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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Passion for History

Peter Leavell is the winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s 2011 Operation First Novel contest. His novel, Songs of Captivity, will be published by Worthy Publishing, the contest’s co-sponsor.

Leavell (left with his book's cover), who also took home $20,000 in prize money, is a Boise State University history graduate. Historical fiction is his passion and his story about Tad, a courageous child of slavery, was chosen the winner because of its “emotionally-charged approach to a sensitive, historic period,” says Jeana Ledbetter, Worthy vice president of planning and author relations. “Peter’s story presents a piece of history readers will be eager to learn more about.”

In Songs of Captivity, Leavell writes about how Tad’s actions expose the sins of an entire nation as the Civil War threatens to tear apart the United States. But where did Leavell’s interest in history come from?

Two educators nurtured his interest
“In the fourth grade I had a teacher who taught about Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneers, and Native Americans,” Leavell says. “She painted pictures with her lessons, giving us a feel for what it was like living back then.

“Imagine waking up in a teepee, the night still young, Sioux asleep on their buffalo robes, and you looking up through the open flap of the teepee at the stars revolving slowly overhead. I lived the history in my mind. Since then, I’ve been trying to recreate what it was like to live in other times.”

The idea for Songs of Captivity came from another educator during a three hour night class at Boise State on the Civil War. “It was three hours of joy and happiness,” Leavell says. “Dr. Lisa Brady told us at the beginning the course would not be about fighting—that there was more to the war than the battles.”

What would it be like if…?
Part of that “more” was the launching pad for his winning novel. At the beginning of the war, the North needed to refuel ships patrolling Southern waters. They took the Sea Islands of South Carolina, including Hilton Head and Beaufort. All the Caucasian people left, leaving 10,000 slaves to fend for themselves.

“My fiction feelers, those receptacles that sense a good story, were charged and sending massive signals,” Leavell says. “What would it be like to grow to adulthood under those circumstances? How would I get educated? Would my relationship with the woman I love survive the war? I had to write Tad’s story.”

Historical fiction, Leavell says, breathes life into the past. “Good historical fiction helps us understand why people did what they did—and what it meant,” he says. “I want to paint those pictures.”

Unusual camaraderie
Leavell’s class of Operation First Novel finalists included Terrie Todd, Kimberley Gardner Graham, Jim Hamlett, and Clarice James (Right: Leavell, after his win, being embraced by Terrie Todd, with Jim Hamlett). The five developed a strong bond, thanks to Todd reaching out with an email describing the symptoms she was having as a finalist.

“Those symptoms mirrored what the rest of us were feeling,” Leavell says. “So we kept emailing back and forth, getting to know one another. Then we started to pray for the conference and each other.

“One prayer surfaced, ‘Please, Lord, let the book the world needs win. Not our wills, but Yours.’ We all rallied around that thought. Of course we each wanted to win, but God was more important.”

Look for Songs of Captivity in late 2012.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In Case You Missed It...

Are you an aspiring novelist? If you're ready to take on the world but feel lost in the crowd, take heart: you're just the person we had in mind when we created Novel Rocket’s LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile.

No tricks or sleight of hand involved here. Not only does every entrant receive a personal critique, but previous participants have found the experience helpful in moving them forward on their writing journey.

For more details and the official rules, click on our Launch Pad Contest tab.

Questions? Email us at, and a real human will provide a prompt, personal reply.

We hope to see YOUR submission soon!

Besides writing fiction that takes you out of this world, Yvonne Anderson has been our contest administrator since the event’s inception in 2010. The first novel in her Gateway to Gannah series, The Story in the Stars, debuted last summer, and the next in the series is planned for release this year. Read more of her wisdom on her blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What Do You Really Need From a Critique Group?

by Mike Duran

Not long ago, I was contacted by an unpublished author who was looking for a crit partner. They had acquired my addy from a mutual friend and was wondering if I’d be interested. I was flattered. Really. Nevertheless, I emailed this response:

Thanks for the consideration. I’ve kind of given up the crit partner thing, mainly because of my own schedule and perfectionist tendencies. When I’m not working (which is full-time), I’m writing or editing. I’ve found that I tend to overwork so many things — nit-pick, second-guess, obsess over detail — to the point that critting just takes far too much time and is often frustrating for whomever happens to be on the receiving end. My apologies, but I’ll have to pass on the offer.

Okay, so I’m anal retentive. When it comes to critiques, I am just too hard on myself and others…

And I think this is a good thing.

Maybe that’s why me and critique groups don’t always get along. You see, some of the critique groups I’ve come in contact with are just way too nice. Perhaps this is what some writers want — they want encouragement, they want to be told their stuff is good, they want to feel they’re on the threshold of publication, they want a pat on the back. The problem is, that’s not what they need.

Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, in a piece entitled “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” provides some wisdom on what we need in a critique group:

I believe the [writing] teacher’s work is largely negative, that it is largely a matter of saying, “This doesn’t work because …” or “This does work because …” The because is very important. The teacher can help you understand the nature of your medium, and he can guide you in your reading. I don’t believe in classes where students criticize each others manuscripts. Such criticism is generally composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite. It’s the blind leading the blind, and it can be dangerous. (emphasis mine)

Two things stand out in this quote in relation to critique groups. One is the nature of the task. O’Connor notes that “the teacher’s work is largely negative.” No, she’s not implying that good critique is intentionally harsh, nor that it should be without encouragement or positive reinforcement, but that critique, by its nature, must be rigorous and address what is wrong with a work. In this sense, the work of a good critique group is largely negative.

Equally insightful is Ms. O’Connor’s suggestion that student-led critiques are unhealthy, “generally composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite.” Which is a bit of a problem. Nowadays, most online writing groups are comprised of “students [who] criticize each others manuscripts.”

Clearly, many online critique groups do not seem to meet either of Flannery O’Connor’s specs. Whereas some groups exist primarily to provide support and encouragement (rather than correction and hard critique), other groups suffer because of their make-up (too many students and not enough seasoned authors), resulting in what O’Connor calls “the blind leading the blind.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that a good critique group is without “support and encouragement” or that it cannot involve “students” swapping advice. The important thing is getting “trained” eyes on our work, receiving hard critiques without swooning, and being willing to absorb and make changes as needed. It is natural to need encouragement and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. But ultimately, if we are unwilling to seek honest criticism and unable to weather the toughest scrutiny, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and potentially capping our artistic growth.

Several years ago, the authors at Charis Connection (a group which has since disbanded) were asked if they belonged to a writing group. Of the ten that responded, only a couple spoke favorably of crit groups. At the time, I was incensed. “Of course crit groups are a good thing!” I protested.

Now I’m not so sure.

The question isn’t IF you need critique partners. The question is WHAT KIND of critique partners you really need. How you answer that question may, in the long run, determine a lot about your growth and longevity as a writer.

Question: Do you agree that there is an inherent danger in being critiqued by unpublished and beginning writers? Do you see the role of a critique group as primarily “negative”? What advice would you give a new writer who is seeking to have her work critiqued?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now and his novella, "Winterland," is available in e-book formats. Mike's sophomore novel The Telling releases May 2012. You can visit his website at

I Wanna Bend It Like Bailey

Today's guest devotion is by Sandra D. Bricker, from: His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not © 2011 Summerside Press

I Wanna Bend It Like Bailey

But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

I adore children, and my favorite age is right around three or four; they’re just developing their communications skills, but haven’t quite perfected the transition from emotion to verbalization.
While babysitting for a friend’s three-year-old, I encountered the challenge of keeping Bailey occupied so that she might forget that her beloved mommy had left the house without her. And it wasn’t easy.
First, we played Safari. After strategically placing all of her most treasured stuffed animals around the house, Bailey put on a plastic pith helmet and climbed aboard her push-and-ride Jeep and we toured the African plains of home to observe the animals in their natural habitat. When she spotted the giraffe leaning against the refrigerator, Bailey suddenly remembered who had given her that giraffe, and she started to cry for her mother.
Several games and a coloring book later, she accepted my invitation to a tea party in her bedroom. We donned straw hats, and Bailey tugged on little white crocheted gloves. Along with two of our very best doll friends, we sipped from empty tea cups and munched imaginary scones with cream and strawberries. Bailey was enthralled!...Until the garage door went up. Tossing the plastic teacup to the floor, she flew from the bedroom and down the hall. On her trail, I stepped over her hat and gloves that she’d shed on the way. I reached her just as the kitchen door opened and her mother walked in.
So excited to see her mom again at last, Bailey squealed with glee. When the words wouldn’t come, she finally began hopping from one foot to the other, pumping her arms, fists clenched, and her little face contorted. The return of her mother had trumped everything else, and thoughts of tea parties and safaris had fallen to dust. I stood there watching as the child completely surrendered to the ecstatic happiness of seeing the one person that meant more to her than anything or anyone else.
On the drive home that afternoon, I tuned my radio to a local Christian station playing I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe, a song exploring the depths of our reaction when we finally see Christ face-to-face. As I sang along, Bailey’s reaction to her mother’s return home sprang to mind. How sweet would it be to the Lord if, at His presence, we just jumped up and down with the glee of little children!

Today’s Prayer: Oh, Lord, thank You for the sweet parenthood You offer us. Let me always see You as Abba Father, through enthusiastic and childlike eyes. Today I am overcome with joy as I delight myself in You, remembering that Your arms always welcome me, Your thoughts are always about my well-being, and there is no one else I would rather see. Amen. 

Sandra D. Bricker is an award-winning best seller in the inspirational market with laugh-out-loud novels such as Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas and Always the Baker, Never the Bride from the Emma Rae Creation series. She spent 15+ years in Los Angeles as an entertainment publicist while studying screenwriting. However, when her mother became ill in Florida, she left all that behind to take on a couple of new roles: Caregiver and Novelist. Visit her Website at

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Are You Writing MG or YA?

In a recent interview on Mike Duran's blog, RJ Anderson summed up the differences between YA and adult novels this way:
What makes a book YA rather than adult is that it contains characters teen readers can identify with, explores issues that are relevant to teens, and tells the story in a way that teens will find interesting.
That's a great answer. YA books are books that interest teens and they explore issues that are relevant to teens. So YA books may be "peopled" by dragons or hobbits or robots, as long as teens can relate to the characters and the problem. But YA books must also be about teen issues. Teens find many adult books interesting. They may love  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, but that story is not exploring issues specifically relevant to teens, so the books are not YA.

So what are YA issues? We could say the same for MG books, after all: They are books that interest middle grade readers. But which issues are relevant to teens and which are relevant to pre-teens? And which characters and plots are of interest to which group?

The Basics
MG books:
  • are for children 8 to 12 
  • usually have a protagonist who is 11 -13.
  • have traditionally been from 25,000 to 45,000 words. (Harry Potter blew that rule out, with some of those books coming in at 175,000 to 200,000 words, but most MG books are still under 200 pages.)
YA books:
  • are aimed at children who are aged 12 to 19 
  • usually have protagonists that are aged 15-19
  • have traditionally been about 45,000 to 60,000. (See note above about on Harry Potter. The norm for YA books is under 300 pages, even yet. Fantasy books run longer than most.)

The Finer Points 
According to Mary Kole, with Andrea Brown Literary Agency...
MG books:
  • are shorter than YA
  • deal with any “issues” or “content” (edgy stuff) but only secondhand (like the kid’s mom is an alcoholic, not the kid herself)
  • have less darkness and often a sweeter ending than most books for older readers
YA books:
  • are longer
  • are darker
  • are edgier

Babette Reeves, The Passionate Librarian, thinks...
MG books have characters who are:
  • concerned with the concreteness of life--friends, siblings, the mean teacher, the lost dog,  fairly ordinary (to an adult eye) daily difficulties.
  • wanting to please, and they worry about being wrong or doing it wrong
YA books have characters who are: 
  • trying to figure out who they are
  • looking for a set of values one can call one’s own
  • questioning the family’s and especially parent’s value--just because
  • full of  an “I gotta be me” mentality that shapes choices for years
I would add that both middle-grade and young adult readers tend to be idealistic. They are all still young enough to want to shout out that the the emperor has no clothes. They want people to be honest and they want the world to be fair, but these desires play out differently for the two groups.

The middle grade hero wants to free Willy or to save the hoot owls or to stand up for his friends who are being bullied at school. He may even, in the course of trying to save his chums, end up saving a lot more (Harry Potter), but he doesn't set out to save the world. He's trying to survive without being too dorky, and he's fighting the battles that take place in school and in his family. Meg Murry battles the darkness taking over entire planets, but she only means to protect her little brother and to save her father.

YA heroes, on the other hand, are looking for their purpose in the wider world. They have accepted that pets and people die, but they still want to right wrongs. They march in war protests, they get involved in short-term missions, and many of them experiment with religion and sexuality. They choose sides on hot-button issues, such as gay rights and abortion and illegal aliens. They get involved in politics.

Middle grade children are, perhaps, more fearful than teens. They have less power. They can't drive. They don't have much control over their lives.

Teens, as they get older, have more and more control, and by the time they are driving, they are often feeling optimistic about life, and invincible. They are young and full of energy and they have their whole lives in front of them.

What am I missing? Leave a comment to let me know what you think the differences are between middle grade and teen readers. And then go check out some YA and MG books.

Awards lists are a good place to start:
  • The Prinz is awarded to YA books (With a very little bit of bleed-over between the two lists.)
Read ten books off of each list and you'll know the difference between YA and MG.

 is represented by Reclaim ManagementHer short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for ChildrenShe blogs about young adult novels at

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Organized Schedule Leads to Success

As many of you know, I've had a couple of really productive years in and a lot of you have asked how I accomplished it all. I did it because I was willing to follow a schedule - it was my way of eating an elephant one bite at a time. I learned how to break large tasks into smaller ones. here are some of my suggestions.

It doesn't matter whether you write as a calling, a hobby or a business. We all perform better when we have expectations and a way to judge results. For those of you just starting out, here are some suggestions. 
  • Set small, measurable goals. A lot of people defeat themselves right here. They get confused about the difference between a goal and a dream. A goal is something you have control over. For example, my goal is to write five hours a day, five days a week or twenty-five hours per week. I generally can control my schedule so this is a reasonable goal. I’d also like to be a New York Time’s bestselling author. I can put in the hours writing and learning my craft, but becoming a bestseller isn’t something I have control over. 
  • Under estimate the time you’ll be able to put in. Yes, you read that right. I tend to be a perfectionist and when I fail, I get discouraged and quit. So if I think I can post five articles a week on my blog, I commit to three or four so I have room to succeed. I do the same thing when I set deadlines. If I have a project due on a Thursday, I’ll put it on my schedule as due on Tuesday. Why? Because life happens, and I can’t always control the things thrown my way. 
  • Adjust your goal setting to a weekly mode, rather than daily. Like my goal of writing five hours a day, five days a week, I want to leave a day or two to make up any time I may have missed. Like this week, our middle son is having hand surgery. If I only look at the writing five hours a day, the day he has surgery I’m going to fail. But by working a few extra hours each day, I can still make my weekly goal.

Along those lines, here are some attainable, weekly goal setting ideas. 
  • Weekly Word Count Goal. One of the things I've found most helpful when setting word count goals is to set my goal for the week rather than the day. I still have one teenager in and out of the house, so sometimes life interrupts life. To combat this, I set a weekly word count goal for my fiction endeavors. Then, I break it down into daily totals. If I miss a day's goal, I can make it up later in the week and I don't wind up feeling like I've failed. 
  • Weekly Project Goal. You may normally work on smaller projects, like articles or devotions. If that's the case, try to set a goal of one devotion or article a week. 
  • Revolving Weekly Goal. You might want to try something I call a revolving weekly goal. This is where you have a different goal every week for 3 weeks and then it starts over. The first week you might complete a small project. The next week, you look for markets where you can sell it. The third week you might spend learning about the craft of writing. Then you begin the cycle again.

Whatever method works for you is the BEST method.

Just remember, that no matter how early or how far along you are on your writing journey we all need to spend time studying the craft of writing. That can be done through reading books, attending a seminar or conference, or reading blogs and websites.

All of these are necessary for us as writers to improve our craft.

So what have you found works best for you? Share your insights with the rest of us - please!

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. In keeping up with the leading edge of all things digital Edie has become known as one of the go-to experts on Twitter, Facebook, and social media for writers wanting to learn how to plug in. Her bestselling eBook on this subject, Social Media Marketing for Writersis available on Kindle and Nook.
Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home, is Edie’s latest project. This devotional book for those with family members in the military debuted on Veterans Day, 2011. Married 30 years to her high school sweetheart, Kirk, they have raised three sons.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The winners of JoAnne Durgin's books are

Voni and Emily

Craft & Creativity of Writing. Learned or Developed?

YVONNE LEHMAN is a best-selling, award-winning author. Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic (Abingdon, March 1, 2012) is her 50th book. Others to be released in 2012 are A Knight to Remember (Heartsong, April) and Let it Snow (Heartsong, November), the 2nd and 3rd in a series. Yvonne founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years and now directs the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat held at Ridgecrest, NC in October. She is a Mentor with the Christian Writers Guild. She will be signing the Titanic book April 27, 28, and 29 at the Titanic Display in Pigeon Forge TN.

Can be learned.

Material about the CRAFT of writing is all over the internet, at conferences, in books, English classes, Literature classes, writing courses, critique groups, internet loops where we ask and receive questions and answers. All those are great. It’s our education. We read others’ writings and discover how they did it. We experience rejection (returns!) which can teach us whether we’re truly committed to writing, why we write anyway, and encourage us to learn more.

No matter how much we learn about a subject, a profession, it means nothing unless and until we put that knowledge and experience into action. Craft enhances creativity.

Must be developed.

At my writers conferences, many beginning writers have bemoaned the fact that God called them into writing, they’ve been writing for two years or more and still get rejections. I tell them they are to start in the stock room, not as president of the company. Some may never become the president, but we can become a valuable employee in the organization of writers.

This is an example often used because it’s so apt. When a child is discovered to have talent in playing the piano, does he quit taking lessons and apply to be a concert pianist? No. That’s when extra lessons and extra practices begin. That’s when more is required. The same with writing. If we have a talent, then it’s time to being studying the craft and practicing the creativity, and continue.

Most writers long for the time to write. I hear this over and over - I have family, I have a husband, I have a job. My reply is that this busy time is our training center. We’re learning to be everything so that we have something to write about. So often, the difficulties and challenges in our lives that we don’t want, but go through, are what enrich our lives, our faith, and our writing.

We spend a lot to time learning the craft of writing, and we should. We likely can never know enough. Too, we should spend considerable time taking a subject that is not new, that is not original, and make it exciting, beneficial, new to the reader because we say it, experience it, learn from it, in a way no one else can.

Moms could be given the assignment to write about how they discipline their children. Each might have the same method of standing them in a corner. However, the results would be different with each child, or their reaction would be different, or the moms’ reactions would be different, or each would have her own unique way of telling (showing!) the story.

Twenty-one of us published writers wanted to show other writers that we could use the rules (craft) of writing, write about the same subject, even use the same elements in a short story and each would be different. The five elements to used in each story are:
The first line: The wind was picking up.
Mistaken identity
Pursuit at a noted landmark
Unusual form of transportation
The last line: So that’s exactly what she did.
The book of short stories is titled What the Wind Picked Up (iUniverse). We showed that a story can be told many times, include the same elements, and yet be different because each writer has his own unique style and voice.

Sometimes we hear, “That’s already been done.” Critics might say that about the Titanic and I suppose everyone watched the movie. Yes, the sinking of the ship has been done. However, the stories of my passengers, my characters, had not been done until I wrote about them in my novel Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic.

This 50th book of mine is a composite of what I’ve learned about life, craft, and creativity in my thirty years of writing.  I could not have tackled a Titanic story with confidence had I not experienced the years of learning, studying, teaching the craft, practicing, writing, re-writing, failing, being rejected, and being accepted.

Those who succeed are those who don’t give up, but continue to study the craft, practice the creativity, work through the challenges, because it leads to the joy of publication and having our words mean something to another person, as the Lord created us to do

Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic

Of all the unbelievable things that occurred, the strangest phenomenon took place. The floating half of the ship began to melt like a dollop of butter on a hot roll. It just melted smoothly into the ocean and the hoard of people were in the water. Their hair didn’t get wet. No water splashed on their faces. For an instant they didn’t scream. They couldn’t. A communal gasp went out over the sea, produced by hundreds and hundreds of terrified people who unexpectedly stepped into icy water up to their necks.

The ship of dreams vanished, disappeared as it sank into the sea.
In its place emerged a nightmare.

The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic was not the end of the story for the 2207 passengers, plus the crew. It was the beginning of an unforgettable event that changed history, changed culture. There were only a few hundred saved in the 20 lifeboats. Not only were hundreds and hundreds of souls lost that night, but the event touched people throughout the world. Each person had family, friends, acquaintances and their lives too were touched and changed. Being saved was not the end, but the beginning for those who struggled not just to survive, but to live again.

Read this incredible story of

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Author’s Voice . . . Innate or Developed? by guest blogger JoAnn Durgin

JoAnn Durgin is the author of the popular contemporary romantic adventures, Awakening, and its follow-up, Second Time Around, published by Torn Veil Books. Her third book in the series, Twin Hearts, releases next month. JoAnn, her husband, Jim, and their three children live in her native southern Indiana after living in TX, CA, PA and MA. She likes to say she’s “been around in the nicest sense of the word.” She’s a full-time wealth administration paralegal in a Louisville, Kentucky, law firm, and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Her books are available at every major online book retailer such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback and electronic versions. Please visit her at or on Facebook.

NR: JoAnn will give away one copy of Awakening (Book #1 in The Lewis Legacy Series), one copy of Second Time Around (Book #2), and one copy of Twin Hearts (it won't be available in paperback form to ship until on or after April 1, 2012, but can be sent electronically to the winner). Leave a comment for her to be entered in the drawing. Continental U.S. residents only, please.

An Author’s Voice . . . Innate or Developed?

One of the most challenging hurdles for a beginning writer is finding his or her “voice.” What does “voice” mean, why is it so important and how is it different from point-of-view? A well-developed “voice” is a technique used by writers to help a reader “see” the unfolding events in a story through the eyes of one or more characters. Since an author creates those characters, he or she knows their family dynamic, background, environment, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, loves, failures, vulnerabilities and fears. The better the author knows a character, the more real they will become. An effective voice is a crucial element to keep the reader turning the pages, and it’s manifested with active (as opposed to passive) phrasing, dialogue and narrative as it draws them deeper into the fictional world.

Is an author’s voice like a fingerprint, unique to that one person? Some suggest it’s innate and writers are “born” with it. Some believe voice is learned or developed after much practice, trial and error. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it could be a combination of both. Just as some recording artists are easily identifiable (think Adele, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand), other vocalists’ voices are more generic. Authors should never be content to simply “blend in” with the crowd; they want to rise above the rest and shine! But how?

Showing is the best way to illustrate my point, so below are two examples from my March 2012 release, Twin Hearts (third in The Lewis Legacy Series, but it can stand on its own):

Example #1: Weaving his way through the room of a hundred or so women in red hats of all sizes and shapes—pretty much a reflection of their owners—Josh was a wonder to behold. A number of the ladies looked at the guys as if they were dessert, but they smiled and laughed as they went about their task, ignoring the middle-aged hormones in overdrive. It was as close to swooning as anything she’d ever seen. Based on all the fanning going on, there were enough hot flashes in the room to bake a cake.

Example #2: She didn’t want to feel such a strong attraction for Josh, but her heart and pulse weren’t listening. Don’t look at the eyes. If she repeated it to herself enough times, would it keep her from succumbing to his charms? Those eyes had been her undoing before and would be again if she didn’t watch herself. So much for the self-pep talk. A whole lot of good it did. Why he felt the need to dress in one of his fancy power suits was beyond her, but then again, here she sat in a dress costing the equivalent of a monthly car payment for Ladybug. Hypocrisy was highly overrated sometimes.

Both of the above examples are in the point-of-view of my heroine. Do you see where her “voice” comes into play? Even without knowing anything about this character, you get a good sense of who she is, her sense of humor, her powers of observation, and understand she has a history with Josh. Look at the last two sentences of each paragraph. Those are my zingers, but they’re not always at the end of the paragraph. However, writers should always try to end chapters with a word or a sentence that will hook the reader into turning the page in order to find out what happens next. One of the best compliments I ever received is when a reader said, “I’ve learned to stop reading your books in the middle of the chapter. Once I read the end of a chapter, I have to keep going.”

As authors, we love reviews describing our books with adjectives like fresh, innovative, effortless and engaging. More often than not, those words are referring to the writer’s voice. It’s that element of a novel differentiating it from the rest of the crowd which makes the writing shine, stand out and worthy of attention. Finding one’s writing voice can sometimes be elusive, and it can become a source of great frustration. Persevere and don’t allow it to deter you from writing your best. Perhaps it’s hidden, but I firmly believe a unique voice is within every author, waiting to be discovered and revealed. I’d like to suggest the following five ways to help discover your voice:

#1: Know your characters from the inside out.
#2: Keep the voice true to the character’s point-of-view. 
#3: Be an observer of people and events, but also the ironies, humor, tragedies and triumphs of life. It makes you a better writer overall, but it also helps infuse your characters with personality so they almost leap off the page—and into the hearts and minds of readers.
#4: Write what you know and write passionately from your soul.
#5: Approach every character and story as if it were your first or your last. Make them count.

Remember this: even the most innovative plot can be dead-in-the-water without that well-developed voice. Conversely, even the dullest, plodding plot can be enthralling if told with a masterful voice.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today, and I wish all of you God’s best as you read and write. Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16

Twin Hearts
Josh Grant is a man seeking redemption. He’s not looking for love, but finds it in a most unexpected and tender way. His twin sister, Rebekah, is torn between two very different men: one a dashing British aristocrat offering her the world, and the other a humble, quiet, faithful Louisiana lumberman. When family tragedy strikes, the twins lean on Sam and Lexa Lewis and their fellow TeamWork Missions volunteers for encouragement. Together they learn lessons in faith and family and what's most important in life as they discover it’s time to stake their claim on love, which means a road trip from Louisiana to . . . the peace to be found in seeking and finding the sweetest desires of the heart. Available from Torn Veil Books in March 2012 in both paperback and e-book versions at all major online book retailers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How To Take Writing Advice

In 9th grade I wanted to be a rock star. (Yes, along with every other kid who had a modicum of talent on the guitar.)

That meant buying an electric guitar. I searched my school for someone experienced. Someone who could tell me the secret of getting the right guitar.

Finally I found him.

He explained there were two types of electrics:  rhythm and lead. And if I wanted to play screaming solos—which I did of course—I needed to buy a lead electric.

Because I knew nothing about electric guitars I asked, “What’s the difference between a rhythm electric guitar and a lead electric guitar?”

My acquaintance leaned back, assumed an impressive air guitar stance and said, “You can wind a lead guitar out!”

Being a typical 9th grader I pretended for a few minutes to understand what he meant. But my desire to know was greater than my insecurity at being looked the fool.

So I said, “What do you mean?”

“You know! You can wind it out!” He nodded at me with wide eyes. “You know?” Another impressive air guitar solo ensued.

No. I still didn’t know. But I was determined to find out. So I went to a music store in downtown Kirkland and asked one of the staff to show me his LEAD electric guitars. His response: “Uh, I’m not sure what you mean.”

Those of you who play guitar are ahead of me. (For the rest of you, there’s no such thing as a lead electric or a rhythm electric. An electric is an electric is an electric.) But I didn’t know that. I was looking for advice and went to someone who was more experienced than me, spoke with confidence, and knew the lingo.

Now the rest of you are ahead of me in regards to how this applies to writing, but I’ll say it anyway.

Before you take writing advice from anyone ask yourself:

1. Does this person have the credentials to be offering me their advice?

2. Have I asked three or more different people the same question? (There is wisdom in many counselors. Often you’ll get different answers even from multi-published authors and teachers.)

3. Have I looked in books from respected authors to get their perspective on the question?

What About You?

Have you ever taken writing advice which you later found out was wrong?

How do you make sure you’re getting the right counsel when trying to an answer to one of your writing questions?

Must go. I just came up with a great ending for a chapter I’m working on.

I think I’ll be able to wind it out.

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at

Monday, February 20, 2012

Author Interview ~ NYT Bestselling Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of novels including Night Road, Firefly LaneTrue Colors and Winter Garden. She was born in Southern California and moved to Western Washington when she was eight. A former lawyer, Hannah started writing when she was pregnant and on bed rest for five months. Writing soon became an obsession, and she has been at it ever since. She is the mother of one son and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
Where were you when you hit the bestsellers list and what went through your head?
You're right that this is one of those memories that stick with you in life.  The very first time I hit the New York Times bestseller list was in 2000.  My husband and I were driving north on the Interstate when a girlfriend called and told me that she'd seen my name on the list.  I didn't hear it from my agent or my publisher for almost twenty-four hours, so I wasn't entirely sure whether to celebrate or not.  But then I decided, what the heck and had a glass of champagne. 
How has becoming a bestseller changed your life?  
Become a bestseller has changed my life in some ways, but not as many as you would think.  On the positive side, list performance allows your work to be seen by a larger and larger audience, and that's always a good thing.  It certainly holds you in good stead with your publisher.  On the down side, becoming a bestseller is kind of like taking a seat in the front of a giant roller coaster. Once you're on, it's a great ride, and you don't want to get off.  The pressure to continue hitting the list can be a little intimidating.

To what do you attribute your success?
A combination of dedication, determination, hard work, and good old fashioned luck.

Who was your first mentor or champion? 
In the very early days of my career, I joined a group called the Romance Writers of America, and found there an amazing community of published authors who were willing to help out new writers.  They were incredibly caring and supportive and generous with their time.  Two names come to mind as early mentors--Jill Marie Landis and LaVyrle Spencer.  These two women really went above and beyond in offering me substantive support and technical advice.  I learned a great deal from both of them.

Did you have a mentor who helped you? In what way did they help: craft or networking and introductions? 
I have had two editors who were magnificent mentors with regard to the work itself.  Ann Patty was the editor who really helped me move from genre to commercial fiction.  She was absolutely dedicated to demanding the very best of me.  She taught me more in a year and one book, than I had learned in all the years that came before.  The mark she has left on both my work and my perception of it is profound.  The other editor that has really taught me a lot is Jennifer Enderlin.  She, more than anyone, has helped me to identify and clarify my vision.  I think I've written my best books in the past few years, and Jen is a big part of that.  Also, I'd have to mention my glorious agent, Andrea Cirillo, whose belief in me has been probably the most important single component of finding success in this career.

How has perseverance played a role in your becoming a bestselling novelist? In what area did you have to persevere the most: craft or marketing?

What, in your opinion, makes a book prone to hitting bestseller status?
Quite simply, it is everything.  If I had to choose between talent and perseverance, I'd choose the second every time.  Writing a novel is hard, hard work, and as a career, it is a minefield of rejection.  You have to be able to overcome adversity and rejection every single day.  You also have to stay on schedule and stay motivated during some difficult times. 
Honestly, who knows?  Luck?  Publisher support?  The right topic?  A great book?  I guess I would say that--in the broadest possible sense, and in a perfect world--the books that hit the bestseller list are those that speak to the greatest number of people.  It's a vision thing.  I believe that we embrace and talk about books that mirror our own worldview. 

What role did your agent play in your success?
I wouldn't have had this career without my agent.  She has been my rock, my guide, my friend, and my champion.  When I was too tired to wield the sword, she picked it up.  You can't ask for more than that.

Has helping others contributed to your success? If so, how?
Yes, I think that I have "given back," to young writers and I have certainly tried to be the kind of mentor that I was lucky enough to find along the way.

Is there a down side to becoming a bestseller?
In a word, pressure. 
What advice would you have for other novelists who strive to get where you are?
The best answer is the easiest:  Never give up.  Writing is a career that will challenge everything that you are and demand the best you have---over and over again.  You have to learn to let go of your ego and start over all the time.  You have to believe in yourself when it is not easy to do and no one else believes in you.  And most of all, you have to write.  Every day, all the time, whether you feel like it or not.  You have to write when you are having a good day and when your father has cancer and when the mortgage payment is overdue.  A writer writes.  It's an old saying and true.  If you're always writing, and always learning, you will improve, and that is the start of the road.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This is Grace

Today's guest devotion, by Cynthia Ruchti, is from: His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not © 2011 Summerside Press

This is Grace

“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Eph 1:7-8

My first grandchild entered life on a tsunami of pain. A devastating wave of emotional and spiritual concerns accompanied what should have been a joy-filled announcement—“Mom, we’re pregnant.”

The words were couched with shame and embarrassment. My son and his girlfriend weren’t married and faced far more challenges than the fact that she craved fish sticks and FunYums. They both knew they’d made bad decisions. One of those “what were we thinking?” decisions meant that now, rather than ironing out their relationship issues and dealing with a 747-worth of baggage, they—and we—prepared for a baby in the house.

As with most parents of young people in trouble, we were heartbroken over their choice to bypass the divine plan for a husband and wife to bring children into the world in God’s glorious timing. It’s not that we didn’t understand how a thing like that could happen. But my husband and I and everyone else concerned knew that the path my son and his girlfriend chose came laced with difficulties and complications they weren’t prepared to handle, challenges the Lord never intended them to experience.

The young woman was homeless and a legal issue kept them from getting married right away. My son had a home of his own a few miles from ours, but the expectant mom lived at our house. As her belly grew, we tamped our disappointment and chose to love and forgive, taking our cue from the mercy that floods the pages of Scripture. Together we walked through morning sickness and fatigue and community stares and whispers. We traversed a path of embarrassment and concern, and faced challenges that only happened to “other people.” We felt every bit of the baby weight on our own frames and somehow adopted the waves of nausea and the clenching of false labor in our own bodies.

But through it all we counted on the wonder of the Lord’s forgiveness, His redemptive heart, His ability to turn what started out distressing into something of great beauty. It’s what He does. He molds rough clay to make art. He recycles pain to make a place for His joy to land.

As expected, He did just that.

At 4:30 in the morning one day in September, my son came to get us from the waiting room to lead us into the birthing center where a new life had entered the world moments before. Warm and bright-eyed and rose-petal pink, the child was laid into my eager Grammie arms.

“Mom,” my humbled but glowing son said, as if a formal introduction were necessary, “this is Grace.”

I drew that darling baby to my heart, as I imagine the Lord drew me, and answered, “Yes it is. This is grace.”

Today’s Prayer: Father God, how is it that You can make something so incredibly beautiful out of the messes we give you? Yet You do. And we’re grateful. You don’t just forgive, You lavish the riches of Your grace on us.  Thank you for the exceptional and exceptionally well-loved child Grace, and for where-would-we-be-without-it divine grace.

Cynthia Ruchti writes and produces the drama/devotional radio broadcast, The Heartbeat of the Home. She is editor of the ministry's Backyard Friends magazine, the author of a novel and novella recognized with nominations for Reviewers' Choice, Retailers' Choice, and Readers' Choice awards, and speaks for women's groups and writers' events. Visit her website at