Monday, December 28, 2009

A Tribute to Shirley Harkins by her Writing Friends

One of our contributors, Shirley Harkins, lost her battle with cancer today.

She wrote this about herself on her Caring Bridges site:

"I was admitted to the hospital on April 11th, 2008 complaining of excruciating pain in my back. At that time, my prognosis was "iffy" at best. At that time, the cancer was aggressive, spreading to my spine, pelvis, ribs, and liver. Thank God, He seems to have had other plans for my life. After months of chemo therapy, there no longer is evidence of cancer in my liver or pelvis. God is merciful and good.I continue to follow the suggestions of a nutritionist to support the more aggressive therapies, by strengthening my immune system and helping my body fight off the cancer cells. I also exercise doing water jogging and I exercise spiritual muscles and faith by regularly studying God's Word and extra biblical resources. Daily prayer and meditation is also a vital part of my protocol. I rely on the prayers of family and friends for support.
I have tremendous respect for all the professionals on "Team Shirley," but I rest my faith on the Great Physician, the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of His compassion, mercy, and love, and not due to any righteousness on my part, the cancer is succumbing to treatment. God is good! His results are always glorious and the Glory is forever His. Amen and amen."

Moonine Sue Watson's Thoughts About Shirley:

I first met Shirley on line when she joined our critique group. She was working on a book based on her experiences in the first platoon in the Women's Army Corp to participate in requiring the same level of training for women as the men. As I read her stories and met her personally, I grew to respect this courageous woman whose deep faith as she fought the battle of a lifetime deepened my own. If I had only heard her story of her Army days, I would have thought she was a unique woman I was proud to call friend. But to share her battle with her as the disease attacked her body was a spiritual journey that has changed me as a person. She loved the Wichita Mountains. We met at the chapel in the Holy City for prayer and devotions on a beautiful July day last summer. God was there with us. She and I split a huge buffalo burger at Meirs as well as a peach cobbler with homemade ice cream. We laughed and enjoyed each bite. Shortly after that, she lost the ability to eat solid foods. I miss her, but I know she's in Heaven, laughing and dancing with Jesus. Bless you, Shirley. I'm a better person for having known you.

The Day I Met Shirley Harkins

With love by

Janet K. Brown

Debra Calloway and I waited in Applebee’s in Wichita Falls, Texas for the newest member of our writing group to arrive. We’d only “talked” by e-mail. Our other member, Sue Watson, was unable to attend. Time ticked by. Shirley was late.
“How will we recognize her?” I asked.
Debra thought about our problem. “I wish we’d thought to get a cell phone number. Maybe she’s not coming.”

A dark headed lady walked in with a teenaged girl. No introduction was necessary. Shirley headed for our table, and we hugged in greeting. She always belonged.
Last Christmas, Shirley visited my house to critique, just she and I. “I worry you’ll be nice critiquing my work because I’m sick. I want the truth,” she said.

The truth is she was a great writer. I also remember her humor, her serious study of God’s word, her talent at drama, and her love for her family. Our circle at the writing table stands vacant, but God’s circle in heaven is more complete.

Steph Gallentine's thought on Shirley:

How do I sum up in one short post the impact someone had on your life? Shirley was an awesome encourager, a great writer, an honest critique partner, a wonderful friend, and my number one fan. :0)

The most memorable time we had was this summer when we all traveled to the Refuge, a place in the Oklahoma Mountains, where we had our July writer's meeting. Shirley had brought the DVD she had written and had gotten filmed and I had brought my newly published book, Refuge. Neither one of us had brought cash money so we couldn't purchase the other's item.

"I'll trade you a DVD for a book," I said.

She smiled and within moments, our barter was happy and successful.

Later, after we'd eaten lunch, we parted with Shirley and headed back home. Shirley kept waving for us to pull over. We all were worried because she had forgotten her medicine. Assuming she was sick, we pulled over, fully expecting to drive her back home. She got out of the car and met us at our car. "You forgot to sign my book." We all laughed for the longest time. She was so precious and I'm so thankful God brought her into my life.

Debra Calloway's Thoughts on Shirley:

I'll never forget two years ago when we first formed our local critique group, I began looking for new members. I saw Shirley's name pop up on the American Christian Fiction Writers loop as a new member. I was so excited and contacted her immediately since I knew she was nearby.

Instantly, there was a bond. We just clicked. She was so excited to meet our little group. It was some time before we had our first meeting with her. We met at a local restaurant and I was so worried I wouldn't know who she was and miss her, but that wasn't the case. We gravitated toward each other the second she walked in the building.

From the beginning of our friendship with Shirley, each of us has learned something new from one another. I will miss her terribly.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy is a hot off the presses book that needs to be on every writer's bookshelf. The book consists of nineteen chapters full of topics to help any writer from a beginner to an experienced.

I attended a Randy Ingermanson workshop at the American Christian Fiction Writers' conference in Dallas a few years ago. I am a subscriber to his The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine which gives writing advice. When Randy announced his book and offered it for purchase, I immediately ordered it.

My copy is already full of post-it notes, and I'm only a quarter of the way through. He helps a writer determine at what level she is and makes suggestions for skills that need to be mastered to move to the next level. The Five Pillars of Fiction are identified for in depth study in later chapters.

The best advice I've received so far is to write the first draft without worrying about grammar or details. Those will be taken care of in subsequent drafts. He also helps a writer identify her style of writing to make writing a creative project instead of a blank page.

I expect to consult this book on a regular basis. Order a copy. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Cup of Comfort for Writers edited by Colleen Sell

This week we will celebrate our Lord's birth. In the bustle of activity surrounding Christmas, I found the book "A Cup of Comfort for Writers" to be a good kick-back-and-relax-your-feet kind of read. To be honest, I added this book at the last minute to my order for Writers' Digest Books. The small anthology of inspiring stories cost little, but has added much to my days.
I've found it hard to complete writing obligations this month. How refreshing to read how other writers faced similar problems. Whether it was learning to balance spending time with my spouse and time with writing like Samantha Ducloux Waltz or facing the fact that I'm a publication addict like Alaina Smith, I find practical advice or at least sympathy on these pages. My very favorite story, written by Cynthia Ruchti, reads like a comical version of my life.
Out loud, I read one paragraph to my husband who doubled over laughing. "I never knew there was another person like you," he said.
Within his words is the reason I recommend this short book for your delight. You could find yourself on every page.
Praying for Christmas peace for all of our readers and writers this year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Kiss A Day: 77 Days in the Love of God from the Song of Songs, by Jamie Lash, McDougal Publishing, © 1996, 2004 by Jamie Lash

If I am to weave God’s principles into my writing, I must be familiar with and living these tenets in my daily life in at least as much as I have grown in the Word. A responsible writer, or Christian for that matter, studies Scripture on a regular basis. Other benefits from this disciplined practice are to learn more about God’s and Jesus’s natures, to build faith, and to prepare me for spiritual attack.

I don’t know about you, but I like a good devotion to begin my quiet time with the Lord each day. Reading the insights of others gently transitions me from my hectic world to a spirit focused and ready to receive God’s Word.

In the past, I’ve reviewed Oswald Chambers, an excellent devotional. This time I feature a book called A Kiss a Day: 77 Days in the Love of God from the Song of Songs, by Jamie lash. If you are at all romantic, this devotional will especially delight you. If not, Ms. Lash’s devotions may inspire some starry-eyed images certain to rekindle your First Love you had with Messiah.

As the theme of her devotions, Ms. Lash focuses on different verses, and not all from the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. She blends in enough self disclosure to make her devotions more credible as the reader gets a glimpse into her tender heart. Many of the entries end with short prayers designed to close the gap between the reader and the King.

Along with passionate words, Ms. Lash also includes insights wrought from the Hebrew origins of words. Likewise, she explains biblical customs of the day to enrich the readers’ understanding of various events mentioned in the Song of Songs.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Lash is a Messianic Jew. She converted to Judaism shortly after her husband, a Jew who accepted Jesus as Messiah, led her to the Lord in prayer. Like the television ads, this book isn’t available in stores, but you can purchase it from their ministry website I was not given this book by the author in exchange for promoting her title. I just include this information in case you would like to be blessed by this beautiful book of devotions. Fall in love with your King again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Pro

I'm excited to talk to you about a new software, Randy Ingermanson has created. It's called the Snowflake Pro. It was adapted from his Snowflake Method of creating a novel. This software enables writers to create their characters and storylines before actually writing their novel. The best part is no more notecards for me. In this handy-dandy software package the pages are user friendly and saves all your information right in one place on your computer.

I've tried other writing softwares in the past and spent more money on them then what Mr. Ingermanson charges, and wasn't satisfied with them. The ease of this software is incredible. I have already encouraged my critique partners to purchase their own copy of this program. And now I'm encouraging you. I'm positive you won't regret buying your copy today.

Here's What You Get in Snowflake Pro

Here are some of the key things you get in Snowflake Pro:

•An easy form to work through each of the key steps of the Snowflake method:
◦Your one-sentence storyline. This is your most powerful selling tool for selling your book.
◦Your one-paragraph summary. If somebody asks about your "Three-Act Structure," this is it in one paragraph. Memorize it before you talk to editors or agents.
◦Your character key info. Each character's storygoals, ambition, epiphany, and other crucial information. If you don't understand your characters, odds are it's because you haven't asked yourself the right questions yet.
◦A one-page synopsis. Grow this naturally from your one-paragraph summary. This is your baseline for creating the synopsis you'll need for your editor someday.
◦Character sketches. These are terrific for inserting straight into a proposal because editors love character-oriented fiction.
◦A four-page synopsis. Grow this out from your one-page synopsis. With this in hand, you'll know all the important turns in your story.
◦Character bibles. This is where you save all those pesky details you need to write three-dimensional characters. Take care of the details and your characters will take care of you.
◦A scene list. You can get this rolling by importing one of your synopses, then tweak it so you have an overview of every scene in your novel. This makes rearranging scenes in your novel a breeze. Includes a word-count projection so you always can estimate how long your novel will be.
◦Scene details. Any stray information that you need for each scene goes here. Don't lose that info! Put it where you can't miss it.

•Audio help on each stage of the Snowflake. If you're an audio learner, this will help lock it into your memory.

•Text help on each stage of the Snowflake. If you need to see the words, this is for you.

•Four example Snowflakes to show you how it's done:
◦Gone With The Wind
◦Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
◦Pirates of the Caribbean
◦Pride and Prejudice

•A button to create the skeleton of your proposal. Click that button, and Snowflake Pro will write an RTF file that contains the core of a proposal. Don't be paralyzed by doubt about how to write a proposal.

•The accumulated wisdom of 20+ years of a published novelist. I've published six novels. I've won about a dozen awards. The Snowflake method contains what I believe to be core to writing fiction. I have no patience for the fluff, so I left that out.

Buy yours today at:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Everyday Life During the Civil War by Michael J. Varhola

Writer's Digest Books has a series of books on different time periods. Each book focuses on the daily life of that time period. I purchased Everyday Life During the Civil War at the bookstore when I attended one of the Romance Writers of America's conferences. I also purchased one about World War II time period. If I were to write an historical novel, it would be about one of those time periods.

The book contains forty-four illustrations with a variety of photos from walking clothes to a flintlock musket. Some topics addressed are recipes, games, slang, and currency.

The Appendix includes a time line, a bibliography of recommended books, resources including web sites, and song lyrics of the time.

I haven't found the books on the shelves at book stores, They can be ordered from Writer's Digest and from a book store if you knew what title you wanted to use for your research.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Christian Writers' Market Guide by Sally E. Stuart

Almost time for the newest edition of Christian Writers' Market Guide. Since many changes occured this last year, I can hardely wait until January, 2010.
At the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer's conference in May, I met and visited with Ms. Stuart. She's a pleasant lady who's a wealth of market information. Twenty-five years ago, she set out to compile information whereby writers could search in one place to find a list of possible markets. She tapped into as her sub title says "the essential reference tool for the Christian writer."
I write Christian short stories for adults and teens. Before I start a story, I research this book for newsletters and magazines that accept fiction, then determine what length they require, what rights are wanted, and what payment is involved. Ms. Stuart's book brings out information I often do not find on websites and displays markets that I've not yet discovered. I can safely choose a market listed in Ms. Stuart's book because I know they're all Christian-based.
I also write contemporary romance and women's fiction. In the Christian Writer's Market Guide, I can locate possible book publishers, know whether they accept unsolicited fiction, know word count wanted, and the current year's need for topics.
Along with these two major purposes, the book offers other useful helps for Christian writers such as places for research, groups for Christian writers, freelance jobs, upcoming conferences, and even a list of agents who accept Christian writing and what they accept or even prefer that year.
Every year, in January, this resource becomes available. I've asked to be put on the list where I automatically receive the book upon publication. I'm not charged until I receive it. During the year, Ms. Stuart notifies her readers of changes since the last book through her blog. For writers, it's a win-win purchase.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Guest Blogger, Stephanie Gallentine

Greetings! This is Debra and I'm stepping in today to introduce our guest blogger.

This week is our current blogger Shirley Harkins week, but our critique partner, Stephanie Gallentine will blog in her place today. I've uploaded a picture of us together at Stephanie's recent booksigning. From left to right, Stephanie, myself, Sue, and Shirley (not pictured Janet Brown).

So, without further ado, let me present our guest blogger, Stephanie Gallentine...

Raised in North Texas, Stephanie spent much of her childhood making up stories filled with action, adventure, and angst. From the time she was a young teenager, she started scribbling those adventures down on paper.

Years later, she met and married her husband, Robert. They have two fabulous children, Heather and Andy. Now, by day, Stephanie serves up lunches in her local school cafeteria. By night, she enjoys serving up stories filled with mystery, mayhem, and salted with the often mysterious yet always miraculous hand of God in the lives of teenagers.

Her first story, Refuge, is due out this August from Word Aflame Press.


Being a plot-first writer, I often find myself struggling with character depth. This week my friend sent me a CD of almost five hours of lessons from the 2009 ACFW conference called Pinpoint, Diagnose, and Heal the Broken Places in Your Novel presented by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck.

All I can say is wow! I couldn’t take notes fast enough as she went through common diagnoses from critique partners, editors, or agents. Topics dealing with character goals and the lies they tell themselves suddenly became clear, whereas before I struggled to really grasp the concept enough for it to benefit my own writing.

Other topics covered included discovering your characters noble cause, their goals, how to write an imperfect yet believable Christian character, plot problems, the heroes journey, the writer’s voice, and writing dialogue that ‘snaps’.

They also have a website called where you can look up topics like these in their archives. If you are ready to inject life into your novel, the doctor is in the house and ready to help your novel be the best it can be.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Love Untamed by JoAnn Chartier and Chris Enss

I've been reading several books on what life was like in the 19th Century. I wish I could read them faster and retain everything I've read. I have so many ideas for book reviews, but just can't seem to keep up to date on my reading.

My current favorite book is, Love Untamed, Romances of the Old West, by JoAnn Chartier and Chris Enss.

Some of the real life love stories in this book are tragic with no happily-ever-after-ending, however there are several that end on a happy note and these stories are my favorite.

Backcover Blurb:
In these pages you'll meet a soiled dove who longed for a fairy-tale romance but instead fell for an ailing miner; a quiet schoolmarm who risked life and limb for her adventuresome husband; a spinster who refused to reveal the secrets of her heart despite a proposal from a dashing, prominent rancher; an actress who found her true love when she needed him most; and a rich couple who lost everything except their intense dedication to each other.

The romances of thirteen couples are explored in this book and represent the variety of relationships and love affairs that added color, controversy, and commitment to the unmatched days of the Old West.

Since HEA are my favorite endings, I want to tell you about two of the romances which I adore. The first one is about a couple madly in love with one another and leave their families and friends after their wedding with all their wedding gifts and all their clothes and set off on a ship to Honeymoon on the east coast.

However, as they near the southeastern coast of the U.S.A, a hurricane pops up. The storm takes their ship. Row boats are lowered into the water and women and children are the first to board. As the new wife boards another boat, she watches as the lights from the boat her husband is on sinks deep into the blackness of the ocean during the darkness of the night. Heartbroken, she sails to their destination point a new wife turned grieved wife.

When her ships docks, she disembarks. News at the harbor suggests that another rescue boat boarded all the men from the sinking ship she and her husband had sailed on. Trying not to get her hopes too high, she begins looking for her husband. In the distance, she discovers her husband is looking for her. Together at last, they embrace grateful God had spared their lives. Together, they owned not a stitch of clothing nor any of their gifts had survived. But together they cherished the greatest gift of The couple went on to live their life to the fullest, which included a home of their and children they adored.

My next favorite story is about teenage love. A young man took a fancy to a young woman. He escorted her to a town social. At the party, he became jealous of his best friend's attentions toward this young woman. The young men challenged each other to a pistol duel. Our young man shoots and kills his best friend. He runs away leaving the young woman heartbroken, yearning for his love.

As the years pass, the young woman had many men interested in her, but refused their attentions. She determined if she couldn't have her young man than she wouldn't marry at all.

The young man left the east coast and headed for the mountains in the mid-west. He learned how to survive on nature alone...becoming a sort of mountain man.

The woman heard stories of a wild man whose personality resembled her one true love, but as she made inquiries she soon discovered that this man had died.

Fifteen years had passed and the young woman's father loads up the family and travels west. As they near Colorado they are watched by angry Indians.

Miles away the young man turned wild man hears of some travelers who are being stalked by Indians. When one of the witnesses remarks about the traveler's last name the man assumes his one true love is one of them. He and his friends rides to save the family.

As they arrive, the Indians attack, killing the father. The wild man chases off the Indians and returns to the wagon. There he finds the girl of his dreams, the love of his youth, the reason he never could allow himself to marry. The woman who held his heart.

Together, they took the family to their destination and then they married, living happily-ever-after.

I think what really amazes me about that story is how ironic it is for a man who loses himself in the woods in middle America to pop up in the nick of time to save the woman he left behind on the east coast.

Sometimes real life is better than fiction.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches

Cliches cause writers problems. The debate on whether a cliche is ever appropriate in a manuscript often appears on various writer's sites. The conclusion of the debate weighs heavily on not using them except in character dialogue. The writer then faces the task of identifying less common ones.

Our local library conducts a sale each Spring of books removed from their collection and ones donated by community members. As a Friends of the Library volunteer, I help set up the display and see the books that are available.

I was delighted to spot The Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches. The alphabetical arrangement of cliches along with a definition provides 534 pages of useful information for the writer.

An extra bonus was a recipe for "Coffee Steak Marinade" tucked inside. All for the "awesome" price of one dollar. "awesome: Slang for "wonderful," "terrific," originating in the second half of the twentieth century and used widely by youngsters. It transferred the original meaning of awe-inspiring, dating from the seventeenth century. A New Yorker cartoon caption had it (Dec. 19, 1983): "Third Grade? Third grade is awesome!"

Visit your local library book sale. I've purchased several writing reference books there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

If you've read Donald Maass' book "Writing the Breakout Novel,"you were probably, like me, anxious to get his next writing book. In May, my mentor, DiAnn Mills' suggested this book to take our fiction to the next level. When Writer's Digest books offered it, I ordered it. The name of it is "The Fire in Fiction." I recommend this book for advanced writers. Beginners would find it confusing and not a litte daunting.
True to Maass' companion workbook for the breakout novel, the author gives projects and learning assignments. In fact, a quick read would be to turn to the practical tools highlighted at the end of each chapter. Maass breaks down the parts of a novel--the characters, scenes, plots, tension--and shows ways to bump each item up a notch. Not only heros, but villians get a second look. I love the way he suggests picking someone in your own life that's memorable, then asks you why. Maass makes you think, really concentrate on each aspect of your manuscript. Following this book's direction, you examine the goal for each scene. One of my favorite techniques to strengthen my book Maass calls "the tornado effect."
Nearer the end of the book, the reader learns to make the impossible plausible and create reality out of terrible situations. Maass' own quote says it all. "Effective storytelling doesn't minimize problems, it exaggerates them."
Again, Donald Maass proves to be an excellent writing teacher or coach. If we must dig and study to grasp what he has to say, the rewards will belong to those who put forth the effort.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Note of Apology

For two weeks, we've had an absence on our blog. Some of our contributors have been terribly ill plus as in the case of my household we've been fighting the flu.

I just wanted to apologize for the lack of posts and say we should be up and running again next week.

Thank you for your patience!
Debra Calloway

Monday, October 12, 2009

Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson

Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson, © 1999, 2002 Dee Henderson, Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

My reading appetite goes through phases. There are seasons when I will read nothing but non-fiction titles. Recently, I drifted into an almost insatiable craving for good fiction. I wanted plots that I could lose myself in; characters so distinct that I would recognize them on the street.

One of the books meeting this criterion was Danger in the Shadows by prolific author, Dee Henderson. This title is the prequel for her famous O’Malley Series and won the coveted Rita Award, the highest national honor given for excellence in romantic fiction.

Sara Walsh, the heroine of the story, is the daughter of a wealthy British diplomat. When Sara is six, she and her twin sister are kidnapped. During the nine-day ordeal, her sister, Kim, dies from dehydration. Sara continues to battle the demons of trauma on top of survivor guilt.

The story doesn’t end when Sara is found and freed. One of the kidnappers escapes apprehension and goes on to stalk Sara for the next twenty-five years. Sara is forced to live under tight security, led by her brother, Dave, an FBI agent. Limitations on her freedom preclude Sara from leading a normal life.

By chance, she meets ex-NFL star, Adam Black who persists on getting to know her. His efforts compromise her cover, and the stalker resurfaces in her life, placing Adam in the crosshairs as well.

I won’t tell you what happens next. This book is a page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat, while whetting your romantic predilections at the same time. I highly recommend Danger in the Shadows to satisfy your yearnings for good fiction.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth is the second book about a young girl who disappears. This first book was Daisy Chain.

This book focuses on her mother as the authorities search for the missing child. Characters from the first book are reintroduced in such a way that reminds the reader of incidents from the first book, such as the painting of her house.

Besides being a great read, the writer can learn how to effectively write a second book a year after the first is published. There were no gaps or need to return to the first book in order to remember what happened in the first story.

This is a book of regrets from a mother who wishes she'd done a better job of loving her daughter. You won't be able to put it down once you start it, so give yourself plenty of time to read it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Revising Fiction by Kirt Hickman

As treasurer of our local Red River Romance Writers, I opened our group postal box and found an autographed copy of a writing craft book, sent to our group for a door prize. The name of the book was "Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness" by Kirt Hickman. Before taking it to our meeting, I started reading it myself. Though in the middle of another craft book by a famous author, I soon lay it aside and devoured this new book.
Starting with the writer's concept and research for a story, Kirkland moves to the major premise of the manuscript, goes to chapter breaks, then to the nitty-gritty of adverbs, punctuation and turning passive into active.
I loved his list of cliches. He used his own fiction and showed what his critique group pointed out, and how he corrected the problems. Then, his easily-understood exercises gave his readers opportunity to apply the concepts to the manuscripts they were writing. The show and tell section was invaluable. With the help of this book, I tightened and deepened emotion in my fiction.
His self editing instruction would offer valuable tips to one thinking of writing a first manuscript, and for the multi-published author would present a workable tool for revision and/or rewriting.
I highly recommend this book. Since I must give it to the members of my writing group, I'll be ordering one for myself, so I can mark it up for future reference.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

King of the Jews: Resurrecting the Jewish Jesus by D. Thomas Lancaster. Copyright © 2006 by D. Thomas Lancaster.

I’ve heard many speakers and teachers say that “Jesus was a Jew,” and indeed, He was. When someone in an audience piped up and added, “He still is,” the statement went from being trite to intriguing. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8) We may want to consider the Jewishness of Jesus when we study His life, His works, and His teachings. D. Thomas Lancaster, a scholarly student and teacher of the Word of God makes this transition for us in his book, King of the Jews. He presents the Master from a wholly Jewish perspective.

I write Christian Drama and I like to research, making certain that the props and costuming are as authentic as can be. I also study the words of Scripture to make sure that I am expressing the correct meanings in my dialogue. In my reasearch, I came across Lancasters book and found it mose useful. I am aware that projecting twenty-first century interpretation between the lines of the gospels may have caused an unintentional distortion of the original meaning. We know that Jesus is omniscient and knew that twenty-first century folks would be reading the Gospels. Still, He was recorded as speaking to first century Jews in words and idioms that they understood. Connecting His words to context gives the reader a deeper insight into the teachings of the Master.

This teaching method is called a remez. Rabbis traditionally use the remez, a word or phrase that brings another context to mind for the purpose of enhancing significance and understanding.

As writers, we employ this technique, as well. We carefully chose words that illicit certain emotional responses. For instance, we might not describe a likable heroine as having ice blue eyes. In the same way, giving the villain periwinkle blue eyes might make him seem less intimidating.

Lancaster shows us a humble Jesus, blending in with and relating to His disciples and followers. He gives detailed interpretations of certain parables. He also proposes some interesting theories.

King of the Jews also includes an exhaustive bibliography, scripture index, and even a subject index to assist the reader in his/her studies.

I recommend King of the Jews for any Christian who’d like to step out of the box and allow him or herself to be challenged by new Messianic insights. I believe you will find this book life changing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

19th Century Fashion Research book: How the West Was Worn by Chris Enss

Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier: Fashion that Shaped the Old WestBack cover blurb: Did you know that pioneer women sewed lead in their hems to keep their dresses from billowing on the trail? Or that hatless men had to wear bonnets to protect their eyes from the scorching sun?From old familiar Levi's to the short-lived "instant dress elevator," HOW THE WEST WAS WORN examines the sometimes bizarre, often beautiful, and highly inventive clothing of the Old West. You'll learn how a cowboy's home state determined the way he wore his pants and hat, as well as how to distinguish one Indian tribe from another by their moccasins. Meet John B. Stetson, leading maker of cowboy hats; Adah Menken whose flesh-colored nylon costume left an audience gaping at her underwear; and Amelia Jenks Bloomer, the promoter of - you guessed it - the bloomer.

About the author: Chris Enss is an award - winning screenwriter who has written for television, short subject films, live performances, and for the movies, and is the co-author (with JoAnn Chartier) of Loved Untamed: True Romances Stories of the Old West, Gilded Girls: Women Entertainers of the Old West, and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon: Women Patriots and Soldiers of the Old West and The Cowboy and the Senorita and Happy Trails (with Howard Kazanjian). Her research and writing and reveals the funny, touching, exciting, and tragic stories of historical and contemporary times.Enss has done everything from stand-up comedy to working as a stunt person at the Old Tucson Movie Studio. She learned the basics of writing for film and television at the University of Arizona, and she is currently working with Return of the Jedi producer Howard Kazanjian on the movie version of The Cowboy and the Senorita, their biography of western stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

The chapter headings are:

In this chapter, we learn about a San Francisco dry goods dealer named, Levi Strauss who developed a brand new material, called denim which he believed was superior to any other on the market.

I found this chapter most interesting. We meet Amelia Bloomer who female underwear was named after. While she did not design the female, "bloomers" she did wear daring outfits which were a short dress that reached below the knees with a Turkish-style trousers gathered in ruffles at the ankles. Bloomers became a symbol of the fledgling women's movement.

What I found so fascinating about this chapter was that the cowboys at a certain ranch resented their employers for enforcing them to wear uniforms. Sporting bib pull-over shirts of the same color does not sit well with the hires, even if it is marked with the (name) Ranch.

This chapter dealt with what children wore during the 19th Century. To my surprise, I discovered that daughters didn't wear ankle length dresses. Their hems came to below their knees. Girls longed to be grown up enough to let their hems down and their hair up.

In this chapter, an excerpt from The National Wagon Road Guide, 1858 gave a listing of what men should pack for their trek across the country on the wagon train.

Accessories made the woman. It could change her mundane, everyday, dress to a nice social, evening dress.

Evening wear accessories, such as jewelry and popular hairstyles and hair accessories that were popular in the day.

This was a fascinating chapter on male and female "unmentionables". I didn't know that the average person felt that underwear was such a taboo subject that they wouldn't even make their own, but preferred to order them through a catalog.

Military wardrobe

Indian clothing styles

I think what I loved most about this book are several things:
1. The author uses many pictures to show exactly what she is saying. (Photographs, catalog images, and patterns)
2. Lots of white space, the readability of each chapter is easy.
3. I loved the clothing biographies of many famous people, including pictures.

HOW THE WEST WAS WORN is a definite asset to any historian or historical writer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Using the Library for a Book Signing

I can't believe it is my turn again. The four week cycle comes around quickly. As you know one of our critique partners has published a book called Refuge. This has been quite an experience for us all.

We met as a critique group to brainstorm publicity and marketing ideas for her book. Because I save everything, I've started a new practice of copying and pasting ideas to a Word document for different topics to save ink and paper expenses. I have files for different topics on my desktop. When I read a new idea, I make a new Word page for it, including the name of the person who suggested the idea and also a note of my own ideas. I brought some copies of the new information and what I had accumulated in files over the years.

I am a member of the local Friends of the Library, so I was able to schedule a meeting for her to give a speech and sign her book on Family Night. The librarian was delighted with the turnout, and Stephanie was able to meet some teenagers who were happy to buy an autographed copy.

I am not writing about a specific book, but I am making a couple of suggestions. Keep files of different topics for later use, either in a file folder or on your computer or a combination of both. Consider contacting local librarians for a possible speaking engagement and signing opportunity. Stephani's signing appeared in two articles in the local paper. Her book is now in the library, and she has some new fans.

You can read her book yourself by going to her website at You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pitch and Promote Like a Pro by Terry W. Burns

In April, 2009, I took an online course from Terry Burns presented by American Christian Fiction Writers. During this time of teaching his workshop and the class asking questions and advice, he completed his e-book "Pitch and Promote Like a Pro." The book can be purchased on his web site and is worth the investment.
First discussed in the book is overcoming shyness, a real handicap to most of us when having to pitch our manuscripts to an agent or editor. Mr. Burns gives numerous examples of himself and others from the class of ways to stiffen our shoulders and "do it anyway." Knowing our pitch (the elevator pitch and the actual opening pitch) adds to our confidence. Burns discusses the use of the "pregnant pause" in our pitch.
The book shows examples of both kinds of pitches from Burns' own writing. As both an author and an agent, he gives a unique perspective. We're provided copies of his own sell-sheets, but then given practical advice from an agent's point-of-view. He also explains the role of the agent.
Burns dissects a proposal including what to send starting with the cover letter, and how it should be formatted. He offers practical help on what to put for marketing on a proposal. I'd never realized what platform was until I studied under Terry Burns. He makes it easy.
To wrap up the pitching like a pro, Burns lets us in on what to do if you get a "yes," and what to do if you get a "no," or even a "you can send it if you want to" response.
"Pitch and Promote Like a Pro" is worth a second look for all newbies and might be a must-have for any writer who still gets nervous before the pitch at conferences.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pictures of Stephanie Gallentine's Booksigning

Stephanie Gallentine at the Burkburnett Public Library's Refuge Booksigning.

Stephanie standing with the Friends of the Library at the refreshment table.

Stephanie Gallentine, Debra Calloway, Sue Watson, and Shirley Harkins
(missing Janet Brown)

And the winner of our blog giveaway of REFUGE is...Allyson!
Allyson, Stephanie, and Bethany

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Utmost for His Highest Selections for the Year, Oswald Chambers. © 1935 by Dodd, Mead, & Company, Inc.

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of presenting the devotion for our monthly critique group meeting. Stephanie Gallentine, who was interviewed in last week’s blog, wrote a YA thriller, Refuge, and we thought it appropriate to meet in a nearby wildlife refuge to recognize its recent publication.

For my devotion, I chose to read a selection from a book that saw me through the early days of my salvation; My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. I’ve referred to this book several times since I surrendered my life to the Master. The pages of my copy are dog eared, stained, barely clinging to a broken binding. Over the years, I’ve given several copies as gifts.

This book is actually a compilation of notes meticulously taken by his wife, Gertrude from his lectures at The Bible Training College which he founded in London in 1911. In fact, Chambers wrote only one book entitled Baffled to Fight Better, while he’s credited in more than thirty other books similarly complied by his devoted wife of seven years.

After his school was closed in 1915 because of World War I, Chambers continued to minister to troops in Egypt as a YMCA chaplain. He died at 43 in Egypt, after suffering a ruptured appendix.

The Utmost for His Highest is an inspiring collection of devotions—one for each day of the year. Chamber’s wisdom is inspired and timeless, relevant to the hectic pace of the modern Christian life. They are also indexed by subject so the reader can easily locate an encouraging word for whatever issue he or she happens to be facing.

I recommend this book to the tired writer’s soul in need of edification and reassurance that writing gift is a call from God.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Author Interview - Stephanie Gallentine

Here at Books To Write By we have faithfully given reviews of books that has helped each one of us learn to write better. Occassionally, we add a fiction book that we really love.

But today we are so excited to have our first ever author interview. The reason for our excitement is that our own critique partner and friend, Stephanie Gallentine has sold her first novel and it is releasing this month! What a cause for a celebration! (And it's also nice to see our name in print on the acknowledgement page! Whoo-Hoo!)

We also have a free book to give-away!!! If you would like to own a copy of Refuge, please leave a comment on this post. Please be sure to leave your email address. If you are not comfortable leaving your email address in the comment section, you may email me: debra(at) Next Sunday we will announce the winner of Stephanie Gallentine's debut novel , Refuge.

To begin our interview, I will post Stephanie's biography from her website (

Raised in North Texas, Stephanie spent much of her childhood making up stories filled with action, adventure, and angst. From the time she was a young teenager, she started scribbling those adventures down on paper.

Years later, she met and married her husband, Robert. They have two fabulous children, Heather and Andy. Now, Stephanie spends her days working as a school cafeteria manager. After work, she lets her imagination run free on her computer as she writes her stories.

Her first story, Refuge, is due out this August from Word Aflame Press.

Stephanie, it truly is a pleasure for me to conduct this interview. (Hopefully, Sue, Janet, and Shirley will forgive me for not giving them the opportunity to do this first. :O)

1. What made you start writing?

I’ve been making up stories since I was a young teenager, but only started writing seriously a little over 3.5 years ago. I was going through a difficult storm in life and realized I need to quit focusing on the storm. I committed myself to doing something for God instead. Writing was that something.

2. When did you sell your first book?

I received my first contract earlier this year from a small publisher.

3. What are you working on right now?

Another YA mystery with a working title of A Name in the Stars.
While working on a genealogical school assignment, two teens discover a twelve-year-old cold case mystery involving the disappearance of identical twins and find they are searching for themselves.

4. Okay, I have to ask this question since this is the focus of our blog: Which books are the most helpful non-fiction, craft of writing books you have read?

Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Story by Robert McKee

Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins

5. So, which fiction books have helped you learn certain aspects of writing?

I’m not sure I could narrow it down to one specific book. I’ve always read a lot and growing up there were always certain books I read over and over and others I didn’t, and what I liked wasn't dependant on a certain genre. One day I found out it wasn’t the genre but the structure of the books that I liked. All the books I really like have a balance of conflict and comfort. I tried to mimic that when I’m writing.

6. When you first started writing what was your biggest roadblock and how did you overcome it?

Learning to write. When I first began writing seriously, I realized from feedback I knew how to tell a story, but didn’t know how to tell the story right. You mean I need a refresher in punctuation? What’s POV? MRU? But every time someone pointed out something I didn’t know, I did a search for articles, books, anything to help me understand it and then I did a rewrite.

7. What is your favorite food to munch on while writing?


8. What is your writing schedule?

Is that a trick question? It’s one thing in my life that needs more focus. I like to write in the mornings but life doesn’t always work that way.

9. Which writing organizations do you belong to?

American Christian Fiction Writers and Pentecostal Writers Fellowship

10. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Never give up. Keep learning. Keep writing. If we feel writing is God’s calling on our lives, then whether we continue to write or not cannot be based on the receipt of a contract or landing an agent, but rather commitment to do His will.

11. How can readers find you on the Internet? Where can they buy your book?

(If you want an autographed copy, please contact me and use Paypal.)

12. Tell us about the book you have out right now.

After being forced to plant a computer virus, a teenage hacker must find a way to expose the real criminal without revealing the secrets of his troubled past.

Sixteen-year-old Kevin Ramsey refuses to be sent back to juvenile detention for a crime someone forced him to commit, even if it means running away until he can find evidence to expose the true criminal. During a penetration test, Kevin discovers a computer file indicating William Tyke, co-owner of a local travel investment company, may be investing in more than overseas properties—his own offshore bank account and leaving Kevin’s father to take the blame.

Against his wishes, Kevin is flown to a remote location to keep him safe. However, no place is safe as long as Kevin holds the computer file with information vital to retrieving the money from the offshore account as well as possible evidence of an earlier unsolved crime. William Tyke plans to use any means to get it back, and Kevin’s father refuses to seek help from the police. Kevin must trust someone to help him, even if discovering the truth uncovers painful family secrets he’s been taught no one can know.

13. Please give us the first page of the book.

One hour and fifty-nine minutes.

Sixteen-year-old Kevin Ramsey shoved his hands into the fleece-lined pocket of his hoodie. His fingers, stiffened by the cold, clasped the folded bus ticket. In less than two hours he would be free and for the first time, in control of his life.

He quickened his pace against the chilling January wind. White flecks of snow swirled about him, dotting his jacket, and melting within seconds. He shivered and pulled the straps of his backpack tighter. A sudden gust of wind blew his hood off and dark strands of baby-fine hair whipped in his face, catching in his glasses.

Frowning, he tugged his hood back on and double-checked the zippered interior pocket for papers that showed his new identity. Sean Childers. He repeated the name under his breath. Puffs of frozen air escaped his lips and disappeared—like he would, once he got out of McKeltic, Texas. Finding him would be like finding Cosmic Warrior’s secret identity. No one would know who to look for. His own life proved that. In the twelve years since his original identity had been changed no one had ever guessed he had a secret past. Why would this time be any different?

His cell phone chimed. Kevin slid it open and read the text message from his best friend, Aiden Rollings.


Kevin nodded and then texted a reply. Galactic Jitters, a popular sci-fi coffee shop, was only a few blocks out of his way. He could meet Aiden and still make his bus. He shivered and folded his arms tight across his chest. At least at Galactic Jitters, he wouldn’t freeze into a human iceberg.

As he turned onto Marsh Avenue, a truck with oversized wheels sped by, spraying the sidewalk with the gray slushy remains of last night’s snowfall. Kevin jumped back but slush seeped into the fabric of his jeans and forced the chill deeper into his bones. He glared at the offending truck and wished for a snowball-encrusted rock. A glimpse at the ground told him he’d have to forego revenge. Nothing underfoot but rock salt and barely visible snow flurries.

Two blocks later, Kevin hurried to the entrance of the familiar hangout. Inside, the rich aromas of coffee and vanilla wafted through the air, while overhead hundreds of artificial stars glimmered through the black ceiling. Teens clustered at tables, around laptops and video games, surrounded by a wall-to-ceiling space mural.

“Hey, Kevin.” Joe, the owner, waved to him from behind the counter and wiped his hands on his apron. “The usual? Quadruple shot mocha latte?"

Kevin nodded and then inched back his sleeve to uncover his watch.

One hour and forty-five minutes. Freedom was so close.

He paid for his drink and headed to the back corner booth where Aiden sat. Sliding into the bench seat, Kevin wrapped his cold hands around the steaming cup and breathed in the vapors.

He tipped back his head and let the hot coffee slide down the back of his throat. “What’s up? I thought your mom had you on lockdown.”

Aiden brushed at charcoal bangs that shaded his half-opened hazel eyes. A mischievous grin pinched his fever-tinged cheeks. “She did but her boss called her in for a couple of hours. I figure by the time she gets home, I’ll be back in bed.”

“You shouldn’t have come.”

“I had to.” Aiden cupped his hands in front of his face, muffling his sneeze. “I wanted to see if you’d changed your mind.”

Kevin stared down in his coffee and shook his head. “No, but the bus doesn’t leave till five. We can hang out here till then.” His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and grimaced when he saw the caller. “It’s my dad.”

“You think he found out?”

“Nah, I doubt it.” Too bad Kevin’s nerves didn’t agree. Beneath his hoodie, his heart raced at the speed of light. “He couldn’t have. Right?”

“I just hope they don’t send you back to juvie.”

One quick push of the ignore button and the vibrating ceased. Kevin pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. “They won’t.”

In the past year, he had spent more than his share of time in juvenile detention. He wasn’t going back. Especially since it wasn’t his fault—this time. But who would believe him? He was a juvenile delinquent and like a character in one of his comic books, Kevin bore his label. The world labeled them—some heroes, some villains. But every character had one thing in common. They longed for a place their reputation didn’t follow them, a place they didn’t have to fight, a place they could just be normal. But did a place like that even exist in the real world?

“You need to tell someone about the file you found that night,” Aiden said.

“It wouldn’t matter. That file doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Then why are you running?”

Kevin clenched his fist and leaned forward. “You know why.”

“Just let me tell my dad like we should have done in the first place. Let me tell him about everything.” Aiden voice held a touch of pleading. “I’ll make him believe you.”

Kevin groaned. Aiden couldn’t possibly understand what he asked.

“I can’t.” He crushed the empty cup. “I don’t need his pity.”

“But you need his help.”

Kevin crossed his arms while his gaze shifted to make sure no one was close enough to hear. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

Aiden set his cup on the table. His hazel eyes grew round as the twin planets painted on the wall mural behind them. “Oh man, what did you do?”

Thank you, Stephanie for your time! I hope one day soon we can do this again!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Writing Kit

The Writing Kit
From the Editors of Writer’s Digest Books

I received The Writing Kit as a gift. This is a gift you should give yourself. The box contains three treasures.

The first layer is The Mini-Market Book with the subtitle "Everything You Need to Know to Get Published, Including 125 Markets for New Writers". The topics included are: Novel and Short Story Markets, Personal Essay Markets, Children’s Markets, and Poetry Markets. The Appendices contains nine different articles for writer reference. The “Ten Commandments for Writers” listed things that successful writers should keep in mind.

Seventy Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer is arranged so the writer can quickly check the table of contents and turn to the needed area of concern. “Misusing Flashbacks and Memories” and “Telling Not Showing” caught my attention as areas I want to read more about.

The treasure hidden on the third layer was a small, square box with short phrases in bold black letters such as "Big Ideas" and "Let The Words Flow". I found two sets of cards inside. The round set suggested different writing activities such as “Go to the mall and pick out a person and write a scene about the individual as they interact with someone else”. The square set listed different topics such as setting and included hints to use on a current project.

This is a wonderful gift. I am already making plans to use it with the round cards arranged in order of the project I’m going to try. Buy one for yourself and purchase an extra kit for one of your writer friends.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Facebook | Janet K Brown

Facebook | Janet K Brown

Committed but Flawed by Cecil Murphey

Recently, I met a remarkable man and a fantastic writer in Cecil Murphey. He's well known for ghostwriting "Ninety Minutes in Heaven," a true story of Don Piper's near-death experience. All the words in that book are Cecil's. He's done much more ghostwriting and also many under his own name--something like one hundred fifteen books and over a thousand articles. "Cec" is much sought after for writing and preaching conferences. Yet, he's the most non-assuming, kind man I've had the pleasure to meet.
"Committed but Flawed" was the first of his books I've read under his own name, and I would highly recommend it for inspiration, for provoking thought, and for deepening a walk with Christ.
As a Christian writer, I seek new ways to stay focused on writing as a ministry. Books like this help. A familiar slogan made the rounds in recent years "What would Jesus do?" Cecil explores the idea of following the actions of Jesus as hard to do for a flawed individual like him (and like me).
The sub title says "seeking NEW ways to grow spiritually." Cecil picks out twenty-six individuals from the Bible to emulate--committed, but flawed people. Peter, who failed when the going got rough, brings us one chapter. I especially like the chapter on Onesiphorus, a little known guy who stood by and helped where he could. Some chapters highlight women in the Bible, some men.
I recommend this book if you're a successful writer who needs to go back to basics, but I recommend it if you've been rejected. As Cecil points out, we're all still learning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery, ©1997 by Running Press, reprinted from the first edition published in 1908 and 1909

Books make a perfect gift. To give someone a book that you love is like giving away a small piece of your heart. A book represents not only an investment in cash but also an investment in reading time. If a picture is worth one thousand words, a book is worth one hundred thousand or more—words that are given to encourage, enlighten, or comfort.

I was the recipient of such a thoughtful gift, which made reading it all the more pleasurable. I thought of the giver each time I picked the book up—I saw her smiling face and felt her love for me.

The book I received was a double volume, Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Mind, I am a huge fan of the classics. I struggled to nurture such a passion in my own children to no avail. My son listened to The Red Badge of Courage on audio book, but that was as far as my quest got me.

As a child, I was more apt to read Treasure Island, White Fang, or Sherlock Holmes than Little Women or Wuthering Heights, so a proper acquaintance with Anne Shirley evaded me for fifty some years.

I am so glad to be finally introduced to this wonderful series of novels. I was immediately drawn into the story by Ms. Montgomery’s eloquent and sustained descriptions. Those of us familiar with the modern publishing industry are aware that such indulgence is frowned upon these days. In fact, I was advised to keep my descriptions to three sentences.

Thank God no one told Lucy Maud Montgomery that. I love being drawn into a scene with vivid and poetic description. How her stories would have been diminished without her effusive descriptions of Prince Edward Island, Green Gables, and the area surrounding Avonlea.

Ms. Montgomery demonstrates an uncanny ability to create memorable characters. Beginning with Mrs. Rachel Lynde and the irrepressible Anne, to Miss Lavendar Lewis, Ms. Montgomery inhabits Avonlea with a colorful cast. Each person is unique and remains true to character throughout the two volumes I read.

On the down side, Anne Shirley tends to dip into what I call the Hawkeye Pierce Syndrome. If you’re familiar with the 70’s sitcom, M*A*S*H, you might recall that toward the end the character portrayed by Alan Alda became something of a demigod—too good to be true—or single, at the very least. Anne meets with a similar fate. She certainly lands herself in plenty of mishaps, she still has too few character flaws to make her totally believable. Still, she remains lovable, so she sustains the series.

If you haven’t read the Anne Shirley series or just haven’t read them in a long time, I encourage you to share them with a daughter or granddaughter. They are fun to read and a wonderful legacy to pass on. Thank you, Violet, for a gift that will live on with me for many years.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Soldiers Reunion
By Cheryl Wyatt
Reviewed by Sue Watson

A Soldier’s Reunion is the fourth book in the “Wings of Refuge” series set in Refuge, Illinois.

A bridge collapse reunites Dr. Mandy Manchester and Army pararescue jumper, Nolan Briggs.

Ten years earlier, they’d parted as high school sweethearts and had no contact since. Misunderstanding and pain stands between them, threatening a renewed relationship.

Cheryl Wyatt’s former career as a registered nurse gives authenticity to the medical aspects of the story. Familiar characters from the previous three books add to the enjoyment of the book.

From a writer’s prospective, I found Ms Wyatt’s book full of examples of good writing techniques that I could use to improve my own writing. My copy has pink sticky notes protruding from almost every page. I was especially impressed with her use of metaphors that reflected the medical field and the local setting.

In spite of my stopping to mark examples I liked, I enjoyed the book. I’ve heard the suggestion before of marking a good book to learn about writing, but this is the first time I have done it. I think I chose well. I’m hoping there will be a book five. Perhaps I will be able to resist the temptation to fill it with sticky notes.

Hurry out and purchase the book before it leaves the shelves, or go to her website Then settle down in a comfortable spot and enjoy the read with or without sticky notes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Take Cover by Lou Gatlin

Allow me to give credit to a friend I lost to death a few months ago. Recently, I looked through books I hadn't read for several years. Surprising how gems pop out in unexpected places like on my mantel with an assortment of pretty-covered books with a duck head bookend on each side.
My friend, Mrs. R. R. (Lou) Gatlin excelled at poetry. With every holiday, special occasion or sometimes tributes to people in her life, Lou furnished our church or her writing group with a poem to commemorate. She won many awards even at one time being honored in Washington D.C. by the president.
Lou was a home-grown Wichita Falls, Texas lady. The church she attended for years was Southside Assembly of God which, when rebuilt after the 1979 Wichita Falls tornado became Evangel Temple. In 1981, she published a book of her poems entitled aptly, since it was two years after the big storm, "Take Cover," with a picture of a small tornado on the front.
I moved to Wichita Falls in 1981. At that time, the storm held a top place in thought and conversation. At the first hint of a tornado warning, no one ventured from their home. The storm had leveled many neighborhoods in the southwest part of the city. Several people were killed. Lou wrote a tribute to a lady in her church which was killed. One poem simply told the story of "The Big Tornado of Wichita Falls."
"Take Cover"is divided into four sections. The first highlighted the history of Ms. Gatlin's church and memories of that time such as dedication day and Easter,1979.
The second section showed her patroitism. We loved hearing her newest poem every fourth of July. She called the third section Fragments of Life including her Rose of Gold for her fiftieth wedding anniversary. Lastly, she wrote poems about her childhood and family like The Lost Toy and Grandma's Room.
I pull out this old book and reread the pages one by one. I waltz down memory lane with my friend. I recall the things she treasured in life. The writer in me dwells on how our written word can touch people even after we no longer can. At my own mother's funeral, a preacher read a poem I had written to her on Mother's Day. Our written words live on.
May I write with new resolve to make every word count, to ask God what He'd have me say, and perhaps to work harder at the craft to make my stories more entertaining and emotionally charged for my reader's enjoyment, for years to come, like my friend, Lou Gatlin.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith © 2002 Anchor Books

Don’t you love it when a book finds you? I mean, a good book, a surprisingly captivating novel that falls into your hands by the sheer forces of Providence. Such happened to me recently, and I’d like to tell you dear readers about this first in what I learned is a series of novels.

I belong to an internet free cycle network by which I became the recipient of a mishmash of miscellaneous goods—not the least of these a copy of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I stashed the book on my shelf but came upon it later while digging through my bookcases for light reading like one might rummage through the cupboards and fridge looking for a snack.

I didn’t read the summary on the back nor the author’s bio. I just, leaned back, opened up, and started reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the short journey guided by Alexander McCall Smith.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is set in South Africa in what I presume to be the modern day. The main character is the very clever and likable Precious Ramotswe who uses her inheritance from her father to open up a private detective agency in the town of Gaborone. She has no other credentials, other than life experience and good, logical sense.

The author describes Precious’s more amusing cases, like searching for a missing husband, exposing a con artist, and learning the identity of a daughter’s mysterious boyfriend. He also describes the colorful people in Precious’s life and some of the aspects of her life outside the agency. The undercurrent of the book is her most dangerous case; the disappearance of an eleven year old boy, thought to have been abducted by medicine men.

Between the lines, Smith weaves cultural facts about a very gentile and gracious society who lead simple lives surrounded by natural dangers and tribal skirmishes. One particular scene made my skin crawl, when Precious drives over a cobra that leaps up into the under carriage of her van.

Smith’s vivid characterization and story telling skills compensate for poorly timed back story exposition and indiscriminate POV switches. How did Smith get away with such faux pas, when as aspiring writers are so emphatically warned to avoid them?

As blessing would have it, I found the latest edition in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, in the sales rack at Hastings! Bonus! For a fun, easy, but educational read, I highly recommend The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Water With Lemon by Zonya Foco, RD and Stephen Moss

I am on a health kick and have been since April. The last seven weeks has proved somewhat successful for me. I've lost a total of 12 pounds and 11 inches. I'm excited about the journey ahead of me and can't wait to see what I'll look like when I reach maintence.

The book I'm blogging about today is from an author, which my trainer is ga-ga over. My trainer hooked me up with this author's recipe book of simple, delicious meals that even my kids like. But it was when I was visiting this author's site I saw she co-wrote a fiction novel about weight loss.

This immediately caught my attention since one-I'm a writer of fiction and two-my critique partner has written a manuscript very similiar in idea and tone to this book.

The book is entitled, "Water With Lemon," by Zonya Foco, RD and Stephen Moss. Ms. Foco is an author, TV Host, and a national speaker. She teaches families about good nutrition and, "The Power of One Good Habit."

Here's the blurb:

60 extra pounds. An unhappy marriage. Food for comfort. Karen’s life is falling apart. Then she meets an unlikely neighbor who reveals how a series of simple choices have the power to shape the life we have — into the life we want. Karen’s story of weight loss and personal transformation will touch your heart and open your eyes! It will reveal how eight powerful, core habits, when mastered one at a time, create an invisible force that will literally — change your life.

This weight-loss novel delivers Zonya’s “Power of One Good Habit” approach to health and weight control woven into a compelling story with characters we can all relate to. Read Water with Lemon and you’ll walk away with the knowledge and inspiration to conquer your own weight struggles in a way no previous book has ever delivered.

If you'd like more information about Zonya and her products here is the link:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deep Editing by Margie Lawson

I'm currently enrolled in the Deep Editing Class with Margie Lawson. I attended a one day workshop at an American Christian Fiction Writers' Conference a couple of years ago. Since that time, I have taken three more of her online courses.

In "Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors", I learned to recognize what habits were keeping me from writing.

In "Empowering Character's Emotions", I learned techniques for writing better characters.

With "Deep Editing", I'm learning to comb through my work for places where I could strengthen my story using her techniques. I took the course once before, but I fell behind because I was revising a manuscript. So I signed up again. Although the course is one month in length, I am working at my own pace so it will take me a little longer to finish.

I know I am learning as I recognize these techniques in the writings of others. I make suggestions on the work of my critique group. The next step is applying what I've learned to my writing.

I like the online courses because I can do the work any day at any time, and I can create files for the material to study again.

If you have the opportunity, sign up for one of Margie's courses or attend one of the many workshops she conducts across the country. You won't be sorry you did. Contact her at for a list of her courses and workshops.

At some point in the future, she may publish a book on these subjects. In the meantime, sign up for a course. Your writing will benefit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Putting Your Passion into Print

Several months ago, I purchased the book "Putting Your Passion into Print" by Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry. I had a stack to read, so this one was postponed. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a book about adding more "passion" or emotion to your characters. I'm always looking for help in that department.

The book surprised me and decribed the pathway to publication from researching your original idea to selling your first book and beyond. I like the way the authors tell you what to say when you call an editor, whether a contract is good, and how to counter if it isn't, when and why you should have an agent. Another touch that heightened my interest was the many, many good quotes throughout the book.

As I gleaned the wisdom from the pages, my first thought was I'm glad I'll have this to go back and review when I get a contract. My next thought was I need to loan this to a good friend who recently received her first contract. On advice from Eckstut and Sterry, I decided to send a query about my latest WIP to two small presses that might be interested.

"Putting your Passion into Print" has found a place in my reference library, until I'm well on my way with several published books. I might even check back then.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Red Letter Questions: Meditations on the Questions Jesus Asked by Don Harris © 2007 Bridge-Logos.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but with the exception of a few literary masterpieces, my favorite book is usually the last one I read. I suppose because the plot and characters are fresh on my mind and I’m still embracing that warm, fuzzy happy ending feeling.

The book I recently finished will continue to be one of my favorites for many years to come. In fact, I’m likely to study it like a primer. The book is entitled The Red Letter Questions by Don Harris, a non-fiction that quite literally changed my life.

In the pages of The Red Letter Questions, Mr. Harris manages to turn the focus of Jesus’s questions off the scribes, Pharisees, and even the disciples and redirects them on the reader in the modern time. His approach makes a great deal of sense, if the Bible is indeed a relevant tool and living document.

Being a good rabbi, Jesus taught by asking questions, wording them in such a way so as to induce His followers to draw their own conclusions. Harris places his readers at the very feet of Jesus. Those dark, discerning eyes boring into our souls as He asks, “Why are you fearful?” “Why do you think of evil in your hearts?” “Why do you not believe Me?”

We might be tempted to hide behind the blood, worried that even entertaining such thoughts might upset our well appointed theological equation. I fear that a part of Jesus’s anquish on the cross was not only looking ahead two thousand years at the sin yet to be committed, added to the weight of transgression already on His shoulders. Surely He lamented for His children who would strive on in blind faith, afraid to trust their own spirits, who might even equate questions to a lack of faith.

If you’re hungry for some brain food and aren’t afraid to step out of the box, Don Harris’s The Red Letter Questions is the best choice on the menu. It is appetizingly well written. If I was Oprah, I’d buy a copy of this book for everyone I love.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pitch or Promote Like a Pro

Pitch or Promote Like a Pro by Terry Burns is a compilation of his presentations, dealing with how to overcome shyness in pitching to how-to-prepare the perfect proposal. I had the privilege of "lurking" in this class and even the greater privilege of receiving this e-book at the end of the course.

The first part of the book deals with being too shy to pitch. Terry describes his life and the problems he had with shyness. He then tells of a speech teacher who helped him develop a speaking persona. In the following chapters, he delves into how to overcome shyness.

On to the pitching...

Okay, now the book really heats up with more excellent content. For several chapters, we get an inside peek behind-the-scenes of a conference appointment from an agent's point-of-view. We learn what to say and what not to say while pitching to an editor/agent. Here's a question answered in the book: During your appointment, should you spend most of your time limit pitching your book? What does an agent think if you do?

The next chapters cover proposals, cover letters, sell sheets, marketing strategies, marketing comparables, writing a synopsis, and on top of all that Terry gives examples of everything needed to make a great proposal.

I've taken the class, read the book, and now I plan on printing out the information and reading it again only this time with a highlighter.

You can own this invaluable and inexpensive e-book for your own handy-dandy reference.

Here is the link:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Success Principles by Jack Canfield

One of the first books recommended to me for my writing career wasn't a how-to-write book. It was a motivational book, "The Success Principles." This book produces the power of believability. I still suggest it as a tool to overcome low self esteem or the inability to dream big or rekindle lost passion.

When I thumb through my copy, I find several underlines, margin marks and highlights. When I receive a rejection, a bad critique or less than encouraging market news, I look through the pages until I find one that speaks to me. On page 23, the reader determines his or her life purpose exercise. After coming up with my stated writing purpose, I wrote it and posted the paper on the bulletin board in my study. On page 65, I make a daily to-do list, planning my day the night before and putting first things, first. On page 165, I learn to start with small, achievable goals. Page 273 starts telling me how to keep my passion and enthusiasm alive. Canfield gives me four powerful question to ask myself on page 327 to know how to direct my work and resources.

Scattered throughout the book are interesting true life stories, funny cartoons and short easy to follow instructions.

Nothing gets done without a plan and then a back-up plan. "Success Principles" is an important resource for the peaks and valleys of a writer's life.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

The first writing conference I attended had a course for beginning writers. The presenter gave us a list of books she felt would assist in our quest for publication. The Elements of Style was on the list.

At the break, I stood in line with the other newbies and bought it. Since that first conference, other writers have mentioned this book when they recommend important books the writer should own. My copy has under one hundred pages including the introduction by E. B. White. The Tables of Contents contains chapter titles such as Omit Needless Words, Use the Active Voice, and Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language.

Skimming through the index causes me to check on items such as lie/lay and that/which. Looking over the book to write this article, I've decided I'm going to revisit the book to refresh my memory on some grammar rules. Then, I'm going to look at the bookstore to see if there is a later edition which may reflect changes in the language.

As a tutor for Adult Literacy, I discuss the importance of using language correctly to understand and be understood. My Asian immigrant student thanks me each lesson when he learns a new fact about English because he wants to communicate effectively. I am grateful to the first instructor who suggested this book as a tool to being an effective communicator.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder: A Dictionary/Thesaurus of Adjectives by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph. D. © 2003 Writers Digest Books

Lexicographer Barbara Ann Kipfer has prolifically compiled reference texts, most of which can be found on my shelf within handy reach of my desktop computer. I fancied myself to be one of her biggest fans, but reviews I’ve read for Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder were all positive, and she is well spoken of. Obviously, many writers are taking advantage of her invaluable tools.

In my research, I found out that it was Paul Mark Roget, a physician as well as a lexicographer who compiled the original thesaurus for his own use. He went public with it nearly fifty years later. Can you imagine what a challenge writing would be if had he taken that gem with him to the grave?

What makes Kipfer’s text different from Roget’s original work or any of the other thesauri (yes, that is the plural for thesaurus) she’s compiled? This one is a Thesaurus of thousands of descriptive words and phrases listed under five-hundred and seventy-two categories. Each individual entry has a time saving definition so you can immediately determine its suitability without further research.

A simple thesaurus lists alternative words for adjectives such as happy. Referring to the“Happiness” category in the Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder puts the reader in touch with over a hundred words and phrase choices. The entries describe various concepts of happiness from playfulness to laughter.

Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder is fun to peruse, with categories from abandonment, with such entries as abrogated and unwonted to zoology. Kipfer usually adds helpful indexes and addendums. Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder includes a Quick Finder which is basically a thesaurus with some contrasting headings like Active/Passive and even one entry for Silly Sounding Words.

If finding fresh, evocative descriptive words is an exhausting task for you, this book may help add strength that will catch an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Presented by Margie Lawson

We at Books To Write By are avid fans of Margie Lawson's courses. Most of us has enrolled in more than one of her courses. The month of March was no different than when three of us joined the online course, Empowering Characters' Emotions.

This class is a benefit to all writers who want to advance their writing skills. Ms. Lawson explores empowering emotions through her EDITS system. This system color codes your manuscript so you can actually see if your writing is layered with the essential keys to a great read.

Look forward to learning:

  • The EDITS System
  • Basic, complex, empowered, and super empowered passages
  • Backstory management
  • Kinesics, Haptics, Proxemics, Facial expressions, Paralanguage
  • Proprioceptive stimuli, Involuntary physical responses
  • Ideomotoric shifts
  • Mirroring, Communication Accommodation
  • Levels of intimacy, Love signals
  • Nonverbal gender differences
  • Emotional authenticity
  • Backloading
  • In-trancing the Reader
  • Writing fresh . . .
  • Projecting Emotion for a Non-POV character
  • Carrying a Nonverbal Image Forward
  • Objective Constructs
  • Empowering Characters’ Emotions Checklist

At first, I became overwhelmed with the course and I think many people did, too. However, once I grabbed my highlighters and applied the EDITS system to my own writing...I got what I paid for. I discovered that I write no dialogue cues and that I hardly ever write setting information. There are also some minor things I noticed, which needs to changed. But now I know how to correct it.

I highly recommend any of Ms. Lawson's courses. In fact, another online class is coming up in May.

Here is the information:

MAY 1 -- 30 Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More Offered by Writer University:

You want regret enrolling!

I'll see you in class.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth,, has a new book available. I attended her workshop last year at the American Christian Fiction Writers' Convention and subscribed to her blog when I came home. I've learned a lot about writing from her blog. When her new book came out, I was eager to read it. I was not disappointed.

Daisy Chain is the first book in her Defiance Texas Trilogy. Daisy Chance, the best friend of fourteen year old Jed Pepper, disappears from her small town. The rest of the book deals with Jed’s search for her because he believes he’s to blame.

Tortured family relationships and friendships with unusual towns people keep this book a page turner as Jed searches for Daisy. Treat yourself to a suspenseful read as Mary draws you into life in Defiance, Texas.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

If you've heard James Scott Bell speak, you're familiar with his own brand of humor. "Revision & Self-Editing" is written with his light hand and funny way of teaching. If you haven't heard him, you're in for a treat in making study fun. The first half explains the art of self-editing, while the second half talks about revision including the ultimate revision checklist.
Bell uses alliteration or rhyming words often to remind us of aims for our writing. I'm particularly fond of Grit, Wit and It in building my lead character. Each chapter ends with two or three exercises, all of which reinforce what was taught in that chapter. My three favorite chapters are Scene, Voice and Theme. I learned here one of the best tips I've heard to develop voice & style.
Revision assistance provides new thoughts on what to look for in those final read-throughs. Ever want to know the trick to good writing? Bell provides us with insight into "the trick that can't be explained."
Read. Enjoy. Learn. Improve.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Writer's Encyclopedia from the Editors of Writer's Digest

The Writer’s Encyclopedia © 1996 Writer’s Digest Books.

Another powerful tool that I refer to in my personal library is my Writer’s Encyclopedia. This five-hundred page reference is almost a glorified appendix that lists definitions, facts, and figures about every aspect pertaining to the writing craft and business.

The Writer’s Encyclopedia features over thirteen-hundred entries, a thorough bibliography, and a recommended reading list. Included are definitions of various writing terms and trade expressions and explanations of techniques and procedures—everything the aspiring writer needs to know in writing and publishing. For those writers with a mind for the future, marketing and contractual labels are addressed to include advertising, public relations, and broadcasting.

Selections are arranged alphabetically from common grammatical terms like “adjective” and writing jargon like “characterization” to more obscure concepts like “recto page,” a term which may give the reader pause—or, at the very least, prompt curiosity. Also incorporated into the discussion are the particulars of online publishing.

I found the boxed charts and tables especially helpful. The book contains more that sixty such figures which consist of “Fifty Common Usage Errors” that clarifies the contexts in which certain words are often misused. Imply and infer, for example. The speaker implies—the hearer infers. The age old lay/lie application issue is also explained in detail.

Other boxed information includes the unauthorized biography, legal and IRS documents, proof reading marks, and a list of fifty frequently misspelled words. The text contains examples of story boards, resumes, query letters, and various types of scripts. Publishing contracts, sales volumes, and royalty statements may clear up questions in the new (and maybe some of the more seasoned) writers minds.

I have found the Writer’s Encyclopedia to be a very helpful tool in my library. As I review it, I realized that it is one that I don’t use enough. I believe I’ll place it closer in reach for future reference.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jeff Gerke's Doubleheader

"At last, the two products novelists need to create fabulous characters and the incredible adventures to set them on--together for one discounted price.

How To Find Your Story is the writer’s help product being hailed as "Genius" and "Like a brilliant author and editor at your elbow, helping you plan your story."

Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist is a revolutionary tool that guides novelists to create realistic, three-dimensional characters readers will love.

So whether you sense that your characters all feel the same or that your story meanders--or you just want to be sure you’re building from a solid base, The Writer’s Foundation Bundle is for you." ~

Here's my problem: I can dream up characters gushing with loads of emotional conflicts, scarring goals, and laughable motivations all day, but when I attempt to pen a plot not only does my story crumble but my self esteem plummets.

Another problem I seem to have is finding a source for creating tight plots. I have read what few books on plot that are available. Some are very good and are listed on this blog, however, they haven't helped me much. Jeff Gerke's system is easy and fun to do. I'm halfway through his system and I'm already beginning to feel my confidence returning.

A little bit about this author, "I’m a published novelist and professional fiction editor. At this writing I am the author of six published novels and the co-author of two nonfiction books. I write under the pen name Jefferson Scott (see more at I’ve got screenplay and short story and writer’s conference and even comic book credentials, too.

I am also a professional editor with, at the time of this writing, eight years experience as an editor for three major publishing companies in the Christian publishing industry. I have extensive experience editing fiction and nonfiction. One novel I edited won the Christy Award for excellence and another novel I edited won first prize in General Fiction at the 2006 ACFW Conference. While at Strang Communications I was instrumental in the design and launch of Realms, an imprint of Christian speculative fiction (

When I’m not writing my own fiction I’m helping other people improve theirs. It’s something I love to do, both as a freelance book doctor and as a seminar speaker at writer’s conferences. While I like almost all kinds of fiction, I have a special place in my heart for the speculative genres (science fiction, fantasy, supernatural thrillers, etc.), which you can clearly see at the other site I maintain:"

I have included both books in this review post because maybe you're not like me, maybe you don't have a problem with plots, maybe your problem is with creating characters? Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist is equally as good as How to Find Your Story.

So, if you're like me and have been stuck in a rut for weeks...stop now...go to Marcher Lord Press and buy both books at a truly inexpensive price.

Writing Tip of the Day