Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Christmas Hideaways

Here at the Alley we're sharing our Christmas stories. I've chosen an extract from my novel, Black Pearl, set in the 70's in Australia, where Christmas falls in the summertime. 

For my young characters, Jed and Maya, Christmas highlights a growing tension between them. They're girlfriend and boyfriend who've run away together from their small town following an explosive incident in Maya's home. Maya is in hiding from her mother - both because she fears her, and because, unbenownst to Jed, Maya herself has something to hide.

Summer descended over Sydney. The humidity rose and the breezes quit. A fine sheen of sweat covered everything. The air shimmered with it. At work, Maya’s boss became even more irritable. Maya found herself lingering in the cold-room, engulfed by its Arctic chill for whole blissful minutes as she arranged and re-arranged produce on the shelves.

Christmas music played in the shops. Lights appeared, strung like embers along the iron-lace balconies of Dawson Street. Plastic reindeer swooped across rooftops, a glowing anomaly in the sultry, eucalypt-scented dark. Maya glimpsed Mrs McDonald through an upstairs window, spraying fake snow across the pane and pausing to wipe the sweat from her forehead with a hanky. Maya wondered if she recognized the irony.

At home, the arguments began.

Jed wanted to go home for Christmas. Maya refused. “There’s no way I’m going back there. You can, if you want.”

“And leave you here by yourself?”

“I don’t care. I’m not going back.”

Jed sulked for a few days, then came up with an alternative. “I’ll invite them here. Christmas in the city. They’d love it.”

Maya shook her head. “Not here.”

“Why on earth not?”

“You know why. We can’t give out our address. I don’t want anyone knowing where we are.”
“We’re talking about my parents.

“Kirramundi is a small place, Jed. You think Mum won’t find out? I can’t run that risk.”

He didn’t understand; she could see that. He’d shaken his head when she rented a post-office box for their mail; humored her when she insisted they use that anonymous address for all of their paperwork. But this was too much.

“It’s my parents,” he repeated. “I’d trust them with my life.”

“It’s not your parents I’m worried about. You’ve met my mother. She knows how to manipulate. How to get what she wants out of people. She’ll make them feel sorry for her, have them thinking we’ve overreacted about everything, that we’re the ones at fault.”

“What are you so afraid of? That your Mum’s going to come marching in here and haul you back home? You’re legally an adult. She can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. She’d have to get past me first, anyway. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

For a moment she considered telling him the truth. Confessing to her theft – the little black lie that lay between them, tucked away inside her nightstand. But the thought of such vulnerability washed through her like cold water. What if she couldn’t make him understand? He might take the moral high ground with her. Lecture her about honesty and virtue. She remembered the story Bonnie had told her, the first time they met. How she’d stolen a record for Jed’s birthday and Jed had marched her straight back to the shop to return it. Bonnie, you need to ask yourself, what’s the right thing to do. 

How much was a record worth? $2.99? 

She felt herself shrinking beneath Jed’s scathing gaze. Life was so black and white to Jed. So straight-forward. He’d never had any reason not to trust. Her fingers went to the small white scar at her jaw. “I’m scared of her,” she said. A truth wrapped around a lie. “I feel safe here. I don’t want to lie awake at night wondering if she’s found out where we are. Please, Jed. Try to understand.”

Shirley cried down the phone when Jed told her. Maya could hear him comforting her. Forcing a note of cheer. “We’re broke students now, Mum. Uni starts soon and we won’t be able to work as much. Have to count those pennies, you know.” A short silence. “No, no, we’re fine. Really.” Another pause, and he caught Maya’s eye; managed a grin. “I doubt we'll manage anything up to your standards for the Christmas Day spread. I'm predicting rotisserie chicken and plum pudding from a can.”  

A delivery arrived at the post office the week before Christmas. A big, heavy box addressed from Kirramundi. Jed opened it and sat back on his heels.

“Well, now I feel like a real mongrel.”

The electric typewriter sported a glossy red bow and a card hand-signed by each of them: Mum, Dad and Bonnie. Jed set it up on the kitchen table and fed a sheet of paper into the machine. He struck a few experimental keys; ran his hands over the cartridge. 

For the rest of the day, Maya kept catching him touching that typewriter and shaking his head.


It's me again. I hope you enjoyed that extract and that it raised some questions for you! Us novelists like to tease, don't we?

I'd like to take this opportunity to say a temporary goodbye, and to thank you all for your conversation and support in 2014. I'm not leaving the Alley, but I'll be taking a step sideways next year. If you followed along with my series on How to Grow your Blog Platform, you'll know I've become quite passionate about marketing, and so I'm stepping into a new role at the Alley with some goals of things I'd like to improve, refine and tweak behind the scenes to help our blog grow even better and brighter than ever before. 

Because I won't be posting anymore for now, I'm destined to become the Invisible Cat. I'll still be here, so if you see any shiny new bells and whistles on the blog, think of me, and I hope I won't quickly be forgotten. :)

On that note... are there any ideas or suggestions you would like to share for how we can improve things at The Writer's Alley in 2015? Now's your chance to give some feedback - let me know in the comments!

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. 

Find her on TwitterGoogle+Facebook and Pinterest.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Own Your Writing Life in 2015

Do you have writing goals for 2015?

I've been reading Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson. This inspirational book is about being intentional about all of your life.

As part of the launch, many readers created posters. These posters say:

I will own my life in 2015 by...

My question is are you owning your writing life?

Or is it owning you? Have your rejection letters driven you to despair? Do you find yourself thinking if only I could...get published? Find an agent? Win a contest?

What if only's are under your control? Is this the year you need to finish the manuscript that's been languishing in a drawer? Is there anything you haven't done because you're afraid of failure? Or maybe afraid of success?

Is this the year you need to try a new genre? Make the commitment to wake up early to write? Or take time during your lunch breaks?

How can you be more intentional about your writing life in 2015?

1) Spend time writing your goals down.

Author, speaker, and power blogger Michael Hyatt found those that write down their goals are more likely to attain them.

2) Start backwards.

What are your long-term goals?

What would you like to see in your writing life in five years? One year?

For instance my goal for 2015 is to finish a nonfiction book. I realize many of you might take much less than a year to accomplish this goal, many write a book as quickly as one to three months. BUT its all about making your goals attainable. YET you still want a goal that will be challenging to reach.

What goal would be stretching for you, yet still manageable?

3) What do you need to increase to get to your goal, and how will you get there?

What is it you think you are lacking that is holding you back and how can you change that for 2015?

One example is I've found I need to get more sleep in order to be creative, at least 7-8 hours. I also need to increase quiet. I have trouble meeting my goals during my lunch break with my children milling about. Going to a coffeeshop to write a few times a week increases my word count.

What place, time, conditions will ease meeting your goal?

4) What do you need to decrease to get to your goal, and how will you get there?

What are you spending too much time or energy on that may be hindering your writing life?

For me the biggest hindrance to my writing life is my own insecurity. I need to believe that God designed me to write and has a purpose for my writing. Then I need to meditate on the truths about Him and who I am in Him daily and know that I don't need to measure up to some standard for God to use my writing. He can use imperfect me, even when I have a lot of growing to do.

Other hindrances can be the way we are using our time. The computer itself is probably my biggest distraction and I find that even using it too often in my non-writing times cuts into my life creativity. I need to be intentional about shutting off in a world that is constantly connected.

4) Do you have a ritual you can connect with your writing life?

For me it is motivating to have a small ritual I associate with my writing times. Do you have a favorite pen or beverage? Can you use these small things to help you stay motivated?

5) Give yourself a reading goal related to your writing goal.

What you read can strengthen what you write, so plan accordingly. Since I am writing nonfiction right now, my goal is to finish a nonfiction book every two weeks. Read writers you want to write like. Read writers you believe you'll never write like. And make time for reading every day, even if its only five minutes. My favorite time to read is before bed. I always set aside at least fifteen minutes. As I come to inhabit the stories, my imagination flows anew and it sharpens my own writing life.

6) Review your progress regularly and then adjust.

Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, set aside time to check where you are in regards to making your goals. Be flexible, yet push yourself. If you're not reaching your goal, what is standing in your way? Is it a change in attitude that needs to happen ? A change in the way you're spending your time?

What changes do you need to make to OWN your writing life in 2015? By the way, if you are looking for a book on being more intentional with your life, I highly recommend Sally Clarkson's Own Your Life.

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 writing for Library Journal magazine and the blog Wonderfully Woven. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Manuscript or a Full-On Monet?

close up of a Monet
Tai: Do you think she's pretty?
Cher: No, she's a full-on Monet.
Tai: What's a Monet?
Cher: It's like the painting, see? From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess.

Can you guess the movie? It might be a little on the silly side for some of you, or it might be a little "5 minutes ago" for others...but whether or not you or I gave the movie, Clueless a two thumbs up when it came out last century (ack!), I can never get the above analogy out of my head--and it's not for scrutinizing a person's looks! It pretty much runs through my brain for lots of scenarios I find MYSELF in.

One example, when I get that unexpected compliment for my parenting style or that I am so "together" regardless of my busy life with four kids.

Um, yeah...

THAT is so Monet compared to the mess that I truly am deep down with my many mistakes, my unwashed hair sprayed down with dry shampoo, and the fact that I hadn't brushed my teeth in the rush--that minty smell is from the Orbitz gum I'd stuffed in my mouth on the drive to an appointment that minutes ago.

So Monet.

In my writer's mind, I find this dialogue pops up, too. Like, when a blog post tells me the list of things I must do to be a successful writer and I appear to be right on target but really I am just a big when I am told success is reading book after book in my genre. I am that perfect little writer when I give you a list of books I have...ahem.."read". But, in reality, that list of books also consists of a big ol' mess of half-read books. If I get right down to it, some of the "to do" lists thrown at me to get published can make me feel like I just showed up for the finals in a course I didn't know that I had signed up for. I hope that I am not the only one who feels like a "full-on Monet"...and not in the Louvre-quality masterpiece definition of the phrase, but in the very human, very not completely together, pixelated kinda way.

So, this past week I held a "Monet" in my hands. It was my first draft of my latest manuscript. To the average layman it was a thick stack of paper, nicely formatted, full of prose, dialogue, and properly placed paragraph indents. Even I caught myself admiring the view.

But then...I pulled out my pen, and I started to read, and...oh my...up close...

IT  WAS sooooo MONET--a BIG OLD mess.

 And like a person dragging their finger through a freshly painted Monet (yikes), I took my pen and scratched up that big old mess to an obvious sketchpad-only kinda masterpiece ready to look at!

The thing is though, unlike the harsh criticism of the teens in the movie Clueless, my manuscript's appearance up close was EXACTLY what it should look like. It might have been a big old mess...but it was a big old BEAUTIFUL mess. It was where it should have been at this stage, and it was not randomly placed brush strokes, but good intentioned splatters of potential.

As I marked it up, every once in a while I'd find my heart race at the magnitude of the task to brush away the mess and truly reveal the masterpiece from the very fiber of each brushstroke. And I'd catch myself worrying about the "what if" so and so saw it in this state, just like a teenage girl worries about going outside without makeup on.

IF you've seen the whole movie of Clueless, (and let me say, it has been a while for me!) you'll recall that the moral of the movie negates the scrutiny of the gals in snippet of dialogue I mentioned. They  discover that good looks are truly skin-deep and if they looked beyond the big-old the person's heart...they would find a masterpiece.
Water Lilies by Claude Monet
And just like in writing, if the author can scrape away the big-old mess by refining and polishing the words, they would reveal a beautiful story. A true Monet. A masterpiece.

Don't get discouraged at your "full-on Monets"...remember, they are just masterpieces-in-waiting.


Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets, selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at and her personal blog at 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round Up

photo by franky242
Christmas has past and the New Year is around the corner. Are you ready? Are you excited for what the New Year has to bring? I love the start of a new year. There is something about the anticipation of what's to come. There is a renewed sense of purpose and resolve to do better. Are you the same?

I decided not to ask for specific post topics and let everyone enjoy their Christmas holidays, so check in at the Alley this week for some fabulous posts on writing! They will be sure to please!

We at the Alley are excited for what the New Year holds and I have some predictions...

2015 Alley Cat Predictions 

  1. At least one Alley Cat will get the call for publication
  2. 2 Alley Kittens will arrive safe and sound
  3. Four contest wins
  4. An Alley Cat get-together/reunion
  5. Several Alley Cat Pals will win contests
  6. 2 Alley Cat Pals will get the call for publication
  7. One Alley Cat will hit the mid-century mark in age. (sigh)
  8. One miracle will happen for one of the Alley Cats
  9. One Alley Cat will become a grand-cat.
  10. One Alley Cat will take up writing once again.

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Audra Harders book, Second Chance Ranch is free on Amazon! 

How the Grinch Stole Writing (The Write Practice)

Have a great week and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

This Writing Thing? Maybe It's Not About You

It’s a burning idea.

A passion that can’t be quenched.

A germ of a story that won’t go away.

You’re a writer. It’s who you are. Ingrained in your DNA. Found in your identity.

Words are your joy.

But sometimes those same words become your greatest enemy. Maybe you’re not conscious of this happening. Maybe it’s been a slow fade down what is now becoming an even sloppier slope. And suddenly you’re at the end and you don’t want to put words on the page.

Or maybe you do want to put words on the page, but the right words aren’t there. You’re drawing 
from an empty well.

God does not call us to be perfect vessels for His work. He does not expect you to be all together all of the time. And yet so often, we put that pressure on ourselves, don’t we? We expect that we should always be able to sit down at the computer, slit a vein and write as though the words will always be there.

In that moment, we are relying on our own strength for this thing we call writing.

We become obsessed with our words. We become caught up in the euphoric high of stringing 90,000 words together into a manuscript. And we forget the Orator of those words. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, these are not your words. This is not just your passion.   

And in that moment, we are relying on our own strength for this thing we call writing.

It’s not our strength that gives us these ideas we turn into stories. It’s not our strength that gives us the words to write these stories. And it’s not our strength that carries us through the times of intense burnout. While we might not consciously think that it is, or make the decision that it is our passion, our drive, our ability putting these words on the screen, when we remove our focus from the true Source, we begin to falter.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that God is carrying you through? This isn’t on your own strength. We remember that in our daily lives a little bit better than we do in our writing lives. We get caught up. Focused. Driven. Forget God’s timing. God’s way. God’s provision.

That sometimes we have to take a backseat to our dreams, remain faithful to the calling He has laid on our heart and let Him direct everything else.

It’s surrender. It’s release. It’s not giving up. It’s not giving in. It’s giving over. Remembering where this true fount of word-joy has come from. Whom it has come from.

Do you take time to hit your knees before you write? Because this isn’t about you and what you can do. It’s about what God can do through you as His vessel. Do you dedicate your writing time—no matter how small or large that might be—to your Creator? Without Him, there would be no you. No you to write these words and stories only you can write…though the power and grace of your Savior.

This writing thing isn’t meant to be done alone. Are you trying to? Are you mustering through without realizing this?

Maybe it’s time to stop and start over again. 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school, currently serving as the ACFW Carol Awards Coordinator. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


May you experience the JOY that Christmas brings today through the JESUS we celebrate.

In honor of Jesus' birth, we at the alley are "closed" for the day. We will reopen tomorrow with another excited blog post.

Be blessed and 

~ The Alley Cats

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas in the Mountains

A week of Christmas scenes on the Writer's Alley. Each Alley Cat sharing in a different way. Don't you just love Christmas stories? Some of the Alley Cats have shared personal stories, some inspirations for their books, and some, like me, are sharing a scene from one of their WIPs. 

Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday. The season deserves so much respect because of Who is the focus of the celebration. As a result, I'm a bit nervous about this post, but hope you will like this scene, and see how I feel it honors Jesus.

Photo Courtesy

Set up: Samantha (Sam) and Hank's families have fought for generations. Due to strange circumstances, both families show up at the same lodge in the Rocky Mountains at Christmastime. As expected, tempers boiled. Amazing, though, how a few traumatic events could bring two warring families together. And on Christmas morning...

Sam sat with her ailing dad on the sofa near the fireplace. Flames crackled, the only sound other than their conversation in the lodge's great room during those golden morning hours. 

Hank's boots clomped on the wooden floor with a steady cowboy rhythm as he rounded the corner. A Stetson set forward on his head the way Sam liked it. His mom had suggested he not wear it in the lodge yesterday, but this was Christmas. A day when hearts were so full they could do nothing but overflow with love. God had created this handsome man who had the scent of outdoor heaven.

His hand nudged the brim of his hat. “Mind if I put on some music?” The deep twang rolled from his chest.   

She wanted to go to him, but Dad needed her.

Dad winked at her. "Go ahead, Sweet Pea. I'm fine." 

She kissed him on the cheek and pressed herself to a stand. "Love you, Dad." 

The man of her dreams stood only a few feet away, thumbs hung in his jeans pockets and one knee cocked to the side. She swooshed her hair behind her shoulders and tried to hide the warmth building in her cheeks. “I'd loved to hear some music.” 

Big Sky, Montana
Photo taken by Mary Vee
His long fingers, calloused from working the ranch, threaded through hers, and they walked to the stereo system built into the far oak wall. Electronic lights sprang to life when he pressed a few buttons and adjusted the sound with a turn of a dial.

He could pick any style of music, it didn't matter, even if he chose country, as long as he let her slip between his arms.

Piano keys meshed with guitar strings, softly opening a song she hadn't heard before. 

He reached his other hand out to her. 

The music compelled her hips to swayed with the beat as her hand nestled into his. 

He gazed at her, mouthing the words as though he'd written the song. Wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close, his dance mimicked the lyrics. The room blurred behind them as they danced on the hardwood floor, him twirling her in circles and catching her securely in his arms. 

The last note played, but he didn't move away. Dancing with him had squelched the stress of her job and all the lies her manipulative boss had told. Hank's breath calmed her heart even more.

An audience of eight applauded, embarrassing her. The music must have attracted everyone to the main room. Hank's dad had his arm around his mom. “Play that song again, Son. Your mother and I heard it on the radio and liked it.”

Sam's brother, Fred scooped his wife into his arms. “May I have this dance?”

She nodded and looked around the room. “Let’s move the furniture against the wall first.” 

That's when a miracle happened. Hank's family and Sam's family worked together. Yes, it was the shocker of the day, of the year, of generations, but they actually worked together. The sofa, coffee table, and other furniture scooted across the floor toward the wall, opening the dance floor. 

Hank pressed the play button, and all the couples moved across the floor gazing into their partners' eyes and dancing around the fireplace in the middle of the room. The Christmas tree lights by the front window added blues, reds, and yellows to the morning glow.

Feet slid to a silent beat during the brief intermission and into the opening bars of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." 

“Hank, look at our dads—they’re actually smiling.”

He looked with her and grinned. "Finally." He drew her closer to his chest. 

Every breath filled with the wood scent of his shirt. She melted into his warmth and let the melody and his movement steer her steps.

Had there been a happier moment in her life? It didn't seem so. She danced with the man of her dreams, and their families, after so many years of fighting, had found peace to celebrate on this golden Christmas morn.

I hope you enjoyed this snippet from my WIP.

Merry Christmas! I hope you find someone special to dance with--spouse, child, grandkid, any warm hand can bring fun and laughter to this season celebrating Jesus' birth.


If you found any typos in today's post...Mary Vee, (that's me sheepishly grinning), is waving her hand as the guilty party. 

If you have questions or would like this topic discussed in greater detail, let me know in the comment section. I'll gladly do the research and write a post...just for you :)

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 young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, 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 23, 2014

Pizza with Laurie: Thoughts on Christmas, Chaos, and Praise

In this installment of Pizza with Laurie, I'm inviting you to put the chaos of Christmas aside and take a seat at my table for a slice of warm, cheesy pizza and conversation :)


I have this really weird picture in my head of Mary sitting on the couch in her house, counting kicks of the strong baby boy variety. Paying attention to every twinge in her body. Waiting for Jesus to come.

That’s nothing like the picture of her life as she waited for her baby to come. She went from the blissful stages of engagement and planning a wedding to preparing for motherhood. She had lots to plan. Lots to explain. And every time the angels came, they said “Do not be afraid.”

But was she really? Unafraid of what it meant to carry not only a precious little life within her -- but the life of the Messiah she’d read about in the prophecies since she was a little girl? Did it hurt her to have to explain the reality of an Immaculate Conception to doubting friends and family members with shame and condemnation in their eyes? Did it stress her out to be removed from her “nest” to a strange place of limbo for the mandatory census when she should have been scrubbing the proverbial baseboards and putting the finishing touches on her nursery?

Did she have even a fleeting moment of doubt because things didn’t go how she’d always planned?

For many of us, Christmas brings out the crazy. Stomach flus, snowstorms, family drama, cancelled flights, backordered Christmas gifts, burned dinner rolls, blindside divorces, year-end budget cuts, and the frenzy of work parties and church plays create an equation that invites chaos. Things that are out of our control, that ruin our most sparkling expectations for the season -- maybe a little how Mary was naturally inclined to feel as a human being when she brought the Son of God into the world in perhaps the lowliest of places.

And sometimes all of that overshadows the real reason for Christmas cheer, the fact that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

I think it’s safe to say Mary had her moments of fear about the whole thing. She was a new mom, after all. But if you look at the Bible and all of its interpretations on the birth of Christ, the most she says on the subject is a passage called The Magnificat, a song of praise.

From Luke 1: “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.”

The chaos of failed expectations, unexpected events, and things beyond our control are an inevitable part of life. Whether everything goes according to plan this year or not, my strong hope and prayer is that we can be like Mary. That in the eerily quiet aftermath of the chaos, hope will push past the rogue voices of loneliness, frustration, and pain as we focus on what the Lord has done for us. And I hope that we will praise Him in the way we love this Christmas.


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. 

She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Scene for Christmas - Eisley & Wes

So today starts off a two week series from the Alley cats to you! We would like to 'entertain' you with Christmas memories past, present, or fictional. Today, I'm going to introduce you to two of my FAVORITE characters (who have yet to find a publishing home): Eisley Barrett and Wes Harrison.

Quick note: Eisley has traveled to England to research a family-history mystery and Wes is a reformed British baddy movie star. Eisley's pretty convinced that Wes is a fictional character who offers no risk to her wounded heart. Wes is convinced Eisley is as self-centered and conniving as most of the other women in his circles. They're both pretty wrong - and are just starting to figure it out in this chapter. A little Christmas magic goes a long way :-)

Merry Christmas and I hope you enjoy!!


Eisley wasn’t in Pleasant Gap anymore. If the accents and expensive food didn’t convince her, then the white Christmas lights sprinkled about a magical 14th century manor house clued her in. She stopped in the doorway and closed her eyes to steady her nerves. Lord, don’t let me embarrass Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, or fall flat on my face, or have another stupid migraine…
She sighed and stepped across the threshold.
Voices murmured into a quiet hum with the music from a string quartet, crystal and silver tinkled like Christmas bells, and the soft breeze from the dance floor whispered against her warm cheeks carrying the scents of cinnamon and berries. Magical. A smooth parade of couples glided across the dance floor, moving to the music like a foggy dream. A rivulet of envy spliced her middle. She’d practically lamed poor Mr. H during his brief dance instructions before the Gala. Proving one thing: Two lessons dost not a dancer make.
The couple in the middle of the room caught her attention. Wes danced with a goddess to match his Adonis persona. Long, smooth legs. Thin, freckle-less arms. A Scarlet O’Hara look-alike wearing a red…towel?  From the flow of it, it couldn’t really be a towel. Maybe an oversized red scarf.
Vivian Barry in the flesh – enough visible, wrinkle-free flesh to model for Victoria’s Secret.  If possible, Vivian was more stunning in person than the magazine photos. Oh to have curves and a waistline like that. Eisley sucked in her stomach and stood up a little straighter. No use. She groaned. Chocolate ice cream was such a traitor.
Daniel Harrison nudged Eisley out of her stupor and whispered, “Would you care to dance, luv?”
            She pressed into his shoulder with her own, curbing a touch of homesickness with his camaraderie. “No thanks, you sweet man. I’ll just stand here and do my dad’s kind of dancing.” Eisley pointed to her black heels. “Tap my toe, nod my head to the beat, and smile as if I know something no one else knows. Believe me, it’s less catastrophic this way.”
Daniel chuckled. “I’ve a mind to like this family of yours.”
Eisley pushed a mock-shudder through her body. “And you think I make a lasting impression? Just wait until you meet my dad and brothers.” She whistled low. “You’ll never be the same.”
            Her attention drifted back to the couple on the dance floor. Wes’s hand rested on the small of Vivian’s back, the awareness of it sending sparks skidding up Eisley’s spine. Stupid hormones. Vivian’s palm touched Wes shoulder, their poise a perfect match. They looked beautiful.
     "Like the cover of a storybook.”
            “Pardon?” Daniel asked, leaning closer.
             Eisley nodded toward Wes and Vivian. “The two of them look perfect together, like a fairytale.”
             Eleanor made some noise resembling a growl and murmured something that sounded suspiciously like “wicked witch.”

Eisley bit the inside of her lips to keep from asking, but curiosity unlocked her jawbone. She reached for a glass of water, feigning indifference. “They’ve been together a long time, haven’t they?”
             Eleanor closed her eyes, wearily. “I’ll not deny they’ve had a past, but I certainly hope he’s outgrown her shallow ploys. If he doesn’t have wits enough to steer clear of her, he deserves a sound slap.”
             The thought of Wes Harrison receiving a sound slap tickled a grin and drew her attention back to the dance floor, as the music drew to a close. Just then, Wes’s gaze caught hers. His smile started from one crooked corner and spread all the way across to dimple on the other side.
     Oh what a smile. The kind to send embittered women out of their self-imposed spinsterhood. The kind to shatter the singleness of the celibate resolute. The kind that made her knees a little too shaky to ever consider dancing.

He walked toward her, his James Bond appeal growing with each step. Open collared white shirt and black slacks added to the pure attraction. She pinched herself to make sure her imagination hadn’t gotten the better of her. Tall, dark, and dreamy belonged to the lady in the red-towel, right?

A trail of model-look-alikes littered his history and the glamour of brilliant stardom glittered in his future. He lived totally out of her league and danced with a past which mocked hers. But why didn’t the man from the papers match the guy she’d hung out with all day?

She released her clutched breath and offered him a smile. A shared smile for a friendly acquaintance. And only a nice safe acquaintance…with swagger.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Barrett.” Wes took her cool hand into his warm one. “Are you feeling better?”

The candlelight haloed his face, giving his eyes a golden glow, and inviting an intimacy she ignored like the electricity traveling up her arm. She pulled out of his hold and waved away his concern. “Yes, thank you. Please don’t use anything I said during my aura-induced state against me, okay?”
           A dimple flickered in his cheek. “And where’s the fun in that?”

Heat skittered up her spine at the theatrical combination of charm and good lucks. Oh how she loved fiction. “Right. Well, I’m sure your day with a crazy Appalachian provided lots entertainment.”

He closed in and all sorts of strange fireworks shot off in her stomach. Okay so admiration from afar may not be far enough, but this was a perfectly impossible kind of admiration. She could enjoy it while it lasted, since it was perfectly safe and deliciously one-sided. Very movie-like.

 “I haven’t had such a pleasant afternoon in a long time. It must be the company I keep.” He winked, controlled grin honed to perfection. The actor emerges.

Yep, totally fictional.
***** And just so you can get a sense of closure, I'll give you the last bit of the scene from Wes' point of view.
“Well, if Christmas is the season of miracles, you’ve renewed my faith in them.” She stepped away from him and smiled through her curtsy. “We both survived my first dance.”
The music had ended?
“You seem surprised at your success.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve spent the last eight years of my life with preschoolers as my primary conversational partners. I feel accomplished if I use more than two syllable words in a sentence and don’t end up with kid stains on my clothes. This is definitely a storybook moment for me.”
 Her look of appreciation fed him to his core. The sweetness in her unpretentious joy poured over his raw soul with a healing touch. Somehow by the light of the Christmas glow, he almost believed in miracles again. Even for a reformed scoundrel.
May the greatest Christmas miracle of all bring hope, peace, and joy to your hearts this Christmas!
Pepper Basham writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She writes a variety of genres, but enjoys sprinkling her native culture of Appalachia in them all.  She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and is debuting her first novel in Spring 2015.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up

Photo by geralt @
Ahhh...the blessed week of Christmas. It's the week of balancing the rush of last minute Christmas shopping and baking, with the beauty of spending time with family and celebrating the birth of Jesus into the world. It's not always an easy juggle, but in the end, the holiday is a special one and can't be denied.

This week the Alley Cats are sharing  Scenes of Christmas. Whether it is a scene from their current work in progress, a favorite book, or from their own lives, our ladies will be sharing their heart with you in the season of gifting.

May you have a Merry Christmas and remember the love of God in giving you the most precious gift of His son. 

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Library Journal Announces Christian Fiction Awards (Christian Retailing)

Laying Motifs in Your Novel For Powerful Effect (Live Write Thrive)

Surviving Criticism Without Losing Confidence in Your Writing (Positive Writer)

Favorite Digital Media Products in 2014 (Jane Friedman)

10 Essential Quotes on Becoming a Writer (The Write Practice)

How to Schedule Your Holiday Writing Time (Writer UnBoxed)

7 Questions That Will Transform Your Writing in the New Year (The Write Practice)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Am I Attractive?

Okay, so the title here is deliberately provoking, though not entirely misleading.

I’m not referencing appearance, not really, though I suppose that might hold some weight. No, what I’m talking about here is how you come off, what impression do you give? Who are you attracting and why?

Confused? Where to begin… oh yes. The point. We live in a social media age which means our lives, and so many details that years ago would have been private, now simply aren’t. And we have only ourselves (and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg creator of Facebook) to blame.
We share anecdotes from our day. We post selfies of our new haircut. We detail what we are preparing for dinner. Shoot, some people even go so far as to pinpoint exactly which restaurant they are eating at, which gym on what street corner they frequent each morning, and even where they are dropping their kids off for school. Some of these things are innocent. Some are not. And we really do need to be careful about not just knowing our audience, but also being conscious of how we present ourselves. I’ve read posts about how to make the most of your social media presence. How to boost your platform. Even social media etiquette which might have some crossover here.

But the bottom line is… your social media pages are like your very own ad space.  

So what are you advertising?

I conducted a little experiment, trying to as objective as possible. I decided to look back over my posts for the past few years and see what kind of impression I could glean from my social media presence. These snippets and snapshots of my life showed an interesting spread of information.
On the positive side one would probably observe that I am crazy about my kids. I may have crossed over the line into that annoying proud mama but people seem to respond well to the funny quips from my tots and the sweet lil daily pics of my miracle baby. One might also see from my advertisement that I seem to occasionally read the Bible and post something inspirational in nature. In fact, you could probably timeline it and determine which times in my life I am clinging to scripture and walking through a trial, and which times I am being a lazy Christian riding through my daily routine. And Facebook is actually quite the statistical resource. How many likes, how many comments? I was connecting with people in a mostly positive way and the results were right there in the numbers. Neato!

On the negative, the reason I started Facebooking (I’m sure that has got to be a word now, right?) was for writing. And sadly, the amount of time that I dedicate to that particular subject seems to have dwindled significantly since the arrival of my third child.

So if my purpose is to build a platform, and possibly publish a book someday, what will a publisher think of my page? What will they think of yours? Do you spend your time griping about deadlines? Moaning about all the ways you procrastinated today? How you just don’t have the time? How unmotivated you are?

Or maybe you shared a review, helped promote a friend’s new book, and posted an enthusiastically high word count for the day? Perhaps you were totally stressed but something simple made you stop and smile. Maybe you just found a way to deal with all the world threw at you that day. None of those things are right or wrong.
All this rambling is meant to encourage you take a step back and evaluate something that has spun out of control, and not necessarily in a bad way. We can CONNECT with so many people previously beyond our reach! It’s an amazing networking tool. Especially for a writer!!!
BUT remember that every time you post, you are advertising yourself. How do you look? Are you attractive? Do you come across self-involved or vain? Grateful? Excited or grudging? Overwhelmed? And who are you hoping to attract?

Now, I’m not suggesting you misrepresent yourself. Your personality whether sarcastic or timid should be something that shines through. But while I’m preparing for the celebration of Jesus’s birth, pulling back to focus on all the ways God has blessed me this year and all the ways I’ve stumbled through my wonderfully messy life, I turned a critical eye back on myself and took a good long look.

And I had to ask myself…. Am I attractive? Do my words and opinions unite or divide? Am I being a light? Would my spouse like what I’m sharing? Would a potential employer? My friends and family? Is God pleased with who I am showing the world? Is it who I really am?

What about you? Are you brave enough to take an honest look? Try it… In one short sitting, review your social media sites. What does your Facebook page say about you? Can you name one flattering and one un-flattering thing you’ve discovered about your ad space? This might seem like a pointless exercise but it’s actually quite enlightening. Now that’s a selfie you should probably take just for you. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson is a writer, singer, runner, foodie, coffee-lovin’-chocoholic. When she’s not dreaming up saucy love stories sprinkled with suspense and mystery, she’s chasing around her two adorable tow-headed toddler miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with her miracle princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most hunky hero on the planet (sorry, ladies—taken). Though Amy doesn’t use her Sports Medicine degree for anything but patching up daily boo boo’s, she enjoys weaving medical aspects into her writing. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Facing Guilt

One thing that seems to keep coming up this holiday season in social media circles, conversations--hey, even at the store-- is guilt. Have you ever noticed that the higher the expectations or excitement, the more the feelings of insufficiency seem to grow? One of my new-mother friends posted on Facebook that she is forcing herself to stop looking at Pinterest until after Christmas, because every time she sees pictures of beautiful mantles and perfectly-wrapped gifts under the tree, she finds herself playing the comparison game and realizing she doesn't measure up.

Photo by By Feelart at
See, the problem with comparisons is we're always comparing our reality to someone else's fantasy. Our brokenness, our imperfections--to someone else's Sunday-best-smiles.

The only person we know intimately enough to truly be honest about strengths and faults is our own selves. So comparing ourselves to others is only robbing us of seeing the beauty of who we are in God.

The thing is, guilt that leads to feelings of worthlessness is not from God. Genuine, helpful guilt grows us-- it leads us to repentance and makes us stronger as we are prompted to better see who we are in Christ. False guilt does the opposite. It keeps us from seeing who we are in Christ, because it weighs us down.

It's amazing how in holiday seasons in particular, the guilt can rush in fast. Maybe you haven't finished your shopping, or you're not feeling crafty enough with your desserts, or your holiday lights are subpar. Stop. Worrying. Over It. Seriously. Instead of beating yourself up all day and all night, remember that God created you with a beauty and a purpose all your own, and He wants to spend time with you this holiday season.

It's difficult to see ourselves as a people who are sought-after, prized by God, when we're so worried over our burnt Christmas cookies that we've convinced ourselves we are failures at life.

And it is oh-so-easy to allow this tendency to slip into our perception of our writing. Maybe you're reading a good book right now and feeling like you'll never write like that. Well, guess what. You won't. Because that author is following God's plan for her writing, and you have an equally unique, equally powerful calling for your own. By worrying about being as good as someone else, we strip ourselves of the ability to see the gifts God has put within us.

I think sometimes we consider ourselves "humble" when we look at ourselves with these guilty eyes. It's a "good job, me-- I'm living in humility" kind of moment. But we've got it all wrong. Why stumble and hobble through the writing life, convincing ourselves of our many faults, when God has called us to leap and dance and run? Confidence has never been the same thing as pride. And false guilt has never led to productivity-- in writing or in our spiritual lives.

So here's to taking a break, slipping on some fuzzy socks, grabbing your Bible, and enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate today. Who cares if you haven't wrapped all your gifts, finished your word count for the day, or even put your tree up yet? You are loved, precious, and sought after because you are God's. Take a few moments to reframe your perspective today, and I think you'll find your list of perceived failures much shorter than you once thought.

Since I won't get another chance before then, I'd love to wish you all a Merry Christmas! All the Alley Cats appreciate each one of you readers and the time you spend with us on the blog. Enjoy this holiday season!


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 blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.