Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Fortifying Friday to our readers! (Annette here) Dawn and I are pleased to host Nikki Arana today with her encouraging post. Happy writing and reading!

My Writing Journey
by Nikki Arana

People are always surprised to learn that I have sold everything I ever sent out. From that first magazine article to my first novel. Yes, God was blessing my socks off and assuring me that He had called me to write. At least that's what I thought . . . until 2007 when I began to write my fifth novel, The Shadow of Death.

The economy had begun a downward spiral, CBA was looking to broaden their appeal by moving toward fiction written from a Christian worldview rather than the message fiction I was known for, and the subject of my book was evangelizing Muslims. There's a dicey topic to promote on a national stage! Though my previous books had won many awards, suddenly sales were not so stellar, and my once rising star seemed to dim. My agent couldn't sell my manuscript. In some cases, publishers offered a contract if I would write something else. But I knew the Lord had called me to write about the need for safe houses for Muslims in America who convert to Christianity. Many of you reading this know what I mean. God has given you a story and a passion to write it. But nothing is coming together. At every turn a door closes. You wonder if you are called to write.

It has been three years since I began writing The Shadow of Death. Offers have not come together, I've rewritten the book three times, I've fought writers block, and yes, even despair. Always coming back to the one thing that could sustain me if only I was sure-was I truly called to write. Finally, through prayer and a willingness to be broken, the Lord led me to the truth.

I am not called to write. I am called to intimacy with Him. It is about letting your dreams die and being willing to live out His dreams for you. It is about spiritual growth that has nothing to do with the writing itself. It has to do with the journey. It has to do with sanctification, being set apart for His purposes, realizing that you are not meant to serve God, you are meant for God to serve man through you. I no longer wonder if He has called me to write. I know He hasn't. He has called me to intimacy with Him. Everything else is just the fruit of that relationship. It was the dawning of this life-giving truth that finally allowed me to surrender to God, His purpose, and His timing.

The Shadow of Death sold last month. . . . in a two-book deal.

Surrender and seek Him. He will do the very thing that you think tests the limits of His power.


The Shadow of Death is a chilling tale pitting Austia Donatelli, the leader of an underground Christian ministry that brings the gospel to Muslims, against a powerful terrorist. Austia lives and works in an Islamic neighborhood and God’s call on her life seems to be a death sentence. But her ministry isn’t somewhere in the Middle East . . . it’s in Southern California. The plot takes unexpected twists and turns as the clock ticks and Austia courageously seeks safety for the Muslim women who have become her sisters in Christ. Her faith is tested to the breaking point as death stalks her and God seems distant. It is then, with terrifying certainty, she realizes she is in a spiritual battle with Satan himself.


Nikki Arana is an award-winning author of women's fiction, essays, poetry, and magazine articles whose work has been published in the United States and Canada. She has won several national awards, including the American Christian Fiction Book of the Year for Women's Fiction for two consecutive years, the Beacon Award, the Excellence in Media Silver Angel Award, the Write Touch Readers Award, and others. Her book, The Winds of Sonoma was named One of the Top 20 Books of the Year by Her 5th, and first non-fiction book, Through the Eyes of Christ: How to Lead Muslims into the Kindom of God, has just been released. Her 6th book, The Shadow of Death, has just been sold by her agent, Natasha Kern. You can learn more about her at

Nikki is also a professional editor ( who teaches story structure.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Me?

Thursdays - Devotions for Writers

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4 NIV)

Have you ever asked, “Why me?”

Life can be tough. Even for Christians. Sometimes . . . especially for Christians. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t struggled with something, or had to deal with hurtful situations. If you were to put some true-life experiences into novel form, readers might find them unbelievable. Truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Why me?” Maybe it should be, “What do I do with it, now?”

In Corinthians we read that we are to give comfort as we have received comfort from God. We are to use what we’ve experienced, and our understanding of that experience to help others. God can take what was meant for evil and use it for good.

Do the same with your writing. Take what has been painful in your lives - and what has been healing - and put it into words.

You don’t have to expose our life on paper. But try to dig deep and use the emotions you’ve felt – betrayal, fear, anxiety, abandonment, loneliness – whatever has been difficult and painful. If you're writing fiction, allow your characters to experience those emotions. Let your readers know that they're not alone, someone understands, and that God and His love is bigger than anything bad they've experienced.

Will it be easy? No. It might be one of the hardest things you ever attempt to do. But is it worth it in order to bring forth good out of bad? Only you can answer that for yourself. But think about this . . . you might also find healing for your own heart and spirit in the process.

Be comforted – that you might comfort.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What I've Learned on My Writing Journey by Cathy Marie Hake

Welcome to another Writer’s Journey Wednesday. (Dawn here.) You’re in for a treat and words of wisdom as author Cathy Marie Hake shares what she’s learned on her own journey. I loved this - and I think you will, too. Enjoy!

What I've Learned
on My Writing Journey

REAL STORY: A writer wrote only two pages. He gave them to his best friend and said how much those pages meant to him. His friend told him they were great—he was even willing to represent the writer. People were too busy partying to pay attention when it went to print. In fact, the work was rejected. Critics hated it. The marketing department destroyed it. Oh. And it was a really small print run, too. Work: The Ten Commandments. Author: God. Friend/agent/marketing director: Moses. Print run: 1 - but God did a reprint. And those Ten Commandments became a portion of the Bible: the best-selling book ever!

I have 10 commandments for writing. They’re not nearly as important or wise. I can’t even claim they are original, but they work for me. I apply truths Mom taught me:

10 Writing Commandments

1. People are important.
Especially your family. Keep them your priority.

2. Bring a friend.
No one understands the joys, despairs, effort, and time writing takes than another writer. Be part of organizations, networks, and/or critique groups. Celebrate each accomplishment. Take delight in everyone else’s good news and success. A high tide floats all ships.

3. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.
Just write it in a book. (Mom didn’t mention that part.)

4. Education is important.
Attend workshops, do online courses, read books on craft. There’s always something more to learn. Study books in your genre that you love and analyze why they’re so good. What tools did that author use that you could add to your toolbox?

5. Look it up!
Research everything. Have at least three sources on it. A reader suspends disbelief because everything in that fictional world is true and things make sense.

6. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Give your best effort. That means sit in the chair and write. A first draft is okay. A critiqued and improved draft is better. Revision means the writer honors the readers and God so much, only the best will do.

7. If at first you don’t succeed . . . try, try again.
Rejection is part of the game. Give yourself 24 hrs of being crushed, crying, eating chocolate and going out for dinner. Then improve it. And send it off again.

8. Ice cream is good for you.
Yes—the Promised Land was flowing with milk and honey—that’s the recipe for ice cream. Have a scoop.

9. Actions speak louder than words.
Live authentically. A book doesn’t ring true if you’re not walking in the light.

10. Ask your Dad.
This was the best commandment of all. Ask God. Before putting your hands on the keyboard, ask Him to give you the message, a loving attitude, and fortitude. Because seeking His will and pleasing Him is what life - and writing - is all about.

Writing is a unique profession. It’s putting your heart and soul on a page, then setting it before others to be critiqued, edited, and reviewed. Be brave. Be obedient. Be true to the One you serve. He’ll equip you for the message he desires. Who knew He’d started the lessons even before we put crayons to paper?

Cathy Marie Hake is a Southern California native who escapes the concrete jungle for the wide-open spaces and tree-filled world in her best-selling humorous historical novels. In her writing, Cathy attempts to capture a unique glimpse of life and how a man and woman can overcome obstacles when motivated by love. In her inspirational pieces she enjoys the freedom of showing how Christ can enrich a loving couple's relationship. She met her sweetheart in the High School department at church and married him after finishing nursing school. They have two children and two dogs (one of them even moos - one of the dogs that is, not the kids). Faith in God, a loving family, and a wacky sense of the ridiculous keep her going.

You can find out more about Cathy and her work by visiting:
Cathy’s Web site:
Saturday blogger at:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Assemble the Orchestra!

Assemble the Orchestra
Worshipful Writers Series
Net's Notations Tuesdays

Round up an orchestra to play for God,
Add on a hundred-voice choir.
(Psalm 98:5, MSG)

We’re all different instruments in God’s worship team. Same call: "Write!" But, we all have different roles.

M.L. Tyndall writes historical romance. But she includes a touch of spiritual warfare in her stories through symbolism. This makes her stand out.

Julie Lessman writes passionate romances out of a zeal for Jesus in her own heart. She also fiercely believes in passion in marriage. Her writing stands out.

Karen Kingsbury writes emotionally touching stories every time. You have to keep a tissue at the ready! If you’ve interacted with her, you know she loves big. She is a caring woman. Her writing glorifies God and uses her skills and heart at an exquisite level.

God will use you to touch specific people. In fact, I believe that as you’re writing your book (fiction or non-fiction) God is excited about the readers who will see what you’ve written and be helped by your words.

We think of it as voice. That element we bring to our books which represents us every time. It’s more than tone. It’s you, your writing essence.

In the same way that no two writing voices are alike (how many of you know you cannot successfully imitate another author’s voice?), the ways God has designed to use each of us is unique as well.

Name a famous author. Just pick one off the top of your head. Lets say . . . Jane Austen. Now, we can study her work and learn to write like she did. We can write in her genre, even quote her prose. But there will never be another Jane Austen. And rightly so.

You have a specific position in God’s orchestra of writers. (Forgive me for blending two metaphors here in our Worshipful Writers Series.) Though someone else writes the same genre (also plays the trombone, for example), they will not sound like you. Learning craft hones your tone. Practicing helps you produce a good sound. You’re responsible for your own instrument, to know how to play it, to put in the practice hours, to be on time for rehearsals and performances. Can you see the parallels? BIC—behind in chair. Log words everyday. No skimping. Be excellent.

And most of all, take your rightful position in God’s orchestra of writers. You belong here. There is no competition. We're all called. Welcome. Play!

Honor God with your talents, with your obedience to your calling, and with your creativity. Glorify the Conductor as a worshipful writer.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Fools Gold and the Missing Treasure by Susan May Warren

This Manuscript Monday Susan May Warren concludes her series "Craft Tips and Techniques from Today’s Blockbusters." It's been a pleasure hosting Susan again these several weeks. Thank you, Susie, for sharing craft tips with our readers in a movie-lover's fashion!

Fool’s Gold and the Missing Treasure
by Susan May Warren

This question lingers throughout the rest of the movie. Why are they divorcing?

I love a great romance. Something that stirs my heart and makes me believe anew in true love. And what’s not to love about Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson?

Any movie that takes place in the Caribbean is a winner for me. Add to that a buried treasure and an adventure . . . I thought I’d love their newest romantic comedy, Fool’s Gold.

Admittedly, the shallow part of me did. But the part that longed for a true romance . . . well, I walked out empty-hearted. It had the right ingredients:– cute couple, adventure, locale, even a sound subplot. What was it missing?

I call it The Key. It’s the moment/situation/reality in the movie that unlocks the characters’ true feelings and opens the treasure they’ve really been hunting for: intimacy; the realization that they belong together. Why do we love romances like Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, or even Return to Me? It’s because in these movies, the couple uses the key and to unlock their hearts. They confess the truth of their failings and their deep need for each other. (Remember the line in Return to Me: “I’ll always miss Elizabeth, but I ache for Grace.” Oh!)

Let’s return to Fool’s Gold.

We know Finn loves Tess, after all, he grabs her picture—and only her picture— from his sinking boat. And Tess loves Finn, evidenced by the mascara dropping in the sink in her first scene. But it’s not long after that we discover they have problems. Tess believes he is completely irresponsible and even uncaring about their relationship. After all, he can’t even bother to show up for their divorce on time.

However, he is racing to stop it. “This is a big mistake!” he says after bursting into the judge’s chambers. “This woman and I still love each other.”

But it’s too late. They’re already divorced. Finn, in desperation, turns to her and asks, “Why?”

This question lingers throughout the rest of the movie. Why are they divorcing? But a great romance needs to start at the beginning. Why do they belong together?

Sure, they’re both treasure hunters, both driven by the mystery, by the magic of adventure; however, clearly they are different people. She is smart, ambitious, responsible; he’s a mess and a lying scoundrel, albeit driven and charming.

One she can’t seem to eject him from her life.

He appears on the boat she’s working on, and soon he’s cajoled the owner (and her) into racing after the one thing that binds them together: a buried treasure.

The movie makes a valiant attempt to subtext the metaphor treasure with their happily ever after. “Aurelia’s [the treasure] right around the corner. And she’s all ours,” he says.

We hope so, but instead of diving deep into their issues, or even realizing why these two love each other, the story keeps us at surface level. Finn and Tess unlock the clues together, even share a moment of passion, but still, what went wrong? Why should they give their marriage another chance?

Fast forward to the end when they’ve nearly lost their lives and they’re in an airplane about to crash. He says, “This next part, I’m not exactly sure how to pull off.” Of course, he’s talking about landing. But he could just as well be talking about their future.

“Are we going to die?” she asks.

“No. No, we’re not.”

So, suddenly they’ve bridged their gap and are on the home run toward the happily ever after. Except, what happened to the middle? They key moment when they realize that something has changed? Is finding the treasure all they need to find happily ever after?

Apparently yes, because when they surface, the first thing out of Finn’s mouth is, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. Marry me.”

“No, you haven’t,” she says. And follows up with, “And, yes, I will.”

Okay, we can buy that excitement of finding the treasure has reminded her of why she was first drawn to him. And, of course, without the financial woes between them, life will certainly be easier.

But what about that deeper treasure? The value of each other that they’ve found during their journey?

What need do they fulfill in each other’s life? Passion? Adventure?

“Why?” Finn asked when his wife divorced him.

“Why?” we ask as we watch them get back together.

Because although it’s a fun romp with beautiful people, their issues are still so glaring we know it can’t last. Will he still be a scoundrel? Probably. Will she still get fed up with him? No doubt. Will they continue to require dangerous adventures to keep them together? Most likely. They haven’t really found the true value of their relationship; they’ve only discovered Fool’s Gold.

It’s all about the why. Why do they belong together? Why can’t they live without each other? Why is the happily ever after worth the risk? Ask your hero and heroine why, and you’ll discover The Key to unlocking the real treasure of a great romance.

Susan May Warren
is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I Learned on My Writing Journey by Martha Rogers

Fortifying Fridays on Seriously Write are devoted to authors sharing their journeys to publication. We’re so happy to have Martha Rogers as our guest today. She has quite a story to tell. Enjoy and let her story encourage you.

What I Learned on
My Writing Journey

My writing journey began when I realized how much I like to make up stories and live in a fantasy world where I could create the perfect family, especially after my parents’ divorce. I made up stories for my paper dolls and my dolls using them as the characters. I wrote short stories as a teenager and my first novel as a freshman in college, still using it to escape into my “ideal” life.

Rejection after rejection disappointed me, but I kept on writing. I met DiAnn Mills at a writing conference, and she took me under her wing and mentored me. She also convinced me that joining ACRW would really help me improve my writing. I took her advice and it’s the best thing I could have done. She formed a critique group with Myra Johnson, Kathleen Y’Barbo and me as members. Later Janice Thompson joined the group, then Marcia Gruver and Linda Kozar.

Through ACRW, and then ACFW, I met Brandilyn Collins, Lena Nelson Dooley, Deb Raney, Lynn Coleman, and Rebecca Germany as well as my agent, Tamela Hancock Murray. The most important lesson I have learned from them is patience. Giving God time to work on His schedule and not mine was difficult for me to do because I’ve always been a “take charge” sort of person. It didn’t take long for me to realize that catching the eye of an editor was more than being in charge.

DiAnn, Kathleen, Janice and I collaborated on a novella anthology, Sugar and Grits and submitted it in 2001. Patience paid off as we waited and left it with Barbour until 2005 when we were offered a contract for it. When it was published in 2007, I thought now I would be on my way. Two years later I still didn’t have another contract, but I didn’t give up.

I adopted Galatians 6:9 as my writing verse because I knew if I didn’t give up on what I believed God wanted me to do, I would reap a harvest. Then in 2009, Tamela called me with the news that Strang was interested in Becoming Lucy. They first sent an offer letter then a contract for one book with an option for three more. I started working on the manuscript and after I turned it in, a got another email from them saying they were ready to contract the next three in the series. In September of 2009 I signed the contract to finish out the Winds Across the Prairie series.

Since then I have signed a for Christmas novella that will be released in September 2010. When God opened the door, He kicked it wide open with five books in one year. Unbelievable.

The road has not been easy, and the hundreds of rejections hurt. But I learned from the rejections. I paid attention to what my critique partners and judges in contest said. Of course some of what they said made me a little angry, but then I settled down and began to think things through.

The best way to further your writing is to attend conferences. There you will have an opportunity to attend workshops with great authors and learn from them. Books on improving your writing are usually available, and you have the opportunity to meet and network with others who are on the same journey you are as well as meet those who are well established and long down the road ahead of you.

Spend time with the Lord, and He will direct your paths in the right direction. Listen for His instructions and follow Him in all that you do. Be patient because our time tables are not God’s and seldom do they match. If it’s to be, it will be, when He ordains that it’s time.

Although Martha Rogers' primary writing experience is in non-fiction, she has been writing fiction for a number of years. She is a retired teacher who enjoys spending time with her family, especially her grandchildren. Martha is a member of ACFW and writes a weekly devotional for the group.

Her book credits include the novella, Sugar and Grits, Becoming Lucy, and Morning for Dove. Also coming in 2010 are Finding Becky and Key to Her Heart in River Walk Christmas anthology. She has also many non-fiction writing credits in compilations by Wayne Holmes, Karen O’Conner, and Debbie White Smith. Martha has contributed devotionals to several anthologies including soon to be released Whispers of Wisdom for Step-Moms from Barbour. Martha served as editor of an eight page monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization, Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state President. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference.

Martha and her husband live in Houston, Texas where they enjoy spending time with their grandchildren.

WEB SITE: For more information, visit the author’s Web site at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Laying Our Foundation

Thursdays - Devotions for Writers

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1Cor. 3: 10-11 NIV)

My husband and I don’t consider ourselves to be fans of reality shows. But, we have become addicted to TV programs that focus on people remodeling, flipping, and staging houses for sale. He's interested in the real estate business, as well as what goes into fixing and changing homes. He’s kind of a “project” guy, himself. I love the creative piece and enjoy seeing the transformation of something old, outdated, and ugly into a home that is beautiful and inviting.

No matter what is done cosmetically to make these homes attractive, if the foundation is in bad shape, all the work will eventually be in vain. It’s like trying to put a colorful Band Aid on a broken arm. It may look pretty for awhile, but it’s not going to help the bone to heal properly and be strong again.

As writers, we’ve learned that we also need to lay foundations for our books. In nonfiction, we better be able to back up our words with research or experience. In fiction, our stories need to have foundations laid with strong characterizations and plots – as well as engaging beginnings, exciting middles, and satisfying endings.

As we write our devotions, articles, or books – we also have another responsibility. And that is to always keep in the forefront what God wants us to convey through written word. I’m not talking about being preachy. Or weaving fifty Bible verses into a novel. The message can be very subtle and still be received.

In order for us to deliver the message that God wants us to write, we first need to make sure our own spiritual foundation is strong. That means spending time with Him, and making sure our relationship is right with Him. It means seeking His will, not only in other aspects of our lives, but in our writing. What story does He want us to pen? What message does He want us to share? If we have those things in place, then our stories will be what God intends them to be – and they will have the power to accomplish what He desires them to. They will be meaningful to the people they were intended to touch.

How strong is your foundation today? At this moment? Have you checked it lately for cracks? Is there any sign of weakness?

Let your foundation be Jesus Christ.

Have a great week!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What’s a Critique Group and Do I Need One? By Nicole O’Dell

Nicolle O’Dell recently visited Seriously Write and shared her journey to publication. This Writer’s Journey Wednesday, she’s returned to tell us about her experiences with critique groups. Enjoy!

What’s a Critique
Group and
Do I Need One?

A critique group is a select group of individuals (as few as two or as many as you’d like) who work together to hone each other’s work.

Yes, you need one! Even if it’s just one crit partner—you need one.

How I got into a critique group . . .

First I joined (American Christian Fiction Writers). It's an amazing group of writers at all stages of their careers. Some are multi-published, award-winning authors, some are just getting their feet wet. It costs $50.00 for a yearly membership, I believe. I then joined the ACFW’s critique training session which was a required pre-cursor to joining the large ACFW critique group. Through that session, I learned their rules and how to actually do a critique of someone else's work.

The goal of that large group is to spin off smaller, more intimate groups of writers who discover they either have a lot in common or like the work and the critique methods of other members, etc. Within a week of being a part of the large one, I was invited to join a small group which is where I settled and remained for about a year. We were usually a group of five (sometimes four) and went for diversity. We had some young adult, contemporary, mystery, romance and even some fantasy.

Over time, while we appreciated each other’s strengths and grew to be very good friends, several of us decided that it would better if we shared critiques with others in the same genre’. So, we separated and went in our various directions. This was a good move, and I bring it up only to show that a critique group is a living, breathing and changing thing. You should always be open to God’s leading and direction for yourself and your group members.

How does it work?

Each group sets their own guidelines. Some are more specific and say something like: Each member can submit up to two chapters a week and must critique two chapters for every one chapter she submits. Some allow you to submit more chapters but you all agree to critique everything that comes in. It just depends on the time availability of each member and what everyone agrees upon.

For that initial group, we stayed flexible. We realized that not everyone would have something to submit every week and some weeks one of us may have a lot to dump out there. My wonderful group of ladies willingly critiqued my two whole books (Scenarios books 3 & 4) in a two-week time period because they knew they were due for submission. I still thank them from the bottom of my heart for that dedication—and so do my readers!

The group I’m a part of now is a yahoo group of all YA authors. We typically work in complete or near complete manuscripts rather than a few chapters at a time. This works well for me because I usually write in a flurry of chapters and finish a book quickly and then don’t have anything for a month or two. Again, recognizing your needs and be honest about what is best for you will help you find a situation that best serves your needs.

For the specifics of the actual critique, I like to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word. But, it could be as simple as notations in a different color within the manuscript.

If the authors in a group are highly successful, will they want to take on a beginner?

Some won't--but those won't be the ones who put themselves out there looking for new members to join. Those folks probably already have a tight group in place and you won't find them stumbling around a critique group like on ACFW. Writers who are in places like that are looking to find people with whom they can connect. So, go for it!

Plus, everyone is at a different stage in their development. For example, I was the only "published" book author in my original critique group, but I probably had the most to learn. Some of them were genesis finalists and had won other awards, too. Maybe I can help them with the publishing aspect--queries, proposals, etc--but they can help me with the technical aspects of the writing.

Also, even if your work needs help, it's far easier to see the flaws in something someone else wrote than in something you're very close to. And, we all need to hear what average readers AND seasoned professional think--everyone falls between those two categories somewhere. So, as long as your style, personality and availability are a match, a group could be made up of any blend of writers at any stage of their career.

The growth in my writing between the release of my books first two book and then three and four a year later is exponential. I credit my excellent crit partners with that growth more than any other thing. So, if you’ve been on the fence about joining or starting a crit group, I hope my words have encouraged you to take the plunge. Your writing will grow more than any other way, in my opinion.

Please come visit me at Also, be sure to stop by my blog: I have regular weekly columns for both parents and teens. You can sign up for my newsletter here:


Nicole O’Dell and her husband Wil have six wonderful children, the most recent additions being triplets, born in August 2008. Nicole and Wil recently began a youth group at their church for grades 7-12 where Nicole focuses on the teaching, Bible study application, service outreach planning and evangelism focus for the group. She enjoys speaking at other churches, youth groups and parenting groups to offer insight into healthy, Godly navigation of those rough teen years. Over the years, Nicole has worked as a youth director, a Bible study leader for women and teens, a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center and was a veteran camp counselor for over a decade.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shaping the River into Words

Shaping the River Into Words
Worshipful Writer Series
Net's Notations Tuesdays

My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words:
(Psalm 45:1 MSG)

Let praise cascade off my lips;
after all, you've taught me the truth about life!

(Psalm 119:171 MSG)

Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the brothers who are producing films from Sherwood Baptist Church (Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous) have said this about their movies: “In our movies, God is the Hero. He gets the glory.” (my paraphrase from an interview I watched)

That’s what we want to express in our books, at least at some level. We’re Christian writers. Our hope in Christ is an element readers may not see anywhere else. (I can think of one secular book where God was so humbly honored I couldn’t help worshiping while I read.)

Now, I understand we fiction writers have heroes and heroines in our novels. And here I am speaking of honoring God as Hero. As you’re writing, ask yourself: How is God portrayed in my book? Would readers be attracted to Him?

Why let God remain a secondary character? Even if He is only included in a few scenes, ensure He is glorified. Make readers want Him.

Writers have a God-given gift to “shape the river into words,” to “let praises cascade off their lips” or fingers. I love this imagery because waterfalls have always captured me. The beauty of the water rushing over rocks, down a steep cliff, fed by an unseen source—manifested power and provision.

These verses also speak to our dependence upon God for the right words at the right time. Has God shown you your dependence upon Him for words? I’m not talking about a right way and a wrong way. I’m talking about anointed words versus words which didn’t come through prayer, surrender, dependence, humility. Words which are inspired by the Holy Spirit will carry His power, they will draw people to God.

Jesus explained to His disciples during the last hours before His arrest that without Him we can do nothing. He also said He would send the Holy Spirit to testify of Himself. That’s the connection we want to have when we write. The Holy Spirit infusing our words with power to change lives, to uplift hearts, to encourage souls, to woo people to the Lord.

By being a vessel for this “cascade of praise” and "shaping the river into words," we are serving as worshipful writers.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Back to the Deep Magic of Narnia by Susan May Warren

Hey readers. Do we have any C.S. Lewis fans out there? This Manuscript Monday, Susan May Warren draws lessons from Narnia to share craft tips. Enjoy!

Back to the Deep Magic of Narnia:
How to Write a Successful Sequel
by Susan May Warren

It’s not easy to write a sequel . . .

I love series books. I can’t help it—I get to know a character or a group of people and I want to stick around with them, to know them and watch them journey on. I am sure this is what made Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series a must-buy on my list. And why I flock to movies one, two, three, four, five, and six (whatever order you want to put them in) of Star Wars and Harry Potter. As soon as we hear the word “sequel,” whether to a great book or movie, we’re caught up in the magic, the images, and the emotions of our favorite books and movies. We long to dive back into that world, to be enchanted again with the story, the characters, and the fictive dream.

But sadly, we’re so often let down. How many “sequel” movies have we watched only to leave the theater with a sense of disappointment? Or how many second books have we put down, thinking, I can’t read the third?

It’s not easy to write a sequel . . . much less make it better than the first. I had mixed emotions about Prince Caspian. I didn’t love the ending, but perhaps because I knew Susan and Peter’s adventures were over. But I did enjoy the romp through Narnia a second time—so let’s take a look at the elements of a successful sequel.

Draw us back into the storyworld. Narnia 2 (Prince Caspian) opens with an explosive start— the birth of a son of the king of Miraz (Prince Caspian’s uncle), and thus the need to kill the heir to the throne (Prince Caspian). Crossbows, swordplay, a race on horseback, an escape into the “dark forest,” and an accidental meeting of Narnians set the stage for the storyworld.

Catch us up to the characters. In the second scene of the movie, we see Lucy and Susan back in London, and immediately they intervene to stop a street fight in which Peter is at the center. Edmund bounces in to save him, and in the aftermath of their fight, Peter catches us up: “It’s been a year. How long does he expect us to wait?”

“I think it’s time to accept that we live here. It’s no use pretending any different.”

It’s like they’ve started to question the life they experienced in Narnia . . . and then the magic happens: The train station morphs into Narnia. Suddenly they’re throwing off their shoes and splashing in the turquoise waters of their favorite world. We see them explore the ruins of Car Paravel, the world they knew and loved, and at once we too are back inside the adventure. The next few scenes reach back to the past and build on the present—establishing their royalty, their skills, and their noble goal: save Narnia.

Widen the cast. Shortly after Peter and gang return to Narnia, we meet the “new players”: Prince Caspian’s evil uncle, King Miraz (who also jumpstarts the plot by raising the herald against the Narnians), and of course, we’ve already met Prince Caspian in the first scene. We also meet the starring Narnian (Trumpkin). Widening the cast not only allows the principals to interact with a new set of villains, but it allows them to deepen as they discover new conflict. Also, it lets us readers/viewers fall in love with a new set of characters—ones who can continue on in the series (e.g. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

Build on victories and defeats in previous books. Peter and his siblings soon realize that something nasty is afoot in Narnia. Car Paravel is in ruins, Aslan is missing, some of the animals no longer talk, and the land is troubled. The royal line (Prince Caspian) and the existence of Narnia is at stake (bringing up, by the way, the question about the beginning: “It’s no use pretending”), all the victories the kings and queens of Narnia accomplished—freeing Narnia from the witch and establishing peace—have been destroyed, and now they must repair the mess they left behind and save the world once again. Only, this time, it seems as if they’re in it alone because Aslan is nowhere to be found. And Narnia is worse off for having experienced peace and then losing it. A sequel must build on the past and raise a new problem as a result of it.

New Lessons for our favorite people. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund acts as the chief character of change as he betrays the others for a piece of Turkish delight. It is his faith (or lack thereof) that is revealed and tested. However, Prince Caspian focuses on High King Peter and his struggle with the loss of his noble identity. He longs to be the adult, the king, the leader he’d been in Narnia, and we the start his journey in the train station when in a burst of frustration he says, “Don’t you get tired of being treated like a child?” In a good sequel, especially with a “team” of people, the principal character change must happen with the known, favorite characters. Sure, we care about Prince Caspian, and his rise to kingship is compelling, but it is Peter we are rooting for because we already know and love him, because we already identify with him, and for us, this trip to Narnia is about him. When we see him become the leader he once was, and he defeats King Miraz, both in battle and in morals, we see that he hasn’t been pretending. He is still the High King of Narnia.

A sequel doesn’t have to be a shadow of its predecessor. It can, in fact, build on the world and the characters already created and whet the reader’s/viewer’s appetite for number three!

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Was Always a Writer by Wanda Dyson

On Wednesday, guest author Wanda Dyson shared important tips for writing suspense. Today she’s returned to Seriously Write to tell us about her journey to publication. It also happens to be a special day for her. Happy Birthday, Wanda! :-D

I Was Always a Writer

I was always a writer, working for marketing companies writing ad copy and brochures, but a published author? Not a chance. Never entered my mind. Sure, people kept reading what I was writing and telling me I should look into getting published but I didn’t take them seriously. Family and friends are one thing. The publishing world is a whole different matter altogether. But someone decided I should take it seriously, so for my birthday, they gave me two days at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference. I went, nervous and totally convinced that I was going to be laughed out of the building.

Everyone complimented my work and one agent actually offered to represent me. I was stunned. And still not convinced. Okay, I’m a hard sell, what can I tell you. I found out that Marlene Bagnull, the director of the conference, would evaluate whether you were really called to pursue writing as a career or not. Ah-ha, finally, an expert who could reassure the world that this is not what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

She didn’t write me back after going over my evaluation. She called me. Insisting that I needed to be published, she paved the way for me, helping me put together proposals. sample chapters. and query letters. She introduced me to a ton of editors, none of whom expressed much of an interest. Ah, to have your hopes soar sky high only to come crashing back down to reality.

But she wouldn’t let me quit. For three years, I kept trying. And failing. Then, in May of 2001, at a conference, I was talking to a published author, bemoaning my lack of success. The author asked me what I was working on, so I told her about two manuscripts I’d finished and one that was merely an idea. She didn’t think much of the two finished manuscripts, but she loved the idea for another book and connected me with an editor who also loved the idea and two weeks later, I was contracted to go write that book. I finished it the night before deadline and sent it out. A month later, they called me and asked me to change the ending so that the one book contract could be expanded to a three book contract.

Once you accept that fact that this is the road the Lord wants you on, you need persistence and patience. The Lord called you to write, so you write. He decides when He’s ready to take you to the next level. Until then, keep writing. You never know when someone will come along and grab that story and take it straight to an editor who will love it. And if they don’t? Write another story. You never know…

Best-selling novelist Wanda Dyson has authored six critically acclaimed suspense novels including Intimidation which was a finalist for the ACFW Book of the Year. She also wrote Why I Jumped which was featured on Oprah and Good Morning America. Her newest suspense title Shepherd's Fall was released last year and the follow up Shepherd's Run, will be released sometime next year. In the meantime, her stand alone thriller, Judgment Day, will be released on September 21 of this year. Wanda lives in Maryland on 125 acre horse farm and when she's not writing or serving on the conference committee for three writers conferences, you can usually find her out riding her quarter horse around the property or four-wheeling with her German Shepherd, Maya.

You can find out more about Wanda and her work at:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

We Are Blessed

Thursdays - Devotions for Writers

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received
one blessing after another.”
(John 1:16 NIV)

Writers are incredibly blessed.

Not because writing is easy. That’s far from the truth.

Not because most writers gain amazing monetary benefits. They don’t.

And not because fame comes with the territory. For most, it won’t.

We’re blessed because God has gifted us, placed desires in our hearts, and has revealed our calling.

So many people are searching for purpose. They go to jobs day after day, not because they want to, but out of necessity. Some have an idea of what they’d like to do, but are unable due to lack of time, money, or necessary skills. Most don’t even have a clue of what they want to do. They just know they’d like a more fulfilling life. They wonder . . . what is their purpose? Why are they here? Surely it can’t be to go to a job that sucks the life out of them day after day.

There have always been two things deeply rooted in my heart. The need to be creative, and the desire to make a difference. When I’m not doing one or the other, I feel anxious and at loss. I feel an inner void. Not because I’m lacking connection to my Lord, but because I’m not being the person God created me to be.

Through the years I’ve tried different things that were creative and had the potential to help people. But time after time I fell on my face. Although my intentions were good, the opportunities weren’t paths God had chosen for me. Then, 10 years ago, He provided a way for me to return to writing – something I hadn’t explored since my college years. The doors didn’t swing wide open. Instead, a succession of doors unlocked, as the timing was right. It’s been a time of learning, growing, and discovering what He wants me to do with my life. A time of discovering my purpose.

At some point a singer will lose strength in the vocal chords, an Olympic athlete will physically not be able to keep up with younger generations, and a professional dancer will have to step off the stage. But we are blessed with the fact that we can write anywhere, and for as long as we can see to put words on a page. And loss of sight may not even stop most of us.

Writing is hard work. It usually doesn’t pay well. Rejection is part of the process. But we have been given a gift that has potential to change lives – and be life-giving to us at the same time. Could you imagine giving up writing? Putting away your laptop – or paper and pen - and never creating again? Never sharing your thoughts through word? Never participating in dialogue with other writers and experiencing the stimulation it brings?

We are blessed!

Have a great week. :-D


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Suspense by Wanda Dyson

Today we welcome author, Wanda Dyson, to Writer’s Journey Wednesday. (Dawn here.) I’ve enjoyed reading her novels and am happy that she’s here today to give tips on writing suspense. She’ll return this Friday to Seriously Write to share her journey to publication. Enjoy!

Writing Suspense

Suspense = Tension

Writing suspense is about more than guns blazing, dead bodies, or extraordinary deduction skills. It’s about building tension in areas besides the crime itself. Tension in relationships, with themselves, with their environment. And as my mentor once said, “make ‘em suffer. Then make ‘em suffer even more.”

In my first novel, (Abduction) my detective got along great with his best friend, but he had nothing but angst with his parents, his boss, his love interest, the FBI, and himself. And all of those areas of angst made his job of finding a serial killer more difficult. All of these areas of tension can be subtle or not-so-subtle subplots, but they add to the overall tension of the book.

Another way to add tension is what I call “scene cutting.” You’ve all experienced it in your reading. And more than likely, it’s made you want to pull your hair out, but it works! You’re moving along in the scene and then right when the gun goes off, the bomb explodes, the car goes over the cliff, etc, you cut the scene and move over to a different scene with different characters. And just when that builds to something—even if it’s just who is at the door, who is calling, why are the police pulling up out front—you cut that scene and go back to the other scene and you keep bouncing from scene to scene until you tie all the loose ends together at the climax.

One of the classic tension builders is the “ticking clock.” Let your reader know right from the start that time is running out and keep reminding them all through the novel. But make sure those reminders are subtle. You don’t want your character to make comments in every scene that there is only 10 hours left, only 9 hours left, only 8 hours left. You’ve seen examples of this in everything from the movie Speed where the clock on the bomb is set to go off if the speed of the bus drops below fifty miles an hour and the gas is running low, to those stories where the good guy has been injected with some poison and he needs to find the anecdote within X number of hours or days or he dies. Immediately, your reader is going to be stretching forward in his/her mind asking the question “Will they get out of this alive?” and that’s going to keep them turning the page.

Make sure you pace the story with lots of tension and build the action with small, well placed areas of rest for the reader. Pacing that tension isn’t something that can be easily taught. It’s something that I think you absorb from reading a ton of suspense novels (good suspense novels) but if you can have some level of tension somewhere in every scene, you’ve done your job right.

Best-selling novelist Wanda Dyson has authored six critically acclaimed suspense novels including Intimidation which was a finalist for the ACFW Book of the Year. She also wrote Why I Jumped which was featured on Oprah and Good Morning America. Her newest suspense title Shepherd's Fall was released last year and the follow up Shepherd's Run, will be released sometime next year. In the meantime, her stand alone thriller, Judgment Day, will be released on September 21 of this year. Wanda lives in Maryland on 125 acre horse farm and when she's not writing or serving on the conference committee for three writers conferences, you can usually find her out riding her quarter horse around the property or four-wheeling with her German Shepherd, Maya.

You can find out more about Wanda and her work at:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Worshipful Writers Series II: "I Could Write A Book"

"I Could Write A Book"
Worshipful Writers Series: Part Two
Net's Notations Tuesdays

Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness. (Psalm 145:6 MSG)

“Write what you know.” We’ve all heard the phrase and applied it to our writing. Not only is this easier than including something we don’t understand, it’s wisdom because the words will have a greater impact on the reader. There’s conviction behind your words because you know they’re true. And readers will discern you're truly relating with them.

Recently, a fellow critique partner brought her first chapter with a synopsis for us to review. One of her scenes—of a father abandoning his daughter—broke my heart. Though this writer had not actually experienced abandonment by her own father, she did understand a little girls’ heart for her daddy. I just about burst into tears there at McDonalds.

So, think about what God has done for you.

On Easter Sunday our worship team performed a special entitled “Believe.” One of the phrases in the song is “Take a look at all the places where He’s brought you from. It’s the impossible. Believe it’s possible.” I interpret that to mean: look at what God’s done in your life. He has done the impossible, brought you from where you were to where you are. Believe Him to do the same going forward. He’s already done the impossible, believe the future is possible in Him. When I consider what God has done for me, I’m filled with praises. Worship becomes fresh because I am so grateful and so amazed at His power and goodness, His love and favor.

We will minister to hearts by including that understanding in our writing. You’ve been there. You’ve felt that pain. God pursued you, took your hand, brought you out. Now you can help others rise.

Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you have a message because of your testimony and what God’s done for you. Writing around that testimony will minister to people. It will elicit worship from you and the reader toward God.

Including your testimony in your writing is another way you serve God as a worshipful writer.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Indy and the Great Promise by Susan May Warren

This Manuscript Monday Susan May Warren continues her series "Craft Tips and Techniques from Today’s Blockbusters." Welcome back, Susan.

Indy and the Great Promise:
A study of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
by Susan May Warren

...who can argue with the magic of Connery and Ford as father and son...

I’ll never forget the first time I met Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fresh from the Stars, Han Solo—um, er, Indy was exactly my kind of hero—a little bit arrogant, a little bit unassuming, a whole lotta cute, and best of all, he was searching for the ark of the covenant. In an age when most people still knew their Sunday school dogma, it was a quest worth investing in. And the premise, keeping the most holy of artifacts out of the hands of an evil empire—the Nazis—well, right there the franchise became a classic.

But Indy two—remember it? I didn’t think so. Sure, we all went, hoping for a continuation of the fun from Raiders, but in the Temple of Doom, what we got was a dark, mystical, creepy quest in the Far East, where Indy suddenly begins to speak a different language when muscled and sweaty priests try to rip his heart from his chest. I hated it.

Thankfully, the franchise took the clues and ended the trilogy with the formula that worked: Indy going after the relics of our faith in the Last Crusade, my personal favorite (who can argue with the magic of Connery and Ford as father and son?).

Another hit, and it revived the magic of the Indy Chronicles.

Fast forward a couple decades and the old believers still love Indy. Yet, it’s time for a new guard. So, Indy is revived, and still looking good, despite a few years on him, enters the screen the same old arrogant, lip-curling rebel, this time taking on the Russians. (And, as a gal who lived in Russia, I can tell you that the accents are good!)

They bring Indy to the warehouse to find some mummified remains, during which we experience the good old Indy, battling his way out of danger through fast footwork and not a little luck. Better, we even see the ark, a nod to the past for Raiders fans.

We’re off to a great start with Indy teaching at college, quickly followed by a great escapade, where he meets his soon-to-be replacement, Shia LaBeouf, who of course has a map and a mystery. Old fans and new settle back for a great new quest.

Until Indy and Jr. head to South America . . . and the Indiana franchise reverts to the Temple of Doom mode. Veering away from the Judeo-Christian history of unearthing religious artifact, suddenly Indy’s entering the realm of the mystical. Psychic powers and strange magnetic fields and visitors from outer space.

The problem isn’t the subject matter—it’s the promise. See, Indy made us a promise in the first movie that he cared about the roots

And that’s when half the audience begins to go out for popcorn.

of our society—particularly the Judeo-Christian past. He proved that he’d save our beliefs from the clutches of evil. And our forgiving him for the crazy adventure in the Temple of Doom paid off in the Last Crusade.

However, now he’s got us chasing after aliens who suck out brains through our eyeballs, and, well, we’re not sure what to think.

I’m not against brain-sucking aliens, mind you. If it were Mulder and Scully in the X-Files sure, I’m game, because I know what to expect. They’re into visitors and creepy things from other planets. And frankly, I’m a big Smallville fan. But Indy, well, some of us in the old guard walked out of the theater feeling a little betrayed.

Really, Indy, do you believe in crystal-skulled aliens?

I know the producers were probably buying into the alien/psychic–crazed culture, wanting to grab an audience that could fall in love with Shia as Indy Junior. And I dig that . . . in fact here’s my edit: What if Shia was the one who believed . . . and Indy simply played along? Then at least Indy would still be that guy who might just be a little like us, the people who fell in love with him back in the day when church and pot-roast on Sundays were still a way of life. Now, we’re not sure what to think of Indy . . . has he lost his mind, whacked one too many times with his bullwhip? Or did we never really know him?

The point is to remember your audience and the value system of your hero from book to book. Because you made a promise to your readers about what they can expect from your hero, what he believes in, and what he’ll die for. And breaking that promise could cost you your loyal fans.

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What I’ve Learned On My Publishing Road by Lynette Sowell

Welcome to Fortifying Friday, the day we share journeys to publication, as well as articles offering encouragement to writers. We’re happy to have author Lynette Sowell as our guest today.

What I’ve Learned On
My Publishing Road

Among the joys and trials of being a writer are the lessons we all learn along the way. I was trying to think of something pithy or at least inspirational to share, maybe something you haven’t heard before. And I was stumped.

Then the other day I was cleaning out some of my old writing files, and I found a double-spaced printout of the first 40 pages of a long-dead manuscript. I’d always liked that idea and wondered why I’d stopped working on it. At the bottom of the last page was a long handwritten paragraph written by a multi-published author.

I started reading the comments, at least six years old. Wow, they thought I could write. (I patted myself on the back and smiled). Hmmm, they found some plot issues. Quite a few, and they even made a list of them. Quite a list. And at the bottom, scrawled in all caps: KEEP WRITING!

My now more experienced self sat and marveled that a multi-published author would have read the first 40 pages of my manuscript and critiqued it for free, rough as it was. I tried to recall my reaction. I think I was stunned that they’d found so much “wrong” with my book.

But my now more experienced self agreed—that entire list of plot issues pointed out legitimate problems that didn’t let the story ring true and stifled the characters. That author was right. And another point they made? Those problems were easily fixed, something I didn’t see at the time but can see crystal-clear.

I say all this because it’s important for us as writers to make haste . . . slowly. We are in such a hurry sometimes, aren’t we? When I had a dream of being published, I wanted it now. The catty part of me, way back when, would get impatient when I saw others realize their dream before me. So I’d tear into yet another manuscript, writing dozens of pages and yet not getting anywhere. The long-dead and critiqued manuscript that I dusted off the other day was one of those impatient attempts. I couldn’t see, or wouldn’t see, at the time that my writing needed more work than I believed it did.

We know that writing is hard, hard work. There are times when, yes, we must seize that moment, swallow our fear, and get that proposal sent to the agent or editor. And there are times we must take a deep breath, make ourselves slow down, and pick apart that manuscript to make it the best it can be. But most important of all, we must KEEP WRITING.

Whatever genre you write, whether you’ve written three books or three chapters, my prayer for you is that you will learn to make haste slowly. Walk through those doors the Lord opens for you, and remain teachable along the way. And hopefully you’ll have fewer half-finished novels than I do!

Lynette Sowell is the author of four romance novellas as well as a three-book cozy mystery series published by Barbour Publishing. Her first historical romance novel released through Heartsong Presents in 2009. Two of her novellas won first and third place in the Historical Novella Category of ACFW’s Book of the Year contest. She is a past secretary of American Christian Fiction Writers, and is the current secretary of ACFW’s Centex chapter. Lynette is a Massachusetts Yankee by birth but Texan by choice, where she lives with her husband, two teenagers, and five cats that have their humans well-trained.

You can learn more about Lynette and her work by visiting:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Desires of the Heart

Thursdays - Devotions for Writers

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will
give you the desires of your heart.”
(Psalm 37:4 NIV)

I recently watched Facing the Giants, a movie about faith and football. In the story, a coach at a Christian high school faces the possibility of his losing his job, while also struggling with disappoints on the home front. But when he puts his life in God's hands and focuses on honoring Him, the coach’s desires are realized.

In Facing the Giants, a new student has soccer skills, but has never played football. He desires to try out for the football team as a kicker, but is afraid of failing. His father reminds him that since he’s currently not on the team, if he doesn’t make it, nothing will have changed, so there’s no harm in trying.

How does this relate to writing?

God wants to fulfill our desires. But first, we need to focus on pleasing Him. Then we need to follow that up with action. If we don’t work hard and submit to editors or agents, we don’t stand a chance of seeing publication. God can’t give us the desires of our heart if we don’t take the steps necessary for Him to do His part. And if we do receive a rejection, we’re really no worse off than we were before. We may have actually learned a few things in the process.

Here on Seriously Write, our Fortifying Fridays are devoted to authors sharing their journeys to publication. It’s a wonderful feature because it shows that most journeys take time, they aren't always easy, and no experience is the same. They are all unique, just as each writer is unique - with the exception that each success story begins with a desire.

The verse for today says we must delight in the Lord and then He will give us our desires. We need to be sure ours are in line with God’s will. Success may bring with it great contracts, a high volume of sales, and our name being known in the industry and to many readers across the country. But it should be a by-product of our writing – not the reason to write.

Search your heart. What do you really desire?


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Making Historicals Relevant by Ann Shorey

Historicals are very popular with today’s readers. What are the reasons? Is it because readers like to escape to another place and time? Is it because they have a huge interest in what transpired before our time? Both reasons are very likely, but I think we could include another reason. The fact that people have experienced the same hurts, desires, and joys since the beginning of time. Today, we welcome author Ann Shorey, as she shares her thoughts on making historials relevant to readers.

Making Historicals Relevant to Today's Women

I’m so glad Dawn asked me to share tips on making historical novels relevant to today’s women. Women’s issues are a passion of mine! Divorce, death, infidelity, infertility, you name it. My main suggestion is to choose an issue that faces today’s women and decide how you can place that dilemma in a historical context.

As I plot my historical novels, I ask myself, “How would these situations translate to the lives of today’s women?” Today’s issues are worked into each book.

In researching my family history I came across references to many of my female ancestors who were faced with situations that affect women today. Of course, a hundred and fifty years ago their lives were completely different than ours in the sense that they lacked the recourses and resources available today. However, the problems were the same. That’s what sparked my interest in writing about yesterday’s women. I wanted to discover how they would have handled those issues.

In my first novel, The Edge of Light, protagonist Molly McGarvie’s husband dies (the back cover tells you that, so I’m not spoiling anything!), leaving her with young children to raise. This is a situation that faces countless women today, either through the death of their spouse or divorce. As I wrote about how Molly handled her life change, I was mindful of today’s women. Her choices were made in part by the times, but also through God’s timeless guidance. That never changes.

The problems raised in The Promise of Morning, the second novel in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, come about through different set of circumstances. Ellie Craig’s husband makes choices that affect the entire family. As a result, temptations arise, both for Ellie and to another woman in the story. Those temptations are as real today as they were then. How we, as women, chose to deal with them provide a sub-context in the story. Again, I wrote with today’s women in mind. Many of us have experienced major upheavals because our spouse took a new job, lost the one he had, or just plain made a bad decision.

I’m happy to answer questions about writing historicals, or any other writing related matter. Please leave a comment here and feel free to contact me through my website, You’ll find my book review blog there, too.

ANN SHOREY has been a story collector for most of her life. Her writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul, and in the Adams Media Cup of Comfort series. She made her fiction debut with The Edge of Light, released in January 2009. When she’s not writing, she teaches classes on historical research, story arc, and other fiction fundamentals at regional conferences. Ann lives with her husband in Sutherlin, Oregon. The Promise of Morning is the second book in her At Home in Beldon Grove series.
Contact Ann through her website at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Worshipful Writers Series: Part One

Net's Notation Tuesdays
Worshiping God with our Words

Welcome to a new Tuesday series at Seriously Write: Worshipful Writers Series.

Dear writing friends, think of your favorite worship song. Perhaps your church includes this song in services. Perhaps you listen to it in the car, or sing it in the shower. The words could be your own, they so accurately depict your experience.

Music is a powerful tool for expressing back to God what He means to us. But music without words is not nearly as powerful. (Generally speaking. I have heard anointed instrumental music and have to add this disclaimer because of it.) *smile*

It’s the words that impact us, drawing worship from us and sending our hearts reaching toward God.

Words are powerful. They impact lives and change hearts. They point people to God, to hope, to life. They encourage or enhance faith.

Words can be used to harm, too. But as a Christian writer, you’ve already determined to let your words glorify God, so they will make a difference.

Look at the psalmist’s description of God and his response:

Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
I compose songs on your wonders. (Psalm 145:5 MSG)

When we see God moving in our own lives, or those around us, and we somehow communicate that power in our writing (i.e. use life experiences in our books) we glorify God. We worship God through our writing. We magnify Him.

There have been novels in my reading experience which have so glorified God I’ve had to close them and simply worship Him, thank Him, honor Him, be still before Him. Some books have so drawn me to Him I have had to join the author in worshiping God in the midst of the words.

You’ve heard the phrase: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” (or something to that effect) Allow me to tweak that a little with this idea. If we experience God while we’re writing the words, if we ask Him for His words, then the reader will experience Him when they read the words. He will accompany those words into the hands of our readers. He will impact their lives to the degree they are willing to “let” Him.

I sat in a pastor’s office as a leader, knowing any moment I’d be called upon to address the rest of the occupants with my perspective, my advice. Before it came to my turn, it hit me. Words with no anointing do not bring about change like words with anointing. I asked God to anoint my words (which I was trusting Him to supply) so that they would change lives and positively affect the situation we were there to address. When the time came, not only did God give me the words, but I felt His presence in the wisdom He provided. I knew He had anointed my words. That He would be glorified, no matter the response of those in the room.

Our words have the potential to bring glory to God.

It’s one way we worship God as writers.


Monday, April 5, 2010

August Rush Asks a Question by Susan May Warren

Welcome to the first Manuscript Monday of April. We're pleased Susan May Warren will continue her series on "Craft Tips and Techniques from Today’s Blockbusters" As a lover of movies (Annette here, though I know Dawn loves movies, too) I've appreciated the parallels Susie's used to help us study craft. Enjoy!

August Rush Asks a Question
by Susan May Warren

It’s the question that is answered in the last line...

Can you hear it?

August Rush Asks a Question

Listen, can you hear it? The music.

I can hear it everywhere.

In the wind;

In the air;

In the light;

It’s all around us.

All you have to do is open yourself up;

All you have to do is listen.

These are the opening lines of last fall’s delightful movie, August Rush, delivered in the haunting, delicate voice of amazing young actor Freddie Highmore. The story opens with young Evan, a so-called orphan, leading a symphony made up of tall grasses in some lush field in upstate New York.

If you haven’t seen August Rush, rush out (pun intended!) and get it today because the soundtrack is soul filling. The pure delight in Evan/August’s eyes as he creates music resonates in the soul of any writer who loves to try on words for size, move sentences around, watch a character take life. Or for that matter, anyone who writes, or runs, or sings or even cooks, just because they must.

You’ll also learn something about the use of story question woven clearly, if not overtly, through every character, every scene in the movie.

A story question, more than a theme of any story, song, or movie, is a specific question that lingers behind every scene, every line of dialogue, every action the character makes. It’s the question that is answered in the last line. It’s the thing that makes a reader/viewer mull upon the story they’ve experienced long after the last notes have faded.

What can we learn about Story Question from August Rush?

Is it possible to hear the music in a person’s heart? Is music universally bonding? I think anyone who has been to a concert (Rascal Flatts to Daugherty) will pump a fist into the air with a resounding yes! But August Rush takes that question and turns it personal. Can people create music—essentially expose their souls to the world—and connect with the one person they’ve been looking for all their lives? This is the specific question that Evan/August asks as he runs away from his orphanage and sets out on a quest for his parents. And it’s this specific question, applied to this little boy, that drags us, fearing and cheering, with him.

It’s not only Evan/August who grapples with this question. In a well-woven story, the main characters all wrestle with some element or mutation of this question. His parents (Keri Russell and Jonathon Rhys Meyers) experienced the answer—which cumulated in August’s conception—but years later lost the ability to listen, to even hear their own music. Until they begin to hear it in their own souls, they’ll never hear it in August’s. The Wizard, played by Robin Williams, believes in the universal truth but scoffs at this personal application, angry with some wretched past at how this hope has betrayed him. He refuses to listen to the music inside and is angry at August’s naivety. The effect of August’s quest— and his unwavering conviction—is shown through the eyes of his social worker (Terrance Howard), who becomes a believer as he sees August’s dreams materialize.

[Spoiler Warning] Although critics might call the story overwritten, even sappy, it’s enjoyable because the answer to the question is easily accessible. We see the journey both parents take as they first acknowledge their “deafness” and begin to open themselves up again to their music; we see how “music” cares for August, landing him in Julliard, and even when he’s pulled back to the street, putting him face-to-face with his father in a wonderfully emotional reunion scene, (clear only to the audience, not to August and his father.) Then we see both parents lured first to each other, then to August as he breaks free from Wizard, believing in the truth, and bares his soul to the world (or at least New York City). The answer to the story question needs to be revealed, one page (or scene) at a time, gradually, but visible to the reader/viewer until it’s finally answered in the last scene.

Admittedly, August Rush is a feel-good movie, one designed to tug at our heart strings. But it works. Because by the end we, too, have listened and opened our hearts to the call of the music around us, and answered the question . . .

Yes, August, we can hear it.

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Journey to Publication by Nicole O’Dell

This Fortifying Friday, please welcome author Nicole O’Dell as she shares her journey to publication. (Dawn here.) Nicole has a heart for teens and uses her gifts to minister to them through her stories. She has six children, which include nineteen-month-old triplets! Wow! If you have tweens or teens, I encourage you to visit – have them visit – her Web site. The design is fun and inviting!

My Journey to Publication

“How did you get published?” I get asked that question a few times a week these days. I love to answer it because it’s one of those God stories that just heralds His greatness. In 2007, I didn't have an agent, I didn’t have a completed manuscript and I hadn’t spent years pounding the pavement, so to speak. In fact, I only queried one publisher with my Scenarios for Girls series idea. The books were still unwritten when I received a two-book contract for Truth or Dare and All that Glitters.

How did I do this? Don't laugh, I'm being totally serious. I bought The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published. I sat with it on my lap as I wrote my proposal, and flipped to each chapter as it came time for that section. I followed the instructions to the letter (except for the agent part). And, it worked.

Granted, I do believe the concept had enough merit to capture the attention of a savvy editor—the books involve a moral decision that the reader makes to determine the ending. But, to approach publishers without an agent as an unpublished author, get them to read the query and take that all the way through to publication is somewhat a laughable concept in the publishing arena these days. If I wrote that story for a character in a novel, fellow writers would tell me it wasn’t a believable representation of the industry. But, it happened. In 2007. To me.

A God thing! There’s no way I could have orchestrated those events. That’s why I say it was completely God’s doing. I believe He’s called me to minister to tweens and teens, and this is just one of the ways He’s helping me do it. I might not be the best writer—but I’m learning. I may not be the funniest or most compelling speaker—but I’m definitely growing. I think the past few years have proven to me that He is greatest when I’m at my weakest.

Since 2007, I’ve written four more Scenarios for Girls books. Magna and Making Waves released YESTERDAY and are available all over. High Stakes and Essence of Lilly release in 2011. They all have the same concept that allows the reader to choose the ending based on a major moral dilemma.
Many of you reading this are aspiring to be CBA authors. I just want to encourage you to stick with it and keep your eye on your purpose. You don’t want it if He’s not in it!

Please come visit me at Also, be sure to stop by my blog: I have regular weekly columns for both parents and teens. You can sign up for my newsletter here:


Nicole O’Dell and her husband Wil have six wonderful children, the most recent additions being triplets, born in August 2008. Nicole and Wil recently began a youth group at their church for grades 7-12 where Nicole focuses on the teaching, Bible study application, service outreach planning and evangelism focus for the group. She enjoys speaking at other churches, youth groups and parenting groups to offer insight into healthy, Godly navigation of those rough teen years. Over the years, Nicole has worked as a youth director, a Bible study leader for women and teens, a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center, and was a veteran camp counselor for over a decade.