Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Our resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person we’re tired of being rather than who God wants us to become. - See more at: http://myoneword.org/pick-your-word/#sthash.5LkWhYop.dpuf

Mike Ashcroft and Rachel Olsen have written the release My One Word and have a corresponding website which will help you choose an area of your life to focus on. I think one of my goals for the new year will be to read this book.

I highly enjoyed the "Pick Your Word" section of the site found here.

Do you have a focus for 2014? I thought it might be fun to share some of the words we've been thinking about.

Julia: QUIET is the word that keeps coming to mind. I'm an introvert by nature so there are times when this word fits me well. But more than that, God is wanting to teach me to seek more quiet, to be more intentional in sitting at His feet. Surrendering to Him, learning from Him, listening to Him in the quiet, still moments I can find even in the chaos of life with small children.

"He says, "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

Karen: The word I feel God is giving me for 2014 is FAITHFUL. His FAITHFULNESS to me is so incredible and enduring. I'm challenged to be "FAITHFUL in the little things," particularly the blogging that I feel He is calling me to in an increasing way this year. My verse for the year is:

"If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones." (Luke 16:10)

Krista: Mine is FOCUS. This last year I have been so scattered to the point of being unproductive...like everything is this blurry mess and I need to stop and refocus things and get clarity from God.

Sherrinda: I think my word is ANTICIPATION. After a difficult year, I am anticipating an AWESOME year. I await with ANTICIPATION putting pen to paper. I anticipate growth in many areas (except for physically!) and I anticipate great joy in life, love, and my Lord.

Angie: My word is ABUNDANCE...to live each moment with the ABUNDANCE of God's love and joy.

Amy: I'm not certain if this is my "word" for 2014 but I do feel God telling me to REST. Not that I expect much of that in the traditional sense with the pending addition of a newborn to my rowdy brood, but whether it is with my writing goals, or with the stress of health problems and a growing family, I feel like God is telling me that no matter how hectic my world may seem, I can find REST  in Him. In fact, it's right where He wants me, abandoning myself and my plans, seeking solace in Him alone and trusting Him without borders. "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior." -Hillsong

Casey: My one word for 2014 is DREAM. What dreams is God calling out of me in this year? Is He asking me to think bigger than I have previously? To put my hopes and plans and dreams more squarely into the palm of His hand? I'm committed to not shying away from what goodness God has dreamed for me this year. I'm committing those dreams...and their fulfillment more fully to God.

Pepper: Yep, I have my 'word' for this year and it makes me nervous.
I've been praying about it all morning and asking God for a different one, but that one keeps coming to my mind with certainty. I figured after this last year I'd had my fair share of CHANGE, but I guess God has other plans in store. :-) And what kind of CHANGE. How will that CHANGE be applied to my writing, my family, or my heart?
We'll see.
But I'm certain of the word - and God's love. :-)

Mary: My word is DEVOTION.
DEVOTION to my walk with Christ, 
DEVOTION to improving my writing
DEVOTION to my taking a giant step forward in my life's journey despite any trials that come my way.

Ashley: GRACE... I really think that's going to be my word because it's what my WIP is all about (and my heroine's name), and it's also the word that came to mind when I prayed during the Live Free Write Free workshop... Allen and Jim told us to ask God for His name for us, and I immediately sensed the phrase "Grace Giver." Isn't that cool? I am such an overachiever that I'm always finding myself running round in circles, trying to achieve my way to success, while God gently nudges my direction in a different place-- a place of completion rather than achievement.

I can relate to many of these words. I certainly have dreams for the coming year. What are yours? I hope to see change in both spiritual and writing life. I want to minister grace to others and receive grace sitting at his feet.

What about you? Do you have a Scripture verse that is leading you as you head into this New Year? Is there a specific word that comes to your mind? Something specific you feel God whispering into your heart?

I have always been inspired by the words of Jonathan Edwards on resolutions: Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. (from Desiring God website).

Will we be vessels able to be used for his sake in 2014? Will we accept his freely given gift of the grace to keep us from falling? Are we willing to put aside our dreams for His dreams for our lives?

***GIVEAWAY: Share your one word or a goal for the New Year in the comments and include your email address to be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card. **

Julia Reffner is a lover of Christ, cats, and all things chocolate. She lives with her husband and two young children in upstate New York and is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal and several other publications.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Please, Mind The Gap (In Your Manuscripts, of course!)

For our British readers out there, I must say that one phrase which has stuck with me during the years after my visits to London, is “Please, mind the gap.” For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it is a very literal warning announced in London's underground train system. There is usually a gap between the platform and the train, and you must mind it or else trip up, or slip a leg through the gap.

Oddly enough, the recording that plays repetitively in the tunnels, rang loud in my memory as I went through and polished my recent manuscript.

“Please mind the gap,” the women's British accent pronounced the words as I came upon my own wordy gaps. (Yet another reason polishing is so necessary before the big send off.)

Mind these gaps as you polish, to avoid your reader tripping into the pit of unbelievability:

Physical gaps: These are easy fixes...usually just adding a sentence to bridge the gap. Say your character is sitting in a chair having a conversation. As the dialogue heats up, she suddenly slams the door and rushes down the hall. When did she get up from her chair? Look out for these...even though they are simple, they can contribute to confusion and frustration on the reader's part.

Emotional gaps: This gets a little more tricky. My example is: My heroine lashes out at someone out of jealousy, and although she thinks her way through to resolve, the next encounter with that person (who witnessed the jealous outburst) must address her past behavior in some way, and then SHOW that she has now replaced it with a different emotion (say contentment). This can be done using dialogue and action tags. Basically, you can't just depend on deep pov in one character, to smooth over a bump in her relationship with another character. It must be shown.

Plot gaps: Have you ever read a book where the hero and heroine despise each other and then suddenly they can't take their eyes off each other? Hopefully if you have, there were some plot elements that developed that attraction. One of my biggest pet peeves in Hollywood, is when a movie doesn't fill in the plot gaps, and suddenly the character arc is more like a character pole vault. Plot must work TOWARD character development, if your characters take off and leave plot behind, then you'll have a lot of gaps to fill.

Can you think of any other gaps in the writing process? Would you be willing to give a concrete example from your own wip?
Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous, mothering days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across historical cultures and social boundaries. Angie is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

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The NEW YEAR is right around the corner!

Where in the world has this year gone?! I know the majority of us are certainly scratching our heads asking that same puzzling question.

But a new year is indeed upon us!

What are your new year plans? Staying up until the dong of midnight or sleeping in and partying on the actual 1st?

I'm more in the camp of the latter.

We'll be ringing in the new year here with you on the Alley, so bring the sparkling cider and your favorite new year's dish and games and let's get this party started!!

Coming next week...

Angie will be your host on Monday.

Tuesday, Julia shares about the "one words" of the Alley Cats and incorporating your one word into the
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new year. There will be an Amazon gift card giveaway too!

Share New Year's Day with Karen--the Aussie gal who lives in the future and has already seen the start of a new year. :)

Thursday, Ashley will be starting our new year of posts right chatting with us about vision and goals.

Friday is Amy's turn! Be sure and stop by for her post.

Wanna know something fun??

The Alley Cats will be hosting the 6am EST party hour at Seekerville on New Year's Eve. 
There will be giveaways and excitement. Conversation and energy thriving amongst the visitors.
NOT something to be missed!! (unless of course you live on the west coast like me and sleeping at 3am, but then set your alarm! ;-)
We're hosting from 6-7am so don't miss the fun!!

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Chocolate Cafe with Cara Putman

Each time I learn something new about Cara Putman I am in awe! She's kind of like superwoman, with her myriad of things she juggles while also going to school, homeschooling, AND writing novels! It's amazing!

And her special appearance today comes at a perfect time. Her newest book, Shadowed of Grace, releases on January 1 (and I can't WAIT to read it). You can learn more about this amazing historical at her website at www.caraputman.com - or just go ahead and order it at http://www.amazon.com/Shadowed-Grace-Story-Monuments-Men-ebook/dp/B00H4EIL88/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388235890&sr=8-1&keywords=shadowed+by+grace - the Kindle price is only 2.99!!!

Okay, okay, so let's see who Cara has as her most memorable character.

I love Rachel Justice (from Shadowed by Grace) because she is a woman who takes a huge risk to protect someone she loves and do something she believes is important. She finds herself in Italy as a war photojournalist because she is desperate to save her mother who is dying from tuberculosis. The search takes many twists, but she does all she can out of deep love for her mother.

I love this character already. I ordered Shadowed by Grace today and can't wait to meet Rachel!! So writers, how do you make your character take risks? Readers, do you have an example of a good book you've read where the main character must take risks for the ones she loves?

I'm going to leave you with a quote from one 'risk-taker' like Rachel.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." - Helen Keller

Friday, December 27, 2013

Written Reflections for a New Year

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A new year is right around the corner! I can smell it like the apple cider brewing in the next room over. Some are brainstorming new books. Some are planning to start a new series idea. And some have plans to put red ink to white paper and black words in the next couple of weeks.

It’s easy to get motivated in the new year.  Resolutions and drive seem to abound and flourish in those first fresh new weeks. Everything seems put together and perfect. It’s a good time to be alive and writing! ;-)
Have you put your big picture overall goals down on paper yet? It’s easy to stay motivated for the first month or so, but sometimes a push in the “write” direction is a good thing for the rest of the eleven months. 

Find a motivational partner and get to work on putting together a list of what you’d like to accomplish in 2014. One of my goals this last year was to read one writing book a month. Maybe your goal is to finish your book so you can enter it in the Genesis contest.

Maybe you want to send a great proposal out to a fabulous agent by March 1st. Okay, so what do you need to do to make sure that goal happens? Start thinking in gray-scale big picture right now. It’ll give you a road map to start your journey and a course to return to if a pit-stop or detour is called for.

There is so much potential in these coming 365 days. It makes me excited to think about it. :- ) In moving forward for a new year, take a few minutes and look back on the old year. How would you do things differently in 2014 than you did in 2013? Something maybe as simple as how much you write in a day or a week. Do you want to send one chapter a week to a critique partner? What will it take to get that chapter ready and then edited again after they return it to you?

Do you plan to attend a writer’s conference in the new year? What do you need to do to make sure you get there?

Sometimes all we need is a little bit of planning and a willingness to fly by the seat of our pants and a whole lot of prayer to get where we need to be going. Having a goal in mind is a good thing. Having the motivation to keep the fire under that goal is an even better thing.

So I encourage you in your writing goals in 2014. I encourage you to keep on writing. To stay the course and find enjoyment amongst the little changes and mighty victories. I encourage you to putting your fingers to the keyboard even when the motivations and drive wanes. And I also encourage you to take a bit of time here and there to rejuvenate and not lose the drive for this thing we call novel creation.

Excited for the stories that will be created in 2014! I know yours will be one of them. :- )

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Seed of Mystery

Christmas is over.

The New Year is just around the corner. Everyone is making resolutions--praying for that "word" from God--or just trying to not get sick from over-stuffing themselves on Christmas dinner yesterday.

For me--I'm contemplative.

I have some big dreams for this coming year regarding my writing career. They are a change for me, and a scary new territory, but they are seeds God planted in my hearts a few months ago, and I'm excited to finally water them to see what grows.

But I have a hard time sometimes (okay, fine ALL the time) giving over control. I want to "do the work" and have God applaud me for my good job. But just like a seed can't control the soil/water/sunlight it receives, I can't control all the things around my writing career. It's in God's hands.

So, I'm going to pray over my seed. Water it according to God's instructions, and trust that what grows will be what God wills.

It's a MYSTERY! And we writers love a good mystery, right?

Discussion: What about you? Do you have big dreams and goals for this next year? Am I the only one that tends to "over water" in order to get my seed to grow faster???

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The True Heart of Writing- Christmas Is the Example

Photo Courtesy

One of the many Christmas movies aired on the Hallmark channel this year told the story of a female marketing agent who had to find the right actor to play the role in a commercial. The vender hadn't been pleased with previous choices offered by other agents, stating the actors lacked heart. He threatened to pull his account.

While doing errands the next day, she met a man who captured her attention. He portrayed a genuine kindness not only in voice and facial expression, but also with a sincere heart--the very ingredient missing from the other candidates. He agreed to do the commercial if and only if he sampled and liked the product. Later, his acting immediately won the favor of the vendor.

Sincerity and truth are paramount to the success of everything we do, including writing. Readers depend on us to write from the heart

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The Bible is the best selling book of all times. God presents information, counsel, stories of actual events, history, prophecy, testimonials, meditations, songs, etc. all  for our benefit. THE REASON WHY IT IS A BEST SELLER is because it is written from God's heart to ours

Throughout the pages, God unfolds the events of His son's birth, a precious gift to all mankind, so compelling that every heart could be touched.

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Take this writer's heart checkup and see how you are doing:

1. Are you exercising your writing skills everyday in some way to prevent gaining flabby ideas?

2. Do you consume healthy, written foods--nourishing craft information--to meet your writing needs?

3. Do you get the proper rest from writing, taking five minute breaks from looking at the screen every hour, refreshing your thoughts to find a better idea? 

4. Do you go outside and breathe life-giving fresh air, cleansing wayward ideas that push you off the intended path of a well-written book?

The greatest talent we possess as writers is a heart for God, ready to be spilled on the written page.

We Alley Cats are here to help you. 
Encourage you. 
Equip you--using what we've already learned and ready to research new information/topics
Pray with you. 
Support you in your journey

May the Lord Bless you and keep you safe
May all your writings reflect His Love to others
May you experience the blessing from His storehouse
And May you have Peace and Joy


Reader,   How has God blessed you this year? 
                Is your writing heart strong?
                What topic would best help you to grow strong?


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Writer and Anticipation

Photo by Master Isolated Images
The emotions of the writer run the gambit. We get excited over new story ideas. We get frustrated when we get writer's block. We are ecstatic when we get a request for a full manuscript from an agent or editor. We wallow in the depths of despair when we receive a rejection in our email box. Up and down, up and down, our emotions ride the roller coaster.

But there is one emotion in the writing journey that we tend to overlook because it is subtle.


When I hear the word anticipation, I am reminded of Christmas Eve long ago. While a pregnant woman was being settled by her husband into a stable, heaven awaited with baited breath for the coming of the Messiah on Earth.


While a baby lay in a manger, shepherds were hurrying to find the Christ, King of Kinds and Lord of Lords.


You know the feeling....it is the hopeful expectation of things to come. The longing for something better. The desire for something new and good to come our way. The hope of having our dreams fulfilled.

Writers await with anticipation on a daily basis. We hope for a completed manuscript. We desire contest wins. We anticipate publication. Anticipation keeps us going.

While we write with the expectation of having our dreams realized, so often we let fear and comparison cloud our view. It is like fog creeping across the land, clouding our path and slowing us down. We must learn to slow down and focus on the path. Just keep writing and enjoy the journey, letting the words flow from the heart. The fog will soon dissipate and the way will grow clear once again.

Kindle the fire of anticipation. Just as we should always anticipate the return of our King Jesus not just at Christmas, but all year long, we must keep the anticipation of our writing dream alive.

There is much to anticipate in the coming year. What are you anticipating?


This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Gift of a Perfect Match: 4 Keys to Finding a Compatible Critique Partner (Part DOS)

A She said-she said account—Pepper and Amy Style
On Friday Amy and I talked about the first 2 elements involved in making a 'perfect match' for Crit Partners. Today we're going to finish up with 2 more elements to making that match :-)

Feedback Match:

PB: Ooo, this one gets a bit tricksy. Taking constructive feedback always is! First off, if you’ve established the first two ‘matches’ (writing and personality) it makes this last one fit much better!! Finding a ‘match’ for feedback is vital for our mutual growth as writers and story-creators. Ames is a very DIRECT feedback giver, but she tags on a ‘honey’ or ‘sugar’ to make the medicine go down J I also can take the word-slashing better because the first two ‘matches’ are already in place. The great thing about our match is that our skills are pretty similar too. We have some mutual weaknesses (overwriting being one), but we also have strengths/weaknesses which complement each other. A CP pairing is really about complimenting, critiquing, and conversing. (How’d you like that alliteration, Ames?) (You know I’m all over that!)

ALS: I’m with ya, Pep. Feedback is so important, but how we digest it depends very heavily on the source. I am quite direct, and I give very detailed feedback because I know you can take it. If I’m going to invest my time in your stories, I want you to have an all-access pass to my head. (As scary as that may be sometimes!) But instead of only pinpointing trouble spots, I balance it to include what I like. A lot of people, myself included, need that positive reinforcement to help see where the tension breaks for the reader, where they laugh or start swooning over the hero. I need to know these things, but very often critiquers don’t include this very critical information. (You do this quite well!)

I suppose there are some writers who are more secure and might not need it. But I do. Which is a main reason why I hack and I dote. I want Pepper to know that though my knives are sharp and ready, since I am so invested in her stories and in her dreams, the bottom line is… I want to bolster her confidence. See her grow. Have her put out the best story she is capable of telling. (Which is a
pretty darn good one!) I am, after all, her biggest fan!

Right back atcha, girlfriend!! I LOVE gushing over, praising, and refining Amy's fantastic stories to be her best! (Not that I ever had to do very much to them AT ALL!!!) Notice my font is GREEN....there's a definite reason. Envy... ;-) (Yes, folks... she's a bit delusional. But I'll keep her.) :)

Spiritual Match:

PB: As Christians incorporating this aspect should be a natural part of what we do. Ames isn't just my CP for technique and story, but she's also my CP in the spiritual aspects of the story. We write with the deeper goal in mind than just a good story. We right with the purpose of instilling life-altering hope. Ames helps me look out for those elements in my story too.

ALS: And that curbs back into the friendship and trust aspect. Pepper isn't just a stranger with a lyrical talent, nor is she an acquaintance. She is one of my closest friends. This makes it easy to see where the plot might veer off course or miss her intended purpose for the heart of the story simply because I know her. I've talked with her about the spiritual takeaway and the themes that make it more than just a nice, feel-good read. We have something to say, and we can help each other say it.

PB: On a personal level, like I've mentioned before, we pray for each other. We share our hearts and struggles. We encourage and support each other in many other ways than writing alone. It's the third strand of a beautiful thread that binds me to Amy...and to all of the AlleyCats. Not just heart and mind, but also in spirit!

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

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The end of a year is coming to a close and we have a chance to spend time giving and receiving.

Giving: a bit of writing knowledge from those who are actively walking the journey out with all of you: our audience. Our friends. Our tribe. Right here on the streets and byways of the Alley. Giving because Christ gave so much for us.

Receiving: the warmth and friendship of people we wouldn't have met if it hadn't have been for this site right here. Receiving because Christ put us in the right place at the right time to be connected in the way that only writers for His glory can be.

We hope and pray you are surrounded by family who loves you and friends that support you during this holiday season. We're so thankful for each and everyone of you!

Coming next week...

Pepper and Amy continue their dynamic duo post on being critique partners on Monday with Part Dos in "The Perfect Match"! (sounds like a romantic suspense serial. ;-))

Sherrinda talks about anticipation, so fitting for a post on Christmas Eve on Tuesday.

Mary posts for you on Christmas day with "The True Heart of Writing"--take a few minutes to be touched during your holiday on Wednesday.

Krista posts on the "seed of a mystery" and new year's resolutions on Thursday.

Casey will be posting about writing reflections for 2014 on Friday.

The winner of The Christmas Angel by Tina Radcliffe from her guest post on Tuesday is....Jeanne T!

And The winner of God is Able by Priscilla Shirer is Shana! Email us at the Alley!
Merry Christmas 
from our Alley to yours during this wonderful holiday season! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Chocolate Cafe Chat with Erica Vetsch

We're having some fun this morning with Heartsong and Barbour author, Erica Vetsch.  Pull up a chair for some Red Velvet Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake and join us as we talk about characters.

If you could pick one of your most memorable characters, who would you pick and why is she memorable? 
The character I would choose is: Meghan Thorson, because she is such a crusader. When she latches onto an idea or a cause, she is passionate and active, a doer rather than a talker...though she talks a lot too. :)

Great characteristic of a memorable character - passion!!

What's one bit of advice about character development would you like to pass along?

I try to give my characters a hobby or interest to add some depth and realism. Something they collect, or something they are particularly good at. Hobbies like rock collecting or playing the piano or woodcarving or collecting music boxes. Most people have something they are interested in or a hobby they enjoy, and oftentimes, you can connect with a group of readers who share the same interest.

Character quote for today:

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
―   Ray Bradbury

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Gift of a Perfect Match: 4 Keys to Finding a Compatible Critique Partner (Part UNO)

A she said-she said account—Amy and Pepper Style

Okay, so perfect might be a stretch! We all know perfection as something we strive towards but never fully achieve. I mean, let’s face it, no matter how many times we nip, tuck, and thigh-master our words, our manuscripts will never be perfect. We are extraordinarily imperfect. Our spouses aren’t perfect. (Well, yours is pretty close, Ames. Admit it.) Shoot, our kids are obviously not perfect (Except mine are pretty close, mwhahaha - NOT ;-), so how monumental is the task of trying to find a good fit for a critique or writing partner if opinions, styles, and personalities vary as wide as the Atlantic?

If you’ve been trying on crit partners like shoes on the clearance rack, perhaps you should shake up your tactic.

Totally agreed, Ames. I do think timing has a lot to do with it too. I only knew Amy for a grand total of a month before I realized this gal might be what I’d been praying for in a crit partner. It can be a long process – but, just like in baby-name choices -- you want to be picky. The right fit DOES matter – now and in the future.

Ahh, Pep… I love ya! So, having been blessed as crit partners that more than meet each others needs, we thought we’d share some key pieces to look for in that elusive ONE!

1. Writing Match: What this really means…

ALS: You might think this refers to matching genres or styles. Not necessarily. The match up doesn’t have to be that “matchy-matchy.” For example, Pepper writes, well… everything, but mainly Historical and Contemporary Romance. I write Romantic Suspense. The subject matter and personality that grace our pages are vastly different… so how it is that we are compatible? Simple. We understand each others motivations for the story. We talk openly about our intentions for the message and tone we hope to convey, and we also talk candidly about our strengths and weaknesses. This arms us with the best insight into giving the kind of feedback that will strengthen each of our unique styles.
Also important, since you will undoubtedly spend countless hours combing over each others work, be sure to look for a style that doesn’t irritate you. Because regardless of how well it is written, if the type of story or the author’s style doesn’t float your boat, you are in for long, tedious months of likely unpleasant and unhelpful feedback. Anyone been there? Or gotten feedback from someone who simply wasn’t even close to your target reader? Finding a writing match is critical in maintaining a long term partnership which will be a great building block for long term growth. Your thoughts, Pep?

PB: Totally agree here, Ames. One of the things that really confirmed the match for me was how much your pacing, style, and even…our shared ‘overwriting’ ;-) worked well for my reading and writing style. It was a wonderful complement. I LOVE reading your work and I think that has to be a giant consideration when determining the right CP-fit. Amy is a mom of two (almost 3) really young kids. I’m a work-outside-the-home mom of five. We have to be careful of the writing time we DO have – and critiquing something that matches our style and interest makes the time we spend worth it! SO worth it!!! (Whole-heartedly agree!) One of the reasons I think it goes smoother in this area too is because I don’t have to do a lot of ‘guessing’ about her intentions in her writing because we ‘get’ each other. My style is similar enough that I understand her intentions (most of the time) and she does mine. This helps maximize the time we spend critiquing.

2. Personality Match: You mean I have to actually like the person?

ALS: Generally, yes. This is a relationship. When we actually like the other person things tend to go more smoothly. Lines of communication are less likely to be bungled and feelings less likely to be hurt. Again, this doesn’t mean that your personalities are the same. But having similar temperaments, or working with someone who ‘gets’ you is a bit like having a boss you can actually stand. (Not that I would know what that is like. Sheesh!) But honestly, our stories are very close to our hearts, and sharing them with someone you can relate to makes even tough critiques more credible, and all the more palatable.

PB: This is REALLY important! Next to my family and colleagues, Ames has to put up with me the most. Since writing is a ‘hopeful’ life career for both of us, we’re planning on being in each others’ lives for a long time to come. We have similar traits in the fact that we’re both more ‘extroverted’, but within that we have very different personalities too. (Amy’s more direct with a sassy edge. GREAT for suspense writing). Thankfully those personalities complement each other more than annoy J J

"A faithful friend is a strong defense."
But here’s the clincher: The key ingredient to our healthy personality match, I believe, is our mutual positive regard. We care about each other, personally and professionally. We chat about dinner and kids and crazy movies. We’ll throw writing stuff in there too, but, for us, it’s more than that. It’s a real friendship.

Another important addition here – expectations!! Ames and I are SUPER busy ladies. One of the beautiful elements of this relationship is that we both ‘get’ the need for flexibility in reading, writing, and critiquing. There are times when I CAN’T get something back to her as quickly as I’d like – and vice versa. Life calls first! Writer after. We have this agreement and understanding
for flexibility around the writing. Praise God for that!!

So there are a few ideas to get you started. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor. Spend some time in prayer about it. Strike up a conversation; be honest about what you are looking for. Who knows, your perfect match might be closer than you think.

Your turn: What are you looking for in a critique partner? Or what elements have you found work well for you? Which ones don't?


                                Merry Christmas!!!
                                  -Amy & Pepper

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Gift Are You Bringing?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem(E) in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
- Matthew 2:1-12

Christmas gifting can be next to impossible sometimes. Have you noticed? 

I'm the kind of person who starts Christmas shopping in July, and yet still, I found myself on Amazon Prime today, trying to figure out what last-minute Christmas presents I can ship in time for Christmas. 

Sorry, husband-- the camo Snuggie was all they had left, I swear. 

No, no, not to worry. Matt's not really getting that. He made a handy wish list to take the guesswork out. My dad is another story...

Have you ever paid attention to some of the gift displays set up in stores like Target and TJ Maxx? Superman cape socks, LED finger lights, and a mustache corkscrew? Who is buying this stuff? (Yes, all that stuff is actually being sold at Target.) Want to now what's really bad? I actually bought my husband one of those forehead flashlights last year! 

In all the stress of finding the perfect gift, we often lose sight of the deeper reason we're shopping in the first place. And why is it that we give gifts, really? When it comes down to it, we want to offer a gesture that says, "You matter to me."

So, back to the story of the wise men. Why were they journeying with their gifts? Because they saw a rising star for the king of the Jews, and they "came to worship him."Their gifts, you see, were a form of worship.

Let me ask, then, a question. What gifts are we bringing the baby born that day in a manger? And are our gifts a form of worship, as the wise men's were? Do they show He matters to us?

So often, we often think of writing in terms of accomplishment. In one month, we want to finish the story, land an agent, sign with a publisher. We think if we could finally meet our favorite author or finally sign that contract or finally gain a readership, maybe then we would have something of merit to offer back to God. But I want to challenge you to turn that way of thinking around. What if the product isn't the form of worship, but rather, the writing itself?

Several months ago, one of my writing mentors challenged me to think of writing as a process whereby God wants to spend time with us. Yes, He wants to use authors' words to encourage others. And yes, we probably all write with the hope of publication. But what is governing that process and desire? The hope of seeing your name in print, or the hope of precious moments with Him?

Notice that the wise men don't give Jesus just anything. They give Him their treasures. And what does Matthew 6:21 say about your treasure? The New Living Translation says it this way: "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." So if you are a teacher, teach from the depths of your heart. If you are a mother, mother from your heart. If you are a wife, love your husband from your heart. And if you are a writer, write from the depths of your heart. To do so is to worship.

I want to encourage you to perhaps take on a radical new perspective about writing. What if your gift is your gift? In other words, what if your heart's story and the time you spend writing it is in and of itself the thing you ought to offer God? What if He wants you and your writing not because of your accomplishment, but because He loves you right where you are?

Whose star are you following?

This Christmas season, I want to say a big thank you to all the readers and friends of the Alley and tell you how much you mean to me (and all of us here at the Alley!). Be encouraged as you celebrate Christ's birth, and keep your focus on the star that is rising-- He will show you were to go as you bring your gifts to Him.

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Creating Character Empathy, Part One: having empathy as a writer

image by adamr, freedigitalphotos.net
Every now and then, a story comes along with characters who get under our skin. We start thinking of them as real people. We feel their hurts, cry when they go through heartache, celebrate when they succeed, perhaps even catch ourselves praying for them.

In those stories, the author has succeeded in creating character empathy. To do this:

1.     The writer must have empathy for the character, and
2.     The character must create empathy in the reader.

We’ll start by addressing the first component today.

Writer empathy

If a writer feels nothing for her characters, how can we expect the reader to feel something? Our lack of emotional investment will show on the page. Our characters will feel wooden, stereotypical, and lacking in life.

Here are some ideas for developing empathy with your characters.

1. Know your character
To feel empathy for our characters, we need to know them like we know our best friends in real life. We need to know their strengths, flaws, quirks, fears, insecurities, and what makes them laugh.

The more we know about them, the more three-dimensional and real they will become in our minds. When they are real to us, they will start to become real to the reader.

image by hyena reality, freedigitalphotos.net

2. Walk a mile in their shoes
Empathy requires you to put yourself in someone else’s situation and imagine how it would feel.

If your character is going through something you’ve never experienced, don’t just guess at what it would be like. Do some research. Talk to people who’ve been through a similar experience, and ask them to describe their feelings.

Their reactions may not be what you’d expect. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel when facing a difficult circumstance. Real and honest writing requires you to dig beneath the “expected” responses and tap into what is true.

Of course, it should go without saying that you’ll need to be extremely sensitive in how you approach this. Your research is always secondary to the real feelings of the person you’re interviewing, and how ready they are to talk about their experience. Some people will find it cathartic to talk through their emotions; you can help them feel heard and give a voice to their experience. Others will not be ready – in that case, don’t push.

If the topic you are writing about is a very difficult one, consider reading first-person accounts instead. Blogs, online forums and biographies are all good sources. You will get a more complete picture if you access a variety of sources and/or speak to a range of people.

3. Find the universal emotion
Even if your character is going through something you’ve never experienced, chances are you’ve felt some of the emotions that arose from that experience.

image by David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net
By tapping into your own experiences, no matter how different, you can access those universal emotions and put them to use.

Say your character has a son who’s gone missing. She feels panic and helplessness. You’ve never had a missing child, but you’ve felt that fear and helplessness while you waited for your husband to undergo risky surgery.

Or perhaps your character is waiting for medical test results for suspected cancer. You may never have been through this exact scenario, but you’ve waited nervously to hear whether you got a job that you desperately needed. Or you’ve waited fearfully for the vet to tell you whether your beloved pet will need to be put down. You can take that grain of understanding and extrapolate how it might feel to face something even larger and more overwhelming.

Our emotions occur on different scales and for different reasons, but at the core of them, we have all felt the same things at some point in our lives – whether it be fear, sadness, anger, joy, jealousy, nervousness, betrayal, excitement or hopelessness.

4. Practice empathy in real life

The more empathy you allow yourself to feel in real life for people going through a range of circumstances, the more your heart will open with compassion and a deeper understanding of humanity. These things will only enrich your stories.

This great little video will interest you if you’ve ever wondered about the difference between sympathy and empathy. (Or if you’ve ever found yourself using the phrase “At least…” to a hurting person!)

image by imagerymajestic,
5. Let yourself feel
It’s okay to cry over your characters. The more we feel for them, the deeper and more real they will become on the page. Allow yourself to open your heart, even if it feels strange at first to care for a person who doesn’t actually exist.

Soon, it will feel so natural that you’ll catch yourself thinking about your character in between writing sessions, and wondering how they are faring. And that’s the first step toward creating the same powerful emotional response in your reader.

More on that next time.

Over to you. Do you find it easy or difficult to develop empathy with your characters? Do you find yourself drawing on your own life experiences as you write? - and how do you write about situations you haven’t experienced? How do you feel when you’re going through a tough situation and someone tries to downplay it with the words “At least…”? (Or have you found yourself doing that to others?) Anyone ever cried over a character, or am I the only one??


Writers, have you ever cried over your characters? You should! Here's why: Click to Tweet

To create empathy in the reader, you must first have empathy as a writer. Click to Tweet

Why caring about your characters can help your reader care too: Click to Tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after three small children, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.