I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Seasons of Prose

Somewhere a brisk autumn breeze caresses the cheeks of a writer. It ignites fires of passion. The love for her story burns hot. Her fingers fly over the keyboard with fervor until finally she types “The End” and collapses, totally spent.

While the fall wind blows across the northern plains, in the sunny south, a writer's-blocked author wipes the sweat from her brow. Her hair sticks to her head as she struggles for air. Searches for anything that would breathe life back into her story. Any forward motion is met with fatigue and lethargy.

In the Midwest, a farm girl polishes her tractor as she daydreams of winning the Frasier. She reminds herself that seeds must be planted today in order to enjoy eating ripened fruit during the next harvest. So she tucks the ceremony safely back into her memory box and plants.

Everywhere, in all stories, with all writers, there are seasons. Just as it was 30 degrees in Upstate New York at the same time it was 90 in Denver and 70 degrees in Chicago, so it is with our Seasons of Prose. Our writing temperatures vary.

Every writer knows the feeling of blizzard conditions when our plot cools off. Oh, and when the fog rolls in, we can’t see our story world at all. During springtime, flowers spout up new character ideas and autumn finally puts the period at the end of the last sentence.

This is the circle of life . . . a writer’s life. The seasons of prose. The necessary ebb and flow of tides of words as they deposit trinkets upon the story sands and then retreat back into the ocean of literature forever.

Take heart, fellow writer, whatever season you find yourself in. Enjoy it! Embrace it! If the season is not comfortable for you, put on a sweatshirt and curl up with your story. Springtime will come! New life will blossom and when the time is right, you’ll reap a bumper crop!

Reba J. Hoffman

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pruning Each Other's Orchards

Photo by gabriel77/istockexchange.com

My recent ACFW conference was unsettlingly wonderful! Besides the obvious writing expertise, I was awed by the spiritual nurturing and support, particularly experienced among the Ponderers. I am so thankful for the relationships established during last October's MBT StoryCrafters Retreat. I cringe now to think I almost didn't attend because of budgetary concerns. The truth is, I couldn't afford to miss it.

Meeting in both Minnesota and Indiana with aspiring and accomplished authors willing to critique each others' projects, while praying for and with each other and sharing loving encouragement, reminded me of . . . Amish farmers.

Amish farmers are known for faithful diligence and abundant harvests. But it's difficult for Amish men to prune their own trees. When it's time to prepare their orchards, it's easier to prune someone else's trees.

So wise Amish neighbors arrange a day for orchard work. At a set time, men meet in the middle of the road between their orchards and shake hands. Then the farmers proceed to their neighbors' trees to do all of the cutting necessary to bring those trees to maximum potential in the next fruit-bearing season.

At the end of the day, the men give the trees a final look, ensuring they have done all the required pruning. They then meet again in the middle of the road, shake hands and wish each other well. From that point on, every farmer and his family enjoys seeing the orchards reach full potential.

So it is with Christian authors. We write for Him--but we also are meant to support one another as we pursue the creative process. We often meet in the middle of our writing roads, shake hands, exchange skills, bless each other and shake hands again, and then await and enjoy our mutual harvests--our successes. Because of our shared efforts, the blossoms seem more fragrant, the fruits more lovely. Most of all, God is pleased by our unselfish cooperation and freely-expressed love as we follow Him while serving each other.

It is now officially fall. Apples and other fruits are being harvested. But no matter what the calendar says, it is always the season to contact our writing "neighbors" and arrange to meet in the middle of the road between our orchards to exchange support, services and rejoice in many bumper crops.

~Delores Topliff

Friday, September 24, 2010

ACFW Conference Highlights

The MBT Ponders demonstrate the Heisman Move
It’s impossible in one blog post to zero in on all the high points, but the picture can clue you in on the way The MBT Ponderers felt jazzed by the end of the conference! Let me share a few details.

Happiest Moment

When the presenter read comments about the Mentor of the Year at the banquet, the Ponderers tensed and at least one bit her fingernail—then we recognized comments from our own nominations. We covered our mouths. We elbowed each other. We knew.

When they announced Susan May Warren’s name, we jumped to our feet and belted out the loudest Ponderer cheer to date! While we were certain that other mentors also deserved reconigtion, no one deserved the award more than Susie!

For once in her life, the award-winning author who can churn out thousands upon thousands of words a day, the teacher who always has more to share than there’s time for, the mentor who never hesitates in encouraging us found herself at a loss for words.

Susie's acceptance speech for her Carol
Congratulations to Susan May Warren, Mentor of the Year--and winner of the 2010 ACFW Carol Award for Contemporary Novella for The Great Christmas Bowl!

Most Inspiring Moment

I think almost everyone would agree that both of Tim Downs’ keynote speeches were the best we’ve ever heard. Most of us plan to purchase the recordings and listen to them again. He said that stories give structure and meaning to life. Jesus often used stories instead of sermons to answer questions or illustrate his point. With stories you’ll sneak up on the readers and touch their hearts at the most unexpected time.

Tim Downs said that “thou shalt not” touches the head. “Once upon a time” touches the heart.
He said, “Stories go places that sermons never can.”

Tim reminded us that we are all part of the body of Christ so just as the head cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you”, the romance writer cannot say to the author of science fiction, “I have no need of you.” (Or visa versa!)

He left us with this thought: “I hope the ideas you try to write are bigger than your ability to write.”

Please listen to his entire keynote on What is Christian Fiction.

Best of my Gleanings

From James Scott Bell’s Early Bird: Great art makes you homesick for heaven.

Chip's devotional: Success vs. Significance
From Harry Kraus’ devotional: We’re commanded to feel, so go ahead and giggle!

From Chip MacGregor’s devotional: Success is going after a goal and accomplishing it—but this fades quickly. Significance is making a difference in the lives of others—this lasts for eternity.

Susan May Warren’s Scene Therapy: A fabulous equation: a sympathetic character + stakes + goals + obstacles + fear of failure = tension

Susan May Warren’s Deep and Wide: A great subplot mirrors the theme of the main plot.

Most memorable moment

Okay, this isn’t just my opinion. Publisher's Weekly declared that the My Book Therapy line dance snagged ACFW’s most memorable moment.

You know how writers always post good news of a contract or great review saying they’re “Snoopy dancing”? Susie choreographed an official MBT line dance so we’ll all know just how to do it. Her son, Pete, helped her, and they dubbed one of the moves “The Heisman” in honor of the Warren family passion with football. (That’s Susie and the Ponderers doing the move in the top picture.)

If you’d like to learn the dance in preparation for your next contract or good news announcement, click here!

Best Fellowship Moments

Well, there were just too many to name! The Ponderers loved meeting some of our blog visitors face to face for the first time. I personally enjoyed getting to know MBT Voices Columnist Edie Melson. What a sweetheart. Melissa has an announcement about our blog visitors soon, so stay turned!

Blog Give-away Today

Today, I’m offering a free, signed copy of Susan May Warren’s craft book From the Inside…Out to someone who leaves a comment about the best moment or highlight or greatest gleaning at the ACFW conference. If you didn't go to the conference, tell us about something that's inspired you recently.

Blessings, Teri

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ACFW Golden Nuggets

Author Tim Downs stood at the podium in his two piece suit, delivering a stone-cold truth that will change my life forever. "The man with one talent went and hid his in the ground... his master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant..."

The parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25, is familiar to most of us, but I doubt that many have ever looked at it Tim's way. He said that the Master intended his servants to invest their talents.

Now we all know that the Scripture is referring to talent as money, but as Tim pointed out, the word talent is a double entendre (meant to be understood in two ways). The talent also refers to our lives.

Each man took what the Master gave them and invested. All except the man with the one. He hid his. So, when the Master returned, he had this to say of the man who refused to invest: 'You wicked, lazy servant! (Matthew 25:26)

Tim reminded us that, "There is no failing when you invest. None that invested his talents were put to shame. The one that didn't invest was the evil one!"

So here's the thing. You know that writing talent that you've been wondering whether you should do anything with or not? Let me spell it out in plain English for you. DO SOMETHING WITH IT!

God is not going to put you to shame for trying even if you fail. You will, however, be put to shame if you do nothing. So come on, do something. Write for your church bulletin. Write notes of encouragement to your friends--or enemies, for that matter. Start that short story or novel or how about a non-fiction book on how to serve God or perhaps an article? The method does not matter, just pick up a pen and write something. Then share it.

Oh come on now, you didn't think the Lord would just have you write something and then bury it, did you? That's what the evil servant did. If you don't share it then it's not investing it.

Think about this for a bit. That humility you think you have inside you, the one that says, "Oh no, I'm not good enough." is really pride rearing its ugly head. Don't fall for it. If God can use the mouth of a donkey, He can use you and me just fine. So come on.

I want to hear from you. Tell us how you stepped out! I'm looking forward to hearing from you. And remember... you can do it!
ginger r. takamiya

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Emotionally Exhausting Life of a Novelist

Folks, I’m exhausted. Seriously.

In the last few months I’ve been dealing with racial hatred, spousal abuse, parental control freaks, women on the brink of a breakdown, and false accusations of stealing a Super Bowl ring.

And that’s in my critique group alone.

My students have sent me to another planet to deal with creepy lizard-like villains, got me involved in a futuristic American Revolution, made me deal with a mother dying of cancer, and saddled me with a teenager with the gumption to investigate her father’s death.

I almost don’t have the courage to face my own hysterectomy, gun-toting biker, child-kidnapping situations, arson and murder. (That’s my own stories, folks, not actual hysterectomy, child-toting, gun-napping—see? It’s getting to me.)

On top of that I’ve started a new story and need to research how to sabotage the brakes of a car. Say a prayer that the Big Brother watching our Internet Google searches won’t take me seriously. At least I’m not writing one of those international thrillers. I’d hate to see the men who turn up on the doorstep of Tom Clancy.

Why didn’t someone tell me the emotional exhaustion writers face? I scarcely have the energy to carry on a conversation with my husband at supper. (Sorry, honey, the revolutionaries used their electro-rods on a redhead today, and they almost hung Birdie who opened a restaurant and broke the window of the preacher, and I just can’t take more drama. No. No. Sorry, that was the lizard creatures on the black planet with the rods and Birdie with the window and the preacher with the noose.)

On top of this, they expect writers to twitter and Facebook and ShoutLife and Linkedin—all bringing more emotional trauma with warnings that all 500 million Facebook users will know my phone number unless I immediately follow some incomprehensible instructions. This may increase those unwanted middle-of-dinner calls, but then I’m too emotionally wrought to answer the phone anyway, and my husband doesn’t have anyone else to chat with so maybe it isn’t too bad.

Nevertheless, I did spend precious writing time trying to figure out where to click and unclick.

Only to discover than our phone number is publicly listed on the Internet in the White Pages. Now someone please send me some incomprehensible instructions on how to waste more time removing that. Or not.

If that’s not enough, I had to face a cousin who can crunch numbers. After I boasted on Facebook that I’d written 3780 words in my WIP that day (and feeling plenty smug about it), he informed me that it amounted to 7.875 words per minute in an 8 hour day! Why did I get the clever relatives?

Well, hello, I can only type 7.875 words per minute because of all the Facebooking, twittering, blogging, and research googling. Add in all those words, will you, Cuz? (I’m so glad writers don’t do numbers.)

No one ever told me about the emotional trauma writers face. But I’m telling.

Now you know.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Teri

Friday, September 17, 2010


Image from freefoto.com

Sometimes conferences, especially the ACFW Annual Conference, can seem completely overwhelming. Workshops provide information at speeds of 10, 25, 30 or 70 miles per hour and before you know it, information overload has brought your brain to a yield, or worse, a dead end.

Often you can work up an impressive panic attack waiting in two hour parking before you pitch to your dream editor or agent. When your turn to pitch finally comes, all of the sudden your tongue has thickly settled (can anyone explain that road sign to me? I mean, seriously…) and your perfectly practiced pitch doesn’t go one way, but the wrong way.

I’ll let you in on a Ponderers secret. Stop.

One of the best things about the Ponderers is knowing there is always someone who will lift you up in prayer at a moments notice.

We Ponderers would like to take a moment to lift each of you and your conference experience up in prayer. For those of you unable to attend, we’ll pray for you too. (And I suggest you check out Heidi’s post from yesterday. I’ll admit it, despite being in a hospital with a bunch of sick people and NOT at ACFW, I couldn’t stop laughing!)

Heavenly Father, thank You for preparing a journey for each one of us. Whether that journey takes us to Indianapolis or leaves us in our hometown this weekend, we know You are there.
Thank You that You alone know who the right agent or editor is for our manuscript, and You have divinely orchestrated each appointment and encounter the ACFW attendees will experience. May their pitches flow like honey to receptive ears. Prepare their hearts and minds. Calm their nerves. Bless those teaching, so attendees might learn and grow as writers. Unite us in forming new friendships and strengthening old ones.
For those of us unable to attend, may we see You at work in our lives this weekend at home. In Jesus name, Amen.

Okay, for those of you who are at ACFW right now: post what you are learning, experiencing, and how God is moving in your life at the conference this weekend. Also, post your prayer requests.

For those of us on the home front, let’s cover these writers and their requests in prayer this weekend and learn from what the attendees share with us.


Amy Lindberg

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Left Behind

If you are a writer, then you know that this weekend is the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Every writing related blog/website is abuzz about the fabulous and exciting conference and unless you live in a remote village in Tibet (in which case you are probably extremely enlightened and completely at peace and need not read on) you have been inundated with valuable information on this conference, including some fabulous posts written by my fellow Ponderers.

Alas, I will be sitting out the 2010 ACFW conference due to some health issues, and the disappointment is sometimes a little overwhelming. I feel a little like Cinderella being left behind while my sisters (the ones I love beyond measure, NOT the ugly step-sister sisters!!) go to the ball. So, I would like to offer my list of my top ten things to do this weekend if you, too, are being left behind.

10.) Curl your fists into tight balls and pound them on the dining room table while stomping your feet (preferably on wood or tile floors for full effect) and shriek until you begin to feel better. Optional: hold your breath until you turn blue.

9.) Close your eyes, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth. Repeat ten times, or as many times as it takes for you to begin to feel refreshed and/or in control of your emotions. Then eat a pint of your favorite ice cream.

8.) Close your eyes and wish for a fairy godmother to magically appear with plane tickets for a pumpkin shaped airplane with creepy mice-ish flight attendants, deluxe hotel accommodations at the castle, a fully written and edited manuscript, and/or a gigantic pink taffeta gown with satin and lace accents and lots of sparkles for the Saturday night awards banquet.

7.) Attach a room number to your bedroom door, along with a “do not disturb” sign on the doorknob. (Optional: hang the sign so that it reads “maid service requested.”) Inform your family that you will be "away" for awhile and that you will not answer the door for anyone other than room service.

6.) Post updates on your facebook that imply you are at the writing conference. Example: “Heidi Larson Geis just had the most amazing conversation with James Scott Bell on the best way to convey legal jargon to the average reader. James completely appreciated Heidi’s suggestions and will be dedicating his next book to her.”

5.) Visit the facebook pages of authors/agents/publishers you know are attending and/or teaching at the conference and post something like this: “It was so great to meet you. Wasn’t dinner amazing?” or “Your class on humor in fiction was so enlightening. Thank you!”

(Disclaimer: The preceding suggestions are for entertainment purposes only. If you choose to actually do any of these things, you do so at your own risk and Heidi is not responsible for anything that happens as a result. Unless, of course, the outcome is positive, at which time Heidi will take full credit. The following suggestions are the things Heidi actually encourages you to do.)

4.) Find some friends who are going and set up times to Skype with them. Make them tell you one or two things they have learned that will change the face of their writing, and then try to immediately implement them in your writing. (And possibly, although I can neither confirm nor deny that I know anyone attempting to do this, have your friend sneak in their pink Mac to Skype the awards banquet. Make sure you dress up, though, as Skype goes both ways!)

3.) Buy yourself a writing book by one of the many awesome authors teaching at the conference (Suggestions: The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins, Plot and Structure or Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, A Novel Idea by a variety of awesome Christian authors, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass) and spend the weekend reading and taking notes on the book. Try to apply at least one thing you learn in one or two scenes of your manuscript.

2.) Use the internet to find other conferences and writing retreats that may better fit your schedule and/or budget. I have attended and can recommend all three of Susan May Warren’s coaching/writing retreats (AWESOME! ), the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Novelist Retreat, and an American Christian Writers conference. I am thinking about trying the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers conference (in North Carolina in May) or the Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference (in California in March.)

1.) PRAY. Okay, I think we all knew this one would find its way into the countdown, as well it should because the Bible is pretty clear about prayer and thanksgiving. Pray for those blessed to attend, for their safe travel and for their conference experience. Pray for those who are teaching and for the keynote speaker. Pray for the hotel staff, that they will be blessed by conference attendees and know that they are Christians by their love. Pray for yourself. (My husband is a pastor…he said it is totally okay to pray for yourself!) I prayed that God would help me with my feelings of discouragement and disappointment, and that He would help me to be happy for my friends who get to go. I also prayed that God would open doors for me to attend next year, IF IT IS HIS WILL. (That last part is kind of important.) Finally, I prayed that God would give me something else to do that felt almost more important than the conference (aka perspective) and it turns out tonight is my son’s first football game. His first one ever in his whole 14 years of life. There will be other writing conferences, but not other first football games. I am so glad I will not be missing it…it’s almost as if God knew why I needed to be left behind.

Be blessed beyond measure!
Heidi Larson Geis

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going to a Writers Conference?

Your bags are packed with toiletries, new outfits, great shoes, pens, highlighters, and a laptop. You’ve designed your one-sheet, memorized your pitch, picked up business cards, and printed your boarding pass. You're as ready as can be--except for one thing.

What are you forgetting?


You may not even realize you're bringing a few expectations along with you. But, spoken or unspoken, we all have 'em. Here's a few recommendations about expectations.

photo by Jane Cleary


--Expect to go home with a contract. Most new authors expect to land a contract at a conference. After all, they love their “baby.” Surely, an agent or editor is going to see this fabulous work and offer a contract. Um . . . sorry. The industry doesn’t work that way. Even if you’re the next Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. Even Stephen King has enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room. Even J.K. Rowling wasn’t an overnight success. At best, you may be asked to send a partial, usually the first three chapters.

--Don’t look around at all the other writers and become discouraged by the sheer number. They may want a contract as much as you, but are they all going to work as hard as you’re willing to work? You have to do your best and write for an audience of One. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

--Don’t use anyone. Ever.

--Don’t accost editors in the bathroom. Treat agents and editors with respect. They deserve off-duty time. And they definitely deserve a potty break! If you meet one in the lounge after dinner, just talk to them like you would to any acquaintance you happen to meet—unless you never ever stop talking about your novel. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. I suppose if you happen to catch one in the elevator regardless of the time of day, you may pitch to them, since the elevator pitch is named for this situation.

--Don’t be discouraged. Don’t think of the cost of the lovely hotel room, the conference, and the airfare and feel you’ve wasted money. You’ve invested in your dream. I’ve never met an unpublished writer who hasn’t walked down the hallway during a conference and thought, “What made me think I could do this?” We’ve all have doubts. Success isn’t going to come easily, which will make it all the more sweet when it arrives. Keep believing.


--Allow yourself some downtime. After attending a number of workshops and hearing all the things you’ve got to do to take your writing to the next level, your head may feel like exploding if you pump in one more fact.

--Network. This is one of the main reasons to attend a conference. Mingle, meet people, exchange business cards. Follow up with emails right after the conference while the contact is still fresh.

--Look for critique partners.

--Allow God to direct your career. I attended my first conference with unrealistic expectations. I wanted that writing contract. But I wasn’t ready in terms of craft or my personal life. God knew the unexpected tragedies in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to handle deadline pressures with my hectic life as the widowed mother of seven.

--Listen for industry trends. What are publishing houses looking for?

--Be friendly. Once, my friend and I noticed a woman sitting all alone at breakfast. She hesitantly admitted she’d almost stayed in her room because hadn’t wanted to come to breakfast alone. We offered her friendship. Several years later, she’s published. My friend and I still hope to be. Maybe one day, the shy author will write a blurb on my first published book.

You can make some of the best friends of your life with people who share your dreams, passion, who will pray for you, offer a shoulder when you’re rejected and celebrate when you final in a contest or land a contract.

--Meet your favorite authors. One of the perks. I don’t tell people I know Award-winning, Multi-published Author Susan May Warren. I say, “Susie knows me.”

--Keep a positive attitude. Honing your craft takes time.

--Make time to pray. At the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference, a room is dedicated to—and bathed in—prayer. Take advantage of the wonderful prayer partners.

What suggestions can you add to my list?

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, September 13, 2010

The 7 P's of Pondering a Pitch

So you’ve got your pitch together – Now what?

If you’ve never pitched before or even if you have – prepare to be petrified! I’m not saying that to discourage you – it’s the truth! You are handing over your baby, finally letting someone take a peek at your work. The thousands of words you have struggled over day and night, the repeated edits, the building of the story world, and the special people you’ve come to love – your characters. You’re laying all your effort out on the line for some editor or agent to either fall madly in love with, or snub their nose at your efforts.

So what do you do? You’ve probably read a kazillion (okay, so I took the liberty of making up a word) of these types of articles, but here is one more. I’m giving you the seven P’s of pitching.

1) Prepare - Check out the MBT Pitch Fest, you will walk away armed and ready to present your work.
2) Practice - Practice your pitch. I write it out on index cards and take it to the appointment. That’s because I’m not good at a practiced speech, and it gives me the confidence I need to give them my pitch. But I have still practiced it so I am not reading directly from the card in front of me.
3) Person - Remember the person opposite you is just that – a person. A business man or woman trying to find a good story that will make their publisher happy with their choices. They don’t have hidden talons waiting to rip you apart if you goof. But you do have to sell them on your story.
4) Pause - Take a deep breath. Spend some time while you wait for your appointment to review your story. You are the only one that knows those handsome heroes and classy heroines, and the evils you have put them through.
5) Promote - When you talk about your characters, act like they are your best friends. Well they have been haven’t they??? You have held their hand during heartbreak, you’ve ripped your new manicure from your nails when they’ve been in danger, and your heart has gone pitter-patter when cupid’s arrow finally hits its mark.
6) Pray - Pray for strength and wisdom.
7) Pitch - Now straighten your shoulders, throw out your chest, lift up your head and give it your best.

I have walked away from pitching, so happy that I had to look down at my feet to make sure they were touching the ground. I have also walked away thinking I wouldn’t give that person my story even if they paid me a million bucks. But remember, that is part of the process. It’s not just selling your story; it’s the beginning of a relationship between you and an editor or agent – so make the best of it.

So here is where the rubber hits the road. ACFW is just around the corner so – Prepare, practice, person, pause, promote, pray and pitch. And remember – I’ll be right there with you trying to do the same!

Jennie Atkins

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you?

Never forget. 

My mom can remember the details of where she was when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember being in 7th period study hall during my junior year when we heard about the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.

On September 11, 2001, we were giddy with excitement--okay, can't say I've ever seen Hubby giddy with excitement--to board the shuttle bus from our resort at Walt Disney World to take us into Magic Kingdom. We spent a couple of hours getting wet on Splash Mountain, going on the Jungle Cruise, and seeing the Country Bears. Suddenly, attractions were closing, and people were being herded (best term for it) to the main entrance. Rumors were being repeated, almost like a game of Telephone. Snippets of Twin Cities, or was it Twin Towers, planes, bombings spread through the massive numbers of people. We returned to our resorts and were told we could not leave them. Once we got into our room, we turned on the TV and cried as we watched the travesty being brought against our nation. 

Hubby, who is a former Marine, was stationed in Quantico, VA for three years. He spent a lot of time in D.C. and knew exactly where those planes had hit. Our families panicked when they couldn't get ahold of us by phone because they had heard the major US resort areas were going to be hit too. When I talked to my sister, we cried together. 

Heroes died that day. Unsung heroes who were nameless faces in the crowds. Heroes who battled flames, treated the wounded, and prayed over the desperate. Heroes who sacrificed their lives so others could live. Heroes who became Jesus in the flesh. 

Our country changed that day. Prayer for the brokenhearted drew people closer together and closer to God. We can't afford to forget September 11, 2001, because we can't afford to take our days for granted. God gives us a precious gift called the present. We need to make the most of every day and make sure our loved ones know how much they mean to us because we don't know what tomorrow brings. 

I'm so thankful I live in a nation that honors freedom of worship. I'm so thankful for the service men and women who fight at home and abroad for our nation's freedoms. I'm so thankful for their families who support them when they can't be together. I'm so thankful for the everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to save others. I'm so thankful for those medical heroes who work tirelessly to minister to the sick and wounded. I'm so thankful for those heroes that go unnoticed like our educators. 

Let us join together as One Nation Under God and never forget.
Where were you when you heard the news? How has this tragedy strengthened your faith?

Lisa Jordan

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pitch Fest: The Hook: How Ironic!

Last May when a bunch of the MBT Ponderers landed in Seattle at the Polish (Pitch and Promotion) conference, Susie taught us to search for the irony for our hook. If you’ve done the homework Beth Vogt shared on The Writing Road about the Why/Why Not of your story, you’re ready to discover your hook.

When we speak of irony, we’re talking about a paradox or the incongruity of the situation. You already know why your character is perfect for the journey as well as why it won’t work for them. Can you see the contradiction or absurdness of the hero’s situation?

If you have trouble coming up with the irony in your story, asked yourself if there’s a pair of unexpected opposites.

Let me give you some examples. In the popular TV show Castle, a control-freak cop must accept the help of an out-of-control writer. Wouldn’t you know she’d get stuck with him!

This year’s ACFW keynote speaker, Tim Downs, writes about a woman who’s terrified of insects teaming up with a forensic entomologist to solve a murder in Shoofly Pie. You can imagine the scene where the woman has to enter his creepy infested office!

Sometimes it helps to find the irony by asking a question. What if a prominent doctor wrongly convicted of murdering his wife must escape in order to find the real killer and prove his innocence? (The Fugitive.) What if an obnoxious boss must ask her assistant to marry her in order to escape deportation? (The Proposal.)

Once you’ve discovered the paradox in a question, you can change it to a statement if you wish.

To bring it closer to home, here’s some of the MBT Frasier finalists who honed their hook with irony at the Seattle conference:

Beth Vogt: Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?

Melissa Tagg: She thought she knew him better than anyone. Now she wishes she didn’t.

Dr. Paula Boire: He’ll have to sacrifice a nation in order to save his son.

Aren’t those great?

At the conference, Susie taught us to give this hook first and pause for a moment. If it’s good, the agent or editor will likely ask for more. At this point you give the premise. Click here to find out more about preparing your premise from MBT Ponderer, Melissa Tagg.

Join Susan May Warren and the MBT Ponderers on Monday night, September 13 at 7 p.m. (Central) for a Pitch Practice Chat!

See you there, Teri Dawn Smith

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not Your Typical Car-acter

There's a certain room in a friend's house that makes me smile every time I walk into it. A drum set surrounded by pink ballerina wallpaper. Pictures from a hummingbird calendar bumping up against posters of military planes and tanks. The kid who lives in the room is growing up. The contrast in the decor shows that. Which side is going to win out--the soft ballerina or the tomboy? Or...maybe there doesn't have to be a winner. Maybe the contrasts are what come together to make her so unique. She's not a stereotype. She's one of a kind.

Can you say that about your characters?

There really are no new plots, right? I mean, you can mix different components together and tell the story in your own voice, but just about everything's been done. So one way to make your story stand out is to make your characters stand out. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Irony: Rachel Hauck's upcoming release, Dining With Joy, came about because of this question: What if the star of a television cooking show couldn't cook? That question alone makes the character memorable. Lisa Jordan has a work-in-progress (WIP) where her coffee shop-owning heroine is allergic to caffeine. That's not quite as plot-changing as Rachel's character, but it doesn't have to be. It adds in a little touch of uniqueness that, combined with everything else, will help to set the story apart.
Contrast: Say a small-town shy chick buys a purple low-rider with ground effects, big wheels, a funny horn, and a really loud engine. Why would she do that? Because she's tired of being a wallflower but can't change that on her own? Just because she really likes the color purple? Or is it because, even though the car itself draws attention, the windows are tinted so she remains hidden? Or maybe she's not really shy-- she's just been pretending, because she's in WITSEC (Witness Security), but her drug world past can't keep itself hidden. Whatever the reason, that car is going to make you dig deeper, and it's going to add an element of surprise to the story. (Just fyi, it was none of the above. And I no longer own my little Sidekick, but isn't she cute?)

Out-of-the-ordinary: What about a first grade teacher heroine who whittles in her spare time? That's a little unexpected. Why would she whittle? That's what I wondered, too, when I wrote Double Take. The knife was added in only after a Genesis judge (thanks, Gina!) suggested Kenzie should be doing something with her hands while she's watching TV during a particular scene. Knitting? Nope. (No offense, Lisa!) Cooking? Well, it doesn't really fit in with the timing. How about whittling? That seemed a little random, though, so why would she have that hobby? Turns out, she had a pretty good reason, and the knife she used ended up being a rather important part of the story.

These things can not only develop unique characters, but also deepen your plot. So now it's your turn. What character really stands out from a novel you've read? Why? What is one quirk/hobby/treasured possession/whatever that you could give your main character to add a surprise element to your story? No stereotypes allowed!

Jenness Walker

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why God Rocks...Reason No. 1 Bajillion

Anybody who knows me beyond, “Whoa, does that girl ever not have a can of Diet Coke with Lime in her hand?” knows I've been a little preoccupied lately. And not with my WIP. Or ACFW. Or any sort of writing ponderation. (Wow, I expected spellcheck to zing me for that last one. Turns out it's actually a word!)

Nope, much as I've tried to be Writing Wonder Woman this summer – minus the not-so-modest suit, though I'd totally take the boots – I've had trouble focusing. All because of an adorable little guy named Oliver.

I've written about my two-month-old nephew multiple times on my own blog. He was born June 21 with two heart defects and Down Syndrome.

Well, last week Ollie had a second heart surgery. Going into it, the brutal truth jabbed me emotionally: he couldn't survive without the surgery, but the risks of the operation were nearly as high as no surgery at all. I drove blurry-eyed to Children's Mercy in Kansas City, wondering if the few minutes I'd get to spend with Ollie that morning would be the last, thinking about what my sister and brother-in-law must be feeling.

Hours later, as the medical team rolled Ollie away for surgery, we prayed as a family. And waited.

You know, if I had my way, God would've healed Oliver's heart defects before he'd even been born. Or He would've stopped the leaking fluids which forced Ollie's second heart surgery. Or He would've...

But He didn't. Because He's God. Because He has a different plan. Because His timing trumps all.

And because of His timing, my family got the joy jolt of our lives last Thursday when Ollie made it through surgery. He's still going strong today. Not only that, a team of doctors and nurses – who had strong doubts about Oliver's chances of making it through surgery – and literally hundreds of praying family members and friends have been impacted. Why, Ollie's caringbridge page has received over 10,000 visits! My beautiful nephew has touched soooo many lives – and he's not even walking and talking yet.

Well, this is supposed to be writing blog, not the Auntie Melissa Show. So here's the thing: We writers can get pretty antsy, can't we? Especially with a conference like the ACFW approaching. We have goals and dreams and hard as we work, we don't generally get to control the outcome, yeah? But just like He has displayed in Oliver's life, God is at work in each of us, in our writing. He's got a crazy good plan being played out in His own perfect, to-the-minute timing.

And when that truth smacks me in the face, it knocks the antsy-ness right out of me.

And hopefully you, too! Yeah?

Melissa Tagg

p.s. Is this not one of the most adorable babies you've ever seen?

Monday, September 6, 2010


Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/147870
Writing may be a solitary profession, but it takes teamwork to create a novel.

July was a rough month for me--physically and emotionally. I realized I needed to take a step back in order to move forward. Sounds kind of like a contradiction, huh? I decided to do a social networking fast in order to focus on my novel. I didn't read or comment on blogs, spent very little time on Twitter or Facebook, and didn't do much web surfing.

Katie Ganshert wrote a terrific article in the summer issue of Voices about "Pursuing the Dream When Time is Scarce". While I loved the entire article, the one thing that really spoke to me was setting up a sacred writing time. Katie gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to spend time with God, and then to write before she gets ready for her day job as a elementary teacher.

In August I wanted to write the rough draft of my novel in 31 days. Wow, my own personal Nanowrimo. I set my alarm for 5 a.m. to write for an hour before it was time to get ready for my day job. I did a couple of things to prepare--I downloaded an online egg timer and I did some basic plotting. I set the timer for 30 minutes at a time, and then kept track of my of my word count. I wrote 40,000 words in 31 days. Even though I didn't make my goal, I completed two-thirds of the story and can write a full synopsis.

The biggest blessing I received from my novel writing month was having an accountability partner. I met Michelle Lim through Ponderer Amy and enjoyed chatting with her in the My Book Therapy chats. We chatted one afternoon and started brainstorming. From then on, Michelle sent me encouraging e-mails on a daily basis and spent a couple of hours a day pondering and brainstorming the next chapters in my novel. She helped me to create terrific characters whose unique qualities have taken my story to a deeper level. And I'm excited to say Michelle completed the rough draft of her novel by the end of August. So proud of her. I can't wait to meet her in person at the ACFW conference in ten days.

What about you? Do you have an accountability partner who helps you stay on task and possibly brainstorms with you?

Lisa Jordan

Friday, September 3, 2010

ACFW is Coming

Gulp. Oh, my goodness. The ACFW conference is only two weeks away! So much to do. So little time. So much pressure. I can’t believe they only gave me one appointment with an editor. Grrr. Maybe I can ambush, er, intercept an editor in the bathroom.

“Wait a minute.”

Gulp again. “Is that you, God?”

“I’m glad to see you recognize My voice. Why are you in such a dither?”

“Well, there this conference, the ACFW, and it’s really expensive, but if I can arrange to talk to at least four agents and that many editors, it’ll pay off. You know, like an investment. The people in charge just aren’t cooperating. Two appointments? Sheesh.”

ACFW. What do those letters stand for?”

"Uh…American Christian Fiction Writers?"

“That’s what I thought. So, you’re a Christian writer?”

“God, you already know that. You told me that’s what You wanted me to do. Just like we’re talking now. Remember?”

“Then why are you worrying? Don’t you know I’ve already ordained who you’ll meet? Which editors, which agents. Didn’t you volunteer to work in the bookstore Friday? You might be surprised by the lady browsing through there who just happens to ask you what you write. Probably be a good idea to be ready with your pitch.”

I don’t know about you, but God’s already had this talk with me. He’s reminded me that the conference isn’t about me and what I can do, but about Him. Praising Him. Glorifying Him. Every meeting, every appointment, every meal and every session is in His control. If I don’t get to meet a particular agent or editor, He already knew I would be wasting my time.

So, relax. Put your agenda away. Go to Indianapolis and learn how to honor Him with your writing. Along the way, connect with others who want to honor him with their writing—you may make some life-long friends.

Cease striving and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10 NASB

Pat Trainum
I asked God for patience and He gave me a book to write.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Embracing the red pen

When you hear the word "edit," do you cringe? When you see an editor, do you grab your manuscript and run as fast and far in the opposite direction as you possibly can? When you meet editors at writers conferences, do you feel like you're participating in some sort of macabre publishing version of speed dating?

I'd like to change your minds about editors and editing. I have a novel perspective on the whole editor versus writer conflict. (Pun intended.) I have a split personality: I live my life just like you--pursuing publication--but as editor of Connections, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International's leadership magazine, I also decide whether others are published.

I wanted to get into some nuts and bolts of editing in this post, but decided to lay some ground rules first.

Next time I post, I'll show you how I edit an article, sharing tips and tools to apply to your writing, whether it's an article or a book chapter.

Onto the rules:
  1. Editing is (initially) your responsibility. You don't have the option of saying, "I'm a writer, not an editor." Learn to self-edit, which means knowing your weaknesses and your strengths. Check out: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King and Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.
  2. Editing is inevitable. Someone else is going to edit your writing. (My friend Roxanne read through this blog post for me.) It may be your critique partner or--Woo hoo!--an editor at the publishing house who bought your manuscript. At some point someone will attack . . . I mean, mark your words with the dreaded red pen.
  3. Editing is painful. Revising and reworking your manuscript is just that--work, not play, and therefore it isn't fun and games. Editing takes concentration, effort, and yes, sometimes it takes sweat and tears to craft writing that sings. Sometimes word count trumps that sentence or paragraph you love. Here's the question: Do you want to be a decent writer or an excellent writer? Editing can cut 500 words to 250--and transform ho-hum writing to captivating.
  4. Editing is discriminating. By discriminating I mean you edit carefully so you do not destroy a writer's voice--yours or someone else's. More on preserving writer's voice in a future post.
So, do you disagree with my editing rules? Do you have any of your own rules?