Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On My Nightstand - Still Life by Christa Parrish



Brilliant writing! I don't usually start out a review this way, but this book had it all - characters so well crafted you felt you knew them. The situations were real life, gritty, and sent them on a search for something better.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the challenges Christian book reviewers face. In this book, the ugliness of sin and the beauty of living for Jesus were in perfect juxtaposition. In the midst of tragedy, one man's life has an impact long after he's gone.

The way Christa Parrish shared the thoughts, motivations, and actions of each character inspired me, and made me want to read more books like this. It's largely character driven, but has enough tension/suspense to satisfy the reader.

Can you tell I loved it? Five stars for Still Life by Christa Parrish.

Writers:  Have you ever read a book that made you want to take your writing to the next level? Please share.

Readers:  What books (other than the Bible) have you read that made you think and dig into some of the tougher life issues? Please share.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Newbie Corner - Critique Partners and Mentors

While an accountability partner checks up on our progress and is a source of encouragement, critique partners and mentors take the process a step further. I've been privileged to have both at different times in my life and for various purposes.

As a writer, I've shared my work with those who have more experience. Often, they'll see problems I've missed. A couple of writers taught me a great deal about putting together a book proposal, while others edited my manuscripts.

Recently, I hired a professional editor. Since this is a costly undertaking, I checked her website and obtained a partial edit before hiring her to do the full book. She was thorough, fair, encouraging, and we got along well.

I'm sure you may be wondering where you can find a critique partner or mentor. Here are a few suggestions:

1.  A local writers group. Check your library, senior center, and writers who live near you.
2.  If you write fiction, American Christian Fiction Writers has critique groups. You can check their website.
3.  As you make friends blogging and on social media, observe how they interact with others and you. This is how I found my critique partners.
4.  Writers conferences - many friendships have been forged at these events. By networking among writers, you'll find people who are a good fit.

One caution: It's important to link with someone who will give you constructive criticism and not rip your heart out. If you're thinking about someone in your critique group, see how they treat other members. Do they give suggestions that will help improve the work or do they give only negative feedback?

Proverbs 11:14 - KJV "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." 

Writers:   Do you have a critique partner or mentor? Please share.

Readers:  In your daily life, there are times when you need advice or tutoring. Do you have someone you can trust to give you wise, godly counsel? Please share.

Photo Credit:  Michael Illuchine
 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Turning Point/No Regrets/Bill Meyers/Burnout/Decisions

1.  Ocieanna Fleiss guest posts at Seriously Write about a major turning point in her life. Don't miss this inspiring story.

2.  I keep finding encouraging posts. Someone out there besides me must need them. :) Kristi Ann Hunter wrote about Living Without Regrets on Elaine Stock's blog, Everyone's Story.

3. Here we go again! Bill Meyers, whose books have sold over 8 million copies, shares an experience he had while producing a movie.

4.  Are you headed for burn-out? Whether or not you're a writer, you'll benefit from this piece. Children's Author, Kristi Holl says, "Beware! Burnout Ahead."

5.  Do you have a major decision to make? MaryAnn Diorio gives 5 Questions To Ask Yourself When Making Tough Decisions.

Writers:  How do you avoid burnout?

Readers:  I loved how God gave Bill Meyers wisdom in a difficult situation. Have you ever experienced something similar?

Photo Credit:  Marcel Hol

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On My Nightstand - In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin

Kay Jobson parties hard and keeps things from getting serious. There's no way she'll ever let a man capture her heart or allow him to control her.

Roger Cooper's been told he'll never amount to much, so he avoids big dreams. Past experience taught him that dames are nothing but trouble, so he steers clear as much as possible.

Against the backdrop of World War II, Sarah Sundin weaves a story of redemption that left me breathless. It starts off slow, but escalates until I could hardly stand to put it down. I loved the secondary characters, who starred in previous books, and the additional tidbits from their lives.

Sarah knows how to keep a reader's attention, and I always look forward to her books. Five stars all the way!

Disclaimer:  Neither the author nor the publisher requested this review. I did not receive any payment for it, and all opinions expressed are mine alone.

Writers:   Do choose a particular setting or time period to aid in building story tension? Please share.

Readers:  Does a particular time period enhance your reading experience? Please share.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Do You Need a Swift Kick?


Whether you're a writer or a reader, we all experience times when an accountability partner provides the swift kick we need to reach our goals. Case in point: I've been struggling with editing my fifth book.

Someone in my church set up a Closed Facebook Group for the next 100 days. During that time, we'll share what we want to accomplish. It could be anything from losing the ten pounds we put on during the  holidays to deepening our spiritual walk. There we share our challenges, report on our successes, and encourage each other to stay the course.

What are your goals?

-  Complete your first manuscript
-  Submit an article to a magazine
-  Write enough blog posts for 3 weeks
-  Do research for your next book project
-  Build your author platform

I could list a ton of things here, but you get the idea. When you know someone will be asking you how your project is coming along, there's less of a chance you'll skip a writing session, eat that hunk of chocolate cake, or allow dust to gather on your Bible.

Writers and Readers:  Do you have someone in your life that holds you accountable? Does it help you achieve your goals? Please share.

Photo Credit:  Igor Bernardes Grillo

Friday, April 22, 2016

Speech Tags/TK/Free Speech/Hacking/Congrats

1.  Adam Blumer guest posts at Seriously Write on an alternative to speech tags. Writing dialogue can be tricky, but he gives some excellent tips.

2.  Tracy Hahn-Burkett guest posts at Writer Unboxed on to TK or Not to TK? I had no clue what "TK" was much less whether or not to do it. It's when you come to a place in your manuscript where you need to fill in a detail. Rather than stop writing, you insert TK to indicate the need for research. For example: (TK - name of local newspaper).

3.  WND reports on how San Diego's city employees are forbidden to use the term, "Founding Fathers." Check out the article about the attack on free speech.

4.   It's unfortunate, but social media hacking occurs more frequently than we realize. Edie Melson, at The Write Conversation, gives tips on how to reduce your vulnerability.

5.   Author Susan Panzica has a new website. She's also received interest on three of her manuscripts at a writers conference. I hope you'll pop over to her site and get to know a lovely writer. Congratulations, Susan!

Writers:  Do you press on when you discover the need for additional research or do you stop everything?

Readers:  How do you discover new authors or blogs?

Photo Credit:  John Pilge

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Whats A Reviewer to Do?

You've read a number of books by a Christian author. So, when you see a novel they've written, you pick it up. It's well written - deserving 5 stars - but it's problematic.

Through most of the book, the main characters are committing adultery. It's pivotal to the plot. There are a couple of bedroom scenes. While not extreme, you're thinking of tossing the book on the trash heap.

One character comes to his senses after learning the partner lied to him and used him for their own purposes. He has a conversion experience, and his relationship with his family is restored.

While there's a strong redemptive theme, the book is not only edgy but a banana peel is about to send it over the cliff. Where is this writer going?

Here's my question writers and readers: Do you review the book with appropriate warnings or walk away from the whole issue?

It seems these situations are occurring in Christian books with greater frequency. It's disappointing, but there's no doubt they occur in real life. When the author takes a firm stance, shows the consequences of such behavior, and brings repentance into the picture, is skating that edge okay?

Photo Credit:  John Nyberg

Monday, April 18, 2016

Newbie Corner - Research Snafus and Other Pitfalls



I've either made the following mistakes or read books containing them. Here are a few nuggets to help you avoid them:

1.  One of my drafts for The Moses Conspiracy included my characters going to Washington, D.C. and getting on line to tour the White House. It sounded good, but it was wrong.

A chance comment by someone at work exposed a fatal flaw. I'd failed to research the procedure and didn't know you had to get special tickets from a member of Congress. Apparently, getting those tickets is more difficult than I thought.

2.  Another pitfall I've seen writers fall into is what I call, "too techy for the average Joe." I read a book with intense engineering details, but I skipped over chunks of it because I couldn't understand what the author was saying.

3.  Too much or too little description of the character's surroundings can result in the "yawn factor." Sprinkle in description throughout the story. Roses are not just roses, they're red or pink or some other color. As characters talk, they're perhaps walking along a beach with sand squishing between their toes.

4.  Endless dialogue makes my eyes glaze over. Break it up with action. Let your characters catch their breath. Even if they're giving a speech, you can have the sound system give a high-pitched squeal. We've all heard that happen in real life.

5.  I like cliches, the word, "that," and certain pet phrases. My editor had a field day (oops, better re-phrase that one) - I mean a red-pen fiesta with them. Do a search through your Word document for recurring words. You'll be surprised at how often you use them. A Thesaurus is a great tool for finding an alternative to your favorite words.

Writers:  What are some of your stock phrases or words you tend to overuse?

Readers:  What are some of the things that send you over the edge when reading? For a time, decorating programs on TV kept using the word, "whimsical." It became a joke with our family, not to mention a distraction from the ideas the host was sharing.

Photo Credit:  Uffe Nielsen

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blogging Smarter/Subsidiary Rights/God's Not Dead/Social Media/Recipes




1.  Jennifer Slattery guest posts at The Write Conversation on Blogging Smarter by Narrowing Your Scope. If you're already blogging as a fiction writer but want to eventually write non-fiction (or vice versa), how do you build another platform by maintaining the one you've already established?

2. Susan Spann guest posts at Writers in the Storm with Part 2 addressing Subsidiary Rights. Now this may seem like a dull subject, but it's essential when dealing with publishing contracts. What you don't know can cost you big time. I suggest bookmarking this article for future reference.

3.  Christianheadlines.com reports on cast members of God's Not Dead speaking out about their faith.

4.  Social Media can eat up a ton of time. Edie Melson, at The Write Conversation, gives 7 Reasons Your Social Media Life Is Busier Than It Should Be.

5.  Jeanette Levellie shared some easy recipes (only 4 ingredients) on her blog around Easter. I thought you might enjoy them.

Writers:  How do you keep social media from eating up all your time?

Readers:  Have you seen any of the recent faith-based movies like God's Not Dead, The War Room, or Risen? Please share.

Photo Credit:  Svilen Mileve

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On My Nightstand - Doesn't She Look Natural by Angela Hunt

Jennifer Graham's world falls apart when her husband runs off with their sons' nanny. She quits a lucrative job in a senator's office to avoid daily contact with her ex. She and the two boys move in with her mom as she hunts for another job on Capitol Hill. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she inherits a funeral home in Mt. Dora, Florida.

Angela Hunt is one of the most original authors I've come across. Her contemporary stories are gritty but always have a strong Christian thread. The characters are believable, and their values undergo changes as they face the difficulties of life.

Doesn't She Look Natural is Book 1 of the Fairlawn Series. It's a stand alone novel that leaves you wanting more. Be forewarned, I wasn't able to get the other books. It seems the author is in the process of re-issuing her back list. When the other books are available, I will pick them up.

5 Stars for this one. It was an enjoyable, and at times, heart wrenching read.

Disclaimer:  Neither the author nor the publisher paid for or requested this review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

Writers:   Do you take controversial subjects head on in your writing or do you prefer to avoid them? Please share.

Readers:  Does it bother you when a character deals with issues like divorce? Please share.



Monday, April 11, 2016

5 Ways to Stick With It




Recently, a close relative posted she was so glad she stuck with a difficult job. In the early days, she had to get up at 2:30 a.m. to get to work by 4:30 a.m. It involved heavy physical labor and long hours. Her faithfulness and hard work paid off. She received a promotion to a full-time position with benefits and decent hours.

The writing life involves a lot of "sticking with it." I can't tell you how many times I wanted to give up.

Here are some things that keep me writing:

1.  From the early days, I've had a vision to communicate truth through my writing. If my life experiences or knowledge gained can help someone else, I consider that my greatest blessing.

2.  Prayer - When things get tough, the tough get on their knees. Many times, I've had to walk away from what I was writing and ask for God's wisdom and direction. Since I started writing fiction, He's often given me answers as I slept or in that state between sleep and wakefulness. When our hearts are quiet, we can hear His still, small voice so much better.

3.  Connection with other writers and readers - I've attended a writers conference every year for the last 10+ years. Like other endeavors, writing involves steady growth. We build upon our knowledge base and make adjustments to our non-fiction and fiction writing.

4.  Take a break - Live life and be alert to ideas for blog posts, writing projects, and situations for the characters in your manuscript. You can then return to writing with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm.

Even negative experiences can provide fodder for writing. When I broke my elbow, I took note of all that was involved in the diagnosis and treatment. Hey, why should all that pain go to waste? Not long after, my main character, Ellie, in The Moses Conspiracy, was injured. I knew giving her a broken bone was a no-no because of where I wanted the story to go.

5.  A review or note from a reader, saying how much they enjoyed one of my books fueled my creativity. When I completed The Moses Trilogy, one reader said how much she would miss the characters. I may bring them back in the future for an encore performance.

Yes, there are days when I ask myself why I'm on this writing gig. I look back and think of all the joys and the thrill of seeing my work published.

Yeah, I'm glad I stuck with it, too.

Writers:  Do you ever want to quit writing? Please share.

Readers:  Have you tried your hand at writing? Please share.

Photo Credit:  Erhan Balkan

Friday, April 8, 2016

Unsolicited Manuscripts/Mentor Character/Clips/Vocal/PC in the Church




1.  Cindy Sproles guest posts at The Write Conversation. Are you discouraged because most publishers don't take unsolicited manuscripts? Discover ways to get around that barrier.

2.  Zoe M. McCarthy shows how a mentor character can work wonders for your story.

3.  When I was writing non-fiction exclusively, editors and writers impressed on me the necessity for "clips." These are examples of your published works. Linda Gilden guest posts at The Write Conversation on this subject and covers the question of how to get clips if you're a new writer.

4.  Many writers and readers are involved with other creative forms, like singing. Recently, I discovered vocal lessons on YouTube. How cool is that? I've subscribed to Mark Baxter's YouTube channel. Even if you don't sing, it might be great if your character is a singer or to pass it along to your choir director.

5.  Dr. MaryAnn Diorio addresses political correctness in the church.

Writers:   I liked the mentor character post a lot. Several books I've read lately have one. Do you write mentor characters in your fiction?

Readers:  Do you or someone close to you sing? What did you think of the vocal coach on YouTube?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On My Nightstand - Uncharted by Angela Hunt

Six college friends go their separate ways. Life takes many twists and turns until a tragedy reunites five of them. They're challenged to go on a mission trip, but they get far more than they expected.

I've read numerous books by Angela Hunt and always found them intriguing to say the least. She's not afraid to explore unusual subjects and make her readers dig deep.

I almost bailed out of Uncharted in the beginning, but I hung in there. I'm glad I did. It's a story that highlights what's really important in life and the dire consequences of ignoring our destiny.

Be forewarned, this isn't a warm-fuzzy story. Superb writing and a fascinating treatment of eternal matters earned it 4 Stars in my estimation.

Disclaimer: I didn't receive any payment for this review and had no contact with the author or publisher. All opinions, as usual, are exclusively mine.

Writers:    Have you considered writing about a touchy subject? Please share.

Readers:  How do you feel about books that challenge your thinking?

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Newbie Corner - Blogging 101

Are you thinking about starting a blog or do you need some pointers on the basics? I've put together a number of tips that helped me when I was a newbie:

1.  Naming your blog - While this might seem like a no-brainer, it had me stumped. I finally settled on Christian Writer/Reader Connection because I wanted to bring readers and writers together.

Choosing a name reflecting your blog's purpose will help attract a readership. Who is your audience? Some blogs identify themselves as Christian (like mine) or relate to a particular topic. Readers might want to review books on their blogs, while writers might offer tips on the craft, marketing, the publishing scene, or their personal journey.

2.  Visit other blogs - Get to know other like-minded bloggers by visiting and commenting on their posts. Contact them and ask them if they'd add you to their blog list. Offer to return the favor on your blog.

3.  Be consistent - This is one of the most important aspects of blogging. Make a schedule and stick to it. Some bloggers post once a week, while others post every day. Christian Writer/Reader Connection posts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. People want to know you'll have fresh content when they visit. If they see you haven't blogged in six months, they won't bother to return.

4. Use Share Buttons - When visitors enjoy your content, they'll often share it on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. This gives your blog more exposure. Add This is one site that provides this type of button.

5.  Social Media - Facebook has groups dedicated to bloggers. I belong to one called, "Christian Bloggers." You might also want to look up Christian Bloggers Network. They give tips on blogging, as well as opportunities for you to ask questions.

6.  Use Graphics - People love pictures. I use Free Images or my own pictures. If you love photography, combine your hobby with your blog.

7.  Post Length - Anything on the Internet tends to be fast-paced and designed for short attention spans. Keep your posts to 300-500 words. If a post gets too long, people will skim through it and eventually stop coming around.

Writers:  If you have a blog, how often do you post? Do you have any additional tips you'd like to share?

Readers:  Do you have a blog? What are some of the difficulties/questions you had when you started?

Photo Credit: Svilen Milev
 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Proposals/Characters/Privacy/Devo/Flowers



1.  Book proposals rank at the top of the list for dreaded tasks. (Synopsis writing comes in a close second.) This document tells a publisher all about your book project. Chad R.  Allen wrote a great article on the importance of the content, as well as formatting.

2.  Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series, gives tips on how to create unforgettable characters.

3.  Think your home is your castle and the bastion of privacy? Think again. WND reports on how the government may use "smart" home devices to spy on people. (This is based on testimony from our Intel Chief.)

4.  Dena Netherton's devotional reminded me of my crafting days. I loved her analogy and thought you might enjoy it as well.

5.  Spring is my favorite season. Here's a slide show of spring flowers compliments of Better Homes and Gardens.

Writers:  What is your most dreaded writing task? 

Readers:  Which fictional character is your all-time favorite? Why?

Photo Credit:  Maria Amelia Paiava Abrao