Monday, April 30, 2012

You can take the caffeine out of a Coke, but you can't take the addict out of a writer.

Mm. Or something like that.

Way back when, I would brew a pot (i.e. TWELVE CUPS) of coffee for myself every day. I'd leave the burner on and spend the rest of the morning writing and drinking coffee and getting this wonderful, happy, caffeinated buzz that would somehow transfer to my words-per-minute time.

Well, when my husband and I started trying to get pregnant with our son, Nathan, I cut caffeine. COLD TURKEY.

And that began the worst week of my whole entire life.

I had horrendous headaches, I could barely get out of bed in the morning, I was fairly certain I was dying. It was like detox. I had no idea caffeine was such a huge part of my existence until I took it away.

My personality took a tremendous hit.

But slowly, over the last two plus years, I've learned how to exist without it. I can speak in full sentences. Sometimes, I can even write in full sentences (though I'm fairly certain that any editor who has had the sad fate of working with me would tell you that I alternate between run-ons and fragments and that is it.)

(Sorry, dear editor friends. I do try.)

My point to this whole sad post is that triggers for your writing will come and go. They will change as you change. Maybe caffeine used to help me write before, but I'm now fairly (not really) content with water. Sometimes I even go crazy and add lemon slices.

(My life is officially sad.)

I take walks to clear my head. I play matchbox cars with Nathan. I try to get as much done before nap time as possible so that when he lays down, my writing can commence.

Forced creativity. It's not necessarily fun, but it can be done. Welcome to the world of writing, friends. ;)

Now those of you who are not pregnant and don't expect to become pregnant anytime in the near future, please go drink a Coke and a cup of regular coffee for me. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Salt and Light

File under: How cool is that?

As I'm writing, I just realized this is officially the 501st post on the Scribble Chicks blog. Wow, I think we should have a party or at least a cupcake or something to celebrate, don't you? So very cool to be part of this with such fabulous women like Erynn, Bekah and Betsy...

Cue the party music.

Ok, now that I'm done dancing in my office (a sight for sore eyes, lemme tell ya...hahahaha!), I'll get to today's post, namely, the subject of salt and light.

As we speak, I'm working on my first title for the general market. It's the work that's been in progress for a little while now, the one I've been excited about for what feels like forever. But I think part of the reason I've been struggling to get things moving along at the pace I'd like (i.e. a nice brisk clip) is because I finally realized that this wasn't just a story for believers in Jesus, but a story for the masses.

See, ever since I moved from Minneapolis to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue music journalism for CCM Magazine, I've always written specifically for the Christian market. Yes, I'm sure from time to time, people with other beliefs may have accidentally stumbled upon my work, but by and large, our audience was comprised of people just like me—people who have a personal relationship with Jesus, people who want to grow in their faith, people humbly trying to navigate this tricky existence while honoring God with our lives, work, relationships, etc.

And given that was the world I was already connected in, it only made sense that when I wrote my first novels that I'd connect with Christian publishers as well. After all, I not only wanted my books to be entertaining, but to reflect my worldview with themes that hit on the joys and struggles of being a believer.

But now that I've been writing in this market for (gasp!) 12 years now, I've had this nagging sense that I'm supposed to stretch out of my comfort zone and write about broader subjects for an even broader audience. I want to be salt and light in a way that I haven't been before and in the process, challenge myself artistically as well.

So that's been a particularly fun challenge with my latest novel, Tuesday Nights in Italia. While it hasn't always been easy to step out from the world I've known so well, it's stretched my storytelling and made me think about scenes, characters, plotting, and yes even faith themes, in a whole new way, and I can't wait for everyone, especially all of you, to read it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is your writing contrived?

We've been hitting craft this week, and I'd like to continue it by talking about contrived writing.

Contrived writing essentially means that something happens in your story suddenly and oh so conveniently, with no build up or realistic connection. It could be a coincidence, like having your historical heroine in desperate need of apples for her homemade pie, and then she looks up and she's standing under an apple tree. Bo-Ring.

We're all guilty of it! The important part is that you recognize it, and then know how to fix it! :)

But there's another layer to the contrived thing that's harder to recognize than a mere coincidence. Let me try to explain.

Have you ever been reading a novel, and suddenly something like this happens: You just started chapter 13. The hero is a cowboy, out on the range, rounding up cattle and thinking about the heroine and how he totally screwed up when he kissed her a minute ago, and suddenly - snake. Right in front of him.

And freaks out.

He admits through his panic, in his internal thoughts, that he's deathly afraid of snakes beacuse he almost died from a snake bite as a child. Or maybe he watched his best friend die from a poisonous snake when they were kids. Whatever the reason, he's freaking out as most cowboys wouldn't do.

If we are only learning about his phobia of snakes in that moment, we lose the connection. The reader thinks him a pansy or a wuss and doesn't care if he gets bit or not. In fact we'd think he deserved it.

But if you had started weaving that phobia into the earlier snippets of his story, dropping hints in Chapter 3 and then another hint in Chapter 8, maybe a sentence of dialogue in Chapter 11...we'd be totally on his side in Chapter 13. We'd be like, as a reader - "OH NO! A snake! That poor sexy cowboy!" And would want to leap into the book and save him.

You see how it changes our connection?

It's because cowboys are heroic. Most cowboys wouldn't think twice of a snake. They'd either shoot it or calmly back away and go a different route. They're used to it. My husband, a country boy, caught a snake as a teenager and actually grilled it over an open fire pit.


But if there's a REASON for his fear, a relatable way for us to connect with him as a person, then it's okay. But beware - there has to be more than just a reason, there has to be a BUILT UP reason.

It all goes back to weaving your storyline and writing with a purpose. Every scene should move the story forward, and not be episodic (as in, writing something fun just because it pops in your head but has nothing to do with the story or character's growth)

Any questions? :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Love the Epiduralist

I’m in the last part of the let’s-not-panic-window (read: 4 weeks until due date) of the book.

It reminds me a little of being pregnant for the first time. I tried really, really hard not to imagine what labor pains were going to be like. I simply repeated to myself over and over and over again: Women who are a lot wussier than I am have done this and lived.

{Don’t judge—but I actually named a few of my friends when I said it.}

Then the epiduralist came in. {What? Why can’t I call him that? That’s really all women in labor care about. We don’t think about his other types of anesthesia. We can only blurt one word – epiiiiidddduuuuurr…}

The epiduralist is my good friend. Forever.

And so as I wrap up the first edit of the book, I tell myself other writers have done this before. I tell myself they have lived. I tell myself that the 3,000 words I just cut from chapter 2 didn’t really hurt.

And then I pray for an epiduralist. ‘Cause I can’t wait to get this baby in my hands.


 Thanks for reading my mom's blog. I don't know about the epiduralist, but I think this lady's great.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Names and Such

So, we talk a lot about the big idea in writing - PUBLICATION.

But we don't often talk about the nitty gritty in writing. Exclamation points - to use or to not use? How about the infamous "white space" everyone talks about needing in a novel? Or, like I'm going to talk about today, the seemingly simple idea of character names.

There really is a science behind naming a character. It can be like naming a baby. When we were trying to think of names for our son, I would stand there and say them over and over and over because I knew that once he was born, I was going to be repeating his name 1,476 times a day, so it needed to be a name I could stand that many times. ;)

Beyond the simple liking and disliking though, there are a few tricks of the trade:

* Think through some of the more infamous villains you've either read or seen in movies. How many of them have either very short names or a hard "C" sound in them? For whatever reason, we tend to associate hard consonants with harshness. So, if you're wanting to really invoke distrust in a character right from the start, think through his or her name.

* One thing that a lot of publishers prefer (particularly if you are publishing toward a younger audience), is for your characters to have fairly popular/trendy names (unless, of course, you are writing a futuristic/other worldly/historical novel). One of the best places to find current name trends is the U.S. Social Security website - I find a TON of my character's names on there. You can even search by birth year, which is just pretty much awesome.

* Sometimes, a character BECOMES his or her name. Here are very common names but ones that authors have defined their characters with. Think about what character instantly comes to your mind when you read this:

                      - Elizabeth
                      - Harry
                      - Greg

If you thought of Elizabeth Bennett, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and Greg from Diary of A Wimpy Kid, you just proved my point. ;)

 Names are SO important! Get a baby name book, search through the Social Security site, find a phone book, do whatever you can to listen and soak in different names. Then, when you are trying to find the name to fit a certain character, you'll know it almost before you see it.

Happy naming!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

10 Ways to Boost Your Odds of Acceptance

Ever feel in a bit of a rut with your beloved work in progress? Worse yet, do you seem to be hearing "no" at every turn once you've gotten around to actually submitting it?

While rejection is certainly a necessary evil in today's increasingly choosy marketplace, I did come across a rather helpful article about boosting your odds of acceptance.

Truth be told, a couple of these suggestions seem like no-brainers, but when you're so frustrated with the process that you lose perspective (yes, that's even happened to me a time or tow), it doesn't hurt to have a reminder, especially #10 which is probably my favorite. Resilience is key, after all. 

Happy writing, my friends...and be sure to let us know how we can help along the way...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Need more power?

Have you ever hoped for something?

Have you ever experienced a reason to pray with that same gut-wrenching, soul-burning cry-from-the-depths like David in the Psalms?

I have. And I can't go into why, for a variety of reasons, but the details don't matter. The point is, we've all been there or will be one day. Whether that's over a lost friendship, death, a struggling marriage, infertility, financial ruin, disease, or the loss of a dream - we can relate.

And you know what? Jesus can too.

The part I think we forget so often is that Jesus was God AND man. Fully both. When He was tempted by the devil after a long period of fasting, He was weak. Physically and emotionally and mentally. That was when Satan attacked, and STILL, Jesus overcame. Yet He was a man. He could have caved. He could have told the devil sure to any of the devils temptings. But instead He fought back with Scripture.

You guys, I've been on a painful journey, and a literal miracle occured yesterday. I wish I could share the details, but I can't. Still, HEAR ME. If you have something on your heart that is dragging you down, weighing you down, making you ache and hurt and cry and ask why - I have two words of advice.

1. Fast
2. Pray Scripture out loud and often

I know from experience the combination unleashes Heavenly power. It's Biblical, and it's real.

This doesn't guarantee you'll get the outcome you want, but it is guaranteed to change your heart one way or another. YOU WILL BE CHANGED. And it will be for the better. God honors our obedience, dear Christian.

I just feel led to share this today. Someone needs it, and I hope they see this and try the above methods that literally changed my life this week. Please give it consideration.

And hey - even if you're not going through a super dark valley today, you can still exercise the use of praying Scriptures. Over your dreams. Your writing. Your families. Your goals. As a dear friend recently told me, we're to pray God's will. But what is that? We can rest assured that God's will is His Word. So crack open that Bible and get to it!

You'll be amazed at what you discover :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Dreams

When I think about this moment in my life, I think about how crazy blessed I am.
Two dreams in one year - both within two days of each other.

How I prayed for this child. How I prayed that I would hold her in my arms - alive, breathing, vibrant.

How quickly she grows.

How I prayed for this manuscript. How I prayed that I would hold it my hands – bare, honest, true.

And here we are. And here are these dreams. And here is the Dream Giver –

Reminding me…

Dreams are wonderful things. But the Dream Giver – He is the very best of all.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Today's post is brought to you in the form of carbs and sugar

I have now eaten about 15 honey wheat pretzels and half a bag of candied pecans and I still have nothing for today.


This might be due to the fact that exact four hours ago, there were approximately 324 kids four-years-old and under running like crazy through my house. Or maybe there were seven kids four-years-old and under. Regardless, there were a lot of children.

And it could also be due to the fact that I have an entire sink full of dirty dishes that need to be washed but I've been trying to forget about that and hope that they disappear. Because as of right now, I am the dishwasher in this house thanks to a very sad day when our dishwasher broke.

Or maybe it has to do with the sixty thousand words I still need to read through and correct before I send it in to my editor. And the 140 thousand cumulative words I have to write between now and this time next year. Somehow, that number just seems very, very, very large. Maybe because the highest I've been counting for the last twenty-one months has been to 10.

With Mickey Mouse. Or "Me-mo", as he is known here.


Sometimes I feel like writing does not get enough credit for being a strenuous job. No, I may not be lugging 500 pounds of log up on my back and half-squatting, half-walking to the nearest Ford F-350 or whatever truck commercial I'm currently in, but sometimes it sure feels like it! Sometimes, after watching a crazy toddler all morning, figuring out what to make for dinner, cleaning up the house, doing my errands, etc, by the time I sit down to write, I'm so brain dead it's a miracle I can write "I'M TIRED" on my Twitter feed, much less anything of substance.

And yet, God still knows what I can handle. And He gave me this desire to write, this desire for children and this desire for sanity.

So. Maybe I can achieve all three.

"Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always." - Psalm 105:4

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do you ever wish... could just go away?

Not permanently, or anything serious! Ha! But just sort of vanish for 24 hours and do nothing but write?

I do!

Of course it would take planning, like finding someone to watch the Little Miss or planning this vanishing act around my husband's fireman schedule, not to mention trying to figure out WHERE I'd go to write uninterrupted for that long...not to mention if you go to a hotel or somewhere away-away, there's money to be involved, and then the issue of food, and...

That's why I'm still sitting here at my kitchent able, NOT vanishing. ;)

But it sounds great, doesn't it? I love my family and I love the responsibilities God gave me, and I USUALLY have my priorities straight ;) But can you imagine writing for a solid day with no phone calls? No social media? No cartoons blaring or toddlers announcing their potty needs or no guilt over going to the gym or no emails or no text messages? JUST writing?

Such a dream!

Hahahahahahaha literally just now as I typed the above lines, my toddler ran by me, holding her booty and shouting "I gotta go poopoo!" hahahahahaha. I'm not kidding.


Lately, I feel the pressure of all my deadlines, those both self imposed and publisher-imposed, and honestly- it's not crushing, it's INSPIRING.

I WANT to go write. I NEED to write. I NEED the release of this story that it's been in my head for months that's almost done in proposal form. I NEED to finish it. I NEED to make progress on my contracted Love Inspired coming out next Spring (The Rancher Next Door) that's due to my editor in full this summer. I NEED to be brainstorming new stories for them. I NEED to be finishing the full manuscript criqitue for a client from my own editing service. I NEED and WANT to doing all of that and am excited about each project...Sigh.

I'm rambling. I blame it on the Easter candy.

Does anyone know what I mean? Do you ever get those inspired moments where you just feel like if you don't get a bunch of quality writing time in you will literally explode? It's not a bad thing but a good thing. I just don't know where to get it. lol

Maybe I can just set my clocks back...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It Gets Easier.

My days are numbered. The Tiny Human is learning to scoot. And she has one message for her parents:

“I am not a floor-baby.”

It is probably my fault. I knew from the beginning that she might end up as our only child. So I held her. Every waking moment. And every sleeping one. And when I wasn’t holding her, someone else was:

Fast forward to now when she’s face down on the floor, reaching for a toy just out of her grasp, hollering. I want to do it for her.

But I know she can scoot to the toy on her own. She, however, doesn’t.

She scoots all the time when isn’t paying attention. She ends up on the other side of the room without even thinking about it. But if she’s frustrated, it’s like asking her to swim the length of the Atlantic.

Which reminds me a little of myself.

When I first started writing, eeking out a newspaper column was like drowning. It took me two hours to type 250 words. It took me one year to write my first book. It probably took me ten minutes to sign my name on a receipt. (So that last one was a little exaggerated.)

Then it got easier.

I don’t know when it happened… but somewhere along the way I started to scoot. Then I started to crawl. Then I had a child, and typing my column became a sprint of 15 minutes to the finish line.

It gets easier. That’s what I want to tell you. And that’s what I want to tell the Tiny Human. Keep at it. Keep practicing. And pretty soon Mommy’s gonna wish she’d bought those fancy socket protectors after all…

But hey, I always thought her hair would be curly like Daddy’s...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Candy Hangovers

We are crashing from a major sugar high yesterday, so to be honest, I didn't get a lot done today. I took my son to play with some friends, came home, attempted to work on the writing and tried not to nod off during said writing (I always worry then about the excitement level contained in my books. I really don't want to get an email some day that says "Your books are my favorite books to read while I fall asleep at night.").

It was one of THOSE Mondays.

So, I'm going to leave you with a verse I was reminded of by Sandra Byrd. I think it is very appropriate coming off of one deadline and looking ahead to the next:

"But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out." - Ecclesiastes 12:12

Yep and yep. ;)

Happy Easter, everyone! Hope your weekend was blessed and beautiful, filled with the love of Jesus and family. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Isn't This the Truth?

Ever read someone's own tales of writing and suddenly feel like you're not alone?

Yeah, that's exactly how I felt when I read one of my favorite author's thoughts on "Writing in the Margins of Life."

While I don't have kids yet and haven't stopped in a Chuck E-Cheese since my nannying days, I've often had the horribly misguided thought that writing at a coffee shop would be nothing short of eternal bliss.

Now don't get me wrong, I have moments of inspiration at the local Starbucks from time to time, but sometimes it's easy to forget that writing our novels, even if it's our life's passion, is hard work.

So I'm thankful for authors like Sarah Pekkanen who get it.

By the way, I'm also writing as I wait for my dental appointment. Gotta love that wi-fi.

Now how about you? How do you manage to write within the margins of your hectic day-to-day existence?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We'd NEVER do that...or would we?

This topic is really important to me lately, so please allow me the slight rabbit trail from writing advice (hey, it's Easter week, so rabbits are allowed ::wink::) and let the Lord prick your heart a moment like He's been doing to mine.

In Sunday School the past few weeks, we've been discussing a lot of Old Testament events, such as Moses and the 10 commandments, Joshua taking over the leadership of the Israelites after Moses' death and leading them into the Promised Land, Rahab the Harlot who helped save the day, and Judge Deborah who commanded an entire army and won a major battle with the Lord's help (go girl!)

One thing that keeps coming up over and over is how the Israelites kept turning away from God and worshipping idols. At first, our class was just in shock. "How could they do that after they saw what God had done?" We asked. We thought it was absolutely nuts and they were all pretty stupid, to be honest, for SEEING firsthand how God parted the Red Sea, and provided BREAD from the SKY for them, and appeared in fire and clouds, and on and on - yet they could brush that off and worship a little statue that didn't even move or breathe?? Come on!

We would NEVER do that, we thought. I would never do that, I thought.

But we do. And I have. So have you.

Sitting in church last Sunday, it hit me. We all do it! Think about it. How many times have you experienced God in a "mountain top" way? How many times have you felt His presence so clearly during a worship song or at youth camp? Seen His hand of provision when you had a dire need financially or emotionally? How many times have you gotten in the car and the Christian song you most needed to hear was playing at that very moment? How many times did a letter or phone call or text or email from a friend come at just the right time to encourage you?

That was God parting your Red Sea. That was God appearing by fire at night and cloud by day. That was God giving you manna from Heaven at just the right moment, for your specific need.

Yet how many times do we turn from those moments of clarity and faith and seek after material possessions? Guys? (or girls)? Affection? Approval? Friendships or relationships that aren't good for us? Success? The next book contract? The next book review?

It's all the time, isn't it?

We're not so different than the Israelites after all. Not really.

This Easter season, please let this settle in your hearts for a bit. Ponder it. Mull it over. Let God work in you and show you where you need to let go and where you need to hold on. Ask God to forgive you for where you've failed, and help you to be stronger in whichever areas you find you are weak. Not in your power, but in HIS.

Let's not let another day go by where we bow down to an idol instead of God. Think of the power He has ready to pour through us when we get right - pour through your writing and your goals and your dreams. Your dreams aren't sin. It's how we pursue them that can lead to it. Don't let your writing or other dreams become an idol. And you guys, I'm preaching to the choir. This is a regular struggle for most Christian authors I am close to. It's not just you, you aren't alone. Pride bites EVERYONE in the booty. So bite back in Jesus' name!

This Easter, remember the Israelites. Remember how stubborn and blind they were. Don't judge them, but learn from them.

And worship the risen Christ and Him alone.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Writing Pilates

Lately, I have gotten back into Pilates.

When I say that, I mean that I've gotten back into attempting to do the same thing the annoying cheerful woman on the TV tells me to do while knowing there is no way in HECK that I will ever even come close to achieving that pose.

Sometimes I feel the same way about writing.

"Now, remember, no back story! Show, don't tell! 'I' before 'E'!"

Meanwhile, I'm furiously typing something that I know I will just end up regretting and erasing. So, here's a few writing exercises for you. And I promise there will be no awkward lunges, no weird lines like "belly button to spine!" or "feel your legs lengthening as you do this!" or any platonic writing phrases.

Just a couple of simple, hopefully writer's block smashing, prompts. ;)

1. Think of the oddest collectable you've ever heard of. Now create a character who is completely obsessed with this collectable. How do they relate to other people? How about people who think they are completely out of their minds?

2. Stuck in your current story? Grab your main character and write down every single one of their pet peeves. Now add in a side character, maybe even just a grocery story cashier, who fits every pet peeve you listed. How does your character react? Sometimes just getting your character riled up can be enough to breathe some life into your story.

3. What is a career you've always found interesting? Baker? Dog Walker? Concrete Mixer Driver? (Have to admit - I've always been a little fascinated with those.) Learn about the career and then write about a character who doesn't quite fit the "mold" that usually comes with said career (aka - a baker with Celiac's, a dog walker with horrendous allergies, a 5'1", 83-pound female mixer driver.)

Now, take a deep breath, feel your belly button connect with your spine and get to work! ;)