Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Time to Take Action - Bloggers We Need Your Help!

Pixels and Bloggers - we need your help.

My friend Ben Tiede discovered last week, along with many of us, that Hershey's has changed their formula on most of their candies, replacing cocoa butter with vegetable oil - which is cheaper. Ben, like many of us, is very upset, and this 8-year-old has declared war. He plans to take action.

You can read his story here. You'll also find the link to the Hershey's story there, too.

Ben needs your help.

He is starting a letter-writing campaign. He wants to save the world for his grandchildren by telling Hershey to leave their chocolate the same as it has been, and not to cave to the vegetable oil and cheaper prices.

Will you please write a letter for his project? You can e-mail your letter to Ben through his mom Vicki, or to me here, tracyruckman[at]gmail[dot]com, and I'll pass it along. We'd like to have all letters by October 13th, so Ben can get them to Hershey's ASAP.

Also, please help spread the word - post it to your blogs, Web sites, wherever. Let's help Ben save the world for his grandchildren!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Agents, Editors, Conferences, And MORE!

Back in June, I attended the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Angela Hunt and Gilbert Morris were keynote speakers, and there were a wide variety of workshops taught for all skill levels. The Sloans are to be commended for their efforts each year.

At the conference, I made new friends - one of them is Roland Mann, who also belongs to ACFW. We're both in the same regional zone for the national group so I asked Roland if he would write up his experiences for us for the Zone newsletter I edit each quarter, but we had to cut his article last time due to space constraints. I twisted his arm, virtually?, and he agree to let me post that article, and some more information, here for all you Pixels. Please help give Roland a BIG welcome to Pix-N-Pens!

I appreciate you, my friend!

One Mann’s day

at the

2008 Southern Christian Writer’s Conference

By Roland Mann

But I really want one! An agent that is.

The only regret I have about the 2008 Southern Christian Writer’s Conference this past June is that I was only able to attend on Saturday. But what a day it was.

My morning kicked off with literary agent Bucky Rosenbaum’s session “Finding and working with an agent.” Rosenbaum’s session was probably the most educational of the day for me. He began by defining the three kinds of agents, noting that the great majority are former editors.

They, then, fall into “The Writing Coach” category. Lawyers fall into “The Negotiator” category, and the final category is “The Business Partner” into which Rosenbaum puts himself.

Rosenbaum then went through a list of about a dozen items, telling the audience exactly what it is an agent does. Agents must know the ins and outs of the industry; they must know who’s been hired where and what changes that means for various publishers. They do this so that writers don’t have to and so we may focus on writing. Agents also help writers with Proposal Development and Selling the Idea to the right publisher. If lucky, the agent will aid the author in comparing the offers from the different publishers wanting the work. Then, when that decision is made, they negotiate the terms. Lastly, Rosenbaum was quick to point out that an agent isn’t just the author’s Advocate and Ambassador, but his friend and collaborator.

Agents are generally paid one of two ways: the traditional way which is a straight 15%. Publishers pay the agent, the agent takes his fee, the agent pays the author. The other way is called “split-at-source.” Rosenbaum explained that the publisher will cut two different checks; one for the author, one for the agent.

He then told members in attendance about some of the common mistakes made by writers. What an interesting list it was! They include unsolicited calls and emails; expecting returned calls on unsolicited phone calls (ie., don’t call the agent to ask if they’ve read your proposal yet); annoying packaging (don’t put confetti with your manuscript); no SASEs; form query letters (at least be professional enough to include the agent’s name on your query); spam (take them off your joke list!); registered or certified mail (don’t make them stand in line at the post office to pick up your package!); overnight mail; and a few other interesting tidbits.

It wouldn’t be a far guess to suppose that most of the writers in the audience desire an agent—this writer included. Rosenbaum’s said writers should ask themselves if they really need an agent. His goal was certainly not to dissuade writers from trying to get agents, rather it was to aid writers in finding the right one and understanding beforehand some of what that agent would be doing…something in which everyone in the room—provided they were paying attention—walked away with a better understanding.

Morris spills secrets to creating fictional characters at the 2008 Southern Christian Writer’s Conference

It’s hard to be “in” the Christian Writing industry for long without running across the name Gilbert Morris. Even for longtime writers new to this industry like me, Morris’s name is one of the first that pops up…and frequently. Morris, however, willing shared some of his secrets to attendees at the 2008 Southern Christian Writer’s Conference in Tuscaloosa in June.
Morris told members he believes creating good characters is key to creating good fiction. He suggests “get the characters right, and readers will forgive all else.” He listed six principles to creating good fictional characters.

The first principle is to take advantage of writing aids, but don’t risk your career on them. Writers often get bogged down with too many how-to books and articles, even writers groups. Writers trapped here spend too much time trying to “figure it all out,” when they should do—as Nike suggests: just do it. One of the things I’ve always like to suggest is that writers write, not writers talk about writing.

Like the first principle, Morris’s second can often bog writers down. There are two pitfalls to research: not enough and too much. Too much, obviously, can have a writer doing research for years and years. Writers should reach a point and stop the research and start writing. On the other hand, writers that do too little research will have that failing reflected in their writing.
The third principle is don’t trust your plot to carry your character. Morris creates all his characters before beginning his novels. He creates their backgrounds, their family and even their physical attributes. A good character can carry a bad story, but a bad character won’t make it in a good story. Morris is pretty adamant about this.

Raise the dead is what Morris gives as the fourth principle. He’s pretty blunt when he says material is either alive…or it’s dead. If it’s dead—raise it!

The fifth principle is to soak up the methods of the masters of characterization. Morris tells us that we love some books because of the characterization. Pick out those books and put those characters under a microscope and study them. Figure out why we love or hate certain characters the way we do. What techniques do the masters use that we could use in our own works. Simply, study the best.

Lastly, Morris tells us to work on the “wounded hero” motif. It’s hard to be interested in perfect characters. Readers like characters with flaws, some obstacle to overcome. A few wounds for writers to consider are: physical wounds, spiritual wounds, emotional wounds and social wounds. Certainly the list isn’t all inclusive, but it’s a start.

I’d be willing to bet that just about every writer in the room that day ran home and created a detailed character the way Morris suggested we do so. When one of the most prolific writers suggests we do something, it’s worth giving it a try.

Writers Retreat to the Barn
By Roland Mann

Piggott, Arkansas, population a couple hundred shy of four-thousand, isn’t the first place you’d think of when thinking of writers or writing retreats. However, this past June, ten writers “retreated” to the Hemingway Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in the northeast corner of Arkansas for a week of…well, writing.

The museum is the site of Pauline Pfeiffer, the once wife of famous author Ernest Hemingway. Included as part of the museum site is the barn and loft where Hemingway wrote portions of A Farwell To Arms. Writers who attend the retreat are allowed to escape to the barn and write there. I was fortunate enough to serve as one of the mentors/coaches for the group. I viewed it as my job to help those writers make the best of their time there, and to try to help illuminate something about their work they might not have seen before.

So what exactly is this retreat? It is just that, a retreat. It is not a workshop. This particular retreat lasted Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Lunch was provided by the Museum staff, who catered to every need of the writers. Yes, the writers were pampered, but it was so they could focus on writing and not where they would eat lunch!

Each morning began with a writing prompt, something to get the writing muscles moving. Then, depending on the activity, after thirty minutes to an hour, the writers broke off to do whatever it is they wanted to do—assumedly, write. The mentors were there for one-on-one meetings with the writers, but only if it was something they wanted. As it happens, I spent one-on-one time with about three of the writers for at least an hour; about thirty minutes with three others.
What sorts of things did I do? I talked about description and dialogue; I talked about characterization and story flow. I became a critiquer for them, helping them to see things they may have missed. As writers, we get so intimate with what we’ve written that we often miss things or just know something is there because we’ve thought it in our heads…yet we’ve forgotten to put it on paper.

After a short lunch on the grounds, writers continued to write until around 2 p.m. when the group met for a time of sharing. Each writer took a turn and read something they’d written that day while the others offered up comments and suggestions immediately following. The creative energy in that room likely could have powered the entire town for a while. It was very inspiring.
While not my first time in a teaching capacity, it was the first time I’d been a mentor at a “retreat.” The experience was incredibly creative and motivating. Each writer fed off the creative energy of the other, causing all to take their work up a notch—not in a competitive way, but in an inspirational way. Not only was it exciting for me as the mentor, but the writer in me was incredibly inspired to write!

So, you guessed what’s coming next. Yes, I heartily recommend writers who can, find a writer’s retreat and attend it. Again, I’m not talking about a workshop, but a real retreat that lets you get away worry-free for a while and concentrate on writing. Those interested in the Hemingway retreat can take a peek here or email Deanna Dismukes. Tell her Roland sent ya!

Roland Mann is a former writer and editor of comic books, having written almost 100 comics and edited three times that many. He holds a BS in Creative Writing and a MA in English and has taught English at the college level. Recently saved, Roland is working on novel #3 and trying to sell #’s 1 and 2. He lives with his family in Oxford, Mississippi, and invites you to come visit him on his blog, where he posts regularly.

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Surprising Lessons About Freelancing

If You Want Four-Part Harmony You Have to Go Where They’re Singing
(and other surprising lessons about freelance writing)

By Glenn A. Hascall

We each have personally held assumptions about everything – even things we know very little about. That could be books, movies, politics or parenting. Let me just say that assumptions always tend to end badly – or at the very least encourage us to move forward after the humiliation brought on by wrong assumptions. Thus it has ever been so.

When I first started writing I had absolutely no clue that I could be paid for what I did. I gave away my writing for four years without receiving anything other than a byline. My assumption was that if my work was good enough someone was going to call me and sing my praises in four-part harmony possibly accompanied by a kazoo. In that fairytale phone call I would be told my work had value and that I should expect a life changing check by Friday.

I never verbalized it that way, but I absolutely assumed that one-day someone would notice my work and that would be the turning point in my writing career. My wife apparently was not as convinced.

Indeed, the phone never rang and I was never ‘discovered’ the way I thought I would. No four-part harmony, no kazoo, just the regular requests for free writing.

My own personal tipping point came when my wife looked at me and gently said, “Are you always going to write for free? Do you think anyone outside this area would even think about buying your work?”

She had seen me stay up late at night writing and sending articles to people who were very happy to receive content, but had either no ability or intention of paying for it. My wife’s not a writer, but she saw that exercise as a bit insane.

In that moment I wasn’t angry. I was however startled to find myself considering whether I truly felt my work had worth. I took my wife’s questions as the encouragement I needed and began to actively look for paying work. I tried some freelance websites and came away with slave wages. I wrote a story about a cooking disaster in my home and sent it to a recipe website and they actually paid me $40. I became a member of a content delivery team and made enough money to pay for Christmas one year. I sent manuscripts to a few publishers and came away with three book deals. The successes continued and the learning curve straightened out.

In some ways I don’t regret writing for free for so long. I’ve been told a writer needs to pen at least a million words before they write something really good. Maybe that time was the proverbial paying of dues for me.

If you assume freelance writing is easy – you’re wrong.

If you assume someone will discover you – they probably won’t.

If you think a publisher will love your work – you might be right, but don’t hope for too much.

If you think that you can quit your day job – don’t expect that day to come soon.

If you think that you know everything there is to know – you don’t.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know everything there is to know, but I get emails almost daily from other writers looking for direction on how and where to take that next step. I have made it my goal to learn something new everyday and I’ve taken lots of steps. I have learned it is not in my best interest to assume I know how everything will work. Writing is a trip up a mountain with lots of divergent trails. Stop treating freelancing writing like it’s a recipe. There’s no pinch of this and dash of that to make the process successful. It’s as individualized as DNA.

Think of it a bit like parenting. Your children are born completely unique. They will not act the same as other children. They will not like the same food other children like and they think that bodily noises are a form of high comedy. Read all the parenting books you want, but I bet they won’t be able to perfectly describe your child.

This is the best picture I can create when it comes to freelance writing. It is a unique experience for every writer and no one arrives at a point of success in the exact same way.

I have found a few ways to take some of the overall guesswork out of the process and that has been something I try to share with others along the way.

Here are just a few takeaway points…

1. Research is your friend. Don’t always think you need a website with all the answers. Travel down publishing trails that interest you. It’s possible you will find a gem.

2. Sometimes you are your own worst enemy. We often look for stumbling blocks that others place in the way of our success. Sometimes we put those barriers up ourselves.

3. Freelancing is never easy. No matter how gifted you are as a writer there will always be a client who is never satisfied or there will be times when it takes you much longer to complete a project than you anticipated.

Last, but not least let me say that the only person that really has the power to say you can’t do this thing called freelance is you. So, what is your answer?

Glenn Hascall has been a professional writer since 1995 and has been published every month for the past 13 years. He is a former mayor and the writer of more than 300 stage presentations. He has participated in the writing of more than 50 books and is the author of a new ebook entitled The Ultimate Guide to a Successful Freelance Writing Career. In fact this article was adapted from this new resource. He publishes a weekly advice column for writers and has produced his own clean comedy CD.

Hascall is also a veteran broadcaster who recently gained top honors as his state’s Personality of the Year. He has won numerous other prestigious awards for his voice work and can be heard on television and radio stations around the globe. He is the father of two and the husband of one and as it turns out these are his most cherished achievements.

You can order The Ultimate Guide to a Successful Freelance Writing Career here.

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New Contest: Just Two Sentences!

We had no entries for the Fireproof contest - but I hope many of you went to see the movie anyway! It was awesome!

This week, I've very excited and honored to welcome one of my prayer partners as our special guest judge for an incredibly fun contest! A.K. Arenz's fun new book - The Case of the Bouncing Grandma - has just released, and we're celebrating by giving away an autographed copy to this week's winner.

About the Contest:

This week's contest entries will be an anonymous to the judge. Submit your entries to me, and I'll post them anonymously, no comments allowed. A.K. will judge the entries, and let me know the winner - and THEN we'll identify everyone and you can leave comments.

Here's the theme: In no more than two sentences, describe your reaction to someone telling you they'd just seen a foot dangling out of a carpet going into a neighbor's house.

How fun! Submit your entries to me at tracyruckman[at]gmail[dot]com by Friday midnight for your chance to win!

About the Author:

Mother of two grown daughters and grandmother of three, A.K. Arenz has a two year degree in Office Information Systems from Northwest Missouri State University, where she also worked for several years. While with the College of Education, A.K. assisted with the college accreditation both at the national (NCATE) and state (DESE) levels. She’s found this experience and that of being Administrative Assistant to the Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems to be invaluable tools for her writing.

Since reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series as a child, A.K. has been creating her own stories. Her earliest publication was in the small, family-owned newspaper where her articles, essays, and poems were frequently included. From this early beginning, she honed her skills through university courses, studying Writer's Digest, how-to books on the craft, and through frequent submissions. In the mid-nineties, her writing earned her a stint with a well-known New York literary agency, and, although it failed to produce the hoped-for results, her determination to press forward eventually led her to Sheaf House.

A.K. has had poetry accepted for inclusion in various anthologies, as well as in the Maryville Daily Forum newspaper. She won an honorable mention and publication in the chapbook Look Who's Writing in Northwest Missouri, had a small article published in Family Safety & Health, and was the creator, editor, and head writer for a nationally registered fanzine.

As a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, A.K. has found the fellowship of both published and non-published members an inspiration. She has been a judge in the ACFW Book of the Year contest since 2005 and participated in judging ACFW’s 2007 Genesis contest for unpublished authors.

She lives in Missouri with her husband and two Himalayan cats.

When "bouncing grandma" Glory Harper sees a foot dangling out of the back of a rolled up carpet movers are carrying into her new neighbors' house, her imagination runs wild. The trouble is nobody believes her suspicions that a murder has been committed--especially the police, who know her all too well as the woman who caused a multi-car pileup while skateboarding with her grandson.

Enter Detective Rick Spencer, a Harrison Ford look-alike. In short order mayhem and romance run amok in this hilarious debut by author A. K. Arenz. A must read for all fans of cozy mysteries!

Blog Tour: John 3:16

I haven't started this book yet, but I can't wait! Nancy Moser became one of my favorites with one of her previous books, so I'm looking forward to this one! I'll update this post with a review when I'm done, so check back.

This week, the

is introducing

Tyndale House Publishers (September 9, 2008)


Nancy Moser is the author of three inspirational humor books and eighteen novels, including Solemnly Swear, Time Lottery, a Christy Award winner, and her latest historical, Washington's Lady.
Nancy and her husband Mark live in the Midwest. She’s earned a degree in architecture, traveled extensively in Europe, and has performed in numerous theaters,symphonies, and choirs. She gives Said So Sister Seminars around the country, helping women identify their gifts as they celebrate their sisterhood. She is a fan of anything antique—humans included.

Find out more at Nancy Moser.com and Sister Circles.com.


Five people looking for a reason to keep living are about to find it in the last place they expect... In my usual "big cast" style comes a story of what happens when one man puts his faith on the line and holds up a John 3:16 sign at a sporting event. Roman Paulson's life revolves around his son, Billy, a University of Nebraska football hero with a promising life ahead of him. But when Billy's coach encroaches on Roman's relationship with his son, Roman fears he'll lose Billy forever. Roman isn't the only one whose world turns upside down. He's one of five unsuspecting people whose lives intersect on a bright fall day.

To read the first chapter of John 3:16, click HERE.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fireproof Contest Update

Tim and I went to see Fireproof at the matinee this afternoon. We went to the first showing of the day - 1:00 p.m. - and the theater was about half full. But the 7:00 show had already sold out, and they added a 7:30 show too. The woman in front of us bought several tickets for that showing, and the woman behind us bought 11 tickets for another.

The movie was AMAZING. It has EVERYTHING that you hope to see in a satisfying movie or book - conflict, suspense, tension, romance, humor, drama - with real characters, real situations, real resolutions. This movie will become a classic.

And remember - YOU can win a copy of the book Fireproof AND a copy of the book The Love Dare, which is used in the book. (Pretty cool story behind that book - check my previous post for the link to read about it.)

Just go see the movie, then send me your review by midnight Sunday. I'll draw a name Monday morning!

Go hug your spouse today!! You'll be glad you did. And so will they!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Autumn's Past

A few days ago some autumn photographs crossed my desk and they set me to longing for fall. Because of our warmer temperatures fall in Florida generally comes in January. I like to think of it as Florida having 3 seasons - spring, summer, and fall. So when others are beginning to cool down and "color up", we are still in the throes of summer.

I am a true Floridian, being born and raised here. In fact, I live only minutes from where I grew up. My parents are in the same house they were in when I was born, and I believe I can count the trees growing there in my head. I say all that because I love Florida. To me there is no other place that is quite so beautiful.

Saw Palmettos and Slash Pines

Saw Palmettos and Slash Pines

But last November I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains to see the foliage. We go up every year. However, that was my first fall. Timing would have it that we arrived just at the perfect week of the year. I have been there when it was spring. Nothing is so beautiful as a Smoky Mountain spring. Iris of all colors in every garden. Red and orange poppies lining the highways. And there are dogwood, viburnum, and wild violets at every turn.

Canadian Violet

Canadian Violet

Then there is summer, lush and green with rushing waterfalls and flowing streams. Deer bounding across the highways. Bluebirds, indigo buntings, and scarlet tanagers singing from trees and fenceposts.

Scene By The Stream, Anna Ruby Falls, Helen, Georgia

Scene By The Stream, Anna Ruby Falls, Georgia

But fall for me was the most glorious of them all. What marvelous colors! It was like walking in a wonder world. So when those pictures crossed my desk, they took me right back there - to a place where I saw the most beautiful things.

There are some places I have traveled that I will never forget, places that in some small way changed me, just by their being there. The Grand Canyon was one. I went there in high school. and stood on the precipice, looking down to what seemed like an endless bottom. That Smoky Mountain fall was another. Fleeting as it was, somehow it lingers still.

Autumn Bench, Part 2, Cherokee Lake, Murphy, North Carolina

Autumn Bench, Part 2, Cherokee Lake, Murphy, North Carolina


Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review & Contest Announcement

Quick note before the latest review.

This Friday, a very special movie - FIREPROOF - releases in 800 theaters nationwide. The movie stars Kirk Cameron, and is a "must-see" for all married couples. In the movie, a book is mentioned - The Love Dare. There's a very unique story behind the release of the book, so I decided to have a special contest! And it's a quickie!

Go see the movie THIS WEEKEND - Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, September 26-28th. Primetime or matinee - it doesn't matter. Encourage your friends to to see it.

Then, send me an e-mail with the details in a 2-sentence review of the movie, tell me how many you encouraged to go see it, and in what city you viewed the movie. Please put FIREPROOF in the subject line, so I'll know it's an entry.

Monday morning, I'll draw a name from all those who emailed me, and the winner will receive a copy of BOTH books - The Love Dare and Fireproof!

So tell your friends, and go see a movie! Make it a special date night with your spouse! Tim and I are already planning to go, and I hope you will too!

(P.S. Have you heard about Amazon's free shipping program? I use it regularly, and absolutely love it. Become an Amazon Prime Member, and you'll get free 2-day shipping all year long! I used it regularly during the holidays last year, and earned back the membership fee in just a month or two!)

Now, for today's latest review:

I'm currently in the middle of this book, and so far, I'm loving it! Plenty of conflict, great characters that I already care for, and a great setting. I'm looking forward to the weekend, so I can finish reading it! Even though I'm only about halfway, I can highly recommend When the Soul Mends.

This week, the

is introducing

WaterBrook Press (September 16, 2008)



Cindy Woodsmall is a veteran homeschool mom. As her children progressed in age, her desire to write grew stronger. After working through reservations whether this desire was something she should pursue, she began her writing journey. Her husband was her staunchest supporter as she aimed for what seemed impossible.

Her first novel, When The Heart Cries, released in 2006 to much acclaim and became a Christian Book Association best seller. Cindy was a 2007 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist, along with Karen Kingsbury, Angela Hunt, and Charles Martin.

Her last book, When the Morning Comes, hit the New York Times best-sellers extended list and the Christian Book Association best-sellers list.

Cindy’s real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity.

Cindy, her husband, their three sons and daughter-in-law reside in Georgia. Her husband is a registered land surveyor and a vice president at an engineering firm. Their oldest son has a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine and works at a local hospital. Their second son and his wife are both students at the University of Georgia. Their teen-aged son keeps the household energized with his love of music, books, and writing.


Returning to the home she fled in disgrace, will Hannah find healing for the wounds of the past?

After receiving a desperate and confusing call from her sister, Hannah Lapp reluctantly returns to the Old Order Amish community of her Pennsylvania childhood.

Having fled in disgrace more than two years earlier, she finally has settled into a satisfying role in the Englischer world. She also has found love and a new family with the wealthy Martin Palmer and the children she is helping him raise. But almost immediately after her arrival in Owl’s Perch, the disapproval of those who ostracized her, including her headstrong father, reopens old wounds.

As Hannah is thrown together with former fiancé Paul Waddell to work for her sister Sarah’s mental health, hidden truths surface about events during Hannah’s absence, and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she heed the call to return to the Plain Life–and perhaps to her first love?

To read the first chapter of When The Soul Mends, click HERE.

“A skillfully written story of forgiveness and redemption. Woodsmall’s authentic characters illustrate beautifully how wounded souls can indeed be mended.”–Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy

“Like the stitches on a well-loved quilt, love and faith hold together Cindy Woodsmall's When the Soul Mends, the brilliantly written third story in the Sisters of the Quilt series. With deft plotting and characters that seem to jump off the page, this novel offers the timeless truth that forgiveness is the balm which heals all wounds and a blanket for the soul.”–Kathleen Y’Barbo, author of Beloved Castaway

“What a vibrant, strong, emotional story! When the Heart Cries will grip you and not let go, I promise. Highly recommended!”–Gayle Roper, author of Allah’s Fire and the Seaside Seasons series

“Reaching deep into the heart of the reader, Cindy Woodsmall pens a beautifully lyrical story in her debut novel When the Heart Cries.”–Tamera Alexander, bestselling author of Rekindled

Networking is Key

The Importance of Networking

In January 2006, I left South Africa and moved to New Zealand along with my husband and five children. We only knew three people in our new country and they were more acquaintances than friends. We had to start from scratch and build a new network of friends and support systems. We had to find a new doctor, dentist, hairdresser and bank. We had to learn where to shop and the children had to start at new schools and universities. We had to prove ourselves and build a reputation amongst the people we were mixing with.

Within a few months we had achieved all of the above and the locals were amazed at how quickly we had established ourselves. I put our success down to two things:

· Perseverance, hard work and a positive attitude
· Being part of the church – a group of people who shared our values and beliefs

You may be wondering what this has to do with a writing column.

Freelance writers tend to become isolated as they work alone, often from home. I have found it essential to surround myself with people who share my passion for writing and are just a phone call or email away. It may be for companionship or I may need some advice or want to bounce an idea off them. Whatever the reason, my support system is very important to me.

Building a Network
I have a network of writing contacts that spreads across New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England and the USA. Included are publishers, published authors, editors, journalists and raw beginners. I made contact with these people through a variety of means:
· Emailing an author because I enjoyed her book
· Entering competitions and staying in touch with the judges/organizers
· Joining message boards and forums where writers gather
· Attending writer’s conferences and workshops
· Joining local writing groups

Relationship First
It’s important to regard each contact as a friend first. Drop them an occasional email asking them how they are doing. Find out when their birthday is and send them a card. Give them a call when you know they’ve been struggling and are feeling a bit down.

Help Each Other
It’s always good to let another set of eyes check your work. We can get so close to it that we miss the simplest errors. I wrote a short story about eight years ago that placed first in a fiction contest. The judge attached a critique and told me that although she loved the story, I needed to check my work more carefully in the future. My mistake was simple; a fence in the beginning of the story had morphed into a wall by the end!

Never underestimate the influence that you have over other people. The simplest things you do can affect others. I often write for our local newspaper – on random subjects such as Zimbabwe, the facilities in our city, my dog, living with a foreign accent etc. None of it is Christian and I used to wonder if I was wasting my time. Wouldn’t God prefer me to concentrate on Christian writing? Then I got an invitation to speak at a club for retired women. The president had seen my work in the paper and thought I would make an interesting speaker. I started by thanking her for the invitation and said she had taken a chance as I was just a name in the paper. I then shared snippets of my life story including my faith in God and how He had been with me as I lived through the bush war in Rhodesia and the violence in South Africa.

She came to me afterwards and told me she hadn’t taken a chance on me. That she had discerned my character through the way I wrote. That speaking engagement led on to others where I could share my testimony and I have never forgotten what she said. God can use our words in more ways than we give Him credit for.

Make it your mission this week to drop a line to your friends in the writing world. Tell them you appreciate them and that you’re there for them if they ever need advice or an extra set of eyes. Then take some of the words that God has given you and send them out to bear some fruit. (And let us know if you have a testimony you’d like to share about networking with other writers.)

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Faking Grace

Housekeeping notes before the review:

1) Pixels, this is a special notice just for the regulars of this blog. Another Bloggy Carnival is scheduled for the end of October, and I'm already planning to give away two prizes this time: a huge box of books, AND a $50 Amazon gift certificate. Anyone leaving pertinent, relevant comments on any blog post from September 1st to October 31st will be entered into the drawing - each comment gets one entry (as long as it's a pertinent, relevant comment.) As you leave your comments, just be sure I have a way to contact you - either through your blogger id, or by leaving your email address (in code) in your comments.

2) The blog re-design is taking longer than expected, but we should have it within the next 10 business days. When we launch the new site, we'll have some extra content - be sure to come by and check it out.

Now to our regularly scheduled post!

Our book selection this week is Faking Grace by Tamara Leigh. I've tried to come up with a different review than the ones posted below, but the one word that describes this book must be used again - DELIGHTFUL! I truly enjoyed this book, and read it in one sitting. I even carried it to the kitchen with me while preparing lunch. (Yeah, I'm that pitiful!) Faking Grace made me laugh out loud, cringe at the conviction, groan at the antics, and sigh at the romance. Great read!!!

This week, the

is introducing

Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)



After Tamara Leigh earned a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, she and her husband decided to start a family, with plans for Tamara to continue in her career once she became a mother.

When the blessing of children proved elusive, Tamara became convicted to find a way to work out of her home in order to raise the children she and her husband longed to have. She turned to writing, at which she had only ever dreamed of being successful, and began attending church. Shortly thereafter, her agent called with news of Bantam Books’ offer of a four-book contract. That same day, Tamara’s pregnancy was confirmed. Within the next year, she gave up her speech pathology career, committed her life to Christ, her first child was born, and her first historical romance novel was released.

As Tamara continued to write for the secular market, publishing three more novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester, she infused her growing Christian beliefs into her writing. But it was not enough, and though her novels earned awards and were national bestsellers, she knew her stories were lacking. After struggling with the certainty that her writing was not honoring God as it should, she made the decision to write books that not only reveal Christianity to non-believers, but serve as an inspiration for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Her inspirational romances are peopled with characters in varying stages of Christian faith, from mature believers to new believers to non-believers on the threshold of awakening.

Tamara Leigh enjoys time with her family, volunteer work, faux painting, and reading. She lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, David, and two sons, Skyler and Maxen.

Two of her latest books are Splitting Harriet and Perfecting Kate.


All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist, but her last job ended in disaster when her compassion cost her employer a juicy headline. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break.

A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but Steeple Side only hires committed Christians. Maizy is sure she can fake it with her Five-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith–a plan of action that includes changing her first name to Grace, buying Jesus-themed accessories, and learning “Christian Speak.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s managing editor and two-day-stubbled, blue-jean-wearing British hottie wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s boss at the newspaper decides that she should investigate–and expose–any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she must decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her Steeple Side colleagues–and Jack–will show her grace.

To read the first chapter of Faking Grace, click HERE.

“Tamara Leigh takes her experienced romance hand and delights readers with Chick-Lit that sparkles and characters who come alive.” - Kristin Billerbeck, author of The Trophy Wives Club

“A delightful, charming book! Faking Grace has romance, truth, and a dollop of insanity, making Tamara Leigh a permanent addition to my list of favorite authors. Enjoy!”- Ginger Garrett, author of In the Shadow of Lions and Beauty Secrets of the Bible

“Tamara Leigh does a fabulous job looking at the faults, the love, the hypocrisy, and the grace of Christians in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Maizy Grace is a crazy character I couldn’t help but like. I loved this book and highly recommend it!”- Camy Tang, author of Sushi for One? and Only Uni

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Found A New Thing

Okay, I admit it. I like bugs. No, not the ones that turn up in my house, and definitely not roaches. Instead I am talking about finding insects outdoors. There is just about nothing that excites me more than finding a stand of flowers covered in bugs.

Bee on Spiderwort
June 2004

Bee on Spiderwort

And it is not enough for me to find such a place, I am always on a quest for their identity. I like to know what it is, and why it is there. Fortunately for me, the web is a fount of such knowledge and full of people who know their bugs. My task then becomes one of remembering what I was told.

Flowers and insects never get old with me. I could return day after day to the same location and re-photograph what I must have 10,000 shots of already. So you can imagine my excitement the other day when I found a new flower covered in bugs of all sorts - flying insects, crawling insects, predators, and prey.

Celosia argentea va. spicata
Flamingo Feathers

Celosia argentea var. spicata Flamingo Feathers

I could have pulled up a chair and watched for hours as creatures flew around me. A dozen different species of wasps whizzed past; a large, green lynx spider, its mouth full of a fat bee, stared me down. And perched just above its head was a fierce, yellow dragonfly oblivious to the drama below.

Female Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly

Female Roseate Skimmer

What a fascinating world! And now I have found a new flower I must add to my garden. Just think of all the happy times I can have just watching the insects wander by...

The World of Bugs
May 2001

The World of Bugs

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Can Beat Writer's Block

Overcoming Writer's Block

By Debbie Roome

Writer’s Block is a condition that every writer experiences from time to time. Its symptoms are a blank mind, a blank page, and if there are deadlines looming, a look of great distress. It literally feels like a dam wall has been erected that prevents the words from flowing. It affects fiction writers, copy writers, journalists, novelists; in fact, anyone who writes. Fortunately, there are various exercises which can boost creativity and release the blockage.

Take a blank sheet of paper and write the topic in hand in the middle of the page. If you don’t have a topic, then choose a word with lots of possibilities such as juicy, bubbling or bridge. Then write down every word association that comes to mind. Use squiggles and boxes and group similar ideas with connecting lines or thought bubbles. This approach often triggers fresh inspiration.

Create a Story
Choose three unrelated words or get someone to do this for you. Examples could be fire, cheese and paint, or jug, palm tree and train. Then set a timer for five minutes and write a paragraph incorporating all three words. Don’t think; just write whatever comes to mind. This is often enough to release the bottleneck of words and you may be amazed at what comes out.

Start in the Middle
The introduction and conclusion are often the most difficult parts of any story. Don’t feel compelled to start at the beginning. Write the body of the article or story and then go back to the beginning and end. They will often just fall into place.

Read some Fiction
After extended periods of writing, it can be helpful to draw some inspiration by reading something pleasurable. Choose a new book or an old favourite and read a couple of chapters just for enjoyment. The process of reading often triggers new ideas and fresh thoughts.

People Watching
People-watching can be a great source of inspiration. Try sitting in a mall or train station and observe the people that walk past. If someone catches your eye, analyze why. Was it the way he walked or something about the stoop of an old woman’s shoulders? Maybe it was an unusual hairstyle or a garish outfit from the 60s. Back home, write down some thoughts about this character. Where would they live, what could their career be, are they married and if so, to whom? This may lead to further ideas and character development and those people may eventually appear in a novel or other work of fiction.

The worst way to approach writer’s block is by staring at a blank page for hours. If all else fails, it may be best to accept that today is not a good writing day and spend it doing something else. If that is not an option, try the above exercises and hopefully the words will soon be flowing again.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New Age or Christianity? What's Your Choice?

A few weeks ago, Michael Hyatt, President & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers offered a free copy of the book The Faith of Barack Obama written by Stephen Mansfield to any blogger willing to review the book. Although I knew my political beliefs were in direct opposition to Obama, I watched a video of the author, and decided I would read the book and review it fairly.

I'm posting my review later than many of the other bloggers, but I’ve now read the book twice. It did not change my opinion about Obama – in fact, it confirmed what I already thought about him and about his religion. The author of the book states that he does not plan to vote for Obama because they hold different political beliefs, but after reading the book, I hope and pray they also hold different religious beliefs.

Throughout the book, statements made by Obama consistently point to a version of Christianity that is not Biblical. It is very much a New Age version – an Oprah version, if you will – Christianity twisted to fit certain agendas.

I went through the book, highlighting major areas of concern, and I’d like to share them with you here.

On Barack Obama’s upbringing:

Page 2: We must remember that if Obama ascends to the presidency in 2009, he will be the first American president to do so having not been raised in a Christian home.

Pages 16-18: The question that will surface again and again about Obama’s years in Indonesia is this: Was Barack Obama a Muslim? … In Islam, a man submits to Allah and enters the community of faith by reciting the creed There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet. … Did young Barack say these words in honor of Islam. Yes, certainly, both at his stepfather’s side in the Jakarta mosque on Fridays and in the Islamic religious instruction he received several hours a week in school.

On Barack Obama’s character:

Page 21: During Obama’s years at Punahou, he tried on personas as another man might try on clothes. Was he the angry radical brother or the educated, upwardly mobile black?

On Barack Obama’s conversion:

Page 52: He does not use the language of the traditional convert to Christianity. He is the product of a new post-modern generation that picks and chooses its own truth from traditional faith, much as a man customizes his meal at a buffet.

Page 55: Obama does clearly believe that the form of Christianity he committed to at Trinity Church in 1985 is not the only path to God. … “I believe that there are many paths to the same place and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”
Page 56: When his daughter once asked him about what happens after death…he was unable to assure her about heaven: “I wondered if I should have told her the truth, that I wasn’t sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure of where the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang.”

Page 59: Friends told him that his work in the South Side community would go better if people saw him in church, if they knew where he got his faith. Obama took this as true. … He did not deceive himself about this motive for attending church, nor did he fail to admit it later in life.

On Barack Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright:

Page 46: Jeremiah Wright was either demon or deliverer. … He could lead thousands to faith and then spout urban myth as gospel. … He could bitterly rail against his nation and yet be, as he was, the most respected black preacher of spiritual revival in the country. He could lead a people to holiness and swear like a gangbanger in the pulpit.

Page 66: Jeremiah Wright earned a master’s degree in Islamic studies.

On Barack Obama’s patriotic stance:

Page 65: …he has sat under the ministry of a man who holds his country in disregard. Has this planted disrespect for country in Obama’s soul? Critics suspect so, and they point to his refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin, the many pictures of him on the Internet without his hand on his heart during the national anthem …

This book brings many questions to mind:

1) Has this country “progressed” to a point where we are willing to accept a New Age religion as a form of Christianity? Are we willing to put someone who believes in that New Age religion into the highest office of our land?

2) Do we want a chameleon as our leader?

3) On page 127, the author states: “Whether he wins the race in 2008 or not, Obama is what America is becoming.” My questions are … Is it really? Is that what we want? Or what we need? Are we becoming a society who follows the media, or a society whom the media follows?

I have great hope in the Christian faith of this nation. A faith that will be evident with the results of this election, a faith that will show America standing firm, standing tall, and standing proud, returning more closely to her roots of one nation under God, the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ.

Please vote.

For a list of other reviews, click here.

We have WINNERS!

Special guest judge Mary Connealy struggled with choosing just one winner for the Western Hook contest this week, saying:

I can see the germ of a solid story in each of these, which is what an opening sentence is for, to let you know what's coming and hopefully do it in a way that hooks you in.I read them all a half dozen times trying to pick the best one and finally decided...even now I'm waffling and just changed my mind again.I'll pick #3...BUT, I also noticed they were by two people, each with two entries, so I'll send each a book.

So, congratulations to Stephanie Craig and Jean Kinsey!

Stephanie Craig is a freelance writer and mother of two toddler boys from Michigan. She recently rediscovered her passion for writing and is excited about all the possibilities ahead of her.

Jean Kinsey is a widow with six grandkids. She's had several short fictions and creative non-fictions published in periodicals. Her fourth Chicken Soup story will be out in December 08, and a story in Cup of Comfort will be published early in 09. She has just finished an inspiratioal historical novel and is looking for a publisher.

A very special thank you to Mary Connealy for joining us this week. If you ever want a great read - pick up one of her books. I promise you will not be disappointed!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Entry #4: Western Hook

This entry also comes from Stephanie Craig:

Jordan Wiley always did what was expected of him. So everyone was surprised when he left his accounting position to become a cowboy in Wyoming.

Entry #3: Western Hook

This hook is submitted by Stephanie Craig:

Celina was full of saloons and brothels. No proper lady would set foot there. That's why there was such a stir when Millie Jacobs arrived.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Moment Without a Lens

There I was standing in a field surrounded by the most beautiful sunset. A cool breeze was blowing across summer grasses, tiny puffs of clouds, all lined up in rows, had captured the fading pink sunlight and turned the world magical. I could spin and see it from all directions. Marveling at the beauty around me, for just a few moments I stared and soaked it all in.

That sunset was such a healing for my soul. The stress of life, I admit, had taken hold of me. Between work and school, health and building construction, there seems to be so much going on in my life these days. Friends email me, wanting to know if I am okay. I respond, "Really I am.," and whiz away again on some other errand.

I have no photograph of that sunset, except for what is imprinted in my mind. I hold a lot of memories that way. I have found that being without a camera in my hand is almost as good for me as being with one. For once, nothing is required of me. I don't have to worry about camera modes, lighting, or composition. I won't have to edit, resize, or post it later. And I don't have to put anything into words. I can, in effect, let words fail me. There I am, just standing, being myself, watching an event unfold that I have no control over.

Oh, I have other pictures of many sunsets, some which were more spectacular than others, but I think the best photographs are often the ones in my mind. They are those that demanded nothing of me and asked no responsibility from me other than just to be remembered.

People, Longboat Key, Florida
August 2001

People, Longboat Key, Florida

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Entry #2: Western Hook

This hook is also submitted by Jean Kinsey:

Blyden had a right to hire whomever he pleased but he needn't expect him to treat her no different just because she wore a petticoat.

Entry #1: Western Hook

This hook is submitted by Jean Kinsey:

He figured he’d set her straight right from the start. "You wouldn't wanta get horse manure on them pretty lady clothes, now would ya? "

The Art of Interviewing

The Art of Interviewing
By Debbie Roome

Freelance writers will almost certainly have to interview people at some stage of their career. An interview is basically a face to face, or over the phone, question and answer time. It may be needed to provide information for an article, background for a novel or technical input for a manual.

Many people find interviewing a stranger a daunting prospect, but if properly prepared, it is not difficult to do. It helps to remember that most people are excited about being interviewed and talking about their areas of expertise. By following the simple steps below, you can prepare for an interview and approach it with confidence.

Setting up the Interview
This can be done by phone, letter, fax or email depending on the person to be interviewed and the reason. If you are writing a piece on spec, it is best to be upfront about this. The request can be put very simply. “Good morning Mr Jackson. My name is Debbie Roome and I’m putting together an article on possum control for one of our community papers. I’d like to interview you about your experiences as a possum trapper...”

Research the Topic
If you are interviewing a nuclear physicist, make sure you have invested time in understanding the concepts of what is involved in his career. You must have a basic grasp of the subject you will be discussing. This applies to any situation.

Where to Interview
It is best to give the person a couple of options. The most common would be his home, his office or a neutral venue such as a coffee shop. Make sure you arrive a couple of minutes early.

What to Wear
Dress in keeping with the person being interviewed and the location. A tailored suit will not work on a sports field and a T-shirt won’t cut it in the office of a high-powered businessman.

Start with Small Talk
Depending on the situation, a couple of minutes of chat about the weather or surroundings can relax both parties.

Make a List of Questions
Prepare a list of about ten questions. Make sure they prompt a full reply, not just a yes or no answer. You should find that these lead into other areas of discussion.

To Tape or not to Tape
Always ask before taping an interview. A tape is an excellent back up when details are missed or a lot of information is shared.

You are in Charge
Remember that you will be leading the conversation by asking questions and steering the interviewee in the right direction. Be prepared to redirect talk that is going off at a tangent.

End the Interview
When you have enough information, signal the end of the interview by shutting off the tape recorder and thanking them for their time and the interesting interview.

If needed, it is best to take photographs at the end of the interview. The interviewee should be more relaxed at this time and this will show in the pictures. Try to avoid bland head and shoulder shots but look for action snaps – throwing a football or working at a desk for example. Take several shots to ensure a good, clear one.

Books have been written about the art of interviewing but by following the above rules, even a beginner can conduct a successful interview. Interviews can be very rewarding and are definitely the most social part of a writer’s life. Go out and have fun.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

Any Anne Boleyn Fans?

When this week's CFBA book selection arrived in the mail, I was thrilled. Ginger Garrett is one of my favorite authors - her books are filled with a richness and a depth that pulls me in and places me firmly in an unfamiliar setting and makes me feel at home. In the Shadow of Lions did not disappoint.

I admit I'm not a history buff - I think I've actually admitted that a few times on this blog. History was taught to me as facts and figures, but as an adult, I've learned to explore the people and the places of history, and found it intrigues me. Books like Ginger Garrett's bring history alive to me more than any textbook ever could.

I know little of Anne Boleyn, but after reading this book, I want to know more.

The first two chapters of In the Shadow of Lions hooked me completely. Very unique and powerful beginning. Then it skipped around a bit, and for a chapter or so I was confused, trying to figure out who was who, but later on, I realized layers were being placed upon layers and everything came into focus. I stayed up late to finish it because I couldn't put it down. Overall, a beautiful, rich, powerful book - and Ginger Garrett remains one of my favorites!

This week, the

is introducing

David C. Cook; 1 edition (September 2008)



Ginger Garrett is the critically acclaimed author of Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther, which was recognized as one of the top five novels of 2006 by the ECPA, and Dark Hour. An expert in ancient women's history, Ginger creates novels and nonfiction resources that explore the lives of historical women.

Her newest release is Beauty Secrets of the Bible, (September 11, Thomas Nelson) based on the historical research that began in her work on Chosen. The book explores the connections between beauty and spirituality, offering women both historical insights and scientific proofs that reveal powerful, natural beauty secrets.

A frequent radio guest on stations across the country, including NPR and Billy Graham's The Hour of Decision, Ginger is also a popular television guest. Her appearances include Harvest Television, Friends & Neighbors, and Babbie's House. Ginger frequently serves as a co-host on the inspirational cable program Deeper Living.

In 2007, Ginger was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award for her novel Dark Hour. When she's not writing, you may spy Ginger hunting for vintage jewelry at thrift stores, running (slowly) in 5k and 10k races, or just trying to chase down one of her errant sheepdogs. A native Texan, she now resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.


"I am the first writer, The Scribe. My books lie open before the Throne, and someday will be the only witness of your people and their time in this world."

So begins the narration of one such angel in this sweeping historical tale set during the reign of England's Henry VIII. It is the story of two women, their guardian angels, and a mysterious, subversive book ... a book that outrages some, inspires others, and launches the Protestant Reformation.

The devout Anne Boleyn catches the eye of a powerful king and uses her influence to champion an English translation of the Bible. Meanwhile, Rose, a broken, suicidal woman of the streets, is moved to seek God when she witnesses Thomas More's public displays of Christian charity, ignorant of his secret life spent eradicating the Bible, persecuting anyone who dares read it.

Historic figures come alive in this thrilling story of heroes and villains, saints and sinners, angels and mortals ... and the sacred book that will inspire you anew. Fans of Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury will love Ginger's intriguing combination of rich character development, artful settings, and inspiring historical insights.

To read an excerpt from In The Shadow Of Lions, click HERE.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Contest: Head 'Em Up, Move 'Em Out!

We've got an extra special treat for you this week, with our special guest judge Mary Connealy. We're giving away an autographed copy of her book Calico Canyon and a DVD of a western movie - details are below!

Calico Canyon was one of the most entertaining books I've read all year. Truly delightful, fun, energetic, and dare I even say SEXY? Yes, it's a Christian book, and it's a wholesome Christian book, but it was filled with love, romance, conflict, fun, laughter, tears, and MUCH MORE. I haven't laughed this much while reading in a long time - and I cannot wait for the next one! (Coming in February! Wooo-hooo!) Calico Canyon is a book I highly recommend - I think you'd love it!

First, a bit about Mary:

Mary Connealy wrote her first book—a romance novel—when she was about twelve. She shudders to think what a twelve year old could know about romance.

Since then she has gone on to bigger things. Her debut trade novel, Petticoat Ranch, released from Barbour Publishing in February of 2007 to a welcome audience. At the same time, Heartsongs Presents released her novel, Golden Days. Calico Canyon, the sequel to Petticoat Ranch, released in July 2008.

In addition to Calico Canyon, Mary has or will be releasing four new additional titles in 2008, including three books in the South Dakota Weddings series from Heartsongs Presents. Her novel, Golden Days, is being repackaged as part of the Alaska Brides anthology with Cathy Marie Hake and Kathleen Y’Barbo, scheduled to also release from Heartsongs. Her first cozy mystery, Of Mice…and Murder, releases in September from Heartsongs Presents Mysteries. Barbour plans to release her next trade novel, Gingham Mountain, in February 2009.

When she’s not writing books, Mary is an avid blogger. She writes regularly for multiple blogs including the well-known Petticoats & Pistols, dedicated to western fiction. Mary’s blog posts have been picked up by both Reuters and the Chicago Sun-Times.

By day, Mary is a GED instructor and by night, an author. To keep it straight in her head whether she’s teaching or writing, she likes to wear a little crown and a Wonder Women cape while she types.

Mary lives with her husband on a Nebraska farm and has four mostly grown daughters.

Q & A with Mary:

Mary, you have literally created your own genre—Western historical inspirational romantic comedies. Where did you come up with this?

You know, when Petticoat Ranch was finished, they tell you to do market research before you pitch your book to an editor. To me (and I know there’s more to it than this) market research pretty much boils down to, “I believe the people who loved FILL IN THE BLANK WITH SIMILAR BOOK will also love Petticoat Ranch.”

So I went looking for a book like Petticoat Ranch. Nuthin’! So I guess I invented my own genre, but it didn’t start out that way, I just had a story I wanted to tell, with vigilantes and a he said/she said attitude and cowboys and cowgirls who couldn’t quit sassing each other.

This summer Calico Canyon, the sequel to Petticoat Ranch, released to rave reviews. You based that story on your husband’s family. How close does the book resemble his upbringing?

Well, my mother-in-law, who raised seven boys, claims hers were a lot better behaved than the Reeves boys. I’d say that would have to be true because I did my best to make the Reeves boys pure savages. But the wrestling, the motion, the rudeness, especially if, as in the case of the Reeves, they don’t have a woman trying to civilize them…I see a lot of that in little boys.

What are some of your favorite scenes from Calico Canyon?

The wedding scene, I love.

The scene when the McClellen girls show their toughness and exact revenge is so fun. The scene where Daniel asks Grace if she’s carrying his child. My husband said it was embarrassing! Well, that’s what I was going for.

My favorite moment, and it’s a small one but for some reason I just love it, is when Grace holds one of her unruly sons on her lap, the two of them are in big, big trouble and she says to John, “I used to be brave.”

You have 11 books under contract with Barbour. Tell us what we have to look forward to over the next several months.

Beginning in 2009 I’ll have three books a year coming from Barbour for three years. Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon kicked things off, but next year we’re getting into a rhythm. February is Gingham Mountain, book three in the Lassoed in Texas series. It’s Hannah’s story.

Next comes Montana Rose, the first of a new series we’re calling Montana Marriages. Then we step out of the series for one book for Cowboy Christmas, a stand alone book about…guess what? A cowboy finding love at Christmas. Then there will be two more books in the Montana Marriages series: The Husband Tree and Wildflower Bride.

Also I’ve got a three book series releasing this fall in the Heartsong Presents line. Buffalo Gal, The Clueless Cowboy and The Bossy Bridegroom. And a three book cozy mystery series from the Heartsong Presents Mysteries line: Of Mice…and Murder, Pride and Pestilence, and The Miceman Cometh.

You can get details at www.maryconnealy.com but historical or contemporary, long or short, mystery or straight romance, they are all romantic comedies.

Now about the contest:

With the big ACFW conference coming up next week, many writers are all abuzz about their PITCH or OPENING HOOK.

Since Mary's a western writer, this week, we're looking for WESTERN or COWBOY pitches or hooks.

Submit your own pitch or hook of 25 words or less to me at tracyruckman[at]gmail.com by Friday, midnight, for your chance to win an autographed copy of Calico Canyon AND a DVD of the western movie Last Stand at Sabre River starring Tom Selleck. You may submit up to two entries per person. I'll post the entries as they arrive, then Mary will judge them, and we'll announce a winner over the weekend. So enter soon for your chance to win this fun prize!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Keep Learning

I always talk about how we, as photographers, must continue to learn. Photography, after all, came into being as the result of the experiments of many, many people. From its beginnings with the camera obscura, to the calotype process, the daguerrotype, later on, 35 mm film, and now digital, it has taken the minds of a lot of people for it to progress this far.

I was reading about what is considered the first official photograph. It was captured in 1826 by a man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and took some 8 hours of exposure to develop. Due to the extended length of time, the buildings in the image look as if they are lit from both sides.

And it was his work with a man by the name of Louis Daguerre that led to the next important development in photography. Yet most do not know that Daguerre's namesake, the daguerrotype, was as much the work of Niépce, who died 4 years into their partnership. Daguerre for the most part reaped the benefits of their partnership.

Each contribution to photography was built upon the work of men before. One experimented with light, another noted the effect of sunlight on certain chemicals, yet another figured out how to fix an image, make it permanent. It was all of these people together who invented photography.

I am always learning, learning about myself, learning about the past and those in the past who contributed to it, learning about my camera. Just yesterday I tried a camera setting I usually avoid and imagine my surprise when it worked. There I thought I knew that that setting would not work!

Part of becoming a better person is having a willingness to learn and thus a willingness to admit you don't know everything. It is those who think they have nothing to learn that I think know the least. And admitting your lack of knowledge caused a mistake, makes you the greater person.

Crescent Moon

Crescent Moon

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Four W’s of Writing

The Four W's of Writing
by Debbie Roome

If you examine any story in a newspaper, you will notice it is constructed around the four W’s of journalism:

· Who
· What
· Where
· When

In some cases, a how and why may be added for more depth. Depending on the type of publication, the four W’s may be condensed into one line or expanded over the first paragraph. Newspapers normally go for one-liners as shown in this example:

Police sources revealed today that a notorious drug dealer escaped from a high security prison over the weekend.

A gossip magazine may add in details to capture the reader’s interest:

A statement this morning from an unidentified leak in police force has confirmed bad news for the citizens of Christchurch. A notorious drug dealer has escaped his prison cell and is back on the streets of our city. The bust took place over the weekend and has left officials at the high security prison, shame-faced.


To be successful in the journalistic world, it is essential to master the skill of capturing the four W’s in one well constructed sentence. A good way to practice is to take four un-associated words and write them into one line. Here are some ideas to get you going - experiment with different combinations and see what you come up with.

Who: Dancer, school teacher, parrot, pharmaceutical company, family dog.
What: Broke a leg, collapsed, set a new record, was arrested, designed a chair.
Where: At the theatre, in a river, in mid-air, crossing the bridge, underneath her car.
When: This morning, last summer, overnight, on Tuesday, a week ago.


A well written story is constructed in the shape of a pyramid. The introduction or first line is the top and most important part. It captures the reader’s interest and leads them into the body of the article. The middle of the story is an expansion on the first line with the details revealed in an approximate order of importance. The ending contains information that is not vital to the story. If an editor shortens an article, it is normally the last few lines that get chopped.

Here is an example of how the above story may have continued.

Police sources revealed today that a notorious drug dealer escaped from a high security prison over the weekend. The name of the man is not known, but officials at Highgate Prison have confirmed he was serving a ten year sentence for manufacturing and dealing in drugs. The break out took place in the early hours of Sunday morning but no details are available as yet. It is suspected that he is still within the greater Christchurch area and is described as a Caucasian of medium build with a shaved head and a distinctive dolphin tattoo on his neck. Police have warned that he is dangerous and not to be approached under any circumstances. If sighted, please call the emergency line on 111. This is the second break out the prison has experienced this year with the first one taking place a scant three weeks ago. Prison officials have declined to comment on internal security measures.

If necessary, the last two lines could be removed without affecting the story in any way.

Using this formula makes it easier to write factual reports suitable for newspapers and magazines. Try examining articles that you see in the paper this week and see how closely they follow the rules. Cut off the content of the last few lines and see if the story still makes sense. Then sit down and write an article of your own.

Assignment for this week

Write a one line introduction to an interesting piece of news and submit it to us. All submissions will receive feedback.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.