I'm Agented!

That's right, folks, and I don't mean real estate! I'm so very happy to announce that Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates is now my literary agent. I put the contract in the mail yesterday. And I even took a picture. So if you don't believe me, there's proof.

I was privileged to have several agents look at the material, and I am so grateful for each one of them, especially one whom I consider to be a very close friend.

But in the end, I truly believe Karen is the perfect fit for me as well as my work, and what an incredible privilege it is to be working with her and to be counted among her list of dynamic authors, many of whom are heros of mine, like Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter. My mind is still twirling around that someone with such a great deal of expertise wants to partner with me to make my project the best it can be. Plus, she's just all-around wonderful.

You can find her website here: Karen Solem at Spencerhill Associates

I want to give a little shout-out to two amazing women who have graciously allowed me to "adopt" them as mentors and have guided me in this journey. Cara Putman, my life wouldn't look the way it does without you. And I mean that. And Jenny B. Jones, sometimes I can't even wrap my mind around the fact that we're friends. Thank you for being among the first to believe in my writing and for championing me on. I love you both so much. Free customized jewelry and scarves for you two for life.

Goodnight, faithful readers.


Writing's Like Dating, Part 3: The Courtship

If there's one thing everyone likes about the writing process, it's the courtship phase. You know the stage. It's all chocolate candy and flowers until someone throws around the word "rejection." :)

In all seriousness, though, something that stirred me at the ACFW conference was the complete lack of reverence on a few authors' parts when communicating with very respectable folks. Now, this wasn't a prevalent issue throughout, don't misunderstand, but one or two in a crowd is more than enough. Think about this with a little perspective. Editors and agents are the equivalent to managers, vice presidents, and presidents in businesses (and some of them literally function in both realms). Would you walk up to the president of your company and say, "Hi, I know you don't really know me, but you should go out of your way to listen to my idea, and if you don't like it, that's your loss"?

So what's the appropriate way to woo an editor or agent, and what if--lucky duck--you find yourself to be the object of the wooing?

Well, you've got to think of it a lot like a relationship.

At the conference, Allen Arnold, VP of Thomas Nelson, said entering into a contract with an author is a lot like entering into a marriage. Because if they have doubts about you in the beginning, those doubts are not going to get better over time. :) It's so true, isn't it?

So what can we learn from this?

Don't be a bridezilla.
No, but really, you need to be pleasant to be around. Don't be pushy, but on the other hand, don't be afraid to talk about your work.

Take time to find the right fit.
Just as you wouldn't marry the first guy you dated (mercy, can you imagine?), you probably won't sign with the first editor or agent who expresses interest. That's okay. What's important is that you're following God's plan in all of this. And I assure you, He knows what He's doing.

In the meantime, do your research. "Date" your options. See who's a good fit. And stay true to yourself. Find strength in your writing voice so that when you do finally make that perfect match, you'll have something of substance to offer.

Thoughts for the evening.

Questions for comment:

Have you found yourself courting an agent or editor, or, even better, being courted? What have you learned?

Anyone have any funny dating stories to share?


"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."- Psalm 37:4

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you."-Psalm 32:8

I just returned from the ACFW conference a few days ago, and as I look back on my experience there, one word sums it up: thankfulness.

I was happy to meet many of you who read my blog and who gave me feedback about the video blog. Thanks for introducing yourselves!

While at the conference, I had a God-moment. Well, quite a few, actually. But one stands out in particular, and that is meeting my heros. I won't go into specifics for propriety's sake, but let's just say that out of every single person at the entire conference, God put the person I most wanted to meet (and most respect) in my path and allowed me the privilege of talking with him about my book. Funny how God's plans outdo our own, even when we imagine ourselves dreamers.

This person spoke words of affirmation into my heart and my writing pursuits. I am still in complete awe over the conversations I had with this person, and his faith in my dream.

I'm also missing all of you guys, my new friends!

Questions for Comment:

So, how was your conference experience? Are you experiencing a conference high or a conference letdown? I, for one, managed to get a cold... I think I overestimated my socializing stamina!

Also, many of you commented to me at the conference that you enjoyed my video blog, so I'm planning to do more of them. Any particular subjects that you'd like to hear more about?

Pitching Tips Forthcoming

I'd hoped to post my pitching vlog today, but it's been one of those no makeup, wearing fuzzy socks kind of days because I'm fighting off a cold. That said, I'm hoping to get it up very soon! In the meantime, I wanted to give you a few things to think about as you prepare your pitches for next week's ACFW conference.

1) Who are your characters? Florists? Firefighters? Children's pastors? These kinds of details are important to give the flavor of your story.

2) What are the stakes? What does your character have to lose, and what is pushing your character forward? Rachel Hauck did a brilliant segment at last year's conference, alongside Susan May Warren, where she said that your characters should have a push and pull motivation. They should be pushing against some variable, and they should also be pulled toward some goal. It's important you know what those are in case editors ask.

3) What's the takeaway value, particularly spiritually? What do you hope readers will learn? You don't want to explicitly say, "Readers will learn to be more disciplined in their devotions," for instance (you only have 30 seconds, after all!), during your initial pitch. However, editors and agents might ask these kinds of questions after your pitch, and you should be prepared.

Also, keep the action at the forefront of your pitch. You want to hook them, after all, not give them seventeen random details about the clothing depicted in your historical novel.


What to Bring to the ACFW Conference

This is my very first vlog attempt. Hope you enjoy it!

Do you have anything to add to my list? What are you bringing to the conference this year?


Writing's Like Dating: Part 2-- Know Yourself

Have you seen Runaway Bride? Do you remember that part of the movie where Julia Roberts' character changes her egg preference based off what her fiance likes? Then the guy she ends up with realizes this problem and has her eat a bunch of different kinds of eggs to figure out what she likes?

This same thing happens all too often in real life dating relationships. Men and women both try to be something they're not to make themselves more appealing to the other person, more likable. After a while, these daters might even forget or lose touch with their own preferences, and before you know it, they're drinking plain vanilla milkshakes instead of chocolate (with extra chocolate drizzle).

I know what you're thinking. What does this have to do with writing, aside from the fact that I crave chocolate every time I sit down to reach my word count?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

1) You can't market what you don't know. If you're trying to market a novel you've already gotten into print, or if you're trying to get a novel published, either way you're probably hoping to impress people. How can you sell your writing (and yourself, for that matter) if you don't even know your strengths?

Let's take that to the dating scene... let's say you have a horrible, hormonally-induced pimple on your shoulder that makes its grand appearance the morning of your first date with someone. Do you choose the strapless sundress for that evening's apparel? Probably not. You cover it up with a nice little three quarter length cami or something equally Loft-ish.

On the other hand, let's say every guy you've been out with has commented on your green eyes. You're probably going to spend some extra time doing your makeup so you can accentuate your best features, right?

So why don't we do this with our writing? Each writer has strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your giant pimple is inexperience or poor grammar. Do the best you can to overcome that weakness by studying and practicing the craft. But whatever you do, don't call attention to your unattractive attributes.

Too many writers start off pitches by calling attention to the giant pimple of their writing. Bad idea.

2) Trying to imitate someone else's voice never works. Remember our example from Runaway Bride? Pretending to be someone else, to like what someone else does or to think like them, is both unfulfilling and unsatisfying, not to mention, people can tell. Have you ever met someone who acts differently with each boyfriend because she thinks she has to meld to their interests in order to impress them? Is she ever happy? Does she ever end up with someone who really respects her for who she is? Does anyone even know who she really is as a person, including herself? Probably not, because she hasn't done the work to go through life establishing and finding her own inner voice.

Same thing occurs with writing. When we try to imitate another writer's style because, for instance, he or she is a bestseller, or that genre is doing well, it simply does not work.

God called you to write the stories He has given you.

That job is already in-depth enough... why complicate it by trying to be something you're not? You're free to be yourself... so be yourself boldy!

Questions for Comment:
Have you ever found yourself trying to be someone or something you're not in your writing? What helps you find and develop your own writing voice?


ACFW Conference Appointments: Debunking the Bad Guy Myth

Remember that high school feeling of getting caught talking in class? Maybe it wasn't your fault. Maybe your friend in the seat beside you wanted to cheat, and you were actually saying, "No, I will not give you my answers," but all the teacher heard was your mumbling, and next thing you knew, you were rambling on and on in some kind of ill-formed explanation of your merit.

Now imagine a line of authors feeling that exact same way--fidgeting their hands, grasping their one sheets, and considering breaking out super-sized bags of dark chocolate, the Christian version of taking shots. Maybe that's not so hard for you to imagine. Maybe you've been one of those authors.

But is that the way it has to be?

Last year, I interviewed the now-retired Etta Wilson for my conference tour blog. Something she said about new authors struck me, and I still think about it often: "Believe in your work and be kind. We're all in this together, and the writing and publishing of wonderful reading is a high calling for all of us."

What if instead of panicking over our 30 second pitches as if we're being graded, we stepped outside ourselves and remembered that ultimately we're all in this together? How would the landscape of appointments change? Because really, editors and agents want to buy quality fiction just as much (or more) than you want to sell it.

One moment in particular at last year's conference changed the entire experience for me, and in some ways, it even changed the way I look at writing. That moment was when Colleen Coble introduced me to Ami McConnell, and Ami hugged me. Hugged me.

Now, you might not understand the dynamic implications of this. See, Ami has edited almost every one of my favorite books, and I had to restrain myself from gushing so I didn't sound like a suck-up. She probably thought nothing of hugging me, but to me it made all the difference. When I attended my appointment with her the next day, I wasn't so scared anymore. Did she say my book was the best she'd ever seen and that she wanted to buy it immediately? No. She said I wasn't ready yet. And you know what? I wasn't. I realize that now. But I still came away from the appointment excited because of her encouragement.

So if my personal anecdotes aren't enough, here are several myths I think we should debunk in striving toward professional relationships:

1) Editors and agents are monsters.
They are people too. Be nice, and don't treat them like a one-dimensional way to get your written words disseminated. As an instructor, I know all too well how it feels when people simply want something out of you.

2) Editors and agents want to see you fail.
Actually, they want to see you succeed. Why do you think they chose this profession? Most editors and agents love the idea of finding great new talent.

3) Editors and agents are going to be mean.
At conferences like ACFW, rarely are editors and agents ever going to be unkind. Be prepared that they might offer constructive feedback, but that's only to help you grow.

4) Editors and agents enjoy being stalked.
Okay, so most of you don't actually believe this one, but I thought it still worth mentioning. Do not follow your favorite editor back to his or her room in hopes you'll get to pitch. It's perfectly fine to approach that person in a normal setting, but don't creep them out. If you do this, don't be surprised to see other editors running away from you.

5) Editors and agents will forget you.
I've saved the biggest point for last. Editors and agents have very good memories. Just because someone doesn't request your manuscript during this conference--and most won't--does not mean he or she will forget about you. In fact, the opposite is usually true, so that street goes both ways. Throw a fit, and that's what you'll be remembered by. Be gracious, and when you have another project to pitch next year, you'll be remembered by your kindness and willingness to cooperate, which can get you far.

When all is said and done, though, just remember that you are passionate about your story and your characters. Let that passion shine through, and with some determination, you're sure to eventually find a good match for your work.



Recently I've discovered this new artist, Audrey Assad. She's a phenomenal song writer and musician, but it's her song "Restless" in particular that I've been singing for weeks now. The chorus comes from a St. Augustine quote, "I am restless until I rest in You."

I love the line, "Praise is filling up the spaces in between our frailty and everything You are" because we so often think of God in terms of polarizing forces, but in actuality, there is truth, and then there is the absence of truth. When our frailty puts us in the latter category, it is grace that reunites us with Christ again.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I have.

And if you're interested in the full text from St. Augustine, you can find it here:


Writing's Like Dating: Part 1-- The Meet

Hey, everyone! It's been too long since I've touched base with all of you. Since I've last written, I've graduated with my M.A. in English and have had my wisdom teeth removed... what a relief to have that behind me! Hope all of you are settling into your summer routines and enjoying all the sunshine. Today I'm starting a series about writing and dating. This blog will cover the introduction, or the first few chapters.

"So," you might be asking yourself, "what does writing have to do with dating?" Well, surprisingly, a lot, especially if you write romance! For starters, don't give away too much background information too soon. It will freak people out.

I think all authors fight the impulse to info-dump in the first few chapters. After all, we've worked hard crafting these characters, and our readers should enjoy hearing all we know about the main characters, right? Wrong. Giving too much information too soon is boooooooring. So boring, it's akin to sitting down across from a cute guy on a date, only to listen as he rambles on for an hour about how much he misses high school. Can you say red flag? Same thing is true for books. If you're so immersed in your characters' pasts, readers will wonder why you're not showing an equal amount of interest in your characters' futures.

So remember to start off right in the middle of the action, right at the beginning of the story, and integrate the backstory little bits at a time, sort of like glitter eyeshadow. A little goes a long way and takes away from the pop.

Have you ever struggled with info-dumping? Better yet, have you been on one of these kinds of dates? What do you do to avoid it?


It's Official! I'm A Semi-Finalist!

ACFW Genesis scores are in, and just yesterday I got "the call" stating that I'm a semi-finalist! I nearly hyperventilated when I heard. I was in the car with my best friend, and I kept gasping as I was listening to the message. The conversation went something like this....

Me: (listening to the voicemail message) gasp
Amy: What is it?
Me: another gasp
Amy: What is it?
Me: louder gasp
Amy: Ashley, give me something here!
Me: (trying to breathe) Just a second...
Amy: (trying to focus on driving)
Me: I'm a semi-finalist!
Amy: For what!?
Me: The Genesis Contest!!!

I can't tell you how beyond thrilled I am to have this honor. I'm also happy to announce that my critique partner and good friend, Angie Dicken, also finaled in the historical romance category! Yeah! Go Angie!

If you entered the Genesis and didn't make it to the next round, please don't feel discouraged. So much of the judging just comes down to whether or not someone identifies with your writing voice. I want to encourage all of you to keep pressing on and not let it get you down if you didn't final.

You can see the list of semi-finalists on the ACFW website:

And if you could and you like me, please pray God gives extraordinary favor in the next round and that He blinds the judges to all my faults. ;) Just kidding! Kind of.

Hope everyone enjoys this weekend!


Review of Dining with Joy

From time to time, I like to post book reviews of what I'm reading. Today's review is of Rachel Hauck's Dining with Joy. Rachel is an active ACFW member, works with My Book Therapy, and is pretty much an all-around wonderful person. You may have read some of her other books, including The Sweet By and By, which she wrote with Sara Evans. So without further ado, here's the review. (Just call me Dr. Seuss.)

Joy Ballard is living every cooking host’s dream. Her culinary show has just been picked up by a major network, opening up the possibility of stardom. Only problem? She doesn’t know how to cook. What Joy doesn’t realize is that her ultimate humiliation could also lead to her greatest dreams.

This novel by Rachel Hauck is sure to rank among her previous honors, which include finaling in the RITA Awards, winning the ACFW Book of the Year Award, and being chosen for the Top Pick Book Reviews by The Romantic Times.

In fact, #1 New York Times best-selling author Debbie Macomber says, “Rachel Hauck's stories are filled with twists and turns that leave the reader breathless and longing for more. She is a fresh fiction voice will stir hearts for God,” according to Hauck’s website.

Readers will be drawn in by Hauck’s unique ability to construct a storyworld that tells both the literal and the figurative story. In Dining with Joy, something as simple as a drive through lowcountry South Carolina is never just a drive, but signifies a progression in the characters’ lives.

Similarly, the characters are exceptionally well-crafted. Readers will enjoy seeing several characters’ perspectives written into the book, especially when these different perspectives show the complexities of the problems between Joy and her beau, Luke Redmond. The banter between these two as they flirt their way into romance is witty and charming.

When Luke doubts his camera presence, for instance, he says, “I feel like a talking brick,” to which Joy responds with laughter, “I was thinking cardboard, but brick is good.”

The tension spikes as Joy’s archnemesis in the foodie world, Wenda Devine, reveals Joy’s secret on national television. Luke must decide whether he truly loves Joy, since she’s ruined his reputation as a legitimate chef, and Joy has a few decisions of her own. She has to find the inner strength to move beyond the promise she made to her dying father before inheriting his cooking show.

Dining with Joy shows the rich flavors of trusting God’s plan, particularly when it comes to romance. While the book takes up deeper issues like teen abstinence and self-worth, the Southern tone is sweeter than the tea the characters drink and is sure to leave readers feeling . . . well, joy.

You can find Rachel Hauck on Facebook, Twitter, or her website

Interview with Award-Winning Christina Berry!

Here it is, everyone--the interview you've been waiting for. Christina Berry graciously found time in her busy wedding-planning schedule to answer a few questions for us. I know you'll glean as much from her answers as I have. A special thanks goes out to the very special Christina, who no doubt will become one of our generation's superstar writers... and frankly, already has! So without further ado, here's the interview!

When did you start writing? Did you ever had a moment when you just "knew" you were called to write fiction?

Buried deep within my closet, one might find some angst-filled poetry from my teenage years and a very spooky seven pages of the novel I started in high school. Though I was in love with the idea of being a writer, it wasn’t until I finished college and stayed home with my first child that I actually decided to write a book. Truthfully, my mom told me we were going to write one together, and being the obedient daughter I am …

My mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, and I began writing in the summer of ’99. We figured the accountability of having a co-writer would make us actually do what we’d always dreamed of but never put action to. It took a long road of learning how much we didn’t know, tons of re-writing, brooding over rejections, making connections, pitching at conferences, and directional prayer to make our writing salable.

In the summer of 2006, when Mom was busy caring for her dying mother-in-law, I got the itch of a new story idea. Undiscovered was written by February 2007, edited by June, won second place in the 2008 ACFW Genesis Contemporary category, and was renamed The Familiar Stranger, contracted by Moody Publishers in October, and released in September 2009.

One decade from naïve first scribbles to debut novel!

I have a moment like that every time I write, to some extent or another. Not that it's easy! But I love the physical touch of my fingers flying across the keyboard, the cursor moving across the screen, having captured a moment, or made a deadline I set, or cracking myself up with character's line.

What has been the biggest challenge thus far in your writing career, and how did you overcome it?

Truly, the biggest challenge right now has been the market. Buyers have moved away from the grittier, darker stories I'm drawn to. Many people want to escape into a better world when they are reading. I've overcome that--or am attempting to--by tapping into another part of my creativity and have started a few cute romances.

What current project(s) are you working on?

I have a wonderful co-author--you can find her first book under the name Angela Ruth (Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho)--and we've put together a novella collection of classics retold. We definitely have modernized the stories, while keeping the bones and themes of the original novels.

Describe an average day in your life. How do you fit in time to write?

For one short year after my (then) youngest was in school and before becoming a foster parent, I would write or market from 9-2:45 with a short lunch break. The last few years have been more sporadic, with email and online marketing in the morning, then phone marketing, editing, and writing. After dinner and once the kids are in bed, I usually log 1-3 more hours of work time.

I’ve found I’m most productive at actually writing when I play games with myself. For instance, I might write down all the chores I have to do on one side of a paper and my word count in hundred word increments on the other. For every hundred words I write, I complete any chore. In a few hours, I’ve made good progress on both lists. Many writers hate to “interrupt” their writing time like that, but my brain seems to process better with frequent breaks and words spill out when I set back down at the keyboard.

Of course, if I get a call to substitute teach, I don’t get much done that day! I'm really looking forward to being married (ONLY 23 DAYS TO GO!) and being a full-time stay-at-home mom with dedicated writing time. My beloved values my writing and wants me to follow my dreams, so I might get a better "average writing day" soon. :)

How important is marketing on the author's part once a book is published? What things did you do to market The Familiar Stranger?

Extremely important! No one knows your book better than you. Thus, you are the perfect person to be telling people why they should buy it. However, once you've done your 100%, the rest is up to God.

Here's a long list of all I've done:

In November 2006, my mother (who is my co-writer on other projects) and I launched our website and asked our friends and family to subscribe to the infrequent, humorous Ashberry Lane Newsletter. Technically, this marketing effort began before I wrote a single word of The Familiar Stranger, but it laid the foundation for my current marketing.

We set a goal of getting 1,000 subscribers before one of our books made it to print. We hit that, gave an iPod Shuffle to a lucky librarian from Queens, and are pushing toward 2,000 now. We've recruited from real world, shoutlife, facebook, and conference contacts. Having access to so many interested readers and the building of momentum over the years has been priceless. I can’t imagine starting at ground zero in the midst of all the release date hoopla! (Come sign up at now to get your chance at a cool prize!)

My focus has always been on making one reader at a time, whether it be the woman who waited with me as our snow tires were removed at the tire shop, or the checker in the grocery store. Pretty much just looking at me sideways will earn you a business card.

I also did a 61-day, 90+ blog tour with almost every single one having new content. There is no doubt I put every thing I could into the marketing, but my sales have been less than stellar. Surprisingly, a year and a half after the book's release, I'm doing more book clubs/speaking engagements/signings than ever!

Who are some of your own favorite authors?

Most of my favorite authors have voices I never dream to come close to: Nancy E. Turner, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leif Enger, Francine Rivers, or Randy Alcorn, to name a few. The writers who really influence my stories are ones who examine the real grittiness of life like Roxanne Henke, Bette Nordberg, and James Scott Bell.

Tell us more about the editing service you offer.

I love, love, love helping an author get to the next level in his or her writing. A wonderful free-lance editor did that for me, so I feel like I'm passing it on. So many editors are very expensive. Editing is a time-consuming process, so they no doubt are worth the money, but I wanted to offer an alternative for writers who couldn't afford the usual edit. I work with partial manuscripts as well. If someone can only afford to have 50 pages edited, the comments and tools I offer should be usable throughout the rest of the manuscript. I pulled the following from my webpage at
  • $35 for a Trial Critique of the first fifteen pages--this allows us to see if our professional relationship will be mutually beneficial
  • $2 a page for Full Manuscript Critique, with a credit for the Trial Critique*
  • Critiques include both line editing and substantive edits
  • Your choice of paper or electronic copy
  • Detailed comments, illustrations of writing principles, and recommended resources that will take your writing to the next level
I'm thrilled every time one of my past clients finds an agent or signs a publishing contract!

What advice would you give to the unpublished authors reading this blog?

  • Read craft books
  • Write consistently
  • Join a critique group
  • Attend writing conferences
  • Be open to criticism. One always has room to grow!

Best piece of advice for those of you who've been writing for years and have yet to get published: start a new novel. I'm a stubborn girl—just ask my parents. My mother and I reworked and reworked a co-authored story for eight years, each time putting our newly acquired writing knowledge/skills to use. We were determined that it wouldn't end up in a box in the closet or shoved under the bed. I still love that manuscript, but it wasn't until I took the advise of others far sager and experienced with writing to start a new novel that I finally made my first sale.

Write with purpose, whether it is a letter to a friend, a blog entry, or a full-length novel. The Lord says we will be held accountable for what we’ve said, so let’s make these words of our count for eternity!


Interview with Christina Coming Soon!

Hey folks, just wanted to give you a sneak peak from my interview with Christina Berry...

What advice would you give to the unpublished authors reading this blog?

Christina: Write with purpose, whether it is a letter to a friend, a blog entry, or a full-length novel. The Lord says we will be held accountable for what we’ve said, so let’s make these words of our count for eternity!

More to come tomorrow! I can't wait to share this full interview with you but wanted to give y'all a heads up first before I post the whole thing so you can be sure you don't miss it. And because it's fun teasing. :)


Thoughts on a Monday Evening

Hello, all! I apologize if this post seems a bit incoherent; I just finished a long grading spell and currently feel like getting a pedicure while reading Jenny B. Jones' latest book while eating a box of Godiva. But since that's not possible (except for the reading part, which I'll be doing later), I thought I'd touch base with all of you guys.

How's everyone been doing? Does anyone have any updates and what's new?

I asked you guys to keep Diann Hunt in your prayers. Thanks for listening! She found out that she is facing cancer again, but the prognosis is very good, and the doctor even said she'll most likely be able to keep all her hair, which was a HUGE blessing! Keep praying for her as she goes through her treatment process. I'm sure she'll appreciate all the prayers she can get!

As for things with me, in the past week I... turned in my master's thesis, found a snake in the backyard (just a little guy, though--he was kind of cute, as far as snakes go), wrote & entered another submission into the Genesis last-minute after feeling a pull from God and because I'm nuts like that, researched for endless hours about Italy because my hubby and I are planning a trip there (hurray!), and graded until I considered hiring someone else to do it (kidding of course... mostly ;) )... yet somehow, I still have enough papers left to create a pretty sturdy shelter for a garden toad. Now you're all caught up.

Has everyone else been watching American Idol? Here are my favorites so far:

Most Adorable... Lauren, hands down. I loved her from her first audition when she made Steven Tyler sing. Every time she comes on stage, I smile. She has such a natural stage presence.

Cutie Patootie Award... Paul. His tooth whiteness is, frankly, amazing. I would've definitely had a poster of this guy in my room when I was fifteen instead of the *NSYNC poster I actually had at that oh-so-formative stage in my life. And really, what a good role model for young women... make sure you floss, folks, and stay away from those tooth-ruining cigarettes.

There's even a Twitter account devoted to Paul's grin. I'm not even kidding. Here's the link to the article about it, just in case you want to "follow" his teeth.

Here's the twitter avatar his teeth are using:

And last but not least, Most Likely to Win... Casey. This guy's the whole package, albeit a bit odd at times, but quirky's kind of cool, right? I am glued to the TV every time he sings, and I'd actually buy his album. And listen to it. (Same goes for Paul, though... I love the quality he has in his voice... reminds me a little of Leigh from Sixpence.)

Besides, Casey plays the bass. The big bass. Upright, I guess it's called. How much cooler than that can you get?

Have you guys been watching the show? What are your thoughts?

The Dynamics of Grace

I was listening to David Crowder's "Obsession" just now as I put the finishing touches on my master's thesis about mercy, and I felt so moved by the song. I thought to myself, "if only my life could encourage people like that." That's when I realized, our lives already do. And for me, it's through writing. What a privilege it is to tell stories that reflect the love of God.

So if you're feeling frustrated or just worn out by your WIP, be encouraged and don't give up because what you're doing matters. It really matters.


Pray for Diann!

Urgent prayer request...

Many of you have probably had the pleasure of reading Diann Hunt's humorous books. I also had the privilege of meeting her at last year's ACFW conference. I can honestly say she's one of the sweetest people I met there--and I met A LOT of nice people. I only met her briefly, but she made a point to remember my name, which (as you can imagine) thrilled me to pieces. You only have to be around her for seconds before you sense the Spirit of God flowing through them. Diann is just as funny as she is sweet.

Diann bravely fought ovarian cancer and won. However, recently at a checkup, tests indicated she might have more cancer growing. She will know more in the coming days as she has more tests done.

Please invest with me in praying for Diann's total and miraculous healing during this time. Our God is a good God, and He desires that we might have life abundantly, amen?

From left to right, that's Deb Raney, Diann Hunt, Denise Hunter, and me. Yeah, this was pretty much one of the highlights of my year.

To keep updated, be sure to look at the Girls Write Out blog--


Contest Entries that Sparkle

If you haven't already noticed, it's contest time around the Christian fiction circles! The ACFW Genesis contest is well underway, and many other contests are preparing to open for submissions.

So you might be wondering--as I've been--what makes a strong contest entry. I'm clearly not a contest guru, but I have spent some time breezing around various blogs lately, so I thought I'd establish a few key areas that can help you get the most from your entry.

  • Read the scoresheet.
I mean, really. If the contest folks give you a scoresheet, it's like your high school history teacher giving you a "study guide." It will benefit you to check out what the judges are looking for.
  • Don't be afraid to rearrange stuff.
Got a really great scene later in the book? Maybe you can rearrange it so that you somehow open with that scene. Or if nothing else, pilfer the language so that your nicely-phrased descriptions still show up in the sample, free to do their dazzling work! :)
  • Proofread.
I made this mistake with the Genesis last year. My entry was relatively error-free; in fact, that's one of the sections I scored highest in. However, I caught a few typos after I sent it, as well as a few wordy phrases I could've tightened, and that really bothered me. So even if you've already proofread, as I tell my students, proofread again!
  • Don't forget to begin with conflict.
One of the most memorable lines of feedback I got from my Genesis judges last year was, "I'm not sure you actually have a story yet." Ouch! But you know what? They were right! All I'd written of my book at that point was the first two chapters, and I didn't yet know what my characters were in for. So make sure you suggest what's at stake for your characters, and begin with something that grips the reader. A beginning shouldn't just be an arbitrary beginning. It should be the place the story really starts.
  • Have fun!
Almost every time I sit down to edit, I have to forcibly remove this little dictator that rises up inside me and screams, "Slash it all!" Don't be overly critical or perfectionistic of yourself. Yes, it needs to be polished. Yes, it needs to be professional. But it also needs to demonstrate your voice, and if you sanitize your piece too much, you might just edit your voice right out. Don't forget to enjoy your writing, because that's the only way the passion will naturally flow through your words.

Have you prepared a selection for review or for a contest? What tips and techniques did you learn from the experience?

The Power of a Thankful Heart

I had an encounter with a homeless man a few weeks ago that, though brief, really shook up my notion of what it means to be thankful.

See, the thing is, I've always considered myself a pretty thankful person. I say "thank you" when someone opens a door for me, and I mean it. I appreciate all the ICEE's my mom has bought me over the years, and I am thankful--I mean, really thankful--for the blessings and work of God in my life, particularly for my relationship with Him and with my family and friends.

But I started thinking, "Do I even understand what it means to be thankful?" Because I think, truth be told, my thankfulness has a sort of cap or limit. Sure, I'm thankful for my faith. Thankful for my doggies. Thankful for my shoe collection. But how often so I take for granted the basic and vital things I know, that I've always known?

Like food, for instance. Shelter. A car. Family.

So often, because I've always had these things, I think part of my mind just assumes they're given. Thing is, they're not. For years, I've told myself people without those things, at least in America, are probably without them for some reason, be it an addiction or irresponsible choices. But that's not always true. And even if it is the case, is God's grace any shorter when extended to those really in need? Then why do we so often act like it is? Like we're somehow better because we know we're Christians?

These past few weeks, I've been trying to challenge myself to examine my thinking. What I've found is that my thoughts are alarmingly narcissistic. Not that some self-preservation isn't healthy now and then, like when a student tries to sass me or the grocery store doesn't want to accept my coupons. But what if instead of looking at my husband's shoes in the middle of the room and thinking, "I wish he'd put those in the closet," I looked at those same shoes and thought, "I'm glad I have a husband"? What if instead of looking at the dishes and thinking, "Ugh, I just unloaded the dishwasher," I looked at them and thought, "I'm thankful to have food tonight"?

Think how many more people we could affect if we looked at the world this way. I hope this blog isn't too serious in tone; I normally try to be a lot funnier, but this is what's been on my heart lately.

What do you guys think?


Contest Time! Win A Free, Personalized Book!

Hello, everyone! I'm thrilled to announce that I'm hosting my first blog contest. Are you excited? You could be the winner! :)

My friend and author extraordinaire, Christina Berry, has graciously agreed to sign a copy of her debut book, The Familiar Stranger.

Not only will she autograph the book, but she'll personalize it according to the winner's name! What could be better than that?

For her book The Familiar Stranger, Christina won the 2010 Carol Award for Long Contemporary, finaled for a 2010 Christy Award, and came 2nd in the 2008 ACFW Genesis Contest. Talk about an impressive resume, especially for a debut novel!

Contest Rules:

All you have to do to be eligible is "follow" my blog. If you're already a follower, then you're already eligible! If you're unsure how to "follow" me, just look in the right column of this page and click the button that says "follow."

Once I reach 50 followers, I will select one of them at random and contact you. Please make sure that your Google contact info is correct so that I can get in touch with you in the event you win the book. Also, keep checking back for blog updates about the winner!

Spread the word and tell your friends because the sooner this blog reaches 50 followers, the sooner you could win a free book!

In the meantime, be sure to check out Christina's website:


The Coat of Multi-Colored Dreams

The great poet Langston Hughes once wrote, "What happens to a dream deferred?" That question is what I want to write about today.

The story of Joseph is obviously one of the foremost stories about dreams given to us in the Bible, complete with what my pastor calls "dream squashers." Just because someone discourages you from your dream doesn't mean you should give up. It just means some people are negative. Don't let doubt or rejection keep you from the higher calling on your life.

Take Joseph. This guy has a couple dreams where things are bowing down to him, and he makes the mistake of telling his brothers, who are already seriously jealous of him. They jump on the opportunity to belittle his dreams and to strip him of his colorful coat. Now, Joseph could've easily allowed their attitude to get him down, and frankly, he probably did. I mean, they threw him into a cistern for goodness sakes! But he didn't let that stop him from pursuing the bigger dream he knew God had placed upon his heart.

Joseph's brothers thought they were robbing him of favor and stealing away his dreams when they took his coat. Little did they know, that was all part of the larger plan.

Let me share with you where I currently am in all of this and why the story resonates with me on such a deep level. My first manuscript is being evaluated by what I would consider my absolute dream literary agency. A couple years ago if someone would've told me this agent would be reviewing my work, I probably would've laughed--and I'm one to dream big! I realize the answer could very easily be yes, and it could also be no. Sometimes the anticipation makes me so excited I want to dance around my living room. But as I told one of my best friends who's going through something similar in her own life, this could just be my cistern. The thing is, I'm serious about this dream. And whether the agent calls me tomorrow to offer representation or sends me a letter of rejection, my daily steps are really going to be the same. I'm going to keep writing as much as I can, keep growing by studying the craft, and keep praying . . . because sometimes all we can see is the next step. As I told my friend, eventually all those small "next steps" will turn into a whole staircase of progress.

If there's one thing I want to say with this post, it's hold fast to your dreams because God's given them to you for a reason. Don't doubt your calling, and don't let naysayers bring you to defeat. Even if it feels like you're trapped in a cistern and things couldn't get worse, and even if they do get worse still, you'll find favor in the road ahead if your dreams are the Lord's.

What multicolored dreams has God given you, and how do you stay encouraged while pursuing them? How can we encourage each other on this journey?


Just Keep Writing!

You've seen Finding Nemo, right? One of my favorite lines from that movie (aside from "fish are friends, not food") is "just keep swimming." Isn't that the truth?

Recently I've been working on my third novel, and so far it's been the funnest thing I've ever written. I'm hoping that means it's also the most interesting! The problem? I've had zip motivation to write my master's creative writing thesis, which is a lot darker and more literary than my normal fiction style. I keep getting OCD about it, wondering if this word or that word is absolute the best it can be, etc. These kinds of mindsets can really cause the creative flow to come to a screeching halt.

What got me through the slump was ultimately a deadline, so I knew I had to get the material finished, whether or not I felt like it. With the ACFW Genesis contest upcoming and the holidays just past, you may feel like hiding away, putting on some fuzzy socks and watching a movie. But I want to encourage you to take time for both. It's certainly important not to overwork yourself to the point you zap our creativity, but at the same time, sometimes you just won't feel creative, and sometimes you have to write anyway.

I always tell my students to expect revision with writing. It's just part of the process. So if you're feeling the post-holiday blues, I encourage you to push through and keep writing! Sometimes it feels like a job because it is, but you'll be glad you worked through those barriers.

Hope you're all enjoying getting back into your normal routines after the Christmas break!


Scenes of Life

As I was falling to sleep the other night, I started thinking about scenes. Yes, you read that right. Scenes. I know that probably makes me a nerd, but I'm trying to strengthen the way I write scenes. I want each one to count.

I went to a paid manuscript critique at the most recent ACFW conference, and a best-selling author gave me some wonderful advice. She said to remember that each scene should serve a specific purpose. It should either further the plot or further character development.

That statement really stuck with me, and I've been thought about it almost every time I've sat down to write since then.

But it dawned on me the other night that the same thing applies to life. Every scene God sets before us, He has a purpose for. It's either to further our character or to further our story. Maybe both. But the important thing is that we remember we have a purpose.

How have you seen this play out in your own life? In what ways can you plan to pay attention to the "scenes" God puts in your life this year?