Monday, August 29, 2016

A Heart of Holy

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. - Psalm 19:14

I've taken Allen Arnold's ACFW workshop class before. He's a mentor of mine, and I've even chatted with him about a writer's perspective of his upcoming work (stay tuned for an interview in coming weeks!). So when I sat in the workshop on Friday, I was surprised as my eyes got teary.

Because it was all hitting me.

"Readers want stories soaked in the kingdom," he said.


The privilege, the adventure, the redemption inherent in story.

Isn't it cool to think that Jesus so often spoke in story? That the Creator of the world wants to create with you?

Maybe the sole purpose of your current work-in-progress is to draw you to deeper intimacy with God. Would you be okay with that? For whom are we really writing?

But I want to take the thought even deeper. I'm talking to those of you, like me, who have been deeply and irrevocably touched by Christian fiction and whose hearts beat with yearning to be part of that ministry.

I'm talking to those of you who dream of readers today. Maybe there's a reason for your dream. Maybe God has given you a heart of ministry. And even if you're unpublished, you ought to start asking Him to prepare your own heart for what your readers might need.

What do readers want in a story?

More than buggies, or time travel, or zombies? More than any trend or any genre that's selling?

Readers want kingdom stories.

We have all read stories about God. We know these things. If we want to read about God, we will read non-fiction, or better yet, the Bible.

But fiction readers crave something different entirely. They crave experience. And the only way to offer this is to first have the experience yourself.

You can replicate information. But you can't pour from a dry well.

Remember when Moses went up to the mountaintop with God and came back glowing?

Come back glowing.

Not just for your own sake, or your agent's, or to get a contract, but for your readers'. For your ministry. For the industry.

Glow with His presence, and the work will be easy. The word count may come just as slowly, and your wrists may ache, and your head may be throbbing from staring at the screen. But the work--the burden of it all--will come easy.

How do we offer readers kingdom-soaked stories?

Well, by first soaking.


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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Stressed Writer, Conference Edition

In 2012 I attended my first writer's conference, ACFW in Dallas. No plans to pitch at that conference, I was simply pleased to have finished my first novel and to sit at the feet of some of my favorite writing teachers.

There were so many moments I enjoyed...from sitting in great classes to hearing valuable words of critique from some wonderful great food and friends! Including of course, the Alley Cats!

But there were also the moments I retreated to my room feeling overwhelmed and drained all at the same time. The time I hid in the bathroom to catch my breath. The tears shed over a minor rejection that now seems insignificant.

Navigating a conference can be no small feat for a writer, especially those of us who are introverted or struggle with anxiety. Here are the top ten things that helped me.

1) Know what you need to thrive and be proactive about it beforehand.

What situations make it harder for you to be at your best?

For instance, I know I can get stressed out if I am living on a deficit of sleep for multiple days. I tend to not perform as well if I'm operating on less sleep. So I'll plan to sleep on the bus on the way to Nashville and get extra  in the days preceding conference knowing that I probably won't get an ideal 8 hours during my travels.

2) Realize that you'll be stretched.

A special event like a conference isn't business as usual. We'll need to "do hard things" whether that means pitching your novel for the first time, hosting a seminar, meeting an agent.

Walk in expecting it will be a challenge for you, but knowing you are not alone. God is there with you every moment.

3) Find a quiet spot to retreat to when you need it.

The busiest times are always the times when we retreat the least and when we need to spend the most time doing so. Recognizing there will be so many temptations (many even good things), how can you be intentional to find time for Jesus? I looked for quiet corners in the hotel, even a bathroom will do. Jesus made time to escape and be with his father, we need to do the same. Consider waking before others in your hotel room or finding a quiet spot down the hall for morning coffee with Jesus to start the day right.

4) Carry the truth with you.

It's so easy to do with technology. Do you have a Bible app on your phone? Proverbs 31 First Five and She Reads Truth are two fantastic examples of apps that provide short meditations. I also like to keep scriptures written on 3x5 cards in my purse. When I get anxious I'll take out a verse and meditate on a word or phrase. As I do this, I replace the truth of God's word with the lies I believe.

5) Think about someone else.

The best trick for a stressed writer is to minister to someone else's needs. There are many struggling with anxiety over pitching, feelings of rejection after a meeting, frustration, envy, and a myriad of other issues. If you ask God to open up your eyes you'll notice those sitting in a corner feeling left out, those in the bathroom crying over negative feedback, and dozens of other situations. An encouraging word and a prayer is not only a blessing to the recipient but often even more so to the giver.

6) Don't go it alone.

One of the best things about conference is all the great people you'll meet. Ask God to lead you to the people he wants you to meet. You might be surprised at who and why. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Sometimes admitting we are struggling with feeling anxious or rejected can be a great way to connect with someone else.

Whatever we struggle with, others do too and we can be blessed when we are humble enough to ask for wisdom. Ask the multi-published author how she made it through rejection. Ask a trusted mentor how you can make your MC more believable. Tell another author you can't seem to find your way out of the plot hole in the middle of your novel. Then apply what you learned prayerfully.

7) Set time on your schedule to "process" what you learn at conference.

Jot down a quick note here or there with the remarks an agent made to you about your first chapter and the technique you want to try after hearing a great lecture. There is so much happening and really very little time to process. Especially for those of us who are internal processors. Take time to decompress after conference and then within the next week revisit what you've learned. Maybe revisit it again a month later. The criticism that didn't seem so valid at conference is perhaps sinking in.

8) Make time for fun!

If you struggle with stress or anxiety, having a little time for R&R in the midst of conference can go a long way towards building strength for those tension filled meetings. If you're a foodie, maybe its trying a new food in Nashville (I keep hearing about the hot chicken and I intend to try some if possible). Make time for laughs with friends, what better way to fight the blues of rejection or disappointed hopes.

Conference is a wonderful, stressful, mixed-bag of emotions that all add up to an unforgettable experience. As we prepare ourselves let's be proactive about the spiritual, emotional, and writing struggles we may face.


Julia Reffner is a freelance writer and reviewer living in central Virginia. You can find her writing at Library Journal, Wonderfully Woven, and The Writer's Alley.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Fun: Author Spotlight on Liz Johnson

Ashley here! Welcome to our fun new Friday edition. If this is your first time to stop by with the new Alley format, you're in luck, because today we are doing a GIVEAWAY!!!

I am delighted to host my dear friend Liz Johnson for our author spotlight today. Liz has graciously offered to give away one copy of her beautiful novel The Red Door Inn to a lucky reader (US address only). Comment below to enter, and do remember to leave your e-mail address in case you win. And while you're at it, be sure to keep an eye out for Liz's newest novel, Where Two Hearts Meet, which debuts in October. Get the inside scoop about her newest story right here!

Without further adieu, here's Liz!


Tell us about The Red Door Inn and your upcoming release!
The Red Door Inn is the first book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, and it introduces us to Seth and Marie. Marie is running from betrayal and heartache, and Seth is trying to forget the fiancée who stole his business and cleaned out his bank account. These two broken hearts find their way to the North Shore of PEI in order to help open a new bed-and-breakfast, but neither counts on the other’s presence. For the sake of the inn’s owner Jack, they’ll have to learn to work together to bring a dream to life. And in the process they may find hope, healing, and even love.

Book two in the series, Where Two Hearts Meet, hits store shelves in October, and it’s a trip back to PEI and the inn. Caden, the chef at the Red Door Inn, is back and reluctantly agrees to leave the safety and comfort of her kitchen to show a visiting travel writer around the island in hopes that he can save the struggling inn. But journalist Adam Jacobs is on a forced sabbatical on Prince Edward Island. He's also on assignment to uncover a story. Instead he's falling in love with the island's red shores and Caden's sweets. When Caden discovers Adam isn't who she thought he was, she realizes that the article he's writing could do more than ruin the inn's chances for survival—it might also break her heart.

What's the most random thing in your bag? 

Right now? I just packed my Elvis bobblehead in my bag to take it into my office tomorrow. Because I can never have enough Elvis in my life, and when he’s on my playlist, I bobble him so he’s singing along to me. :)
What are you reading right now? 
I just finished writing a book, so I have time to read for fun again! Right now I’m reading a book that I picked up at the Global Leadership Summit last week—The 4 Disciplines of Execution. It’s not my normal fare, but it’s great for someone who’s tackling a new job, like I am. I’m also reading Sandra Byrd’s Bride of a Distant Isle.

Your movie snack of choice? 
If I’m splurging and buying at the theater—I love their nachos with a big ol’ diet dr. pepper.

What's your favorite recent discovery?
My favorite recent discovery is actually a re-discovery. TNT plays reruns of Castle in the evenings when I get home from work, and I’m loving it all over again. The witty banter between Castle and his muse Beckett is sharp and so fun. 

If you could go back in ti
me to the beginning of your writing journey, what advice would you give yourself? 
I’d like to tell myself to enjoy the journey more. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the rush to write and publish and build my platform and market my books. Sometimes I fail to enjoy the journey. Allen Arnold talks about the joy of creating with the Creator, and while I try to be conscious of that now, I sometimes still miss out on the delight of connecting with God through the process in favor of the stress of just getting it done. I’ll never get those moments back, but I try to be more aware now of how God is with me throughout the process, how his miracles surprise me as I’m writing—like when friends bring me home-cooked meals in the middle of deadlines or when a plot that just isn’t coming together suddenly falls into place. I don’t want to miss the moments when God shows up.


Thank you, Liz, for being our guest today! 
Don't forget to comment below for your chance to win a copy of The Red Door Inn!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Letters, Words, Hearts

Nomade by Jaume Plensa

When a writer walks through a sculpture garden, her heart frenzies at the meanings behind the art. From one artist to another, we get it. Don't we? Read this description of Nomade:

"The sculpture exemplifies Plensa's ongoing interest in ideas presented in written text, as wel las the human body and how it perceives the world around it. He has described individual letters or symbols as components that have little or no meaning on their own, but blossom into words thoughts, and language when combined with others. Plensa's screens of letters offer a metaphor for human culture, in which a person alone has limited potential, but when formed into groups or societies, becomes stronger."--from the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park Visitor Guide

At first glance, this piece of art is a simplistic sculpture with letters that I've recognized from the time I could speak. I even snapped a shot of my new kindergartner in front of it, thinking, a perfect backdrop for her school beginning.

But, it's not just that.

Not when you stand beneath the towering nomad at night, with the lighting just so--hinting that there is something more. And there is so much more after reading the artist's intent, isn't there?

Writer, have you ever considered that while your letters and words might not be unique, but the connectivity of them in a unique order, with unique meaning, translate into a story of great potential? One that describes the human heart in a special display of humanity?

In the art above, I have found a beautiful example of the existence God has invited me into, not just as a human (hehe), but as a writer.

Writers are part of this special metaphor of culture. We are individuals that cleave to a whole society of artists and become stronger in our relationship. Not only on a personal level, but in our art. A book is never only one person's doing, is it? I am learning that after receiving my first revision letter (all you experienced authors snicker, I know). But, after years of critiques and chipping away of my pride, I receive the voices of editors without anger. Fright, well, yes. Uncertainty? A smidge. But, after learning to value of others' voices spoken over my work, I cannot help but accept and revise. I know that this book will only make it to a shelf by the hands of many. It's potential is limited in my hands alone, it must be given over to others.

Writers, we are not islands, even if we choose to be as we write in our caves. We are connected to this fantastic whole which make our potential burst forth into the flowering of creativity refined especially for the human heart.

In a matter of days, I will join in with the whole. I'll be among the people who share my vision to weave Christ's love in the crafting of letters and words and stories. And the writer people to which I belong, as individual as each of us may be, will find that we are so connected by passion and art, that our potential rises to heights beyond ourselves.

The ACFW conference is a mirror image of this art above. As many individuals unite for a cluster of days to form this beautiful whole.

I daresay that whole actually takes on a different body.

Not a nomad.

Possibly a Savior. One on a cross.

We are all parts of the body of Christ, individuals working together to strengthen this goal--

God's love displayed by letters and words.

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 seven 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 and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Racing for the Finish Line

Several years ago I competed in the hardest race I've ever done. Six miles. Uphill. Starting at an elevation of 7200 feet and ending at over 9700 feet. This last Saturday my family and I hiked the Manitou Springs Incline--a shorter, but near replica of this 6 mile 10k. And I was once again reminded of the this metaphor we're about to "embark" on below.

But back to the Steens Rim Run.

The air is thin. My legs were cramping and contracting the first three miles. And I was pretty sure I should have hopped on the ambulance as it came down the mountain.

Racers only continued to pass me and I didn't look up near often enough to enjoy the gasp-worthy views.

Most of the race my mind was empty of all thought and processes, except getting. up. the. mountain.

The writing process is like our beautiful Steens Mountains.

It's a looooong hike.

And often times your legs are more sore than you think is possible to push them forward one more step. But the pain is greater in stopping than to just keep going.

Those first few miles of learning how to race, of pushing through the pain, seem like forever. Is it really worth the pain just to cross the finish line?

All your companions that started with you at the gun's bang are already yards ahead of you, climbing the hills as though they were mole hills. Some you've left behind, but it feels too much like you're the last one to cross the finish line as it only gets further and further away.

But then the three mile mark hits and your legs are used to the fast forward motion.
Your arms start swinging harder and your pace picks up speed. You're learning how to do this. You've got this and you can see the next mile marker around the next bend. The challenge of it all isn't quite so daunting.

Four miles. You're actually picking up speed, but still focused on putting just one foot in front of the other. That's all that matters. Not who is passing you. Not who you are passing. It's just one foot in front of the other.

Mile five hits and only 1.2 miles are left. Wow. This is the peak. You really can do this. There is a certain euphoric high that hits right about here and nothing much seems to matter but continuing toward the finish line.

Then you round the corner and see...see the finish line way, way, way up at the top of the final .2 miles. The hardest climb yet. The kind that pulls at your calves and tightens your muscles. You're nearly bent over and no hard swing of your arms is going to bring you up that much faster. But the spectators are cheering you on. Yelling to push forward. To make it. To finish STRONG.

And nothing else matters but crossing that finish line with everything you've got. You made a goal. You finished it. You made it.

With the writing life, the end result isn't often crossing that finish line. The finish line just moves toward a new goal, but don't we all have those mile three moments when we don't feel we can make it anymore and have to break through the pain and just keep going? We all have those moments when we crest that final long rise and see the big hill up ahead of us.

Maybe it's learning POV. Or character arc. Or marketing.

Or saving money for that big writing conference.

Or pushing send on a proposal.

My mom, finishing the race strong!
Or getting a book into publication.

It's a big hill.

People are passing us by, taking that big hill as though it were nothing, finishing before us. It's hard to watch everyone else getting to our goal before we do. But the time we are taking to climb those preceding hills are making us stronger. Preparing us for that final hill that could take all energy out of our legs and drain the air from our lungs.

Some walk (or run) at a faster pace than us. We can't sit and compare--as easy as that is-- to what others are doing better. It's an individual journey. An individual race. And our greatest competitor is ourselves. Embrace the battle from within and defeat the lies threatening to muddy your journey.

Because the finish line is just up ahead. And you're getting closer with every step you take.

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. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fun Friday Conference Edition

Thank heavens its the end of another week! Like many of you, I have Nashville on my mind so conference edition was a natural fit. But even if you're not planning to attend, keep reading. Its a bummer when resources or something else keeps us from ACFW, but God still has a great plan for your writing life even if it doesn't look the way you expect (or happen in your timing).

Notable News:
  •  Amy Simpson's newest release is available for free right now in kindle format. From Winter's Ashes is a lyrical read that combines breathtaking suspense with those kissing scenes Amy is famous for. 
  • Does your main character reflect on what they've learned throughout their journey? Why and how they should in a great post from Mary Vee this week, MC Must Raise the White Flag. 
  • The old adage less is more also applies to our writing life. Krista shares how to simplify in a way that will grow our writing in her post, When Less is Really More.
ACFW Nashville Edition:

Do you have any funny conference stories?

One of our cats asked a prominent senior editor what she wrote after being introduced to her at conference. I have a feeling many have made a similar error!
My first conference four years ago, I was terrified! As a mega-introvert I had to take lots of time outs in the powder room! And to show how nervous I was I "lost" my driver's license (a super no-no for plane travel) in my own bag! After going through extra security measures (ick!) I found it hidden in a special pocket pouch I had somehow missed. 

I'd love to hear your amusing ACFW stories!

  •  I just started reading a fantastic book, Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst. I think this is a great read for writers because who hasn't experienced rejection in some manner. Who hasn't felt "less than, left out, or lonely"? This study reinforces the heart truth that God is good in the midst of our painful circumstances and shows how these painful feelings He unroots can be a means of finding our true security in His love, rather than people pleasing. Great read to bring to conference!
"Rejection steals the best of who I am by reinforcing the worst of what's been said to me. "

"The mind feasts on what it focuses on."

"Pain is the invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His."

  • I also loved this webcast if rejection is something you are struggling with in your writing life. It includes Lysa's thoughts on belonging and also features Tim Tebow, who is no stranger to being uninvited and also has a release upcoming on this topic. 
  • An oldie but goodie from Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest on How to Prepare for a Writer's Conference.  
  • Meetings with editors have you down? Carrie Fancett Pagels explores why you might want to consider hybrid publishing on Seekerville this week. 
  • As a CAROL award nominee, Pepper knows a thing or two about pitching. If you missed it the first time around, this post is a great choice for conference prep
  •  Looking for some great one sheet examples? Look no further than Angie Dicken, our fantastic local one sheet creator. Check a few out here
  • Are you a conference newbie? Whether it's your first time or seventeenth time, check out the pre-conference blog link-up hosted by Laurie to meet some friendly faces.
  • Wondering what to pack? Check out this list from Oregon Christian Writers for conference success.  
  • Is your story even ready to pitch? Check out this post from Susan May Warren.
  • Understand Your Dramatic question: If you are ready to pitch here is a great video with tips from My Book Therapy.    
  • Just for fun: Writer's Guide to Nashville.

“I think of Nashville as a very natural place. We’re easy going, we are ourselves. There isn’t a lot of preening or trying to impress. So it’s an easy place to just be and that is a good state from which to write.” —Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder



Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Less Really IS More

We all know some glaringly obvious places where less is more.


Makeup... (although depends on who you talk to...)


But what about our writing life?

I've been contemplating the concept lately, because it feels like I'm always feeling the pull to DO more and BE more, but as I strive to do so, it doesn't feel like I have more of anything except items on my to-do list.

We need a BIGGER platform, MORE books MORE frequently. We're told to post more, blog more, write more, network more, market more. We're given so many different social media sites to keep up with to help do all that--but it just burns us out and in the end, can be counter productive.

I've long been a avid fan of the concept of WORKING SMART.

Have you ever had a job where there is that one employee who works ALL the time? They come in early, leave late. They are constantly stressed. Everyone thinks, WOW, what a good worker are THEY. But then they leave the company due to burnout... and their replacement is hired... and comes in on time. Leaves on time. Actually takes a lunch break instead of working through it. They must be huge slackers, right? But their work is still getting done, with more accuracy than it was ever being done before.

They've embraced the concept of working smarter.

I think writers can do the same thing. It's still gonna be hard work. I'm not preaching laziness here, but more of a balanced work-life. If we take the time to step back and see what VALUE each of the things we are doing adds, if we put a little time into strategizing instead of just throwing as many darts as possible and hoping one sticks and sells books, we'll have a lot more confidence and a lot more time than we thought possible.

And as Christian authors, I want to add that this doesn't discount the leading and direction of God. God's plans trump ours EVERY day of the week. I do think God wants us to be wise stewards of the time he's given us though.

I started this post with the intent of giving you specific ways you can work smarter instead of harder.

But honestly?

The concept looks different for each of us. What is smarter for ME might not work at all for you.

The Writer's Alley chose to cut down our blogging days from 5 to 3 this month, because we felt that we would add more value if we posted less and focused more on quality verses quantity. But that might not be what YOU need to do. Maybe working smarter for your blog is planning your posts better, or cutting down to one day a week, or creating a more uniform format, or even cutting out blogging all together.

Facebook and social media is another area where we all really need to figure out how to manage better. For some people, scheduling posts to automatically post works, but that rarely if ever is a good idea for me because it doesn't fit into my "brand" if you will. I WILL say that Facebook is one place that I think we tend to over post sometimes. More posts does not mean a bigger platform, in fact it can often times weaken it.

And then there is writing time in general. I used to take every little nook and cranny time I had to write. But I became very burnt out on writing because of it. I'm finding that I can write more words--and better quality words--when I, for example, write for 4 hours at a time verse 6 stinks of one-hour-writing times. But that is me. YOU might find the opposite.

So my encouragement to you today--especially if you are time strapped and feeling overwhelmed--invest a few hours into really looking at your writing life. Pray about it. Examine what you are doing and identify what isn't working--what is taking up your time and energy and giving you little or no return (be it money, word count, platform, blog followers, etc) on your investment.

Because time and energy are just as much investments as money is. Just a different variety!

Let's chat!

What are some areas in your writing life where you need to "work smarter?" I'll be around throughout the day, and would love to help brainstorm some ideas with you!