ACFW Blog The Voice of Christian Fiction Mon, 17 Apr 2017 08:33:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Writing with “Wisdom of Heart” Mon, 17 Apr 2017 08:33:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Linda Thompson

First, a bit of transparency. When I committed to this date for a guest post, I thought I would be in a different place in my publishing journey. I understood there were no guarantees, but in truth I had some expectations. After years of writing and re-writing, when the Lord blessed my manuscript with a Genesis win last year, I kind of thought a clear path to publication would follow. This week being the seventy-fifth anniversary of the WWII mission that inspired my story, the Doolittle Raid, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to build expectation for my, ahem, on-the-road-to-publication novel.

Well. Let’s just say it seems the Lord has a different plan.

Naturally, I’ve been meditating on scriptures on waiting. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is 40:31), right? I never noticed before that the word for “wait” in this passage has a sense of being intertwined. From the Complete Word Study Bible: the Hebrew word is a verb meaning to wait for, to look for, to hope for. The root meaning is that of twisting or winding a strand of cord or rope….

I should be so intertwined with my Lord that my will disappears into His! Doesn’t this evoke Jesus’ idea of “abiding” (John 15:4)?

My period of waiting has given me a couple of gifts. Here’s the first: I think I’ve largely replaced my expectations with expectancy to see what the Lord will do in His timing.

And the second gift? During this period of waiting, something happened I didn’t expect.

I suppose I’m not alone in approaching the idea of establishing an author platform with trepidation. I was convinced my blog would be a big time suck no one would ever read.

But as it turns out I really like blogging. My vision in penning my novel was to impact lives through story. The book may still be in “wait” mode, but the blog gives me a chance to impact people with words right now. I’m learning to have expectancy He will breathe messages through me. And if I’m faithful to write them down, I can trust Him to muster the right audience.

Why am I so confident the Lord is concerned with my work, even if publishers aren’t clamoring for it?

Because, fellow Christian creative, ours is a very high calling.

Do you know who the first person described by God as being filled with His spirit was?

Ever hear of Bezalel?

His is not one of the best-known names from the Old Testament, but his brief appearance in the book of Exodus is impactful. We first hear of him in Ex 31:2, after the golden calf fiasco. The Lord has graciously invited Moses back up Mount Sinai to receive a second set of tablets. The Lord reveals that Bezalel has been called by name to be the master craftsman in charge of building His Tabernacle. Other than Aaron and the patriarchs, I don’t think anyone else got mentioned by name when the Lord spoke with Moses on Sinai.

Thus Bezalel took a key role in one of the most significant events in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s up to him to oversee the creation of a habitation fit for The Almighty. The fulcrum of the entire Mosaic redemptive system.

What were Bezalel’s qualifications for this critical job? A long family tradition of craftsmanship? Decades of training in Pharaoh’s workshops?

Scripture doesn’t elaborate on that, but here are a few things it does mention.

• Bezalel’s name means “in the shadow of God.”
• The Lord had “filled him with the Spirit of God.” (Ex 31:3, 35:31)
• Bezalel was also filled with “wisdom of heart.” The phrase is rendered “skill” in some versions, but the more literal translation speaks to me.
• Bezalel’s superior ability was the result of being filled with God’s Spirit, of “dwelling in God’s shadow.” He had a special skill in craft that flowed from a sanctified core being.

What was the result? “Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it as Yahweh had commanded…. And Moses blessed them.” (Ex 39:42) The climax of the book of Exodus occurs when the Lord visibly inhabits the new Tabernacle.

So, yes, my writing matters to God. Whether it’s a novel read by thousands or a blog followed by a few dozen, if I live in His shadow, like Bezalel I can aspire to craft words the Almighty will inhabit.

Linda Thompson blogs on the topic Five Stones and a Sling: Stories of Reckless Faith at WordServe Literary is shopping her first novel. The Plum Blooms in Winter. Inspired by a true story from the Doolittle Raid of WWII, the novel was a 2016 ACFW Genesis Contest winner.


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Who Am I? Sun, 16 Apr 2017 08:33:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Darlene L. Turner

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11 (NIV)

“I can’t!” Murray shoved his hands into his pockets and kicked a stone, sending it flying across the gravel yard. “Who am I, but a measly worker?”

The boss let out a staggered breath. “You’re more than that. Take a look at these.” He opened a binder and held it out.

Murray’s jaw dropped. Praise from his coworkers filled every page. How could this be? He just came in every day, did his work, and left. He was nothing special.

“See, you can lead. Everyone thinks so.”

Murray shook his head. “I wouldn’t know what to say to them.” Would they even listen?

“Just be yourself. They want you as their union rep.”

“I can’t.” Murray slammed the binder shut and thrust it back into his boss’ arms. “Pick someone else.”

Moses had a hard time accepting the fact God had picked him to lead His people out of Egypt. He lacked self-esteem. How about us? Do we wonder if we’re good enough to write? Or even call ourselves writers? Let’s see how Moses’ story unfolded.

Moses questioned his own identity. God used a burning bush to get Moses attention. He instructed him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. What was Moses’ response? “Who am I?” He wondered why God had chosen him. How about us?

Do we doubt His calling on our lives? Do we struggle with referring to ourselves as writers? We ask such questions as: Can I write? Should I just give up? I’m sure we’ve all gone through an identity crisis at one point or another. Look to God for answers. He’s called us to write and we ARE writers.

Moses doubted his abilities. He asked God, “What shall I tell them?” He lacked the confidence to find the right words that would convince the people to follow him.

There are times when I struggle with my writing. Do I measure up? Self-doubt rears its ugly head and I wonder, “Am I good enough?” Does the same thing happen to you? God has given us the gift of writing. We must push Satan behind us, and press forward. We can’t allow our insecurities to cloud the writing journey God has for us.

Moses gave up and asked God to send Aaron. Even after God turned Moses’ staff into a snake, made his hand leprous, and healed it instantly, Moses still pleaded with God to send Aaron instead of himself. God’s reassurances and signs were not enough.

How many times has God tried to do the same to us? Given us clear direction and opened all doors, but we still stumble and take a different path. Why don’t we have the confidence in ourselves and trust that He wouldn’t lead us astray?

God may not have called us to lead like He did Moses, but He has an awesome plan in store. Let’s muster up the confidence He’s given us and write.

Who are we? We’re writers for God. Let’s use our words for Him!

I confess there have been times where I’ve struggled with who I am as a writer. Even compared myself to others. Shame on me! How about you? Share your story.

Darlene L. Turner writes romantic suspense. She’s a finalist in the 2017 Great Expectations contest, won the 2016 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the Golden Leaf Award, placed second in the Indiana RWA Golden Opportunity contest, and was a finalist in the 2016 ACFW Genesis contest. She lives with her husband in the Forest City of London, Ontario. Visit Darlene at where she believes there’s suspense beyond borders.


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Rough Drafts are Like Mud Pies Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:33:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Hannah Conway

How rough can a rough draft be?

The answer makes me wince, turn my head to the side, and look down at the freshly printed version of my work in progress, which happens to be the definition of a rough draft.

I stare at it, grimace growing on my face. Look at it, y’all. It’s so, so, well, it’s so rough.

Rough and ugly. My book baby is ugly–there, I said it.

So how rough can a rough draft be?

A couple of images and similes come to mind. A rough draft is like the un-finished, un-sanded surface of a piece of furniture my dad is building. It’s like the flattened blob of decorated mud my child handed me with a smile on his sweet face.

A mud pie.

And that’s the answer.

How rough can a rough draft be? As rough as a badly decorated mud pie.

He was six when he sat down in the front yard and dug that hole. Tongue out to the side clamped between his teeth. A few grunts, blades of grass, push-pins, and a handful of rubber bands later he stood in front of me arms outstretched, satisfaction all over his face.

“I made this for you, Momma,” he said with such pride.

My heart melted.

I held out my hands and took that mud pie. Truth be told, it was ugly as homemade sin, but it didn’t matter. My son had created for me. He had put everything he had into that messy lump. It was about the intent, his heart, the time he’d put forth, and that made it beautiful.

And then he’d given it to me. He’d given me his very best. He could’ve kept it for himself, yet, he didn’t. My son gave me his best, and I knew it.

How cruel would it have been for me to have said, “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!” Or “That’s all you got? Ugh. Try again.”

Oh, even the thought of breaking his heart like that makes me tear up. No loving parent would ever intentionally respond in such a way.

As I sit, staring at the pages of my rough draft, it looks so much like that messy mud pie. It’s ugly, but it’s all I got right now, and as I lift it to God I imagine He receives it just like I received that mud pie from my son. A genuine smile. A huge hug.

My analogy begins to fall apart here in that I simply kept my son’s creation on a bookshelf for years. God doesn’t leave our rough draft on a bookshelf. He gives us a high five, and says, “Let’s see what else we can do here.”

And this is where the magic happens. Somehow, and in some way, when God gets involved with the rough draft, it goes from mud pie to Mississippi Mud Pie—something incredible and deliciously eye-rolling.

Polish, edit, repeat. Polish, edit, repeat. Through each stage, each phase of the writing process, God helps us sculpt and create a work we could never have done on our own. All we have to do is give Him the rough draft, give Him our mud pie, and invite Him to transform it.

Happy Writing! Prayers that all our mud pies of a rough draft end up as a Mississippi Mud Pie!

By the way, if anyone is now in the mood for a slice of some yummy Mississippi Mud Pie, here’s a GREAT recipe to check out.

Side note: I recently found the hole my son dug many years ago to make that precious mud pie for me. I found it with my ankle, and now, I’m propped up on the couch with a bag of ice writing this post. Good times.

Hannah Conway is a military wife, mother of two, author, teacher, and speaker. Her novels are a deployment experience of their own, threaded with faith, and filled with twists and turns sure to thrill, and encourage. Her latest release is The Wounded Warrior’s Wife. She and her family live in Tennessee. Visit Hannah at


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Writing Historical Stories Wed, 12 Apr 2017 08:33:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Diana Wallis Taylor

A friend of mine who took a hiatus from writing due to health concerns, went to lunch with me and said she felt God was leading her to write again. She wanted to talk about writing about her grandmother who came from Ireland possibly as a mail order bride. She wanted to know how I went about writing historical stories.

We talked about organizing to write historical works and I shared the following:

First, find out all you can about the country you are writing about in the era the story takes place; real or fictional.

Second: what were their houses like? What did they eat? What utensils did they use? What type of clothing did they wear? What were typical expressions in conversation? What mode of transportation did they use? What types of animals were common to where they lived? What were common family names where they lived? Ask questions of things you would want to know in reading this book. Look up foods and find out what a typical meal was like. My readers seem to enjoy reading about the meals. Just make sure the foods chosen are authentic and common to that time and place. Make sure your information is as accurate as possible. I had my Biblical Martha fixing potato latkes and a reader gently informed me that they didn’t have potatoes there at that time.

Third, what other books were written about this person? This era? In my friend’s case she would look up books about Ireland at the time her grandmother lived there. Maybe books written by other young women who had chosen to become mail-order brides. What was the process for a young woman in Ireland who chose to do this?

Fourth, what caused young women at the time to become mail-order brides? Family hardship? Famine? Running away from something or someone?

Fifth, what was America like at that time? What was the procedure for arrival from Ireland? What hardships would she encounter? No doubt at that time she went through Ellis Island. What was her experience with that?

Most importantly, I start a notebook and divide it into sections with tabs for each possible category; food, homes, clothing, transportation etc. especially the names of the characters. It makes an easy reference guide, to keep track of them. It’s frustrating to be working on chapter 20 and have to go back to remember what a character’s name was that appeared in chapter four!

Some writers map out their stories with an outline, or do storyboards, or Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake method”. Everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another. I write a detailed summary for my editor’s benefit but that is only a basic idea of the story. I have been known to change up the story mid-point or write a different ending!

Before I began to write Biblical Fiction, I was overwhelmed by the idea of looking up all that information. Then I found that the research was really the fun part!

Diana Wallis Taylor, an award-winning author, has published six books of Biblical Fiction and has just completed her seventh. She has written three other books of fiction, a book of poetry and a book on Halloween. Along with her books, her writing has appeared in various compilation books and magazines. Diana recently completed an Easter cantata, “Glorious”, with her fellow collaborator, Carolyn Prentice, who wrote the music. She enjoys speaking and sharing her heart with women of all ages. Diana lives with her husband, Frank, in San Diego, California. Between them they have six grown children and nine grandchildren.


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Where Do Ideas Come From? Tue, 11 Apr 2017 08:33:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Melanie Dickerson

I get a lot of emails and messages from teen writers asking for writing tips. The two questions I get asked most frequently: “Where do you get your ideas?” and “What do you do when you get stuck?”

Since many of my novels are fairy tale retellings, I start out checking into the original fairy tale and its more popular retellings, but my stories tend to deviate “quite a ways” from the original fairy tale. Stephen King has said, “Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky.” And while that is true, there are also some more deliberate ways to get ideas.

First is to let your thoughts wander. When I start to feel stuck, I roll the story over in my mind and ask myself some questions. “What needs to happen before the big climax?” “How does my protagonist need to grow?” “What would he logically do to get what he wants?” “How will my villain try to stop my protagonist?” And as a romance writer, “What is the most romantic thing that could happen next?”

If this doesn’t work, I’ll find some poor unsuspecting family member and start telling them my story. Sometimes while talking about the story, the next big scene will suddenly come to me. Talking it out can be a great way to remind you of your protagonist’s fears that could be further explored, such as my hero Steffan’s claustrophobia in my upcoming book, The Noble Servant, or heroine Magdalen’s fear that she’ll end up back at home living with her abusive mother after being rejected by the man she was supposed to marry.

In addition to reminding yourself of your protagonists’ fears, you can also remind yourself of their goals and motivations and think of ways that those might conflict. For example, in The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, the heroine was poaching deer to feed the poor, and the hero was trying to catch the poacher so he would not lose his job. With this at the forefront, I could come up with scenes and events that would show that conflict of interest and create complicated situations–and complicated feelings in my protags.

Another way to get ideas is to watch a movie. For instance, when I was watching the miniseries Young Victoria I was inspired by the scene where Prince Albert gets shot by a would-be assassin who was trying to kill the queen. I love to have one or both of my protagonists make a grand sacrifice for the other, so I thought, what better sacrifice than to have the hero in The Fairest Beauty jump in front of an arrow that was meant for the heroine?

And a final way to get ideas is from research. This is actually my favorite way of getting plot ideas. When I was writing and doing research for my first published novel, The Healer’s Apprentice, I came across an article about medieval law. It said that if an unmarried man was convicted of a crime and sentenced to be executed, he could go free if a woman volunteered to marry him.

I thought, Wow, what a cool scene that would be! I’ll save that for a later book. But I quickly changed that thought to, I’m not saving anything. I’m using it in this book!

Which is another lesson: Put all you’ve got into every single book. Hold back nothing.

And it works even if you’re not writing a historical. Contemporary stories need research too. Don’t be surprised if you get some great ideas when you’re doing research.

Melanie Dickerson is a New York Times bestselling and Carol Award-winning author. Her latest YA fairy tale retelling, The Noble Servant, is set in Medieval Germany and releases May 9th, and her latest Regency romance is A Viscount’s Proposal. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntsville, Alabama.


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Two Tips to Get Past “I Can’t Write” Mon, 10 Apr 2017 08:33:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Beth K. Vogt

I’m on deadline.

Being on deadline means writing is mandatory for me. I’ve signed a contract that includes a due date to submit my manuscript to my publisher, which is an author’s ticking clock that creates tension in our lives, just like we create tension in our characters’ lives. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, such as an alien invasion or Godzilla rampaging through Colorado Springs, I’ll meet my deadline. (I’m not even thinking about any realistic disasters that happen to writers everywhere.)

But let me honest with you: Deadline or no deadline, there are days I don’t feel like writing.

I write anyway.

Then there are days I got nothing.

I write anyway.

And then there was this one certain Sunday.

I woke up facing my deadline, just like I had so many other days.

And I ignored my manuscript. All. Day. Long.

Why? Because I needed a break from the story. I’d written hard, day after day, sometimes getting up early and sometimes staying up late.

But taking a break didn’t mean I wasn’t writing anything at all. Even on “ignore the deadline” days, writing happens. If you’re a writer on deadline like me – or even if you’re a writer working on a manuscript to submit to an agent or editor – there are probably other writing projects in your life. What do you do on those “I can’t write” days?

1. When you can’t write big, write small.

Sometimes you need a brief break from your manuscript: a few hours or even a day. Write something else. On “I can’t write” days, I work on my regularly scheduled blog posts for my personal blog, In Others’ Words, which is all about quotes. Or my monthly Novel Rocket post or a guest post – like this one.

2. When you can’t write, rewrite – but just a little bit.

I’m an advocate of fast-drafting: write forward, write fast. Fall in love with your story. Discover things about your characters by the end of the story that you didn’t know at the beginning, and then weave those elements through the story during your rewrite.

If I have a day when I stall out on my novel, I reignite my creative spark by rereading one or two chapters. Sometimes I read on the computer or I might print the pages out. And yes, I allow myself to pick up a red pen – or maybe a fun purple one – and mark up the scenes. I’ll ask myself questions like:

• What’s my Story Question?
• What’s the main emotion for this scene?
• Have I used all five senses?
• Where’s the spiritual truth?

Before I dive back into my manuscript, I weave the new developments back into those scenes and make notes to rework them into the entire book. Taking time away from the full-length manuscript refreshes me so that I’m ready to write again.

Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” A women’s fiction novelist with Tyndale House Publishers, Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, as well as a 2016 ACFW Carol Award Winner and a 2015 RITA® finalist. In 2016, she continued her destination wedding series published by Howard Books with You Can’t Hurry Love (May) and Almost Like Being in Love (June). Visit Beth at


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My Trip to the Moon and Other Forgotten Miracles Fri, 07 Apr 2017 08:33:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Patricia Beal

Last week a reporter asked me if I ever thought my novel would get published, and that’s when I remembered the moon story.

Someone once told me that getting a book published was like shooting the moon. “What are you really going to do with the rest of your life?”

The conversation had bothered me, but I started anyway.

When I took the first chapter–fresh out of my head and hot off the printer–to my Barnes & Noble writing group, I asked the leader to read it for me (my accent is something else). As she did, I saw a box of motivational cards on a shelf behind her. It read: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars…”

A hard-to-please group had loved my first chapter, and I’d received a sign. Cinderella story? Oh no, no, no. Two years later the novel hadn’t gone far. I stand corrected. It’d gone far–just not successfully. In the summer of 2012, the novel was rejected in three different continents in the same week.

Then Jesus passed by.

Six months later I was born again and realized that for two years I’d been writing my own salvation story.

The good news? The story wasn’t working because it was missing a layer. It’s more than the story of a ballerina with big dreams and dreamy suitors. It’s about a young woman trying to fill the God-shaped hole in her heart with misguided career and romantic pursuits.

The bad news? The rewrite would be lengthy and painful. But the Lord gave me people who encouraged me through the fourteen months of labor, and the work got done. He gave me something else too. A Cadillac commercial. A sweet reminder of where we’d been, and where we were going.

In the commercial, a kid is riding with his dad. It’s dark. There’s nothing to be seen anywhere. Suddenly you start hearing lunar landing audio:

“We are now in the approach phase–everything looking good.”
“Velocity twelve hundred feet per second.”
“You are looking great to us, Eagle.”
“Two thousand feet.”

A big moon shows up at the end of the road. Dad’s hands are strong on the wheel. The kid and Dad exchange an expectant look.

“Still looking very good.”
“Fourteen hundred feet.”

Dad goes faster. The music gets bigger. The moon gets bigger.

Narrator: “Funny thing happens when you shoot for the moon.”
Lunar landing audio: “That’s affirmative.”
Narrator: “You get there.”
Lunar landing audio: “You are GO for landing–over.”

Here’s the commercial:

My answer to the reporter? “Absolutely. I knew it would get published.” He’s an aspiring novelist and was encouraged by the moon story. Pay it forward, right?

When I got home after talking to him, I found that shoot-for-the-moon box I’d purchased at Barnes & Noble on “Chapter 1 night” and got six years of dust off of it. Shame on me for not thinking about my trip to the moon daily. Why do we do that?

Celebrate your miracles. Share them here. Remember…

And if you’re paralyzed by fear, be free from it today. Are you doubting your calling? Most of us do. Don’t let that stop you. God already knows most of us feel that way.

I love this conversation between Jesus and a dad who asks for help for his possessed child: Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:23-24).

God can handle our tendency to believe and not believe at the same time. He’s not surprised. Ask Him for help, like this dad did. He got his miracle. You’ll get yours. Believe. Keep working. Let me be your shoot-for-the-moon box of cards today. Do it. Shoot for the moon! Write that book. Pitch. Submit. Rewrite. Repeat. Get published.

“You are GO for landing–over.”

Patricia Beal is from Brazil and fell in love with the English language while washing dishes at a McDonald’s in Indianapolis. She put herself through college working at a BP gas station and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati with a B.A. in English Literature. She’s a 2015 Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist. Her debut novel, A Season to Dance, comes out May 9. Visit Patricia on her website at


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Keep the Energy Going Wed, 05 Apr 2017 08:33:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Cathleen Armstrong

Anyone who has ever attended a conference knows the feeling. You come home exhausted with a notebook full of workshop handouts and a head full of everything you’ll need to take your writing to new levels. You come home with names and email addresses and Facebook contacts of writers with the same goals and aspirations you have and contacts in the publishing industry that you can get nowhere else. But most of all, exhausted as you are, you come home filled with the energy that permeated every corner of the conference. You are geared to go, and as soon as you unpack, do the laundry, check in with your family, and put out any fires that popped up at home and at work while you were gone, you are wading into your writing with new purpose.

But, life seems to intervene, doesn’t it? We still have the story. We have all the new ideas and skills that we gleaned from the conference, but that conference energy that was driving us to our keyboards begins slowly to leak like helium from a balloon, and our highflying, brightly colored dreams can find themselves bouncing sadly behind the sofa.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just as you knew you could while you were at that conference, you can be the one to take control of your writing life. And you don’t need a constant infusion of conference adrenaline to keep it going. They call those people conference junkies, and with good reason! Pick a conference or two (and there’s none better in my opinion, than the ACFW conference), learn, make friends and contacts, suck up all that energy, and then come home and put it to work.

One way I have found to keep the energy flowing is to plan mini writing retreats or conferences for myself. Even a few hours of planned, intentional time away from routine can inspire and energize.

Here’s how I do it:

• I block out the time, put it on my calendar, and guard that time like I would the most sacred appointment. Even a couple of hours works, if that’s all I can spare.

• I choose a place away from my usual writing desk, and away from the madding crowd. A park, a beach, a spot off a hiking trail would be perfect. I have even gone to a corner of my garden when it’s especially beautiful. A busy coffee shop just wouldn’t be enough of a retreat; I’ve done that too often.

• I plan my retreat. Perhaps I’ll listen to a recording of my favorite conference workshop. Or maybe I’ll go over those notes I took at the all-day intensive. I could do some writing exercises or prompts from a book I always intended to go through, but I will have planned beforehand what I’ll be doing when I get there. And I’ll stick to my plan.

• I pack well, but not too heavy. I take a beach chair, and a tote with my journal, my notebooks, a snack, some water, and anything else that I will need for that planned retreat. Since I like to begin my retreat by reading a Psalm of praise, and end it with a Psalm of Thanksgiving, I take my Bible. I don’t take music, because I love the silence, or my computer, because my retreats are a break from technology, but you might feel differently; it’s up to you.

I can’t guarantee you’ll come home with the same burst of enthusiasm you get at a conference, but breaking the pattern of daily life and routine, even for a few hours, can reset the course of your creativity and give you the boost you need to keep going. And until they start tucking spray cans of Conference Energy into the goody bags, it will do just fine.

Cathleen Armstrong lives in Orange County, California with her husband Ed. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico, where she grew up and much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, One More Last Chance, At Home in Last Chance, and the newly released, Last Chance Hero.


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Pay It Forward Tue, 04 Apr 2017 08:33:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Mary Manners

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” ~ Colossians 3:12 ~

I have been writing since I was old enough to know that words tell a story…about four years old. I have such vivid memories of standing in my basement in Chicago, leaning against the washing machine, and scribbling across a notepad because I had a story to tell. Of course, the scribble was just gibberish, but the story was clear in my mind.

My primary school librarian read enchanting stories from picture books. One of my favorites was Sam, Bangs and Moonshine. I loved the wonderful tale of the inquisitive girl and her cat, and the father whose love was overshadowed by grief over the loss of his wife…so many powerful emotions interwoven with haunting illustrations. As you can guess, library hour was my favorite time of the week.

In sixth grade, I had a wonderful and engaging teacher who nurtured my writing. She came to school early in the morning and worked with me, and I completed my first full-length novel that year. I will never forget this wonderful woman. We corresponded through my college years before losing touch. I will never forget her, though, or the boundless encouragement she gave me.

In high school, I had an English teacher who loved books as much as I did. He understood my passion for words, and encouraged me to read books with more depth and to appreciate their beautiful imagery. He also began a writers’ group, and published some poems I wrote in a school anthology. It was thrilling!

Without these dedicated teachers, I may not have pursued my love of writing…and might very well not be where I am today. I remember them as I meet aspiring writers who reach out for guidance and words of wisdom, and try to ‘pay forward’ the encouragement I received.

So I ask…has there ever been a teacher who impacted you with compassion, dedication, or encouragement? If so, how did this teacher help you to get where you are today…and what would you say to him or her if given the opportunity?

Mary Manners is a country girl at heart who has spent a lifetime exploring her joy of writing. She has two sons and a daughter, as well as three beautiful grandchildren. She currently lives along the sunny shores of Jacksonville Beach with her husband Tim. Connect with Mary at her website: “Like” her author page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


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Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations? Mon, 03 Apr 2017 08:33:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Kathy Harris

A familiar feeling nagged as I walked out of my office one recent Friday afternoon. I was late, as usual, and I hadn’t accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish that week. An important work project still languished, half-finished, on my desk. A blog post was imminently due. And I desperately needed to finish the edit of my working manuscript.

It didn’t help that I’d just read a commentary from a well-known national motivator. He had outlined ‘three easy steps to staying on track.’ And, of course, his final step–and cardinal rule–was to always leave the office on time.


I closed and locked the door and rushed to my car, scanning my brain for the best to-go options for supper. Maybe one day I could plan and cook weeknight suppers again. After I had cleared my to-do list, I could move on, fill it up again and start over.


It was a vicious cycle, wasn’t it? For months, years, I had been rushing to finish deadlines, only to encounter new ones. What was wrong with me? How did everyone else manage to get it all done?

Then came the moment of realization. Looking back over the past weeks, months, years, I realized I had accomplished a lot. Not just one blog post, but one every week. Not just one major work project, but many. If I really thought about it, it was an inspiring list of achievements. And meals? I hadn’t just fed my family, I’d provided a variety of choices, most of them nutritious. I wasn’t The Pioneer Woman, but there could only be one of those. I had to be the best me. I had to set the best goals for fulfilling my calling in life.

Could it be that I was getting more done than I gave myself credit? Maybe I was living with unrealistic expectations.

That day I decided to keep a journal. Nothing elaborate, just a short list of the things I had accomplished each day. In deference to the motivational post I’d read earlier that morning, I divided it into three sections: Duty Goals, Life Goals, and Daily Goals.

Duty Goals were the things I had to do. Grocery shopping, housework, etc. And, I decided, there was nothing wrong with cutting a few corners now and then. Home-cooked food wasn’t necessary for every meal.

Life Goals were my bucket list items. Those would take care of themselves in time.

Daily Goals were an extension of my long-term ambitions, the small steps I must take each day to move along my bigger goals. The key was realizing that baby steps are still steps in the right direction. Getting in a hurry–taking life’s timing into my own hands–didn’t necessarily put me ahead. But it could wear me down.

Former acquisitions editor, author, and literary agent Karen Ball recently blogged about the toll that fatigue can take on our lives, offering the reminder that “…the completion of this task isn’t on you, but on the One who gave it to you. Rest in Him.”

Karen referenced Matthew 11:28-30. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)

Rest. It would become my fourth and final goal.

And, in the future, I will try to be easier on myself whenever I am assessing my progress. After all, my Father in Heaven is the One Who is truly in charge of my days… and His yoke is easy.

Kathy Harris writes women’s fiction and romantic suspense and is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency. Connect with Kathy on Facebook and Twitter.


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ACFW New Releases: April 2017 Sat, 01 Apr 2017 08:33:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> April 2017 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:


Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon — When a police chief and an ex-con join forces to keep a young man from falling into a life of crime, sparks fly. Given their backgrounds, it’s not a promising match—but in Hope Harbor, anything is possible. (Contemporary Romance from Revell [Baker])


 Oh Baby by Delia Latham — Dawni Manors seeks peace in Angel Falls, Texas. What she finds is a cowboy, an abandoned infant, and emotional chaos. If the Heart’s Haven angels really are there, what in the world are they thinking? (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])



A Fragile Hope by Cynthia Ruchti — Where does a relationship expert turn when his wife leaves him and carries a tiny heartbeat with her? (General from Abingdon Press)


Waiting for Butterflies by Karen Sargent — When tragedy strikes, Maggie discovers a mother’s love never ends–not even when her life does. Longing for her family after her sudden death, she becomes a lingering spirit and returns home where she helplessly witnesses her family’s downward spiral in the aftermath of her passing. Her husband is haunted by past mistakes and struggles to redeem himself. Her teenage daughter silently drowns in her own guilt, secretly believing she caused her mother’s death. Only her five-year-old, full of innocence, can sense her presence. Although limited by her family’s grief and lack of faith, Maggie is determined to keep a sacred promise and save her family before her second chance runs out. (General from Walrus Publishing [Amphorae Publishing Group])


sunset-in-old-savannahSunset in Old Savannah by Mary Ellis — When a philandering husband turns up dead, two crack detectives find more suspects than moss-draped oaks in charming old Savannah, including a scheming business partner, a resentful mistress, and a ne’er-do-well brother. (Mystery from Harvest House Publishers)



Above Rubies by Keely Brooke Keith — In 1863, young teacher Olivia Owens establishes the first school in the remote settlement of Good Springs while finding love. (Historical, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:


A Rose So Fair by Myra Johnson — Caleb Wieland would give anything to win farm girl Rose Linwood’s heart, but Rose’s stubborn independence is proving as thorny as the flower for which she’s named. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Under the Same Sky by Cynthia Roemer — In 1854 Illinois, Becky Hollister wants nothing more than to live out her days on the prairie, building a life for herself alongside her future husband. But when a tornado rips through her parents’ farm, killing her mother and sister, she must leave the only home she’s ever known and the man she’s begun to love to accompany her injured father to St. Louis.
Catapulted into a world of unknowns, Becky finds solace in corresponding with Matthew Brody, the handsome pastor back home. But when word comes that he is all but engaged to someone else, she must call upon her faith to decipher her future. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Pony Express Romance Collection by Barbara Tifft Blakey, Mary Davis, Darlene Franklin, Cynthia Hickey, Maureen Lang, Debby Lee, Donna Schlachter, Connie Stevens and Pegg Thomas — Nine historical romances revive the brief era of the Pony Express. Join the race from Missouri, across the plains and mountains to California and back again as brave Pony Express riders and their supporters along the route work to get mail across country in just ten days. It is an outstanding task in the years 1860 to 1861, and only a few are up to the job. Faced with challenges of terrain, weather, hostile natives, sickness, and more, can these adventurous pioneers hold fast, and can they also find lasting love in the midst of daily trials? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

plain-targetPlain Target by Dana R. Lynn — Horse trainer Jess McGrath only wants to clear her disgraced brother’s name, but enemies keep coming out of the woodwork and danger only gets closer. Jess soon learns that no place is safe—and no one can be trusted…except for the last white knight she’d ever expect to ride to her rescue. Paramedic Seth Travis was the boy behind her high school humiliation, but he’s also the man keeping her alive. When they find sanctuary in the Amish community, can they uncover answers in time to stop a killer—and resolve their past in time to build a future together? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Dangerous Testimony by Dana Mentink — Four weeks before she’s set to testify at a gang murder trial, someone is determined to make sure that Candace Gallagher Andrews never takes the stand. When nowhere is safe for the private investigator or her little girl, Candace turns to the only person she can trust—longtime friend and former navy SEAL Marco Quidel. For Marco, protecting Candace is not just another duty. As the trial date nears and the killer stalks ever closer, Marco knows fear for the first time—the fear of losing Candace and her daughter. But while Marco begins seeing Candace as more than just a friend, her late husband’s memory is never far from her mind. So he must keep Candace alive—and not get emotionally involved—long enough to put away a killer. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

deep-extractionDeep Extraction by DiAnn Mills — Special Agent Tori Templeton is determined to find who killed her best friend’s husband. Tori finds an unexpected ally in the newest member of the task force, recently reinstated Deputy US Marshal Cole Jeffers. As Tori and Cole dig deeper into Nathan’s personal and business affairs, they uncover more than they bargained for. And the closer they get to finding the real killer?and to each other?the more intent someone is on silencing them for good. (Romantic Suspense from Tyndale House)


Final Verdict by Jessica R. Patch — When Aurora Daniels becomes the target of someone seeking their own twisted justice, Sheriff Beckett Marsh is the only one who can rescue her. As a public defender, Aurora has angered plenty of people in town—and in her past. And while Beckett constantly clashes with the feisty lawyer professionally, it’s his duty to protect and serve. Guarding her 24/7 is now his sole assignment. He may not have been able to save his fiancée from a dangerous felon, but he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Aurora alive. Even if working with her to catch and convict this ruthless killer puts his heart in the crosshairs. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Guardian by Terri Reed — When a fellow FBI agent is kidnapped and a protected witness vanishes, Leo Gallagher will stop at nothing to find them both. So when he discovers a link between the case and a single mother in Wyoming, Leo and his trusty K-9 partner rush to question Alicia Duncan. Could she be the key to locating the missing persons? Not if a killer has anything to say about it. Someone is determined to keep Alicia from talking, so Leo and his chocolate Lab must keep her and her little boy safe on their family ranch. With danger lurking around every corner, Leo must work overtime to not lose another person who’s important to him. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Witch by Denise Weimer — Having restored Michael Johnson’s ancestors’ house and apothecary shop and begun applying the lessons of family and forgiveness unearthed from the past, Jennifer Rushmore expects to complete her first preservation job with the simple relocation of a log home. But as her crew reconstructs the 1787 cabin, home to the first Dunham doctor, attacks on those involved throw suspicion on neighbors and friends alike. And while Jennifer has trusted God and Michael with the pain of her past, it appears Michael’s been keeping his own secrets. Will she use a dream job offer from Savannah as an escape, or will a haunting tale from a Colonial diary convince her to rely on the faithfulness of his love? (Romantic Suspense from Canterbury House Publishing)

Speculative Romance/Fantasy:


The Fairetellings Series (Books 1 through 3) by Kristen Reed — Discover a trio of enchanting novellas inspired by three beloved fairy tales: Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. (Speculative Romance/Fantasy, Independently Published)


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What’s Your Biggest Struggle as a Writer? Fri, 31 Mar 2017 08:33:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Henry McLaughlin

This is a question with as many possible answers as there are writers. Some struggle with finding time to write. Some with aspects of the craft like dialogue or characterization. For others it might be show, don’t tell. And what on God’s green planet is the difference between lie and lay?

My biggest struggle right now is thinking I know more than I actually do. Maybe it’s pride or a cocky attitude. Whatever it is, it’s been very humbling to admit.

I write seat of the pants. Usually the writing process flows smooth and easy. I’m into book four of my fantasy series and it’s all been seat of the pants writing.

But recently two projects have clunked. My NANO project reached 43,000 words but is going in an entirely different direction than I originally envisioned. It’s turned from light-hearted to a dark story of the protag having a split personality while being stalked.

The other project is a short story. It began with a very interesting opening scene. The characters are uniquely interesting with plenty of conflict, tension and suspense. However, when I re-read the scene, I discovered I had no idea where the story was going.

In both cases I stopped and asked myself where it went wrong. I discovered I wrote with an attitude of “I’ve got this.” And I don’t. As I said above, I started both projects thinking I had the process down pat. I see now my attitude was prideful arrogance.
It’s hard to admit pride is operating. It can be even harder to make the pride get out of the way. It’s asking pride to admit it’s wrong and to surrender control.

Today I sat down with my short story and told myself, my pride, I was not writing another word until we figured out what the story is about and where it’s going. The bulk of my writing time today went into a free write, laying out the characters’ goals and relationships and identifying where the goals come into conflict. Now, I’ve got a focus on the story and I’ve got a free write document to guide me.

When I make the time to free write, my stories don’t clunk and clatter. They flow.

And the free write reminds me I don’t know it all.

What’s your biggest struggle as a writer? What is your strategy for dealing with it?

Henry McLaughlinHenry McLaughlin’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. He serves as Associate Director of Story Help Groups (formerly North Texas Christian Writers). Besides writing fiction, Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.


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Sharpening Your Ax Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:33:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Donna L.H. Smith

I heard a story by a former pastor many years ago. It’s a somewhat familiar tale, and you’ve probably heard it before.

Two woodsmen start chopping trees into firewood. After a couple hours or so, the first woodsman stops and takes a break, while the second woodsman continues to chop. They chop wood all day. About every two hours or so, the first woodsman would take a break, while the other continued to chop.

At the end of the day, they both looked at the piles of wood they chopped and were surprised. The second woodsman had a huge pile of wood, but the first had much more. The second woodsman asked, “I chopped all day without a break, yet you have a bigger pile of wood than I do. Why?”

The first woodsman smiled and said, “While you continued to chop, when you thought I was taking a break, I was actually sharpening my ax.”

I’ve heard it said that you should always be writing something. Don’t stop. If you’re stuck in your story, write something else. That doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes, I just need not to write. At that point, I watch old movies, or television, or I read others’ books. I’ve also begun to make sure I read non-fiction books that will enhance my spiritual growth.

There are different ways to sharpen your writing ax. Attend a writer’s conference, read a book about some aspect of the craft, or take a day off and do something else you like to do. Read for pleasure. You know what you like. Just do something different for a day, a week, or even an hour two. For me, I took a long break from writing fiction, (several months) and just concentrated on blog posts and reading other things.

Obviously, I may not be speaking to those on deadlines, but in a way, I am. Take a short break, even if it’s only twenty minutes or half an hour. Get away from the computer screen and fill your mind with some aspect of God or something else pleasant. Have a cup or tea or whatever your favorite drink is.
My ax is sharpened and I’ve begun to write my second novel, but not until I knew my first novel would be published. I’m older and I don’t wish to waste whatever precious time I have left on this earth (even if it’s twenty years), doing something that won’t come to fruition.

I believe we’re more effectual in our writing when we’re refreshed and renewed. Whatever works for you to sharpen your ax, do it. Your soul and spirit are as important as grinding out the daily word count. You might find you’ll be more efficient.

Donna L.H. Smith is a Kansas prairie girl transplanted to Lancaster County, PA. She is a graduate of Christian Writer’s Guild Craftsman program and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s in communications. For twenty-nine years, she’s been married to a wonderful man named Kirby. She’s been a freelance journalist, a chocolatier, and radio reporter. Now writing full-time, her first novel, Meghan’s Choice, is due out later in 2017.


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That One Time My Writer Brain Caused a Hiccup on a Date Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:33:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Kariss Lynch

So we planned a lazy Sunday afternoon date with Netflix and quiet conversation. He scrolled through our options, interested in a documentary. As titles moved past, I noticed a low-rated show that blew my mind – Wife Swap.

“Who would do that?”

He shrugged and kept scrolling. “I honestly have no idea how anyone could do that.”

We were well past the visual for the show, but my writer brain couldn’t let it go and like an idiot, I started processing out loud. “Maybe they got bored?”

He stopped scrolling immediately and gave me a look. Only several dates in, and I knew I needed to explain my crazy writer brain. Fast. “I’m just trying to get into the head of someone who doesn’t follow Christ who would volunteer to be on that show. Bored was the first motivation that popped into my head.”

Thankfully, he let that swing by, but it reminded me of one crucial rule in writing – we must forsake our perceptions, convictions, motivations, and beliefs in order to get into the head of some of our characters so that we can both paint them in an accurate light in the beginning and chart a relatable journey to the end of the story when they are better than when we found them.

I’m not saying to ignore your beliefs and values in your writing. I am saying lay them aside to truly get to know your character. A character who doesn’t know Christ will not operate in the same way as a character who is running hard after Him. A character who believes a lie that they are not worthy is not going to respond in the same way as a confident character who wrestles with pride. I can’t pretend or expect every character to think, act, and believe like me any more than I expect that of the people in my life (or on TV).

I write best when I push outside my own head and dare to ask the question, “Who would do that?” Then I quickly follow it up with one more pivotal question: “Why?” That understanding and exploration is key to writing characters we love, characters we hate, and characters we come to love.

Understanding this about my character helps me write them with consistency through the journey and also craft their change. I remember an editor recommending my character say or do something in my first book that felt off to me. When I finally identified why it felt off, I realized that what she suggested wasn’t true to the character. I was able to push back, take her idea, and twist it to fit. The result was a blending of her expert editing skills and my intimate knowledge of my heroine. But this was only possible because I dared to dig into a woman who was so opposite me in so many ways. I knew her, and I fought to make her ring true.

A friend of mine encourages me to walk into every conversation with people I meet and see the person sitting across from me as fascinating. What if we looked at our characters that way? Then sit down and just ask them to talk. Dig into their head. Set aside your own personality, interests, and belief system so that you can hear and understand theirs.

Then write. I bet the result is authentic and maybe even fascinating.

Kariss Lynch writes contemporary romance about characters with big dreams, adventurous hearts, and enduring hope. Surrendered, the final book in her Heart of a Warrior series, released in December 2015. In her free time, she hangs out with her family and friends, explores the great outdoors, and tries not to plot five stories at once. Connect with her at


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Writing When There are so Many Books Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:33:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Rondi Olson

Most people are encouraging when I tell them I am a writer, and that my debut novel is about to be released. Often they congratulate me, and some have assured me they will look for my book when it comes out.

A few others have been less generous. “People need to stop writing books,” one lady told me. “There are already too many out there. No one could ever read them all.”

I smiled, and didn’t think much of her extreme comment at the time, but one night her words hit me hard. I was struggling with a particularly difficult transition in my follow-up novel, and it occurred to me in some ways my detractor was right. Forbes estimates one million new books are published in the United States alone each year. One million! What difference could my little story possibly make? It would certainly be easier to not do anything. Let others write. They’re already doing it.

For a few weeks I avoided my manuscript, questioning why I was investing so much time and energy into something that probably wouldn’t have much of an impact. Instead, I focused on reading, and enjoyed digging into my to-be-read pile.

It didn’t take many books for me to realize my story was different. And I know, that is what all authors want to believe, but honestly, as Christian writers, we have a world-view to share that is very different from much of what is available. God has called us to write for a reason. People are hungry for hope. They are hungry for honesty, faithfulness, and purity, and it is our privilege to give it to them.

It has been said that being a writer means one can’t stop writing, and I couldn’t stop, either. I’m back at my manuscript, but with a renewed sense of purpose. It doesn’t matter how many books are being published every year, there is a place for mine. And yours.

Rondi Bauer Olson is a reader, writer, and animal wrangler from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her debut novel for young adults, ALL THINGS NOW LIVING, was a finalist in the 2012 Genesis Contest and is scheduled for release May 2017. Learn more at


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