Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Introducing Raquel Byrnes

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Ruby Dawn
White Rose Publishing (January 27, 2012)
Raquel Byrnes

Raquel married her college sweetheart seventeen years ago and you can still find them spending time together chatting over a cup of coffee like when they were first dating.

Her husband is her biggest fan and most ardent supporter. He encourages her to take time for writing as often as he can. He regularly gives her gift cards to her favorite coffee house so that she can go there to write and relax.

He has been known to whip up his famous chicken quesadillas complete with guacamole and brownies for dessert.

Raquel has written books for more than a decade. She loves to do research and has taken private detective courses, gun classes, and underground tours to get every detail right for her novels. She writes romantic suspense with an edge-of-your-seat pace. Stories filled with faith, love, and adventure.

In 2009 she signed with agent, Terry Burns, at Hartline Literary. Terry worked to get her Shades of Hope series sold and in 2010, White Rose Publishing purchased the three-book series.


A painful past. A love returns A desperate plan.
Former street kid, Ruby now reaches out to runaways through her medical clinic in the worst part of the city, but her escalating battle with a gang leader puts that in jeopardy.

Cavalier, a risk-taker, charming… Ruby’s first love is now on the right side of the law and the center of a dangerous DEA sting involving her clinic. Tom’s disappearance ten years ago broke her heart and rattled her faith. As their romance relights, memories of what it costs to love him flood her with fear.

Ruby’s battle with the gang ignites a firestorm of danger, and a pattern of lies from within her own camp emerges. With Tom’s life in the balance and her world cast in shadows, can Ruby trust God as she once did…or has she strayed too far, for too long to ever return?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Ruby Dawn, go HERE.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Revision: Five Simple Self-editing Skills

A writer friend once told me that at a writing conference where Ray Bradbury was the keynoter, the legendary sci-fi writer told the "newbies" that he never revised. Furthermore, if these new writers had to alter even a word of their draft they weren't meant for writing and should pick another field. Backstage, my friend cornered him. "You know very well that you revise," my friend said to Bradbury. "Why do you tell the conferees such a thing?"
Bradbury smiled and said, "I just like to mess with them."
Writing Tip for Today: I truly hope none of my readers was at that conference. Most new writers I know are dead serious in their goals of gaining the skills required to write a successful book. If any published author claims to never revise, you might want to point out that her/his nose is growing faster than Pinocchio's. Here are five simple ways to improve your self-editing skills:
  1. Weed-whack Modifiers. Begin with those "ly" words we hear so much about. Whenever a student asks me why we suggest cutting adverbs, I reply that an adverb is usually a marker that a weak verb is lurking nearby. Don't stop with "lys." Scan a couple of pages of your work. Do you see multiple descriptors (aka adjectives/adverbs) in many sentences? Try picking the best one and axing the other.
  2. Active Verbs, Active Stories. If you replace "to be" verbs (is, are, was, were) with specific active verbs, the reader will sense more story movement. Many writers who've started in other careers (technical writers, lawyers, politics) use active verbs only as a last resort. Contract legalese often is written by individuals with little regard for the action. See? To change that sentence from passive to active: Individuals with little regard for action often write contract or legalese wording. Be on the lookout for boring verbs: walk, talk, look, move, put or place. Replace these with precise verbs, such as: amble, yell, ogle, dance, toss, plop.
  3. Learn To Weave. No CHUNKING! Readers forget about descriptions if those descriptions are chunked at the beginning of a scene. It's fine to set-up a scene, but after only a few exchanges of dialogue, the setting, the time of day and even the characters begin to fade away until, like the Cheshire Cat, all that remains is a smile. Weave descriptions, body language and inner thought/emotions around your dialogue.
  4. Rule of 3. One way to remember step three is to count. Three lines spoken by our main character and then a sentence (I call these "beats") of action, body language or an inner feeling/thought. Three exchanges of dialogue (Are so. Am not. Are so.) and break up the dialogue with a paragraph of narrative. Three paragraphs of back story (aka flashback) and touch back on the real time scene. It's not really a rule, but the RULE OF 3 can help you learn to pace your scenes.
  5. Speed Up Scenes. The scenes you write should be important in the sense that each one reveals a bit more of the story. Instead of always beginning a scene before the real action begins, try launching it in media res, that great tool that makes readers feel as if they've walked in on an argument. Axe scenes that move the story "sideways," that is, they go on and on about a plot point that's already been revealed. Practice these five tools of self-editing, and you'll be a better writer. Just don't go around claiming you never revise.

Friday, February 24, 2012

New Country for Old Writers

The self-publishing craze is perhaps the best news an older writer could hear. No longer discriminated against by traditional publishing, these seasoned writers no longer have to fear dying before they find an agent or a publisher. Every older writer I know has taken up the clarion call. Some are absolutely giddy, proclaiming that writers finally have the power! You too can become like Amanda Hocking or John Locke!
Writing Tip for Today: What's the real scoop?
  • Land of a Thousand Bad Novels. A wide open field like this means a lot of competition. YOUR book is wonderful. But readers will have to wade through a lot of dreck to get your book on their radar.
  • Rob You Blind. You could still be taken. For a ride, that is. Self-publishing wannabes need to research the options carefully before taking the plunge. The current leader, CreateSpace from Amazon, has a decent reputation. But consider which services you really need, and be willing to pony up.
  • Hefty, Hefty. Self-publishing means you need some Marketing Muscle. Those with deep pockets will have a much easier time promoting than a single mom who's been squirreling away a dollar here or there. Plan on spending money to get your book noticed--even if it means something as basic as budgeting for review copies and giveaways.
  • Empty Garage Syndrome. One of the best things about the "new" self-publishing, is that you can choose to keep your book completely electronic if you wish. Those who want a paperback have POD (Print On Demand) to keep their garages from overflowing with a gazillion copies no one will ever want.
  • Many Happy Returns. Before the advent of Amazon, a self-pubbed author had to hand-sell her book to each book store manager. Managers refused to carry these books because there was no return policy in place. CreateSpace and other self-pub ventures have begun to address the problem.
  • Pry My Book From My Cold, Dead Hand. If you are on the far side of 50, you can go the self-pub route and not face the scorn of only a few years ago. Many older writers just want to "hold my book in my hand," before they go to the Big Bookstore in the Sky. Investigate, assess your needs, budget to include some sort of promotion. Self-publishing may be a new country for old writers--and those who still have a ways to go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Passionate Writing Vs. Publishable Writing

Part of my recent writing funk involved a couple of writer friends who are producing work they're passionate about. Now, many of you are already know that some in the industry advocate your writing something that SELLS. Then, after you've established your name, you might get to write that book that's been burning inside you forever. I was bummed that I've been writing outside my preferred genre and it felt as if there was never going to be a time to write that passion. I got over it.
Writing Tip for Today: Here's what I've learned so far:
  • Writing a more saleable book still requires excellent writing in order to succeed.
  • The more types of writing one tries, the more versatile and skilled a writer becomes.
  • If I lament not writing that book that's burning a hole in me, I have me to blame. Why don't I schedule a day or time in my writing week that's reserved for writing my passion?
  • What if I find out I'm good at something besides women's fiction or literary fiction or memoir? I guess I wouldn't know until I tried. Maybe you should try a different or more saleable kind of book too. You could stumble upon your best writing talent and make a few bucks too. Keep working on your passion but don't limit yourself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

And the Winner IS: You!

. . . And me and all who labor in the dark dungeon a reader described. Today I am ready to ride that donkey. I'm still the same person I was yesterday in the throes of depression, except that I'm not.
Writing Tip for Today: As Susanne noted yesterday, being caught in the occasional sinkhole is part of the writing life. My advice is always the same: Work that pity party for all it's worth, for 24 hours. At hour 25, however, sit down and write (whether you feel worthy, inspired or just plain crappy) and remember:
  • Crow-eating Keeps You Humble. If I begin to be over-confident in my writing, I seem to immediately suffer blindness to self-conscious writing, smug writing or purple prose.
  • Good Company. Nearly every writer has depressive periods. Even the great literary geniuses doubted themselves at times. While you're throwing your pity party, invite some literary giants to attend--they'll totally get it.
  • Connection, not Worship. Most importantly, writing should be about connection. The best writing connects with people on a deep level. This is what we're after--not idle idol worship. Here today, gone tomorrow--unless you strike a chord that vibrates long after a reader closes a book. Excuse me, but isn't it about time we all got our BIC and wrote?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sinkholes: Time Suckers of the Writing Life

Friday I missed posting here. And it has haunted me all weekend. I feel a certain obligation to my readers and I let you down. Why? I was distracted by too much doing, not enough writing, and caught in the sinkhole of depression.
Writing Tip for Today: I'd love to say, "Yes don't we all face the dizzying pace of life as we try to carve out a time to write?" And at times, doesn't it all get us down ? But truthfully, I've been more guilty of just hiding my head and pretending I don't see you, faithful readers.
The only conclusion or bit of wisdom I can offer is that yes, a writer will have bad days, weeks. Long stretches wherein you are certain no one will ever notice you. Seasons where your loved ones will all suggest (in the kindest possible way) that you get a real job or at least a less expensive hobby.
That sinkhole gets deeper when you think of all your writer friends with best sellers or a fat new ten book contract or whose book has just been optioned. And at times, you and I will deal a tad ungraciously, throw things against the wall, vow to never write another word or my favorite, threaten to throw the whole project into the fire. I'm always aghast when I remember my poor behavior in dealing with the writing life's little disappointments: No, your book isn't going into a second printing, sorry no one wants to translate your work into Latvian, we regret to inform you that your book is now officially OOP.
I don't ever really understand why I don't give up or take my loved ones' advice and become a psychiatric nurse. Truth is, the sun will come out tomorrow, I will have used up my 24 hour pity party window and it'll be time to climb back on that donkey and ride. By tomorrow, let's hope I have come to my senses. And I'll bet that just like you, my writing will be better because I got through another big sinkhole on the writing journey.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Baby You Can Drive My Car

. . . Just don't drive it to your story. This tool, to introduce a main character as he travels to 1) old childhood home 2) the troubled town or 3)the big city, happens so much I'm surprised it hasn't landed on Letterman's Top Ten Things Not to Do List. As we discussed in the last post, beginning your story in the middle of the action or in media res, is a not-so-subtle hint to speed things up.
Writing Tip for Today: Everything I say on this blog is intended to help writers master skills. So when I say "don't drive to the story," I mean in your revisions. In draft, drive all you want, just know you'll probably need to look for a better jump-off spot. How, you ask, can writers get precious background info relayed if the character is doing something besides gazing out a window?
  • Learn to Weave. I say this again and again. You can insert tiny packets of back story/motivation or other info in and around your character in action. By keep things separate (first I describe my character, problem, etc. Then I start the action), you're toying with your readers' attention span. Readers want to know as little as possible and they want to see action early.
  • Narrative Chunks Are Like Icebergs. If you see that your opening involves pages and pages of narrative--stuff that isn't action--be willing to divert your novel's ship around that iceberg. Take it from me, long opening narratives are best left to Pulitzer Prizes winners.
  • Don't Throw Your Character Under the Bus. You want to get your reader in sympathy with the character as early as possible. Ask yourself why you need a scene where the bus rolls into town, the car turns up a winding driveway to home or other static ideas. To keep your character away from interacting with your novel's players is to risk throwing that character under the bus.

Monday, February 13, 2012

In Media Res: Where to Begin

I'm so glad we all understand point of view in fiction so well now. You know where the camera is at all times and your character's inner life is rich and appealing and sprinkled through the action. But where to begin?
Writing Tip for Today: If you take a workshop or a writing course, you'll no doubt hear the phrase, "in media res." No, we aren't a bunch of lawyers trying to increase our billable hours. The Latin phrase simply reminds writers to begin a story in the middle of the action. Here's why:
  • No Background Checks. We all tend to want our readers to know EVERYthing about our character before the story starts. But although this stuff fascinates us, our readers, well not so much. Today's readers only want a sliver of info before they are willing to care enough to turn the page. So if you can give us a POV character and a problem, many times a reader is hooked.
  • Ordinary Time--Keep it Short. Chris Vogel's The Writer's Journey defines the novel in terms of a journey such as a fantasy quest. He argues that we need to see the character briefly in ordinary time--that is, before the inciting incident occurs, after which nothing will ever be the same. This is sound advice, but be sure to keep the Ordinary Time as short as possible. The longer you keep a reader waiting for action, the greater the chance that said reader will find something else to read.
  • Marry Action with Background. Perhaps the best approach is to write your character acting out a scene while at the same time inserting brief hints of the background and the problem. Instead of opening with a character alone on stage, staring out a window, wondering how she ever got to this place, nix the "driving to the story" idea and replace with action from farther into the story. And you don't need to start with a character who thinks about doing something, then does it, etc. Unless the action is very exotic, you can begin right in the middle of said action--in media res.

Friday, February 10, 2012

POV Breakdown: Omniscient

Last in this series, the omniscient viewpoint has also been called a "God's eye view." In the 19th century, when novels were gaining in popularity, the masses didn't travel as much as people today. Much of the world might remain unknown to these readers were it not for lengthy descriptions of settings, people and things. So writers wrote long meandering descriptions of settings, clothing and objects.
Writing Tip for Today: Today, however, the omniscient POV has largely fallen out of favor. Readers demand an intimate knowledge of a character and generally aren't content to view stories from afar. You can spot omniscient POV when a writer shifts POV suddenly, without warning. We're securely in one character's POV, and then suddenly exposed to a different character's thoughts and emotions. Other tips about omniscient POV:
  • A Penny for Your Thoughts. The reader cannot see into any thoughts or the reader can see into all thoughts. While being able to learn all characters' thoughts or emotions might seem a good thing on the surface, its effect is often to weaken reader sympathies, because readers aren't rooting for any one character. The bond a reader makes with a viewpoint character is essential in carrying the reader forward in the story.
  • Mixed Up Characters. By knowing all the characters' thoughts and/or emotions, readers might become confused more easily. The reader is forced to decide who's important, who's got the most to lose, who's the real "main" character, and sometimes, even who's speaking.
  • Where's the Camera? In omniscient POV, the camera is the "eye in the sky." This means it's much harder to bring a close up into the action. Just like with photography, with a panoramic or vista view it's great for wide angle shots, but poor for close-ups. Third person helps bring the camera closer, and first person make the character and the reader become the camera.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

POV Breakdown: First Person

I love to write in first person and I love to read a first person POV novel. So talking about this POV is comfortable for me.
Writing Tip for Today: First person POV uses the "I" voice. Of all the viewpoints (aside from that pesky second person), first person seems to be evenly divided between those who love it and those who hate it. Until a few decades ago, writers were often discouraged from using first person POV, shuttled instead to third person limited. But times have changed and these days first person is more accepted, even in genre novels. But there are advantages and disadvantages:
  • Role Playing Score! The first person POV provides intimacy and immediacy. Readers feel as if they are living the story, and they tend to identify with the character, paying less attention to the character's looks--they're getting to actually view the world from this character's eyes. Sometimes readers don't even really know the first person POV's name. Nor do they care.
  • Where's the Camera? In first person POV, the camera is sort of embedded in the protagonist's (POV character) belly, looking out at the world. This means that unless your character looks at herself in a mirror (this is generally instant fiction death--screams amateur!), we may never know the character's looks. This character cannot see herself blush, see her own expression (but she can feel it) or enter the thoughts of anyone one else in the scene. The simplest way to remember is to "be" the character as you write. You need an outside person to tell you that there's broccoli stuck in your teeth and so does your character.
  • First Person POV Limitations. The main disadvantage to using first person POV is that all the action must take place while your character is present. In order to write a scene in which this character is absent, you must switch to another POV. Multiple POV novels are popular, but I advise first-timers to write a complete story in only one or two at most. Multiple POVs are far more than merely rehashing the events from different characters. It takes skill and practice to master the woven tapestry a multi-POV novel requires. In genre fiction such as murder mystery or romance, first person can be tricky. And in every kind of fiction, switching first person to first person requires the writer to label sections or scenes with character names--after all, they're all "I."
  • Try It. If you are beginning a novel, you may want to experiment with first and third persons. Try writing a scene from each of those viewpoints and then read aloud to see which one sounds more natural to you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Introducing Kim Vogel Sawyer

Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Song of My Heart
Bethany House (February 1, 2012)
Kim Vogel Sawyer


Kim Vogel Sawyer is the author of fifteen novels, including several CBA and ECPA bestsellers. Her books have won the ACFW Book of the Year Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Kim is active in her church, where she leads women's fellowship and participates in both voice and bell choirs. In her spare time, she enjoys drama, quilting, and calligraphy. Kim and her husband, Don, reside in central Kansas, and have three daughters and numerous grandchildren.


Sadie Wagner has always been devoted to her family. So when her stepfather is injured and can't work, she decides to leave home and accept a position as a clerk at the mercantile in Goldtree, Kansas. Goldtree also offers the opportunity to use her God-given singing talent--though the promised opera house is far different from what she imagined. With her family needing every cent she can provide, Sadie will do anything to keep her job.

Thad McKane comes to Goldtree at the request of the town council. The town has been plagued by bootlegging operations, and Thad believes he can find the culprit. After he earns enough money doing sheriff work, he wants to use it to pay for his training to become a minister.

Thad is immediately attracted to the beautiful singer who performs in Asa Baxter's unusual opera house, but when he hears her practicing bawdy tunes, he begins to wonder if she's far less innocent than she seems. And when Sadie appears to be part of the very crimes he's come to investigate, is there any hope the love blossoming between them will survive?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Song of My Heart, go HERE.

Monday, February 6, 2012

POV Breakdown: Second Person

Almost all writing teachers tell their students to stay away from second person. The YOU voice or POV is considered the most difficult to sustain. Why?
Writing Tip for Today: Second person POV uses the pronoun "you." And that's where the problem lies. "You" could be any number of individuals or whomever is reading your story. Although using a second-person POV exclusively is discouraged, there are a few exceptions.
  • The Brief You. Now and then a writer can get away with a sentence or two in a you voice from an already established character's first person POV. So the reader is cemented in the "I" voice before this character turns to the audience and relates a common condition or info that many people might also experience. One of the most fascinating uses of second person POV is in Lorrie Moore's short story, "How to Become a Writer." Grammar rules say in the case of second person, the subject (you) is omitted and the sentences begins with a verb. In the case of Moore's story, writers relate to her story's first line: "First, try to be something, anything else." The you is implied. You go to your room becomes: Go to your room.
  • You're Not the Boss of Me. The command to do anything, including "go to your room," doesn't sit well with readers in general. We resent others telling us what to do.
  • Rare Birds. Of course, some writers can pull off what the rest of us dare not attempt. Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City is a novel written entirely in second person POV. This writer succeeds mainly because of his high skill level. If you want, write in second person as an exercise. Only you and an editor can say if your attempt is publishable.

Friday, February 3, 2012

POV Breakdown: Deep POV

I admit I didn't know what the term "deep POV" referred to until I read an article by one of my colleagues. I discovered I've been calling it by a different term, "the observing consciousness." Writing Tip for Today: Whatever you choose to call it, here's the lowdown on Deep POV:
  • Whose Eyes? In any POV, first person (I) or third person (he, she, they), you want the reader to experience the scene as if he/she is looking out through that POV character's eyes. Reader sees what character does, sees, hears, tastes, touches, smell or thinks. The writer gives information about the scene ONLY through that character's point of view. Thus, if two opposite characters engage in an argument, Character A can know her own thoughts and feelings, but can only infer or surmise the other character's thoughts and feelings through interpreting that character's body language, dialogue or actions. When a POV character interprets another's thoughts or feelings, use "seem," "as if he," "might have" or some other qualifier that shows the reader we're still in Character A's head, making assumptions about the other character.
  • Deep, Deep, Deep. To move past regular point of view (POV) into Deep POV, you omit the kinds of things we don't observe about ourselves when we interact with others. In other words, "I watched the toddler taking her first steps," becomes, "The toddler took her first steps." "She heard the far away rumble of thunder," becomes, "Thunder rumbled in the distance." "He saw her take money out of her purse," becomes, "She took money out of her purse." Instead of "She felt the green grass," try, "The grass was soft under her feet." The thing to remember is that when we move through life, we don't stop to say, "Gee I'm watching this," "feeling that" or "hearing something," you just watch it, feel it or hear it. By eliminating these markers of the character observing herself, the camera moves closer and the reader enjoys a more intimate relationship with the character.
  • Sensory Weirdness. Perhaps an exception can be made for smell. Sometimes you can write, "The aroma of fresh bread wafted through the room as Joe sat in the cafe." Other times it makes more sense to say, "I smelled smoke." Taste can be tricky too. "The broccoli tasted like old gym socks." is perfectly acceptable.
  • Send me your questions about POV and I'll try to answer. Next: Second Person POV: When should you dare to use it?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

POV Breakdown: Third Person Limited

I've been asked to write a series of short articles on POV in fiction/memoir. The requirement is for my explanation to turn on the light bulb for the densest writer. OK maybe not THE densest, but a writer whose skills and knowledge are on a steep learning curve. I'm going to try it out on you first.
Writing Tip for Today: We'll begin with the most widely used point of view, Third Person Limited. When you are crafting scenes, it's likely that you either "hear" dialogue, see the action in your mind's eye, or a combination. Understanding POV is like that too. Only in Third Person Limited POV, there are a few rules to follow:
  • Where's the Camera? Think of the camera as pointed outward but a tad behind your main character for the action. This character doesn't see himself, he sees the world around him. In Third Limited, the reader is also able to point the camera inside so readers see what he sees, hear what he hears and understand any emotions or thoughts this character has. Thus, with the camera just behind him, following him everywhere he goes, we can see his world as well as be an outside observer of his thoughts and emotions. The character wouldn't, however, see himself blush, or his own face unless there's a mirror involved.
  • Third Person Pronouns. Third Person Limited POV uses pronouns "he," "she," and "they." Use "I" "you" or "we" only in dialogue.
  • Limited Means One. The "limited" indicates that we aren't going into other characters heads. This is where writers get confused. Your POV character can observe others, hear others, shake hands, smell cologne or even taste the other characters, but he CANNOT know their thoughts/emotions except by inference. Inference might seem like a POV error, but unless the writer plainly writes that another character thought or felt some way, it's still the POV character's judgments about another person. In Jan Karon's At Home in Mitford, Father Tim (POV Third Person Limited) exclaims to his secretary, "Emma!" he said, astounded. "Is that you?" "This," she said with feeling, "is the most me you've seen in years." She turned her head this way and that so he could get the full effect. This last line might appear to be in Emma's head, but in fact Father Tim knows her well and understands her body language. Your character can guess at another character's thoughts/intentions/emotions the same way we do in life: by interpreting dialogue, body language and circumstances.

NEXT: Third Person Deep POV.