Monday, March 31, 2008

When Lightning Strikes

There are fledgling writers and artists out there who believe they must wait for inspiration to strike before they begin a project. While I can't speak for the entire creative population, I believe if most of us did that, we'd still be waiting to complete the first scene of our first book. One of the toughest lessons we'll learn as writers is inspiration usually strikes after we are already hard at work.

Now and then lightning will strike and we'll be hit over the head with a wonderful idea that takes hold and won't let go. It's happened to me several times. Like the night my dog Reiley wouldn't stop barking so I started writing about a woman who couldn't sleep because her dog wouldn't stop barking. Anyone who has heard me speak, has heard the story of how A TENDER REED (2005) came into being.

Even after Reiley's late night barking gave the book a jumping off point, there was still plenty of blood, sweat, and tears ahead for me. Writing the book did not come easy even though lightning had struck.

We have to work for inspiration. If you aren't, you'll probably never find it. A man once told me of the idea he had for a book. He described it in one sentence and said he'd been thinking of it for over 20 years. I asked, "Well, what else have you got?" He looked rather sheepish and said he hadn't moved beyond the first sentence. Guess what? His book is never going to be written.

Now and then when you least expect it, lightning will strike. You'll come across a brilliant idea and it will feel like the book practically wrote itself. The more often you fasten your rear to the chair and work through those hum-drum writing days, which are 99.9% of them, the more likely you will see lightning strike in your writing life.

What to do when it happens: Write like a crazy person. Encourage it to continue by actually working your tail off. Inspiration will not get a song or a poem written, much less an article or a full length book. There is still plenty of work ahead of you even after that initial burst of inspiration.

Don't get discouraged because the excitement fizzles and you find yourself dreading to get out of the shower in the morning and get to work. After it's finished, you'll think it's your best work. Until the next one, of course.

Enjoy the experience of lightning when it strikes. Just don't depend on it to get going.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Novel Checklist

Last time we talked about writing, we spoke with romance writer Molly Noble Bull about openings. If you've read this blog with any amount of frequency, you know I tend to jump all over the board with writing issues and tips. If something's giving me trouble with my own writing or if I hear of a topic that gets me thinking, I tend to share it here.

Tax time is just around the corner, so I'll be blogging on that soon.

Yesterday on one of my writers' groups they were talking about a novel's checklist. No matter where you are in your current WIP, I believe this will come in handy. If you're just starting out and playing around with characters, this checklist will keep you aware of the reader who will someday lose herself in your masterpiece. If you are preparing to send your finished manuscript out into the world, go through the checklist to make sure you've crossed all your T's and dotted all your I's.

1. OPENING – Is there a hook to capture the short-attention-spanned reader’s interest? Does the book start in the right place, or is there too much backstory?

2. CHARACTERS – Are the hero and heroine vivid, likeable characters? Do characters have that “something special” that makes them come alive? Are they described well? Do they change and grow from beginning to end?

3. PACING – Does the pacing flow throughout the book? Does the reader want to keep turning pages?

4. DIALOGUE – Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic? Does the dialogue build characterization and move the story forward?

5. SECONDARY CHARACTERS – Are the secondary characters believable? Do they provide a valid addition to the story?

6. SETTING – Is a time and place established? Is the setting easy to picture without taking over the story?

7. POINT OF VIEW – Is the POV for each scene wisely chosen? Are the POV transitions smooth and important? Does the writer avoid head hopping?

8. STYLE – Is the author’s style unique and appealing? Does she have a voice all her own?

9. CLICHÉS – Does the writer avoid clichés in plot, characterization, dialogue and narrative? (This doesn’t mean tried and true plot devices can’t be used. But they need to be done in a fresh way that makes you want to read on.)

10. Would you recommend this book to a friend?

Print this off and keep near your work station. I guarantee it will come in handy while you're editing your book.

Monday, March 24, 2008

On writing and faith

For your convenience, I am posting this article here by Ann Rice instead of having you follow a link. If you would like to read the comments posted in response on, you'll get there by clicking here. Warning: As expected Ms. Rice's comments brought out the Jesus Haters in force. Whether you agree with her statements or not, I am amazed how people of faith are ridiculed, while those complaining the loudest make the least amount of sense.

Anne Rice
My Trust in My Lord
Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

A long life of historical study and biblical research led me to my belief, and when faith returned to me, the return was total. It transformed my existence completely; it changed the direction of the journey I was traveling through the world. Within a few years of my return to Christ, I dedicated my work to Him, vowing to write for Him and Him alone. My study of Scripture deepened; my study of New Testament scholarship became a daily commitment. My prayers and my meditation were centered on Christ.

And my writing for Him became a vocation that eclipsed my profession as a writer that had existed before.

Why did faith come back to me? I don’t claim to know the answer. But what I want to talk about right now is trust. Faith for me was intimately involved with love for God and trust in Him, and that trust in Him was as transformative as the love.

Right now as I write this, our nation seems to be in some sort of religious delirium. Anti-God books dominate the bestseller lists; people claim to deconstruct the Son of Man with facile historical treatments of what we know and don’t know about Jesus Christ who lived in First Century Judea. Candidates for public office have to declare their faith on television. Christians quarrel with one another publicly about the message of Christ.

Before my consecration to Christ, I became familiar with a whole range of arguments against the Savior to whom I committed my life. In the end I didn’t find the skeptics particularly convincing, while at the same time the power of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John swept me off my feet.

And above all, when I began to talk to Jesus Christ again it was with trust.

On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything --- even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand.

This was not a joyful moment for me. It wasn’t an easy moment. It was an admission that I loved and believed in God, and that my old atheism was a façade. I knew it was going to be difficult to return to the Maker, to give over my life to Him, and become a member of a huge quarreling religion that had broken into many denominations and factions and cults worldwide. But I knew that the Lord was going to help me with this return to Him. I trusted that He would help me. And that trust is what under girds my faith to this day.

Within days of my return to Christ, I also became aware of something very important: that the first temptation we face as returning Christians is to criticize another Christian and his or her way of approaching Jesus Christ. I perceived that I had to resist that temptation, that I had to seek in my faith and in my love for God a complete certainty that He knew all about these factions and disputes, and that He knew who was right or who was wrong, and He would handle how and when He approached every single soul.

Why do I talk so much about this trust now? Because I think perhaps that with many Christians it is lacking, and in saying this I’m yielding to the temptation I just described. But let me speak my peace not critically so much as with an exhortation. Trust in Him. If you believe in Him, then trust Him. Trust what He says in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and trust what He says about having conquered evil; trust that He has won.

Don’t ever succumb to the fear that evil is winning in this world, no matter how bad things may appear. Don’t ever succumb to the fear that He does not witness our struggles, that He is not with every single soul.

The Sermon on the Mount is the portion of the New Testament to which I return again and again. I return to the simple command: “Love your enemies.” And each day brings me closer to understanding that in this message lies the blueprint for bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth. The Sermon on the Mount is the full blueprint. And it is not impossible to love our enemies and our neighbors, but it may be the hardest thing we have ever been asked to do.

But we can’t doubt the possibility of it. We must return to Jesus Christ again and again, after our failures, and seek in Him --- in His awesome majesty and power -- the creative solutions to the problems we face. We must retain our commitment to Him, and our belief in a world in which, conceivably, human beings could lay down their arms, and stretch out their arms to one another, clasping hands, and bring about a total worldwide peace.

If this is not inconceivable, then it is possible. And perhaps we are, in our own broken and often blind fashion, moving towards such a moment. If we can conceive of it and dedicate ourselves to it, then this peace on earth, this peace in Christ, can come.

As we experience Easter week, we celebrate the crucifixion that changed the world. We celebrate the Resurrection that sent Christ’s apostles throughout the Roman Empire to declare the Good News. We celebrate one of the greatest love stories the world has ever known: that of a God who would come down here to live and breathe with us in a human body, who would experience human death for us, and then rise to remind us that He was, and is, both Human and Divine. We celebrate the greatest inversion the world has ever recorded: that of the Maker dying on a Roman cross.

Let us celebrate as well that throughout this troubled world in which we live, billions believe in this 2,000-year-old love story and in this great inversion -- and billions seek to trust the Maker to bring us to one another in love as He brings us to Himself.

Anne RIce is the best-selling author of 27 books, including "The Vampire Chronicles" and "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt." Read an excerpt of her latest book, "Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Romance Writers of America

Lot of hubbub going on over at Publishers Weekly over RWA's refusal to let author Molly Noble Bull enter her latest book in a contest. Click to read the whole story according to Publishers Weekly.

The gist is that Tsaba House is not a recognized royalty publisher, thus ineligible to enter these contests. As you all know, my first book, Streams of Mercy, was published by Tsaba House in 2004. Since then, I have had four more novels published. My last book, Evidence of Grace, debuted in June at #18 nationwide according to Christian Retail Magazine. I have never been asked for one dime from Tsaba House for any type of production or promotion costs. I even paid for my contract from Tsaba House to be examined before I signed it. According to the negotiator I hired, the contract was completely standard. This person found nothing out of the ordinary that needed attention or raised any red flags.

I have also submitted my books to other contests like the ones coordinated by RWA. These contests only allow books by recognized CBA publishers. My books have never been turned down for acceptance into these contests. I don't understand why RWA doesn't want to recognize Tsaba House as a traditional publisher when no other organizations have these concerns.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Novel Openings

I'm excited this morning to have romance writer Molly Noble Bull here at Joy in the Journey to talk to us about the importance of hooking the reader from the very first line. Molly is a wonderful lady and friend, not to mention a great writer. I know because the two of us are publishing a romance together early next year for Tsaba House. The book is an anthology of two short romances, but we'll cover that later.

Molly, your article, “Openings are Invitations” was published recently at Writers Corner at the website. Please talk to us today about openings for novels and how they might be described as invitations?

Molly Noble Bull:
I would be glad to. When I go into a bookstore to buy a novel, the first thing I read is sentence one found on page one of the novel. For me, sentence one is the opening hook and the most important sentence in the entire novel. If sentence one captures my interest, I will read the first paragraph. If the first paragraph catches my interest, I will read all of page one. If after reading all of page one, I want to read more, I will buy the book. If not, I will put it back on the shelf and pick up another book.

The opening hook should act as a sort of invitation. If after reading the invitation, the party or the book sounds exciting and fun, I attend the party or read the book. If not, I skip it.

T: Wow! I can see how important a hook is to readers like you. Can you give us examples of opening hooks that would make you want to read paragraph one? And what is it about those opening hooks that would make you want to read more?

M: An opening hook should introduce a present or future problem and present questions that the reader will expect to be answered during the course of the story. In my opinion, the best hooks and story openings pull the reader right into the story. Let me use my own published novels to answer that question and explain how good opening hooks might keep a reader reading.

Opening hooks:

For Always by Molly Noble Bull
Zondervan Publishing House 1986
(“Why didn’t you tell me you’d cancelled our honeymoon, Merrily?”)

This opening hook tells the reader that there is going to be a wedding, that the heroine’s name is Merrily, and that the groom doesn’t appear pleased that she’s cancelled their honeymoon. By beginning my book with dialogue, I pull the reader right into the story.

The Rogue’s Daughter by Molly Noble Bull
Zondervan Publishing House 1986
(She’d seen him again.)

This very short opening hook causes the reader to wonder who she is, who he is and if seeing him again was a good thing or a sign of danger.

Brides and Blessings by Molly Noble Bull
Love Inspired/Steeple Hill 1999
(It was now or never.)

The Winter Pearl by Molly Noble Bull
Steeple Hill 2004 and again in 2007
(I’m not one to go without a woman for long, missy.)

Sanctuary by Molly Noble Bull
Tsaba House 2007
(Death to Jews, she read. Death to all Huguenots.)

T: Wow again. You gave us a lot of information there. Now we have a better understanding of what must go into a beginning hook. So what must go into an opening?

M: The opening of a novel must answer the following questions -- who, what, when, where and why. I call them the W Rule Questions. All these questions should be answered within the first two or three pages of the novel. I try to answer them on page one, if possible.

A novel is divided into three parts – the beginning, the middle and the end of the novel. I once read that the middle of a novel does not begin until all the W Rule Questions are answered even if you are writing page 286. That is how important it is for an author to have a good opening hook and answer all the W Rule Questions.

T: Thanks Molly, you have really given us something to think about. Now tell us what comes first for you? Storyline or characters?

M: Both are extremely important, of course. But I would have to say that the storyline is most important. Here’s why.

Remember all those “Once upon a time stories” we heard as children? As a small child, I listened to those stories that were either told to me or read aloud because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. Would the handsome prince rescue Sleeping Beauty from a very long sleep? Or would she sleep on forever? The desire to know the outcome kept me listening and reading then, and it still does today.

T: Are your books character driven or plot driven? Can you explain the difference to readers?

M: Some people like chocolate ice cream. Others prefer strawberry. Both are good. They are just different. Different strokes for different folks—as they say. The same is true in novel reading and writing.

I like plot-driven books for the same reason that I like to read and write novels with strong storylines. I want my readers to wonder what is going to happen next to my characters. I want them to care whether my characters win or lose.

To me, a character driven story is one where the plot in less important than characterization. In the plot driven story, the plot is very important.

My characters react to situations.
For example, a character turns on the TV and discovers that a tornado is headed straight for his or her area and in minutes. How would a character react to a dangerous situation like that? Answer: In many different ways.
That is where characterization comes in.

If my character is a “fraidy cat,” he or she might hide under the bed. Another character in that same situation might try to get everyone he or she knows to safety. While waiting in a shelter, another character might try to convince others to follow the Lord before it’s too late.

The situation was the same in all these cases, but the reactions were different.

T: I understand that you are teaching free fiction writing lessons for new writers. Tell us about that.

M: Yes. I teach Fiction Writing 101 every Wednesday at

T: Now, tell the readers a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? What's your next project? Where can we get your books?

M: As I mentioned earlier, I sold my first two novels to Zondervan Publishing House in 1985, and they came out the first time in 1986. Both were reprinted and came out from Guideposts, the Book Division in the nineteen nineties. Zondervan bought a third novel, but it never came out because they stopped publishing romantic fiction. I got to keep my advance.

Love Inspired/Steeple Hill published Brides and Blessings in 1999.

Two of my long historical novels came out in 2007—The Winter Pearl, my Steeple Hill historical, and Sanctuary, my Tsaba House historical. The Winter Pearl is set in Colorado in 1888, and Sanctuary is set in France in 1740. Sanctuary is the first of three long historical novels in the Faith of Our Father series about the Huguenots and forgiving the unforgivable.

Runaway Romance by Molly Noble Bull and Teresa Slack is really two short novels under one cover. Tsaba House will publish Runaway in trade paperback, and my novel is titled Alyson. A publication date has not been set at this time.
Now, I have a question for you, Teresa. What is the title of your short novel under the under the Runaway Romance cover?

T: Kyla. Each of our titles names the heroines in our novels. Yours is Alyson and mine is Kyla.

M: I am dyslexic, and The Overcomers: Christian Authors Who Conquered L.D. is a non-fiction book that tells the story of five published authors with learning disabilities. Besides me, the authors are Margaret Daley, Ginny Aiken, Jane Myers Perrine, and Ruth Scofield. Tsaba House has not set a publication date for this book either.

And of course, I must write two more long historical novels in the Faith of Our Fathers series.

Sanctuary and The Winter Pearl can be ordered from Barnes and Noble, Target, Borders, Parable, and bookstores all over the country, but they must be ordered. They may not be available on the shelves of all bookstores. They can also be purchased from online bookstores like Amazon and Just write Molly Noble Bull in the search slot and click. And of course, they can be ordered from my website.

T: Thanks for sharing, Molly. I hope you will come back real soon.

M: You can count on it, and I really enjoyed being here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Character Profiles

We've been talking a lot lately on creating memorable characters. You can't really start a book without them. You may have a wonderful idea for a plot. For instance, a family goes on a camping trip. During a particularly strenous hike, Mother sits down on a fallen log and says, "I'll wait here." The rest of the family goes on. They hike to the end of the trail, snap a few pictures of the magnificent vista and come back. Mother isn't on the log. Nonplussed, they hike back to the campsite figuring she's there preparing a snack. She isn't. They talk to the neighboring campers and then the park authorities. Several hours have passed and everyone is starting to panic. Mother doesn't have any money with her. None of her clothes or personal belongings are missing. What could've happened to her?

Sounds good, huh? But I am a firm believer that before I pursue this storyline, I must create captivating characters for all this to happen to. Who is Mother? Is she the type of person who would wander off to sketch a landscape without thinking what her family is going through? Is she having trouble with Dad? What kind of secrets does he have? And what about the boyfriend of the angst-ridden teenage daughter who got into a huge fight with her parents because he wasn't invited along on the trip?

You will never convince me characters don't come first. Here's another trick I've used with great success for outlining characters and their motivations.

For this one you will need a handful of note cards. 12 to be exact. On the first one write your hero or heroine's name. You can start as simply as WHO IS MICHELLE? List anything and everything you can think of to describe Michelle. How would you describe her in a police profile? Tall? Thin? Square face? Brown hair with chestnut highlights? Get as descriptive as you want.

Don't forget education, where she falls in the family dynamic, quirks, fears, insecurities. The list can go on and on if you like.

Second card: WHAT DOES MICHELLE WANT? You get the idea.



ANTAGONIST? This card should have as much info or more as the one about your heroine. Descriptions and quirks.








Fill in these cards as specifically as possible. Not only will you learn more about your heroine and her motivations than you realized, you'll have a huge outline for the storyline without even realizing you've done so much work. Keep these in mind and I'll see you next time when my friend Molly Noble Bull will be here discussing openings.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Taming Rafe

I'm going to step aside from the writing tips and hints for a day or two to post some information about a book from a friend of mine, award winning author Susan May Warren. I was scheduled to be part of Susan's blog tour on Tuesday, but I'll be doing my civic duty and working at the polls all day. I didn't want to run the risk of forgetting to host Susan here at Joy in the Journey so enjoy the information about TAMING RAFE a day early. And if you're a registered Ohio or Texas voter, I'll see you at the polls on Tuesday.

Those who post a comment during Susan's blog tour will be entered to win a copy of TAMING RAFE. Also, click here to sign up for the "meaty" contest Susan is sponsoring for the tour! "Win a steak dinner with Rafe" (an Omaha Steaks gift certificate and a copy of Taming Rafe!)

"Susan once again delivers that perfect contemporary combination of heart-pumping suspense and heart-warming romance." Tracey Bateman, author of the CLAIRE EVERETT SERIES

TAMING RAFE is the second in the Noble Legacy Series. Two time world champion bull rider Rafe Noble had no idea how quickly his world could end. In less than eight seconds, he lost his title, his career, and his best friend--all on the dirt floor of a noisy rodeo arena.

Katherine Breckenridge just wants to make a difference by running her mother's charity foundation. But the mysterious disappearance of half a million dollars has forced it to the brink of backruptcy. Her last chance to save it is the annual fundraiser, an event that's destroyed by an out-of-control Rafe Noble.

Desperate to rescue the foundation, Katherine heads to the Noble family ranch to enlist Rafe's help in raising the money he cost her in lost donations. What she doesn't know is that Rafe is broke--in cash and in spirit--and helping her could end up costing him his life.

"Warren's first novel in her Noble Legacy Series will win her many fans...will keep readers glued to the pages..."

Award winning author Susan May Warren recently returned home to her native Minnesota after serving for eight years with her husband and four children as missionaries with SEND International in Far East Russia. She now writes fulltime from Minnesota's north woods. Visit her web site at.

You can find out more about Susan and her latest book, by checking out some other stops along her blog tour.

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