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, June 29, 2011

Tempered Life --Tempered Words

What do we take away from mountain or valley experiences? Gains? Losses? Treasure? Forged weapons to pull down the enemy--like David, who leaped upon Goliath and used the giant's own sword to remove his ghastly head?

Sword-making is an inspiring process. Toledo, Spain manufactures some of the world's strongest and finest swords. In a process called tempering, artisan swordsmiths measure steel lengths and hand-forge by heating with fire, hammering, plunging into ice water, heating and hammering repeatedly again while plunging into ice water, until the constantly opposite extremes literally re-align the steel atoms. The finale tempered product is infinitely stronger than the original (pre-tested) materials.

In the Gospels, a concerned father comes to Jesus bringing a troubled son who often falls into water or into fire. At times, our life journeys may resemble that child's--with frequent ups and downs, backs and forths, tos and fros. The good news is that our negative and positive experiences--or "water and fire"--temper us and make us more seasoned, much stronger and maybe shinier, as we absorb transforming processes.

The Apostle Paul's life is a case in point. Second Corinthians 11 lists his leadership credentials: perils from robbers, perils from countrymen, beatings, stonings, shipwreck, near drowning--all resulting in Paul saying, "I know both how to be abased and how to abound ... "

One friend of mine says, "No conflict? No plot." That's true for us and our story characters. Like it or not, if we're honest, life's tests and upheavals add strength and interest to our lives too.

We might wish for our children, grandchildren and ourselves to have trouble-free lives. Yet, if that wish comes true, we might be untested, unseasoned and untempered. There would be less for readers to connect with, to sink their teeth into, to be inspired by. Intense stretching times with some accompanying pain makes us more, not less.

Near the end of his life, when Paul the victor had survived countless tests, shaped lives and established churches, he triumphantly states: "For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able ... "

May we demonstrate and communicate that confidence too. Testing and growing equals knowing--building major landmarks in meaningful life journeys. May our written words capture and provide key truths for others.

~Delores Topliff

photo by soulbodysp/stockxchng.com

Monday, June 27, 2011

Taming The Stacks

I adore books. On our summer vacation this year, I bought thirteen of ’em. My Christmas list is mostly a long list of titles. Growing up, I would finish a dusty book from my grandpa’s basement, love it, want it, and make my younger brother start reading it so that when we left to go home, Grandpa would give in and let us take it. (He finally gave me most of his collection. Sweet man.)

Problem: I live in a tiny house. My husband was a ministerial major—his book collection might be even larger than mine. Did I mention we live in a tiny house? I have mastered the art of rearranging shelves to accommodate as many literary gems as possible. And, when our ever-evolving collection doesn’t fit, I have to come up with other solutions.

As a writer, I’m sure your collection keeps growing as well, and you just might struggle in this little area of your life. So today’s post revolves around this oh-so-profound subject: what can you do with all those books??!

Decorate with them.

The possibilities are endless! You can start with rearranging your shelf space, of course. Play with their covers—shelving according to color, covering with paper to give a uniform look (like they do here), or painting the cover itself. You can build end tables with them—double-stacking and topping with a decorative tray. Use them in vignettes (in a cute basket along with some candlesticks, or stacked with a lantern on top). You can even turn them into wall art (hanging children’s books from trouser hangers, like they do with photos here).

Share the wealth.

Maybe you’re not so good at making casseroles for people in their time of need. Put together a basket instead—a trilogy you think they’d enjoy escaping into, along with some music to listen to, a blanket to cuddle up under, or some gourmet coffee to drink while they read. Or use book giveaways to drive traffic to your blog. Or pass along a stack to an aspiring writer or a broke college student.

Check with your local library or the closest prison to see what their policy is about donating books. Check with a Christian school in your area to see if they have room on their shelves for the books that don’t stay on your keeper shelf. Drop off a stack at a nursing home, or see about sending some in a care package to the troops.

Or, if you can’t bear to give them away for good, become your own traveling library. :-) Whenever you get a new batch of books, take a stack to a friend or a shut-in. This keeps your collection rotating, so it’s not building up on the floor, collecting dust bunnies. Plus, you might just get them hooked on some of your favorite authors, and next time they’ll be the one to loan you the latest novel by Jenny B. Jones.

Recycle them.

If they’re not in good shape, hardly readable, or they were the least-selling book of 1927 and are just taking up space…find another use for them. Make bookmarks out of the spines. Use the pages as framed art or wallpaper, to make wreaths or gift tags or origami, to decoupage glass vases. Use a hollowed-out hardcover to make a purse or an altered book. (I attempted the latter. My craftiness could use some help.)  Make Christmas gift wrap or décor. And so much more! Here’s another link just to give a teeny bit more inspiration.
There. That should be enough ideas to clear the floor of your office. I think I’m off now to decoupage the refrigerator. (Um…Just kidding.) Your turn: What do you like to do with your book surplus? Or what’s the coolest way you’ve seen books used in décor?

Jenness Walker

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Fight: Looking for the Real Reason Your Characters are Upset

It started out as a typical sunny, hot and humid day in East Texas. I parked my car close to the entrance of our local gym. It’s a typical gym. You know the kind. Windows line the front of the building, giving everyone a view of the great outdoors while they work the weights or run on the treadmills. Just as I was about to get out of the car, I got a call from my office relaying a message to me.

Unbelievable! I took a deep breath, kept my tone normal, hung up and called my husband. Maybe I should have prayed before I hit speed dial, but I didn’t.
I kept thinking, How could he do this to me? We'd talked about this issue and I had made my position clear based on the procedures laid out within our company. Why did my husband counteract my instructions? Why didn’t he listen to me?

Ah-ha! That was the real reason for the ensuing argument: My husband hadn’t listened.

At the last My Book Therapy (MBT) Deep Thinkers Retreat, author Susan May Warren recommended having your characters fight about one thing, but make the fight be about a deeper issue. I pondered her advice, but didn’t really grasp it until I experienced it. Boy, did I experience it.

To give you some background, my husband and I work together in the family business. We were arguing on the surface about a procedure within our company, but the core issue was much, much deeper.

Needless to say we resolved it with prayer (and umm, a cooling off period).

What issues are your characters really fighting about? Do they have deliver a double punch with a double meaning?

Alena Tauriainen
Proverbs 3:5&6

photo by vierdrie/stockxchng.com

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rejection Letters

Rejection letters hurt.

They make you question everything you thought you knew about writing. They also make you question whether God really called you to write or not.

First, you need to get that "Whether you're called," question out of the way. Spend some time with the Lord and settle that question once and for all.

Then, when you've settled it, remind yourself of this one thing:

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (1Thessalonians 5:24 )

When God calls us, He takes us through a process called sanctification, which is just a fancy word for purification, or a process of being set apart or made holy. For speakers and especially writers, that process is very important. Our words are written down and have the ability to last even for generations to come.

We must allow God to purify us if we are to write words that will change lives.

Jesus said:

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men." (Matthew 5:13 )

Think of those rejection letters as part of the purification process. Every time I received a rejection letter--and believe me, I've received plenty--I take it to the Lord and ask Him how I can improve my writing. Or perhaps it is not my writing that needs to improve. Perhaps it is my heart.

...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6 )

Food for thought.

What's been your experience with rejection letters? How did you respond and what did you learn in the process? ginger r,. takamiya

Monday, June 20, 2011

Time is of the Essence!

At our house we have one Wii and two teenage sons. Right now the popular game at our house is the one where you hunt and kill zombies and save the world. Unfortunately, it is a “one player” game, which means only one boy can play at a time. As you can imagine, this has the potential to cause some serious problems. So I came up with the brilliant idea of setting a timer. They set the timer for 30 minutes and Spencer plays the video game while Sam does something else. Like chores. When the timer dings, they trade places. Genius, right?

The other day, I was sitting in my recliner reading my book club book, and the boys were taking turns playing. The timer signaled it was Spencer’s turn to play, but Sam was furious. He claimed Spencer was shortchanging him because in his mind there was no way it had been a full 30 minutes. I am not new to this particular rodeo; I had been watching the clock and could verify it had indeed been the complete 30 minutes. 

Here’s the problem: when the boys (especially Sam) enter the amazing world in their video games, time ceases to pass. Thirty minutes out here in the real world feels like mere seconds in Wii World.

I know you are probably expecting ten tips on constructing a Story World that allows your reader to lose all track of time as they turn page after page of your novel.  I’m all for building that kind of story world, but today I want to talk about time and how much of it we waste. Ouch. I know, I’m sorry, but it needs to be addressed.

“I am working on my novel, but I’m so busy I just never seem to have enough time to get it finished.”

I’ve said it. (Especially to those well-meaning friends who ask me why I haven’t published my book yet.) It often seems like it’s the truth. We are all incredibly busy. Some of us are busier than others, and some of us are busy in different ways than others. We all wish we had more time. Well maybe we do...we just have to find it. 

If you Google “time management” you will get 225,000,000 results. After reading all of them, I discovered we must simply make lists, keep a calendar, prioritize, plan, set goals, implement deadlines, avoid procrastination, learn to say no, pick our battles, multitask, delegate, collaborate, and get up earlier.  Whew, is that all?

I had a truly enlightening conversation with my mentor last week. She helped me brainstorm, gave me a to-do list, and then made a simple suggestion that changed everything. She told me to keep a journal. A time journal. Just like every diet program makes you to keep track of everything you eat to avoid overeating and to see why your weight loss might have stalled, a time journal can work the same way. If I keep track of everything I do in a day, I can see what I’m doing (and not doing) and why my writing has stalled. I can celebrate my accomplishments and/or see where my schedule needs to be tweaked for me to be most productive.

If I am honest in keeping my time journal, I will have an overview of everything I did today. Did I really spend 2 hours writing email and cruising 
Facebook? Just like Sam and Wii World, I think there is no way it was 2 hours--it seemed like mere minutes. It occurs to me if I keep track of my time I can avoid wasting it. And if I can avoid wasting my time, I will have more of it to devote to finishing my novel. And killing zombies.

 (For the record, other resources I like for time management are www.timethoughts.com, www.flylady.com, and The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen. Check them out!)

One last thing: We are absolutely thrilled for our Roxanne who married her Steve on Saturday. (Read her story here.) We send them both our love and congratulations, and pray that God will bless them abundantly as they embark on this new adventure together!!

~Heidi Larson Geis

YOUR TURN:  What is your best tool for managing your time? 

Friday, June 17, 2011

When is a Novel Finished?

Six months ago I started a new job. One of the most important things on my mind when I moved out of super-secret-training room into the cubicle sea was the piece of real estate I would occupy. I figured they’d shuffle the faithful ten-year employees to our limited number of empty, window-view cubes.

So, imagine my surprise when I landed a grand view of downtown Minneapolis--it's to the left, not shown in the picture, really, I promise--and the building next door.

Just your average two-story cinderblock building of office/garage space. Except the garage doors are made of crooked sheets of plywood covered in graffiti and flanked by a workman’s biffy. Between the scaffolding and dumpsters and guys tarring the flat roof, I had high hopes my view would improve soon. Especially since (yes, the irony of it all) the building is owned by a Building Restoration Corporation, which shall remain nameless.

One day a coworker came to my cube (to gawk at the workers on the hot tar roof, I'm sorry to say) and I did the small talk thing, saying something like “The building is probably going to look amazing when they finish it, being owned by a Building Restoration Corporation and all.”

“Oh, honey, they aren’t ever gonna finish it,” Coworker replies. “I’ve been here going on ten years, and every year they’re up there on the roof, improving the view, but not the building…if you know what I mean.”


This got me thinking about my novel. How will I know when it’s finished? Surely it isn’t meant to be worked on forever like the building next door (although if your novel still has noticeably crooked plywood doors, you might want to keep working on it for a while).

To find the answer I checked out some blogs to see how others know when their novel is finished:

After you type ‘The End.’ Duh. (But I think I've heard of something called 'rewriting'...)

My novel has been published for years, and I’m still revising it. (Okay, not mine…not very helpful. Or very hopeful. Next…)

If you can imagine an agent reading it and don’t feel ashamed. (Ouch!)

When the changes you keep making don’t make it any better. (A possibility.)

My personal favorite:

Honestly, I don’t have a clue. Well, maybe when you’re on the verge of hating everything about your work because you’ve read it so many times. (Now there’s honesty for you!)

So, for those of you who have finished your masterpieces, how did you know it was finished? Please help the rest of us….

Happy RE-writing,


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review (and Contest): My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren


I was thrilled to find out Susan May Warren's book My Foolish Heart takes place in Deep Haven. The first book in that series, Happily Ever After, was the first book I ever read by Susie--and it's great to visit Deep Haven again.

There are so many things to love about My Foolish Heart. Susie touches on themes dealing with fears--and overcoming them-- as well as finding love in unexpected places--right next door, as a matter of fact. Susie also manages to weave football into the story--and I love football! And as a former military wife, I appreciate that Caleb, the hero of the book, is ex-military--and he's wounded, a hot topic nowadays, and one that Susie handles well.

So what's My Foolish Heart about?

Unknown to her tiny town of Deep Haven, Isadora Presley spends her nights as Miss Foolish Heart, the star host of a syndicated talk radio show. Millions tune in to hear her advice on dating and falling in love, unaware that she’s never really done either. Issy’s ratings soar when it seems she’s falling in love on-air with a caller. A caller she doesn’t realize lives right next door.

Caleb Knight served a tour of duty in Iraq and paid a steep price. The last thing he wants is pity, so he hides his disability and moves to Deep Haven to land his dream job as the high school football coach. When his beautiful neighbor catches his eye, in a moment of desperation he seeks advice from My Foolish Heart, the show that airs before his favorite sports broadcast. 

Before he knows it, Caleb finds himself drawn to the host—and more confused than ever. Is his perfect love the woman on the radio . . . or the one next door?

And now for some fun to celebrate My Foolish Heart!

Win a Romantic Night on the Town from Miss Foolish Heart!

To celebrate this charming novel about a dating expert who's never had a date, Susan has put together a romantic night on the town for one lucky couple. One grand prize winner will receive a Miss Foolish Heart prize package worth over $200!

The winner of the Romantic Night on the Town Prize Pack will receive:

* A $100 Visa Gift Card (For Dinner)

* A $100 Gift Certificate to a Hyatt/Marriott Hotel

* The entire Deep Haven series

To enter just click one of the icons below. But, hurry, the giveaway ends at noon on June 16th. The winner will be announced that evening during Susan’s Miss Foolish Heart Party on Facebook! Susan will be chatting with guests, hosting a book club chat about My Foolish Heart, testing your Deep Haven trivia skills, and giving away tons of great stuff! (Gift certificates, books, donuts, and more!) Don't miss the fun and BRING YOUR FRIENDS! 

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

I also have a copy of My Foolish Heart to give away to someone who comments on this blog post. So tell me: Have you read My Foolish Heart? Did you have a favorite scene? Do you believe in love can be right next door?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of My Foolish Heart to review. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Blog Tour & Contest: Behind the Badge by Susan Sleeman

Enter to win a copy of Susan Sleeman's Behind the Badge and a $50 Amazon gift card!
Susan Sleeman here. Behind the Badge, my second romantic suspense book for Love Inspired Suspense will release on June 6th and in honor of all of you, the readers, I am hosting a special contest on my website for the month of June.
Let’s face it. Without you, the wonderful readers, books would not exist and I wouldn’t be able to wake up looking forward to a job that is fresh and exciting each and every day. Praise God for this incredible opportunity!
Now back to the contest. All you have to do is read the excerpt below then go to my WEBSITE and answer the following question. That's it. You're entered to win.
If you'd like to sign up for my mailing list to learn of other contests in the future you can do that at the same time, too. Full contest rules are on the entry page. Remember only one entry per person.
QUESTION: How many digits of the motor bike license plate did Russ see?
SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of romantic suspense and mystery novels. She grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into writing romantic suspense and mystery novels and hosting the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.com.
Her books include Nipped in the Bud, High-Stakes Inheritance, Behind the Badge, and The Christmas Witness. Also watch for the first two romantic suspense books in her Justice Agency series coming from Love Inspired suspense in 2012 and featuring a private investigations firm specializing in helping those who traditional law enforcement has failed.
Susan currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable grandson.
To learn more about Susan visit her website, Facebook , or Twitter.

Behind the Badge
The Morgan Brothers - Bk 2

Love Inspired Suspense

June 6, 2011

ISBN-10: 0373444478

ISBN-13: 978-0373444472

A killer is threatening the life of rookie cop Sydney Tucker's sister-unless Sydney turns over evidence from a drug bust. But she doesn't have the evidence. Not that the thug believes her. Now she and the sibling in her care are under the watchful eye of Logan Lake police chief Russ Morgan…but will his protection be enough?
The killer is closing in, picking off the people and places that mean the most to Sydney. A list that now includes Russ. To protect her loved ones, will she pay the ultimate price-her life?


Gunshots split the inky darkness.
Deputy Sydney Tucker hit the cold ground, a jagged rock slashing into her forehead on the way down. She reached for her service weapon. Came up empty handed. She'd stopped after work to check on the construction of her townhouse and left her gun and cell phone in the car.
Dumb, Sydney. Really dumb. Now what're you gonna do?
Inching her head above knee-high grass, she listened. The keening whistle of the wind died, leaving the air damp and heavy with tension but silence reigned.
Had she overreacted? Could be target practice. But at night? Maybe. Hunters did crazy things sometimes.
Footfalls pounded from below like someone charging through the brush. No. Two people. Maybe a chase. One person after another. A loud crash, branches snapping.
"What're you doin', man," a panicked male voice traveled through the night. "No! Don't shoot! We can work this out."
Three more gunshots rang out. A moan drifted up the hill.
Not target practice. Someone had been shot.
Sydney lurched to her feet, dizziness swirling around her. Blood dripped into her eyes. She wiped it away, blinked hard and steadied herself on a large rock while peering into the wall of darkness for the best escape route.
Heavy footfalls crunched up the gravel path.
"I know you're here, Deputy Tucker," a male voice, disguised with a high nasally pitch, called out. "We need to talk about this. C'mon out."
Yeah, right. Come out and die. Not hardly.
Praying, pleading for safety, she scrambled deeper into the scrub. Over rocks. Through grass tangling her feet. Her heart pounded in her head, drowning the prayers with fear.
"I'm losing patience, Deputy," he called again in that strange voice. "You're not like Dixon. He had it coming. You don't."
Dixon? Did he mean the man she arrested for providing alcohol to her teenage sister and for selling drugs? Was that what this was about?
Rocks skittered down the incline. The shooter was on the move again. No time to think. She had to go. Now!
Blindly she felt her way past shrubs, over uneven ground. Dried leaves crunched underfoot. Branches slapped her face and clawed at her arms, but she stifled her cries of pain.
"I hear you, Deputy."
She wrenched around to determine his location. A protruding rock caught her foot, catapulting her forward. She somersaulted through the air. Her knee slammed into the packed earth and she crashed down the hill. Wrapping arms around her head for protection, she came to a stop, breath knocked out of her chest, lying flat on her back in a thick stand of weeds.
"So you want to play it that way, do you Deputy? Fine. Just remember, you can run, but you can't hide. I will find you. This will be resolved one way or another." His disembodied laugh swirled into the night.
The darkness pressed closer. Blinding. Overwhelming. Terrifying.
She was easy prey. Even with her bulletproof vest, a few rounds fired in her direction would take her out. She had to get up.
She rose to her knees, but pain knifed into her knee, keeping her anchored to the ground.
Lord, please don't let me die like this. Give me the strength to move. I need to live for Nikki. She's only seventeen. She has no one.
Sydney uncurled and came to a standing position. Taking a few halting steps, she tested the pain. Nearly unbearable. But she could-no she had to do this for her sister.
Thinking of Nikki, she gritted her teeth and set off, moving slowly, taking care not to make a sound.
Out of the darkness, a hand shot out. Clamped over her mouth.
Screams tore from her throat, but died behind fingers pressed hard against her lips.
A muscled arm jerked her against a solid chest and dragged her deep into the brush.
God, please, no.
She twisted, arched her back, pushing against arms like iron bands.
She dug her heels into the ground, but he was too strong. He kept going deeper into the brush before settling them both on the ground behind a large boulder.
"Relax Sydney, it's Russ Morgan," Logan Lake's Police Chief whispered, his lips close to her ear.
Russ Morgan? What was he doing here?
"Sorry about the hand." His tone said she was nothing more than a stranger instead of someone she'd known for years. "I didn't want you to alert the shooter with a scream. I'm gonna remove my hand now. Nod if you understand me."
She let all of her relief escape in a sharp jerk of her head. His fingers dropped away.
"Once the shooter rounded that curve, you would've been a goner," he whispered while still firmly holding her. "Good thing a neighbor reported gunshots."
Sydney started to shiver and breathed deep to steady her galloping pulse. Air rushed into her lungs. She was alive, but barely. No thanks to her own skills.
"You okay?" he asked, his breath stirring her hair.
"Yes." She willed her body to stop shaking and eased out a hiss of disappointment in her performance as a deputy. "How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to hear the shooter claim he's hit Dixon and is coming after you next," he whispered again, but urgency lit his voice and rekindled her fear. "This have to do with your arrest of Carl Dixon the other day?"
"I don't know," she whispered back. "I just stopped to check on the construction of my townhouse on my way home from work."
"Off duty, huh? Explains why you don't have your weapon drawn."
"I left my duty belt in my car." She waited for his reaction to not carrying, but he simply gave a quick nod as footfalls grated against gravel.
"Shh, he's about to pass us." Russ leaned forward and drew his gun with his free hand, but didn't release his hold on her.
Crunching steps came within a few feet of their location. Halted.
"Can you feel me breathing down your neck, Deputy? I'm inches from finding you." He didn't know the accuracy of his words.
She felt Russ's breathing speed up, upping her concern and washing away the brief blanket of security his arms provided. Adrenaline urged her to move. To keep from panicking, she focused on Russ's unwavering weapon.
The shooter took a few steps closer. Her heart thumped, threatening to leave her chest. Russ tightened his hold as if he knew she wanted to bolt.
The shooter spun sending gravel flying then headed up the path.
As his footsteps receded, she tried to relax taut muscles. The warmth from Russ's body helped chase out her fear and the chill of the night. Thank God Russ was here. If he hadn't come.
She refused to go there. God had watched over her. Provided rescue, just not in the form she'd have chosen.
Not only was Russ an officer from the city police force-a team often in competition with the county sheriff's department where she worked-but a man she'd had a crazy crush on in high school. A man whose rugged good looks still turned women's heads.
She let out a long sigh.
"I know this's awkward," he whispered, "but hang tight for a few more minutes. We need to wait for him to head back down the hill."
She wanted to protest and suggest they flee now, but not Russ. He thought clearly. Taking off now gave the killer the advantage of higher ground, making them moving targets. They'd have to sit like this until he passed them again.
If they made it out of here, which the approaching footfalls told her wasn't at all certain.
They pounded closer. The shooter moved at a quick clip this time as if he thought she'd gotten away and he was fleeing. Or maybe he was heading to her car to lay in wait for her.
As the footsteps receded again, she felt Russ's arm slacken.
"Time to roll," he whispered. "Stay here."
"But I-"
"You have a backup?" He referred to a back up gun officers often carry.
She shook her head.
"Then wait here." He gave her the hard stare that'd made him famous around town and crept toward the path.
She leaned against the boulder and wrapped her arms around the warm circle on her waist where he'd held her. Without his warmth, she couldn't quit shaking. The reality of the night froze her inner core.
She should listen to Russ. Lay low. Wait until he apprehended the killer.
That was the safe thing to do.
The easy thing to do.
The wrong thing to do.
Not for everyone, but for an officer of the law, letting a shooter escape without trying to stop him wasn't an option. Even if that shooter had her in his sights, she'd make her way to her car for her gun and help Russ stop this maniac before he hurt anyone else.
Near the ditch, Russ came to a stop and fought to catch his breath. Taillights on a mud splattered dirt bike roared up the trail. He'd warned the suspect to stop, but short of shooting him in the back, Russ couldn't stop him from fleeing into the dark.
At least he'd accomplished his primary objective. To protect Sydney and keep her alive. Now he needed to alert his men and the sheriff's office to the suspect's whereabouts.
He lifted his shoulder mic and ordered a unit from his office to stake out the end of the trail for the motorcycle and an ambulance in case Dixon survived. Then he asked dispatch to patch him through to the county sheriff's department to make sure they knew he'd taken charge of the scene so none of their hotshot deputies arrived with the hope of usurping control.
He turned on his Maglight and headed up the hill. The beam of light skipped over gravel and lush plants lining the winding path. Midway up, rustling brush stopped him cold. He'd left Sydney higher up. Nearer the lake.
Was a second shooter hoping to ambush him?
He flipped off his light and sought protection behind a tree. His breath came in little pulses in the unusually cold air for a typical Oregon fall. Adrenaline with little time to ebb away came roaring back, but even as the noise grew louder, he resisted the urge to take action
Maybe it was Sydney. The Sydney he used to know wouldn't have listened to his directive and stayed put. She'd trounce down the hill, her chin tilted at the same insolent angle as when he told her he didn't return her crazy crush her freshman year of high school. Not that he'd wanted to send a beautiful, lively girl like her away. He could easily have dated her, but he was four years older, in college. With their age difference, it wouldn't have been right.
Bushes at the path's edge shook then parted. Slowly, like a sleek panther, Sydney slipped out. He watched until she stood tall on those incredibly long legs he'd admired since she was sixteen before lowering his gun and aiming his flashlight at her.
She jumped. Peered up at him, an impudent look planted on her face. This was the Sydney he'd known as a teen and heaven help him, in less than thirty minutes, she'd sparked his interest again.
"Care to shine that somewhere other than my face." She perched her hand over her eyes, warding off the glare.
He moved the light but not before he caught a good look at a gaping wound running from her hairline to eyebrow, covered in congealed blood. He lifted his hand to check out her injury, but stopped. He wouldn't probe a wound on one of his men's faces. As a fellow LEO-law enforcement officer-he wouldn't treat Sydney any differently.
"I told you to stay put." He infused his words with authority.
"I wanted to help. Wish I'd listened. I tripped over the body." She held out blood-covered hands. Her eyes watered as if she might cry.
Man. Don't do that. Don't fall apart. He couldn't remain detached if she started crying. He'd have to empathize, maybe give her a reassuring pat on the arm. Maybe feel her pain and resurrect all the reasons he'd left his homicide job in Portland.
He changed his focus. Nodded at the brush. "Show me the body."
As a faint whine of sirens spiraled in the distance, she limped into tall grass, a grimace of pain marring her beautiful face. He followed, illuminating the area ahead of her. About ten feet in, she suddenly stopped. He shone his light a few feet ahead of her.
Diffused rays slid over a young male lying on his back. Russ swung the beam to the man's face landing on open eyes staring into the blackness above.
Sydney gasped and swung around him. She rushed toward the main path. Even though Russ knew it was a lost cause, he bent down to check for a pulse. No question, this man hadn't made it and no question about his identity. Carl Dixon, a man every LEO in the area knew from his frequent blips onto the police radar and the most recent arrest for selling drugs.
All that ended with three gunshots to the chest at close range from what Russ could see with his flashlight. Once they thoroughly processed the scene, he'd know better. But first, they needed to vacate the area before further contaminating the scene.
He found Sydney near the path, gaze fixed in the distance, hands clasped on her hips and exhaling long breaths as if trying to expel what she'd just seen.
Haunted eyes peered at him. "He's dead, right?"
"And what about the killer?"
"Couldn't catch him. He took off on a dirt bike."
Disappointment crowded out the fear on her face. "Did you at least see him?"
"From the back. He was my height or a little taller, but lean. Wore a black stocking cap. The bike has a plate so it must be street legal. I caught the first few digits."
"That's something, then."
Russ didn't want to tell her it would do little for them in terms of searching DMV records as three digits would return thousands of bikes, but he didn't think she could take any more bad news so he kept quiet. "Let's head down to the parking lot."
He gave her the flashlight and urged her to take the lead down the steep hill. Once on solid concrete, she handed it back to him. Holding it overhead, he watched her closely for dizziness or other impairments from her fall. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, but a head injury could mean a concussion. He'd have the EMT's check her out when they got here.
He pointed at a rough-hewn bench. "Maybe you should sit down."
"I'm fine " Her voice cracked and she seemed embarrassed over reacting to the murder.
"It's okay to be upset, Syd. A horrible thing happened tonight."
"I'm fine really. I'll be back to a hundred percent by morning."

Text copyright © by Susan Sleeman
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ah, but you have heard of me!

Each one of us has acted at some point in our lives, be it a play in grade school or a performance at church. I must admit I have done several, but I was never comfortable enough to be good at it. I admired those who could slip into character and convincingly live out the part on stage.

One of the best characterizations I’ve ever seen is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.. I find myself studying Johnny rather than watching the movie. Jack Sparrow comes to life before our very eyes. Johnny has every nuance of the character down pat. You see it in his hand movements, his swagger, the way he talks. He convincingly makes you wonder if the character Jack Sparrow has his act together, then right before your eyes the slightly off-kilter personna morphs into the hero, albeit a very rouge hero.

So what about your characters? How do you get your reader to believe in that person? How do you make the character leap off the page and become important to the reader? How do you create sympathy for that character?

You’ve got to make him live the part, just like Johnny Depp embodies the outlandish pirate that has won the hearts of viewers around the world.

So how do you do that?

1) Get to know your character – As a writer you must understand them. Understand what he or she is afraid of, what they love, what attracts them. Some writers do this by “sitting down” with their character and having a heart-to-heart chat.

2) Give them something to be passionate about – What happened in their past that dictates their future? What affected them so deeply that they carry emotional baggage around with them sometimes decades later?

3) Walk a mile in their shoes – Have empathy for your characters. Close your eyes and picture the scene in your story. Feel their pain, understand it. Then be that character. What would you do? How would you feel if you had lost your mother at an early age and now you’re a mother yourself? How would you feel if a loved one died in your arms and now you are being asked to nurse a friend in their final days?

4) Live it – Now you can be the Jack Sparrow of your novel. You understand why that person has a tendency to run and hide. Or lash out when you mention the word divorce. Or has a joke for everything because that is the only way they can get past their pain.

When Jack Sparrow was told "You're just about the worst pirate I've ever heard of!" He smiled, raised his forefinger, swaggered slightly and replied. “Ah, but you have heard of me!”

Now it’s your turn. How do you give your characters the ability to do the same?

Have a blessed day!

Jennie Atkins

Friday, June 10, 2011

The View From the Top is Worth the Climb!

It was a frigid day on May 25, 2001. For Erik Weihenmayer, his thick parka and other gear did little to shield him from the ice and snow, yet he felt compelled to take a little walk…straight up to the summit of Mt. Everest. He and his team clawed their way to the highest point on earth in unbearable conditions. They sucked in what tiny bit of oxygen the air contains at 29,000 feet. Their lungs burned and their frozen fingers throbbed with each grasp of their ice picks.

Erik and his team finally reached the summit after two months of treacherous climbing. They stood in the only spot on earth were a human can see over 200 miles in any direction. Erik was jubilant. His heart pounded for actually being at the peak of the highest mountain on earth. And yet, while others on his team scanned the jagged horizon, Erik stood in darkness. He could not see the beauty that surrounded him. Why?

 Erik is blind.

Erik is the first blind man ever to scale Mt. Everest. Despite his blindness, Erik assembled a trusted team, purchased gear and set off on his journey. When the storms came, he hunkered down. When things were difficult, he put one foot in front of the other. He inched forward and upward, gaining tiny bits of ground, until he stood where few men have ever been.

Our writing resembles Erik’s journey in so many ways. We write under harsh conditions. Emotionally, we experience frigid cold from those who should warm our hearts. Yet we have a goal ... to make it to the top. We struggle, pull, slip and fall. Sometimes we can’t even see the dangers in front of us.

I know at the moment he reached the summit, Erik did not feel blind. In fact, it probably never even crossed his mind as he soaked it all in. All the suffering, time and disappointments in his life faded into insignificance the moment he planted his feet squarely at the top of the world.

Next time you feel like you can’t see where you’re going on your writing journey, don’t worry. Just keep climbing. One bright, sunny day, you will stand at the top of the literary world with a view that only a few ever see!

What obstacles are you facing in your writing life? Like Erik, do you have a team that's helping you  reach your goal? How can they help you conquer one challenge in the upcoming week?

Reba J. Hoffman

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Camels, hats and where's the validation? (i.e. tsk, tsk, ehow.com)

Okay, so this post is about validation. And this photo is from a ridiculously cute YouTube video called "Validation." It's embedded below. Sixteen minutes of sweetness. And if you're even the teensiest bit prone to happy tears, keep the kleenex nearby.

So, I have a new favorite website. And while I'd like to say it's because I have an insatiable curiosity and desire for knowledge, truth is, I just like to laugh.

Check it out: www.ehow.com.

Seriously, folks. Ehow.com provides step-by-step instructions on anything. And though I think said instructions truly are meant to be helpful, they're ridiculously funny, too.

Want to learn to ride a camel? Just click here and surprise, you've got all the help you need plus a nice dose of hilarity. From this entry, I learned a) camels are emotional (who knew?) and b) apparently it's very important to be confident when riding a camel...because they're sensitive and intelligent, you see. I'm sorry, but that's just funny.

Or, maybe you're like me and you wish you'd been invited to Will and Kate's wedding solely so you'd have a chance to wear a cool hat. But, even if you were invited, how would you choose a hat? No worries, ehow.com has the answer. Step one: Assess your head.

Uh, assess my head? Oo-kay. Messy hair. Sunburned cheeks. And, um, how long have I been walking around with flour on my nose? (Yes, I baked! No, I didn't burn anything this time.) I'm not sure how this head assessment is supposed to help me. Perhaps that's why ehow.com ranks the difficulty of these instructions as “moderate.”

Or, okay, here's a cool one: wish you could wow your friends with your crazy-awesome Thriller dance skills? Never fear, ehow.com is here. Best part of the instructions: “Drink lots of water during the dance. The moves are high energy and can be draining.” Yup.

(Please keep reading. There seriously is a point to this post...)

So, the other day I was looking for a gift for a writing friend, but I drew a blank at every turn. Not even Target – my faithful cohort in checking account whittling – came through for me. So I turned to my other faithful friend: Google. I typed in “gifts for writers” and where should Google point me? To yet another faithful ally: ehow.com. (Worried about my social life? Yeah, me too.)

On ehow.com, I found these instructions for picking out gifts for writers. And I have to say, my online advisor did okay. (Though, personally, I would have a really hard time getting excited over a flash drive. The bookstore gift certificate, however? Golden.)

But this time ehow.com left me feeling a little empty. They missed a biggie, see. One of the best gifts a person could ever give a writer?


Seriously, if there's anything a writer needs and craves, it's validation...affirmation...encouragement. We need to hear what we're doing matters. That we're not wasting our time. That even if we've backed ourselves into a corner plot-wise, conjured up cliched characters, written a snooze-fest of a scene...we've still got talent. Might be buried under frustration, but it's there – waiting to flex and mature.

We need to hear this stuff. Thing is, though, maybe we're not always going to. Maybe – even when our friends and family and fellow writers throw all sorts of encouragement our way – our own dissatisfaction or intimidation or confusion or moodiness or any manner of writerly angst fogs our minds and keeps us from hearing the truth. 

That's when we need Truth with a capital T. That's when we need to remember that our greatest validation, and our greatest worth as writers, doesn't come from the people around us (swell as they may be), but from the One who gave us our writing dream in the first place. Just by fueling us with creativity and a love for stories, God has set our course...offered his stamp of approval...his validation. Heck, we were validated before we wrote our first words...

So, writer friends, yeah, let's encourage others. Enjoy when affirmation comes our way, yes. But more than anything, know – deep down and without a doubt – that you are so totally, incredibly, awesomely validated by the most totally, incredibly, awesome Storyteller of all. And recognize it for the gift it is...even if ehow.com did leave it off the list!

Melissa Tagg

p.s. Under the photo above, I mentioned a YouTube video. My boss showed this video to our development team a couple months ago. Love it!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Painting Through Second Book Syndrome

My house, built in 1926, is a constant work-in-progress. When we moved in 15 years ago, the house was outdated with orange ceilings--no joke--and 70s decor, but had character and showed promise. Slowly, we’ve been working at making changes. Unfortunately the money tree in the backyard withered and died, so our changes are done on a budget.

My kitchen…sigh…is in need of a wrecking ball. In the meantime, paint has been my best friend. So since Memorial weekend I’ve been listening to The Help on audiobook and painting my kitchen. And I have to say, I’m loving it—both The Help and my newly painted blue and white kitchen. Definitely won’t be booked on the Better Homes & Gardens tour, but it’s definitely in keeping with my style—a cross between shabby chic and homey.

So what does repainting my kitchen have to do with writing? Well, in a clichéd way, you could compare it to writing the rough draft that lays the foundation for the final polish.

For me, painting helped me to escape my fear of writing my second book. I’m sure you’ll remember my joy at the beginning of the year when I sold my first book. Overjoyed. Since then, I’ve been editing my second book.

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Beth Vogt telling her how I felt frozen and couldn’t write for fear of failing. After all, my editor loved my first book. I had very few revisions. Golden, right?

Photo credit: jbournay
When my friend got married on the beach, Hubby and I were her witnesses. We spent the afternoon at the beach that had huge waves. I turned to say something to Hubby and got knocked down when a wave washed over me. I tried to stand but couldn’t get my footing. The second my head popped above water, another wave pushed me down. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe. A panicked feeling squeezed my chest. I truly thought I was going to die. Hubby saved me.

Writing the last 4 chapters of my second book came with that same pushed under the water with wave after wave hitting me and knocking me down feeling. Beth informed me that overwhelming feeling sounded like second book syndrome.

Romans 15:13 reminds us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Painting and listening to a wonderful book helped me to take a break from banging my head against the keyboard. Prayer and distance from my manuscript pushed away those waves that overwhelmed me. Oh, and losing my Internet for over 24 hours helped too. I started writing during naptime and moved past the chapter that held my muse captive. I knew God did not allow me to have one contract and set me up to fail for the second book. He gave me peace as I trusted in Him.

Your turn: Have you dealt with second book syndrome recently? How did you push through it? If you haven't dealt with second book syndrome, have you been overwhelmed by another aspect of writing? How did you handle it? What takeaway value did you receive? 

Lisa Jordan

Congrats to Deborah H. Bateman for winning a copy of Masquerade Marriage!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

There was a princess. Now this was not an ordinary princess. No, this was a very modern and savvy young lady who knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be a writer…a published writer, indeed.

She learned the craft and honed her skills, even joined My Book Therapy...She was taught by the best. She entered contests, and paid attention to the critiques, learned what worked and what didn’t.

She queried and went to conferences, made appointments and smiled and nodded, gave editors one-sheets and elevator pitches. She even fetched water and coffee and carried their boxes and boxes of books.


All to no avail.

Years passed. She fretted and frayed because no one wanted her book, her precious baby. They sent it back with words like Sorry this does not meet our editorial needs at this time…or loved the hero but your heroine simply didn’t do it for me.

They said her baby was ugly. But she continued to write and learn, made her heroine vulnerable and sassy and her hero noble and true.

After all her appointments and letters had failed, she had all but decided her writing ‘twas not meant to be. And low and behold a note dropped from the sky. ‘Twas from an editor she knew not from Adam, and certainly not an editor she’d queried.

Dear Princess,
Your story I must see for recommendation has come from on high….

She danced and frolicked, then quickly bundled her story and winged it the editor’s way. Oh joy, oh joy, the editor loved her hero…and heroine, too. Soon the princess held her book in her very own hands…

And the moral of this story is...

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

Learn the craft, hone your skills, write the best story you know how for an audience of One. And pray. God did not give you a dream to snatch it away. Remember, it’s always in His timing. All we have to do is be ready.

Habakkuk 2:3- "But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed."

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guest Post by Michelle Lim: Editing Paralysis

Today we welcome Michelle Lim, a writing friend and My Book Therapy's (MBT) brainstormer extraordinaire, to the MBT Ponderers blog. Michelle and I (Beth) had an interesting conversation about what she calls "Editing Paralysis," and I asked her to share her insights with the Ponderers and friends.

Every new mom starts out believing one thing is absolutely certain: Her baby is perfect in every way. But sometime before the child's second birthday, mom admits that the halo is slightly tarnished.

Our novels follow a similar pattern. It's love at first draft, but somewhere along the journey we realize that our work-in-progress (WIP) has flaws. Some faults are so crippling that, without major editing, our stories will never be published.

Did you just break out in hives at the thought of editing your novel? We have a lot in common. I struggle with a serious condition called "Editing Paralysis," or EP. I know changes need to happen, but I don't know how to make the changes.

All is not lost for those of us suffering from EP. How can we overcame this condition? We need a system for edits like plotters need copious outlines before sitting down at the keyboard.

  • Lay a foundation of prayer. Prayer is the most important first step to prepare to edit your WIP. Scripture talks about the refining work of God in our lives (Zechariah 13:9), now it's time to use that refining work in our novels. Once you are spiritually ready, sit down with a sense of purpose for God's excellence.
  • Un-layer your edits. It's easy to panic when overwhelmed with the process of editing an entire manuscript. Think of editing in layers. Create checklists for structural edits (the foundational elements of any novel) and for individual scene edits. For each scene, go through only one checklist point at a time. Tiny step by tiny step will make the process less daunting.
  • Recognize your weaknesses. As you continue to edit, you'll discover that you repeat mistakes. Make future editing easier by learning how to avoid those errors, applying what you've learned to your next manuscript.
  • Learn from someone else's expertise. Find a critique buddy who will give you feedback. You get added clarity when someone else looks at your work. Sometimes it's easier to correct things someone else sees than to identify your own mistakes. 
EP can be overcome and, even though your rough draft is tarnished with flaws, you can polish it to publication.

What about you? Do you love editing your story--or loathe it? Have you created any checklists to guide you?