Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Things Happen When We Get Out of HIS Way

Welcome, Vannetta! A brand new star to many of us has come to visit us here.
Who is this lovely lady?

Vannetta Chapman, you might not yet know, has published more than 100 articles in Christian family magazines. She discovered her love for the Amish while researching her grandfather’s birthplace in Albion, Pennsylvania. Vannetta is a multi-award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and currently teaches in the Texas hill country.We'll be learning in the next few days a little more about her and her debut novel.

SKC: I’m so anxious to hear about your newest book and what inspired you with this one, Vannetta.

VC: Thanks, Shirley! My newest book, my FIRST inspirational (squeal) is about a young Amish woman who has an insatiable love of reading. Unable to "fit in" with any of the jobs in her community she goes to Philadelphia to stay with her Aunt. There her thirst for learning continues, until 3 years later, Annie finds herself an RN at Mercy Hospital. She never intended to leave her faith or her family though. So when she's called home to nurse her father after his accident, she's more than happy to go. But how can she reconcile her new growth, her new passion, with her old lifestyle?

That is Annie's story, and I enjoyed writing it very much. What inspired me to write it was the idea that the Amish people face many of the same problems we do, but they handle them differently.

SKC: We are learning how the Amish respond differently. How has your Christian background affected the style of writing you do?

VC: In many ways, it's taken the pressure off. So many times, people ask me if I'm ever stumped as to what happens next in a story, and the easy answer to that is no. God has a purpose for every story, and all I have to do is get out of the way. Now sometimes the "getting" is difficult. We can all be distracted by so many things. As far as my Christian background, I had a very simplistic faith since I was a child. I was blessed with parents who helped me keep my faith real, and I believe that has helped my writing as well as my writing career.

SKC: How important it is to get out His way! I know you stay extremely busy, but how disciplined are you each day with your writing schedule, and if you get off track how do you get back ON track?

VC: Ha ha ha. I teach full time plus I'm an adjunct professor at the local community college. Then there are those 4 books I contracted to be due in 18 months. I am ecstatic, and compulsively disciplined. I write every morning from 5 am to 7 am, and I write 1,000 words a day. During the summer I can do more, but not during the school year. Weekends I save for editing, resting, and promotional work (blogs, etc.). Honestly I don't allow myself to get OFF track, but then 1,000 words a day isn't very much. If I'm focused I can do that in an hour or 90 minutes. If I'm not focused, no TV or reading before bed.

SKC: Doing 1000 words a day is healthy. Sometimes I get so bogged down I can't even do that. Other times I do much more. We are strange creatures aren't we, Vannetta. How often do you visit other authors’ blogs, and what do you learn from going about the web? Do you ever get distracted by the web?

VC: I probably visit other authors more on FB than on their blogs, but I do pop in occasionally. I think of both as conversations that I want to take part in, and since I don't like being TOTALLY isolated, I enjoy doing so. I have always enjoyed different perspectives and that is what social networking is to me. That said, when my arm or shoulder starts hurting because I'm on the computer too much, the net is the first thing I cut back on. Writing about the Amish has certainly made me aware of how much time I spend on the computer. More often now, I find myself wanting to finish so I can go outside and work in the garden or go for a walk.

SKC: FB is an excellent place in which to promote yourself. I agree. It's certainly a way that others get to know more about what makes you tick. Okay, next question. Every writer goes through some particular trial when it comes to their craft. What is one that gets to you the most and how do you deal with it, Vannetta?

VC: I'm not sure this falls under craft, but the biggest trial for me lately has been knowing when to walk away from a particular activity, commitment or group that has stopped being positive or productive for me. There might not be anything especially wrong with the activity (say a committee I've been on that no longer really needs me, but I desperately need that time). Or perhaps I've signed up for a gym membership, paid my dues, but find I enjoy being outside much more. Instead of feeling bad about it and berating myself, I need to let it go and be positive and productive with my time. The same is true with on-line groups that are negative or non-communicative. I tend to stay a member long past when I should have moved on, because I want to be the cheerleader, but in truth they are zapping my energy and time - and that does affect my craft.

SKC: Excellent way to look at it all, Vannett. What do you think is one of the most important things you have learned so far in your years of living about life since becoming a published writer?

VC: I have to say, I just finished Josh Hamilton's book, Beyond Belief and it affected me in a very profound way. I think he was able to say in that book what I've been trying to live for some time, but though I'm an author I didn't put it as succinctly as he did. Josh says, "God first, then my family, then baseball." It's the same if you're a writer, whether you're published or not. "God first, then our family, then writing." If we can keep our priorities where they should be, everything else will follow.

SDC: Amen to that. Tell us that one scripture that keeps you going each day. And then, since you are so kind to offer a copy of your book to one of our viewers, what is one of the first questions you want to ask an established writer when you meet them for the first time. Or to gain better understanding of your readers what do you like to ask them when you meet them face to face?

VC : Definitely Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future."

What I'd like to ask my readers is "What story do you need to hear? What story hasn't been written yet that you wish would be written?"

SDC: Ah, now that's a great question.

It has been a pleasure having you here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, Vannetta, and I'm glad I could fit you in here. It was important to me. Tell us which book you are planning to share, and then be sure to let us know where we can find you and your books on the web.

VC: A copy of A SIMPLE AMISH CHRISTMAS (and Vannetta can be found at)

SKC: Okay, viewers. See the question above in red? Please send in your answers and thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you and selecting a winner in the days ahead.

Congratulations to Wendy Shoults of West Branch, MI. You won a book! Be watching for it. We know you'll be blessed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Sound Familiar?

Ah, now here comes a tip that you won't want to miss. It might even sound a bit familiar. Or perhaps I'm just repeating myself.

It's a bit like when you take a step into the kitchen and open that refrigerator door, and something tells you, "Didn't you just do that before three times?" Writer or a reader, I can almost see you nodding your head.

It definitely reminds me of how often I read how Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's heroines placed their hands akimbo.  Ah, yes.

The next time you open a book or turn your manuscript on, I'll bet you'll catch exactly what Delia's driving at too.

This tip will hopefully help you to see things BEFORE the line editor does and before the next reader gets a hold of your fantastic book.

So grab ANOTHER cup of coffee with me, okay? Let's take a moment to see what Delia has in mind.

Broken Record Writing
Writing Tip #4
by Delia Latham

With the advent of cassette tapes and CDs, the term “broken record” is fast becoming obsolete. I’m hoping most people still know what it means.

Even if the experience is not personal, most of us have heard the result of a scratched record. The needle gets hung in the scratch, the record keeps spinning, and the result is an annoying repetition of the same words—over and over…and over again.

It happens in writing, as well. Sometimes our characters’ repetitious actions make a reader crazy.

My heroes chuckle a lot. They grin when I can’t think of anything else for them to do. They love to “quirk” or “hike” an eyebrow. My ladies’ lips “curve upward in a smile” way too often.

I recently read a rough draft chapter for an author whose characters overused their hands. Every few sentences, an action tag involved the word “hands.” She wrung her hands. He ran a hand through his hair. Their hands touched. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. She placed a hand over her mouth.

Talk about your broken record! A whole book of that would have me breaking the record over the hero’s head.

A friend admitted that she uses coffee as a tool for too much of the action in her story. He poured himself a cup of coffee. She wrapped her cold fingers around the hot mug. He sipped the hot brew. She tasted the lukewarm liquid and set her cup back on the table. He put on another pot of coffee. If I consumed as much caffeine as these characters, I’d never sleep!

No author wants a reputation for being a broken record writer. I certainly don’t. So how can we avoid overusing expressions and actions to the point that our readers want to throw our books against the nearest wall?

People communicate their internal feelings in many different ways. Non-verbal communication can be one of a writer’s strongest tools, if used with discretion. According to some studies, body language accounts for fifty-five percent of communication, so we definitely should use it to make our characters more real. Experts have found that certain actions usually indicate specific frames of mind, though some are interchangeable.

Is she lying? These actions might give the reader a hint:

      Avoiding eye contact by looking down or away

      Using her hand to touch her face or head

      Holding something in front of her body, like a barrier

      Smiling insincerely (lips and mouth only, it won’t reach the eyes)

      Shuffling her feet

      Clenching her jaw

      Licking her lips

Has something captured his attention? Non-verbal signs might include:

      Direct eye contact

      A nod

      Tilted (or cocked) head

      Leaning forward

      Dilated pupils

Is your character bored? She will show it by:

      Turning her body slightly away

      Looking around, but not directly at the person or object of boredom

      Glancing at her watch

      Tapping her fingers or toes

      Shifting weight from one foot to the other

      Yawning

If she’s attracted to someone, she’ll do the following:

      Blink rapidly

      Lean toward the person she’s attracted to

      Mirror the other person’s actions

      Adjust her clothing; smooth her hair; clean her glasses (some form of unconscious preening)

      Stare

      Raise her eyebrows, even if only for a second or two

Is he undecided? He’ll probably:

      Stroke his chin, rub his cheek or forehead

      Scratch the back of his head or neck

      Narrow his eyes

      Purse his lips

      Tilt his head

      Wrinkle his nose

Nervous people might:

      Blink rapidly (Aha! Some actions are duplicated across multiple mindsets)

      Clear their throats

      Wring their hands

      Fidget

      Massage their temples

      Adjust their collars

      Cross their arms

      Clench their jaws or show other signs of muscle tension

Is your character angry? Describe it with:

      Clenched fists

      Frowning

      Baring teeth (snarling)

      Narrowing eyes

      Placing hands (or fists) on hips, feet spread

Have a hero who wants to dominate? He will:

      Walk in brisk strides

      Place his hands on his hips, and maybe spread his feet

      Raise his eyebrows

      Clasp his hands behind his head

      Narrow his eyes

A mountain of information is available on body language and its interpretations. If you’re in danger of too much repetition in your characters’ actions, a little Internet research could pay big dividends. Learn about body language and prevent your characters from becoming robotic and repetitive…your readers from going justifiably insane…and you from being a broken record writer.

© 2010 Delia Latham
Yesterday's Promise

Adam's Wings (coming 12/2010)

(Now, wasn't that just great!  I think I'll have to go pour myself another cup of coffee
and read that tip again. How about you?
Be assured, we always welcome your comments.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010


For the next few days we'll be blessed with a great thought or two from another of our contributors here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, Author Linore Rose Burkard, who stays busy at her computer creating inspirational romance for the Jane Austen soul. (I wonder if there's anyone who loves Jane Austen as much as I do!). Linore's characters take readers back in time to experience life and love during the Regency England era (circa 1800 - 1830).

Fans of Classic Romance, such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility, will find a kindred spirit in Linore's feisty heroine, Ariana Forsythe, who finds her heart and beliefs tested by high-society London.

If you haven't yet met Linore, I'm happy to share her with you now. She was raised in New York, where she graduated magna cum laude from the City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. She lives with her husband and five children in a town full of antique stores and gift shops in southwestern Ohio. Linore's hobbies include writing four new Regency novels, family movie nights, swimming, and gardening.

Linore will be with us on a regular basis here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, as she, too, offers her excellent writing tips for all of us who write and read.

Conflicting Advice 
(Writing Tip #3)
by Linore Rose Burkard

Everyone knows that a good novel has to have good conflict, right? But should it be internal conflict or external? Or should it be both? And, is there such a thing as good conflict?

Have no fear--my post today will give you all the "conflicting" advice you could want.

In all seriousness, yes, every good novel (or movie, or play) needs to have some juicy conflicts going. In a literary sense, all conflict is good, and the more layers of it you can keep juggling throughout your story, the better and more compelling the book will be.

But should it be external or internal, you ask? I try to use both in every book.

Heating Things Up ...

Internal conflict can be excruciating and is strong enough to carry a well-told story; however, it never hurts to add to the internal drama by heating things up outside your protagonist, too. In other words, layer on the external problems that amount to more conflict for your character(s).

Every conflict raises a question or two that your reader desperately wants answered. Such as:
  • How will this problem be solved?
  • What will happen to end this conflict?
  • Which will keep them reading
Before the end of the story, your job is to go back and make sure you have answered the questions, and you do this by solving the conflicts. If a conflict ends by chapter ten, create a new one.

Embedding Conflict

My published books are historicals, but I have written contemporaries, too, and embedding conflict is really part of plotting--no matter what genre you write in.If your novel is more action-driven, you are likely to use
more external conflict; if you write character-driven stories (as I do) you will have a great deal of internal conflict mixed with the external. When you can use both, you will have a powerful set-up that the reader will find compelling.

Just in case you're about to gnash your teeth because you still don't know the difference between internal and external conflict, I'll address that now. (I aim to please!)

Those Inner Churnings

Internal conflict is exactly what it sounds like: The inner churnings and workings of a mind that is torn; it is when a hero is attracted to a woman he thinks is all wrong for him; or when a heroine knows she ought to report the advances of a boss but fears retribution.

In my book, The Country House Courtship, the heroine is conflicted because she wants to marry a wealthy gentleman, but the man she is falling in love with is poor; he is of a much better character than the one who is rich, and she knows she ought to follow her heart, but her head is stubbornly holding out for the guy with the big fortune.

And this is what inner conflict is all about:
  • the head vs. the heart.
  • Reason vs. emotion.
  • Head-knowledge vs. heart-knowledge.
Whenever there is a disparity between what someone thinks they believe and what they really want, voila! You've got inner conflict.

What Happens on the Outside ...

External conflict is anything that happens outside of the character's head; for example, it could be anything from an earthquake to a chance meeting with an old enemy. It could be expectations from other people; deadlines; anything that happens TO or AROUND your character and causes trouble of some kind. In some novels, it's appropriate to have God be a source of conflict; If your character wants to do what's right but gives in to temptation, for example.

So there you have it.

Every good book must have good conflict, whether it be
  • the character vs. him or herself;
  • the character vs. the world (or some aspect of it);
  • the character vs. God.
Bring on the Layers!

How many layers of conflict can you include in your story? When it comes to fiction, bring it on! Keep a running tally sheet of how often you address each issue so that you don't inadvertently drop any of the balls you've thrown into the air, and finish smoothly by solving each and every problem!

You'll have a satisfied reader who can't wait to read your next book.

© 2010  Linore Rose Burkard The House in Grosvenor Square
Before the Seasons Ends
The Country House Courtship

(artwork borrowed from Photobucket)

Friday, September 10, 2010


She feels at home and at peace with the call to be a writer. Please join me in welcoming Lisa Lickel.
LL: Thank you for having me here today.

Who is Lisa Lickel?
Lisa is the daughter of a history teacher and a librarian who majored in history and Russian studies in college. She and her husband have two grown sons and lovely daughters-in-law. She lives in eastern Wisconsin and looks forward to the day when she and her husband retire to their farm in western Wisconsin. Lisa has been writing full time since 2005 and has numerous newspaper features, magazine articles, radio theater productions and three inspirational novels published so far. She's also the editor of Creative Wisconsin magazine, the artsy side of Wisconsin Regional Writers, and belongs to a couple of book clubs. For fun Lisa lives in the past with her historical societies, likes to quilt but says she hasn’t had time for it for a while, and travel.

SKC: We are anxious to hear about the project you’ve been working on this year, Lisa, what inspired you to write it, and when we will have the pleasure of seeing it, if it’s not yet out.

LL: The projects I’ve been working on this year are a trip back through time. I’ve taken the last two years off to market my novels that were released between February 2009 and February 2010. Although I started the third book in my cozy mystery series a year ago, I found that a little surgery and a lot of marketing have clashed against my desire to finish the book. Instead I’ve been editing and trying to market some of my earlier work. As of this past week, all of my earlier work, from the cozies to a romance to a literary piece to a paranormal series, are under consideration at various large and small publishers. I’m probably going to be really depressed this Christmas.

SKC: When did you know writing books would become the passion your heart and also your desire to help other writers?

LL: Attempting to write a whole book should have been a lot more daunting. I had taken the Christian Writer’s Guild apprentice course, and just as I was finishing, the first Operation: First Novel contest was announced. I decided to try it out and a couple of months later, voila, I had written 80,000 words in a somewhat coherent semblance. Amazing. When the manuscript reached the top ten of the 392 contestants, I was hooked on this writing craze thing. While I waited for the contest results, I wrote my second book (currently published as Healing Grace), and when I got my first agent contract and book contract about the same time two years later, I felt at home and at peace with the call to be a writer. For me, it’s natural that I help others. I struggle with hoping my advice works and worrying that I have no idea what I’m doing. Sitting down with Kathy Carton Willis of KCWC, the publicity firm, at a recent conference was a huge boost to my confidence.

SKC: And we all need that don't we. Besides that thought we all have to get our work published, what inspires you to keep going the most? Give us three things in the order of importance, if you will.

LL: Being published is a small step, really; it’s being read (by strangers lots of strangers), that’s the real goal of authors. My inspiration comes from: following the directives from the Lord in putting out thought-provoking and ever-growing in quality entertainment; being read by folks who reach out to tell me they appreciated my efforts; making my family proud of me.

SKC: Starting and ending a book is often the most difficult, for many writers. Describe how you begin and end your stories. If it’s easy, hard, seat-of-the-pants, or carefully thought out.

LL: For some weird reason often the end of the book comes first. For Healing Grace, the end of the story was tantamount. Although I started with a mystery of sorts (that subsequent critique partners nixed), the end of the story came all at once with perfect clarity one morning. I had to ask a friend if the particular way Grace and God worked things out was believable and on line with matters of faith before I could finish the rest of the story. On the other hand, both Meander Scar and a book I hope to see out next year had such difficult endings that I still wonder if I did the right thing. The same wonderful reader of Grace made all the difference in the world to Meander Scar when she said that we need more stories about how it’s not right for Christian men to leave their women. After that, the ending fell into place while the rest of the story had been together quite a while. On the whole, I prefer to plot out my stories to the end, develop a synopsis and work from there while being extremely flexible if my characters throw me for a loop.

SKC: What do you believe is the KEY to writing a good book?


LL: Writing and reading books are different things. As I’ve published more books, I realize that writing a story from your gut and writing a story that will touch many readers don’t always walk hand in hand. Writing a book takes determination; writing a good book takes constant growth in craft. Writers must be able to participate in their education by being willing to listen to a lot of criticism both positive and negative, and act on it.

SKC: What do you do when you discover your daily writing time and time spent with other writers begins to interfere with your family time or quality time with God?

LL: That is an awesome question and a point I struggle with pretty much hourly. Because I work at home, there are lines I have to draw and cross constantly. Other writers simply go elsewhere when they have deadlines, like the coffee shop or library. I may have to do that someday, but right now I’m glad to be able to write for a while, then get up and go some housework. The other day I started right in on a project as soon as I woke up, mumbled good-bye to my husband and didn’t stop to brush my hair or get dressed until four o’clock. Those days aren’t my prouder moments because I realize too late that, while I pray constantly, I didn’t take even fifteen minutes to soak up some of the Word. The phone call thing is a whole ‘nother issue. With family and friends knowing I’m available, and part of the reason I’m home is to be available when I’m needed, I feel I have to answer calls right away in case of emergency. We don’t have some of the nice amenities like caller ID and even broadband where I live, so when the phone rings and I’m in the middle of a sentence, I start to quake.

SKC: Oh, that makes me laugh. You sound so much like me!  Tell us, why do so many authors have a difficult time coming up with their proposals?


LL: Too true thought. For my purposes, I’ll define “proposal” as that requested material resulting from a positive “query.” A proposal is a commitment. Many, many of us have trouble committing in some form or other, whether it’s what to make for dinner, which outfit to let your kid wear to where to go on vacation or whom to query, trying to make ourselves look not just good but excellent can be a scary prospect. How to write about yourself and your work without sounding maniacal or sorry? And once you’ve written it, how can you honestly think someone will believe you? And if they believe you, can you really make all that stuff you said come true? Can you sell more than a thousand books?

Being an author is like most other professions that deal with people: if you’re simply allowed to do the parts you like best or are good at and not have to mess with the paper work or the other people on the food chain, life would be so much nicer.

SKC: What plans do you have in 2011 which is just around the corner?

LL: Woo-hoo! Scary and welcome. Any plans have to be amenable for me. At the moment I don’t have an agent so I’m the one in charge of attempting to levitate my career. I try at any given moment to have at least three projects or pieces of projects (AKA proposals) in the works, so that if something does work out, I have to be able to work on the project that has the most people counting on me. I will be teaching a course on the Nuts and Bolts of Submission for the ACFW course loop but I don’t know when (man, hope it isn’t January, but if it is, that’s okay), I’ll continue marketing my books, I have a short story in Harpstring Magazine, I’ll have editions of Creative Wisconsin to put out and more projects to edit for the small press companies I am fortunate to work with. I also keep up with the industry trends by providing reviews for publishers, review sites, publicity companies and individual authors, interview others, blog with a couple of group sites like FavoritePASTimes.blogspot and Reflectionsinhindsight.wordpress; hope to get my all Wisconsin blogsite fully functioning at WisconsinAuthorReview.blogspot and invite everyone, readers and writers alike, to come and have fun with us at Clash of the Titles, a fun new contest and information site at http://clashofthetitles.com. Our first contest is on October 18.

SKC: This blog, A Pen for Your Thoughts, is an opportunity for all of us to share our thoughts about any particular subject. What is one of your favorite subjects? It could be about your style of writing, about a believer’s walk, whatever. And if you have a book to offer one of our readers, what would you ask them about that subject to help me draw a name as the winner?

LL: I dither over which book to offer! However, let’s go with the expensive one, Meander Scar. The story line deals with seeing the truth, finding it, acting on it, deciding if there’s a time and place where telling the truth might not be in everyone’s best interest. While I am a firm believer in the truth, even times of omission that may or may not the same as telling an outright lie, I think brutal truths meant to hurt are never acceptable. Is there a time when you thought withholding the truth might be the kindest act? Have you ever done that and what happened?

SKC: Wonderful question for us to ponder. Thank you. It has been a joy having you here! And thanks for being willing to donate a book to one of the viewers. Please tell our readers where they can find you and your books and your writing helps online. And God bless you for being a part of the blog!

LL: It’s been a pleasure to be here. You really go after the deepest thoughts! My books range from the light cozy mystery Gold Standard from Barbour Publishing, found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to the little meatier slightly paranormal (who’da guessed the Holy Spirit counts as paranormal) Healing Grace, available in several electronic forms, Kindle, Barnes and Noble to the romance that’ll melt your socks, Meander Scar, also available in electronic forms, Kindle and soon, Nook, Amazon print and Barnes and Noble. Please visit my website, http://lisalickel.com/, some of my hangouts: www.facebook.com/lisalickel; www.shoutlife.com/lisalickel, www.goodreads.com/lisalickel, http://reflectionsinhindsight.wordpress.com/ , http://favoritepastimes.blogspot.com/ , http://wisconsinauthorreview.blogspot.com/  and watch for the upcoming release of Harpstring Magazine from Written World Communications.

And I’d love to see you next year for the Nuts and Bolts of Submission course at ACFW, the course loop.

We'll watch for that, Lisa.

Okay. Check out the question above. And remember, when you reply, be sure to include your email address for me. We look forward to hearing from you. HOPE YOU WIN!

Congratulations to Marianne Evans of Royal Oak, MI. I know you're going to love the book!
To all the others who were so faithful to write in. KEEP TRYING. We continue to offer wonderful books, and one day YOUR NAME might be drawn!

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Never Too Soon to Think About Christmas, Is It?

Vickie McDonough is another award-winning inspirational romance author I'm looking forward to sharing with you this week. She has had 16 novels and novellas published. Her Heartsong books, The Bounty Hunter and the Bride and Wild At Heart both placed third in the Top Ten Favorite Historical Romance category in Heartsong Present’s annual readers’ contests. (Congratulations, Vickie!)
Her stories frequently place in national contests, such as the ACFW Book of the Year contest and the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest. The first book in her first long fiction series, Texas Boardinghouse Brides, will release next year.

Vickie has also written books reviews for over eight years. She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons, and grandma to a feisty three-year-old girl. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, gardening, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website: http://www.vickiemcdonough.com/

SDC: Lots of great info there, Vickie. Thanks for the wonderful update. What book or project would you like to tell us about today?

VM: Wild West Christmas is an anthology collection. It contains four novellas by four authors(Lena Nelson Dooley, Kathleen Y’Barbo, Darlene Franklin & me), and they all focus on the Ames sisters, who live on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Each sister has a special talent such as roping or tracking, and since there are no boys in the family, the sisters help run their father’s ranch.

My story is titled A Breed Apart, and my heroine is named Sarah. Her passion is training horses, and she’s an expert at it. Her father wants her to be more like her oldest sister and learn to tend the home, but Sarah hates being inside doing womanly things. When her pa hires half-breed Carson Romero to replace her, Sarah almost loses her identity. When cattle go missing soon after Carson’s arrival, she suspects him to be an outlaw. But as she watches Carson, she realizes he has a gift for working with horses and a unique style. Intrigued, she wants to know more. Is it possible for a man so talented to also be an outlaw?

SDC: Sounds GREAT! What inspired you to come up writing this genre?

VM When I was growing up, cowboy shows were big on TV, and I loved them. I also had a passion for horses, and even though I grew up in the city, I talked my parents into buying several different horses during my teen years. When I got older and had kids, I discovered Christian fiction and have been devouring it ever since. So when I started writing, it just felt natural to write historicals. I do have two contemporary stories published—one book and one novella—but my passion is historical Christian romance.

SDC: I might have asked you this before, but I think I will again, because others like to know. Are you in any Groups that help you in your writing? If so, tell us about them and the books you use for helps.

VM Yes, I’ve been a member of ACFW(American Christian Fiction Writers) since 2001, which is the year I first started writing. I credit this group for my being published. I learned how to write from their online classes and being in critique groups with other ACFW members. I’m also a member of several local writing groups, one which is an ACFW chapter called WIN (Writers of Inspirational Novels).

I learn better from hearing speakers teach about writing than I do from reading books, but two books that have helped me are Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon and also Heroes and Heroines, 16 Master Archetypes. Can’t remember the authors to that one—there are three of them.

SDC: I'm not familiar with any of those. THANKS for the info. What advice do you have for other new authors coming into the field of writing?

VM: Don’t get too anxious to see your first book published. It takes time and lots of practice to become a good writer. Think how much education is required to become a lawyer or doctor. Writers tend to think they can just pump out a story and someone will beg to buy it. A book has to be marketable. The story has to have an audience. Study all you can about writing, attend conferences, take classes at your local community college, read writing books, study your favorite writers to see what they’re doing in their books, and study publisher guidelines before sending in a manuscript.

SDC: I couldn't agree more, Vickie. I also remember how I felt the day my first book came out. It didn't do for me what I thought it would at all. Because, like you say, you STILL have to have an audience! What do you think it takes to write a good book? Do you have any secrets?

VM For one, it takes a lot of hard work and time. It’s important to learn the rules of writing, such as the correct pov to use, how to show instead of telling, writing active vs. passive. Do I have secrets? Hmm…just keep writing. Practice. Finish a book, and then start another one. Get involved with other writers, whether online or locally. Just keep at it even if you get a rejection. All published authors get rejections. It’s part of the business.

SDC: Do you read other books besides inspirational? If so, how do they help you in your craft? If not, why not?

VM: I read mainly Christian novels, but there are a couple of historical authors I read who aren’t inspirational writers: Jodi Thomas and Linda Lael Miller mainly. They write such excellent historicals with a western flare and reading them helps me keep in the time-period I’m writing, and they give me a cowboy fix. They both are masters at writing creative methors.

SDC: I'vew never read Jodi Thomas, but I, like you, really enjoy Linda Lael Miller. She has a wonderful way with words. If you were to ask a reader what they were looking for in a book. Would you take her or his advice to come up with a premise?

VM It would depend on what that premise was. I can’t write about everything and don’t want to. I know little about doctors or hospitals, or lawyers and court. Have you heard: “Write what you know?” That’s what I did, especially at first. However, I have started moving out of my initial comfort zone and written about some locales that I know little about, like North Dakota. I did a lot of studying for my proposal for a three-book series, and when it sold, my husband and I took a trip up there. We just got back from another research trip to South Carolina, where I’ll be setting a series that will debut next year. So, I guess my answer to your question would be that it depends on what the reader wanted.

SDC: Where can your books be found?

VM: The easiest place to get my books is online at http://www.christianbook.com/ or http://www.amazon.com/ If anyone would like an autographed copy, they can email me at fictionfan1@cox.net  for information. Sometimes you can find my books in Christian bookstores and occasionally at Wal-Mart.

SDC: What other question would you ask of a reader that might help you in the writing of a book? Why don’t you ask it now? (Since you are offering to give out a book as a donation to one of our guests, we’ll use it as a thought for them to reflect upon. Okay?)

VM  I’d love to know what readers expect when they read a Christian historical romance. Do you expect lots of action or a more laid back story? Do you like some sensuality in a Christian romance or prefer to keep the romance very light? Do you have a favorite setting for historicals?

One more thing, I’ve mentioned my book Wild West Christmas, but I’d also like readers to know that I have another Christmas book out called A Blue and Gray Christmas. It’s also four novellas by four authors (Carrie Turansky, Tamela Hancock Murray, Lauralee Bliss, & me) and the stories are set during and shortly after the Civil War.

I’m in the process of setting up an email mailing list so that I can send out a quarterly newsletter and announce new releases. If you’d like to be on my email list, please send me a note at fictionfan1@cox.net  with your email address.

Thank you for joining us at A Pen for Your Thoughts!

Thank you so much for allowing me to be a guest.

For the rest of you. See the wonderful thoughts Vickie's given us to ponder. I look forward to reading your responses. Don't forget to leave your email address. And I hope it is YOU I select to win a book.

A Pen for Your Thoughts congratulates Cherie Japp of Pensacola, Florida who has won a copy of Vickie McDonough's Christmas Book. That's awesome, Cherie. I know you'll love it!

Pensacola, FL 32526

Saturday, September 4, 2010

There's only ONE Melanie.

I've been getting a sneak preview of this. I hope you are too.

Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor's degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She taught children with special needs in Georgia and Tennessee, and she taught English in Germany and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama. Visit her on the web at http://www.melaniedickerson.com/.

SDC: As my roommate last year at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference and a dear friend, I’m excited, Melanie, to be able to share you with the world in the next few days. Fairy Tales do come true, I see. Tell us about yours, Melanie.

MD: Hi, Shirley! Thanks so much for having me on your blog! Long time no see! ;-)

The last year has been very much like a fairy tale! First there was the villain in the form of crushing rejections and a bleak outlook as far as this book was concerned. Then there was the “magical” meeting with my fairy godmother—I mean, my future agent—at the ACFW Conference last year. And I felt like Cinderella going to the ball just being at that conference, since I got a scholarship at the last minute! Then, just when I was beginning to despair again, I got the call in November saying Zondervan was going to publish my book! They pushed the wedding—I mean, the release date—up to September 3rd so that I could participate in the booksigning at this year’s ACFW Conference! Yes, it’s definitely been like a fairy tale dream come true!

SDC: I know you really went through a lot to find that perfect publisher for you, Melanie. What made you believe so strongly that you had a story worth picking up?

MD: I kept believing in this story, even after three years of trying to find a publisher, for lots of different reasons, but mainly it boiled down to the fact that this was my favorite story. I’d written four books, and although I love all my stories and characters, this was the one that just clicked when I was writing it. Everything seemed to fall into place so perfectly. The plot pieces fit together, the characters were so vivid to me, and I just loved it. I truly believed it was going to get published—eventually! And, this will sound weird to some people, but I felt like God had told me it was going to get published, and by a major publisher, although he never told me when!

SDC: What audience do you enjoy writing the most for, and why?

MD: I love writing for the young adult audience. They have very strong opinions about what they like and dislike, but they’re also so enthusiastic! They truly savor a story and characters, and it’s very satisfying when they “get” you!

SDC: I've been reading your brand new book and I can see where it fits almost anywhere! How realistic is your kind of writing? And what was the key to getting started and staying with it?

MD: I try to be completely realistic. Even though a lot of people have seen the cover of my book, read the back cover blurb and come to the conclusion that this book is a fantasy, it’s not. I believe everything that happens in my stories could have actually happened. I do lots of research and try to get all my facts right. And I try to make sure characters’ actions and feelings are justified, that that person would actually do that deed or say that line of dialogue in that situation, according to human nature and their personality and their past experiences, which have shaped them.

SDC: I think it's important to be ralistic too, or at least as much as one can be. How did you select your favorite characters in this story, Melanie? How would you do so in any story?

MD: The characters and the story usually evolve together. The story determines the characters, to some extent, and vice-versa. The character can change the story, but in my mind they are always meshing. I don’t know if that makes sense! But I like to have a heroine that I can truly like and sympathize with, and a hero who is truly heroic.

SDC: Why do you think it’s so important to write for a Christian Market? And do you believe your book would be well read by a secular audience as well?

MD: I love writing for the Christian market, but I would have also been happy if this book had been picked up by a secular publisher, as long as they would have allowed me the freedom to let my characters stay true to their faith in God.

I do believe my book will appeal to a secular audience. It appeals to fans of fairy tale retellings, and if my book happens to be the first Christian book they’ve read, I just hope they will be intrigued and will enjoy it. 
SDC: I'm glad to hear that you are open to both. So many aren't for some reason. How does romance play a part in your book? And how did you deal with that?

MD: Romance is a major part of the plot. In fact, I didn’t realize I was a romance writer until I got the idea for this book! But the fact is, God invented romance, it’s a part of our lives, and young people, my target audience, will encounter it and will need to know how to be wise in that area. I wanted to show a healthy way to fall in love, and I wanted to show that you can’t always trust your feelings or your friends. You have to trust God and his plan for you. And, don’t go for the playboy who flirts but then isn’t committed. Marry the good guy who’s stable and loves God!

SDC: What kind of reading material do you look to that you believe helps you with your style of writing?

MD: You know, I don’t really think what a writer reads influences that writer’s style very much. I know a lot of people say it’s very important what you read, but it’s really hard to say where a person’s style comes from. I took a very long hiatus from reading fiction, and so when I started writing again, and started writing this book, I hadn’t read much popular fiction. When I was growing up I read so many classics, and read some secular romances as a teen, but did my style come from those influences? It’s probably impossible to say.

SDC: We are thrilled that you are willing to donate a copy of one of your books to one of our readers. Will you give us a short excerpt from your book to entice our interest?

MD: In this historical romance loosely based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, a woodcutter's daughter becomes the town healer's apprentice. Rose's job is to care for the sick and injured in Hagenheim Castle. But she gets sick at the sight of blood and is more suited to making up stories than sewing up wounds. She is determined to overcome her weakness and prove herself a competent healer, or she faces marrying a disgusting old merchant her mother has picked out for her.

Lord Hamlin, the future ruler of the region, is injured and Rose must overcome her squeamishness to save him. He is everything that is noble and good, but loving him is forbidden. He is already betrothed to a mysterious woman in hiding. With two noble-born brothers vying for her affections, Rose learns that the people of Hagenheim are not always who they seem.

SDC: After you tell the readers where they can find your books and look you up, what question you would like one of our visitors to answer to help me select a winner?

Please find me at http://www.melaniedickerson.com/  and say hello! I have a lot of information there, including the wonderful book trailer Zondervan had made for my book. It’s like a little movie! Please check it out.

So, I want to hear from you. Have you ever had a dream come true, a goal you’ve worked for, or something you’ve dreamed of happening coming to fruition? Maybe it was getting married, or landing a dream job, or graduating from college. Do tell!

READERS: Be sure to answer Melanie’s question above to try to win a copy of her book! We're looking forward to hearing from you., And you DON'T want to miss out on this one!

Casey Herringshaw of Burns, Oregon, says she is thrilled and excited to have won a copy of Melanie's debut book. Congratulations, Casey. Be watching for it after Melanie returns from the conference.