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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Take up a Stone

"a sign among you..."

by Marcia Lee Laycock

Poet Mary Oliver once said, “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”

Sounds like good advice for living a writing life. It’s a writer’s job to observe, to step back from the moment and ponder what might be happening, what might be important, what might be worthy of being recorded. The job comes with a responsibility.

When I recently had the privilege of sitting in on the rehearsals of my play, A Pattern in Blue, the director gave me a little advice. “Be sure you sit in a spot where you can see and observe the audience. Look around you to see how they are reacting.”

I did observe and I was so very glad he had given me that advice. My heart soared as I watched that riveted audience lean forward to catch every word. I was very glad I was paying attention to them as they paid attention to the performance. The experience was a gift from God’s hand, one I will never forget.

I’ve had many moments like that in my life – watching others watch life as it happened. I remember watching my two year old nephew’s eyes widen with wonder when I turned his head so he could see an iris that had just bloomed. I remember seeing the light in my mother-in-law’s eyes when her son showed up unexpectedly with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. I remember learning what the word cherish meant as I watched a man who thought he’d never have a child shower his daughter with affection. I have written about all of those moments and many others, moments in time when I paid attention, was astonished and went on to tell about it. Those moments too were gifts from the hand of God.

Like all gifts, those God gives us through our talent and skill as writers is not meant just as a blessing to us. They are meant to be signposts pointing to Jesus. As the Hebrew people entered the promised land, a moment in time that is recorded for us in Joshua chapter 4, God instructed the people to take stones from the river and construct a memorial, not just to mark the moment, but to turn the heads and hearts of present and future generations toward Him, in all his goodness, power and glory.

We writers of faith, are, in a sense, the bearers of such stones of remembrance. We are to build words into stories like stones piled up into altars and memorials. It is up to us to write the words that point to the beauty in our world, words that turn heads so they will look and see the true character of God, words that cry out for mercy and justice when what lies before us is corrupt and unjust.

And as we place these stones carefully and deliberately we too are blessed because they aren’t just stones, they aren’t just words. They are holy instruments of God.

“Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder... to serve as a sign among you ... these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:2-7). 


Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan.

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here.
Her most recent release is the first book in a fantasy series, The Ambassadors which is currently shortlisted for a Word Award

Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur


Saturday, May 30, 2015

If Only I Had Time to Write!

Every person who’s ever had a story idea in her head has had that thought, at least once. For some, it’s much harder to carve out writing time than for others. The single mom with two kids, for example, has more things eating up her 24 hours than, say, a retiree. But there are still ways to make time for writing.

Rather than tell you what you’re doing wrong, let me use myself as an example. I’ve had a total of 11 books traditionally published since my first one in 2007. I’ve learned a lot during that time, but one thing I will probably always struggle with is procrastination. I’m the Queen of Putting it Off. And one of the best ways to do that is to bemoan the lack of time for writing. Just trying to write this blog post, there were lots of reasons I couldn’t sit down and do it. Here are my top three.

I used to watch a lot more TV than I do now. One of the things that has helped me cut down on TV time is not having cable. I use several streaming services to watch current TV shows, which means I’m more intentional in my choices. I can’t channel surf, so gone are the days of flipping through stations with the remote, hoping to find something good, and then going through a second time in case I missed something. Still, between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, there’s a lot to draw my interest. TV needs to be something I reward myself with. After I finish writing a chapter, I can watch an episode of that show I’m crazy about. Otherwise, I’ll spend all day enjoying the creative efforts of others, rather than expressing my own.

Social Media
For me, this is a bigger time sucker than television. One of the reasons professional writers spend so much time on social media sites is because we’re told it’s good for marketing. It helps create a platform, expand our fan base, build name recognition and the like. However, if you’re not social, if all you do is plug your books, people quickly lose interest. It’s a fine line to walk. I’m a big Facebook user. The posts that get the most responses for me are the ones with pictures, usually of my dog or the amazing agave blooming in my front yard. It’s fun to interact with family and friends, and some readers, too. It’s also easy to go off on rabbit trails, looking at other posts, commenting on memes, taking quizzes to find out which cookie best describes my personality, and before I know it, an hour has gone by. That’s time I could have spent writing my novel.

My other social media addiction is Pinterest. I use the excuse that it gives me inspiration for future stories, and it does. One of my boards is named “Imagine” and the pictures there fuel my creativity. But I can literally spend hours on that site. I have so many recipes pinned now, I could prepare a year of meals. And I can never complete all the craft projects I’ve pinned. One day, I just might build that cinder block fire pit. First, though, I really need to write!

I know. We’re writers, and writers need to read! That’s totally true. Reading, especially things outside our genres, expands our minds, helps us think of things in different ways, and introduces us to new ways of saying something. But I can get lost in a good book. One chapter turns into two, hours pass, and I haven’t written anything. It’s another situation where I have to be intentional. I will read only so much. Or, I will write 1000 words on my own novel before I fire up the Kindle.

Here’s a Bonus Tip
Something I’ve discovered truly helps me get writing done is to make my work space portable. I have a laptop that I use most of the time. At this moment, I’m sitting in a recliner in the living room, typing away. I also have a desktop PC. In order to seamlessly go between the two, I use Dropbox. All my writing is saved in the Dropbox folder. When I save it on one computer, it updates the cloud folder, so the current version of my file is always available. And if I’m away from home and need to look at one of my documents, I can sign into Dropbox from any computer and access my files. It’s changed the way I work in a very positive way.

Bottom Line
Nobody really has enough time to do everything they want to do. But if you want to write, you’ll find ways to do it. Try this: Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down everything you do in a day that’s negotiable. All the things you can put off for later, or spend less time doing. When that timer goes off, I’ll bet you’ll have a considerable list. Now you have a place to start. Go forward, and plan your attack.

Make time to write!

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Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ideas, Ideas—They’re Everywhere ~ By Robin Caroll

Born and raised in Louisiana, Robin Caroll is a southerner through and through. Her passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others. Her books have finaled/placed in such contests as RT Reviewer's Choice, Bookseller's Best, Holt Medallion, Carol Awards, and Book of the Year. When she isn’t writing, Robin spends time with her husband of twenty-plus years, her three beautiful daughters, two precious grandsons, and their character-filled pets.

Ideas, Ideas—They’re Everywhere

I’m often asked how I get ideas for my books. I always want to answer, “Where don’t I get ideas?”

I get some fabulous character ideas by people watching. Now, my friends and family know I detest shopping. If I never had to walk into another mall in my life, I’d be happy. But with daughters and grandsons, that’s not gonna happen. Sigh.

So when forced to brave the elements of humanity (although, I seriously question this—have you ever seen women at a 75% off sale act really human?) and venture into stores or malls, I watch people. I study them. Yes, even been known to snap a picture of one with my cell phone because of a certain hairstyle, or quirk, or expression.

I travel a bit and usually have at least one layover. Perfect time to people-watch and record them when they’re tired, or stressed, or hungry, or disappointed, or everything. All of this information filters down and finds its way into a character.

Newspapers, television, and yes, even those true-crime shows all provide fodder for my plots. No, I don’t see something or read about it and then just change minor events for my story. I play a game called what-if.

For example, I’ll hear a story about a woman who shot her husband for having an affair. My mind starts the game: What if the woman had hired a private detective to get the “goods” on her husband? What if the private detective had a grudge against the husband for some wrong years ago? What if the man wasn’t having an affair, but the private detective made it look like he was, just so his wife would kill him? Oh, what if the woman didn’t even suspect her husband was having an affair, but this guy who had a grudge against the husband pretended to be a private detective and sent incriminating evidence to the wife? ... and so my mind goes. (Scary, I know)

I also get ideas from my own life. For instance, the germ of an idea for my Justice Seekers series came about due to a legal investigation my husband went through. I followed my research through court cases, trials, appeals, and sentencing, all the while observing how people acted and reacted.

Then I started playing What If again…what if an FBI agent lied on the stand and an innocent person was convicted? What if a person witnessed a murder, but had no choice but to run? And thus the first book of the series was born.

Ideas are everywhere, you just have to look for them. Now, back to my what-if game. What if a writer was on deadline? What if she kept playing on email and the internet instead of making her word count? What if ...

As a white water rafting guide, Katie Gallagher must battle the forces of nature on a daily basis. When sabotage becomes apparent on a weekend rafting trip, Katie must determine who she can trust—and who has their own agenda.

Hunter Malone has a mission on a business adventure trip on the Gauley River, a mission that didn’t include a spunky guide who could handle the class-five rapids better than he’d ever imagined. But can she handle the truth?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Struggles of the Working Class

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

Many Americans deny social classes exist in the United States. Oh, how we fight against the idea that not everyone is equal!

But as writers, we must detach ourselves from culture and look at the bigger picture. No matter what Americans claim, social classes in the United States exist. Some want to climb in social standing, and cannot attain. And there are those who have social standing, and hold it over those who struggle just to survive.

One example is our public school system. But our job is not to change society, but to make commentary. So we won't discuss schools here.

Great novels have a fight between the classes. Inside readers, the struggle between the have and the have nots is compelling, perhaps the most compelling storyline ever written. But Americans refuse to admit social classes exist. Is this why there are so few American literary geniuses that stand the test of time?

There are a few American writers who do understand. America’s greatest writers understood social classes in the United States.

Mark Twain made light of the struggles between the African American community and their masters. But easily read between the lines are the struggles that still resonate with readers today.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a perfect example that social classes make for a compelling story. Many critics believe this may be the greatest novel ever written.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a close look at the plight of the working class. Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is an incredible snapshot of social classes aboard the ship. William Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy follows a family’s slow rise in social standing.

A compelling novel includes social injustice. First, admit social classes exist within Amercia, and you’ve gone a long way into making a page-turner! Pull your head out of your culture and take a look around!

Philip Anderson keeps his past close to the vest. Haunted by the murder of his parents as they traveled West in their covered wagon, his many unanswered questions about that night still torment him. 
His only desire is to live quietly on his homestead and raise horses. He meets Anna, a beautiful young woman with secrets of her own. Falling in love was not part of his plan. Can Philip tell her how he feels before it’s too late?
With Anna a pawn in the corrupt schemes brewing in the nearby Dakota town, Philip is forced to become a reluctant gunslinger. Will Philip’s uncannily trained horses and unsurpassed sharpshooting skills help him free Anna and find out what really happened to his family out there in the wilderness?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spoken Moments

Spoken Moments

Just in time for a presentation at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last week, SPOKEN MOMENTS came off the presses. Twenty-two authors stood on stage to receive their one-free-copy. That was a happy bunch of writers, feeling blessed to have contributed their articles, received no payment, and donated all royalties to Samaritan’s Purse.

This is a book about the power of words. Here you will find stories from authors who share moments when words—from the Bible, the Holy Spirit, family, friends, acquaintances, business associates, and even strangers—impacted their lives. The stories are a testimony that words can hurt yet they can heal.

You will laugh, cry, nod your head in agreement, and shake your head in wonder at their examples of how God uses aptly spoken words to shape our lives and remind us of the saving grace of Jesus.

I am a novelist who never thought I would be working in non-fiction other than perhaps an occasional article or devotion. But, three years ago several of us were in the lobby after classes at the Blue Ridge writers conference. Cindy Sproles told about God showing up in an unexpected, miraculous ways. Then I told how God showed up in the Ladies Room at the Presbyterian Church. Others joined in. I said those stories should be in a book. Terri Kalfas, editor at Grace Publishing, overheard the talk about such divine experiences and called me two months later to say she was interested.
That led to my call-out for articles and last year at Blue Ridge I made a presentation of one-free-book to 23 of the 37 authors of DIVINE MOMENTS.

CHRISTMAS MOMENTS followed that one and SPOKEN MOMENTS is the third in the series. PRECIOUS MOMENTS (of/with/about children) is with the publisher and CHRISTMAS MOMENTS BOOK #2 will soon follow.

I’m now acquiring for STUPID MOMENTS, which may be embarrassing, humiliating, funny, serious, or have a faith meaning such as having lived apart from the Lord, or held onto unforgiveness too long, etc. These may be a short vignette or an article from about 500 to 3000 words, attached to an email, Times New Roman, 12 point type. Perhaps YOU have a story!

Authors of SPOKEN MOMENTS are: Sheryl Baker, Dan Balow, Joann Claypoole, Maresa DePuy, Susan Dollyhigh, Dr. Edna Ellison, Beth Ann Farley, Diana Flegal, Janice Garey, Tommy Gilmore, Dianna Good, Kelly Goshorn, Judy Haney, Lydia Harris, Sandra Hart, Dr. Dennis Hensley, John Kincaid, Alice Klies, Marcia Laycock, Kellie Lehman, Yvonne Lehman, Diana Matthews, Vicki Moss, Tamela Hancock Murray, Kimberly Pickens, Diane Pitts, Debbie Presnell, Colleen Reece, Toni Sample, Sherry Schumann, Mary Scro, Gloria Spears, Cindy Sproles, Nate Stevens, Fran Strickland, Ann Tatlock, Audrey Tyler, Gene Weatherly, Jan Westmark, Cindy Wilson, Dr. Rhett Wilson Sr., and Lora Zill.

YVONNE LEHMAN is author of 55 novels, founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, and is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She has joined Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas as Acquisitions and Managing Editor of Candlelight Romance and Guiding Light Women’s Fiction. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Recent releases are a novella, The Reluctant Schoolmarm in Reluctant Brides and Name that Tune in A Gentleman’s Kiss (Barbour). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC (Abingdon), which she signs periodically at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge TN. Her non-fiction compilations are Divine Moments, Christmas Moments, and Spoken Moments  (Grace Publishing). To be released in 2014 are Precious Moments and Christmas Moments Book #2. Yvonne blogs at and Novel Rocket Blog.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Talking Dinosaur!

by Alton Gansky
Years ago, I received an e-newsletter from Shelf AwarenessShelf Awareness is about the book business and it contains news of interest to those of us who love books and publishing. This time it contained a blurb from a bookstore owner that got me thinking. Here’s the piece:

“He's Holding a Book in His Hand, and He's Shaking”
“About 20 years ago, I had an old guy come in here. He'd been living out here for many years and said he was looking for a book he'd had when he was a kid, so I sent him back to where the boys' books are. Anyhow, about 15 minutes later, he's holding a book in his hand, and he's shaking. He not only found the book, he found his name in it, when he was 9 years old. Can you believe that? He found his own copy, right on the shelf. The guy was actually crying. He was 80 years old or something, and tears were rolling down his cheeks.” (Bob Weinstein, owner of the Book Baron, Anaheim, Calif., in a wistful Los Angeles Times piece about his bookshop's imminent closing.)

Do you have a book from your childhood like that? As a child I read a great deal. I loved books. Mrs. Wells, my third-grade teacher held a reading contest. I was determined to read more books than anyone in class. She wrote our names on small, handmade paper rocket ships and my rocket would climb higher with each book I read.

Sigh, I came in second to Judy Reynolds. (The big cheater.)

Anyway, one of my favorite pastimes was finding a quiet place in the house and delving into a book. One of those still holds a special place in my heart. I remember how good I felt at the end of that read. The kind of feeling demonstrated by pulling the book to my chest and holding it like the treasure it was.

THE SHY STEGASAURUS OF CRICKET CREEK written by Evelyn Sibley Lampman and illustrated by Hubert Buel was written in 1955…long before my reading days. It would be a decade before I got around to it. Odd that a children’s book written a half-century ago should still be lodged in the gray matter between my ears. But who can turn a way from a story featuring brother/sister twins and a talking stegosaurus that lives on their ranch? Not me. I mean—a talking stegosaurus. It’s a fun yet sad story.

Evelyn Sibley Lampman, wife to a reporter, touched my life and stoked the coals of my imagination. The only place a talking stegosaurus can live is between the covers of a book. Evelyn—I feel comfortable calling anyone who leaves their fingerprints all over my brain by their first name—died in 1980. Pity. I’d like to thank her for the adventure.

What about you? Do you have a book from your childhood that won’t go away?

Alton Gansky is the author of over 40 books. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Novelists Need to Show AND Tell

Writers love to talk about how fallible “the writing rules” are. The rules are made to be broken, we say. And proceed to do so. However, this rule — “show v. tell” — is one that often gets the brunt of our wrath. But why? 

For my part, I have benefited from the rules and think many of them get a bum rap. Of course, the rules of writing are more guidelines than they are formulas. Which is the problem: Novice writers often seek formulas to publication. Sadly, there is no formula to “showing versus telling.” 

I like how James Scott Bell puts it in his piece “Exception to the Rule,” 

Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted. 

Which means there needs to be a balance between showing and telling; it’s not an either / or situation. A story that was all “telling” would be shorter, less visceral and less emotionally engaging. A story that was all “showing” would be incredibly long and overwrought, possibly meandering. 

Thus, telling is a great way to move a story forward, to compact longer sections of thought or passages of time

He got in the truck and drove back to town, all the while thinking about Janie. 

This gets the protag where he needs to be in one swift sentence. However, perhaps this ride is more significant to our hero (and reader). If so, it would be better shown. Which means it might read better like this: 

The scent of Janie’s perfume lingered in the truck. He wrung the steering wheel as he drove, wishing he could hear her little laugh again and see the sparkle in her sea green eyes. 

Lately, I’ve been reviewing my copy of The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. It’s a classic, published in 1884. and still being reprinted. It’s also, I think, a valuable tool for writers. In his chapter, “The Law of the Learner,” Gregory writes this: 

Knowledge cannot be passed like a material substance from one mind to another, for thoughts are not objects which may be held or handled. Ideas can be communicated only by inducing in the receiving mind processes corresponding to those by which these ideas were first conceived. Ideas must be rethought, experiences must be re-experienced. (emphasis mine) 

So the teacher much address the mind and the senses; he must stimulate in his listeners, not just a mental process, but an experience. It’s not enough to tell the learner what to feel, he must make him actually feel it. Which leads Gregory to summarize: 

The mind attends to that which makes a powerful appeal to the senses. 

I think that this writing rule — show v. tell — is directly related to Gregory’s concept. So here’s my idea: 

  • Telling appeals to the mind. 
  • Showing appeals to the sense. 

And appealing to the reader’s senses more actively engages her in the story. 

Beginning writers tend to over-tell. Why? Because telling is a lot easier than showing; it involves less emotional machinations, less investment. Telling does not demand I really dig into my character’s psyche and put myself in his skin. I can simply say, 
He was mad. 

And that suffices. All this to say, Show v. tell is an important writing rule, one that beginners and pros must respect. It’s not enough to just spout about the rules being made to be broken. A story needs both showing and telling. Which makes me wonder if a better interpretation of the rule is “Thou shalt know when to show and when to tell.” 

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The Ghost Box, The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.