ACFW Blog The Voice of Christian Fiction Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:33:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Twisting “Write What You Know” Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:33:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Gail Gaymer Martin

When writers search for plot ideas, seasoned authors often respond write what you know, but I’ve found that this phrase means more than I’d thought. If we stick with what we know, our books could become boring, but one way to write what I know is through experiences. I’ve done this more than once. Being a horrible golfer, I created a humorous scene using  the heroine and golf outing to show her ineptness in front of people she wanted to impress, but I exaggerated this scene to be worse than I am…which is bad enough. But one of my new releases uses the experience technique to the fullest and with accuracy.

A number of years ago, I was involved in a frightening accident that could have been fatal. Instead we came away with scratches and bruises and gratefulness that things happened as they did. When I was participating in a book collection called National Parks, this true experience came to mind and I sent my thoughts back to the frightening experience, digging out details and used it as a main thread in the novella, Tumbling Into Love. In fact I not only used the one experience but recalled numerous other events that had happened on that trip and I used them especially for comic relief.

Life offers us all kinds of experiences that broaden our knowledge, but when we dig into our past, these are often things that wanted to know but ones we were forced to know. Think back in your lifetime and make a list of experiences that you’ve had, both bad and good. Is the experience something you could use as the book’s opening or to add a dark moment, or could it add a bit of levity, which I enjoy doing. Shakespeare knew that his darkest plays needed a break. In Hamlet, he included a scene with drunken the grave diggers. In Macbeth, it’s the scene with the Porter who answers the door which he refers to as hell’s door with the line, “Knock, Knock. Who’s there?” In Romeo and Juliet, the comic relief comes from the Nurse and her scene with Mercutio.

Because you’re writing fiction, the event that you use doesn’t have to be detail for detail. You can broaden or worsen the situation to make it work for your particular story and for the reason you have chosen to use it. Is it for excitement, danger, or humor? I chose the accident scene in Tumbling Into Love, to not only bring the two major characters together but to set the stage for much of the events that happen later in the story.

From now on when you hear “Write What You Know,” remember that you can use the knowledge from your career, your lifestyle, your upbringing, your hobbies and talents, but you can also add the twist of what you know by digging out an experience that can serve you in a positive way to make your plot or characterization even better.

Multi-award-winner and bestselling novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin has 76 published novels with over 4 million books sold. Gail is the author of Writers Digest, Writing the Christian Romance and founder of American Christian Fiction Writers. Gail was a counselor and university instructor in Michigan. She now lives in Sedona. AZ.


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Finding the Motivation to Write Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:33:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Susan A.J. Lyttek

I love writing. You’d think after that statement that I would jump out of bed and head down to my notebooks and laptop with unbridled enthusiasm each morning.

Not so.

In fact, I will often putter around and do anything other than write. I will suddenly need to spend a lot of time in Bible study, respond to e-mails, log into my games, and deal with my teaching and tutoring jobs. Even household chores can take precedence when I feel stuck on a project! All these distractions can often feel more real than my writing. Truthfully, their awards and rewards come quicker. And perhaps that’s why the writing I love gets pushed to the backburner.

So I do I get past the distractions and onto real writing? On some days, I don’t. It is an ongoing struggle. However, the days that I am successful (like today) have a few things in common.

  • I set small, specific goals. For instance, a recent goal for a fantasy project read “complete dragon scene”. With focus, I knew that could be done in about an hour. Then, that sense of completion would spur me on to do more. Setting word count targets doesn’t usually work for me unless number 2 is in effect.
  • Get the project in someone else’s view so that I have a real deadline with consequences. I am much more likely to jump for an editor or publisher than I am for myself. Also, outside competitions, like NaNoWriMo, will push me and give me enough external motivation to keep going. If a project is in a stage too early for an editor to look at, I try to find a reader who is willing to keep my feet to the fire.
  • Use shorter pieces, such as blogs, articles and contest entries, as brain fuel. Writing this blog, for instance, will get the words flowing and the pump primed so that I can finish my latest chapter. Having writing that will reach ‘the end’ sooner also boosts my sense of worth and says “I can do this through Him who gives me strength”. A mix of ongoing projects also allows me the flexibility to switch to another when I get stymied. That way, I’m still making progress overall.
  • Pray and write anyway. Inspiration often just doesn’t come. I can’t figure out to get my heroine from point A to point B, the dialogue I’m currently writing is plain stupid, and I’m less than enamored with my results. Usually, this mood feels like an attack so I need to remember to treat it like one. And I have to remember that a rough draft is just that—rough. Editing will be the polish to make it shine, but it has to get written first. And what do I pray to help me through? I pray for my fellow Christian writers and the impact their words will have on the world around them. When I reposition my focus from within to without, the words often flow of their own accord.

Susan A. J. Lyttek, author of four novels, award-winning writer, blogger, wife and mother to two homeschool graduates, writes in time snippets and in colorful notebooks. She also enjoys training up the next generation of writers by coaching 6th to 12th grade homeschool students.




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When Social Media isn’t Social Anymore Fri, 14 Jul 2017 08:33:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Norma Gail

Any writer who handles the majority of their own social media is frustrated. Facebook was fun when it was just family and friends. Now that it’s a necessary part of my platform as a writer, I’ve developed an intense dislike for it. I can’t take the sting out of hours spent on social media instead of writing. However, my husband helped me make it less time-intensive.

The key to not allowing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest to control your life is to make through careful planning and choosing the right tools. I’m no techy, but with a little coaching, I learned to limit my time planning and scheduling to a few hours a week.

First, decide what you need to say. What is your brand, tag line, the key message of your writing and what platforms are the most productive for promoting it? Once you’ve decided that, eliminate anything that isn’t productive for you.

Second, consider using a scheduling tool such as Hootsuite. It can save hours to plan your social media ahead of time. If you go on vacation, get sick, or have an emergency, the basics carry on without you.

Third, keep a running list of Tweets and Facebook posts that you can use multiple times. By changing links and dates, book posts it’s possible to reuse them, if you brainstorm a list and don’t repeat the same one too often.

My engineer husband helped me create an Excel spreadsheet with pages for different types of posts. I have separate pages for devotional posts, guest blogs, and book posts, including a shortened link and hashtags. If you don’t want hashtags, don’t copy and paste them into Hootsuite. You use a Word document for your list; however, I find it easier to organize them in one place using Excel.

Fourth, when you create a blog post, create your social media posts and graphics or memes at the same time. Plug the posts into your spreadsheet, and then paste into Hootsuite. Save the memes in a special file. Set the time and day you want to post it, attach your meme, and hit “schedule.”

Fifth, keep a list of hashtags for your book, and other blog posts so you can add the appropriate one for the occasion or audience you’re trying to reach. Change them around frequently to catch different audiences.

Here’s an example from my devotional page in Excel:

Decisions to choose our own way will separate us from God #wisdom #choices #life
How can we stay safe in a dangerous world? #devotional #security #danger
“God is a loving parent providing security and direction for his children” #devo #hope #security
Remember the mothers whose arms are empty #suffering #MothersDay #healing
Motherhood is a blessed duty, but it often involves pain. #MothersDay #love #pain

In a few hours a week, I can schedule ahead for as long as I have blog posts prepared.

Experiment. Figure how much time you need and plan it into your week. Social media may never be your favorite thing, but it can be less frustrating and allow more time for writing, family, and the necessities of life.

Norma Gail is the author of the contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, winner of the 2016 Bookvana Religious Fiction Award. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Norma lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 40 years.

© Copyright Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, June 28, 2017




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Story First, Novel Second Thu, 13 Jul 2017 08:33:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Dennis Ricci

“Literary talent is commonplace. Storytelling talent is rare.”

Robert McKee, the Hollywood story guru who’s trained many of the great filmmakers and screenwriters of our generation, made that statement within the first hour of his Story Seminar, which I attended last March.

McKee defined the differences between literary and storytelling talent:

  • Literary: the ability to convert ordinary language into a high, expressive form that vividly describes a world and captures its human voices.
  • Story: the creative conversion of life itself into a powerful, clear, and meaningful experience.

He said these two talents were distinct and unrelated, which I’d never heard or considered before. Literature is vivid portrayal with words. Story is metaphor for life itself. And stories don’t need to be written to be told.

As the seminar progressed over three days, the implication for my work became clear—story first, novel second.

McKee made me think long and hard about my approach to craft. That what I’d learned about the elements of fiction—plot and structure, characters and viewpoint, conflict and suspense, description, dialogue—had been deemed subordinate to a higher concept that I had somehow missed.

After the seminar, I reflected on my experience writing my debut novel, Perilous Judgment. One of the most important critiques I received in developing that story came from Steven James during his Novel Writing Intensive:

“Clearly, you have no trouble with the line editing, but you can grow on the macro level of understanding the essence of story, flow, and escalation.”

My copy was clean, but my storytelling needed work. Lots of work. Revisiting Mr. James’ critique through the filter of McKee’s distinction of talents, I now see James had pushed me in the same direction. But until I heard McKee, I still considered “novel” and “story” as simultaneous development.

The more I meditate on this, the more I see, for me, the need to discover the story before telling it. More than just outlining, I’m seeing an iterative process using the first two steps in McKee’s development model (which I described in my May 18 ACFW blog post):

  • The step-outline, a series of one-sentence descriptions of the events and turns of the story, which eventually become scenes.
  • The story treatment, a two to three paragraph expansion of each step-outline sentence that details setting, action, and subtext. The sum of these paragraphs tells the full story, but without dialogue. McKee insists that writing dialogue prematurely stifles creativity. When I consider his idea in light of God’s order of creation, it makes sense. So I’m going for it.

As I apply “story first, novel second” to developing my work in progress, the process is leading me to a deeper understanding of how God wants me to co-create with Him. I see that working with Him to discover the story before crafting the novel that portrays it unearths richer ore of setting, character, events, action, and subtext, which He will work with me to refine into a profound story beautifully told.

He assures me that doing it this way will take longer and produce a better result. I need to trust Him and follow Him on the narrow, patient way that produces eternal value.

Every storyteller embarks on this journey. I’d love to hear how you’ve navigated yours.

Before penning fiction, Dennis Ricci enjoyed a 37-year career as a marketing strategist, management consultant, and freelance copywriter. Now, in addition to writing novels, he mentors aspiring writers, conducts writing workshops, and co-directs a Healing Rooms ministry. Dennis and his wife Jill live in Thousand Oaks, California.




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The Way of Words Wed, 12 Jul 2017 08:33:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Christine Sunderland

Christians know that when the Word was made flesh, mankind was changed forever. Just so words that move from speaker to listener, from writer to reader, are also incarnate creations, fleshed with sound and sight. Christ the Word of God, the expression of God, took on human form. Christ was and is God’s love letter to man. We too, write God’s love letters when we write fiction.

In our fiction, we create a way, a path through the dark wood of our culture, a way that links our own thoughts with those of another. We use language to do this – wondrous words, miraculous metaphors. We use matter, the stuff of the senses, to paint a picture that the reader sees in his mind and feels with his heart. We desire, above all, to truly touch another with our words, as the God of Creation touched Adam and breathed life into him.

Dorothy Sayers in her classic work, The Mind of the Maker, writes that artists reflect the mind of God, for they have the ability to create, to make. And so it is vital that Christian writers seek inspiration from God when they choose their words to tell a story. We must be inspired – filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit – when we create. For God uses us to speak to others, to in-spire others, to breathe upon others, to fill them with his love.

When St. John writes in his Gospel about the Word made flesh, he speaks of God’s expression, realized in human form. Just so, Holy Scripture, the Word, is God’s expression, realized in written form. These words in Scripture have been recorded by human beings – imperfect human beings – and placed on parchment, bound in codices, going back thousands of years to the early Church. These Gospel words were first spoken, oral phrases learned by heart, from the heart, for they were words first preached at the Holy Suppers, long before they were written down. And thus the Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – turned the spoken word into the written word, for future generations, for you and me, inspiring us by God’s Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit breathes fire upon us. He sets us aflame to light the way through the dark wood. He gives us words to incarnate his life among us. He fills us with himself, and our cup overflows. He showers us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives.

Christian fiction writers light the way, inviting the reader into a vision of God’s mind and heart. We must sculpt a culture of faith, hope, and charity, pointing to God’s law of love, his words of commandment and discipline, his law leading to peace.

In my recent novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio, 2016), I focus on freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment. When free speech and its soul, freedom of religion, is bullied into silence, democracy dims. So we speak out clearly: “Do not deny us the words to express our faith, our hope, and our charity. Do not tell us we cannot write. Do not burn our books. Do not remove them from the public square and force us underground. Do not dull inspiration by prohibiting prayer.”

And so we pray without ceasing, opening our imaginations to God’s mighty power. For we are only a means, a poor, inadequate, and lowly means, one word among many words, among many sentences and paragraphs and pages and novels flooding our world on screens and paper. But each of us is one of God’s words, and we have his power within us.

In this way Christian writers lead readers along the way of words, to behold the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Christine Sunderland has authored six award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene and the historicity of the resurrection, set in Rome and Provence and The Fire Trail, about the collapse of Western culture, set at UC Berkeley. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union and Project Manager for the Berkeley Center for Western Civilization. Visit Christine at


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The Mary I Didn’t Know Tue, 11 Jul 2017 08:33:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Diana Wallis Taylor

Mary is a common name, but the most important person named Mary, was the mother of Jesus.  What was there about this young girl from a simple village called Nazareth that made the God of the Universe choose her to bring His son into the world? The Scriptures say that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. God saw Mary’s heart. Since there is no time with Him, he could look ahead into the future and know what an extraordinary and faithful mother she would be.  He knew Joseph also, and that he would be the earthly father Jesus needed. There were many conflicting stories of Mary as to what happened to her since she basically disappears from the Scriptures after Pentecost. I felt she remained in Jerusalem to minister love and hope to the women who received Christ as their Savior.

The idea that she had children after Jesus is clear in the Scriptures.  The oldest brother of Jesus’ was James, who wrote one of the books of the Bible. He also became a leader of the new church forming in Jerusalem. Jude, the youngest brother of Jesus, also wrote one of the books of the Bible. As I perused each passage written about Mary, little by little I felt I came to know her.  What inner strength she had. What faith in her God. A faith that bore her through the disapproval of neighbors and the gossip surrounding her pregnancy; the long journey to Bethlehem and the birth of her firstborn son, not at home with her family, but in a stable, with only Joseph to help her. Then there was the trek into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod and finally freedom to return to her hometown. She stood strong through the often-misunderstood ministry of her son, and staunchly faced her own family’s unbelief.

As I read, it dawned on me that Mary did not know about the resurrection. When he rode into Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, could she not have felt he was fulfilling the promise of the angel long ago, that he would save his people from their sins and take the throne of David? I felt her agony of spirit as he was dying an agonizing death on a Roman cross.   Then I experienced the joy of Mary’s heart, when on Sunday He rose from the dead and not only Mary but his brothers and family finally understood.  He was her firstborn son, but now he was her Lord. In scene after scene, as I followed Mary in the Scriptures, I felt the Lord opening my eyes to the extraordinary person she was.  Had I lived back in Nazareth in Biblical times, I feel Mary would have been a friend.

Diana Wallis Taylor is an award-winning author of ten novels, a book on Halloween, an Easter Cantata, and has been featured in various compilation books, magazines and Christian newspapers. She enjoys speaking and sharing her heart with women of all ages.  She and her husband live in San Diego, California.


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Change Your Character, Change the World Fri, 07 Jul 2017 08:33:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Victoria Buck

I wrote approximately a thousand pages about a game show host who becomes the world’s first transhuman who becomes a fugitive who becomes a believer who becomes a hero who becomes an evangelist, sort of. Book three of my trilogy releases in September, and Chase Sterling’s quest culminates in front of a worldwide audience who, ready or not, receive fair warning that the Gospel message will not be silenced. Chase exists and endures to change lives. Not at all the way he did on page one of Wake the Dead, but in the way ­­­­everlasting.

For me, writing such a grand quest required a trilogy. No simple adventure would do. One book wouldn’t get my protagonist from egotistical to self-sacrificing, from well-dressed superstar to homeless outcast. From man to machine, sort of. I’m not sure I’ll ever write that kind of story again. It’s exhausting and it takes over your life. But I’m happy with the way things end for Chase. The changes he undergoes eventually change the world. Seriously. The whole world.

Chase becomes a global superhero, but I don’t intend to aim for that kind of far-reaching premise every time I build a story, because changing the world doesn’t matter as much as changing the reader. The morphing of a character from one state of mind or state of being to another should at least extend hope to the person entranced by the words on the page. If someone, anyone, considers that we who write Christian fiction might have something important to say within our arduous plots and cockeyed motifs, then we ought to provide a life-changing moment or two. Our characters, after all we put them through, should bolster our readers to survive their own adventures with a new outlook and a refreshed spirit. The triumph of a novel might be that it helps transform a small, private fragment of a big, scary world where real-life storylines don’t always meet desired resolutions.

When I said I might not ever tackle such a tale again, that’s not to say I have any plans to stop listening to the characters in my head. A whole new group of made-up, messed-up people have come along in need of major life adjustments, and I’m here for them. They’re a bit less speculative, so to speak, than my last assemblage. Not one of them is a transhuman, but my protagonist is going to experience something a little freaky. And it will change him. Maybe not in the way I’d like to see him change, but hey, it’s his story. I can only hope what he gleans from his adventure will sink into the searching heart of a reader, and change a little piece of the world.

Victoria Buck is a Central Florida native. Wake the Dead is her debut novel. Killswitch is the follow-up to book one. Transfusion releases in September to finish the trilogy about the world’s first transhuman. Learn more about Victoria’s books at and read her blog at


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The Cost of Freedom and the Cost of Writing Tue, 04 Jul 2017 08:33:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Hannah Conway

I cried when a news broadcast confirmed the death of Osama Bin Laden.

The tears came from some place deep within me, perhaps some dark and dry cavern of my heart I had not fully explored.  What was that place, that cavern, that feeling?

Avenged. Relief. A sense that justice had been served to those who lost their life during the attacks of 9/11, and to those now fighting abroad to protect our great nation—like my husband. Like those military men and women who gave their life to avenge and protect—they were our friends.

Yet it was more than feelings of being avenged, relieved, or that justice had been served. The news of Bin Laden’s death satisfied a plaguing question that I hadn’t known I was asking.

Was it worth it?

Military families such as ours were going through difficult times. We held down the home front and all its intricacies, while our spouse served and defended. We knew the difficulty, the danger. We knew what we were all risking.

Was it worth it—our sacrifice?

And the answer was yes.

I believe that’s the true reason I cried upon hearing the broadcast. Our family sacrificed alongside of others, and it was worth it. No, not because a mastermind terrorist died, but because freedom won, and continued to win, and in some way we got to be a part of that.

It was worth it—our sacrifice.

Freedom has a cost, and it’s worth being paid.

Freedom requires one to lay aside their life, hopes, and dreams for another. It implies a sense of vulnerability, and transparency. Those who stand up for freedom know this cost, and pay it anyway. They willingly lose themselves for the sake of others.

There is no greater love than a man who will lay down his life for another.

I’m struck by these thoughts today as we celebrate our Great Nation’s birthday. I’m also struck with the thoughts of how writing resembles freedom.

Oh we writers know that freeing feeling writing often brings. Freedom. It’s the best kind of therapy for sure.

Yet there’s a cost to writing.

To write is to set aside our self, to be vulnerable and transparent. Often these tasks prove difficult, and at times, even painful. We can all agree writing isn’t easy.

But is it worth it? Is it worth our sacrifice?

Is it worth the time, the risk of negative reviews, rejection, pre-book launch jitters (guilty), or any fear we may conjure?

Yes. And we know it.

How? Why?

Because freedom is always worth it, and our words as Christian writers are filled, no, dripping with truth that sets captives free.

That truth is Jesus. And with each word we write, we get to be a part in spreading His truth—the ultimate freedom.

That’s worth any sacrifice on our part.

I’m praying as I write this post. It’s now mere days until my third book launches, and I’m scared. Scared and busy. Scared I won’t finish everything that needs to be done. Busy planning posts, meals for the kids, celebrating birthday’s and our wedding anniversary, juggling laundry, and a quick vacation. Scared of what the reviewers will say when they get Advanced Reader copies.

So I’m praying, and I hear that voice. We know the One. He asks, “is it worth it?”

And it is.

So I’m taking a deep breath, and nodding, so very thankful I’m not in this alone.

Happy 4th of July! Let Freedom Ring!

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. She and her family live in Tennessee. Visit Hannah at


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Holding to High Standards Mon, 03 Jul 2017 08:33:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Angela Beach Silverthorne

Books are powerful instruments to entertain, teach, learn problem solving strategies and coping mechanisms. As a writer I cannot underestimate the impact my words can have on readers. Knowing this, I take being a Christian author very seriously.

Before I began writing the Cries series, Cries of Innocence and Cries of Grace, I began to pray. My subject matter was hard—abuse, abandonment, and neglect. I was not foreign to the scope of the issues, having worked with women and children who lived under oppression and in wretched situations. Writing about evil is serious business. It’s not for the faint of heart or for those who want to over dramatize the subject matter.

Every writing session was prayed over. I had prayer partners praying for me, too. I endorsed pastors, Sunday School teachers, and avid readers to look over chapters I was struggling with. I wanted the material to show real-life conflict and demonstrate strategies to biblically maneuver through trials.

My journey proved to be a tremendous faith builder for me. The protagonist’s grandmother often said, “You’ve got a lot to learn.” Those words were the driving force behind the cries of those who wondered where God was in the struggle. In the middle of their learning, I learned exponentially. I felt accountable to God and my future readers to deliver a tough message while continually measuring myself against Scripture.

There were four questions I had written down on an index card to keep me focused. These questions established my writing each day.

  1. Prayer
  2. God’s Truth
  3. Stumbling Blocks to Faith
  4. Freedom Through Believing and Praying

Prayer. Begin every writing session in prayer. Pray for guidance over difficult scenes.

God’s truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV) Stay centered on scriptural truths. When in doubt seek godly advice. I do this often when I am treading into difficult areas or situations. It is easy to get trapped within cultural mores and half-truths. Partner with people who keep you biblically accountable. Your goal is to lead your readers to higher grounds of understanding.

Stumbling blocks to faith can be indistinguishable from other forms of sin. We are desperate in the dark, knowing evil exists, but unable to figure out how to navigate the murky waters of its lies. Breaking strongholds is seeing different ways to approach the issues and problems life so generously delves out. As book characters learn biblical strategies to deal with their situation, it teaches readers that there are numerous options to break stumbling blocks in order to have a fuller life in Christ.

Freedom through believing and praying. We all have moments when we feel lost, alone, and stranded. Those are times when problems seem too big to handle. Offering readers Biblical ways to look beyond their crisis, beyond their limited view, and beyond their understanding offers hope to the hopeless. If offers the characters the courage to step beyond the dark wall into the light of God’s saving grace and redemption. Readers are given the opportunity to internalize coping mechanisms and strategies to grow as they become more and more aware of God’s presence.

I write with purpose, giving readers a chance to engage with the story’s multiethnic characters who find the end of the road is only the beginning of a new life in Christ Jesus. What more could an author demonstrate to readers than the love of the Father and the Truth that continues to free its victims.

Angela Beach Silverthorne and her husband of 47 years, Dallas, live in Virginia Beach, Virginia with their Boston terrier, Miss Lillie. They are the parents of 3 granddaughters and have 9 grandchildren who often beg her to tell them “one more story.” She has a special place in her heart for women who are victims of abuse, brokenness, insecurity, and self-doubt.


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In the Beginning was the Word Sun, 02 Jul 2017 08:33:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Davalynn Spencer

When I landed in the newsroom as a crime-beat reporter, the editor gave me a printout stressing the importance of tight writing.

“The Lord’s prayer has 66 words,” the memo said. “The Gettysburg address, 286.”

His point: less is more.

His example: “Mother’s dead.”

Of course journalism is not fiction. At least it’s not supposed to be. But in the pursuit of tight writing, authors—like journalists—spend quite a bit of time searching for just the right words.

Ever since my editor’s comment about the Lord’s Prayer, I’ve noticed how concise the scriptures are while brimming with metaphor, simile, and story.

Each word matters. No deadwood floats upon the waters of wisdom. No fluff fills the pages. Each word is specifically and carefully chosen, as in, “Let there be light.”

God started the whole shebang with four syllables.

Apparently, communication is a big deal to God and He notices how we participate, whether we grumble like the Israelites inside their tent flaps or weep like the childless Hannah and repentant tax collector.

When the Word became flesh, people began to understand more about the Creator who spoke light from darkness. But when a missive to the Hebrews characterized Jesus as the author of our faith, writers everywhere stood up and cheered. Okay, that’s speculation on my part, but I know this writer did.

I strive every day to say the right thing the right way, and often it’s that very striving that straps me to a literary treadmill. Lots of work, lots of words, no forward movement.

Therefore, in the quiet hours of most mornings, before the world crashes in, I take time apart, often penning my prayers in a small journal. Recently I asked for direction regarding a current work in progress and I wrote, “Show me, Jesus.”

Pausing, I looked at the sentence, then copied it again without the comma.

“Show me Jesus.”

The absence of that little squiggle made a big difference.

All of us in this organization know the power of punctuation, and much can be said for the comma. But does God notice?

I believe He does. For something even as small as a comma can refine my focus and show me the true desire of my heart.

In my zeal for higher word-count, snappier marketing content, and plots, plans, and diagrams for the next book in a series, I can lose my focus.

That morning, sitting in the pre-dawn stillness, a comma got my attention and created questions in my mind.

Which of my two written requests was more important? Which did I need above the other?

The answers were defining.

Rather than mere direction, I needed the Director.

Rather than answers to the next storyline, I needed the Answer.

When I set aside myself and sought the peace of His presence, my ears opened, my mind cleared, and my eyes saw. All because of three words: “Show me Jesus.”

An old gospel spiritual, said to have originated during the dark days of open slavery in this country, presents several stanzas that are answered by a simple three-word chorus: “Give me Jesus.”

The singers of this song could have cried out, “Give me, Jesus.” Give me freedom. Give me liberty. Give me the help I so desperately need. But they sang that line without a comma, asking for the source of comfort Himself.

Today I hope to make my similar three-word prayer the song of my heart. For I know if I choose that concise and pointed phrase over all others, everything else will fall in line.


Davalynn Spencer writes heart-tugging, cowboy romance set along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. She is the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and an award-winning rodeo journalist and former crime-beat reporter who caters to Blue the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Connect at




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ACFW New Releases – July 2017 Sat, 01 Jul 2017 08:33:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> July 2017 New Releases

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

Contemporary Romance:

On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson — When Natalie O’Ryan’s fiancé books their wedding in her hometown, Natalie didn’t know the only reception venue available would be an old barn belonging to Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Their Ranch Reunion by Mindy Obenhaus — Single mom Carly Wagner is surprised to learn she’ll have to share ownership of the home she’s inherited with her first love—and first heartbreak—Andrew Stephens. The man who fled their tiny Western town is back and standing in the way of her dreams to expand her B and B. Now a successful businessman, Andrew has eight weeks to buy Carly out. But Carly’s too stubborn to persuade—and too beautiful to ignore. When fire ravages her inn and she and her daughter move in to their shared property, Andrew’s in over his head. Time is running out and Andrew must decide: leave and chase another deal…or stay and chase Carly’s heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Time and Tide by Kristen Terrette — Recovering from addiction and a near death experience, Chad moves to Moanna Island, a small island close to Savannah off the Atlantic coast, to begin a job with his family’s real estate empire, a job he was supposed to have taken years ago. Free-spirited Ryan Mason is a Moanna local girl from a blue-collar family. She’s dropped her own dreams to help her father care for her schizophrenic brother. When Chad and Ryan meet at the rehabilitation center where her brother lives, feelings develop between them. Can their crazy worlds ever fit together once he learns her secret and she finds out he is the sole heir to the Cusher Empire? (Contemporary from Hartwood Publishing Group)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh — When a workaholic interior designer returns to her hometown to check on her brother’s welfare, she reconnects with a soldier, secretly in love with her, over a renovation project that will help the struggling town. (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)

Cozy Mystery:

A Tempting Taste of Mystery by Elizabeth Ludwig — Judging a pie contest leads Cheryl Cooper and friends into mayhem and mystery after someone begins methodically sabotaging the entries. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard — FBI Special Agent Serena Jones arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with her family, ready for a little bit of R&R and a whole lot of reminiscing as they celebrate the engagement of an old family friend. But crime doesn’t take a vacation, and she’s soon entangled in an investigation of a suspicious death tied to an antiquities smuggling ring.When her investigation propels her into danger, Serena must stay the course and solve this case before anyone else dies. But just how is she supposed to do that when the two men in her life arrive on the scene, bringing with them plenty of romantic complications–and even a secret or two? (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance:

The American Conquest (Window to the Heart Sage, Book 3) by Jenna Brandt — Margaret must leave behind her title and wealth in Europe in order to escape and start a new life in the Colorado Territory. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Anne Love, Gabrielle Meyer, Natalie Monk, Jennifer Uhlarik, Erica Vetsch, Jaime Jo Wright, and Kathleen Y’Barbo — Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Rebel in My House by Sandra Merville Hart — Promises can be impossible to keep–especially when a Confederate soldier trapped behind enemy lines looks to a Gettysburg seamstress for help. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Match for Melissa by Susan Karsten — Wanting a godly husband, Melissa’s only choice is to follow her father’s wishes, even when doing so may not achieve the desires of her heart. (Historical Romance from Prism Book Group [Pelican]).

My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels — Moor your heart on Mackinac Island along with resident sweetheart Maude Welling, an heiress trying to prove her worth by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel. Meet Ben Steffans, a journalist posing as a wealthy industrialist who has come to the island to uncover a story about impoverished men pursuing heiresses at the famed hotel. Will a growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed in this Gilded Age romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Salvation by the Sea by Kristen Reed — Life has been anything but easy for Muirigan thanks to a series of life-altering calamities, but she’s found peace with her new, understated life by the sea. However, the maid’s past comes back to haunt her when she saves the shipwrecked Prince Halvard one morning. Failing to recognize one of his dearest childhood friends, the prince invites Muirigan to live at court as a reward for her valiant heroism. As the two reconnect, something deeper than friendship blossoms, but will their newfound affection survive when Muirigan’s lies are revealed and Halvard learns the truth about what has befallen since their tragic separation? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble — As a 911 dispatcher, Dana Newell takes pride in being calm in tough circumstances. In addition to her emotionally-charged career, she’s faced enough emergencies in her own life. She recently escaped her abusive fiancé to move to tranquil Rock Harbor where she hopes life will be more peaceful. But the idyllic town hides more danger and secrets than it first appeared. Dana is continually drawn to her new friend Boone, who has scars inside and out. Then she answers a call at her job only to hear a friend’s desperate screams on the other end. Soon the pain in her past collides with the mysteries of her new home—and threatens to keep her from the future she’s always wanted. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])


The Genesis Tree by Heather L.L. FitzGerald — Deception is rampant, the enemy is subtle, and love dares to tug at Sadie’s heart amid the turmoil that forces her and her family back to the Tethered World below. (Speculative/Contemporary Fantasy from Mountain Brook Ink)


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Being Equipped Thu, 29 Jun 2017 08:33:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Henry McLaughlin

God has a will, or a plan for each of us. Psalm 139:16 (NLT) tells us, You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Each of us is on this earth for a specific reason. We may not know it completely right now. We may be in a season of preparation to enter that calling. But God has a plan for me and for you.

Some are called to be pastors and teachers, some doctors, lawyers. Some to be auto mechanics, electricians, and plumbers. With God’s anointing, all are worthy because all are done in his service.

Some, like myself, are called to be writers.

In Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT), God tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Whatever our calling, God will not just throw us into it, like throwing a toddler into the pool so he has to learn to swim. He prepares us.

What makes the preparation fun, and at times frustrating, is that it’s unique for each of us. One person may go through an entirely different set of life experiences than me, yet end up as a writer. I think this is another example of how God cares for us as individuals. He has a unique and personal relationship with each of us. We are all His favorite child.

And he equips us.

Hebrews 13:21 (NLT) may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

From childhood, I’ve had a love for words and books, for reading, for stories. In my career, each job has called for me to read more, to read better, and to write: case records, personnel reports, court documents, training curriculum, and policy and procedure.

Then the glimmer of writing fiction stirred in my heart. And the equipping continued. Books on writing, writing conferences and classes, critique groups, critique partners, mentors, coaches, developing a learning heart and a thick skin. All designed to teach me the craft and the business of writing, to humble myself before Him, to submit to His plan and will for my life.

And it’s been worth every step. It goes beyond being published. I’ve become a better person and a better Christian. My relationship with Him is closer than ever. He’s rewarded me with insights into myself and with precious friendships I would never have experienced had I not made the choice to follow what He called me to do.

What is He calling you to do? How is He equipping you?

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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Pros & Cons – plus a few tips – for Writing a Novel Series Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:32:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Deborah Raney

The fifth and final book in my Chicory Inn Novels series released recently, and I’m now working on the first book in a new series. Having written mostly stand-alone novels for most of my writing career, this has been an interesting experience and one I’ve learned so much from. First let’s look at the pros and cons of series books:


  • Once you’ve created your setting and any recurring characters, half your work for subsequent books in the series is done!
  • If you’re an author who grows very attached to your characters and has a hard time saying “goodbye,” series let you stick around a while.
  • Series let you develop characters more deeply and over a longer period of time than the average stand-alone.
  • Readers love series (although be aware that some readers wait until an entire series is out before they start reading—or buying—the books.)


  • If you grow bored working with the same setting or characters, you might feel stuck long before your contract is fulfilled.
  • If the first book of a series bombs, it can create a dilemma about how to proceed.
  • With shrinking space on the bookshelf, bookstores often carry only an author’s newest book. This can make it difficult for customers to find an entire series at once. (Of course, they can always order online.)
  • Committing to a series is committing to one publisher for a long period of time. You risk cancellation if an imprint closes, or a publishing house dissolves.
  • If you write contemporary, it can be difficult to keep up with technology. The iPad your character used in Book One might be obsolete by the time you get to Book Five.

Here are some things I’ve learned through the writing of two two-book series, two three- book series, and my most recent five-book series that I’d like to pass along to anyone who might be considering proposing or writing a series.


  • Be sure you have enough material for the number of books you’ve planned. It’s not unusual to have a grand, high-concept idea for Book One that fizzles out long before you reach Book Five.
  • Consider making each book of the series a stand-alone that concludes sufficiently so that readers won’t be disappointed if they read Book Three first, or if they don’t like the series well enough to continue after a book or two. Readers are sometimes disgruntled if they invest time in Book One and then find they must read future books to discover the main characters’ happy ending.
  • The books of a series might tie together in theme (weddings, royal families, stories of hope, etc.) and setting (each book is about a different character in the same small town, etc.) rather than being a continuation of the stories of one or two characters. (But realize that such a loose tie negates some of the pros mentioned above!)
  • Create a “bible” with all the details of your characters, setting, and storylines. You might think you’ll remember, but trust me, you won’t!
  • Keep an updated, ongoing timeline for each book andfor the entire series. Readers have sharp eyes when it comes to inconsistencies!
  • Before you start, research what series are already being published, and work hard to make your series unique.
  • Most publishers will want you to have an official series name that will likely appear on the book covers. Often this series title will hint at the setting or the theme of the series. It’s also helpful if individual titles in the series fit together well. (Think of Karen Kingsbury’s and Tamera Alexander’s series where all the titles in a series begin with the same letter of the alphabet. In my Chicory Inn series, each of the five titles has the word HOME in it, which also echoes a main theme of each book.)
  • I’ve found it very helpful to have photo reference for the setting, each character, the homes where many scenes take place, etc. I use Pinterest and Scrivener to make “idea boards” with all those images. I also set my desktop with those inspiration photos so that I’m constantly, visuallyseeing my characters and setting.
  • Consider creating a music soundtrack for your series. Music can be a powerful, positive trigger for getting you in the zone for writing about a specific setting or family of characters. I’ve done the same thing with scented candles, snacks, and even flowers, etc., surrounding myself with things that call to mind my story and help me go deep into my story world.
  • Enjoy the privilege of living with beloved characters for longer than the time it takes to write just one book. It’s a pleasure to write “the end” knowing it’s really only the beginning of a new book with the same wonderful setting and/or cast of characters! (But prepare for the final goodbyes to be even more difficult than usual after you’ve lived with your characters for so long!)

Deborah Raney’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched Deb’s writing career. Twenty years and more than thirty books later, she’s still writing. She and her husband traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four grown children and seven grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at


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Keeping Up with the Joneses Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:33:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Tamara D. Fickas

We are bombarded with opportunities these days to compare ourselves to others. The media is resplendent with pleas to see how you stack up against the hotshot writer, the most awesome athlete, or the most influential politician. It runs rampant in the workforce also. One worker is compared to another when it comes time for raises or promotions. In schools, students are graded on curves in relation to the rest of the class. Writers aren’t immune to this, even Christian writers. We are a society that doesn’t only want to keep up with the Joneses; we want to know we are better than the Joneses.

As Christians, though, we really are just living and writing for an audience of one. God doesn’t require us to be better than anyone else. He doesn’t look at us in comparison to our neighbor, coworker, or the multitude of great writers out there. He measures us against our own potential.

I admit this has been a hard concept for me. I get sucked into the hype of the media and corporate world. When I was in school, I found myself working to be smarter, better, more prepared than my classmates. It is tiring to always try to be better, more. In the writing world, I often see others succeeding and my little voice kicks in goading me to be better than them.

God doesn’t ask us to be better than the Joneses. Psalm 139 tells us He knew us while we were being knitted together in our mother’s womb. He had a plan for our words from the beginning. The reality is He doesn’t require us to surpass each other. All He really cares about is if we are open to His leading. He wants us to be who He created us to be. He wants us to surpass who we are in the flesh and become more like Him.

When we are so busy trying to create ourselves in the image of some star, mentor, or famous author we are missing the chance to be the one He created. And, God has let me in on a little secret as He and I have explored this idea. If I am busy focusing on being me and living up to His expectations for my writing, I will be exactly what I am supposed to be. I won’t have to worry if my work is a New York Times Bestseller. Being on God’s Bestseller list is such a better place to be.  The world may not appreciate my work, but God will and in that, my words will be exactly what someone needs to read.

Tamara Fickas – Christian, storyteller, writer, speaker, encourager. She lives near the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her beloved kitty boy, Wilson. When not writing she loves adventures, time with her dad, reading, and making people laugh. Life experiences, her vivid imagination, coffee, and Hot Tamales fuel her writing. Visit Tamara at


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Choose Your Publisher with Care Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:33:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> ©2017 Deb Haggerty, MBA

When an author begins to look at publishers to see where their book might fit, there are several things they should take into consideration. The same steps generally apply to agents as well.

  1. Does the publisher have a good reputation in the industry? With the proliferation of small, boutique publishers popping up constantly, you want to ensure the publisher you choose is honest and has a good image. Unfortunately, even in Christian publishing, there are unethical publishers who only want your money and do not produce a quality product. Investigate carefully.
  2. Has the publisher got a track record? How many books have they published? How many books do they publish in a year? You want to make sure your publisher is not a fly-by-night. They should have published books for a while and have a significant list of books available as well as a variety of authors. Ask for references.
  3. How do they operate? There are a variety of different kinds of publishers. You’ll find pay-to-print or vanity presses—who’ll publish anything as long as you pay them. Some of these presses are legitimate publishers who provide a variety of services for the money, such as EA Book Publishing. Hybrid publishers are a combination of pay-to-print and traditional. You’ll need to read their contract carefully (you should read ALL contracts carefully). Some hybrids do not offer any editing–what you send them is what gets printed, errors and all, and they require you purchase a significant number of books. Traditional or royalty publishers range from large, multi-imprint houses like Tyndale, Broadman/Holman, and Baker Books to small-medium, independent publishers like Light House Publishing of the Carolinas and Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.
  4. Does the publisher require query letters? Proposals? Do they accept simultaneous submissions? Unagented authors? Check out the publisher’s website for the format required for manuscripts as well as specifications about what they do and don’t accept.
  5. What kind of contract does the publisher offer? What rights are claimed by the publisher and what rights are left to the author—are rights negotiable? If so, which ones? How long is the contract period? Does the publisher require you to submit new works to them before shopping them to other publishers? Can you get out of the contract? Can they terminate the contract for any reason before the term is completed? ALWAYS read everything in the contract carefully.
  6. What genres do they publish? Fiction? Nonfiction? Devotionals? Bible Studies? Poetry? Children’s Books? If Fiction, what areas? Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Fantasy/Science Fiction/Supernatural?

Once you’ve carefully considered all these items, you’ll have a better idea of what publishers your book may fit. Be sure when you contact them that everything you submit is pristine from a grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling standpoint–nothing turns off a prospective publisher (or agent) more than a messy, inaccurate query letter, proposal, or manuscript.

An informed author is smart author–and a good businessperson.

Deb Haggerty owns Elk Lake Publishing, Inc., an independent, royalty-paying house that “Publishes the Positive.” ELPI contracts new and experienced writers and publishes all genres of Christian fiction and nonfiction. Deb and her husband, Roy, have been married for thirty-three years and live in Plymouth, MA, with Coki the Dog.


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