Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This Writer's Journey (continued)

It's not quite Wed. yet (my regular day to post) but it's close enough. My Wed. will be filled with 8 hours of working (not ready to quit the day job!) on New Year's Eve day, followed by a dinner of black-eyed peas and hog jowls (Yuck. Well, maybe just roast pork) with my extended family.

So today I write. And a few other promo essentials.

I started at 5 am constructing queries to both online and print magazine editors about possible articles about my upcoming spring release, Mom Needs Chocolate. A long shot, maybe, but a recent query to the editor of a large city newspaper (Tampa Tribune)landed me a nice two-page spread in the 1/3/09 Saturday Faith Matters column. So a diligent writer keeps trying.

Worked on some editing for a friend's back cover copy (her book will be released in March) and finalized the Young Writer's program I'll be conducting at an Orlando high school next week.

I heard from my publisher's PR gal that she has several podcast and radio interviews in the works for me and an April signing at a Virginia B & N practically sewn up (I'll be up there on a family vacation and it seemed like a good idea to mix business with pleasure).

In the afternoon, I received two inquiries about speaking engagements (Yay God!)and several requests for signed copies of Billowing Sails (newly released). I was pleased to get another entry for the "Sail Away" contest detailed on my website, (people send in pictures of their favorite chill-out location and the most creative will win an awesome prize package). I've been blown away by the responses and have immensely enjoyed looking at photos of lots of amazing places that I'll likely never visit. What fun to live vicariously!

And now at 10:20 pm, it's bedtime. As I don my candy cane jammies, I wish you terrific success in your own writing journey during 2009. So scarf down those black eyed peas and have a safe and Happy New Year!

Point of View

I've been reading books where the point of view jumps around, even within a chapter, even without space between paragraphs to indicate there's another voice.

That kind of writing (poor editing, too) makes a writer want to bang her head repeatedly against the keyboard, wondering HOW did that book get published while her masterpiece, with a carefully crafted single POV, has not?

Take heart, dear writer.

From Self Editing for Fiction Writers: "It's almost always more effective to stick with a single viewpoint character and let the other characters' emotions come out through their dialogue and action."

Simpler is always better.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Edit, Edit, Edit

Different writers have different formulas for editing. Some writers edit as they go while others insist that the only way they can flow creatively is to just start writing, let the words flow and worry about the details later. It will take some time to figure out what works best for you. Most writers I have talked to fall somewhere in between.

But no matter what kind of editor you are, make sure of one thing:

NEVER allow a story to contain misspelled words or wrong grammar. Also, punctuation and format are crucial to getting your story published.

By considering yourself a professional, even if you haven‘t been published yet, you will become one.

The main thing about editing is getting rid of the fluff, the unnecessary words, characters, scenes, etc. Most writers have to create several drafts before the story is complete. Rarely will you hear of a writer, any writer, no matter how famous, who writes a story in one draft. In fact, most writers have to create at least three or four drafts of a story before they are satisfied that it is right.

Don’t be satisfied until it is...and you'll know when it is right.

Adapted from Creative Writing Tips for Beginners

Monday, December 22, 2008

think about this...

  • If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

  • Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

  • Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~Orson Scott Card

  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Mark Twain

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Will there be joy for me this Christmas?

A few weeks ago in church on Sunday morning our pastor, Dan, spoke about joy. He highlighted the joy individuals find when they nail God's purpose in life.

Even though I've found God's purpose for me and daily (for the most part) target it (Well, there are those days, when I'd rather sip cappuccinos, surf the Internet, or get a pedicure.), I thought, "I don't think there will be joy for me this Christmas. One of my kids is floundering to find his purpose. Watching him despair breaks my heart again and again. And again."

"Watching him has compelled me to fervent prayer, which has provided me with an unshakable sense of God's presence and an inkling of hope for the future," I wrote on Dan's blog. "But joy seems really distant...I don't think there will be joy for me this Christmas."

"Fervent prayer, combined with an unshakable sense of God's presence, mixed with an inkling of hope? That's joy," Dan posted.

Here I had been thinking that joy was like the gleeful rush I feel when I plummet down the first hill of a roller coaster. Only joy (in my mind) was that gleeful rush prolonged--for a long time.

Dan's comment compelled me to take another look at joy.

I'm redefining joy this month. As I do, I'm playing a little game reminiscent of Where's Waldo? Instead of standing with arms crossed, jealous of those joy-filled others and stoically accepting no-joy-for-me this season, I've asked God to point joy out.

"God, if You've tucked the gift of joy into this Christmas season for me--then please help me recognize it," I pray.

Guess how many of my check-out clerks have been named Joy.

Last week, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in awhile. She asked exuberantly, "How is your sister Joy?"

I don't have a sister named Joy.

But I told God I sure enjoyed the inside joke.

As writers, we enjoy the privilege of writing about the lessons God teaches us, the gifts He gives. I've discovered that's pure joy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Writers Journey Continued

Could you hear me whooping it up last Thursday afternoon? My shipment of Billowing Sails arrived not just on time but FOUR DAYS EARLY. Yea God! I somehow believe that God is in control of the universe but it surprises me when He proves He's in control of UPS.

Anyway, the past week has been a blur of filling pre-orders, visiting bookstores, and making contacts about more promotional events related to Billowing Sails. All the while in my "day job" (as a hand therapist three days/week), we're in upheaval packing for a move to a new clinic this week.

I've also been frantically working on first round edits for my spring release, Mom Needs Chocolate (different publisher than Billowing Sails) which arrived last week as well. Due date 12/29. Yikes. That would be Christmas week, wouldn't it?

And on top of it all, another mixed blessing. A while back I queried the Tampa Tribune about doing an article. Wouldn't you know, of all times, THIS week I received a call from a columnist wanting to do a piece about starting over in the new year (to run 1/3/09), featuring my Debbie Do-Over story. They're sending a photographer to my house Friday and my naked Christmas tree is still lying prone in the yard. Piles of boxed Christmas cards and unwrapped presents cover every available surface. What's a poor overwhelmed writer to do?

I know, I know. I can hear you through my keyboard. Quit grousing and get moving. I'm on my way. Until next Wednesday...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Do You Find Good Beats?


What is a beat, anyway?

Beats are the bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes--the literary equivalent of what is known in the theatre as "stage business."

Like a piece of good music, good dialogue has an ebb and flow to it. But beats do more than control the rhythm of your dialogue. They are also a powerful way to convey your characters. Any good actor knows the importance of body language in projecting a character, and the same holds true in fiction.
You want to write beats that are as fresh, as unique as your characters. No two people cross a room in the same way, and there are as many ways of showing, say, uneasiness as there are situations to make a character uneasy.

So where do you find good beats? Well, as Yogi Berra once said, "You can see an awful lot just by watching."

Watch your friends. Notice what they do with their hands when they're bored, with their legs when they're relaxed, with their eyes when they're nervous. Watch old movies--Humphrey Bogart in particular used stage business very effectively.

You can also see an awful lot just by reading. Start paying attention to beats ars you read--the ones that make you wish you'd written them and all the ones that distract or irritate.

Watch yourself. Keep an eye open for those little movements that bring your personality to the surface, the gestures that reveal who you are or how you're feeling. If you collect enough of these little movements, your characters won't ever have to look at their hands again.

Source: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (HarperCollins)

Friday, December 12, 2008


Thursday, December 11, 2008

A not to-do list

It's finals week at Penn State University where I teach writing. Students stop by my office every few minutes with their final papers. I pat the students on the back (figuratively speaking, of course. I'm probably not allowed to actually touch a student.)

I'm so good at setting deadlines for the students and smiling when they meet them and scowling when they don't. At my scowl they whine their procrastination woes.

I wag my head in disapproval.

But truth be told, their ability to procrastinate doesn't rival mine. Currently, I'm working on an article for Discipleship Journal. The editor has requested a rewrite. I told her, "Sure. ASAP!"

That was three weeks ago.

Every time, I sit to rewrite, I check email or surf the Internet. Yesterday, as I was surfing, I came across a writer's not-to-do list. Listed were the things a writer is not supposed to do when a writing project is in the works.

It made me smile. So, I've come up with my own not-to-do list. Maybe you can add your not-to-do items to it!

Do not check email.
Do not text message all your kids just to say Hi.
Do not call your sister.
Do not Google fun vacation packages.
Do not Google former high school friends.
Do not wash all the windows in your office.
Do not browse through all the pictures on your computer.
Do not listen to songs on your play list to find the perfect song to write to.
Do not go to Rachel Ray to look for new recipes to try.
Do not decide to drive up to Ann Taylor Loft to see if any sale items catch your eye.

My list could go on and on. But I have papers to grade before I can start my article revisions!

Happy Writing.

A Writers Journey Continued

Hi Writerly Friends,

A little more this week in my Wednesday (oops, is it Thursday already?) series on my author journey. As I mentioned last week in my blog on promotion, the big promo beast is what eats up most of a writer's time.

I've been trying to get back to my woman's humor book in the works (working title: Chocolate for the Soul; My Soul Has Had Enough Chicken Soup, Thank You) but instead I find my attention snagged by the pile of promotional correspondence on my desk.

I received the excellent news this week that my December release, Billowing Sails, has been shipped and should arrive on 12/15/08 as promised. Praise God! (And I really mean that from the bottom of my heart - timely delivery was definitely a grace notes miracle with all the obstacles God had to overcome to get it here in time for Christmas).

So I shot an e-mail to the 100 or so local recipients of my e-newsletter (to sign up, and I truly hope you do, please visit a Christmas special including hand delivery of a signed copy for $4 off the retail price. To my surprise, I was inundated with responses and am now organizing a delivery schedule (no small task for organizationally challenged me)for the week before Christmas.

On top of that, I received the first round of final edits from the publisher of Mom Needs Chocolate (slated for release 3/09 by Regal) with a due date of 12/29/09. ARRGGHH! Don't these people realize it's Christmas? Cookies to bake, gifts to wrap, carols to sing, book to deliver...

Christmas or not, I must now work through the entire e-manuscript and address the editor's notes and suggestions (e.g. "Flesh out this paragraph a bit more" or "Can you come up with another anecdote to make this point?". After making my alterations (you don't have to take ALL the editor's suggestions, but it's wise to pick your battles and follow their wise and more experienced judgment unless it's something you feel VERY strongly about)I return the manuscript (now in book form) and wait a few weeks for her to return it back to me for round two.

It's like an electronic ping pong game but instead of a ball we use a book.

There may be as many as four rounds of edits depending on the publisher. This is my first book with Regal, so I don't really know what to expect. My previous books have had 2-3 final editing rounds. At long last, you receive the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) or galley, which is a mock-up of the finalized product before it goes to the printer. This is the copy that is often sent to reviewers for the endorsements (also called blurbs) that you see on back covers or inside front covers.

Having been forewarned that my original 240-page manuscript would have to be shortened to 200 pages (it will be a hard cover book), I was pleased to see in the final book form that none of my chapters had been omitted, but the formatting was revised to combine some of the funny quotes and scripture to keep the entire manuscript intact.

Hooray for clever editors!

Must go now. Lots of editing to do and miles to go before I sleep! Stay tuned for more on my writer's journey next Wednesday.

God bless, Deb C.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Basics of Creative Writing

Kurt Vonnegut created some of the most outrageously memorable novels of our time, such as Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast Of Champions, and Slaughterhouse Five. His work is a mesh of contradictions: both science fiction and literary, dark and funny, classic and counter-culture, warm-blooded and very cool. And it’s all completely unique.

With his customary wisdom and wit, Vonnegut put forth eight basics of what he calls Creative Writing 101:

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

Source: Gotham Writer's Workshop.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I just finished reviewing the galley for my little devotional, God's Gifts for the Graduate. It's been a while since I read the manuscript. A couple of things stood out. One is that it is a little better than I remember it being. Two is I was surprised at how many minor things I wanted to change. (Some of them I could, some had to be left as is because it is going to press soon.)

When I finally finished writing that manuscript I was so sick of it I couldn't bear to read it one more time. I hated it. I was sure the editor would send it back and say "rewrite this immediately, it's awful." Stepping away for a while dramatically changed my perspective on it.

Suzanne's challenge from a few weeks ago keeps ringing in my ears, to work ahead of deadlines. I am terrible at this, but I want to get better. I doubt I'll ever turn anything in weeks early, but letting a manuscript sit for a while is one very practical thing a writer can do to improve a piece.

Now I'm going to get to work on my January deadline. Maybe I'll even finish it before the end of the year.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Everything in your Life Is Grit for the Oyster

This is an article I (Suzanne) wrote that was just published in Lookout magazine. It's an example of how everything in your life can be "grit for the oyster."

What If We Had Said No? by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Two years ago, my daughter called from college and said she was thinking about going on a summer mission trip. “That sounds great, Lindsey,” I said, thinking of someplace nice, comfortable, and safe—like Malibu, California. I pictured her witnessing to the happy families on the beach by day and attending church services at night.

“Uh, not quite, Mom.” She explained that the mission trip she had chosen was in East Asia at an undisclosed location. “And we can’t tell anyone where we’re going because we’re not supposed to be in that country to evangelize. Instead, we’ll be taking language courses in the morning and sharing our faith, carefully, in the afternoons and evenings.”

“Um, what exactly do you mean by ‘carefully’?” I asked, as my stomach started tensing up.

“Well, we can’t be overt about our faith. Since it is illegal to evangelize, it might jeopardize the safety of those locals who want to know more about Christianity. Plus it could create problems for those ministry staffers who are living there. You’ll have to be very careful when you write letters, too, and not mention anything about Christianity. You can’t even write that you’re praying for me.”

“You mean, no phone calls? No
e-mails?” I gasped. “For eight weeks?”

“Nope. Nothing. But I’ll try to write now and then.”

“How do we communicate?” I asked, fearing the answer.

“Well, uh, actually, we can’t.” She paused, as if anticipating my next question. “But if there’s an emergency, there is a contact number.”

Gulp. “What exactly constitutes an emergency?” I asked, wondering if my birthday might qualify.

Stretching My Comfort Zone

Lindsey saw right through me. “Mom, I really feel led by God to do this. I’m going to be graduating soon and getting a full-time job. This is the right time for going on a summer mission. I just know it. I really want to do this.”

I winced, knowing where this was headed. “But do you know anyone going on this trip?”

“No, but we’ll have a lot of meetings ahead of time to get acquainted with each other. This organization really prepares us well. So,” she paused, “what do you think?”

What did I think? I thought God was putting me out on a limb again. I thought he was stretching my comfort zone and wanting me to trust him in a bigger, broader way. Was he really expecting me to let my daughter go to a Third World country for eight long weeks? As a missionary? As an undercover missionary?

I wasn’t overreacting to what she would be facing. We had lived in Asia for four years. I knew the area of the world she wanted to go to was polluted, overwhelmingly crowded, had poor medical care, and, as she noted, very little ability to communicate with the outside world.

Like, for example, with her mom.

I sighed. “What I think is that Dad and I need to pray about it.”

Deep inside, I could already sense the Lord’s leading to give her our heartfelt blessing. My husband and I discussed it, prayed about it, and told her we were fully supportive. And we were.

Sending out support letters was the first step of faith. It was easy to ask others for prayers—but financial support? Even though we have always tried to support other kids gutsy enough to go on a mission trip, it was more than a little uncomfortable to be on the receiving end. Yet it was a great blessing to receive such generous responses. One of the most touching moments of all came from a family who had very little materially, yet sent Lindsey a generous check because they were convinced she was answering God’s call.

But that didn’t mean it was easy to see her pack up and go. About halfway through the summer, I still hadn’t received a letter from her. We had received word from the ministry that the team had made it to its destination. But that was it. That was all the information I knew.

It was a rather uncomfortable feeling not to have heard a word from your child, your little girl, living in a Third World Country, in over four weeks. I prayed for her frequently, morning and night, but I struggled with a growing burden of anxiety about her. I would give my anxious feelings up to God, ask for his protection over Lindsey and her team, for his presence to be felt in their lives, for his blessings on their efforts. And for my worry to be taken away. But then I would snatch my worry back from God and have to start the process of relinquishment all over again.

Just the Information I Needed

One hot summer afternoon my 12-year-old son Tad invited his friend Bryan over to shoot some baskets on the sport court. After a while, the boys came inside, hot and sweaty. “Tad was telling me about his sister’s trip,” said Bryan, in between gulps of lemonade. He wiped his mouth. “You know, Mrs. Fisher, I’m pretty sure that my cousin is on that same trip.”


Immediately I called Pattie, Bryan’s mom, and found out that her nephew Josh was indeed on that very mission trip. Even though they attended the same college, Lindsey and Josh hadn’t met prior to the trip. “Josh’s older sister had gone on the same trip a few years ago,” Pattie casually volunteered, as if she was talking about a trip to the beach.

Little did she realize that the Lord was, kindly and tenderly, giving me the information I needed to relax and trust in him.

What if we had said no to the trip? What would I have missed? An odd, well-timed, and wonderfully coincidental conversation that helped me to remember how sovereign our Lord is.

Finally one brief, cryptic letter arrived from Lindsey. She sounded happy. Excited. Fulfilled. Four weeks later, after she returned home and told us stories about the summer, I could see that Lindsey’s spiritual growth had made enormous strides as she learned to depend on God in new ways. She had many opportunities to share her faith that summer with locals who were eager to learn about Jesus Christ—people who might not otherwise have learned about him.

Ripples in a Pond

What if we had said no? What if we had let fear—even reasonable fear—drive away that opportunity? What if Lindsey had missed the experience of discovering for herself this eternal truth: “You have been my hope, O Sovereign lord, my confidence since my youth” (Psalm 71:5)?

That summer, seven individuals from that country began a relationship with the Lord, introduced to him through the team on Lindsey’s mission trip. Many others were exposed to Christianity and expressed interest in knowing more. What would those seven have missed, had we and other parents just like us said no to our children’s request to share their faith? And like a ripple in a pond, who knows how many other lives have since been touched by those seven?

Moments like those added up to create a trip that was more than Lindsey could ever have imagined. Actually, it ended up being more than we all could have imagined.

Lindsey and Josh did get to know each other on that trip. Quite well, it turned out. They started to spend more and more time together. By Christmas, what had begun as a friendship had evolved into a romance. Just last summer they were married in a beautiful, Christ-centered ceremony. They have a wonderful relationship, brought together on a Christian summer mission trip in a still-undisclosed location, by a desire to share their faith in a great God.

What would we have missed, had we said no?

Thursday, December 4, 2008


The other day, one of my college students asked if she could coin a word for the article she was writing. "The words to say what I need to say don't exist," she said.

I told her that she didn't have the ethos to coin words and to get out her thesaurus.

Of course, she accused me of crimping her creativity.

You know I wouldn't do that without good reason. Aspiring writers need to learn to write within the rules before they can write outside the rules.

We need to learn how to put words together according to existing standards before we can creatively push past the standards.

Maybe someday, we'll be that wordsmith who invents a word.

Last week, I read a list of words that have recently been added to the dictionary. My favorite word new word? Frugalista: someone who is frugal but not frumpy. Thrifty but not threadbare.

I like that word.

If you had the chance to invent a word, what would it be?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pump up the Promo

Promotion. A sometimes overwhelming but absolutely necessary part of the publication process.

Writers often wish we could just, well, write. But sorry, toots, it just ain't so. Would you like to follow along on my publication journey to see how it works?

I've had three books previously published by a small press and was blessed to be able to climb the next rung of the ladder to an established "traditional" publishing house for my humorous women's book, Mom Needs Chocolate, set for release 3/09.

I have just spent six straight hours staring bleary-eyed at my computer monitor filling in interview questions, cranking out queries, sending press releases to newspapers, radio and TV stations, and following up on scads of dangling communications regarding book event scheduling for the spring.

I'm not at the point of being able to afford an assistant to help with all this grunt work, and the PR person assigned to me by my publishing house is sweet and helpful but only does so much. I never had a PR person with my previous books (smaller publisher, less frills) so it's refreshing to have someone to help with anything at all.

She is arranging TV/media interviews and B & N signings to coincide with several out of state trips I'll be taking. That's good. Plus she has brainstormed a marketing plan with me by phone and e-mail on more than one occasion. Also good.

I really don't know what else to expect, but I will let you know as I'm enlightened. I'm scheduled to speak with a publicist (not related to my publisher but recommended by them)later this week to decide if it would be worth my hard-earned bucks to have another hired gun out there firing literary bullets on my behalf.

I'll keep you posted.

The wide-eyed new girl on the block,

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coping with Rejection

Rejection is part of a writer’s life. Anyone who wants to make it as a writer needs to learn to face rejection bravely, gracefully, and frequently.

Three tips for coping with rejection:

Laugh at your rejections.

Learn from your rejections.

Always have a new project underway, something that will give you hope no matter how many rejections come your way for the previous project.

You may take some consolation in knowing the rejection history of these writers and works:

Dune by Frank Herbert – 13 rejections

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 rejections

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 29 rejections

Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections

A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections

Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – over 300 rejections before publishing his first book

John Creasy, author of 564 mystery novels – 743 rejections before publishing his first book

Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – around 800 rejections before selling his first story

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book

From rejection slip for George Orwell's Animal Farm:

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”

From rejection slip for Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It:

“These stories have trees in them.”

From rejection slip for article sent to the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling:

“I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."

From rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank:

“The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”

Rejection slip for Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street:

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

Source: Gotham Writer's Workshop

Monday, December 1, 2008

One thing

I'm a little overwhelmed these days. I'm a single mom. I've got a kid in college, one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. I'm in graduate school and it's getting perilously close to finals week. I work part time.

To top it all off I woke up this morning to 4 inches of snow that needed to be removed from my rather long driveway. (Said driveway doesn't seem so long in the summer, but winter offers a different perspective. The longest part is the last two feet because that's the where the snowplow piles 1,000 pounds of dirty slush every time it whizzes by. Sometimes it does this even when I am standing there, shovel in hand.)

But I digress. In the midst of all this regular stuff, today marks the beginning of Advent. In addition to holiday preparations, I'd like to take some time to actually reflect on the meaning of the season. To bask in the Light of the World.

Oh. And then there's writing. Something I'd like to do a lot more of.

It's enough to make me want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my head until summer vacation. But instead, I follow the advice that a wise someone, I don't remember who, once gave me. Just do the next thing that needs to be done.

Trying to do it all at once is both overwhelming and paralyzing. But I can put one foot in front of the other and do one thing. Just the next thing that needs to be done. That's all.

So are you feeling overwhelmed? Like you want to get going on that writing career but don't know where to start?

Just do one thing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Author of the Week: Diane Wylie

Welcome to Grit for the Oyster, Diane!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I finished my first manuscript after two years of writing and began to look for a publisher. I started with the big New York publishers, having had no idea there were smaller publishers available. After many rejections I wrote a second manuscript, this one a historical romance. By that time I had joined several online chat groups about books. When I started to look for a publisher this time, someone told me about ebook publishers. So my first book was published as an ebook and Print on Demand. I learned a lot about publishers in the years that followed and along the way, I found Vintage Romance Publishing, who has now published two of my books, SECRETS AND SACRIFICES and JENNY’S PASSION, with a third, LILA’S VOW, due out in March 2009.

What has been the best part about being published?

The best part is meeting all kinds of people, both in person and through the internet, and, of course, hearing how much they enjoy my books.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

A large part of my ideas occur to me as I am researching the history and background information. One little tidbit of information will lead to a new idea. For instance, while I was researching JENNY’S PASSION I read about the infamous Civil War prison in Andersonville, Georgia. I knew I had to include it in the story. It worked well!

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

My characters tend to take the lead and carry the story, no matter how hard I try to plan it.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

I would like them to remember that age-old saying, “Love conquers all” and believe it!

What are your dreams for your writing?

If I could dream the impossible dream…I would love to see one of my books made into a movie. One of my readers already picked out the actors for one of my books. If you go to my website,, you can see who Mary picked on the Letters page.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish that I had known how common it was to get rejected. I took each one personally for so long, until I realized that it was not personal, it was all business.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I’ve had my share of rejections along with way, but on the whole, it has been a great experience.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

For JENNY’S PASSION it has been 15 months since I signed the contract to its release in November 2008.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A television commercial. I think an ad would reach the largest audience through TV.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is very important, especially since no one else will do it for those of us who are not big name authors. I promote my books through my website (, blog, newsletter, MySpace, YouTube, Bebo, LinkedIn, and various Yahoo chat groups. Every little bit helps. In addition I purchased an ad in the United Daughters of the Confederacy magazine. I am hoping that will be a good place to find readers of Civil War romance.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

You can find JENNY’S PASSION and SECRETS AND SACRIFICES by Diane Wylie on ,,,, or by ordering a copy through your local bookstore. Thank you very much for having me at Grit for the Oyster.

Thank you very much for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

You can find Diane on line by clicking here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Creative Takes Work

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a few minutes, I have to start a variety of Thanksgiving dinner preparations. I'm going to bake pumpkin pies, roast a turkey. create a apple, cranberry, grape salad, boil some potatoes--you know, the list goes on. All the while, I'm going to try not to eat very much. I don't want to gain weight between now and Christmas. Practicing self-discipline and thanksgiving is my goal for today.

Before I start my kitchen tasks, I thought I'd report in on my attempt to be more creative. Last week I told you I'd let you know how I did.

Earlier this week, I was looking for something that didn't include turkey to make for my extended family who were coming to dinner the evening before Thanksgiving (yesterday).

A friend suggested, "You could use my pasta making machine and make your own pasta. It's messy but creative."

Perfect, I thought. You may recall that my goal for the week was to try something creative regardless of the mess.

So yesterday, I made pasta for 13. The process is time consuming. It includes mixing and kneading the dough. Kneading is hard work. I was sweating (honestly) as I kneaded each batch for 12 minutes. Of course, that could be because our wood stove was burning on high (the temperature outside was 29).

The kneaded dough must sit for 30 minutes and then you put it through a roller multiple times before you put it through the pasta cutter. I thought my kids and nieces and nephews (and one soon to be nephew-in-law) would want to watch and help. They watched a moment and then disappeared.

Every one commented again and again, "That looks like so much work. Why are you doing it? Why not just get pasta from the box?"

Which made me think that our fast-food, everything-available-in-a -box culture inhibits creativity. I was (honestly) having fun. The pasta was so scrumptious. No one asked for boxed pasta when it came time to eat.

While I was rolling pasta, my husband was outside making a snow-sculpture. (The kids wouldn't help him either. A few years ago they would've begged and begged to help.) My brother-in-law said, "Steve's so creative."

Remember, Steve's the one who thinks he's not creative!

Well, I've gotta go start those pies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cyber Sabbath

The following is an excerpt from "Taking Time for a Cyber Sabbath" from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers. A wonderful reminder for all of us writerly die-hards out there to take a break and enjoy a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving with our families.

When I worked at McDonalds as a teenager, I got so overdosed with the smells and sight of fast food that when I was off duty, the last thing I wanted was a burger or fries. Somehow, the writing profession doesn't work that way. The more we write, the more we want to write; the more we NEED to write. It's an addiction. The computer absorbs more and more of our attention.

We become cyber-junkies.

Work evolves into not just five days a week, but gradually six , then seven. The "I'll only be a few more minutes" we tell our kids turns into two hours. They finally give up and find someone else who'll give them attention. Before we know it, they'll be out of the house and will have unequivocally learned the lesson we taught them: that Mom or Dad (or both) would rather spend time with a machine than with them.

Is this the legacy we want to leave behind? Is our primary goal to honor God or become an honored writer?

Lord, help me to honor your directive to observe a day of rest in which to strengthen relationships, regroup, refocus, and refresh - not just in my spiritual life, but my professional life as well. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Savvy Verse and Wit

As our blog tour rolls along, it's interesting to read what catches reviewers' eyes. Each review is so different, so subjective, just like readers. What one likes, the other doesn't. I've been especially pleased that many "not exactly Christian" reviewers have really liked Grit's message. Yes, they comment that it is a bit preachy...but that's to be expected. I don't think it is preachy...but there is an assumption that you are writing because God has gifted you to write.

Today, there's an interesting review at Savvy Verse and Wit. This reviewer particularly liked Joanna Bloss' entry on being a writer with ADD. (No More 31 in Grit.)

It was one of my favorites, too.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Awesome Review!

A wonderful review today by As the Pages Turn.

The Review...

Have you ever wondered what prompted writers to become published authors? Have you ever wondered what force helped to shape and mold them into finding their dream and keep going when the going got rough? Wouldn’t it be cool to find that force through the mouths of established authors who will give it to you the way it really is so that you can do it, too?

The answer is Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers by Suzanne M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, and Joanna Bloss.

When I requested a copy of this book, I knew it had inspirational connotations and wondered just how preachy it was going to be. While I love quotes from established authors, I didn’t want it to sound like a preacher was yelling at me from the pulpit as some inspirational books tend to be.

That wasn’t the case at all. I quite enjoyed hearing about the experiences of these lovely ladies, as well as other published authors, who had mastered their craft well. While I’m not in all that Biblical stuff, the quotes they offered as advice for wannabe writers was so right on and I believe that’s their strong point.

When we read a title that says “250 pearls of wisdom for aspiring writers,” we want that wisdom and that wisdom is delivered.

Grit for the Oyster is a must-have handbook for aspiring authors. It should be read, savored and truly digested so that it will help you in finding your own writing dreams.

What I loved about this book...

I loved the way they mixed in other authors’ words of wisdom in between the chapters the girls wrote themselves. I’d almost be comfortable with the whole book like this, only we wouldn’t be able to hear the girls’ voices, of course. By mixing other authors’ quotes in with the girl’s chapters, it balances out very well and made for very enjoyable reading. The editors’ eye in me caught no typos so I give Vintage Spirit a thumbs up!

What I did not love about this book...

I tried my best to find something. Anything. Maybe the preachy tone? But that’s my personal beliefs interfering and I didn’t want to do that. So honestly, I can’t rip this book to shreds. It’s too well done, contains a lot of valuable information, and deserves a place in every author wannabe’s home as well as the bookstore shelves. I’d hate to see this one get lost in the masses. Not to sound cliche, but it’s like finding that one pearl in all those oysters out there. Good work, girls, and I hope they have more books coming out in the future. Their talent shines.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Think Not of the Mess

I once read about a mother who so desired to inspire creativity in her daughter that she went to great lengths to allow her to implement original ideas--she even helped her plant a carpet of grass in her bedroom. I'm not kidding. The girl longed to feel grass under her feet each morning when she got out of bed. So her mother helped her spread out a large, heavy tarp, cover it with topsoil and plant grass.

I told my mother about this. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," she said. "How did they water the grass? How did they scoop the mud out when the girl was tired of standing on grass in the morning? Think of the mess."

My sister agreed. "Ugh. What a mess. Why didn't they just pull a cot out onto the lawn?"

Me? I admire the grass planting mother/daughter duo. Not that I want inches of mud in my house. I don't. But I admire their can-do spirit. I admire that they pushed boundaries (and probably, beds) and ignored messes to pursue creativity.

When I was a girl, I loved to pop popcorn. (Still do.) I desperately wanted to pop corn--just once-- without the lid on the pan so I could watch the hard popcorn kernels ping into white fluffy blossoms. I thought the transformation must be an amazing creative moment. I told my mother that when I had my own house I was going to pop popcorn without the lid on the pan so I could watch. "No you won't," she said. "Think of the mess."

She was right. These days, I think of the mess. I keep the lid on when the popcorn's popping.

But it makes me wonder: to what degree do I stifle creativity because I think of the mess?

Practicing creativity requires a tolerance of messes. This week, when it comes to a choice between a creative act and a mess, just once--I'm not going to think of the mess. I'm going to tolerate the mess and pursue the creative act. I'll let you know how I do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Ones that Get Away

I recently received a call from a publishing house editor asking if I'd be interested in being the witty half of a co-writing team. The project was a book about a serious subject couched in humor to appeal to the general population. Hmmmm. Sounded interesting.

The ironic twist was that this was the very same editor who had nixed a book proposal I'd submitted three years ago. At the time, I was devastated, feeling as if he had effectively tossed my career in the can. For this new project, I had been recommended to him by another editor who had worked with me on several projects since that time. He apparently had no memory of our previous encounter.

We set up a conference call with the two of us and my prospective partner. I dialed the number full of anticipation, expecting magic to happen. It didn't. Tinkerbell didn't show up. The call had about as much excitement as one of those flat lines you see on TV when it's time to write off the hero.

After losing the same fish with two worms, I concluded that the writing life is kind of like the scenario in Luke 5. Simon, a professional fisherman, had been fishing all night without a single bite. When he's thrown in the towel and is ready to hit the beach, Jesus tells him to "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."

Simon knows those fish - which weren't there a minute ago - don't bite during the day and certainly not out in the deep water. But he tries again anyway. And his empty cooler overflows.

We might not be using the right bait with our proposals, or it's too dark, or sunny, or deep in that editor's office. But if God tells us to try again (and He often does), despite circumstances that don't make natural sense, we can be assured that our cooler will one day supernaturally overflow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuba or Tivo?

My 17-year-old son and I had dinner alone last night so I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Between shoveling in food to his mouth (he had come straight from basketball practice and was starving), and being at that age when words kind of blur together as if they have no consonants, he gave me a one word answer.

"That's great!" I said, very pleased. "I'll look on E-bay and see if they have any used ones."

"Used?" he asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Well, you've never played one before...or any other instrument for that matter, so I don't want to spend the money for a new one."

"What do you think I said?" he asked.

"Tuba. You want a tuba."

"Tivo. I said I wanted TIVO."


Communication is huge! And hard to do, even when you're sitting at the dinner table, across from the person you're communicating with.

It's worth it to get it right. Double check your facts. Go back to your sources. Check your spelling. Ask for clarification.

Otherwise, you might end up with a used tuba.

Monday, November 17, 2008

a little gem

I'm in grad school and write lots of papers. I generally get positive feedback on my writing, and I believe this is for two reasons. One is that I pay close attention to the assignment--I always try to make sure I answer the question or issue posed. Two is that my thoughts are usually well organized.

This is due to one of the best writing investments I've ever made--the purchase of a little gem of a software called Inspiration. I first learned about Inspiration because my kids used it in elementary school for many of their projects. Then I read about it in an article in MacWorld magazine that reviewed outlining software. I considered it because an author said that it was an invaluable tool for helping him to write novels. That sold me and I've been using Inspiration for years now. I don't think I could even write a letter to my mother without it.

Every paper, article or book project I write starts with an outline. Sometimes the outline is three or four points and just helps me get my thoughts in order. For other projects it becomes the essential reference and I'd be completely lost without it (such as in the research paper on Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing and Cognitive Behavior Therapy I'm currently slogging through).

You may or may not find this tool as useful as I have; however, if you're a visual learner/writer, give it a try. Inspiration is definitely not the only outlining software out there and it may not even be the best, but I'm totally hooked on it. For more info and a free trial check out their website.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In the Mood to Surf?

While you're surfing the net today, be sure to check out the splash Grit for the Oyster is making! Grit's recent book tour stops include a great review here and a fascinating interview with the four authors here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let's get creative

Every time we visit a beach, my husband Steve--who couldn't sit still and bask in the sun if you paid him to--creates an elaborate sand sculpture. This is one of many that he created the summer of 2006 when we vacationed at Cape Cod and frequented Coast Guard Beach.

Yet, last week when I said to him, "Let's spend the next ten years putting everything we've got into developing our creativity.

He said, "I'm not really creative."

I reminded him of the sand sculptures, the chain-saw sculpted totem pole that stands in our front yard, the could-I-create-an-invention prototypes that lay scattered on his work bench, and the silly poems he occasionally writes for our kids.

He's creative.

Creative means resulting from originality of thought, expression or imagination. I don't think it's stressed enough these days and I'm eager to find ways to encourage and develop creativity in the lives of those around me. I long to become more creative and I intend for my writing to become more creative.

I've determined that the number one hindrance to more creativity in my life is lack of time. I can't get more of that! But I'm looking for ways to carve out time to devote to practicing creativity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There's Power in the Verb

Power Verbs. They're...well, powerful.

When I teach writing workshops, I stress the importance of concise, tight, non-rambling, to-the-point writing. One key way to achieve this is to cut out as many -ly adverbs (adverbs ending in -ly) as possible and replace them with power verbs.

For example, can you spot what is wrong with this sentence: She walked quickly across the room.

Okay, nothing is specifically wrong with it grammatically, but it's weak...anemic. Why have a flat, measly meat patty verb when you can have a big, fat, juicy hamburger verb?

Let's kill the -ly adverb (quickly) and replace the wimpy verb (walked) with a power verb that says even better in one word what you were trying to say (weakly) in two:
dashed, rushed, raced, flew, spurted, hastened, shot, tore, ripped, darted, sped, bolted

Power verbs make for much more exciting reading and show editors that you're not a lazy writer. So put on your super hero writing shirt and show us the power!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

There's Writing, And Then There's Writing Well

I was helping a friend's son with his college essays last week, and afterwards, thought about how hard it was to teach writing.

Many people hate, hate, hate to write. It doesn't come easily. Pulling words out of their head feels like slogging through blackstrap molasses on a January morning.

But the thing is, everybody has to learn how to communicate effectively. Even a one-page office memo with bullet points needs to be clear.

I do think that good writing can be taught, especially when a person disoovers its relevancy. Say, for example, getting and keeping a job.

But then there is a kind of writing that goes beyond communicating clearly. I'm not sure this can be taught, because it is so hard, but so very satisfying. I think this kind of writing happens because a person has that writing bug deep inside them, where she is willing to study the craft of writing.

Also known as...prose.

Here is an example:

"Everyone at the table became quiet."

That is a clear, concise sentence.

Now here it is again, jazzed up:

"Silence fell over the table."

See what I mean?

Prose takes work, editing, re-writing, reading other writers, loving and studying words and phrases. Basic philology.

But it makes all the difference in writing, and writing well.

On another note...check out our interview posted today at The Writer's Life and an excerpt of Deb Coty's devotion here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Setting Writing Goals-A SMART thing to do

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? Perhaps you'd like to get published in a magazine or land a book contract, or finish the novel that is bouncing around in your brain. Whatever it is, you will be more successful if you take the time to do some serious goal-setting. Goals are important because they give you something to work toward and quantify your desires into something tangible and attainable. Here are some guidelines for setting some SMART writing goals. (I did not make the acronym up--it's useful in many settings.)

  • S is for specific-So you want to see your byline in a magazine? Good goal. Now get specific. Which magazine? What will you write about?
  • M is for measureableIt's not enough to say that you want to write more. Set concrete goals for your writing. How many words will you write each day? How many magazines will you query in a month? It's also very helpful to break your big goal (magazine article) into more manageable chunks. First you might brainstorm ideas for the piece and write an outline. Then find several magazines that are suitable for your topic. Then you'll need to craft a query and send it out. While you're waiting for replies you can do more research and write the first draft. Breaking your goal into specific and measurable chunks will make it feel more do-able.
  • A is for attainable-When setting your writing goals, be honest with yourself about the time you have available for writing--try not to bite off more than you can chew and build in some margin for those unexpected delays and interruptions we all encounter.
  • R is for realistic-Yes, we all want our novel to land on the NY Times Bestseller List. That's a great goal to keep in the back of your mind and it may propel you to keep writing, even when you feel like giving up. However, this is probably not the most realistic goal for the beginning writer. Try getting published in your local newspaper first, then gradually work your way up the ladder.
  • T is for time-specific-You'll be more successful in accomplishing your goals if you give yourself deadlines. Make them attainable and realistic, but do write a date on your calendar for when you expect to have each item on your to-do list accomplished.

My final word on this is to find someone to help hold you accountable. It could be a fellow writer or a good friend, but make sure it is someone who will do a good job of checking in with you from time to time.

Happy goal-setting!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Short and Sweet

A pearl of wisdom from the late great Blaise Pascal: "I have made this longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

Self-editing and writing concisely is so important to writers. Don't say in six words what you can say in four. Tirelessly search for just the right word. Don't settle for less.

That's the difference between good writing and compiling words.

Now a word from the sponsor:

Need a writing tune up? A spur of motivation in your saddle? Check out the terrific instructional writing programs included in Debora Coty's historical novels The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails (to be released 12/08). If you're interested in face-to-face instruction,
writing workshops for all ages are available at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Book Tour, Day 4

Check out our interview at Beyond the Books!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Tour: Day 3

A very nice review from Debra Gaynor today...she gives Grit a 5 Star rating!

Check it out at...Review Your Book.

Grit for the Oyster
250 pearls of wisdom for aspiring writers

Suzanne Woods Fisher, Debora M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, Joanna Bloss

ISBN: 9780981559223
Vintage Spirit, 2008
Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for, 10/08
Encouragement for aspiring writers…
5 Stars

There are many called to use their talent to write for God. Unfortunately, many of them never put pen to paper. Whether from lack of encouragement, lack of self-confidence or just not knowing where to begin, these talented people never get started. Grit for the Oyster is written with Christian perspective; the focus is on answering God’s call to write. Each chapter begins with a bit of wisdom and continues with a scripture and devotion. There is a short prayer, a few reflection questions and more bits of wisdom. Grit for the Oyster is a devotional book. I was enticed from the first chapter. I now have 1 Chronicles 28:20 hanging on my wall. I have a suggestion. Some of the print is very small, too small for easy reading. I really like this book. I will keep this book close at hand.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Book Tour, Day 2

Check out our interview at Michelle's Book Reviews!

Here's a brief excerpt...

We’re inspirational writers from the four corners of the country who got together through a writers conference in California in 2006. We were all on different legs of our writing journeys but were united by the desire to pen a motivational book for writers that affirms, builds confidence and inspires, while at the same time offering pithy practical guidance. All the things we wish we’d known when we started out.

The four of us represent many walks of life: single moms, married 30+ years, lots of kids, few kids, financially stable, struggling to make ends meet, ADD, focused, social butterflies, private, career women, homemakers, sensitive, steel magnolias…but we share a common passion about our faith and our writing. We view our writing as an extension of our faith and feel called to share what we’ve learned to help other aspiring writers along their own writing journeys. We’re more than delighted with wonderful reader responses to Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

We're Launching Grit's Blog Tour!!

Today is the first day of our November Blog Tour! We have a HUGE line up of blogs hosting our book this month. Each day we'll give you the link to a blog to find out information about Grit for the Oyster and its four authors.

Visit The Bluestocking Society for a review of Grit today!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Author of the Week: Sharon Knudson

Sharon Knudson is the author of Starting from Scratch When You're Single Again. You can find Sharon on-line at her website.
Welcome to our blog, Sharon!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

Back in August, 2000, I resigned from my office job so I could write full time. It took a lot of courage and our income dropped dramatically, but I’ve never looked back. From the start I decided to treat writing like a business rather than just a hobby, and 10 years later, I have 425 published articles, 5 book collaborations, and the new book called Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again (Strang Communications, September 2008).

What has been the best part about being published?

The best part of being published is the fact that it gives a face to my ministry to people. My co-author and I always say this book is not about us, but the people we’ll be able to help—women who have been widowed or divorced and anyone, male or female, who wants to reach out to them.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again is made up of 24 interviews from women who lost their spouse and were thrust into a crisis situation. The book not only conveys each woman’s compelling story about what happened, we also asked each person to share some advice and to contribute a “made from scratch” recipe. My desire is that readers will conclude that no matter how horrible their present situation is, if they will cling to God in faith, they’ll find hope for a better future. Not only will they survive, they will thrive!

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

Looking back, I wish I had not been so afraid. I missed several good writing opportunities early on because I was paralyzed with fear and didn’t think I was capable of doing what was proposed. The good news is that little by little my confidence grew, and today I’m not only a prolific author and frequent speaker, but involved in a myriad of activities for book promotion. I’ve learned that just because I dread doing something new because of its high learning curve doesn’t mean I won’t like it and even flourish in it later.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author, or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I’d call my journey steady progress along a hard and bumpy road. It has been difficult at times because I believe in doing “whatever it takes” to accomplish something with excellence. That means having high standards, spending long hours at the computer, and sacrificing some of the pleasures I used to enjoy.

How important do you think self-promotion is, and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

No one cares about your writing or your book as much as you do. It’s best to accept that fact right away and not expect others to champion your cause. I have a problem with “promoting myself” (as do most serious writers), but what works for me is to remember that my book is a ministry, and unless I make people aware of its existence, it can’t help anyone. So my co-author and I hired a publicist for when the book came out. We blog daily at, and we send out a monthly E-zine. I updated my website and have been offering writing workshops and courses. We also schedule booksignings, Starting from Scratch workshops, and drop off copies of the book to bookstores, libraries and women’s shelters. We always have a plate of homemade cherry macaroon cookies along (it’s our signature recipe, made from scratch), and people love that.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again is available wherever books are sold. That means at all the major book retailers and Christian bookstores, at and, and on our blog (

Thanks for taking time for this interview, Sharon. We wish you the very best!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reader View Review!

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers
Suzanne Woods Fisher, Debora M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, & Joanna Bloss
Vintage Romance Publishing (2008)
ISBN 9780981559223
Reviewed by Valerie A. Howard for Reader Views (10/08)

“Grit for the Oyster” (although I understood the premise behind the name, I didn’t care for it), is a “how-to” manual for handling writing and spiritual issues such as success, rejection, uncertainty,writer’s block and many others. The four authors offer encouragement to writers who may be experiencing difficult or lean times in which they may question their writing gift.

“Grit” is targeted toward aspiring writers, however, it is great for all writers, new and established,published and unpublished, young and old, writing any genre, who love God and have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The format of each section of the book is a short devotional piece (1-2 pages, sometimes more) by one of the four authors, followed by a few “reflection” questions, and finally, a few pearls of wisdom (helpful hints, ideas, and theories) from established writers such as best-selling author Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages).

“Grit for the Oyster” is one gem that I will refer to regularly. I found myself highlighting, circling and placing asterisks by words from authors Fisher, Coty, McDonald, and Bloss (as well as the pearls from the established writers) so that I can refer back to them. This is one book that won’t collect dust on the shelf like some of the other books that I have with advice and tips for writers. Good job, ladies.

This book is a very well-written and attention-grabbing bag of goodies for the creative writer’s soul. There were a few minor editing and formatting issues which overall did not detract from the book.

The book read more like a devotional. Reading one inspirational word for the day will probably be more beneficial to the reader than trying to read the whole book at one time.

Overall, this is a great book and I would recommend it to any writer who attributes their writing gift to God for a daily reminder of why we do this and who we are really doing it for.

This wonderful cheerleading section for writers reminds us that our primary focus in this profession should be to glorify God. “Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers” is a very inspirational read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I had a very interesting discussion with my editor last week about vocabulary--when an obscure word works, and when it doesn't.

Her theory, which shows her editing know-how, is that the reader should be able to figure out the word by the context of the sentence.

I tend to love using unusual words that broaden readers, and I love reading writers who use an expanded vocabulary.

But then again...I'm the type of reader who keeps a dictionary nearby, and underlines phrases, and goes to every day.

As we were writing Grit, we had fun chasing down how some obscure phrases, what does it mean to be Argus-Eyed? (A monster with many eyes.) Or who coined "the Green-Eyed Monster?" (Shakespeare.) Or what did Ezekiel mean by using an inkhorn? (An animal's horn that held the ink for a scribe.)

See? Obscure, but fun! And don't you feel smarter?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Less is more, part 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the importance of using fewer words to communicate more effectively. Here are some more tips for making your writing pack a bigger punch with fewer words:

  • Before you write your piece, ask yourself two questions. 1) Who is my audience? 2) what is my big idea? After you're finished, ask yourself these two questions again. Does every sentence in your piece communicate your big idea in the best way for your audience to hear it?
  • Look at the piece as a whole. Is there sufficient "white space"? When I see paragraph upon paragraph of unbroken text I tend to skim it or skip it entirely. Consider using bullet points or breaking information into tables or charts if it is technical or repetitive.
  • Review each paragraph. Are you adding unnecessary details that may detract from your overall message? If so, eliminate them.
  • Review each sentence and cross out extraneous words. "Due to the fact that..." can be changed to "Due to..." How about this one? We therefore pledge to you a fast, simple method to hop aboard the fitness fast train. A more efficient option is: That's why we offer a simple method to maximize your fitness routine.
  • Review each word. Are you using big-dictionary words when a more common word will do? Unless you're an attorney or an extremely accomplished literary writer, your readers will appreciate you more if you use simpler words.

Just to show you how passionate I am on this topic, I'm offering a free critique of 5 pages or less to the first three people who comment on this post. I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Author of the Week: Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer is an award winning author of novels and non-fiction books. As Grit for the Oyster was taking shape, she was one of the most generous authors whom we encountered. An imaginative and talented writer, too. She's amazing!

Hi Tricia! Thanks for joining us today! Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

My writing journey began in 1994 when I attended my first writer’s conference with my friend, Cindy Martinusen. Cindy and I went to the same church and we both had dreams of become writers. Everything at Mt. Hermon was new to me. I just followed the instructor’s directions. It took two years of hard work, but I was soon writing magazine articles for publication. Over the next five years, I also worked on missions’ curriculum, a devotional book, and study notes for the Women of Faith Study Bible (Zondervan). (My friend, Cindy, is now a published author too of four novels!)

During those years, in addition to writing, I was also raising three small children. In 1999, I felt God asking me to start a crisis pregnancy center in our town. I didn’t want to do it. I was busy enough writing and taking care of kids. I also was working on novel projects—with no success. I had novels make it to committee many times, with no contract!

Finally, I relinquished my dreams to God. I knew I needed to be obedient, even if I never got a novel published. Instead of closing the writing doors for good, the opposite happened. God brought people into my life who shared these amazing stories from World War II. I knew those were the books I was meant to write. Two years after the pregnancy center was up and running, I had the contract for my first novel, “From Dust and Ashes” (Moody, 2003). I remember answering the phone and hearing a “smile” in my agent’s voice. As she told me, one of my favorite songs by Fernando Ortega was playing in the background, and I felt delighted that God granted me such a gift.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

Way tooooo soon! I started working on my novel idea in 1995. I started my novel in February and I started “submitting” it a writer’s conferences in April. I thought I knew enough … I knew so little! I’m thankful that the editors were helping in pointing out what needed to be fixed. That’s one of the good things about writer’s conference—editors who are there to help you.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

In 1999, I was twenty-eight years old and had already published over one hundred articles for national publications. I'd also been contracted to work on two book projects for well-known publishers. Still, I felt far from successful. For five years I'd labored full-time on my own book projects with no luck. My agent didn't understand, "These are excellent proposals," she said. "I don't understand why they're not being snatched up."

I just have to try harder, write more, I thought. It didn't help.

Around that time, I started going through the workbook Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. I learned one phrase that kept going over in my mind. "Look to see what God was doing and join him." The premise is this: if you're doing something that doesn't work, put what you're doing aside and see what God was doing. I did that. And... I discovered God had different plans!

First, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I invited him into our home. Between doctor's appointments, hospice visits, taking care of my husband and three children, there was little time to pen prose. My grandfather passed away after only four months, but inside I was changed. It was as if my heart had been rubbed raw with sandpaper. My eyes were opened to pain, and I had a new appreciation for helping those in need.

Lord, what do you want me to write? I prayed.

A few months after my grandfather's death, my pastor and two women in the church approached me about starting a Crisis Pregnancy Center. (There wasn't one for hundreds of miles.) I didn't want to do it, but I told my pastor I'd pray about it.
The next morning I did pray. I told God. "Lord, I can't help with this center. I'm a writer and my articles are helping people around the country."
His response was, "Well, what about the people in your own community? What are you going to do to help them?" Ouch.

Obviously this was something God was doing, so I joined him.

Soon, I was using my writing and organizational skills to create community newsletters, and to write radio commercials and grants. In one year, we had a huge center (given to us for free rent), forty volunteers, and we were reaching hundreds of women. We even received a $13,000 grant to teach abstinence education in the schools! At night I often felt drained by the number of young women who needed assistance--who needed hope--yet, I also felt a renewed sense of satisfaction. Obviously God was at work. I was glad I'd joined him.
It was a hard time in my life of giving up my will for God’s will, but I’ll never go back to the way things were again!

What has been the best part about being published?

Writing. I love putting my thoughts down on paper. I love praying, and seeking God, and playing with words, and reforming my research into something that can bless others and open their understanding of a new topic or time in history. I love pointing people to God with words.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

I see ideas EVERYWHERE! I see them in magazines or on TV. I hear them in my friends’ stories. I get a new idea every week. The hard part is choosing which ones to pursue.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I used to be a VERY detailed plotter, but with every novel I get to be more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. Maybe it's because I've had less time between books. Or maybe it's because I trust myself more. So while I have tons of research and a general idea of how the book will end up, I have fun exploring the story and going along for the ride.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Any tips or suggestions for writers?

I write in 30 minute segments whenever I have time. Sometimes in the morning. Sometimes at night. Sometimes on family trips. Sometimes in front of the TV, since my family likes me to be “there.”

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

I have a basic idea but it usually changes as I write.

Do you have a process for developing your characters?

Yes, I use the book, “Writing the Breakout Novel” and go through the steps.

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?

Yes, my friends tell me my characters are very much like me. I can see myself in some more than others. I definitely see myself in Mary in Arms of Deliverance. Mary was born to a single mom. She later met her dad who was the editor of a major NY newspaper. After that Mary tried to earn her dad's love/attention by taking on dangerous, overseas assignments during WWII. I had the same type of experience (except for the dangerous assignment parts). Only a few people know about my biological dad (until now!), but having them read that novel was like giving them a glimpse into my secret diary--the emotions were THAT real.

What are your dreams for your writing? Where do you see yourself in five years both as a writer and as a person?

I see myself pretty much doing the same—writing, spending time with family, working with teen moms. I’ll keep on this track as long as God allows. Then again, He might have something completely different in store! That’s up to Him. I’ll go along for the ride wherever He leads.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Butt in chair and focus on the ONE THING you have to do next. My author friend, Anne de Graaf gave me that advice and it works!

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

Relinquish my desires to God. He may want me to write or He may want me to volunteer or serve or just spend more time with my family. We get frustrated when WE have a plan and expect God to follow. Instead I try to see what God’s up to and join Him. Since He’s already a work then my part is easy!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Janet Kobobel-Grant, Books & Such. She’s one of my favorite people, ever!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Everywhere books are sold.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers here (advice, website, etc)? Do you have a website for readers to go to?

God has wonderful dreams for what He longs to do in your life too. When it comes to my novels, I depend on God to unfold the story as I research and write. I have faith that He sees the end of the story, even before I write one word. It's the same with our lives. God sees the end of the story. And He knows how to unfold each chapter before us--with His perfect end in mind. It's our job to stay tuned-in, ready to face the next plot twist with His guidance, wisdom and strength.

Thank you very much, Tricia, for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

Find Tricia on-line at: and at her blog:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Let's get creative

This is one of my all time favorite pictures of my son Phillip. Phil(now 19) was four at the time. Matt, his brother and playmate, had deserted him to attend all-day first grade. Phil was home with me and his nine-month-old sister. She wasn't much fun. He was bored.

At the time I had more imagination than money, so to entertain Phil, I'd look around the house for random objects to fashion into a game. The game depicted above is, of course, scuba diving.

You couldn't tell? See the oxygen mask? Made from a plastic milk carton. And the oxygen tank? It was so new-fangled, it didn't even need a hose to connect it to the mask. And the spear? Useful for poking exotic undersea creatures--and sisters and brothers.

In this get-up Phil wriggled on his belly around the house for days on end.

Now, he's in school to become an engineer. He aspires to become an inventor. I like to think his ingenuity is due, in part, to the games we played that year when lack of money, lots of time and necessity spurred me to be creative.

I feel like I'm not as creative now as I used to be. I think time constraints, a culture that values sameness are two things that have muted my creativity. I want to get back to intentionally practicing creativity.

I'm looking for places to start. What do you do to get in touch with your creative bent? Send me your ideas!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nuts and Bolts of Manuscript Submission

I received a letter from an aspiring writer this week. She had heard me speak about publishers' interest in a writer's "platform" and wondered what I meant by that. She had completed a children's book and in consulting Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide, had learned that her targeted publisher first wanted a query, and then a request for the manuscript would follow if their interest was piqued. What was my advice?

Since the purpose of this blog is to assist aspiring writers on their journeys, I some of you might benefit from my answer:

That's terrific that you're to the point of shopping your manuscript around. I think you'll find the vast majority, if not all, publishers will want a query unless you attend a writers conference where you can meet them face to face (I highly recommend this approach if you're ready to pitch your proposal/manuscript). It's not cheap ($500 - $700) but well worth it to bypass the query step (often the queries are answered by "underlings" and the real editors never even see them).

You can Google "Christian Writers Conferences" to find one that emphasizes inspirational childrens publishing.
Locally, check out the Florida Christian Writers Conference ( website for the conference in Leesburg, 2/26 - 3/1/09.You should be able to click on a list of the publishers/editors scheduled to attend - do a little research and see if any of those are a good match for your book. Most conferences allow you to officially meet with 3-4 but you can also sit by them at meals and pick their brain or woo them while they eat. I'll be teaching a few workshops there as faculty.
Another possibility is the Spacecoast Writers Conference in Melbourne 1/23-24/09- I don't know how many publishers they plan to have there, but check it out. I'm teaching there also.
I sold two of my books via this method (conferences) and I know countless other writers who have done the same. You have a much better chance if they meet you and hear your pitch in person. Plus, you get instant invaluable feedback if something needs tweaking so you can work on it before pitching it to another publisher.
If you decide not to go the conference route, I'd focus all your attention on crafting a killer query (one-page, single-spaced pitch letter). I spend almost as much time on my queries as I do on my manuscripts. Editors spend an average of 9 seconds reading them (because they receive thousands per week) so yours had better be good! Start with an attention-grabbing hook - no "throat clearing" introduction, just jump right into meat of your story.

In your query, Include a short synopsis, marketing plan, and bio paragraph explaining your platform. Your "platform" is how people will know about you and your book - are you a speaker? Expert on some topic related to your book? Do you hold public office? With my first book, The Distant Shore, I really had no platform (except my freelance magazine articles) and my only qualification was that I was a life-long Floridian and the book was set in old Florida. So I played that up. When I began shopping around Mom Needs Chocolate (to be released 3/09), I built my platform around my expertise as a mother (hey, I know whence I speaketh!) and connection with mom's groups.

Build your platform by marketing yourself as a speaker (start locally and then branch out), create a website, join Facebook and Twitter, online writers groups, send out a fun and interesting newsletter (sign up for mine at ...anything and everything to get your name out there. Publishers won't take a chance on you unless they see you're willing to take the reins on marketing your book. All authors, unless your name rhymes with bowling and you write about boy wizards, are out there today marketing their books. It's expected and required.

All the experience you mentioned in your letter to me should be included succinctly and without dates (you don't have to say how many years ago you did something, just say you are qualified to write on this subject because you have xxx degrees and experience in xxxxx. You don't have to include how many years you taught, just that you have extensive experience teaching in public and Christian schools. Don't use the word "several" about your acting experience, just say you have a background in acting, puppetry, writing, directing, and performing dramatic plays. (Don't use the word "skit" - many experienced stage people consider it an amateur stamp because they call them "sketches.")
Just say you are an inspirational speaker as well, you don't have to say how many gigs. They may or may not ask for your speaking schedule later (larger publishers will). Play up any possible connections you have with your proposed book market - be creative. I'd mention your writers group also - show them that you're energetic and a go-getter. They'll want to see that for marketing if they seriously consider publishing your book.
Do a little more research on writing queries and proposals. Some good references are Book Proposals that Sell by Terry Whalen, How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia L. Fry. Visit instructional websites like and and don't forget (the blog I started with my co-writers of Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, another excellent reference book for publishing how-to's).

Publishers often request a query first, then the next step is a proposal, which includes long and short book synopses or chapter-by-chapter outline for non-fiction, proposed market (targeted audience), unique selling porposition (why people will buy your book), your platform, marketing plan, author bio and publishing history, a comparative analysis of your competition (similarities and differences of at least three books), endorsers (committed and potential; you'll need at least two and get the highest-profile names in your genre you can), and sample chapters (their submission guidelines will tell you how many; if they ask for three, don't send ten!) If the proposal flies, the last step is to send the entire manuscript.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I was in your shoes not so long ago so take heart - it can be done! Preparation is the key - you only get one chance to impress a publisher so make sure you've got all the bases covered.

Wishing you many happy query returns,