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Seekerville: The Journey Continues

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Writing: Art or Business?

 

Writing: Art or Business?
Hello, Seekerville!

My husband and I (along with our youngest son) just returned yesterday afternoon from a trip east to visit family. From South Dakota to Iowa, to Indiana, to Michigan, to Minnesota, and then home. Nine days, 3000 miles. We're glad to be home again!

But in spite of all my planning, I had no internet access for the entire trip. The wi-fi card in my little traveling computer didn't work and my phone isn't set up to be my #1 computer. So my vacation was a true vacation, right? Except for the work I had been planning to do while we traveled, including writing today's Seekerville post. 

No worries! Welcome to Jan Drexler's blog from March 2015! I hope you enjoy it!

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Last year I joined our local writers group. It’s a secular group with a broad range of writing experiences and goals among the members. And like any group of writers, there are a lot of aspiring authors who come to learn and grow. Several of the members have had some success in the indie publishing field, but I’m the only regular attender who is traditionally published.

Writing: Art or Business?

The Prodigal Son Returns
Published by Love Inspired, May 2013
order HERE

That, plus the fact that I’m new means that they really aren’t sure about me yet. (That’s okay. Sometimes I’m not sure about them, either!)


One of the other members and I walked out to our cars together last month. She hadn’t realized before that meeting that I’m a published author with multiple contracts waiting to be fulfilled (i.e. I should spend all of my time writing!).

“How did you do it?” She thought she really wanted to know.

I hesitated for a half-minute. She wasn’t going to be happy with what I wanted to say, so I started with my standby answer for that question:

“I entered contests that put my name and my story in front of publishers and agents.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“You’re published by Harlequin, right?”

“Yes, by Love Inspired, Harlequin’s Inspirational line.”

She looked past my shoulder and unlocked her car door. “Don’t they have pretty strict guidelines? Don’t they make you change your story?”

“They expect you to make revisions to improve your story and so that it will fit their style. Every publisher does.”

She tossed her bag into her car. She said goodbye. She drove away. No, she didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.

If she had stayed around, ready to chat under the street lights on that unusually balmy February evening, I would have told her a secret.

Writing: Art or Business?

A Mother for His Children
Published by Love Inspired, August 2014
order HERE


Writing is an art. But once you hit the send button, it becomes a business.

When you’re in your writing cave, your story is all your own. It’s a wonderful thing to spend an hour or two every day in a world peopled by characters you’ve created. At this point, writing is all about imagination, craft, and answering the “What if?” questions.

I love this part of the process. It’s a little like giving birth, with all the pain, agony, and delight that accompanies bringing a new life into the world. It’s exhilarating! And it’s all yours!

But if you want to become a published author, once you’ve finished your story you need to switch modes. This story needs to have a life of its own.

Let’s take the birth analogy a little bit further. If you’ve raised children, you know that it is unhealthy (and impossible!) to force them to remain babies forever. They need to walk, to explore, to become separate people from their parents. As much as we delight in babies, we don’t want them to turn into some twisted copy of ourselves. We want them to become the people God intended them to be. To become adults.

The same goes for your story. If you have any desire to publish your work, you must put it out there for others to see. You have to listen to and evaluate comments from critique groups, contest judges, and eventually, potential agents and publishers. Why? Because these are the people who are helping your baby grow into a self-sufficient adult.

Writing: Art or Business?

A Home for His Family
Published by Love Inspired, September 2015
order HERE


Some authors hold on to their stories too tightly. They keep their writing snagged within their prideful grasp, thinking no one else understands their story like they do. They refuse to accept help to make it better, and they refuse to change anything to make it fit someone else’s standards.


If you want to be published, you won’t be that kind of author.
You’ll be the kind of author who understands that once you hit “send,” your story is now a business. Rather than keeping it close to your heart, you humbly open your hands and let it grow.

If an agent suggests that your story will sell better told in third person rather than first person, you start planning how to make that change and still keep the meat of your story intact.

When an editor sends you a list of revisions that need to be made and invites you to resubmit your story, you put everything else aside and make those changes.

When you get a request for a partial or full manuscript, you comply in a timely manner because that’s good business practice.

Soon you’ll find that those changes and revisions make your story stronger. More complete. Saleable.

Writing: Art or Business?

Hannah's Choice
Published by Revell 2016
order HERE


And when you see your book for the first time, you’ll cry. You really will. Because that’s what parents do when they see their babies all grown up.

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Welcome back to 2022!

I'm still treating my writing as a business. Next week, on May 25, my first indie published book will be released! You can preorder it NOW!!! 

Writing: Art or Business?

Ebook is available for preorder now!

Emma Blackwood’s favorite pastime is solving literary murder mysteries…until the body in her living room makes everything a little too real.
When Emma comes to the Black Hills to work at her Aunt Rose’s B&B, the Sweetbrier Inn, she is hoping for a quiet break from the corporate treadmill. But she hadn’t expected murder and intrigue to mar this peaceful setting.
As she wades through too many clues to identify the murderer, she soon finds that the culprit isn’t stopping at only one homicide and may even have placed Emma herself on the list of targets. With the help of her friend Becky, and a deputy sheriff who grudgingly lets them join in on the investigation, Emma tracks down the killer. But will it be in time to save the next victim?


Which kind of author will you be? What do you need to do to move your writing from art to business? #NoLimits!

One commenter will win an ebook copy of "The Sign of the Calico Quartz!" 

A Story is Born

A Story is Born

How well do you remember two years ago? Somewhere in the middle of March 2020 was one of those moments that change history...for better or for worse.

Now that we've had some time to digest what has happened over the past two years (and it hasn't always been pretty!) it's time to look back with some clear hindsight and realize how these months have changed our writing.

I know I'm not alone in this: The pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named* wasn't the only life-changing event that happened in 2020. Many of us had earth shaking happenings in our personal lives, too. Things that weren't related to the PTSNBN* threw us out of our groove, shut down our creativity, and either stopped us in our tracks or caused us to change directions.

A Story is Born

For me it provided the excuse to take a complete change in direction. I needed something new. Something to jump-start my creativity and get me excited about writing again.

But where should I start? 

The first thing was to decide on a genre. I love historical romance, but I had been down that road. I needed something new.

I looked at my Goodreads list - what books had I been reading? Which ones had I enjoyed the most? I realized that I love cozy mysteries - not exclusively - but I love reading them. 

A Story is Born


So the next step? I decided to try writing one. And a story was born.



The first question - the genre - was already decided. 

The setting? Easy. I looked out my office window and knew the Black Hills was perfect.

A Story is Born

The characters? It didn't take long for me to have my cast. In a mystery you need a sleuth, a sidekick, a lawman/woman, an interesting antagonist, and the all important bad guy. I also added in a mentor and a couple pets who are too smart for their own good.

Emma Blackwood (the sleuth) is an unemployed hotel manager who comes to the Black Hills to work in her aunt's upscale bed and breakfast, the Sweetbrier Inn.

A Story is Born
Shutterfly

Emma is smart, capable, and just a little bit OCD.

Becky Graves, her sidekick, is a fabulous baker and is related to just about everyone who lives in the small town of Paragon. Part Lakota and part Irish, she claims her ethnic background is a blend of the best the world has to offer.

I gave Emma a fun antagonist, too. Wil Scott is Rose's business partner and the chef at the Sweetbrier Inn. He and Emma get along like a couple of siblings who can't put their rivalries aside, but Emma says his cooking is to die for. Her favorite breakfast is Wil's Crème Brulée French Toast.

The lawman in the story is County Deputy Sheriff Cal Cooper. He also happens to be Becky's cousin (didn't I tell you everyone in Paragon is related?) Cal is a no-nonsense guy who reluctantly lets Emma work the case with him.

Emma's mentor is her Aunt Rose. Rose has a mysterious past that keeps Emma guessing. Her warm personality sets the tone for the inn. From the early morning breakfasts to the daily afternoon teas, the inn is Rose's baby. 

The pets are Rose's corgi, Thatcher, and Emma's young black cat named Tim. Don't worry - they get along with each other just fine.

A Story is Born

The setting of the Sweetbrier Inn is perfect for a cozy mystery because the cast of characters keeps changing for each book in the series. I have one set of guests for the first book and a completely different set for the second. New characters = new suspects.

A Story is Born
Shutterfly

Wait - did I forget to mention the bad guy? Sorry. No spoilers here. He/she/they will remain a mystery until the end of the book!

A Story is Born

With the changes in my writing, I was basically giving my career a makeover. I've developed a new brand, a new logo, and am working on a new website. 

Another big change is that these new books will be indie published, so I created my own publishing company - Swift Wings Press - with its own completely unnecessary but fun logo.

A Story is Born

The last thing - after selecting an editor (thank you Beth Jamison!) cover artist (thank you Hannah Linder!) formatting, etc. etc. (all the details of indie publishing) - was to select titles.

I always have a hard time coming up with titles. Then I remembered some of my favorite mysteries, and I was on my way.

"The Sign of the Calico Quartz" is the first book in the Sweetbrier Inn Series. I've set the publication date for May 25, 2022. 

The next book is "The Case of the Artist's Mistake," which will be coming out late summer 2022.

The third book is still in the works, but be assured Emma, Becky, Cal, and the rest of the gang will catch the bad guy in that one, too.

A Story is Born

How did the past two years affect your writing? Did it feel like you ran into a brick wall or did you feel like you had new ideas and energy?

And if you're still struggling to make some sense of what you're supposed to be doing with your writing through all of this, let us know so we can pray you through the slump. One thing I do know - you are not alone!!!



Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

 

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

I'm sure you've heard about the importance of letting a butterfly fight its way out of a cocoon without help - they must struggle or they will die. 
The same with chicks breaking out of an egg. Hatching is a process in which the chick fights and struggles...and rests...while it matures enough to live outside the shell.

The point is - struggle is natural. It's healthy. It's how things grow.

Think of a baby learning to walk: There's your little darling, so wobbly on those fat stumpy legs! Do you coddle that sweet thing? Not if you're wise. You let them try to take a step - fall - and try another step. Before you know it, you have a toddler!

Why am I repeating myself here? Because almost every author goes through the same thing - we have trouble bringing enough conflict into our stories. Softheartedness and compassion will cause us to coddle our darlings, but we must not let ourselves do it!

If we don’t let our characters go through tough times we won’t have a story.

Think of some of the great stories you’ve read or seen as a movie – we’ll look at one that most of us know: The Lord of the Rings – the movie version.

When we meet Frodo, he’s a likable sort of lad. He likes to read (a big plus!) and he’s good friends with a wizard. Life is good for Frodo, and before we’re very far into the story, he’s the lord of the manor.

Wouldn’t you love to live in the idyllic Shire? One big advantage is that everyone expects you to be a little chubby!

Except that nothing much happens. If the entire movie – okay, the entire trilogy – stayed in the Shire, following the day-to-day lives of Frodo and his friends… *yawn* … Can you imagine the extended version? Nine hours of watching hobbits eat?

The story doesn’t start until conflict enters in the form of the Black Riders coming to the Shire to find the Ring.

In my February post, (you can read it here) we started outlining a romance story. Our hero and heroine were Benjamin and Heather (no relation to Benjamin and Heather Drexler.)

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories
The day Heather Vetsch and Benjamin Drexler were married!

I started the plotting (using mirrored plot points to create a chiasm) and our own Debby Giusti moved the story along by adding a couple more plot points.

In the beginning of our story, Benjamin works for a company that produces accessible community playgrounds. He has selected the perfect site for the new playground and all he needs is permission from the planning commission.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

Heather is a teacher who loves children and wants the best for them. But she has heard about the planned playground and opposes it because of problems with the proposed site.

There’s the beginning of the conflict.

Remember, as much as we like our hero and heroine, we can’t coddle our darlings. We must ramp up the conflict.

Will our characters suffer? Yes.

Will they be better and stronger because of the suffering? Yes.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

 So, how do we find right conflict for these characters?

This is where character development comes in. We find the right conflict by delving into our characters’ pasts. We need to determine what happened in their past to give them a memory that they stuffed deep into a hole in their minds and won’t bring out again – until they’re faced with a situation that breaks their carefully constructed life into pieces.

One super-helpful resource for this process is The Story Equation by Susan May Warren.

Don't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our Stories

For Heather, it’s her dad’s death. He worked at the battery plant that was once on the piece of land earmarked for the playground. She is convinced that the cancer that killed him came from years of working in the toxic environment of the plant, but can’t prove it. Her goal is to prevent the city from using that piece of ground for anything until she can convince the EPA to test the area for lingering toxins.

For Benjamin, it’s his little brother who was born with spina bifida. His passion is to build playgrounds that are accessible for all kids. He has watched his brother shoved to the sidelines because there was no way for him to play safely while confined to a wheelchair. His goal is to provide a place for kids like his brother to have fun.

Do you see how their goals are heading in different directions? When they collide, that’s conflict!

And as the story goes along, there will be one conflict after another – just when we think we’ve reached a resolution, another twist comes along and ramps the conflict up again.

Meanwhile, as our characters face these conflicts they are growing and changing. Making decisions and living with the consequences. And by the end of the story, coming to a satisfying resolution.

Next month we’ll talk about resolving conflicts, and how some of the consequences of those resolutions can lead to more conflict.

Creating conflict for our characters is one of the hardest things for an author to do, especially when we're just starting out. But can never let ourselves be tempted to coddle our darlings!

Have you faced this problem in your writing? How did you solve it?


 

 

Deepening the Impact of Your Story With Chiasms

 

Deepening the Impact of Your Story With Chiasms


Let’s talk about story structure.

Readers and writers both know when a story feels “right.” What is it that gives us that feeling?

It’s when a story is constructed in a way that resonates with our souls.

Basic story structure is simple.

Deepening the Impact of Your Story With Chiasms

And it is the same pattern, no matter the genre.  

In a romance: boy meets girl, love blooms, conflicts happen that lead to near death of the relationship, a pivotal change happens in both characters, love grows, they face a major conflict together, they live happily ever after.

In an adventure story: the hero is called to action, he/she makes mistakes pursuing the quest, he/she has a virtual death/rebirth experience, faces the quest with renewed vigor, slays the virtual (or real) dragon, he/she lives happily ever after.

In a mystery: the sleuth is faced with a crime, the sleuth pursues the bad guy without success, the sleuth has a pivotal change happen in his/her life, the sleuth tracks down the bad guy and wins, he/she lives happily ever after.

Basic story structure! It works!

But…how can you deepen your readers’ experience? How can you add depth to your story that will make it resonate even more fully?

This literary device is key.

A literary device sounds like it might be a trick, but it isn’t anything sneaky. It’s a smart and subtle way to add substance to your story. If you’re a word-geek like me, take some time to study classical rhetoric. You’ll be blown away by the possibilities when you consciously add literary devices to your writing.

The Greek term for this literary device is “chiasm.” (pronounced ki-AZ-um)

Basically, it’s a form of writing that states a truth or tells a story in a structure we can describe as
 A-B-C-B-A.

The Bible is full of chiasms, and this illustration might help you understand what they are - Let’s take Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:18-30. I’m using the NASB, but the structure is the same in any translation.

            A. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden

                B. and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,

                    C. and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart;

                B. and you shall find rest for your souls.

            A. For my yoke is easy, and My load is light.
 

Do you see how the A statements are related? The same with the B statements?

The connected statements reflect and reinforce each other, then the C, or central statement, is the pivot point.



How does this relate to our writing?

Take a look at this expanded story diamond:

Deepening the Impact of Your Story With Chiasms

 
See the arrows that connect the plot points? If I wrote this out using the same method as the Bible passage above, it would look like this:

                A. Inciting Incident

                    B. Plot Pivot One

                        C. Twist One
    
                            D. The Pivotal Scene, or Moment of Grace

                        C. Twist Two

                    B. The Black Moment

                A. Plot Pivot Two, or the Final Battle



So, what does this look like when we’re writing a story?

These are the major plot points to start with when we construct our story.

        A - A  The Inciting Incident reflects and reinforces the Final Battle.

        B - B  Plot Point One reflects and reinforces the Black Moment.

        C - C  Twist One reflects and reinforces Twist Two.



Let’s see how this works using two of the connected plot points in our chiasm. We'll use a romantic plot:

In the Inciting Incident, Benjamin and Heather meet at a county planning commission meeting. He’s there to ask permission to build a playground on Lot A at the edge of town, and she’s there to convince the planning commission to deny permission.

So, what happens in the Final Battle? Benjamin and Heather, now firmly united in love, join forces to convince the planning commission to give permission to build the playground on Lot B on the other end of town (rather than on top of the toxic former battery plant location on Lot A.)

Do the two plot points reflect and reinforce each other? Yes!

Do you see how when these two plot points are related to each other, the story comes around full circle and closes the circle? 

Do you see how closing that circle gives your reader the satisfying story conclusion that makes her get all teary-eyed and smiling at the end?

Plotting a story isn't easy, but then, what part of writing is? I like to look at plotting as a puzzle - a puzzle that lends speed and ease to the actual writing process because when you have the plot points laid out, you know the story is going to work.

So let's play with this puzzle in the comment section. How would you connect the other two plot-point-pairs in our story about Benjamin and Heather?

When you play the brain-storming game with us (or make any comment,) you'll be entered in a drawing for one of my Love Inspired Historical Amish romances. Your choice of title!

Deepening the Impact of Your Story With Chiasms

Thanks for playing with us today!



Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

 

Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

Really? Can it be that simple? Only three steps?

Seekervillagers aren’t that gullible! You know that becoming a successful author is a long, laborious process.

But these three steps are key to getting you to where you want to go.

Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author


First, be teachable.

Being teachable means that you are willing to learn...even if that learning comes after an ouch of a critique, or you feel like your toes have been stepped on.

Being teachable means that you are willing to open your eyes to a new way of looking at things.

Being teachable means that you ask for advice, then consider that advice, and follow it if it's valuable.

Being teachable means being willing to change your opinion. And I know how hard that can be!

An example? I'm in the process of developing covers for my soon-to-be released cozy mystery series (and my first venture into Indy publishing!) I designed a few covers that I liked. In fact, I liked them a lot. I ran them past a few people that I could trust to be honest with me, asking for feedback.

I got the feedback! Especially from my daughter. My other friends (thank you Seekerville ladies!) were polite and they gave some useful suggestions. My daughter didn't worry about being polite. She told me point-blank what she thought. (Both approaches are needed and appreciated!)

I took all the suggestions - the polite ones as well as the not-so-polite - and went back to the drawing board. And I LOVE the result. It's much better than my first fifteen or so versions!

I'm so glad I remained teachable throughout this process, and I'm pleased with the final (or nearly final) version of my cover. You'll have to wait a couple months for the official cover reveal, but here's the series logo to give you a taste:

Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

Second, be gracious.

Being gracious means promoting other authors as often as you can.

Being gracious means NOT responding to that unfair and wicked negative review, no matter how much you want to.

Being gracious means meeting deadlines and responding to your business emails in a timely fashion.

Being gracious means extending grace to others in all circumstances.

This is one of those things I'm constantly working on in myself. I don't think any of us are naturally gracious (although Debby comes close!) and learning to be gracious is harder to learn for some of us than for others.

Graciousness is a close cousin of humility. It's easier to be gracious when we're humble.


Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

Third, be an active learner.

Being an active learner means that you seek out places to learn your craft - and Seekerville is a good place to start.

Being an active learner means that if there is a skill set you don't have, you learn it. (Although at times what you learn is when you need to hire someone else to do that particular skill!)

Being an active learner means that you don't rely on others to spoon-feed you. There are basic skills an author has to have - negotiating the internet, knowing how to use Word, knowing how to write a synopsis/blurb/back cover copy/etc. Learn those things for yourself. Don't rely on someone else to do them for you. 

Being an active learner means that you are constantly learning. You're reading new releases in your writing genre. You're researching details for your next WIP. You're reading a craft book that an author you respect has recommended. You're reading blog posts by agents and publishers. You're listening to podcasts on every subject from how to structure a story to how to build your website.

Something else being an active learner does for you is to keep your mind young and your life engaged. Studies have shown that learning something new is the best way to keep the synapses in your brain active and pliable, so keep learning! 

Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

This short list is just a beginning. There is much more to being a successful author than what I've mentioned here, but it is a start. And if you keep these things in mind, you're on your way!

What do you think? Are there steps that you would add to move us along the path to success?

And be sure to come by Seekerville on Wednesday to catch Debby Giusti's list for a successful author - the two of us were thinking along the same lines this week!


Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author

One more thing! The re-release of A Home for His Family is coming next week! Click on the picture above to preorder from Amazon, or head over to my website for ordering links: www.JanDrexler.com 




A Carol of Christmas

A Carol of Christmas

 

Silent Night, Holy Night. All is Calm, all is Bright…


Are you humming the tune to yourself? It’s the ultimate Christmas song, isn’t it?

What is it about this hymn that speaks so well to that deep place in our souls?

Maybe it’s the image the words invoke – the stable, the joyful receiving of a newborn baby, the night filled with stars –

Maybe it’s the nostalgia. How many Christmases have you sung this song at a Candlelight Service at church? How many idle moments spent humming the tune?

Just hearing the opening bars takes me back to a cold Christmas Eve at least sixty years ago and a snowflake-filled sky. The hymn spans the time and brings that scene to mind once more.

A Carol of Christmas

 
It’s all of that, isn’t it? 
But when I think of this Christmas hymn, it is the poetry that speaks to my heart the most.

Silent. Holy. Calm. Bright.

Mother and Child.

The Child? A baby.

But not just any baby – this baby is the Savior of the World.

This baby is the long-awaited Messiah.

And then another tune comes to mind…

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

A Carol of Christmas

The Hope of mankind, given so humbly. So silently. So gently.


During this Christmas week I intend to put away the trappings that have been distracting me since the end of November. Shopping, wrappings, trees, baking (endless baking!) Even Christmas parties and church preparations.

Putting them all away for now because the time of preparation is nearly over.

Christmas Day is nearly here… It’s time to let silent contemplation have its way.

A Carol of Christmas


Joy to the World! Our Lord is come!

Have a blessed and joy-filled Christmas!

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)

 

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)


Settings is the theme of this post, part two to my post from last month. You can read that post HERE if you missed it or need a reminder.

This month we're going to talk about giving our settings life - providing the details and accuracy that makes our settings real.

How can we give our settings life?

Think of all the details that go into bringing your reader into the setting of your story. The five senses – taste, touch, smell, sound, sight – are your tools, but how can you use those tools to make your setting unique? And not only unique, but accurate?

Research.

The best kind of research is what I call “feet on the ground.” This is where you visit the location of your story.

Let’s use my story, “A Home for His Family,” as an example. The setting is 1876 Deadwood, Dakota Territory. The crest of the gold rush.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)

For my feet on the ground research, I traveled to Deadwood (not a long trip for me – the town is about an hour away from where we live) and took advantage of the historical walking tour. Definitely worth my time! I also spent an hour (or two, or three) in a museum dedicated to the town’s early history – the same years of my story setting. Seeing some of the clothing, furniture, pens, and other things used at that time (including the hypodermic needles the prostitutes used for their drugs) from that era helped me add authentic details to my story.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)

 I also spent time walking through the cemetery and reading inscriptions on the grave markers. So many of the early graves were for Civil War veterans who came to Deadwood ten years after the war ended to find their fortunes – a detail that became part of my hero’s backstory.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)
Many of the old stones have been restored by the Deadwood Historical Society

I also read books. I read an autobiography of a woman who had been a young girl in Deadwood at the time of my story (her father had been the territorial judge.) I met people like Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock through her eyes. I also read first-hand accounts of figures who were part of the gold rush history of Deadwood. Source materials like these are invaluable when you’re trying to cement the setting (time and space) in your imagination.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)

I also found photographs of the town from those early years, crude maps of mining claims (including a few in the middle of Main Street,) and descriptions of life in a mining camp.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)

All of this research was to give my readers an authentic representation of the setting.


What if I'm writing a contemporary novel?

Many of the same research techniques apply, except that the source materials will be current rather than historical! Again, feet on the ground research is the best.

But if you can’t travel to your location, the internet is your friend. Most towns have a website or Facebook page. For information about the inner workings and issues facing small towns in the Black Hills (for my WIP, a cozy mystery in a contemporary setting,) I subscribed to a local small town paper.

How do I start?

 - When I’m exploring a new-to-me setting, I go to Google Maps first. That helps me set the location in its geography and proximity to other towns. This helps for imaginary towns, too. If my setting is in rural northern Indiana, I focus on the area (terrain, roads, highways, etc.) and start building my imaginary location from that.

 - If I’m writing an historical, my next step is to look for the location in a map from the same time period as my story (or as close as I can get.) My favorite source for this is Historic Mapworks.

 - Then I start delving deep into the plethora of research materials available through the library or online. Our own Erica Vetsch finds some of the greatest books and sources for researching the Regency Era and the Napoleonic Wars. I love perusing local used bookstores and tourist areas for Black Hills history (the tourist mecca, Wall Drug, has a fabulous bookstore!)

 - I never discount using fiction for my research – if the other author has done his or her research well, I can glean a lot from their knowledge as I read their book.

 - I talk to people. When I go to a museum, I try to strike up a conversation with a docent. They are usually volunteering their time as docents because they LOVE their subject and are very knowledgeable. A word of warning, though – although most docents are this way, I have run into a few who know nothing about their subject. Some people volunteer for other reasons. So I try to have a working knowledge of my subject before I have that conversation.

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)
Some friendly (and knowledgeable) docents at the Somerset Historical Center in Somerset County, PA
 

Are you ready to talk about the setting of your novel? How did you choose it? How did you do your research?

Let’s talk!

And just for fun, the Deadwood story I mentioned in this post is being re-released in a two-for-one from Love Inspired in January! One commenter will win a copy - sent after its publication, of course. Meanwhile, you can preorder HERE.

About the stories:

Giving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)
A ready-made family

The Texan's Inherited Family by Noelle Marchand

Busy Texas farmer Quinn Tucker is used to raising crops, not children. So when four nieces and nephews are left in his care, it's not long before he realizes they need a mother. But his search for a wife leads to the least likely woman for illiterate Quinn—schoolmarm Helen McKenna. Could a marriage in name only blossom into something more?

A Home for His Family by Jan Drexler

Nate Colby came to the Dakota Territory to start over, not to look for a wife. He'll raise his orphaned nieces and nephew without schoolteacher Sarah MacFarland's help. Sarah deserves better than a man who only brings trouble to those around him. Yet helping this ready-made family set up their ranch only makes Sarah long to be a part of it—whatever the risk.

What Will Spill Onto Your Page?

 

What Will Spill Onto Your Page?

Hey, y'all. Jan here with a thinking-type post.

(Yes, I can talk Southern. My years in West Texas and in Kentucky taught me how!)

I've been convicted of something lately, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.

Let's start here - 

What Will Spill Onto Your Page?

I'm teaching school-age children at Bible Study Fellowship this year, and we're studying Matthew. The immersion into this study (not only my own study, but in preparing to teach) reminds me that what we put into our hearts is what is going to come out.

In this section of Matthew, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. You know, those religious leaders who were all about religion...but not so much about God. Like many of us, they thought they knew God. They thought they were obeying God with all their laws to "help" people follow God's Law.

But Jesus had a special name for them: brood of vipers. He uses that term more than once! Like I told the students in my BSF class, that means that He considered them to be a nest of venomous snakes.

I don't know about you, but I don't want the Lord of the Universe to consider me to be no better than a venomous snake.

I don't want my heart to spew out poison - untruths, slander, and even "mistakes" when I'm trying communicate to my readers about Jesus and His world...which covers 100% of what I write about.

But as writers, we are constantly filling our heads and hearts with knowledge - research for our latest novel. Sales statistics. The best price points. Reading blogs and listening to podcasts about writing and marketing.

As we watch the news or read the newspapers, we fill our minds and hearts with the noise of the World.

As we go about our non-writerly lives, we deal with family issues, church issues, and what in the world to fix for dinner.

When our heads and hearts become filled with the things of this world, what will overflow into our writing? 

"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

What's the answer?

We must balance all of that - over-balance all of that - with God's Word.

Not just reading scripture, but delving deep into it.

Not just reading someone else's teaching on scripture, but studying it for ourselves.

Even if my daily word count suffers...

The time spent in God's Word - just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit - is never wasted. That's treasure to fill our hearts.

What Will Spill Onto Your Page?

My prayer for all of us is that our heads and our hearts will overflow with Jesus, and that is who our readers will encounter in our books.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1


Where does your story take place? Is the setting of your story real, imaginary, or somewhere in between?

If you aren't sure, maybe I can help. Here is my take on the different kinds of settings you can use for your novel.  

1. Real Settings 

There is a distinct advantage in using a real setting for your story. You can go there. Walk the streets. Smell the wind. Listen to the traffic – or non-traffic – noises. You can stop by the local diner and try the daily special. Or if traveling there is impossible, you can do a virtual visit using Google Earth or Google maps street view.

But the disadvantage to using a real place as a setting for your fictional story is that your perception of the area might not match up with someone who actually lives there. Every place is someone’s hometown, and you run the risk of getting some little detail wrong.

It’s a little easier if you’re writing an historical story, since you don’t run as big of a risk of a reader having intimate knowledge of the setting you’re using – especially if your story takes place in an earlier century.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I got a letter from a reader after I published my first novel, The Prodigal Son Returns. I had set a few of the scenes in the real town of Goshen, Indiana, in the 1930’s, using my memories from the 1960’s and my dad’s descriptions of his memories of the town from his childhood to add details. But there is always the fear that the descriptions don’t ring true – until I received that note saying that the town I described was just the way this reader remembered it, down to the location of the barber shop on Lincoln Avenue.

Whew!


2. Imaginary Settings 

The advantage to creating an imaginary setting completely out of your head is that it’s yours. You get to decide what the weather is like, who lives in this fictional place, and what happens there.

The disadvantage with a setting like this is that you have to create an entire story-world out of your imagination (which is the main attraction for some authors!) Tolkien did this with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was so successful in bringing the reader into his story-world that millions of people felt like Middle Earth was a real place – even before the movies were made!

I’ve never written a setting like this. These are usually reserved for science fiction or fantasy stories, but it’s intriguing, isn’t it? To create that perfect world where imaginary beings live and breathe? I might have to try it sometime.


3. Somewhere in between 

I have to confess that this is my favorite setting for my stories. This where you take an imaginary setting – a town, ranch, neighborhood – and nestle it into an existing real place.

The advantages of this kind of setting are huge. For instance, in my current Work in Progress, a contemporary cozy mystery, my setting is in the Black Hills. I’ve created my fictional town of Paragon and placed it in a particular spot. Of course, there isn’t a town there. Or even a crossroads. But it is in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest, which satisfies the requirements for the stories in the series.

However, the surrounding area is real. So, my characters can have lunch at Armadillos (my favorite ice cream shop,) or drive into Rapid City to buy groceries at Sam’s Club. And since I live in this real setting, I can be sure that my descriptions of the climate, traffic, the change in the atmosphere when the tourists arrive on Memorial Day weekend, and the EVENT that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are all accurate. When Emma walks out of the Sweetbrier Inn on a late April morning and encounters snow – that’s reality. In a fictional setting.


Another way to use this kind of setting is to set an historical story in a real place. My series, The Amish of Weaver’s Creek, takes place in the very real Amish settlement of Holmes County, Ohio. One reader who had grown up there told me that he felt like he was visiting his childhood home because my descriptions were so accurate.

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
A creek in Holmes County, Ohio - the inspiration for Weaver's Creek
 
But Weaver’s Creek and the Amish community surrounding it in a corner of Holmes County is all fictional. I set it a certain distance from Millersburg, Berlin, and Farmerstown – all real towns of the area – and used historical maps to make my descriptions of those towns fit my story setting of the 1860’s. Then I created my own map of the Weaver's Creek area - the farms, the houses, the roads, and where each family lived. The result is a small area my readers can become familiar with inside of a larger area they can visit. 


How does that happen? How do our minds gently erase a portion of a map and overlay an imaginary community where none really exists?

How can we all know the Hundred Acre Woods, Hogwarts Castle, Plum Creek, or Deep Valley like they are in our back yards - when we've never actually been there...

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
Betsy's home in Deep Valley

...and if we are able to visit in person, we feel like we've come home.

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
Laura's Plum Creek

That's one of the intriguing things about reading and the imagination, isn't it?

Next month, I'll be talking about the kind of research that a writer can do to make their settings take on that feeling of reality.

Meanwhile, let's talk about settings. What book setting would you love to visit if you could?

Checklist for Entering Contests

 

Checklist for Entering Contests

Hey kids! Do you know what time it is?

It's contest time!

One thing almost all published authors have in common is that we got our feet wet in the publishing industry by entering contests. 

What does that mean? I believe that learning to navigate the writing contest world is great training for becoming a successful author!
Opportunities abound for entering contests! One reason for the timing of this post is because the deadline for ACFW's First Impressions Contest is THIS FRIDAY! OCTOBER 15th!

So this post is your head's up!

This is a rewrite of a post Pam Hillman did *way too many* years ago – but contest time is here again, so I thought it was time to bring Pam’s fabulous post out of the archives, dust it off, update it, and bring it out again!

So with Pam’s permission, here’s her updated post:

Checklist for Entering Contests
by Pam Hillman/Jan Drexler

My former boss always said that my attention to detail was what made me good at my job. And just for the record, I quit my former job a few years ago to write, work in the Christian publishing world, and manage the books on the family farm. It wasn't like I was fired from that day job! Just sayin' :)

So, this slightly OCD trait also comes in handy when preparing manuscripts to send out, whether to contests, agents, or editors. But if you’re not detail-oriented, not to worry. Here are some tips to help keep you on track.

Checklist for Entering Contests


Keep in mind that some of the tips below do not apply to all contests. This list of tips is to help you get in the habit of doing all the steps every time you enter a contest, so that you can whip out an entry in a matter of hours. If something doesn't apply, you just mark it off your list.

Once you’ve got the content of your manuscript and your synopsis polished to a shine and the deadline is approaching, then:

1) Review the big picture rules

a. Does your manuscript fit neatly into one of the categories?
 
b. Do you know who the finalist judges are?

c. Have you looked at a sample score sheet if available?

d. When is the deadline?

2) Review the rules specific to your manuscript and your synopsis

a. Check the margins

b. Check font and font size

c. Check to see if there is a title page. A lot of online contests have moved away from title pages, but it never hurts to check the rules, just in case.

d. Check header. What exactly does the contest require in the header? What does the contest forbid in the header (like your name or pseudonym)?

e. Double-check the contest's formatting rules. Do they have a formatting example? Check it out!  


3) There are few contests, agents, or editors that require you to mail in your entry but keep these things in mind in case you hit one of those.

a. Did you include enough books or copies of your manuscript? If books for a published contest, did you sign them?

b. Did you double-TRIPLE-check the mailing address?

c. Pay a bit extra for Delivery Confirmation. You'll be glad you did. 

d. And especially if you are mailing in your entry, you might want to print out the mailing address for one last check when you get to the post office. In your excitement, it’s much too easy to get to the post office and seal that sucker up, forgetting all about the return postage and/or your check.

Checklist for Entering Contests


Entering unpublished contests have changed a lot over the years as the bulk of them have gone online. On one hand, the process is much, much easier and cheaper, especially since you don't have to print or mail anything. Isn't that a blessing? Contests with 3-5 print copies of a 20-25 page manuscript added a chunk of change to someone's contest budget. Also, for you young whippersnappers, us oldies had to pay for printing, postage to mail our entries, and a SASE envelope with enough postage for the contest to return all our judged entries. I like online much better.

But online contests don't come without problems. Slow internet, incompatible software, corrupted files, and failure to confirm your entry or payment can knock you out of a contest.

Checklist for Entering Contests


A year or so before I sold, I found out about a contest that was low on inspirational entries, so with hours before the deadline, I entered two manuscripts. One went through fine, but for some reason the other one kept converting from 35 pages on my computer to 39 on the coordinator's computer. Same two computers and the same coordinator as the other manuscript, minutes apart. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen and neither of us could fix it. The coordinator bent over backwards to help, but in the end, I had to make a decision. In desperation, I chopped 5 pages off the end, and sent it in with 2 minutes to spare. The manuscript was within the page count at that point and wasn't disqualified. (It finaled and actually won the contest. Go figure...)

Once a contest lost my digital entry. Just literally lost it. I can't remember if they gave me a refund or if they had someone read for me. In the course of writing this post, I found another one that I'm still not sure I ever got the results on. Let it go! Let it go! It never bothered me anyway....

Always, always, always make sure you use an email address that you check regularly and especially check your email after the fact if you end up entering a contest with mere hours to spare. Contest coordinators are amazing at bending over backwards to let people fix issues, but in fairness to other entrants, once the deadline has passed, there's nothing they can do. Stay on top of your entry and don't be disqualified for something that could be prevented just by being aware of your email trail.

Generally when you enter a contest, you will receive at least two emails. Possibly more.

1) Payment confirmation. Most of the time, this email will come from PayPal as that's the go-to for most online payments these days. PayPal allows non-users to pay with a debit or credit card, but the email will still come from PayPal.
2) Entry confirmation receipt. This receipt will be from group/chapter hosting the contest OR the contest coordinator's private email, depending on the software the contest is using. It confirms that the contest coordinator received your entry. Again, generally speaking, #1 and #2 go hand in hand and are automated responses when you complete your entry. This email will usually let you know if you need to look for additional emails.
3) Additional emails might land in your inbox once contest coordinators have laid eyes on your manuscript pages and made sure they meet the guidelines.

By checking your email, you ensure that you've completed the process, sent in your manuscript and received payment. The best laid plans can go awry even after you do everything perfectly, hit submit, but then go off to celebrate your achievement... only to find out that there was a glitch with your PayPal account. 99% of the time, you will receive an email confirmation immediately from PayPal. If you have time to wait 24 hours, do so. If the deadline is looming, it wouldn't hurt to check on the status of your entry.

It never hurts to check and double check everything. You’ll feel better, your package will be neat and tidy, and the coordinator will be forever grateful.

Jan here – I’ll add one more thing to Pam’s great advice at this point. Don’t…please, just don’t…make sending in your contest submission the last item on your to-do list before you head out on a week-long break from the internet! If the contest coordinator needs to get in contact with you, you need to be reachable. (You wouldn’t believe how often that happens!)

Then you sit back and wait for the results...or...

better yet, write another book!!!

Checklist for Entering Contests



Jan here again - I mentioned the First Impressions contest above. You can find out all the details of that contest for newbie, pre-published authors HERE! And that deadline is THIS FRIDAY! 

Another ACFW contest for unpublished/pre-published authors is the Genesis. You have a little while to get ready for this contest, but you MUST have a completed manuscript to enter. The contest opens in early January 2022, and the deadline will be in March. Details for the 2021 contest are here.

And if you're itching to learn about more contests, be sure to sign up for Tina Radcliffe's newsletter. She scours the interwebs to bring us the details! Here's all the info you need: Inside Edition

So, let's talk contests!

Any contest war wounds? Lost submissions? You sent in your fee, but forgot to send in the manuscript/books? You sent in everything except your fee? You entered your manuscript in the least likely category that it could ever possibly final in? 'fess up! :)

Or are you brand new to contests? Would you...could you...take the plunge into the contest waters?

Just remember - contests are how many of the original Seekers sailed off Unpubbed Island!

   

Writing: Art or Business?A Story is BornDon't Coddle Your Darlings! Using Conflict in Our StoriesDeepening the Impact of Your Story With ChiasmsThree Steps to Becoming a Successful AuthorA Carol of ChristmasGiving Life to Your Setting (Settings, part 2)What Will Spill Onto Your Page?Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1Checklist for Entering Contests

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