If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes. Note our new email address and please send your emails to Seekerville2@gmail.com
Monday: Jan brought us examples of how she uses words to capture the reader's imagination. Winner of an e-book copy of A Home for His Family is Kaybee!
Tuesday: Ruthy popped in to celebrate the release of her newest Love Inspired "Her Cowboy Reunion" available nationwide at Walmart, Kroger, Winn Dixie, wherever mass market paperbacks are sold, and even at some Barnes & Nobles! Go them! Check out Ruthy's newest Western series... "When three Steel Magnolias are forced to spend a year in western Idaho, will the region... and the cowboys... ever be the same again?
Wednesday: Melanie Dickerson challenges us to Write Confidently, Even If That Scares You. Challenge accepted! A copy of Melanie's recent release, The Orphan's Wish goes to Jeanne T!
Thursday: The delightful Richard Mabry stopped in to talk effort and accomplishment on Friday and he was wonderful, as always. His newest book "Guarded Prognosis" has hit the Kindle marketplace with a bang... as it should! Richard wants to do a giveaway, so we're doing that THIS WEEKEND! An e-copy of "Guarded Prognosis" for one lucky weekend commenter!
Friday: Matt Mikalatos shared 7 Ways Fiction Can Break Through When Non-Fiction Fails. Tyndale House is giving away a copy of The Crescent Stone to one lucky commenter and that commenter is ... Vince!
Monday: Erica Vetsch offers her vast knowledge on the subject as she explains How To Write A Killer Author Bio.
Wednesday: Publishers Weekly bestselling author Debby Giusti and RWA Golden Heart finalist Josee Telfer will share thoughts about the Romance Writers of America National Conference 2018. Be sure to stop by and learn what both ladies--who roomed together--thought about the conference. One lucky person who comments will receive a surprise giveaway.
Friday: Location, Location, Location, we've all heard that, haven't we? Pam Hillman brings it to life in her books.
Melanie made a "Big Announcement" this week: She's delving into new territory with this Southern Historical Romance! And it comes out in just a month and a half!!! Check it out and Pre-Order it on Amazon!
P.S. Isn't this cover so dang PRETTY???!!!
2018 Maggies Announcement! Here are the finalists in the Published Division of the Maggie Award for Excellence, Spiritual Elements... hearty congratulations go out to all these folks, a bunch of Seekerville favorites!
Celebrating a First Sale! Seeker villager Pat Jeanne Davis let us know that she signed a contract with Elk Lake Publishing for her historical romance! Congratulations, Pat!
And this just in from the Unpublished Maggie Award for Excellence!!! Congratulations to all of these wonderful gals! Connie, Christy, Cindy, Dianna and Christy again! We are so proud of you!
And Ruthy (Ruth Logan Herne) has lovely news... a romance anthology of novellas hitting the market next Tuesday, 7/24, but you can Preorder It Here! Perfect for beach reads... or any old place you want to smile and sigh! And all written by this multi-published, award-winning author!
Think of your reader as a walled city. Inside the walls are their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and insights. They have built up a lot of defenses to prevent random people from accessing those things. They want to control what comes in and out of their city. As writers we want to access that city because we want to transform it in some way. We get to choose between using a battering ram or a Trojan Horse. A battering ram is brute force: facts, figures, charts, logic, and so on. The battering ram gains entrance by overwhelming the reader’s defenses. Fiction, on the other hand, is a Trojan Horse. The reader allows a story past the defenses because of his or her desire to receive a gift—entertainment. Then we effect change from the inside.
So let’s talk about seven ways fiction can break through those walls:
1. Fiction accesses the emotions rather than the intellect. Many of us see the world and make decisions based largely on emotional criteria (even when we think we aren’t). Stories speak to emotion. That’s why when someone trots out all the statistics about, say, immigration, one side will respond by telling a beautiful story about an immigrant who came to the U.S. and escaped terrible suffering, and the other side will tell the story of an irresponsible immigrant who killed someone in a drunk-driving accident. Story connects us to raw, powerful emotions that can sweep right over the facts and take us to conclusions in opposition to them.
2. Story creates empathy and compassion for others. You don’t have to know a single person from Africa, or have ever been to Africa, to read and be moved by Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen. But you can learn about his world, about growing up in poverty and political unrest, without leaving your living room. Stories teach us about our differences, yes, but also the universal reality of the human experience as people all made in the image of God.
3. In fiction, the reader constructs their own arguments to make sense of the events. A well-written story may leave the reader to piece together what happened and why, and what led to that result—a lot like real life. A classic example of this is the story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton. In the story, we’re told that a princess looks down on her beloved in the arena, and there are two doors: behind one is a beautiful woman who her beloved will marry (and not be with her), and behind the other is a man-eating (literally) tiger. The princess knows what is behind each door, but her lover does not. She points to a door, telling him to open it. The question posed to the reader is, “What lies beyond that door?” The story doesn't tell us, but I’ve sat in classes where readers passionately defend the “real” ending to one another. The human response to story is to make patterns, to create meaning.
4. A good story can be revelatory to the reader . . . about the reader’s own heart. I was reading a novel by Percival Everett (pretty sure it was Glyph). More than a third of the way into the book, the narrator reveals his ethnicity. In fact, he reveals it and then says, “I bet you thought I was white, didn't you?” In fact, I had thought he was white. Because at that time, my assumption was that white was the “default.” It was a stunning moment—the author not only revealed something to me, but knew what my reaction was going to be. He had baked it into the center of the book. It—no exaggeration—changed my life. We see the same thing being done in the story of the prophet Samuel going to David and telling him a story about an injustice (a rich man has stolen a poor man’s sheep). David is furious and demands justice—and Samuel says, simply, “You are that man.” Do you think the story might have been different if Samuel had walked in and said, “Let me lay out the facts. You slept with another man’s wife and then murdered him. Does that cover it?”
5. Story can reveal a truth without ever stating it. I love Les Miserables, which works on so many levels and has so many profound insights that it has become rightfully beloved worldwide. It’s a deeply Christian book about redemption that is celebrated by people of all faiths. A great example of story revealing truth without ever saying it is found in what Les Miserables teaches about prayer. I may have missed one, but as far as I know, every single prayer uttered by a character in Les Miserables—prayers for protection, for justice, for provision—is answered, and often in miraculous, borderline-unbelievable ways.
6. If story is so important, why are you writing an essay? Once upon a time, there was a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe. Distressed and angered by the political situation of her day, and particularly by the horrors of slavery, she began to write a story, which was serialized in a newspaper called The National Era. It was the story of a longsuffering Christian slave named Tom and the horrific abuses he experienced in slavery, which ended in his death. The story left no room for any conclusion other than this: Christianity was incompatible with owning slaves. When collected into a novel called Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe’s book became the second bestselling book of the century (with the Bible in the #1 slot). Her book deeply impacted the people of the United States, to the point that when Abraham Lincoln met her during the Civil War, he called her “the little woman who wrote the book which caused this great war.” Her little story had literally changed the world.
7. “The quote is apocryphal.” It’s likely Abraham Lincoln never said those words to Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was first put down in print in 1896. Lincoln scholars think it may have been invented and then propagated by professors, authors, and other people who loved literature as a way to show the enduring power of fiction. And guess what? Here we are, 122 years later, still telling that story.
As for me, I wrote a story about a young woman named Madeline Oliver who has a fatal lung disease. Her friend Jason Wu has experienced a tragedy so deep that he has vowed never to tell a lie again. Together they are invited into a fantasy world called the Sunlit Lands, where they discover things about themselves and the world that would be impossible for them to learn another way. The novel, The Crescent Stone, deals with painful contemporary issues in our world without ever turning into an essay—but rather by connecting us with people we come to care about. I hope you enjoy it!
Matt Mikalatos writes books (surprise!). In the past, Matt worked as a high school teacher and a comic book clerk, but currently focuses on nonprofit work devoted to helping people love one another despite their differences. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, three daughters, two unicorns, a gryphon, a dragon, and three brine shrimp.
About the book:
A girl with a deadly lung disease . . . A boy with a tragic past . . . A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . . A bargain that brings life, but may cost more than anyone can imagine . . .
Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger name Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.
Tyndale House Publishers is giving away one copy of The Crescent Stone to one reader. Just leave a comment for Matt or whatever you'd like to share to enter. Winner will be announced in the Seekerville WE this Saturday. (Sorry, US mailing addresses only.)
Most of us are aware of the five interlocking rings that are the Olympic symbol. But I suspect that many are unfamiliar with the motto that goes along with that symbol. It’s Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Participants have hardly completed the games before they’re already planning for the next one. And their training is aimed at letting them go faster, allowing them to leap higher, strengthening muscles that are already strong by normal standards. They never stop improving. And that should also be the goal of each of us who writes, whether we’re as-yet unpublished or the author of numerous books.
At one of the first writing conferences I attended, I had the temerity (or stupidity—take your choice) to approach an editor and pitch my book to him. Probably to get rid of me, he told me to submit the whole thing to him and he would read it. I didn’t know any better, so I wasn’t surprised when I got notification from him that he was taking it to the Pub Board. Those of you who know how the publishing world works will be amazed that an unpublished writer with so little experience would have such a thing happen. I wasn’t. I took it as a usual thing and was genuinely surprised when I was notified that the Pub Board turned down the book. Looking back on the event, I wonder that my book got this far. It still resides on my hard drive and will probably never see the light of day unless I rewrite it.
Why did this happen? Because I didn’t know enough about writing when I composed it. I didn’t even know enough to realize how much I had to learn. I needed to become much more proficient at the craft. Eventually I did, but I did it by learning the fundamentals, studying, practicing, and striving to constantly improve. And I’ll try never to stop.
When I was practicing medicine, I initially attended conventions and conferences to learn more about my specialty. Later, I was fortunate enough to be in a position to lecture at the same conferences, but although I was a teacher I made it a practice to continue attending the sessions held by others. Why? I realized that medicine was constantly evolving, and my level of knowledge was never as high as I needed it to be. It was best for both my patients and me if I continued to constantly learn.
Doesn’t the same thing apply with writers? Just as we expect our physicians to keep up and improve, don’t our readers expect that our next book will be even better than our last? When I attend a writer’s conference, I always want to leave with one or more pearls that I can apply to my writing. Perhaps I learn a way to make transitions between scenes smoother. Maybe it’s a method for displaying what my protagonist really wants and the danger he or she faces if that doesn’t happen. Whatever I can glean, I try never to stop learning.
But reading and listening only goes so far. Then comes practice—writing, and rewriting, and rewriting again. Of course, writing without constructive criticism by an accomplished person is meaningless. Practice doesn’t make perfect if we keep making the same mistakes again and again with each repetition. Comments by your mother or a friend are nice to receive, but what matters most to me is when a fellow writer tells me that he or she especially likes—or doesn’t like— something in a book I’ve written. The struggle for each of us to improve our work never stops, nor should it. We continue to strive for “faster, higher, stronger.”
When I had completed my most recent novel, Guarded Prognosis, I proudly showed the finished product to my wife, who is my first reader. She’ has always been both my biggest fan and my severest critic, and she pulled no punches with her assessment of this one. I was proud of my opening sequence and the story arc that followed, but she pointed out that it failed to get her attention (and would likely do the same with my readers). Instead, she suggested an alternate story arc which would be timely and intriguing. It required my essentially rewriting about half my already-completed novel, and every author reading this knows how much we hate that. But I did it. And it worked. Why did I do it? Because I could see that I was resting on my laurels, instead of seeking to write a better novel.
I’m not an authority on the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, but I think the last line of his poem, Ulysses, is applicable here. Ulysses and his companions have done it all, so to speak, but he exhorts them not to rest on their laurels. They are to keep on until the end— “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Every writer should have those lines above their desk. Every book, even the ones turned down by a publisher, should be better than the one before. To do less is unfair to everyone concerned…including the author.
Are you striving?
* * *
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical mystery with heart.” His novels have garnered critical acclaim and been finalists for a number of awards. He and his wife live in north Texas, where he strives to improve his golf game and his writing.
What does it mean to write confidently? Does it mean to write without worrying if your story is too controversial? Does it mean to write a story that you know will be hard to pull off, but if you can pull it off, it’s going to be amazing? Does it mean to write without worrying that it might not be your best seller? Does it mean to write what God has put on your heart even though it’s not a popular genre?
Yes. Yes to all of the above. Not to say that you should always write whatever strikes your fancy. I once decided it would be a good idea to write a YA series about teens who had to save their town by killing zombies. While I still think it’s not a terrible idea—Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty popular, after all—it wasn’t the best idea for me. At all. So you should definitely pray about it if you’re not sure.
"I'd rather regret the risks that didn't work out than the chances I didn't take at all."
- Simone Biles
Writers are gymnasts who take risks with our words, with our imaginations and our characters and our stories. Not just for the sake of taking a risk. But just like an Olympic gymnast, we do it to win the gold. And winning the gold for us means to write something that will touch a hurting heart. Make a reader not feel so alone. Make our readers catch their breath at how beautiful and true our words are. We take risks for the sake of truth in our stories. The truth of love and hope and dreams coming true, as well as the truth of pain and disappointment and that bad decisions have consequences. But always the ultimate truth, that Jesus is the Way, and He loves us.
"I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
- Maya Angelou
We take risks and write confidently because we have to make our readers feel it. We study and learn and revise because we want to choose the very best way to say something to make the reader feel all the feels. But first we have to be confident, almost reckless, as we write that story, that dialogue, that action. We pour it out, drawing on our own pain and experiences, the truth inside us, the things God has taught us in the crises and difficult times we’ve walked through. And we do our best to make them feel.
“Accept who you are; and revel in it.” -- Mitch Albom What do you love? Write about it. What makes you unique? Write that. What makes your heart race and your breath shallow? Write about that. Don’t write what you know; write what you LOVE. “To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.”
- Anne Rice
Be yourself when you write. That’s how you write with confidence. Be completely and fully you. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself. Go ahead and risk it for the sake of your story, the sake of being fully, completely real.
"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
- Anne Frank
What do we love about Anne Frank? She was real. She told it like it was, without holding back. Her emotions were real. Her struggles were real. Our characters have to be the same way. They must show real feeling, real struggles. After all, that’s how we learn, and that’s how our characters learn, by struggling with real problems.
So let your courage be reborn as you write, as your sorrows disappear from the joy of writing, of creating characters and a story that’s never existed before in this exact form. God created us in his image, and since he’s the ultimate Creator, we were made to feel the joy of creating, just as he did.
"Courage doesn't mean you don't get afraid. Courage means you don't let fear stop you."
- Bethany Hamilton
When you’re afraid, you dig deep for your courage and write anyway. Don’t let anything stop you from writing confidently. “You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
- Octavia E. Butler
When you get back those revisions or those critiques from your critique partners, don’t let yourself stay discouraged. Get back in there. Figure out why they said what they said. If you agree that what they’re suggesting will help your story, then change it. If you don’t agree that their suggestions will improve your story, then don’t change it. But most likely there’s a reason, something you can do to change the story and make it better, to make it as flawless as possible, so your reader doesn’t get hung up on something that distracts them from the meaning and emotion of the story. And that might be the ultimate test of your courage and confidence. Being confident enough to make changes.
So, what is your greatest struggle in writing? What keeps you from writing confidently? Or are you writing so confidently, you struggle with the practical side of things? Let us know, and I’ll give away a copy of my recent release, The Orphan’s Wish, to one commenter.
And now for the "surprise news" I've been posting on my social media. I am self-publishing a new book in a month and a half. It's a book I wrote over 10 years ago, a book I always hoped would be the first in a series of books set in my neck of the woods, the place I've lived nearly my whole life--the Deep South. So instead of "playing it safe" and sticking with Medieval fairy tale retellings, traditional publishers, and another Regency romance series, I'm branching out to write what's been on my heart for a while, my Southern series.
Truett Beverly’s hometown needed a doctor, so after finishing medical school, he returned to Bethel Springs, Alabama. Fighting a secret war with a corrupt lawman wasn’t in his plans, but Sheriff Suggs thinks he’s above the law and can lynch anyone who crosses him. When Suggs threatens his childhood friend, Truett dons a cape and hood and rescues him—placing “the Hooded Horseman” in Sheriff Suggs’s crosshairs.
Celia Wilcox arrives in Bethel Springs in June of 1880. She’s come from Nashville to help her sister care for their younger siblings. She hopes only to be on the small farm for the summer, just until her mother recovers from the shock of Celia’s father’s death. She must return to Nashville to fulfill her dream of opening her own dress shop.
The lovely Celia catches Truett’s eye, and he finds himself wanting to impress her. But she flatly refuses to flirt with him or to fall for his—if he does say so himself—considerable charm.
Celia’s overwhelming attraction to Truett terrifies her. What will happen when Sheriff Suggs discovers Truett is the Hooded Horseman? Will Celia be able to prevent the sheriff from carrying out one last lynching? Or will her worst fears come true? You can pre-order it on Amazon!
Unlike basketball, it is not a flagrant foul. It is flagrant self-pormotion for the start of a whole new Love Inspired series "Shepherd's Crossing"...
SHEPHERDS CROSSING MEME HERE. IF I GET ONE MADE!!!
And a whole block of new Westerns that I've written! SO WE MUST CELEBRATE!!!!! COFFEE!!!! (done, coffee and tea bar is set up to the left of French doors) MIMOSAS!!!!! (what exactly is a mimosa???) HOBNOBBING ON THE PATIO!!!! (do we have a patio?) LIVE MUSIC!!! (Pandora....) CAPTAIN JACK FROM OLD SEEKERVILLE DAYS!!!! (Oh, Captain Jack! You rogue!) AND FOOD, FOOD, FOOD! (now that part I can handle!)
We've gotten a little blase about releases over the past few years. Once we all got published with traditional publishers, we kind of expected releases and forgot to celebrate the absolute amazement of being published authors, of having regular contracts, of being part of the group we worked so hard to join....
How silly of us! With so many folks striving toward that same goal, how frightfully thin of us to treat it like casual news. I'm here to say there is nothing casual about it.... so today we celebrate a new book... a new series... a new setting in western Idaho and a whole new cast of characters.
The Bible tells us to celebrate good times.
The Lord wishes his people joy. That joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts.
And celebrating things like this isn't lauding... it's recognizing that we should never take success or opportunity for granted.
It should be worked for and attained... but not casually expected.
So today there is no big writing lesson to be learned. Today there is simply time to have fun. To realize that some rewards take longer than others (yes, I wrote for seven years before I got The Call)... and that with those rewards comes humility and a paycheck.
BOTH ARE GOOD!!!
And the fun of writing westerns and cowboys and cattle, sheep, donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, kittens, puppies, birds.... There is something so refreshing about being part of the land in these stories. And while Shepherds Crossing (the town) needs a fair share of work, the people coming to town-- and staying-- have some great ideas.
I think you'll love book one, a great reunion romance... and book two is a Christmas novella that is packaged with the very most wonderfully engaging and delightful Linda Goodnight. What an absolute joy to work with her!
And following right on the heels of that is "A Cowboy in Shepherd's Crossing" a beautiful story of living a lie.... only the hero didn't know he was living a lie. And when the truth comes to light, there's a lot of reckoning going on. But here's the heart of reckoning on a farm or ranch....
You're too busy to sit around moping.
Way too busy.
So the mopes go away eventually because there's work to be done and there's only so many people to get it done...
We'll have more reasons to celebrate this year, for lots of us, but today, if you're looking for a beach read, or a nighttime read, or an afternoon on the porch read.... Well, shucks, ma'am.
In my June post, I talked about giving your readers a complete story experience by immersing them in your fictional world. We discussed how to make that world come alive for you, the writer. You can read that post here.
Today we’re going to take your story world a step further: how to convey what you see in your mind onto the page and into your reader’s imagination.
Because, really, isn’t that the where the magic of story-telling happens?
We use the setting of each scene to convey emotion and increase our reader’s perception of our themes. Every word reveals details about the scene that provides an undercurrent to strengthen the action and dialogue. Many writers talk about using your setting as another character in the scene, but I think it goes further than that.
Yes, your characters interact with the setting, but the setting also creates a framework that helps to communicate your theme and subtexts more effectively than any other aspect of your story.
To help illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m going to use some scenes from one of my early books, A Home for His Family, published by Love Inspired in September 2015.
The opening scene of the book takes place in a gulch outside of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in 1877. Yup, that’s right. Just like in a Hopalong Cassidy story. It’s May, there’s a snowstorm coming, and it’s one of only three roads into town. The spring influx of miners is arriving, and the place is a chaotic mess.
The heroine, Sarah, and her Aunt Margaret have been traveling to Deadwood in a stagecoach and are anxious to get to the end of their journey. But there is a delay ahead of them on the trail and the stagecoach is stuck until traffic starts moving again.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Here is Sarah’s first glimpse of the setting:
Sarah climbed out of the stagecoach, aching for a deep breath. With a cough, she changed her mind. The air reeked of dung and smoke in this narrow valley. She held her handkerchief to her nose and coughed again. Thick with fog, the canyon rang with the crack of whips from the bull train strung out on the half-frozen trail ahead. She pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders and shook one boot, but the mud clung like gumbo.
In describing this scene, I wanted to show the unexpected hardships Sarah was facing in her new adventure, but also her determination to follow through with her plans. So I let her leave the stagecoach to get some fresh air, but then she comes nose-to-nose with reality. The weather creates an oppressive layer of fog that obscures her vision and concentrates the odors of hundreds of animals and men confined in a narrow space.
There’s a subtext going on in this description, too. Sarah has come to Deadwood to bring the light of education to the children in the town and to the prostitutes who make up a significant number of the female population in 1877. A recurring theme in the story is that the prostitutes are trapped and confined in their lives with little hope for escape. The narrow gulch in this first scene is the reader’s – and Sarah’s – first hint of that unsavory reality.
This isn’t the only place I use the setting to convey that subtext. I scatter it throughout the story:
This cabin and a few others were perched on the rimrock above the mining camp, as if at the edge of a cesspool. Up here the sun was just lifting over the tops of the eastern mountains, while the mining camp below was still shrouded in pre-dawn darkness. * * * * *
The businesses crowded together between the hills rising behind them and the narrow mud hole that passed for a street. Nate slowed his pace as the storefronts turned from the saloons to a printing office. Next came a general store and a clothing store, with a tobacconist wedged in between. Across the street was Star and Bullock, a large hardware store that filled almost an entire block.
And in the middle of it all, just where the street took a steep slope up to a higher level on the hill, men worked a mining claim. Nate shook his head. In all his travels through the West, he had never seen anything quite like Deadwood.
But even amid the chaos of the mining town, Sarah’s spirit is focused on her goals. I use descriptions like this one to show Sarah’s hopeful courage:
Sarah took the bucket to the door and tossed the dirty water into the gutter. As she did every day, she looked past the crowded streets and crooked roofs of the neighboring buildings to the towering hills beyond. She let the bucket dangle and leaned against the door frame as she gazed at the white rocks at the top of Boot Hill. What would it be like to climb that mountain someday?
Deadwood from White Rocks
Another aspect of any story is contrast. In this story it is between chaos and order; sin and forgiveness; the wandering life and home.
How can you convey the contrasts in your story? Choose your words carefully.
Yesterday's rain had made a miry mess of the streets. Horses walked in mud nearly up to their knees, while the drivers of the wagons shouted curses to keep their teams from stopping before they got to firmer ground.
Sarah crossed Lee Street on the wooden crosswalk and paused on the corner, looking up and down Main. Aunt Margaret had been right. The saloon girls crowded the board walks in front of the stores, their bright silk dresses and fancy plumed hats lining the street like a show of exotic tropical flowers. Not one “respectable” woman was in sight.
Finally, she caught sight of Maude’s red dress and purple shawl in a cluster of girls outside a peanut vendor next to The Big Horn Grocery on Upper Main. She hurried across the street on the wooden walk, soaking her kid shoes in the slime as the boards sank into the mud beneath the weight of the crowd doing the same. Thankfully, she climbed the stairs between Lower and Upper Main, out of the mud for a change.
Compare that to Nate observing Sarah’s first view of the land where he intends to establish his home:
He drove the team along a natural shelf on the side of the slope and then turned up. As they crested the rise, the sight that greeted him still took his breath away.
Green meadows stretched away in a wide swath at least a half mile across and twice that long, curving around the wooded slopes that crowded close to the open space. An eagle drifted above them against the clear blue sky.
Sarah whispered, “It’s perfect.”
Nate chirruped to the horses, driving them slowly through the knee-deep grass, heading for the grove of trees at the far edge. In his mind the mountain valley was dotted with horses—brown, black, white, gray—all grazing on the rich green grass that grew in a thick carpet everywhere he looked. Across the meadow, a meandering line of cottonwood trees followed a fold in the grass. That stream cutting through the land was the crowning touch.
He glanced at Sarah, still standing in the wagon bed, holding on to the seat between him and James. Her face was bright in the clear sunshine, the wind pulling loose hair from her bun. Her gaze went up to the tops of the hills surrounding them.
When she looked at him she smiled, and his heart swelled. Everywhere he looked he saw his future, waiting for him to reach out and grasp it. It was as if the past twelve years had never happened and he was just starting out, full of promise.
What is the biggest difference between these two scenes? It isn’t only the contrast between the crowded streets of Deadwood and the open spaciousness of Nate’s land.
In the description of the town, I used a lot of words with hard consonants: curses, crosswalk, corner, crowded, walk, silk, exotic, respectable, kid…along with some “dirty” words for good measure: mud, mess, soaking, slime, sank.
But in the description of Nate’s land? The opposite. I used soft consonants and “clean” words: green meadows, meandering, wide swath, curving around, wooded slopes, drifted, clear blue sky, swelled, full of promise.
Words are important – not only their meanings, but their sounds. The soft consonants convey the underlying theme present in all my books: home.
Do my readers notice these details? Not consciously. But they play a role in the total reading experience.
Now I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you use your settings to add depth to your stories? Or for readers, how do carefully written settings add to your reading experience?
"A Home for His Family" is now out of print, but the e-book is still available! One commenter will win a Kindle copy of their very own!
The Rancher's Ready-Made Family
Nate Colby came to the Dakota Territory to start over, not to look for a wife. He'll raise his orphaned nieces and nephew on his own, even if pretty schoolteacher Sarah MacFarland's help is a blessing. But Nate resists getting too close—Sarah deserves better than a man who only brings trouble to those around him.
Sarah can't deny she cares for the children, but she can't let herself fall for Nate. Her childhood as an orphan taught her that opening her heart to love only ends in hurt. Yet helping this ready-made family set up their ranch only makes her long to be a part of it—whatever the risk.
Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of (almost) thirty-six years and expanding family. While she writes Historical Romance with Amish characters, the romance of cowboys surrounds her, tugging more story ideas from her imagination than she can hope to write in one lifetime.
If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes. Note our new email address and please send your emails to Seekerville2@gmail.com
Monday:Missy Tippens brought you tips for writing devotionals. She decided to pick two winners for a devotional critique/brainstorming. Congratulations to Wilani and Edwina Cowgill!
Tuesday: Rachelle Dekker was in the house, talking about writing her first suspense novel. And she's giving away two copies of When Through Deep Waters. Winners are Sandy Smith and Karen Sargent! Congrats!
Wednesday: Ruth Logan Hernespent the day chatting with writers and readers, talking about taking your business seriously... like you do your writing! Winners of "Her Cowboy Reunion", Ruthy's newest Love Inspired book are Wilani Wahl, Laura Kestner and Winnie Thomas!
Friday: Carrie entertained (and swooned) with her continuing thoughts on Creating a Swoonilicious kiss!! ~~Kiss and Tell, Part II! Her winner is Laurie Wood! (Let us know which book you want!)
Monday: Jan Drexleris continuing her look at story worlds with her post, Using Settings to Tap Your Readers' Imaginations. One commenter will win an e-book copy of her only non-Amish story so far, "A Home for His Family!"
Tuesday: Join Ruth Logan Herne for a release party for "Her Cowboy Reunion", the first book of her new "Shepherd's Crossing" series. THIS BOOK RELEASES TODAY!!! PARTY!!! PRIZES!!! HAPPY FACES!!! FREE PRETEND FOOD!!!
Wednesday: Melanie Dickerson is our hostess as she talks about what it means to write with confidence!!!
Thursday: We welcome Richard Mabry back to Seekerville!
Friday: Special guest Matt Mikalatos is visiting with a post about 7 Ways Fiction Can Break through When Nonfiction Fails. And he's giving away a copy of his book The Crescent Stone to one lucky commenter
Pam Hillman is participating in a Historical Romance BOOKBUB and Facebook Builder. Lots of ways to win. Ends July 15th. (If I understand the Rafflecopter correctly, there are 32 ways to win! Wow!)Click here to Participate
Happy FRIDAY, Seekerville! Let's just ignore the fact that it's Friday the 13th and talk about something much more pleasant: KISSES. Specifically, KISSES in fiction.
Ever since I fell in love with the story of Cinderella, I've been in love with "KissingBooks" (if you're a Princess Bride fan, you probably get the reference). When I started blogging about Christian and clean fiction, KissingBooks quickly became my most popular series of posts. Romance is still a hot genre (pardon the pun) and reading Christian & clean romance doesn't mean we have to sacrifice passion. After all, God created passion and romance and, when in the proper context, the expression of that passion glorifies him. Of course there are certain lines that we don't want to cross in fiction (or in life) but within these parameters Christian authors write a wide range of sweet kisses to smokin' smooches and everything in between!
Much like I did in my last Seekerville post (where I profiled my fave book boyfriends and what makes them swoonilicious), today I'm going to look at my four fave kissing scenes and analyze what they have in common and why they're so swoonilicious!
Let's look at the kisses first!
(These are in no particular order, by the way)
Cue the romantic music ...
Fave Kiss #1: David & Catherine's first kiss in The Thorn Keeper by Pepper Basham - A storage closet, a reformed bad girl, and a dashing British doctor. "'Heaven help me, you taste like Christmas!' She breathed between them, keeping her mouth close enough to feel the warmth of his breath."
Fave Kiss #2: Carl & Annalisa's rain kiss in The Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund - "His gaze didn’t waver from her lips, even when he reached up both hands – one on either side of her face – and intertwined them into the long damp strands of her hair."
Fave Kiss #3: Katie & Luke's office kiss in A Hope Undaunted by Julie Lessman - "The taste of her lips was far more than he bargained for, and he drew her close with a raspy groan."
Fave Kiss #4: Vance & Violet's alcove kiss in The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall - "'Violet,' he repeated quickly, between kisses and labored breaths, his hands still pressed against the small of my back. 'Violet, you have no idea -'"
What do these four fave kisses have in common?
1. Emotion. Raspy voices, the inability to breathe, trembling hands. There is more driving these kisses than merely attraction. Something connects the two kissees (is that a word?) on an almost soul-deep level, and that emotion results in some pretty passionate kisses! The sense of knowing this person is different, this person is your person, this person is 'the one' - and the raw need to communicate that to him/her when words fail you
2. Worth the Wait. This often goes hand-in-hand (or lip-to-lip?) with 'emotion' but each of these kisses was fueled by a need that had been continually repressed for one reason or another. Whether it is because they've been kept apart by distance or misunderstanding, or because the hero (or heroine) is trying to do the noble thing and resist the relationship. Whatever the reason, once the decision to smooch has been made, there is no longer any holding back! (And when I say 'no holding back', I'm still just talking kisses here. No bedroom shenanigans!)
3. Cherished. Passion notwithstanding, these kisses come from a heart that cherishes the other person, the relationship, the emotion, the act of the kiss. It's not so much about taking as it is about giving, about somehow telling this person without words how much he/she means to you. Because you can't find the words to adequately describe your heart toward him/her (back to 'emotion' again)
4. Passion. Yep. I went there. These aren't mere brushes of the lips (although there's certainly a place for that too). These are 'pucker up and turn on the a/c' kinds of kisses. The kind that make you want to say "WOWZA" out loud while you're reading. (And sometimes you do and then you get funny looks.) Now, please don't misunderstand. A passionate kiss doesn't have to be hot n' heavy and full of sparks and sizzle. Sometimes, the most passionate kiss is the one that comes from a gentle heart full of more love than that heart can contain. But it still has passion, no matter how quiet.
Again, take my advice with a grain of salt. I'm just one reader with her own preferences. But I will say that these four kisses always come up in 'favorite kiss discussions' and not just from me haha! So there is something about them that appeals to a wide variety of readers, and I think these four characteristics (Emotion, Worth the Wait, Cherished, Passion) are a good start in figuring out what makes them so memorable.
Authors: What do you find most difficult about writing a swoony kiss? Readers: What are some of your favorite book kisses?
Let me know in the comments & you'll be entered to win ONE BOOK of your choice from one of the four books I featured today in my fave kisses. Giveaway is open internationally, provided Book Depository has the book of your choice and ships to your location. Void where prohibited by law.
I am unashamedly a pantser. Most of you know what that means. A pantser is a person who does not lay out big plans or modes or outlines or graphs or models of stories... we don't do creative boards about our characters and generally speaking we get a story idea and start fleshing it out mentally... and then we start writing. And in that initial writing process we get to know our characters, our setting and our plotline. We might go into the story knowing that Jennifer not only keeps her job, she gets a promotion and that Kyle realizes he isn't really meant to be alone... that he felt that way because of past wrongs.
BUT THAT'S ALL WE KNOW.
And so we write and get to know things and add things and bob and weave as we create the opening chapters, checking the sequence, tweaking this and deleting that.
Now this process is natural to pantsers. It doesn't worry us, bother us, fret us or take all that much time, really. It's an artistic process.
But this is not how to run a business.
The business side of writing is different. It's serious. It affects the paycheck. Which affects the mortgage. And the bank's pleasure at dealing with you.
These two distinct sides of your business need to be handled uniquely. You're fine being a pantser when writing books as long as you're creating saleable material. It's all good.
But running a business take plotting to be successful, no matter which side of the publishing divide you fall on.
1. Plan your work and work your plan. A. How much money do you need to make? B. Are you published already? C. If not, are you doing what it takes to get there? D. Are you working regularly? E. Are you sending things out? F. Entering contests? G. Working with a critique partner? H. What are your goals? I. Are you working every day to achieve those goals? J. Have you put a lid on whining and/or being envious of others? (You would be amazed at how many writers are never satisfied with where they are because they're so busy looking around at others. This is not helpful. Keep production up at least until you're on the NYT list... and even then, if you're smart!)
2. Now that you're published, what are you doing to stay published? A. Are you writing daily? B. Are you editing your work regularly to polish it, make it shine? C. How many books can you write in one year? D. Do you crunch numbers regularly or act surprised when income rises or falls? E. Are you examining all sides and opportunities in the current publishing landscape? F. Do you set up a one year plan? A two year calendar? G. Most businesses run the "numbers". What are your numbers? How much can you write in a day? Then multiply that by days in the week and weeks in a year, etc. H. Do you have a back-up plan? When a line closes, do you have another outlet for your work? I. Are you utilizing the indie market as well as traditional markets to get your name out to more people? J. Do you watch market reports, Author Earnings, check Seekerville links and read with respect and skepticism? K. Do you know why you should be skeptical? :) Go to letter "L" and I'll tell you... L. Because you are the captain of your ship, and not everyone wants your success. You should! So don't pay too much attention to the whiners and naysayers that pepper the publishing landscape.
Now you're asking yourself, is she serious?
Heck, yeah. And here's why: Most of our audience is women. Women are amazingly creative but tend to want to THANK EVERYONE for the chances they've been given instead of riding through the corral, boots on and heels down, showing everyone that they're in charge.
You need to be in charge.
You need to be the captain of your ship. You need to be the person in charge, the one with a plan because you are the only one who can make that plan work and make that dream come true.
You can dilly dally.
You can fuss over this and that. So many do...
But if you attack this new career like a job, even a simple part-time job, and give it that dedication of an hour or two/day, you will begin amassing an enormous stockpile of work in a year or two.
Why is that important?
Because no one buys a blank page.
I love to see women take charge. I love seeing women square their shoulders, stick their chins in the air, and get the job done.
In the movie Willow, the little Nelwin "Willow Ufgood" is yearning to be the sorcerer's apprentice. The sorcerer holds out his gnarled, aged hands and asks the candidates to pick the finger with the power. Each one picks mistakenly. Afterward, the sorcerer asks Willow what his first instinct was, and Willow somewhat abashedly answers "I was going to pick my own finger."
"And that was the correct answer," said the aged sorcerer.
No matter where we are in this writing career, we shouldn't feel the need to look for power elsewhere.
Draw it from within.
Master your own destiny. Learn from other's mistakes, but that doesn't mean you have to follow their examples or timeline.
I have always admired production. Mary Connealy, Margaret Daley, Linda Goodnight, Karen White, Lisa Wingate, Nora Roberts, Shirlee Mccoy, Debbie Macomber, Lenora Worth, just to name a few. What these talented women share is the self-discipline to work daily... and to get the job done. They have shown all of us what can be accomplished if we just keep working.
A few weeks ago my buddy Vince mentioned writing a renowned classic.
You know, I have never worried about such things. If I can touch hearts and help troubled souls with sweet stories of longing and forgiveness, I'm happy. I have no need for stardom or awards or huge money...
I just like to write the kind of stories folks like to read. And I like to write them quickly.
BUT THAT'S ME.
And you don't have to be a Ruthy or a Mary or a Nora....
But if you're going to be running your own small business, you do better if you make a plan, then let the plan guide you.
It's all mathematical, darlings.
If you want to write three 60K books in a year, that's 180,000 words.
180,000/365 is just under 500 words/day. TWO PAGES, my loves.
I might not be big on planning and plotting my stories.... except in my head. But I do plan my work, my job, my business because planning that not only affects my pocketbook. It affects my life.
And while there are lots of things in life I cannot control... and as Shirlee Mccoy pointed out on facebook so succinctly this week, every writer deals with the stresses of life. No one is immune... the trick is to keep on working because while life throws you curves, the one thing you have full control over is your work. Your effort. Your production.
So tell me? Are you a pantser or a plotter in your writing? And how can you make yourself be a better planner when it comes to working?
Ruthy has a copy of her newest Love Inspired, a beautiful opening story to her new Western series "Shepherd's Crossing"... Wait, make that TWO COPIES!!!! Win it before you can buy it!
This beautiful reunion story will make you smile and sigh... and then smile again.
Leave a comment and let her know you want it... and tell us what you're doing to make your dream come true. If you dare... otherwise, just grab some cookies and lemonade and we can talk about any old thing.
Multi-published, bestselling, award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne writes the kind of stories she loves to read. Stories ripe with romance, faith, fun and fiction and enough poignancy that when they're done... when you turn that last page... you wish you hadn't finished. And that's the best compliment in the world... Friend her on facebook, follow her on Twitter, swing by her website ruthloganherne.com and feel free to e-mail her at email@example.com. She loves to hear from you!
Hey, Seekervillians! Melanie here to introduce the beautiful and talented Rachelle Dekker as our guest today!
Storytelling obviously runs in her family, as evidenced by her "Seer" trilogy, published by Tyndale House. And maybe you've heard of her father, Ted? Well, he's also written a few books. She will be sharing with us today and answering your questions! Without further ado, here's Rachelle.
Taking a swing at writing a suspense novel and diverting from the fantasy/dystopian genre was a terrifying process for me. My saving grace was that I didn’t really know what I had signed up for until I was too far in to back out. Because although all great stories have some major elements that are similar, genre did change the way I had to approach crafting my recent novel.
So what did I learn? The easier question would probably be what didn’t I learn. But I’ll try to simplify here and just give the major threads I discovered in suspense storytelling.
1.) First and foremost, pacing, pacing, pacing! Truth be told, pacing is important to the progression of any story, but suspense pacing has its own unique flow. It’s about dropping hints without giving too much away, but also giving enough “meat” that it pulls the reader onto the next page. Mystery is an important element in any great suspense novel. Why is this happening? Who is doing it? What do they gain?
2.) That leads me to my next point: Your antagonist better sing! When you read a novel, you want the villain’s song throughout that novel to be as intriguing and interesting as possible. They need layers, dimensions. A strong antagonist results in a stronger protagonist. They are the obstacle—or provide the obstacles—that your hero is forced to overcome in order to win. So make them dynamic and amp them up through the storyline. I always try to make my villain three things: smart, determined, and relatable. If you can get a reader to say, “Wait, what they are saying makes sense,” then you really get the reader thinking and invested.
3.) Speaking of characters: they are everything. Now this can be said for almost all novels, regardless of genre, but when you are dealing with suspenseful themes, I think it is extra important to really explore and expose all your characters. A strong protagonist and antagonist are a given, but those secondary characters elevate a novel. So beside the hero and villain, what characters did I really focus on? Well, I’m so glad you asked.
Sidekick: The character who roots for the protagonist from the very beginning, the Han Solo to your Luke Skywalker. So strong they could have their own story (as it just so happens, Han now does J). Their own quirks and motivations and struggles. Although they fight for the hero, make them have moments of doubt. Nothing is more relatable than doubt. They should have questions, even if only expressed to the protagonist. NO ONE always blindly follows, so make them real.
Reality Check: Otherwise known as the limiting character. They act as almost a second villain in most stories and are usually deeply connected to the protagonist. Their motivation may be wholesome—they usually believe they are doing what is best for the protagonist—but they serve as a constant boundary for the hero to overcome. This is BY FAR my favorite character to write. Make them cringeworthy but also honest. In a way that, as a reader, you can’t help but think, I might have suggested the same thing. Or I can see their point. A great example of this character is a parent figure. If you’ve read some of my novels, then you know I love a well-meaning but often evil mother.
**Disclaimer: I love my own mother dearly and apologize to her for this often. J
Sage: Finally, the hero’s voice of reason. Your Yoda (continuing with the Star Wars theme I’ve got going—who doesn’t love Star Wars?). This character is always interesting and probably carries a heavy layer of mystery into a suspense novel. They need to be believable, likeable, and I find they’re most fun to write if they add some comic relief as well. They see the big picture before anyone else, but they can’t just lead the protagonist to the water and drown them immediately. They offer truth in doses, small digestible chunks. One lesson at a time until the big reveal at the end.
4.) Finally, motivations: why, what, when, and who. Again, true of all genres, motivations are a key element to any great novel. But when trying to pull off mystery and suspense, it really better all tie together. Why is the antagonist doing this? Why now, and with this protagonist? What does everyone gain or lose if things play out a certain way? And most importantly—does the reader close the book and think, Oh yeah, that made sense. I buy it. Because if not, then there is a problem somewhere along the line that needs adjusting.
All in all, writing suspense ended up being my greatest struggle as a writer yet, but also incredibly rewarding. It’s always good to step out of your comfort zone and attempt something different. This is my first go at it, and I’d love to hear what you all have to say. So I pose the question: What do you think every great suspense novel should have? As a reader or a writer, what suspenseful qualities do you love in a novel?
About the Author
The oldest daughter of New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker was inspired early on to discover truth through storytelling. She won a Christy Award for her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Choosing, which was followed by two more books in the Seer series: The Calling and The Returning. Rachelle graduated with a degree in communications and spent several years in marketing and corporate recruiting before making the transition to write full-time. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Daniel, and their diva cat, Blair. Visit her online at www.rachelledekker.com.
Alicen McCaffrey finally has the life her mother always dreamed for her: beautiful home in Santa Monica, successful husband, adorable daughter. Then tragedy blows her carefully assembled façade to pieces. Worse yet—Alicen feels solely responsible. At rock bottom, she decides to accompany a childhood friend back to Red Lodge, Montana, where they spent summers together as kids.
The peaceful mountain landscape, accented with lush forests and small-town charm, brings back happy memories of time spent with her beloved, eccentric Grandma Josephine. Alicen begins to hope that perhaps things could be different here. Perhaps the oppressive guilt will lift—if only for a moment.
But when Alicen starts hearing voices and seeing mysterious figures near the river in the woods, she begins to fear she’s completely lost her sanity, as it’s rumored her grandmother did. Or might there be more to Red Lodge than meets the eye? Could the voices and visions be real—and her only means of finding the healing she so desperately needs? Or will they prove to be her final undoing?