Thursday, August 16, 2018

Taking Your Writing Series-ly By Regina Jennings

You’ll always remember the day your dream came true. You’ll remember when that editor said yes, the day you pushed publish, or the day you first heard from a reader (that wasn’t blood related to you). You were, or will be, flushed with pride, wanting to bask in the glory of the story you presented to the world. Then that editor/agent/reader will ask the magic question:

What’s the next story about?

Next? Isn’t this magnificent creation enough? Not if it’s any good, because the more they like the setting and the characters, the more insistent they will be that they get to see them again.

Whether or not you are planning a series, there are a few ways to prep your stories just in case the opportunity for a series arises.

1 Make sure your story has more than two single characters that readers care about.

If you’re writing romance, then you must have a hero and heroine for each book of the series. You can make it easier on yourself if you have an attractive younger brother, a widowed cousin, or a feisty co-worker already in place. Watch your descriptions of these people because readers won’t buy it if the braggart soldier suddenly turns into a humble hero. Instead, give them a character flaw that we’ll cheer them into overcoming. Or even better, give them a touching backstory that has readers waiting for their redemption.

Sometimes the setting—a wagon train, a deserted island, a federal penitentiary–doesn’t lend itself to a lot of secondary characters. In that case…

2. Tell us about other single characters, but keep them off the page.

 Lieutenant Jack keeps writing to his long, lost love. No, she’s not in Holding the Fort, but we’ll cheer when she shows up in the next book, The Lieutenant’s Bargain. Or that newscaster that the sister has a crush on, maybe there’s just a hint that he lives close by. You can think of a myriad of ways that your first story can cross paths with interesting people who might be hero material later. And here’s the beauty of it—You don’t have to use them. Just throw the seeds out there and wait to see what sprouts in later stories.

3. Take notes and keep notes.

Right now, I’m reading book eleven in the Poldark series. Winston Graham wrote the first Poldark book in 1945 and the twelfth book in 2002. I can only imagine the notes he kept on the hundreds of characters and locations. It’s a good idea to do the same. How did you describe each location? Each character? Even the ages of the characters make a difference.

My last series covered nineteen years. I had to say good-bye to some of the wise, elderly characters that couldn’t survive the span. Although I was watching the youngsters grow up into eligible adults, I hadn’t realized how old the rest of the cast was getting. Remember, everything ages. Even the trusty horse.

4. Especially with historicals, keep an eye on the calendar.

Not just because of the characters’ ages, either. For instance, Downton Abbey’s story started with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. That event throws the estate and title’s succession into jeopardy, so it was essential to the plot. But while Matthew and Mary are figuring out what the windfall means to them and their relationship, another, bigger event looms—World War I.

You can’t set your book in November of 1941 without thinking ahead to Pearl Harbor. If your historical isn’t going to address certain real events, then it’s best to steer clear of them. Watch for obscure local events that you might not be aware of.

5. Each book must have a satisfying ending.

Especially if you are writing romance or mystery, the books need to be able to stand alone. For mystery or suspense, that means that at least one crime or mystery is solved per book, although there could be a nemesis that is not conquered until the final book. For romance, one couple needs to make a commitment per story. A historical series or family series could get away with making us wait for the Happily Ever After, but please don’t sell it as a romance.

You might not intend to write a series, but it’s best to lay some groundwork in case the opportunity arises. Your fans, and your editor, will thank you.
Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she's able to make ends meet, but lately he's run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.

Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn't find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she'll take them.

When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she's mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess--they're not supposed to be so blamed pretty--but he's left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess's methods. Louisa's never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?
Award-winning author Regina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. She enjoys watching musicals with her kids, traveling with her husband and reading by herself. When not plotting historical fiction she plots how she could move Highclere Castle, stone by stone, into her pasture and how she could afford the staff to manage it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Writing Under Pressure by Betty Thomason Owens

I don’t always work well when the pressure’s on. The dreaded deadline is looming, and my mind’s a total blank, or worse—mush. Mush is when there’s so much information, it’s difficult to separate the good from the not so good.

I type feverishly, trying my best, only to erase it all because it’s boring. If I’m yawning over it, the reader will most certainly be uninterested, too.

How do I break free from this vicious cycle?

  • I get up. I get my blood flowing, either by cleaning something, or simply doing a few stretches. If it’s a nice day, I may go for a quick walk. I free my mind from the bondage of the laptop screen. Fifteen minutes, or so, is all it takes. 
  • Change it up. Work on something else for a few minutes. Create a meme, write a quick blog post (I can always use those).
  • Do something fun. Toss a tennis ball at the wall and catch it. Play with your pet for a few minutes. I don’t have a pet, I would have to pretend on that one, but make-believe is one of my strong points. 😊 
  • Read something funny. Laugh out loud. Watch a silly pet video. Laugh out loud. 
  • Spend a few minutes meditating, praying, studying God’s word, or listening to praise music. Sing along with the music. 

Each of the above suggestions can lessen the feeling of bondage I’m experiencing due to that time-constriction, which I usually despise. And here’s another odd little suggestion: Forgive yourself. Sometimes, I feel that I’m letting myself down. I’m either under-performing or maybe, I brought this penalty on myself by dragging my feet until the last second.

When I forgive myself, there’s a resulting release within my spirit. And then the words come. I’ve cleared the blockage. Now the inspiration can flow freely.

As writers, we’ve probably all been there at one time or another. What’s your favorite way to overcome the pressure? What helpful hint(s) can you add to my short list of remedies?


Betty Thomason Owens has been writing for almost thirty years. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and serves on the planning committee of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference. Her writing credits include Amelia’s Legacy and Carlotta’s Legacy, in the Legacy Series, Annabelle’s Ruth and Sutter’s Landing, in the southern historical Kinsman Redeemer Series. When she’s not writing, Owens is a part-time bookkeeper, who loves to travel and spend time with her family.

You can connect with her at:, Twitter - @batowens, Facebook Author Page, Amazon Author Page, & Pinterest - btowens

You'll also find Betty visiting these blogs:

proud to be an autism mom, August 15

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, August 16

Reading is my Super Power, August 16 (Interview)

What will it take to teach a spoiled heiress that the greatest legacy is love?

Nancy and Robert Emerson’s daughter Amy Juliana is doing her best to follow in Mom’s rebellious footsteps.

Her desperate attempt to escape Dad’s control comes at the worst possible time. A threat against their family and Sanderson Industries has Robert Emerson taking extra steps to guarantee his family’s safety. He sends Amy, an heiress and a debutante, to the country to work on a produce farm run by Aunt Rebecca. Humiliated and angry, Amy contemplates a path that will lead her even farther from home, away from Dad’s protection.

Will Aunt Rebecca’s quiet strength and unconditional love be enough to still the prodigal daughter’s rebellious ways, and open her heart to the plight of others around her?

Matt Wordsworth is the man Robert calls upon to help keep his daughter in line. She thinks the guy is an old fuddy-duddy. By the time her ideas about him begin to change, it may be too late. When an old friend tests her loyalty, she is forced to face her past to overcome a guilty conscience. But, is she playing into the hands of the enemy?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Weather or Not? By Marie Wells Coutu

Marie Wells Coutu
Weather affects our mood, right? A cloudy or rainy day may make us feel lethargic or even depressed while seeing the sunshine can make us smile. In Minnesota, where I used to live, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can strike some people during the long, cold winters.

A heavy rain shower had me running from a store to my car one day, and I started thinking about how we incorporate the weather into our stories. If we’re not careful, it could be easy to write an entire book where every day is sunny and gorgeous—or where we don’t mention the weather at all.

In one of my historical (unpublished) novels, I started out with an unusually hot day in May. Most of the book takes place in the summer, and as I wrote, it began to feel like every day was extremely hot. Guess the heat wave that year set some records. Fortunately, I realized the need for variety and incorporated rain and storms into some of the scenes.

Very few of our fictional settings will have consistent weather throughout the timeline of the story—unless the setting is a tropical island. Even then, a hurricane or unexpected storm could occur. If we want our stories to be realistic and believable, we need to incorporate the weather patterns appropriate to the location and time of year.

But more than providing variety, the weather affects—and often reflects—the mood of our characters. The one thing I remember about Wuthering Heights is the mist and fog of the moors—appropriate for England and for the overall mood of the book, as well as the mood of several characters.

At other times, the weather can create a contrast to our character’s mood. My most recent release begins with a bright, sunny day, but the setting is a funeral for a baby. The contrast highlights the negative emotions of the heroine, who feels “the sun should not be shining.” Many readers will be able to relate to a time when the weather was the exact opposite of their mood.

Another important consideration is to know the actual weather for the area where your story is set. I once read a book set in my hometown where the characters dealt with a snowstorm that kept them inside for days. Now, this could happen in western Kentucky once in a decade or two, but this novel made it seem like an annual occurrence. Having experienced fewer storms of that magnitude in my childhood than I could count on one hand, the story lacked believability for me after that. Several resources exist for finding weather patterns for your story, including these:

You may even get ideas for stories from these sites when you explore record-setting events in certain areas. A Jack Reacher story, for instance, takes place in New York City during the record-setting heat wave in the 1970s that caused a blackout across the northeast.

In preparing to write a scene, do you consider the weather—hot or cold, rainy or sunny or snowy, windy or still? What mood do you want to create for the scene, and will the weather enhance or contrast that mood? Is there a historic weather event that can provide the backdrop for a story you want to write?

Share examples in the comments of how you’ve used weather to enhance the mood or realism of your scenes, or tell us about great examples from books you’ve read.

About the Author
The Secret Heart by Marie Wells Coutu
Marie Wells Coutu’s newest novel, The Secret Heart, from Write Integrity Press, was named a finalist in both the 2018 National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Awards and the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. An unpublished historical novel set near Golden Pond has been a finalist in five contests.

You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook page (Author Marie Wells Coutu), at her website (, or follow her on Twitter (@mwcoutu) or on

Marie is a regular contributor to Seriously WriteFor more posts by Marie, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Bottom End of a Publishing Career

by Peter Leavell @peterleavell

I labored to create a writing career.

As I climbed the ladder of writing success, the view above was surprisingly uninspiring—someone’s backside.

I let go of the rungs and found another ladder. After climbing a few steps, I found another posterior—different, but still another fleshy part a person uses to sit.


I tried an author's ladder whom I admire, and while I climbed rather high, the view before reaching my dream was still the same—the tail end of another writer.

While I was getting good at climbing ladders and following others, I was getting tired of rumps.

I took a step back and viewed the writing world from a distance.

The ladder of success wasn’t a ladder at all. It was a jungle gym with a different way to the top for every person.

For everyone who has left an impression on the publishing industry or will contribute, there is a path designed specifically for them. And you have one, too. One you must discover and climb. 

Every person’s publishing story is different.

There is difference between learning from another person’s path and following another person’s path.

Know thyself. Know what success is for you. Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. Know the market. Know where you might fit in by using your strengths.

The map for your writing career is yours alone. Share your knowledge, but if you see someone staring at your hinder, encourage them to find their own way. They will have their own work to do, their own conversations with agents and acquisition editors, their own way of seeing the world.

You are unique with a voice that’s only yours. Your book will be inimitable, as will your story to publication. Don’t look for and climb ladders. Find the bars that best fit you, climb onto the first rung, and hold on for dear life!

What is your publishing journey? Where are you at on your ladder?

Tweetable! The map for your writing career is yours alone.
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and currently enrolled in the University's English Lit Graduate program, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. A novelist, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at

Friday, August 10, 2018

Writing to Make a Difference by Janet W. Ferguson

Janet W. Ferguson

There are many reasons why we choose to write, but not all give us the stamina to do what’s necessary for success in the industry. Author Janet Ferguson shares her journey and what has motivated her along the way to publication. 
~ Dawn

Writing to Make a Difference

When I started writing, I wanted to express how God uses even our messes to make something beautiful. I had an idea that stayed with me for seven years before I committed to writing the story down. I kept waiting for the right time. I’d learned most novels are about 75000 words. What a daunting task, right?

But, in 2012 my mother lost her battle with Alzheimer’s on February 29. My mother-in-law died suddenly of a plural embolism on April 6; then my elderly father passed away on May 6.

The grief at losing parents was hard, but the realization that life was short stirred my desire to write. More importantly—to write to make a difference. Every night I’d read the last scene I’d written and then start a new one. Within a few months, I’d written The End.

I had no clue what to do next.

I joined a local and national writers’ groups. I navigated the scary world of pitching to agents that first year after my I finished Leaving Oxford at the RWA National Convention in Atlanta. The agents were kind enough to request my manuscript, but suggested I was almost ready, but not quite. Both agents also suggested I should join ACFW and get a critique partner. I jumped in and acquired so many critique partners that I can’t even remember all their names! I attended more conferences, took online craft classes, and read books on the craft of writing. I can’t count how many times I rewrote Leaving Oxford in the four years I spent editing it. Meanwhile I wrote three other books in the series.

At some point, one agent suggested that I indie publish since the market was so tight after Family Christian filed bankruptcy. The thought terrified me, so I edited and pitched again at the ACFW Conference. And I waited. Meanwhile, several of my critique partners were doing really well as indie authors.

Finally, I asked one of them (Misty Beller) if she would mentor me if I decided to go indie, and she agreed. And so I began researching all that I would have to do to successfully indie publish.

I would need a good fiction editor (one specific to my genre) and a good cover artist. I worked on my platform, newsletter, and Facebook author page. I filed for copyrights and bought ISBNs. I filed my publishing company name Southern Sun Press with the Secretary of State. I set up with the tax commission—and so much more. My journey is not for everyone. Not all writers want to own a business, but I’m happy to have my stories out there, and I’ve earned a profit. But the amazing thing is when readers contact me or leave a review saying that the story helped them when they were going through tough times or that the novel was just what they needed at that moment in their faith walk. That is the reason I write! To God be the glory!

I now have five novels published, and that first novel Leaving Oxford is currently free. Check it out!

Southern Hearts Series ~ Book 1

Escaping home to Oxford, Mississippi, seemed like a good idea. Until it wasn’t.

A year after a tragic accident in Los Angeles flipped her world upside down, advertising guru Sarah Beth LeClair is still hiding away in her charming hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. And she may well be stuck there forever. Suffering from panic attacks, she prays for healing. Instead, her answer comes in the form of an arrogant football coach and an ugly puppy.

Former celebrity college quarterback Jess McCoy dreamed of playing pro football. One freak hit destroyed his chances. Although he enjoys his work as the university’s offensive coordinator, his aspirations have shifted to coaching at the highest level. His plans of moving up are finally coming together—until he falls for a woman who won’t leave town.

 As the deadline for Jess’s decision on his dream career looms, the bars around Sarah Beth’s heart only grow stronger. But it's time to make a decision about leaving Oxford.

Janet W. Ferguson grew up in Mississippi and received a degree in Banking and Finance from the University of Mississippi. She has served as a children’s minister and a church youth volunteer. An avid reader, she worked as a librarian at a large public high school. She writes humorous inspirational fiction for people with real lives and real problems. Janet and her husband have two grown children, one really smart dog, and a few cats that allow them to share the space.

I love to hear from readers! You can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Pinterest, Bookbub, or use the contact page, or subscribe to my newsletter on the Under the Southern Sun page for exclusive book news and giveaways.

I also contribute at Inspy Romance and Heartwings blogs once a month. Check out the authors and prizes!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Weaving Spiritual Themes Into Your Story by Gayla K. Hiss

Gayle K. Hiss
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Daniel. Not only was the prophet Daniel gifted with the ability to interpret dreams, he was given a number of amazing prophecies concerning the future. He also had three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who refused to worship the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, which landed them in the fiery furnace to die. As I wrote WILDFIRE, the third book in my Peril in the Park series, the tale of these three brave young men repeatedly came to mind until I saw its connection to the story I was writing. By weaving this theme of the fiery furnace into my story, it added spiritual and emotional depth to the plight of my characters as they experienced their own fiery furnace. It also helped me hone in on the underlying message of my story—that Jesus Christ is with us in the fire.

Perhaps you have a passage, parable, or prophecy of specific interest in the Bible. There are several ways you can incorporate it into your story: You could make the theme an explicit part of the plot, with a storyline built around it, but the characters and situation fictionalized. Shakespeare was a master at taking historical events and adapting them for plays. The same principle could be applied for adapting a Biblical theme to a fictional novel, for example, a prodigal son story set in contemporary or futuristic times.

Another method for incorporating a spiritual theme is more subtle. You could make the characters and story very different from the theme, but what is going on emotionally with the characters is connected to it somehow. This is similar to what I did in my story. When my characters are faced with their own fiery furnace, on an emotional level they are relating back to the story from the book of Daniel. Of course, the theme needs to be hinted at throughout the story to reveal its underlying message, allowing the reader to make the connection.

An even subtler approach is to hint at the theme at the beginning of the story, for instance, a character could quote a proverb in passing. The theme isn’t mentioned again until near the end, at which point the reader realizes that the adage at the beginning had been illustrated by the story.

I’ve only touched on a few ways to weave a spiritual theme into your story. Choosing a theme can simply be a matter of focusing on a Biblical subject that interests you and has relevance to your characters or plot. Sometimes the Biblical theme will suddenly jump off the pages as you write your story. When that happens, it’s a gift—so go with it. A spiritual theme skillfully woven into a story can profoundly impact your readers, and the most inspirational stories are those that are truly “inspired”. 

About the Author

About Gayla K. Hiss

Gayla’s writing journey began with her hobby painting landscapes. In her imagination, characters and scenes came to life as she painted beautiful natural settings. Her inspiring novels combine her love for the great outdoors with romance, suspense, and mystery. Gayla and her husband often tour the country in their RV, visiting many state and national parks. She enjoys hiking, camping, and traveling, and lives in the Pacific Northwest. She’s excited to announce the August release of WILDFIRE, book 3 in her Peril in the Park series, which can be purchased on Amazon at Visit to learn more, and connect with her on FacebookAmazon, and Goodreads


Will Rachael and Dylan escape the fire’s fury, or perish in the flames?
Wildfire by Gayla K. Hiss

Sparks fly when wildfire researcher Rachael Woodston clashes with firefighter Dylan Veracruz in Rocky Mountain National Park. The June fire season has just begun, yet a long-standing drought has already turned the national park into a tinderbox. Rachael’s computer data indicates the fire Dylan’s crew is fighting is about to accelerate, but he doesn’t believe her—until the fire suddenly gets out of control and they have to evacuate.

Suspecting arson, Rachael and Dylan join forces in search of answers and soon discover that chasing fires isn’t all they have in common—they’re both survivors who’ve tragically lost loved ones. However, their difference of opinion about faith keeps them at arm’s length, despite a growing attraction. As the danger escalates, Rachael and Dylan soon find themselves in a firestorm they cannot escape. All seems lost until Rachael has a profound encounter that restores her faith and gives her hope. The close call also fuels her determination to stop the fiend behind the flames.
But can she and Dylan solve the mystery and extinguish their enemy before disaster strikes again?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

3 Simple Ways to Deal with After-Conference Overwhelm by Chautona Havig

By the third day of the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, I saw a shift. The same people from day one who had exited classrooms eager and excited about what they’d learned now floundered. Entire demeanors changed in the span of two days—from talking and laughing to not-so-excited. I watched eager, determined expressions shift to dazed, uncertain, confused.

“I don’t know where to start.”

“How do I do all of this? There’s too much!”

“I want to say I’ll do the most important things first, but they’re all important!”

Most of them were spoken with a nervous laugh. Many times accompanied by a wail.

One woman flipped open a notebook to one of the back pages and showed a “To Do” list.

“I brought a brand new notebook for this conference. It’s almost full of notes and ideas.” She flipped the page back and forth to show both sides. “And those are all the stuff I need to be doing. I need something better than ‘Russian pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey’ to get started.”

Sitting there, I wanted to say so many things to everyone, but there wasn’t time. This is what I would have said if I could. 

3 Simple Ways to Deal with After-Conference Overwhelm

1. You can’t do it all, so don’t even try. Start by eliminating anything that you can put off for six months. Then eliminate whatever you can put off for three. For a month. A week.

When you’re down to only what will help you right now, that makes it a little easier. It may be watching passive-sounding phrases as you finish your manuscript. It may be learning how to use Instagram to build a following. Pick something off that smaller list and start there. Yes, we have to start working on those longer-term things but not when you first get home.

2. Show your notes to a trusted friend or mentor. Often those who know us well can see where we need to make changes better than we can. Treat it like a brainstorming session for your next novel—the one called your life! Lay out “all the things” you learned and see what he or she says. Then take the advice—at least for now.

3. Take time to let all that information sink in. You don’t have to go home on Saturday night and begin applying everything on Monday. Give yourself a week or two to see if something rises to the top.

It’s easy to allow “all the things” to take over your “navigational system,” but careful, prayerful consideration of what you’ve learned and how to apply that will keep you from trying to do everything at once.

And let’s face it. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Writers’ conferences can be overwhelming, but with a plan of attack, you can avoid after-conference overwhelm.


Author of the Amazon Bestselling Aggie and Past Forward series, Chautona Havig lives in California's Mojave Desert where she uses story to direct readers to the feet of the Master Storyteller. You can find her as herself on most social media and at