Thursday, May 5, 2016

Immeasurably More

Today's post is a repost written about a verse that has been popping up a lot for me the past few days. I thought it was relevant, given the timing. I hope it stirs you to see and believe in the "immeasurably more" God has in store for your life today. -- Ashley

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God's been teaching me so much as a new mother lately about life and the way He sees us. Today's post is for all of you (us) who get discouraged and are having trouble keeping our vision, or as the cliche goes, seeing the forest through the trees.

Tonight, my husband and I took our baby to put his feet in the sand at the beach for the first time. On the way, I was talking to him, explaining about sand and water and sunsets. And none of this makes sense to him yet, of course-- he's only three months old. But still, he was just smiling at me, trusting me wherever we would go.

And it hit me when I told him how beautiful sunsets are, telling him someday he would understand. This is what the plans of God for us look like.

Ephesians 3:20-21 says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (My emphasis)

Immeasurably more.

What does immeasurably more really look like, especially for the writing life?

Because if we're really being honest, when faced with unknowns, haven't many of us come to expect immeasurably less? Raising my hand over here, because I know I'm guilty of that.

Yet, right before this verse, we see a description of God's love for us-- God, who is described as a Father. "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (My emphasis)

Now, I don't know what you're facing today, or the discouragement you've come up against. I don't even know what your "immeasurably more" might look like. But I know that God is good, and His love is mighty. I know that the dreams He has placed in your heart are there for a reason.

And if you're looking around, feeling stuck, consider this. He may have placed you "in the car," on the way to so much more. So it's okay if you don't see how the pieces fit right now. It's okay if you feel frustrated, and even if you don't understand the promises of God.

Keep keeping on. Because the whole point of our immeasurably more is that it's beyond what we could dream up for ourselves. Just think of a baby's first sunset, and remember you have no way to understand the beauty God has in store for your stories--your characters' story and your own--if you choose to trust Him with your life.



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Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

4 Reasons to Write in Community

When I started writing, I didn't know much. I quickly learned a lot because I became plugged in to the writing community that is American Christian Fiction Writers. Today as a multi-published author, I am still involved in many writing communities including this one, Inspired by Life & Fiction, The Grove Story, and ACFW.

In each I play a different role. 

I believe it's important for all writers to have at least a few places to plug in. Here are four reasons you should consider doing just that.
1) To give back: I joined ACFW as a writer who knew next to nothing about writing. Today, almost exactly ten years later, I'm in a very different position in my publishing career, but one thing hasn't changed: I am an active member. Why? Because I believe ACFW is the best place for someone who wants to write Christian fiction to learn how to write, learn about publishing, meet editors, agents and other writers, and find a community of people who think like them. Writing is so solitary that community is a God-send. I still make it a priority to get to the ACFW national conference every year. I can't imagine my September without the worship, fellowship, encouragement, and learning. It's been an essential part of me becoming the writer I am.

2) To Mentor Other Writers as I've been Mentored. I don't mean this to sound high and might or anything, but I do believe it's very important -- even Biblical -- to be sure I am pouring what I've learned into writers who are at an earlier stage in their journey. I periodically ask God where He wants me to pour at this season. Right now that's here on the Alley. Yeah! I love these ladies and our readers. But sometimes it's even more one on one with folks like Casey, Ashley, and Pepper. Those may change in the seasons of our writing. But I am firmly convinced that I wouldn't be the writer I am without the mentors God has give me like Colleen Coble, Rachel Hauck, and others. Giving back is key to who I am.

3) To Find Community with Other Writers Who Understand the Challenges of Writing. I vividly remember being extremely humbled when Melissa Tagg took a mentor appointment with me. This fiery, talented young woman already had one book out and another on the way. What could I offer her? As I prayed about it, God reminded me of the importance of having community with people on the same road. We may be in different stages, but we're all in the midst of this crazy business of writing. That's how The Grove gals came to be. This group is a special set of women that are heart sisters to me. Their passion for Jesus challenges me. And we encourage, cheerlead, and love on each other in ways that bring such joy to the journey. I hope you'll join us there. 

4) To Support Each Other in the Writing: I'm in two other groups including Inspired by Life & Fiction where we've come together to share our markets and build each other and our readers up. It is such a fun group of women (and truly an honor to be with them!). Another group is for marketing. We help promote each others books -- it is a hoot to spread the word about authors that I already adore reading. Now it's just more intentional.

These are a few of the ways I band together with other writers. How do you do it?


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An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Research Like an Expert, A Librarian's Guide to Researching Your Book

commons.wikimedia.com
As an assistant librarian for a Christian college and now as a writer for Library Journal, I must admit research is one of my favorite things. Yes, my books and spices are alphabetized, although I'm not a clean freak by any means.

I wanted to share a few sites that librarians make frequent use of and how they are used. I think many of them will prove helpful for writers and I want to share why.

Library of Congress: Digital Collections and Services department is a HUGE database with loads of resources that you will find helpful. 

Let's pick a topic. Suppose my main character is a slave escaping from Virginia to Canada using the Underground Railroad. 

Browse collections by topic and click on the African American history section. You will find endless documents, maps and pamphlet collections. For many of these you can even purchase reproductions.

One especially helpful resource you can find here is voice recordings and interviews. Here are 7 hours of interviews from former slaves. You can even see the pictures that go along with those voices. I don't know about you but listening to audios helps me capture voice inflection and accent of the time period and the peculiarities of accent in different places. 

Chronicling America is an advanced search site that includes newspapers from a variety of locations during the years 1836 through 1922. A hundred years ago today alone includes 59 periodicals. By perusing newspapers, not only can you find wonderful black and white photographs that express emotion and evoke your time period but you can gain a feel for the language usage, slang, and common expressions of the day. 

The National Jukebox contains over 10,000 sound recordings. If you are looking for popular music from a very specific era or more rare location it can be next to impossible to find at your local library. On the sidebar, you can click on day by day and you'll find a list in order by year of recording. You can search by genre, or artist, or even get as specific as requesting a particular day using this search engine

One of my favorite sections is Collections of Maps. There are over 2000 maps in the collection from the Civil War alone. You can also find battle and campaign maps that would be especially helpful for those writing novels about any war. Panoramic birds-eye view maps can give you a great feel for the topography and the buildings of an area. Other maps in the City map category can give you understanding of the evolution of place for the town your story takes place in.

Spend some time browsing this site, there are myriads of resources you will find useful no matter what your subject is. Those who work in libraries spend much time on this site and writers will find so much to help them in their research!

There are two features I think are super valuable. Ask a Librarian is a great way to get expert information from librarians who know your topic. I may be a bit biased but I think your local librarian is a great starting source to help you dig into all that's out there on your time period of interest. Here you can chat or email with librarians who specialize in a specific collection, such as Africa, Law, or American Folk Life. 

And don't forget about a great service your library can offer you, interlibrary loan. If you haven't made frequent use of it, start. Through Library of Congress your librarian has access to resources you might not be able to find as easily on your own. 

Please share: What are your favorite sites for research? Do you use the Library of Congress resources?



Julia lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three spoiled ragdoll cats. She writes and reviews for Library Journal magazine and is a regular contributor to the website Wonderfully Woven

Monday, May 2, 2016

Writing Back[words]: Pulling Tight that Saggy Middle


I used to be a pantster. Writing a book would be a real-time discovery. I'd have an idea of the end, I mean, I knew what I wanted to accomplish for the character, but all the in between would be found along the way.

When I wrote like this, I had to write chronologically. If I skipped ahead to write a later scene, it would be as difficult to know my character's thoughts as it is to tell the future. My character was developed as I went.

Over the years though, I've begun to write my synopses first, either for contests, proposals, or just to hash out my story to see if I have something solid to maintain a whole novel.

What I've found is, because I have a general idea of character arc and plot after forming a synopsis, I lose less steam in writing since I can write backward. Generally, the black moment to the "the end" is my closest thing to speed writing. Once I get to this point in a story, the characters have been hashed out, the story is reaching its climax and all I have to do is wrap this baby up. 

Do you ever come up on a scene, and struggle to have the drive to write it? Well, that usually happens for me more toward the sagging middle, but hardly ever from the black moment on. With my current WIP, I skipped about ten chapters and decided to write what I longed to get out--the black moment and "the end". Instead of just fleshing out the bare bones structure and pumping out word count, I discovered that it actually stretches out the story strings and lifts that unwritten sagging middle UP! 

How? 

When I get to the last chapters of a story, I begin to stumble upon character's follow-up thoughts to past experiences (that I hadn't written and are too specific for a synopsis) that benefit a satisfying end. 

Basically, I begin to develop an underlying patchwork of sentimentality, life lessons, and richer character history by finding their impacts on the character at the end. The sagging middle isn't so frightening anymore when I discover the beautiful quilt before the actual work of the stitches.

After a great writing session wrapping up my story, I know sit on the brink of the middle. And I can't wait to jump in. My characters have some great growing pains on the horizon, and I know exactly why they are there and what my characters grow into ahead!

Are you a pantster that does this? Would love to know how! Are you a plotter who likes to skip around and hash out scenes as they come to you? And, what other techniques have you used to tackle the inevitable slump in those middle chapters?

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Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken




Friday, April 29, 2016

SHOW Me, Don’t TELL Me

Photo Credit
Don’t you just hate that phrase? There is something so abstract about the entire statement that it’s hard to wrap your brain around it. But it’s also one of those phrases that the less you think about it and try so hard to make it fit, it will actually start to make sense. One of the greatest compliments I NEVER expected to receive was from a published author who read my work on critique (and they weren’t be paid to be nice, if you know what I mean. ;-) and told me I was actually quite good at showing instead of telling.

Could have knocked me over with a feather!

So how do you know from a first or second glance that you are telling when you should be showing? (btw, this is also a great way to really dig into deep POV)

Are you addressing the emotion (ie: she was sad) or are you taking a walk in the character’s shoes? Ask yourself a question: how would your character respond to being sad? What physical action would she go and do? Stop and think in those terms for a minute. Not only will you dig deeper into your character and mine her for a stronger reader experience, you’ll also be showing instead of telling.

When you describe a scene in front of your character, especially a landscape scene, dig into the five senses. What metaphors can you use to describe the scent of freshly fallen leaves or the crunch of gravel under the tires? Take a moment to close your eyes and embrace all your senses. As you stand on the balcony of your hotel room, what are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you seeing? Don’t just list these things, put them on a first name basis with the reader.
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When she stands on the railing is she remembering her wedding night gone wrong? Does the honk and bustle of traffic below remind her of the cheap hotel they stayed in and were kept awake all night because of the noise? Maybe this shows a layer of her discontent—maybe with life? Maybe with her marriage? That’s up to you to decide.

Tie the scene into your character’s emotions and their past. Where they are right now.

When you purposefully try to weave all these layers together it can seem so daunting and insurmountable. But it’s possible. Don’t think long and hard about it. Stick yourself in the character’s shoes. Make their emotions and their thoughts your own. Now superimpose those things onto the character’s surroundings.
The secret to showing instead of telling is…well, at least from where I’m sitting, there is no secret. It’s a matter of storytelling. Something that you learn only by doing and once you start doing it, you realize just how easy it can be.


My best advice? Stop trying. But not if you’re always searching for that “golden nugget” that will give you the promised solution. :- ) Live and breathe through your characters. Everything will fall into place and one day you’ll have a friend read your work and tell how awesome you did in showing. 



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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Indie Road: No Man is an Island

I know, I know, I know.

"No man is an island" is horribly cliche.

But it is true.

I think there can be a tendency to go into indie publishing with a mindset of "OHMYGOODNESS I have to do this all by myself!!!"

And yeah... you kinda do. Kinda sorta anyway.

You are now your own publisher.

You make the decisions.


But just like any small-business, it is important not to rely on your strengths alone.

No, you don't have a corporation behind you. No, you don't have already built-in infrastructure and a bank account balance to support you.

But that doesn't mean you can, or should, do this by yourself.

What does a HEALTHY and SUCCESSFUL small business owner (which you are now...) do to overcome the island challenges?

1.) Network. They join groups with other small business owners so they can learn from each other and support each other. Networking in the writing business is SO IMPORTANT. I literally could not have indie published without the amazing support and help of fellow Indie authors. When I thought I was going to lose my mind, I could post on a Facebook group and instantly have responses of people who have been there, who have already traveled that road, who will give HONEST feedback, not "pat you on the back" fake encouragement. People who will tell you when your cover stinks. People who will talk you off a ledge when your KDP rejects your formatting. People who won't roll their eyes when you sheepishly ask what the heck KDP is anyway. There are a TON of these groups out there, you just have to network with other indies to find them. If you are serious about indie publishing, joining one or more of these groups, in my personal opinion, is the first step.

2.) Outsource. Instead of hiring staff that is costly, they do some of it themselves, and the rest they outsource. A big publisher has an accounting department, an editing department, a marketing department, a sales department. You have---well---you. You can't do it all, I hate to tell you. You can do a LOT of it though. Some of outsourcing will depend on your bank account, but remember that time is money too, as is quality. You may think covers should be super easy to do, I mean, YOU know what a good cover is, right? And some authors do a GREAT job of this. But if it takes you a month of work to design and format a cover--- and it is so-so and doesn't entice readers to buy it--- it might be worth a few hundred dollars to hire it out. In fact, it probably is. So you have to decide where YOUR strengths are and what you need help with.

3.) Listen. To those people who are criticizing you. Our culture today shouts that we need to ignore the haters and embrace our individuality. And maybe in some cases that is true... and that's fine if you want to. But just don't be surprised if you don't sell anything. The truth is, we are too close to our work. We NEED the input of others. We are not perfect, and whether you use beta readers or editors for the actual book, or hire an cover designer or do it yourself, listening for feedback is so important. YOU are the publisher. YOU make the final decision. But don't let that power go to your head. Don't let it make you think that your opinions are the only ones that matter--or are right. Would a small business owner tear up customer comment cards as stupid and ignorant? Not if they want to stay in business, they wouldn't.

4.) Observe. One of the best things a small business and an indie publisher can do is to study others. Study traditional publishers. What are they doing right? Study the successful indies. What are THEY doing right? Study the not-so-successful indies. What are they doing WRONG? This isn't being judgmental, it's being a good study and learning from those around you. It's called being wise and informed. Take some time to observe.


Let's chat!

Indie authors, how have you benefited from the help of other people on this journey? Do you have any points to add?

Prospective indie authors, any question? Anything surprise you or frustrate you? Have you thought about how you would need others, or were you excited about the whole "go-it-alone" idea of indie publishing?

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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and writes romantic comedy. Her latest book A Side of Love, released February 29, 2016.  She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How A Writer's Vulnerability Can Change the World






"It was a long day. Stressful. My boss, yeah, she criticized me. I went home after five to an empty apartment and threw something in the microwave. While waiting for my food, I picked up this book..."

"I read the first page because the story looked good."

"After finishing the story, I realized I no longer felt the same about...."


Vulnerable in our writing:

Writing story is so much more than enabling the reader to feel the same emotions you once felt or taking the reader to the place you once went.

Writing story creates a metamorphosis. In a well written story, the writer allows their past and present to morph into power-infused words spilled on the page. These words, saturated with emotionally heart wrenching, exhilarating, humorous, and transformed experiences have proven to change lives. 

Well written stories: 
Empower. 
Rouse resolves. 
Humble. 
Create and enhance fears. 
Soothe
Teach

This can ONLY happen when a writer is vulnerable with readers. 

How?

1. Transparency 

Yes, transparency is risky. The doors of our heart have restricted access, no admittance without prior approval. Writing the truth can set us up for criticism. But in story, we can give these genuine feelings to other characters. The what ifs can happen. The MC can go there, knowing the risks and commitments involved.

Transparency allows for expression of bizarre ideas. The ideas, oddly enough, have turned into actual inventions. For example:  
   *Rockets to the moon (Jules Verne, Journey to the Moon and Back). 
   *Cell phones (Star Trek). 
   *Computer virus (Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, 1970's author) not the best invention, eh?
   *Atomic power (The World Set Free, by H.G. Wells)  
   *The TASER  (invented by Jack Cover, a huge fan of the Tom Swift novels.  It actually stands for Thomas A. Swift Electric 
     Rifle.) 

2. Be assertive about which story you write

Writing a story takes passion. The story in your heart is the seed that will blossom into the story that can change many people. Change, BTW, can mean something as simple as soothe, preparing the reader to face another day at work, etc. Trust yourself to be the writer God has called you to be.

3. You need strength to suffer

Days of misery come. Sometimes it doesn't seem like the situation will end. Stories can can give the strength to suffer through another day. Sometimes knowing someone else (real or fictional) is going through a similar experience, or has overcome a similar trial helps empower us to try or endure another day. Characters MUST suffer real hardships. Their feelings MUST be, not just seem to be, real. Their dilemma, consequences, victories MUST ring true.

4. Be real--then readers will listen

Carol Kent, author and speaker, said, "If you are vulnerable with readers, you will give them the courage to do what they couldn't do." Inundate story with showing. Jesus showed truths in so many ways. First, he lived out loud. Second, he used stories the people would understand to convey the truth. These are written that we may believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John 20:31 Choose intentional actions in your story. Actions that are powerful even in simplicity.

A fictional male character went to his apartment alone. He didn't bother to turn on the light. She was not there. Her dresses would never be worn again, not even his favorite. Her perfume would remain in the bottle forever. She'd never laugh or touch his skin again. His head lowered, supported by his hands, his elbows wedged on his knees. Fire pounded in his head like lightening piercing, stabbing, ripping everything he was. Her tears would never moisten his shoulder. They'd murdered his wife, the only one he ever loved.

The above is my retelling, a condensed version of a masterpiece written by a male author who clearly poured his heart on a page through the eyes of his male fictional character. I don't know what inspired the author, but after reading the three-page heart wrenching response to hearing his wife had been murdered, I understood his experience and can now better know how a man feels. The character was an agent, who spent the rest of the story solving the crime. The author's choice to include the character's response before solving the crime truly made the story real. 

Our hardships are not hidden. God sees them. He provides so many ways for us to show His love and compassion to each other...one is vulnerability in story which can sometimes display a combustion of emotions.

Consider how you can be vulnerable to your readers. What has happened in your life that has given you a first-hand understanding and a unique ability to convey that moment through story?

**Top Photo by Mary Vee, taken at Mt. Hermon, California


I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

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Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. Such adventures can be found in her stories as well.

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and tell Bible event stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.



Visit Mary at her websiteblog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Come, read a good story. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website or:  Join the adventure!