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, August 31, 2011

A Writer's Life: Living Through the Black Moment

If you've hung around Susie May Warren's My Book Therapy (MBT) writing community for any time at all, you've learned about the Black Moment. It's the moment in a book, or a movie for that matter, when the worst possible thing that could happen closes in on the hero. In an action story, it's when the villain pulls the trigger or when the bomb goes off. In a love story, it's when the couple breaks up. It's the one time in life when you really want to hit your character below the belt.

When writing this awful point in my own book, I've even sat at my typewriter and cried--over fictional characters!

About ten months ago, I began living the Black Moment for an aspiring author and lover of books: short-term memory problems. What caused this problem? While vacationing in England with my daughter, I suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. I survived--a true miracle--but one lingering consequence is the memory loss.

I'm talking extreme short term memory loss that steals my ability to remember what happened in the previous chapter of a book I'm reading. Pure agony, as far as I'm concerned, is for a new book by Susie to come out--and I can't really read it because I can't remember one chapter from the next! Or how about not really remembering what happened in the book I just wrote? That's an extreme MBT Black Moment.

Of course, this disaster is linked to the lie the hero believes (more of Susie's fine teaching), and I've had some of these moments too. Lies like: I don't deserve happiness. I'm not good enough to write anyway.

Thankfully, Susie also teaches about "the Truth that sets the hero free." God has plans of blessing, even if they sometimes seem hidden for a while. The sunshine of His love can drive away the dark clouds, and as we look back (either in our stories or in real life), we see that He's sprinkled tidbits of His love all along the way.

Have you experienced Black Moments lately? Have Truths set your free? I'd love to hear about it!

**Health update: My short-term memory is improving, and I'm getting back into writing. Many thanks to those who prayed for me. **

~Teri Dawn Smith

Monday, August 29, 2011

How To Create Characters We Love

In Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, Badger wears a driving suit and goggles. Toad of Toad Hall is handsome in spats, a tailored velvet rust-colored jacket and pearl-studded cravat. I didn't know I wanted to own him. He wasn't on my shopping list until I found him in the sales room at the top of the circular turret stairs in the Peter Rabbit store in York, England's old walled city. I couldn't leave without him. He was the only Toad there--no price tag. The store owner appraised Toad (and me) and we agreed on a price.

Now Toad is with me in America, though he's made in China and purchased in England. His worldwide travels testify to a character so loved he is instantly recognized anywhere.

How can we create story characters like that? Learn life. Pray and wait for inspiration. Study and analyze the story characters we love most. Occasionally characters are born who become so much a part of our cultural fabric, we cannot imagine life without them. Consider Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom and Topsy, Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We recognize them anywhere and welcome them into our homes--unless Tom and Huck are up to their usual high jinks.

Want some modern examples? Try Sue Grafton's alphabetized Kinsey Millhone detective series or Susan May Warren's fun Josey books. The point is, well-written characters do move right into our hearts and homes. Because their creators generate such warm-blooded, true-to-life people, we become their committed friends. In fact, the characters often become like family members. And at their strongest and best, such characters influence history. And change our world.

Think about your favorite story character. Or two. What elements and specific details lift him or her from the ordinary and forgettable to become so widely known you'd recognize them anywhere, even in other countries, and bring them home?

Got your assignment? Good. Toad is sitting here, nodding in agreement. Now, ready ... set ... go! as you write (birth) your won wonderful and unforgettable creations. The world is waiting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Attitude Changes Everything

Last week, I really felt discouraged. No matter what I did, I could not string words together in an intelligible fashion. Frustrated and feeling like a failure, I decided to have a pity party. I went to lunch at a local hole-in-the wall cantina. I nabbed a table in the corner and began the mindless mantra of chips, salsa and Diet Pepsi.

Suddenly, a group of nine people entered the small restaurant. (Yes, I counted. They were very loud and crashing my pity party.)  The party crashers busied themselves pushing tables together, chairs screeching on the tile floor, all the while chattering and laughing. How dare they!

Then it happened. Ever have one of those moments when you get the wild desire to do something completely irrational and out of character? Yep, at that moment it happened to me. So, I did what any crazy person would do in my place: I snuck into their group and sat down at their table.

I don’t know why I did such a crazy thing. The you've-got-to-be-kidding-me thought popped into my mind and I acted on it. My new friends were discussing football and I jumped right in. We laughed, joked, high-fived each other and celebrated the victories of our favorite teams. About fifteen minutes after the meals were delivered, a female across the table looked at me with that confused puppy-dog face and said, “Excuse me, who are you?”

Busted! The gig was up. I laughed hysterically and confessed. I picked up their tab and thanked them for a really fun lunch. When I got back in my car, I realized my mulligrubs were gone. My crazy action and the fun I had pulling off the caper completely changed my attitude!

My new attitude completely altered my outlook. My plot or word count hadn’t changed during my adventure. But I changed. My outlook was lighter. Energized. The creativity flowed and I brainstormed ideas and ways I could change things.

As writers, we face times when we just can’t seem to make our writing work. Creativity—and productivity—grind to a halt. Our attitude tanks. But, you know what? Our attitude is the only thing we have complete control over! We choose how we feel. Not circumstance. Isn’t that great news?

What’s your attitude right now? Good? Bad? Fearful? What can you do to change your attitude?

Reba J. Hoffman

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ACFW Conference Newbie Alert--and the Cure-All for First-Timer Doubts

Newbie Alert! Newbie Alert! I’m going to be a first-time attendee at the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference this September in St. Louis. I'm excited! You know the kind: the I-can’t-sleep-the-night-before-excited! Yep, even adults can get that excited, And I've got four weeks to go before I'm actually there.

Like anyone, I want to be ultra-ready and informed before I attend so I'm at my best. I've been reading all of the information provided for first time attendees provided by author Cara Putman The more I read, the more I began to doubt whether I was ready to attend the conference.

Just as doubts tapped danced across my brains, I read an email about the conference Prayer Room. During the conference they will have a room where you can go and pray. Okay, so it’s the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by a prayer room--but I was.

It reminded me of just who is in charge of my time at the conference: My Daddy God!  Yes, I know this, but it is so easy to get all wound up and forget.

“I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11 The Message)

So while today my blog is short and sweet, please take a moment to rest in the knowledge that God has your future “all planned out."  Whether you're going to the ACFW conference or not, take a minute to remember just who is in charge of your future.

How about you? What Scriptures are you using to prepare for ACFW--or life in general? When I'm battling to find God's peace about an issue, I find the Scripture that applies to my need and post it on the mirror in my bathroom. I'm planning on doing the same while I'm at the conference. I hope my roommate doesn't think I'm too weird!


Alena Tauriainen

Monday, August 22, 2011

Something Different: How To Make a Memo Board (video)

Okay, so this is not your usual blog post, but I think you'll like a little change :) I'm going to show you how to make your own memo board out of a vintage frame. This way, you can keep all your notes right next to your computer when you need them. Especially TEE's five colors, or 5 steps, of editing. Oh and it's a nice way to turn your Honey's picture into a memo board as well.

Give it a try and don't forget to drop us a line and let us know how it worked out. And don't forget a picture too :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Top 100 Children's Novels*

Every writer I’ve ever met is also an avid reader. Our love of reading books is, I think, the driving force behind our desire to write them. I’ve been reading as long as I can remember. My parents thought I was afraid of the dark because I had to “sleep” with the hall light on until I was in high school. (Don't tell them, but in reality, I just needed light by which to read. Sneaky, right?)

I can still remember in the fourth grade when I discovered Nancy Drew. After begging my parents relentlessly for the next in the series, they would drive me to our local bookstore and give me the five dollar bill I needed to make that book my own. As soon as I returned home, I would slide my new book out of the brown wrapping and run my fingers over the book’s bright yellow spine. I was officially in love with books.

Growing up as an only child, I spent a lot of time alone. The wonderful written adventures of my literary friends Nancy, and Ramona, and Charlotte, and Laura, and Betsy & Tacy, and Harriet (and so many others!) so captured my imagination they ultimately led me to weaving and writing my own adventures. So, when a friend of mine brought this list to my attention, it was almost like a family reunion! There are books from my childhood that I shared with my boys, and newer books my boys shared with me. From the classics to the controversies, this list contains some brilliant writing. 

It’s the writing that made me want to write.

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950)
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelace (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart (2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

Your turn: How many of the books on this list have you read? In your opinion, were any of your favorite books left off this list? If you could pick only one, which one would you choose? 

~Heidi Larson Geis

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Prepare for the ACFW Conference with the MBT Polish and Pitch Scrimmage

Used with permission of Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

"The 2010 My Book Therapy (MBT )Polish and Pitch Conference was worth the time and money I invested. I learned the skills I needed to pitch my book ideas at writing conferences--and I had fun while I did it." ~Roxanne Sherwood Gray, writer

You've written your novel. Revised it, with hopes of having one more look at it before the September ACFW conference.Your critique group helped you slog through the book proposal. (Market analysis, anyone?)
All that's left is, gulp, pitching your book to that dreaded, I mean, dream editor or agent.
Nothing to it, right?
Just keep telling yourself that.
Better yet, stop talking to yourself and make plans to attend the MBT Polish and Pitch Scrimmage.

Author Susan May Warren
Bestselling uthor Susan May Warren remembers pitching her first book at an ACFW conference. She remembers being nervous. Stumbling over her words. How she paused for a moment and thought, "Wait a minute. I love this book. I believe in this book." Her passion for her story propelled her past the nervousness to pitch the idea and land her first contract.
The Scrimmage, scheduled on September 21, the day before the ACFW conference begins, equips you to  make your 15 minute appointments count. The coaches, including Susie and author Jim Rubart, will help you craft your pitch and premise, polishing them into a solid verbal presentation for editors and agents.
I attended Susie's first-ever Polish and Pitch Seminar in May 2011. The thought of pitching my then-novel-in-progress felt like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But by the time I sat down with agent Chip MacGregor (somebody hold my hand, please!) for a practice pitch session, I was calm. Well, calmer.  I had a pitch--including this one sentence hook: Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?--and Susie sitting next to me for moral support.
Pitch sheet for my debut novel, Wish You Were Here

By the time ACFW rolled around, I'd taken what I'd learned at the conference and produced a pitch sheet (Many thanks to my graphic designer friend, Marty Osborn.) I looked forward to sitting across from editors and sharing my book idea with them because I was prepared. Eight months later, I sat with my fabulous agent Rachelle Gardner and signed a two-book contract with Howard Books. (This is the part of the story that still flabbergasts me!)
Does the Scrimmage guarantee you a book contract? Sorry, no. But here's what you do get:

  • 4 hours of instruction
  • small group pitching practice
  • handout for future reference
  • interaction with other writers

There are lots of ways to advance your writing career. Attending the Scrimmage is one of the best investments you'll ever make. Consider this a personal invitation from me to you to join us for a worthwhile and fun four hours that will help you be more than ready to pitch your book at ACFW! To hear more about the Scrimmage, visit writer and fellow MBT Ponderer Melissa Tagg's blog, Tag(g)lines. My fun friend even shows you how not to pitch a book via her vlog post!

Are you looking forward to the ACFW conference? Feeling ready to pitch your book? What are you doing to prepare? 

**Note: octopusmom won the copy of Deep Cover by Sandra Orchard. Please contact the MBT Ponderers at beth@bethvogt.com with your address so we can mail you the book!**

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Visit with Debut Author Sandra Orchard (& Book Giveaway)

Roxanne: I’m delighted to have Debut Author Sandra Orchard visit today. Sandra has sold three novels to Love Inspired Suspense. Her first book, Deep Cover, hits bookstores' shelves in September and can be pre-ordered on eHarlequin or Amazon. Read how Sandra got "The Call" here. Sandra, some of my friends are thrilled to have sold their first novel—and I’m thrilled for them—however, they’re suffering from “second-book syndrome” as they’re under more pressure to write a selling manuscript then they were while writing the first book. Before selling your first story, how many novels had you written?
Sandra: Six. Plus major rewrites to three of those, in addition to the usual revision process.
Roxanne: Wow, that's impressive. How has having six manuscripts written before selling helped as you’ve launched your career?
Sandra: The sixth manuscript was the second book LIS bought and I was very grateful it was ready to submit as soon as the offer for the first came in. While I was waiting for a response to that full (about four months), I wrote book three, which has just sold. I’m in the process of doing major revisions on that one now. If I hadn’t written so many other manuscripts prior to this, and learned as much as I did in the process, I don’t think I could’ve written the book well enough in that time.
Roxanne: That's good to know. So how long have you been writing?
Sandra: Six years.
Roxanne: During that time, how did you keep yourself motivated to write, while waiting to sell the first book?
Sandra: Connecting with fellow aspiring writers through online groups like American Christian Fiction Writers, Faith, Hope & Love, and My Book Therapy were huge factors in staying motivated. God always gave me nudges of encouragement just when I needed them, such as becoming a finalist in the Genesis, placing in some other contests (especially winning the Daphne DuMaurier), editor requests (the rejections that followed not so much), and divine appointments such as “happening” upon critique partners, the delivery of my Romance Writers of America magazine to the wrong address, which led to becoming connected with a local writing group and my two best brainstorming buddies.
Roxanne: Don't you just love those divine appointments! What's your writing schedule?
Sandra: I’m typing the answers to these questions at 6:30 am while on vacation. Need I say more? I write at every opportunity. Lately, that writing is taking the form of blog writing. But whether it’s marketing, plotting, revising, or writing new words, I typically spend several hours a day working at the business, sometimes as much as twelve. My most productive time tends to be late at night after my internal editor has gone to bed.
Roxanne: I love sending the "internal editor" to bed. Are you a plotter or do you write by-the-seat-of-your-pants?
Sandra: Plotter.
Roxanne: Writing suspense, you'd pretty much have to plot. Where do you find inspiration?
Sandra: Everywhere. I was at a party recently and the person serving cake is going to be in a future book. As soon as I saw what she was doing, that’s what I thought, and then started building on the characterization as I observed how other people responded to the woman’s uh-hmm, shall way say rather unhygienic means of serving.
Roxanne: Yikes! That woman does sound like a character. Think back a moment. What do you wish you’d done? What would you do differently?
Sandra: I wish I’d focused on writing for Love Inspired Suspense from the beginning. They were always my goal, but because almost every editor I spoke to at conferences invited me to submit, I kept trying to write each story both long and short to straddle the fence between category and single title when they are two completely different animals.
Roxanne: That's good to know. What other advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
Sandra: Don’t be in a hurry to submit your work to editors. Generally speaking, each story only has one chance at any particular agency—whether agent or editor. Make sure it’s the best it can be before you submit. That means asking people who don’t love you to read and critique it. Study the work of the debut novelists your targeted publisher is publishing to better understand what they are looking for. Established authors can get away with a lot more than an untried author.
Sandra’s Seven Tips of a Successful Novelist:
1) Write every day.
2) Read every day.
3) Never stop studying the craft.
4) Stop wasting time on the internet. TV. Write.
5) Connect with fellow writers.
6) Study God’s Word.
7) Revise, revise, revise.
Roxanne: Thanks so much for all your advice, Sandra.
* * *
Deep Cover is the first book in the series, Undercover Cops: Fighting for justice puts their lives—and hearts—on the line.
Maintaining his cover cost undercover cop Rick Gray the woman he loved. Sweet Ginny Bryson never really knew Rick. He never gave her the chance. Not then, and not now, when he's back with a new alias to gather evidence against Ginny's uncle. The man's crimes led to Rick's partner's death, and Rick wants justice to be served. But his investigation is stirring up trouble, and Ginny is smack-dab in the middle. Someone wants Ginny to pay the price for what her uncle has done. But how can Rick protect her without blowing his cover, jeopardizing his assignment...and risking both their lives?
What reviewers are saying about Deep Cover:
“4 Stars. Great job…a good mystery, interesting characters and a satisfying ending.” ~ Romantic Times
“5 stars. A fast-paced, exciting, romantic story and awesome, fresh writing…” ~ Goodreads reader
“Rarely do I pick up a book to help myself relax before bed, only to see the breaking of day before I even put it down again…” ~Andi Harris, Book Reviews
Book 2 ~ Shades of Truth ~ March 2012 -- A compassionate youth worker fighting to preserve her dying father’s legacy battles the justice-driven detective who threatens her mission and her heart.
Book 3 ~ Dose of Deception ~ TBA (title tentative) -- A nurse. An undercover cop. A killer who’ll stop at nothing to avoid being caught.
Sandra Orchard lives in rural Ontario, Canada where inspiration abounds for her romantic suspense novels set in the fictional Niagara town she's created as their backdrop. Married with three grown children, when not writing, she enjoys hanging out with family, brainstorming new stories with fellow writers, and hiking or kayaking in God's beautiful creation.
Connect with Sandra Online:
Visit her website ~ www.SandraOrchard.com
Visit her personal blog ~ http://www.SandraOrchard.blogspot.com
Like her Facebook Page ~ www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard
Subscribe to her newsletter ~ http://bit.ly/OrchardNews

***We're giving away a copy of Sandra's book, Deep Cover. So, tell us, what did you think of Sandra's Seven Tips for a Successful Novelist? Is there one you need to focus on? Would you add anything to her list? Leave a comment below for a chance to win Sandra's book.***

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do you have your crayons? Making a List for the ACFW Conference

Every morning before I walk out the door my husband asks me, “Do you have your crayons? Your paste? Your lunch money?” It’s his comical way to prompt me to mentally go through my checklist before going to work. (The man knows me too well.)

I’m a list maker. I need lists because otherwise, I forget. I also love the satisfaction it gives me to make a scratch through a completed item. It also gives me self-assurance that I have everything I need. This is especially true when packing for a trip. (Although my hubby will be the first to admit when he picks up my suitcase that my list is a bit too long!)

I have my To Do list, my Shopping list, my Honey-Do list (that one I keep to myself and from time to time make subtle suggestions from it-LOL). I also have my travel list. I list out my clothes, my computer stuff, writing supplies, or anything else I think I may need to take with me.

So now with the ACFW Conference within sight . . . you’ve got it – I have an ACFW list. It’s in the preliminary stages, so I’m going to ask you for help!

  • Conference, Flight, and Hotel reservations (Done! Yeah! I can cross that off my list!)
  • MBT Pizza Party reservations (Yep! That’s off my list – how about yours?)
  • Dancing Shoes (A must for the Pizza Party!)

Okay, I’m being silly, but here are a few more things:

  • Your pitch – write it and practice it.
  • Business cards – take a bunch. They’re great for passing out your information so you can connect with others after the conference. You can pay to have them done, or you can make your own. I put my pitch on the back – that way it’s always with me.
  • One sheet – even if you aren’t seeing an editor or agent, these are a great way to share your story. They can be simple or elaborate, it’s up to you.
  • A list of editors and agents you’d like to target outside your appointments. You can find many opportunities outside the usual meetings, but please be discrete. They need some down time too.
  • Authors? Do you have a favorite one? Ones? (Outside of our all-time favorites of Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck!) Believe me conferences are a great way to network. In fact, that is probably the greatest advantage about going there. I know I can’t wait to see my Ponderer friends again!

I could go on, the list is endless. You know . . . comfortable shoes, a sweater for air-conditioned rooms, etc. Now you see why my husband groans when he hoists my suitcase into the truck of the car!

So now it’s your turn, what other things do you recommend? Who knows, I just may add it to my ACFW list! But then again, I may want to save room for the books I buy!

Jennie Atkins

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Through The Eyes Of An ICRS Newbie

The American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference is coming up soon. (Insert squeal, jig, scream, and/or excited applause here.) I’d never heard of ACFW until author Donna Fleisher did a paid critique of my first manuscript. I found out about the organization through her website, and I attended my first conference that year. If you haven’t checked out ACFW already, I give you permission to go check it out right now, before you even read my blog. Ain’t I sweet?

Most of you have probably already attended at least one conference, however. You know how amazing it is—I don’t need to convince you. Maybe you’re looking at other events to see what you should add to your schedule…whenever you allow yourself out of your writing/editing cave, that is. Last month I attended the International Christian Retailers’ Show for the first time. I actually went to represent my day job, but I’m going to try to give a report through a writer’s eyes.

Welcome to Book Heaven.

If you’re a writer, you must be a reader. And ICRS is full of books: Free books. Autographed books. Books with pretty covers and that brand-new ink smell. More books. And did I mention they’re free? Some are Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), some are just sample chapters, but still. There are so many books, that a shipping center is set up on the show room floor for your convenience.

Hi, my name is Ted Dekker.

Okay, to tell you the honest truth, I waited in his huge line because I wanted to see his co-author—the gorgeous and funny and sweet and brilliant and talented Tosca Lee. She seems so perfect, you kinda want to hate her. But you can’t, because then she goes and makes fun of herself with her TMI posts on Facebook.

Anyway, back to the point—you get to meet authors. Debby Mayne, Brandilyn Collins, Karen Kingsbury, Liz Curtis Higgs, Max LucadoCynthia Ruchti, Colleen Coble, Susan May Warren, and many others were there, signing books. Of course, depending on the size of the line, you often only spoke to them long enough to say your name, where you’re from, and whether you want the book signed to you or not. But if you’re a fan boy/girl, this is a chance to meet a lot of amazing writers all in the same place. There are also a few more opportunities to see them, although these events come with an additional price, like the Christy Awards banquet and the Heart of the Author luncheon.

But, he seems so…normal.

I thought I’d see few—if any—editors at ICRS. I figured the marketing departments of the publishing houses would be the ones manning the booths—handling orders, pulling out boxes of books for their authors to sign, etc. I was wrong. I saw Allen Arnold from Thomas Nelson, David Long from Bethany House, Susan Downs from Summerside Press, and more. Uber-agents Steve Laube and Tamela Hancock Murray were there as well. But they all stayed busy behind the scenes and blended in so well that two attendees were debating whether a lady at a booth was an author about to sign books or just a salesperson. She happened to be Christina Whitaker from Whitaker House.

Where my peeps at?

Though the old-timers say ICRS is only a fraction of the size it used to be, it was a little overwhelming at first. So it was incredibly cool to find the ACFW booth, with familiar faces smiling back at me. I even got a famous Ane-Mulligan-hug! :-) They were there with great ideas for booksellers—at least one of which I’m itching to try out. And they also held a press conference, giving inspiring thoughts on Christian fiction, some insights about today’s market, and announcing the 2011 Carol Award finalists. The organization is working hard to promote Christian authors, and it was fun to see them at work. And, of course, to hang out a little bit with some of my writer friends.

Going once, going twice…

If you want to see a different side of the publishing world, hang out with some friends, meet some people, pick up some signed books, and have a nice time—Sure. Go to ICRS. You’ll enjoy it.

If you’re fairly new to the writing world and want to learn more about craft and make important publishing contacts—Skip it. For the most part, it’s not that kind of an event.

If you’re published and have the chance to sign books—Do it. You’ll have the chance to get your story into the hands of many new readers. And they just might go ahead and start reading your book while they wait in line for Ted Dekker.

~ Jenness Walker

Monday, August 8, 2011

Digging for the last ten percent.

You know what stings?

We’re talking a figurative cocktail of scalding stovetop, bumblebee encounter, rugburn sorta sting.

Answer: Hanging out in Colorado and not hanging out…outdoors, that is.

I spent time in Colorado recently as part of a work retreat. I had a nice time, learned things and, mmm, experienced my first fondue restaurant

I did not: Climb a mountain. Tube down a river. Explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Spend hours on end outside enjoying the scenery, the sunshine, the blessed lack of humidity. All things I consider integral to a proper Colorado experience. Oh the pain!

But I'll tell ya, I came away with one particular nugget of wisdom that made the whole my-insides-are-screaming-to-be-outside experience worth it.

Gathered with other retreat attendees for a fancy dinner – seriously, that prime rib was probably more protein than I normally consume in a week – we got to talking honesty. And this one guy, the executive director of a Midwest rescue mission, offered this tidbit (paraphrasing Eugene Peterson style here):

"A friend in my small group talked to me about how, often, we don't tell the full scope of what we're thinking or feeling – the whole truth. We give 90%, but leave the last 10% unsaid. If we want to be fully honest, we have to ask ourselves, what’s the 10% we're not saying?"

I paused mid-chew, the words, "So stinkin' true" clanging for release. But, you know, I've got manners so I swallowed first.

Since then, I've found myself pondering how so frequently I stop short of that last 10%. Particularly when it comes to confronting hard truths, sharing the deeper things on my heart. Once in awhile, I'll recognize a niggling distance creeping into a relationship – and almost always, I see now, I can trace that distance back to stopping at 90% honesty, holding tight to the last oh-so-vulnerable 10%.

Stepping back, when it comes to us writers, I think that 90/10 theory rings true for our storytelling lives, too.

When we're shaping characters, we have a wonderful opportunity to dig deep into our characters’ emotions, motivations, dreams. But it’s so easy to stop short – identify a surface feeling without sifting to the deeper emotion, noting a motivation in true GMC-style without fleshing out the dreams or fears behind the motivation.

When we slow down enough to ask our characters what thoughts they're not expressing, what feelings they're not acknowledging, what words they're not saying – and when push them past 90% and draw out the last 10% – we'll find ourselves with characters who breathe.

But it means we have to push ourselves as writers, too. No easy way out here...no settling for surface writing. We have to go along with our characters as they say the harsh words, do the difficult things, express the hard emotions...because that's living on the page, that's honesty readers will connect with.

So how about you? How do you push your characters to 100% authenticity? Do you ever find yourself or your characters stopping short at 90%?

Melissa Tagg

p.s. Okay, since I mentioned a small group and we're talking about going deeper, I couldn't help sharing this hilarious video about a shallow church small group...


Friday, August 5, 2011

Writing by Heart

Credit: Michael Pohl

There's nothing to writing.  
All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.  
~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Wednesday morning after I hit snooze about three times, I came awake with a revelation—I have become my character.

When I began my current work-in-progress (WIP), my character struggled with financial hardships. About that time, my husband lost his job.

My character discovered a maintenance issue in her place of business. We had a major leak in our bedroom. Then we found another one in our back entry area.

When my character needed hope, God provided me with a book contract.

I’m editing the Black Moment where the character’s daughter is rushed to the ER. Nine days ago my mother was taken to the ER by ambulance. Last night she was admitted to the hospital again for more testing for her heart.

The waiting, the worrying that Josie is feeling—I get that.

Writing is about creating relationships with your readers, allowing them to feel the same character emotions as they turn the pages.

In order to create those emotions, you have to sacrifice a part of yourself—become vulnerable on the page.

Before you write a scene, think about the emotion you want the character to feel, then think back to a time when you had a similar experience or emotion. Now bleed how you felt onto the page.

Tuesday night when I visited my mom in the hospital, I smiled and laughed because I didn’t want to stress her out by the worry bouncing around inside my head. When I came home, I channeled those emotions into my scene and wrote this:

Birthdays were supposed to be celebrations, not spent fighting to breathe in a hospital room painted the color of chicken soup.

Children’s laughter should be bouncing off the walls instead of beeping monitors and hissing tubes. The scent of sulphur from extinguished birthday candles and the sweetness of frosting should be lingering in the air. Not the stench of antiseptic that had become as familiar as Josie’s own shampoo.

Her gaze fixated on Hannah’s closed eyes, memorizing every curve and line of her face. Her chest rose and fell in a peaceful rhythm. Too peaceful. Too final.

Please, God, one more birthday . . .  

She’d pray that prayer every day for the rest of her life if necessary.

Losing her only child would surely shred her heart beyond repair. Hannah was a piece of her. A small representation of the good in Josie’s life. She’d lost so many people already. Couldn’t He spare her daughter?

She swiped at the tears crowding her eyes, swallowing back the boulder-sized lump that seemed to be a constant part of her anatomy. Hope appeared to be the large tanker in the middle of the ocean and she resided on the island of despair with rescue being a stranger.

When Nick walked away, he took another piece of her heart with him. Would he return? The voice inside her head screamed for him to stay. She couldn’t bear to be alone anymore, to lose someone else she loved. Instead, she told him not to bother coming back.

Your turn: How do you write emotion? Do you find it a challenge? What suggestions do you have to offer?

Lisa Jordan

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Clichés…And what’s wrong with them, anyway?

As cool as a cucumber, there I sat in Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters' Emotions class, taking it all in. Since I’d robbed Peter to pay Paul to get here, I wanted to get my money’s worth. My head was spinning like a top from all the information, and then she dropped the bombshell. The most common writing or editing mistake that writers make is…*Drum roll*…..
Clichés, clichés, and clichés.
She went on to explain (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when readers read the beginning of a clichéd phrase, they can finish it in their mind before they finish the line. It’s predictable. They know what’s coming. And for a nanosecond, they lose interest. Somewhere in the back of their mind is the thought: This isn’t fresh. A few more clichés and readers might remember that load of clothes that needs to go into the dryer or that it’s almost bedtime. They close your book and may or may not get back to it.
Since the workshop, I’ve pondered why clichés are so prevalent and came up with three quick answers. Number 1 was easy. And that was it. Clichés are easy. A cliché can get your point across with a minimum of words. If you write that someone was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, everyone knows exactly what you mean. Number 2. Clichés work. (See above.) Number 3. Writers overlook their clichés. We don’t see them because clichés become like family. Comfortable. And let’s face it. Sometimes we get in a hurry, and use those comfortable phrases.
So, what’s a writer to do? First of all, embrace the cliché. It probably captures the emotion or situation perfectly. Then go a step or two further. Explore what it is the cliché captures and rewrite it in a fresh way. For example: She carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. My rewrite: She shuffled, each step a struggle as the coffin came into view. I’m sure you can do even better. In fact, why don’t you? Or take one of the phrases in the Wordle picture and rewrite it.

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

Contest winner: Sonia won the copy of Liz Curtis Higgs book Rise and Shine! Sonia, please email Beth at beth@bethvogt.com so she can send you the book! Congratulations!

Monday, August 1, 2011

4 Key Truths for Writers from Encourager Liz Curtis Higgs (& a book giveaway)

I admire New York Times best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs. Or rather, I should say, I admire encourager Liz Curtis Higgs. That's how she likes to be known--that's the title under her name on her website.
I recall laughing out loud at a column she wrote in Today's Christian Woman magazine about running through an airport and having the elastic band on her leggings break. She had to keep running to catch her flight--and her leggings slipped lower and lower.
A Christian author and speaker being so real about her life. What's not to like?
Then I read her book Thorn in My Heart. Beautifully written, I sat on my bed and cried at the ending. Then I emailed Liz and told her just that--how I'd cried over the not-quite-happily-ever-after ending.
She emailed me-me!-back. With her trademark friendliness, she encouraged me to remember life doesn't always go as planned and to read the next book--the story wasn't finished yet.
I finally met Liz several years ago at a book signing in Colorado Springs. It was a snowy weeknight, but even so, I expected the store to be packed. I ended up part of a small group of fans who were each greeted as if we were dear friends--the very person Liz most wanted to hug.
I follow Liz on Facebook. This past Saturday she posted this comment:

Thinking of you as I write today. Because, really, why else would I do it? I'm long past the need to see my name in print. Now I care only about encouraging my sisters in Christ. Corny? You bet. And straight from the heart, beloved.

Her words confirmed once again what kind of heart Liz has--that of an encourager. She considers others more important than herself.
Once again, I emailed Liz through her website, asking if I could use her comment in a blog post. There was a disclaimer posted: Liz's time online is greatly limited while she is writing. Bless you for understanding!
Imagine my surprise when she responded within hours saying, yes, I could " ... quote away, dear sister!" She also took the time to congratulate me on my upcoming novel.
So what's the point of the post--besides all the reasons I love Liz Curtis Higgs? Liz taught me several key truths:

  1. Be real as a writer.
  2. Be responsive to your readers--but tell 'em the truth.
  3. Be friendly to your readers. Go ahead, be as excited to meet them as they are to meet you.
  4. Be certain you are writing from your heart.
Did you glean any truths from what you read about Liz--something I missed? Or have you learned something from another author--a truth you want to embrace in your life? I'd love to hear about it. What's your favorite Liz Curtis Higgs' book?

I'd love to give someone who comments on this blog post a copy of Rise and Shine: Encouragement to Start Your Day, based on Liz's magazine columns. For an extra chance to win, "follow" the MBT Ponderers!