Monday, May 31, 2010

The Ulitmate Sacrifices - War Letters for Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day, lest we forget how our liberty has been forged, I wanted to share a few letters from Andrew Carroll’s book War Letters. Bear will me. I chose 5 letters, four from War Letters and one from The NY Times 2008.

And a special thanks to all those who are currently fighting for freedom around the world. There are some amazing stories in family histories related to people who served their countries. Does your family have any stories?

As we experience the joys of our freedom, it’s so easy to get lost in our every-day struggles and triumphs and forget the thousands of men and women who have made our freedom possible. Since the first Memorial day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, people have taken an opportunity to remember.

Remember that a price has been paid.

A cost of pain, suffering, and life was given.

For Us

As writers, we can appreciate the beauty in which these men and women share their hearts to the ones closest to them. The descriptions, the emotional energy, the imagery, draws us into a world we hope to never experience, unless it’s between the pages of a book.


If you have never had the opportunity to read Nurse Clara Barton's letters, they are beautiful and powerful documents. As a writer, you can appreciate her lovely use of words - as a human, you can appreciate her courage.
Dec 12, 1862

The moon is shining through the soft haze with brightness almost prophetic. For the last half hour I have stood alone in the aweful stillness of its glimmering light gazing upon the strange sad scene around me striving to say, "Thy will Oh God be done."

The camp fires blaze with unwanted brightness, the sentry's tread is still but quick - the acres of little shelter tents are dark and still as death, no wonder for as I gazed sorrowfully upon them, I thought I could almost hear the slow flap of the grim messenger's wings, as one by one he sought and selected his victims for the morning sacrifice.....

Mine are not the only waking hours, the light yet burns brightly in our kind hearted General's tent where he pens what may be a last farewell to his wife and children and thinks sadly of his fated men.

Gen. John Pershing knew the devastating blow of loss. While away in August 1915, he was informed that his wife and three daughters had died in a house fire. His six-year old son, Warren, was the only survivor. Excerpts from this letter, written October 10, 1918 while Pershing was in Europe fighting during WWI, is to his son.

My dear Kiddie,
I have your letter of Sunday written on letter page with the Stars and Stripes on one edge. It makes very pretty writing paper....

I want you to know while you are still a boy something of the fine patriotism that inspires the American soldiers who are fighting over here for the cause of liberty....I want you to see some of the battlefields of France with me, over which the American soldiers have fought in carrying out the great purpose of our people. It will enable you to realize later in life just what sacrifice means and just what degree of sacrifice our army is called upon to make and which they have made and are making bravely and courageously.

Pfc Dom Bart wrote this letter to his wife after surviving Normandie on June 6, 1944

It was 6:30 in the morning and just about to land between Point-du-Hoc and Vierville-sur-Mer on the beaches of Normandie, Omaha Beach, the Allies called it....

I lost all hopes and said my last prayer to the Good Lord. The prayer was a passage to safety, but I sure was in a bad way. Got to the beach half frozen and almost unable to move and then I passed out. How long I remained there, i don't recall, but when I came to, the fighting was at a climax. Pulled myself together and sought a rifle...

Our position was desperate, but with sheer will, fear, and luck we overcame all obstacles and pushed inland to capture Vierville-sur-Mer, our first town. The price was high but covered ourselves with glory...

Today was declared a holiday by Eisenhower and church services were held for all, in memoriam of the boys who paid the supreme sacrifice on D-Day and hereafter.

Here is a letter from one of the soliders who died in Iraq. Specialist Daniel E. Gomez left this letter for his sweetheart 'just in case' something happened to him.

Hey baby. If you’re reading this, then something has happen to me and I am sorry. I promised you I would come back to you, but I guess it was a promise I could not keep. You know I never believe in writing “death letters.” I knew if I left one for my folks it would scare them. Then I met you. We were supposed to meet, darling. I needed someone to make me smile, someone that was an old romantic like I was. I was going through a very rough time in Iraq and I was startin to doubt my mental state. Then one day after a patrol, I go to my facebook and there you were...

I can’t stop crying while I writing this letter, but I have to talk to you one last time, because maybe the last time I heard your voice I did not know it would be the last time I heard your voice....

I Love You. Go be happy, go raise a family. Teach your kids right from wrong, and have faith, darling. I think I knew I loved you even before I met. I love you, Katy. * Kiss * Goodbye

I'll leave you with a letter Mary Custis Lee wrote of her husband, General Robert E. Lee only a little while after his death in October 1870.

I pray that his noble example may stimulate our youth to a course of uprightness which never wavered from the path of duty at any sacrifice of ease or pleasure, & so long too has the will of God been the guiding star of his actions.
I have never so truly felt the purity of his character as now, when I have nothing left but its memory, a memory which I know will be cherished in many hearts besides my own.

This day is set aside as a memorial for those who have served and still serve our country. A celebration of a liberty paid by blood. Let us remember, the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, just as we remember the God-man who sacrificed His life for our eternal liberty.

There is a beautiful song by Twila Paris called What Did He Die For? If you get a chance, follow the link and listen to it.
 (Warning – the video has clips from the Passion of the Christ and a WWII film)

For a less graphic version follow this link:

May we never forget.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Memorial Day is the first sign that Summer is close at hand. Some of us have already started experiencing some very summer-ish type of weather. Well, pull out the sunblock, shades, and swimsuits and read about what’s up the street for next week at The Writers Alley?

Monday – In honor of Memorial Day, Pepper posts special excerpts from the book War Letters”. Stop by and share in the beauty of the written word from soldiers in their most desperate and courageous moments.

Tuesday – When and how to we incorporate backstory into our main story? Find out with Sherrinda as she posts about Spine-tingling Backstory

Wednesday – Mary talks about Getting Lost in the Details. As the proverb states “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in leaves of silver.” How do we make those words golden?

Thursday – Join Casey as she discusses Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Writing What you Read.

Friday – Laugh a little with Krista today as she posts about The Delicate Balance: How to be a good writer without causing your family to hate even the sight of books. Does this hit home to anyone else?!?

SideWalk Talk

Which Neighbors are stopping by the alley in June?

June 5th – Heartsong and Abingdon Press Author, as well as Seeker-extraordinairre, Myra Johnson visits us at The Writers Alley to discuss the difference between a short novel and trade paperback.

June 12th – Edgy fiction author, Michelle Sutton, stops in to define ‘edgy’ and explain why she loves writing it.

June 19th – Things get a little suspenseful around here as Margaret Daley discusses the key elements of a gripping suspense novel.

June 26th – Welcome author Lena Nelson Dooley takes us on a journey through her publishing experience, up to her newest release JUST LAST MONTH – Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico

AND HOLD ON TO YOUR STETSON – Mary Connealy starts off July with a visit to The Writers Alley. We’ll keep you posted. :-)


On Mary's blog this week:
Benjamin may be the youngest brother, but he is the only one who can save Simeon. Will he survive in Egypt. Read his story at Bible stories for kids of all ages.

Ever heard of Siri Mitchell? If you haven't, take a peek at Sherrinda's blog this week. She's reviewing Siri's newest novel, She Walks in Beauty, a fantastic story set in the Guilded Age of New York's posh socieity. Leave a comment and you'll have a chance to win the book at

For the month of June, Pepper will have a Blog Series called “Sizzling First Encounters” on her personal blog at
Some of your favorite authors will answer the question, “What do you think makes a great cute-meet between hero/heroine?”, then provide a scene from one of their books to prove it. Stop by – June 7th starts the series with Linda Windsor, Myra Johnson, and Deeanne Gist.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Special Guest(s) Saturday: Deborah Raney & Tamera Alexander


"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Proverbs 27:17

Tamera Alexander and Deborah Raney have been critique partners for more than six years––ever since they met at a writer’s conference and Tammy volunteered to critique Deb’s manuscript for Playing by Heart. While not all critique partners become friends, friendship has been a natural outgrowth of Deb and Tammy’s working relationship. Over the course of critiquing almost a dozen manuscripts between them, they have learned much about what to look for in a critique partner, what works, what doesn’t, how to handle conflict and competition, and how to “agree to disagree” with grace.

Writing can be a lonely pursuit and it's easy to become so close to your own work that you can no longer be objective. A writing critique partner can provide encouragement, a new perspective, growth in the craft of writing, and a kick in the pants when necessary.

Here, in a discussion taken from their article in A Novel Idea, Deb and Tammy share just a few of the things they’ve gleaned through their working partnership:

Where and how do I find a critique partner?


• One-on-one partnerships often develop naturally out of larger critique groups; so join a group with an eye to eventually working with one other writer as a critique partner.

• Connect with someone you meet at a writer's conference. That's where I met Deb and we just clicked as friends before we ever became writing critique partners.

• Connect with someone from a local writer's club or group.

• Ask a non-writing friend or relative who is well read to critique your manuscript. Perhaps barter babysitting or cooking or housecleaning in exchange for those services. A non-writer who loves to read your genre can be an invaluable source for clarity and pacing of story.

• If feasible, consider paying a professional editor for a critique. An organization of which Deb and I are both members is American Christian Fiction Writers ( ), and there are numerous well-qualified editors within the ACFW membership, as well as critique group opportunities.

• Sign up for a paid critique at a local or national writer's conference you’re attending. Worth every penny!

• As a last resort (and it's a good idea anyway even if you have a critique partner because you need to keep your skills sharpened) become your own critique partner. Read books on self-editing, such as:

o Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell, Writer’s Digest Books

o Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King, HarperCollins

• Take advantage of online opportunities to post your work for critique. If someone likes your work, or sees potential in it, they may be interested in partnering with you.

• Offer to critique for a published author. I took a risk and asked Deb if she'd be willing for me to read for her. I knew it was a long shot, and I'm certainly not suggesting you start contacting novelists at random, asking to critique their work. But if you've established a relationship with a published author at a conference or online, it might be a possibility, and it’s a great way to learn. And then once I was published, Deb was willing to critique my work in exchange.

Why have a critique partner?


• At the point when we most need to be objective, we are too close to our own story to read it as an unbiased reader, let alone evaluate it critically. Tammy is able to offer perspective that I've potentially lost, being so close to my own work. We’re able to see not only technical glitches in each other’s work but also story strengths and weaknesses, and ways to potentially deepen the layers of the story and characters.

• We bring only one opinion or viewpoint to the reading of our own work—and it's obviously very biased. A critique partner can view our work from a different point of view since they’ve likely had a different upbringing, different life experiences, and therefore have a much different “filter” through which to read your work. (For example, I live in a small town and Tammy lives in a larger city. Amazing what different perspectives that affords us!)

• Since Tammy isn't so close to my story, she often comes up with ideas or plot directions I never would have dreamed of.

• Almost any two people working together bring two sets of strengths to the table, and offset each other's weaknesses.

• It makes a solitary occupation so much more fun! Working with Tammy provides that human touch a career in writing is often missing. With the wonder of technology, we’re only a click or call away.

• When one of us is down, we can build each other up! Tammy and I are tough on each other, but we also try to be each other's biggest fan.

• It's so much easier to see "mistakes/room for growth" in someone else's writing. We learn from critiquing each other's manuscripts, and then can apply those principles to our own writing.

• Brainstorming! With today’s technology, critique partners don’t have to be next-door neighbors or even live in the same state. With applications such as SKYPE ( and iChat (for Macs), you can “video brainstorm” any time, day or night. And it’s free! Plus, if you use something like Google Talk, you’ll have a “text copy” of all those ideas for future reference.

Why choose a partnership vs. a critique group?


• Time element––it takes much more time to critique three or four manuscripts vs. just one. With both of us writing on deadline, it's all Deb and I can do to crit for each other.

• Too many cooks can sometimes spoil the soup. Writing “by committee" can really mess with a writer's voice. It’s a fine balance to stay true to your voice, while also striving to remain open and teachable. While Deb and I write in different genres, our voices and style are quite similar.

• Deeper relationship––you really develop a saety net within a one-on-one relationship, which fosters trust and the ability to speak the truth in love. Deb and I have grown to the point that we can be very blunt in our assessment of each other’s work, but that doesn’t mean we only point out the negative. We're careful to make note of what we admire about each other's writing, too, and generously sprinkle plenty of encouragements throughout our critiques. A good critique should be one in which the writer clearly sees what needs to be changed and feels equipped and empowered to address those issues––not beaten down into the dust, discouraged and ready to give up.

• By concentrating on the one-on-one relationship, we are able to focus more on that one person’s unique strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And likewise, they can do the same for us.

When is a critique group more appropriate than a one-on-one critique partner?


• When you're first starting out and still learning the basics of writing, it’s good to have input from multiple writers because, chances are, you have a lot of basics you’re still needing to learn. Having multiple critique partners can also help you find your voice as a writer. When Tammy was in a critique group early on, she would watch for similarities in critiques from her writing partners. Would three of the four writers make the same comment about a certain character or plot point? Or would it only be one writer making that particular comment? That helped her to develop confidence in her own voice while still weighing the counsel of others.

• When you desire quick response/input from more than one person about a particular aspect of your work. Life sometimes gets in the way of responding as quickly to tasks as we’d like. Same for writing partners, especially if you’re both on deadlines. The chances of having someone available to read your work in a timely manner are much greater if you’re part of a group.

• When you haven't found that right critique partner yet (and you’re in God's “waiting room”). Often, your critique group is where you'll find a critique partner and—once the time is right, or the group grows to the point of needing to form another branch—you can “offshoot” from the original group and form that more personal critique relationship.

• So that you can learn how to critique. There are many styles of critiquing. Again, it's not just about pointing out what's wrong, but about "equipping" another writer to be the best writer possible. Writers often have their specific areas of expertise as well—be it a strength in characterization, dialogue, plot, creating believable story worlds—so being part of a group can expose you to a wider variety of writer strengths, and therefore, opportunities to learn.

Pointers for finding a critique partner:


• First and foremost, pray about who God might pair you with.

• Seek someone whose strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.

• Ask God to keep your heart teachable.

• Attend local or national conferences.

• Be open to critiquing others’ work. (You never know what will come from that offer to help out.)

Whether you’re already in a writing critique group or a writing critique one-on-one partnership, or you’re still looking for that right group or person, the goal is to keep improving your writing skills and honing your craft. None of us ever ceases needing to learn, needing to grow. We want to give God our best, and as King David said in II Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer as a sacrifice to the Lord my God a burnt offering [or in our case, our writing] that costs me nothing.”

So be willing to pay the price, hone your craft, and give God your best. And keep your eyes open to the possibility of a critique partner to share the “cost” along the way.

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of Rekindled, Revealed and Remembered, the critically acclaimed Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers. Tamera's deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots, and poignant prose have earned her devoted readers—and multiple industry awards.

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the highly acclaimed World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books, the Clayburn Novels, are from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.

We at the Writer's Alley want to thank these two lovely ladies for sharing their expertise and we wish them great success in their novel puruists.
If you would like to read more of Deb and Tammy's articale, check out the book, A Novel Idea I own the book myself and found it to be a great writing resource. Follow the link to learn more.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How to keep your sanity

I'm sorry. I'm not giving you advice on how to keep your sanity in general. I really haven't mastered that task yet, so you'll have to go somewhere else for that topic!

No, today we're talking on how to keep your sanity at a writer's conference. As much as we hear their praises touted by other writers, going for the first time is huge. Goodness, I think it is overwhelming most times regardless!

Some of this depends on your personality. An outgoing sanguine may have an easier time. But considering some of us writer's tend to be introverted and have difficulties with crowds, it's worse for some.

Still, even for the most outgoing, there is a TON of information crammed into a short period of time, so many people to meet, and the huge, nerve-wracking opportunity to "pitch" to agents and editors.

Today, I'd like to give you a few practical tips on how to maintain at least a sliver of sanity while going to a conference (taken from the perspective of ACFW, since that is the only main conference I've been too....)
  1. Prepare. The more prepared you are before you to, the more confident you will be when you get there. Read the "pre" conference blogs that tell you all the things you might need, one-sheets, business cards, what to pack, etc.
  2. Research. Read blogs about those who have gone before you. Familiarize yourself with their experiences, get an idea of what to expect. The two years I went to ACFW, I did extensive blogging while I was there. If you'd like to take a look, feel free. 2008 ACFW - Minneapolis 2009 ACFW - Denver.
  3. Relax. Make room for "me" time. Skip one class and take a nap. Go sit in the coffee house and chill. At ACFW, there is a prayer room that is a good place to go and give all your worries and fears to God, and just to rest in Jesus for a little bit.
  4. Eat. Two words for you: Chocolate and Caffeine. But seriously, they provide plenty of food, but some of the meals you get to sit with agents/editors and possibly even pitch to them. Don't forget to still eat! (and don't grill the agent/editor too much that they can't touch their food either!)
  5. Get a roommate. Not only will you save $$, but you'll have someone built in to kinda "hang" with if you don't know many others. You'll also have someone to vent to, share wins and not quite good news with.
  6. Have Fun. Don't get so wrapped up in the technical aspect of a writing conference that you don't let loose and have a little fun! Goodness... go climb a tree if you need to!
Regardless, can I just tell you? Sanity is HIGHLY overrated, and as noted in the pictures in this post, I lost mine going to conferences regardless of how hard I tried to keep it!

Anyone else who has gone to a conference have tips for keeping your sanity? Or do you just say, whatever, and let your sanity fly through the window like a pesky fly that you're better off without anyway!?!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Confessions of a Conference Wannabe

Have you ever stood on the outside and looked in? Feeling like the little matchstick girl?

When Krista, Pepper, Mary, Sherrinda and I got to talking about what to post this week, we decided that we would talk about going to a conference. Okay, let me reword that, Pepper and Krista decided and we all thought it was a good idea. : )

And if it had been in a person instead of being on the other side of computer screen, Sherrinda and I would have looked at each other with a blank stare and the question stamped on our foreheads, "What do you talk about when you have never been to one??" You can tell we are the only ones who have not had that privilege, read Sherrinda's hilarious post HERE

So thus this blog post was born, Confessions of a Conference Wannabe.

Last year I heard for the first time, of the ACFW conference (click the photo for more info for this year). Every website I visited, every blog, had pictures of attendees scrunched together in poor lighting, but such excitement to see friends and to learn more about this crazy craft we all profess to enjoy.

In that moment I wanted to go. I wanted to go with a desire burning within me like an out of control wildfire. Might I even say I was even a bit jealous. Na, don't need to go there.

Okay, maybe I do.

Not everyone can afford the $1,000+ total expense the ACFW conference entails. But at the moment I saw that conference I was willing to ditch the expense, hop on a plane and fly to wherever this conference was going to be held. I wanted to rub elbows with today's best authors, shake the hand of an editor after meeting them for one of those coveted 15 minutes sessions and leave with my head so packed with knowledge it would explode if I moved too quickly.

Needless to say that isn't happening last year...and it won't this year. And the battle to dominate the niggling jealously was pure torture for several months. Until I decided to implement these few things to help me in my quest for a conference trip.

So here is what I suggest for nixing that little green monster when you start seeing all those great photos popping up everywhere.

#1: Prayer
Every time I even think about missing that conference and want to go off and pout, I pray. God knows the right time for any of us to go to something this big. Maybe we aren't ready spiritually. Maybe we aren't ready financially. Maybe we aren't ready for all that head hurting knowledge. But GOD knows and that is all that matters. His timing is perfect. I certainly didn't want to accept that last year, but with each day I am learning to trust more in what He knows is best for me. My writing needs to improve and when I go to a conference, I would love to take a sample of what I have, but right now, I have none of that ready. My writing is just not ready. But I grow everyday and God is teaching me more and more. By the time I get to a conference I will be ready to have my horizons expanded.

#2: Save
Turn into a miser (within reason here, don't starve your children). I have a jar in my room and every time I get pennies, nickels and dimes in this pocket of mine (isn't that a song??), a dollar bill (we all know those pile up in our wallets), when I sub at the local preschool, when I babysit, when I do my neighbor's chores, clean a friend's house, make a little cash on the side that isn't part of my normal pay, then I set that aside in my "Go to Conference" jar.

Once I have paid myself back for starting my jewelry business, all profits will go towards my writing conference budget. All of these things I am doing on the side to help fund a trip someday. I am sure you are thinking, "I have a family, I can't squirrel away that kind of money!" But the thing of it is, you can. It is simply a matter of being willing to save it and being proactive to take the steps necessary. What if instead of eating out, you put that money in your jar? Talk to your family, tell them of your desires and see what they would be willing to do to help.

Writing is not a solitary job, it takes people willing to help and often all you have to do is ask.

Now I do have one small advantage over some of you- for now- I still live at home. Free of rent and my family is extremely supportive of what I am doing, so that allows me to save a bit more. But the point is, even if for every paycheck you are given, you put $15, $10, $5, anything you can aside and save it, that amount will grow. You might not get to go every year, but I bet every other year you can go. That's better than not at all, right? Where there is a will there is a way.

#3 Live Through Those Photos
If you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em. (in this case at least). Every time you see a photo from a conference you wanted to attend, enjoy it. Read the comments around the photo, recognize faces and dream you are in that photo too. Take a peek at surroundings, and just spend a few minutes dreaming about it. I know, sounds eccentric, but hey, this is characterization people! Use it! : ) Besides we are artists. Cut some slack here.

(Okay I don't know who all these people are (it is an ACFW photo), except is that you, Krista??? Google Images in a scary thing!)

#4 Buy Recordings
That is truly the next best thing to being there. Hearing the lectures, the questions and ACFW has a place where you can buy everything that was talked about for about $150 in CD-ROMS or MP3 downloads. (Click HERE for more info) It is a fraction of the cost of the conference and you can listen and learn at your own speed and time. It doesn't quite beat the experience of being there, but when you can't be, get the recordings. I have the 2008 ACFW conference recordings and have found it invaluable. I need to get the 2009 and just keep forgetting...

#5 Read Up on Self Help Writing Books
This doesn't beat learning this knowledge in person, seeing the hands on supplies and listening to the teachers and asking questions. But if you can't hear about writing, how about reading about writing? I know that I personally have many self help books on my shelf that I have yet to read. Conference time would be a good time to catch up on that and maybe learn something new or understand something better.

For everything there is a time and season. Scripture was right you know. Like I said earlier, God knows the PERFECT timing for that conference trip you have been longing to take. And if like me you aren't going this year, then use the time to work on another novel, polish off some books you promised yourself you'd read about writing. Right around conference time I will start edits on my second novel, just think if you were going, you wouldn't be home to work on the next best seller. ; )

And trust that God knows what He is doing.

So join the club of conference wannabes. We will grouse, complain, pray and generally live vicariously through the pictures that the attendees take. And just look out everyone, we will be there someday, 'cause you can't stop us!

So, are you going to any conference this year?? I would love to hear about it and take plenty of pictures for me!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicago, Here I Come!

By Mary Vee

Chicago, here I come!

I couldn’t believe it. I was driving to my first writing conference. Who could sleep the night before? I couldn’t!

My Christian radio station did an infomercial about the Write to Publish Conference one day as I drove home from work. It sounded exciting. But, writing conferences were for writers—accomplished writers—weren’t they? Doctors go to doctor conferences; teachers go to teacher conferences; therefore professional writers go to writing conferences, right?

Maybe--maybe they offered classes for novices. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. With only one published article to my name, I yearned to go with every ounce of ink I owned. I did what any red blooded, American wife would do; I dropped some not so subtle hints to my husband for the perfect birthday/Christmas/and any-other-gift-day-for-the-next-decade. Three weeks later I blasted my favorite tunes while cruisin’ down the expressway at an hour too ridiculous even for birds. By late afternoon I should be pulling into my first writing conference. Woot! Woot!

Had the Chicago traffic cooperated, I would have arrived in seven hours. However, millions of cars had the bizarre inkling to turn the expressway into a parking lot. Why, I’ll never know. I suppose my trip would have been better if I hadn’t left the freeway to try a shortcut. It was worse than the blind leading the blind—no one was leading.

Hungry and fizzled out I found the campus and stopped at the obvious building. I yanked at the main door. Locked. It seemed like a perfect moment to sulk. As I worked myself up to a decent pity party a Good Samaritan noticed me sitting on the stairs. She pointed the way to the registration building.

I dragged my suitcase two blocks to the building and clunked it upstairs, wondering why there wasn’t an elevator. On the third floor I stopped, panted and searched for directions. To my left, stood a lonely elevator begging to be used. A registrar handed me a meal card. “You look tired and hungry.” It wasn’t the compliment I was looking for. “Leave your things here, go eat, then come back to register. You better hurry, though, the cafeteria is two blocks away and stops serving in five minutes.”

That night I met my roommate. I stayed up for hours listening to her experiences at previous writer’s conference. She answered my questions and gave insight into what to do. Just think—the writer’s conference started in the morning!

After a breakfast feast, I hurried down the hill and across the street to sign up for a personal session with an editor. Of course I’d be first in line; I arrived forty-five minutes early. I opened the door and gaped. Hundreds, no, thousands of people filled the room. OK, there really were about forty. My mind swirled. A few Good Samaritans invited me to join their conversation, calmly passing the time with shared experiences. When I reached the sign-up sheets, each person I wanted to see had an open spot at a perfect time.

If I had to choose a favorite part of the conference, I’d choose the praise song time. God basically put a pillow under my mind, slowed my excited spirit, and helped me to praise Him in an auditorium filled with Christian Writers. Restful, inspiring, fulfilling.

Armed with physical and spiritual food, I walked into the hallowed hall of my first class. A real, live, accomplished author stood at the lectern. He looked up from his notes and said, “Hi.” Ooooooo. I knew I would never wash my ears again!

I scribbled down every word and illustration using pages and pages from my new spiral. My hand looked more like a crumpled claw by the end of the hour. I attended sessions about fiction, proposals, speaking, radio interviews, and much more, all taught by accomplished writers--all inspired me.

After dinner, Lynn Austin, winner of the Christy award, talked about Mary’s alabaster jar. She reminded us of our own alabaster jars filled with words. Would we kneel at Jesus’ feet and shed tears of labor to present our works for His use? She continued her series throughout the week, feeding our souls, encouraging our hearts, and strengthening our spirits.

My total sleep time for the conference averaged 3-4 hours per night. It was a week to remember. A week that blossomed into seventeen articles and a manuscript that made it passed an editor’s slush pile. A week of new friends, networking, writing ideas, goals, and inspiration.

I even sneaked in a short visit to the museum on campus which has on display the real, live, wardrobe C.S. Lewis had in his home. I didn't see Narnia inside.

On the way home I survived the perpetual Chicago traffic jam by listening to CDs from the conference—and not taking any short cuts!

Have you been to a writing conference? If yes, share one or two special things you learned. If no, what questions do you have regarding writing conferences? How can we help you?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No Conferences? HAKUNAH MATATA

What? You can't go to any Writing Conferences this year? Well, I have just one thing to say...


No worries...just chill out and pick out one of my Top 10 Things To Do When You Can't Go To A Conference. Let's shorten that up to T4DWYCGTAC, why don't we? I was going to be smart and write about backstory, but everyone else was writing about conferences, so I thought I'd join in the fun.

The countdown begins:

10. Stock the pantry with chocolate bon bons and the freezer with ice cream, and pig out for the duration of the conference. (Warning: Not Waistline Friendly!)

9. Have a slumber party and read your favorite romance scenes aloud to each other. Bring out the chocolate for a night of fun!

8. Read a book a day, preferably romance, where you can escape into sigh-inducing scenes and smile at happy endings.

7. Make up flyers announcing your future bestseller and post them in all the coffee shops and libraries in your area. Make sure to put a cute head shot of yourself. They say it's never to early to market yourself.

6. Subscribe to Netflix and have a sappy movie marathon day...or two...or three. Cry and laugh your heart out. You might want to have your bon bons close at hand.

5. Text your friends at the conference every 30 minutes, telling them how your word count has grown...and how theirs has not.

4. Send out 54 queries to random agents. You can pick any number to send out, but I prefer randomness. Who knows? You might hit the jackpot.

3. Go to Disneyland and devise a murder mystery involving Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf. (Yes, I know the Big Bad Wolf is NOT a Disney character, thank you very much.)

2. Spend an hour in Barnes and Noble. Take one page from 300 books in the store and string them together for a Mad Lib Novel.

1. Watch the weather channel and drive to the nearest rainstorm. Let your hair down and dance a jig in the rain, screaming at the top of your lungs how much fun you are having instead of meeting famous authors.


So those of you not going to any conferences this year, how do you intend to chase the blues away?


Monday, May 24, 2010

You Mean I Needed Business Cards? Conference Tips

Hidee ya’ll. Pepper here, and I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last week for the third time. So, in honor of that wonderful place, I'm bringing some fresh biscuits smothered in yummy apple butter, a bowl of strawberries, and a touch of cheesy eggs on the side. I was going to offer grits, but unless you're a hard-core southerner, most people give a nose turn to that delightful southern dish :-)
(Btw, that's me with Deb Raney - she's a SWEETHEART) Below are a few pics of Ridgecrest, the conference center.

Now, like I said, this was my third Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference...but it was different.
THIS time my hubby came along.

And I’m SOOOO glad!

You see, he’s not a writer, unless you count the sermons he writes every week – which definitely takes lots of time and energy. So, he's always had a little trouble understanding my world, my imaginary friends, and the way I'm fascinated with some of the weirdest or most mundane information. :-)

I remember one time, he walked into the room while I was typing a sad scene. I was crying while I typed.
"What is wrong?" He asked.
"One of my characters died."
He looked at me kind of funny and said, "'re writing the book. Can't you make her 'not die'?"
I shook my head. "She has to die."
(all of you writers out there know exactly what I"m talking about)
My hubby just looked at me like I'd lost yet another piece of my brain, grinned, and left me to my weeping.

So...all the more interesting to have my hubby along for his first conference. After the first day, he began to 'see' me differently. 'Understand’ me better. The writer-side of me.

Some of his comments were interesting.

“It’s amazing. There’s so much energy and excitement among writers.”
“Everyone seems to be encouraging everyone else.”
“Pepper, there are other people who act like you.” (I know what a shocker)

Those are some of the feelings I had at my first conference. Wow, people like ME! People with imaginary worlds, and imaginary friends who actually TALK to them.

I can describe my first conference in one word: Overwhelming.

If I could go back to that first time and have a do-over, there are certain things I would have done differently. Better.
Here are some tips to remember for your first (or other) conference.

1. Pray – The one I need the most, but end up doing last. (Sorry, Lord) As Christians our first response to any situation should be to pray. Pray about who you should meet, which courses you should take. If He guides your writing, He’ll guide you in the industry too.

2. Research – if you have opportunity, check out the websites of the editor and agents you plan to meet at the conference. Even if you don’t have a formal appointment set up with a certain agent, you’ll have opportunities to meet them in other ways – such as in the elevator, at a meal, perhaps in a lecture. Know what they’re looking for and how your manuscript might fit into their line.
3. Etiquette – When you have that opportunity to meet editors and agents, remember your manners  They are people too. Accosting a poor editor with your terrific idea while she’s in the bathroom may make an impression, but not the kind you’re going for. If it is outside of your scheduled meeting time, introduce your question something like this “May I ask you a question?” or “Do you have time for me to give you an idea of my story?” Don’t hog the conversation at meals, but offer an out. Editors know you’re at the conference for that reason, but don’t be pushy. Be confident – but not overbearing. Listen to what the editor or agent has to say too. Listen more than you talk.

Oh, and BE ON TIME for your appointments. That’s a professional touch too.

4. Meet people – If you have spare time, try to meet people. It’s a great way to network, of course, but it’s always just fun. Finding other people who ‘speak your language’ can really be a boost of confidence – and decrease that general loneliness feeling authors have a tendency to feel.

5. Be prepared, as much as you can – If you have novels in the works, create one sheets or one-pagers. Or make a projects sheet. Do NOT take your entire manuscript. If the editors want to see the whole thing, they’ll ask you to send it to them.

Research (like from #1) is a way to prepare. Try to review a map of the vendor before you get there, so you’ll know ‘kind of’ where the presentations will be held – it’s a stress reliever.

6. Dress – Unless the conference is in a temperate setting…I don’t know, like Hawaii, it would be wise to pack with varying weather in mind. For example, at the Blue Ridge mornings were cool, but afternoons were warm, so I'd wear a light jacket over short sleeves in the morning. Easy fix :-)

Also, when you have your scheduled meetings with editors and agents, you’ll want to dress like the professional you are. I don’t mean a three-piece suit. Slacks and a nice shirt will work, but enough to show you are serious about your writing.

7. Make wise use of your time – If you do #4 and prepare ahead of time, you will already make wise use of your time. Knowing the schedule ahead of time and getting a general idea of where you need to be…and then where you WANT to be, will help you make wiser and more effective use of your time.
8. Business Cards – Okay, I put this one in here because I made this mistake at my first conference. Didn’t know I need cards. They’re easy and inexpensive to make through places like Vistaprint. I was told that your business card should have a photo on it, because agents/editors will remember your face easier than your name.


Be considerate no matter who you meet.

Send a ‘thank you’ note or email. Always a nice touch.


Say you can’t change the book because “God gave you this book and it can’t be changed.” It hints that the editor or publisher will be out of God’s will if they change your story at all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

‘Tis the season for conferences  - and with that in mind, The Writers Alley introduces a week of conference information. Whether you’re a conference-rookie or professional conference-teer, this week’s lineup should provide some helpful information for you.

Your input would be most appreciated too, because we all learn from each other.

MondayYou Mean I Needed Business Cards? Tips on Your First Conference– Pepper shares information she wished she’d known during her first conference experience.

Tuesday – Sherrinda talks about backstory in Hakuna Matata - Leave the past in the past...mostly. ;-)

Wednesday – Mary spins an entertaining tale about her first conference experience in Chicago, Here I Come! Be afraid and entertained.

Thursday – Join Casey as she posts about Confessions of a Conference Wannabe. Great fun!

Friday –  Krista gives a few pointers on How To Keep Your Sanity At A Writer's Conference.


May 29th – It’s a visit from award winning author, Deb Raney. That’s right. Make sure you stop by and see what words of wisdom she’ll impart.

June 5th – Heartsong and Abingdon Press Author, as well as Seeker-extraordinairre, Myra Johnson visits us at The Writers Alley to discuss the difference between a short novel and trade paperback.

June 12th – Edgy fiction author, Michelle Sutton, stops in to define ‘edgy’ and explain why she loves writing it.

June 19th – Things get a little suspenseful around here as Margaret Daley discusses the key elements of a gripping suspense novel.

June 26th – Welcome author Lena Nelson Dooley takes us on a journey through her publishing experience, up to her newest release JUST LAST MONTH – Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico


If you haven’t visited The Writers Alley lately, two of our authors heard great news this week. Sherrinda and Krista finaled in the Touched By Love Contest. Woohoo! We’re still dancin’ for them.

For the month of June, Pepper will have a Blog Series called “Sizzling First Encounters” on her personal blog at  Some of your favorite authors will answer the question, “What do you think makes a great cute-meet between hero/heroine?”, then provide a scene from one of their books to prove it. Stop by – June 7th starts the series with Linda Windsor, Myra Johnson, and Deeanne Gist.

On Mary's blog this week:
Reuben and his brothers struggle to tell their father about Simeon's arrest.

We all struggle telling our parents the truth. Come read how Reuben and his brothers did.

Casey hosts award-winning and bestselling author, DiAnn Mills on her blog Operation Encourage an Author. DiAnn just finished speaking at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and Pepper said she's a fantastic speaker. Stop by and give the lady an encouraging word at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Cathy Bryant on Self Publishing


By Cathy Bryant

Ask for a definition of “self-publishing” and you’ll get different answers. People often confuse self-publishing with subsidy publishing, where the author pays a publishing company to publish their work (usually at astronomical costs). For the purpose of this article, self-publishing refers to authors who form their own publishing company for the purpose of publishing their work.

Now for a disclaimer. I recently published my first novel, TEXAS ROADS, under my own imprint, WordVessel Press. I’m still very green at this entire process and learning as I go. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned during the process.


1. You maintain the rights and control of your work.

If you publish traditionally, your contract will transfer ownership to the publisher. Many times, not only will you lose print rights, but all rights. Once the book goes out of print, these rights usually return to the author. With self-publishing, you control all rights, including the ability to put the book in electronic and/or audio format.

2. You keep a larger percentage of the profits.

One author mentioned in a blog interview that she only made six cents per copy of a mass market book she wrote. I don’t know how she arrived at that number, how accurate it is, and if she figured in her advance, but in comparison, my trade size novel nets me at the very least a dollar a copy (brick and mortar bookstore sales).

3. You call the shots.

This can actually be a drawback, depending on your perspective. Some authors prefer to have someone else making the decisions. Personally, I enjoyed the process of making decisions about my book. I relished having creative control of the interior and exterior design. I liked setting the cost and deciding what formats to use. I decide when to offer discounts and for how much. I choose the number of copies to giveaway or offer as review books.

4. More frequent pay.

My only experience with traditional publishing and royalty payments came from six children’s songs I published traditionally. It was nice to get the advance, but the royalty payments after that were embarrassingly small. Since my book hit the market, it’s produced a steady income—nothing I could retire on, mind you—but it’s only been a couple of months. In addition, the book never has to go out of print. Another benefit!

5. Quicker Turn-Around Time

I loved being able to schedule the publication details at my convenience. The amount of time from when the book is written to publication is much quicker than waiting for a publishing company.


1. Lotsa, lotsa, lotsa work!

Self-publishers wear many hats: business owner, format specialist, book designer, writer, publicist, sales and promotion guru, and so on. The work load is endless. All these chores take time away from writing. Once these first three to six months have passed I hope to spend only a few hours a week on promotion and sales, and more time on writing. If that doesn’t happen, I have the option of hiring help.

2. Distribution/Shelf Space in Brick & Mortar stores

Though this is probably the biggest drawback to self-publishing, it’s not a hopeless situation. I recently submitted Texas Roads to Lightning Source, Inc. for the sole purpose of getting the book on the Ingram database. Brick and mortar bookstores order from this database, so it’s an important part of the process.

3. The Stigma of Self-Publishing

The stigma of being self-published is not as great as it once was, but it does still exist. Some people won’t give a self-published book one glance. We’ve all read horrible self-published books. But guess what? I’ve also read great self-published books and horrible traditionally published books. Unfortunately, the stigma exists, fair or not.

4. Upfront costs

Any time you set up a new business there will be costs involved. Starting your own publishing company is no different. But it doesn’t have to be so costly that you stand no chance of recouping your initial investment. Check out your options and set a budget before you jump in. While I’ve yet to break even, the gap between what I’ve spent and what I’ve made is narrowing—and quickly!


Though I ended with a point about cost, the decision to self-publish is much more than economics. I can only speak for myself, but for me it’s never been about money. My choice came from a strong conviction that it was what I was supposed to do. My advice when considering which publishing route you should take is to pray about it and do your research. With online bookstores, electronic books, and quality print-on-demand services, self-publishing is quickly becoming a more viable option for writers.

* * *

Cathy Bryant’s debut novel, TEXAS ROADS, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist and tells the story of a disillusioned widow’s quest for home. The book is available at and in eBook format at A Texas gal since birth, Cathy lives in a century-old farmhouse with her husband and a phobia-ridden cat. You can learn more about her at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Digesting, Dissecting, Delighting, and De-licing Contest Feedback

It is contest season, and many of us are either getting back scores or getting ready to get them. Scores received from judges are hard (not sure I would want one from the guy in this picture....) There are many horror stories that make you want to cry, and other stories of delight that make some (myself included) want to puke--er, I mean happy for that extremely talented person!

In my 2 years of entering contests, I've received back 8 sets of scores with comments. One other that just had an overall score with no comments. And wow. They varied a TON! From a perfect score all the way to about 50% of the possible score... on the same manuscript! It makes one very confused to receive such differing comments.

So, how do you digest all this feedback you get? How do you know what to listen to, and what to throw in the fireplace and watch burn with utter delight?

I gotta be honest. I doubt I've perfected this yet. But I do have some suggestions that I hope will be helpful. I call this the Quadruple D method. (not to be confused with a very large bra size...)


When you get your scores, read through them, then step away. Far away. How long depends on how bad they are and how thick skinned you are. But taking time to digest and get over the initial "HOW DARE THEY" reaction is very important. As a note, I wrote a post on the stages of coping with contest failure on my own blog after I found out that I didn't final in the Golden Heart Contest in March. That might help you during this stage!


When you are ready to read your results and actually digest them, do it slowly and methodically. Separate comments in to these categories (or others that you see fit)
  • GSP. Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation These are usually easy fixes, and we ALL have them in our manuscripts. I'm convinced that we can edit until we are blue in our faces and still have that one stupid missed period or "double" word.
  • DUH ME! These are things that are glaring, that you want to slap yourself for not seeing. They may be a place where you "told" instead of "showed" or wrote something that made no sense at all.
  • WOW! I love these. It occurs when you get a comment that puts a finger on a spot that never felt just right to you anyway, and it NAILS exactly what was wrong. That plot point that was a little too weak, or that sentence that just sounded kinda funny. LOVE this kind of feedback!
  • Hmmmm. Sometimes there are comments that just cause us to think a little more. We aren't sure if we agree with them or not. It might be an "ly" word that for you, works really well because, of course, YOU use them sparingly, but the judge says it's a no-no. Or a comment about a character, or conflict, that doesn't completely ring true.
  • Um, no. These are things that we just plain disagree on. The judge might not like a character, might think your dialogue is stilted, or think that you don't have a strong enough conflict, but you think all of those things are actually really good. You might even have other judges that complement you on these same things.
  • WHAT THE...?? Yes, I would finish that with the word "heck." Not CBA friendly, I know. My apologies. But still, these are the comments that make us scratch our head because they really make no sense at all. They are almost downright comical, or will be in a year when we get over our low score because of them. Seriously, what was the judge THINKING?

Okay, you've digested the criticism. Take a minute to look at the positive notes. What things are you doing right? Where are your strengths? This might differ from judge to judge. I had one judge in the Genesis this year, actually most of them, that said my dialogue was my strength and that I did an excellent job on it. However, one judge out of the 6 (I had 2 entries) said that my dialogue was too long and stilted, and needed work. I'm choosing to think highly of my dialogue. 5 of 6 works for me! LOL.

But seriously, take a minute to smile at the praise. As much as we need criticism to get better, we need praise to stay sane!


After you have basked in the praises, it's time to rub your hands together and get to work. Have you ever had to help someone get lice out of their hair? I have. We had 3 foster kids and 2 children of our own at the time, and found out that we had a very heavy infestation of lice (unsure if kids brought it with them, but that's a long story...)

Regardless, for the 2 boys, I just shaved their head with clippers, made them use the special shampoo, picked out anything left, and we were done. Easy! Oh, and my baby at the time didn't have much hair, so that was quick too. Think of these as your GSP's and your DUH's. Get them done and over with, then on to the next.

My husband and I also had some, hubby more than me since he stays home with kiddos. For me, I sat patiently while hubby combed through my hair. Blah! It was a pain, but we got it done in short order as mine wasn't too infested. For him though, at the time he sported a hair style that was long. I mean shoulder-length, wear in ponytail long. And he has this gorgeous thick hair. Or shall I say, did. Yes, we had to cut it. And I mean, army-style shave your head, cut. It was painful, but we knew it needed to be done because it would take hours upon hours to get it out. Those would be your WOW's. You know it needs to be done, you do it, and you're much better off for it.

But then we came to the 2 girls. Neither would sit still for more than five minutes. Both had gorgeous at least shoulder length hair, Karalynn's was half-way down her back. I wanted to throw up at the thought of cutting it. But at the same time, after days of trying every remedy known to man, there was still lice in their hair. We could never get it all. We finally had to call the doctor and get professional help by way of a prescription, and eventually, yes, I did have to cut a good bit of it off.

And this, my friends, are your Hmmm's, Um... no's and WHAT THE...?'s. (stop rolling your eyes at me please!) Seriously. This is when might just need assistance to figure out what to do.

For your Hmmmm's, look at how many judges commented on it. Did some say it was great, and some say it was awful? Did they explain themselves? Many times though, you are truly stuck, and this is when a good writer's group or crit group comes in. They can help you weed through the remarks. Sometimes though, it's just going with your gut.

For your Um .... no's... I HIGHLY recommend that you get another opinion. I can NOT tell you how many time I've rejected a crit only to discuss with with someone else, and be lovingly put in my place. Sometimes, just talking it over with a 3rd party who knows writing helps you see it from another angle that you were blind to before. But then, other times your gut is right, and this can be disregarded.

For your WHAT THE...?'s, laugh hard. No, really, I'm not kidding. Learn to laugh at them. I've found that most of the time these are due to different generations, different writing audiences, and different belief structures. We are all different, and come from a different set of assumptions about life, faith, and what is acceptable in books. Maybe you did go a little overboard and need to tone a section down... but many times I just chalk these comments up to funny and move on. I could moan about how they cost me a contest final, but in the end, I write to serve God, not any one persons' opinion. Once you get published, you'll have reviews that say some pretty crazy things too, so just think of it as practice for your future published self.

Discussion: Have you entered contests lately and gotten feedback? Was the feedback helpful? I totally understand that some are still smarting from their recent contest feedback, so feel free to share how you're feeling here. Some of us have the same thoughts! Please though, be kinda and respectful to judges. Regardless of whether we always agree with them, we here on the alley appreciate all of their hard work, time, and effort that they put into judging. I think I speak for all of us when I say: The helpful feedback beats on the bad stuff any day!