CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


For several years, I’ve kept a journal specifically for writing down the books I’ve read. Title, author, and date read. It’s fun to look back over what I’ve read in the past and recall a certain passion the books invoked. Normally I read about 50 books a year. This year I’ve devoted more time to writing and less to reading so have finished only 40 books. Looking back, though, I noticed several were books on craft which take a little longer especially if I do the exercises most of them suggest. Another observation was that I read quite a number of fun books . . . those that were spoofs or outrageous in some way that balanced out the heavier, more thought-provoking reads.

So, for what it’s worth . . . here are my top picks for 2007. Twelve in all since I gave Susan Meissner’s trilogy three spots. The top two tied for first—the others are in no particular order.

1. Chasing Fireflies—Charles Martin
2. Water for Elephants—Sara Gruen
3. Quaker Summer—Lisa Samson
4. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs—Alexander McCall Smith
5. Widows and Orphans—Susan Meissner
6. Sticks and Stones—Susan Meissner
7. Days and Hours—Susan Meissner
8. Peace Like a River—Leif Enger
9. Informed Consent—Sandra Glahn
10. How To Write a Damn Good Mystery—James N. Frey
11. Nobody—Creston Mapes
12. Leaper—Geoffrey Wood (although technically this book doesn’t release until January, I predict you will be hearing a lot about it)

Several authors who are “new” to me are on the list as well as some long-time favorites. As a matter of fact, I had to be pretty discerning to narrow it down to twelve. 2007 was a super reading year for me. How about you? Any great books you’ve read recently that you’d like to tell me about?

I’ll be putting together my “Must Read” list for 2008 in a few days. I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

God Bless Us Every One

It's always a four day marathon when we celebrate Christmas with both sides of our family, now in towns 120 miles apart. The effort this year was worth all the miles, the ice-covered roads, and the weeks of preparation. What family is not worth our best? We are fortunate and blessed to have four generations of family and friends to celebrate with.

Oldest grandson, who entertained us with the dance steps he learned to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"

Aunt Donna with all five great nephews.

Grandpa Mike (my dad) with his first and only great-granddaughter.

My oldest son and his youngest in "Christmas" headbands.

Grandmama (Max's mom) with youngest family member

Proud Papa Max with first granddaughter

Cousins (aren't they cute???)

Three of our four sons (with our adorable granddaughter)

Four boy cousins with our special niece

A special treat. I got to have Christmas morning coffee (Kona, of course) with college friend, Linda Cavis, who now lives in Hawaii and visits Oklahoma ever so often.

"The girls"
My sisters and me.
Our Christmas is over for another year, but we're left with lots of memories and the warmth of laughter, good food, and time spent together. I hope yours has been as memorable as ours.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Luke 2:8

On Christmas Eve, we'll gather with our minions at my Dad's for a feast and the flurry of gifts. My favorite part, though, is the reading of the real Christmas story in Luke. The honor rotates each year among my sons, my sister's boys, and then a couple of years ago, the mantle was passed to my grandson. Quite a lot of words for an eight-year-old to master, and he did a beautiful job. I don't know who will read this year, but I know my heart will swell as always. Tell me the story of Jesus. I never tire of hearing it.

Blessings to all of you who have visited my writing cafe this year. I'll pop in next week with my reading favorites of 2007 and tell you what I'll be reading next year.

Until then, have a merry, merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

BLOGGING Day Two With Tiffany Colter

Blogging: Part Two

Welcome back. If you missed yesterday’s post about who should blog and the basics, just scroll down and read what my guest Tiffany Colter, Writing Career Coach, had to say. Today, she will answer a few more questions.

You mentioned yesterday that you post blogs of note on Friday. What are the essential ingredients for writing a blog of note? One that draws readers?

Easy-offer useful content. I always ask myself the question “Would I be happy after reading this post?” I want to have a blog that someone like me would find useful. My goal is to be THE place on the internet for aspiring writers to go to learn how to fulfill their dream of publication.

Not only that, but I want established writers to be able to come to my blog and find valuable content that helps move their writing to the next level.

I offer products to help even more but when I started out as a writer I couldn’t afford ANYTHING for my writing. Finances were very tight. That’s why I strive to have a blog that will give substantial useful content for free. Money, or lack of money, should never block a person’s dreams.

A concern many people have is the amount of time it takes to write blog posts and visit other people’s blogs. What can a writer do to streamline this process so that it doesn’t dip into our real writing time?

This is a legitimate concern and one that blocked me from blogging for eight months. First, writers need to see this as a part of their marketing, not an interruption. Second, writers need to find a way to quickly do this.

I write all my blogs on one day, usually Monday or Saturdays. I save them in a file “This weeks blogs” or I date it “Blog for week of 12/23”. Then I type Monday, Tuesday’s blogs, I have my daughter write her blog for Wednesday, then I copy and paste the file for Thursday [or write Thursday’s]. The blogs of note are in a separate file that I add to when someone tells me of a great blog or I find one myself. This takes me about 30-60 minutes to do once a week. Then I copy and paste on my blog [which takes about 2 minutes] each day and spend 10-20 minutes visiting other blogs. That comes out of the hour I spend each day marketing my writing and business.

If someone is REALLY pressed for time and can only post to their blog [which I was when I started this blog], then you can write the blogs for the week on Saturday and post them during the week. That’s less than 1 hour a week. Not a huge sacrifice.

How can bloggers get more people to visit their blogs? Are contests beneficial to getting visitors?

I have not had luck with contests. They can be good but unless you’re a book reviewer who posts the review and then gives away that book I don’t think you’re getting meaningful visitors. I covered some ways to drive traffic to your blog a month ago. I’ve posted the link here:

In addition to that, make sure you’re giving valuable information and let friends know about it. Word of mouth is by far the best advertising.

Once an author is published, should he have a blog for published works or something that is genre specific for what he writes? Ex: suspense only, YA, romance.

That depends on how much time someone wants to commit to blogging. For the time being I’m only writing the one blog. If I find my readers want more, I’ll consider doing a second blog only if it won’t take too much time from writing.

As a Writing Career Coach, what other blogging advice could you give that we haven’t talked about?

The best advice I can give is to come to my blog. :-)

In addition to that, find 5 or 6 blogs that give good content that you trust. Visit subscribe to them and visit them when they post new content. This can be some of the most useful time you spend learning. Make sure these blogs offer content and not chatter. This is marketing and research time. The few minutes you spend each day visiting those blogs will pay big dividends when you’re marketing your book.

And don’t forget to make comments on those blogs. Blogs are a conversation, that’s what makes them so popular. Learn what you can from them.

I hope to see lots of you on my subscriber list.

Thank you so much, Tiffany, for your time and insights.

I hope all of you will follow Tiffany’s advice and leave a comment here. Questions? Please ask, and we’ll see if we can get Tiffany to answer. Starting a blog can be intimidating. Having a blog is not. Once you’re up and going, I’ve found that it’s a great way to meet people and share what’s going on in my writer’s head as well as sharing great news about books and the craft of writing. You never know until you try :-)

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Blogging: Part One
The holidays are coming at us fast and furious, but I know many of you have been toying with the idea of starting a blog in the new year. Others may be wanting to make their blogs more relevant and or less time-consuming. I’ve asked Tiffany Colter, Writing Career Coach, to answer a few questions for all of us.

Thank you, Tiffany, for being my guest today. I’m fairly new to blogging myself and know that it scares many people. How important is it for a writer to become one of millions who blog?

That really depends on what your goals are as a writer and who your target audience is. If you write books targeted to the over 50 group there may be less of a need than if you write chick-lit.

I have to admit, I really wasn’t big in to blogging. I started a blog a year ago and really didn’t do much with it. I’m a writing career coach, and as such, I spend a great deal of time researching marketing principles that help writers build their business. As I did this I kept coming back to needs that could be met by blogging.

Let me say, if you HATE to blog and you hate the idea of coming up with something relevant to say then you’ll do yourself more harm by having a blog that is never updated. But, if you’re committed to spending 15 minutes a few times a week to make it work-it’s worth your time.

I’ve heard that focus on a particular area is the primary thing to consider when starting a blog. Is it better for an unpublished author to have a general focus or concentrate on one or two areas? (ex: book reviews and author interviews or the craft of writing and professional tips or areas of expertise and your preferred genre).

Hmmm, another good question. If anyone’s been to my blog they know I don’t focus on one area exclusively. Monday I post marketing tips, on Tuesdays we apply what we’ve learned by taking a book idea and saying “How would you market this?” On Wednesdays my daughter does book reviews of kids books [she’s a 9 year old who is a voracious reader….proud mommy moment here.] Thursday I’ll either have people in the industry [Writers, Editors, Agents, Publishers] post or we cover more on marketing. Friday I post blogs of note. This is a list of blogs that I’ve read or my readers have read that have valuable content.

While this covers one basic topic-books-my blogs have shown up in blog carnivals that cover business, marketing, family, women in business and a host of different areas. So I’d say that you don’t need to cover only one or two areas but be consistent so your readers know what to expect.

What blog providers do you recommend for the faint at heart or those who are just starting out? Which ones seem more user friendly?

Wow, I wish I could help more on this. I use shoutlife and blogger and am happy with both of them. I try to only speak from experience so that’s the best I can answer for you there.

Can a blog take the place of a website? Why or why not?

Wow, tough question. I actually have both for my Writing Career Coach products. and I suggest authors get their domain name so they can use it if they need to.

I will say this. It’s better to have a blog that you post to even 3 times a week rather than an outdated website that sits there and does nothing.

Thanks, this is all great advice.

I hope you’ll drop by the Café again tomorrow to find out what you can do to increase traffic to your blog and streamline the writing for more efficient use of your time. In the meantime, take a break from the holiday madness, have a cup of your favorite brew, and reflect on the joy of the season. Until then . . .

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I'm Cupid. Which one are you? Click here to find out.

You Are Cupid
A total romantic, you're always crushing on a new reindeer.
Why You're Naughty: You've caused so much drama, all the reindeers aren't speaking to each other.
Why You're Nice: You have a knack for playing matchmaker. You even hooked Rudolph up!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


An ice storm hit Oklahoma on Sunday. We lost power that night and woke to find my car like this:

The neighbors Bradford pear split—Half of it landed on my car, the other half crashed into our backyard. Max (who is a quick thinker in emergencies) went to Home Depot and got a gas-powered chain saw to cut the limbs from around my car. There’s not a single scratch or dent on it. A bent aerial—that’s it. Amazing! The last three days have been out of the ordinary, to say the least. We were without power 70 hours. Here are a few of my observations:

  • I’m not as resilient as I thought.
  • 54 degrees is cold inside your house.
  • Tough times draw neighbors together. One neighbor borrowed my old-fashioned can opener to open dog food for his elderly labs. Meanwhile, he checked on and helped several retired neighbors.
  • Max put the chain saw to good use helping get large fallen trees out of the street.
  • Coffee (by the pot) from the local convenience store should never be taken for granted.
  • Fast food is not fast when twelve cars snake around the drive through, and the lines inside are even longer. And no one complains. Hot food is worth the wait.
  • Having no TV or Internet didn’t seem like much of an inconvenience.
  • Cell phones are fantabulous!
Thousands are still without power. The cleanup will take months. Today I’m more grateful for the rush of warm air coming through our vents, the sparkle of Christmas lights on the tree, and my first cup of coffee made in my very own kitchen. I am blessed. More than I can imagine or deserve.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm On Seekerville Today

My friend, Myra Johnson, asked me to be the guest blogger on Seekerville today. The Seekers there have a ton of information about contests, how to prepare a manuscript, and personal stories of contest wins and misses. It's fun and informative. You can read my take on winning the ACFW Genesis contest (Historical Fiction) this past September. And while you're there, check out some of the great advice these contest veterans have.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


One of my favorite childhood memories is going to Granny’s on Christmas Eve and feasting on her beautifully decorated sugar cookies. While I didn’t help Granny make them, my mother did help my sisters and me make cut-out cookies. Later, I followed the tradition with my four boys. Not sure how much interest they had in the art, but they did seem to enjoy licking the frosting off their fingers and devouring the final product.

This past weekend, my twin grandsons visited, and I thought why not? I had the dough ready and decorating supplies laid out when they arrived. Oh my. What fun! Here they are working hard and enjoying the results. I hope you take the time this holiday season to carry on a tradition or just goof off in the kitchen and make someone smile.

Monday, December 3, 2007


My first official “Book Signing” was yesterday at Steve’s Books and Magazines in Tulsa. It’s an old-fashioned book store/soda fountain that is a landmark in Tulsa. We had a great turnout and sold all the books (an anthology of the Tulsa Night Writers) our president brought with her. She had to dash home and get some of her reserve stash.

Since many authors were represented, we took shifts at the signing table, but I got a huge kick out of walking around, pen in hand, signing books whenever someone asked, “Are you one of the authors?” Great fun!

L to R: Bren Presley, Me, M. Carolyn Steele, Gloria Teague

Mark Darrah, Bren Presley, Me, M. Carolyn Steele, Gloria Teague

Me with writing buddy and friend, M. Carolyn Steele

Friday, November 30, 2007

My First Book Signing

Shades of Tulsa, an anthology showcasing the writing of the Tulsa Night Writers, has just released. Many of Tulsa's published authors and others who just have a story to tell are showcased in this eclectic collection. A bit of history, a few ghostly tales, memories, and a poetry section make up the book.

I'm privileged to be part of this talented group. My contribution, "A Nod in the Right Direction," depicts my ambivalence in moving from our family farm into the heart of the city. In Tulsa, I found a warm welcome, not only from the wildlife in my own backyard, but also an offer of friendship from a neighbor, who has become a wonderful friend.

A group booksigning by many of the anthology authors will be this Sunday, Dec. 2, from 2 - 4 pm at Steve's Sundry: Books and Magazines. 2612 South Harvard. Tulsa. I'll be there and would love for you to come by if you are in the area. The book would be a "cool" Christmas gift for someone you know who loves Tulsa.

Now, what color ink should I use to sign my name?

What Book Got YOU Hooked?

Here are the top twenty-five books that got people hooked on reading, according to the poll. It sort of takes you back, doesn't it?

  1. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
  2. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  3. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  5. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  6. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  7. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  8. The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey
  9. Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman
  10. Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
  11. Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey
  12. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  13. The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and Loren Long
  14. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  15. Dick and Jane by William H. Elson
  16. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
  17. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
  18. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  19. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  20. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  21. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
  22. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  23. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  24. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  25. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

You can see the entire list of the Top 50 books here. For me, Dick and Jane started it all, quickly progressing to the Bobbsey Twins (at the Seashore--remember that one?). By 5th grade, I was devouring Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. I still love a great mystery! How about you? Which book (s) got you hooked on reading?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Things Go Better With . . . Caffeine

The day before Thanksgiving, I stumbled into the kitchen, as I do every morning, and made a beeline for the coffeepot. Made the coffee. Pushed the button. Listened to the gurgle as water poured out over my Sumatra blend. Inhaled the aroma. Then . . . volcanic rumblings came from the belly of the machine. Bubbling, spitting sounds. I looked at the pot. Scarcely a cup of amber liquid had dripped in. More sputters, louder groans, and then zip. An eerie silence echoed as my coffee maker died.

I don’t know about you, but at my house, this constitutes a domestic emergency. I know the earth’s rotation does not hinge on whether or not Carla has had her coffee. It’s close, though. Immediate action was called for. Braced with the ONE measly cup of coffee in my stomach, I scanned the newspaper for holiday bargains and shuffled through my coupons. I grabbed my keys and went shopping.

Nothing fancy. No bean grinders or espresso-making features to confuse me (or set me back an extra hundred bucks). I did want to upgrade from the cheap coffee makers we’d had the last few times (you get what you pay for). Here’s what I found:

She’s a beauty! Nice textured housing that won’t show fingerprints or spaghetti sauce splatters. 12-cup capacity—this is of supreme importance as all die-hard coffee drinkers know. Water filters. No more yucky taste of my city water muddying the brew. Assorted other timers and settings that may or may not be useful. All at 20 percent off with my coupon.

I LOVE my new coffee pot. The taste quality equals that of the famous coffee shop on the corner. The spout pours without a single drip. The brewing sound is a soft gurgle that lures me instead of setting my teeth on edge. It’s a match made in heaven.

If you’re in the neighborhood, come on over. Fresh coffee is waiting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Book Review: NOBODY by Creston Mapes


Newspaperman Hudson Ambrose discovers a murdered homeless man with a bankbook in his pocket showing a balance of almost one million dollars.

Isn’t that a great premise? I was hooked right off.

Hudson makes an impulse decision that sends him on a frantic search for answers, not only about the dead man, but about the lost soul lurking within himself.

Most of the action takes place in Las Vegas, a city of contrasts. Rich, poor. Glitz, grime. The godless, the redeemed. A power hungry televangelist, a dirty cop. The author writes about the gospel unashamedly, the ills in some of our churches with refreshing honesty, and offers a challenge to believers to take a good look at what being the hands and feet of Jesus really means. While Hudson Ambrose searches for the truth about what happened that night on the streets of Las Vegas, he comes face to face with his own mortality and the emptiness of his own soul.

A little mystery. A heaping dose of suspense. A redemptive God. Creston Mapes has come up with a winner in NOBODY.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


The November Carnival of Christian Writers begins tomorrow (Monday) at Writer . . . Interrupted. This month you will find posts about the bountiful blessings of being a writer and as always, great writing tips and advice. I've joined the carnival this month. You can read what I have to say about Plotting here and then see what others have to say here.


My friends at Ashberry Lane are hosting a contest and giving away EIGHT books! Read below and get your name in the hat to win a prize. I'm in. How about you?

A special announcement from Sherrie Ashcraft and Christina Berry:

We cowrite books about relationships. We are a relationship. We want to dominate the relationship brand. And we want to have at least 500 subscribers to the
Ashberry Lane Newsletter by the first of the year. Should we expect you to sign up and work hard at strong-arming your friends to sign up while you get nothing out of the deal? No way!
Compassionate as we are, we've worked up a HUGE new incentive. How better to promote our relational fiction than featuring other fiction that focuses on different types of relationship? Why don't we give our supporters a chance to win EIGHT autographed books? What a great Christmas present that would be! Or what a lot of Christmas shopping done for you!
Without further ado, we present, with a booming voice,

For the Friend Relationship: Roxanne Henke's After Anne

One of our absolute favorite books. As you watch Olivia and Anne struggle through a difficult challenge, you'll want to be a better friend.

For the Prodigal Relationship: Robin Lee Hatcher's Return to Me
How many of us have walked away from what our father wanted for us? Or away from our Father? This story will remind you that the you can go home again.

For the Marriage Relationship: Robin Jones Gunn's Wildflowers Wildflowers

Married Genevieve falls in love with the man she least expected could win her heart. It's not who you might think ....

For the Sibling Relationship: Lauraine Snelling's Ruby (Dakotah Treasures #1)

In the first of this frontier series, Ruby must deal with her new "inheritance" while protecting her sister from its influences.

For the Man's Perspective on Relationships: James Scott Bell's Breach of Promise

A heart-rending story of a man trying to keep his family together.

For the Supernatural Relationship: Tosca Lee's Demon: A Memoir

Don't let the title of this book scare you away. There is no glorification of the demonic, but an enlightened fresh look at what History means.

For the Relationships Gone Bad: Bette Nordberg's Serenity Bay

A truly terrifying story of woman who married Prince Charming and discovered he wasn't.

For the Single Among the Marriage-Minded: Camy Tang's Sushi for One? (The Sushi Series, Book 1)

You'll laugh. You'll relate. You'll be impressed with this debut novel from up-and-coming author Camy Tang.

EIGHT books. ONE winner. Here are the ways to win:
Current subscriber and previous referrals are already in the hat. Any new subscriber or referral will gain another entry.
Publicize this to your homeys through newsletters: one entry.
Blog about the contest: one entry. (Email us if you need what to post.)
Include it in your Christmas cards: two entries.
Tuck it in the gift bag with the fruitcake you'll be leaving on random doorsteps: five entries.
Subscribe! Spread the word! Flood the blogosphere! Take over the world!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Every Day Thanks

Most evenings, my husband, Max, asks the dinner blessing. “Heavenly Father, thank you for who you are . . . for sending your son . . .”

In my flurry of life, that’s all I need to know—God is. He sent his son. Our lives are in His eternal hands.

I am blessed by so many things, but today I’m especially thankful to be sharing my earthly journey with a man who knows the Father, who is thankful for the Son.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Cleaning out his mother’s basement after her recent move, Max found a lot of cool things—old letters, forgotten toys from his childhood, pictures, and well . . . junk. Things his mother thought she might need someday. Useful things stacked on shelves and gathering dust. Max spent days of sorting, choosing what to save, what to give away, and what to pitch. His experience made me wonder what my kids would think one day going through my treasures.

There are two lines of thought here. One is that it’s payback time for your kids for all the years you sifted through their things and picked up after them. The other is that you don’t want anyone to know what a packrat you were. The lazy side of me tends to like the first choice. Out of sight, out of mind—closet shelves that sag with the weight of my stash of goods.

There’s something in me, though, that feels I should get more organized. Heaven knows, a lot of my stuff still has a little life in it and could be put to good use. Clothes that aren’t totally out of date, sewing supplies that a crafter would like, old luggage that a thrift shop client might take a shine to.

Today, I tackled the closet in the spare room. Three piles: trash, give away, keep. I’m not through yet, but I am glad to say that the first two piles were bigger than what went back into the closet.

I think I may start on my spiritual closet next. What junk am I hanging onto in there? Grudges? Pride in my own accomplishments? Selfishness? What could I be giving away? My time? A donation to a food pantry? Support for a mission project? A kind word to the overworked checker at the grocery store? Off the top of my head, I’d say I have plenty of work to do.

How about you? Got junk? Tell me your closet cleaning secrets.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


All writers plot to some degree, some just more methodically than others. I’ve always been more of a seat of the pants writer instead of a plotter. The characters show up in my head with their problems and want me to fix them. I’ve tried. Really I have, but some stories just can’t be fixed.

I want my next novel to be done with more foresight and planning so that I don’t beat my head against a brick wall trying to figure out how to get my characters interlaced with the plot. Not that I don’t enjoy the process, but there has to be a better way.

This is why I’ve resolved to study more books on craft and work smarter, not harder. I am really liking the Plot and Structure book by James Scott Bell, who obviously knows a thing or two about plotting (see yesterday’s post for his latest thriller).

The book has great chapters on the three act structure, crafting scenes, developing characters, and how to get plot ideas. It all pivots on two essentials: the LOCK system and Back Cover Copy. Once these are in place, the real work can begin.

LOCK stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout. In other words, a compelling LEAD character has an OBJECTIVE (a want or desire). While racing toward the objective, CONFRONTATION (opposition) from characters and outside forces occurs making it seem impossible that the lead will meet his goal. In a final battle, a KNOCKOUT ending leaves the reader satisfied. The LOCK system. Essential to every good story.

Back Cover Copy (BCC) is a 250 to 500 word summary of what the book is about. The lead character and what he or she wants. The confrontation. What is at stake. It draws the reader in so that he will buy the book and gives a “feel” for the story (light, brooding, thriller, romantic). An exercise and worksheet are presented in Plot and Structure for doing this. I highly recommend this to help you write your BCC.

Mr. Bell explores several methods of plotting (or not plotting), but one stood out to me—the Index Card system. I’ve heard this discussed many times, but something about it “clicked” with me this time. It’s a no pressure system of writing down any and every scene that comes to mind, no matter what its importance might be or the place it will come in the story. Instructions are given for arranging the scenes so that plot points (James Scott Bell calls them doorways) are critically placed, the tension mounts steadily throughout the book, ending in a climactic scene. Every scene does not have to be in place to start writing. An empty card with a reminder of what might go “here” can be used. Once you are happy with the result, the cards are numbered in pencil, then shuffled. Yes. Mixed up completely and rearranged to rethink more connections or different outcomes. It sounds intriguing.

I can do this. I have my cards and have started jotting scene ideas on them. Mr. Bell recommends letting this process have its due course. Don’t rush. Well, that fits me—I like to let things brew for awhile.

The remainder of the book has suggestions for writing chapter summaries, fixing plot holes, writing the first draft, polishing, rewriting, and general tips. I’ve not quite finished the book, but I’m jazzed about getting started on my own story. Will I be a die-hard plotter after this? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, what are you? A plotter? Seat of the pants writer? What plotting secrets can you share? I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Matter of Perception

We’re back from a long weekend of visiting family and attending a fun and scrumptious barbecue reception for one of our youngest son’s classmates. Another purpose of the trip was to tackle the “stuff” in the basement of my mother-in-law’s farm home. She recently moved to be near her daughter, and several lifetimes of things were left behind. To keep us company, Max went into town to get our grandsons. He took them to breakfast at McDonald’s before heading out.

Here is what happened. There is a stretch of a couple of miles in the small farm town where the speed limit is 55 before increasing to 65. Max was chatting with the boys and kicked up his speed a half mile or so before it was “legal” and you guessed it. He got caught. The officer did a license check, chatted with Max, and told him to watch his speed. No warning. No ticket.

Here is what our five year old grandson told his parents that evening: “Papa Max got stopped for going 60 in a 40. The cops chased us all the way out of town from McDonald’s and wrote him a ticket!”

He made it sound like a high speed chase and that bringing out the guns might have been next. Papa Max has been practically elevated to outlaw status in the eyes of a certain five year old. The moral of this is you never know who’s watching what you do and how it might be construed. Hmmm.

As a writer, I like to “make up” my own scenarios when I see unusual events. I’m thinking this five year old might make a great writer. All I really know is that being with the grandsons made my weekend worth the trip, and traveling the road with an outlaw was pretty fun, too.

Friday, November 9, 2007


There is just something wired into me that loves to get in the car and go somewhere. Even two or three hour jaunts to visit the kids or go to a meeting. Meet someone for lunch. I’ve never minded driving alone, but going with someone is even better. This weekend Max and I are off to visit family and friends and attend a wedding reception. I’ve spent the day in anticipation while getting ready. Here’s what I love about road trips.
  • The sound of the car door as you slam it for the last time and mentally tick off all the things you were supposed to bring: clothes, suitcases, vitamins, make-up, the dog, doggie treats . . . Satisfied you’ve got it all, you pull out of the drive. The first thing I do is heave a sigh and relax. Nothing to do now but enjoy the ride.
  • Conversation. Max and I have traveled a lot of miles together, and one of the things I enjoy most is uninterrupted conversation. Something about being captive in an automobile seems to unleash a never-ending series of subjects to talk about. Past trips we’ve taken and people we’ve known, the present joys and trials going on in our lives, and nearly always, our dreams for the future. And when lapses comes, it’s all right. We’ve been together long enough, we can read other’s minds anyway.
  • Music. It used to be favorite CD’s, but Max’s new SUV came with a Sirius radio, so now we can tune to All Sinatra, All the Time or the Oldies channel. There’s even a channel that plays ancient radio serials like Fibber McGee and Molly and The Shadow. We’ll bring the music CD’s along for good measure, though.
  • Pit stops and snacks. We both like to make frequent stops for coffee or potty breaks. And certain snacks are reserved only for road trips. Did anyone say Gardetto’s? Just one rule. You both have to eat them or the garlic can be a wee bit annoying for the non-partaker. The only time I eat sunflower seeds is on trips, while Max goes for the honey-roasted cashews.
  • New vistas. Even though we may be traveling a familiar road, there are always changes to comment on or memories associated with certain features along the way. Going new places is even better with sights to drink in and wondering what’s beyond the next bend.
  • Coming home. After a quick weekend or a two-week vacation, there’s just nothing like seeing the lights of the city come into view and knowing that you’re almost there. Home again, safe at last. That was one of my kid’s favorite last lines in a Berenstain Bears book, and it’s still true. Back in our own bed. Safe. A few new memories to file away. Fresh perspective as we begin a new week, a new project, or just come back to an unfinished project rejuvenated, ready to tackle it again.

    Today, we’ve got sunny skies and fall weather so perfect it nearly brings tears to your eyes. It’s going to be a good trip. How about you? Been on any good trips lately? I would love to hear about them.

    Happy Trails!

Monday, November 5, 2007

What a Wacky World

I’m reading Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. In the chapter on getting plot ideas, tip No. 11 is “Noodling the Newspaper” for snippets that can be turned into plot complications. I’m telling you, the last couple of weeks around here I’d like to add another venue for ideas. Let’s call it “Noodling the Neighborhood.”

I live in an established, middle of town subdivision. Nicely manicured lawns. Mature trees. Friendly folks—a few young families, but mostly middle-aged and retired people. Sedate. Not boring, just settled, okay? Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.

On a weekday morning, a woman traveling 85 mph on a 40 mph city street, crashed into a brick retaining wall, stopping short of the house on the other side. All this at 5:30 in the morning. Two blocks from my house. A lot of questions come to mind about that. Sadly, the woman perished in the crash, but I am curious about who she was and the why of it, you know.

The week of Halloween our neighborhood watch captain emailed everyone that there had been a confirmed sighting of a coyote in the neighborhood a few blocks north of mine. A coyote? In the city? We’ve had our share of possums, squirrels, and homeless cats, but that’s the first I’ve heard of a city-dwelling coyote around here.

All right, I’m still thinking about the coyote when Zelda, our little dachshund who is a self-appointed guard dog, does the usual yard patrol this past Saturday night. She zips over to the darkest corner of the yard, barking, barking, barking. Coyotes DO NOT jump eight-foot wood fences, so I’m thinking a rabbit or stray cat is the cause. She barks until she’s worn out, and I’m sick of it. We go to bed.

The next morning she beelines to the same corner and will not relent. I’m more curious now and decide to investigate. A crepe myrtle and cherry laurels anchor that corner of the yard with an open space in the corner for the gas meter. I peer through the branches and spot something behind the gas meter. A bag or something. I step closer. Not a bag. A garment of some kind. Leaning over I see that it is a brown plaid flannel something. Gag! Boxer shorts. How did those get there? They are soiled, and I’m pretty sure it’s not mud. Oil maybe? I’m hoping since the other alternative is way too gross to even contemplate.

Gingerly I pick them up in a clean spot and deposit them in the outdoor garbage can. Zelda is now happy. Nothing is invading our yard. All is well in her little doggy world. I scour my hands, of course, but I can’t get the absurdity of it out of my mind. Why did someone put their underwear in my backyard? Sick!

Today, I learn that a rash of car break-ins took place over the weekend. One occurred on the street behind me. During the night, my backyard neighbor heard someone talking on a cell phone outside her bedroom window. She got a description and reported the prowler. The next day she found two sets of car keys in her backyard--about ten or twelve feet from the spot where I found the suspicious flannel boxers. I don’t want to know the whole story. I want to feel safe in my little corner of my boring neighborhood where hardly anything ever happens. Besides, if I wrote about it, who would believe a tale about a bare-bottomed car thief being chased by a mangy coyote in the middle of the city? Get real.

Until next time, when I hope be just be noodling the newspaper for plot ideas.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Rose Is Not An Orange

Writers know that sensory details strengthen our prose. Sight, sound, touch, taste, feelings, and smell. Introduce a sensory cue, and the reader becomes more engaged in the story. JoAnn Wray, a very gifted and humorous Tulsa writer, spoke to our local WIN-ACFW group yesterday on this subject. The thing that really got my attention was what she said about the sense of smell. It is one of the most overlooked in writing, and yet it’s also one of the strongest, because it is deeply connected to memory. Smells detonate in our minds explosive images and feelings, mapped into our minds from specific events.

Now that I think about it, I know how true that is. I grew up in a rural area. The smell of new rain on parched ground is one of my favorite memory-bank aromas. Another is the smell of fresh turned garden soil. Not so favorite are the skunk smells that burn your throat and eyes, the ammonia-laced stench of sheep urine, and the acrid smell of singed chicken feathers. The smell of a dead mouse is enough to make me gag, but puppy breath brings a smile to my lips.

Many smells are universal: a pine-scented Christmas tree, the cozy smell of a log blazing in the fireplace, cinnamon-laced apple pie, fresh-brewed coffee, brownies fresh from the oven, the smell of a rose, a clump of lilac blossoms. Yet, how a reader interprets those images is uniquely his. How about colognes? Musk for men or fresh sea breeze shaving lotion. Old spice. Estee Lauder for women or just the clean, crisp smell of Ivory soap. The nose-pinching smell of a teenagers tennis shoes. Fingernail polish. Each is distinctive and capable of unearthing a range of emotions in your reader.

Smells also can give a strong sense of place, of setting. The stale, moth-ball odor of an attic is much different than the buttered popcorn smell of a movie theater. The spray of salt water with a hint of seaweed and fish is nothing like the dark, thick, earthy aromas of a swamp. Mention the bedpan smell of an old folks’ home, and your reader is instantly transported.

Do you use the sense of smell to your advantage when crafting scenes? A hint that yesterday’s speaker gave was to sit with your eyes closed, breathe deeply, and connect to the scents of life. Slow down. Let them drift in. Imagine you are in a bread factory, a favorite restaurant, a locker room. Inserting them in your writing allows the reader to use his/her own imagination, to be taken to the deep places of memory.

Give your readers the pleasure of being a part of the story. Engage their emotions through this sometimes forgotten sensory detail.

The caveats: Don’t overuse any sensory detail or you will annoy your reader. Maintain a balance of all the senses. Also, be sure that your sensory details are used in the proper context. JoAnn gave the example of a piece she edited where a first century Jewish man awoke to the smell of bacon cooking. Bacon in the first century? In a Jewish home? Be wise in your choices and sprinkle them in. Your readers will thank you.

What smell arouses strong memories for you? Pleasant ones? Not-so pleasant? It’s your turn. Tell me what cooks your chicken. Gags you. Makes you giddy. Are you using those in your writing? Try it, and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Patchwork 101

I used to make quilts. Baby quilts, lap quilts, king-sized ones, artsy wall hangings, color-coordinated-with-pillows-to-match ensembles. I loved choosing the patterns, the colors, the thrill of taking tiny pieces and crafting something new and beautiful.

Yesterday in my water aerobics class, it dawned on me that crafting a quilt is a lot like writing. Now I don’t know why this particular idea came to me just then, but it did.

What possible connection could quilting and writing have? Creativity? Producing something totally different than the raw materials you begin with? Both. But, aside from feeding my creative urges, I first had to have the desire, some itch that had to be scratched. I didn’t just one day sit at my sewing machine and decide to do patchwork. It came from somewhere. Perhaps my granny who made and gifted each of her granddaughters with Sunbonnet Sue quilts. I wasn’t a grandmother at the time I got the quilting bug—I was barely a mother, but maybe I could make a quilt. I let the idea bubble for a while. I went to the fabric store and ogled all the choices, flipped through instruction books, and wandered the aisle that had quilting tools—all manner of thimbles, threads, hoops, see-through gridded rulers, cutting tools with special mats to make precision shaped pieces that would fit together into a spectacular finished product. Yes, I can do this.

I bought fabric, a pattern book, and the supplies for a crib quilt—a kit if I remember correctly. As a novice, I needed to start small and learn the ropes before launching into a big project. The first quilt turned out pretty good, but before I had finished, I started having visions of the next quilt . . . and the next. Before long, I had become addicted to making great art. Okay, maybe not great, but decent, worthy of sharing with others. Warm, cuddly quilts that I was proud of.

I joined a quilt guild and attended religiously. At first, the more experienced members intimidated me with their parade of finished quilts. These lovely ladies, though, taught classes, shared new ideas, and best of all . . . the secrets of their success. We held a quilt show where judges came and awarded ribbons for various categories. We had monthly challenges, quilting retreats, and public service projects.

Does any of this sound a little like the world of writing? Wait. There’s more.

Quilts come in all genres I learned. The simple, yet bold Amish quilts where the art is in the stitches. Appliquéd quilts taken from the patterns of our forefathers. Crazy quilts with rich textures and flashes of gold feathery embroidery so beautiful to look at it hurt your eyes. All the patterns have names, too. Irish chain. Dresden plate. Wedding ring. Drunkard’s Path. Log Cabin. Texas Star. Mariner’s Compass. Imaginative. Descriptive. And every quilt tells its own story. Scraps from Easter dresses. Whole quilts made entirely of Grandpa’s neckties. Expressive art in its most humble and yet, magnificent form.

As I became immersed in the craft of quilting, I learned about contrasts, the dark and light of color, pitting them against each other, blending them to the focal point I wanted others to see. Color gives life to a quilt, just as characters dance off the written page. Lavender, like a wise mentor in a novel, gives depth to patchwork. A splash of yellow makes you smile the way a protagonist’s quirks tickle your funny bone. And like the clichés in our writing, a patch or two of brilliant orange goes a long way.

I must admit, not all my quilt projects made it. Some had corners that didn’t line up and had to be ripped apart for another go. Some were downright ugly and got pitched. Some seemed trite and no longer held my interest. They languish in the top of the guest room closet. Sadly, some of my writing fills the same closet, tucked in folders and boxes nearer the floor.

I didn’t start out writing a 900 page novel. I wrote short stories, vignettes, snippets. I studied the craft, hung out with other writers, and have been to some top-notch writing conferences. Along the way, a few editors have seen fit to publish my stories. I’m still learning, putting words on paper, and pursuing the elusive novel contract.

Three books on writing are at the top of my study list for November. Getting Into Character, Plot and Structure, and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. I’m half through with the one on mystery writing, and already, my head dances with characters, situations, and dreams of piecing them together into a tapestry called a novel. A good one, I hope. I’m still in the brooding stage, choosing the right fabrics, playing with colors, envisioning the final product in a reader’s hands as she curls up on a favorite quilt and is swept away.

I’ll let you know how it goes.