Saturday, December 19, 2009

Editor Speak

I thought Running Blind would be my last book in the Heroes for Hire miniseries. Yesterday, my editor emailed to approve the proposal and suggested that I 'stretch' the series. She said that she and my senior editor had talked about it and they thought it would be a good idea.

The words she used were....perhaps consider.

Now, I knew I could take that literally and perhaps consider writing up a proposal for a few more Heroes for Hire books. I mean, my darling editor would never force me to write books I didn't want to write.

On the other hand, I'd never actually had an editor suggest I continue a series, so I figured that the suggestion was a gentle nudge in the right direction. The direction my editors wanted me to go, that is.

And that was fine.

I had toyed around with the idea of writing a few more Heroes for Hire books, but this business is tricky. If my editors really liked the concept of the first three books then selling a few more would be relatively easy. If they didn't really like the concept, then the proposal might not make it to contract.

And I really didn't want to write something they didn't want.

That's the hard thing about this business. An author has to balance what she wants to write with what readers want to read and what editors want to buy. It's great when those three things line up, but sometimes we've got great ideas that just won't make it in the market right now.

So, we must study the market and what our targeted publishing house is buying. Then we must adjust our needs as creative beings to suit the market trends.

I know people who would disagree with me on this and who insist that authors should write what they want. I think they are right. To a point. It is good to write what you are passionate about, but if you continue to get feedback from editors that indicates that your book was a good read but didn't quite fit the line, then you might perhaps consider (ha!) figuring out what the editors do want and tailoring your book to fit their needs.

Doing this does not mean selling out or giving in. It simply means being pragmatic about the business. Trends are what they are. What sells sells. It isn't really the editor's choice any more than it is the writer's. A good book that won't sell is a book that the editor cannot buy.

An writer who loves the craft can craft a story that fulfills his creative needs and still meets the market trends.

If you're curious to know what Love Inspired Suspense seems to be buying now, I'd say they're leaning toward very suspenseful and action packed stories. I've seen a trend toward slightly more gritty tales since the new senior editor arrived. She wants very compelling first chapters that immediately grab the reader and give a sense of the danger and suspense that is to come.

That is, of course, simply my assessement as an author, but I think it will hold true for most people submitting to the line.

If you happen upon this blog and have any questions you'd like to ask regarding the Love Inspired Suspense line feel free to email me at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Way?

While I absolutely agree there is only one way to Heaven, I'm completely opposed to the idea that there is only one way to write a book. That's why it always surprises me when I visit writing forums and read threads posted by authors and aspiring authors that outline the correct way to - brainstorm, plot, character sketch, edit, revise, etc, etc.

Sure, it's great to share ideas, but ideas alone don't write a book. They certainly can't get a person published. Sometimes, I think too many ideas muddle the process and make focusing on what really matters difficult.

What matters?

Writing compelling characters and interesting plots.

This is something that cannot be taught. It is something that must be learned word by word, page by page. It is the product of observation, imagination and good story telling ability. It comes from somewhere deep inside, and, while it can be shaped, it can only be harnessed by hard work and commitment to the craft.

So, if you're thinking of buying a How To writing book for Christmas, don't. Save your money and spend your time. Time building a plot that makes sense. Time creating characters that are three dimensional. Time learning to be better at the work you're doing.

Listen to yourself and your own instincts.

You may be surprised at how far that takes you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beginning Again

Today, I'll begin writing the proposal for the Love Inspired Suspense 2011 continuity. The six book series centers around the murder of a Texas Ranger, and during the course of the books, that and several other mysteries will be solved.

I've always enjoyed working on continuity series. It's fun to try to weave a seamless story arc when six authors with six distinct voices are doing the weaving. In this series, my book will be the last, and it will be my job to tie up all the loose ends.

I was originally offered the first slot in the continuity but had a conflicting deadline, so book #6 it is.

I mention that because I suspect my editor is worried about me being the one to tie up the loose ends.

Not, of course, that she doesn't have complete confidence in me. But we've worked together for a lot of years, and she knows my strengths and weaknesses as an author. If asked she'd probably say that I write compelling, clean, well-written stories and I turn them in on time. If pressed, she'd probably admit that I have a tendency to get lost in the stories and forget the details.

That's okay, though. As I always say to my kids, "We've all got strengths and weaknesses. It is our job to grow in the areas where we are strong and to work on strengthening the areas where we are weak."

And now it is time for me to live what I say.

So, I'll begin this story by writing the synopsis. Generally, I write the first three chapters and then write the synopsis. That gives me a chance to get to know the characters before I have to face the torturous process of writing them into a long summary. This time, because I've got other characters from other stories to get to know, I'll begin with the synopsis.

If it seems as if I am repeating the same thing over and over again, it's because I am. I do not want to ever write the synopsis, so writing it first is at the bottom of my list of things to do. I'm hoping if I say that I'm going to do it enough times, I'll eventually convince myself and get working. we go again with more emphasis:

My goal is to have the synopsis finished before Christmas.

Considering how long it usually takes me, that'll be pushing it.

Anyway, I've got a goal, and goals must always be part of the writing process.



So, what are you working on?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


The best questions are the kind that have no answers. These are the questions that help me begin a story. Often, I'll see a house, an abandoned car, a person whose face simply screams for me to pay attention, and the questions will start.




And then the story will begin.

The other day, someone asked if I ever run out of story ideas. I don't, because I never run out of questions. What is hard is finding the determination to put those ideas and imaginings down on paper.

I say finding because we all have the ability to perform difficult tasks (and, make no mistake, writing a book is difficult). What seperates those who do from those who don't is the ability to channel hope and dream into work and action.

Each day, we wake up to a hundred responsibilties and a laundry-list of tasks. If we're married, we must think of our spouse's needs. If we have kids, we must help them along with their day. If we work, we must meet our obligations to our company and boss. If we are working at home, we must clean and cook and clean again. If we homeschool....well, I'm sure I've made my point by now.

So, we dream about writing. We think about it. We talk about it.

And, when it comes time for doing it, we are too tired, too busy, too braindead from too many hours spent working on other things.

Sunday, I sat at church trying desperately to look wide awake and interested. No offense to our pastor (who is a wonderful preacher and teacher), but I was so tired the words just weren't registering. And then the pastor said something that I have heard and read hundreds of times, and it was as if someone flipped a switch in my brain. Everything inside me sat up and took notice.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

And it sounded so good.

Rest for your souls.

Rest for my soul.


In this season of miracles, it is good to be reminded of the simplest of truths. It is good to remember the importance of dedication not just to our writing craft, but to our relationship with our Creator. As we make time to sit in quiet communion with God, we begin to free our souls of the stress and worry that bogs us down and keeps us from fulfilling His purpose and plan for our lives. As Christian authors, our relationship with Him must come first. When it does, everything else will fall into place.

Perhaps you thought this post was going to be about finding time to write.

In some ways it is.

It is about prioritizing and about knowing what is truly important.

Pursuing publication takes more than a story idea, it takes knowing without a doubt that you are doing what you should be. It takes believing with all your heart that you must write. It takes sacrifice of time and of energy and of rest. It is good, then, to know where our strength lies and to cling to that....cling to we continue our journey.

BTW, the photo above is an example of how everyday things spark my imagination. I was shooting photos of my children, and they were happy and smiling in every one of them. This shot, though, was different. Click on the photo and look at the expression on the face of my youngest. Look in her eyes and see if you don't start asking questions. Believe it or not, I've already got two story ideas. I also have an aching heart, but that is a discussion for another day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things You Don't Have to Do to Get Published

Lately, I've been perusing writing related forums and reading advice given by other writers. Their ideas certainly have value, but often I want to say, "None of that matters if an aspiring writer isn't able to listen to her own internal voice. None of it matters if she doesn't know how to write her own story with her own characters with her own plot that comes simply and completely from her own head."

If you noticed a theme, then I've done my job of over stressing the words her own.

Writing forums are great. Critique groups are wonderful. Conferences are fun. But none of those things matter if a writer isn't able to sit down by herself and craft a story.

I wrote three books completely on my own before I got published. I put words to paper, character to story, plot to page without anyone offering me advice on how to do it. My sisters (who are phenomenally creative and who are extremely talented in their own right), read the manuscripts after they were complete and offered me advice on everything from grammar to plot, but neither of them were published and neither knew squat about writing a book. I can remember the three of us laughing at my rookie mistakes though we had no idea there were names for them.

Pacing? What was that?

Point of view? Did it matter?

Goals, motivation, character arcs? Did anyone really care?

So, book one and two stunk and were shoved away. Book three was slightly better, and, after putting it aside for a few months, I pulled it out (while on bedrest and pregnant with my oldest daughter) and began reading as if the work were not mine, as if the story were a book I'd picked up off a shelf. A light bulb went off, and I recognized all those things I still didn't have words for. Pacing, point of view, character arcs and motivation. I rewrote the entire book in a few weeks, and sent a query off to Melissa Endlich. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point of this post is not to discuss my road to publication, though. The point is to make it clear that it is possible to get published without:

Knowing someone in the writing industry.

Going to conferences.

Entering contests.

Being in a critique group.

Following all the rules in every book ever written about writing a novel.

Paying someone to critique your work.

Though there is nothing wrong with the things I've listed, they can often dilute a writer's voice, stilt her creativity and sap some of the passion that must be part of the crafting of any novel. There is only one thing that matters when you're pursuing publication, and that is your ability to sit and write. It is your story, your voice and the unique soul you bring to your writing that will lead the way to success. Sometimes we need solitude to hear our own thoughts most clearly. Sometimes we need to be alone to truly listen to the heartbeat of our story.

Don't be afraid to be a maverick when it comes to writing. Pursue your craft with passion, with an honest eye for flow and detail and with the knowledge that you must be your own worst critic.

Friends and family may want this for you. Critique groups may be determined to help. In the end, though, you are the one who must make it happen. Write. Rewrite. Write again. Remember when things get tough and the ideas refuse to flow that each word is a paving stone on the path to publication. You and you alone are responsible for laying them down one by one, thought by thought until you finally reach your destination.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ted Dekker's Rant and Other Things That Make Me Laugh

I'm afraid I wasn't able to jump on the bandwagon and give Ted Dekker a piece of my mind for the rude and condescending things he said about Steeple Hill Guidelines. The fact of the matter is, I can ill afford to give away even the smallest piece of my mind. The other fact of the matter is, I saw the rant (as it is being referred to) as nothing more than a desperate bid to get attention.

And, really, I've been condescended to before.

What I write isn't literary enough for some, isn't hot enough for others. It isn't real enough. Isn't Christian enough. Is too Christian. In the years I've been writing for Steeple Hill, I've heard it all.

When I first got published, I discovered two things. First, a LOT of people seem to want to be writers. Second, most people who want to be writers (but who have never actually finished writing a book) think that writing is easy. Especially if what is being written is romance.

I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Oh, you got published with Steeple Hill? Maybe I should try that."

As if by simply trying they would easily be able to accomplish what I had.

The truth of the matter is, writing a book (any book) is hard work. Just getting that first draft of that first book done takes persistence and determination. Then, of course, comes the editing and rewriting and looking at it with fresh eyes and rewriting again and editing again. And that is before an editor ever lays eyes on it.

Work is exactly what writing a book is.

And torture as the manuscript is finally ready and submitted and the waiting begins.

Even after the first book is sold and the next and the next, there is always that feeling of anxiety as another story begins, as another completed manuscript lands on the editor's desk. Plus, there is more work. There are revisions, art fact sheets, copy edits and author alterations. To make writing a career, time must be devoted to it, hours must be spent, passion must be balanced with the knowledge that the book belongs to many more hands and heads than simply the author's.

Which brings me back to why I did not respond to Ted Dekker's bizarre diatribe.

I don't have time to defend what doesn't need to be defended. The books I write are clean and wholesome and fully entertaining. I write because I truly believe it is what I'm meant to do. I write because without writing, I'm not sure who I would be.

What's to defend in that?

So, Ted Dekker's weird rant amused rather than alarmed me. Just as any conversation about the depth and breadth and impact of what I write does. Only God can determine what lives will be touched by my work. The Ted Dekker's of the world can't. Neither can the Shirlee McCoys. Thinking anything else is simply a waste of time and energy.

PS.... Alamo Rangers. I didn't even know they existed, but they do. Cool uniforms, too.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Things That Distract Me When I'm Working On The Dreaded Synopsis

ONE: The Neighbor's Cows

Two: My Daughter Dancing Through the Field

Three: My Sons Taking Their Sweet Time Walking Through the Field

Four: My Daughter Bringing Me Flowers

Five: The Osmosis Egg Which Has Taken On a Life and Personality of Its Own.

Lesson to be learned from this: It doesn't take much to distract Shirlee when she's working on the dreaded synopsis!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Just Thinking

Questions I ask myself as I'm working on the synopsis -

Who is she?

Where is she in her life?

What is she searching for?

How has her past shaped who she is?

What catalyst brings the hero into her life, and what is her first impression of him?

Why can't she fall in love with him?

Why must she?

Then, of course, I repeat the process for the hero.

Anyone working on a synopsis besides me?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Other Picture

This picture goes with the photo I posted yesterday. Both were taken by my sister while I was in China. She had brought the kids to a local historical church and cemetery, and as they were hiking through the hilly area, they saw the sign. Just a little further up the hill, they found the snake skin. Needless to say, my sister hightailed it out of there with the seven kids running along beside her.

The photos are inspiration as I work on the proposal for my Heroes for Hire book (which may give you hint about some of the action scenes). But, I do think they'd be just as fitting for a my Texas Ranger story!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And We're Back There Again


Back where we always must go.

To the dreaded synopsis.

That horrifying place where good writing goes bad. Really, really bad.

Sadly, writing the dreaded synopsis is part of every author's journey. Whether your pre-published, just published or multi-published, you've got to be able to write a thorough summary of your story. This summary must encompass all major plot points, the faith element (if you're writing Christian fiction), the character development, the romantic themes.....

I could go on, but that would be about as boring as writing the synopsis actually is.

Boring. Painful.

But so useful (and there is not even a hint of sarcasm in those words).

Writing a synopsis allows the author and editor to see whether or not the story will actually work. As painful as the process is, it always leaves me understanding my characters and my plot in a way I would not have if I had simply jumped into the story.

To begin writing a synopsis, I first write character sketches for my heroine and my hero. This includes everything about their past, their current situation and the catalyst that will bring them together.

If you're delving into synopsis writing, I'd suggest beginning there, with your characters.

So, on my agenda for the night - character sketches for the hero and heroine in my third Heroes for Hire book.

I may pull out character sketches from previous books and post them here next.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For Every Ending a Beginning

Sabrina asked if I'm taking time off since I have four books coming out next year, but I'm actually not finished fulfilling my contractual obligations to Harlequin. In other words, I haven't finished writing those four books.

It seems strange that I have four books coming out, but only three books written, but that's the way the industry works. Once you are published and established as an author within the Harlequin family, you may decide to do what I've done and write up a proposal for a miniseries. This allows two things. First, it allows your editor to offer you a multi-book contract. Second, it allows your editor to plan the release of your books based on the fact that they are a series.

For me, this meant that when I was offered a contract for the HEROES FOR HIRE miniseries, the editors decided that the best way to market the books and keep readers buying was to make sure that all three books came out next year. At the time of the offer, I was finishing up the 2010 LIS continuity which was slotted for April 2010. Since then, I've completed the continuity and two of the HEROES FOR HIRE stories. The third will be out in November of next year, and I'm writing the proposal for it now.

Once I write that proposal, I have to write the proposal for the LIS 2011 continuity.

For every ending there truly is a beginning.

That's what I love about writing, but it is also what proves the greatest challenge. With no one standing over my shoulder, bugging me about page count, word count and deadlines, it is too easy to fall into procrastination. In order to complete my manuscripts on time, I must force myself to work and to keep working.

In the writing industry, careers are established and maintained by hard work and integrity. As authors, we must always be aware that turning manuscripts in late will hold up production and may even delay the release of a book. Establishing good writing habits before publication is the best way to ensure that they are firmly in place before your first book hits the shelves.

I know I've said it before, but I can't stress it enough - set writing goals and meet them. That's the path to success in the writing world

Which reminds me...I've got 1,950 words left to write today!

BTW, the photos are of VALLEY OF SHADOWS. I happened upon the 'new' version this morning. The first version is at the top. The new one under it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heroes For Hire

The cover for the first book in the series is done.

I think it's compelling. Makes me ask questions...and that is always a good thing when it comes to getting people to pick up the book in the store.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Words

Texas Rangers.

And a date - 2011.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Where Does a Homeschooling Author Writes?


Anywhere she can!

Here, we're at the college for son #1 and #3 piano lessons, and I'm working on line edits for the 2010 Love Inspired Suspense continuity.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

What I Wanted to Say.....

My daughter is obviously not a typical child of Asian descent. Her hair is platinum blond, her eyes crystal blue, her skin is fair and burns easily. She does, however, have physical traits passed on by her biological parents. The bridge of her nose, her eye lids, the gorgeous almond shape of her eyes. I often wonder if both of her biological parents had slim, delicate builds. I wonder if her biological mother had long beautiful fingernails and small feet. If her hair was coarse and straight like Cheeky's, or if that trait was passed from biological father to daughter.

All this to say that despite her blond hair and blue eyes it is obvious (if one looks closely enough) that Cheeky is not of Caucasian ancestry. I think the combination of coloring and features is striking, but the hair is what catches people's attention first. Most assume Cheeky is Caucasian, and then they look more closely, and I see the puzzled looks on their faces and I know immediately when they realize there is something...different...about my daughter.

This happened at the grocery store yesterday. Cheeky is always eager to help put things onto the conveyor belt, and she was chatting away with her sister and lifting items from the cart and the cashier was watching her intently. Finally, the woman looked at me and asked if I'd adopted Cheeky. I said yes and she asked if Cheeky was Chinese.

I said, "Yes, she's been home eight weeks."

And the woman said, "Well, I've never seen a Chinese with blond hair."

To which I replied, "Cheeky was born with albinism. Only about one in seventeen-thousand people has albinism."

And she said, "Oh, well, how much did it cost to adopt her?"

And I wanted to say, "How much does it cost to be so insensitive?" but settled with "We had to pay lawyer and agency fees and travel costs. It adds up to a lot." Then I quoted her a ball park figure for international adoption and decided I really needed to come up with a better response to the question. Maybe..."Not nearly as much as she's worth."

Of course, it was too late for that one.

I thought the conversation was over, but apparently the cashier didn't. As she sloooowly rang up one item after another, she called to the cashier across from her..."Hey...(name deleted to protect the innocent)...have you ever seen a blond kid from China?"

And then to me, "Hey, is her vision okay? Because her eyes are moving back and forth."

And everyone in the vicinity turned to look, and that's when my blood started boiling.

I'm not a mean person by nature. I tend to assume the best about people and to accept them where they are for who they are. But at that moment, I could see nothing redeeming about the woman ringing up my purchases and I wanted to turn to the other cashier (who had the decency to look embarrassed) and ask, "Hey, have you ever seen a supposedly intelligent adult who was so ignorant?"

And I wanted to turn to the cashier and say, "Hey, is there something wrong with your brain that you'd say something so stupid?"

But all five of my kids were there, and I have always told my children that people who act defensive do so because they have something to hide or because they are embarrassed or ashamed. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed by Cheeky's albinism. I think she is beautiful because of it not despite it. If I act defensive when people are insensitive or rude, I will teach her that she has something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something to be embarrassed about.

She does not.

So, I calmly explained that almost all people with albinism have nystagmus. That Cheeky's vision was functionally good, but that she had poor distance vision. The people behind me and at the other register were listening intently, so the mini-lecture on albinism was to a broader audience than the wretched cashier and her embarrassed coworker.

I know there are differing views on how to handle questions and comments about adoption and specifically about albinism. Some parents believe there should be no explanation and no information given. They feel the questions are intrusive and rude. I do not feel I owe anyone an explanation, but I feel I owe it to Cheeky to be as open and informative as I can. Albinism isn't something to be ashamed of but to celebrate. Uniqueness is a gift, and I want more than anything for my daughter to realize that. I also want my other children to learn how to graciously field questions about their sister, to respond with kindness even when that kindness is not reciprocated.

Maybe I should have been rude. I know I wanted to be rude.

My kids, and I talked about it in the van afterward. My oldest son was quite angry, and I told him that I was, too. Not because the questions were asked, but because of the way they were asked. The lesson, I said, is that we cannot control what others say and how they act, but we can control our response.

Even when we don't want to.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


A month ago, I was worried that my editor wouldn't find my new proposal believable. In the story, a father is reunited with his son who was kidnapped five years ago. I was relieved to get the go ahead for the book a couple weeks ago, and I've been steeped in the story, trying to imagine what it would be like to hope for something for so long and finally have it happen.

Now I'm watching as Jacey Dugard's story unfolds, and I'm thinking that truth is truly more amazing than fiction.

I guess it wasn't such a far stretch to think that a miracle could occur and a child could be brought home years after he or she disappeared. We've seen it a few times here in the states.

Still, it's strange to be writing a fictional account of it while a real-life story of the same plays out on the news.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing at Dawn

It is nearly six, and the sun is just beginning to peek over the mountains. In the past hour, I've watched as the dark sky has gone deep blue and then purple streaked with gold and pink.

My house is silent for a change. Shorter days bring longer sleep to my crew, and I find myself awake and as alone as I ever am. I peeked in on Cheeky and Sassy when I woke at four. They slept deeply. Sassy face down, her hair a wild mass of silky strands. Cheeky face up, her white hair spiked around her face, her arms flung wide as if, even in sleep, she was prepared to embrace whatever came her way.

And I thought, "What were you afraid of?"

I will never forget the day I met Cheeky. I was absolutely sick with dread. I wanted to get on the plane and go back to my safe and relatively easy life. I wanted to forget the insane notion that we could bring a seven-year-old into our home and create one family from two.

My husband and the guide chatted easily as we drove through Chongqing (crazy, beautiful city), but I really had nothing to say. I wanted to get it over with, see what the damage was going to be. Cheeky had been described as active, restless, talkative, stubborn and obstinate. No one would give me any answers about how she functioned in school. I was sure she'd be hyperactive and strong-willed, and that she'd probably scream her dislike as we dragged her from the civil affairs office.

I was also sure I'd made a terrible mistake, and every warning from every ill-informed friend, family member and stranger whispered through my mind as we took an elevator up to the lobby where we were to meet our new daughter.

"Please, God, let me love this child. Please, let me love her," was my prayer as I waited.

Because I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to. That maybe she would feel as much a stranger to me as I was to her. That maybe we would never click as mother and daughter, and I would spend the rest of my daughter's life trying to make up for the emotion I lacked.

And then Cheeky walked around the corner with her strawberry ice cream cone. She wore the same purple dress she'd had on in her referral photo, and her arms were nothing but skin and bone. She was smiling, and when we said her name, she came happily. Bouncing. Bubbling over with the love that always seems to be part of Cheeky Q.

And I looked into her clear blue eyes, and I knew she was mine.

I loved her then.

But I love her more now.

I love the little girl who drove me crazy in China. The one who threw two raging fits, but who also smiled and danced and laughed her way from Chongqing to Guangzhou. The little girl who sat beside me on the plane and never once whined or cried or complained despite the fact that she was sick. I love the kid who called all her siblings by name when she met them, but who still mixes up her brothers on occasion. I love the child who is willing to try anything, but who reaches for my hand when trying is just a little scary. I love the little girl who runs across the grass barefoot after being stung twice, the child who sits in my lap and looks at photo after photo. The one who sometimes mopes and whines and scowls because she is as imperfect as I am. The sweet, sweet child who can't see worth beans, but who does her schoolwork with gusto, who loves to clean the school table and who organized the coat closet without me even asking.

What was I afraid of?

Last year at this time, we'd just completed our cross country move. I remember driving through South Dakota, Montana and Idaho and wondering what it was like for those long ago explorers. I imagined them trekking along, the blue-green mountains always in front of them, and I wondered if they were afraid. Did they want to turn around and go back east? Did they worry that they'd made a mistake? Or did they simply trust that when they got to the other side of the mountain, they'd be home?

I've heard it said that fear is the absence of faith. I'm not sure that's true. It is human nature to be afraid of the unknown. It is faith that pushes us through those moments of doubt and worry and brings us to exactly the place we were always meant to be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Day in the Life

Yesterday, I received word that the proposal for RUNNING SCARED had been approved. This is the second book in my Heroes for Hire miniseries, and I've been anxiously waiting to hear whether or not my editors liked what I'd sent in.

Now that I've got the go-head, I can write the remainder of the story.

But first I needed to clean my house.

And do six loads of laundry.

And make lunch for five kids.

And clean up after lunch.

I marshaled the troops and gave them the call to action. Twelves hands (my husband had to work this morning) make light work. At least they're supposed to. The boys are young men now, and they're quite good at doing the assigned tasks. The girls....well, let's just say I had to follow along and clean up after their clean up. It was cute watching them, though.

Now the house is clean, the kids are happily playing, the husband is practicing for praise band...and I am free to write.

For a while.

I'm sure the peace won't last long. But, really, that's just the way I like it!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Facing the Doubt Demon Head-on

Before I got published, I lived in a world of dreams and aspirations. I wrote manuscripts with the hope that one day I'd see them in book form. I hoped, but I wasn't sure. I doubted, but I also believed.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm a published author with fourteen books to my name and three more contracted. One would think that at this point, I'd be filled with confidence.

The fact is, I struggle more with doubt now than I did before STILL WATERS hit the book stores. That is not to say I don't believe in my abilities. It is simply that I worry more about whether or not my writing is up to snuff. Before, I only had to angst about editors (only? Ha!) and critique partners and what their opinions of my work would be. Now, I must consider readers' opinions. I worry about disappointing a publishing house that has put time and energy and money and marketing into my work. I worry about disappointing myself and my family. Each time I write a manuscript, I wonder if it is good enough.

If I let myself, I could be frozen with doubt, unable to write another word let alone another manuscript.

I have tried to ignore the dreaded Doubt Demon, but it rears its ugly head every time I complete a project. It mocks me, laughing at my attempts to create something compelling and unique.

And I squash it like a bug.

Well, not quite.

What I do is face it. I try to decide what part of my worries and doubt stem from the reality of the manuscript (in other words, is there something that needs to be fixed?) and what parts stem from a natural and very real lack of confidence in my work. If I decide that the project needs improvement, I go back and rework. If I am simply nervous....I package the manuscript and ship it off, knowing that it is now up to others to decide whether or not my story makes the grade.

Publishing is a tough business. When we write, we are allowing our audience a glimpse into our souls. It is not easy to be that vulnerable, that transparent. But to be successful, we must.

So...if you're holding on to that manuscript because you're afraid, know that fear is a part of this journey and face it head-on. Package that manuscript up, kiss it goodbye and let it fly.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The (Solitary) Writing LIfe

I've decided that writing is lonely work. This may sound odd as I am almost never alone. Five kids and a husband tend to fill a house. The thing is, when I taught, I had curriculum to go by. Books that laid out the daily lessons that had to be imparted to my students. There was always someone in the classroom next door doing the exact same thing I was, and at the end of the day, we'd chat as we planned and graded papers.

Writing is different.

Writing is a about sitting down and crafting a story...alone. Sure, I sometimes brainstorm with my husband or family. Sure, I have friends who are in the same line of work, who are sitting down writing their books, crafting their stories the same way I am writing and crafting mine. Sure, we chat about our projects and moan about our uncooperative characters.

But, when push comes to shove, it is just me and this computer and a ream of paper waiting to be filled. And sometimes I wonder if I can do it again. If I can write another book, craft another tale, create another character. I wonder if I'm on the right path, if this is really where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing.

Because no matter how much I know this is the right thing at the right time, sometimes it is lonely being an author. Sometimes, I long to sit down with other mothers and chat over coffee and cookies while our kids play outside and not have stories swimming around in my head while I'm doing it. Not be imagining stalkers and spies and all manner of villains hidden near by and be wondering exactly how I can fit each one into a story. Not be wondering what my heroine will do next, how she will escape, when she will finally realize that love truly does cover a multitude of sins.

It is not that I don't love what I do, but writing is not simply about doing what I love. It has become more than that. It has become part of who I am. As inherent as my blue eyes and brown hair.

But, then, maybe that is what made me an author in the first place. A need to be alone. To enjoy solitude of thought and of creation.

Today, I'm working on my art fact sheet for the second book in my Heroes for Hire Miniseries. I've also got 2000 words of the manuscript to write. It's good work. Fun.

And, sometimes, just a little bit lonely.

In the ends, I suppose that is exactly the way I like it!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Dreaded Proposal

Two days ago, I discovered that the proposal I'd sent to my editor had never arrived. This was unhappy news as the proposal for that book was due July 27th. I learned of the missing proposal by chance and was relieved when my editor assured me that all was well and that I could send the proposal via email.

Compelled to read through the entire proposal one last time, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning going through the three pages of manuscript and 18or so pages of synopsis.

I almost wish I hadn't.

I wanted to beg Melissa (my wonderful editor) to NOT read the proposal. Because, really, I'd just come home from China when I wrote it and my mind wasn't working properly, my brain wasn't focused and the entire synopsis STUNK and the pacing of the manuscript was off and, and, and.....

BUT....the proposal is for a contracted book that is due out in July 2010, and Melissa must read it so that we can work out the kinks in the story before I turn in the finished product.

So, I just have to gird my loins and prepare for what will come.

It's not that the story isn't good and it isn't that the writing is bad. I think both are strong. What the proposal is not is my best work. In the six years that I've been writing for Harlequin, I've laid the groundwork for a successful career by turning in good, clean work on time. I offer up my best to the best of my ability every time. Turning in shoddy first draft stuff is not my way, and if you're aspiring to publication it shouldn't be yours either.

To break it down, the key to successfully snagging an editor's attention lies in:

1. Knowing your market. Before ever sending out the proposal make sure you are sending it to the correct house. Do not send a fantasy vampire story to a Love Inspired editor and do not send a clean, sweet romance to Spice. Don't waste a non-fiction editor's time with your fiction proposal.

2. Writing clean. And I don't mean in the subject matter. Whatever you're writing, write it well. Avoid grammatical errors. No one is perfect, and our work can't be either, but if your proposal contains so many mistakes that they become the editor's focus, you've lost your reader and your chance. (this is a big one for me...because, as my blog proves, I've never been great at grammar and spelling)

3. Beginning with a bang. Whether it is compelling emotion or a suspenseful scene that makes the reader want more, a first chapter should always begin with a bang.

4. Creating real characters. My first book wasn't bought on the strength of the writing or the plot. It was bought because Melissa believed in my heroine. She bought into her back story and her conflict, and she was routing for her as the story progressed. A good book must always have characters that your reader can identify with. Real people feeling real emotion.

5. Being professional. This, I suppose, is as much to do with how you present your proposal as it does anything. Print the proposal out on white paper (not pink or blue or yellow or green), follow the guidelines for your targeted publishing house to determine font and margins. Make sure your manuscript is the correct word count to fit those guidelines. Write a cover letter that is brief and to the point. This, too, will be judged by the editor because it is the first glimpse the editor will see of you.

Okay....I've got to scoot. The kids are too quite so there must be trouble brewing!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Dedication

Cross posted from my adoption blog -

Yesterday, my editor emailed me to ask for the front cover matter for my March 2010 release. I sent the book in a couple of days before I left for China, and I realized then that I'd need to come up with a verse, reader letter and dedication when I got home.

Generally, writing the dedication is the easiest part of preparing my book for publication. In the past, I have dedicated books to friends and family, to my children and my husband, to those whom I've lost and who I miss. The words usually flow from the abundance of the love and appreciation I have for whomever the book is dedicated to.

This time, I'm struggling.

I know who the book will be dedicated to.

Who else could it be but my Cheeky Q?

One day, when she is older, I will give her a copy of the book so that she can read my heart's thoughts and know what I was feeling in the weeks after we brought her home. Perhaps she will be a teenager, fiery in her older more mature even more beautiful version of the spunky girl I now know. Maybe the words I write today will fill something inside of her that's missing. Maybe, in some small way, they will give her insight into how true and real and big my love for her is.

And so I am struggling.

Just a few words. That's all a dedication is.

But I have so much more to say. I could fill an entire manuscript with words, and my thoughts would still spill out, overflowing into another manuscript and another and another until I was drowning in pages.

And it still would not be enough to say everything that I think I must.

Last night, as the girls were getting ready for bed, I heard Q giggling in the bathroom. The light was off and the door was open, the hall light spilling in. She'd undressed and was waiting for me to turn on the shower.

And she was dancing, the light from the hall painting her pale gold, her arms and legs moving to music only she could hear. She danced without apology, without self consciousness.

While I struggled not to cry.

Because she was so beautiful, so strong, so brave and so completely unaware of how she inspires me to be stronger and braver and less self concious.

I need to write that dedication. My editor wants it by Monday, but there is too much to say and not enough room to say it. Since I cannot say it all, perhaps it is best to keep it simple.

To my darling Q, I am not your first mother or even your second, but I will be your last. It is true that you were not born from my body, but you have always lived in my heart. First a thought, then a prayer and now a reality that fills me up to overflowing. We have not always shared a past, but we will always share a future.
You are mine, my cheeky girl, and I am yours. Forever and a day, to the edges of the universe and beyond. I love you.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Here's the Thing About Being Writer

No matter what is happening in your life, words must be written, deadlines must be met, projects must be completed, edited, rewritten.

After spending two weeks in China, I arrived home knowing that I had several tasks before me. The first was to incorporate my new daughter into family life. My second was to keep my other four children from feeling displaced. My third was to write.

It isn't easy to be creative when your thoughts are caught up in the reality of life. The mini traumas and the major ones, the doctor appointments, fevers, medicines. The laundry and dishes and cooking.

It isn't easy to be creative, but if you're truly going to be an author, you must be.

Sometimes that means allowing yourself to daydream, to imagine the scenes that you'll put into your book. Sometimes it means sitting down and forcing yourself to put words to page. Any words. All words. Whatever is in your mind and heart.

I have found myself doing both things in the past ten days. I've got a proposal for my second book in the HEROES FOR HIRE series due in a couple of weeks, and no matter how jet lagged or sick (we've been stricken by the flu) I am, the writing will get done. That's how I've made a name for myself with my editors, and it is how I continue to sell to Harlequin. Good books turned in on time. It is my MO, and I refuse to slip into anything else.

I suppose there is a life lesson in here somewhere. Something about learning how much we really can accomplish when we're motivated enough. Maybe something even more profound about God giving us the time we need when we spend our time pursuing His will.

Unfortunately, I'm too tired to wax poetic about my writing journey. Instead, I will simply say that being an author means reaching beyond what you think you can do and discovering that you are much, much more capable than you ever imagined.

Blessings on your writing journey!

PS..the photo is of my beautiful treasures. I'm one blessed writer mom!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Aftermath

Just so you know I'm not superwoman -

Yep, that's the pile of laundry that didn't get done while I was finishing the manuscript. It has to get done now, because my sister comes tomorrow to take care of the kids while hubby and I are in China.

It's a lot of laundry, but, then, I've got a lot of kids!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Week In Review

The photos say it all. Book 15 or 14 or whatever it is, completed, edited, polished, packaged. Every time I finish a book, I feel like a tree killer. Piles of paper in the garbage can. Piles of paper on my desk.

Piles and piles and piles.

310 pages of manuscript printed out and read. Edited and reread. Re-printed and read again.

Aside from making sure my book was ready to go, I began packing, completed paperwork that must be hand carried to China, shopped for the stuff Sassy E needs for her performance. Typed up lists for my sisters and mom (who will be staying here).

And realized I am adopting a child.

Really and truly and for sure.

Bringing her home and making her part of us at the same time we allow ourselves to become part of her world, her life, her experiences. All her goods and bads and in betweens, all her challenges and triumps, swirling into what we already have.Our challenges and triumphs, our goods and bads and in betweens. Until there is no longer an us, no longer any her, but simply a family.

There is something beautiful and profound in that. Something beyond words or even thought. Something that wells up and spills out, overflowing into everything I do and think and say.

I finished my book this week, but more than that happened. I realized I was adopting a child. Really and truly and forever.

And it changed me.

Four days.