Genesis Contest Tips!

With the deadline for ACFW's Genesis Contest approaching, everyone is scrambling to finish up their entries to get them sparkling. So how can you make sure your entry stands out above the rest?

1) Focus on plot. This was the biggest mistake I made the first year I entered. I didn't realize how important it was to make those 15 pages really count. It's not enough to have dialogue--even interesting dialogue--that builds character, the kind of thing you would have halfway through your novel. You need to hook the reader now more than ever, and you do that through showing the stakes of what the character has to lose.

2) Focus on voice. Though plot is important, it's not going to sparkle without your voice. Go through your entry to find sentences where your voice really pops. Then figure out a way to highlight those sections. Either do some rewrites to highlight your voice, or emphasize those sentences by putting them in high-impact places, like at the end of section breaks. Be intentional about your wording, descriptions, and pacing.

3) Focus on detail. Details matter. Pay attention to the rules and regulations of the contest--where your header should go, what should be included, how you should format your synopsis, etc. These little things are--let's face it--boring, but they tell your judges you care enough about your entry to take time to make every little thing right, and they'll keep you from getting unnecessary point deductions.

What other things have you been focusing on as you've been preparing your Genesis entries? What are you nervous or excited about as you enter these kinds of contests?


ACFW Promo Video

Have you seen this video I did an interview for at last year's ACFW conference? I think it turned out so nicely!



Today's been an interesting day. Ever considered doing charades with a cashier? I have. Thankfully, I didn't resort to that. Instead, I used the ever-polite line, "I've lost my voice, so I'll have to whisper." You'd be amazed at the reactions to that, most of which were completely normal, like my not being able to converse verbally was the most natural thing in the world.

I have a cold.

All day, I've been in a panic. I've had to run errands because I'm throwing one of my best friends a bridal shower tomorrow. So here I am, in the grocery store getting flowers, and this nice man offers to let me in front of him in line because I've only got three items. "Thank you," I manage in a raspy whisper. The good thing was, at least I could get a little volume at that point in the afternoon. Things where much worse in the party supply store when the cashier asks me for my phone number. "Is it okay if I skip that personal information?" I whisper my reply. This lady behind me is yelling at one of the other employees, and I think to myself, "Wow, you are lucky to have that kind of voice."

Yep. Let's just say I have a new appreciation for my vocal cords.


Hello Savannah!

Just got back from a weekend in Savannah, Georgia with my hubby and a couple of our very best friends in the world. Nikki was one of my first college friends and has been with me through so much. I love her to pieces. And her husband is a great match for her! So needless to say, my husband and I had the greatest time with them. You know how you feel when I find that special friend who really gets you and who you feel comfortable being yourself around? That's the kind of friends Nikki and Griffin are to Matt and I. Thanks for a great weekend, guys!

If you've never been to Savannah, it's absolutely gorgeous. I hope to go back again and again. The history, culture, sweet tea, and all the dogs--oh my! Right up my alley. We went to Paula Deen's, Leopold's Ice Cream (incidentally, we met the owner and he's a super nice Hollywood producer), took a trolley tour, ate on River Street, and managed to fit some shopping in between.

Hope you enjoy these pictures I wanted to share with you...

This spot where Nikki and Griffin are standing is the same spot where the bench that's in Forest Gump used to sit.


Meet My New Best Friend... Mineral Eyeshadow!

Recently, there's been a buzz about the safety of traditional cosmetics and soaps, particularly calling into question their use of preservatives and harsh chemicals, such as colorants that may be associated with cancer. Concerned about the safety of my makeup bag, I decided to look into making my own makeup. What I didn't realize is how easy and fun it is!

Check out my new collection of mineral eyeshadows:

It only took about an hour or two to make all of these, and I got all the supplies for $20. Not to mention, I've barely even put a dent in the supplies I purchased. I expect to be able to make four or five times as many eyeshadows as what you see pictured (keep in mind that these are mini-eyeshadows in 5g size jars).

All you need is some colored mica, iron oxides, and some kind of agent that makes the mica smooth and easily applied (I chose Sericite). Here are my supplies. The jar on the left is a full size colored mica (way larger than I expected the jar to be), a jar of Sericite, and a jar of brown iron oxide. You don't have to use the iron oxide, but it will help your eyeshadow be more pigmented. You'll also need a small container to keep (and mix) your eyeshadow inside, as well as little scoopers for each color you use.

I also ordered three sample sized micas that arrived in baggies. They were only $1 each. One is dark purple, one is brown, and the other is a fairy dust silver.

Using these supplies, I mixed a variety of micas, iron oxides, and Sericite until I found color combinations I liked. Keep in mind that you'll have to experiment because some combinations will give you a very sheer shadow, whereas others will be significantly more pigmented.

I used a ratio of 2 scoops of Sericite for each 4-6 scoops of mica/iron oxides. The more Sericite you put in, the lighter and less sparkly your color will be. You can also add a couple drops of Jojoba oil if you like. I wanted to do this but didn't have any on hand.

Here's what the final product(s) looked like:

I purchased my supplies from Coastal Scents and was very happy with their promptness in shipping the package. They also included a free mineral eyeshadow sample. I've read great reviews about Bramble Berry as well.

Any questions? It really is as easy as it sounds! You'll be amazed how sparkly these shadows turn out!


Hooks at Chapter Endings

Ever glanced at the clock, promised to yourself you'd read "just one more chapter," and then wind up awake for another hour? Two authors who always do this to me are Jenny B Jones and Denise Hunter, a couple of my favorites. Why does this happen? Well, apart from a really good story line, we have hooks to blame.

So what makes a good hook? How can we begin and end our chapters in a way that makes readers stay up late into the night, wanting to know more of the story so badly they'll risk sleep deprivation the next day?

1) Stop in the middle of the action. There's nothing like being in the middle of a scene when the chapter ends. We have to keep going so we can find out what happens to the character.

2) Make us worry. There has to be something important at stake for your character. If your character has just fallen out of a gondola in Venice, for instance, we are going to be worried.

3) Make us interested. Find a way to keep your reader guessing and wanting to know what comes next. Your chapters shouldn't end with your characters talking about a shoe sale or sitting around drinking tea. This is a problem I had early on in my writing, especially in my first novel.

Treat every chapter ending like it might be the last page a person reads. Strive that hard to keep them hooked, and you'll be pleased with what you come up with.

What are some strategies you employ to keep readers hooked?


There's a new love in my life...

Look what came in the mail this afternoon! My new TOMS ballet flats. Eeeek! I am so beyond excited. These are the pink linen ones. If you're planning to get a pair, definitely size at least a half size down. I usually wear between a 7 and 7 1/2 and ordered the 7. They fit my foot nicely but are a bit too long. I'll probably end up buying some of those shoe inserts. They're super comfy, though. Would highly recommend! I literally gasped with excitement when I opened the box.


Finding Time to Write

One of the hardest things about being a writer is taking the time to actually... well, write. Speaking from personal experience, it seems that when I'm too busy, I don't have the time to write or I don't feel creative, and when I'm not busy enough, I have a hard time channeling my time into writing because my writing time doesn't necessarily feel like a rare commodity. So if you're finding yourself in a similar situation, here are some of the things I'm trying to implement in my own life that I hope will help you too.

1) Set writing goals. If you set goals, you'll feel a compulsion to achieve those goals. The more concrete, the better. 50 pages by the end of the week, for instance.

2) Write down your goals and even schedule writing "time" away from your other activities in the same way you would schedule any other job. Don't let things or people distract you from this time. Okay, so brownies might be an acceptable distraction. But other than that, no exceptions!

3) Think about your book/characters throughout the day. I read this advice on Kristin Billerbeck's blog once and really took it to heart. It's amazing how you can develop your characters organically when you see your everyday life through the lens of how those characters might react to it. Especially if funny or embarrassing things happen to you!

4) Get off Facebook. And Pinterest. And do you really need to check your e-mail every fifteen minutes? Probably not. I've only recently come to this realization.

5) Let it go. You're talking to the queen of perfectionism. If I set a goal--even the smallest goal--and I don't achieve it, I will carry that failure around with me all day. But I've found that doing this inhibits forward progression in my thoughts, writing, and even spiritual life.

What are some things that keep you distracted from your writing, and how do you overcome them?


Creating Hooks That Catch the Reader

So, you've got a great story. You're a really interesting person, and you have fabulous shoes. I have some unfortunate news you may have already discovered: no one cares.

I'm just kidding! But it can feel that way when you're trying to catch the attention of an agent or editor, can't it?

But think about it from the editor's perspective. They get a lot of material sent their way, and frankly, much of it (maybe even the majority of it, depending on who they are and where they work) is simply not very good. I'm talking "I've never heard of punctuation" not-good. So imagine that you're the one getting hundreds of these less-than-stellar pitches and proposals every single day. You want to find the diamond in the rough, but would someone just give you a brownie first, because sending so many rejections is exhausting! What is going to finally catch your attention? What is going to make someone stand out from the crowd?

A good pitch. A hook. Something that makes you say, "Wowsers."

I love writing hooks for my books as well as for chapter endings. I don't know why. I think something about it feels like a challenge to me, and I like the tease factor of it. You don't have to put every little piece of information into your hook. In fact, you don't want to. So ask yourself, "How can I make this idea the most interesting, even if that means leaving out some important information?" You don't want to be deceptive about the way you describe your book, of course, but it is okay to leave out the character's darkest secret or the seventeen jobs your character goes through in the book.

When you're pitching to someone, you've got about five seconds to make a good impression. Let's face it, we all have short attention spans. So while the details of the characters' lives--your character's favorite cheesecake flavor, for instance--may seem relevant, they're probably not relevant to an agent unless the cheesecake was poisoned. I struggle with this each time I write a pitch, because all the details seem so important! You've spent all this time crafting your characters, and you want your audience to know it. But don't despair. If you get the attention of an agent or editor, the details will come in the proper time. Giving away too much too soon would be like going on a first date and spending the whole time talking about your genealogical history.

So how do you craft a solid pitch?

1) Brevity breeds interest. Generally speaking, the shorter the better. Less for the listener or reader to process.

2) Use your voice. Your writing voice, that is. Whether it's humor or suspense, get your voice in your pitch one way or another.

3) Only include the most relevant details.

4) Clearly set up the stakes for the highest point of conflict in your story. Does someone die? Is someone left at the altar? These things are interesting. Say them first. Your reader/listener will be saying to themselves, "I want to hear more about what happens."

5) Give us a reason to worry about your characters. We can't worry if we don't care.

For this week's Fiction Friday postings, we'll be focusing on hooking the reader. So start thinking of a hook for your novel this week, or even for an idea you'd like to write a novel about, and get it ready for submission next Friday!

Questions for Comment: Do you enjoy crafting pitches and hooks? Do you have any "tricks of the trade" to share?