Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chocolate Covered Lies, Part Two

This is the second part of Amy Wallace's post about creating characters' lies. Today, she tells us some of those lies and gives an example.--Sandy

AmyLast time we discussed how identifying a character’s lie is the key to discovering who she is and how to tell her deepest story. This post, we'll talk about specific lies and use an example to better explain how to apply a lie to your character's backstory.

Below is a partial list of lies I’ve developed from my background in counseling, teaching the concept of lies, and applying what I’ve learned to fictional characters.
I’m unloveable
I’m helpless
I’m worthless
I’m not enough
I’m stuck
It’s all my fault
I’m a disappointment
Consider the lie “I’m not enough” and how a character would live out this lie. She might give up on life, become an alcoholic, an introvert who never leaves her home, or she might take on life to prove she’s more than enough through straight As, perfect work records, climbing the ladder as fast as she can.

How you apply the lie to your character is as unique as the characters you create.

One of my favorite characters is Ashley Walters, a tough, street-smart cop who has it all together. She graduated top of her police academy class and is a favorite with the people she serves because she goes the extra mile to care about victims and make sure justice is served. But inside, she knows she’s not enough. She’ll never measure up to her perfect, all-American brother, Eric. When he died and she wasn’t able to save him or bring his killer to justice, she had proof her lie was absolute truth. Even so, Ashley lives to prove she’s enough, to perform, to protect herself almost as much as she protects those she serves.

Doesn't Ashley's lie help you understand her inner working even though you haven't met her on the page yet?

Our job as writers is to take all we know about our characters and tell their stories to the very best of our ability. A heaping helping of prayer and dependence on God enables us to tell His story through ours. Chocolate covered lies can assist in that weighty goal and help us draw readers deep into stories of healing and hope.

Do you have a "favorite" lie you tend to use, or one that isn't mentioned above? 


Amy Wallace writes Dark Chocolate Suspense—high-action suspense that delves deep into heart issues. Amy is a homeschool mom, speaker, online writing instructor, co-leader of a young writer’s club, and avid chocoholic.

Her novels include the Place of Refuge series: Hiding in Plain Sight and Nowhere to Run, the Defenders of Hope series: Ransomed Dreams, Healing Promises, and Enduring Justice. Amy is also a contributing author of A Novel Idea: Best Advice on Writing Inspirational Fiction, God Answers Moms’ Prayers, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Diabetes.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Use Your Fiction as a Ministry Gift by Ward Tanneberg

Ward Tanneberg
Above her, amongst the trees along the trail, a light bobbed back and forth. She could see it. Someone was running. She could hear it. The light drew near. She could hear his heavy breathing. The footsteps slowed as they came closer to where she lay. And now she knew. Accepting the inevitable. They’re going to kill me!

These are the last lines in the prologue of my newest novel, Redeeming Grace. The very next lines the reader reads are these that open Chapter 1:

“Marry me.” The words floated into her ear on his soft and husky whisper. She caught her breath at their sound, fueled by Brad’s intensity. Like a match to dry kindling.

Juxtaposition. It is when two things are being seen or placed close together with a contrasting effect. When used properly, it can have a powerful effect on the mind of your reader. In this case, the mood dramatically changes from extreme fear to romance and love, in the space of a single sentence.

In writing suspense/thriller fiction, a first prerequisite is that it be entertaining. This motif requires that it be compelling, yet different than a mystery. The fate of a city, a nation, the world is often the prize. Suspense novels offer multiple viewpoints and themes, i.e., techno thriller: The Hunt for Red October; or medical: Coma. They are usually longer books, with strong characterizations and more involved story lines, much like a movie script. RG, the story above for example, is wrapped around a woman in peril.

For writers who are also followers of Jesus, whatever your fictional genre, an additional prerequisite to that of being entertaining is that of an underlying message reflecting God’s character and one’s need of grace, forgiveness and hope. This must open softly, sweetly, like flower petals, or peal back pungently like the tunic and scale leaves of an onion. The entire story must be planted as a whole in the real world of real people.

Too much Christian fiction “preaches” too much. In our longing to offer the message of Jesus to the reader, we forget that we must first build a relationship, tilling the soil of one’s imagination, before planting the seed.

Juxtaposition. In Matthew 13, Jesus becomes the author’s mentor. In story motif, he shows us how to do it. Go there. Drink it in as you might in a Writer’s Conference. Let’s sit awhile with the master storyteller. Listen and learn together. Grow with him.

Then, when you are ready, ask him to use your fiction as a ministry gift.

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Ask Him to use your fiction as a ministry gift. Click to Tweet
[Our writing should be an] underlying message reflecting God’s character. Click to Tweet

About the Author
Ward Tanneberg is a pastor/writer/novelist who has given more than 50 years to evangelism, youth, college and pastoral ministry, including two Pacific Northwest churches and 23 years as the senior pastor at Valley Christian Center in Dublin, CA. In 2008, he was named President/Executive Director of The CASA Network. Ward speaks extensively at 50+ retreats and ministry leadership events in the USA and elsewhere. When at home he meets weekly with a group of business and professional leaders. He and Dixie have 2 children, 3 grandchildren, 4 step-grandchildren and a great grandson.

Redeeming Grace
Redeeming Grace by Ward Tanneberg
Seven years ago, Grace Grafton died in a boating accident while partying on the Georgia, South Carolina coast. Was her death the result of alcohol and drugs or something more sinister? Nobody knows: her body was never recovered. Now years later, a woman reads in disbelief the note addressed to her: Hello Grace, did you think we wouldn’t find you?

Those nine chilling words end Grafton’s self-imposed sanctuary of witness protection. Now she and everyone she loves are in grave danger. Long believed dead, she has a secret that can change the world. She knows the man running for president is guilty of a double murder! But who will believe her?

Other novels by Ward Tanneberg: Without Warning; Vanished; Pursuit. Allegory: Seasons of the Spirit

Monday, July 29, 2013

Researching for Historicals: Part Three by Pamela S. Meyers

Pamela S. Meyers
Hey everyone, Annette here. Pamela S. Meyers is back today to share her final installment on using newspapers to research for historicals. Wouldn't it be interesting to research menu items and current movies from a given time period? Read on!

Using Local Newspapers to 
Make Your Historical Setting Come Alive, Part 3 
By Pamela S. Meyers

In my final installment about using local newspapers to make your historical setting come alive, I want to discuss paying attention to the details.

To make my story as authentic to exact months and year in which it is set, I studied the weather reports, the events taking place in the world outside of Lake Geneva, and what movies were playing at the time of my story.

My heroine, Meg, and her best friend, Helen, love going to movies and they see at least one movie a week when they can afford it. I didn’t just have them see a movie that released in early 1933, from the microfilm, I made note of the movies playing at the Geneva Theater at the exact time they would be going to the “picture show” (as they called it) in my story. I even located the movies to rent so I could see exactly what they were watching. What was really fun was with one film, the movie heroine was struggling with a situation similar to Meg’s struggle, and I was able to incorporate that into the storyline.

Through research, I learned that back in 1933 the inauguration of the President of the United States took place in March, not January like it does now. I made sure to mention the newsreel was talking about the inauguration during another time they were at the movies.

Oddly, most restaurants didn’t advertise in the paper at that time. Perhaps that was because everyone knew where the restaurants were and what their specialties were, so the restaurants didn’t need a large advertising budget. I only found one small ad for an eatery called the Utopia CafĂ©. My characters ate there a couple of times. I also had them eat at another restaurant I found pictured a book. As for what kind of food they ordered, I searched for restaurant menus in 1933 and found one from an establishment in Milwaukee. From there, I could incorporate the offerings into my restaurant scenes.

I hope I’ve been able to spark some ideas for your story research. When I began this series of articles, I said I resisted writing historicals because of all the extra research involved. What I learned is that I really love research and making my stories authentic to the time. In fact, right now I’m working on a new historical set even earlier than the 1930s—in the nineteenth century.

Now if I can just remember that they ride in carriages instead of cars.


Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago. She served on the ACFW Operating Board for five years and has also served her local ACFW chapter in leadership roles. Her historical romance, which is set in her hometown, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, released in April 2013. You can find more information on Pam at or on Facebook at

(e-book)       (print)

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Patchwork Quilt of Thoughts by Lorena McCourtney

Lorena McCourtney

Author Lorena McCourtney is here with us today, sharing wisdom she’s gained while on her own writing journey.
~ Dawn

A Patchwork Quilt of Thoughts
by Lorena McCourtney

I’m no good at crafts, but I do have a patchwork quilt of thoughts about writing and publishing that I’ve learned over the years. You may find some of the scraps and pieces in it useful.

1. Don’t wait for the muse of inspiration to hit you to write. The muse tends to be about as cooperative as a wet cat. Write anyway.

2. Don’t let the need for perfection – the perfect word, the perfect sentence – block your writing. Try for the best you can do on any given day, but if perfection is out of reach, settle for something less. On days when everything you write reads like junk, settle for junk on that day. Keep writing. On a better day, you can edit, and you can’t edit a blank page.

3. If you don’t already have a system or technique for your writing, try out what others say to do. Some people outline briefly, some extensively. Some “seat of the pants” people don’t outline at all. They see where a story takes them. Some people write straight through, no editing. Others edit as they go. Just don’t believe that someone else’s system is the only acceptable one. Try it – if it works for you, great! Use it. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

4. Don’t think that grammar, punctuation and spelling are unimportant, that a copyeditor or proofreader will fix everything. You don’t need to fuss about these details on a red hot writing day, but you do need to fuss about them before sending them off to an editor or agent. If either sees numerous grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes, your work probably won’t ever get to that copyeditor or proofreader to fix the mistakes.

5. Research. At least two ways to do it. Immerse yourself in the subject. Read everything you can about it. This is valuable if you’re writing about a particular historical era. You can get new ideas for your story from it. But you can also research on an as-you-need-to-know basis. Your heroine needs a gun. Look up enough to give her an appropriate weapon. You don’t need to immerse yourself in guns to do it. Leave a blank hole in your story, come back later and fill it with the proper information.

6.  Play nice. Things go wrong. Editors and copyeditors do strange things to your story. The publicity department seems to ignore your book. If you have a legitimate gripe, you might mention it, but don’t be so rude and cutting that you burn bridges. People in the publishing world move around and you’re apt to run into this same person at another publisher. Along with this, learn to live with those nasty reviews everyone gets sooner or later. Starting a flame war with the reviewer will only make people more curious about what the review said and more people will see it. Ignore it and move on.

I’ve also heard about a few writers who have encouraged friends to write nasty reviews about a competitor’s book. No, no, no – never!

I repeat: Play nice!


Author Lorena McCourtney shares a patchwork quilt of thoughts about writing. Click to tweet.

Author Lorena McCourtney shares 6 tips on writing and publishing. Click to tweet.

Never write nasty reviews about a competitor’s book. Play nice! Click to tweet.

When Cate Kinkaid receives a frantic call about a triple homicide, she drives to the scene against her better judgment--aren't triple homicides more up the police department's alley?--only to find that the victims are not quite who she expects. Now she has a new rule to add to those she's learned in her short stint as an assistant private investigator: always find out if the victims actually have human DNA. Because these three do not.

But who would shoot this nice lady's dolls? What possible reason could the shooter have? And then there's the startling discovery of another victim, who definitely does have human DNA . . .

About Lorena McCourtney . . .

I came to writing faith-based mystery/romances in a roundabout way. I started writing in the fifth grade, always stories about horses. This love of horses carried me through a degree in agriculture from Washington State University, and a job with a big midwestern meat-packing business. (Where I quickly learned writing about raising hogs and making sausage was not my life calling.) Marriage and motherhood intervened, and by the time I got back to writing, I knew fiction was what I wanted to do. I wrote many short stories for children and teenagers, eventually turned to book-length romances, and now to the faith-based mystery/romances that I feel are my real home. My husband and I live in southern Oregon, where our only livestock now is one eccentric cat.

To learn more, please visit:

Facebook “Friends” page (friend invitations welcome!)  

Facebook “Author” page (likes welcome!)


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing for Different Publishers by Shirlee McCoy

Shirlee McCoy
July marks the release of my 27th book for Love Inspired Suspense. In November of this year, my first small town romance will be published by Kensington Publication. It’s the first in a three book series set in Apple Valley, Washington. After nearly ten years writing exclusively for Harlequin, it is strange and exciting to write for another publishing house. I wouldn’t exactly call this new venture a change in direction. I will, after all, continue to write Love Inspired Suspense books. It’s more the next step in a plan I set in motion when I first got published. I’ve always wanted to write longer books, and Kensington has given me the opportunity to do that.

A few of my readers have asked me what the difference is between what I write for Harlequin and what I’m publishing with Kensington. It really boils down to this – My Love Inspired Suspense books are Christian romantic suspense. My Kensington books are sweet small town romances. While each character in my Love Inspired books embarks on a faith journey, my Kensington books are not necessarily about Christians. While the characters are often searching for deeper meaning in life, there isn’t an overt faith message. There’s also a significant difference in word count. My Love Inspired books are between 55 and 60 thousand words. My Kensington books are 80K. For readers, that’s the difference between a book that’s approximately 220 pages and one that is approximately 350.

I could say more about how the books differ, but there are also ways that they are similar. No matter what publishing house I’m writing for, I explore the relationships that define us. In every book, my characters must come to terms with their pasts in order to embrace their futures. This often means forgiving and moving on, learning to trust again, believing that love can exist a second time around. Each of my characters is on a quest to find the things that all humans desire – love and acceptance, meaning and purpose. So, while the genres are different, the themes are very similar.

And, of course, the enjoyment I get from writing them is always the same!

Dora here.  Do you write for different publishers?
Care to share your experiences?

Defender for Hire
Purchase Link

Someone was watching her…
No matter how many times Tessa Camry moves, her mysterious tormentor always finds her… and leaves a grim reminder of all she’s lost. But, this year, no longer content to deliver roses, her stalker wants her dead. When former soldier Seth Sinclair becomes her bodyguard, he encourages her to stand her ground, even if it means letting go of long-held secrets. Seth realizes that Tessa may be his second chance at love, but their future depends on finding the man determined that Tessa never forgets the past. 

Award winning author Shirlee McCoy has published 27 books with Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense. Along with writing inspirational romantic suspense, Shirlee writes small town romance for Kensington. A homeschooling mother to five, she lives in the beautiful inland Northwest with her husband, three teenage sons, two tween daughters, a dog, two cats and a bird. Needless to say, her life is never boring!

The first book in her Apple Valley series, The House on Main Street, will be out in November 2013.  Holiday Hero, her twenty-eighth title with Love Inspired Suspense, releases the same month.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prepping to Pitch at a Writer's Conference by Beth Vogt

Yesterday, Beth Vogt talked about the importance of finding your story question and how your novel can lose focus without it. Today, she's sharing her wisdom when it comes to pitching your book idea to editors and agents. - Sandy

Beth: Call me crazy, but I love pitching a book idea to an editor. No one else will sell my novel better than me. After all, I’ve lived with these imaginary people interrupting my thoughts for months. I’ve invested time and mental energy in them. I’ve even talked about my hero and heroine with friends and family, well, as if they were my friends or family.

Do I get anxious when I think about sitting down in front of an editor, an unseen but oh-so-real clock ticking off precious minutes as I introduce myself and my novel? No. I’m not nervous, I’m excited. (Tell yourself that enough times and you start to believe it.) It helps that I’ve participated in 15-minute appointments from both sides of the table – as an editor hearing pitches and as a writer giving them.

I’ve also developed a few techniques – some my own, some from watching other writers – that make pitching a book easy, or at least easier.

1.      Travel light. I’ve watched writers walk into 15-minute appointments juggling tote bags labeled with the conference logos, notebooks, purses, bottles of water, cell phones . . . you get the idea. The most important thing to bring to a 15-minute appointment is your idea. It’s all about you, the editor or agent, and selling your book. To help organize needed items like your pitch sheet, sample chapter and business card, check out my Resource Page for Writers on my website for details on a streamlined pitch notebook.

2.      Talk to yourself.  A 15-minute appointment is no time to ad-lib. Develop an elevator pitch – a brief one or two sentence verbal introduction to your book – and then practice, practice, practice so it comes off sounding unrehearsed. I’ve taught my family to ask, “So, what’s your book about?” I recite my pitch while I’m driving around town or cooking dinner or blow-drying my hair. Then, when I sit down in front of an editor or agent, I’m comfortable enough to let the conversation flow naturally.

3.      Take time to pray. You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve rehearsed your elevator pitch so much your conference roommate insists you recited it in your sleep. All that’s left is to pitch it for real! Stop. Take your story – your hopes and dreams – and place them before God, asking him to bless the work of your hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Fifteen minutes is just that: 15 minutes. Don’t judge the success of a writing conference solely by your editor or agent appointments. Sure, we all want to hear the magic words “I’d like to see a full manuscript!” But you can’t make an editor say or do anything – all you can do is prepare, pray, and trust God for the outcome.


Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” Her contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted in May 2012 (Howard Books), and Catch a Falling Star released May 2013. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren. To learn more about Beth, please visit

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Power of Story Question by Beth Vogt

I’ve only run out of gas once – but I was about seven months pregnant and driving alone. Having no idea that a gallon of gas weighs about six pounds, I filled the emergency gas can with five gallons of gas. And yes, I lugged it back to my stranded car – uphill all the way.

Has your work-in-progress (WIP) ever run out gas? You’re motoring along, past Act 1 and the Inciting Incident that started your main characters’ journey. A quick glance at your notes indicates you’re somewhere in Act 2. But the story you were so excited about a few weeks ago is sputtering – and then it grinds to a halt and you’re stranded on the side of the writing road.

How did this happen?

Did you remember to tank up before you started writing? Maybe you put the wrong type of gas in your car. Did you even think to fuel up with a Story Question?

Every story has a theme – an overall idea that can usually be summarized by a single word. Wish You Were Here, my debut novel, focused on the theme of forgiveness.

Best-selling author Susan May Warren, founder of the My Book Therapy writing community, first taught me how a Story Question asks a deeper question of the heart and mind. The Story Question asks the great “what if?” If you lose sight of your novel’s Story Question, your novel loses focus.

Ask these four questions to help develop your Story Question:

1. Why does your story matter to you?
2. What is your story’s theme?
3. What is your hero/heroine learning about the theme?
4. What do you want to say about the theme through your characters?

Here’s how I answered these questions for my latest release, Catch a Falling Star:
  1. Catch a Falling Star (CAFS) matters to me because it’s based on a conversation I had with a friend who has wrestled with life not going according to all her plans. Reality is, everyone deals with life not going according to plan.
  2. CAFS’s theme is contentment.
  3. My hero and heroine learn that life can be satisfying and joy-filled even when it doesn’t look anything like they had planned.
  4. I want to say that God is in the plans that work out – and he’s in the plans that don’t work out too.
After working through these questions and brainstorming with some writing comrades, I settled on this Story Question for Catch a Falling Star: What do you do if life doesn’t go according to plan?

Once you’ve developed your Story Question, write it down and then post it over your computer so that you don’t lose sight of it. Every chapter, ever scene of your novel is fueled by your Story Question. Your main characters are answering that great “what if?” as they move from the first page all the way to “The End.”

Do you have a Story Question and/or theme for your work in progress? We'd love to hear it. Feel free to post it in the comments below. And be sure to come back tomorrow as Sandy Ardoin hosts Beth again! Her timely topic? "Prepping to Pitch at a Writer's Conference." You don't want to miss it!

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Did you remember to tank up before you started writing?
God is in the plans that work out – and he’s in the plans that don’t work out too.

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.”

Her contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted in May 2012 (Howard Books), and Catch a Falling Star released May 2013. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren.

To learn more about Beth, please visit

Monday, July 22, 2013

Researching for Historicals: Part Two by Pamela S. Meyers

Pamela S. Meyers
Hey, everyone! Annette here. Pamela Meyers is back today to share more on researching for historicals. Enjoy!

Using Local Newspapers to Make Your 
Historical Setting Come Alive, Part 2 
By Pamela S. Meyers

Last week I discussed using newspapers from your historical setting to catch the passion of the town. Today, I want to talk about how using the store ads can help make your story authentic to your time period.

Even though Lake Geneva, WI, my story setting, is small, I was amazed at how many ads filled each week’s edition of the paper. I found those advertisements to be a good reflection of the town’s climate, as far as the Great Depression was concerned. Nothing indicated the presence of breadlines, but that didn’t mean people weren’t struggling to make ends meet. The grocery ads contained numerous items at prices we’d consider dirt-cheap. But to a struggling family, even a fifteen-cent can of soup may be out of reach if they needed something else more.

My main concern was naming a store that didn’t come into business until after 1933. I took copious lists of all the stores who advertised in the paper and even scanned articles for mentions of others. If I wasn’t sure of the date a store opened for business, I didn’t use it.

Later when writing my story I worked from the list of retail stores, dropping in their names as organically as possible. My characters had lunch at a drug store soda fountain at least once. Another time I mentioned the name of the hardware store as they walked past it. My heroine’s father’s law office was in a suite of rooms above the local men’s clothing store. For example, I originally had my characters go to an ice cream store for sodas that I remembered being there when I was a child. I presumed it had been there for years like the drug stores. I mentioned the establishment to the town historian, and he stated he didn’t think the store had been there in the thirties. I changed the name of the place to a fictitious name.

If your setting is a large city, you will probably have a lot more to work with than I did, but the important thing is to work within the framework of what you have, utilizing authentic businesses where you can, and where you can’t create your own.

Next time, I’ll discuss getting the facts as right as possible down to the nth detail.


LFY in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin by Pamela S. Meyers
A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago. She served on the ACFW Operating Board for five years and has also served her local ACFW chapter in leadership roles. Her historical romance, which is set in her hometown, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, released in April 2013. You can find more information on Pam at or on Facebook at

(e-book)       (print)