Thursday, July 29, 2021
Valerie Fraser Luesse
My husband and I got our COVID-19 vaccines at a small pharmacy inside the Piggly Wiggly grocery store (a.k.a. “The Pig”) in Sylacauga, Alabama. And while the waiting room consisted of a few chairs and a bench overlooking the produce section, the pharmacy staff couldn’t have been more caring and professional. End result: We took a positive step toward protecting our health and we can point you to a good buy on watermelon.
Moments like that are great fodder for stories, I think. A little exaggeration here, a sprinkling of humor there, and you’d have instant comic relief for a dramatic story or an over-the-top scene for a lighthearted one. (“J.T., when you get done pricin’ them tomatoes, can you come on over here and load me up a syringe? Bring the patient a Granny Smith while you’re at it.”)
As a writer, I’m blessed to have spent my entire life in the South, a wellspring for storytelling. Actually, there isn’t just one South—there are many, related but not identical. They’re like cousins at a family reunion. Everybody looks and sounds a little different, but you can definitely see a resemblance. The small-town, 1960s Alabama of my first book, Missing Isaac (Revell, 2018), is a long stretch of two-lane highway from the post-war Cajun Louisiana of my latest, Under the Bayou Moon (Revell, August 2021), but both are firmly rooted in the South.
I always anchor my stories in places that I know. When you think about it, place determines so much about us—and about fictional characters—from the clothes we wear to the foods we eat, from our accent to our attitudes. The only way I can write authentic characters is to know exactly where they came from. And the key to bringing a place to life for readers is detail—concrete details that help them imagine the setting for themselves, even step inside it so they experience it in a visceral way.
For example, I could tell you that the people of my fictional Bernadette, Louisiana, “served a bountiful buffet” at their annual picnic. Or I could say this:
The men had set up two long serving tables made of sawhorses and plywood, which were quickly covered with platters of fried chicken, barbecued ribs, and boudin; cast-iron Dutch ovens overflowing with jambalaya, deer chili, and maque choux; a mountain of boiled crawfish and corn on the cob; potato salad, baked beans, and dirty rice; fried peach and apple hand pies, layer cakes, hand-turned ice cream, and crusty French bread. A huge iron pot was simmering chicken and andouille gumbo over a fire behind the tables.
Now it’s not just a lot of food that we’re talking about. It’s a lot of specific food that telegraphs the South in general and Louisiana in particular.
Details matter and being isolated for over a year has made me more keenly aware of that, even in my everyday surroundings. I write in a little cottage-office next to our house (I call it the Story Shack), and last winter, when we couldn’t go anywhere, I decided that I needed something new to look at, so I hung a couple of bird feeders where I could see them out the front windows. I had never paid one bit of attention to the birds in my yard. Suddenly, I was borrowing bird books from my mother and wondering when that red-headed woodpecker might make another appearance. Every day now, I scatter seeds on the ground for three doves that frequent the Shack because that’s where these peaceful birds like to eat—beyond the fray, minding their own business. As for the resident blue jays, I agree with Mama: “A blue jay is a fussy bird.” When I thoughtfully observe the behavior of the feathered ones, I begin to see personalities, and a personality is just a short leap from a character. (Don’t we all know a few blue jays?)
Just as important as watching—maybe even more so—is listening, and that’s something I have sorely missed during the pandemic. We talk a lot less in a mask, and it’s hard to hear the little nuances in our everyday speech. If you want to write realistic dialog, start listening to it—while you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store or sitting in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, when you’re drizzling ketchup on your hash browns at the Waffle House or sitting in the stands at soccer practice. Listen to the way real people say things. (I call this research. My husband calls it eavesdropping. Tomato, to-mah-to.)
Ellie Fields, the main character in Under the Bayou Moon, is college educated but she’s also a country girl from Alabama, and her dialog needed to reflect both aspects of her life—her upbringing and her education. So, while her subjects and verbs generally agree, she will occasionally put her hands on her hips and tell you what’s what. There’s no pretense about Ellie.
The opposite is true for Heywood Thornberry, the charismatic photographer Ellie meets in New Orleans. Heywood uses language both to draw others in and to keep them at bay. He’s so entertaining that many people don’t realize he’s using charm as his personal firewall.
And then there’s Heywood’s friend, Raphe Broussard, whose speech reflects the solitary, stripped-to-essentials life he has been leading. He couldn’t make idle chatter if his life depended on it, and that’s one of many reasons Ellie is drawn to him.
So, watching and listening . . . and then storyboarding. I started storyboarding—or, at least, my version of it—on a small scale with my last book, The Key to Everything (Revell, 2020), but I took it to a whole new level with Under the Bayou Moon. I knew I needed a better way to organize my ideas, but I’ve never been able to write from an outline. I couldn’t do it in high school, I couldn’t do it in college, and I can’t do it now—not as senior travel editor for Southern Living magazine and not as a fiction writer. But what I can do is storyboard a book the way we storyboard magazine features. I find pictures of people and places who look like the characters and setting I see in my mind, and then I print them out and arrange them all over the walls of the Shack. They aren’t randomly pinned here and there; they are arranged in ways that help me see the whole story at a glance—the relationships between people and place. The resulting visual and spatial connections that I see feel less hard-and-fast than an outline because I can easily and quickly rearrange them if I change my mind. There’s no need to realign points I, II, III, A, B, C. (I confess to having issues with patience!)
When I step back and look at these picture collages, no matter where the story is set or who the main characters are, I always see the same two things: family and community, people acting in relation to each other and to a place. As a storyteller, that’s what interests me most—families; specific cultural communities, like small-town Alabama or Cajun Louisiana; and the greater human community.
We were never meant to live in isolation. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that. And yet we crave our independence. I’m hoping the tension between those two will keep me busy for a while.
Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac, Almost Home, and The Key to Everything, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for
her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
I am curious!
Are author's still doing book giveaways of their new books as they release?
Or has that all together just stopped since covid? And what happened to some of the books that came out when covid hit?
With one book, author, Sarah Ramey, said about her debut book's release date, (March 17, 2020) "That is essentially the same week that COVID-19 came out." She goes on to say, "For it to come out that week, of all weeks, was really . . . challenging. Her book was The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness.
Aimee Liu's, (author of numerous books), novel Glorious Boy came out in May 2020. She said, "The publishing industry only gives you one bite of the apple. She goes on to say, "They immediately write you off if you don't sell big on your first book. They don't give you a second chance, and they don't handicap you for bringing a book out in the middle of a pandemic. It's not like you get extra points."
And what about book signings and speaking events during the pandemic? Those opportunities became non-existent.
Sometimes when things happen that prevent us from business as usual it can be detrimental; but, with that said, it can also be an opportunity to find a better, more productive way to do business.
Yet, out of the shutting down came more virtual tours. . .online debuting. . .podcasts! Whatever someone could imagine they seem to be able to pull it together.
We won't know the outcome on all of that yet, but we will as time goes on. Each author will continue to look for ways to announce their newly released book to the world.
Never count an author out.
Maybe, we can look at the things we did before, and dust those off now and put them into action with a different twist. We might find ourselves looking to tweak some of those and make them more user friendly for our readers.
By putting ourselves in the readers shoes we will be able to find new and better ways to bring about new facets of getting information out about our new books. Don't forget, authors create buzz!
Monday, July 26, 2021
Recently I have seen columns asking their readership to answer: What does poetry do? I also asked my poetry critique group this question. One of my poetry friends responded, when asked if poetry can “fix” the world, poetry is not a screwdriver. Poetry is not supposed to fix anything.
Or is it? If we define “fix,” as setting something right that may have been incorrectly placed or to make something permanent or stable, then maybe poetry can fix at least something.
I’m advocating that poetry can be a “universal fixer.” What I mean is this: If the creation of poems can persuade an adversary to reconsider a point, create an awareness for an individual who has never appreciated the blueness of a particular bird, or offer an empathetic view toward diversity, to name just a few; then I think poetry can do many things. Poetry itself is not in the doing. Poetry is in the thinking and then we do the doing.
Witness (no poetry pun intended) recent events of violence. We have seen much come out of the writing community on topics of policing, inequalities of service, statues that resurrect unimaginable times, and so on. When I read poetry and articles about certain events, I am not looking for clues to fix something. I am looking for emotional commitment to the topic. If someone is that moved to write about it, then I know that person wants to offer a “fix.” The poet Brenda Hillman uses the word “metonymy” to draw an association with realism. For example,
“The White House” today raised up rails around the east side or “the Giants need a new glove in right field.” Here is one from me: “Detroit needs to remove the tarnish it has inherited.” Now while these lines are not poetic, what they give us is a way for poetry to do something. That is to say, we can take a collective, have it provide the action, or possibly a way to be fixed.
Another view of what poetry can do: Poetry can intimate that the past is never quite over with. This line taken from poet, Matthew Bevis, sums it up: “Did you just get déjà Vue?” The implication here is that we are reading a poem about something that happened and the reader knows that something similar happened to them, too. I have had times when a stranger has come up to me, drawing attention to some poem I wrote, then telling me that they were either at that same place or had that same feeling. How did I know or do that? While I want to say that poetry is magical, that seems flippant. Of the many things that poetry can do, what it cannot do is perform magic.
When you write your poems, think about what poetry is doing for you at that time. Maybe you just saw something that moved you so much you cried. Was it for joy? Sorrow? What if you wrote about your feelings? That is when poetry does something.
Until next time!
Friday, July 23, 2021
Darlene L. Turner
Authors are often asked if they inject their own life experiences into the lives of their characters. Another adage we writers hear is “write what you know.” Can we do both to make our stories more real? More authentic?
I wrote Lethal Cover-Up during the summer of 2020 when COVID-19 had first taken the world by storm. Fears had mounted. Questions of this virus had overtaken every social media platform. Rumors and conspiracies emerged, running rampant. Fear of the unknown clutched our hearts.
We didn’t know how to handle what we didn’t know.
During this time as I was writing the book, I had a strong urge that something was missing from my hero and heroine’s story. However, I couldn’t put my finger on it. So, I did what I always do when stumped.
I stepped away from my WIP and prayed.
I asked God to show me what He wanted this story to be about. “What’s missing?” The answer I heard?
Eeeekkk! Questions went through my head. How can I do that? Did I really want to share parts of my life? Fears? Not that I have deep, dark secrets, but to add in parts of my life sent my pulse racing. Do other authors reveal pieces of themselves in their stories?
I tried ignoring the answer to my story’s missing component, but it grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. What did I do?
I relented and inserted personal life experiences into the lives of my characters. Gave them some of my fears. Opened my mind to sharing my heart through the hero and heroine. Once I did the story came to life. But every author knows, you don’t stop there. You must take it a step further. You can’t just throw your characters into the unknown and leave them hanging.
I added an important piece of takeaway.
Specifically hope in the unknown. We were living (still are) in a world plagued with unanswered questions, so I offered reassurance to the readers by showing how my characters dealt with their issues. Did my hero and heroine resist? Of course. Just like us, they too needed to work through their fears to come out strong and trusting on the other end.
After seeing the positive results of interjecting bits of myself into my story, I encourage writers to do the same. It not only makes the book more authentic, but will have a greater impact on our readers.
Isn’t that why we write?
Darlene L. Turner’s love of suspense began when she read her first Nancy Drew book. She’s turned that passion into her writing and believes readers will be captured by her plots, inspired by her strong characters, and moved by her inspirational message.
Darlene won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense twice and an ACFW Genesis award. Her debut book, Border Breach, (Love Inspired Suspense) was a double winner at the Selah Awards, taking third place in the First Novel and Romantic Suspense categories. She’s represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She has two books releasing in 2021: Abducted in Alaska (March) and Lethal Cover-Up (July 27).
Darlene met her husband Jeff at the turtle races in Ontario, Canada. She loves flavored coffee and plaid shirts. You can connect with Darlene at www.darlenelturner.com where there’s suspense beyond borders.
Facebook (author page): https://bit.ly/2Woy8dK
Facebook (personal): https://bit.ly/3kLG5ST
Thursday, July 22, 2021
I’ve been an organizer as long as I can remember. As a kid, I organized my candy into categories: chocolate, chewy, hard, and other (such as pixie sticks). In my teenage years I kept a detailed record of my babysitting jobs (date, who I cared for, how many hours, and how much I made.) When I had my first apartment, I kept a record of my income/expenses (in the days before personal computers), and I’m still recording, but now it’s an Excel spreadsheet.
While working on a book, I keep organized two ways. The first is by using a binder with various tabs that include list of characters and character sketches, maps (of a town or a house layout), outline (overall and by chapter), timeline, edit checklist, and notes. I’m a visual person and use paper. Many of you may use Scrivener or Fictionary or another software program. Use whatever works for you.
I use a single sheet to keep track of my characters. I list their names, ages, what they do for a living, and major traits. Since I write mysteries, I also note the characters who are the protagonist, antagonist, suspects, and relationships to other characters.
To track my chapters and scenes, I use the table function in Word. For each chapter I note:
1. The purpose of each scene.
4. Bullet points of what happens in the scene.
5. Characters in the scene.
6. Comments of what’s happened off screen, what’s happening with other characters, etc.
7. The five senses. Try to use two or three in each scene.
The second way I stay organized is by using clear heavy-duty plastic sleeves. I cannot live without these! These keep me organized in my day-to-day activities. Each webinar, article to write, blog post, etc. gets its own sleeve. Not only does this allow me to keep important papers separated in a controlled manner, but I can organize the sleeves according to due date. I use this technique to organize the rest of my life, such as doctor appointments, bills, and follow-up correspondence. Have you ever searched for a piece of paper only later to find out it got stuck to something else? And, if your significant other or kids decide to use your desk while you’re out, they won’t mess up your stack of papers.
I hope you’ll use these tips to keep your writing organized too. I’d love to hear what tips you use to stay organized.
Nancy has self-published seven books and is writing her next mystery due out this fall. Nancy served as a panelist at the Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference, speaking on the subjects of self-publishing, minor characters, and dialogue. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter, The League of Utah Writers, Just Write Chapter, and Writer’s Circle. Nancy is a Midwest farm girl at heart and lives in Utah with her husband and four-legged children, Max and Addison.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Carolyn Miller said, "After writing nine books in the Regency Brides trilogies, I wanted to focus on stories that were less about the rich, beautiful, and titled aristocracy and more about ordinary people. Specifically, I wanted to tell the stories of women who were slightly older and who were considered “wallflowers” or those with very few, if any, matrimonial prospects. I have found that Regency fiction is often populated by an amazing number of single, rich, young, and handsome dukes instead of these far more relatable women and situations."
Best-selling author Carolyn Miller is back with a fresh series that will not only thrill readers eager for more of her work, but bring in new fans looking for beautiful writing, fascinating research, deftly woven love stories, and real faith lived out in the Regency period.
A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English literature and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. She enjoys music, films, gardens, art, travel, and food.
Miller’s novels have won a number of RWA and ACFW contests. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Australasian Christian Writers.
Learn more about Carolyn at www.carolynmillerauthor.com, or find her on Facebook (Carolyn Miller Author), Instagram (@CarolynMillerAuthor), and Twitter (@CarolynMAuthor)
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Amanda Wen @AuthorAmandaWen
Whether it’s a scathing contest critique or a bad Amazon review, every author will eventually run into that (hopefully) rare (and clearly misguided) reader who doesn’t like their work. Some reviews or critiques can make you want to curl up under your desk, hide under a fuzzy blanket, and never write another word for public consumption again.
Not that I have done this.
As a professional musician, and now an author, I’ve had my share of criticism, and here are a few tactics I’ve found helpful:
· Take it to Jesus. Before you react or reply or do anything else, walk away and pray. Jesus knew this bit of bad news was going to hit your inbox even before you did. He can handle your tears and your complaints about how off-base that reviewer was, and how they’ve obviously never read a good book, and therefore, wouldn’t know one if it bit them in the behind. (Again, that may just be me).
· Feel your feelings. Criticism can pack a wallop, and pretending you’re not upset about it isn’t a healthy way to cope. Whether you’re sad, angry, discouraged, or all three as a result, your feelings are valid, and the only way to move forward is to move through them. However, as valid as feelings are, they aren’t always true. If your feelings are saying you’re worthless, purposeless, hopeless, or anything else ending in –less, they’re lying. God has a plan for you and your writing, and even a harsh critique can be woven into His beautiful story. (Romans 8:28 gets thrown around an awful lot, but it’s true!)
· Remember that all art is subjective. Just as you don’t love every book, song, show, or movie, neither will anyone else. Something that turns one reader into a flailing fangirl for life might totally turn off another. We’ve all got our favorite genres, topics, and writing styles, and we’ve also got genres, topics, and writing styles we steer clear of. That person who dinged your book on Amazon? As much as it stings to admit, your book just might not have been that reader’s cup of tea.
· Critique the critic. Once you’ve felt the initial sting and you can be more objective, look at the critique again and see exactly what the reviewer didn’t like. If someone hated your romance “because I hate kissing books,” that is a bit unfair, but it also means there’s nothing you can do about it, and you can dismiss it as an unhelpful critique. If a review says something like “The hero was difficult for me to relate to because I thought he was too self-absorbed,” then that might be something to consider when writing your next hero, especially if you hear it from more than one reviewer. Sometimes the harshest critiques contain nuggets of gold, and the wise writer can learn much from them. This is where prayer and a trusted friend or critique partner can come in handy. I’ve asked writing pals many a time if a critique was off base. Sometimes the answer was yes, and sometimes it was “Okay, the way they said it was a little harsh, but what they said? They’re not wrong.”
· Know thyself. If a negative Amazon or Goodreads will derail you and cause you to question your life choices, then it’s probably best to just steer clear. Although we can learn from bad reviews, consumer-site reviews are primarily for readers: to help those who are looking for your type of book to find it! That’s it. But if positive reviews provide needed motivation, you can always enlist a trusted friend or family member to screen your reviews and share the uplifting ones.
· The critic is not always right. Many famous authors, including J. K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss, received scathing rejections of works that went on to become mega-selling classics. And several less-famous authors can recount critiques that were proven wrong. After winning a handful of writing contests with one project, I entered a different project in a fairly-big-deal contest. That project, one that was near and dear to my heart, received some very harsh criticism from the first-round judges, along with the lowest scores I’d ever seen attached to an entry of mine. But that’s the book that became my debut novel.
So don’t let a negative review or harsh critique derail you as an author, my friends. If possible, use it to learn and grow as a writer. But even if there’s nothing you can learn from it, even if it’s a harsh personal attack, trust God to weave it into His perfect story.
Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of inspirational romance and split-time women’s fiction. She has placed first in multiple writing contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions contests. She was also a 2018 ACFW Genesis Contest finalist.
Wen is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and regularly contributes author interviews for their Fiction Finder feature. She also frequently interviews authors for her blog and is a contributor to the God Is Love blog. Her debut novel is Roots of Wood and Stone.
In addition to her writing, Wen is an accomplished professional cellist and pianist who frequently performs with orchestras, chamber groups, and her church’s worship team. Wen lives in Kansas with her patient, loving, and hilarious husband, their three adorable Wenlets, and a snuggly Siamese cat.
To find Amanda Wen’s blog and short stories, visit www.amandawen.com. Readers can also follower her on Facebook (@AuthorAmandaWen), Twitter (@AuthorAmandaWen), and Instagram (@authoramandawen)
Monday, July 19, 2021
Sandra Mansfield Wright
It is now 2021 and although many went through a horrific 2020 – those of us reading this did survive. We may have bumps and bruises, or may have suffered grief and loss, but we are still here and hanging on. Encouragement and uplifting words mean even more to me now than before the pandemic, and hugs from my friends and loved ones even more precious. COVID did make me appreciate, notice and drink deeply of life.
In the COVID year of isolation I was blessed to have written two books and find now that I can get out and be busy with other things, I am having a difficult time getting into my writing as before. Maybe this is true for others as well – finding it hard to get back to normal (whatever normal may be.) This is a time when we may reflect on how we truly want to live our lives. Do we want to go back to normal? Things are supposedly back to normal, but normal is different for many of us, isn’t it? We find we don’t feel the same about normal any longer. This may be a good thing, because we will now appreciate and cherish our ordinary days more readily. Finding our normal lives again, when life has changed so much in the world, isn’t an easy matter.
The good thing is, we can grow, and change and help our lives be whatever we hope them to be. We can take the good things and expand on them and let go of the things which were unnecessary and hold less meaning for us. We may have found we could live with many less “things,” many less activities, going and doing, running hectically through life. Families had time together around the kitchen table, playing games together, eating meals and talking. We found time to talk and listen to our family members – those who are most precious to us. Outside distractions were limited. Maybe you would like to keep these good parts of isolation. It caused me to re-think my activities, and I found I even enjoyed being at home more.
How do we keep the things we want in our lives and not fall into the trap again of being swallowed up by the world around us – the constant pull of work, going, doing, planning, keeping up? Everyone has different needs and wants in their lives. There are chapters in each life, some are raising children, some working a stressful and demanding job, some are care-givers to someone in their family, some are retired, some are fighting health issues, some are struggling with heartache and problems, and on and on it goes. We live our lives as best we can, and I for one ask for God’s help daily. We each must make a conscious effort to get the life we want. We must choose wisely. There are things we will have to give up – we cannot have it all! We must make time for those who are a priority for us. What’s important to our life right now? Who is important? Make time for these. Will what we are spending our time on (people, things, our faith, our work) be important to us in five years, in ten years, in eternity?
The books I write are books of joy, hope and encouragement. Helping people, lifting them up as we all struggle to live as best we can is a goal of mine. I want to leave you with my favorite scripture:
“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.”
Romans 15:13 (NIV)
Sandra Mansfield Wright, is the author of Gentleness, Strength, The Posture of Hope, Growing in Hope,365 Daily Gifts of Joy and Little Gifts of Joy.
After retiring from her career in real estate, Sandra Mansfield Wright became an "Interior Designer for the Heart".
She writes and speaks on the subject of joy and provides practical ways to bring joy more fully into the lives of her readers and listeners. Sandra lives near Memphis, TN,
Visit Sandra at sandramansfieldwright.com
for more information and to read her blog.
Friday, July 16, 2021
Thursday, July 15, 2021
A few years back, I felt as if my writing and marketing projects weren’t headed in the right direction. Time to reassess my work! That thought made me shudder. In the past, I considered reassessing something to be a negative process. In my mind, it meant I needed to revise my plan, seeking out my mistakes. I turned this procedure into a time of extreme self-criticism, looking for faults in my work and blaming myself for errors and oversights.
This negative attitude towards reassessing projects usually slowed my work more than it helped. After any reassessment, I had to find exercises to build my confidence before I could fully dive back into my work.
Reassessments left me feeling deflated rather than feeling ready to take on the next project. But if things weren’t working well, I couldn’t avoid reassessing my current work. Before I started, however, I spent time working on schoolwork with one of my daughters. She had to look up vocabulary words in her dictionary. When she stepped away for a moment, I flipped through the pages and landed on the entry for reassess. There was that first definition: to revise. I slipped into my negative frame of mind which said revising meant changing the plan because of my failures.
Then I saw the next two definitions listed: to renew one’s assessment, to get a feel for again. Renewal? Get a feel for again? This sounded like a wonderful challenge. I could bring new life back into my projects. I could get a feel for them again and revitalize the works and myself. Why had I never looked at reassessment in such a positive light before?
The work began. How could I renew my marketing plan? I had to get a feel for my audience again. In crunching numbers and plotting strategies, I lost touch with the people I had written my e-book for. I got online to see what other books were popular with my intended audience. I searched for advertising targeting this age group. Where were they traveling and shopping? What were their hobbies? This helped me redesign my ads and overall marketing strategies. I was pleased that I had gotten a feel for my audience again.
Then I moved to my writing. I was more than one-third of the way through my next book, but the life had gone out of it. The timeframe wasn’t working, and the characters had become dull as I tried to force them into the plot. I went back to my original notes and character sketches. I got back in touch with my book and breathed new life into the characters as I made small changes to the dates and the setting.
I’m so glad I reassessed my process of reassessment! It gave me a chance to get back in touch with my projects and renew them and me along the way.
I was a long-time writer-at-large for Southern Writers Magazine, interviewing national authors for each issue. My articles have appeared in many other local and national publications, including Delta Magazine.
I speak to writing groups on topics such as self-publishing, how to find your own creative voice and how to break writer's block. Along with speaking to writing groups, I also speak nationally to churches and nonprofit organizations on a variety of motivational and spiritual topics.
Visit at https://www.chrispepple.com/
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Here are some questions for authors to ask themselves.
Do you follow blogs of a few authors you like?
The ones you follow, do they update their readers about the stories they are writing?
How much information do they give you each time they update their blog?
Do they tell you enough to pique your interest to want to keep up with what is transpiring with their new creation?
Do they share things like the period it is set in? Anything about the characters? What about the setting they are placing their story in? You know, the mountains, the ocean, a particular town, or country?
If they do, do you leave a comment, letting them know of your interest? How much you are looking forward to reading this book when it is published? Do you spur them on, keep the dialogue going?
Do they ask you questions for suggestions maybe on name, titles colors? Or do they ask you what you think?
Why am I asking these questions? People love to be involved in projects, especially with authors. Let them in on the up’s and down’s, in’s and out’s-enough to whet the appetites, building excitement and buzz for the book. The important thing to know is it gives them a feeling of being part of and involved in the process of your creating your book. And when it is published, they will be the ones for sure buying a copy of this new book.
Susan Reichert is the author of Between Me and You: God’s Way is Better, God’s Prayer Power, and Storm in Life. Her new book, Listen Close will be released this month.
She and her husband live in Tennessee. They have four daughters with families of their own.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
What will be different about my writing after going through a pandemic? Will I be able to schedule my writing and my family and other responsibilities and keep them balanced? With my new book do I feel I spent more time developing the story, characters, plots, and dialogue? With this new book, what if anything do I want the reader to know about me as an author?
Like with most people, the pandemic brought a lot of changes for me and my family. I was back home in southern Africa when the pandemic hit. By mid-March, my husband and I had decided that I needed to return to the US. I was able to fly out just hours before South Africa shut its borders. (Sounds a bit like a suspense novel!) With three college-age kids and my mother in assisted living, we had no idea just how much change the following months would bring. My kids lost their jobs in the service industry, and with my mother in isolation, we decided to move her in with us. All of a sudden we were a three-generational home, juggling online college classes, new part time jobs, and the reality of a pandemic. My writing continued, but with so many distractions, it was harder to concentrate. I struggled to focus and to meet deadlines, though I never lost my love for writing or my stories. And as tough as it was, I found it therapeutic to pour my feelings into my writing.
Things have changed again for our family. My daughter got married—after having to change the location three times—and was able to go back to school. Both my boys are moving out of the house (again) in the next few weeks. I’ve realized what a special time it was to have them all back under my roof. I’ve soaked up my time with them playing board games, watching cooking shows, making smores, and cooking out over a fire pit in the back yard.
I think the last year will change my writing. It’s helped to show me more layers of emotion, giving me plot ideas, and a desire to dig deeper into my characters to see how they will react to a situation out of their control. My latest book—The Chase—definitely pushes both my hero and heroine to a place where they can’t control the situation. And they quickly realize that they will have to rely on each other if they hope to survive.
Lisa Harris is a bestselling author, a Christy Award winner, and the
winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel from Romantic
Times for her novels Blood Covenant and Vendetta. The author of more
than forty books, including The Nikki Boyd Files and the Southern
Crimes series, as well as Vanishing Point, A Secret to Die
For, and Deadly Intentions, Harris and her family have spent over
seventeen years living as missionaries in southern Africa. She is
currently stateside in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Monday, July 12, 2021
For several years a group of friends and I rented a cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend writers retreat. We’d take our journals out to the beach or plug laptops into outlets in the dining area. We’d sit in the screened porch to read or daydream while lounging in lawn chairs.
All while being utterly disconnected from the outside world.
That cottage was in a cell phone dead zone and wasn’t wired for Wi-Fi. No matter where I went on that property, I couldn’t manage to check Facebook or Twitter or my email. No one could text me or message me or even call.
Can I tell you; it was glorious.
Well, that was until I needed to look up a bit of research. Or when I wanted to check in with things back at home. Or when I took a picture of a gorgeous sunset and wanted to share it on Instagram.
It was glorious until it wasn’t. Then it was maddening.
Being in a dead zone can be such a frustration.
For a little over a year I’ve felt as though I’ve hit more than a few creative dead zones. I’ve struggled to focus and to get my thoughts organized and onto the page. I’ve spent days feeling completely paralyzed, unable to think clearly enough to work. All while the deadlines inch closer and closer.
And at the end of those days I feel guilty, frustrated, and anxious. I worry that I’d never be able to write again like I used to.
On those days I feel despair creeping up along the margins. And on those days I feel isolated and ashamed.
But recently I read an article that said that what I’ve been experiencing is normal. That living though a pandemic alters our ability to function, to focus, to produce. I read Tweets from writer friends, many saying that they’re experiencing the same fog as I am.
This dead zone is hampering a lot of us.
But knowing that it’s not just me gives me a lot of hope. Hope that, together, we’ll make it through. This isn’t going to last forever.
In the meantime, though, I need to practice compassion.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to have compassion for others. What’s hard is having it for myself.
And so, I’m going to make a habit of the following self-compassion practices. Please, feel free to join me and to add your own. I’d love to hear what might work for you!
First, I have to release the expectation of perfection. There is no way that I’m always going to write the perfect scene, chapter, or even sentence. So, I just need to get over it. My task is to do the best I can in the moment. What I have in front of me is a draft that can be edited — and edited again — later on. It will be okay.
Second, I resolve to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend. There can be no more tearing myself down or beating myself up. If I wouldn’t say it to a cherished friend, I won’t say it — or think it — about me.
Third, I acknowledge that I absolutely cannot survive the dead zone days alone. And in order to have support, I need to be honest about my struggles. I am a fortunate woman to have a handful of trusted friends — my sweet husband among them — to check in on me. But it’s not enough for me to take support and mercy from them. I need to be willing to give it lavishly as well. And in doing so, I contribute to diminishing the fog that hangs over both of us.
The past few months I’ve had more clear headed days than foggy. I’ve felt more life in the work than drudgery. It gives me hope. It keeps me going.
Outside my window is the full growth of a coming summer. And I get back to writing.
Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the
country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.
Friday, July 9, 2021
Ritchie Dawn Hale
When my great aunt moved into the home of my parents, I became intimately involved with her daily care up until her death. I watched her exhibit unshakable confidence in God and simple faith that all things were in His hands. She had a winsome smile and an attitude of great compassion and kindness - even when circumstances placed her in embarrassing, and uncomfortable situations. I always wondered where such faith and kindness came from and had to study my own life with a question about my ability to face end-of-life frailties with such acceptance that this too was in God's hands. Years after her death I inherited a tattered treasure keepsake box with many of her most personal possessions - diaries, art, trinkets, photographs, letters, and a multitude of things that had been special to her throughout her ninety-four years. As I dug through these items, I began to see patterns of faith and compassion that had begun in her life from her early childhood. I simply wanted to know more. Hence, the idea to write this book, Treasures of the Tattered Box, was born.
I knew my great aunt Hallie, and her husband, Uncle Warren.
When I say I knew them, I mean I'd been around Warren a few times, heard
stories about him, and seen many photographs of his fishing and jewelry
business. Aunt Hallie - I knew her the same way until I became part of the
caregiver team with my mom and dad. Those are the years I truly began to know
her - but only as the incapacitated, senior adult—Not as the vibrant person I
had heard Dad speak of. Not as the grieving mom of lost children, and not as
the vivacious Bible teacher of hundreds of neighborhood children. I'd seen some
of her artwork, read a few poems she had written, and seen accolades she had
received through the years - but to say I truly knew her - that would evolve
across the years, even after her death.
I knew only tiny thumbnail sketches about her children, her siblings, or her parents—my great grandparents. That was such a precious part of the journey to flesh them out and discover more than mere names on a genealogy chart, but real people with hopes, desires, shortcomings, and victories over insurmountable obstacles. My journey allowed me to interact with people who were unrelated, but whose lives had been touched by the people I sought.
The most difficult part, in the beginning, was the sheer mountains of material that I had to sort, read, decipher, and catalog. There were gimongous piles of ancient documents that occupied crates all over my dining room—for years. Every waking minute when I wasn't at work, or involved in our church ministry, or being involved with family, I was hunched over boxes and files of stale-smelling paper that had grown brittle and musty with the passage of time. No one MADE me do this - but it was there, and I NEEDED to do it. Somehow, I had appointed myself to be the family historian and wanted to bring order out of the chaos of family history for the next generation.
The easy part was getting organized. I love to organize. Purchasing hundreds of hanging file folders and labeling by years became a fun pass time. At first, I dropped every document, photo, or letter into the correct year. This took years and LOTS of notes - but it was an emotional rush to see history becoming organized by year.
As the years rolled by, my focus changed - again and again. It began with a quest to discover how Hallie had ended life with such kindness - a kindness that I had heard about and witnessed in all the years I had known her. As that quest matured, I began to think more about the influence she had on so many people and I wanted to meet people who had known her. I thought somehow, I needed to find all these people to bring their stories to light, thereby giving them a place in memory - and that without doing this, they may be forgotten. Often, I became discouraged when the trail would grow cold, and I'd get busy with my life - and then pangs of guilt would reprimand me for not finishing the job. But the joy of pressing forward always continued and I discovered that setbacks were a part of the whole experience. As I met people—real people with real struggles, often it exposed an area in my life that I needed to adjust or surrender to Christ, grow, and learn from. We all move forward and backward along the way, and each of us leaves a legacy in the lives of those who know us during our time on earth. Even my perseverance in finishing this journey is having an impact on those who are aware of my undertaking. Whether the next generation remembers me in particular - if I walk humbly with my God and exhibit His love and grace - I've left a legacy.
The research was fun! Hard work, but great fun. I began to discover names, places, and events and with each discovery, I wrote it down as if I were Nancy Drew looking for clues. The clues took me to some out-of-the-way places and interesting situations, but every experience helped shape the story. I met people I would never have met in any other situation and traveled to places I'd never even heard of. But the caveat to the word fun is, it was hard and exhausting work but an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. I spent many hours of every day in libraries across many states. My car logged thousands of miles, and the best way to gain the insights I gained were garnered in BEING THERE absorbing the ambiance and the history first-hand.
I became serious with my research around 1987—though at that time it was more like looking into family history out of curiosity. I posted stories on my blog and wrote devotionals based on a few of the stories I uncovered. Then it changed focus and was to be a story about my Aunt Hallie, so the research began. Through the years the story took over and began to write itself as a journey taken with my elderly mother-in-law. Her last trip with me in research was in about 2018 - so the story simmered and matured for almost 31 years.
Ritchie Dawn Hale. Has written for Upper Room, SBC Life, Campus Life, and other publications. A pastor’s wife of fifty years, mother of three, and Nonna to ten, her life is an adventure. Since retirement from teaching she continues to enjoy time at the beach, writing, and photography.
Visit her: https://anotherritchpublication.com/
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Edie Melson @EdieMelson
Let’s face it, social media takes a lot of hard knocks and gathers a good bit of bad press. But just like almost anything we have to do—or even love to do—there are good parts and bad parts.
1. I can reach more people. With the advent of the internet and specifically social media, I can connect with more people than I’d ever been able to in the past.
2. I can help others without having to be in person or even on the telephone. I can offer assistance through a comment, a prayer, a practical link, many of the ways I could before, but without the barrier of location.
3. It gives me a wider perspective. I live in the south, in the United States. Without the benefit of social media, this would give me a fairly specific definition of what normal looks like. Connections with people all over the world have broadened my horizons and influenced the way I see things.
4. I can get my message out faster. If I have something I want to share, I can do so almost immediately—with little or no time-lag.
5. I can connect with others regardless of location. This benefit has helped me reconnect with old friends, stay in touch with new ones, and even develop relationships with people whom I might never have met in person.
6. It makes me deliberate about reaching out beyond my inner circle. Social media is a world that grows with momentum. If I’m consistent and diligent about connecting every week, my circle widens. If I don’t, it shrinks.
7. I have learned to clarify and shorten my message. There are good and bad things about living in a world of soundbites. One of the good things is that it has forced me to drill down to the core of who I am and how I want to present myself. This makes my presence on social media more effective, but it also makes my in-person presence better.
8. I have a new skill set and it’s made me more confident. Doing social media well requires a big jump in skills. By learning all these things, I’ve proven to myself that I’m not too old—or stupid, or lazy, or ______—to grow as a person and as a writer.
9. It has made me more respectful of others. By watching the negative behavior of others, it’s made me more mindful that I need to follow the golden rule and treat others the way I’d like to be treated—online and off.
10. My definition of community has grown. I grew up believing that my community consisted of those who were physically nearby. Now, my community consists of those with whom I share life, sometimes in person, sometimes online.
11. I have found a new aspect of the ministry God has given me. Many of us feel God has whispered a unique purpose for our lives to us. With the advent of social media, that purpose has deepened. Where once He could use me to reach a small group in my community, now He can use me to reach the world.
I know we could (and often do) go on and on about how social media is a drag. But it isn’t it nice to spend a little time focusing instead on how it’s a blessing? I’d love to know what you’ve found positive in your time on social media. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Edie Melson is the co-author of the bestseller Social Media for Today’s Writer. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and board member of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association.
Visit Edie at:
Edie Melson, Facebook