Friday, October 28, 2016

Welcome Rachel McMillan!

Ashley here! You guys, I am just SO excited about hosting Rachel McMillan today at the Alley, because some of you don't know her yet, and I can't wait for you to discover her beautiful writing! Rachel and I bonded over our mutual love for Gilmore Girls, and I'm telling you, she is as witty as she is delightful. And because I'm so confident you're going to love her too, I'm giving away a copy of her debut, The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder. Comment below to enter, and be sure to leave your e-mail address (only US citizens eligible).

Without further adieu, here's Rachel!

Tell us what first drew you to writing.
I actually don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing and that is because I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t immersed in stories, either through reading or imagination.  I’m a pastor’s kid and so a lot of my formative world was spent in church services but also at lunches and dinners and events where I had to sit quietly and behave, so my mind wandered.  I will say that Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene changed a lot for me when I was a kid. It was amazing. I became addicted to CBA fiction after that and studied the industry for years --- read articles, judged the Christy awards, monitored trends, long before a moment three years ago when I got an agent and decided to pursue publication on my own.  (Can we have a moment for John Murphy and how he is the most crush-worthy CBA hero? Ray DeLuca is a reporter in the Herringford and Watts books as an homage to Murphy.)

Some people may not know that you're Canadian. How has your culture impacted your writing?   

Canada is a major emblem of inclusivity and openness that is most always cited as one of the happiest and safest countries in the world. But, the cultural mosaic we enjoy now (especially in Toronto, where I live) was hard-won.  On first glance, the Herringford and Watts series seems like a handful of cozy mysteries, but readers are discovering that it is actually a treatise on darker things---and the books get progressively darker culminating in the third book The White Feather Murders. The third book expounds on a major underlying thesis of the series: immigration.   My main hero is an immigrant and it effects all of the characters quite deeply especially with the start of the First World War.   Culturally, this struggle for --and later realization of-- inclusiveness gives readers a sense of an integral part of Canadian History.   But, I also wanted to include an anglophilic sensibility. Canada, I believe, is a kind of hybrid between America and Britain. We still have close ties to the monarch and in the Edwardian period were very much still colonized.   

I will say that my Toronto setting was a hill I was going to die on when pursuing a publisher for this series. We did have editors suggest moving it to the States; but I just couldn’t do it. Toronto plays a major character in the series.  I joke that it is the one true love of my life.

(but I am also a huge American history nut, so I moved most of A Lesson in Love and Murder to Chicago.   I loved the research ---and the fun research trips there!)

Favorite time of year? 

WINTER!  I love Christmas and pretty snow and nights that fall harshly rendered cozy by candles and fuzzy socks. I also really love fall.  I love the colours.  Canadian thanksgiving is always in the first half of October and the colours are always in their prime then.

What's your favorite television show?  

Foyle’s War. I think it has the smartest writing of any show ever. It’s such a quiet character piece that makes potent statements on women’s roles, racism, and loyalty.  I just sit and watch and think: this is so perfect. I am a character driven writer and reader and viewer and I invest so much in Foyle’s War.  (fun fact: I own over 100 British miniseries. I am an addict)

How do you get into the minds of your characters?   

I think the way I have been able to get inside their brains (especially in this series) is to use them as vessels to grapple questions I struggle with. There is so much of me in Jem and Merinda and even in their guys, Jasper and Ray.   Then, I just think about how they would see the world from their background, perspective and experience.  

Every writing project has its own sensibility, though, and the approach to character changes depending on what I am working on.  I kind of fell into this series as a suggestion from my agent (we were shopping straight historical romance, which is my first love) and so not being a mystery writer at all prior to this really forced me to have a firm hold on the characters, their motivations and fallacies so that I could dedicate any extra time needed to plotting and clues and red herrings.    I write ten times more than ends up in a novel and read so much more than I can splice in to make sure that I am establishing the essence of a historical period. For example, A Lesson in Love and Murder features two real-life people, Theodore Roosevelt and Emma Goldman, even though their resonance in the book is through a cameo each, the amount of research to understand their motivation and how my characters would respond to those motivations took a TON of time. A ton.  (but I so enjoy it ! )

6) And, bonus question-- please tell us about your celebrity crush. Because we all love him too.

I think everyone knows that Benedict Cumberbatch and I have a special relationship ( I don’t know if  he knows that).  I am attracted to fierce intelligence and so he is total Rachel cat-nip.  He speaks so articulately.   The most attractive thing is when a guy opens his mouth and smart, informed sentences come out (am I right, ladies? –swoon. Keep your shirtless heroes, give me a guy who can TALK SMART). It also helps that he is the best Sherlock I have seen since Jeremy Brett in the 1980s Granada TV series!  And that speaking voice. Sigh.

But lately, people see a lot of Lin-Manuel Miranda on my fb feed and that is, again, because he is so smart. It’s so attractive. Geniuses are attractive. I could listen to Lin-Manuel talk forever.

To quote the Sherlock series, “brainy is the new sexy.”

Well-said, Rachel! And now, it's GIVEAWAY TIME! To enter the giveaway for Rachel's debut novel, welcome her and tell us your celebrity crush! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Season Full of Words

I don't have much energy to frame up a perfectly structured post.

Life has been too full of words.

I feel hoarse in a way.

Words--My characters constantly whisper in my ear and challenge my interpretation of their story as I barrel toward a deadline.

Words--"Characters" in the media shout them loud and ugly, my newsfeed is covered in hurtful ones, joyous ones, deceiving ones, tormented ones. And I am a contributor.

Words--My kids use them as weapons against each other, and I throw out angry word OR manipulative, encouraging words to trick them to kindness.


My ears are tired of hearing, my eyes are leery of what they'll see at every click I make, my heart is heavy with the use of words. The unbecoming words of the world out there push down my hope and peace. And my ever-opinion-forming brain wants to retaliate with too many words of my own.

Words. Such magnificent, terrible things. I mean, we writers LOVE words...I LOVE WORDS! But they are my biggest foe in many ways. If only they were all lovely and life-giving. If only I controlled all of mine like I control the words of my stories.

As I slash and splash words on my manuscript pages, I wonder at my process. It's one of digging deep into the heart of my characters, stepping into their world, understanding their point-of-view and circumstance, and realizing their journey--as fictional as it may be. I learn from their heart's cry and discover truth and ideas that I'd never have found if I kept my words within my own reality.

Is that something I can begin to do, not just as a writer, but as a real-time 21st century human being?

Before finalizing my actual words--status updates, blog posts, comments, arguments, conversations--shouldn't I look at the heart of those I'm tending to, the "characters" in my very non-fiction life?

I can explore their world, take a peek from their point-of-view, discover their own circumstances and realize their actual journey. I can allow God to change my heart about my own biases and judgement, before I jump into spewing words of my own.

Maybe then, my words would't be a burden, but a reflection of THE Word, making way for an uncluttered newsfeed and room for something God-breathed. My words would bring life and love in an authentic, compassionate way--the same end I hope to share in a brilliant story description, or a tender moment between a hero and heroine.

Words are powerful, wonderful things--if they are used wisely and with deep, sought-out intention. Same as the written word. Same as fiction words.

I write this. And I'll forget. Just like I forget grammar and spelling and showing vs. telling. But I'll try. Try to be different. Try to craft my real-time words as heartfelt and empathetic as I craft my fiction.

Yep. That's all I have. Sorry for all the...words. But, I think I've hashed out what I needed to say.


Angie Dicken is a mom of four, an adult ministry staff member at her church, and is married to her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, Angie currently has two novels under contract. Her first full-length novel by Barbour Publishing comes out in November 2017, followed by her winning entry for Harlequin's Manuscript Matchmakers Contest, a Love Inspired Historical novel. Angie is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Connect with Angie at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Understanding the Importance of White Space

If you are human, you are bombarded on every side with things to do.

Tasks to complete. To-do lists to mark as to-done lists.

People to serve and/or please. A family to take care of. Chores that have to be done. Meals that have to be made. A roof that has to be kept over your head.

Oh yeah, and a book that you want to write.

But when do you find the time to do something you want to do in the midst of everything you need to do?

The practice of putting white space or margin into your life will become one of the most critical skills you can ever learn and put into practice, and for more than just finding the time to work on your story.

What is “White Space”?

It can best be defined as: a space of time, free of obligations or guilt and is purely set aside for the person in question to do what refreshes their soul at the deepest level.

So how in the world do you plan white space into your life, in a day that is already over booked, over worked and over promised?

You plan ahead.

You say no.

The only way to make white space happen is to create habits in your life that allow for white space to flourish.

Here is one example: I set my alarm thirty minutes early in the morning so that I can get up and get all of my extracurricular work done in the morning. This includes writing my blogs (if I have any), doing miscellaneous VA work, answering emails, etc.

This also means that I have to get to bed at least thirty minutes earlier the night before, which really for the sake of my day job, that needs to happen no matter what.

Don’t misunderstand me here either, I don’t do all of the tasks that I listed above in those extra thirty minutes that I have. But if I plan correctly, one day I can get the blog written while another day I do all the VA work. I don’t have to do all the tasks on one day, if I plan ahead accordingly.

So, when I get home from work at the end of the day, the only obligation I have is to do activities that feed my soul creatively.

For those of you with families…this strategy will look different and every day is not going to be a cookie cutter of the last one.

But the concept remains the same.

What do you plan ahead of time to then give you time that you wouldn’t have otherwise had?

If I leave my VA and blogging work until the end of the day? I’m exhausted. Easily distracted by social media and putter around for an hour before actually getting the work done which takes me twice as long.

Whereas in the morning, I’m motivated by a ticking clock that tells me I have to be at work on time.
What can you say no to? What do you need to say no to?

As humans we want to be goers and doers. A great thing to go and be. Until it becomes the worst thing that we can by over committing and under nourishing ourselves.

Here is my challenge to you for the next two weeks: pray and evaluate one or two things that you can say “no” to. Either end your obligation or don’t sign up for it in the first place.

Second: how can you schedule in white space? What can you rearrange to give yourself this time to breathe, rest and revitalize? Maybe it’s something as simple as what I did, in rearranging the order in which you do things.

White space is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. It’s an opportunity to connect with the Lord and partake in the gifts He’s giving to you to enjoy (ie: your writing).

Leave me a comment below…are you searching for white space? Have you learned a few tricks to help you grab hold?


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, October 21, 2016

Friday FIVE with Teresa Tysinger!!!

Woot!!! Friday has come!!! With bronchitis and ear infections for my clan, I'm SO looking forward to the rest of a weekend and some latte!!!

How about you? Any weekend plans? What are your writing goals for the weekend? I just finished some edits this afternoon. And hoping to dig into Jodi Picoult's latest novel.

Thrilled to have Teresa Tysinger on the blog! She is a woman who wears many hats: contemporary Christian romance writer, graphic designer, and communications specialist...and more! She loves the Blue Ridge mountains (now that I live down south I TOTALLY get it! They are SO breathtaking) and happy endings! 

1) Is there a song that you just love right now, Teresa?

I recently saw Johnnyswim, my favorite band, in concert. I have totally fallen in love with "Georgica Pond," the title track on their newest album. Their songs are hauntingly beautiful and inspiring and leave you feeling affected -- much like a good book. This particular one stays on repeat. 

(LOVE this one. Here's a link: Johnnyswim's "Georgica Pond") 

2) Do you have a best marketing tip for writers?

I thought about this answer a lot. As a director of communications and marketing for a church, I'm tempted to throw out a lot of tips about consistent branding, frequency and variety of posts, and so on. But when it comes down to it, especially with Christian readers and authors where there is a real sense of community, I think my best marketing tip would be to be real. Make it easy for your readers to relate to you. It's OK to post about your tough day, funny things your kids said, how you burned dinner while chasing the dog around the house with muddy feet, and even how you're finding writing hard at the moment. Us humans have a core need for connection. Don't be afraid to offer that to your readers. They'll stick around as your friends long after your books are done.

(I SO appreciate this great advice! I do love authors that share real parts of their lives with the social media world)

3) Favorite fall food?

Oh my gosh, there are so many. But, I have to say my mom's pumpkin pie that we usually only have at Thanksgiving. Funny story about that pie. When I got married, I asked my mom if I could finally have the recipe for her famous pumpkin pie. She giggled, leaned in, and whispered, "It's on the back of the can of Libby's Pureed Pumpkin. Don't tell anyone!" We're still laughing nearly 15 years later.

(This one reminds me of my husband, because when we got married he told me I had to ask for his dad's pork chop recipe. It was a pork chop, with a can of mushroom soup, cooked in the crockpot. I don't let him live that one down. But seriously, Libby's is some good stuff!)

5) Do you have a favorite writing ritual?

As a mom with a full-time job outside of the home and a husband who works mostly nights and weekends, I take my writing time whenever I can get it. That means there's not much room for ritual. However, whenever I sit down I start by rereading what I wrote in the last sitting. Helps me refocus.I also have to have background is my preference, but I often go to coffee shops so the chitter chatter is nice, too.

(I'm impressed by all that you do! I like writing in coffeeshops too but settle for sleeping children.)

6) Can you share your newsletter with us?

Happy to! So far, my monthly newsletter has provided tid-bits about me, writing updates, book reviews, links to new releases, etc. Starting November 1, however, I am thrilled that the newsletter will also launch the first short story in a series of short stories exclusive to subscribers. Readers are offered a warm welcome into the cozy campus of Blue Ridge University with monthly short stories set at the fictional school in the mountains of North Carolina. These short, inspirational stories about the professors, faculty, students, and townspeople will leave you rooting for true love and sighing with satisfaction. This month's debut short story is "After All These Years." You'll meet Maggie -- an author distracted by a crush years in the making. Everyone is invited to subscribe for free at

(Readers be sure to stop by and check it out! It sounds wonderful! The NC mountains are so beautiful!)

 Find Teresa on:
Pinterest - @TeresaTysinger
Twitter - @TMTysinger
Did you catch this week's installments on the Alley:
I wrote a post on how being present blesses your writing life Tuesday.  
Thursday, Krista Phillips was your host pondering the important question of what we're writing for.   
Debbi Giusti has a great post on how to find freedom from fear in your writing journey on Seekerville 
Alley cats around the web:

I didn't know about Google Keep, until Laurie featured it on her blog. It looks like a great way to capture lists, which is something I'm kinda addicted to. 
Books as art? Check out Karen's blog for styling tips!

Since Teresa's been talkin' about the Blue Ridge, check out Pepper's post on mountain dialect.

Allowing God into our story: good stuff from Cara Putman.

Mary Vee shares creative journeys of authors on her blog. And don't forget to check out her great pics of Italy.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Are You Fishing For?

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to help work a booth at the Southern Festival of Books. I went in with fairly low "sales" expectations.

I wanted to sell one book.

A lot of time and energy had gone into the booth and in my head, I knew that "sales" wasn't to be my measure of success.... so I figured if I at least sold ONE book, then the rest would be gravy.

I'm happy to report that I ended up selling SIX books.

Yup, got 600% of my goal!

But going in, my heart yearned for something else. I wasn't 100% sure what that was or looked like. I'm not a super duper social person especially in crowds, and tend to do the "behind the scenes" stuff and let the sales and talking to people to other people.

The last day of the festival though, I worked really hard to make myself talk to people. I didn't try to sell them, because it made me feel icky. I just wanted to get to know them.


I got two meet two local college students who needed to interview an author.
I met a mother who was publishing her daughter's books-- her daughter had passed away 2 years prior.
I met a LOT of aspiring authors who just wanted to talk to other authors and needed a bit of encouragement.
I met a lot of women who just liked to talk about books. I played with their kids and laughed with them and just enjoyed talking with people and trying to show a glimpse of Jesus' love to people who passed our group.

I even had some dude ask if I was single and the proceed to steal a copy of my book. Okay, so that was odd. But hey, if he wants my pink Sandwich book that bad, he can have it!

I was mulling over the weekend Monday morning as I sat down to read my bible, and God gave me the BEST Bible verse.

Mark 1:16-18 "One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, 'Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!' And they left their nets at once and followed him."
 Honest: I DO try to write for a living. It doesn't pay a LOT of my bills, but it does pay some, and I view it as my career AND my ministry.

But this past weekend, and this verse, reminded me that the "living" part is inferior to the "people" part. I don't want to write for a living only. My heart, my deepest desire, is to write with Jesus in mind, write for PEOPLE. That someone can be ministered to through my writing -- that's my TRUE goal.

Now, book sales are great. Don't get me wrong I NEED to make some money off them because I have 4 kids to feed and bills that need to be paid... and if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to spend the time I do writing it, as I'd need to take on more "paying" clients. So I don't discount the "living" part.

But God is reminding me to put that in it's proper place of priority.... much lower than "people."

Let's chat!

Are you writing for fish or for people? :-) :-) How do navigate the balance between the two?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Gift of Presence for Writers

I've been reading several books and listening to a podcast in the past few weeks about a topic that's been changing my writing life.

Presence. No, I’m not talking about how many people follow you on Twitter or how many comments are posted on your last blog entry.

One of my favorite childhood heroines, Ramona Quimby was told something puzzling by her teacher on her first day of Kindergarten.

“Sit here for the present.” Her teacher tells her as she points to the front row seat.

Ramona is eager to do as she’s told. What five year old doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift?

When she sits through a day of school and no present is forthcoming, Ramona is crestfallen.

After class a tearful Ramona listens to her beloved instructor who explains the meaning of present. Now. The teacher may make changes in the seating plan later, but Ramona should sit where she’s told.

Yet, Ramona was right, wasn’t she?

The present is a gift. How often do we lose sight of that, both in our writing and in our day-to-day life?

Many creatives share the same ritual according to DAILY RITUALS by Mason Currey, a walk each day. Milton paced back and forth in his beautiful gardens. Perhaps he caught a glimpse of the beauty of heaven as he writes about in paradise lost within the simple flowers. Charles Dickens sauntered through London for hours on end. If you’ve read anything by this prolific author you know he had a knack for capturing the everyday lives of people and illustrating the daily ills of the time. Flaubert took an outside stroll with his family. Kafka, Freud, Tchaikovsky and others also spent time in the outdoors.

The other twenty some hours of the day influence our writing life just as much as the block of time spent at a keyboard.

Sleeping. Without these hours all creativity suffers. Many of the creatives took naps daily. I know when I don’t get enough sleep my clear thinking and ability to catch my own errors suffers. The amount of sleep needed may vary but over time there is a benefit to knowing your own best rhythm. I found a wonderful sleep tracking app which calculates my best wake-up time and I have felt so much more refreshed in the morning as a result. I am accomplishing more in my writing and in my life.

Time with Jesus. If we’re not filled to overflowing with the Living Water how can we pour out Spirit filled words that will bless others. First I must find the rest in repentance in my life. It is hard to find dead quiet with children at home but it’s so needed. These are the first moments I spend in writing, journaling what God is showing me and writing out heartsongs to my beloved Papa.

Through the eyes of children. Good writing shows people the wonder of a new world. Children give us new eyes. Whether at church or at home, children live life engaged and encourage us to do the same. When I watch my children I notice they take joy in tasting a warm chocolate chip cookie, in jumping on a trampoline, and so many other activities that I’ve often allowed to be mundane.

Being fully present with those in my life, appreciating the world around me. Eating warm bread with homemade butter. Crunching in the fall leaves. Smelling a woodburning stove and delighting in tales told around it. Singing to your children. Kissing your spouse. These are the moments, lived well, that make for a beautiful writing life. Spend your nonwriting hours engaged and reap the benefits. When we drink from the richness of life it will overflow into our writing life creating a rich bounty that will encourage others.
Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men. -Colossians 3:23
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.-Colossians 3:17

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Fun and Author Spotlight: Mary Weber!

You. Guys!

I have been so excited to share this Friday Fun post with you today. I personally think it's going to make your Friday all the better for spending a few minutes with us. 


We have news. 


Can you guess which one of our Alley Cat number just signed with a big name house? Read to the end of the post and find out!!

Second, I am so excited to share my friend Mary Weber with you today. A beautiful person inside and out, she graciously gave of her time while on her book deadline to spend a few minutes with us! Take it away, Mary!

TWA:  What's the most random thing in your bag right now? 

MCW: Lol, Cookie Butter. Don't judge. :)

TWA: Are you kidding?! Pass that stuff this way. I’ll bring the spoons. You’re not germophobic are you? 

TWA:  What are you currently reading? 

MCW: This!! (my edits are due today)

TWA: Oh my gosh! I know so many readers who are dancing on the edge of their seats for this book to release.

TWA: Your movie snack of choice?

MCW: CEREAL!!!!! Always! ♥

TWA: Now I want to know what kind. Cap’n Crunch all the way for this girl. Bring on the diabetes diagnosis.

 TWA: What's your favorite recent discovery?

MCW: Oh man y'all can laugh at me because (a) I'm a dork & (b) I'm clearly behind on what's cool. But this stuff is EVERYTHING. How did I not know it existed??!!

TWA: Mary. My dear. We don’t call anyone on this blog a dork. Ever. You’re simply brilliant.

TWA:  What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your publishing journey? 

MCW: Ooh amazing question! I think I'd simply say that the story you're living is FAR more important than any you write about. So let go of the worry and embrace the journey. Make relationships, not platforms. Make family & soul time your priority no matter what career offers or opportunities come along. Learn the market and HOW to market - but for the purpose of influencing it rather than selling to it. Relax. Breathe. You'll do just fine. 

TWA: This. Perfection. I could not agree with you more. So Alley Pals, I hope you’ll pull up a chair, pour a cup of your favorite drink and chat with us today. Because what would this publishing journey be without the relationships of you as our friends?

Mary Weber is the bestselling HarperCollins author of the Scholastic Pick, Christy and Carol Award winning young adult novel, Storm Siren, the Storm Siren Trilogy, and the upcoming Sofi Snow Duology (HarperCollins). In her spare time she sings 80's hairband songs to her three muggle children and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California which is perfect for stalking tacos, Joss Whedon, and the ocean. You can visit with her on Facebook (Mary Weber, Author), Instagram (MaryWeberAuthor), & Twitter (@MChristineWeber)

TWA: PS: Is anyone else jealous of Mary's beautiful long hair that she simply rocks and her ageless beauty?!

Are you ready for the big Alley Cat news?!

Our own Angie Dicken has just signed a contract with Barbour Books to release her first full length
historical novel in late 2017!!!! A story after Angie's heart, we're so excited for her and turning cartwheels of glee! (well, some of us are. The rest of us try and end up hurting something...)

What else is new you ask? 

Mary is off gallivanting around the world--can you guess where she's visiting? The country starts with I and ends in Y...leave a comment below if you think you know it!

Pepper Basham also has contract news! BLING! publishing has snagged this lovely lady's next contemporary romance in the Mitchell's Crossroads series. (Smart publisher!)

Have you entered the giveaway yet? What are you waiting for! Winner is announced next Friday, so get thee over there! Enter here. 

That's it for this Friday! Do you have fun news to share with us?! We'd love to hear all about it and start a party in the comments!