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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Clubs with Pizzazz

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Tweet this: Book Clubs with Pizzazz
Forming a fiction book club within your library may seem a bit daunting, but the enthusiasm and new friendships that form are well worth the effort. It’s not difficult because I’ve done it, and I believe the following information will persuade you to take the initial steps.

This is your opportunity to sponsor an outreach event that shows the women of the community that your library is there for all of them.

Consider this:

  • Women were created with the idea of relationships. If in doubt, read the first few chapters of Genesis.
  • Women look to each other for support and encouragement. We’re compassionate, empathetic, and sympathetic.
  • Women seek out relationships by using their life experiences and faith to mirror their beliefs to others.
  • Women love to get together and socialize.

Sounds like a book club to me.

Take the jitters and fears out of forming a book club by following these ten easy tips to building a dynamic and fun organization. I’ve covered the who, what, where, when, why, and how. After all this is a party!

1. Where do I begin?
    A. Make inquiries - show excitement - generate interest.
    B. Talk to library director to enlist her support
    C. Word of mouth
    D. Article in library newsletter
    E. Notice in library
    F. Community social media announcements

Where do I find participants?
     A. Library patrons
     B. Friends
     C. Neighbors
     D. Among the community

3.  Where do we meet?
    A. What area in the library works best for the meeting?
    B. Have seating arranged in a circular fashion to encourage book           

        discussion. Suggest cell phones be turned to vibrate so not to                 interrupt the discussion.

4.  How and when do members receive their books?
     A. Books are purchased the month before the discussion
     B. Contact a local book store to see if books can be purchased                      in bulk at a reduced price?
     C. Consider some readers prefer an e-copy.
     D. If an author is participating, she may offer the books at a                 

         discounted price and will personally autograph each copy.
     E. Designate one person to be the book buyer.
     F. Arrange for how members pick up their books.
     G. Some members may already have purchased the book
     H. Make sure a copy of the book is retained in the library

5. How are books chosen?
    A. The first book is always the hardest: consider a bestseller or popular

    B. Other ways to choose books
        1. Take a poll of book choices from the members at the first                         meeting.
        2. Find out if there are published writers within your community                     and surrounding area.
        3. Search online book clubs and read reviews from other  

6. How can I make my club 
    interesting and unique?
    A. Invite local authors for    

        discussion. Make sure their   
        books are read the month  
        before the meeting. Writers  
        love book clubs!
    B. Use the discussion questions

        in the back of the book or  
        posted online.
    C. Contact authors who do not live in your area and schedule a call or             Skype meeting.
    D. Celebrate holidays, birthdays, seasons, and special events as part             of the meeting.
    E. Ask for volunteers for refreshments.
    F. Have a contest to see who can invite the most new members.
    G. Have someone write a short report about each meeting and post it              in the library and library newsletter.
     H.  Add contests, a party atmosphere, and fun!

7. Feed them, and they will return.

8. Evaluate your club by having formal feedback
    A. Verbal or written

Establish an e-mail loop to remind others of upcoming meetings.
    A. If book club is Christian, establish a prayer and praise leader.
Are you a member of a book club? What tips can you offer? We want to hear them.

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; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association; International Thriller Writers, and the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of Romance Writers of America. She is co-director of The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. 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, February 26, 2016

23 Things You Can Do for Your Writing Self

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

There are a lot of things about being a writer that are hard. And there are a lot of ways we make it even harder on ourselves. So today, I’d like to remind you—and me—of ways to be a little bit kinder on ourselves.

1. Instead of putting yourself down, build yourself up.

2. Choose to be optimistic.

3. Pray First

4. Be patient, writing is a process and takes time.

5. Invest in your dream—financially and otherwise.

6. Find a tribe—don’t try to do this alone.

7. Remember why you write.

8. Be courageous.

9. Choose joy.

10. Remember that failure isn’t always a bad thing.

11. Be flexible.

12. Give others the benefit of the doubt.

13. Eat healthy.

14. Take a chance and hit send.

15. Make time to write a priority.

16. Take a walk—exercise regularly.

17. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.

18. Invest in other writers—we all have those who aren’t quite where we are.

19. Give yourself the gift of a reasonable writing schedule.

20. Have a dedicated workspace.

21. When you hit a roadblock, go around it, don’t stop.

22. Encourage other writers.

23. Sometimes, write just for the fun of it.

I’d love for you to add to today’s list. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Edie Melson—author, blogger, speaker—has written numerous books, including While My Soldier Serves, Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military. She’s also the military family blogger at Her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month, and she’s the Director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers ConferenceConnections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers is a print expansion of her bestselling ebook on social media. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, and the Senior Editor for Connect on Twitter and Facebook.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Editor in a Windshield

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.

If I were to hang a label on my car rearview window, it would say Windshield: Eyes Only.

My holy shrine is the inside of my car windshield. So sacred is the space that I will let a bug roam unmolested leaving its filthy footprints. Until it reaches the dashboard.

My windshield is like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea—a no-man’s land sanctuary for flora and fauna. No one touches. No one thinks of touching.

Why? Because if there’s a chip, I stare at the mark instead of the road. Because a fingerprint leads to smudges and a professional clean leaves streaks. Any mark inside the windshield, at that point, I install a new windshield.

I should have told my family.

Frosty winters in Idaho are the norm, and with no garage, we pull out the scraper and clean off the ice and snow. The outside of the windshield is touchable with the right utensils. But one day, as I packed my bags, my wife started the car and the kids beat me outside. 
My son and daughter had already cleared the frost from the windshield. 

What I saw next is seared into my memory. Six hands pressed against the inside of the windshield. 

The world around me moved in slow motion, including my voice.


“No. No. No. No.” I jerked the door open.

My wife, son, and daughter leaned forward and pressed their palms against the consecrated glass. “Look, Daddy,” my daughter said. “We can melt the ice faster. It’s cold, though.” She pulled her hands back and rubbed them together.

Numb, and as if in a dream, I sat in the driver’s seat and surveyed the damage.

I could see through the windshield.

Incredible. They’d destroyed the sanctity of the untouched glass, but I could see. Clearly.

Sometimes our manuscripts are sacred ground, and we’re loath to let an editor touch our work. Yes, when the editor is finished, our work will be smudged with their fingerprints. But with their input—their hands against the windshield—the manuscript will be cleaned efficiently. And you'll learn to let go of your sacred windshields. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


by Yvonne Lehman
Dr. Hensley and Diana Savage seriously challenge the stereotypical phrase coined by George Bernard Shaw in 1903, “Those who can, do and those who can't teach." This amazingly creative duo does both—write and teach. The good doctor, more affectionately known as Doc Hensley, chair's the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University. While Diana Savage, in addition to speaking and providing professional writing, editing and website management assistance through Savage Creative Writing Services, LLC is also director of Northwest Christian Writers Association. 


I suppose anyone in the writing profession knows of Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, affectionately called “Doc Hensley,” or simply “Doc.” If they don’t, they should. He has the reputation of being about the best writing teacher there is, and writes with excellence. My first meeting with him was a couple of decades ago when I introduced him at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference as a man who had four university degrees. That was inhibiting, until I quickly discovered he was as nice as he is smart. And now, I want to introduce you to his latest book, Pseudonym, co-authored with Diana Savage, and released by Whitaker House in January 2016.

“Nothing like anything that has come before,” is what Cathy Shouse said about this book in her Indiana Marion Chronicle-Tribune article. “The book, simply entitled Pseudonym,” she wrote, “is being described as a suspense and mainstream drama.”

No experience is lost on writers. They can make a story from any idea, and Doc Hensley’s idea for this book came 20 years ago. His speaking engagement had ended and he was eager to fly home. But being the kind soul he is, he gave up his seat to a woman desperate to get to California to see her husband before he left for his military assignment overseas. While waiting for a later flight, Doc Hensley wasted no time, but did what writers know makes a good story and began to ponder, “What if?”

What if…two people secretly swapped tickets. What if…one of the planes crashed and the person killed aboard that flight had the wrong ID? He wrote that story in a year but publishers did what they often do and said, “Um, not for us.” They all thought it too much too edgy. After all, it contained elements of insurance fraud, divorce, casino gambling, and deception, to mention just a few of the mature, realistic themes of the novel.  

Twenty years later Doc pulled out that manuscript and shared it with Diana Savage, who had worked with him as his web master. She said he’d done a terrific job with the story, but for the situations he’d put his character in, he could use some updated female perspectives. He agreed, and she became his co-author. Doc Hensley believes that together they have become a great team in presenting this tale of real life and the choices people make. 

“Some characters choose wisely, others foolishly, and that, of course, is what creates plot conflict in a novel,” Hensley said. “The fact that early reviews in secular publications and Christian publications have both been extremely positive makes us feel that we hit the right balance of examining strong values without having to lecture or criticize anyone.” 


What happens when a high school English teacher submits a student's paper to an award winning contest without her knowledge and the essay wins the Golden Quill Award for Writing Excellence? For eighteen-year-old Sheila Gray, the award verified...her dreams of becoming an author weren't all that far-fetched. However, for her suspicious, domineering father it meant trouble and she wasn't surprised when he said, "Writin' won't put food on yer table the way gardening and canning will."

It wasn't until Sheila mentioned the $500 cash award, the $100 savings bond and six-week college writing program scholarship that her father grabbed the envelope from her hand, studied the contents with disbelief and said, "What's the catch?"

Sheila knew there was only one "catch." Who would cook, clean and take care of her father and brothers while she was away? She had once said, "I'd give my life to become a best-selling author." What Sheila couldn't know was that her off-the-cuff remark would cost exactly that—her life.

Thus begins a riveting suspense tale with such true-to-life characterizations, so many twists, turns and continual surprises, the pages almost turn themselves. Add naiveté, an upper classman's diabolic agenda, a whirlwind summer romance and proposal of marriage attached to a deceptive promise, and you have an emotionally charged mystery-suspense impossible to put down. 

“I kept telling myself,” says Gail Welborn of the Seattle Examiner, “just one more page. But I couldn't stop. The true-to-life characterizations, intricate, in-depth and well-developed plot captured me up to and through the rocket-fueled ending. Narrative themes of submission, dominion, and the cost and drive of creativity, complicated by the wily hand of fate, will make readers question if they too might have "a date with destiny.”

“If you're looking for a book that prompts bursts of laughter, ‘Oh no's’ and outright cheers, Pseudonym belongs on your bookshelf, especially the shelf of anyone who harbors dreams of writing! When I reviewed Hensley's Jesus in the 9 to 5 December 2013,” states Welborn, “I saw he not only told a good story, but did so with a quirky dash of humor. Together these authors do that and more with Pseudonym.”

Dr. Hensley and Diana Savage seriously challenge the stereotypical phrase coined by George Bernard Shaw in 1903, “Those who can, do and those who can't teach." This amazingly creative duo does both—write and teach. Doc Hensley chair's the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University. While Diana Savage, in addition to speaking and providing professional writing, editing and website management assistance through Savage Creative Services LLC is also director of Northwest Christian Writers Association.  

Yvonne Lehman, author of 56 novels and 5 non-fiction books in the Moments series, is former founder and director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years and now director of Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelists Retreat held October 16-20, 2016 at Ridgecrest/Lifeway Conference Center at Ridgecrest NC. Yvonnelehman3@gmail.comSavannah 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, February 23, 2016

Sitting Up with Your Story

I am the father to three children and like all good parents I have tried to be there for them through sickness and health. Sometimes that meant sitting up with a sick child. We had our kids when we were young and I remember walking the floor with an infant on one arm and a college text book in my free hand. (I had children for whom being held wasn’t enough. I had to be pacing.) Sometimes we walked through the difficult growing up years, the budding relationship years, the rejection years, the years of indecision and uncertainty, and so on. It’s what parents do, and in the end, those difficult moments turn into fond memories.

Here’s the odd thing: Nursing a novel is very similar. There is a moment of conception when an idea comes to mind. That plot question turns into a story idea but it seldom arrives fully grown and seldom comes easily.

The ancient Greeks tell of how Zeus gave birth to Athena: how Hermes directed Hephaestus to use a wedge to split open Zeus’ forehead (sometimes the story says an ax was used). When the act was done, the goddess Athena sprang out as a fully grown adult and wearing armor and holding a shield. Talk about a difficult birthing experience. No wonder Zeus’ head hurt.

At times it feels like giving birth to a robust story idea involves the same kind of pain and dramatic lengths. Seldom, however, does an idea spring forth fully formed—with or without its own shield. Most of the time, we get the bare nubbins of a plot. Maybe we catch a glimpse of the protag, or may the pressing issue comes to us, or maybe a few action scenes or bits of dialogue float to the surface of our thoughts demanding some attention. After that, we are left to walk the floor with the idea. We let it percolate in our gray matter. We wait for the story to tell us what we need to know. Other times we interrogate the idea until it gives us the info we need.

Yes, I know there are those that tell us ideas come to them fleshed out and dressed in a tux. I’ve never been that lucky and I’m happy about that. I’m always suspicious of ideas that come to me in completed form. My experience is that it is seldom as complete as I first think, or the idea is so thin as to have no weight. I can’t speak for everyone, but easy ideas are seldom good ones.

So we sit up with our stories. The idea follows us out to dinner and while others are chatting it up, a large segment of our brain is hashing the concept over. If joins us in bed, and having no sense of proper decorum, vague ideas step into the shower with us. It sits at the breakfast table while we much on toast; it sits on our lap while we drive and chatters away; it circles overhead. Such ideas have even been known to elbow their way on to our sermon notes.

This is creativity. Real creativity. Not flash in the pan kind of creativity, but creativity that is lived with, observed, question, nurtured, and encouraged. Sometimes it is creativity that requires we sit up with it in the night, staring at the television with no idea of what is playing.

In the end, however, such attention and involvement leads to a robust story.

I am often asked by budding writers, “How do I know if my idea is a good one?” My answer goes like this: “A good idea will not leave you alone. It will dog your steps. It will rattle the doorknobs of your mind. It will haunt the corridors of your brain until you do something with it. If you can’t shake the thing, then you probably have a good idea.”

Alton Gansky writes book length work, mostly novels, and when he is not writing, he is being bossed around by yet to be written ideas.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How My Novel Became One of Publishers Weekly's 'Indie Stars of 2015'

Publishers Weekly is currently running a huge giveaway called The Great Indie Stars Book Giveaway. My latest novel, The Ghost Box, is included in that giveaway. The urban fantasy novel, first in a planned series featuring paranormal reporter Reagan Moon, was selected as one of PW's "best indie titles" of 2015. (To read more about the giveaway, go HERE.)

I'm not fond of How-To articles for writers. In my opinion, there's just way too many people giving advice, and way too many writers looking for a magic bullet to "success." That said, shortly after I sent out my email newsletter announcing the PW giveaway, I was contacted by a writer friend who suggested I should share how I managed to accomplish this. Being that I've been asked that question about two dozen times, I figured I'd write more specifically how that came about.

As any indie author knows, getting recognition from mainstream industry reps is both rare and extremely coveted. However, with independent publishing becoming the chosen route for many established authors, traditional publishers have been forced to take notice.

In May 2014, PW announced it would be launching BookLife, a feature devoted to helping authors publish their own books. (At the time, PW Select was a monthly supplement dedicated to the self-publishing industry, news, and advertisements, and bound into the print and digital editions of Publishers Weekly. It has since been integrated into BookLife.) With the announcement came a change in how PW reviewed self-published books: 

Rather than limit reviews of self-published books to our PW Select supplement, we will allow all self-published titles to be submitted for review consideration through BookLife. There is no charge to participate in BookLife or to submit a book or receive a review.

Which is exactly what I did. I submitted The Ghost Box to BookLife for a possible review. (Here's the Submission Guidelines for BookLife.) Anyone can submit their book for a review, but all submitted books ARE NOT reviewed. This is the first hurdle the author faces. (In fact, I had one book rejected for review by BookLife.) There's no magic formula for getting a hearing, which is why the BookLife guidelines articulate:

You Should Make Sure Your Book Is Really Ready Before Submitting. Your books will be vetted by our editors the same way as professionally edited books from major publishers. 

Which means a crappy cover and unprofessional editing won't get you very far. It's also why I paid for both -- a recognized, award-winning cover artist and a professional editor.

If your book is chosen for review, PW gives you the option (through PW Select) to pay for extended advertising in PW's print and digital mag. The cost was $149. Relatively few books are starred. (In 2015, BookLife starred 18 fiction and 3 non-fiction titles.) Because I'd received a starred review, I paid. Which turned out to be really worth it. 

And now I'm part of The Great Indie Stars Book Giveaway

So as you can see, it wasn't a very complicated process. The hard work, really, is what came before. Which I probably couldn't stress
enough to my fellow indie authors -- do YOUR work, develop your craft and don't scrimp on packaging and presentation. Then let the chips fall where they may.

All said, it's great to see Publishers Weekly catching up to Indie publishing and I'm hoping more industry presses and publications will follow suit.

* * * 

MIKE DURAN is a novelist, blogger, and speaker, whose short stories, essays, and commentary have appeared in Relief Journal, Relevant Online, BreakPoint, Rue Morgue, Zombies magazine, and other print and digital outlets. He is the author of THE GHOST BOX (Blue Crescent Press, 2014), chosen as one of  Publishers Weekly's best indie novels of 2015 and first in a paranoir series, 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, February 21, 2016

Not Just a Salesman – Not Just a Writer

My Dad in his shoe store

By Marcia Lee Laycock

My dad was in the shoe business. He started young, working in a shoe factory while still in grade school. He was taught how shoes were made from the sole up. The smell of leather must have gotten to him because when he finished high school he went to work in a shoe store and when he came home after WW2, chose that as his trade. By the time I was born he owned his own store and within a few years had opened a second one.

My dad knew shoes. He knew them so well that when he noticed a customer wasn’t walking properly, he advised them on what needed to be done to their shoes to make things easier. Word got around and soon orthopedic doctors were sending their patients to him to have shoes specially made. When he finally retired, those same doctors begged him to keep working, at least part-time. They said he wasn't just a salesman, he was a craftsman and there were few people of his skill around anymore.

I think of my father from time to time, the years he spent in apprenticeship, the obstacles he had to overcome to set up his own business, the satisfaction he had in later years, knowing his attention to detail made a difference in people’s lives.

I think of my father when I’m frustrated with my writing career. When I wonder what difference I am making in the world, I think of the man with a crooked leg who was able to walk without pain because of the shoes my dad made for him. I remember the three-year-old who skipped into my dad’s store one day, his mother beaming from the doorway. That child had been unable to walk barely a year before.

I remember the look on my father’s face that day, and I keep writing because this is the work I have been given to do. There have been frustrations and obstacles but there have also been those moments – times when I’ve received an email or a letter or a phone call from someone telling me how my writing has made a difference.

We are in the word business. Some of us started young, scribbling poems and stories in school. We learned our grammar and spelling and all the rules of writing. We've done our apprenticeship and have become skilled craftsmen. There may be times when we want to quit, when the obstacles seem too high and the frustrations too much to handle.

But we must hang onto those times when we know that what God has directed us to do has made a difference. This is the work we have been given to do. So, like my dad, we must keep on, until Jesus calls us home.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

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 four 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 on Smashwords or on Amazon. It is also now available in Journal format on Amazon. 

Her most recent release is A Traveler's Advisory, stories of God's Grace Along the Way, available from Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.

Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur