Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Reasonable Life

Author Kimberli McKay offers an alternative view on encouraging writers.

We are a culture of encouragers. Artists who advise the young to go ahead, chase that dream.

But should we?

I’m not suggesting we crush aspirations beneath the boot heel of our experience. I’m saying encouraging others to chuck it all to reach their writing goals may not be the wisest advice we who have trudged the road to publication can give. A conclusion I reached after a lifetime of longing to write and fourteen years of concentrated effort toward that goal. When my husband began attending seminary, I had the time and means to finally pursue my dream of getting published. I worked during the day and wrote in the evening. And when my husband was called to a church in eastern North Carolina, instead of finding a job on the economy, I became a self-employed writer.

Over the years, I won a few awards, published a few articles while working on novels, attended writers’ conferences, and met some wonderful people. When the criteria for Christian fiction changed to widen the audience and boost sales, I published independently.

But at what cost? When I looked at my life and the lives of my comrades in arms, battered and bruised by constant rejection and concern as to whether a (or another) contract would come, and drained financially by the costs our business incurs, I wondered if the path we had taken was the best way to go. By comparison, people around me who had maintained steady jobs, whether their collar be blue or white, were the ones building up savings, purchasing new cars, and taking cruises, while my job kept chipping away at our bank account.

It isn’t about the money, some may counter. It’s about the craft.

That’s fine, but we can still be practical, earning a living while honing that craft and our stories. Just recently, a teenager told me she wanted to be a writer. I expressed my pleasure and then proceeded to suggest she go to college, get a solid education and then a career she'll enjoy. One that will pay the bills. She could still write and be brilliant at it, but with over eleven million books available on Amazon (210,017 of which were released in the last thirty days as of this writing) she’ll need a steady income to sustain her.

I could sense the girl’s disappointment (and her mother’s relief) but traditional publishers only publish so many titles each year. Switching to indie to get that book "out there" includes hiring an editor, a cover artist, a formatter if an author is unfamiliar with the formatting process, and paying for numerous, often expensive ads. It's costly enough for one book, but to bring in a somewhat consistent income, authors need to publish new books often and then continually market those releases. And that takes money.

We can dream all we want, but instead of encouraging young people to chase those dreams, we should tell them while the world will always need good books, it also needs nurses, respiratory therapists, park rangers, engineers, and more. And to live a reasonable life as an author, a writer needs a job that will help them support themselves, their families, and their writing career.

Kimberli is the author of Dash of Pepper, part of the Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection and more. In addition to writing, her hobbies include genealogy, knitting, and the study of Carolina history. She resides in eastern North Carolina where her husband has served as senior pastor for nearly ten years.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Miracle in a Dry Season: A Book Review

Sarah Loudin Thomas was unknown to me before I read Miracle in a Dry Season. Now Ms. Thomas has another fan for life.

The small town of Wise, West Virginia, is much like other towns in 1954--conservative, quiet, gossipy. When Perla Long comes to stay with her aunt and uncle with her little girl, Sadie, she's seeking anonymity and peace. But the rumors follow her like an unwanted dog that tags along and makes messes along the way. Perla has a secret, and the townspeople of Wise are more than willing to not only seek out the truth, or their version of it, but also shame Perla as best they can.

Casewell Phillips is a bachelor who never found a compelling reason to marry and have a family. He wants it, but just never found a woman with whom he was willing to share the rest of his life. When he sees Perla and her little girl, he's drawn to both of them, but senses something in Perla's past that keeps him at his distance.

Perla has an uncanny skill in the kitchen. Not only can she prepare mouth-watering meals with just about any ingredients on hand, she always seems to have more than enough food no matter how many people she's serving. She longs to hide that ability, but a severe drought that summer brings her, her daughter, and her strange ability to the forefront of the town's collective consciousness. Midst the anxiety caused by failing crops, dried-up wells, and dying livestock, the residents divide into two camps: those who appreciate Perla's ability and are grateful for her generous nature and those who think she's a witch. Among them is the town's hellfire and brimstone preacher, Pastor Longbourne, who insists Perla's gift with food can only be from the devil, and her past makes her a harlot.

Not everyone lines up against Perla. Casewell sees her for the gentle soul she is, and finds himself falling in love with both Perla and her precious little girl. Others--the town drunk with a strange past that links him to the spinster twin sisters in town, along with Perla's devoted aunt and uncle are among those who know there's no evil in the young woman. As for Perla herself, she knows she's falling for Casewell Phillips, but also knows she's not good enough for him--at least in her eyes.

Miracle in a Dry Season is a well-written, gentle story of a small town in crisis. I look forward to reading more work from Sarah Loudin Thomas and can heartily recommend this book to all readers.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tales Of Denial

An Ode to Rejection

When I was a fresh/brash/new/eager young Author

With “How to” manuals in hand
I mimed another fame-hunting writer
Who sought a hundred rejections a year

A hundred misses means offering your self/words/blood/Rear
On the block of publication land
Where said buyer must be hungry for your wares
No backsies, no buts, no artificial sweeteners allowed

Humorous essays on fighting bugs/papering the ceiling/lost in a Crowd
Net me “loved it, just bought one like it
“No thanks, “why are you writing a query
“Just send it, “not my taste, “too early, “too late, “lost in the mail”

Agent queries result in okays/nays/maybes; all a Travail
Rarely a bite, never a shield, little cheer
“No passion, “can’t get behind it, “send a different one
“Do this, fix that, format like so, put this scene here,” no word

Publisher wish lists call for new age/space operas/tropes/AngryBirds
I pitch an old series, they ask for the full first,
Reluctantly I agree, say it’s dated, needs work which I’ll do
They say “no blood, needs more sex, I like it, but…it’s dated

Masochism keeps us humble while self-publishing is Debated
Sometimes it’s not me, it’s the process/timing/mood/publisher call
As long as we Authors seek approval from Strangers
We accept feeling like Sticking an Icepick in our Eyes

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Friday, May 12, 2017

RISE, How a House Built a Family by Cara Brookins

by Cara Brookins
St. Martin's Press
January 24, 2017

Book Information: 
After escaping an abusive marriage, Cara Brookins had four children to provide for and no one to turn to but herself. In desperate need of a home but without the means to buy one, she did something incredible. 

Equipped with only YouTube instructional videos, a small bank loan, and a mile-wide stubborn streak, Cara built her own house from the foundation up with a work crew made up of her four children. 

It would be the hardest thing she had ever done. With no experience nailing together anything bigger than a bookshelf, she and her kids poured concrete, framed the walls, and laid bricks for their two story, five bedroom house. She had convinced herself that if they could build a house, they could rebuild their broken family. 

This must-read memoir traces one family's rise from battered victims to stronger, better versions of themselves, all through one extraordinary do-it-yourself project. 

My Comments:
I've known Cara a long time and knew her during this time of her life. She is not only stubborn, she is brave. Today she inspires others to build bigger lives. I highly recommend this book!

Cara Brookins is a computer analyst and social media marketing expert based in Little Rock. She is the author of seven middle grade and young adult novels as well as one adult novel. You can read more about her at

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Uncluttering Your Writing Style, guest post by Sci-Fi author, Yvonne Anderson

Though I’ve been at this writing thing for a few years, I’m continually reminded I have much more to learn.

And re-learn. 

It seems we never have anything down pat.

When we’re babies, once we get up off the floor and walk—or talk—or throw food—we never forget how.  Once humans learn the skills, they perform them ever after without thought. As writers, however (as opposed to humans), even after we mature in our skill, we must always be careful to not slip back into our old childish ways.

My husband and I recently moved from a house to an apartment. As you might imagine, this required some painful soul-searching in regard to what we need to bring with us. In 2013, we downsized from a large house to a small one, and thought we’d gotten rid of all the nonessentials. But, no. We had only begun to rid out the stuff.

The “stuff” of writing, of course, is words. And just as we have to avoid cluttering our homes, we must be aware of the problem of word-clutter in our writing. We become attached to our wordiness; we find it painful to toss our favorite phrases in the recycle bin. But seriously, it’s amazing how much cleaner our prose can without all the precious ornamentation under which we tend to bury it.

In his book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser states that, "fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind." Having been a gardener before becoming an apartment dweller, I understand the analogy well. Keeping our writing neat and trim requires constant vigilance.

Like weeds, writing clutter can take a number of forms, including but not limited to:

  • redundancies (using two descriptors, as in, “a tiny little insect”); 
  • familiar clich├ęs we tend not to think about (“I have never been so frightened in my entire life”); 
  • unwieldy phrases that are ingrained in our daily speech (“Tell me in your own words”);
  • over-explaining in description (no example necessary; you know what I mean);
  • telling the reader why a character does something (example: He hid behind a tree so she wouldn’t see him.”)
  • reiterating the events of the story, lest the reader forget what’s going on.

These are like streaks on a window. The more you wipe, the more you see.

Moving from a house to an apartment wasn’t the first eye-opening experience I’ve had recently. Several months before, I moved from working on a multi-book series to writing a 20,000-word novella.

Writing a novella is a little like apartment living. (Or worse yet, like living in a tiny house.) You need all the essentials, but only the essentials; and those basics should be small and compact. You need to lay it out cleverly. And the story, like a building’s frame, must be solid and strong enough to stand on its own without relying on frippery (don’t you love that word?) or false fronts. 

Writing a novella is an exercise in uncluttering one’s writing style. Ordinarily when drafting, I tend to disgorge a pile of indecorous stuff on the page, then go back with a bucket of bleach water and clean up after myself. When drafting the novella, however, I had to keep it clean from the start. It would be too much work otherwise! Though that was an unfamiliar concept for me, I found the minimalist experience oddly satisfying.

I hope you will, too, when I share the result of the exercise. My first published piece of contemporary fiction, "First Love," is one of seven novellas in the soon-to-be-released Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection scheduled to be released right quick by a group of my writer friends. Seven authors wrote seven stories with the connecting theme of tiny houses.  I hope you’ll check it out. The book’s not tiny, but it’s packed with a houseful of fun.

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world.

Usually, that means out of this world and into outer space, or to another planet, as in her acclaimed Gateway to Gannah series. (Book 1, The Story in the Stars, was an ACFW Carol Award finalist in 2012.)

Also this year, she’s launching a new multi-phase adventure, The Four Lives of Jemma Freeman. As with the Gannah series, the story is set on a fictional planet, but the characters are human. Very human. You probably know some of them. 

Look for the first part of Book 1, Stillwaters, coming soon on ebook.

Find Yvonne at these sites:


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Friday, May 5, 2017

The Scarlet Cord by Carlene Havel


The Scarlet Cord
By Carlene Havel and Sharon Faucheux
Prism Book Group, September 2014
Biblical Fiction

ISBN 978-1940099699
Print $13.99
Ebook $3.99

About the Book:
Rahab, a resourceful beauty, struggles to survive in the pagan culture of ancient Jericho. As years of harsh labor begin to lift her and her family from poverty, a foreign army threatens the well-fortified city. Rahab is forced to make an immediate decision. Will she put her faith in the fabled walls of Jericho or the powerful God of the Hebrews? Either choice may cost her life.

My review:
Wonderfully researched, beautifully written, lovingly shared…this version of the story of one of the more elusive biblical characters is a treat for those who love fiction based on short facts known about documented people.

Rahab, called by several discourteous terms in the account of Joshua’s capture of the city of Jericho. She is a sympathetic person, and perhaps her family and descendants embody acceptance and forgiveness, mercy and love in a way the pen strokes of God’s law do not.

Canaanites occupying the Promised Land were wary of the mysterious Hebrew tribes, escaped former slaves from Egypt, marching across the land, conquering mighty kingdoms in their way, worshiping an unseen and powerful force. Rumors were rampant, and when their path led through the mighty city of Jericho, only one family was destined for salvation.
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

New Christian Releases for May!

May 2017 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Amish Brides by Jennifer Beckstrand, Molly Jebber, Amy Lillard -- Under bright blue skies, wedding bells ring--fulfilling sweet dreams, impossible wishes, and joyous new beginnings among these three new stories. (Contemporary Romance from Kensington Publishers)

Sprouts of Love by Valerie Comer -- An overzealous community garden manager delivers more than the food bank manager can handle. Can love sprout amid the tsunami of vegetables? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Summer Dreams by Delia Latham -- God's love...reflected in the waters of the Pacific, and in the eyes of a young couple who walk its moonstone shores. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

Right Where We Belong by Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, Courtney Walsh -- Three sweet stories of small-town romance by three tried-and-true authors. Whether in a quaint home bakery in Langhorne, Missouri, a cozy boho coffee shop in Maple Valley, Iowa, or a charming lakeside cottage in Sweethaven, Michigan, love grows best in small towns just like this! (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

A Spring of Weddings by Toni Shiloh and Melissa Wardwell -- Two Spring wedding novellas, "A Proxy Wedding," and "Hope Beyond Savannah." (Contemporary Romance from Celebrate Lit Publishing)

True to You by Becky Wade -- Former Navy SEAL John Lawson hires genealogist Nora Bradford to help him to uncover the identity of his birth mother. As they work side-by-side, this pair of opposites begins to suspect that they just might be a perfect match. (Contemporary Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

Cozy Mystery:

What the Bishop Saw by Vannetta Chapman -- A fire blazes out of control in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, leaving an elderly, Amish bachelor dead. Bishop Henry Lapp rushes to the scene, and he learns the fire was no accident. When the police point the finger at a suspect Henry knows is innocent, the bishop must decide whether or not to use his mysterious, God-given gift—one he's tried desperately to ignore all these years—to try and set the record straight. (Contemporary Romance from Harvest House Publishers)

General Contemporary:

A Season to Dance by Patricia Beal -- The heart wrenching love story of a small town professional ballerina who dreams of dancing at the Met in New York, of the two men who love her and of the forbidden kiss that changed everything. (General Contemporary from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman -- A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations. (General Contemporary from Waterfall Press)


Blind Ambition by Carol Ashby -- What began as a bored man's decision to try a different road turns into an emotional and spiritual quest that changes the direction of his entire life. (Historical from Cerrillo Press)

Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette -- A broken and bitter Canaanite woman dresses as a man to fight against the invading Hebrews, never expecting that she would live to be captured and married to one of her enemies, and certainly not to find love and healing among the very people who killed her family. (Biblical/Historical from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

Historical Romance:

The Secret Admirer Romance Collection by Amanda Barratt, Lorraine Beatty, Molly Noble Bull, Anita Mae Draper, CJ Dunham, Jennifer Uhlarik, Becca Whitham, Kathleen Y'Barbo, Penny Zeller -- Shy expressions of love lead to nine historical romances. Declaring one’s love can be hard--even risky--especially when faced with some of life's greatest challenges. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Noble Servant by Melanie Dickerson -- She lost everything to an evil conspiracy . . . but that loss may just give her all she ever wanted. (Historical Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

My Heart Belongs in Ruby City, Idaho: Rebecca's Plight by Susanne Dietze -- It’s a mail-order disorder when newlyweds realize they've married the wrong partners with similar names. An annulment seems in order--and fast. But when the legalities take longer than expected, Rebecca Rice wonders if Tad Fordham wasn’t the right husband for her all along. . . . (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Love So True by Melissa Jagears -- They begin with the best of intentions, but soon the complications pile up and Evelyn and David's dreams look more unattainable every day. When the revelation of a long-held secret creates a seemingly insurmountable rift between them, can they trust God still has a good plan for them despite all that is stacked against them? (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

Road to Harmony by Sherry Kyle -- When Jonas returns to Harmony, Elena's heart is torn between her secret love, and the storeowner her parents hope she marries. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Hills of Nevermore by Janalyn Voigt -- Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish preacher bent on helping her survive? (Historical Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

Romantic Suspense:

Fatal Mistake by Susan Sleeman -- Each day could be her last...but not if he can help it. An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in bestselling author Susan Sleeman's riveting romantic suspense novel. (Romantic Suspense from Faith Words [Hachette])
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Monday, May 1, 2017

Signs of a Great Story

After months of planning, re-planning, worrying, scurrying, saving, spending, searching, packing, cleaning, and worrying some more, we're finally in Alaska--Eagle River, Alaska, to be precise, about ten miles north of Anchorage. My daughter found a wonderful job in a veterinary clinic in Anchorage, and since we loved Alaska the first time we were here when her husband was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, we decided to return.
If you look closely, you'll see me waving at the very top of this
mountain after fifteen hours of climbing in freezing temps and
blizzard conditions. Wait, that's not me. That's a tree. And no,
I didn't climb it. I lied.

There is simply NO quick way to reach Alaska. You either drive for eight or ten days, twelve hours at a stretch, or fly. We flew. Thirteen hours, two layovers, and thousands of miles later, we reached our destination. Fortunately, Delta had individual televisions at each seat (something I've never experienced before when flying to and from Alaska because I always flew CCC Airlines--Cheap, Chintzy, and Crowded). Over the course of the day I was able to watch two movies, one of which, Signs, is an all-time favorite of mine. Although I know every word of dialogue and have seen it at least fifteen times, something struck me this time that I'd never noticed before. 

Signs is the perfect movie to watch if you're looking for great examples of backstory, foreshadowing, and plot development. Maybe it hit me 35,000 feet in the air precisely because I know it forward and backward and was free to appreciate it from the creative point of view. Maybe it was just the altitude. In any event, I realized what a skillful production it was on so many levels: acting, directing, and writing. I could watch Mel Gibson brush his teeth and be entertained. He and Joaquin Phoenix were brilliant together, and Cherry Jones as the police officer lent just the perfect touch of seriousness. The kids, played by Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin, were adorable. Douglas Aibel was responsible for casting the movie, and he did a superb job if it. M. Knight Shyamalan was great as Ray Reddy, the veterinarian who has a mysterious tie to the Hess family, and also wrote and directed the movie.

I wanted to give credit to those who, for me, at least, were paramount in bringing such an excellent example of what great writing (and subsequently, acting) can do for the viewer. The same, though, can be said of authors of books that grab our attention, the ones we want to read over and over to savor something a bit different each time. The foreshadowing in Signs, which was also used as backstory, was brilliant. Even though the arrival of aliens and how the Hess family handled the invasion was the focal point of the story, the backstory was intertwined beautifully and skillfully and turned out to be every bit as important as any other part of the movie.

My goal as a writer is the same as every writer's--to make our stories as memorable and adeptly crafted as possible. The careful use of backstory, without bogging down the reader, as well as skillful foreshadowing can make our stories unforgettable. Many times these opportunities occur during the editing period when we know our story inside and out and realize something important is missing. I know I'll be extra careful from now on to make sure my own work reflects the artfully crafted story it can be if I employ these clever elements.

How do you handle backstory and foreshadowing? 

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Murder in Sun City---a review

Liz operates a London-style, double-decker bookmobile, which allows her to meet people---and get herself in trouble. When one of her customers in the retirement community of Sun City doesn't come to the bus for the books she ordered, Liz goes looking for her, and finds her dead in a home full of unpacked boxes and clutter.

James lives in the woods behind the community, or in the locker room of the gym, or in the attic of the victim's home. Who knows where he's going to be? The war vet has PTSD and often doesn't know from one day to the next what he's done or where he is. But there are times when he knows exactly what he's doing.

A nosy neighbor, a missing daughter, and a whole lot of stolen church artifacts add to the twists and turns in this novel, where Liz meets James and nothing is as it seems.

I enjoyed Murder in Sun City, although there were a few things that pulled me out of the novel. Early in the book, the author frequently referenced Liz's joy of hugging, a character trait that's endearing, but mentioned far too often. Later in the story, a set of yawns seemed a bit too contrived for my taste. But all in all, this was a great tale that kept me guessing all the way through.

I recommend it!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I'm sooo excited for May 4th! The Oklahoma Writers Federation will hold their annual conference! I look forward to this and other conferences every year. Why? Well, I have four main reasons:

I Always Learn something - I hope none of us ever feel that we have "arrived" as writers. We can always learn something. We can add an interesting skill to our toolbox, polish our prose, and be inspired by new, fresh, ideas. And we can learn from beginning writers as well as veteran writers. 

Networking - This is true for small conferences as well as huge conferences. One of my favorite fall conferences is the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, AR. A few years ago David Morrell was the keynote. A friend of mine, Cara Brookins, had written a novel based on her experience as a victim of spousal abuse and how she and her four children escaped and built a house where they would feel safe again. One evening Cara told David about her novel and he suggested she send it to his agent. The agent liked the novel but asked that Cara write it as a memoir instead. Although Cara was reluctant, after awhile she decided to rewrite her story as the agent suggested. When she sent it back to the agent, she was immediately signed. The agent pitched Cara's book to the big houses in NYC. Three, THREE, of them wanted it and the book went to auction. All offered six-figure advances! Today Cara is busy doing interviews and speaking all over the country about her book, RISE. In fact, she will be speaking at the OWFI conference this year.

Now I know this is a rare happening, but all the same, it did happen! Therefore, it can and probably will happen again. Maybe it will happen for you?

Opportunities - At conferences we meet people who belong to writing groups. When I began speaking almost all of my engagements came from people I spoke with at a conference. Speaking is a fantastic way to build your platform and get the word out about your writing. You may be asked to be a guest on someone's blog or asked to write articles for magazines. There are many writing & speaking opportunities all under one roof!

Friends - I love being with several hundred people who "get" me. Some of my closest friendships were forged through writing. We can talk "writerly speak" all we want without people rolling their eyes and checking their watches. At conferences we all have the same passion, the same drive. In fact, most attendees stay up into the wee hours of the morning. Personally, at home I begin to nod off at 9. But at conferences, heck, I may stay up until 11:30!

So, start saving your money and invest in yourself this year by going to a conference. If you can make it to OWFI, I'd love to meet you!

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