Friday, January 18, 2019

Five Tips for Publication Success by Aaron M. Zook, Jr.

Aaron, M. Zook, Jr.
Our heavenly Father works in a variety of ways. A comment he received turned out to be the answer to Aaron Zook’s prayers, and it sent him on a journey to publication. He shares five important tips as to how he arrived. ~ Dawn

Five Tips for 
Publication Success

Outside I smiled. Inside, I pumped my fist, gave a shout, and kicked my heels in the air. I held my first full-length fiction book, The Secrets of the Castle, lay in my hands, ready for distribution and sale. I loved the cover, the words of intrigue, and the sense of accomplishment it inspired in me. In the past, I wrote short devotional stories and articles that became part of several books published by CLASSeminars (Christian Leaders, Authors, and Speakers Seminars), the Focus on the Family Clubhouse Magazine, and The Upper Room. However, this was my first novel.

How did I get published? And how can you find the same feeling of victory in the writing process? I’ll give you five tips that helped me achieve success.

Tip #1. Write about your passion. When I retired from the U.S. Army as a Colonel, I prayed to the Lord for guidance on my next focus in life. One of my sons suggested I write and publish the stories I used to entertain them as we drove around Germany, stories about two boys and their dogs, Thunder and Lightning. After thirty-two years in the military’s structured environment, my transition coach said I was now free to pursue creative things only I could produce, like my stories. His words hit me like a brick. I took a deep breath and nodded my head. That sparked my passion to be the creative person God created me to be.

Tip #2. Get connected to a local writer’s group. After retirement, we settled in Canyon Lake, Texas. I connected with the San Antonio Christian Writers’ Group (SACWG) led by Allison Pittman and Brenda Blanchard. The drive was an hour, one-way, but every bit of gas money I spent was worth it. The group was instrumental in developing me as a writer and for the road ahead. After prayer, we broke into small groups, fiction or non-fiction, and read short sections of our stories to receive constructive comments. I loved the face-to-face interaction.

Tips #3. Attend a good Writer’s Conference annually. My entire concept of writing was changed when I attended the first CLASSeminars Writer’s Conference at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The experience and staff connections captured my heart. The Writer’s Conference was an intense teaching time where I learned from award-winning, published authors who easily taught me not only writing techniques but also pointed me in the right direction. I learned so much, that I couldn’t put it all into practice immediately.

Tip #4. Build relationships. As in any field of endeavor, writing requires strong relationships to build on and grow your writing skills and business. I became friends with authors, editors, publishers, and agents in San Antonio and at CLASSeminars conferences. These connections were crucial after my first book came out, leading to a multiple-book contract with Karen Porter’s Bold Vision Book Company. We now have four published books in my Thunder and Lightning series and I am working on my fifth as I write this blog. Amazing!

Tip #5. Hire a professional writing coach or editor before publishing. I chose to pay for a coach for my first book because I wanted the end product to be my calling card. My coach, Larry Leech, is the reason I’ve achieved award-winning status. Larry lifts me up, listens to my concerns, and helps me over the rough spots in my writing. He’s a gifted teacher.

I’ve still pursued leadership in other areas of my life while fulfilling my passion to write. You’ll find my books and story at my website: Let me encourage you to write when you can, letting your passion flow!

The Isle of Intrigue

Book 4 of the Thunder
and Lightning Series

Dateline: Spring 1991. 
Location: Naha City, Okinawa, Japan

On a foggy Okinawan night, a stranger disrupts the Zanadu family’s first island-unique dinner at a seafood restaurant. His violent search for a flying microbot leaves the family devastated, with Gabe and Alex Zanadu’s mother unconscious on the floor. An Okinawan government official’s son, Mike, whose father was also assaulted, leads the boys in a search for the fleeing thugs. Unsuccessful in bringing the attackers to justice, Gabe and Alex, their two dogs, Thunder and Lightning, and their new friends, Mike and his older sister, Crystal, find themselves hunted by the Okinawan and mainland-Japan mafia. When the Japanese mafia grabs Alex and Crystal, the race is on for Gabe and Mike, along with the dogs, to find and free their siblings before they meet an untimely end.

Aaron M. Zook, Jr.—an award-winning author and speaker—entertains with a purpose in his books and presentations. He’s thrilled thousands of readers through his YA Christian mystery/adventure Thunder and Lightning series about two inquisitive boys and their dogs who solve one crisis after another around the world. Aaron volunteers in church and in the community. Check out his info, fun facts, and books on his website—,, or Aaron is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and lives with his wife, Joyce, in Holly Lake Ranch, TX. They have two married sons and four wonderful grandchildren.

Connect with Aaron:

Twitter: @ZookAaron
Instagram: ocf.fthstx

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Fun Take on Research! by Laura Conner Kestner

Like most authors, my days are filled with writing, rewriting, research, rewriting, more research, and lots of prayers. But unlike some writers, I really enjoy the research. 

I’m not talking about Google searches, YouTube videos and library collections, although I do enjoy all those as well. I’m talking about the equivalent of a school field trip. 

My favorite such destinations are small museum. Those facilities don’t just provide the answers to my research questions—sometimes they inspire a new character, a new scene, or a new book. And since I write in multiple genres, none of it is wasted. I jot it all down in my research/inspiration notebook (or more truthfully, on an envelope, receipt, or fast food napkin) for future use.

Even though I live in a tiny town in a rural area of Texas, there are a surprisingly large number of historical museums within an hour or two of my home—and several really good ones closer than that.

Since these are mostly history museums, the exhibits are varied. Some of my favorite finds include a late-1800s spinning wheel, an 1800s printing press, a hand-crafted miniature three-ring circus, log cabins (real ones), jail cells (including a steel cage that was created to fit on a wagon so the sheriff could haul prisoners to the state capitol), weapons, clothing, wood cook stoves, rope beds, barbed-wire collections, branding irons, a stuffed and mounted panther (also known as a mountain lion) that was shot many years ago by a rancher during a fierce battle near the Brazos River (I was able to talk to the man’s now-elderly daughter for details), medical equipment, blacksmith equipment…well, I could go on and on. 

There are also several old military forts close enough for occasional research expeditions, as well as regularly scheduled “living history” events nearby.  

I often write about these finds for my Facebook author page, and enjoy sharing the photos and information with others. But it’s a bit more complicated when writing fiction. I don’t want to use the real story—that belongs to someone else. So when something sparks my imagination, I ask myself two questions: What if? and What now?

What if a man who occupied that cage was innocent? What if he managed to escape but injured the sheriff in the process? Now he’s alone, on foot, with no food…and he’s no longer innocent. So then I try to answer the “What now?” question. That’s harder. And it often takes the story in a direction I didn’t anticipate. That’s where the fun really begins.

Of course, you don’t have to go to museums to find inspiration. Story ideas are everywhere. 

I once discovered an old shopping list tucked away in a pocket of a vintage handbag I purchased at an estate sale. 

I immediately started speculating on what event this woman—the purse’s owner from a bygone era—had been planning. It was mostly food items she’d jotted down. But some of it was pretty fancy. Was she planning a holiday party? 

There was no date on the penciled list but judging from the purse itself, I could imagine her dressed in her mid-century best—high heels, navy blue dress with a pleated skirt and white collar, pearls, and a bouffant hairdo—strolling the aisles of a grocery store where a freckled-faced boy with a crew cut would bag her groceries when she finished, and then carry them to the car. 

Of course, this first scene is just a beginning. You can’t just build her wardrobe—you have to build her world. 

What about her car? A nice sedan, I think. No, wait. A cherry red convertible. Because no one should be entirely predictable.       

Later, in the kitchen of a modern brick home with colorful appliances, she empties the bag, humming a little tune as she works. I recognize that song. Frank Sinatra? Dean Martin? No, it’s Bing Crosby. White Christmas. So it is a holiday party. 

But so much depends on the genre. If it’s a romance book, she might be making this special meal in hopes of impressing Mr. Right. If it’s women’s fiction, she may have found Mr. Right years ago and is now wondering how she can get rid of him (haha).     

What about suspense? Maybe the list was a clue. Perhaps there was one item on the list that didn’t go with the others. 

But, wait. What’s that last item she’s taking from the shopping bag? Rat poison. Well, that wasn’t on the list. Oh, my. It seems we have a murder mystery on our hands. I did not see that coming. Better start researching poisons.   

So, do any of you ever look at an old house, classic car, or vintage anything, and wonder about the people who’ve gone before? Do you enjoy visiting museums? I would love to hear about it. 


Abigail Horton’s life is turned upside down during the last night of a week-long revival when her father—believed dead—shows up in the custody of a Texas Ranger. Abby is thrilled to see him, and equally devastated to learn he’s been living the life of an outlaw.           

Texas Ranger Caleb Calhoun stops in Moccasin Rock to let his prisoner, Bob Horton, visit briefly with family before transporting him to Austin for trial. Caleb takes a room at the family’s boarding house, planning to be in and out of the small town by morning. But within hours he’s kissed Abby Horton, made an enemy of her na├»ve suitor, and let his prisoner escape. 

As Caleb searches for the missing outlaw, and Abby struggles to keep the man’s whereabouts a secret, they also battle a growing attraction to each other.

Throw in a Calhoun family mystery, an elderly preacher on a mission, an old flame of Caleb’s, a secretive spinster, a team of surveyors, and Abby’s mother and brother—and you have a compelling story of faith, family and forgiveness.

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After 25 years in community journalism, Laura Conner Kestner embarked on a career in inspirational fiction. Laura is a proud seventh-generation Texan. Born in Fort Worth, she now lives in central Texas. She is happily married to the “boy next door” and they have two daughters, two wonderful sons-in-law, and five grandchildren. She’s thankful for God’s grace, her family, and an opportunity to do the work she loves.  Laura is a 2016 ACFW Genesis Award winner, 2016 ACFW First Impressions winner, 2016 SWFRW/RWA Joyce Henderson Contest winner, a 2016 NWH/RWA Lone Star Writer’s Contest finalist (second place), a 2016 SARA Emma Merritt contest winner, a winner in the RWA/KOD 2017 Daphne du Maurier award for excellence in mystery suspense, a 2017 Maggie finalist, and winner in the inspirational category of the 2017 RWA Southern Magic Linda Howard contest.  Laura was also a 2017 GOLDEN HEART® finalist, and a double finalist in 2018. Her novel Remember Texas was published in October.