Monday, October 20, 2014

Writing For Him...or With Him?

It's been a long journey through a valley. At least, long to me. I know that we have a whole Biblical heritage of those before us who journeyed days, months, and years in deep valleys and over rocky terrain. But when one is in the thick of it, with the agony heightened and the pain overwhelming, it's hard to not beg for it to end. It is hard to not hope for a sudden stairway to appear that will take you up and out...or better yet, a giant hand to appear that you can climb up into as it lifts you away from the rocky path. Sometimes, I catch myself waiting for something better, wanting the end to come quickly, and in the mean time I make myself miserable in the here and now.

www.freedigitalphotos.net by Evgini Dinev

If you are anything like me, you may have taken this perspective on your calling to write stories. You may have decided that God gave you a story and sent you out to write it down, and once you've fleshed it out, you try to hurry up and present Him with a job well done. That's when you hope for the blessing, right? To be published, to be noticed, to climb out of the valley of learning and critiques, and into the world of awards and reviews. The tricky road of story-crafting is your part in the deal, and God acts as the agent/publisher role of getting your story to where it must be read. 

www.freedigitalphotos.net by Evgini Dinev
For several years I thought this way--that I was writing for God and would see His fruit at the end of it. But just like when I am going through a valley in life, the writing becomes taxing and strenuous when I try and do that part in my own effort. I can only look to the end of it and beg for God to come. Why do I forget that, actually, He is with me all along?

Does God want me to write FOR Him, or WITH Him? We are so blessed to be in this part of God's plan history-wise, where He has gifted us with the Holy Spirit and the knowledge that He is truly with us everywhere we go...even in the writing, the creating, the telling. 

I am still in a valley in life. And just now, I am finally giving myself permission to enjoy life regardless of the circumstance. I thought I would just hold my breath and survive until it was all over. But since I don't see a way up anywhere along these cliffs that surround me, I am about sick of holding all that air within me. I need to breathe in the Holy Spirit who is with me all this time, and I need to know there is everything good beside me in the valley. God's not waiting at the end of the trial. He's walking it with me.

When I sit down to write, I am not doing anything FOR God... But even better, I am privileged with the chance to write WITH God. To allow His Holy Spirit to direct my words and imagination and heart is just as rewarding as reaching the destination. I learn to abide that way, and take pleasure in the God who created me for His pleasure. I get to "do life" with the God of the Universe, instead of meeting Him down the road.
www.freedigitalphotos.net by tirverylucky


What journey is not worth that? Even in the valleys, even in the hidden corners of your writing cave, meet God in each moment, and He will walk with you to the higher ground.

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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 five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one sheets, selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at www.facebook.com/dicken.angie and her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up

Photo by photostock
freedigitalphotos.net
I love fun secrets. I also love it when someone is able to keep a secret from me and the surprise from learning the secret blows me away. This happened this weekend when my daughter and her husband walked through my front door! We were planning to go see her on Monday, but she had told my husband that what she wanted for her birthday was to surprise ME! (This totally explained why my husband would not make hotel reservations and just wanted to do a day trip...snort!) Secrets can be awesome!

Sometimes knowing a secret makes my heart so happy because I know that when the secret comes out, others will get their socks blessed off. Do you ever feel that way? It's the best feeling in the world, isn't it?  Well, that's all I'm going to say....maybe I have a secret and maybe I don't...now you can be mad at me. ;)

The Alley  Cat Weekly Line-Up

Monday - Angie's post will be sure to please, as always, so don't miss out.
Tuesday - Julia is hosting Regina Brooks, author of Writing Great Books for Young Adult
Wednesday - Karen is hosting Camille Eide with her debut of Like There's No Tomorrow. 
Thursday - Ashley has a great post about being brave and hitting SEND on those manuscript requests.
Friday - Amy will end the week with something especially spicy. (oh boy!)

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction? (Writer Unboxed)

12 Amazing Books That Pass The Bechdel Test (Huffington Post)

What To Do Before Signing A Publishing Contract (Litreactor)

Dreams VS Goals: Do You Dream Of Being A Writer? (Kaye Dacus)

10 Ways To Refuel Your Creativity (Write to Done)


Have a great week!




Friday, October 17, 2014

A View From the Assistant’s Desk

I first wrote this post for the Wordserve Watercooler, the blog of Wordserve Literary Agency, where I work as an administrative assistant to Greg Johnson. I thought the readers here on the Alley would also enjoy a view from my small desk in the publishing world. If you have any questions about life inside a literary agency, leave a comment below. I'm happy to provide any insight I don't have. ;-))

Working for a highly respected literary agency is not quite all it’s expected to be.

Some things I wasn’t fully expecting:

It’s a lot of emails. A lot.

It’s a lot of report filing.

Spreadsheet document, and, oh spreadsheet documentation.

I am far from bored since I started working for WordserveLiterary and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

So what I do I see from my small desk in the publishing world?

·         Self-help books are really in. True, our agency has a felt-need and a niche in this market to pitch to the nonfiction sector, but it continues to surprise me how many marriage, parenting, general life/encouragement/devotional books continue to come through our office doors.
·         Book deals really aren’t that awesome. While this didn’t surprise me, as a writer myself, I’ve always wanted to know what dollar amount writers were always bemoaning. Makes me that much more grateful for the novels I consume on a regular basis and the authors that continue to write them.
·         Social media is huge. Something I already knew, but a platform is so incredibly vital to a writer. It’s the main reason Greg started FaithHappenings.com. Writers with a great story and no platform are getting passed right on by without that audience to market to.
·         Self-publishing is becoming more and more the normal. Writers who can’t get a deal for their greatest new book, or who don’t want to wait a year or longer for readers to have their next content, are pushing the “send now” button into the great wide world of Indie publishing. It’s the not the same as it used to be years ago. Indie is becoming a good opportunity to take advantage of with new cover options, quality printing companies and more opportunities out there to publish a good product. Self-publishing is walking away, though slowly, from the stigmatism of poor quality material.

Publishing is a swiftly changing monster. But I don’t need to tell you this. Even if you are not published, the reality is that you can’t be a book lover and not notice that things are always changing. Publishers are trying to find new ways to get their book in front of your attention—and are buying less content. Authors are pounding the pavement harder. Literary agents are pitching the right book to the right house and still hearing no, for seemingly no reason other than, “it’s not the right fit for our house.”

Does that make publishing a discouraging business to be in? Well, maybe, if you only look at the negatives of the business. But with changes, comes opportunities to rise to the occasion and come out on top with a great idea. A great book. The opportunity to impact lives with your words on the page. Because whether 
publishers are buying or not, a great book is still a great book. And passion for story can’t quell that. Ever.

The gift of a literary agency is the team behind you, believing in this product. It’s not just you. It never has to be just you. So even when the wait seems long and the emails slow in coming, we are behind you. Fighting for this book.

Keep on writing.



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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Tale of Two Books

Last week, I read two books.

Their names will remain unknown.

I haven't had a lot of reading time lately, but I'm in the middle of writing a book, and was a bit "stuck" on a plot point, and reading a good book tends to help me unstick.

Book One

This book had a plot that seemed really intriguing, but it was an author I didn't know, and my to-be-read pile was large. For some reason, the book triggered in my memory from a sample I'd read. I went to Amazon and it was 99 cents. I figured, maybe it might be just the thing to kick my muse into overdrive.

$1.08 later, I started to read it.

The plot was good.

The prose, most of the time, was pretty decent too.

The characters were....

Eh. They had GREAT potential to be really amazing characters. They had back story that could have been interesting. They had internal and external conflicts. But there was still just something missing. They were FLAT.

Even though they had back story and the MAKINGS of great characters, the execution just wasn't there. The back story didn't really interact with the present story. Some of the big things they had to overcome were ignored until the end and then resolved with a simple, unrealistic discussion. Emotions were barely touched on even though, given the story, you know they HAD to be there.

But the plot was still good-- it was enough to keep me reading. I wanted to find out what happened.

A few hours later, I finished the book. Meh. My muse was still in hiding.

Book Two

The next day, I started to write. And nothing came. You know when you see a bad movie and you really just have to see a good one to help get over it?

That's were I was. Writing was going to be non-existent if I didn't have a good book to balance out the not-so-good one!

So I searched my Kindle and found a book that I'd bought a while back, but hadn't read yet. It was by one of my go-to favorite authors, and I was shocked that I hadn't read it.

I devoured the book in a day.

The storyline was catchy. The characters were unique and raw and deep. They had back story and wow, did they interact with it. The dialogue was snappy and realistic. There was a big black moment, even if it was just a teeny bit cliche, but I was intrigued and could barely put the book down.

Moral of the Story

Two books
Two great, intriguing plots
Only one author I will seek out to read their next book.


So take that story and get a crit partner (a GOOD one, see Mary's post from yesterday!)
Invest in an editor.
Read books/blogs on writing craft.

Listen to beta readers.
Don't use "voice" as an excuse for poor writing. (There. I said it. I might blog on that later just to ruffle a few more feathers!)

Because you want your readers to close your books and think, "Hmmm, I wonder what else they've written!"

Discussion: What methods do you use to improve your craft and make sure you have not only a great story idea, but great writing to compliment it?


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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romanceand A Side of Faith. 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, October 15, 2014

Ten Ways to Find/Be the Perfect Critique Partner


Photo Courtesy
Finding and being the perfect critique partner is, I dare say, the most valuable tool a writer could have.

Of course words, inspiration, time, etc. are all important too, but without THE right critique partner, everything else could be wasted.

In my great search for a critique partner, I came to the conclusion that the whole matter was God's idea. He didn't create us to be alone. And knowing we would be tempted to squirrel away our time, sitting at a desk ferociously pounding out words on our laptop to the perfect background music, He allowed one mistake after another in our manuscript, just so we'd have to (gasp) ask for help.

The mistakes came in droves for me. The more I learned, the more I realized I needed a crit partner. A one-on-one CPR certified partner for my manuscript.

I read articles on finding crit partners, sorta-kinda let people know I really wanted one. Followed the instructions for joining groups and waited for the magic to happen. It didn't.

After getting tired of the chase I voiced my dilemma to someone in charge. Are you ready for her answer? Go ahead and prepare to cringe, wince, and/or chuckle. She said, "Did you ask the loop?"

Of course I hadn't. I was a card carrying hermit. It took two days to compose the three sentenced email before I closed my eyes, prayed, and pushed send.

The next day. Yeah. The next day, someone responded. She, too, had problems finding the right critique partner. Our first emails showed our tentative spirits walking on ice, afraid to offend. But the more we subbed to each other, and the more we shared about our personal lives, the more we saw we really were the perfect critique partners.

Here are ten ways to know you have/are the perfect critique partner:

1.  Enjoy the genre of the writing - My experience has shown, if the person reading the work doesn't enjoy the genre she will have a difficult time diving into the story. Even if the writing is wonderful, there will be a component missing that will trip the critique person and cause them to find issues that aren't really there. My critique partner writes contemporary Biblical stories, which I love to read. I write YA adventure, which she loves to read. .

2.  Don't hold back - In our first submissions to each other, my critique partner and I agreed to not hold back our thoughts. This meant we gave constructive criticism and compliments freely. We did not give each other permission to be petty or to impose our own writing style on each other's voice. If a comment rode the fence in this category, we premised our words with "Consider..." This seemed to work well. We have continued this process.

3. Lavish compliments - Better is a well worded compliment than a criticism. I knew a person who believed compliments only made people big headed and stifled growth. To say someone does something good is to direct their efforts to do more. Take time to lavish compliments. Point out all the good parts. Your positive words will help her to write more, take chances, experiment with ideas, and possibly write the next great novel! Okay, that was a bit grandiose, but someone has to write it!

4. Apply what you see in the other person's work to your own manuscripts Sometimes I have to laugh at the ridiculous errors my crit partner finds. I look at them and am convinced some elf hopped into my computer and changed the document after I sent it. The truth is, we're blind to our own errors but can see the same issues in our partner's manuscript. One day I saw the word "it" like a chicken pox outbreak on her page. The next day I read through my previous chapter and saw the "it" pox dotting my page. Good grief. I fixed them before subbing the chapter.

5. My crit partner and I have helped each other learn more of the writing craft. We each study our own areas of weakness and interest. When we see an issue in the other's manuscript we supply a link to help the other understand the concept. What link did she send me last...sigh...the lay/lie one. I'm not sure I'll every get that one right.

6. A great component of a crit partnership is having a kindred spirit. We didn't know we'd have this benefit for several communications. The more we worked together, the more we discovered similar interests. We prayed for each other and modified submission schedules when the other had a need. Like any friendship, this component tends to blossom over time. 

7. Cheerleader. Beyond giving compliments and having a kindred spirit, we depend on each other for encouragement. To cheer each other's works toward success. To be there with a cyber tissue when rejections come and proclaim from the mountaintop every success. We've told our families about each other and even consulted our family to insure as much accuracy in the manuscripts as possible. 

8. Time. This is the cost of a critique partner. A labor of love. One that is reciprocated. A true critique partner will not scan a work. She will read through the submission with an eagle eye, with the goal to encourage and lift up the work to the best of her ability. No--hours are not required. But fifteen to thirty minutes per chapter is, depending on the need.

9. Brainstorm. Stuck in a scene? Can't find the right words, analogy, twist? God has given you a partner. A second mind to rummage through for ideas. The benefit of the partner is the ping pong effect. One suggests an idea, the other bounces back an added development of the idea, back and forth it goes until the idea is refined and the Ah-hah outcome. 

10. Marketing. Who better to champion the success of your completed work? What better candidate deserves to be on your dedication/acknowledgement page? Perhaps your partner has gifts in marketing and can give ideas. Perhaps she doesn't have the ideas but is willing to help in other ways. Wouldn't it be fun to help your critique partner succeed in marketing sales? What ways could you be a help to her?


Being a perfect critique partner does not mean the critiques are perfect. It simply means you and your partner are perfect to help each other. 

Did you know C.S. Lewis was a crit partner for J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
Did you also know J.R.R. Tolkien was a crit partner for C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia?
And Jane Austen's critique partner/editor was her sister Cassandra.

Your turn: 
1. What other components are important for a critique partner?
2. What other fantastic components have you seen in your critique partner?
3. Do you need a critique partner? Let's see if we can find you a match here.

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If you found any typos in today's post...Mary Vee, (that's me sheepishly grinning), is waving her hand as the guilty party. 

If you have questions or would like this topic discussed in greater detail, let me know in the comment section. I'll gladly do the research and write a post...just for you :)

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tips for Revisiting a Shelved Manuscript



This week, I'm working on getting my manuscript back to my agent with edits. It was a lot harder to dust it off when I hadn't really looked at it in months. And since then, I've been working on a project with a completely different tone, POV, and tense, so it took a little adjustment!

I'm sure you've read about this topic before, but here's some advice I've collected about returning to a project after an absence, whether you're revisiting edits, restarting a project that had been shelved for another, or reviving something you once believed was dead. The process is different for everyone, but hopefully you'll find something that works for you. It's worth a try. I promise!

Step 1 (for me): Reread what I've already written like I'm reading a book by a different author. To get back into the "voice" of my story and be able to successfully pick up where I've left off, I reread what I've written as removed as possible for a few purposes. I see if there are any major elements like choppy flow or inconsistencies that need to be fixed later (not yet!), but I mainly do this to see if it provides inspiration for how to continue the story.

Write off-script. If something inspires a non-canonical scene between my characters that has nothing to do with the intended timeline of the story or events in the envisioned plot, I write it anyway. If it helps me get reacquainted with my characters, it's worth it. And most of the time, I discover fun new layers to them, which gives them more depth in the actual story. Rewriting a meaningful scene from a different character's POV can also have this effect.

Don't be afraid to start from scratch. Even though it can be agonizing to cut precious word count and can feel like the most dejecting, derailing thing you can do to lose steam on a project (is this only me?), I'd venture to say that it's almost always more advantageous and timely to start an ailing scene over from scratch than to try to fix an existing mess.

Remember that you've grown as a writer since you started this project. Honoring that in all of your decisions ensures you produce the best story you're capable of producing! This technically was supposed to go with the last point, but I think it's important enough to deserve its own section!

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Since I'm a self-professed "recovering know-it-all", I thought I'd open the floor to advice from some of my experienced author friends on returning to a manuscript, including the benefits some distance can provide. It's rehabilitating for me and educational for you :) Here's what they had to say:

Brandy Vallance, award-winning author of The Covered Deep (Releasing TODAY!!):
I came back to The Covered Deep after a lot of time had passed, and I actually rewrote about 60% of it (I think that was draft six?). Try to get tension on every page. Always heighten your scenes--make them bigger, bolder, and raise the stakes. Bring in the five senses. Layer your plot. And always portray real emotions. 
Carla Laureano, RITA® Award-winning author of Five Days in Skye and Oath of the Brotherhood:
Stepping away from a manuscript allows me to approach the story from the outside, as a reader and not a writer. I deliberately build some ' shelf time' into my writing process because I find it makes me a clearer and more efficient editor. 
Nicole Deese, inspirational contemporary romance author of the Letting Go series and A Cliche Christmas:
When you're rereading, don't look at all the things you know you need to fix like all the improved craft techniques and flaws of early writing. Read at least three excerpts from each of your characters. Read high and low moments. Emotional moments. The black moment if you have one written. Fall back in love with your characters.
Jessica Keller, multi-published author of Searching for Home, the Goose Harbor Series, the TimeShifters series, and more. 
Time away from a manuscript that isn't working helps me because, when I come back, I can see the characters in a fresh way and spot plot issues right away. Weird thing here - I make music mixes for every manuscript. I'll walk away from writing and when I decide to come back to it (or am forced to for deadline), I listen to the music mix for a day or two before I start writing. It helps me get in the characters' mind frames and understand their emotions. For some reason I can always finish the book after that. 

Jaime Wright, historical romantic suspense author represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary:
Returning to a stalled or shelved manuscript can be like returning to an old friend. If you can see the potential of a continued relationship and growing along with each other, the renewed friendship doesn't seem nearly as daunting. (And a good cup of coffee always helps to bind you together.)
Amanda G. Stevens, author of Seek and Hide, Book 1 of the Haven Seekers series:
The key for me is to get back into the character's head. What is he thinking/feeling at the point I left off, what is his goal, and how far will he go to get it? Sometimes I'll get past the stall by hand-writing that next scene in first person, present tense in a notebook (my books are third person, past tense). That gives me an instant POV link. I let the character ramble as much as they want. Pretty much I just free-write until I'm no longer stuck. Then I'll go back, of course, and rewrite it to third/past. As an extension of the "character interview" process, I have asked a character, "What is wrong with you, _________? Why won't you do what I want?" And I write out the character's reasons for not cooperating with me. That often shows me what they DO want or what they WILL do after I check off numerous things they won't do. So from there, I just started writing the scene itself in first person and I got results way faster.
What are some of YOUR best tips for reviving an older project? Is there one in your life that keeps coming back to you?

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Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson




If Your Mother Is A Writer....

Pepper here, and I've been holding on to this post until after ACFW because I wanted to make sure my kids didn't have a few more things to add to it. A couple of months ago, Allecat Angie Dicken’s husband, Cody, wrote a post about being married to an Alleycat (aka writer). It was such a fun post with a great perspective, that I mentioned it to my kids.

Well they had plenty to say about being the child of a writer. I thought I could start off your week with a few chuckles, because I bet there are more kids out there who would agree with my kids' perspectives.

They gave me 8 tips – but I’m SURE we can find plenty more! J
Here we go.

If your mother is a writer….

8. She will spurt out random information about her current (or any past) story because she assumes we are all in the same world her brain is.

7. She may ask you odd questions which make you wonder what on earth your mother is up to. (such as “if I wanted to create a weapon that could do this, what would I need?”

6. If she is talking to someone you can’t see, it’s ok. Simply walk away and pay no attention to the invisible person.

5. She may spontaneously dress up in odd costumes – and encourage you to help her create more costumes. (The upside to this is that you always have cool things to wear for Halloween or Fall Festivals)

4. Don’t expect her to edit your novel any time soon….because she’s invariably working on hers (this from my eldest, of course)

3. You never know where the bedtime stories are going to go.

2. She will totally ‘get’ your creative way of thinking. It really takes one to know one.

1. Prepare yourself for an ‘awesome, crazy, weird parent’

It was funny (and somewhat humbling) to compile the list from my crew. What can you or your kids add to this list?

Are you willing to share? J

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Pepper writes Blue Ridge Romance peppered with grace and humor. She's a mom of five and speech-language pathologist who loves hanging out with her Alleycats and pals both online and off. You can learn more about her on her website, www.pepperdbasham.com, or spend some time on The Alley.
She is thrilled to be represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Literary Agency. Her debut novel, A Twist of Faith, arrives in bookstores in early 2015!! You can learn more about the story and the series at www.mitchellscrossroads.com