Congratulations to Debbie Clatterbuck who won a "Spa Moment with The Reluctant Guardian!"

Monday, April 28, 2014

No Shortcuts

by Barbara Early

I’m a Facebook junkie. When I have a free moment between tasks during the day, I tend to take a peek to see what everybody is up to. What are they eating, writing, reading? I read over prayer requests, skip over political rants as quickly as I can, and see a lot of pictures of cats. That’s OK. I like cats.

Every now and then, a blog post catches my eye. And when I saw this title: 

I had to check it out. 

In case you missed it, James Strauss has been traveling to a lot of exotic locations to speak to aspiring screenwriters. According to his alleged credits, he is a novelist with a handful of best-selling espionage thrillers to his credit, and has also written for several popular TV series. Those credits are impressive. Add to this his reported charm and engaging humor, and he was popular among certain conferences.

Only one problem: he only has one book to his credit, and it was not an espionage thriller, nor was it a bestseller. And his screenwriting credits? Zip.

Part of that is almost funny. Unless you’re a writer.

See, in a way, writing is easy. And it’s something a lot of people want to do. One study said that 80 percent of the US population has decided at one time or another, that they would like to write a book. (Sadly, that’s much higher than the percentage of Americans who actually read a book in any given year.)

But writing something that is publishable, something that will pass muster with agents and editors, is hard. Writing treatments and screenplays that will excite producers, actors, and investors is hard. 

It’s not a matter of stringing your words together and expecting someone else to fall in love with what you have to say. 

It’s years of grueling study, learning the craft of writing, then plotting, writing, rewriting, editing, querying, endless rejections, and more rewriting. And then someday, when you really know how to write (but often no longer think you do) and you have just the right story--and it gets to just the right person at just the right time--lightning strikes.

But lots of good writers are out there right on the cusp of publication (and even more who think they are). They’ve worked hard, and they’re so close they can almost taste the ink on that first contract. These are often the writers who travel to conferences, looking for that person who can tell them just the right thing, supply that final missing ingredient that will tip the scales and make them publishable. They’re looking for someone with experience, knowledge, maybe even a little pull. Someone who might mentor them on those final few steps of their journey to publication.

They’ll do almost anything. And that’s why they’re so vulnerable to exploitation.

And that’s what really get’s my dander up. Whatever dander is.

James Strauss is only one of many of such individuals. 

Writer, beware. If you are paying money to someone who promises to help you on your writing journey, whether it be conference fees, workshops, writing lessons, book doctoring, or editing services, do your homework. Don’t just take their writing credits on face value. It didn’t take long at all to discover that James Strauss had no screenwriting credits. And in a few hours more, we discovered that he had a criminal record for fraud.

Who ever said you had to spend money to learn to write? Wonderful blog posts on various aspects of writing are scattered all about the internet. Need help with point of view? Showing not telling? Writing a query letter? Google it. You can get writing instruction from multi-published, and even bestselling writers, for free. Just check the references to ensure they know what they’re talking about.

Writer’s Digest has published a number of great books on various aspects of the craft of writing.

Conferences can be good places to meet and pitch to agents and editors, but while I do enjoy them, that didn’t work for me. I got my agent on a cold query that cost me nothing to email. Really. It does still happen.

You shouldn’t have to plunk down your life savings in order to break into the business. And since writing doesn’t pay nearly as much as people dream it does, chances are you’ll never recoup it.

Strauss posted an open letter on his website, bemoaning the difficulty of getting published, including this quote: “The competition and monstrous unknown of Internet and electronic publishing keeps any thought of being a traditional author from entering my mind.” (Despite the fact that in other places he claims to have already succeeded in that venue!)

So while, in a rare moment of truthfulness, Strauss admits his failure, he then tries to justify his “mentoring” of other writers with this rambling statement seemingly designed to obfuscate: “I struggle to keep my vision, to pursue the arts when all data points would appear to yield only disappointment and then, when success arises from these seeming ashes, to share the filaments and paths of such success with struggling artists all around me.” 

No, Mr. Strauss (and others). Aspiring writers want to learn from those who have succeeded, who have made it, who have conquered the odds, who can assure us that those dreams and aspirations, while not easy or guaranteed, are at least possible.

We don’t want to learn from those whose most-read works of fiction are their bios.

Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. Her holiday novella, Gold, Frankincense, and Murder was released in e-book and audio format from White Rose Publishing. Barbara also writes as Beverly Allen, and her debut cozy mystery novel, Bloom and Doom, was released in April 2014 from Berkley Prime Crime. You can learn more about her writing at

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Romans 5:1

Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library, by SDietze

Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Recommendation: Curtain Call

By Niki Turner

Someone recently posted a guide to writing book reviews (Dina shared it HERE.) I loved it, because I want to help my fellow writers by offering reviews, but struggle when I come up against all those rules I learned in literature class. Somehow, applying those rules takes all the fun out of saying, "Hey! I really like this book, and you might like it, too!"

The premise is simple: If you ask yourself "what do I wish the author had done differently in this book" and can't come up with anything, the book gets five stars. If there are minor things, it gets four, and so on...
So what does Curtain Call, by Lisa Richardson and Jennifer Allee get, according to this new review paradigm? 

I read the first book in the Charm and Deceit trilogy, Diamond In the Rough, when it first came out and loved it. I fell for bad-boy-hero-with-a-heart-of-gold Grant Diamond (because I always like those kinds of heroes), and had a crush on clever Pinkerton agent Carter Forbes, so determined to capture Diamond for the murder of Forbes' sister. You know the way you feel about Loki when you watch "Thor"? That love/hate/sympathy thing? My feelings toward Forbes were very similar. 

Anyway, At the close of book one, I knew I HAD to read book two. 

And then life got weird (it has a habit of doing that when you least expect it) and I missed book two, Vanishing Act, entirely. Boo. 

But there are benefits to being friends with authors... Lisa sent me BOTH books. Yay! (Because there are very few things worse than missing a third of a trilogy.) 

Unfortunately, I neglected to send Lisa my current mailing address, so my package crisscrossed the nation a few times before it landed in my mailbox, and then I had to read Vanishing Act first, of course. (That's my really long, roundabout way of explaining why this review didn't occur sooner.) 

This third and final tale in this trilogy—Curtain Callis the story of Carter Forbes' younger sister, Emily, and Dr. Samuel DeKlerk, bereaved brother of the murdered woman from book one.

My thoughts...

1. The protagonists are the kind of people you want as friends... compassionate and determined to see wrongs made right, no matter the cost to themselves. Personally, I took great interest in reading about Emily's prosthetic (she's an amputee), because my great-grandfather lost both legs in a train accident on May 1, 1906. He learned to walk again (and ride) and eventually became the treasurer of El Paso County, Colorado. 
Samuel's mission as a post-Civil War physician has him trying to help many of his patients through the horror of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in an era when such a thing wasn't really acknowledged. Both of them are willing to sacrifice personal comfort in order to serve the less-than-fortunate. Like I said, folks you'd want on your "friend" list.

2. As a mystery, this one is at the top of the list. I didn't figure out "whodunit" until it was revealed at the very end, and the conclusion was both totally plausible and obvious... an ideal mystery ending, and perfect for the end of a trilogy built around an unsolved murder case. Kudos, Jen and Lisa!

3. Don't just buy Curtain Call. Buy the whole three-book series. Vanishing Act is also excellent, with lots of Civil War history and a wonderful "take" on the heroine's chosen profession. Plus, if you fell in "like" with Carter Forbes, Vanishing Act is HIS story. 

4. It's a credit to the writing ability of these two talented authors that you cannot tell where one "voice" begins and the other ends, but you can see the strength created by their collaboration.

Altogether, very well-written fiction.
I do hope they plan to do more in the future!

Niki Turner is a writer, former pastor's wife, mother of four, and grandmother of three. She has thus far been unsuccessful at coming up with catchy taglines for her writing, her purpose in life, or what she hopes to achieve in the future. Suggestions are welcome

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lessons from the Editor's Desk - Editors Are People Too

by Dina Sleiman

Okay, so the title is a little silly, yet oddly easy to forget. As I’ve mentioned in the last two posts in this series, I am a part-time, often volunteer editor for WhiteFire Publishing. So I assume you knew I was just a regular person, but the same holds true for all editors. Here are some things to keep in mind in that vein, and I would venture to say that most of this is true of agents as well

Editors Want to Have a Good Conference Experience. While editors come in a variety of personality types, they want to have a pleasant conference experience just like you. They might be shy and new to the conference and just as nervous about who to sit with at lunch as you are. Or they might be a fun-loving individual looking for someone to bounce their jokes off of. If you treat them like a person, ask them about their families and pets, their interests, you might just gain an actual friend who happens to be influential in the publishing industry. And just like any other people, you will probably connect easily with some of them, and not so easily with others. That’s okay. Chances are, the ones who like you will also like your writing style.
Editors Want to Have Good Meetings with Conferees. Generally, editors don’t like being pressured, being given sob stories, or being told that God has mandated them to publish your book. They don’t like being chased or handed manuscripts under bathroom stalls. Beyond that, it’s a good idea to do some research on the editor and learn what they do and don’t like. Personally, I have a pet peeve about conferees who don’t answer my questions but instead push on with their sales pitch. For example, I want to know how long a writer has been writing, what professional associations they have, and if they know the industry lingo, and I hate it when writers ignore my questions. On the other hand, I find nervous conferees kind of endearing. I think most editors like it when conferees are a nice balance of prepared yet casual. They enjoy a relaxed meeting. They like to have a conversation and not just listen to a speech. They like to see that you are excited about your project and that you’ve done your work to be ready for publication.
Editors Talk to Other Editors. Going to writers conferences and meeting with editors is an awesome idea…unless you have a pushy, annoying, or otherwise abrasive personality. In which case, you might want to think twice. Editors talk to other editors, and you don’t want to get a bad reputation in the industry. If you discover that you’ve committed a serious faux pas (I‘m not talking about passing manuscripts under stalls or using the wrong font here, we’re used to that stuff), it might be wise to make a sincere and heartfelt apology.
Editors Have Preferences about Submissions. For starters, most of them only want submissions from agents these days. If they do take submissions, shockingly (sarcasm) they put their guidelines right on their website, and they expect you to follow them. What if they just say something general like “a query letter” or “a proposal”? That should indicate two things to you, 1) They aren’t terribly particular, but 2) they do expect you to do your own homework and to provide these documents to a general industry standard. Don’t know what that is? I repeat—do your homework.

Editors Represent Companies. Editors might seem like all-powerful gods to authors, but they have to answer to their employers just like anyone else, and they also have to win the approval of their publication committee. If they choose your book and it does poorly, it could negatively impact them as well. They have an obligation to represent their company’s lines and needs, and part of your (or your agent’s) homework is to make sure you are sending your work to the right companies. Most companies have certain “slots” to fill in their publication lines. For example, two American set historical romances, one historical romance set in England, three suspense novels, and five contemporary women’s novels. And to continue the example, eight of those slots for the year might already be filled by their current authors. You might have an awesome book that the editor loves, but whether or not you get a contract will still be largely based on the company’s specific needs of that moment, which is one of the many reasons you must keep trying and not be easily discouraged. Editors want to please their employers and keep their jobs just like anyone else, which is why being stubborn or pushy about a book that doesn’t fit their line will only cause you to be on their bad list.

Editors Have Personal Taste. In addition to representing their companies, editors also have their own taste. You might find that within a given publishing house one editor prefers plot driven fiction, another deep characters, and a third is a sucker for a great voice. That’s part of why you can’t take rejection too personally, and you must keep trying and trying. It’s entirely possible that you might send an editor an awesome novel, but they have read two similar bad ones recently that negatively color their perception. Or worse yet, they might have just read an off the charts awesome book in your genre, and therefore yours seems lackluster in comparison. It happens, and there’s nothing you can do about it but keep trying.

Editors Care about People They Know. And so I pretty much bring us back to the first point. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about nepotism. But…I think it is simple human nature that editors will give more time and attention to submissions by people that they know and like. They’ll feel more confident about publishing a book by someone they trust. It’s easy for me to send a simple, “no thank you” to people I haven’t met, whereas someone I know in person is more likely to get suggestions for improvement with an invitation to resubmit. At the end of the day, publishers are only going to publish books they love and feel confident about. But…given two books of equal merit, do you think an editor will push for the one by a friend or a stranger???

Yep, editors are people too. Don’t tick them off. Don’t annoy them. But if you can invest time into getting to know them and becoming their friends, it just might bode well for your future.
Have you ever met with an editor? Can you share any funny stories, cautionary tales, or suggestions?

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Chicks

by C.J. Chase

Nothing says "spring"
like marshmallow chicks
surrounded by
colorful Easter eggs
I never could figure out what chicks--as in, baby chickens--have to do with Jesus’ Resurrection. Why do advertisers haul out the pictures of chicks when they want to get us into the Easter spirit--that is, encourage us to buy candy? (To be fair, I’ve never understood the whole bunny thing for Easter either.) Sure, chicks are an example of new life, but so are puppies and kittens and even baby humans. And hey, if you wanna see some really cute babies, let me show you pictures of my boys. Most. Beautiful. Babies. Ever. (Said every mother.)
Then several years ago, we started doing the chicken thing—that is, raising backyard chickens. How we came to do that is an interesting story in itself, so I hope you’ll indulge this little excursion down a rabbit trail. (Yep, bad Easter pun there.)

A few years after we’d moved into our house in the swamps of Southeastern Virginia, a house down the road went up for sale. We spoke to the owners and discovered they had been part of the local “sentinel flock” program.

Swampy areas are prone to mosquitoes, and mosquitoes are carriers of several diseases that are dangerous or even deadly in human and animal populations—in our area, West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). One way of tracking mosquito-borne disease outbreaks is through the bird population. Our local jurisdiction stations “sentinel flocks” of three or four chickens throughout the area. Then the local mosquito control office (yes, swampy parts of the country actually have these) periodically conducts blood tests on the birds to see if their blood shows signs of exposure to West Nile or EEE. By using stationary chickens, the office can track where any outbreaks are occurring.

When we learned that the local chicken host in our area was moving away, I called the mosquito control office and volunteered our land for a local flock. The jurisdiction provides chickens (females about 3 months old when we get them in May), the coop, and the feed. We feed and water them, and we get to keep the eggs once they start laying. At the end of mosquito season, we can keep the hens if we wish. And we are also one of the first to know if chickens in our area test positive for disease. (We’ve had several over the years that tested positive to EEE. Interestingly, EEE doesn’t affect the chicken and the eggs are still edible.)

Once we’d caught the bug (yeah, you can take that as a chicken pun), the next step was to try to raise chickens from chicks. That turned out to be easier than I’d thought. You see, most chicks come from hatcheries when eggs are kept in climate-controlled incubators. As soon as the eggs hatch, the newborns are immediately packed in boxes and shipped to feedlots and farms and backyard
Aren't they cute?

My chicks live in my kitchen for their first few weeks, with a heat lamp to keep them warm. When we get a nice, spring day, we take them out into the yard and let them walk in the grass. I always find what happens next absolutely amazing. The chicks—none of whom has seen an adult chicken in their short lives—behave like…chickens.

You see, no one has to teach a chicken to scratch and peck and do the things chickens do. It’s part of their nature, and I doubt you could “teach” those traits out of them. Even Tweedledee, our chicken who thinks she’s a dog, likes to scratch and peck in my flowerbeds (much to my annoyance).
We currently have four different chicken breeds.
Tweedledee is the Rhode Island Red in the back.
When she sees us, she comes running to us like a puppy.

Which leads me back to Easter. Chickens act according to chicken nature, and humans act according to human nature. What is human nature? Christian theology often calls this our sin nature. To get a good view of our sin nature on display, just put four or five toddlers in a room with one toy and no adults. How long do you think it will be before someone is crying?

No one has to teach a toddler to be selfish or say unkind words or tackle the child with the toy. No, we spend years trying to teach our children to overcome their natural inclinations, but even the best of us still fail and revert to our sinful human nature.

Human nature. It’s what says none of us will ever measure up to a perfect God, so he gave us Jesus and Easter.

Maybe the chick isn't such a bad symbol for Easter after all. Next time you see a box of marshmallow peeps, I hope they remind you of the true reason for Easter—in a round about way.

So, in a nod to candy manufacturers and advertisers everywhere, what is your favorite Easter candy?

P.S., In an update to my April 2011 post about the usefulness of the common dandelion, I made dandelion jelly for the first time last week. The experiment has been declared a success by family and Easter guests alike who tried it.

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her current release, The Reluctant Earl, is now available  in online bookstores. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Hockey Is Better

    Okay, we're mostly supposed to talk about writing here.  Or books.  Or movies.  Or recipes.  Something with story, right?  (I'm sure recipes all have a story.  Mostly, when I cook, the outcome is always in doubt, and that's usually a good story ingredient!)
    I believe sports is about story, too.  Will the good guys (my team, of course) beat the bad guys? A rivalry has been building all season and now it's the thrilling final clash, who will emerge victorious? Evil Player A put a dirty hit on Saintly Player B, how will Player B's posse react when the teams meet again? Oh the drama!
    April is a big sports month.  The baseball season is getting started.  Major golf championships are underway.  Soccer is going strong. The regular basketball season is almost over, and their playoffs loom.  Hockey's regular season is over, and their playoffs have just begun.
    I know everyone has his or her own sports preference (or preference to not follow any sport), but my choice is hockey.  Hands down. For me it has the most excitement, the most drama, the most heart. The playoffs, especially in the early rounds, are full of surprises and upsets and interesting storylines.  It's the reason they wrote that song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."  (Many people think that's a Christmas song, but I'm sure it must have started out being about the NHL playoffs and got commandeered by someone who needed something for an early-December TV show and changed most of the words.  Come on,  the line "It's the hap-happiest season of all" HAD to have been written about hockey!)
    Case in point:  Richard Peverley.
    Rich Peverley is a member of my favorite hockey team, the Dallas Stars.  The team was playing the Columbus Blue Jackets on the night of March 10, 2014, when, six minutes into play, the game was abruptly halted.  Head coach Lindy Ruff and the rest of the Stars were frantic over on the bench.  Peverley had collapsed.  His heart had stopped.
    For forty-five long minutes, nobody in the arena or watching on TV knew what had happened.  I knew Peverley had some heart issues and had missed the first three weeks of the season because of it.  When the time dragged on and our regular broadcast team (the wonderful Ralph and Razor) counted up and said that Peverley was the only one missing, I was afraid he had died.  He had died.
    Thanks to the quick work of the training staff and the doctors available at the game (and the mercy of God), he was revived.  One of the first things Peverly asked when he was conscious again was how much time was left in the first period. I'm sure he intended to go back in and play. Now that is a hockey player!
    Unfortunately (though I'm sure his family is happy), the incident ended Peverly's season and, perhaps, his hockey-playing career. But he still travels with the team and no doubt is a great help to them.
    Certainly there are people of courage, dedication and determination in every sport (and more in every other walk of life), but this boils it down for me.  This is why I love hockey.
    Rich Peverley, Dallas Star.

P. S.  The Stars-Blue Jackets game that night was cancelled and replayed a month later.  The Stars ended up losing that one, but they are in the playoffs.  It's the most wonderful time of the year . . .

Which sport is your favorite?  Or do you prefer anything other than sports? Why?

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, as well as Letters in the Attic, The Key in the Attic, The Diary in the Attic and The Legacy in the Attic, contemporary mysteries. Her new series of Drew Farthering Mysteries debuted in the Summer of 2013 with Rules of Murder, to be followed by Death by the Book and Murder at the Mikado in 2014 from Bethany House. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with three spoiled cats

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Resurrection Cookies

Are you looking for a family-activity to help your kids understand the true meaning of Easter? Try these no-flour meringue cookies: they’re simple enough to prepare with young ones, tasty, and have the makings of a meaningful tradition.

Set aside some time the night before Easter, and make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. You’ll need:

1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
a pinch salt
1 cup sugar
a zipper baggie
1 wooden spoon
scotch tape

Preheat oven to 300F. Line cookie sheet with wax paper.

Place pecans in baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by Roman soldiers. (Set aside the baggie.)
Read: John 19:1-3

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 teaspoon vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross He was given vinegar to drink.
Read: John 19:28-30

Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.
Read: John 10:10-11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers, and the bitterness of our own sin.
Read: Luke 23:27

Add 1 cup sugar to the bowl. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him.
Read: Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.
Read: Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3

Fold in beaten pecans. Drop cookie batter by teaspoon onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid.
Read: Matthew 27:57-60

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus tomb was sealed.
Read: Matthew 27:65-66

Leave the cookies alone and go to bed. Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.
Read: John 16:20,22

On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.

File:Eastereggs ostereier.jpg
I pray you and your families enjoy a blessed Easter, rich in the fullness of His glory, power, and life!

Susanne Dietze is decorating her house today for Easter. You can learn more about her on her website,