Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Books That Changed My Writing Life in 2016 (so far)


One simple thing changed in my life in 2016 that has helped me to feel the creative juices flowing again...reading.

No secret: if you want to write better, read more. Read in more genres, open up new pathways in your brain by consuming nonfiction, dig into biographies to enter the psychological realm of your character. In short, read. Make time and space for literature in your life.

For the first time in a long time, I have made more time to read in 2016. As a result, I have felt more relaxed, which in turn has helped creative juices to begin flowing again.

This year, I've heard the deafening and soul-stirring roar of Aslan on the move. I have crouched in the crawl space underneath a church, listening to the footsteps of the faithful, pulled out of my hiding place as a betrayer. I've pondered what it means to forgive those who have hurt in unimaginable ways. I've wondered what a thief smells like, and tasted buttermilk cornbread, and asked "what if?" (my favorite writer-ly question) dozens of times.

How about you? Where have you gone this year? Where do you intend to go this summer? How will you let it transform your writing life?

Here are a few transformational reads I've enjoyed in the past year:

1) Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Subtitled How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead...I cannot recommend this book enough as a writer and as a human. Brene is a shame researcher (shh..we don't even like to talk about that word). I used a gift certificate to take an online course from COURAGEWORKS and learned so much that has unleashed creativity and changed my relationships.

At least as transformational for me as the book is this quote that forms the title: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while Daring Greatly." -Theodore Roosevelt

Talk about walking softly and carrying a big stick. What impact we can have walking in the arena, even when we falter in our writing lives. 

Fear has been a big time struggle for me in my writing life, to know that I am DARING GREATLY is a game changer. I can put myself out there, knowing that there is courage in failure even when I am daring greatly.

2) The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Yes, she made my top two! I have to share another favorite.. I'm currently reading RISING STRONG and I have a feeling that will top some lists for next year. Have I mentioned fear of failure is a struggle in my writing life? Yeah, big time! First draft paralysis, yeah, baby! 

Icky sloppy copies, bring it on! Wholehearted living means embracing the world from a perspective of worthiness. Embracing living, being in the moment, not easy for this Plan A type gal but I love Brene's perspective on owning your imperfections and growing from them. The perspective is being honest with ourself and others but not wallowing in those failures. 

3) The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I'm going to stop short of recommending this one, because it may be too gritty for a few readers. I'm always hesitant to put a stamp on a novel for that reason and some thematic elements given the time period and setting (slavery in the deep South) are challenging ground to wade through. I believe the author nailed the main characters' voices. Often I read Southern (especially Civil War era novels and find the dialogue peppered with cliches and stereotypes, but that was not the case here. Lavinia, an Irish immigrant girl, and Belle, the master's illigitimate daughter both have equally strong perspectives. The antagonist is also well-drawn, I found myself lapsing between a love-hate relationship with him and was astonished (and horrified) to find I had a level of sympathy for him I did not expect, especially in light of his dastardly deeds. I could taste the hot buttered cornbread, hear the whistle of the overseer and the bark of hound dogs in hot pursuit. 

4) The Writings of Ben Franklin

OK, I'll admit this seems like a strange one. Franklin uses so many of the "no-no's" as a writer, very descriptive writing, long paragraphs, telling versus showing. But my children and I were astounded by Ben's life and all he accomplished in so many varied areas. What a great reminder of human potential! We also noted how many types of writing Ben did: biography, autobiography, scientific, fictional, jokes and riddles, poems, and simple journaling. A bold reminder to experiment in our own writing and not peg ourselves. 

5) 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit by Nicki Koziarz

So, yeah, when it comes to writing books...I've been guilty of being a quitter. I've for sure struggled in other areas of my life with commitment. I participated in this online Bible study through Proverbs 31 ministries which takes the reader through the life of Ruth and how she grew through her assigment of refinement. I've gotta be honest, I don't love that word and I don't love what it feels like. But I love the feeling of knowing, I have been obedient and persevered. If you struggle with difficulty in following through (or even if you think you don't) in any area of your life, I think this book will bless you. The tone is conversational and caring with thought-provoking questions included at the end of this chapter.

So how about you? What are your top 5 reads for the year? What are you looking forward to reading?




Julia Reffner lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three ragdoll cats. She enjoys writing for Library Journal magazine and the website Wonderfully Woven.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Backpacker's Guide To A Writer's Conference


I've heard of a few writer conferences going on over the next few months so I thought I'd repost an oldie that might help you prepare for that special time. Can't wait to see some of you at ACFW in August!

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Besides bringing a passion for your story and the writing craft, there are a few "musts" that you should tuck into your luggage...ahem, or backpack...before heading to that next conference.

1. Business cards-  These are such a great tool to have for networking. Not only do you want to exchange business cards with industry professionals, you want to exchange with new friends and colleagues. I have a pile of cards from over the years, and I love looking back through to be sure I connect with those I have met at the next conference. At ACFW, you get a spiffy lanyard with a name tag that will have a pocket to keep your cards in, as well as any that you collect. Be sure that you reload each night of conference so you'll be prepared to hand them out the next day!



What to think about:  

Brand/look: Think about brand--what impression do you want people to get about you at 
Last year's card
first glance?  I want my brand to be classic, approachable, and timeless. According to all the cards I have collected over the years, having a picture of yourself is always good. I would be sure to use one that is professional, or professional-looking. I think a card with a casual but professional pose, in a natural landscape helps portray my brand. The one I used last year is the same photo (or from the same sitting) as all of my profile pics across social media. It is important that you are recognizable, and using a similar picture will help... from hardcopies of your business card and one sheet to a blog,  a twitter account, and a Facebook profile when you are "looked up" post-conference.

Content: genre, tagline, blog/website, social media connections, agent. Don't crowd it too much with text. Actually, my card from last year might have too much on it. You can also consider using the back of the card for contest wins, or even the pitch of the book you are promoting. I would definitely suggest that less is more. 

Need a place to get professional business cards? I always use VistaPrint. And usually, I will download my own design. This year, along with one sheet designs, I have my first business card customer! I am going to design her cards so they are exactly what she hopes to convey about herself as an author. 


2. One Sheets- A one sheet is great to have in your appointments with editors and agents.
You can use it as a "cheat" sheet when pitching your novel to them if your nerves are crazy, but most of all, you can set the feel of your story with graphics, tagline, pitch, and a back cover copy. Also, your bio and that "profile" pic that makes you memorable.

What to think about:

Graphics vs. Text balance or flow:  You want to portray the feel of your novel, but not overwhelm the page and make it difficult to read the text. Click here for a past post about creating one sheets yourself.

Which ones to bring?  If you have one sheets from past novels you've written, but are pitching a different novel...BRING ALL OF THEM! During my second conference, I had a stellar one sheet for my current novel at the time--it was the first novel to actually place in a contest. Well, after getting the dreaded advice "this will never sell" that first day of conference, and after bawling my eyes out, I picked myself up, grabbed a different novel's one sheet, studied it quickly, then began to pitch it. And you know what, it drummed up interest. I am so thankful I had that one sheet with me!

Need a one sheet designer? I have been busy preparing one sheets for fellow ACFW'rs, and have a few slots left. Check out my blog here, to learn more about what I offer.

3. One Page Synopsis and Sample Chapters- Sometimes you won't need these, but many times you will. Especially if your story grabs the attention of an editor or agent. At all but one conference I have attended, an appointment included an editor or agent reading my one page synopsis, and even part of my first chapter. BRING THEM...POLISHED, just in case! I have even heard of professionals taking the chapters to read later in their own time during the actual conference. 

4. A nifty organizer for all your materials...to stick in your "backpack"...or in the ACFW bag they give you at the beginning of conference (and, usually you get a notepad and a pen too!). Here is the one I use. It's spiral bound, and has several dividers for my different novels' one sheets and materials. I print out my elevator pitch and stick it outside the divider pocket so I can practice.





I am sure there are several other things that people fill their bags with that week of conference. I even know one amazing gal who brings a whole container of homemade chocolate chip cookies...to share. Yes, I will trade "backpacks" with her any time!

Are you a first-time attendee? Do you have any questions? Have you been to a writer's conference before? Do you have any suggestions?

Hope to see you in a few weeks!

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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 six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com and connect at:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dicken.angie
Twitter: @angiedicken
Pinterest: pinterest.com/agdicken

Friday, June 24, 2016

Inviting God Into Your Writing

I can’t take any credit for anything in this post. First, for well, the obvious reasons…like the title of this post. ;-) And second because I wouldn’t have been led into this truly glorious fellowship without a little bit of help from Allen Arnold.

I’ve sat through two of Allen Arnold’s classes now about the creativity—the freedom—of writing with God.

It’s a freedom that isn’t confined by how many words you have written in a day or pages edited.

It’s a freedom that isn’t barricaded by demands and restrictions that whisper insecurities that tell you, you’re best effort isn’t good enough.

It’s a freedom that gives you permission to walk away and walk with God when the prompting tells you to get up and take a stroll.

It’s a freedom that has set my writing on fire.

I’m amazed what consciously choosing to give my writing time to the Lord has given back to me. In word count, in enthusiasm, in maximized time for the most impact. Instead of a process that drains my creativity energy at the end, I’m feeling energized and alive with this creativity that is driven solely on the wings of the Lord’s mighty and sustaining breath.  

How does this look for my writing life? (Hint: this won’t be the same for you. Just a warning. It might look a bit like mine, but it won’t completely. Because you are your own unique creation in Christ.)
It looks like taking the time to pray through my writing before I start. It looks like forgiveness—aimed at myself. When I don’t measure up to what I think should be my earthly standards. It looks like taking pleasure with whatever I can write today—one hundred or one thousand words.

That last part was the hardest mindest to change—and continues to be so. Because it’s a mindset that is so deeply engrained in us goal-driven, type-A obsessed individuals.

Are you going to be ok if you write less than a thousand words when you sit down to story-craft? 
Writing with God tells you that you will be ok with any and all results.

Because it’s no longer about you trying to produce words out of thin air, it’s a linked arm partnership with the Creator of the universe to knit this story together.

When you can step out of the realm of your goals and step into the hand in hand partnership of writing with God, you’ll have a release of freedom to put words on the page that will fuel excitement for the this writing world that you thought you had lost.

Friend, it’s well, well worth the effort and time spent to dedicate each and every writing moment to God. And asking Him to partner with you in the creative process. After all, He’s the author of creativity.


Oh, and by the way? If you can ever sit under one of Allen’s classes, I heartily, 100% recommend it!

CLICK TO TWEET:




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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. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trust Your Gut

You ever write something and think... "Man, that's pretty good."

But--something just isn't right.

You can't put your finger on it. The writing is solid for a first draft, so it isn't that.

But there is no escaping that feeling in your gut that something isn't right.

That's how I've been lately with my work-in-progress.

I write a really solid first two chapters. They flowed well, they made me smile in places, but every time I opened up my computer to write, I just got that feeling that something was WRONG.

Was I not supposed to write this story?
Was I being over sensitive and need to just keep writing? (because that's what we say to do when we are stuck, right?)
Did I need to get others opinions?

I had one other person read it and they were like, "I mean, it's good..."

But I don't want my intro chapter to be "It's good."

I want it to be GREAT. To make a reader giddy to read more. To capture a moment of OH MY GOODNESS  so they will keep reading into the wee hours of the morning.

It's good is not good enough, especially for a first chapter.

So I edited and edited... but still, that nagging feeling of disquiet.

I finally chucked the whole thing and rethought a whole new angle for the story and rewrote a new first chapter.

I take that back, I didn't even make it through the first chapter. It wasn't right either.

So yesterday, I took time to read a book. Just to enjoy someone else's writing. Then I took a few minutes and read the first page of numerous books on my bookshelf.

It was there.

That magic of the first page.

What was missing from mine.

So I spent another while dreaming about that first page. What was the big BANG that starts this story of mine.

Finally... it hit me. I was starting in the TOTAL wrong place. And instead of cutting chapters, I actually backed my story up a few months.

Within an hour, I had the first chapter and a half and it was singing to me, that place in my heart that KNEW something was wrong was now dancing with glee.

The writing still needs work because it is super rough. But the story is there, and it is singing again.

Moral of the story:

Trust your gut.
And sometimes just "writing" doesn't cut it. Sometimes you need to step back, step out, and look at it from a different perspective. Sometimes you need to research. Sometimes you need to READ. It will be different for each of us.

Let's chat!

Have you ever been stuck or felt like something just wasn't right? What did you do to push through?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to Write a Query Letter-A Red Rose in a Desert




Like a Hallmark movie on a lonely day, iced, sweet tea in the blazing heat, a warm blanket in the cold, soft music/crackling fire on a date, ice cream at a carnival, a child's giggle, and the exact gift you really wanted--

So also is a stand-out Query Letter to an agent or editor.



You may have written that very query letter. The one that represents your story and your skills as a writer. And because you did such a fantastic job communicating, the editor or agent sent a rejection.

Really.

The publishing house or agency--more specifically, the individual at either organization may have their quota of that genre, may have switched genres he represents, may prefer stories for older/younger readers, may have a specific story in mind to fill a need. There are a hundred or more qualified reasons why a stand-out letter is rejected.

...On the other hand, maybe your fiction manuscript query letter needs to be tweaked. 

First the tips:
1. Spend as much dedicated time to writing a query letter as you did your manuscript. Not months. The qualifier here is: dedication. Think of all the time you spent researching your story, writing, layering, editing...yes...the dedication! This component, more than any other will make your query stand out like a red rose in a desert.

2. You don't want an agent/publishing house who, although your writing is wonderful, cannot get on board with your story/genre/etc. These rejections are a blessing on your future.

3. Short. Keep it short. This is not a proposal--and so should be short. When the letter rambles, the agent/editor closes the email without finishing, possibly without responding. Say this with me--keep it short. No more than one page.

4. Go to the agent/publisher's website and check out their guidelines. Some give detailed lists of what is expected in a query. I love these. I can work with that. The ones that don't, the best we can do is rely on tried and true lists of what is expected...like:


How to write a short query that is not doubling as a proposal:

1. Introduce yourself. The writing you do in this email must be tight, edited with a fine toothed comb, yet also reveal a bit of your writing style. I say "bit" because the letter is technically non fiction and your story fiction.  I must admit, I prefer writing fiction :)

2. Include a description of your manuscript. Remember the letter is only allowed to be one page. Keep this short yet all inclusive. It does NOT have to tell the ending. The purpose is to intrigue, hook, excite, make the agent/editor cry, wonder, curious, even bummed there isn't more to the point of immediately responding to your email requesting--and this is the big one...a full.

3. Include publishing credentials. If you don't have any, no worries. Use this space to prove why you are qualified to write this story. (a middle-school english teacher has a great idea what his students are interested in reading... Isaac Asimov has the background for science fiction stories...
   For me, since my stories include homeless, sports like rock climbing, etc, I merge my writing training with my sports experiences and work with the homeless. All three are important to me. I also include stories published in periodicals. 

4. If you are writing a query for an agent, the individual will want to know if this manuscript has been submitted to a publisher. Even if rejected. They need to know. This is different from #6 below. This provides status information for the agent. 

5. Include your phone number. Did you see Laurie's post from yesterday? We here on the Alley are so happy she received "the call."  An agent or editor can't call unless they have your phone number. (then...be sure your cell is charged...like, all the time!!)

6. If you have simultaneously submitted to other agents/editors, courtesy demands this information be indicated in this letter. 


Additional tips:

Most agents/publishers want this material in the email--not in an attachment. Do not send an attachment unless asked.

Choose your subject words wisely. To the point. Short. 

The information above should be in the letter. Some agents/editors, though will want more. Be sure to check their website. Also, go to the list of books published through the editor/agent. THEN read a few. This will give you a great idea what they are looking for.You might have your impressions confirmed or realize the books published through this individual don't match your writing interests. In this case, look for a new agent/editor to send your query.

The goal is to have a query letter that stands out like a fragrant red rose in a desert.


To those who have signed contracts with agents and/or publishing houses: please share any tips you learned.

To those who are excited to sign a contract some day to come: please ask questions. What else would you like to know in this topic?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Help others--tweet or FB share this post

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Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. Such adventures can be found in her stories as well.

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and tell Bible event stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.




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

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Come, read a good story. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website or:  Join the adventure!

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Glamour of Getting "The Call"



Alley Pals, a lot has changed since my last post. I know by now you want to throw a shoe at me because I already blasted it on social media. But just in case, a few short hours after I last hit post, I got "the call" that Harlequin Heartwarming wants to publish one of my books! 

I've always been fascinated by the ever-elusive "call" and how it changes everything but doesn't seem to stop life from going on. Where would I be when I got the call, I always wondered.

My agent and I had been communicating regarding my newest manuscript that went on submission a few days before, so when I saw her number on my iPhone screen, I thought, for a split-second, that it would have to do with changes I needed to make for that book or something. But I knew.

I was in line at the pharmacy, waiting for my son's ear infection prescription -- perhaps the most mundane place one can be when an all-important bucket list item moves to DONE. And when I got off the phone, I made the proper notifications as I went on with my life. I took care of a baby with a double ear infection. I cooked dinner for the family, changed diapers, did some work for my clients. 

Isn't it glorious how most of us are writers AND parents or students or professionals, doing our thing to keep life afloat while this passion and identity weaves through everything we do? 

I asked some of my friends to share their stories of getting good writing news:

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When I told my boys that I now had an agent, my 10-year-old asked, 'Does she have any hockey players?' 'Uhhhh, nooo.' Then he shrugged and said, 'Then she's not a real agent.' - historical fiction author Jennifer Major

I was in a tree stand, bow hunting and checking my email. My husband was across the marsh in his stand. I saw the email come through saying my agent wanted to set up a call to discuss representation. There wasn't anything I could do. I couldn't scream or I'd scare away the deer! So I texted my husband and waited, anticipating the euphoric reaction. The text came through: "Cool." Then I messaged the next best person, my sister, who said she made her daughter jump because she screamed so loudly on my behalf. - Jaime Jo Wright, author of "The Cowgirl's Lasso"

I got the 'call' for my three-book historical series while I was driving to work with a van full of kids. The hardest part of my day was trying to focus on giving speech therapy without wanting to squeal every five minutes with excitement. - Pepper Basham, Alley Cat extraordinaire and multi-published author

I had advance warning that 'the call' was coming when the editor emailed me to ask for my phone number so we could talk. I was expecting a baby any day and had to wait two days for that phone call. I told my husband that I didn't care if I went into labor--if she called, I HAD to answer. - Sarah Varland, author for Love Inspired Suspense

I received the call for agent representation while I was waiting at the dentist for my husband to get his wisdom teeth out. - author Janette Foreman, represented by Tamela Hancock Murray

I got the call in Panera about my first Love Inspired contract. After, I was so excited I left. But when I got into my car, my door slammed into the side mirror of the car next to me. (Colorado wind can be crazy.) Thankfully all was well, and I left a note just in case. I never heard from anyone about it. - Jill Lynn, author of Just Show Up, Her Texas Family, and Falling for Texas.

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From the honesty of children and family members keeping our feet on the ground, to car woes, to work, to errands and daily life, it's amazing how author is ingrained in us and just sort of happens to us, whether we're published, agented, or just writing our first chapter.

Editing this TODAY because it just hit me why I love this concept so much:

Because getting the call in the middle of everyday life means you went for it, worked hard, and did a very brave thing in the middle of everyday life!

Where were you when you got good writing news? If you got the call this afternoon, what would you most likely be doing?

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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 called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a two-time Genesis Award winner, and the runner-up in the 2015 Lone Star Contest's Inspirational category. 
Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, June 20, 2016

Discover your Brand Part 1 - from the Amazing Jim Rubart


Me, my daughter, and Jim
Sitting in on a class with Jim Rubart is an experience!

It’s 1/3 humor

1/3 excellent writing material

And 1/3 preaching.

And every 1/3 weaves beautiful one into the other. (Allen Arnold teaches this way too, if you ever get the chance to hear him)

In May, I had the opportunity to sit in on Jim’s Branding class and, needless to say, it was fantastic, so today I’m going to share a few tips from it for you. (And I’m paraphrasing because that’s how I take notes usually J

First of all, what is a brand?

                I love some of these answers our class discussed.

1.       Identity

2.       A Visual representation of who you are

3.       A promise you make to people

However, I LOVE Jim’s take on it. He says, “A brand is not what we create but what we discover”

Tweet: “A brand is not what we create but what we discover”

Isn’t that a great thought?!? Have you ever considered ‘discovering’ your brand?

The brand is not what I thought it was! It’s not your books or your tagline. It’s not your agenda or message.


You are the brand.

Authentically YOU!

How does God use your uniqueness to create stories for readers?

God is a personal God. He’s also extremely personal. He’s created each of us in a unique way to fulfill a purpose only we were designed to fulfill. Writing is a part of that. A ‘calling’ upon our hearts endowed by our Creator.

So…..what is your unique sermon that only YOU can tell?

A brand transcends genres and prescribed ‘boxes’.

It draws people in because it’s organically you not what you’re ‘selling’.

It’s much more personal than that. J

So here’s an assignment Jim gave to us to help us discover our uniqueness.

Email 5 people who are close to you and ask them this question. How would you describe me to someone else?

Then email 5 acquaintances and ask them the same thing.

Look at the results. Listen to what people are saying about how they see you. Start discovering how you are unique.

I’ll leave you with this idea from Jim’s class.

Remember what you enjoyed as a child. What you were passionate about?

We forget what we were born to be. We forget our identity.

Satan attacks at the level of our identity because at the core that assaults our purpose.

Rediscover who you are and it’s the first step to discovering your brand J

Share your thoughts. Do you KNOW your brand? How did you discover it?