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, March 30, 2011

One More Day Left to Enter the MBT Frasier Contest!

Considering entering the 2011 MBT Frasier writing contest? My Book Therapy (MBT) Voice Michelle Lim says, "Being a bronze medalist in the Frasier last year really helped me to get the invitations to send my work at the national ACFW conference. Besides, the feedback was great!"

Pat Tranium, who was one of the top five finalists, says, "You get such good, constructive feedback from the judges. Now to just finish the pesky 500 word synopsis ... "

The 500 word synopsis is a requirement this year, but it does us good. Whether our WIPs are complete or not, each synopsis shows (not tells) the judges where our story and characters are going. The synopsis also forces us to plot well-thought out story journeys, including intriguing inciting incidents, and guarantee a satisfying final destination.

As posted on MBT's website, Susan May Warren developed the Frasier to provide a further opportunity to help authors "grow in their writing craft! And one fo the best ways to get unbiased feedback is to enter a contest. Agents and editors agree that writing contests are the perfect way to: 1) Get feedback from professionals on your manuscript and 2) Start a buzz for your work among the gatekeepers."

Susie, her husband and children served 10 years as committed missionaries in Far East Russia. I believe her best-selling novels and MBT are an extension of that committed missionary heart to "get the Word out"--the means and method for doing so have simply changed and enlarged. Besides seeking principle-filled inspiring stories from God, Susie's nurturing a growing army of skilled writers who also desire to express God's truth.

The book of Revelation describes "the flood out of the dragons' mouth." God's antidote is a river of life proceeding from His throne filled with inspirations revealing Him. Our part is to listen, pray, craft, refine and deliver the writings He inspires. Just as various Bible books reflect the personalities of their writers, our writings convey God's inspiration shaped through our life experience.

Your assignment? Pray, listen, work, write and rewrite, edit and polish, and study submission guidelines. Then pause, pray, hit submit and enter the Frasier. Last step? Wait for the helpful, honest feedback you'll receive from the judges.

Delores Topliff

CONTEST WINNER: Christine won the copy of debut author Linda Yezak's Give the Lady a Ride. Christine, please email your snail mail addy to Beth at beth@bethvogt.com so she can put your copy of the book in the mail! Congratulations!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Grabbing the "Goodie" Out of Today--No Matter What Today Holds

Ever have one of those days when things weren't clicking?

Last Monday was such a day for me.

I couldn’t find the running shoes I am forced to wear. When did I put them under the sofa anyway?!

Then out the door I flew, only to sit in the exact same spot for 21 minutes in the biggest traffic jam to hit Orlando in quite a while.

I couldn’t find my notebook … my office lifeline. No problem. I have an electronic copy of what I needed for the meeting I had to get to in three minutes. But, I couldn’t log into my network.

What’s worse, I just didn’t feel good. I’m rarely sick, but that day I felt puny. I wanted to cash in my ticket and go home to bed. Instead, I went to lunch and called a friend. I’d like to say I called to encourage her and to speak words of truth and wisdom into her life. Ahhh … wouldn’t that be oh so noble of me?! Truth is, I had the mulligrubs and I wanted to shout it out to the world. She got an ear full of my rotten day.

My dear, patient friend let me spew out all manner of woe-is-me. Then she gave me one line to describe her day. She runs an in-home daycare and matter-of-factly said, "Well, I bet on your job today you haven’t had to say, 'Please stop licking your feet.'"

You know, when I collected myself from my fit of hysterical laughter, I realized she was right. I was comparing my day to … well … perfection. I was focused on the parking lot on the interstate. I let the funk of a blue Monday roll over me like a giant wave. It crashed my attitude and I landed slap-dab in the middle of stinkin’ thinkin’!

I took control of my attitude and committed to making sure I grabbed the goodie out of the rest of Monday. I determined to write my very best, even if it that day's best wasn't my all time greatest prose. I wasn’t drowning. I only felt like I was. My new and improved attitude became my life preserver. I would survive the day!

Reba J. Hoffman

Friday, March 25, 2011

Finding Balance as a Writer

Spring Break arrived and along with my two-sided To Do list, family coming in, and trying to fit in a quick three-day trip to Six Flags, I still wanted to work on my writing craft. But I felt guilty about stealing away to my study to write when the kids were home. I wanted to have balance.

Let’s just say I decided to be true to my goals and enjoy my time with my kids. I just returned from the MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat where we used movie analogies to learn about writing.

So I decided to maximize my time and watch some of the episodes of the TV series “Heroes” (my teenage boys wanted to watch) and pick up some clues on how to describe the characters' emotions and the elements of creating storyworld. Notice, I never said I was going to check what my teenage boys were into watching and, yes, I did call out the elements when I saw them. (Backstory, greatest fear, greatest dream-- all MBT language).

While the show is a bit gorier than I prefer, I was intrigued. When my boys had to leave the room for a little while, I kept watching. (Um ... no, I didn’t even think about hitting the pause button.)

Of course, I had to explain what happened.

Son: “Did they show that guy died?”
Me: “Umm, no.”
Son: “Well, then how do you know?”
Me: “They inferred it.”

Can you visualize my son giving me the universal teenage look of “Huh?

Me: “Well, it was all about the character's facial expression and the dark lighting in the scene. When they paused the scene and moved to another. The type of music they played. But, no they didn’t actually say it.”

Ta-da! I did what I set out to do, balancing time with my kids and working on my craft.

Go ahead, watch a few movies with a pen and paper in your lap or cradling your laptop. Freeze the TV and consciously watch how directors “showed” you what the character felt. Examine the actors' expressions. How did they use lighting or setting to create the mood?

This is a great way to balance family time while improving your craft. No guilt about being off in your writing room while the kids are on Spring Break.


Alena T.

Photo by ngould/stckxchng.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Debut Author Interview: Linda Yezak

Linda Yezak's first novel, Give the Lady a Ride, was published this month by SkySail Books. Linda is a two-time ACFW Genesis finalist, and is also a member of Women Writing the West (WWW) and The Christian PEN.

Join us as we find out more about Linda and her novel! And answer the question(s) at the end of the interview for a chance to win a copy of Give the Lady a Ride.

Tell us about Give the Lady a Ride.
Ride is based on a couple of discontinued TV shows that centered around ranching and bull riding. The leading lady, Patricia Talbert, needs to return to the faith of her childhood, to learn to rely wholly on God. What better way to teach her than to put her on the back of a bull? Of course, Talon Carlson, the rugged ranch foreman-slash-bull rider, is there to teach her about the ride. And faith. And love.
In fact, they both learn a lesson in faith and love.

Why do you write romance?
My writing career didn't start with romance. It began with mysteries, but the romance between the characters kept getting in the way. When I discovered the love stories were far better than the mystery aspect of my novels, I shifted gears entirely, instead of writing romantic suspense.

Why Christian romance?
I love giving emphasis to God's plan: attraction based on character, as well as physical qualities, love, marriage, sex--in that order. In my mind--and granted, I'm old, so this may not click with everyone--romance doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with sex. If he smiles that particular smile, meant only for you, that's romance. Intimacy doesn't have to be the physical. It can be a glance across the room, when suddenly everyone else fades out of the scene, leaving just the two of you. "I love you" can be illustrated as much by an oil change as by a kiss. Fortunately, oil changes aren't included in my novel, just my married life (which includes kisses too!).

When did you start writing?
Like so many authors, I began around the same time I figured out how to make an "A." I wrote poetry, songs, and stories throughout my childhood. Much later, one of my college professors tried to encourage me to become a writer, but I had my eye on a hot new career emerging in the judicial world: legal assistant. I didn't start writing seriously again until I was 47, and then only sporadically because of several personal crises. (They seem to hit all at once, don't they?)

How do you approach your writing?
I'm a seat-of-the-pantser. What they say about pantsers is true: We have to do a lot of rewriting. But I simply can't seem to write any other way. I'll get three or four chapters down, enough to meet my characters and firm up my idea, then I loosely sketch out what will happen and when. As I go along, I fill in that sketch until I have a good picture. It's a bit backward from the way outliners write.

One of my favorite practices is free-writing in a character's POV. Sometimes what I write in the novel surprises me, so I explore it by "interviewing" my character. Usually the interview question is as simple as, "Why did you say/do/think/feel that?" I climb into my character's head and answer in her voice. It's revealing.

Do you feel like your characters are alive?
Oh, yes! And if I don't, I know they're too flat. With Give the Lady a Ride, I already knew Talon. I grew up with many such people in my life. I guess that's why I start the book with him. Patricia was harder for me to get to know. I did quite a bit of free-writing with her until I got to know her better. Didn't take me long to get under her skin, so to speak. I really like her. She's spunky and game for anything!

What are you working on now?
My work-in-progress (WIP) is The Cat Lady's Secret. This one will fall more in line with Chick Lit or Women's Fiction, but romance is definitely involved. In Cat Lady, I teach Emily Taylor that she can't hide from her past for long, nor can she buy her way out of trouble.

~Ginger Takamiya

For a chance to win a copy of Give the Lady a Ride, leave a comment answering one or both of these questions: Are you a seat of the pants writer like Linda or an outliner/plotter? Would you ever want to ride a bull like Patricia, the heroine of Ride?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Alex Trebek would be proud! (an interview with our 100th follower!)

Something momentous happened last week. And no, we're not talking about National Potato Chip Day – though, technically that took place last week, too. Hopefully you munched on some Ruffles in celebration.

But no, we're talking about something even snazzier than National Potato Chip Day...and that's this: the 100th follower of the MBT Ponderers! We were excited to see our “follower” number hit 100 last week, and to celebrate, we've decided to interview said follower. If you've been around the Ponderers' block before, you've probably seen her name in the comments section: Angela Bell.

We learned last week that Angela's a big Jeopardy fan. So we've decided to conduct this interview Jeopardy-style. Make sure to read to the bottom because we want you to participate, too!
Let’s get started!
The category for today is: Fun Facts About Angela.

Clue 1: Angela’s favorite Bible verse is located in the Old Testament in this book that begins with the letter J.
Answer: What is Jeremiah 29:11?

Angela says, “Jeremiah 29:11 carried me through a rough time in my life when I was unsure of the future. Even now when my dream feels unattainable and the future uncertain, Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that God’s plan for me includes hope and a good future.”

Clue 2: If given an unlimited travel fund to research a story location, Angela would travel to this Mediterranean nation famous for its architecture, mythology, and feta cheese.

Answer: What is Greece?

Angela says, “There are many counties I’d love to visit, but Greece would be my first choice. I’ve wanted to visit Greece ever since I studied ancient history in high school! :) I’d use the trip to do research for a Grecian inspired science fiction or fantasy world.”

Clue 3: Angela, a creature of habit, has only one writing spot. Rose colored paint, ballerina figurines, and antique books are a few of the items you’ll find here.

Answer: What is Angela’s bedroom?

Angela says, “I live with my parents, one brother, two sisters, and three silly dogs. My options for quiet writing spaces are limited, so I write in my room. Door closed. Propped up on a stack of pillows. Computer perched on my lap desk. Not as picturesque as a patio overlooking snow capped mountains, but it works.”

Clue 4: Angela’s new blog for teens, Chosen 129, is inspired by this Bible verse.

Answer: What is 1 Peter 2:9?

Angela says, “Chosen 129 is fueled by a desire to inspire teens to live with purpose and passion. My hope is to provide weekly posts that encourage teens to seek God and make Him a part of their everyday life. I picked 1 Peter 2:9 as my blog’s theme because I loved its encouraging message. We’re not insignificant. We’re chosen!”

Clue 5: This color found throughout nature is Angela’s favorite.

Answer: What is turquoise?

Angela says, “One day I’d love to own a turquoise 1950’s Thunderbird car. Hey, a girl can dream.”

Clue 6: In 2010 Angela read this fairytale retelling and added its author to her list of favorites.

Answer: What is The Healer’s Apprentice?

Angela says, “I had the pleasure of meeting the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, Melanie Dickerson, at the 2010 ACFW conference. I can tell you, Melanie is just as lovely as the beautiful story she’s created.”

Final Jeopardy Question!!

Clue: If Angela could spend a day as any character in any book, she’d choose to step into the dancing shoes of the heroine from this 19th century romance novel.

Answer: What is Pride & Prejudice?

Angela says, “Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I’d loved to be Elizabeth Bennet for a day to enjoy her gorgeous wardrobe, have a perfect English accent, and to see the beautiful green country side. And of course, I’d really love to dance with Mr. Darcy! :)”

All right, it's your turn to answer the Final Jeopardy Question! If you could spend a day as a character in any book (okay, movies can count, too), who would it be? Extra kudos for those who answer in Jeopardy format...:)

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Ultimate Storyteller

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Inland Northwest Christian Writers conference in Spokane, Washington. The general sessions, with keynote speaker Jim Rubart, were inspiring, and the workshops offered valuable information. Since sharing the 40+ pages of notes I took at the conference isn’t very practical, I decided to share some of the information from just one workshop.

Sitting with the Master” was presented by Mick Silva, former acquisitions editor for WaterBrook Multnomah and current freelance consultant and editor. Mr. Silva’s workshop gave me a new perspective on storytelling by reminding me about the Master Storyteller.

God could’ve focused on the mechanics of His creation and His plan, but instead he used story. The Bible isn’t just a bunch of utilitarian information, it is a beautiful love story, and like His father, Jesus valued beauty. He taught in stories. Parables actually; 46 of them. He was the ultimate storyteller.

Here are the 5 things we can learn from The Master Storyteller about writing:

1.) He made truth visible: “God came to dwell with His people because of His great love for them.” This was the message Jesus brought, and it was so important that He used storytelling to convey it.

2.) He deeply understood metaphor: A metaphor is a word picture that carries a deeper truth. Jesus used everyday items, common to the people, to teach them deeper spiritual truths using metaphorical illustrations.

3.) He was a true observer: Jesus watched and listened to people to reveal the deeper truth. He didn’t officially begin His ministry until well into adulthood, giving Him plenty of time to study human nature.

4.) He knew his audience: Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His audience was the lost, and His message was salvation.

5.) He knew God and Scripture: The foundation of all of his most compelling stories was Scripture. He often slipped away to pray. He looked to His father for strength and for direction.

As followers of Christ, we should seek to be like Him. As writers, we can seek to be like Him and write stories that further His message. As we hone our craft and tell our stories, we must follow His example, especially when it comes to our source for inspiration. We need to spend time listening to our Father. We must turn off distractions and “seek the source,” and He will show up.

And if we listen to Him, He will help us to know Him, to know our audience, and to make the truth visible to them. Thank you, Mr. Silva, for the awesome workshop!

By the way, next year’s conference is already on the books. It will be held on Saturday, March 17, and possibly some Friday night activities will be added as well. The keynote speaker will be Tracie Peterson, so get it on your calendar right now, and plan to be in Spokane, Washington in March, 2012!

~Heidi Larson Geis

Friday, March 18, 2011

Help! My character isn't listening to me!

Have you ever been asked a life altering question? (Besides this one, I mean.) It’s rare, I know. But yesterday, my coworker asked me just such a question.

Do you know how to play softball?

Hm. Well. Technically, I am familiar with the sport – so yes, mentally, I know how to play softball. Does my body physically remember how to play softball? Is it like riding a bike? (Aside, has anyone ever tested the theory that a person really can get back on a bike years later and ride it?) If, yes, I have a decent shot. If no, don’t over commit, here, self.

I probably stink, it’s been years since I’ve played. I have six million other things I need to be doing. There’s probably a registration fee I can’t afford. My husband might want me around on Monday nights. I might get hurt and be unable to do the other things that I’ve already committed to.

And yet, before I can stop myself, I say I am exceedingly familiar with the game of softball. (Slow pitch, right?) And somehow, moments later, I’m the final recruit for the office softball team.

Sometimes the characters in our novels surprise us. Veer off course. Do something we never saw coming – just like I did when I agreed to play softball with my coworkers.

Why do our characters do this? It’s all about their values and dreams, about what really motivates them.

Let’s turn me into a character and examine my motivations.

-Well, I used to play. And I used to be decent. And I’d like to think I still am.
-I’ve always wanted to be invited to play office softball. (No, really, sad but true.)
-I am a relatively new employee, so it would be a good way to solidify some friendships at work.
-If I say no, they’ll ask someone else.

Despite all the reasons I shouldn’t play office softball, my desire to solidify office friendships, combined with my secret dream to be included and my competitive nature, led me to accept.

See how understanding what your character’s value can motivate them to travel new paths? Has a character in your story ever done this to you? Can you find the value that motivated them to make that choice?

Happy Writing,

Amy Lindberg

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing Through Adversity. Ten Ways to Nourish the Writer’s Soul

Congratulations to Jeanne T., the winner of the Amazon gift card! Woohoo! The gift card will be sent via email, so Jeanne please message Melissa Tagg on Facebook or at melissatagg@yahoo.com to confirm your email address.

Hi, I'm Roxanne. Today would have been my wedding anniversary—only a tragedy stripped away the future I'd dreamed of halfway to my happily ever after.

What's keeping you from achieving your dreams?

You may be staring at a blank page or dealing with characters that have hijacked the story. Maybe, the plot that sounded so promising has unraveled.

You may be overwhelmed with a difficult job—or no job—a wayward teen, a special-needs’ child, an off-track marriage, a scary diagnosis. Or worse.

You may feel you’ve received more than your share of trouble. Sometimes, living is so painful that it’s a struggle to string words into sentences, scenes into stories. It takes emotional energy to write, but stress and grief drain energy from your well of emotions. In fact, writing may be difficult, nearly impossible.

Believe me, I understand.

Nearly four years ago, on my twin daughters’ 17th birthday, my husband, Jack, had a heart attack. He was only 45 and seemed in perfect health, but he didn’t survive. I was left alone to raise seven children, ages 1-20.

Our four older children had jobs, so it was nearly impossible to juggle five different work schedules to find time for this picture. This photo, taken six months before Jack’s death when our youngest was only six-months old, is the only picture of all nine of us.

For weeks afterward, each time I’d fall into a fitful sleep, I’d wake up gasping from pain as I remembered (as if for the first time) what had happened. Writing was impossible.

Every time that I’ve put my writing aside, I’ve struggled to re-learn my characters’ lessons or discover where I left them hanging. I’ve lost so much ground.

Still, in the nearly four years since Jack’s been gone, God’s given me plenty of opportunities for personal growth. I’m doing all the things other moms do, and I’m doing them alone. My family has had the Swine Flu, ear infections, debilitating seasonal allergies. One child has a serous disease. Another child has autism. Some career paths that haven’t worked out. A relative with major problems impacted my family. Four cars were totaled in accidents. Thankfully, only minor injuries occurred. (BTW, you can ride with me. I wasn't involved in any of the accidents.) Then, there was the water damage. Three incidents. In one year. To the same house. It’s easy to see how I’ve been overwhelmed, but with God's grace I’ve also persevered.

Pearls. Butterflies. Adversity.
God uses a grain of sand within an oyster to produce a pearl. Just think what God—who loves you infinitely more than He cares for an oyster—can create through the adversity in your life.

If a butterfly is helped from its cocoon rather than emerging by itself, its wings won’t develop the necessary strength to fly. God uses adversity to strengthen us.

Frankly, I’d prefer a life without adversity—at least, without losing my husband. But we aren’t given choices. We can only go on learning the lessons that God gives us.

I don’t know what you’re facing today, but we need to learn to write through adversity if we’re going to be successful in this business.

My Family Today - Looking for Silver Linings
photo by Amy Smith Photography
Writing Through Adversity. (Or 10 Ways to Nourish the Writer’s Soul.)

1. Take care of yourself. During airline safety presentations, adults are warned to secure their own oxygen masks before taking care of their children. Generally, we’re so busy taking care of others that we neglect ourselves. Take time to heal and become whole again.

2. If you can’t write, then read that craft book everyone’s raving about.

3. Meet with other writers, online or in person, to keep a writing connection. My Book Therapy is a wonderful community for writers.

4. If you can afford it, attend a writing conference or a retreat. You may feel guilty because you’re not writing as much as you (feel you) should to justify the expense. Think of it as an investment in your future. Or consider it therapy. I honestly believe I’m emotionally healthier when I write. Aren’t you? The opportunity to rub shoulders with authors who share your passion aids your mental health.

5. Critique someone’s work, or better yet, judge a contest. It will strengthen your writing. Plus, you’ll feel good to be able to give back instead of being on the receiving end all the time.

6. Make realistic goals. If you can’t write a chapter, try to write 100 words. Or develop a new character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Or figure out your next plot point.

7. Use this opportunity to learn more about social media, networking and marketing.

8. If you’re published, communicate with your editor and agent about your situation. Don’t wait until you’ve missed a deadline.

9. One day, you’ve got to decide if you’re still a writer. Then, you’ve got to get into the chair and write. Muse or not.

10. Look for joy in unexpected places. A fresh outlook restores energy.

Joy. (I wrote this almost three years ago, but it still applies today.)
Last night, I snuggled with my sleepy two-year-old in a plush chair as we watched a DVD. My lips brushed my son’s soft hair, smelling deliciously of baby soap. I savored the moment. My life isn’t what I’d dreamed it would be, but there is joy, if I’ll open my eyes to discover it. Today, my nearly five-year-old delights me daily. Give me an hour and I’ll tell you how. ;-) If you need a fresh perspective, look at the world through a child’s eyes.

In fact, with that new found joy, that fresh insight, we need to look for the silver linings in our lives. They're all around us. Drop a vase? Less to dust. Gained five pounds? There's more to love. Award-winning Author, Allison Pittman showed me a silver lining with all that water damage. (Yeah, it surprised me too that she could find one.) But she was right. I'm grateful it all happened when I was in the house to take care of it properly. I know mold isn't growing untreated within my home. Our characters also need to reflect joy and hope.

God, the Author and Finisher of our faith, is adding an entirely new chapter to my story with a happily ever after I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. (And, I write romance!) In 94 days, I will marry Steve, the man who is perfect for me--and my kids! Check back for details.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear the ways you’ve learned to write through adversity.
~ Roxanne Sherwood

When the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.
Daniel, my oldest child, (shown here with my youngest) was born on my second wedding anniversary. For the past four years, I’ve quietly grieved my loss, while trying to celebrate Daniel's birthday. Now, I'm concentrating more on what I have than what I've lost. (Though Daniel was born on our wedding anniversary and Jack died on the girls’ birthday, I could never write that in a story because it would sound too contrived.)

Happy 24th Birthday, Daniel! Thank you for all the ways you bless our family!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Time for Everything Under Heaven

I love the beginning of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Life is a series of seasons. Some seasons are longer than others. Some are pleasant, while others cannot end soon enough. Some we walk through with earthly companions. Others we stand alone, unable to lean on anyone but the Creator himself. And although we can sometimes take it for granted, God is by our side every step of the way.

Throughout life’s journey we learn, we grow, and although it’s painful we can come out victorious by holding onto the Life-Giver, the one that gives us grace and mercy. Our God, our Savior, our Friend.

The characters in our stories need to go through those challenges as well. They need to walk through the valleys, then rise above their circumstances. The three Ds (Denial, Destruction, and Devastation), take their life deep into the dark valley, through the seasons of weeping, mourning, or death. But like God holds our hand and helps us rise up as winners, our characters should find their faith and be champions too, rising up to dance, to heal, to be at peace.

While writing, we can use our emotions, draw from the painful times in our lives, the times that gave us the greatest joy, or our physical experiences - the seasons of our life.

Now it’s your turn: What instances in your own life have you used in a story you’ve written? How did you have the hero/heroine come out victorious?

Jennie Atkins

Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't Feed The Alligators

Nature walk.

The words sound so soothing, don’t they?

My husband and I thought so when we scheduled a nice little walk through God’s creation one day on vacation. We started off following the peaceful, shaded boardwalk. I was prepared—water bottle in hand, rarely worn tennis shoes on my feet. Ready for the perfect afternoon…

We were so conned. (You saw that coming, didn’t you?) As soon as we paid our admission, the path turned into a rocky dirt road, lined with palmetto bushes and stubby trees—pretty much the same kind you see along a Florida highway. The sun beat down, and the occasional benches were placed yards away from the only available shade. The path stretched on and on in a straight line. We started counting how many birds we saw—the nature thing, you know? I think we made it to four.

By the time we reached a mile in, we were rationing our water and I found my shoes weren’t as sensible as I’d thought. Half a mile more and I was sweaty and limping. Still staring down a straight line of dirt. Taking pictures of the alligator signs and mile markers since there was nothing else to see. No other pedestrians joined us—apparently everyone else had gotten the memo.

Finally we reached a roughly paved road—the halfway point. Oh, and a pond with a few more birds! At this point, I had three blisters, so I stopped and pretended to admire nature until my husband offered me his socks.

No. I could handle this on my own. I started walking barefoot, aiming for every available bit of grass and praying for no sticky-burrs. Then I gave in and took the socks while the people who were smart enough to take the tour bus (although…to see what?) rode by, staring at the weird girl walking beside the road in men’s socks.

The last mile was pure agony, but with the help of my joke-cracking, sock-lending husband, I made it to the end. The goal. And we saw the gorgeous beach* and picked pretty shells as souvenirs for this particular, um, memorable journey.

The point. Right. Well, I was going to post pictures of my blisters, but maybe I should try to make this writing related. How about like this?

Published author. The words sound so…well, they make you smile, don’t they? A little bit giddy? Don’t worry—I’m not writing to tell you that you’ve been conned. :-) But the writing journey can be a bit like that “nature” walk, so here are a few things we can learn from that horrible-awful-rather-funny experience.

1. Be prepared. You don’t know as much as you think you know. Be willing to learn, to pay for the conferences or craft books or courses you need to hone your writing.

2. Persevere. Even if you have people pointing their fingers at your writing and marking it up. That stuff happens. Just keep moving and learning and growing. Don’t give up.

3. Don’t do it alone. There are organizations and fellow writers out there ready and willing to help, to mentor, to lend you their socks…although personally, I’d suggest requesting a cute pair of flip flops instead.

4. Nature walks could be a perfect place to kill someone and hide their body. Hey. Just had to throw that out there.

5. The writing journey probably won’t look like you expected it to and it might take longer than you thought it would. But that’s okay. Unlike that particular event in my life, you’ll see the joy in the journey, and the lives you impact with your words will make up for the sweat and the blisters along the way.

What's something you've learned along your writing journey?
~ Jenness Walker

*Disclaimer: The beach wasn’t actually at the end of the path. We drove to it. But work with me, people.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just in case you were wondering about the MBT Ponderers

Read all the way to the bottom for details about a rockin' sweet contest! 

So, the Ponderers have been blogging for about nine months now. Our baby has grown and developed throughout these past months...and we're having a blast with the nurturing process. (Huh, probably can't stretch this analogy any further ... )

BUT, we want to make sure you - our readers and friends (or maybe just incredibly kind people who humor us) - know who it is hanging out with you on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays...well, and the occasional Tuesday and Thursday. 

So, for your reading pleasure, check out our MBT Ponderers FAQs (or questions we're pretty sure you'd ask us if we met face to face ... )

Who are you?

We’re a group of writers who met through My Book Therapy’s first year of retreats. Some of us met at the first-ever Storycrafting retreat in October 2009. Our group grew at the February 2010 Deep Thinkers retreat in Florida. Finally, after the May 2010 Pitch & Polish retreat in Seattle, we decided to bring our family to cyberspace! We love fiction, My Book Therapy, each other ... and most of all, God.

Looking back, many of us were surprised at how quickly we bonded after we first met. God blessed us in a David-Jonathan kind of way! And we’re incredibly grateful.

So ... you're writers ... ?

You betcha. Darn tootin'. Sure thing. No doubt. [Pick appropriate regional phrase or insert your own!]

We write everything from women's fiction to suspense to rom-com to Amish-vampire books. Er, well, scratch that last one. There's even a nonfiction writer lurking among us. (Shh, don't tell!)

Some of us are published. Others are on their way. Whatever point we're at in our individual writing journeys, we have a shared dedication to our craft and goal of honoring God through our writing!

Where are you from?

We are from all over the country – literally! From the warm and beautiful (and enviable!) beaches of Florida to the peaceful, sometimes smelly* rural Plains to the far reaches of the picturesque Northwest.

*All that manure, you know.

Why should I follow your blog?

Because if you do, we will send you virtual hugs.

But seriously – not that we weren’t completely serious about the virtual hug thing – we have a blast blogging about faith, fiction and friendship. From funny to serious, our posts are meant to encourage writers of all ages, from all backgrounds!

And sometimes, we have contests! :o)

Why do you call yourselves the Ponderers?

At the first MBT Storycrafting Retreat, award-winning author Susan May Warren told us never to use the phrase “he/she pondered” in our writing. And because we always obey Susie, we don’t. But we needed a way to remember said rule and thus, the name of our group.

But Ponderers is so hard to say! The whole double “er” thing ...

Yes, but it sounds so much better than the Ruminaters ... or Considerers ... or Mullers ... or Excogitaters.

Although, the Noodlers does have a certain ring to it…

Is it true one of the Ponderers once “stole” Susan May Warren's sunglasses after a retreat?

We collectively plead the fifth on that one.

Wow, the Ponderers are, like, way cool. (Whoa, thanks!) How can I find a community of writers like yours?

First of all, just by visiting our blog, you're part of this community. Leave a comment. Become a follower. If you've got your own blog, we'd love to visit.

Second, we highly suggest becoming a member of My Book Therapy. You'll come into contact with hundreds of other writers, not to mention benefit from the writing wit and wisdom of Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck.

Third, why not attend a My Book Therapy retreat? Believe us, you won't regret it! You'll learn a ton, have a bundle of fun...and best of all, build long-lasting relationships.

And no, Susan May Warren didn't pay us to plug MBT. We just love it that much!

Also, there are a lot of great writing groups out there. Check out ACFW!

Last but not least, sometimes I see ya'll use the phrase “happy danging.” What's up with that?

It all started with a typo. Someone meant to say “happy dancing,” but accidentally typed “happy danging” instead. It stuck.

We are, however, big fans of happy dancing. See video for proof.

Contest details! Okay, now that you know all about us, it's time for us to get to know you! So leave a comment telling us one fun fact about you and I'll enter you into a drawing for a $15 Amazon gift card. Amazon.com is a writer's/reader's paradise! Just leave a comment from now through Friday, March 11, for your chance to win! 

Melissa Tagg

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Writer is an Island

Photo credit: redfloor
At the recent My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers retreat, we watched the movie, About a Boy. We dissected the movie to find the necessary elements for a solid story spine. In the movie, Hugh Grant's character narrates the beginning and says, "Every man is an island." The character worked hard at maintaining his island status until a young boy horned his way into the man's life. By the end of the movie, the man realized how much he wasn't an island at all, and liked it that way.

While at Deep Thinkers, I reunited with old friends and met new ones. Sitting in that gorgeous Cedar House, I listened to the brainstorming, laughing, and prayers mingling in the room. We came together through My Book Therapy, created by Susan May Warren to give writers a Voice and a sense of community.

Writers are not islands. Writing can be a solitary occupation, but it’s only as solitary as you choose to make it.

Even if you live in an area where writers are as few as three-dollar bills, the Internet allows us to stay connected to one another. The Ponderers are spread out from east to west coast, yet when something exciting happens, or I need prayer, they’re one of the first I go to.

Whether you’re new to writing or a veteran, get involved. Join writing organizations like ACFW or My Book Therapy. Participate with other writers in group blogs like ours. If your budget allows, attend a retreat or conference. I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away with a new friend or two.

English poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

Writing takes an investment in time and money to be successful, but you also need to invest in relationships, if for no other reason than to let you know you’re not an island, but a continent connected to other writers who understand the sting of rejection, the excitement of muse, and the thrill of the first sale. Together, we can encourage and lift up one another as we forge ahead on the paths laid before us. 

Your turn: How do you keep writing from being so solitary? How have your writing friends changed the way you approach your dreams?

Lisa Jordan

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Frasier and Why You Should Enter It

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

The Frasier wasn’t the first contest I’ve entered—probably about the sixth or seventh. The scene I entered had already won first place in one and second place in another. Several editors and agents had asked for proposals, proposals rejected by what seemed like return mail. That fast. A problem existed. I just didn’t know what it was.

I knew I had a good story, and one editor even commented I was a decent writer. (At least she didn’t say mediocre.) But it stung because I want to be a great writer telling an irresistible story, one the reader couldn’t put down. I asked published friend Debby Giusti if she knew anyone who could look at my work and tell me what I was doing wrong. As quick as a blink of the eye, she said, “Susan May Warren. She can help you.”

I knew Susan was a great writer, but I didn’t know about My Book Therapy until I Googled her. I emailed Susan the first three chapters for a critique. When she called to go over it with me, her enthusiasm for my book and writing gave me hope—even though the critiqued chapters looked like a Christmas tree decked out in yellow and blue lights. But, scattered throughout the critique were comments of what she liked and so many encouragements. She even said I should consider entering the first scene in the Frasier.

I studied her comments, and now with a better grasp of what a first scene should have in it, I rewrote it and took her suggestion. It finaled! Happy Dancing! I was a Frasier finalist!

At the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis (where the winner was to be announced), being a Frasier finalist opened so many doors and is one of the reasons I believe two editors and two agents requested a proposal. While I didn’t win the Frasier, I actually received something more important. The critiques from the preliminary judges and then the final judges gave me a deeper understanding of what my WIP needed.

The critiques were detailed with helpful insights and encouraging comments, and after studying them, I realized I needed to make a few changes before I submitted my proposal to those who had requested them. I asked for and received the time needed. I’ll be sending the proposals off in the next two weeks and my story is so much better, especially the opening scene, thanks to the critiques from the Frasier.

I encourage everyone to enter this wonderful contest. Even if like me, you don’t win, you’ll get feedback that will help you take your writing to a higher level.

Pat Trainum

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pondering the MBT Frasier Contest

Finding out I was a 2010 MBT Frasier finalist went something like this:
  1. First award-winning author Susan May Warren leaves a message on my cell phone. But, Doubting Thomasina that I am, I don't believe she said I finaled in the Frasier. Maybe her words were, "You didn't final in the Frasier."
  2. I call Susie May back. When she answers, I say, "Did you say I did final in the Frasier or that I didn't final in the Frasier?" (I know, I know, who calls to tell contest participants that they didn't final?)
  3. Susie May laughs and tells me, yes, I finaled.
  4. Someone begins yelling. And jumping up and down. And laughing. Oh, wait. That would be me.
At last year's ACFW conference, I wore my Frasier finalist pin with equal parts pride and humility. Pride because the Frasier is a quality contest--one that focuses on storytelling alone. Entries aren't separated into categories by genre--suspense, historical, contemporary. You compete against everyone else and are judged on the elements of story:
  • a great hook
  • a compelling inciting incident
  • a vivid storyworld
  • sympathetic characters
  • stakes that matter
  • a strong voice
I wore my Frasier pin with humility because I knew the other finalists--and they are talented writers! To be counted among them was an honor--one I didn't take for granted. I still have the announcement that was included in the ACFW conference program on my desktop.

I think every writer should participate in the Frasier. You're probably thinking I'm just saying this because I finaled in the contest last year.

That's not why.

The contest evaluates writers on telling story.That's exactly how readers will judge us: How well do we tell a story?

And My Book Therapy (MBT) helps you polish your Frasier entry with tip sheets like a First Chapter Checklist for Your Frasier Entry and Want to Enter the Frasier and Wondering How to Write a 500 Word Synopsis?

Consider entering the 2011 MBT Frasier contest. Who knows? Maybe you'll get a phone call from Susie May!