Monday, February 29, 2016

The Art of the Research Trip by Liz Johnson

Hey writers! Annette here. Have you ever taken a research trip for a book? Many years ago, I did before I realized I'd be writing about that location. Author Liz Johnson joins us today to share some tips for being intentional on such trips. Enjoy!

 The Art of the Research Trip
by Liz Johnson
Of all the treasured parts of the writing process, perhaps the most illustrious and misunderstood is the research trip. To the outsider it looks like a vacation

But the writer knows a research trip is more of a mad dash to pick up every detail to infuse her novel with as much flavor as possible. As novelists, we also know that our job isn’t to write travel books. We’re not looking for the major streets or merely the address of that popular restaurant our character will frequent (of course, it’s important to get those kind of details right too). On research trips we’re looking for the things that make our stories come alive, the sights and sounds and tastes that immerse the reader into our setting.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Prince Edward Island, the setting for my new series and home of Anne of Green Gables, several times. On my first trip I was so excited to be there that I missed some great opportunities to dig into the island. To help you avoid my mistakes, here are my top five tips for a successful research trip.

1. Talk with the locals. Of course, this is much easier if you speak the same language they do. But however you can, interact with them. An unexpected chat with a local teenager, who was manning the school house at an historic village in PEI, taught me that the University of PEI in Charlottetown is on nearly every student’s post-graduation agenda. It’s a small thing, but it adds some flavor when I mention that one of my characters didn’t even consider attending UPEI. You never know what locals will say and what ideas it might spark for your story.

2. Pick up some of the language. Maybe it’s foreign, maybe it’s not. On one of my trips I asked one of the servers at my bed-and-breakfast if she knew how far it was to a particular tourist spot. She said it was about twenty minutes, and I asked her how many kilometers that was. (I was feeling pretty proud that I remembered Canada uses the metric system.) “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m from the island, and we measure distance in time.” It was such a strange and wonderful discovery—that locals don’t generally reference distance by measure but by time—that I immediately plopped the idea into my book.

3. Pay attention to all your senses. Plugging in sense memories will make your reader feel like she’s not only in the story but in the very location you’ve discovered.

4. Put yourself in your character’s shoes. Is your character a native to this location? Or is he a visitor? If the latter, your character’s experiences might mirror your own. Is she a local? Is the town’s history old hat? Have her friends moved on leaving her alone in this place? Ask yourself these and other questions and see if you don’t view your surroundings with a fresh perspective.

5. Take loads of pictures. It’s easy to believe that you’ll remember. That you’ll remember the name of the road, the color of the trees, the location of the historical building. Chances are, you’ll forget. So take pictures, and take notes. You’ll appreciate it when you’re ready to put all these pieces into place.

No matter how you approach a research trip—if you get a chance to go, I hope you’ll take it and make good use of it.

Have you ever been on a research trip? Where would you like to go to research your next book?


About Liz Johnson: By day Liz Johnson works as a marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with her at or

About The Red Door Inn: Marie Carrington is broke, desperate, and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help restore his uncle's Victorian B and B--and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart. He wasn't expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her.

The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they've got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on this island of dreams.

Friday, February 26, 2016

My Story (Part 4) by C. Kevin Thompson

C. Kevin Thompson

After my incident with the unscrupulous agent (Part 1 of my story) and my aversion to Christian writers conferences and fledgling, self-publishing houses (Part 2 of my story), I realized I still had to keep writing (Part 3 of my story). I also decided to give one of those “Christian Writers Conferences” a try.

I sent my check, received my email confirmation, and remember feeling a knot in my stomach the size of a large millstone.

What do I do now? I thought. Surely there’s a “How To” Guide online somewhere…

The email spoke of setting up appointments with agents and editors, gave tips on how to present yourself well. It mentioned the dreaded “elevator pitch.” There were descriptions of workshops and general sessions. I had attended numerous secular conferences for various reasons before, so I knew how conferences worked, but how would “they” do it? What was appropriate and what wasn’t? Were you expected to be “over the top” enthusiastic about your own work, or should you be more reserved? The more I thought about it, the more I started to think I was in way over my head.

The big names which donned the docket didn’t help my nerves, either. Cec Murphey. Jeff Gerke. Nancy Rue. Angela Elwell Hunt. T. Davis Bunn. And, oh yea. Some guy named Jerry Jenkins.

No pressure.

As the days of the conference approached, I grew more excited and alarmed all at the same time. I was asking questions, trying to get as much of a handle on this conference thing as I could. I was a novice, but I didn’t want to appear to be one. Yet, as the conference date approached, I often thought the conference director was probably sitting at home, wondering if she should refund my money with no strings attached.

“Just give this guy his money back so he’ll stop asking all these questions.”

Yeah. I was that guy.

The day finally arrived, and I remember driving to the first-timers meeting at the beginning of the conference thinking to myself, “Okay, so don't get your hopes up, dude. The odds of you getting anyone interested in your story on the first shot are astronomical.” It was as if I was trying to fail ahead of time.

I know, I need help. Most writers do.

Little did I know what would happen next.I attended the first meal of the first day of my first Christian writers conference. Lunch. At the meals, I learned you can sit with agents and editors and other writers and get to know them. As people. As something other than agents or editors or writers. It was an enlightening experience. So enlightening, in fact, this became one of my favorite parts of the conference experience. Never mind the eating part (something I’ve been known to enjoy). It’s the camaraderie and networking. I got to know some great people I never would have known otherwise.

The experience was so great, I showed up the next morning for breakfast, all excited about sitting at the table of one person I wanted to get to know due to some previous conversations we had before the conference via email. I anxiously awaited for him to show up at “his table” (the one with his name tag on it), but he didn’t sit there. He had the nerve to sit somewhere else and ignore me entirely. I was getting a little bothered until a fellow conferee informed me that the conference faculty and other dignitaries didn’t have to sit at their “table” for breakfast. They could go where they wanted. Lunch and Supper were the “locked-in” meals. It was then I recalled why I was so nervous in the days and weeks leading up to the conference.

Stupid Newbie. You’re such a novice. You’re gonna look the part regardless of how hard you try to avoid it.

Despite the breakfast faux pas, there was one meal that transformed my entire conference outlook, and that meal will be served next month.

Moral of Part 4: The “experts” who teach at these conferences (although they will be the first ones to tell you they often get things wrong as often as they get it right) know the business. So, if you are a newbie, listen to them. Take the advice, sift it through your own personal system of discernment, and act on what you feel will honor God. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.         

Something ominous lurks under the waters.

Dr. Evelyn Sims, a brilliant marine biologist, is being watched. Her husband's mysterious death at sea—with the only survivor of the Greenback telling a shocking, unbelievable tale—has thrown her personal life into chaos. Her scientific views are being scrutinized. Her husband's office and their home are investigated. Called in by the FBI to help solve the mystery, Evelyn is thrust into her toughest research project ever...and forced into a maze of deception and betrayal.

Micah Gregson, the Coast Guard captain who rescued the Greenback, is determined to find out why a special unit at the FBI—the one assigned to cryptozoological cases—is involved.

Together Evelyn and Micah will uncover a plot more deadly than anything the ocean could ever produce. One that will either save Evelyn's life and redeem her career, or destroy everything she—and myriad others—stand for.

C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.

A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, Kevin is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.

Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.

Kevin’s Writer’s Blog:  
Kevin’s Educational Blog:  
Facebook: C. Kevin Thompson – Author Fan Page
Twitter: @CKevinThompson
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What I Learned About Writing While Furniture Shopping by Terri Weldon

Over the past few months I’ve been shopping for new furniture for my formal living room. Should be fun, right? The fun ceased after my first trip to the huge store I favor. A few laps around that massive shop and I’d seen so many living room combinations that my head was spinning.

I finally settled on a sofa and love seat. Unfortunately, the media center I chose had sold out. Plus no more were going to be available. So I went home and rested and on another day went back to the furniture store. I purchased a media center and – surprise – a curio. Now you probably wonder what this has to do with writing. Trust me – plenty.

When the furniture arrived I had a disaster on my hands. I hadn’t measured the room and the sofa and love seat I bought dwarfed the space. No measurements equaled no plotting. I don’t know about you, but when I don’t plot I end up in a mess. I write myself into a corner and end up doing tons of rewrites. Even a simple outline makes my writing flow easier.

The problems didn’t stop there. The second choice media center – wrong style. Not to mention ugly. It didn’t look bad in the store. But at my house it was the wrong color, wrong size, and old-fashioned. Kind of like when I’m writing a story and for some reason my suspense story ends up with a simile that should have been in a light hearted romance. Or when my sympathetic heroine turns rabid and has a maniacal rant at the hero. Hey, it’s been known to happen. I remember a contest judge telling me once that my heroine was so mean she’d kick a puppy. Ouch!

So the love seat and media center are going back to the store. Hours of time wasted. Kind of like when it is time to edit. It’s hard work. As writers we’ve sweated over those words and deleting them hurts. How many of you have a file where you save deleted scenes? I’m raising my hand. For some reason it doesn’t hurt as bad when I save the words, but I rarely go back and use anything from that file.

Painful or not the editing process makes my story better. Now when a contest judge or critique partner reads my work in progress they won’t think “That heroine is too mean to live!” Instead through the editing process, my character remains true to herself and my reader stays happy. Not to mention it keeps the author from looking neurotic.

Once the room edit was complete, a lovely chair took the place of the love seat and a taller but more streamlined media center replaced the ugly one. Oh, and I discovered the room needed one more thing. As a finishing touch I added a coffee table.  

Likewise by the time my manuscript is ready to submit the words have been polished and the plot keeps the story moving forward. And if I’ve done a really good job, then I’ve managed to find the perfect words to bring a tear to my readers eye or a smile to her face or send a chill down her spine or even have her think she can’t quit reading – not yet.
I’m sure you guys are all better designers, and writers, than me, so take a minute and leave me a  tip or two.

Terri Weldon is a lead analyst by day and an author by night. She enjoys gardening, reading, and shopping for shoes. One of her favorite pastimes is volunteering as the librarian at her church. It allows her to shop for books and spend someone else’s money! Plus, she has the great joy of introducing people to Christian fiction. She lives with her family in Oklahoma. Terri has two adorable Westies – Crosby and Nolly Grace. Terri is a member of ACFW and OCFW, a local chapter of ACFW. Her dream of becoming a published novelist came true in November 2013 when Mistletoe Magic, released from White Rose Publishing.

Readers can connect with Terri:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Organized Writer by Jennifer Hallmark

I don't know about you, but when it comes to keeping all my writing-related "things" in their proper places, I have moments of organization and moments of total chaos. Below are author Jennifer Hallmark's tips for keeping that chaos to a minimum. -- Sandy

Jennifer: Congratulations! The magazine article you worked so hard on finally sold. And they need a 100-word bio. You pull up folder after folder in your computer. Where is it?

You once had a great story idea about a basset hound, vanilla scented candles, and a high school reunion. What file did I place it in? You spend hours rummaging through paper folders crammed in a desk drawer with no luck.

Does this sound like you? I’ve struggled in the past to find many files, folders, and ideas. Though I still occasionally misplace items, over the years, I’ve developed a system. Maybe it will help you. But first, I want to show you some products that are out there for print or computer.

Paper systems

Freedom Filer-This system is versatile and you can add as much or as little as you need. And the prices are reasonable. There are also many testimonials by bloggers who like this system.

The Paper Tiger-This system is powered by Google Docs and can help you with paper or digital filing or a combination of both.

Digital systems

When it comes to filing your research for a specific book, I found this article on the ten best software systems for 2016 helpful. You can then choose which is right for you.

Here is another article again mentioning twenty-five writing software programs that might help you. Some are even free.

What do I use to organize my writing? I’ll be honest. There is so much out there, it will boggle the mind. With paper, I prefer the idea of buying certain pieces that are right for me. My desk has a hanging file drawer in it that I use for receipts and such and is very practical. I also buy clear cover binders so I can make my own cover like Marketing Tips I Like or Publishers I Want to Research. Below are some pieces I found during the research for this article that are now on my wish list. J

I do most of my organization now digitally. One quick word of advice here. Make sure everything is backed up. I invested in Carbonite about a year ago and I cannot tell you how much it eased my mind from the fear of losing important material. At only $5 a month, it’s been well worth my investment.

The bulk of my work is stored in My Documents on my computer. I keep a separate file for each of my blogs, each book compilation I’m involved in, and each book I have written or a book idea well-established enough to have its own file. I have a book idea file and an article idea file. I have one file entitled Good Articles on Writing by Other Writers, filled with invaluable advice I can pull up quickly.

Other important files for me are: Short Stories, Published Articles, My Newsletter, and My Book Info (which contains bios, pitches, one sheets, blurbs, etc.) I try once a year to purge files also. Get rid of files or documents no longer relevant and reorganize as needed.

For example: If you open My Newsletter, you’ll see another file for main articles. Each month, I write a new main article. By filing it, I don’t repeat ideas. I also have separate documents for My Master Email Subscriber List, a PDF sheet for physical signups at live events, monthly recipes, Constant Contact hints (that’s who I use to create my newsletter) and a recipe booklet I created to send to new subscribers. Everything about my newsletter in one place.

What is most important to becoming an organized writer is finding the perfect fit for you. Whether in paper files or digital or a mixture of both, life can be much easier for the writer when time is taken to put things in order.

Now where did I put the name of the blogger who wanted this article? J

Do you have a special system you use and will share when it comes to keeping your writing files and accounting in good order?


Jennifer Hallmark is a writer by nature, artist at heart, and daughter of God by His grace. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the internet, short stories in several magazines, and been part of four book compilations: A Dozen Apologies, Sweet Freedom A La Mode, Unlikely Merger, and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She is currently shopping her contemporary southern fiction novel, When Wedding and Weather Collide.

Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage
Our society understands how terrible the loss of a child is when that child is out of the womb, but
what about when a child dies before birth? Or what about the emptiness that comes when a very-much-wanted child is never even conceived?

These quiet, private losses are hard for those who have not experienced them to understand. And these losses leave those who have suffered them feeling alone in their grief.

Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage is a resource both for those who have suffered through these experiences and for their friends and relatives, who want to understand what their loved ones are going through.
This collection contains true stories that are:
·         sensitive, and yet honest
·         angry and raw, but not despairing
·         unique, and yet relatable

The contributors to this book are male and female, old and young, some who eventually had children and some who never did, and yet despite their differences, they share a common grief and a common faith.

No experience of miscarriage, infant loss, or infertility is like any other, yet by reading these painful and hope-filled stories, you’ll be comforted by knowing there are others who understand the journey you’re on, the loss you’ve suffered, and you will find that even though your loss is uniquely yours, you are not alone.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why Readers Read What They Read by Sandie Bricker

Sandie Bricker
If you didn't already know, the most awesome Sandie Bricker, in addition to being a regular contributor to Seriously Write, is the founder of BLING!, the edgy-ish contemporary romance imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC). The following was originally posted there, but she and Janese Lopez agreed to let me repost it.

We writer and editor types love to delve into the minds of our readers. We feel like we need to know what makes them tick, right? So I went straight to the source for answers (as I’m prone to do) and asked Janese Lopez – one of my longtime readers and the author of the fun Loving Life in Pink blog – to tell us what makes her choose a certain novel over shelves of others.
Here’s what Janese had to say:

As I was first thinking about writing this post, it seemed really simple; but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many facets go into what draws me to a book.

When I was in middle school, it was pretty easy: Almost any book the library had that I hadn’t read and my mother would approve of was checked out and read. The classics, series books, mysteries, age-appropriate romances, pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I read. Of course, in eight grade I was reading about a book a day, so I couldn’t be too demanding.

These days, I don’t have as much time to read; consequently, I am much more selective. If I’m not really attracted to a particular book, I skip it.

So what does it take to make the cut? It’s not really any one certain thing, but some of the items that influence my decision are genre, cover, presentation (could be online, in a store, in a library, etc), and recommendations and reviews.


The genre of a book is one of the biggest factors for me. There are lots of books to chose from and narrowing it to a genre quickly weeds out many unwanted items. If a book is a genre I don’t enjoy, I’ll be hard-pressed to consider reading it (even if it is highly recommended, has a great cover, etc). I know some people who don’t like to read romantic fiction because they get caught up in the fairy tale. There are others who can’t stand science fiction or mysteries. Each reader has an opinion, but many are firm when it comes to the genre of a book. So once I am looking at books within a genre I’ll enjoy, I turn to the cover to help lead me to the perfect selection.


Yup, I totally ignore that old clichĂ©: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Partially because I just happen to find books with bright, eye-catching covers more appealing, but another element is that the cover includes a compact look at the pertinent information like the title, the author, a summary of the book, and artwork.

Sometimes the title says a lot about the book; other times it doesn’t. If I’m not familiar with a book, a catchy title is most certainly appealing.

The author is another important element of the cover. If I’ve read other works by the author, that will influence my pick. If I am not familiar with the author but have heard of them, I’m more likely to select that book than one by an author I don’t know anything about.
The summary can quickly tell me if I am even mildly intrigued by a book. Simply put: No summary, no interest!

Cover artwork can be as important as the other cover elements. Muted colors that make a painting of a front porch scene with several long-haired cats lounging about suggests to me that the writing will possibly be sub-par. Often the author will be trying too hard with descriptions or adding things to the plot that don’t fit well. However, if the cover has sharp graphics/clip art (but not actual photos) and vivid colors, usually those are fun, contemporary quick reads, but the plot and characters are sometimes shallow and predictable. I often find that covers with real photos of scenes or people with darker colors generally have more intensity in the characters, plot, and background of the story. Of course, this isn’t a 100% foolproof formula, but I do think the cover art can (or at least should!) show a lot about the book. Artwork quickly tells you if the story is set in a small town, large city, winter, summer, fall, a specific area (like an Amish community), or if it is staged in present day, a few decades ago, or a hundred years ago. All of these things can be a big influence and can help me quickly decide about a book.


Along with a great cover, an attractive display at a store or library or a well-designed graphic online can also draw me to a book. An individual display helps the novel to stand out because it’s no longer just another spine in a row of 25. A graphic on Facebook or Pinterest tends to grab my attention and helps me to search for that specific book, rather than just trying to narrow the endless search results with what feels like never-ending and varying parameters.

Recommendations and Reviews

Sometimes I skip the search and speed-walk right past a striking display because I’m on a mission with a personal recommendation. Personal recommendations from a friend often influence me to try a specific author or book, sometimes even a book I’m not sure I’ll like. If I don’t have a personal recommendation, a well-written review (more than a summary of the book and one line about how good it was) on a blog or a fun or interesting author interview can really pique my interest. Bloggers put effort into writing reviews and they aren’t going to waste time promoting a post about a book they didn’t enjoy, which gives me more confidence in a book than just a 5-star rating on a popular bookselling website.

Once I’m relatively settled on a book, a few more things help me finalize the decision.

Other Considerations

First is price (sadly, my book budget is limited). I have a really hard time purchasing a book that is $20 for a hard cover copy. In fact, recently I’ve been purchasing more Kindle books as they are usually cheaper; not to mention so much easier to store and access.

If the price fits my budget, availability is the next hurdle. If I can check a book out from the library or pick it up at the local bookstore, that makes it easy. However, if I have to order a hard copy from an online retailer, I’m less inclined to do so (especially if I have to pay shipping).
So there you have it: A long list of things that draw me to books! If a book makes it through all of these qualifications, I shut out the world around me and get lost in the story of another time and place!

About the Author

SANDRA D. BRICKER was an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles for 15+ years where she attended school to learn screenwriting and eventually taught the craft for several semesters. When she put Hollywood in the rear view mirror and headed across the country to take care of her mom until she passed away, she traded her scripts for books, and a best-selling, award-winning author of Live-Out-Loud fiction for the inspirational market was born. Sandie is best known for her Another Emma Rae Creation and Jessie Stanton series for Abingdon Press, and she was also recently named ACFW’s Editor of the Year for her work as managing editor of Bling!, an edgy romance imprint for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. As an ovarian cancer survivor, Sandie also gears time and effort toward raising awareness and funds for research, diagnostics and a cure.


Author website:
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