Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Writing a Book is Like Cooking a Turkey

It's really easy for it to be overdone.

You know what I mean (or maybe you don't). You glance into the oven, prick the poor dead bird (yes, that's what I call the turkey every year), think that it might need to be cooked a little more. One thing leads to another (potatoes, kids, husband, cats all causing trouble) and before you know it a half hour has passed and poor-dead-bird is still in the oven. You hurry to take it out, praying it isn't bone dry and inedible. Once you taste it you're both relieved and disappointed because it isn't bone dry and it isn't inedible, but it isn't quite the moist, delicious poor-dead-bird you'd hoped it would be.

How, you might ask, does this relate to writing a book?

It doesn't, but I can make this analogy work and I will. :0)

I've been reading a lot of manuscripts lately and have found a big problem with one in particular. Go ahead, ladies, panic! LOL. No, it's not yours. It's...mine. With so many deadlines looming it's inevitable that I'll have to spend hours of sleep time awake, hunched over my computer, staring at my own worse-thing-I've-ever-written book. And, yes, that's what I call every manuscript I write. As I read, I often find that I've overdone a scene. While not precisely wrong, the conversation or action is not precisely right either. Thus, the taste isn't exactly bad, but it's not exactly what I was hoping for (see, told you I could get the analogy to work!).

Perhaps you've faced this in your own writing. You're reading through and you think - this seems a little off. There's nothing obviously wrong, it's just not as right as you want it to be. If this happens, don't try to cover the spot up with a ladle of gravy or a pile of dressing. Unlike turkey, a manuscript's problems can't be masked with wonderful side dishes. Instead, ask yourself two questions - Is this what s/he would say here? Is this how s/he would act (react) here? Be honest with yourself. Use everything you know about human nature and your own characters to come up with the truth. Otherwise, asking the questions will be an exercise in futility.

The key to creating great stories lies in creating believable situations and characters. If you can't answer yes to both those questions, the scene must be rewritten to be a more realistic reflection of life.

I've got an example of some really bad writing saved on my laptop (yes, it's my own). If I get back here today, I'll post it along with the rewritten scene. If nothing else, it should give us all a good laugh before we go into the hectic holiday season!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where Do I Go From Here?

In the world of publishing, that's a question that's often asked. Published or unpublished, most authors get to a point where they wonder what direction their writing should take. Often this comes in the wake of rejection, bad sales, or disappointing reviews. At such times, it may be tempting to turn to something new, try a another genre, play with different POV. Maybe give up on writing altogether.

There's nothing inherently wrong with going a different direction when we hit a brick wall. Sometimes it's exactly what we should do. More often than not though, finding a way around the wall is going to take a whole lot longer than knocking it down. All we need are the tools to do so.

The fact is, the industry is tough and fickle. Jumping from genre to genre in hopes of getting it right is a waste of effort and energy. When we have passion for what we write, but are feeling uncertain about the market or our own ability to be successful in it, the answer isn't to give up on our dreams, but to push harder. That means different things to different people. To me, pushing harder means putting myself out there more (and boy do I hate being center stage). It means setting goals that are reasonable even while I dream of bigger things. It means accepting where I am now, embracing it, but still looking forward with an eye to next month, next year, even next decade. It doesn't mean I will never switch genres or try something new. It means that I will keep doing what I'm doing while I'm exploring other options (like longer books or family drama).

For others, pushing harder may mean taking classes, reading books on writing, attending conferences, entering contests. It may mean asking for advice, joining critique groups, or putting a manuscript in front of a freelance editor.

Or it may simply mean continuing in exactly the same way, trusting (as Joshua did) that the wall will eventually fall down.

Write for Him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Awesome Opportunity

SH Romantic Suspense EDITOR PITCH Challenge
Rae-eHarlequin - 10:41pm Nov 12, 2006

We're at it again! And this time, we've got another of your favorite lines for you to send your inspirational romantic suspense to! Steeple Hill Romantic Suspense is looking for YOUR manuscript and Editor Krista Stroever will be on hand to take your pitch!

To enter, send a 1 to 2 line logline of your manuscript to Hosty Rae by December 6th.

Five entries will be chosen by Krista Stroever and those will be announced on December 15th.

Pitches will happen the week of * December 18th, at *1pm EST. But read the rules below to ensure your entry can be accepted.

• You MUST be able to enter and post inside the eHarlequin.com chat room. If you are unable to use the chat room and your submission is chosen, we will be unable to offer you another venue option and it will be unfair to an entrant who is able.

• You MUST have a completed manuscript that is targeted to Steeple Hill Romantic Suspense. Editors have the option to request partials or fulls but aren't accepting across the board.

• You MUST be available at the given chat time. As stated above, we will be unable to offer another venue or time option.

• Please include your member name and your full name along with your submission.

Logline Specifications

Challenge Specifics: This challenge is 1 or 2 lines (as written by the author, please gramatically ensure the sentences do not run-on in order to fit more in.). This should not look like a large paragraph.

Challenge Description: A logline is a 1 or 2 line description of your ENTIRE ms, primarily what marketing hooks each ms might have (ie: Beauty & The Boss, Cowboy Lover, Pregnant Bride) but it's more than that. You will need to lay out the hooks, the conflicts, the characters and the plot premise concisely.

In a query, it would go at the top of the letter, for a pitch, it might be all you use, and you have a better chance of getting editorial attention if you know this skill well because they now have a speedy way of discerning what you're trying to do in the story.

Also loglines help keep the query pages short and you can be more expansive in the synop. (I've also found that if you put it all into those two lines, you now have a small thesis statement from which to build the synop itself.)

When pregnant Lindsay Lawson is left at the altar, no one is more suprised than Hank Handler, the man she works for, that he steps in as the role of the groom. But is the handsome, quiet rancher there to help her save face...or does it have something to do with the long-standing rivalry between their families?

* these are tentative dates and the actual one will be placed in here.
* Only non-published writers may apply.

Balance Anyone?

For years, I've thought my biggest problem as a writer (aside from the fact that I'm homeschooling four kids and can barely find the time to do it!) was pacing. Dragging stories, dragging scenes, dragging chapters. My first drafts are always filled with all three. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I realized that my real problem isn't pacing, it's balance.

In order to keep a romantic suspense story moving along, each scene should further both the romance and the suspense. In my case, I've also got to build in a faith element. Every chapter must flow smoothly and bring the hero and heroine closer to all three things - the resolution of the suspense/mystery, the realization that s/he can't live without the hero/heroine, and a deeper understanding of her/his relationship with God.

That's a lot of stuff to fit into a chapter. Done wrong, the details of each element may become either overwhelming (which slows down the story), or none existent (which prevents the story from building in depth). Good balance of elements within the story leads to smooth transitions that allow our readers to say, "Oh, yes, of course that's what she would do (feel, think, say)." It also creates a story that compels the reader to turn pages as she (or he) lives each moment, each realization with the hero and heroine.

And, of course, that's what we want.

As you move through your second draft, ask yourself how each scene furthers the elements of your story. Work hard to tighten your writing so that it doesn't distract from the story. Above all, don't be afraid to make changes as you strive to create a compelling and well-balanced manuscript!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Playing Nice With Others

I use to say that to be a success at writing a person had to -

A. Have some natural story telling ability.
B. Be a better than average writer.
C. Be persistent.
D. Have a good attitude.

It seems there's something I forgot. Apparently, a successful writer should also know how to play nice with others. Or so my agent informed me. Though not in so many words. According to Steve, my editor said that Harlequin wanted to offer me a contract for another continuity story because, "Shirlee knows how to play nice with others."

Now, perhaps you think that comment belongs more on a grade school report card then in a conversation about an author. Me? I was glad to know that my editor thinks so highly of my ability to work with a variety of people. The thing about a continuity is that each author writes a book, but each book is intricately connected to the other books in the series. Lack of communication, unwillingness to bend and change, hard-lined stances on one's own vision of the story don't work when authors are creating a six book project. What works is a willingness to listen, eagerness to tackle problems as a member of a team, and an ability to see the book you're creating as a group project rather than an individual acheivement. Doing those things is like playing nice on the playground - it creates friendships, champions, and an atmosphere of fun and accomplishment.

Even if you're not published and doubt you'll be offered the chance to write a continuity in the near future, this lesson is a good one to keep in mind. As much as good writing and great story telling can sell your book, a bad attitude and an inablity to accept that you're just one member of a very large team can ruin your career.

I suppose in some ways it's about being humble, about knowing that the books we create can only be their best with the help of others. After all, no one likes arrogance and everyone wants to be acknowledged for what they do. But mostly, it's about living lives that are testimonies to what we believe. It's about having the same gentle spirit as Christ. A spirit that accepts, that appreciates, that loves. It's about being the people He wants us to be.

And really, that's the only way to true success in anything!

Play nice!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Maybe You're Wondering

Where I've been. What I've been doing.

In answer - I'm here. I'm doing the same thing I was doing a month ago when I posted. Teaching, cleaning, writing. Writing, teaching, cleaning. Cleaning. Writing. Teaching.

Actually, I do more teaching and writing than cleaning, but since you don't know where I live and can't come for an unannounced visit, let's pretend that my house is spotless, my kids are all seven grades ahead of their peers, and my writing has sprouted wings and is soaring. Isn't fantasy grand?

Reality is much more messy, cluttered, chaotic.

And maybe, just maybe, it's more fun, too.

After all, there's something to be said for the unknown, for facing each new day knowing that it won't go exactly as planned, for looking at your kids and knowing they're going to say something, do something, act in some bizarre way that you didn't expect, for writing a manuscript that just won't fall in line with your carefully plotted vision. There's something to be said and that something isn't all bad. Spotless is nice. Organized is great. Success is wonderful. But, like money, those things can't provide joy, love, or faith.

So maybe it's time for all us over-achiever, supermom, superdad, gotta-have-everything-just-right people to let go, let God, and let life happen while we laugh and cry, run and dance.

And enjoy every blessed moment of it.

Just something to think about on this too-warm November day.

BTW, I just sold my ninth book to Steeple Hill. Wow! I can hardly believe I've come this far.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I've Got Nothing

My family has an email loop. This has become important as some of us have left Maryland and some have careers that keep our lives too busy for phone conversation (which really aren't that hard to make time for...And you know who I'm talking to). Email has become a very quick way to share bits and pieces of our lives. The other day, my mom sent an email out. It said, "Mom's got nothing." I laughed at that, because my mom has been traveling all over creation (she's been to Arizona, to Branson, to Massachusetts, PA, to Australia...the list goes on), visiting sick friends, coordinating meals for families at her church. She's been on a bowling league for years and exercises daily. She's got a spoiled dog, a devoted husband (even if he does drive her crazy), five kids, fifteen and six/ninths grandkids.

Basically, she's got a whole lot more than nothing. She just couldn't think of anything to say. I thought that was quite funny.

Until today.

Today, I'VE GOT NOTHING. No witty words of advice. No pithy stories about the writing life. No interesting tidbits to share.

And that doesn't really worry me, because I've come to the conclusion that having nothing comes from having everything. A life filled to bursting with activities and errands and chores. And, most importantly, people. I realized the other day, that in a very few short months I'll have fifteen nieces and nephews. Nothing? I think not. I've got - Jude, Caleb, Seth, Emma Grace (my own darlings), and then...in no particular order...Skylar, Trey, Joshua, Danielle, Katie, Baby boy Sharo, Kai, Noah, Jake, John, Elijah, Evelyn Grace, Brianna, Elijah, and Amirah (yes, there are two Elijahs in the family). I've got three sisters, a brother, all their wonderful spouses. I've got my fantastic (mostly) husband and his two sisters. My parents. My mother-in-law.

Nothing? I think not.

And, yet, I have absolutely nothing to say.

Or maybe I do. Maybe, I just want to say - life is short. Enjoy it. Enjoy the people God has put in it with you. Cherish the moments, the days, and the years. Make sure you have nothing to regret. Write your books with passion, but live your life with even more. Talent is great and must be used, but people are our mission and our calling. Sure, my books touch hearts and lives, but if I'm not touching the hearts and lives of the people I speak to every day, I am failing in the most important calling I've been given.

Should we write? Yes. YES. YES. Should we do it with passion and energy? Of course.

But more than that, we should love those God has put in our lives. If that sometimes means giving up writing time and writing opportunities....so be it. There is always tomorrow for that sentence, that scene, that page, but missed opportunities to show that we care can never be regained.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stranger in the Shadows

After three days of back and forth, that's the title my editors approved for my sixth Lakeview book. I'm glad to have it titled and slotted, but it always takes me so long to get use to the titles. Not that that's a particularly bad title. My dear friend Brenda is stuck with TRUSTING HIM for her August 2007 release (a book you should all buy because it's an awesome story). Now, maybe you think TRUSTING HIM isn't bad. I don't think it's bad, but her original title was ROSE COLORED GLASSES. Personally, I would be much more likely to buy a book titled ROSE COLORED GLASSES than I would one titled TRUSTING HIM (but I will be buying many copies of the book to give as gifts, because it is a GREAT book despite the fact that I think the title is a tad boring).

Of course, that's just me.

One way or another, titles matter. They tell us something about the books. Not just the story, but the tone of them. My friend Debbie Clopton writes a really cute series for Love Inspired - The Mule Hollow series. Her books have cute titles and cutes cover - THE TROUBLE WITH LACEY BROWN, AND BABY MAKES FIVE, THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME, DREAM A LITTLE DREAM. It all fits together in a nice package that tells a reader what to expect when s/he opens the book.

Of course, authors don't make the final decision about titles. Well, maybe Nora and Linda and Debbie do, but authors like me don't. Our editors brainstorm with us, we come up with a list of titles, eventually one of those titles is chosen. And the book and the author are stuck with it.

So, don't get too attached to your working title. If you're blessed and that book appears on store shelves, it may have something completely different on the cover. Not that you'll care. Just having the book there will make up for having to change the title!

And I have to say, I've been very, very fortunate. All my titles are cool. Kind of mysterious and rather mainstream sounding. There was only one I really didn't like and now it's just about my favorite. Can you guess which one that was?

So, anyone want to share her working title?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

No, I Can't Spell

So, we can just get that out in the open. I really can't. Spell, I mean. I also can't copy from one page to another. Well, that's not quite accurate. I can copy if I already know the words or numbers, but if it's something I haven't seen before - a strange word, a new telephone number, I'm likely to make a lot of mistakes. To complicate matters, I'm a comma addict. I love using them. Even in inappropriate places. Even in places where they confuse the writing. I don't know the rules about using commas, and I only kind of sort of maybe care about them. Thus the freelance editor.

But this isn't a blog about freelance editors. This is a blog about using the gifts I do have. If I spent all my time worrying about my weaknesses, I wouldn't accomplish a thing. I'd sit in front of my computer, questioning every comma and looking up every word. I'd be frozen in place by fear and the sinking, sliding feeling of inadequacy that often tries to take hold.

So, I've just got to accept my weaknesses and let them go, knowing that God is greater than all those things.

How easy is that to say? The key is to do it. And, yes, I'm talking to you.

I know what you're worried about. You think you won't meet editor and agent expectations. You worry that your writing isn't polished enough. You look at your work and think it's pond scum (yeah, I've got a thing for that lately. I've been seeing a lot of scummy ponds). You have a synopsis you're sure is the worst ever written and you just know it's going to keep you from getting published. You're editing, editing, editing, looking for errors, counting them up in your head, groaning at all the mistakes, all the imperfections. All the things that will prevent your story from being told the way it should be. The way you wish you could tell it.

But I know something else. No matter the problems with your manuscript, your synopsis, your life, they are nothing compared to the beauty of knowing you are doing absolutely what God wants you to do. He doesn't care about those mistakes and inadequacies. He cares about relationship. And that's what He's asking for. Not just tiny little moments of prayer and time, but a daily commitment to seeking His will, to knowing Him better, and to being the person He means you to be.

So, write. Write as if you have no weaknesses. Write as if your story is one that simply must be told. Write as if all the effort, time and energy will be worth it even if the book never sees the light of day. Write because you must. For Him.

And let Him take care of the rest.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What Really Matters

While we sweat bullets over our proposals, queries, etc, while we wonder and worry and wait, I thought I'd talk about what really matters in the writing business.

Great stories told well will certainly get you a slot in a publishing house's line-up of books, but what really matters is attitude.

Maybe you're surprised. Maybe you disagree. Maybe you're right on both counts, but this is my blog, so I'm going to call it like I see it and what I see is that attitude is a good part of what it takes to make it as an author (and in life).

Sure, sales matter. Sure getting those books sold matters. In the long run though, when we're at the end of this life, what's going to matter isn't how many books we sold, how much money we made, whether or not we were bestsellers or total flops. What is going to matter is how many lives we touched, how many people we loved, how many people loved us back, and (most importantly) how well we did the work God gave us. Many of us consider writing our gift and our calling. I can't argue that it isn't, but I will say that our most important calling is to love God and then to love others. That means having servant spirits, seeking ways to lift up those around us, working every job with good heart attitudes.

That's hard. So much harder than writing a book. So much harder than writing a synopsis. So much harder than crafting a beautiful story. Having that good attitude no matter the circumstances means sacrificing self, it means looking beyond now and seeing the future as God does.

Personally, I think hard is an understatement. Sometimes I find it nearly impossible. But it isn't. The Spirit that dwells in me is greater than anything the world dishes out.

So, while I work on my latest project, while I critique and listen and wonder at the way things work out, I strive to keep what's important foremost in my mind - serving God, serving others, having the kind of attitude that is a blessing to those around me.

In the end, that's all that will really matter. The rest will burn away. And when that happens, I pray we will all be left with the beautiful riches that come from a life lived for Him.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Pay Back Time!

I had a blast at ACFW. Met lots of new people. Got to reconnect with old friends, good friends, and sisters of the heart. I laughed. Laughed some more. Stayed up waaaay too late.

And now it's time to get cracking.

Here's the trouble with taking time off writing - it's so hard to get back into the swing of things. I mean, let's be honest, we've all got lives aside from writing. Some of us work outside the home, some of us work from home, some of us homeschool kids. Then there's laundry, dishes, floors. BATHROOMS. The list goes on, but I won't depress myself by continuing. So, we come back from a wonderful conference feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to continue pursuing our writing goals, but that means writing and writing means hard work above and beyond all the work we already do. Worse, it means facing our demons. You know the ones. They whisper into our minds and insist that everything we write is sludge from the bottom of a stagnant pond. If you've ever smelled sludge from the bottom of a stagnant pond, you know just how much it stinks.

So, for those of you who (like me) are having a hard time facing the computer, the WIP, the words that refuse to flow, here's a bit of advice (free of charge!). Think one sentence at a time, one paragraph, one page. Focus on moving forward rather than looking back. And never ever worry about making your work fit a particular publishing house or agent. If you're preparing to submit requested material, focus on your strengths, work on your weaknesses. Tell the story of your heart the best way you can without all the rules cluttering your head.

Most importantly, trust God. Self can do so little. God can do so much. Trust His timing, His perfect will, and believe that no matter the outcome you are walking safe in His love and acceptance.

If you have questions about submitting, queries, synopsis writing feel free to drop me a note. shirlee@shirleemccoy.com

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ACFW Conference Here I Come


Or maybe I'll pretend to go and just chill out by myself in a Maryland hotel for a while. That way I get to avoid:

A. Planes (why did man ever feel the need to fly? It's just not natural.)
B. Crowds (I really am an introvert. I'm just really good at pretending otherwise)
C. Humiliation (which I'm sure I will experience during the late night chats I'm co-presenting).

Of course, I've already paid for the conference and plane ticket, so I will be going. And I'm actually looking forward to it in a slightly neurotic, very anxious way. I only go to one conference a year, so this is my time to be Shirlee-the-author. A time when I feel confident about who I am and what I've accomplished in the publishing world. It's a time when I get to meet new people and reconnect with friends. A time when I can sit and think and listen and learn. When I refocus and renew my passion for what I do. It's a time when I know absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm doing what God want me to do, and that writing really is my calling and my gift.

So, yeah, I'd kind of like to find a hotel in Ocean city and spend four days at the deserted beach, but I think I'll just go ahead and get on the plane tomorrow.

Look out Dallas! Here I come!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ready Or Not?


It's true. While you're all scrambling to perfect pitches and one sheets, packing clothes, making lists of what's needed and what's not, I'm doing nothing. Well as much of nothing as a homeschool mother of four/author/wife can do. I've not packed, not shopped, not thought about anything to do with the story I'd like to pitch to a certain editor that I'm hoping to meet.

This, gang, is called avoidance. If I don't think about it, it won't happen. Of course, it will happen. Come Thursday morning, I'll be boarding that plane and flying to Dallas. Do I know what I'll be wearing? NO. Do I know if I'm bringing my laptop? NO. Do I know who I'm flying out with? Well, yes, actually that is one thing I do know and have planned for.

Why do I bring this up? Because, whether or not I'm ready, my trip to Dallas will happen. That's life, isn't it? We can choose to tackle it head on, or we can choose to hide our heads in the sand, but one way or another, it's going to happen.

So, whatever it is you're avoiding, putting off, refusing to acknowledge, take a page from my book of lessons learned - it doesn't pay to avoid. Today, I go shopping, I get out my suitcase, and I finish the blasted proposal that just won't DIE. What is it that you need to do today?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Here's what I know

God is in control.

Through heartache, trouble, trial, disappointment. He is in control.

Through every moment, every tear, every triumph. He is in control.

He has promised to never leave us. Never forsake us. We can choose to embrace that or to doubt it, but it doesn't change the truth. He is in control.

How obvious. How true. How often overlooked. The simple idea that no matter what, no matter where, no matter how broken, wounded, joyful, or quiet, He is in that moment.

And He is in control.

Next week, many of us will be heading to Dallas for the ACFW conference. We're putting all our ducks in a row, making beautiful one sheets and practicing well-worded hooks. We've prepared proposals, thought through meetings, perhaps even written a script of what we want to say. And that's good. Being prepared, having a plan, working toward a goal, those are things we must do to move toward our dreams and His plans.

But in the end, it's His will, not ours. His timing, not ours. His purpose, His plan, and His perfect knowledge of what is best. Not ours.

That doesn't mean we have to understand it. It doesn't mean we even have to like it. It just is what it is.

I knew this when I started the journey toward publication, but my experiences as an author have brought this truth into sharp focus. I can choose to question, to worry, to wait with anxiety and trepidation, or I can release those things to God and let Him work out the details of where I'm headed and what He will do with the gift He's granted me. Even more, I can grasp my career with both hands, holding onto it with tight fists and determination, or I can let it go, watching it float on air breathed by His warm and wonderful grace. In the end, I cannot know where this journey is leading me. I can only trust that His will is best, His knowledge, His foresight, and His love for me determining the best path for my feet to trod.

Wherever you're going, whatever gift you are trying to use for Him, I pray that you will rest in the assurance that He is in control.

Monday, September 11, 2006


That's what I remember most about 9/11.

The world went silent, as if even the birds and animals held their breath and waited. Sometimes I think they are still waiting, wondering what further atrocities mankind can visit on itself. I know I am.

I've heard people blame God, religion, politics for what happened that day. I think it is our nature as humans to look for causes so that we can find solutions. Sadly, there is no solution. What happened has happened before on both smaller and larger scales. It will continue to happen until the end of time.

Maybe I sound like a pessimist. I'm not. I'm a realist. I look at humanity and I see the truth - there is both great good and great evil in the world. And perhaps even in each of us. No one is exempt from anger, hatred, and bigotry. We each have preconceived ideas, deep rooted insecurities, and the need to survive. Created in the imagine of God, we have minds that imagine, create, and question. Because of that, we have the ability to build up, to tear down, to pull together, and to divide.

Did 911 change me as a person? Yes. I no longer believe that safety is assured. I look for exits in stores, movie theaters, and malls, always, always planning how best to get myself and my children out if there is an attack. I will never fly without fear. Nor will I see a plane in pristine blue sky without remembering 9/11.

But it's changed me for the better, as well. Before, I thought heroes were for fiction. That true heroic acts were few and far between. Today, I know the truth. That there is a hero in every one of us. That when push comes to shove, people will reach out and lend a hand. More, they will sacrifice all they have to save people they've never met. They will work. They will fight. They will even die.

And the beauty of that is far more than can be expressed in words. I think, in the end, that beauty far outweighs the horror and ugliness of what transpired five years ago. What man meant for evil God used for good, bringing together a widely diverse nation and showing us the power of the human spirit and the truth of the hero that dwells in the heart of every man.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I Wonder

And maybe you're wondering, too. Where has Shirlee been? No sightings here. No sightings at Eharlequin. No Shirlee.

I'm here, though. Just quiet. Going through an introspective time in my life that started months ago. Wondering. Wondering. Wondering.

And maybe doing a little wandering, too. From one thought to the next. One idea to the next. And asking myself why I do all I do. What I hope to accomplish. Where I think I'm heading. More importantly, am I heading in the direction God wants me to go?

See? Introspection.

That probably scares some people. Sometimes it scares me. It's tough to look in the mirror and tougher still to grab a magnifying glass and move in close. Mostly, though, introspection doesn't bother me. It's the way I've always been. I often think that's why I became a writer. All the thoughts and feelings and questions that run through my head and my heart. Sometimes they just need a place to go. What better place than a blank white page that's waiting - maybe even begging - to be filled with something.

And so I return to my blog as I began it. Looking at a white page and wondering - how shall I fill it. So many possibilities.

Maybe I'll take a page from Heather Tipton and write a poem. That's always been my way of expressing what I'm feeling. I've got journals filled with bad poetry. LOL. You can check out some that's much better than mine at Heather's blog heatherdianetipton.blogspot.com

If I were going to write a poem here, I'd write about time. Or life. Or death.

If I were going to.

Who knows? Maybe I will.

How about you?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Some Days It Doesn't Pay To Get Out Of Bed

Seriously. It just doesn't. I mean, I could have pulled the covers over my head and skipped today if I didn't have four kids who needed me. I would have accomplished almost as much.

Allergy season is back and I'm half near dying. BTW, it's super hard to exercise when you can't breath through your nose! Any suggestions for alleviating allergies will be greatly appreciated. Especially homeopathic ones. I've already tried all the over-the-counter, under-the-counter, and in-between-the-counter meds with no success.

Long story short, I'm suffering. However, for the sake of all those waiting with baited breath for my next informative (ha!)post, I'd like to mention the one thing all writers love to hate - THE SYNOPSIS.

Yes, it's true that I blogged on this topic before, but now, with the ACFW conference just a month away, seems a perfect time to review the main points of writing a winning synopsis.

Before you begin, get out some blank paper and write a character sketch of each of your protagonists. This should include motivation, goal, and conflict. What makes him or her tick? What is his goal? What is keeping him from achieving it? What path must he take to get what he's looking for? What draws him to the heroine? What makes him want to stay away? How does he grow throughout the story?

Those character sketches will be the backbone of your synopsis, so be thorough.

If you're brave enough to have yours posted here, email it to shirlee@shirleemccoy.com.

Otherwise, I'll have to come up with one myself. And we all know the kind of stuff I come up with. It might not be pretty.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Thing About Life

Is that the older we get, the faster it goes. I've noticed this most in recent years. One minute it's Christmas. The next it's summer. The next thing I know it's Christmas again. On the one hand, I'm urging it on, rushing toward the next great thing on the horizon. On the other, I'm digging in my heels, desperately trying to slow things down. Wait, I'm screaming, wait! I want to savor the moments, eke out the joy, sear it into my memory. Wait!

But time waits for no man. Or woman.

It's not slowing down and, as happens a few times each year, I find myself reevaluating the way I spend it. If time were money, I'd be using an awful lot of it on trifling things - penny candy and soda, amusement park rides and overnighters. Sure, there's momentary satisfaction in those, but what I really want are the things that last - harmony, joy, satisfaction. Those things cost a lot more. They cost loads of time. Time spent with kids, with husband, with God. Time spent in selfless pursuits, in serving and in doing so with the right heart attitude. They cost self. And self is so hard to give up.

I suppose I should tie this in to writing. And I can, because writing is such a big part of what I do and how I spend my time. At moments of frustration (of which there have been many lately), I wonder if I'd be better off pursuing other publishing niches, if writing what I write is really going to get me where I want to be, if I'm wasting time that is already slipping too quickly through my fingers. At those times, I doubt and I wonder and I angst. Is this my dream, or God's dream? A gift that should be used, or simply a distraction? If I'm heading in the right direction shouldn't things be easier? Should they be more difficult? Shouldn't I know?

If you're thinking the answers are coming, you're going to be disappointed. I never quite get the answers I'm seeking. No shouts of clear direction. Just a quiet whisper to my soul that says, "keep going".

So I do. Writing. Writing. While life flies by and I fly with it, net in hand, trying to capture every moment, every bit of joy.

And trusting my time is always well spent when spent for Him.

What is it you're spending your time on?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Contest Winner

Congratulations, Cheryl, you won the writing challenge. Great description. I really enjoyed reading it! Contact me to receive your critique. shirlee@shirleemccoy.com.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sometimes Getting Where You're Going Means Making Sacrifices

This morning I came to the sad conclusion that if I really want to get in shape, I'm going to have to cut some things out of my life. More specifically, I'm going to have to cut some things out of my diet. If only exercising alone could knock off the inches of flab I've still got to lose, I'd already be a size smaller than I was three weeks ago. Alas, it cannot. And so I'm reduced to facing the cold, hard facts of calorie consumption. Putting more into my body than my body burns negates the effect of all that wonderful exercise (ha!) I've been doing.

Which is why when I stepped on the scale this morning the stinking numbers hadn't budged. Not an ounce in a week. How discouraging. How disheartening.

How fitting.

I mean, it's not like I've been watching what I'm eating. I'm exercising, but I'm not exactly passing on the cookies.

Go ahead. This is the time when everyone gets to chime in and tell me that numbers don't mean anything. That muscle weighs more than fat and takes up less space, so while I might not be lighter, I'm surely looking better. Such wonderful, sweet words and so meaningless when I'm staring at the numbers that really do seem to mean a lot.

Now for the writing part. Personally, I figure I could leave the post as is and be done with it. You're all smart enough to figure out where I'm headed. However, I've still got an hour before I have to take my kids to the three hour piano torture. Oops -lesson. So, why not spend some more of it here?

What I've discovered about dieting is the same thing I discovered about writing a few years back - it takes a lot of effort.

I'm not trying to be scary, here, but the fact is, we can not be successful in the publishing industry if we don't make writing an important part of our lives. Being an author takes energy and commitment. Often, it also takes sacrifice. Of time. Of energy. Of emotion. It's so easy to play a game when your heart isn't in it and you don't really care about the outcome. It's so much harder when you do care. When you feel that winning will validate you in some way. Whether or not we really achieve validation from writing or getting in shape is for another blog. So, I'll just say that doing what God wants is always the right thing. And sometimes that means doing what we really don't want to do. Writing when we don't feel like it. Passing up on the television show or movie to spend an hour or two at the computer. Sacrificing our vision and dream for our work and allowing others to have hand in what we're creating. Reading over that manuscript one more time even though we're so sick of it we could burn it in the backyard and be happy.

Always, always making a conscious decision to do whatever it takes to get where we're going. And that means saying, "Okay, Lord, I'm not sure where this is leading, but I'm willing to make it important if that's what You want."

And if it is what He wants (and from reading many of your blogs, I know that it is)than we must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to include it in our daily lives.

Which leaves only one question - are we?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sometimes Getting Where You're Going Hurts

Okay, so this is another exercise/writing post. I can't help myself. It's that or talk about my kids and husband. If I get started on that, I'll never stop, because they take up a huge portion of my life and thought processes. I mean, the first thing I thought when I got up this morning (at 6 a.m) wasn't "Lord, please give me something meaningful to write today". It was, "Lord, please give me more patience with my kids, because if they spend today bickering like they did yesterday I will be forced to do something desperate. Like put them each in a room with books, food, water, and absolutely no contact with siblings!"

See? They are my life. And well they should be. But I'm a writer, too, and this is a writing blog. Therefore, I will blog about writing. Seeing as how I am an out of shape writer, exercise often gets mixed in.

And we all know how much I LOVE exercise.

But, I'm blabbering on and you're wondering, "when is she going to get to the point?"

Right now. Really.

Yesterday, I was in pain. Serious pain. I've started this new exercise tape and it's insane. Squats. Lunges. Not good for someone with bad knees. So, my legs hurt, but my knees hurt more. That deep, yucky ache in the bones that won't go away no matter how many Tylenol I pop. Standing hurt. Sitting hurt. Lying down hurt. Sleeping was difficult and uncomfortable. All day long, I kept thinking, "this isn't worth it. Exercising isn't worth it. In shape isn't worth it. Thin isn't worth it."

And right then, at that moment, it seemed like it wasn't. Today, in the light of the new day, with less pain and a slight change in the shape of my body (thanks to three weeks of almost every day exercise), I have a different perspective. It might hurt now, but in a month it won't. In a month, I'll be a little lighter, a little slimmer, a little more powerful than I am today. On my birthday in December, I'll be close to what I was BK (before kids). And that's going to feel incredible.

Thinking that brought to mind Hebrews 12:1 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Not just the race, but the race marked out for us.

If you're reading this, part of the race God has marked for you probably involves writing. I'd be lying if I said the road to publication is easy, that it never leads to that bone-deep ache that makes sitting, standing, sleeping difficult. It does. Critiques can hurt. Rejection can hurt. Reviews can hurt. Doors swing open, only to close again. Our very best effort may be met by callous form letters. There will be days when we'll feel (published or not) that we're not sure we want to do this any more. That the pain, frustration, and aggravation just aren't worth it.

When that happens, we've got to set our eyes on the finish line. Though it may be out of sight, around a bend, up the steepest slope we've ever seen, it's there. We've just got to keep running, limping, crawling toward it. I think when we reach it, it'll be much grander than we ever imagined. Because, in the end, it will be more about completing the race than winning it.

Keep writing!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Steeple Hill Guidelines and Editors (or Showergate 101)

If you're thinking about submitting to Steeple Hill, you may have heard various rumors about the strict and constraining guidelines forced upon authors who write for the publishing house.

As with any rumor, there is both truth and fiction in what is being said. Steeple Hill, like any other publishing house, has guidelines that must be adhered to. However, the guidelines generally aren't a problem for those of us writing from a Christian world view. Most of what we're asked not to include in our writing is stuff we wouldn't include in our daily life. Curse words, men and women spending the night together (even without sex involved!), descriptions of certain body parts, terms that might be used for those body parts (and I'm not talking the kind cut off and lying in a ditch by the side of the road, hidden in suitcases, or pickled in jars out in potting sheds). Think of books as having ratings. A Harlequin Intrigue might be PG13 or R. Steeple Hill is looking for PG.

So, that's not so bad, right?

Also, for those wondering, we can (and are even encouraged) to use scripture, prayer, the name of Jesus, Christ, God, Holy Spirit in our writing. The purpose of these books is to entertain a mostly Christian audience by sharing stories about men and women who struggle to live their lives for God. Each story must have a vital faith element. That doesn't mean a mere mention of a prayer or a Bible verse. That means spiritual growth throughout the story. Without that, you simply don't have a Steeple Hill book.

In the years I've been writing for Steeple Hill, I've been blessed to work with three different editors. I'm happy to say, I've enjoyed the experience immensely. I don't have a problem with the guidelines, and tend to stay within them without a thought. However, there was one time when my editor and I had a difference of opinion.

I was writing EVEN IN THE DARKNESS. My poor heroine had been tortured, forced to ride on an unairconditioned bus for hours, run through rice fields, and traveled steep mountain passes on a motorcycle. She really did need a shower. And, I thought, what better place to have her think about all that was happening? The only quiet time I get during my day happens to be when I'm in the shower. I do my best thinking, praying, and plotting there. So why not let Tori do the same?

The answer, though not obvious to me, was obvious to my editor. She informed me that my readers wouldn't want to be in the shower with Tori.

In the shower? They won't be in the shower, they'll be in her head. Right? Besides, which, Tori needed a shower. Just the thought of her sweaty, blood stained clothes made me wrinkle my nose. A shower was a necessity. Other wise, my readers would be wrinkling their noses, too.

That made sense to me. And so I told my editor. Who informed me that the reader might feel s/he was in the shower with Tori. Which, of course, would mean imagining such things as the above mentioned body parts. So could I please not have Tori thinking in the shower.

I wanted to argue. I think my editor knew I wanted to argue. Instead, I cut the scene and had Tori stand in front of a mirror, blood trickling into the sink.

And the book was a lot better for it. Because, really, I didn't need the shower scene at all. My editor knew it. I did not. Which, of course, proves a point I made in an earlier post - editors know what they're talking about. They want the best book we can produce. 97% of the time they're right. I say 97% because no one is right every time. I wish I could give you an example of a time when my editor has been wrong. Alas, I cannot. And that's including all three of my editors.

Sadly, I can think of at least twenty times when I have been wrong. Thankfully, my editors have called me on those things each time.

Long story short - your editor is your greatest asset. Treat her (or him) accordingly. With respect, with humor, and with the kind of professional courtesy with which you would like to be treated.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

It Isn't All About Writing, Is It?

I don't know about everyone else, but I've always got a story on my mind. Everywhere I go I see bits and pieces of lives and legacies. Old houses, graveyards surrounded by wrought iron fences, abandoned fields, fallow and overgrown, people laughing, crying, stone-faced, joyous. In each one I see a story waiting to be told. Or one that has already been told and only needs to be written.

When I was a kid, we'd travel from Maryland to Massachusetts a couple of times a year. During those long trips, I'd sit lost in my own world while my four siblings chattered and played. Outside the window, the world beckoned, filled with adventure, mystery. People. So many people with so many experiences. I could imagine them all. I still can.

This past week, I left my laptop at home, thinking that would somehow separate me from the stories constantly dancing through my mind. Alas, computer separation did nothing to quiet the what-ifs that seem so much a part of who I am. What if someone is living in that tiny shack beside the water? What if that person is hiding from someone? What if...?

I think I'm diseased. Or maybe I'm gifted with an overactive imagination.

One way or another, I'm beginning to realize that I'm not just a writer. I'm a storyteller. I think if I'd been born a thousand years ago, I'd have been that - a storyteller committed to passing a legacy of words and knowledge from one generation to another.

But I wasn't. And so I write fiction and pass on different words and different legacies. I think at least one of my kids will do the same one day. My daydreamer. My imaginative one. My guy who follows the stories in his head as closely as he follows the world around him.

Maybe for us writing isn't what it's all about. Maybe what it's all about are the stories singing in the night, echoing in the quiet hours before dawn, whispering in the busy hours of the day.

I wonder. What is it all about for you? The words? The story? The characters? Or that driving, undeniable need to commit thought to paper and create a world from the seeds of imagination?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Contest - I dare you to enter!

In an hour or so we're leaving on vacation. I know you all will miss me desperately.:0)

We're heading to Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. If you've never been there, you're missing out. It's a beautiful area. So much more peaceful than suburban Maryland. People are friendly. They don't rush. They enjoy the sweet pace of life as it comes and don't seem in such a hurry to get to the next place, move on to something new, or find something better. There is peace there. In the silent mornings. The sweet trill of birds. The quiet plop of fish jumping in the lake. The scent is that of life - earth, foliage, water - and when I breath it in, I feel like I am home.

Maybe that's why my books are set there.

Where do you feel most at home? Your house, your neighborhood, your space? Or somewhere different. Somewhere you can only dream of being?

If you have the time or inclination, write about it. A poem. A short story. A description. Send it to me at shirlee@shirleemccoy.com, or post it here. When I come home, I'm going to choose the best (and how subjective is that :-)). The winner will receive a critique of the first three chapters of a manuscript, a critique of a long synopsis, and help with the query process. Or, if you're a reader and not a writer, a signed copy of each of my Lakeview books.

Don't get in trouble while I'm gone!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I'm Just Saying

Lately, I've been thinking that exercise is overrated. I've been lunging, squatting, crunching and push-upping for two and a half weeks and I still look like the Pillsbury dough boy. Actually, girl. I've got hair. Sadly, this is my own fault. I have not lunged, push-upped, squatted, or crunched for far too long. My body doesn't want to give up its life of leisure, and neither do I. However, I'm ready to give up all the doughy white goodness that comes with being sedentary.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Nothing. Everything. It's about life. And life is about choices. Sometimes we have to do what we think is right, even if we can't see results, even if we're not sure of the long-term ramifications. Sometimes we have to trust that God has us doing what He wants right now. And right now is all that we need to worry about.

In other posts, I've talked about just doing it, about mommy guilt, about all the things that keep us from writing. Lately, I'm wondering if what really keeps us from writing is much deeper than those things. If, perhaps, we lack the faith that leads to giving it all over to God. Faith in Him seems so much easier than faith in His ability to set our course and to change that course when we get off track. To truly live our lives for Him, our faith in Him must become faith in His vision for our lives. A vision that is often beyond our ability to see.

I stood in front of the mirror this morning and wondered why I was bothering with exercise. It's so obviously NOT working. Yet, somewhere deep inside my dough-girl body there are muscles. They just need more time to work their way out. If I give up now, I'll never see what might be.

The same is true in a writer's life. Often, we see not what might be, but what is. And what is is often not what we hoped it would be. So, I pray that when you look in the mirror today, you'll see not just the person you are, but the person God sees - the potential beneath the failures, the success at the end of what might be a very long road. Remember, what God asks today may seem outside your ability, but as you work toward it you'll become more and more the person He has always meant for you to be.

What is it that's holding you back today? Put it behind you and go forth and write!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Please Send Your Complete Manuscript

The five words every author wants to hear. Though they're not nearly as exciting as "we'd like to offer you a contract", they are a creaking, groaning sign that a door has opened for you.

On the heels of Steeple Hill's announcement that the Love Inspired Suspense line will be increasing to 4 books a month in February 07, I'm thinking there is no time like the present for aspiring RS writers to get their queries ready.

Step one in writing a winning query - name your editor. Which, of course, means know who the acquiring editor for the line is. For Love Inspired Suspense, you'll want to send to Melissa Endlich or Diane Dietz.

Step two- write a short back cover blurb for your book. Make it a good one. Something compelling that is sure to grab the editor's attention.

Step three- explain the length and genre of your book and give a brief summary of your audience.

Step four- give a brief bio including any publishing credits.

Finally, package it in a one page letter that is a quick, professional portrait of who you are as a writer.

Here's an example -

Dear Ms. Endlich,

Sophie Manchester is sure her life is exactly what she wants it to be. A thirty-something suspense author, she's got a nice house, a good job, and enough friends to keep her from dwelling on what she doesn't have - love. When gun shots and screams interrupt Sophie's late night run, she calls 911 on her cell phone and races toward the sound. A dark sedan speeds away from a local park, and Sophie is sure she's seeing a murderer escape. Unfortunately, the police find no evidence of a crime.

When quiet knocks on the windows of her ranch-style home become scratching, shrieking moans that wake her during the dead of the night, Sophie turns to police detective Eli Williams for help. At first Eli is convinced Sophie is hearing nothing but echoes of her overactive imagination, but as he gets to know the practical, soft-hearted woman he suspects there is much more than that going on.

Together, Sophie and Eli work to uncover a plot that goes beyond gun shots in the dark and nightmare whispers in the night. What they find threatens to topple a powerful politician's family. If it doesn't destroy them both first.

A WOMAN ON THE BRINK OF INSANITY is a novel of inspirational romantic suspense. Approximately 65,000 words in length, A WOMAN AT THE BRINK will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Hannah Alexander and Colleen Coble.

An avid reader of inspirational romance and a fan of the Love Inspired Suspense line, I recently finaled in the Genesis contest in the romantic suspense category, and placed second over-all in the Touched by Love contest. As I writer, I enjoy the challenge involved in creating suspenseful stories that contain a strong romantic thread and a vital faith journey.

May I send you my completed manuscript?


Hope Full Author

Monday, July 31, 2006

Bad Query. Bad, Bad Query.

Dear Editor,

I am so pleased to give you an opportunity to read my novel, A WOMAN AT THE BRINK OF INSANITY. I know you are going to love it. My mother, father, sister, brother, best friend, and six-year-old son all love this story. Since my mother is quite ill it would mean the world to my family if A WOMAN AT THE BRINK OF INSANITY were published. I've chosen your publishing house, because I think you need an author like me to spice up your line-up of authors. I can add a new perspective, as your publishing house mostly publishes non-fiction self-help books for men. If you take a chance on my fiction, I know you'll make lots of money off me. It's a no-lose situation.

My book is a great read. It's suspenseful, sometimes funny, and has a heart-grabbing ending that will leave a reader wanting to read more of my work. It's about a woman who thinks she's going crazy, but really she's not. She just thinks she is. But she's not really. Which is what makes the story really suspenseful and sometimes funny. And the heart-grabbing ending is something you will have to read to appreciate. It involves the woman finding a dog, but she thinks the dog is as crazy as she is. But the dog isn't. They live happily ever after together. That's kind of a play on the fairy tale theme. Only the woman doesn't end up with a man, she ends up with a dog! Readers are going to love it!

I know I've got your attention now and you're just dying to read what happens in this story. A WOMAN AT THE BRINK OF INSANITY is complete and ready for your request. I look forward to hearing from you, and to working with you on this and future publishing projects.

Of course, I'm contacting several other publishing houses. Even though yours is the one I want to write for, I'll have to take the best offer I get.


Shirlee McCoy

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Sabrina's right. I'm insanely, unbelievably crazed right now! :0)

I've got VALLEY OF SHADOWS to mail out and then copyedits on LITTLE GIRL LOST to finish by Monday. Fun, fun, fun! Actually, it is. However, since we've already established that I'm not supermom, superwoman, or any other variation of super, it's inevitable that staying up until three or four in the morning five or six nights in a row has caught up with me.

Which is fine, because after Monday of next week, I've got some breathing room.

Today, I'm posting an encouragement I wrote in the Steeple Hill encouragement thread. There are certain times in every writer's life when she needs to know that it isn't her. It's God. That it isn't what she can do. It's what He will do. Perhaps this is one of those times for you. It certainly is for me. So...for you and for me:

Do you ever feel that you just can't do it? Not one more load of laundry. Not one more meal. Not one more late night. Not one more day at work, moment of intervening, second of being whatever it is you are.

I do.

In the wee hours of the morning, I stared out the window into our dark front yard, and thought, "Nope. I can't do this. It's too hard. I'm too tired. Here it is, 2 a.m. The rest of the house is sound asleep and I'm working. I just don't have it in me."

It occurred to me later, as I was doing my morning devotional, that I don't have to have it in me. He's in me. And that's enough. Strangely (or not) enough, this was my Bible reading for the day -

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop, with my God I can scale a wall. As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the rock except our God. It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. Pslam 18:30-32

That is the true beauty of life - we don't need to keep the lamplight of our energy burning, we don't have to scale the walls of frustration and trouble alone, and we don't have be the shields that protect the fortress of our weary souls. He is able and willing to do those things for us.

So, whatever it is you struggle with today and in the week to come, I pray His grace will light your way, His strength will give you courage, and His love will surround you. May you know the peace of His presence in you life.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Something to Think About

I'm dragging myself back from the edge of insanity to offer some advice about the publishing world.

Yesterday, I received my line edits for my February release. LITTLE GIRL LOST is the second book in the Secrets of Stoneley continuity, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to write it. Line edits mean my book is getting closer to production. Which means I'm getting closer to holding the finished product in my hand. Yay!

Anyway, I was reading through the comments scribbled in the margin and I started wondering just how many hours the editor and copy editor spent working on my manuscript. I'd say a lot. I know I've mentioned this before, but I feel the need to say it again - every published book is a group project. Sure, the author comes up with the idea (usually). Sure she slaves over the first, second, third, fifteenth draft. She's also the one that's going to get the reader mail, the recognition, and the pats on the back if the book gets good reviews or places in contests. But that doesn't mean the book is only hers.

To survive in the publishing world, authors must realize that they are part of a team. They also must realize that they work for the editor. The editor does not work for them. An author must be willing to release ownership of her manuscript. Rather than arguing and fighting for every word and scene, she must be open to changes and willing to do what it takes to make a manuscript meet the editor's vision of what it should be.

Painful to think about, isn't it? We work so hard to create what we think are stellar manuscripts. We polish, shine, and make them into exactly what we want them to be. Then we sell them and they are no longer ours. They are someone else's. And that someone else has the right (and I'd argue the responsibility) to ask for changes that create a book that more thoroughly meets reader expectations.

Personally, I don't have a problem with being asked to change things in my manuscript. I suppose because I view my books as a product rather than art. Sure, I believe that writing is an art, I love the flow and feel of words as they form sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, but in the end what matters is how well my book sells. In this regard, my editors know more then I do. Of course, if you ask Krista Stroever she'll probably bring up Showergate. It's the one and only time I've argued for a scene. I lost. She won. It was for the best.

If you all come up with really interesting comments, I might share the details of Showergate. Until then, I'd like to suggest that understanding the editorial aspects of creating a book now, rather than after you're published, will help when faced with unfavorable critiques (and no, I am not referring to any manuscripts that I've critiqued or any responses I've gotten from the authors of those manuscripts :0)). As hard as it may be, we must step back from negative feedback and view it for what it is - a chance to improve our writing.

My thought on this is not popular, but I'm sticking to it - there is always a grain of truth in the negative. For the most part, people aren't setting out to destroy our egos, ruin our manuscripts, or change our work into theirs. For the most part they are doing their best to offer advice they think might benefit us. The key is in reading between the lines. I often find that negative comments are misdirected. One of my manuscript readers might feel the ending doesn't fit the book, but not be able to figure out why. I can choose to ignore the comment, or to study the section that doesn't fit and try to pinpoint exactly why it bothered my reader. I've had my freelance editor tell me she didn't like my heroine. Trust me when I say I wanted to ignore her 'opinion'. Fortunately, I didn't.

Don't be afraid of negative comments. Use them as tools to help you become an even better writer than you already are!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Engaging readers

I've had a sore throat and fever since Friday. I only bring this up because it seems to have impacted my ability to type. Now, I understand that I don't want to talk because my throat is raw, but not wanting to type seems a strange byproduct. Maybe it's just fatigue rearing it's ugly head and demanding to be noticed. I try my best to ignore it most of the time, but lately the two of us are having a knock down drag out war (and fatigue is winning).

So, I'll be brief. Or at least more brief than usual. First of all, congratulations to Lynette who has finished her manuscript! You go, girl! Now, of course, I have to put in my little 'I told you so'. Because I did tell her that if she stuck to a word count goal she'd finish in no time. The advice was mine. The effort and determination hers. Good job, Lynette.

Second, Harlequin VP Isabel Swift is blogging. I'm finding her posts interesting and informative. My favorite so far : "Are You Engaged." In it, she talks specifically about series romance, but I think the comments are applicable to all writing. You can check it out at http://isabelswift.blogspot.com/

So, as you're writing today, think about how well you're engaging your readers with your words, your story, your unique voice. How are you taking the predictable and skewing it to reflect your vision?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stiff writing

I know a lot of us are getting ready for conferences or submissions or both. In light of that, I'd like to discuss a few things I often do wrong. If, at some point, I happen to mention something that you struggle with, we can have a good discussion about ways to fix the problem.

Here's something I spotted in the manuscript I'm preparing for submission - stiff writing. This is one of those things that does not necessarily equate to poor writing. Stiff doesn't mean poor grammar, poorly constructed sentences, or even lazy word choices (which I am also guilty of). However, it is just as detrimental to our bid for publication. Stiff writing results when our sentences are too similar, when we don't vary the length and structure of the sentences, and when we tell the story from our heads rather than from the character's perspective.

Here's an example (not from my manuscript, just from my head)of stiff writing -
Jane pushed the door open and stepped into the living room of her house. She had left the lights off, so she crossed the room and turned on the lamp that sat on the table. The house felt empty and she almost wished she hadn't sent her renter packing the week before. She went into the kitchen and got a soda from the fridge. As she sipped from the can, a sound drifted in from somewhere down the hall. It sounded like a quiet sigh, or maybe the brush of a foot against carpet. She froze and strained to hear more. She didn't hear anything, but the hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she was sure she wasn't alone. She needed to get out of the house and call the police. She stepped out of the kitchen and hurried across the living room. Something slammed into her back and she fell.

This is not stiff -
Jane shoved the door open and stepped into the living room of her house. Darkness and silence greeted her, a stark contrast to the noise and chaos of the emergency room where she worked. She'd thought that was what she wanted when she'd refused to renew her renter's lease. Now, she wondered what she'd been thinking. As much as Kelly's constant chatter and late night visitors had annoyed, having her renting the basement apartment had made the house seem less lonely. In the wake of Matt's death a year ago, less lonely was something Jane needed to feel. She sighed, pushing away the thought and the sadness that accompanied it. She'd grab a soda, turn on the television, create her own noise to fill the silence.

She had the soda in hand, was taking the first cold sip when she heard it - a whisper of sound that clawed its way up her spine and lodged in the base of her neck. Was someone in the house with her? She didn't wait to find out, just set the can down on the counter, and hurried back toward the front door. The police would think her paranoid, but Jane didn't care. She was getting out and she was calling for help. Let the experts deal with whatever lurked, or didn't, in the dark bowels of her house. She reached for the doorknob, her hand brushing against cool metal, and felt a subtle shift in the air behind her. Before she could turn, something slammed into her back, knocking her forward with enough force to steal her breath. Her head cracked against wood in an explosion of stars and pain. And then she was falling, sliding toward the floor and darkness.

So, it's the same scene. However, while the first example is technically correct (minus any grammatical and spelling errors) it isn't compelling. The style is stiff. Each sentence seems to mimic the one before in tone and structure. We've got no insight into our heroine, no true idea of what is going on in her head. Sure, we've got surface stuff, but the paragraph lacks deep point of view. We sit at the surface of the character's thoughts. It's like meeting someone and saying, "How are you?" and getting the response, "I'm fine." Fine is generic. So is the first paragraph.

Oops, it's late. I've got to start on summer school stuff.

Any comments or questions on stiff writing?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Things I Don't Want to Do Today

avoidance: deliberately avoiding; keeping away from or preventing from happening

In case you're reading and wondering, this is a post about writing.

I had originally intended to write about querying, and even have examples of good and bad query letters. That will have to wait for another day.

Today, I am thinking about avoidance. Namely, avoidance of things that really, really must be done, but that I have absolutely no desire to do. For example, I don't want to scrub the downstairs bathroom. I have three sons. I don't think I need to offer any further explanation for my avoidance of this task. I also don't want to call my sons' piano teacher to confirm their lessons for tomorrow. I have several reasons for this, the most pressing is that I simply don't feel like bringing my kids to piano tomorrow. Two of my boys participate in piano competition. Now, that my third son is beginning with the same teacher, we're in for a long year. Why start it now? The other thing I really don't want to do is take my kids to the park. I've been pulling too many late nights finishing VALLEY OF SHADOWS. I'm tired. I deserve a break. Don't I? While I'm listing things I'd rather avoid, I don't want to put away the clean dishes, fold the clean clothes, start another load of laundry, or sweep my floor (for the millionth time). I don't want to make my kids do their summer school, clean their rooms, or do their piano practice. I don't want to move, let alone exercise.

But most of all, I don't want to write. Not one word, not one sentence, not one tiny little punctuation mark. I want to leave my laptop where it is, silent and stagnate on my writing desk. I want to forget, for just today, that I have a manuscript due in two and a half weeks, that I need to print out and polish the story my editors are waiting for, that I have to begin the proposal for the third and final book in my contract.

Just for today, I want to avoid it all.

But I won't, because I've learned that when I avoid things they don't get done (gee, what a surprise) and I just end up with more to do the next day, or the next. I've also learned that avoiding something for one day makes me more likely to avoid it the next. And that is a really good way to form bad habits.

So, I'll do all the things listed above, and probably be happy I did. And when vacation time comes (in August), I'll still be on track with my writing, my homeschooling, my kids' lessons, and I'll be able to relax and enjoy.

Which leads to a question you knew was coming - What are you avoiding today?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rules, Rules, Rules

The American Christian Fiction Writer's loop had a discussion about rules yesterday. I skimmed most of the posts, afraid if I read too carefully I might learn the rules and ruin my writing.

I'm only half joking about that. Rules are great, but I didn't know any when I got published and I think that's why it happened so quickly for me. Granted, I didn't sell my first or second manuscript, but that's because they stunk. My third attempt created a great story and good writing. A winning combination.

For me, the problem with rules is that I always strive to follow them. If I learned all the so-called writing rules, I'd be so obsessed about not breaking them, my writing would become stiff. Stiff writing does not make for good stories. My personal philosophy tends toward ignorance (in writing) is bliss. What I don't know, I don't have to worry about. And when I don't worry, my writing flows from the depth of my heart rather than from the depth of my rule-obsessed mind. Of course, over time, having joined writing organizations, gone to conferences, and spent countless hours discussing my craft, I've heard the rules. What I've found is that those rules are really just common sense ideas based one what works most of the time in writing. Most of the time. Not all of the time. Done well, lots of things can work.

The way I see it, our society fosters the idea that we can all be successful if we work hard. It's the whole Horatio Alger Rags to Riches thing. Be nice, play by the rules, work hard, and you'll get what you deserve. Unfortunately, things aren't always that way. Hard work? Yes. Be nice? Of course. Play by the rules? In writing, maybe not. Writing rules are arbitrary, based on ideals set forth by editors and authors who are trying hard to help writers achieve their dreams. To do this, they've come up with a set of rules based on mistakes that many, many writers make. Head-hopping, starting the manuscript too slowly, using too much dialogue, not enough dialogue, too much backstory, not enough backstory. I'm sure there is a rule for every conceivable aspect of writing. Each one is meant to be a helpful tool used for building wonderful manuscripts.

While I'd agree there's something to be said for useful tools, I'd argue that the most important tool a writer can have is the ability to tell a good story. Without it, following every rule written about writing is going to do absolutely nothing toward producing a manuscript that sells.

Learning to tell great stories is vital in the quest to write an outstanding book. I could list a number of ways to enhance story telling abilities, but I've got four kids who need my attention. Feel free to post your own ways of honing story telling skills!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why We Write What We Write

I taught a workshop a few weeks back, and one of the ladies asked me why I write inspirational. I told her that my fiction reflects my world view and is an extension of who I am as a person.

Later, I thought a lot about that question. Why do I write what I write? The fact is, I've never considered writing my calling and I didn't set out to write Christian fiction. It just kind of happened while I was working on my first book. As I've mentioned before, I never set out to be a romantic suspense author, either. That just kind of happened to me, too.

But in life, things don't ever just happen, do they? They happen for a reason and are shaped by divine plan. If you're not a Christian and reading this, you may think I'm bonkers. However, my philosophy of life isn't just a Christian based idea. It stems from the soul of every human being. Even atheist want purpose in their lives. Without purpose, life has no meaning.

Which brings me back to the question of why I write Christian romantic suspense. I think the best answer I can give to that is - because it is what I'm good at, it is what I love, it is part of who I am. I write it because it allows me to create entertaining stories that offer a 'clean' alternative to mainstream romantic suspense. I write it because I will never have to feel embarrassed when my children read it. I write it because I could read a chapter of it in front of my church without embarrassment. I write it because the longer I've been writing, the more I've come to realize that what I do is being used as ministry in God's way and His time. I may not set out to touch hearts and minds, but somehow it has happened. I can not turn my back on that.

Purpose? Plan? Passion? What do you write and why?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Getting to That Ninety-Five Percent

In my last post, I offered advice given by Steve Laube. He said, "When approaching an agent make sure you put your best possible manuscript in front of them. We often see proposals and sample chapters that are 85% ready...But that isn't enough. We need to see material and ideas that are closer to 95% ready for the market."

Of course, the same advice holds true when approaching a publishing house. To make our work shine, we've got to be sure it's a step above most of what is being submitted. That means submitting compelling stories and well-written manuscripts. It means pushing ourselves to create something that stands out as being just a little better, just a little more polished, just a little more publishable than the rest of what's sitting in the slush pile.

Most of us understand this and are trying hard to do it. The problem isn't in wanting to achieve that 95%, but in being able to know when we have. Some writers believe every page they write is on par with GONE WITH THE WIND, or TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. Others, like me, would never submit anything if they based submitting on their own assessment of the work they do. To find a happy medium, I go through a three step process.

1. Absence makes the heart....more realistic.
I always build in extra time when I plan how long a manuscript is going to take. I don't do it so that I can have my contracted manuscripts in early, but so that I can have anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks to set my book aside. During this time, I work on new ideas, write reader letters, or prepare a synopsis for another project. What I don't do is give in to temptation and read over the work I just finished. When I do come back to my work, it's with fresh eyes. I print the manuscript out and read it as if it were a book, using red slash marks in the margins to indict places where the story doesn't flow. If sentences need to be chopped, I do it on hardcopy. While I'm doing this I take notes regarding the plot and any potential problems with it. Only when I'm finished do I turn on my computer and begin revising.

2. Sometimes it Pays to Pay

This is something I feel strongly about, but is not in any way required. When I finish imputing the changes that were indicated through step one, I hand my manuscript off to my freelance editor. I've mentioned Sara before. She's been editing for me since before I was published. We've built a rapport and a no-nonsense approach to the process that can be humiliating, but is always effective. Basically, she does her best to tear my manuscript apart, and I do my best to put it back together correctly. If you've been writing for a while with little success, paying an editor to look at your work may be the way to go. Before you do this, I'd suggest checking out a variety of services, asking their prices, their client list, and exactly what it is their service offers. Finding a good one is like finding a good agent - it can only enhance your writing and help you in your quest toward publication. Having a bad one is useless. If any of you are interested in hearing more about this, please let me know. I've got a lot more to say on how to find a good fit, but don't want to waste time if the subject isn't of interest.

3. The Family Challenge

I don't have a critique group. If I did, I'd have a critique challenge instead. Once I've finished implementing the changes recommended by my freelance editor, I print off four copies of the manuscript and hand them out to willing victi...readers. This is my final step before submitting. My readers aren't editors, they're not experts, they are just what I've called them - readers. They know good books because they love to read. Just as with my freelance editor, I've built a solid relationship with my readers that has nothing to do with the fact that they're family. My readers know I'm counting on them to spot problems. They don't want to let me down. That means they give me honest critiques that go beyond 'it was good'. Helpful critiques go something like this - I really liked the story, but the ending didn't seem to fit. The mystery was good, but there wasn't enough romance. It was too preachy. It didn't have enough scripture. My rule of thumb for this - if more than one person comments on a particular thing, I change it. If only one person comments, I consider changing it.

When I finally turn in my manuscripts, I know they're as close as I can get to that 95%. Sure, the process takes time, paper, and sometimes money, but if it means creating a great book, it's worth it.

If you're in the market for a freelance editor, I know of a few that might be helpful:

- sarakparker@sbcglobal.net (put freelance editor in the subject line and mention my name if you do decide to contact her)

- The Story Sensei

From now until July 15th, I will be holding a fabulous contest for my Story Sensei critique service. I will draw the names of TWO lucky winners! They will each receive: A free synopsis critique – up to 10 pages single-spaced, a $40 value!AND
A coupon for 25% OFF any manuscript critique – whether full or partial manuscript, any number of words. For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $250!
In addition, EVERYONE WHO ENTERS will receive a 10% OFF coupon for any service, whether synopsis, query letter, or manuscript critique (full or partial). For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $100, just for entering. Go to my Story Sensei blog and post a comment to enter the contest.
- eharlquin critique service

I know these links are next to useless. I just can't seem to figure the link thing out. Sigh.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Secret to Writing Success #4

Successful writers write consistently. They also know where to submit their finished product. Whether you're searching for a publishing house, or hunting for an agent, knowing who to submit to is key to garnering interest in your work. Interest opens doors, offering you opportunities to submit something else to someone who recognizes your name (if you're rejected), revise, or sign that coveted contract. While it's true that an editor can decide to pass your unsuitable-for-their-line manuscript on to someone else, there is just as much likelihood that they'll simply pass it back to you.

To find a good fit, a writer has to be willing to do her homework. The Writer's Market Guide is a perfect place to start. Start not finish. After you've searched the Writer's Market Guide and made a list of publishing houses and agents who might be interested in your manuscript, make another list. This one should include titles and authors who are represented by the publishers and agents you've listed. Now, the fun part. Go to the library or bookstore, borrow or buy some of the titles you've listed, and read. Are the books similar in feel to what you've written? If you're doing mystery, are the books from publisher X cozy mysteries, and yours more hardboiled detective? If you're writing romance, have you written down a publisher who does romantic comedy when you write heartrending family drama? While there will always be a range in the tone and feel of books in any particular line, publishers are in the business of producing a product that meets specific reader needs. An author who wants to be successful strives to find a publisher whose readers will enjoy the type of story she writes.

The last and most important part of knowing the market, is staying true to oneself as a writer. Finding the best fit does not mean creating a carbon copy of what is already on the shelves. It means offering a unique spin, a new voice, something that will resound with readers and editors without veering too sharply from the pattern they've set. A successful author strives to find a good fit for her manuscript without compromising her vision and voice. Whitewashing a story to 'fit' a publishing house only leaches it of life and color, creating a bland book that resounds with no one and fits nowhere.

I'll leave you with some advice from my agent: When approaching an agent make sure you put your best possible manuscript in front of them. We often see proposals and sample chapters that are 85% ready...But that isn't enough. We need to see material and ideas that are closer to 95% ready for the market. It is VERY hard to break into the industry as a first time writer. The threshold is very high. But it does happen. Our agency placed eight first time novelists last year and one already this year. But to find those nine writers we had to cull through a couple thousand proposals.

Have the whole manuscript ready if requested. We must be able to read the whole book to determine if the writer can sustain the story to the end.

What makes it 95% ready? Crisp dialogue is critical. Dialogue develops characters and dictates pace. Too many stories bog down with "explanation" from the author. Also make sure each character has their own distinct voice. Often we see manuscripts where everyone literally "sounds" the same.

You can get more great info at his website: www.stevelaube.com

Also, if you're a homeschool mom, or a writer who's struggling with balancing life, I did an interview at www.portraitofawriter.blogspot.com

You might want to check it out!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

We interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

To talk about guilt.

Guilt is natural, even healthy. It's our brain's response to conviction by the Holy Spirit. When we've deliberately hurt someone we love, lied about something to cover our backs, taken what doesn't belonged to us, or callously ignored someone in need we should feel guilty. If we don't we've got serious problems. However, sometimes we feel guilty over things that aren't sinful, aren't wrong, and aren't harming anyone.

Which brings me to the reason for this interruption.

Why is it so many female authors feel guilty about writing?

Perhaps it's because we feel our only calling should be to our children and/or spouses. Perhaps it's because we feel that writing is taking time away from more important things - like laundry, dishes, dusting. Perhaps it's simply because the American ideal is that we should have it all perfectly balanced and wonderfully maintained. No job left undone, no child left coloring pictures while we pursue our writing careers, no husbands wondering if the pile of papers on the computer desk will ever be removed. We are to be super thin, super fit, super productive, but most importantly, we are to make sure everyone is happy all the time.

But are we really?

I don't think so. Happiness is dependent on circumstances. I want to teach my kids joy. Joy in a task well done. Joy in spending time just being together. Joy in knowing we are where God wants us, doing what He wants us to do.

Just look at the Proverbs 31 woman. You know, the one we all love to hate. She obviously loved her family and made them her priority. She worked and she worked hard, taking the talents God gave her and using them to enhance every aspect of her family's life. And that didn't just include dishes, laundry, floors, games of tic-tac-toe and hide and go seek (remember, she had servants!). She made coverings for her bed, then she made linen garments and sold them. She bought fields and used her earnings to plant vineyards. She traded and her trading was profitable. She was savvy, smart, and eager to do whatever God called her to. And I have a pretty good feeling she didn't feel guilty about it.

Personally, I think she understood a lot better than we do the truth of life. It isn't about balance, but about love. It isn't about not pursuing our dreams, but about knowing that our dreams are only worth pursuing if we're taking those we love on the journey with us. It isn't about doing it all, but about working hard at a task God gives us, knowing that nothing we do can steal away any of the passion and love we have for our family. Being who He has made us is the only thing we should ever be striving toward, and who He made us may very well be a combination of wife, mother, and writer.

So, about guilt. Feel it when you should. When you shouldn't, when you know you're on the right track, doing what God has called you to, trust that He will provide the time and the energy you need to continue His good work in you. Then let the guilt go and press onward.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Secret to Success #3

Today I feel like crud. I won't go into the gory details of my illness, because it isn't actually an illness. If you suffer from migraines you'll understand. If you don't, I'll spare you my sob story.

I sent my kids and hubby off to church in the pouring rain and spent a half hour in absolute silence and darkness. It's a mark of author craziness that I am now woozily beginning to think about working on my manuscript.

Which brings me to writing secret #3 - consistency. Strangely enough, a lot of unpublished authors I talk to don't like this word. To them, it implies rigid structure and rigid structure somehow implies an inability to follow the muse. Being authors we've got to be able to write when that illusive muse strikes and wait in comfort and ease and angst when it flits away again. Right?

Wrong. Writing isn't about muse as much is it about consistent hard work. Because, like any other job, writing is work. If we don't embrace that before we're published, we're not going to last very long after we're published. Furthermore, we can't improve as writers if we aren't consistently practicing our craft.

To take this outside the writer's world, I'll use my eleven-year-old as an example. Jude has been playing piano for five years, and he is truly gifted. He loves and plays all kinds of classical music, plays at church, and competes at the local and state level. Jude's problem is that it's always been easy for him to learn music and play it well. This past year, he discovered that procrastinating (as he's done in previous years) isn't working as well. Sure he's gifted, but so are hundreds of other kids. Some of those kids know the importance of consistent hard work. Some, like my son, prefer to play at practicing. The music still sounds great to the untrained ear, but a judge can quickly tell the difference between those that have learned through consistent hard work, and those who are coasting by on their talent. Eventually, those that are working hard will far outshine those who are simply working when they feel passion and excitement over a particular piece of music. At some point, my son will have to choose - does he want to play at being a pianist or does he want to be one?

As writers we have to choose, too. Do we want careers, or do we want to follow the muse? If we want to follow the muse, then we can afford to spend six years writing a book. If we want careers, we need to build the habit of writing into our lives now. Even when our kids are young. Even when we're so tired we just want to veg in front of the television. Even when we really don't think we have the time. Consistency in writing creates authors who are prepared for the demands of publication, who have created habits that will allow them to fulfill contracts and (even more importantly) know how many contracts they will be able to fulfill. Consistency in writing is not a choice for those of us who truly want to succeed. It is a necessity.

If you're struggling with this issue, believe me when I say I understand. Balancing life and writing is a challenge we all must face. However, God does not give us gifts without gifting us with the ability to use them. Take time this week to find time. Look at your day. When does writing best fit in? If you can't pick consistent times (I know I can't) then choose a daily writing goal and stick to it. Muse or no muse. It's the only way to prepare for the day when you must not only produce wonderful stories, but produce them on your publisher's timeline.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Secret to success #2 - courage

Courage. It's a word made for heroes, right? People who are thrust into extraordinary circumstance and do what must be done to protect themselves, their children, their friends, their world. We hear about them all the time (though not nearly as much as we should) and are astounded by their bravery and selflessness. Perhaps we aspire to be like them, or wonder, if met with similar circumstances, whether we'd live up to the example they've set. Whatever the case, we admire their bravery and are in awe of their ability to overcome. They have stepped outside themselves, given what they had, offering it up as a sacrifice and sometimes losing much in the process.

What does this have to do with writing?

I'm getting there. Slowly. Because I'm moving slow this morning. See, I got up this morning thinking about the extraordinary nature of the ordinary. Every day we get up and go about our lives. If you're like me, that means trudging through loads of laundry, dirty dishes, layers of dirt and cat hair. It means planning meals, buying groceries, separating squabbling kids, giving out Band aides, hugs, and words of advice (that are most often ignored). It means supervising, cleaning, cooking, listening, loving, teaching. So many ordinary things. Yet, that in itself becomes extraordinary, because it requires sacrifice of self. The thing is, I don't want to cook dinner for the hundredth night in a row, I don't want to sweep the floor, do the laundry, put away the millionth dish of the month. I don't want to work hard every day and feel that I've accomplished nothing, do the dishes only to have to do them again and again and again, sweep the floor and find a trail of crumbs five minutes later. Yet I do it, knowing that in so doing I am providing a wonderful environment for my children to thrive. And isn't that every mother's God-given purpose? To give her children wings so they might one day soar?

Which brings me to secret of success #2 - courage. Courage to do the same thing day after day after day, feeling as if no progress is being made, looking at words on paper, knowing there are 60,000 more left to write and setting to work writing them; courage to write the manuscript and look at it with objective eyes, to face the flaws and fix them, and then to mail it out even though we know it will never be what we want it to be; courage to embrace a God-given purpose, to find the path He's leading us on, and to stay the course even when it gets hard. Because it will be hard. Published or not, we'll always have critics. Our writing won't satisfy every reader every time, so our focus must be on pleasing the One who placed the creativity, imagination, and dream within us. We cannot be afraid to write what He puts on our heart, and we certainly can't be afraid to send it out into the world. Moreover, we cannot let fear of failure keep us from trying.

Successful writers fear rejection and criticism, but they have the courage to keep writing.

I leave you with this - Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance of fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." I've thought about those words often in the past few months. We will always have fear. What moves us from ordinary to extraordinary, is not fearlessness, but our ability to give those fears over to God, to let Him do the worrying, while we continue the work He's given us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Secret to writing success # 1

There's something satisfying about making lists, so I'm at it again. First, I listed rules for writing. Now, I'm listing secrets to writing success. Who knows? If we put these thing together, we might have something worth talking about!

Secrets. Who doesn't love them? As a suspense writer I'm intrigued by the word, by the mystery and unknown that it invokes. Secrets are the building blocks on which relationships can be made or broken, the backbone of wonderful myths (think Nessie and Sasquatch), compelling oral tradition, and the perfect beginning to many great novels. Secrets make life interesting, but when it comes to writing there are none. So, why title this post secret to writing success #1? Because, it seems so much more exciting than common sense writing advice or traits of successful writers or any number of variations on that theme.

So, on to the secrets.

As I've spoken with other published authors, I've found that there are certain traits we all possess. The first is imagination. Seems simple doesn't it? It's not. Imgination is a powerful thing and can lead us on a merry chase if we let it. We want to write something unique, something that hasn't been done before. In our quest to do so, we often cross the line from compelling to unbelievable. Unbelievable can be the death of a well-written manuscript.

I know what you're thinking - Monsters, Frank Peretti's newest book, or one of any of thousands of examples of stories that are so farfetched a reader could never imagine them to be reality. Stephen King is a perfect example. His stories are unbelievable. Yet when we read them, we believe. We don't stand outside the action shaking our heads and rolling our eyes, because King's characters demand that we believe. Their fears, their struggles, their pain is real and compelling. While one might argue the merit of reading such fiction, one can't deny that King paints vivid and real pictures of both the depth and heights of human emotion.

And therein lies the secret. Imagination must be tempered with reality, it must be balanced with a voice that speaks to the human condition, that vividly reflects the struggles and triumphs of the characters. Stories are believable when characters are believable, and in that respect we must box our imagination and strive for truth. To this end, character sketches are invaluable. In each scene and chapter successful authors paint an ever more compelling picture of their protagonists, leading the reader step by step to a satisfying conclusion. For this reason, imagination balanced with a vivid understanding of people is the first step to being a successful author.

So, are your characters real? Do their actions ring true as you move them from one scene to another? Will your reader believe their actions and reactions, or step back, shake her head, and be pulled out of your story?

Just something to think about on this rather gloomy Maryland day.