Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How an Epic Fail Can Be A Slinky of Goodness

Photo Courtesy

Any rejection: a word, a look, a letter, or an action digs into our hearts like a dagger. The hardest armadillo shell can be penetrated with one slit. 

Epic fail.

This is the moment when we must choose to heal or allow infection to take us down.

I can empathize with any of you. I have seen rejections, and I've been sprinkled with the occasional compliment. And like you, the punch of a rejection can hold me down longer than a compliment will raise me up. I'd much prefer to be like a slinky or super ball, forever bouncing back up, but this is NOT an easy job.

Photo Courtesy

So what can we do about it?

First of all, choose to be healed. (There won't be a second in today's post because allowing a rejection infection to take us down will not be an option).

Let's look at the different forms of medicine available to put the spring back in our writing spirits.

1.  The Balm- [def according to anything that heals, soothes, or mitigates pain]

At any moment a negative thought about writing pops in your head, apply music that makes you want to dance, look at photos of people you love, watch a HAPPY chic flick, go for a walk, call your friends-NOT TO LAMENT but to hear something positive, hug ANYTHING (this includes hubby, kids, pets--probably not goldfish, stuffed animals, etc). 

2.  The Injection- [def according to used for medicinal purposes]

Can you feel the sting? Yes. This is the rejection. The one filled with corrections, red, new places to start the story, changes for the title, names of character, need more this--less of that, etc. 

Photo by Mary Vee
Being a writer requires sensitivity. We all desire to write, sell our books, and have readers enjoy/rave about our stories or articles, However, if we become locked in to our own ideas despite the marketing numbers, we fail to provide the very product readers yearn to have.

Yes, we should write the story in our heart.

Yes, we should write what we know.

But like salt and sugar these are essential ingredients to an overall product. They do not stand alone. 

Even a book written just for you deserves to be written with the utmost quality. You are special, too!

The good news about an injection is the sting WILL go away.

3.  The tablet/capsule- [def according to a small globular or rounded mass of medicinal substance, usually covered with a hard coating, that is to be swallowed whole.]

The hard coating is our help. It comes in the form of prayers, friends smiles, hugs, kind words, etc. This will not take away the nasty tasting medicine that is to follow, but will prepare our hearts and give us strength to endure what is to come. 

Typically, a fluid is used to aid the tablet/capsule consumption. Jesus is our living water. He doesn't take away the pain, but He will ease the moment. Talk to Him. He is there beside you, holding you up.

4.  Therapy-[def according to an act, hobby, task, program, etc., that relieves tension]  

a. Did you know that it takes a spark of happy to write something happy? Name a person who means a lot to you. Good. Now--yes, I am bringing a medieval idea here to the page--hand write that person an encouraging note. Or share, in handwriting, some good news with the person. Ooooo this is tough, right? I know. Coming up with any positive words is like squeezing water from a dust devil, because we only want to be miserable right now. Trust me, no pain, no gain. The easy part will be to send the note once you've rewritten it without the scratched words. 

b. Run a mile. A whole mile? Yep. Run? Okay, you can jog or even walk briskly. Get the air bursting into your lungs to cleanse the hurt. You are gonna feel so good!

c. Read the comments in the crit, judge's remarks, editor's notes-ONE AT A TIME. Chew on their thoughts. Look at your copy. Consider the intended lesson, not the color of the type. Can you fix, change, reword your work to address the issue? If your spirit is spent after addressing this first thought, set the crit aside and do number 1 above. If you have been inspired by the change, go to the next remark on the page.

d. If you ever need a place to be encouraged, prayed for, given kudos for any size accomplishment come here to the Writer's Alley. We are bursting with cyber hugs, smiles, and all around encouragements, because we have all been in your shoes. Some, like me, still are :)

How can we get the slinky of goodness moving today? Do you have a need? A prayer request? A praise you'r bursting to share?


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

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 mystery/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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How I Know I'll Always Be a Romance Writer

If we’re being honest, my role as a writer has looked a little bit different for the last few months. I have two books on submission, a new regular freelance contract for work, and a baby coming in less than a month! (And do I have some amazing guest posters lined up for my maternity leave! Just you wait…)

While I know it’s just a season and I’ll be back once I adjust to the new normal, it’s been humbling being out of my regular writing rhythm. But as my late-night writing sessions have temporarily been replaced with Netflix to conserve brainpower, I’ve realized more than ever that you can take the keyboard away from the romance writer, but you can’t take the romance writer out of the girl.

I realize I’m about to fully expose you to my televisions “tastes”, but there’s no judgment on The Writer’s Alley. This is a shame-free zone. Here’s what I’ve learned about story during my little hiatus:

1. Always be true to the character you’ve created. {TV Example: Joel from Parenthood}

Photo: NBC
The genius writers of Parenthood spent an entire series building this good-natured, supportive, dream husband Joel to his career-driven, type-A, sometimes oddly emotional wife, Julia. But then, in the second to last season, something happened that was so uncharacteristically Joel. It was like he snapped and became unreliable, intolerant, and impatient. This character wasn’t intrinsically Joel.

When a writer introduces conflict that doesn’t fit the character she has spent an entire story building, it feels gimmicky, fabricated for the sake of drama. Friends don’t let friends let their main characters end up like Joel.

2. Don’t make a secondary character more appealing than your hero. {TV Example: Chicago P.D.}

I know this dynamic is a little different in a television franchise than in a single novel, but it’s critical not to make your secondary characters more sympathetic than your main characters. Chicago P.D. set out to make the studly Jay Halstead their “alpha hero”, if you will. But as the first season developed, I found myself way less interested in his storylines than those of a character named Adam Ruzek.

When introducing secondary characters, it’s important to make sure their backstories aren’t more layered, their actions and decisions not more heroic, and that the rightful protagonists’ storylines remain in the forefront as most intriguing.  Friends don’t let friends let their minor characters steal the spotlight.

2b. Don’t let your heroine end up with the wrong love interest. {TV Example: Andy McNally from Rookie Blue}

Okay, I had no plans to write this addendum, but I’m calling an audible because I can’t not. There are several shows that have done this to me, but I’ll use Rookie Blue as an example. In this police drama I can’t get enough of, the primary heroine Andy McNally was slated to end up with Sam Swarek forever and ever. Only, conflict ensued for the sake of ratings, and the two of them have embarked on an epic roller coaster. Enter Nick Collins, her former soldier partner with enough past to fill his military-issue duffle but enough strength to still be a stand-up human being. Plus a slow burn of chemistry with Andy.

I’ve seen this happen before in novels, too. The heroine is embroiled in conflict with her one true love interest and runs to the confidence of her trusty male best friend, co-worker, or lifelong next door neighbor. And then unsuspecting people like me begin to root for that pairing more than the original. The hero’s crimes against the heroine suddenly seem unforgivable next to the way this other character treats her. And once all is right again in the world of the hero/heroine, part of that reader always wonders if the heroine’s life would have been better. Friends don’t let friends do this to Laurie let their heroines choose the wrong guy.

3. If you stray from the plot too long, you will lose audience interest. {TV Example: Hart of Dixie}

Okay, so apparently this can go both ways. In Hart of Dixie, our heroine Zoe Hart had a great thing going with roguish boy next door, Wade Kinsella. But as with all good TV pairings, conflict happens as they can’t find their happily ever after too prematurely lest the show come to a screeching halt. But the love interest they chose for Zoe after Wade was so different than him, so vanilla in comparison, that viewers spent an entire season wishing they could hit the fast-forward button.

Whether it’s a romance plotline or not, writers have to be very strategic when straying from storylines that are integral to their novels. In the age of Amazon's instant downloads, it’s important to capture readers’ interest and hold it. Friends don’t let friends become a victim of the dreaded Kindle Archive button :)

4. Entice readers with clever, mouthwatering dialogue. {TV Example: Gilmore Girls}

Have you seen this show? I don’t need to say much because dialogue is kind of its trademark. The writers studied their characters, knew them well, and developed them through their dialogue. What they said, how they said it, what cultural references they brought into the mix, the random comparisons their brains would make in a given situation. All of it contributed something to the story.

Gilmore Girls is proof that writers can garner sympathy, build camaraderie, and destroy their readers when their characters suffer -- even in scenarios where the absence of dialogue is more powerful. Friends don’t let friends write generic, unnatural dialogue.

5. End it well {TV Example: Parenthood finale}

I know I used Parenthood as my first example of what not to do, but on the whole, the show was spot-on in my (biased) opinion. And the ending was just phenomenal. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but what they did right is this: they didn’t pull punches or cut corners, they were strategic about which storylines to spotlight at the end, they wrapped up all of the important loose ends neatly, and they gave satisfying endings that weren’t necessarily happy for everyone, but they were right. Friends don’t let friends write books that leave readers dumbfounded that there’s not another chapter :)

What do you love about your favorite TV shows? How can you translate it to your own writing?

Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business. 

She's 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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Writin' Dialect - Bending but not breaking

Pepper here, and I love writing dialect. But it’s a tricky sort of thing.

The trend in today’s fiction is the less the better. Unlike when Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn.

“You wants to keep 'way fum de water as much as you kin, en don't run no resk, 'kase it's down in de bills dat you's gwyne to git hung."”

How many times did you have to read that to get the idea? Lots of popular fiction steers clear of such thick dialect clues, so what’s a writer to do?

If you’re like me, and you write lots of fiction with various accents, then you might find yourself in a pickle. With the rule being no dialectical writing or not phonetic markers, then how can we help people hear our characters accents with their eyes?

Tricky, tricky.

Here are three important tips to help you ‘bend’ the rule a bit and use dialect as a means for characterization. (examples from my novel, A Twist of Faith - summer 2015)

1. Simply explain it:

The strange, safe feeling dissipated once he opened his mouth. She looked away. The poor man could mutilate more vowels in a single word than all the Beverly Hillbillies combined.

(Here I give the reader the clue into the hero’s accent by talking about the vowels and comparing them to the Beverly Hillbilllies – no one has to decifer code or Elvish to figure out what the hero is saying :-) It's a simple description of what the reader should be hearing as they read.

Another way I say it is, His words had more twang than a banjo.

2. Go for ‘sound’ not ‘phonetics’.

If you want to show an accent, you don’t need to go into the detail Twain does. Sound-for-sound changes make it really difficult to follow the 'meaning' of the sentence. The important thing in popular fiction is to get the ‘feel’ of the speech.

In this example I use two VERY important rules for writing effective dialogue: Grammar and Regional Phrases.

“I didn’t mean no bother. Shucks, you ain’t even had time to unpack yer things yet. When Mama told me you’d come in already, I didn’t figure you’d just got here. I’ll come on back when you git settled.”

Other terms in Appalachian culture could be ‘gracious sakes’ or ‘land sakes (but that’s not used as much), ‘jeet yet?’ is another way of saying “Did you eat yet?’ And to draw out some vowels, I might write ‘naw’ for No.

Having a little bit of creative spelling is a stretch on the rule, but if the meaning is still EASY to decifer, then most of the time it will be okay. The most important thing is to keep the reader 'in' the story. If your dialogue pulls readers 'out' of your story, then it's time to simplify or change your strategy.

3. Vocabulary choices:

In my novel, Just the Way You Are, I show the dialectical differences between my British hero and my Appalachian heroine through vocabulary. There are just some things a Brit will say that an Appalachian girl wouldn’t.

Endearments such as ‘luv’ and ‘darling’ are more prevalent in England than the U.S. Vocabulary like ‘per chance’, ‘ring someone’ (instead of call someone), or fewer contractions (unless it’s a certain British dialect) are subtle differences that not only show the voice of the characters, but heighten their characterization too.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Isn’t your wife supposed to be here?”

“Ah, yes. Eleanor was feeling peaked this morning.”

Peaked? Sounded serious. “Is she okay?”

His smile crinkled at the corners of his eyes. “Oh, I’m certain she’ll be fit as a fiddle for the gala tonight. Social events always encourage her health.” He winked. “Not fond of London morning traffic, I’m afraid. How was your flight?”

“Okay, I guess. It would have been nicer if my seatmate hadn’t been so creepy. He flirted with me for the last two hours of the flight.”

“And that was an unpleasant?”

Eisley cringed, remembering. “I’m not interested in real-life romance. Really, all the best men are fictional, apart from my family and present company, of course. In fact, I wore my black suit just because I wanted to avoid romantic possibilities all together.”

Mr. Harrison crooked a brow and his moustache twitched again.

Eisley leaned forward and lowered her voice. “There’s an old sayin’ from my neck of the woods. ‘Black attracts everything but a man’. I’d rather have a closet full of lint.”

Mr. Harrison’s brow furrowed, and he delved into an obvious battle with his grin. “If you were in mourning clothes, perhaps, but otherwise I’d say that particular notion is quite out of date. I’ve always thought black looked appealing on redheads.”

So that’s all from me. Dialect is LOADS of fun and can really add to your story. But be careful. It’s like the perfect blend of spices – too much is…well….hard to swallow :-)

Are you using dialect in your story? What do you find helpful or distracting about writing or reading dialect?
Pepper D Basham has been telling tales ever since she was a little girl. When her grandmother called her a “writer” at the age of ten, Pepper took it as gospel and has enjoyed various types of writing styles ever since. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and lover of chocolate, Pepper enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction wherever she can. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC, where she works with kids who have special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn, and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, arrives on May 7th 2015.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

March Release Madness!!

It’s time to celebrate March Release Madness!!

Here at the Alley we love to read, write, eat, fellowship, and encourage other authors, so at the end of each month, we are going to feature a celebration of upcoming releases and news!!

Who doesn’t like a party, right?

So here are a few March releases that have popped up on The AlleyCats radars!

 Our very own Krista Phillips’ second novella is set to release in March. A Side of Hope.

Spy of Richmond by Jocelyn Green

A Horse for Kate by Miralee Ferrell

Jaded: A Novel – Varina Denman

Then Sings My Soul by Amy Sorrells

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem – 3/17

Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd - 3/17

By Your Side by Candace Calvert

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman

After a Fashion by Jen  Turano

Stranded by Debby Giusti

An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

If you’re looking for a new story to read, March has plenty of choices for you!


Carol Awards and Genesis entries end on 3/15, so send in your published
novel or polish up your prepublished manuscript before then.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Story in the Detour

**Naptime hasn't gone well for the past few days--and I'm more than a little delirious at this point--but this old post hit me just right! Please forgive the re-post.**

Has life ever thrown you a curve ball? Ever felt like you were thrust off course?

The detours God puts in our path don’t usually take us on a road that is wide and paved and easy. Most often those detours not only intrude on our plans, very often they derail us down to the core and challenge who we really are. What we believe. Where our strength really comes from.

Often times when I am writing a story there comes a point (okay, sometimes more than once) when I feel like the characters or the plot starts to veer in a dangerous direction. Someplace uncertain. Scary. Not what I had planned at all. How will I find my way out of that mess? How will the characters navigate the challenges without completely falling apart.

Whether in real life or in fiction, this is where we test our mettle and see what we’re made of. THIS is where the story really lies. 

I’ve shared recently about an unexpected twist in our family plan. Life plan. Survival plan. Now, it’s hard to see a baby as anything but a blessing. Especially when the circumstances are so miraculous (God is quite the storyteller, is He not?) But what could be seen as a life-threatening detour, is really an incredible adventure. An amazing story of God’s work in my life. A challenge that is testing me in so many ways and proving that my story isn’t yet over. That God’s plans, however different from my own, are ALWAYS for my good, even when the road is rocky and uncertain.

I'd love your perspective: What adventures in your own life have been birthed from an unexpected detour? Or when you write, whether you're a plotter or a pantster, do you venture into those unknown fissures of uncertainty, or do you stick to the roadmap you’ve meticulously planned? And in which instance did you find the beating heart of your story?


Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 

She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Writing with Hope: Part 1

"'Hope' is the thing with feathers- that perches in the soul- and sings the tune without the words- and never stops- at all-"
 Emily Dickinson

Once, there lived a girl going about her normal life when God gave her a dream. A big one. So she sat down at a computer with a giddy heart and a mind bursting with story ideas, and she set to work. She wrote and wrote and wrote at every opportunity until she got the story out. She reread it, and polished, and edited, until with a contended sigh, she considered it done. She was so proud of her story, so sure of her calling, that she submitted it to agents and publishers and immediately started to work on another book.

She was a writer now.

She had a calling.

And she loved it.

She went to conferences, and studied craft books, and kept writing and rewriting.

Yet, the roadblocks began to come. Rejections. Life distractions. Discouragement.

Until eventually, she learned to protect herself. She still believed in her calling. Well, sort of. She believed enough to keep writing, which was something. But truth be told, with each new project she began, she wasn't so sure anymore that someone else would read it. She wasn't so sure that anyone else would really even care. These sorts of questions entered her mind:

  • Will I ever be published?
  • Will anyone else ever be encouraged and challenged by the stories God has put in my heart?
  • Will I write another book for another round of rejections?
  • Will the discouraging numbers of traditional fiction publishing take their toll on my story?
  • Did I mishear God all along? Did I ever truly have this calling, or did I make it up?
  • Does all this energy, time, and emotional investment even really matter at all?
And gradually, she stopped writing at every available moment. She stopped dreaming of what the next steps may look like and instead began dreading the inevitable disappointments. She hesitated to tell people about her manuscript and began keeping it closer and closer inside her own heart.

Her hope began to fail. Her heart began to grow hard.

Sound familiar?

Last week, I began to realize that at some point along this writing journey, I'd grown skeptical about whether the "dream" would really happen to me.  I absolutely believed God could do it. I'd seen Him open miraculous doors for other people, and I'd had so many God-moments along the writing journey. And I absolutely believed He'd called me... to something. But--probably as a means of protecting my heart--I'd begun to doubt the link between the God-sized dream and my own life.

You should know I'm not the kind of person to lose hope easily. I'm generally confident and persistent. I generally keep believing and keep pushing on until I see things through. But writing had wormed itself so deeply into my heart, I put up some emotional walls to keep from further disappointment.

So last week, I asked God to renew my vision and re-establish the "big dream" in my life. I'd been to a Bethel show, and one of their pastors had said, "If you can accomplish your dream on your own, it's probably not big enough." So I prayed for the God-sized dream, and I prayed God would re-establish my hope in that dream.

Well. Several days later, I walked into a room full of Alley Cats who had come from all over the country to throw me a surprise baby shower and to have a writing retreat. Talk about an answer to prayer, right? I sensed the presence of God so deeply and His affirmation of my calling. 

He hadn't forgotten me. He hadn't forgotten my stories. He was still at work in them, and in me. Perhaps more than ever before.

At one point over the weekend, I sat down at a table outside overlooking the beach, and I found one word written in shells.

I've come to realize this past week that hope (as well as the dwindling of it) affects everything. When we try to carry on without hope, we hobble along. But when we do hope in the Lord's dreams for us, we find supernatural strength.

We mustn't guard our hearts against our calling. While that may feel safe, it's actually quite the opposite-- that guard will eventually strangle our dreams. We mustn't stop believing God is for us, trusting He won't forget us.

As I spent some time letting this idea stir in my spirit, I realized a few things about hope and why it's so important:
  • Hope translates faith to our individual hearts. Maybe you believe God is working in other people's journeys. But do you believe He's working intimately in your own? Hope has a way of translating faith to make it personal. Faith becomes natural when we hold on to God-rooted hope.
  • Hope helps us trust. When we hold to hope, we can face the day with expectation of God's control. We naturally rest in Him and His goodness to us, instead of trying to protect ourselves from disappointing outcomes.
  • Hope casts out fear. Because when we hope we also trust, we then find no reason to fear when we rest in God's calling for us. Even if the timeline doesn't match up with our own or things don't go as expected, we still have reason to hope.
  • Hope in the Lord renews our strength. "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31
  • Hope leads to praise. "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." - Psalm 43:5

If you've found yourself discouraged lately about your calling, or maybe even downright skeptical, I want to encourage you to pray and ask God to reaffirm your dreams. Ask Him for fresh vision and renewed hope. And then remember that hoping in the Lord is a choice. It's active. It's a decision every day to look at struggles and challenges and remind yourself God is good, and He is working at an intimate level in your life. We have a reason to praise Him, and a reason to write good stories.


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, February 25, 2015

4 Ways to Identify Your Place in Publishing

If you're an unpublished author, one question you will need to answer in proposals or in appointments is "Where do you fit in the publishing landscape?"

Publishing is changing almost on a daily basis...still you have to know the answer to this question whether you're talking to an agent, editor, or readers. So how do you begin? Here's how I start:
  1. Write. You have to write a chunk of a book or two or three before you know what your style is. What kind of characters do you write? Is there a tone to your writing? Are your stories light and funny? Heavy and serious? Single point of view or a story with multiple characters sharing the limelight? If you can't answer some of these questions, then you're going to have a hard time identifying where your books fit.
  2. Read voraciously. What kind of books are you drawn to? Who are the authors you constantly read the moment a new book is released? Review your bookshelves. Look for patterns. What made a book a keeper versus one you passed on? Etc. Do  you want to write books with similar themes, time periods, etc.
  3. Analyze your favorite novels. There are probably elements in those novels that draw you back time and again. Read a few of them intentionally. What about the pacing works? What about the characters? Which genre are they in? These are the elements that you might want to pull into your novels. If you do, these books and authors are now comparables that you can give to an agent or editor to show that you know the market and you are aware where you books fit.
  4. Weave these elements into your books and be able to articulate the similarities and differences. If there's a best-seller, how are your books similar yet distinctive? Analyze and understand the differences and similarities and you'll be far ahead of most unpublished authors.
What would you add to these ways to find your place in publishing?
Cara Putman is the award-winning author of 20 books. You can connect with her online at her websitefacebooktwitter, and more.