Wednesday, December 30, 2009

5 Ws and H

5Ws and H

I love ushering in the new year. Really, I do. New Year=New Start. I can put all the mistakes and disappointments of the previous year behind me. Several moments are spared to rejoice over successes and to count my many blessings…but then, as with most people, my focus turns to the coming year. What can I do different? What do I want to change about me? About my life? Every year I make several lists of different kinds of resolutions…and every year, about two weeks in, those resolutions fly out the window along with my motivation. Sad, I know.

Ironically, this year one of my resolutions is going to be to keep all my resolutions. Ha ha…we’ll see if that works.

One of the oddest things about letting my resolutions fall through, is I know how to make goals, and I know what I need to do to keep them…I. Just. Don’t. But, as with the other disappointments from last year, I am putting that behind me, and letting my infectious optimism take over.

So, now I look forward to 2010, and consider what I want to accomplish, what I want to change.

In the meantime, let’s consider what a goal/resolution should look like. A goal should be three things: Realistic, Specific, and Measurable. A goal needs to be realistic for your person. While someone may be able to lose 30 pounds in three months, that doesn’t mean you are able to. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and while a goal should push you, it really shouldn’t set you up for failure.

Any goal you make should be able to be measured in some way. If we stick with the 30 pounds in three months, you can break that down by week or month (2.5 lbs/wk, 10 lbs/mo). With a goal like writing 500 words a day, you can keep a spreadsheet where you record your daily word count to keep up with your progress.

And last of all, the more specific your goal, the better idea you have of what you need to do to accomplish it. A good way to achieve this is when writing out your goals, use the 5Ws and H. You remember learning those in elementary school, right?


Who is involved in this goal? Most of the time this is you…but sometimes it could be a family goal or group goal.

What is the goal? Be specific. Lose 30 lbs? Write 500 words a day? Read from your Bible more?

When will this goal be accomplished by? Some goals take less time than others. Like I said earlier, the goal should push you, but not over the edge. Lose that weight in four months? Write so much per day, five days a week? Read every night before bed?

Where will you work on this goal? Now, this one won’t always apply. But, if you’re like me, you work best under certain conditions. I always write better when I’m at my computer desk with a soda and gummy bears. Therefore, I know that I need to set aside time every day to go to that place to get adequate work done.

Why is this goal important? What is your biggest reason for accomplishing this goal? This is important because we discover our passion for this goal. If you don’t care about it, why will it matter? Why will you give it priority?

How will you accomplish this goal? That’s right…an action plan. This is where most people fail at goal setting. We write out our goals, but then we have no clue how we are to go about pursuing them. If we sit down in the beginning and plan it out, we’ll have no excuses later on. Want to lose 30 lbs in four months? How? Are you going to work out three times a week? What kind of workout? Where? Are you going to alternate exercise routines? I’m not saying that the plan has to be complicated, or even thoroughly planned out, but you have to give yourself some sort of jumping off point.

So a goal might look something like this:

I am going to write at least 500 word/day, every day except for Sundays for a grand total of 156,500 words for the year. I am going to set aside at least two hours every night to sit at my computer desk and work on either my novel or blogs, and then record my progress on a spreadsheet I set up on my computer.

So, that’s one of my goals—now you’re turn. What is one of your goals for 2010?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lost Mission Winner

Whew! This holiday season finds me behind on just about everything. I finally got around to letting my four-year-old draw a winner for Lost Mission by Athol Dickson.

And the winner is...


Congrats to her, I hope she enjoys the book.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Award

Mireyah over at Crimson Ink is scared of my whip, so she awarded me with the Superior Scribbler Award. hehehe... I'm honored that she thinks so highly of me.

So, now I'm passing it on to five friends who I think are amazing writers.

1. Cathy over at Word Vessel is my critique partner and an amazing writer. She's very real and insightful. Be looking for her novels on the shelf one day people! In the meantime, check out her blog.

2. Anne over at Building His Body has been truely blessed with the gift of words. She uses them to share her love for the Lord, and what she's learned, insights gained, etc. on her blog. I have been blessed over and over again just by visiting her daily postings.

3. Cindy over at her self-named blog shares a bit of what she's working on every Wednesday, and invites her readers to share what they are working on as well. Reading her short excerpts is always exciting because she has so much talent.

4. Jill over at her blog always has such interesting posts. Lately, we've been enjoying one minute vacations. Click on over and join her!

5. Peg over at Suspense Novelist is a fellow suspense writer (obviously). I love clicking over to see her interesting posts on everything writing, with glimpses of life with Peg.

I enjoy these blogs very much and I highly suggest you all hightail it over to each of them and check them out! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

Often times we pick out a novel to entertain us—whether it is a suspense or romance or action. Sometimes we choose a novel to take us away, an escape from reality. Occasionally we select a novel just because we’re bored. And then again, sometimes that book unexpectedly teaches us far than we ever expected.

That’s how it was for me with Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. I had heard good things about this novel, and when I saw Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary advertising a free book for those who would write a review, I jumped at the chance (who doesn’t love “free” books?).

And let me just say one thing—WOW! It has been a long time since I read a book that forced me to examine, not only myself, but deeper issues, such as the essence of Christianity, and the effect our choices have on ourselves as well as those around us.

Lost Mission parallels the stories of two sets of people—a trio of friars from the 1700s, and a trio of Christians in modern times. The two main characters (one of the friars, and a young woman in Mexico) both answer God’s calling and travel to California (well, in the friar’s time it’s still New Spain) to save souls—and everything goes wrong. Both stories begin with a quest and end in fire. I won’t tell you what kind of fire…you’ll have to read the novel.

Mr. Dickson is a phenomenal storyteller. I will admit that I did have a little trouble with the writing style at first. It had a formality to it that just wouldn’t let me relax. It took me about a week to read the first 40 pages or so. After that, though, I read it in two days. I was stunned by the twists and turns the story took.

I enjoyed the unique way he changed POVs. Each chapter began with the friar’s POV, and when it was time to switch to modern day, instead of a hard break, he took a different approach. He would ease into a sort of narrator speaking, showing how what happened in the friar’s POV reflected what was about to happen in the modern POV. It was all very intriguing.

My favorite thing about this book is the way it has stayed with me, and probably will continue to do so. He shows us how easy it is for Satan to work his way into our lives, even as Christians. It brought to light how fear and grief, as well as desperation can not only render us useless, but can lead us down a frightening path.

I could go on to list the many things I learned, or that I was reminded of, but I think that would take away some of the surprise of the book. Instead, let me offer up the book to one lucky person! Leave a comment and your email address below and a week from today, I’ll draw a winner.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Good news!

We're going to have another little addition to our family. This morning I took a home pregnancy test--it was positive! I'm going to have a baby!

My husband and I are both very excited. Hubby especially because he is praying for a little boy. We already have two girls. I told him we could give it one more try, but that's it. lol!

According to the online due date calculator thingie, the baby is due on July 4th. Isn't that fun? Granted, my babies have been early so far, so we probably won't last that long.

Of course, none of that is quite official yet. On Monday morning, I'll go to the post clinic and get an actual test. Then they'll give me a referral to find an off post OB. Fun stuff.

In all the excitment, there's a tad bit of apprehension. This pregnancy is high risk from the start as I have diabetes and high blood pressure. It's going to mean taking extra good care of myself--watching what I eat, making sure my dosages are good, tracking everything.

But God is with me on this. He knows my body, He knows my strengths and weaknesses, and I trust that He will help me. The Lord is faithful, and His plans are to prosper me, so what right do I have to fear, right? Praise the Lord for His goodness!

Eek! I'm having a baby!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bad Queries

I am a guest blogger over at SM Blooding's blog today. We're having fun with bad queries. Check it out!

Monday, October 19, 2009

MLP Select

October 19, 2009

Marcher Lord Press Announces Marcher Lord Select

(Colorado Springs, CO)--Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction, today announces the debut of a revolution in fiction acquisitions.

"Marcher Lord Select is American Idol meets book acquisitions," says publisher Jeff Gerke. "We're presenting upwards of 40 completed manuscripts and letting 'the people' decide which one should be published."

The contest will proceed in phases, Gerke explains, in each subsequent round of which the voters will receive larger glimpses of the competing manuscripts.

The first phase will consist of no more than the book's title, genre, length, a 20-word premise, and a 100-word back cover copy teaser blurb. Voters will cut the entries from 40 to 20 based on these items alone.

"We want to show authors that getting published involves more than simply writing a great novel," Gerke says. "There are marketing skills to be developed--and you've got to hook the reader with a good premise."

Following rounds will provide voters with a 1-page synopsis, the first 500 words of the book, the first 30 pages of the book, and, in the final round, the first 60 pages of the book.

The manuscript receiving the most votes in the final round will be published by Marcher Lord Press in its Spring 2010 release list.

No portion of any contestant's mss. will be posted online, as MLP works to preserve the non-publication status of all contestants and entries.

Participating entrants have been contacted personally by Marcher Lord Press and are included in Marcher Lord Select by invitation only.

"We're also running a secondary contest," Gerke says. "The 'premise contest' is for those authors who have completed a Christian speculative fiction manuscript that fits within MLP guidelines and who have submitted their proposals to me through the Marcher Lord Press acquisitions portal before October 29, 2009."

The premise contest will allow voters to select the books that sound the best based on a 20-word premise, a 100-word back cover copy teaser blurb, and (possibly) the first 500 words of the book.

The premise contest entrants receiving the top three vote totals will receive priority acquisitions reading by MLP publisher Jeff Gerke.

"It's a way for virtually everyone to play, even those folks who didn't receive an invitation to compete in the primary Marcher Lord Select contest."

The premise contest is open to anyone with a completed Christian speculative fiction manuscript that meets MLP guidelines for length, content, genre, worldview, audience, etc. To enter, authors must complete the acquisitions form found at the Marcher Lord Press site and supply all the components listed below on or before October 29, 2009.

Marcher Lord Select officially begins on November 1, 2009, and runs until completion in January or February 2010. All voting and discussions and Marcher Lord Select activities will take place at The Anomaly forums in the Marcher Lord Select subforum. Free registration is required.

"In order for this to work as we're envisioning," Gerke says, "we need lots and lots of voters. So even if you're not a fan of Christian science fiction or fantasy, I'm sure you love letting your voice be heard about what constitutes good Christian fiction. So come on out and join the fun!"


Marcher Lord Press is a Colorado Springs-based independent publisher producing Christian speculative fiction exclusively. MLP was launched in fall of 2008 and is privately owned. Contact: Jeff Gerke;

Thursday, October 15, 2009


“A writer begins by breathing life into his characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you.” Caryl Phillips
The most memorable characters in literature are those who are marked by one huge flaw. They are human. Or at least human-like. We all know that humans are influenced by life, by their environment, their experiences, etc. They have hopes, dreams, pain, and failures. They are shaped by their past and their perception of the future. Humans are a mystery to behold, and a writers greatest asset is to accurately portray that mystery.

Characters, therefore, must be more than a representation of the human form, they must display those human qualities realistically. A writer must build their characters from the inside out, show the world who they really are through the story they are telling. Right?

What makes a character realistic?

Think about some of your favorite characters. Why are they your favorites? What makes them stand out from the hundreds of stories you’ve read in your time? What makes them…realistic?

Characters should act, react, and think the way that we think. In the thousands of years since humans appeared on the earth, we have not changed all that much. Our situations have, but the essence of humanity has not. We still cry when we’re upset, we laugh when we think something is funny, we get angry when someone assaults our beliefs. So, our characters should reflect that as well.

But how do we do that in our writing?

Building character: Of course, we start at the beginning. Who is our character? We should know our characters almost, if not more, as well as we know ourselves. Everything from physical appearance to why he/she hates flying. If someone interviewed us about our character, we should be able to answer most questions. How old is your character? Where were they born? What kind of childhood did they have? What significant event helped to shape who they are today? We should know what makes them laugh, cry, angry.

Some writers keep a profile of their characters. Some write out the character’s back story (regardless of whether it goes into the novel or not). Some put their characters in certain situations, just for fun, and see how it plays out. All great ways to get to know your character.

Dialogue/Actions: The best way to introduce your character and their different quirks, personality layers, background, etc is the adage—show, don’t tell. Through dialogue and action, a reader gets to know your character. A subject for another post, another day, as my point is actually that the dialogue and actions need to be realistic. If you’re writing a story about a modern-day teen, you aren’t going to use the same tone/style you would for a medieval princess. Right? Even deeper, a male thinks/acts differently than a female. They have different outlooks, different cares, different ways of moving. If your female and male characters react the exact same way to an incident, something is wrong.

Creative storytelling: This was pointed out to me in one of my first novels. Towards the end of the book, my male protagonist and his friend, black belts in karate, take out about six men who attack them. One of my crit partners told me this was unrealistic to her because I had not given the reader any clues before that point in the story that these two men could hold their own. So, in my rewrites, I moved a couple of scenes to the karate dojo and added some dialogue to other scenes talking about teaching kids, winning tournaments, etc. So by the time the reader reached the point where these two men kick some major bad guy booty, it made sense—it wasn’t a surprise. So be sure to work in character personality traits, hobbies, etc throughout the story.

This goes for your characters that aren’t human as well. Some of us write supernatural, sci-fi, or fantasy and some of our characters come from our over-active imagination. This is great. But for the readers to relate to them, understand them, even sympathize for them, the creative characters still need to exhibit human-like qualities. We can go into that more later on.

For now, consider the characters in your WIP (or playing in your mind). Are they realistic? How can you make them more so? Are you doing a good job of showing them in your story?

“For me the obligation is to present my characters realistically. They must be credible human beings even if the circumstances they are in are ‘incredible,’ as they are in The Collector. But even the story, no matter how bizarre, no matter what symbolisms are involved, has to be possible. . . . Believability must dominate even the most outlandish situation.” John Fowles

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Meeting an Icon in Christian literature!

Excuse me while I take a small tangent from the character exploration I was about to embark on. I have some exciting news to share!

This weekend, I got to meet Jerry B. Jenkins in person!

In addition to being the author of over 150 books, Jerry B. Jenkins is the head of the Christian Writers Guild. I joined the group as an apprentice about eighteen months ago, and so far it has been a wonderful experience.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed there were a lot of CWG members in the Kansas City area and thought it would be fun to get them all together. I contacted Mr. Jenkins to see if that would be acceptable (I didn’t want to step on any toes), and he immediately emailed me back saying that it was a great idea. On top of that, he suggested that if I could get the group together and meeting set up for the past weekend, he was going to be in the area and might stop by.

Needless to say, that lit a fire under my rear! I jumped into action and got a group together on Facebook, and set up the meeting. So, on Saturday, a small group of us got together and sat down for an hour or so with Mr. Jenkins.

First let me say, it’s been a long time since I met so nice a man. He smiled and listened and answered questions with such grace. We talked about CWG and the upcoming conference (in Feb., keynote speaker: Max Lucado!), as well as his writing career—including what he has in the works. One of our favorite topics was how human Mr. Jenkins is. Seriously, sometimes we look at someone as popular as Mr. Jenkins and put them on a pedestal. He shared a few stories with us about mistakes he had made, things he’d had to go back and fix, even now. What a relief! I don’t ever have to be perfect either. Lol…

It really was a wonderful experience, and I am grateful to Mr. Jenkins for taking time out of his schedule to come visit this aspiring group of writers!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Plot or Characters?

“One reason we read fiction is our hope that we will be moved by it, finding characters we can enjoy and sympathize with.” John Gardner

The formula for any great novel looks something like this:

Outstanding, Realistic Characters
+ Fantastic, Page-turning plot
Breakout Novel with Staying Value

The oldest debate among the fiction community is which is more important—characters or plot? Does the equation look more like 2+2 or 3+1 or 1+3? While characters and plot are not mutually exclusive, meaning you can’t have a novel without both, does one matter more than the other?

In my personal opinion, one does matter more than the other. Characters are the starting and jump off point for any novel. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “In most good stories it is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story.” Plot is formed around the characters. Plot moves, changes, etc from the actions/reactions of said characters. Plot is important, but without the characters to bring it to life, it is nothing.

Take the book, Little Women, for example. Yes, I know it is not suspense, but a suspense novel would not illustrate my point as well. In the novel, we follow the story of four sisters. Throughout the novel, not much happens, and yet so much does. It spans the course of years, in fact. Although not much out of the ordinary happens to this family, we are pulled in by the characters and their strong personalities. The quiet strength of Marmie and Meg. The stubbornness and impulsiveness of Jo. The middle-child—laid back Beth. And of course the frivolous, yet kind-hearted Amy. These characters stand out to us because they are so different from each other, yet because of their connection, the plot comes about naturally. It keeps us turning the pages.

I remember being forced to read Little Women by my mom several years ago. I didn’t want to read it. Classics, by definition, usually bored me to sleep. I was not, still am not largely, fond of the classic style of writing. I am one of those people who can’t stand pages of description, exposition, etc. But, I sat down on my daybed and started reading. If I remember right, I finished the novel in three days. I was enthralled by the intricacies of each character and how they grew and changed over the course of the book.

In the same context, look at Lord of the Rings, a faster paced, more action-oriented novel series. This is a wonderful story with a rather complicated plot that covers the pages of several books. I have never read the series, being as I can’t stand Tolkien’s writing style. However, even from the movies, I can tell that it is the characters that make this story. The individuals who aren’t afraid to stand up for their own beliefs. The ones who exhibit courage beyond what we ourselves may be capable of. The ones who take on the responsibility of leadership, even if they would like to remain in the background. Those who cared. Those who stood out among their race for whatever extraordinary personality trait they possessed. Sometimes I wish I could stand Tolkien’s writing style.

So over the next several posts, I plan to explore what makes characters come alive, how to make them stand out, and most importantly, how to make them memorable. I’ll leave you with the following quote:

“The reader reads fiction more for its people than for any other element, whether plot, setting, or shock value. Readers associate characters in fiction with their own lives and with their own experience. They will even name their children after fictional characters. . . . The novel is the people that are in it.” William Sloane

Who are some of your favorite characters and why?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ACFW Conference

“Write what you know, learn what you don’t, never give up on the dream.” –Tracey Peterson (Foundational Basics workshop)

That’s exactly what the ACFW annual conference taught me. From the idea feeding ground of Donald Maas’ workshop to the awe-inspiring speeches from Debbie Macomber, the conference was an unforgettable experience. It’s been a little over a week since the conference ended, and I’m still slowly absorbing everything that I garnered from that jam-packed weekend.

The great news is that last night I got to sit down and actually start applying the stuff that I learned. Right after the conference, I went to spend a week with my sister. So, I am just now getting around to writing. I found my notes stirred up my muse once again and hit the keyboard at light speed.

Perhaps the greatest thing that happened at the conference, though, was the validation I felt after talking to the editors I met with (and yes, I did get a request for my manuscript!). Too often, I let others tell me how slim the chances of ever getting published are. I let them trick me into wondering if I should be pursuing this dream with such gusto. At the conference, though, I met many other people who have the same struggles. I talked with other professionals who didn’t mind sharing their wisdom. And I met with two people who told me that I was on the right track. God wanted me there, and He will see my destiny come to pass in His time.

I may not ever be published, but I know that friends/family will read my stuff. I write to effect change and if I can make a difference in one person’s life, then I have accomplished the goal in God has set before me.

Of course, I still want to be published.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting about specific things that I learned that I hope will help you as well.

God bless.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Time to Learn

Over this past week, I discovered two new things about myself. Perhaps I’ve always been this way, and never noticed, or perhaps this is a fairly recent development (ie since I’ve had kids). Either way, I have just now come to terms with these realizations, a little late for the ACFW conference, but in good time for post-conference goals!

1. I am NOT a SOTP type of person. I must have order and organization when it comes to my writing (this doesn’t necessarily apply to my house, by the way, which is almost always in a state of chaos).
2. I DO NOT work well under extreme pressure. Some pressure is good…it motivates me to get my rear in fear. However lots of pressure (like 20K in five days with no husband at home and a list of non-writing chores to finish before I leave).

Like I said, this will be a lesson learned for the future. Chances are I won’t be quite as prepared for the ACFW conference as I would like to be, but instead of beating myself up about it, I’ll choose to learn from it and apply it in the future.

Some things I’ll do when I get back from the ACFW conference:

1. Make better use of my calendar. Not only will I write stuff on my calendar, but I will look at it—daily. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but you’ll be surprised how often I write stuff down, but then never review the calendar. Many a birthday cards have been late/not sent because of this. (sad…very sad)
2. Make better use of my time. As a stay-at-home mom, which comes with a set of stipulations of its own, with a military husband who is home as much as he is gone, majority of my time is obviously spent on my kids. In return, my writing time can be very restricted. So, as I figure out the best time for me, I need to make sure I make the best use of it…balancing fresh writing with CWG Apprentice homework, freelance work (which I hope to start), and reviews. A new schedule will be written up when I get back.
3. Set deadlines for myself and make out a plan to reach that deadline. How many words per day? Per week? How much time will I need for editing/revising?
4. Spend adequate time during the week dedicated to learning/honing the craft and researching the business.

I think that’s a start, don’t you?

A writer is basically self-employed. Unless we are under contract, it is our job to set standards for ourselves—deadlines, work schedule, etc. No one is going to do it for us. No one is going to call if we are thirty minutes late to the keyboard. No one is going to care if we call in sick. No one is going to miss us if we don’t finish our novel.

No, no one will miss us because the next big thing will have taken our place.

So, upon return to reality after the ACFW conference (and a short visit to my sister’s), I will revamp my writing lifestyle to accommodate the discoveries I have made. But what about you? What can you do to improve your writing time? Do you need to be more conscious of how you use your time? Do you need to learn to write even when you don’t feel like it? Does your writing area need a thorough cleaning and redecorated to help the muse work?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Preparing for Conference

I will be attending the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference later this month—my first conference ever! *cheers* I am excited and terrified. Right now it’s about 50/50. My list of to-dos for the conference grows every day and it’s frustrating. I finish one thing and two more pop up in its place. My mind is swirling with terms like one sheets, pitches, workshops, etc.

Here’s my to-do list (part of it anyway):

--Finish Dividing Spirits (about 28k to go)

--Complete one sheets for The Impossible Choice and Dividing Spirits

--Fine tune pitches for IC and DS

--Print out sample chapters of both novels

--Research the agent/editors I signed up to meet

--Buy a dress for the banquet

The list may not look very long, but anyone who’s gone through this before knows that they are rather time consuming. Plus you throw in the packing and everything else. Ack! My husband is leaving for a work trip next week and I also have to pack the girls and get them to the in-laws before flying to the conference.

It’s going to be a long couple of weeks.

Yet, each day my excitement grows. I have some wonderful friends that I’m anxious to meet. My critique partner, Cathy Bryant, has been such a blessing. I can’t wait to see her and give her a great big hug. My roommates for the conference have been wonderful in helping prepare pitches and such over the last month.

Even more than all that, I just know God is going to move in a great way at this conference. I know that may sound hokey…but I just know it. I don’t know if it will involve me or if I will just be there to witness it—whatever the case, it’s going to be huge!

I look forward to conversing with people who think like I do. To be in an environment where talking to yourself, acting out scenes, and blubbering when you kill off an important person is not signs of a crazy person. I am also excited to know that I am going to learn so much. Between the workshops, the seminars, meals with editors/agents, and everything else, I’m going to walk away with a wealth of information to apply to my life and my writing.

And when I get back, you can expect to hear all about it!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Sorry for the prolonged absence. I have been going through some family stuff and my writing time is suffering a bit. I hope everything is well with you all! Here is today's post:

Okay, I have a question for you all. How many of you suffer with an abundance of ideas for novels? How many of you seem to conveniently get one idea at a time?

When I first started writing a couple of years ago, I fell into the latter category. When focused on my first two novels, I didn’t even think about what else I “might” write. The novels consumed my thoughts, the character’s voices were loud enough to drown out most everything else in my writing world.

Over the past year, though, I find my mind wandering.

Now, being a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers, my days are beyond busy and finding a moment to myself is rare. When I do manage some time alone, or when my husband lets me go upstairs to write, my focus is on my current WIP. But sometimes…sometimes I get distracted.

Novel ideas and obnoxiously loud characters have begun filling my head. They come pouring out of the woodwork and dance in the window on sunbeams. The world of stories in my head is wonderful. I am fascinated by the characters, enamored with story ideas, and often find myself daydreaming.

And I’m supposed to be working on my novel.

I’m down to approximately thirty days until my WIP needs to be finished, at least the first draft. I want to pitch it at the ACFW conference at the end of September. But how will I get it done when these other stories and characters are vying for my attention?

I’ve started allowing myself a few minutes with each story or character to get them written down. A general outline, a back cover blurb, or a character sketch—and sometimes, if they are loud enough, a couple pages of a first chapter or random scene. This seems to appease them long enough for me to focus on my WIP.

What about you? How do you handle the constant din taking over your mind? What do you do to help train your focus?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today I took a stroll through the American Christian Fiction Writers forum and saw the Ane Mulligan had started a thread on taglines. She offered to help author's come up with one before the conference in September, or share her opinions on taglines they already had. After reading through the thread, I was inspired to contemplate my own tagline. I hadn't really done so yet since I'm only about 25K into my novel.

What makes a good tagline?

Taglines in marketing are catchy slogans that peak the interest of consumers. We can all name present/past slogans for brands such as Nike, Pepsi, and many others. Similarly, taglines in writing are interesting sentences that grab the reader's attention and don't let go.

Taglines are:

--STRONG! They use as few words as possible to get the purpose of the novel across. They use powerful verbs and nouns in place of stretching out the description with adjectives and adverbs.

--CATCHY! A tagline must snag the reader. It should give them just enough information without giving away the secrets of the novel. Get creative!

--DEFINIATIVE! A super tagline defines a novel. It wraps in character, plot, purpose, etc all in one, while throwing in a taste of the style of the novel. A happy-go-lucky novel won't have a tagline which uses verbs/noun with a heavy or disheartened connotation.

So, I spent part of the morning messing with some words and metaphors, etc. and came up with what I think are a couple of good possibilities.

"When life shut the door on her memories, God opened a supernatural window to help her save the world."

"A disillusioned loan officer loses her memories, but gains a supernatural gift meant to save the world."

What do you think? Are they strong enough? Which do you think is better?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Beginning that Wows!

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

While this may not be the most stirring of beginnings, this one sentence is a great example of what the first few pages of any novel should include. Let’s break it down:

“In the beginning…”

Okay, so the beginning should set the time period. We should be able to tell the basics of the era, what time in the MC’s life we’re starting, and depending on the importance—time of year, time of day. Now, obviously you don’t want to come out and TELL US, like this line does, but you want to intersperse clues throughout the first few pages.


Introduce the main character. The Bible is all about God. From the beginning through Revelations…it’s all about God. So it is suitable that the first chapter we learn who this character is. Same goes for our stories. Now, as with all guidelines, there are exceptions. Some stories start with the villain. Some stories start with prologues that have characters we may never see again in the story. For the most part, though, your first chapter should introduce your main character in a way that will make us care about them. Readers won’t be persuaded to keep reading if they don’t care what happens to the main character.

“…created the heavens and the earth.”

Here’s a way to start a story with a bang. Our goal in the first few pages, paragraphs even, is to hook the reader. We have to introduce some action or conflict, a peek at the plot.

“Created” is a unique verb, one of my favorites. Created, by definition, means to make something from your own mind/vision. God saw the heavens and earth and spoke them into being. He saw all of this, and made it happen. And it was no small feat…He didn’t paint a masterpiece, record a #1 hit, write a novel…no, God created the HEAVENS AND THE EARTH (said in a deep, rumbling voice that echoes off the walls).

These words also tell us about the main character. God is ambitious, He can see the big picture, He is creative, He can make something out of nothing, He is bigger than a mere human, and much more.

So, God created the heavens and the earth…now what?

That’s the question that keeps the reader interested. We have a strong character, bigger than life (in this case), who has done something that is beyond possibility for us, what’s He going to do from here?

In Dividing Spirits, my main character Ninevah is a loan officer at a bank in Kansas City, MO. In the first chapter, the bank is robbed, her friend is murdered, and Ninevah is knocked unconscious—and that chapter is only about three thousand words. Through all of this, the reader learns a little (very, very little) about Ninevah’s background through dialogue, and they get a good glimpse into her personality. She’s a strong Christian woman who keeps her cool in tough situations, but wears her emotions on her sleeves when it comes to those she loves.

What about you? What important elements make your first chapter pop?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Belated Father's Day!

Yesterday, my family and I enjoyed a day of fun and sun. We went to an outdoor mall and walked around, played in a fountain, and ate at a children's dinosaur themed restaurant (hubby's choice...he's such a kid). We had fun celebrating the fact that my kids have a wonderful father. It was also our sixth anniversary. It was nice...

My friend, Jeannie Campbell, had a wonderful post about father's on her blog. Stop by and leave her a note!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the Beginning...

The beginning of any novel is the most important part of the novel. The first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter--they set the tone for the rest of the novel. They give us insight into the plot, they create a powerful first impression of the main character. The beginning introduces us to the story.

I'm going to do something a little different in my blog. With certain subjects, I'm going to ask for your opinions BEFORE I post my thoughts on the subject.

What are your thoughts/opinions/insights concerning the beginning of a novel? What are the crucial elements? What holds your interest; what turns you off?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Makes Suspense Different?

Suspense was not my first pick when I started writing fiction. Yes, most of my novels and stories at the time had suspense undertones, but they weren’t specifically suspense. At least, I didn’t think they were. The last novel I completed made me realize that my heart was drawn to creating suspense, even if I didn’t necessarily follow the formula.

What makes suspense different?

In a lot of novels, the focus is on the hero and the hero’s journey. Readers aren’t really concerned with other characters except for how they relate to the main character(s). In a suspense novel, we have the hero…and then the villain.

In a suspense novel, the villain is just as important to the story as the hero. Without it, the story becomes a mystery and takes on a completely different perspective. Here’s an excerpt from a Writer’s Digest article written by Simon Wood:

“The key difference is perspective. Both genres deal with a crisis event to hook the reader and keep the story going. But the storytelling approach is completely different.

Let’s say the crisis is the assassination of the president of the United States. In a mystery, the president would die in the first chapter, and the rest of the book would focus on the government agents charged with finding the killer and bringing him to justice. In a suspense story, an intercepted communiqué or a bungled weapons drop would take place in the first chapter, alerting the White House of an imminent presidential assassination threat. This time, the government agents would be charged with protecting the president while tracking down the would-be assassin. The story would climax at the point where the assassination attempt is thwarted. In a nutshell, suspense creates drama before the crisis event while mystery starts its thrill ride after the crisis event.”

The suspense writer has a unique problem to overcome. All the important facts in the story come out in the first couple of chapters. We know WHO the hero and villain are. We know WHAT both of their goals are (or at least an idea) and what is driving them. There’s little mystery left except for how the hero is going to stop the villain.

Now the suspense writer has to use their storytelling skills to create a host of problems, choices, and events to come between the hero and the goal of stopping the villain. Anything that can go wrong, should; the path is never easy, always winding, and hopefully not what the reader anticipates.

What stands out about the suspense genre to you?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

I have always been a big fan of birthdays. I love surprise parties, festive dinners, and, okay…I love presents, too. *smiles* But, I don’t just love them for myself, I love everyone’s birthday. It is a unique opportunity to celebrate the life and future of those we know and love.

Let’s see…some statistics about my life in the last 28 years.

• I survived one life and death surgery a couple of days after I was born
• I was blessed with loving parents and two crazy sisters (love ya guys!)
• I was first published in a small city-wide literary magazine in the third grade for a short prose on Martin Luther King, Jr.
• In 8th grade, I learned that I really could not sing.
• I still tried to sing by joining the praise band at church between my freshman and sophomore year in high school
• I’ve never broken a bone in my body…that we know for sure.
• I was sick for six months straight with a slew of colds, sinus infections, and ear infections. It got to the point I had to have a scope shoved up my nose, down my throat, and into my lungs, followed by a CAT scan or MRI whatever it was they did.
• I’ve had to undergo allergy shots…twice.
• I have been to 30 states and 3 countries.
• I graduated in the top 10 of my class with a 3.89 GPA.
• I was offered two partial scholarships…one to Manhattan Christian College in Manhattan, KS and one to Eureka College in Eureka, IL (same college Ronald Regan went to).
• I want to be a published author.
• I took advantage of everything high school had to offer, but failed to do so in college.
• I have a wonderful husband and two darling daughters.
• I want to adopt children (yes, more than one) some day when the girls are older.
• I’ve gotten three speeding tickets.
• I’ve screwed up more times than I can count. I’ve disappointed everyone I know at least one time in my life.
• I am a Christian. I am redeemed.
• I am forgiven.
• I am learning to love the way God intends me a little more with each passing day.
• I am learning to forgive in the same way.
• I am a work in progress…every day is a new chance b/c God’s mercies are new every morning.
• I am 28 today.
What are your major highlights?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Suspense?

The first suspense story I remember reading was The Cat in the Hat. What? You don’t think it was a suspense story? But, but…didn’t you wonder how much he could stack on his head? Weren’t you on the edge of your seat just knowing that eventually it would all topple over? It was only a matter of time, after all.

Random House Dictionary describes suspense as “a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.” Now tell me you weren’t awaiting the outcome with a bit of apprehension. Of course, if you never got to experience The Cat in the Hat as a small child, you are probably laughing at me, but that’s okay. You just don’t know what you were missing. :P

Since that time many moons ago, my tastes have become a bit more refined. I enjoy an eclectic interest in genres from a good, clean romance to a touch of sci-fi to a Midwest, small town drama (via my critique partner! Hi, Cathy!). But, ah…there’s nothing like a good suspense novel to have me cuddled up in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate and soaking up every word, emotion, and plot twist.

So, what does it take to be a suspense writer? What makes us standout from other novelists? Is it exploring the depths of our masochistic minds? Is it our knack for taking the worst situation we can imagine, and finding that one way to make it that much intense?

In Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century”, we have what the title hints at, the worst storm in a small town’s history. Throw in a slew of missing people throughout the night and we now have a terrifying mystery to go along with the worst storm ever. In Ted Dekker’s novel, “Kiss”, the heroine loses her memory. What can be worse than not knowing who you are? Finding out that you have a huge secret that could destroy your family…or running from an unknown killer?

Suspense is full of plot twists that keeps the readers on their toes, characters that win their hearts, and the sense of waiting for the next shoe to drop…all in good time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Welcome one and all! I am Ralene, your guide into the world of suspense. From the pulse-pounding plot to the colorful, crazy characters to the elevated emotions and terrifying timing. A world ripped from the minds of writers to entertain, teach, and drain the last bit of energy from each reader. As Christian supernatural suspense writer, I find the unveiling of a good plot with standout characters fascinating.

This medium of information and fun is for Christian writers, readers, and movie fanatics alike. A little bit of everything for everybody—from book/movie reviews to writing tips and maybe even a contest or two. I highly encourage discussions and feedback. If you don’t agree with me, I want to hear about it! Did I give a book an A+ review, when you hardly think it deserves a C? Rant on! This is a forum to help us all grow and enjoy the world of suspense…and I’m all for it.

So, the question is, are you ready to begin the journey?