Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring into Reading with These April Releases

April doesn't only bring showers, but also some great story-adventures! Great stories and great storytellers are blooming, so check out our list of a few April releases!


 






Kathryn Cushman















The amazing Kristy Cambron















Another beautiful story by Katie Ganshert
















Deeanne Gist












Dee Henderson















a debut novel by A.J. Cattapan







And there are SO MANY MORE!! To discover which new releases are com

Friday, March 27, 2015

Juicy Words and Tasty Pages


 
Ever gobbled up a book? Obviously I don’t mean actually chewing up the paper and swallowing it down. Not the right kind of roughage. Trust me on this. What I mean is, do you remember a particular reading experience where you were almost literally voracious for the next line, and when you had devoured the whole story you were left sated and blissfully full?

Whether reading or writing, a storyline that satisfies is the ultimate goal of the journey. Some stories are snack sized and fluffy, others are a Thanksgiving feast you will feel long after the last bite. Some are simply a sweet treat and others are for sustenance. But I think we can all agree that a great story told poorly is like consuming empty, unsatisfying calories. What’s the point?

The words are not only the skeleton of your body of work but they are also the lifeblood, the muscle, the nerve endings, the skin, AND the cosmetics. Each one nourishes the body of the story while feeding the readers appetite. Word choice is so very crucial simply because your words not only ARE your story, they also give it its flavor. You might be thinking, right. Words+Plot+Paper=Story…. What is she getting at?

What I want you to ask yourself is….

How well seasoned is your story? How flavorful are your words?

Using lots of big, high-falutin, twenty dollar words can quickly get tiresome. You may have an exceptionally large vocabulary and like showing it off but more often than not this will slow and frustrate the reader. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your reader doesn’t have to stop and seek out a dictionary to figure out what you are trying to say. If they can’t draw meaning from the context you are using words that sour rather than stimulate your reader’s taste buds.

On the contrary, using only bland, basic language and descriptions can make a reading experience rather stale and uninvolved. And a bland meal might fill your stomach, but very few will be anxious to go back for seconds.

Whether I’m reading or writing, running errands or having a conversation with a friend I am always on the lookout for what I like to call “JUICY WORDS” to store up in my arsenal. These are not just terms that describe foods or reference our sense of taste. They are sensory words that are so flavorful, whether in tone or feel, meaning or cadence that they activate my senses and awaken my palate so I can almost taste them! Jeans might look buttery soft molded to lean hips. A cutting remark might swallow down like a breath of broken glass. A laugh could be effervescent. The wind melodic. There are so many liberties you can take to make ordinary words vivid and succulent and ultimately extraordinary.

And how do we do this? Simple. Befriend a Thesaurus! (The resource--My sons think this is a dinosaur!) Also keep a notebook handy to jot down a word or phrase that grabs your attention. Inspiration is everywhere!

Wanna play writers workshop? Do you dare put your words to the test? This could be lots of fun! Let’s see how tasty our pages are….

1. Post a line from page 7 of your WIP that you feel is the juiciest morsel you can find.

And/or

2. Then find another one that could use some extra spice and we’ll shake some seasoning on them. Let’s do this workshop style. Any and all suggestions welcome.

And don’t forget to check up on your stuff from time to time. Flip to some random pages and have a taste. Are you salivating?

Happy reading, writing, and editing!
 
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
 
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, March 26, 2015

What's the Purpose of Your Story?


Let's face it. There are a lot of stories in the world that are cute, or entertaining, or suspenseful, or even well-written. Yet when we come away from them, we find no "take away" value. Same thing with movies and tv shows. How many times have we consumed stories that are just a standard sweet romance or edge-of-your-seat adventure?

Now, there's nothing wrong with these stories. We can definitely all use some just-plain-old-entertainment movies or books from time to time. Think of how heartwarming Hallmark movies are during the stress of Christmas preparations, for instance. They serve a particular function that I, for one, think can be very valuable.

But many of us-- here on the Alley and our dear Alley friends-- are called to something different. We are called to stories with a purpose. We are called to stories as a ministry.

Photo by nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And with that calling comes a great responsibility.

A couple years ago at the ACFW conference, Robin Jones Gunn shared during one of her keynotes that she always prays before she starts a story-- not only that she will catch God's vision for the book(s), but also that her readers would be receptive to what God wants to say to them. Such a simple concept, and yet I found it profoundly challenging.

To pray for readers, in particular, is challenging to me because it presumes there may be readers, and that takes a heart-level investment to do. But let me ask you this. What would happen if we became so intentional about our books that we asked God not only for the right publishing house, or the right agent, or even the right concept/foundation/theme? What if, instead, we prayed for our readership? That God would make their hearts sensitive to His message, and guide our own fingers over the keyboard? That each book would challenge and leave a lasting effect not only on ourselves, but on others? And not for our own interests, either, but for God's?

In that paradigm, something shifts. Stories are no longer bound up in our own interests; they become intertwined with ministry. Readership. Encouragement. God's purpose. And that greater purpose helps carry us through the ups and downs the writing life brings along.

Let me ask you this. When was the last time you ardently sought God for clarity and direction of His calling in your writing life? Are you going about aimlessly, hoping He blesses your efforts? Or are you creating with Him, enjoying the process? Are you praying for your future readers and vision-casting for your stories, or have you lost hope anyone will ever really read them, let alone be challenged by them? It's so easy to become disheartened, especially the longer we write, as a coping mechanism to all the inevitable rejection and criticism we come across. Ask God to renew your vision today, and watch where He leads-- in your stories and in 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, March 25, 2015

For Fun...The Letter Game

Today I thought I'd try something fun and a bit different. You may have seen this on Facebook...even if you did, it will be fun to play here.

Here's what we'll do. I'll post my answers. If you want to play, copy the questions into a comment, and your letter will be the first initial of your last name. Use that as the first letter in your answers to the questions. Clear as mud?

Great.

Here are mine:

I was given the letter -C
1. Something I hate: cold weather
2. Something I love: chocolate
3. Somewhere I have been: California
4. Somewhere I would like to go: Curaçao 
5. Someone I know: Cathy Daniel
6. Favorite movie: Casablanca
Like this and I will send you a letter ( it is harder than you think).


Cara
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Cara Putman is the award-winning author of 20 books. You can connect with her online at her websitefacebooktwitter, and more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

When Your Well is Dry...Building Your Creativity Muscles from the Source

Readers: I'm in the midst of some ACFW stuff and we bought a house and changed a job this week so I'm sharing a favorite post from earlier in the year. Hope it helps you when your own creativity is dry, as it has for me.

Bezalel. He makes an appearance in Exodus 31. I might be tempted to skip over a minor character in my Bible reading. The middle section of Exodus is chock full of genealogies and detailed instructions for the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant.

Of course, we know there are no minor characters in the Bible as every jot and tittle has much to teach us about how to live our life. And of course about the main character, Jesus who breathes out of every verse.

Twice I've read Exodus 31 and ended up journaling about Bezalel, a character who I may have skimmed over once or twice in my reading before. I discovered he had something to say to me about living the life of creativity.

The first time I thought it was a lesson just for me, the second time I decided to share. Because of the commonality of the human experience, you may have the same struggles in your creative life as I do. Or maybe you have different ones, but God may use His words to speak truth into your life.

Exodus 31:1-6 The LORD said to Moses, "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you:...

31:11b According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.

What can this passage teach us about the creative life and our calling as writers? How can what we learn from Bezalel help us when our well of ideas seems to run dry?

1) See I have called by name Bezalel...

God has given us callings for our lives. Roles designed JUST for us. Nobody else can fulfill this unique calling.

Let's not waste our time trying to reach someone else's goal. Just because the market is looking for more Amish fiction authors, doesn't mean that's what YOU should do.

DON'T LET A MARKET DEFINE YOUR CALLING.


DON'T LET MAN'S APPROVAL DICTATE YOUR CALLING.


Instead grow in your understanding of who God called you to be as a writer and as a person.

Be yourself, the unique writer God made to reflect His image to a hurting, vulnerable world.

2) I have filled him with the Spirit of God...

Are you feeling empty, with no creative energy to spare. You may be empty of human strength, but like Bezalel God has filled you up with His Spirit.


My study Bible (Lutheran Study Bible, ESV version) says: "In addition to their God-given talents as created beings, these men received supernatural abilities from the Holy Spirit."


Don't worry that your creativity isn't enough. He is filling you and He is enough.


We often talk about God giving us gifts as writers, but even more powerful are these supernatural abilities.


God's ability goes far beyond ours and is sufficient to equip us for this calling of writing.

3) ...with ability and intelligence...

I notice that AFTER mentioning Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God, then God mentions he has gifted him with ability and intelligence.


The Spirit of God is first and more powerful, but then he also gifts with ability and intelligence. The strengths you have as a writer are those he needs you to share.


BUT God also gifted Bezalel with intelligence. To grow into our craftsmanship, we need to be intentional. We need to seek out those mentors and instructors who can help us grow. The old saying is so true, more is caught than taught. God intends us to have humility in seeking out other's help in areas in our writing where we struggle.

4)...with knowledge and craftsmanship...

God gives us many opportunities to grow these original gifts, although they are all GIVEN by Him.


Don't despise the growing process. It may take more time for some to grow into their craft than it does for others. The season of life may also influence the growing process.

But whether you are a seed, a sapling, or a "teenage" tree God wants you to keep investing in the things that will help you grow strong. Seeking out the help of others. Reading great books on craft. Attending conferences. Entering contests and paying attention to the responses of our critics even when it stings.

5)...to devise artistic designs...

God crafted you to be an artisan. From the very beginning he knew you would delight in light and color on the page, making a symphony for His glory. He created you for this purpose and then watches as you grow into it.


The creator of purple crested mountaintops and wave-shimmered beaches knew you would have a love for beauty. He wanted you to share this love with others to reflect His glory. None of this was an accident.


So can't the God who created all this help you to find the right word to describe your setting or know the best path your plot should take? Do we see Him as the God of the big picture when it comes to our writing or do we notice that He is the crafter of every detail.


6)...and behold I have appointed with him, Oholiab...

Just as he created us to be in community, he created us to be united with other writers. Don't forget that God has gifted others in areas we struggle with in our writing. He designed us to learn from each other in all areas of our lives. Learning from other writers often means admitting just how much growth we need.


Because he has appointed many other writers, we need to embrace their journeys. He has created us to cheer for each other when our contest scores are dismal. Sometimes we see other writers who are receiving the call to publication and think why them and not me? We spend time judging other writer's abilities. It is not our place to question the calling of those God places in our lives to support.

Part of our calling is to help others grow into their calling.


7) ...that they might make all that I have commanded you...

One most important part of our calling is to be obedient. What does that mean?


It might mean putting away our writing for a season to raise children or when the financial need of our family means working more hours.


Perhaps he calls you to write in a different genre than you expect. I've been spending the bulk of my time on nonfiction writing.


Maybe there is something specific he wants you to share based on your unique experience.


Whatever it means, let's get down on our knees often and ask him about our writing lives. And take the time to listen to what he might have to share with us.




When God calls my attention to a specific character in scripture more than once I know I need to pay attention. I was surprised by how much a little known character in Exodus can teach us about how to live the creative life.






Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She writes and reviews for Library Journal and the website Wonderfully Woven.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Creating A Memorable Story World: A Lesson from WDW

Last week, my husband and I braved the Spring Break crowd and took our kids to Disney World! It was the first time they have been, and it was something I wasn't sure that we would ever do. But the stars aligned for us to visit the most magical place on earth! 

My writerly senses went haywire as I walked into a story-land perfectly crafted for the audience. I just knew that I would have to post about something I learned in the kingdom of fairytales and storytelling...and you know, it really wasn't that hard to find material! Let's just say, Disney sure has a knack of getting to the heart of their audience, just like we (as authors) want to do with our own readers. 

So, what does Disney have to teach the writing world? Here are just a few things I found as we took boat, bus, and monorail to Cinderella's castle, Ariel's grotto, and Pizza Planet....


ENDEARING CHARACTERS:

There were characters, characters, EVERYWHERE...and they acted their parts to the FULL! Each character, whether an oversized Donald Duck or an exotic Princess Jasmine, played their part with every mannerism and expression they could muster to get it right. And the thing is, as an audience member, I could easily believe that they knew their part and played it well.

As writers, we should strive to make our characters so well-defined in the mind of the reader that they could pick them out in the crowd (without a bulky costume) and know exactly how they would stand, talk, and react to the world around them.  Here is a fun video of the Princess Anna from Frozen, greeting my little girl on her birthday. I was convinced she came right out of the story!!


video


POWERFUL DIALOGUE:

Yes, most of us can belt out those Disney songs, like “Let It Go”, and “Never Smile at a Crocodile”...and let me tell you, Disney World pumps those songs into your head the entire stay. But something that was super fun, was sitting in an audience watching a show when all of a sudden, the whole room—regardless of country, creed, or culture—recited an awesome one-liner, like, “Just keep swimming”...or... “That wasn't flying, it was falling with style"...or..."To infinity and beyond!"

As writers, we might not have catchy music filling our readers' ears, but we have the capability of creating beauty and memorable language in our books. I love seeing the popular highlighted lines in novels on my Kindle. That's what I want to see in my books one day--to know that my words have caught a reader's attention, enough to highlight for memory-keeping's sake. Our words can be powerful, be sure to put a punch to what you write!



WARM AND FUZZIES:

So not all of us want our books to leave the reader with a "Disney type" Happily Ever After, but we want to leave the reader with...something...and it has to be impactful.

Do you consider the aftermath of your work on the reader's heart, memory, and world view?

Disney obviously has given many millions of people the satisfaction of a happy ending and a long-lasting memory which starts as they leave the theater, to years of life, and then as they step into their theme parks, not minding one bit to re-live their stories through rides, shows, and displays. Each movie, story, and character gives the audience the same warm and fuzzy they got that very first time the story was told. And THAT, is a very big thing we should all hope to give our readers...

An everlasting sense of our unique story that will last long after 'The End'.

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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, 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 


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Power of Our Character’s Wounds

As novelists we often think “big picture”, don’t we? We think of the absolute worst possible thing that could happen to these characters and then work at making that happen. As well we should!

But the same should not always be applied to their backstory. We often think something absolutely catastrophic has to happen to our characters in their backstory to make them the people they are today. Something as catastrophic as a rape, watching your family be murdered before your eyes, abuse, or some other form of physical or mental trauma need not always be the wound or black moment in our character’s lives.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as something that they were never told while growing up.

A wound does not have to be catastrophic to create a lie that your character believes.

A wound does have to match the character’s personality and backstory to give credit to why they 
believe the lies that they do.

An example: a female character with a strong father’s presence where she knew she was loved, but has issues with accepting that another man she might fall in love with and marry could truly be interested in getting to know and cherishing her.

Why?

Because of one thing she never heard while growing up: the value she would have as a wife and mother.

She was never told she didn’t have value. But it was just one thing she never heard. A comment omitted from all conversations. And it wasn’t even something she was aware of until she became an adult.

It was a subconscious truth she didn’t realize she needed to hear that became a wound which led to a lie she believed about herself and her worth. A lie about her worth that would reflect on her friendships and relationships with other people.

Do you see how you could spiral this lie of someone’s worth is a hundred different directions? And it started with something as small as something this character didn’t hear while growing up. She might have had a poor home life, she might have had a great home life. There is a paradox there of being loved and cared for, but desiring the need to be cherished, but not believing she is worthy or good enough.

A characters wounds (there is usually always more than one in a good story for depth) and lies (definitely a plural must) can’t be resolved in the light of truth, unless you know the backstory of why those wounds happened in the first place.

And that backstory does not have to be huge or catastrophic. Now, in that same vein, if you have smaller wounds that lead to bigger lies and life struggles, I would suggest having a couple different wounds. You don’t want your character to come across as weak, immature or incapable of surviving—they have to have an attitude of survival though their circumstances—tied to their wound and lie—continue to knock them down.

Another example of this? Our character meets a guy she really likes, but finds out later, though they have been in near constant contact and interaction, he is not attracted to her at all. Just friends. How would that affect her current wounds and lies and what/who would she turn to in answer to that?

Sometimes what seems to be the inconsequential and “boring” wounds and lies we gloss over, actually turn out to be the better subplots and plots for our character’s lives and stories.

The point of this post? It’s not always in the big, wild or crazy backstory that we have to take our characters—even your action thriller or murder mystery can have a characters with what would seem “small” wounds and lies that have ballooned over the years of believing these untruths. It’s all in the writing and crafting of the character and stories.


Taking my example from above, how would you spin those lies into a novel plot thread? 


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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, employed as an administrative assistant at Wordserve Literary.