Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Brainstorming


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Brainstorming Alone

Brainstorming Alone
Long ago I read this book where the teenage girl discovers she's a witch.
I can't remember title or plot, only that there's some struggle for her to accept this (Harry Potter-like, but it wasn't that book).
Finally, through the help of wise witch-ly mentors (Yeah there are plenty of those) she accepts herself and her talents.
Then the end of the book, she's lying on the floor and she'd created this ball in the air that looks like the planet Earth (I may be getting details wrong) and she's got several Earth balls and she's magically juggling them, realizing how powerful she is and how she can remake so many things to be better, as she perceives they should be.
Her mentor comes and sees it and says, "It's really tempting when you have magical power to want to juggle the whole world. Make it go where you want it to go and do what you want it to do, but you must not. That is an abuse of your power."

Brainstorming Alone
OKAY, I have a point to telling you this old, dimly remembered story.
That's how I see myself when I'm juggling my books, juggling the details. Tossing ideas up, catching them, turning them, adding, subtracting. I'm in charge of my world.
It's weirdly powerful even if it is in fiction.

I'm thinking of this today because of two reasons.
One...homing pigeons.

I've been trying to figure out how the bad guys are communicating with each other. They are quite a few miles apart and secret partners.
So how do I let one know what the other needs to know to carry out their nefarious schemes.

I kept tossing ideas around, including just dropping it. No communication and how would I make what I want to do work.

I finally came up with homing pigeons. Did you know they were used a lot in war time back then? They even called the War Pigeons.

Brainstorming Alone
I do that. I lie awake and brainstorm my books alone. I'm not really in a good location for writer's groups, the kind that get together and brainstorm...and I like brainstorming. I've gotten some good things that way.

So I juggle my fictional world. Give it time. It's surprising how long it takes to wade through the first things that come to you and find the unusual, the nugget, that can be used.

I think homing pigeons meets that unusual nugget. Of course now I have to research homing pigeons.

And on to ships.

I'm thinking of a ship board romance. Get on a ship and sale around the tip of South America.

I could skip this. I've never done it before, though I've read a few historical ship stories. Honestly it's a little daunting to think of the research I need to do to get the whole SHIP part of the story right.
For that, a lot of research and a lot of brainstorming.

So how do you twist your story? How do you pass up the obvious and find the quirky, the unusual?
And do you get a sense of power over your fictional world?

Tell me how you brainstorm.

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming.

️ Happy St. Pat’s Day, everyone, and the top of the morning to ya! It’s an honor and a privilege to be back here on Seekerville on one of my favorite days of the year.

And okay … maybe you don’t have to kiss me because I’m Irish, but a giant hug might be in order because—whoo-hoo!—my seventh O’Connor Family novel, A Wing and a Prayer releases next month, April 1! So … I thought St. Patrick’s Day would be an appropriate time to talk about this Irish family saga and how God took it—and me—by storm. Or, more appropriately, by “God-Storming.”

What is “God-storming,” you ask? Well, for some people it may be a last resort, but for this author, it’s the number one way I brainstorm when I run into a wall on my plots. Ahem … just like I did on A Wing and a Prayer. You see, every single one of my O’Connor novels has a twist at the end that hopefully drops a jaw or two. Everyone, that is, except A Wing and a Prayer, and I gotta tell you, it bothered me something fierce.

So, I decided to do a little “God-storming,” which is a mix between brainstorming and praying, accent mark on praying. I’ve done it on all of my O’Connor books, and in every single case, an amazing answer to my dilemma was dropped in my lap like a bolt from the blue.


GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming
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For example, take my very first novel, A Passion Most Pure. Yes, I was a newbie, no doubt about it—SO green that when my agent labeled my book a “historical,” I actually argued with her, saying, “but I don’t write “historicals, I write romance.”

Let’s pause here for a moment of silent prayer on behalf of my agent Natasha Kern.

Sigh. Yes, I really was that green. An author who actually didn’t consider the historical aspect of my story as important as the emotional tug-of-war between the hero and heroine. I mean, come on, everybody knows the most important thing is WHAT happens in the story, not WHEN it happens, right?

Uh, wrong. That misconception almost derailed my plot for my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure with a HUGE research blunder that got past me, my critique partners, proofreaders, and my editor. You see, the first half of APMP takes place in Boston, and when WWI breaks out, the 2nd half of the book shifts to Dublin, Ireland. It was essential to the plot that the O’Connor women and children travel to Ireland mid-book, but during 1916, the only way to do that was by ship. No problemo—I simply plopped them all on a comfy-cozy passenger ship.

Beep, beep … back the truck up … or in this case, the passenger ship!

“No can do,” says my editor, whose husband just happened to be—what are the odds?—an Irish historian! He innocently pointed out to his wife that the O’Connors traveling on a ship to Ireland during World War I would not have been feasible as passenger ships at that time were commandeered for war. Not to mention the annoying fact that German U-boat warfare made it too dangerous for ship travel. Double sigh.

So, what did I do when my editor called me with the dilemma?

I had a meltdown. Cried for days. Walked around in a fog. Then frantically began researching other destinations (other than Europe) that the O’Connors could possibly travel to via ship. Consequently, I was a basket case, not only because of the MAJOR research and rewrites looming mere months from release date, but because I had fallen in love with Dublin, and mourned it’s potential loss.


“Pray for a simple solution,” came the thought one day after I’d spent hours and hours laboring over daunting research.

Oh. What a novel idea for a Christian author!

So I did. And guess what? Out of the blue, an old friend called me for lunch, and when I told her my dilemma, she squinted at me and said, “You know … I just read something recently about the introduction of the freighter convoy system during WWI, which greatly reduced the likelihood of being sunk by a German U-boats.”

Excuse me?? I remember just blinking at her, jaw dangling while the wheels turned in my head, heart bursting with gratitude. Because by adding a freighter convoy, a menopausal wife having a breakdown because her grandmother is dying in Dublin, and a cousin in the freighter business, my massive plot rewrites/research dwindled down to two measly paragraphs—count ‘em, two!—added to make that book historically accurate.

WOW … who knew?? Well, God apparently, because He masterminded the lunch with my resourceful friend who just happened to have read an article on freighter convoys during WWI. I mean again, seriously, what are the odds?

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming
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Another brick wall I hit was on A Hope Undaunted, a real doozy that reduced me to tears, rants, and a black hole for almost a week. It took me nine months to write that book and it’s my absolute favorite, so I was really excited. Instead of popping the huge surprise at the end of the book like I did in the prior three novels, I pulled the old grenade pin mid-book, blowing up both my hero and heroine’s future together and, hopefully, the reader’s mind as well. Unfortunately, my editor tossed her grenade first, demolishing my plot so completely, a total rewrite/replotting appeared to be in store.

That night my husband held me while I sobbed in his arms. “We’ll just pray about it, Julie,” he said softly, “and God will get you through this, babe—He always does.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I wailed, lunging away to lay prostrate on a soggy pillow, “the heart and soul of my plot has been destroyed, and now I have to start over, coming up with a whole new book!”

Oh ye of little faith.

So, yes, we prayed and God showed up carrying a few grenades of His own. Talk about a wall-crumbler! One minute my editor is talking total plot rewrite, and the next she’s saying, “You know … what if we just shift things a bit, deleting your main twist component—a component she patiently explained I could not do in Christian romance—making it vague enough that the shock value was still in effect?”

Say what? I blinked. Squinted. Caught my breath. A slow smile curved. Oh. My. Goodness! One minor shift, and the entire plot remains intact with nothing more than a few line revisions. WOW—from total rewrite to total peace for my editor and me in a blink of a prayer!

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming
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By my 5th book, I was confident I was getting this plotting thing down, so when it came time to write A Heart Revealed, I was ready. But as an author who incorporated a hairpin twist at the end of my prior books, I was a wee bit concerned. Emma and Sean’s romance was not my typical romance where boy meets girl and sparks fly. Instead, this plot hinged on a ten-year friendship that grows spiritually and emotionally, ripening into unconditional love where two people sacrifice themselves for the other. Great story, I thought … with one itsy-bitsy problem.

There was no way I could surprise my readers because Emma is married to an abusive husband, who is very much alive back in Dublin. Since both she and Sean are Catholic, the two of them can’t get together until the slime-bucket husband kicks the bucket. I figured everybody who read the book would assume I had to X the ex in order to make this plot work, and regrettably, they were right. Believe me, I researched divorce and annulment ad nauseum in the Catholic church back then and frankly, they were not a viable option for my story, so I was stuck.

Okay, so I don’t have an earth-shattering plot twist at the end—so what? If it’s a good story, does it really matter if I shock my readers senseless?

Unfortunately, to this CDQ, it does. I get such a thrill out of those high-voltage electrical twists that cause my readers to jolt right up in bed so hard that they wake up their husbands with a mild expletive. And, yes, that is a true story, written to me by one of my sweet readers. 😍

But … how do you write a jaw-dropping climax when there’s only one predictable, ho-hum ending in sight?


Without question, A Heart Revealed was the coolest God-storming experience I’ve ever had. There I am praying on my lower deck one crisp autumn day, staring at the kaleidoscope of color in my sun-dappled woods when I looked up at the sky. “God,” I say, “You are the God of creativity, so I know You have an ending that will blow everybody away, including me. Would You mind sharing it with me, please?”

As God is my witness, within ten seconds, an idea fluttered into my brain like those scarlet and gold leaves that were fluttering all around. The idea was SO masterful and SO genius, that I literally shot straight up in the chair and started laughing, knowing that I could never have come up with anything like that on my own. And to this day, no one that I am aware of has guessed the ending ahead of time. So, if you have, let me know, okay? But, no spoilers, please.

Now that’s the kind of brainstorming partner you want!

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming
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So, how did God-storming provide my coveted “twist” in A Wing and a Prayer? Not quickly, I can tell you that. I prayed the whole time I was writing it, asking God to give me an “O’Connor twist” that would put a smile on my face. But, alas, when I wrote “The End,” it was the “end” of my quest for a twist because I still didn’t have one. “Oh, well,” I said to my hubby with a sigh, “with its rich WWII and WASP history, it’s still an exciting book, I hope, so this must be the way God wants it to be.”

Not. There I am on the treadmill during the final-edit stage, praising God to worship music when, BOOM! A bolt from the blue has me bolting downstairs to my computer to put the finishing touches on a book that now puts a big smile on my face. 😁

And yours, too, I hope, if you win my giveaway below, so good luck!

GIVEAWAY: I would love to hear your own stories of “God-storming,” whether you’re a writer or reader, because we all have them, right? So, leave a comment below to be entered to win a signed paperback copy of A Wing and A Prayer OR your choice of three of my e-books.

BRAINSTORMING LINKS: And, for those of you who like to add a little brainstorming to your God-storming, I have some great “brainstorming” links listed below you’ll want be sure to check out!

GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming

She’s dead-set on giving everything to the war overseas …

Even if it means losing everything in a war of the heart.

A street orphan abused and abandoned by an alcoholic father at age five, Gabriella (Gabe) O’Connor has never let a man stand in her way yet. So when a handsome flight officer thwarts her plans to become a Women Airforce Service Pilot, she’s determined to join the war effort anyway she can. Her chance comes when she “borrows” foreign correspondent credentials from the Boston Herald—where her father is the editor—to stow away on a medical ship to the front.

            Lieutenant Reece Kincaid pegs Gabe O’Connor as trouble the moment she steps foot on Avenger Field as a WASP cadet. As the eldest brother of a boy whose jaw Gabe broke in grade school, Reece is familiar with her reputation as both a charismatic ringleader and a headstrong hooligan who’s challenged every male and nun from grade school to college. As her WASP flight instructor, Reece eventually expels Gabe when she pulls a dangerous stunt. But when he is an evacuation pilot in France eight months later, their lives intertwine once again, exposing them to a danger as perilous as the German tanks roaming the Reichswald Forest: a love that neither expects.


GOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on Brainstorming
Julie's Website
A lover of all things Irish, Julie Lessman writes close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.

Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, Heart of San Francisco, Isle of Hope, and Silver Lining Ranch series, Julie was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered over 21 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Reader’s Choice Awards, Julie’s novels also made Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015, Best of 2014, and “Essential Christian Romance Authors” 2017-2020, as well as Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction. 

Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. Contact Julie through her website at

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Mark Abel

What a blessing and honor it is to host with all of you at Seekerville, a site I have visited so many times over the years, not only when seeking help with craft and wisdom from published authors, but also for encouragement and a spark of joy and laughter. Go Seekers!   
So here I sit, after working on my debut novel for longer than I want to admit, I am finally a published author and just beginning to venture into the turbulent waters of promotion and marketing, but what’s fun about that? Not much, I believe I hear you thinking, and I agree, so let’s talk about something fun. Writing. The next project. The next big idea. But what to write exactly and where to begin? They say everyone has one good book to write inside them and I believe that is true. But will another story call to us, begging to be told? 
My debut novel, Ephesus: A Tale of Two Kingdoms, is a supernatural thriller based on Jesus’s message to the church of Ephesus, found in the book of Revelation. It is one of seven unique messages written to seven different churches and I find myself compelled to press on with the series. I have some ideas about the next book but considering how long Ephesus took to write I am thinking about something completely different. Afterall, I could be working on the seven churches series for the rest of my life! And that’s when the thought began to emerge. Maybe I’ll use a pen name and try a new genre—why not? It doesn’t mean I can’t return to the series later and so here’s the exercise. Let’s Brainstorm our next projects together!

The Challenge:
Select one of the pictures from this post and respond with a story idea. It can be in the form of a what if question, a premise, or a back-cover blurb. But here’s the catch. You are NOT allowed to muse within your current genre. Instead, pick something completely out of your element and let your brain run free. I’ll go first with a YA Action Adventure: 

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Jason was not excited about spending his summer with his grandfather. What could be fun about living in the country when all his friends were in the city? The farmhouse was broken down and smelled like musty blankets and nothing seemed to work right. The walls didn’t answer questions and there was no adventure room, not to mention a meal machine or even a Zcube. Indeed, the summer was looking quite boring, that was until Papa showed him the shed and the gleaming machine hidden under the tarp. It was a secret he explained and illegal, but would Jason like to take a ride? Papa explained he would be preaching tonight, whatever that means, and preaching’s illegal too. “That’s why we’ll need to be cloaked without electronics you see, in order to avoid the drones.” Removing a chrome cap, Papa jostled with a metal can from which he carefully poured into an opening. He nodded and then smiled. “It runs on alcohol, my special brew and she’s very fast. Maybe not as quick as your dad’s electric but way more fun to drive. And the sound—like music to my soul—just wait and listen.” Lifting his brows his eyes glinted. “It belonged to my grandfather and it’s called a Ferrari.”

Now it’s Your Turn: 
Pick a photo and imagine it’s your next book cover. Now, pitch us a story idea and let’s see what happens. Remember, it can be as simple as a question or premise. (Example: A salvage collector finds a body inside a refrigerator and then realizes the dead man is him. Ha!) Feel free to weigh in with feedback and/or comments to anyone’s response. Let’s have some fun and don’t be shy about harassing me about my blurb! Maybe we will uncover a story to two!

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Mark would be honored to give away three paperbacks of his debut novel, Ephesus: A Tale of Two Kingdoms. If you would like to be included in the giveaway let us know in your response. To give people more time to enter, winners will be announced in the Weekend Edition on Feb. 15th.

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

When Kingdoms Collide History Echoes Through Eternity

Batush had planned to spend his day working in the Library, but that was before he met the unworldly traveler. Accepting a message of challenge, Batush uncovers an ancient scroll buried by those who fear its message. With Bishop Jonness wanting to keep it hidden and Bishop Gallus craving its sacred knowledge—and both willing to kill for it—Batush is in a race to save his family.

In the modern world, Daniel Fairmont has stepped up to serve his struggling church but finds himself at odds with Nick Hamilton and a woman from his past. Soon a mysterious murder triggers a police investigation, revealing threats and hidden scandal. Nick may be zealous for the church, but his passion is for power. And someone is standing in his way. Daniel—at any cost—he must be stopped.   

Swept away in a supernatural clash where they will encounter angels of light and darkness, the paths of two men cross in a battle over what they hold most dear. As kingdoms collide and past meets present, Batush and Daniel must make a choice—a choice of courage and consequence that will echo through eternity.

What Critics Are Saying:
Two mesmerizing worlds separated by more than two millennia—so different and yet so very much the same. I laughed, I cried, and my heart raced as I turned pages. Looking at the clock through bleary eyes—I read on.  —Richard Parker—

Brainstorming with Guest Mark Abel

Mark Abel is an architect by trade who has dreamed of becoming an author over most of his life. Ephesus: A Tale of Two Kingdoms, is Mark’s debut novel. Mark’s passion in writing Ephesus, and hopefully more books to follow, is grounded in his mission statement as a writer:

Exploring the Mysteries of God Through Story

Mark lives in Tempe, Arizona with his wife Cheri. They have three grown children and one grandchild. When Mark is not writing he is either designing buildings or tinkering with cars. He starts each day with a strong cup of espresso and on some occasions, ends the day with a dry glass of Cabernet. Cheers!   

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Before our post today, I would like to take a moment to honor our veterans and families.  Thank you for all you’ve given in service to our country. Please let us know in the comments today if you're a veteran or family member. We want to honor you!

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

We recently had a blog reader email us asking where we get our story ideas, and whether it’s okay to write a story if the idea got sparked while reading someone else’s story. I’m not an attorney or able to give any legal advice about copyright law. But I can say that story ideas come from everywhere! And certainly, our creative brains get clicking while we’re reading. If you’re concerned, I’d suggest reading more info on copyright (click here). It specifically says ideas cannot be copyrighted. Still, I suggest reading up on the topic. It’s always good to be informed!

However, all of us reading here today could be told to write a story, and given details about the characters and plot, and each story would turn out differently. We all bring different perspectives, different life experiences, different voices to our work. This is what makes stories so rich!

I thought it would be fun to share a bit today about where some of us get our story ideas. I recently polled the Seeker authors, and we had a discussion about this topic. Here’s what they shared with me…

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

I get a lot of my story ideas from research on my work in progress. I come across some interesting detail that doesn't work for the current book but sparks a whole idea for another book. I've also gotten ideas from movies, books, travel and people watching.

My idea for The Kincaid Brides Series came from a long-ago trip to Carlsbad Cavern.

Petticoat Ranch came from my husband growing up with a family with seven sons, then us having four daughters and watching his mind be boggled by the way girls act.

The Sophie's Daughters Series was based on my belief that despite all the very strict rules for women's behavior back in history, folks who headed west probably went their own way a LOT. Women NOT riding side saddle. Wearing pants. Working alongside husbands and husbands not being afraid of women's work. Thus the female doctor, wrangler and sharpshooter....all manly jobs.

A new idea came from the founder of my home town, Decatur, Nebraska....he LIED and said his name was Stephen Decatur, related to a famed Revolutionary War general. And OUR Stephen Decatur was a scoundrel...much of that has been hushed up. I'm changing the names to protect the legacy.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Lots of my ideas come from research and visiting museums. Or from wanting to tackle a social issue like PTSD, war veterans, orphans, social sins...I tackle all those issues in my upcoming Regency series. Finding a timeless issue and putting it in a different social, economic, or historical environment and seeing what happens. :)

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

We all get inspired by stories and each person tells it differently.

I'd remind folks that it's not just creativity. It's science. Action/reaction. Character arcs. I think that's where writers lack inspiration, is keeping people in their lane and building the story from how they would react under the circumstances. The mathematical side of writing fascinates me.

I'm a people watcher. And listener. And, like Mary, when I'm researching one book, a detail will jump out and be used for a different book.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

The basic is, where don't I get story ideas? They're EVERYWHERE. I have WAY TOO MANY, and not nearly enough time to write them all.

One example - I got the idea for Christmas in Hiding when I was standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes.  I could hear a block party on the next block and I started thinking, what if everyone was invited except one person, and what if everyone got poisoned (not fatal) except for that one person? Would she get blamed? Would she have done it? Ultimately, everything about the opening scene (and the book) changed, but that party was what triggered it.  

Another story idea (that I haven't used yet and probably won't) came as I was walking to school and saw a muddy communion veil by the curb. Like every other idea, my brain immediately turns it into a story. How did it get there? Was it just lost, thrown away? Since I write suspense.... the questions get darker. 

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

Ideas can come from just about anywhere. Watching the news, hearing a story about someone… Other times things just pop into my head. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing a book and then read another one with the same premise. But every writer comes at a specific situation with a different perspective. Like Ruthy said, no two books would be written the same. Different voice, different life experiences, all those things play into the telling of a story.

Story Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark Passion

From my experience:

I get ideas from everywhere—listening to conversations at restaurants and elsewhere, watching people (while trying not to look too nosy!), reading news reports, and listening to sermons. Because I love to write about opposites attracting, I often dream up two entirely different people to throw together in a story.

In Her Unlikely Family, I wanted to put together a stiff banker in a tough situation with a unique, generous waitress ready to jump in to help. In The Doctor’s Second Chance, I wanted to throw together a small-town rugged home contractor with an uptight big-city pediatrician whom he resented.

In A Family for Faith, I was on a flight home from an RWA conference and watched as a single dad tried over and over to put a bow in his daughter’s hair and could not manage it. I yanked out a notepad and started writing ideas for a story about dad with a daughter at an age where she really needed a mother. I also used the real-life experience of a friend of mine as part of my divorced heroine’s backstory—where her child chose to go live with his dad and the pain that caused. So that story had ideas from everywhere!

You know, for this post, I was originally going to try to create a list of places or methods for getting story ideas. But now that I’ve re-read all the input from these writers, I don’t think I’ll try to do that. Every one of us gets ideas from whatever inspires us, whatever makes us question things, whatever sends our brains off in wild directions (worse-case-scenario-itis for some of us!). :)

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, look at what interests you. Open your eyes, ears, and heart. Pray for God to show you something that you can get passionate about. Because no matter how great an idea might seem, it really needs to be something you can wholeheartedly throw yourself into for the book to resonate and have heart.

Each of us is unique. Each of us has a lot to offer the world. Now go, enjoy writing those stories that are uniquely yours to tell!

Let’s chat! Tell us where you get your ideas. And those who aren’t writers, tell us story ideas you’d love to see written.

After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com and

Puzzling Out a Story One Piece at a Time

by Pam Hillman

Each story idea starts with one tiny little puzzle piece. Just one.

A word, a photo of days gone by, a scent, a location, an event. Before my Natchez Trace Novel series became the full-fledged series that it is now, it was just a single thought to write about an indentured servant, which became the premise for the first book in the series, The Promise of Breeze Hill.

One idea. One Nugget. What might that be? It might be a character who can’t walk away, but then later doesn’t want to walk away, which, ironically, seems to fit all my heroic heroes. (Hmm, am I sensing a theme?) And, since I like to put a bit of a twist on my stories, I wanted the hero to be the one who was the indentured servant.

And to make matters worse, I indentured the poor guy to the heroine, but something in his past makes this a really bad thing. I just kept tightening the ropes on him. I also wanted my indentured servant to be an alpha male, with a take-charge attitude. More thinking outside the box turned Connor into a man who has already served a forced seven year indenture, but willingly indentures himself to pay for his four younger brothers' passage from Ireland.

What would make Connor so adverse to be under the thumb of a woman...something more than just be an alpha male in a time period when women had little say in how things were run? What baggage and problems can I throw at Isabella Bartholomew? And what power (big grin) can I give her? What can push them apart, but draw them together? On and on and on, the pieces just keep falling in to place.

And it all started with the germ of an idea to write about an indentured servant.

Oddly enough, or really not so odd, The Road to Magnolia Glen, the second book in the series started the same way. The good news was that I had an overarching series "theme" by this time. All I had to do was make Connor's younger brother a man who'd had to tend to his family back in Ireland for many years and he felt like he'd missed out on life.

Knowing that was not much more than picking out all the edge pieces to a jigsaw puzzle and putting the "frame" together. I mean, it's pretty easy to find the edges, but a lot harder to drill down and match up all the interior pieces. AND... here's the thing... we don't have a picture to go by. We're working blind, piece by piece.

But us authors are brave and determined if nothing else. And sometimes we carve a few pieces and make them fit. Ahem.

I built Quinn and Kiera's story the same way I built Connor and Isabella's, one piece at a time. I have a hero who, while he loves his brothers, (thinks he) wants to shuck his responsibilities and strike out on his own; a heroine who's doing everything in her power to keep her sisters together. One piece leads to another, and, well... their lives change.

Do you enjoy puzzles? Try this one on for size. :)

The groundwork for Caleb O'Shea, the hero in The Crossing at Cypress Creek (Spring/Summer 2019) was laid in the first two books, but it was almost as vague as the gray backgrounds in the puzzles above. Caleb the black sheep prodigal of the family. All I really knew was that he had to show up in Natchez and he had to be really tough. I knew nothing about Alanah Adams (I didn't even know her name) until I turned in book #2 and turned my attention to book #3. But I love Alanah.

And the women they are bound to protect with their lives: Isabella, Kiera, and Alanah? Each had to fit the heroes and they do. I'm not sure if they chose each other or if I did all that matchmaking by myself. I'm just glad all three couples ended up perfectly matched!

Let's talk. Authors, what's the first thing you come up with for a story? Is it the big picture, like the edge piece, a corner, or some obscure little thing that readers might not pick up on until the end of the book/series. Would you say you approach a jigsaw puzzle the same way you approach planning your books.

Readers, what catches your attention in a story first? Also, do you enjoy jigsaw puzzles? Where do you start with those? Do you pick out all the border pieces, or start with a focal point, like bright colors or a red barn or fall trees?

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

You live in the real world.

Me, too.

In the real world we don't always have the chance to ensure the happy ending so many of us like, but we do have our own unique experiences. Those experiences begin in childhood, roll through young adulthood and right on into our lives as card-carrying adults with all the responsibilities that go along with it.

But where does all this fit into a story matrix? And since I write romance and women's fiction, I'm going to stick to those primarily, but you'll see how anything can be put in new context.

Let's start with today's news stories from my local paper:

Oh, wait, the first story is too gruesome.... (Ruthy refuses to write or talk about alligator attack stories)

Okay, still looking at articles.... aha! Here's one:

A. Hotel for indigent people is closed by town council

Okay, this is doable. There are so many ways to look at this. Let's make a list:
1. "Homeless shelter" angle 
2. Real estate buyouts 
3. City politician trying to make a difference 
4. Bad cop muscling locals for graft money 
5. Local minister fights for the rights of the poor 
6. Kindhearted fire marshal sees danger in old, decaying building

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
Now we go deeper:

Local politicians demanded the closing of a non-certified shelter for the homeless, citing unsafe conditions. Maybe we've got a formerly homeless heroine who is dedicated to making life better for the downtrodden? Her mother was homeless and she's got a "give back" heart?

That block of Old East Main is currently under consideration as the eastern border of the newly proposed high-rise apartment building featuring lofts for downtown young executives. So we can take our hero or heroine as the developer, the Realtor, the homeless shelter manager, a good cop trying to clean up the force and investigating the bad cop, a minister fighting for the rights of the downtrodden or the fire marshal who sees the dangers inherent in the old building and can't stand by and let people die.

So from the above brainstorming list, we can use any or all of those ideas to deepen and flesh out the story. Or just one and go in a very different direction. Then, based on what you do there, you need a hero or heroine who is standing in the way of progress, not because they're jerks but because they need to stand their ground. Their job could be on the line, they could be paying back a kindness done to them, they could be truly invested in the city's economic growth or they could be the secret daughter of one of the homeless people. SECRETS ARE A VERY GOOD WAY TO DEEPEN THE PLOT!
Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
3. Fairy Godmothers Fix Prom Gowns for Local Students

Okay, this one could be so much fun... Let's brainstorm a list:

1.Organizer is the heroine.

2.Organizer is heroine's mother, a real do-gooder down-home type person.

3.Heroine is busy executive.

4. Heroine had the best of everything, can't see the magic of hand-me-down gowns but is pressed to help by what?

5. Hero is cop? Sheriff? Teacher?

6. Schools with poverty populations are often under-performing. Does this open a new door for heroine?

Maybe heroine has to help because she's assigned community service. Picture a small town and she crossed up the judge by being hoity toity! (oh what fun that would be to write, think Doc Hollywood or Cars only with prom dresses!) Hero lost daughter in tragic crash, donated her gowns. He'd have to be a 40ish hero to do this timeline.... but that's okay, we love all heroes! School is under-performing and heroine is in town to change things? Or was already in town (lives there) but was assigned by state to go into school and write a report? And offers her old gowns to the cause? Hero works at school? Hero is town sheriff and trying to help disadvantaged youth and heroine sees more than she bargained for and realizes it's not a black-and-white situation. Or hero's never been married and it was his niece that perished in a crash and broke up his older brother's marriage, leaving you a wide open door for book two.

Depending on setting a story like this throws open the doors for diversity. A huge plus.

Keep Fairy Godmothers as your voices of wisdom as hero and heroine bump heads.

Now it's your turn. Throw an idea out there and let's see if we can come up with back-and-forth brainstorming ideas to layer it in. When folks tell me they don't know how to deepen a story, I realize they're looking too broadly... narrow the focus, get to the nitty gritty, either the dirty laundry or small town bigotry or nepotism or racial divides or grudge-holding. We are all sinners enough that looking to deepen a story is as simple as letting people be people. They'll do it all for you, I promise!

And while you're jotting something down for today's back-and-forth, I've got fresh coffee and tea, homemade lemonade, sprigs of mint, lumps of sugar and homemade l-o-v-e cookies, shortbread cookies with a spritz of rosemary in the dough... rosemary is the herb of love!

And speaking of love.... I love that Welcome to Wishing Bridge is on sale for Kindle for $1.99!!!!! Such a beautiful story of three women who reunite when one sends out a cry for help... and how God's perfect timing puts them all in the right place at the right time. Oh, that God! :)

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

Stop in, toss in a comment and I'll tuck your name into the farm hat (it's farm season in WNY!) for a copy of this absolutely beautiful award-winning book "The First Gift".

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?

A story of one child... one teacher... and the men who love them both.

Kerry McHenry is nobody’s fool. She sees her own tough upbringing in Cassie’s dire situation, so she works tirelessly to guide the young girl, trying to help her become everything that God wants her to be. At the same time, she finds herself torn between a commitment-phobic pediatric oncologist from a nearby town and Phillipsburg’s widowed deputy sheriff, a complicated man who is still angry with God. As the stakes grow ever higher and the characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways, each will face a true test of faith—and come face to face with indisputable evidence of God’s love.

Stories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?
Multi-published, bestselling novelist Ruth Logan Herne has written over 40 novels and novellas and is pretty sure she's living the dream. Stop by her website, friend her on facebook or see what she's up to on Twitter @RuthLoganHerne. An avid gardener and baker, she's pretty sure she does both because flowers don't talk back and cookies are everyone's go-to food!SaveSave

Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

by Pam Hillman

A couple of weeks ago, I got together with a group of other authors for my first ever brainstorming retreat.


Janet W. Ferguson, Patricia Bradley, Stephenia H. McGee, and I all live in Mississippi, and we were scheduled to go to a book signing at a library, so I reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in scheduling a retreat at the same time. To my delight, all three were ready to brainstorm a new project, so it was perfect timing for all of us.

Now, before I get to the nuts and bolts of what worked for us, let me say I had the most fun at this retreat than anything I’ve ever done in the writing world. If you get the chance to go to a brainstorming retreat, do. If there’s not one in your area, or you can’t travel a long distance to one, then reach out to your circle of friends and organize one yourself.

So, how do you go about that…

Hostess - Someone needs to be “in charge” of your retreat. In this case, since it was my idea, I took the reins. We figured out when and how long all of us could meet, and I built our schedule around that. I booked the venue, prepared the schedule, and then … uh … tore it all up at the last minute. But for a really good reason. (Read on to find out…)

Central Location - While a retreat at some far-flung location that requires two days of air-travel might be on all of our bucket lists, scheduling, cost, time, and exhaustion factors in for some of us. Or at least it does for me.

Everyone in our group lives in Mississippi. While Pat had to travel the farthest, she was going to be in the area for the book signing, so didn’t travel “extra” for our retreat. So, search for a central location to minimize everyone’s travel time and expense. 

Keep it Simple - Originally, I looked at booking a cabin at a local park. But since the cabins at that location require you to bring your own bedding, we opted for a hotel instead. Since there were only four of us, it worked out beautifully. (And their continental breakfast was exceptional!)

Be Flexible - Remember how I said I planned the retreat, booked the venue, and created the schedule? Well, 24 hours before the retreat, I had to cancel. Why? My 2nd granddaughter decided to make an appearance on the exact day of the retreat. But all was not lost. Since there was no airfare involved, and our small group was flexible, we shifted from the day before the book signing to two days after. The hotel rebooked us, and that was that. Su-weet!

Piggybacking Another Event - If you’re thinking of planning a retreat before or after another event as we did, consider carefully which one is the most exhausting. For instance, as stated above, our retreat was originally scheduled for the day before and morning of our book signing. I used so much brain power during our brainstorming that if I’d gone from there to the book signing, then had a two hour drive home, I would have been comatose. 

Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

Four and no more - Okay, maybe you can have a few more than four, but be careful of having so many people that the ideas are coming at you faster than you can think. Also, if there are 7-8 (or more), it’s going to be hard to get through that many sessions without everyone becoming exhausted, so either you’ll need to allow extra day(s) or break into two or more groups. Bottom line, four worked perfectly for us.

Schedule - The hostess should create a tentative schedule and run it by the group. Our group could only meet from 2 pm until 10 am the next day. I originally scheduled 1 1/2 hours for each session, but we quickly realized that our natural rhythm leaned toward 2-3 hours for each story idea.

We got through four ideas in 20 hours, only breaking 2 hours for dinner, 7 for sleep, and 1 hour for breakfast. I don’t advise that tight of a schedule! Ha! I don’t know about the others, but I was exhausted. Ideally, two full days with two sessions on each day, some time to relax over lunch and dinner, and time to get a good night’s sleep for the next day is critical.

Share Ideas Ahead of Time - The sessions will go smoother if you share everything you know about your story with the other brainstorming partners ahead of time. Don’t worry if what you have is vague or even if it’s open to change. Just give everyone something to hang their hats on. We shared genre, time period, location, and as much of the characters and plot as we’d figured out. Plus some. :)

Internet Access - One of the things you might not think is important to a brainstorming session is internet access. I certainly didn’t think we’d use it at all. But Janet was a whiz at researching historical and relative people/places/events that took our story ideas to a new level.

Friends and Partners - Read your partners’ existing work, or at the very least have a working knowledge of what they write. Historical romance? Romantic suspense? Women’s fiction? Light and fluffy, or dark and sinister? The more you know about their style, the better you’ll be at brainstorming their stories. And vice versa.

Mix of Genres - And in that vein, we brainstormed two historical and two contemporaries. While it’s not a hard and fast rule to mix genres when brainstorming, flipping from one to the other kept our creative juices flowing.

What Else? - Load up on snacks, drinks, coffee, and comfortable seating. And a few blankets or throws for those who are easily chilled. (Not mentioning any names, but her initials are SHM!) Pat brought an artist’s sketch pad and markers. When we got stuck on my hero’s GMC, she pulled out the paper, and we were off and running again.

And Last - Don’t stress. Pack light. Fly/drive “ugly” as my friend Robin is fond of saying. Wear sweatpants and flip-flops. Pull your hair up in a ponytail and forego the makeup if you like. But bring on the story and your thinking caps!

So, there you go. That’s how we did it. Now it’s your turn. Have you been part of a brainstorming retreat? Please share your tips, techniques, and any advice on things to avoid.

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Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat
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Brainstorming AloneGOD-STORMING: A Christian Author’s Take on BrainstormingBrainstorming with Guest Mark AbelStory Ideas: More Than a List of Sources, They Must Spark PassionPuzzling Out a Story One Piece at a TimeStories Surround Us. So How Do We Harness Them?Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

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