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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Just One Thing

Today is Halloween, a scary time of year, indeed. But tomorrow is something even scarier, something that can strike fear in the heart of the most stalwart writer... The beginning of NaNoWriMo.

In case you haven't heard, that funny word up there stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each year, writers from around the world dedicate the month of November to writing a 50,000 word novel. Not a perfect, ready-for-publication novel, but something that you can edit into shape. It started in 1999 with 21 writers in the San Francisco Bay area. Last year, over 300,000 adult writers participated. It's become a big thing, a way for writers to encourage each other and get the oft-needed kick in the pants to get working.

If you're planning to participate, you've undoubtedly signed up on the NaNo site, contacted your writing buddies, and checked out many of the resources available. So, in the spirit of working together (in a profession where we very often work in solitude) I thought it would be fun to share ONE THING: one thing that keeps you focused; one thing to help you maximize your writing time; one tool you want to try this year... you get the idea.

Here's my one thing: This year, I've decided to use a site called Novl'r to do my writing. It looks promising, for several reasons. It was created by writers, for writers. It has at-a-glance stats to help you track your progress and simple aids like Focus Mode, which removes anything from the screen other than the writing window. In honor of NaNo, it's free for the month of November, so I figured, why not give it a try? I found out about it through Facebook ( in what is probably the first of their ads I've actually clicked on.

Now it's your turn. What's your one thing for November?

*  *  *

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, October 30, 2015

Writing Contests—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Robin Caroll

Writing Contests—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Overall, writing contests get a bad rap. Oh, when a writer finals, places, or wins, it’s all good. But if they don’t . . .

First, there’s the whole deal of score sheets. Really, on a scale of 1-5, you expect someone to put a point system to our works of art? And feedback? If the author is published, how good is the feedback if the book’s published? Can’t exactly change a character arc because the score sheet showed the hero’s journey was a bit too slow.

And judges! Who are these unnamed, faceless people? If a writer gets a good score, they’re wonderful, brilliant and insightful, of course. But a bad score? Oh, the judge didn’t “get” the story. Had to be someone unfamiliar with the genre.

But I like contests, always have. Unpublished and published. I like feedback. I like score sheets. Call me strange, but I like to know how my story interacts with the reader. A very wise person once told me that your story is just a story until a reader interacts with it. Stuck in my head. I like that—to think that readers are interacting with my story, my characters, my settings.

How to cope with bad scores? Don’t. No, I’m serious. If you get a bad score and there’s nothing useful you can use in the feedback, shut it right out of your mind. If you can’t get it out of your head, here’s a thought—praise God that particular judge didn’t feel compelled to go write a review of your book up on Amazon!

I’m blessed. I finaled and placed in some amazing contests. I’m in a group of writers who are so talented, I’m awed to be listed with them. Will I ever win? Probably not—hey, were you not paying attention? I said those who finaled with me are awesome! But it’s enough for me just to make the list. Have I NOT finaled in a contest as a published author? You bet. The Edgar Awards. Didn’t even come close. But you know what? I’m proud that I had enough guts to enter.

Contests are what they are—subjective because each reader/judge will interact with your story differently. Good, bad, or ugly, I love ’em. I just like to know that readers ARE interacting with my story. That’s enough for me.

“I love boxing. I love Hallmark movies. I love fishing. I love scrapbooking. Nope, I've never fit into the boxes people have wanted to put me in.” ~Robin Caroll is definitely a contradiction, but one that beckons you to get to know her better. Robin’s passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others and come alongside them on their faith journey—aspects Robin weaves into each of her 25 published novels. When she isn’t writing, Robin spends quality time with her husband of twenty-six years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character-filled pets at home. Robin gives back to the writing community by serving as Executive Director/Conference Director for ACFW. Her books have finaled/placed in such contests as the Carol Award, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer's Choice Award, Bookseller's Best, and Book of the Year.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


by Yvonne Lehman

Oh, don't they?


I’d like to share a few things that occurred at the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat that ended October 22.

Opening night was Sunday and everyone heard and knew what to expect from the schedule.

Um… well… don’t we all know what can happen with schedules!

On Monday evening we were to watch Robert Whitlow’s movie, Mountain Top. But… a tree fell on a line and Ridgecrest began operating on generator.

WAIT, HOPE & PRAY… or revise?

A conversation between Robert (novelist, script writer), Torry Martin (writer, scripts, acting), and Lori Marett (writer, movie Meant to Be)  about script writing was to follow watching the movie. We simply switched the conversation and Q&A first while lines were being repaired.

Ah… perfect! LIGHTS! ACTION!

UM… well… something went wrong with the sound system and a Conference Center person with the knowledge of what to do wasn’t available. But a student, Deborah, was. She had handled such equipment at her church. She was a lifesaver. Except… the movie needed Blueray and I, the director, had not asked about the exact equipment needed, and I had already informed Ridgecrest of our needs so they didn’t anticipate these occurrences.

Without an AV specialist, Deborah came to the rescue of handling the sound equipment, being able to work it so we could watch Robert’s movie, Jimmy (not Blueray but DVD) instead of Mountain Top.

A few of my helpers were concerned because of being helpless, and things not going like clockwork, and our having to use a student to operate the system. Well, I’ve directed conferences for over 30 years and am well aware that some clockwork stops because of a lack of electricity. We must improvise, make changes or even do without. Robert exhibited his calm, generous nature like one aware of the same thing.

Sure, I wanted thing to be what we humans call perfect. One of Robert’s movies was shown. A change of movie was no disaster. I don’t think God necessarily made that tree fall on a line, but… we do know some good comes from the worst of things, but this wasn’t a “worst” kind of thing. Just…life…eh?

Maybe. But the movie was wonderful. Thoroughly enjoyed. Most likely (knowing God) there was one (or more) person who needed that exact movie. We ate our popcorn, cried or felt like it during the movie, and had a wonderful evening. I don’t think Robert minded at all, although he was doing us the favor of letting us watch Mountain Top before its official release. Not one person was disappointed with Jimmy. I know… because they told me.

I learned from the situation. Next year I will know what questions to ask about technology (I’m impaired on that level…but learning), from AV needs of faculty and Ridgecrest.

After the conference ended, I received an email from Deborah. She appreciated the opportunity to help with AV equipment, saying it made her interact and converse with others which otherwise would have been difficult to do since this was her first conference. Attending a conference for the first time causes many students to feel inhibited, not sure what to expect, and even in the stages of discovering if they are, or can become writers.

Deborah’s helping increased her confidence and forced her to interact and that was a wonderful experience for her and a blessing for the rest of us.

Not only did that increase her relating confidence but she then sent me an article for one of my Moments book series. Submitting is also inhibiting for a beginning writer, still uncertain if the writing is in the correct form or has enough substance. That uncertainty and insecurity often prevents writers from submitting their work. They are afraid of being rejected.

However… the answer is already “No” if you don’t submit your work. Submitting is also a part of the writing profession, as well as “rejection.” I don’t like to call it rejection. A “return” may mean many things. It may mean the company, magazine, etc. may have all the submissions in that particular genre already. It may mean it really doesn’t fit their needs. It may mean the writing needs to be better crafted, or it may mean the subject needs further development. But … submitting (and analyzing why the work was returned – or having the piece accepted) is part of this writing business.

My Titanic book was “not accepted” by several publishing companies. Some already had a Titanic book in the process. Another simply couldn’t use it. Another held it for some length of time with committee considering it. Then it was too late to be published by anyone, if anyone was left since they would need at least a year before release.

The rejections were not because the writing wasn’t good enough (although some could have thought that). Miracles happen, as it did with that book when Abingdon accepted it.

The point is… don’t give up when it seems impossible. Scripture says, “Study to show yourself approves, not ashamed.” Perhaps this is your time to be studying, so when the opportunities come you are ready to accomplish.

Most of our writing is by daily working, learning, growing. When the times come that could cause discouragement (the lights go out! The work is too late), maybe it happened for good… even someone else’s good.

The lights out at Ridgecrest worked for Deborah’s good. My “rejections” worked for my good in discovering I can produce quality quickly if required because I have years of study, learning, growing, and writing after “returns.”

As we travel through this life, we learn that all things do work for good. It doesn’t always seem that it works for “our” good in dire circumstances. But it works for someone’s good. Their need at a particular time may be more needed than for our circumstances to turn out the way we want them too.

I could give examples of things gone wrong throughout my life. At the same time I can give examples of God proving his love for me, that he knows me, he cares, and when I realize the greatness of God (which I can’t really fathom) I feel like hiding, covering myself so he can’t see me (as if he couldn’t) and then he shows up in so-called small ways that make me laugh. He knows how to bring good from every situation. Generally, I just see “my” situation. He may value me enough to let things go wrong in my life… for the good of another person.

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC    

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sneak Attack Ideas

By Alton Gansky

Ideas sometimes attack from behind. They arrive at the least likely times, and at the oddest hours. The best way to find a great idea is to  stop looking for one.

Writers are idea merchants, purveyors of content, information, story, and thought. We dig around in the world’s trash bin hoping to find something of value. We visit yard sales of content, examine stuff that has no value until we trip over a prize. Like a spotlight we search the darkness for something of interest; something we can use; something we can make grander than it already is.

And it ain’t easy.

The most often asked question of novelists is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It has made some writers a little testy. Dean Koontz has answered that question by saying, “I get my ideas for a mom and pop shop on the corner.” (Or something like that. I’m working from memory.) I recall Stephen King repling to the question this way: “I have the brain of a child—I keep it in a jar on my desk.” (Again, a paraphrase from my Swiss cheese mind.)

It is difficult to pin down where ideas come from because they don’t come from a single place. They hover in the air, hide in newspapers and magazines, show up in a single line in a movie; they buzz the airfield of our dreams. If you’re a multi-book author, then you can look back over your novels and recall where each gem of an idea came from. Most likely they came from very different places and arrived on your mental doorstep in very different ways.

My first novel, By My Hands, came to me after visiting a child and her family in Children’s Hospital of San Diego. I had always planned to write nonfiction, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. My novel, A Ship Possessed, was a “throw away” idea. I used to include a page in my proposals with a list of possible books, each with two lines of description. I added that story because my list had too much white space at the bottom of the page. I recalled something I had read in the Los Angeles Times, thought about it for a minute or two and wrote: “The World War II submarine USS Triggerfish has returned home fifty years late, in the wrong ocean, and without its crew—but it did not come back alone.” What did I mean by that? I had no idea. Still, Zondervan loved the pitch and asked for a full proposal, which I didn’t have. In the end I did three books with that protagonist.

Ideas don’t come on a schedule. They never call first. They just show up and refuse to go away. It’s our job to recognize the good ones. How do we do that?

First, a good idea refuses to go away. It’s a ghost that haunts the halls of the writer’s mind. It may stay with you for years before fully revealing itself, but when it does, you’ll know why.

Second, you form an attachment to the idea. The characters become real and populate your mind. Sometimes they sit quietly in the corner; other times they demand to be heard.

It is my belief that most professional novelists have more ideas than they can handle, but they keep gathering more. That’s the third point: A writer never knows when a good idea will become great. My latest fiction is part of a series of novellas written with Bill Meyers, Frank Peretti, and Angie Hunt. The Fog, (number eight in the series) is based on an idea I had years ago but didn’t know what to do with. There was no CBA publisher at the time that would touch it. I didn’t even bother to send out proposals. Then when it came my turn to do the next book in the series, the idea stepped up and said, “My turn.” It worked.

Novelists are merchants of ideas, finding something of value that others will appreciate and benefit from and then making it available. The trick is selecting the right idea at the right time. There is as much craft in molding an idea as there is in penning a story.

Alton Gansky writes novels, novellas, and nonfiction. He’s also been known to chase ideas with a butterfly net.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hearing from Readers of "Christian Horror"

Since I published Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre, I've heard from a good number of believers who enjoy the horror genre, but think it's either incongruous with their beliefs or are simply concerned with its perception among their evangelical friends. For example, I received this nice message from a Facebook friend:

Hey Mike! I know you don't know me, but thanks for accepting me as a friend a few months ago. I don't remember now how I came across you - it was one of your blog posts, I believe. Anyways, I'm a A pastor who (horrors) loves reading Stephen King. I wanted to thank you for writing your Christian Horror book. I really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it - you made me think about some things I had never considered before. I've always felt kind of guilty over enjoying horror, but I've also wondered at how much horror there actually is in real life and in Scripture. Anyways, I just wanted to say thanks for a well-thought-out and well-written book. I've enjoyed reading your blog posts, and now I'm looking forward to reading your fiction! So thanks and keep on keeping on. Blessings! 

Another reviewer/author wrote this:

I have always loved scary books and movies. When I finally got the courage to publish some of my writing, I felt the need to do so "in the closet" and with a pen name because, naturally, my stories tend to involve supernatural elements and aren't evangelical. I grew up in a church and around people who viewed authors like Stephen King as instruments of the devil (really!). I never believed it and appreciated the theme of good versus evil that runs through many horror stories.  
The church and crowd I associate with as an adult aren't as legalistic as that, but there's still that fear of what people will think. So when I stumbled upon this book and saw what it was about, I had to read it. I'm glad I did! 

Really, it makes me wonder how much stigma evangelicals and religious folks impose upon fellow believers who happen to enjoy the horror genre. I too would look aslant at a Christian who enjoys watching gore for the sake of gore. However, that's exactly part of the horror stereotype. There's plenty of horror that is not gory. And there's also good arguments to be made even when it does contain non-gratuitous gore, that it could be justified. In either case, it's apparent that evangelicals need good arguments for the creation of and enjoyment of speculative art in general, the horror genre in



MIKE DURAN is a novelist, blogger, and speaker, whose short stories, essays, and commentary have appeared in Relief Journal, Relevant Online, Novel Rocket, Rue Morgue, Zombies magazine, and other print and digital outlets. He is the author of THE GHOST BOX (Blue Crescent Press, 2014), a Publishers Weekly starred review item and first in a paranoir series, a short story anthology SUBTERRANEA (Blue Crescent Press, 2013), the supernatural thrillers THE TELLING (Realms May 2012) and THE RESURRECTION (Realms, 2011), an e-book fantasy novella entitled WINTERLAND (Amazon digital, Oct. 2011), and a non-fiction exploration on the intersection between the horror genre and evangelical fiction entitled CHRISTIAN HORROR (Blue Crescent Press May 2015). You can learn more about Mike Duran, his writing projects, cultural commentary, philosophical musings, and arcane interests, at

Sunday, October 25, 2015


by Cynthia Ruchti

I'm not needy.

Except all the time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tips to Clean Up Your Manuscript Through Editing

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Remember the Beatles tune “All You Need is Love?” If that sends you into the world of a sixties’ flower child, you can view it here.

So what does this Beatle song and soap have to do with writing?

All You Need is 🎵 Soap?
Actually it’s more about rewriting, editing, proofreading, and brainstorming to clean up a story so that your readers Love, Love, Love it.

Back to cleaning up your story. 

SOAP Says It All!

S - Software. Text to voice software is my favorite editing tool. I can hear the errors and see them while I follow along. This is like a virtual critique partner that helps me clean up my manuscript. I use GhostReader for Mac - and there’s a version in Adobe for Mac and Word users -

O - Online sites provide links to editing tools. Here are a few suggestions:,, and many other fine organizations and websites offer editing helps.

A - Audience. Consider your target readers. Is your story true to genre and brand? Have you written your best story to entertain those who love your writing?

P - Passion for story motivates a writer into action. Fall in love with your story. Take your characters to dinner and interview them. Have they been completely honest with you? Maybe their plot needs tweaking. Proofreading makes a great story squeaky-clean!

You might be humming the Beatles tune by now, or you might be taking SOAP to your story. Clean up now and then clean up at the bookstores! 

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at


Friday, October 23, 2015

Interview with Debut Author Shellie Arnold

Edie here. Today I'm excited to introduce you to a new writer on the publishing scene. Her book is a wonderful read and her personal story is an encouragement to us all!

Shellie Arnold is a wife of 29+ years and a home school mother of 3. She believes every marriage can flourish if both parties listen to God, and Living Happily Even After is just one obedient-to-God choice away. Shellie’s blog and other resources can be found at where she shares what she’s learned the hard way about building a godly marriage.    

What sparked the story for this novel? Three things: First, I’ve wanted to help marriages since I was in the second or third grade and knew my parents’ marriage would end. Second, I’ve found myself in both Laurie and Pierce’s shoes. Third, after God healed my brain (which you’ll see below) He gave me images in my head of several scenes from the novel. I couldn’t not write it.

Share a bit of your journey to publication. Was it short or long? My journey to publication has been very long. I attended my first writers conference in January, 1994, and dabbled at writing for many years. I worked toward writing non-fiction until 2002 when I became ill. On May 18, 2005, God healed my brain and turned my head to fiction. I said, “That’s not what we were doing.” God’s response was, “That’s what we’re doing now.” So, I started learning about fiction in 2006/2007 as a total newbie after being out of the industry for several years.

What would you do if you didn't write? Ha! Refurbish houses. It’s a dream of mine. I love power tools (I have my own table saw, grinder, and sander), love heavy work, love getting dirty and turning something ugly into something beautiful. I want to refurbish homes and rent them out to families in need.

What makes you struggle as an author? How do you handle it? On the outside: time. My time is packed and stretched beyond its limits. I have several projects going at once—both fiction and non-fiction. On the inside: time. I fight feeling pulled in too many directions. I’m an introvert, so I recharge only with uninterrupted solitude—which I never get, because I’ve home schooled for over 20 years. How do I handle those? I am constantly fussing at—ahem, make that having discussions with God about my priorities, time management, and how to stay on track with what He wants me to do in a given moment. I don’t trust my judgment on priorities, especially during times of high stress (which is most of the time).

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy nook? I write wherever I can. I have a corner in our front porch I’ve turned into a “pretend office,” sometimes I go to the library, or I often work in my truck if I’m running errands and waiting on a child. Parking lots are great places to get work done. I do a lot of writing in my truck.
(Do you have a photo of your writing space we could share with our readers? If so, can you send it to me in a jpeg file?)

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? Why? That’s a hard question! Creating has its own joys and anguish—the creating, yes, getting on paper what you see in your head. But editing (for me) is kind of a fun reminder of what I’ve written, and I see it as the opportunity to improve what’s on the page. I don’t resent editing. I enjoy finding a word, sentence, or paragraph I can improve, then experiencing that feeling of “Yes!” when I know I’ve made it better.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use? You’re going to laugh, but I had to Google “What is a visual writer?” to answer this question. And, of course, Google is always right, (LOL) so here goes. I’m definitely a visual writer. I’ve been told my writing is vivid and has a literary flair. To me, I’m just telling the story as I see and feel it in my head. To me the feeling is paramount; the seeing must support the feeling conveyed or I’ve failed in that sentence/paragraph/scene.

What are your top 3 recommendations for a new writer? Wow. The best advice I was ever given came from the president of the agency which now represents me. Years ago I was told “Your writing isn’t good enough. You’re not ready.” That was an owie (is that a word?) but it pushed me to be a better writer instead of settling for my craft level at that time. Second, I’d say, read, read, read, then read more great authors who write what you want to write. Third, get into a fabulous critique group like Word Weavers International at I would be nowhere without Word Weavers and attending writers conferences.

Then what 3 things would you recommend not doing? Don’t throw up during your first critique! LOL (like I almost did because I was so nervous). Not kidding. First, don’t resent good critique, embrace it—one little idea could be the turning point to great improvement of your writing. Second, never stop reading. Never, ever, ever. And third…don’t stop placing your talent, calling, and craft before God. You’re a steward, not the source. Don’t stop seeking the Source.

What's next for you? Oh, boy. The second book in The Barn Church series will be released in October 2016. I’m working on book 3 now, and also my first stand-alone novel. I’m about to begin doing free online webinars on various marriage topics and will be releasing my pre-recorded seminars, which will be available for purchase through my web site. I’m also working on my first non-fiction book regarding sexuality in marriage. I have a different take on the subject than others I’ve seen, and I can’t WAIT for that book to be published. 

by Shellie Arnold

What happens when the miracle God gives you threatens to destroy your marriage?

Laurie Crane is happily married. And she is usually able to overlook her husband's moments of quiet sadness. If only God would give them a child ...

Pierce wants a child as badly as Laurie and has spent years praying alongside her. But he has no idea that a "yes" from God will unearth long-buried memories and bring their marriage to the brink of catastrophe.

In The Barn Church trilogy's first novel, "The Spindle Chair", Shellie Arnold explores what happens when "happily ever after" becomes more than one couple can handle.