Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Your Self-Supporting Hobby: Some Resources for Freelance Writing

Last post I talked about why you might want to think about freelancing (to support that writing habit of yours financially and to fill up that one sheet for starters) and gave some ideas for discovering what topics YOU specifically can share with others. 

Today, I want to focus on some specific resources that will help you get started in freelancing.

First, take out that list of topics you could write about.

Plenty of these markets are also for poetry and short stories. Keep posted!

You probably already know about The Writer's Market. Published by Writer's Digest this book has been available for a number of years and is now online. Have you ever considered investing in the online version?

The fee is $39.99 per year, in many cases selling a single article would recoup that cost. The online edition can be searched with the touch of a button. I remember spending hours flipping page by page in the written edition. You can also create personalized folders to organize the markets you are most interested in. As the opportunities float in, keep an online calendar and have reminders sent with due dates. There's also a guide with suggestions for how much to charge for an article.

Another major advantage of using the online Writer's Market is the constant changeability of the writing world. It is a major faux pas to address a letter to a past editor. Or why waste your time sending a poem out to a literary magazine that is no longer accepting submissions? 

Funds for Writers has "tips and tools for serious writers to advance their careers." Author Hope Clark discovered it was difficult to pay for all the expenses of writing. She has a background in finance and this opened up the doors to giving money advice to other writers. They have several free newsletters for adults and one for children who like to write. All of the markets they include in the newsletters are paying. They also offer a newsletter with a $1 a month charge behind it that lists over 150 new markets per month. Grants, contests, freelance markets, and contract jobs are all listed in Clark's publications. Its easy to see why this site is one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Sites for Writers.

Linda Formichelli has an excellent blog for freelancers called The Renegade Writer. Subtitled "living and loving the freelance life on your own terms," it offers prime resources for anyone trying to break into magazines. There are many great freebies here, including help for creating query letters. Some are focused on the financial aspect. Cold calling, knowing what an editor wants, and how to tweak an article fora  particular publication are some recent topics. Another top 101 site I recommend.

Are you interested in poetry or short story markets? Duotrope is a gigantic database specially focused in online markets for your work. Organize and track submissions on this site where hundreds of listings are added and revised weekly. If you are hoping for publication in a literary magazine you will find 4,706 markets and more added daily. The databases comparing various magazines and journals aid in finding the perfect market for your piece.

Short on ideas? One of my favorite features of Duotrope is a writing calendar. Upcoming themes for magazines/journals are included on the calendar. You can also add to the calendar your own submissions. Many magazine editors also use Duotrope to find authors. You can add your writing qualifications and your webistes to your tagline.

Another great megasite for freelance writing is freelancewriting.com. Contest databases are arranged by deadline. There are video tutorials, samples of query letters, and a blogtalk radio audio archive with freelance-related shows. The forums are active with many other writers offering help on a variety of topics.

These are some of my favorite sites for freelancing. Don't forget your own favorite magazines and online publications. Before too long with a bit of guidance you can add to your one sheet and your paycheck.

Do you have a favorite website that has helped your writing career?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for Library Journal, The Title Trakk, and Christian Library Journal.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Writer's Self-Talk

As much as we hear about character arc and internal dialogue, how are we doing as the character with the keyboard at our fingertips?
On Flickr by Striatic

I've heard negative comments from writers at all stages: unpublished, contest finalists, and published authors. They compare themselves to others, throw their talent under the bus to boost up another writer, admit that they don't know what they're doing and they wonder when everyone else is going to catch them in their ignorance.

 Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?

 “You don't have what it takes. Perhaps you should give up?”

 “Perhaps if you follow others, you'll be as good as them...some day.” 

“This is a pipe dream.”

“You make so many mistakes. They're going to catch on that you aren't good enough.”

What we tell ourselves in our thought-life eventually comes out in our actions and words. If we're telling ourselves we don't have what it takes, we're not good enough, and berate our every mistake, then we will begin to distrust ourselves and ultimately disLIKE ourselves, and step away from doing bold and beautiful things for God. If we beat ourselves up in our minds, then we'll only have a battered, self-absorbed coward to offer those around us.

On Flickr by Miranda.Granche

Let me tell you, I've been there. I am coming out of it, though. I am realizing that God created me exactly this way, and if I criticize my gifts by whispering demeaning things to myself, then I am really criticizing God. And when I live in bondage to criticism, my mission gets muddied and my abilities are weighed down with disgust.

 Let our writing be an outpour of our hearts, without the ugly conversation in our head, blinding the true gift you've been given with self-doubt.

Why do writers engage in negative self-talk, anyway?

  1.  Pride-- or avoidance of it. We are Christian writers trying to glorify God. If we admit our talent and success, then aren't we being proud? So if we hide it away and tell ourselves “you're still not good enough”, then we won't risk pride taking over our hearts. But isn't it ok to praise God for what He has done? Praise and Pride are two different things. Try praising God for the blessings He's given you. I bet you won't feel proud, but you will delight in the fact that He chose YOU to bestow the blessings upon! 
  2. Comparison game-- UGH! UGH, UGH, UGH!!!! I just needed to get that out! I HATE this game! Then why am I the first to raise my hand to play it inside my head? When I compare myself to other writers around me, I ignore the fact that I am created in God's image, I am wonderfully made, and as Ephesians 2:10 says that I am “...His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” When I compare myself to others, I try to be a different creation, or measure myself up to a person God never intended for me to be. Is it really worth the heartache and effort? 
  3. What you've always been told—This might hit a nerve with some of you, but it's a fact of human flesh. We are shaped by those who've raised us, the families we were born into, the world view we were first exposed to as young children. If you have been criticized and held to unattainable expectations as a child, as a teen, as a young adult, then perhaps, your self-talk is rooted in a generational habit of negativity. Search yourself deeply so you can cast off the old and fill your heart with Truth: 
“You are talented and unique.” 

“You have everything it takes to use your God-given gifts to their full potential.” 

“If your dream is in God's will, it is worth it.”

“It's okay to make mistakes, that's how you learn.”

On Flickr by Adriannolt
Sure, you've considered the internal dialogue of your fictional characters, but have you considered the internal dialogue of yourself? 

What's the most difficult negative thought to get rid of as a writer on this journey? Mine is, "This is a pipedream." But God has shown me time and again, that this dream is in His Will. I need to keep telling myself that!

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.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's Up the Street Next Week?


Our wonderful Ashley Clark is going to be PUBLISHED!!!!
Guidepost is set to publish one of Ashley's Christmas short stories in their upcoming collection A Cup of Christmas Cheer. We are SOOOO partying with the adorable AlleyCat today!!

or should we call her at moggie?!?

Ready for your useless info tip for the day?
A moggie is the British word for alleycat :-)

WE HAVE A WINNER!!!! The winner of Susan Reinhardt's The Moses Conspiracy was Rhonda Schrock. Send an email to Casey at caseym.writer@gmail.com to claim your prize :-)

So, let's see what your friendly neighborhood moggies have coming up for you next week.

Monday - How do your thoughts frame your writing? Angie talks about Writers Affirmations!

Tuesday - More wonderful advice on Freelance writing from Julia

Wednesday- The lovely Karen talks about our Reasons for Writing.

Thursday -Our newly contracted moggie is up today with a beautiful post entitled Knowing When to Pick your Flowers. Join Ashley today!

Friday - Speaking of CUTE?!? Amy chats about the Meet Cute today...or the Cute Meet...or Meeting somebody cute?? Stop by and find out :-)

Have you hugged a moggie lately? Today is a GREAT day for it!!!

Btw, it's a 20 day countdown until the first ALLEYCAT Reunion. Bring on the encouragement, laughter, and chocolate!!!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Out-Of-The-Box Marketing Interview with Amy Lathrop of Litfuse Publicity (and Giveaway!)

Hello Amy! Great to have you here chatting with us on The Writer’s Alley today! You’ve been running your own publicity agency for several years now—and it’s grown to be very successful!

What made you get into Christian fiction/nonfiction publicity?

I love this story. I have a degree in creative writing and editing. But, I never thought I’d really use my degree. After I graduated from college I got married (to a generous and charming chronic entrepreneur), had two (super fabulous) kids, started a catering company, and opened a children’s clothing store. I was about as far away from writing as I could get. My business partner and I had five kids between us and realized the store was taking up too much of our time (and theirs) so we sold it.

Glad to be free of the shop, I wasn’t really looking for anything new when a good friend from church asked if I was interested in some part-time work. She was a writer (I had unofficially helped edit one of her non-fiction books), and she was looking for a writer’s assistant. The author was Tricia Goyer, and that was the beginning of Litfuse.

Once I started working with Tricia, I saw who she was: a prolific writer (fiction and non-fiction [for adults and teens], magazine articles, blogs, etc.) who could generate a scary number of ideas. I could barely keep up. Besides being a writer, Tricia was also a wife, mom of three, Bible study leader, co-founder of the town’s crisis pregnancy center, teen mom mentor, and speaker. The number-one question Tricia received was, “How do you do it all?” Her reply? “I have Amy.”

It was through word-of-mouth that I picked up more clients. I saw the gap between what the publishers expected of authors in regards to marketing and publicity and what authors had the time and ability to do. I loved this behind-the-scenes training ground and inspired by this unique perspective. Litfuse Publicity Group was built on filling this gap to help an author build their platform and rea
ch readers effectively—in essence, freeing up the author to do what they do: write.

As the business grew, I hired a publicist (then another), a graphic designer (then another), a blog tour coordinator, a social media strategist, and a publicity assistant, and now there are seven of us in the nest. I love that a little part-time “job” turned into something so much more than I ever imagined. Look what God can do!

WOW! That story is fantastic! I loved the telling of that too!

Your publicity site is one of my favorites to review for. Great to work with and innovative on your marketing ideas. Was it brainstorming and/or combining other ideas from other organizations that gave you the idea for how your market with Litfuse?

Because I had that inside view into the author/publisher dynamic, I knew what I was looking for: something to help authors grow their audience and build authentic relationships with readers while demanding very little of their time. I began to pay very close attention to social media and how authors and publishers were marketing books. I noted what worked, what didn’t work, and we tried everything. I saw something a publisher did, something an author did, noticed an effective marketing tool that a web design firm was using, and said, “Hey! Why not pull all those together into one campaign?”

We also noticed that during a typical book campaign, there was a separate marketing campaign and a separate publicity campaign. Very rarely did they overlap. Over time we learned the value of a holistic, storyteller approach to marketing and publicizing books. Looking beyond just the current release to the author’s and publisher’s overall goals, we build an author’s brand, tell his or her story, promote his or her latest release, and get readers to look ahead to their next release. As noisemakers for those who write and publish books we offer publicity campaigns (both print and electronic), blog tours, Facebook and Twitter launch parties, interactive websites and contests, live webcasts, blog development, author assistance, event planning, social media campaigns and training, street teams, and more.

What advice would you give to starting out novelists to build a strong platform to work off of?

Blog and have something to say. Keep a schedule. Pick a topic and blog on that. Be profound and fun. As Christian authors, most of you have a message. What is it? (Is it hope? Salvation? Redemption? Unity? Sacrifice? Love?) If you’re a fiction writer make sure your message(s) gets worked into your online conversation in different ways. If you’re a non-fiction author, make sure your message gets presented in a fun way, too (so folks don’t get tired of hearing it).

Social media, social media, social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Take baby steps and be a learner. Do what you can, but be personal and genuine. Don’t be afraid to show your ugly. We are all ugly sometimes, and readers can relate to that (because they know they are, too!).

Network with other authors, bloggers, speakers, and personalities. Say yes to everything until you see what works. You never know what God will use or how He will direct you.

Your personal favorite social media? How about the one you encourage all your authors to jump into and know really well?

As much as everyone disses Facebook, it really is the one that authors need to jump into and know really well. Facebook has the ability to incorporate pictures, giveaways, interviews, parties—all in a universal way that no other social media platform has (yet) been able to do. One to watch, though, is Pinterest; the majority of our authors will testify to the fact that most of their blog traffic comes through Pinterest.

And as a personal new user of Pinterest, it’s by FAR my favorite social media and doesn’t feel like quite the drain of time that Facebook is…with some nice input back for the user. ;-)

When it comes to social media there seems to be a thousand different directions to be torn in. I know for those of us who work full time, it’s hard to manage all of them. What suggestions do you have for making everything ‘work’ together without sacrificing writing time?

Hire us! Just kidding. But not really. Balancing writing and promoting your book can be tough and sometimes impossible to do on your own. If you don’t want to hire a company like ours to help you out, the best thing you can do is to stay organized in your social media. Use some sort of scheduling platform like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule tweets, Facebook posts, and Google + posts. There are even a few Pinterest scheduling platforms out there that can help spread out your pins throughout the day.

Do you believe it’s more important to build a platform as a writer before the first sale or wait until the novel is saleable/been sold before truly developing our social media stance?

Both are very important, but the most important is building a platform from day one. Most agents or publishers won’t even consider your manuscript without a solid platform. If you’re not connecting with an audience now, then whom do you expect to market your book to once it’s released? Build relationships, network, use social media, and those folks will help you out once your first book has sold.

Thanks so much for your time and experience on this chat today, Amy! It’s been great having you here and I’ll be excited to see more tours coming from Litfuse in the coming months. :- )

Thanks so much for having me! Such fun. And thanks for being a part of our “flock” as a Litfuse Nest blogger. (If some of your readers are interested in joining our program, they can find out more here: http://litfusegroup.com/join-the-flock.)

Appreciate you Casey and this opportunity to talk about what we do in the Litfuse nest.

Thank YOU, Amy for giving us insider trader-tips for making marketing a success!

Okay, Alley readers! I’m an avid user of Litfuse publicity and have taken part in several of their most recent campaigns. If you’d like the chance to enter to win one of their latest novels on tour, leave a comment below for Amy (or myself) and I’ll draw a winner for next weekend’s edition. Up for grabs? Love in the Balance by Regina Jennings!

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, April 25, 2013

Jumping off Bridges

"If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"

You know, that whole "don't follow the crowd if the crowd is stupid" adage your mother gave you when growing up... and you may have spouted it to your own kids now.

And it's smart too. Kinda. Most of the time.

Here is the thing, though. Let's say... the bridge was on fire. And the only way to survive was to jump in the water. All your friends are jumping in...

Then the answer is, "Yes, Mom... I WOULD jump off that bridge."

And there may be those dare-devils out there that have a bungee-cord attached to them that do it for the thrill. Guess there are various opinions on the wiseness of such a sport!

What does bridge jumping have to do with writing, you ask?

Well... there are a lot of changes going on in the publishing industry lately. Self-pub, epub, small press, no advance, agent-or-no-agent.... lots of people have some very STRONG opinions one way or another.

Not to mention genre fads that come and go like vampires, epics, Amish romance and 50 shades crap *ahem*.

Do we follow the crowd, or do we pave our own path? Is doing something "different" the equivalent of saving ourselves or jumping off a bridge and going splat?

Honestly, I'm a firm believer that there are no right or wrong answers... not earthly answers anyway.

I don't believe just following a crowd (or in writing speak, "trends") is the way to go... for the very same reason your momma warned you against it. Following a crowd just means that you have a lot of company in whatever you are doing... not necessarily that you are doing the RIGHT thing.

But if the crowd is doing something, it's prudent to know about it and find out why. Is it something you want to follow? Is it where God is leading you? Is it SMART? Because knowledge is POWER in pretty much all facets of business, including the writing one.

Another fun note.... the most successful people are on the FRONT END of that crowd... but that involves a bit of risk. If you are a path paver... then you start down a path that is sparsely populated. YOU decide to jump off a bridge when no one else is. This involves a great deal of risk 'cause you might fall flat on your face.

Or you could jump right into your awesome destiny that God has for you.

In conclusion... there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Sometimes you run the opposite direction. But your path is just that, YOUR OWN... and you need to make smart decisions at each step.

One word of caution: Just because YOU chose a certain path, doesn't mean it is right for others. There seems to be a lot of criticism in ALL directions these days, and it makes me sad. Especially as Christians, let's lift each other up, not tear each other down.

Question: Would call yourself a path paver or a "follow the leader" bridge jumper? Or do you just cling the bridge with all your might?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Successful Writers Need: A Back Door

I found myself figuratively painted into a corner recently. 

In the midst of an unsolvable problem that clearly, to me anyway, the only answered seemed to just let it go. 

It dumped my thinking into a Joseph or Job situation, and all I could do was hide my frustrations. There was a way to work around the problem and accomplish what I needed, but it seemed to involve something like growing spider legs and walking across the ceiling. 

Sometimes frustrations soak into our pours to nudge us into asking for help or an opinion. Maybe there is a secret lever, knob, button in the trapped corner, that when pressed opens the door of escape, the better path, or the perfect answer, but we can't see it because our back is against the wall.

Of course, these corners appear in many areas of our lives, not just our stories. But these same real-life situations are important because they affect our writing by touching our heart.

Here are some tips to help you:

1. Pray - Ask God. 

This had to be number one on the list. For my recent problem, I decided to remain standing in my painted corner. God allows these opportunities to give us strength. A sandpaper situation to smooth yet another ragged area of life. Sometimes we become so engulfed in the problem, we are blind to a solution and forget to ask God for help. 

Yep, right behind me, poking me in the back, sat a secret knob in the wall waiting for me to twist and push open. The solution didn't provide an easier way. It provided a way that would enable everyone involved to accomplish their task. Fancy that. God engineered the best solution, not me. 

2. Fresh Cup of Coffee Solution - Ask someone else.   

Which would you rather have: a reheated in the microwave cup of yesterday's coffee/tea or a fresh-brewed cup? 

There are thousands of ideas, situations, experiences from your life all stored in your head. Many would make great stories. But as you write and pull from these situations do you find them somewhat lacking in fresh appeal? Wouldn't it be nice to bring a fresh take, one that would intrigue readers and add a sparkle to your memories? 

Ask someone else who experienced a similar situation. Just as our characters have different POV's, so also do our neighbors, family, and friends. Here is an example: I happened upon one of those contest TV shows. Backstage, one of the contestants became frustrated with his partner. He said, "Her eyes are going like ping pong balls in her head." Ooo I thought. Now there is a fresh take on searching aimlessly for an answer.

You might be surprised who you could ask for an idea, confirmation of a plot, scene, character, subplot, conflict, etc. Get away from your screen and notes to listen to conversations. Summer is a great time to learn from neighbors. watch a movie, or go for a walk. Listen to the words and sounds around you for fresh takes. 

Simon from the singing duo Simon and Garfunkel told an interviewer his ideas for songs came from walking the city streets. Many of his rhythms and sounds repeat what he heard on those walks and the messages reflect what he saw. 

Also, have you noticed the best quotable lines from written works have great rhythm?  

Make a fresh pot of ideas, add flavors from others, heat up the brew or serve some iced. 

3. The Look in the Mirror Solution - Ask yourself

You had a great idea for the outfit you were going to wear today . . . until you saw yourself wearing the clothes in the mirror. Five or six changes later, you found the perfect choice.

For both plotter or pantsers our ideas can seem wonderful and flow across the page. At some point, we look back and realize the idea didn't exactly work. It needed tweaking, or in some cases trashing.  

Maybe you need to wash the idea. Get rid of wordiness, scrub out excessive backstory, use a new setting/add a new character/delete a character.

Iron out the idea wrinkles. Something doesn't flow, doesn't fit the situation, time/season doesn't work, the male character sounds girly/the female sounds masculine, the child too old/the adult too young, the MC should be changed to a secondary character, the POV should be someone else's, etc.

Now try on the cleansed idea, conflict, plot, dialogue, issue. Does it look better?

Sometimes the obvious stares us right in the face and we can't see it. A can't see the tree for the forest moment. 

Hopefully this has helped you see a direction: 

Ask God. 

Ask Someone else. 

Ask yourself.

Today, I open the door for you. Is there something you are struggling with that we can offer help? A friend recently asked me to help her determine a lie for the hero to believe. Maybe we can brainstorm yours. Do you need a fresh idea, tweak, sparkle, word of encouragement? Or perhaps you have a prayer request. 

We love to hear from you.

photos above courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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 with a focus on the homeless population 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, April 23, 2013

TOP 10 Ideas for Wordlessness

Let's face it. We all have days when we cannot think of anything to blog about. We want to be informative, but feel like we have exhausted our wealth of knowledge in our previous blog posts. We want to be funny, but it looks like we've gone through our repertoire of jokes. We want to be deep and thought provoking, but our well is dry and we have nothing to offer.

Ever been there?

So what's a gal to do when she has no words?
  1. She blogs about having no words. Hey, there's a new concept! Write about what you are experiencing at the moment. Let your experience dictate what you write. 
  2. Read the newspaper. Check out the news online. What's happening in the writing world? Publishing world? Author world? News is fodder for discussion.
  3. Do a book review. People are always wanting to find a new author or read a fabulously gripping book. Share your favorites!
  4. Try doing Google Alerts. You can set up alerts to any news regarding any subject. This is similar to #2.
  5. Check out Twitter Trends to know what people are talking about.
  6. Share excerpts from your favorite authors or possibly one of your own.
  7. Design your own book cover and share it with the world.
  8. Review your favorite writing books.
  9. Do a MAD LIB...nonsense...pure nonsense.
  10. Take the day off and read a book. 
So there's a list of Ten things you can do when you are stuck without any ideas. Now if you see any of these pop up here at The Writer's Alley on Tuesdays, you will know that I HAVE NO WORDS!!!! 

Actually, I'm hoping to get my head on straight some time soon and write something of substance. Who knows, maybe I can write some riveting posts that will inspire and motivate you to follow your dream full force. Or at least make you roll your eyes a bit.

*This post was originally posted on September 27, 2010. (Sorry guys...I had no words!)

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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

C.O.R.E. of a Hero

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.
It is not the urge to surpass all others
at whatever cost,
but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."

— Arthur Ashe

 I chose to write about heroes today in part due to last week's events in Boston. Heroes are all around us. Most walk through life in ordinary clothes until the need arises to do something heroic, from holding a bleeding person's wounds, to attacking a plane hijacker, to a police officer who risks his life to protect the public, all the way to standing up to a bully or offering a jacket to a friend who is cold even though you'll get cold yourself.
In fiction, the same truth still applies.

Heroes usually don't wear capes.
or tights.
(unless we're writing for Marcher Lord Press ;-) Gotta love Jeff Gerke!
Yet, every hero makes the choice to do something heroic. Some live a life which thrusts them into service every day (firefighters and police officers) and others choose to step outside of their everyday worlds to serve.

WHAT makes a good hero?

Time magazine says, “Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts. The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their action, but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause.”

(Read more:

Anybody else getting the sense that heroes are 'other' focused instead of 'self' focused?

And I'd hazard a challenge here to say 'extraordinary acts' might be in the eyes of the beholder. For the new kid in school who can't find her way to class, a guy who risks being late to help her find her way, could be perceived as a hero to her.

This is important to note as we mold heroes for our fiction.
Your fictional hero's qualities meet the particular NEEDS of the heroine and other people in your book.

But, let's get down to the basics for ANY hero!

The CORE traits.

1.       C – Care – a true hero inspires care and admiration from the heroine and others around him (especially the ones he ‘cares’ about the most.) This is his genuine goodness thread. A vein of nobility.

2.       O- Opportunity – a true hero, when given a choice to back away or stay and fight, will take the opportunity to stay because of his internal goodness. There is an opportunity to serve, and he will take it.

3.       R- Risk – a true hero will sacrifice his desires for the welfare of those he cares about (and many times for people he may not) He’ll take the risk for the right!

4.       E – Expertise – a true hero has some character trait in which he is an expert. This can mean something as internal as ‘optimism’ or something as external as ‘carpentry’. It is a special skill that uniquely supports the choices he makes.

These characteristics are the spine which makes for the building of a hero. How we ‘dress up’ that spine with skin, bones, and a fedora is what makes your hero unique to your story.
Things like:
1.       Humor (all types)

2.       Rogue-ish

3.       Strong

4.       Introvert

5.       Extrovert

6.       Gentle

7.       Lover of kids and animals

8.       Education

9.       Background experiences

10.   Eye or hair color

You get the point

But all of these quality must hinge on the C.O.R.E!

I’m going to use a few examples to illustrate this point:

Let’s start with an Austen hero – Darcy.

He didn’t fight in a war or race through a storm to save a stranded family, yet his core qualities are secure. He is honorable, and for that we admire him. He is loyal, and he sacrifices his reputation –and pride- to make things right. He is an expert at maintaining his calm in trial, thus using his skills to help find a missing Lydia in Pride and Prejudice.

I just finished reading Jody Hedlund’s newest novel, A Noble Groom, and her hero is a FANTASTIC example of core hero qualities, plus those characteristics I found particularly swoon-worthy. Carl is humble, humorous, and adorable, but one of his strongest Core hero qualities is sacrifice.
Though he does have a heroic act near the end that is pretty phenomenal, his heroic characteristics are best shone in the fact that he is a hero for Annalisa. He sacrifices and portrays his deepest goodness for her in small, yet powerful ways. Sacrificing his status and his future, as well as risking his life, he chooses to show care to her in tangible ways that melts the chill around her hardened heart. It’s beautiful.

One of my favorite heroes is Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. At the core, he takes risks for the lives of others in big and small ways. He genuinely cares for the welfare of his companions and will take any opportunity to save them, even accepting his role as King of Gondor. He is uniquely skilled as a ranger, but we learn throughout the book (and movie) that he is also a skilled leader.

In my contemporary romance, A Twist of Faith, my cattle farmer - Reese Mitchell- has core qualities shown through sacrificing his dreams for the welfare of his family and their farm. Though he's funny and ruggedly charming, his greatest hero characteritsics are his desire to protect and support the people he cares about. When given the opportunity to risk his heart, despite his fear, he takes it. (definition of courage, btw)

Of course, our greatest inspiration for the PERFECT hero is in Christ - who in his wisdom about the state of our souls in sin, showed 'care' for us by taking the opportunity to come to Earth as a human infant and risk death, hell, and eternity to save us.
Oh what a Hero!

As you consider your current hero, or a hero you hope to write, ask yourself these questions:

1.       What experiences and beliefs does my hero have which can show how he cares for the people in his life?

2.       What small opportunities can you give your hero for him to show his CORE throughout your story? You’ll want to begin with something in the first few pages. What is/are some BIG opportunities you can give him?

3.       What will your hero have to risk to do what is right? Is it a loss of income or status? Another broken heart? His life?

4.       What is your hero good at doing? What is something in which he excels and how can you weave that skill into the heart of your story?

List one of your favorite characters, either one of your own or someone else's - and tell us what CORE characteristics he posseses.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Surprise! Interview with Mary Connealy

 Mary Connealy is one of the fastest growing writers in CBA - in fact, she's one of the fastest writers I KNOW! Since her first book, Petticoat Ranch came out in 2007, she has published over 20 books! I figured gleaning some info from this fabulous author (and wonderful person) might be a good way to spend our Saturday.

Mary is a blogger at the FABULOUS Seekerville, but you can also find more information about her at her website - www.maryconnealy.com

Who are a few of your favorite authors?

This is a mean and cruel question, Pepper. Shame on you.
I am a fanatic reader and the list is not only insanely LONG I also have a lot of authors I love both professionally and personally and I’m terrified I’ll forget one. I love the work my Seeker buddies are doing. Janet Dean, Missy Tippens, Myra Johnson, Julie Lessman, Camy Tang, Debbie Giusti, and Cheryl Wyatt. And several more of these ladies have their first books coming out soon and I can’t WAIT. Glynna Kaye, Cara Lynn James, Ruth Logan Herne. I love Cathy Marie Hake, Terri Blackstock, Susan May Warren, Tracie Peterson, Marcia Gruver. . .I could go on a long time.
I also love Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, Faye Kellerman, Janet Evanovich. Again, too numerous to mention.

I love romantic comedy with suspense. If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while they’re running for their lives, then I’m happy.

Since we’re talking about your tastes in reading-choices, what’s your favorite dessert ever?
This is so easy. First of all, I didn’t get into my generally oval shape by being all that picky. Having said that, Apricot Torte from the Lithuanian Bakery in Omaha, NE. Who knew Lithuanian’s could bake?

If you could be any person (present or past) who would it be and why?
I’d be me. Only thin and cool with a little better sense of direction and some social skills and an improved short term memory and a passion for dusting and vacuuming.

Writing is a big job and I’ve heard you mention before “if you can stop writing, do it”. For those of us who are ‘infected’ by the compulsive need to place words on paper in a narrative fashion, what are your top three tips?

That’s it. If you want to be a writer? Write.
No excuses
No exceptions
No escape.
The three Es of writing.

Do everything you can think of to improve, take classes, read books on the craft, join a critique group, enter contests and study the judge’s comments, join professional organizations, attend conferences. All of that is good, but no matter what you learn from those things if you don’t sit your backside down in a chair and write, you can’t improve, you can’t submit, you can’t get published.

Do it.

You refer to yourself as a Seat-Of-The-Pants writer, or panster, could you give your definition of what that means for your writing? The method to your creative genius?

Well, I do a lot of daydreaming before I start a book. I’m an insomniac and when I’m laying awake at night I flip ideas around in my head, try not to get stuck on one to the exclusion of others, think off the wall and outside the box until I hit on an idea that makes me excited.
I start the book with an explosion and I spend a lot of daydreaming time planning that. I want an inciting incident that you can NOT look away from when you open the book. Action, high high stakes. It can be an emotional explosion but I really prefer for something to actually blow up. A run away stagecoach, bullets flying, a riding plunging off a cliff, a heroine attacked by a pack of wolves. Something fun like that.

Your books are chock-full of humor, which gives them a light-hearted feel, but spiritual depth sneaks out in ways that are unexpected and beautiful. As a Christian writer, what type of role does your faith play in your stories?

I wrote for a long, long time before I got my first book published and back in the day when I started writing, there really was no Christian fiction, or very little of it. When Christian fiction exploded onto the scene, I’d say with the Left Behind books or about that time, here I had all these books on my computer that OH WOW, were Christian fiction except without the faith thread. There are just some
things I’m not willing to write. Graphic sex, profanity. It’s just not gonna happen and that left me with a lot of books and a very, very narrow market to sell them to. I could only find about one publishing house that accepted very sweet romances. Then BOOM Christian fiction appears and I can open my book files on my computer and realize that all my characters are Christians and they conduct their lives by Christian principles but I’ve never spoken aloud the words they live by. Adding a faith thread was simple. It was like I was writing for years for a genre of books that hadn’t been invented yet.

My fundamental desire when I write is to entertain. I don’t think of my books as powerful works of life changing fiction. Instead, I think of them as fun. What I want to do more than anything else is prove that Christian fiction can be just as fun, fast paced, high stakes, roller coaster ride as secular fiction. I refuse to believe that we can’t have that kind of fun with a book without the sex and cussing. So that’s my goal; to entertain within the rules I live by. I do tend to have some heavy issues climb into my books. I don’t know why exactly.

Gotta LOVE Mary Connealy!!!
So - if you've read Mary's books, what's something from her writing that inspires you as a writer? as a reader?
Any important tips here that really resonate with you?

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Plank, Pimple-picking, and Preachin’ to the Choir

Now, I know you are wondering how on earth I can make these title topics cohesive. You’ll have to read on and see….

The Plank

Arrgh! I spend my day with little boys so inevitably my mind goes to something like this. My apologies.

So a plank is something people walk before they jump, or are pushed off of into the shark infested waters below, right? Pirates, and whatnot. When we—as writers, professionals, doctors, singers, musicians, pretty much anything—put ourselves “out there,” our dreams essentially become damsels clinging to a flimsy board over open seas.

Sometimes someone says something, rejects you, fires you, and it is enough of a poke to send you over the edge in to the crushing waves below. Swimming in rejection is not at all fun. And sometimes, we are tossed, wave after wave, struggling to keep our head above water. Clinging to a life-raft like hope, maybe stubbornness, or perhaps even delusions of grandeur, in wait of a slice of land, or a passing yacht that might bring about some shift of fortune.

Whether you are on the plank or in the water, you are in a vulnerable place, my friend.

But I got to thinking about that wooden board. What if instead of a plank, it’s a diving board? -And why are all the metaphors about water always about drowning and struggling to find the surface? I like swimming. I find it refreshing.

What if we view those failures as some super sweet exercise? And we think about that dark sea writhing beneath you like a clear blue lap lane…

So often, we can learn, tone, and refocus when we hit that water and tool around long enough to get pruney. It’s great cardio, by the way!

Now, hold on to those thoughts about your plank for a few moments while we move on to the next glamorous point.

I never had that crazy combination skin, thank you Jesus! But there were, and still are, those occasions when my inner Venus manifests as a sort of pubescent boy. Zits! Ick!

I banished that mega-magnifying makeup mirror years ago because I honestly don’t like to scare myself with that much microscopic truth.

I don’t know about you but when I’m feeling great, or I’ve had a good day, I wash my face, brush my teeth and crawl into bed without a second glance.

BUT… when I’m feeling particularly worn-out, stressed, vulnerable, or maybe rejected, I pick. Yes, I’m a picker. I lean in, scan my clean pasty complexion until I can find someway to squeeze out my frustration. Anyone else do this?

I create problems for myself this way. There might be a tiny clogged pore that that no one would ever see, and yet, when I’m at my worst, I pick at it, I inflame the situation. I take one tiny speck and turn it into the giant red blob.

Now I’m gonna bring these points home by Preachin’ to the Choir

How many times have you felt this way when someone tells you that “God’s got a plan.” “All in God’s time.” Or even “Well, God’s in control.”

Yeah, yeah. We know that. I’m pretty sure that was ingrained in Sunday school rhyme-time or song-circle.

But the point of all this is for you to see how YOUR perspective changes everything!

Sometimes when those rejection letters come back, it’s difficult to see God’s perspective—His plan for your time in the pit.

Yes, we can rationalize that His timing is perfect. His plans are to prosper and never harm. But sometimes God’s plans feel painful. They push us out on that scary ledge. They expose some microscopic insecurity and turn it into a mountain that you walk around with on your face for all to see.

Now, I don’t want to preach at y’all but the Word is a pretty good defense against our perceptions…

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5


Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

You see, our minds and emotions can be frail when allowed to swim in the deep end all alone. It’s like flailing around like tasty shark-bait for the enemy.
But YOU have the power to change your perspective.

To see that plank as your spring board.

To view those waters of rejection as a way to firm up those muscles for the long road ahead.

To refuse to let those little snags in your reflection rise up and define who you are and what you can become.

In the wake of some bad news God showed me that I could spin my perception of that rejection into something empowering and truly encouraging.

Give it a try. The view from the other side is great and the water is quite nice. 

Talk to me: When was the last time you turned lemons into lemonade? How do you defend against those planks and pimples in life that tend to skew our perspective? Or what scripture encourages you the most when things look bleak?

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little mischief makers and would challenge anyone to a cutest family contest. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing from the Heart

 Most of you know I'm an animal lover. So I'm going to start today's blog about writing from the heart with a story of something that happened to me last week.

First off, flash back to about three weeks ago. My husband and I were at an art show, and I (of course) wanted to play with the dogs that were part of an adoption event at the festival. One dog in particular stood out to my husband. The cute little puppy had humongous ears and was making this adorable talking noise because he wanted to play with the other dogs so badly. It was so cute--not really a bark or a howl, but really more like talking. After we left the festival that day, I came home and got online to see if I could find out more about the pup. Lo and behold, the little guy was at an animal shelter, and I knew I was in for it now. (If you don't know, the stats about animal shelters are that only about half the dogs and cats who walk into an animal shelter walk out alive. The intake numbers are so high that the shelters often have no choice but to euthanize.)

So I made a few calls, and I discovered that this puppy had already been at the shelter for three weeks, and they are technically only supposed to keep them SEVEN DAYS (can you believe that?!) before putting them down. Knowing it would probably be hard on us, my husband and I offered to foster this little puppy in the meantime while we tried to find him a good home.

This is Radar...

I know. The cuteness, right?

We already have two dogs, and keeping a third did not seem like a good option. But little by little, this puppy was winning us over. He is so smart and eager to please, and he has just enough Jack Russell that he kept us laughing. Our other dogs loved running around the yard, chasing him (well at least, the first few times!).

Each day, fostering became harder and harder.

Then, someone called. They'd seen Radar's picture on a local dog rescue website that had offered to help us spread the word about him, and he reminded them of their former dog. They are a nice retired couple, so Radar can be with them all day long, and they live right on the beach, where he can go for lots of fun walks.

The only problem?

My heart. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten seriously attached. We're talking, crying-my-eyes-out attached as we took him to his new family and walked back to our car.

I know some of you may be thinking I'm a bit too sensitive, and that he's just a dog. But the thing is, I think we have to guard sensitive hearts if we really want to write well.

So how does this whole anecdote about a rescue dog relate to writing? I'm glad you asked. :)

When life events happen, we have a tendency to shrink back from writing. We think, "I can't write about that." Or maybe even, "I don't want to write at all."

But perhaps those things are the things most worth writing?

The longer I write, the more I realize how inextricable my own life is from the lives of my characters. No, I don't mean they're all autobiographies of myself (although I think we all do a little of that!). What I mean is that the way I see the world, the things I go through, and the ways I feel, shape the experiences of my characters.

If we don't allow ourselves to feel, we limit the heart-level of our writing, and we cheat our readers in the long run.

Have you ever read a book and recommended it to a friend? More than likely, in order to give it high praise, you resonated with that story on an emotional level. And the best way to write emotion is to first feel it.

I've been teaching my literature students that meaning in stories is an interesting thing, because it first stems from an idea in our minds (or in the believer's case, from the Holy Spirit), then passes through the writer's own filters of personal experience, emotion, and interests, then goes through the reader's filters of the same, and finally is transmitted to the reader's mind. Communication really is an amazing process when you think about it.

But what happens when a step of that process is cut short? Part of the communication is broken. Part of the message gets lost.

We have to take care that as writers, we allow ourselves to feel, and then, even further, that we write from this level of our hearts. The best-written characters are those we can relate to for some reason or another. To write them, we must first know their hearts. And to know their hearts, we must first feel deeply about the issues in the world.

I once heard Janice Thompson say that when she first faced health trouble, she was miserable. But then God taught her how to write through the circumstances, and her writing became a joy (both to her and to readers-- everyone loves a Janice novel!).

Maybe you are facing a tragedy right now, a rejection, or the greatest joys of your life. Or maybe all that's on the horizon are the steady waves of the day to day emotion. Regardless, I challenge you to dig deeper into the chambers of your heart, and use these experiences as a ministry, to deepen the layers of your writing and to also deepen its resonance within readers' hearts. Readers what to hear about the rescue dogs of your story, even as they read the fictional one.

A story that reaches deep within a reader's heart must stem from deep in the writer's own.

Accomplishing what I call "heart writing" means taking fibers from the details of our own lives and weaving them in to the story. You may actually take something that happens to you and put it in the plot. I, for instance, usually like to include a rescue dog in my stories. Or on the other hand, you may take a more subtle approach. You may lace your own heart through the story by weaving in threads of details... the sound of horses neighing, the roughness of burlap, the stillness of the waveless sea. The important thing is, whether those fibers are big parts of the plot or small phrases in the narrative, the reader needs to feel what you feel.

It can be so much easier to write on autopilot instead of digging deep into our own hearts. Have you ever read a book that's made you cry? What book was it? How do you think the writer accomplished this layer of emotion in their writing? Has your own story every made you cry?


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