Thursday, June 18, 2015

4 Important Writing Questions...

I don't know about you, but I LOVE Writer's Digest Magazine. I obtain so much helpful information about writing from this magazine and their Facebook page.

Earlier today, they posted on Facebook an article about the importance of answering 4 questions from an agent during the pitch session at a conference.

I read the article and decided to answer the questions here.

In the column written by author Lisa Katzenberger, she thoughtfully explains the importance of the questions and knowing how to answer them...

How would you answer the following questions?

1. Are you working on anything else?  For me, the answer to this question came easily because I am ALWAYS working on something else. I have about a dozen book ideas in my head as I type. Plus, I have new ideas pop into my head during the year. I get ideas from my job (I'm a writing teacher...), my students, books they are reading, movies I watch, etc. Just ask my student. They'll tell you how I often talk about the plot of my next book.

I find it is important to have that next story in line. That way, when I type "the end" on my current WIP, the mourning period is short. I am back in the saddle and ready to begin plotting out the next big idea. I also think agents like this answer because it shows them that I am a writer. This is my career and not a hobby. I want them to see that I am serious about my craft.

2. Who are your favorite authors? This question is tough for me to answer because I am not a voracious reader in that I tend to start many books and then put them down after a few chapters. But, I am working on that! So, for me, I'd answer Susan May Warren (I am reading her books), Susan Meissner (Just started one of her books), J.K.Rowling, of course. She is an inspriation to me. Karen Kingsbury (I love her latest true crime story!), and Jodi Picoult. I just started her book,  "Lone Wolf" and am enjoying it.

I would next explain to the agent that I am a bigger fan of non-fiction: Biographies and autobiographies along with historical narratives. These books help me with research into certain eras I am writing in or with voice to make my dialog or exposition sound more real.

I feel an agent could see by my answer that I do appreciate good story telling techniques in the genres I write. I tend to research writers who are on top of the market (John Green is another favorite...) and see what they are up to next.

3. What kind of writer are you?  This question is much easier for me to answer. I have to confess, I did have to rehearse the answer a few times, but that's okay.

I am a writer who writes about flawed protagonists with real struggles but who are determined to reach their goals no matter what. They don't always wish to "save the day" but sometimes that task is thrust upon them and they desire to follow through. They have caring hearts and big dreams, and they tend to be humble and cerebral. I write more plot driven stories, but I aspire to write character driven literature some day. My writing is strongest through dialog and description. I consider myself to be very good at sensory writing and plot twists. Just ask my readers!

But, most of all, I am a writer who wishes to impart a theme or "message about life" in my stories. My desire is for the reader to walk away from my book having learned something or connected to the story in some way. Faith, hope, stay-the-course, never give up, are just some themes I place in my stories.

4. Where did this story come from?  Good question!  I love asking authors this question when I get to meet them. And I really love it when readers ask me this question. I find most of my stories come from other stories I have read or have seen in a movie. Sometimes they come from real life events that I have experienced or someone else has experienced.

The idea for "The Children Under the Ice" came from a spelling test I was giving a class of 6th graders. The idea for "The Dragon Forest" came from a love of dragons and the King Arthur legend.

The idea for my current book came to me back in 2004. I would read the military blog posts (milblogs) via the internet at the height of the Iraq War and was amazed at how these men and women wrote about their combat experience minutes after it happened. It was then that I read about how civilian journalists would embed with the troops to report on the war. Unfortunately, many of these journalists would twist the account to fit their agenda of turning Americans against the war effort. I would read in the milblogs how angry our troops were to see their actions distorted by the journalists they had trusted. And then I read about a missionary who started a sewing center in Iraq to provide work for Iraqi women.

As a result, I put the two ideas together and have a book to write with these themes running through: Fight the good fight, stand up for the truth, persevere, and learn to trust and love again.

I feel I am ready to answer these questions for any agent and I look forward to it at the next writers' conference I will attend!

What about you? How would you answer these questions? Are you ready to answer them?


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Write About What You Love...

"A lot of people tell writers to write about what they know.
And that's good advice because it gives you a lot of things to draw on.
 But I always like to add that they should write about things that they love.
 And by that I mean things that fascinate them or excite them personally..."

-Suzanne Collins

Write About What You Love

As soon as the evil Maleficent transformed into that purple and black dragon in Disney's The Sleeping Beauty, I was forever in love with... dragons! I love their strength, beauty, and mystique. So, when it came time to write a book, the subject I selected was dragons, of course.

Why not? For me, it was a no brainer: Kids love dragons and I was writing a book (The Dragon Forest) for kids.

I also love ghost stories!  My love for ghost stories led me to write another book series about a group of kids solving a murder mystery with the help of...ghosts! The Children Under the Ice was a fun book to write because of my love for this genre.

But for many writers, coming up with an idea can be a struggle. Why? There are so many ideas to choose from! 

The above quote is from a list of writing tips found over at Tales of Success blog. Suzanne Collins lists 5 tips on writing and this particular tip stood out to me because I agree with it wholeheartedly.

What about you?

Do you write about what you know or what you love... or both?  I find it easiest to do both, frankly.

Suzanne Collins once stated in an interview that she knows about war because her father fought in war, studied war, and taught about war strategy at the War College and West Point. She also listed several books she had read as a child that were about children battling each other and dystopian themes:

Lord of the Flies
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

By reading the list above, one can easily see how influential these stories were to Collins who deeply loves each book and rereads them annually.

Do you love a certain theme or era or hobby? Write about it!

Write What You Know

Writers should love stories and storytelling. It is a passion of mine to tell stories, both fictional narratives and personal narratives. But to write a story is entirely something else.

I know much about art, drawing, painting, etc. I know about teaching because I am a teacher. I know about what it's like to be married to a military man. What I don't know is war or combat. My next book will be based in the Iraq war during 2007. So, in order to make my story seem real to the reader, I must study and learn more about this time in US history. But I love to write about wartime romances, and this is why I chose this period to write about. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed the research about this time in US history.

What about you? Do you find it easy to write about what you know?  Or do you prefer to learn about a subject and then write about it? Or do you just "wing" it?

I highly recommend the article about Suzanne Collins over at Tales of Succes blog. She provides some thoughtful insights about her writing process.

Now...get to writing!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Who Needs Conflict Anyway?

Who Needs More Conflict?

Today while teaching my students about writing, we discussed how conflict makes a story more interesting.


Because that’s life. Life is full of plot twists, struggles, obstacles, triumphs, and failures.


The Story Mirrors Life

An element of plot that every quality story needs to grab the reader and hold them in is strong conflict.

What is meant by “strong” conflict?

Think about life. What does strong conflict look like?

People don’t want to read stories about happy perfect people with equally perfect lives. That’s boring. That’s unrealistic. And it’s not true to life.

I asked my students to imagine no conflict in their favorite stories. No conflict means no adventure, no risk, no...story!

In writing, good writers try to mirror life even if the story is set in fantasy. The conflict should mirror life.


Because people want to read about a character who has struggles in life. That’s what makes the reader connect to the story. Readers have struggles of their own…and they want to read about someone who has overcome those struggles.


So when you write about conflict, make it STRONG conflict. Make it urgent. For example…

I love World War II history. A few years ago, my family was fortunate to visit the National Marine Corps Museum at Quantico. Inside this amazingly detailed museum, we enjoyed the section about Iwo Jima. As we were leaving that section, we ran into an actual veteran of Iwo Jima.

There he was along with his wife. The two had married before the war when they were still teenagers and there they were, still standing side-by-side, real life survivors. The fact that anyone could survive Iwo Jima is almost a miracle, but to be able to meet a veteran of Iwo and ask him questions about his experience was an absolute thrill. 

This man lived through STRONG urgent conflict. He overcame extreme obstacles. That’s a man people want to meet.

  • Holocaust survivors
  • War survivors
  • Disease survivors
  • September 11th survivors
  • Plane crash survivors
  • Survivors!

That sense of urgency is what escalates a story to that next level.

Urgency should be in your story as well. Readers want to root for your character as she confronts each obstacle. They want to see how this ordinary flawed character deals with such conflict. Will she survive? Will she save the day? Will she solve the crime? Stop the killer? Escape the danger?

Or will she fail?

These are questions people ask themselves every day. That’s the sort of conflict that a reader wants to see in your story.

Don’t disappoint them.
Life is disappointing enough. Make your story the light at the end of that tunnel. Give your readers the hope they need.

Make your story count.

That’s what readers want!

Your turn: How do you add conflict to your stories? Do you try to mirror life in your stories?


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Word of the Year

Success is not final;
Failure is not fatal;
It is the courage to continue that counts.
-Winston Churchill


A couple of years ago, I joined the “word of the year” group of bloggers and selected a word for 2013. My word for that year was Endurance and boy did I have to endure many challenges that year.  My word for 2014 was Aspire because there was so much I wanted to aspire to.

But, like most human beings, I fell short of my goal. I accomplished some, but failed to accomplish all that I had in mind for the year.

When I came across this quote by Churchill, it truly spoke to me because I know so many people who are afraid of failure. In fact, the fear of failure paralyzes them. It defines them. If they cannot succeed at something, they pretty much won’t even attempt it.


What is it? 

Webster’s defines it as nonperformance, proving unsuccessful; lack of success.

Churchill knew of what he spoke. He felt like a failure during World War I in which he made bad political decisions about Gallipoli that left him ostracized in the political community. He failed at government. He failed at leadership.

Winston Churchill was a failure.

But did that fact paralyze him? Did he never attempt anything again?


He learned that failure isn't fatal. After having served as an officer in the British army in the Second Boer War, he rejoined the military and fought alongside British soldiers in World War I and succeeded at leadership so much so that he enjoyed much favor in politics when he returned home and ultimately became Prime Minister of England during World War II.

And the rest is history.

But even then, Churchill realized that success wasn’t final. He continued on and endured much during World War II. He saw more successes and more failures in his life…but he continued and that’s what counted most of all.

For me, I set goals for myself in 2014:

I aspired to finish and publish 2 books.

Success! I completed my first self-published book, "The Children Under the Ice", and released it to much acclaim. My readership truly enjoyed it and immediately requested more. The last book of "The Dragon Forest" trilogy was completed and is with my publisher today. 

It’s always a tremendous feeling to complete a goal.

I aspired to be a better teacher this year so I took a professional development course in teaching writing. I aced the course and saw my teaching improve. To meet that professional goal was a sweet victory after my horrible first year of teaching.  

I aspired to participate in and finish the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I trained all year and even endured an injury over the summer, but my husband and I made it to Washington DC so that I could meet my goal. Even after a car accident the night before the race, I was able to run and finish that marathon…the hardest race I have participated in yet.

Having my husband of 26 yrs there with me as I accomplished that goal truly was a blessing.

But did I accomplish every goal I aspired to this year? No.

I aspired to gossip less this year…and I failed.
I aspired to be more zealous for God this year…and I failed.
I aspired to study God’s word more fervently this year…and I failed.

So, like many people of the world (including Churchill…) I am a failure by my own standards.

I am a failure.

But not to God.

You see,  although I did fail to gossip less this year, I did succeed at spending more time in prayer everyday than ever before. I knew I needed the Lord’s help with this particular weakness and He met me at my desk in my classroom every day for prayer.

I did fail to be more zealous for God this year, but I did succeed in providing a Christian witness in my classroom each day without uttering one word about the Lord. At the end of the school year, one of my former students told me she saw Christ in me and knew He was there with me all year.

I did fail to study God’s word more this year, but I did write a Bible study based on one chapter of the Bible I studied over and over again all year.

So I was successful after all!

But, as Churchill said, success isn’t FINAL.

 I will not stop here. 

I will have the courage to continue on with setting more goals and committing to more efforts to improve this year.

And that’s my word for this year: Commitment.

I will commit to be a better witness for Christ, a better teacher overall, a better runner, and better writer than ever before.

I will commit to trying new things I have never tried before: a sprint triathlon and a 52mi ultra marathon.

With the Lord’s help, I will commit to serving Him with my gifts and talents this year. I know I cannot do it alone, but I am excited to see how He will do these things through me for HIS GLORY and not mine.

That’s what it’s all about: watching God move through us for His glory.

As I look back over 2014, that’s what I see. I see how the Lord worked through me and used me in and out of the classroom, with my writing, and with my running to inspire others to keep going no matter what.

As Churchill said, "It is the courage to continue that counts."

Commit your way to the Lord;

Trust in Him and He will act. 
Psalm 37:5


Monday, October 6, 2014

Guest Blogger: Author, Jenny Milchman

"I struggled for eleven years before landing a book deal. During that time,
 I worked with three agents, who received fifteen almost-offers on my books...
My first published novel was the eighth one I wrote."
-Jenny Milchman

The World's Longest Book Tour

I am thrilled to welcome author Jenny Milchman to my blog! She is the author of two best-selling suspense thrillers: the Mary Higgins Clark award winning Cover of Snow and her latest release, Ruin Falls.  I have enjoyed her first book and look forward to reading her latest release. Her writing is very "smooth" and undemanding with very real characters that capture your interest immediately.   

Now that she is home from the world's longest book tour, she has written a very inspirational post about her writing journey, book tour, and her commitment to writing. 

Her story gives us writers HOPE. Come by and leave a comment!

4 Months, 20,000 Miles, & Back Where I Began

I just got back from what Shelf Awareness called the world’s longest book tour. I left home on April 22nd and returned September 4th.  And that was not even the long one actually—last year, when my first novel came out, I went out on tour for seven months.

But my road to publication took even longer...

I struggled for eleven years before landing a book deal. During that time, I worked with three agents, who received fifteen almost-offers on my books. (An almost-offer happens when an editor wants to buy your book but can’t get permission at the acquisitions meeting). My first published novel was the eighth one I wrote.

After that kind of time, the thing I most wanted to do was get out there and meet all the people who had supported me over a decade-plus of trying. Readers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, and reviewers. But really, they were friends.

I am a big believer in the face-to-face. The virtual world has expanded all our lives, and many of the people I met on the road, I knew because of social media. But seeing them for real—getting to trade a handshake or a hug—made all the difference in the world. Not the world wide web…the real world.

What was going on tour for all that time like? How did we do it? And perhaps more importantly—why? I’m going to answer those questions so that everyone out there whose dream has yet to come true will know that it can still happen…you can even help make it happen yourself.

The first thing you should know is that everyone thought I was nuts. My publisher, editor, even my agent who had seen this dream grow over years of rejection, all encouraged me to stay home and write my next book. My parents posed gentle questions about how exactly all this would work, while my ever-practical brother asked me how money earned would compare to money spent (answer: don’t even start to compute it). You get the idea.

About the only person who did not seem to think a straight jacket would suit me better than a car was the one responsible for putting all the nuts and bolts into place—my husband. Maybe it was not that he had any more confidence that this was a great idea, though, and just knew I was crazy already.

Here’s what we had to do to get ready to live on the road. We rented out our house to help cover expenses; traded in two cars for a SUV that could handle Denver in February; withdrew the kids from first and third grades to “car-school” them. We joined forces with an independent publicity firm that has a strong and passionate bookstore presence. And we set out.

We stayed in hotels, motels, and Airbnb’s, crossing the country, dealing with blizzards that threatened to shut down the interstate—yes, THE interstate—as well as homework (I mean, carwork), and Skype meetings for my husband when the cell signal was thready. And, of course, doing book events. Talking to booksellers, readers, librarians, patrons, book clubs, schools, and writers groups in every state except Alaska and Hawaii (for obvious reasons), and Kentucky (haven’t found a venue in the Bluegrass State yet, but I’m looking).

I can’t tell you that every single event made me feel like a star; in fact there were plenty of days when instead of walking into a crowded room, I found a crowd of one. This happened in Goshen, Indiana, for instance. But that one person and I spoke for two hours—a magical conversation that consisted of sharing all that we loved about books. Finally he told me that he’d better leave because he had a three hour drive home.

I didn’t sell a lot of books that night, of course. And I do wish it had been a more robust event for the bookseller’s sake—booksellers put their hearts and souls into events, not to mention the bookstore’s resources. But hearing that one reader thought I was worth driving six hours to meet? It’s something I’ll never forget.

You don’t often get to hear, “You were right.” I was not expecting to hear it. I loved the world’s longest book tour—getting to meet people and share in their stories was a gift. So was getting to see this country of ours, book by book. And getting to be with my family, and not miss a single second. (One late night driving, my son piped up from the backseat, “Mommy, sometimes I wish I could Google my future so I can see how it all turns out.”)

But the first book tour contained a few features that offered tangible evidence that perhaps I was not completely crazy. For example, thanks to booksellers’ hand-selling, my novel wound up appearing on regional and bookstore bestseller lists every place we went to for the first three months. I met a friend of a reviewer at one event…and she liked my book so much that she passed it on, resulting in a review on the front page of the arts section of a major paper. My book went into six printings—not enormous print runs, of course, but still, they indicated that the book had done better than had been anticipated.

All of that resulted in my publisher setting up the first 1500 miles of the next tour when my second book came out. So I guess the real proof of the pudding is in that trip…that after such a long time on the road, what we wanted to do eight months later was set out again.

You can’t Google your future, I said to my son during that late night drive. You just have to live it and see what it’s like when you get there.

Jenny Milchman is the author of the Mary Higgins Clark award-winning debut novel, Cover of Snow, and the follow-up, Ruin Falls. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated in all 50 states by over 700 bookstores annually. And she’s the informal founder of a new approach to touring: one reader, one bookstore, one stretch of road at a time.

Thank you, Jenny, for your guest post. Your story is inspirational to us all and so is your commitment to writing.