth.

As Christian authors, how do we express this love in our writing?
I think the basic love of Christmas is what should capture Christians for the rest of our lives. God gave himself as a gift to the world and that type of love permeates our lives and spills over into our writing.

The overwhelming beauty of unconditional love.
It’s why romance writers LOVE heroes.
Through the Christmas story we are introduced to the ultimate love in the ultimate hero.

This time of year there is a verse in Isaiah that is quoted a lot. Isaiah 9:6:
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given
And the government shall be upon his shoulders
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Okay, okay…so what does Isaiah have to do with writing romance? And in particular, writing heroes?
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that our world has a lot of darkness in it. Few people go out to destroy other lives, but there are plenty so caught up in themselves, they cannot see (as Mary Poppins put it) “past the end of (their) own noses”.
There are broken families, broken lives, dark hearts and minds, so we are looking for HEROES!
God knew it!

He sent One. The ONLY one who could get at the very ‘heart’ of our trouble and shine the light of His love.
I think that’s why Christmas inspires romance all the more. The greatest love and perfect hero.
And those verses?
As romance writers, we create heroes who will bring some element of this ‘perfection’ into our worlds. From a Christian standpoint, nobody can measure up to Jesus. He is perfect!

But His love inspires our creations J

So how do we try to write heroes with Heavenly characteristics?
Counselors? – Yep, we try to write smart guys.

Mighty? – Of course, actually, the Hebrew translation here resembles the idea of ‘heroic’. We want our guys to be heroic and strong!
‘Everlasting?” – Yes, we write Heroes who give an ‘everlasting’ love. Our heroines fall in love with them because they exhibit an ‘everlasting’- faithful love.

‘Peace’? – Despite the male-female banter than comes along in many fun books, there is an element of ‘peace’ that the hero brings into the life of the heroine. An idea of completion.
As created beings who are never fully complete until our hearts beat with the love of our Creator, we use our Calling as writers to create a human example of a divine love. Isn’t that cool?
Christmas inspires love? Sure it does, because the greatest gift of love was given.
And a little mistletoe and fireside snuggles make our writing jobs all the more exciting!

How does YOUR faith and your thoughts of Christmas inspire your writing?
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the mom of 5 great kids, speech-pathologist to about fifty more, lover of chocolate, jazz, and Jesus, and proud AlleyCat. Her debut historical romance novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in May 2015, with the second arriving in February 2016. Her first contemporary romance debuts in April 2016. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gift of Life

"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."- John 10:10

Photo by digidreamgrafix. from
We all know how easy it is to be distracted during the Christmas season. We hear messages about commercialism, and time management, and how to find the perfect cookies on Pinterest. It's oh-so-easy to get caught up every. single. year. isn't it?

But today I want to talk specifically about how the whirlwind as well as the magic of the holidays affects out writing.

It's not secret to anyone that CBA is a hard sell right now. It's no secret agents are hard to come by and editors, even harder. And if you do have a publisher, you may be crossing your fingers, hoping their fiction program stays funded.

And so, we see a trend. Yet again, it becomes oh-so-easy to get caught up in it all. Like the stress of present wrapping, we get so fixated on the outward characteristics of the industry that we forget the gift itself. If we aren't careful, our hearts grow weary and disheartened. 

But oh, what a gift we have. 

As Christians who write--whether that be for CBA, ABA, or just for ourselves and God, we have been given the gift of life, and it ought to shine through our manuscripts. Some will be more forthright in the mesage than others, depending on our callings. But we all ought to share the redemption, and the hope, and the life that came into the world on the very first Christmas.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas to all of you, sweet friends. And because I like spreading Christmas cheer, I couldn't resist sharing this picture of my baby in a Santa hat... ;)

Photo by the INCREDIBLE Megan at Southern Grace Photography

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, December 16, 2015

My Favorite Christmas Movies & Writing

Ever since I researched 1940s Hollywood for Stars in the Night, I've been a bigger fan than ever of classic movies. Growing up, my favorite movies were from the 30s and 40s...that hasn't changed. There's something I love about the simplicity of that time that shines through in movies that make me laugh and feel. So today I thought I'd share a few of my favorites.

Movies are a great way to learn how to write great dialogue and chacterization. Watching these actually counts as writing research!
  1. White Christmas: I adore this relatively simple story set during the post WWII years. I love the theme of honoring those we admire...even at great cost to ourselves. The ending scene with the general makes me tear up every time. And hearing Bing Crosby croon White Christmas? And Danny Kaye is the perfect comedic foil. Sing with me "Sisters, Sisters...." Perfection! My family adores this movie.
  2. Holiday Inn: This is more than a Christmas movie because it features 13 Irving Berlin songs that are set around the holidays. Fred Astaire's fire cracker dance has always been a favorite of mine, but I love the theme of letting a loved one go so they can chase their dream. Happy sigh.
  3. It Happened on 5th Avenue: I shocked some folks last year, because I'd never seen this movie. Oh my! They were all right. I love it! It's the story of a rich girl who stumbles on some homeless men who are living in her father's seasonally abandoned mansion in NYC. She joins them and their friends, and before long her dad and mom have joined them -- while pretending to be people other than they are. This is a story of realizing the hold things and money can have on us and turning instead to the value of people. A beautiful story.
  4. It's a Wonderful Life: I have to admit that I watched this so many times growing up, it lost some of its appeal. But my husband loves this movie, and it's growing on me again. Who hasn't felt like their dreams died and in the process their life didn't matter. I love the way this story shows the long-lasting impact we can have on people without realizing it. The imagining what life would be like without us. It's a definite keeper and one to watch each year for the reminders that we do matter -- even when we feel like our story has no meaning or value.
Is there a favorite holiday go-to movie in your family?
By the way, have you met The Grove? We're doing a massive giveaway and I'd love to have you join us! You can learn more about the giveaway here. Merry Christmas!


An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ask Yourself: What is My Best Writing Work for the Day?

"Is the work I do today my best work? Is it the most crucial work? Is it what will make the most positive and lasting impact on my life? On my family's lives? On my career? On my ministry?"
-Whitwer, 17

I've been reading a life-changing book. Its called Taming the To-Do List by Glynnis Whitwer. Its been causing me to ask the important questions not only of my writing life but of everything I do.

525,600 minutes as the popular musical tune tells us are the number we have each year.

As 2015 comes to a close many of us find ourselves evaluating how we've spent our time. We create one words, pray about our new year and think about what we will change with God's help.

I wish I'd spent more time on Facebook. I wish I had spent less time playing on the floor with my kids. I regret all the time I spent in the Word of God. Said no one ever.

But what will you say about your writing life this year?

I'm not talking about regret that you didn't get an agent or sign that contract. What I mean is the hundreds of little decisions that make up your writing life every day and the occasional large decisions that can be life-altering.

So what choices do I face in the average day?

Will I do the sometimes tedious work of editing an article or will I put it off for another hour while I focus on keeping up with social media (i.e. pinning one hundred dresses on my Pinterest account while convincing myself this is the best work for my story since I need to research historical details about my mc's bustle)...?

Will I say yes to a volunteer position that takes up time best used for other priorities?

Will I put myself out there to write a blog post that is deep and penetrating...or stick with a safe subject because I don't want to offend a friend who might misinterpret my words?

Will I listen to the contest feedback I received and put the hard work and time into editing yet another time, or convince myself I know best?

If I'm on a deadline, will I convince myself I don't have enough time to read the word today, at the same time quenching the Spirit within who gives all gifts for His purpose?

Will I let pay tempt me into taking an opportunity that might not be God's best for me?

Will I let fear of rejection or failure (or even success) keep me "stuck" in my writing choices?

On the other hand, will I ignore an opportunity from God because it doesn't give me the exposure I might hope for?

Not all doors that open are from God and I need to be discerning. What appears to be a good opportunity can fuel pride, lead to compromise, or just not be God's best. God has shut several doors for me this autumn. We can say thank you in the moment for those as He opens up our eyes later to his priorities for our writing life.

I'm also discovering that like our lives in general our writing lives can be filled up with opportunities and good things that lead to exposure or pay or something else...but that again may not be the best things.

"When my choices are fueled by self-focused need, my best-work is seldom done."-Whitwer

Whitwer hints that we often put off the very things we most need to do in favor of the easiest.

What are we searching for?

"Sometimes it was comfort, such as when I chose something I knew how to do, rather than pushing myself to learn something new. (Sometimes I know I'm tempted to fiddle with genres that I know I find easier, rather than pushing myself in fear of failure). Other times it was safety, such as when I preferred to not deal with a hard or scary possibility (What if I never get published? Am I wasting my time? Can I really put myself out there emotionally and face rejection?) Or maybe I was hungering for the applause of others when they saw how much I got done. (Saying yes to an opportunity for the sake of money or recognition instead of seeking out God's best, even if that means obscurity and lack of payment for my work).

What are you searching for? How is it keeping you from living your best writing life and choosing the best writing work for your day?

Julia Reffner enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction from her home in central Virginia. She writes and reviews for Library Journal, is a contributor to Wonderfully Woven and is active in the Proverbs 31 COMPEL writing community.