Friday, February 26, 2010

Make them Suffer

While preparing for my workshop--You Can Write a Novel--to be presented Saturday, Feb. 27th at the Greater Harvest Workshops in the Cincinnati/Dayton area tomorrow, I came across this great quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

While Al was speaking more of moviegoers, the sentiment can easily be applied to writing. I love quotes. I love using them in teaching and using them to inspire myself. And this one is a gem.

"Always make them suffer." This is every writer's purpose. Build an emotional attachment between the reader and the character, put the reader into the situation, and create extreme nervous anxiety that stretches the reader to the very limit of endurance. Make them suffer.

Isn't that when you know you just read a good book? When you, as a reader, became part of the action. When you felt like you had something to lose. Even with romances, YA, or picture books, pull your reader in. They should experience whatever the character experiences. Whether romance or danger or the exhilaration of buying the perfect dress at 80% off.

My challenge to you today is to open your current WIP at random. Any page. Open and start reading. Is there tension on that page? Does it capture your imagination? Do you want to learn more about the character and the situation just by reading that one small excerpt? Is it enough to keep you reading? If not, raise the stakes.

Happy writing and make them suffer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fruitful in all Good Works

We all work with a goal or purpose in mind. For most of us, our goal is financial gain. We put in our 40 hours to earn a paycheck at the end of the week. Those fortunate among us work because we love what we do, we believe we are called to fulfill a ministry. We look forward to Mondays and think about our jobs when we're not there. But even those workers couldn't do what they do for long without financial reward.

Hopefully money isn't your only motivation for what you do. For the last few weeks my pastor has preached a series on the Fruits of the Spirit. Regardless of how we spend our days, our goal is to bear fruit. Whether that fruit is a paycheck or healthy, well-grounded children or trimmed hedges, we work to achieve a desired outcome. We even sleep to achieve a result--rest.

This week's sermon was on longsuffering. I don't need to tell you most people don't want to suffer, especially for any length of time. But that's where many of us find ourselves. You could say that's where I am in my writing career. I have been without a book contract for over a year...a very long year. Like many stuck in a career rut, I sometimes wonder what I am working for. If no one is buying, why bother killing myself to put words on the page?

The answer of course is to bear fruit. Fruit doesn't grow before it's season. The soil must be prepared. the seed sown, a period of wind, rain, and sunshine, and then growth. Finally the fruit is ripe and ready to be enjoyed.

My thoughts inspired by the pastor's sermons: My goal is to bear fruit. Christ must dwell in my heart, rooted and grounded in love. The power to bear fruit comes from the source, not the individual branch.

John 15:11-16 Ye have not chosen me but I have chosen you, that ye should bring forth fruit.

Heavenly Father, help me to be fruitful in all good works. Let me not be discouraged by outward appearances; by the economy or rejection or frustration when things take too long or don't go the way I want. Let me continue to look to You from where true blessings flow and remember all the good works you have already wrought in me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Advice for Writers from Mitch Albom

This weekend I am teaching a workshop at the Greater Harvest Workshops in the Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio area. If you haven’t registered, do it now before prices go up the 25th. Regardless of your writing level or experience, you will find a workshop to benefit you on your journey. My workshop is called YOU CAN WRITE A NOVEL. One of the best ways for preparing to teach a workshop—besides practicing what I preach of course—is to read what other writers have to say about getting the job done.

A while back I found an interview with Mitch Albom in Writer’s Digest. In case you don’t know, Albom is the fellow who wrote Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Albom seems to utilize a practical, no nonsense approach to writing that appeals to me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s very successful at what he does. They say the best way to learn something is to study those who have mastered what you want to do.

Here is an excerpt from the interview.


Don’t think that one audience isn’t as worthy as another. You have to treat all readers of all genres and formats the same. If you don’t take each format seriously, people may just walk out on you after a couple paragraphs. But if you find the essence of the story, the reader will ask that essential question: “What happens next?” If you can get them to do that, it doesn’t really matter where you’re writing.


Writing a novel for the first time was the biggest challenge. Until The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I had always dealt with the truth and the facts. As a result I’d been both limited by it and able to relax in it.


Writers and publishers tend to make more of fiction and nonfiction, memoir versus novel, than the average reader does. Most people just want to read a book. If you have a good story, people want to turn the p ages whether it’s a memoir or a novel.

What I gather from Albom’s advice is to take your writing seriously, regardless of your genre. Don’t write what’s in the moment or what you think is selling well. By the time you finish your manuscript tastes would’ve changed and you will be out of date.

Focus on the story. Story is king, was once said by someone great and prolific. Regardless of what you write—memoir, how-to, or cozy mystery—people want a good story that will hold their interest, at least until the end of the book. Give it to them, or risk losing them forever.

Hope to see you at Greater Harvest. Whether you are interested in writing devotionals, articles, or the Great American Novel, or you have an idea for a project but aren't exactly sure how to get started, the workshops will inspire and instruct, motivate and equip. Register now!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Greater Harvest Workshops--Register Now

Subfreezing temps, mountains of snow, and being housebound for two solid months can really get the creative juices flowing. I've written two short stories and gotten down to business with a nearly finished novel since the first of the year. With the snow falling and piling up against the front door, there's little else I can do besides write.

Do these situations inspire other writers to think of secluded houses with at least one resident wacko, ghost, serial killer or surly mother-in-law? Or is it just me? There isn't much else to do this time of year. No flowerbeds calling to me. No grass to mow or leaves to rake or vegetables to put into the ground. It's just me and my muse. And my muse is the snow.

Today the sun warmed a patch on my bedroom carpet for the dog to lie in. Does this mean Spring is coming and my muse will soon abandon me? Since I don't put a lot of stock in muses and good luck charms and strokes of inspiration, I need to buckle down and write, regardless of conditions with out or distractions with in.

Next weekend I am presenting a workshop, YOU CAN WRITE A NOVEL, for the Greater Harvest Workshops. If you are an aspiring or experienced writer, or are just toying with the idea of putting pen to paper, these reasonably priced workshops may be just what you're looking for. Join us at the
Healing Word Assembly of God
5303 Dixie Highway
Franklin, OH 45005

Greater Harvest Workshops are designed to move you closer to your goal of becoming a working writer and published author. Taught by authors and speakers, Donna J. Shepherd and Linore Rose Burkard along with guest presenters, these workshops, along with hands-on training, will motivate you to step up to the next level!

8:30-9:00 - Registration
9:00-9:20 – Opening Session
9:30-10:30- Workshop #1
10:30-10:45 – Break
10:45-11:45 - Workshop #2
11:45-12:00 – Snack Time
12:00-1:00 - Workshop #3
1:00-1:20 – Closing Session

Register now.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jim Shepard On Writing

I recently reread an article I had saved from a copy of O magazine. The article was by Jim Shepard and was On Writing of course. Why else would I reread it, or have saved it in the first place.

I often need a little nudging in my writing life, especially on Mondays and lately when I am not under contract with a publisher and don’t feel a particular urgency to put something on paper. But I’m a writer, I remind myself. Writers write. They produce, even if no one has asked for it. Writers can’t NOT write. I think those who can—NOT write that is—aren’t true writers. But that’s just me, and I'm nothing if not opinionated.

Jim had a lot to say about writing. I love reading the words of these prolific and amazingly more-successful-than-me-writers. I often understand just where they’re coming from, having dug myself out of the same pit more than a time or two.

Jim said: When writing is going well, it's hard, and for most of us, most of the time it's not going all that well. When students ask, "When did you know you might be a writer? How did you know?," one of the things I tell them is that they may be designed for that life if (a) they need to do it in order to feel good about themselves, even though (b) doing it almost never makes them feel good about themselves.

A hearty Amen to that. Writing is something I can’t get away from. Lately I’ve thought about getting a job outside the home. My motivations are purely economical, you understand. But a big part of me wonders if non-writers realize how easy they have it. They put in their eight to ten hours, or whatever, draw a real paycheck that is pretty close to the amount they earned last week, go home and gripe about how they are taken for granted.

What they don’t do is argue with voices in their heads, try to come up with blog topics that will prove both helpful and interesting to readers, beg interviewers to invite them on their show when they know only about 16 people are listening, line up speaking engagements, try to make their family understand they are actually writing and not just goofing off even though the kid down the street who mows grass and delivers newspapers got back a more impressive W-2, while managing to feel like they accomplished something at the end of the week.

This writing life is tough. While I might find myself out in the working world again in 2010, I will continue to strive to earn a living through writing. While writing makes me feel good about myself and like I am fulfilling the reason I was put on this earth, it also makes me feel inept, pitiful, overwhelmed, and frustrated.

I am relieved to know other writers—every writer I ever met in fact-—feels the same way. William Styron said (or wrote, I'm not sure which): I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it——writing is he@@.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Never Say Never by Lisa Wingate

Kai Miller floats through life like driftwood tossed by waves. She's never put down roots in any one place--and she doesn't plan to. But when a chaotic hurricane evacuation lands her in Daily, Texas, she begins to think twice about her wayfaring existence. And when she meets hometown-boy Kemp Eldridge, she can almost picture settling down in Daily--until she discovers he may be promised to someone else. Daily has always been a place of refuge for those the wind blows in, but for Kai, it looks like it will be just another place to leave behind. Then again, Daily always has a few surprises in store--especially when Aunt Donetta has cooked up a scheme.

Interview Questions:

1. How did you develop the initial story idea/plot line for this book?

Some book ideas you search for, and some just blow in on the wind. For the past several years, dating back to Hurricane Katrina, we in Central Texas have been the recipients of massive hurricane evacuations. These massive exoduses of people, pets, and belongings are frightening, frustrating, challenging, and at times oddly wonderful. When so many are on the road seeking shelter, the worst, but also the best qualities of humanity come to the surface. Hurricane evacuations truly provide times when we ask the question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" In answering that question, we’ve enjoyed amazing moments of friendship and fellowship, family reunions, and chances to share a food and space with strangers from other parts of the country. We’ve traded stories and recipies, laughter and tears.

One thing we’ve learned about hurricanes, living here, is that the paths are never predictable. Storms waver, hesitate, speed up, slow down, and sometimes change course unexpectedly. Evacuation needs can change and develop quickly. What better way for the beauty shop girls to find their inner strength and to show Daily hospitality, than for their cruise plans to land them smack in the middle of a sudden and chaotic hurricane evacuation?

2. Almost every author puts a little of themselves into their stories—what did you put of yourself into this one? (personality traits, life events/jobs, settings, characters based on people you know, likes/dislikes, etc.)

There’s a bit of me in the setting, of course. I love Texas, in all its variety of cultures and landscapes, but, living in a small town, I have a particular affection for little bergs like Daily, where the coffee’s always hot, and a good slide of pecan pie can cure most ills. Having watched our little town mobilize to take in hurricane evacuees several times now, I’ve been reminded that sometimes the worst things that can happen bring out the best in people. Given the opportunity and faced with the need, regular people can rise to the occasion in amazing ways, as do the citizens of Daily in the book.

Some members of the Wingate family might also claim to recognize themselves among the citizens of Daily, Texas. I would offer the disclaimer that any resemblances are completely unintentional, but that would be a bald-faced lie. When you come from a family of great storytellers and colorful characters, there’s nothing to do but make use of what you’ve got.

3. Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing/researching for this book? Please explain if so.

The most difficult part of working on Never Say Never was researching and reliving the devastation left behind on the Texas gulf coast last year after Hurricane Ike. While interviewing family members about their experiences during the evacuation and return, we shared laughter and quite a few tears. For those who have lived in southeast Texas all their lives, talking about familiar landmarks, heirlooms, and old family places that were washed away forever, knowing some things will never be the same, is both difficult and devastating. For those of us who have so many memories of family gatherings and vacations there, it’s hard to believe we’ll never visit the old places again.

4. Why is this book/story relevant today?

Despite our best-laid plans, we all experience storms in life—whether those storms be of a weather-related nature, or due to an illness, death, or in recent months, job loss and financial misfortune. When the parameters of life and our ability to control fate suddenly change, we’re confronted with our own helplessness and need to rely on other people and God. In a culture that values independence and self-sufficiency, it’s important to remember that we all have a common need and a common responsibility for each other and that without faith we really are alone in the storm.

Lisa Wingate’s
How to Talk Texan
Road Trip Tutorial

A couple dozen phrases that'll keep you from lookin' like you don't know gee from haw. You can hang your hat on it!

Hey, y’all!

If you’re planning a road trip across Texas, well, my friend, you’d better get your trottin’ harness on, I’ll tell you that right now.

This state’s wider than a woodcutter’s pile. You’ll be so busy here, you’ll think you’re twins. You might even meet yourself comin’ and goin’ or travel so fast you’ll catch up to yesterday.

One thing’s for sure--there won’t be any grass growin’ under your feet, especially if it’s summer, because it’ll be hot as a nanny goat in a pepper patch. Don’t let that trouble your mind, though.

Seeing the whole state might seem about as easy as tryin’ to saddle up house flies or put socks on the rooster, but here’re a few phrases that’ll make your trip just as smooth as a calf’s ear. You’ll find this little bit of Texan talk just as handy as a pocket on a shirt. With these phrases, you’ll be right at home in jig time, and happy as a pig in sunshine, I promise.

Folks’ll think you’re just as fine as frog hair split four ways. Why, you might even find yourself a Texas gal who’s cute as a bug’s ear or a fella who catches your eye like a tin roof at noonday. Even if you don’t find love here, you’ll run across lots of folks who’re so friendly, they’ll add a cup of water to the soup and tell you to get your sittin’ britches on.

Some of them might be full of wind as a corn-eatin’ horse, but you’ll be welcome ‘till whenever you figure it’s time to put the chairs in the wagon and turkey-tail it toward home.

When you do, we’ll keep a light on and a hitch out for ya, just in case you miss us like a west Texas farmer misses rain. You’re welcome to darken our door any old time. Long as we got a biscuit, my friend, you got half, and if that ain’t a fact, well, then I’m hip high to a horned toad.

Y’all come back now, y’hear!

--Lisa Wingate (and the REST of the folks in Daily, Texas, too!)

For stories with Texas flavor
and fun, come see us at

About the Author:
Lisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Talk of the Town, Drenched in Light, A Thousand Voices, and A Month of Summer. Her work was recently honored by the Americans for More Civility for promoting greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa and her family live in central Texas.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thin Places by Mary DeMuth

Zondervan sent me a copy of Mary DeMuth's latest release, Thin Places to read and review. Wow. Called "Brave, moving, and poignant." by Tosca Lee. You will see why from the very first page.

From the back cover: What if you could retrace your life and discover its thin places--places where the division between this world and the eternal fades?

"Thin places are snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. They are aha moments, the beautiful revelations."

In her moving spiritual memoir, Mary DeMuth traces the winding path of thin places in her life, places where she experienced longing and healing more intensely than ever before. Mary's story invites you to a deeper understanding of your own story. She calls you to discover new ways to look for God in the past so that you might experience him more profoundly in the present... A God ready to break through any ordinary day or extraordinary pain and offer you a glimpse of eternity.

Thin Places is not just a memoir, it's an experience. This journey will transform you--open you up, strip you bare, force you to examine your life and how your experiences have shaped you into the person you have become. The honesty within its pages will force you to be honest with yourself and allow you to see the Thin Places in your own life that bring you close to eternity.

Feel free to download the book trailer and other powerful tools from YouTube for teaching ministry to those hurt by neglect, sexual abuse, unsafe homes, or drugs.

A storyteller at heart, Mary DeMuth is the author of Watching the Tree Limbs and Wishing on Dandelions, both finalists for the American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year. Mary recently moved back to Texas with her husband, Patrick, and their three children after spending two and a half years planting a church in southern France.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Pastor's Wife--A Novel

Maura Sullivan never intended to set foot in Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind: a husband who ignored her, a congregation she couldn’t please, and a God who took away everything she loved.

Nick Shepherd had put the past behind him. At least he thought he had, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick finds his feelings for her never died. Now, he must face the mistakes he made and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.

As God works in both their lives, Nick and Maura believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has something to tell Nick before they can move forward. It’s what ultimately drove her to leave six years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve begun to rebuild.

Click here to read the first three chapters of The Pastor's Wife.

Jennifer AlLee takes a classic romance situation; two people stuck together by an inheritance, and makes it fresh. The conflict between the pastor and his wife has eternal value. How does a pastor balance his ministry and his family? How can a woman of faith give up on vows made before God?
AlLee does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life and making you care so much for them. I count myself lucky to have gotten an early look at The Pastor's Wife. Mary Connealy, Christy award-nominated author of Calico Canyon and Montana Rose

Featuring realistically drawn characters and a theme so needed in today's it's-about-me society, The Pastor's Wife is a well-crafted, heart-stirring story of love lost...and rediscovered. In my opinion, Jennifer AlLee is an author to watch.
Kim Vogel Sawyer, bestselling author of My Heart Remembers

As a child, Jennifer AlLee lived above a mortuary in the heart of Hollywood, California, which may explain her unique outlook on life. Her publishing credits include The Love of His Brother, a contemporary romance from Five Star Publishing (November 2007) as well as skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s popular My Devotions series. Her latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife, releases February 1, 2010 from Abingdon Press. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as the Nevada Area Coordinator. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and teenage son. Visit her website at

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Defense Against Excuses and Limitations

Concerns, aggravation, and wasted hours on the phone with technicians over my email server problems have put me woefully behind schedule for February. I read this post on Spark People this morning and it made me realize all is not lost. I have a lot to do, but what I accomplish or don't accomplish depends just as much on attitude and determination as it does on if Microsoft returns my calls. Hope you find some inspiration to get moving on that project that has you stymied, or the one you keep putting off, or whatever.

Burrr ...
February, for many, is a cold month. Regardless of whether it is cold or not, it can feel very cold emotionally. The holidays are in the past and there might be credit card bills to deal with. New Year Resolutions are long forgotten. The enthusiasm you had going into the New Year has worn off and you are falling back into your old routines. Things are feeling like a grind. Heaviness sets in and you can begin to feel as cold and empty as the February landscape. You have been through this cycle many times, and yet here you are again. A dreary outlook and attitude to match the weather.

When we're cold we want to get warm. How do we do that? We turn up the heat. I remember when I lived in Northern Ontario, it got really cold in the winter. Did I say cold? I meant freezing cold. I lived in a house that was heated by woodstoves. We had an expression that you created heat twice when you burned wood. Once when you burn it, but also earlier when you chopped it. In fact in subzero weather, we would go out in t-shirts to split logs because we created so much heat from the activity.

Let's not settle back this month, let's get excited. February is not what is causing us to get down, it is the thinking that we indulge in. If we see it as more than just a time we have to get through, it is not an unpleasant experience. Let's change our attitude this February and decide this is going to be a great month.

Exercise. If you're stuck inside and can't participate in your favorite fun outdoor activities, do something else that gets your blood pumping and also accomplishes something. Organize your closets. Clean out the garage. Make a game out of doing your old exercise DVD's with the kids or your husband. Just don't let them know they're working out.

Create a writing plan for February. I don't know about you but this time of year gets my creative juices flowing. Something about the wind and swirling snow outside while I'm warm and cozy at my desk makes me want to get that novel off my fingertips and onto the keyboard.

What about you? Are you stuck on a project? Are you bogged down and distracted with concern about the economy or family issues and can barely string two sentences together? One of the reasons we develop a negative outlook, is we can't see where we are going. What's your goals? What do you want to finish by the end of the month? The end of the season? The end of the year? Write it down. Change your attitude and take charge. Make this the best February ever. It's your choice.

It's time for us to take off our shirts--figuratively speaking of course--split some logs and heat up our start chopping.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Need Inspiration--Clean out your file folder.

I lost nearly all of last week to Mail Server problems. Still not resolved, btw. My PC has been acting a little wonky lately. While annoying, these situations remind me technology is not infallible. Qlitches or wormholes or warps, or whatever proper term you use, can suddenly wipe out everything you worked years to establish.

Today is Roll up Your Sleeves Day here at Joy in the Journey. My goal first thing this morning was to backup my files and do a little housekeeping in the process. You know, delete old files, combine virtual duplicates, and reorganize into a more efficient system. What I didn't expect was all the nearly abandoned and forgotten files languishing in my hard drive, screaming for my attention.

If you've been pursuing this writing gig for more than a year or two, your Documents File probably looks the same way. Like me, you might've experienced an epiphany at the grocery store or overheard a conversation or woke up from a dream and thought, "Wow, that's the best idea for a book I ever had!" As a good writer, you opened a new file while the episode was fresh in your mind and recorded every word and nuance. Weeks passed and more ideas came and the family needed fed and laundry piled up, and you forgot about that fabulous book just waiting to be written.

My Documents folder is filled with such files named "NOTES", "BEGINNINGS" or "IDEAS". Just someplace to record these ideas that will assuredly become the next Great American Novel if I can just get around to writing the thing. I don't need to buy books or read articles on writing prompts. My hard drive is full of them. All I need to do is open up one of those Documents and get to work.

So that's my goal for today. Open a few of those files. Rediscover why I thought they were worth recording in the first place. Organize, prioritize, add notes and delete what will only serve to slow the story down.

The last few months I have focused my energy on blogging, networking, articles, and short stories. While I enjoy this necessary aspect of the writing life, my focus should remain on my novels. That's where my heart is.

I read a quote not long ago: If you chase two rabbits, both will get away.

I highly recommend you backup your files right now before you get distracted with all the busyness of a new workweek and a new month. Don't put it off. Most importantaly, don't rely solely on automatic backups. The best part about doing it manually is you will see firsthand all the marvelous ideas you've written and forgot about. Who knows? One of them might just be your next bestseller...or your first.

Happy hunting.