I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Five Do's and Five Don'ts to Creating a Stellar One-Sheet



Since ACFW Conference is just a month away, I'm freshening up my one sheets--those 8x11 single-sheet, handy-dandy sales sheets that (along with a business card) can be given out in appointments or during conversations to agents and editors as take-home reminders of who you are and what your book is about.

....After the one-sheet is requested, that is. We authors shouldn't hand them out unless they've been asked for. But I've never had an appointment with an editor or agent that didn't include a request for my business card and a one-sheet.

They're basically flyers, ads, references that sell You and Your Book. (One-sheets for other types of business will follow different rules, but the following has served me pretty well as an author of inspirational historical romance.)

Take a breath and have fun with it!

I am not a graphic artist, but one-sheets don't have to look splashy. You can type it yourself and print it at home (using fresh ink) or take it to Office Depot for printing, or you can use a template on a site like Vistaprint.com, which is what I do. This costs more, but I feel it gives my one-sheets a more professional look that makes me feel more confident.
instrument music Flyers
Example of a template on Vistaprint, which would be perfect for a story about a violinist, wouldn't it? Vistaprint fonts, font sizes, text boxes, and photo boxes can all be changed to suit your needs.
Whether printed at home or online, one-sheets should include the following information on the front:

  • Book Title (and name of series, if applicable)
  • Genre
  • Your Name
  • Your agent's contact info. If you don't have an agent, include your contact info.
  • A story blurb, written as if it's back cover copy (and an overview of series, if applicable)
  • Your Bio
  • Your Photo
  • Length of story, whether completed or not, etc.
The backside can be blank or contain additional information in either color or b/w.

For instance:
  • Blurbs for all books in a series, if they don't fit on the front.
  • Awards.
  • Endorsements.
  • Website, Twitter handle, Facebook Author page link, etc.
So what else should you do? Consider these DO tips:
  1. Start off with a nice big title: the title of your story, in fact. Others may not agree with me, but my title is always in a bigger font than my name is, because I'm trying to sell a book.
  2. Keep in mind that readers scan through printed pages in a "Z" format, according to ad execs. They read the header left to right to gain understanding of what the flyer is about, then they scan down diagonally to the left to see if it's interesting, and then they read the "signature line", to find out who sent it. Therefore, I put the title at the top, try to have strong blurbs in the middle, and put my photo and agent's contact info at the bottom.
  3. Write the best blurb you possibly can, keeping it tight and using language that gives the agent or editor an idea of your voice as well as the story.
  4. Include a good strong photo of yourself, so the agent or editor can better remember your appointment. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the photo shouldn't be too big or too small. 
  5. Include a photo or graphic that reflects the story's setting, if it's not incorporated into the template (if using one).

Now for the DON'T tips:

  1. Don't use up all the white space. An editor or agent's eye needs a bit of resting space, and if there's too much text or graphics on a page, they may not read your amazing blurb.
  2. Don't say everything about your novel, your series, or yourself. Focus instead on the most pertinent facts: a blurb about the story (and series overview, if applicable) and a short bio.
  3. Creativity is awesome, but it shouldn't overpower the sales pitch. Don't lose sight of the goal.
  4. Don't make the font too fancy or too small to read clearly. You get a brief opportunity for this to be read, so make it easy!
  5. Don't be afraid to use color...but don't overdo it! Colored fonts can make nice headers, but black or white text (depending on background color) is easiest to read. Just make sure you can read what you've put on the page! 
Once they're done, pack them carefully when you head out to your writer's conference. Keep them with you at all times when you're there! You never know when you'll have the opportunity to hand one out!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Oh, Atticus! When a Name Deserves Another Chance

It's been a few weeks now since the release of Go Set a Watchman, the highly anticipated "sequel" to (or, as others believe, first draft of) American literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red background

Who doesn't love To Kill a Mockingbird? And Atticus Finch himself? Father of the heroine, Scout, he's a man of justice, defender of the oppressed, symbol of morality, inspiration to lawyers. He's a righteous man.

Atticus is such an amazing guy, people have named their sons for him; in fact, Atticus was the most popular name for boys in the first half of 2015, according to the LA Times (7/23/15). The name speaks to hip, well-read parents, authenticity, a hope that the compassion exhibited by A. Finch will shine through the new bearers of his awesome name.

I mean, just listen to the guy. He's so wise:

 "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

But now, with the release of Go Set a Watchman, the name Atticus might not be that popular anymore.

Because (SPOILER ALERT, but this is everywhere), in this book, Atticus is not the same old guy. He's a card-carrying member of the KKK. A racist. The opposite of his Mockingbird self.

How upsetting this might possibly be to an Atticus or parent of, who chose the name with care.

Or maybe it won't matter at all. Maybe it was chosen because it sounds good, different, interesting, or strong.

The name Atticus literally mans "man of Attica" and was the name of a Christian martyr burned at the stake with fellow companions--all soldiers--in 310 in Sebaste.
Menologion of Basil 017.jpg
11th century
Clearly, that Atticus was a brave fellow, proclaiming Christ as Lord even though doing so meant death.

Other Atticuses (Attici?) include a fifth century archbishop, two second century philosophers, and a few contemporary actors and musicians. Not to mention those we know and love personally named Atticus, which for me, includes a dog.

But there's no Atticus as dear to our culture, perhaps, than Atticus Finch. According to one article, Finch is #7 in a list of "best fictional characters of 20th-century literature." The American Film Institute voted him "greatest hero in American film" in 2003, as portrayed by Gregory Peck in 1962.

I wonder how our cultural opinions of Atticus will change, with the release of Go Set a Watchman. I have not read it yet, so I can't comment from experience, but the reviews I've seen are not that great. Rumors abound that Lee herself, nearing 90, is somewhat blind and deaf. For decades she did not want to publish another book. Watchman itself is in fact the earliest draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was edited and molded for years before publication. Listen to this by Tina Jordan of Entertainment Weekly:

"First, this is all about the money. And second, reading Watchman will forever tarnish your memories of one of the most treasured books in American literature."

The name Atticus may never be as popular as it has been in the last six months, but those Atticuses out there will be ok. They're their own people.

I can't say the same for our mass memories of Atticus Finch. Maybe that's why I haven't read the book yet. Maybe that's why I never will.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Announcing...a SALE!

I am so happy to announce a sale!

Isn't it beautiful? More on the cover in a minute.

A few years back, some of the collaborators at Inkwell Inspirations blog were chatting about Jane Austen books. Anita Mae Draper said she might like Mr. Darcy better if he wore a Stetson. And then...

kaboom! Eight of us at the Inkwell got busy retelling Austen stories, set in historical Austin, Texas, centered around a very special institution. We were excited, joyful, and delighted to be writing something TOGETHER.

My story, One Word From You, is Pride and Prejudice, 1883-Texas style. To get feedback on it, I entered it in the novella category of the ACFW Genesis contest back in 2013.

Unfortunately, the novella category folded due to lack of entries. I had an option at that point: withdraw, or place my novella into the Historical Romance category.

I chose to go the Historical Romance route, but with trepidation. I seriously doubted my little 20K word novella would hold up against 80-100K word novels, but I hoped I would receive some good comments from judges, and maybe even some encouragement.

It turned out the story finaled. And even though I believed it wouldn't win the Genesis, it did.

You can't imagine how exciting it is to see this story go to print. It's a thrill and honor that WhiteFire accepted the novellas, and it's humbling and delightful to share this with women who've walked with me since the earliest days of my writing career. We shared this dream together. A-ma-zing!

Oh, and the cover...Roseanna White does such amazing work! I teared up when I saw this. She is as gifted a cover-designer as she is a writer.

Austen in Austin will release in two volumes. The first, which includes my story, releases January of 2016 and is available for preorder on Amazon!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Green Bean Salad with Dill~Summer Garden to Summer Table!



I grow dill weed in my garden every year. I love it with just about anything: in tuna salad, with eggs, sprinkled over steamed carrots...yum. It's a delicate, pretty plant, but I have to keep a watchful eye on it in my hot climate. It dries out fast, and it tries to go to seed a lot faster than I want it to.

But it's worth it, especially in recipes like this one, which is a perfect salad for a hot day.

If you don't grow dill in your garden, no worries. It's easy to substitute dried for fresh.

Green Bean Salad with Dill and Mustard

2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into pieces, and boiled until tender-crisp OR a 32 ounce bag frozen green beans, defrosted
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 T fresh minced dill weed OR 2 t. dried dill weed
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 T dijon mustard
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 t sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Cool beans, if cooked.

Place beans in a bowl with dill and onions.

Whisk together remaining ingredients and toss with salad. Refrigerate to let flavors mingle.

Set salad out before serving; it tastes best when it's closer to room temperature.

Monday, July 13, 2015

What Every Story Needs

You've been there. You pick up a story and the main character spends so much time in her regular life, happy and unfettered, that you wonder what her story is even about. Or she's met along the way by characters so flat they could be paper dolls. The story can work, but it isn't always satisfying.

Chances are they're lacking GMC. Ye olde Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Every character has GMC. The concept is key to making a story successful, and without it, characters seem thin, unrealistic, or come off as confusing.

If you're an author, it's imperative to come up with GMC before writing a story, and knowing your characters' GMCs also makes writing blurbs, a sales handle, and a synopsis much, much easier.

Essentially, GMC can be summarized like this:

My character wants GOAL because MOTIVATION but can't have it because of CONFLICT.

Sounds simple? Sounds a bit like real life? We all want things we can't have, sometimes for deep seated reasons. Let's unpack a bit.

GOAL:

Every character needs a goal right away. Especially the protagonists. What do they want? Everybody wants something. To escape, to be wanted, to get a job, to protect someone. Kurt Vonnegut said your characters should immediately want something, even if it's just a drink of water. Goals often set the plot in motion.

In my novella Love's Reward, heroine Josie starts out wanting to raise awareness and funds for a proposed home to shelter unwed mothers. She seeks out donated architectural plans. This goal remains important to her throughout the story, but--

Her goals change. More on that under "conflict."

MOTIVATION:

Every goal needs a reason why it is desired. Some motivations are obvious, eg, I need a job because without one I will not be able to pay my mortgage or buy food. But there's more to it than that, isn't there? Keep asking your character why they feel like they do. It may sound silly, but ask again. Why do you need to buy food? The obvious answer is to eat. Ask again. Why? Is there nobody you can ask to help you? Many times the answer will boil down to an interesting, not-always-appealing core: something that is selfish, based in a deep dark experience from the past, or lack of trust in God. And that can help reveal the three-dimensional heart of a character.

A proper motivation can make an unlikable goal sympathetic. And that gives a reader something to root for in a character.

CONFLICT:

Every goal needs to be thwarted somehow. At least for now. At the story's end, the goals should be met, or settled to a satisfying conclusion. But maybe not this first mentioned, primary goal (the drink of water/escaping off the edge of the cliff/finding a job). Conflict is necessary in a story, for it creates tension, furthering opportunities for plot and character development.

In a romance, the hero's and heroine's goals are often at odds, which creates an external conflict between them. They should each start out with their own GMCs*. So should villains. Secondary characters are richer if they have GMCs--nothing show stealing, but

A character's main goal should change as the story progresses. As the motivation for new goals changes, too, it is often something more mature or selfless than the motivation for the initial goal. And the conflict will heighten, raising the stakes.

That's it. It's that simple, and that hard.

Think of your favorite stories and the characters' GMCs. That can help mold and train us as writers to think in these terms.

If you're a writer, what do your characters want?



*In a romance, a hero and heroine will most likely eventually take on a common goal to bring them together.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Our Book Reviews: What's Helpful, What's Not

This has been a big topic of conversation lately among some of my friends, both readers and authors. Among the things I've heard from readers (and perhaps even thought to myself while I'm perusing book reviews for potential reads on Amazon):


"I really want to know what people think of a book, but some of these reviews sound like they were written by the author's friends. That means their reviews aren't honest."

"Why did this reader give it a 2-star rating and then say they liked it?"

Or, from an author's perspective:

"Someone gave my book a 1-star rating based on the packaging, not the story!"

"Why did the reviewer have to be so mean?"

Earlier, I posted on ways to help an author. Writing book reviews is one of the things I mentioned specifically. Book reviews can let others know if the book is worth their time, especially considering the price of purchase.

They are also viewed by others in the industry. I'm not saying editors read every review (they're busy people) but some editors pay attention to authors' social media stats and reviews, along with sales and awards.

So what's helpful when writing a book review?
  • Know that readers, authors, and editors appreciate the time you're taking to write a review that could be helpful to potential buyers. Your gift of service is a blessing!
  • Some sites, like Amazon, require a review to accompany a rating, but others, like Goodreads, don't. Try to write a few words to explain your rating, anyway. I recently contemplated purchasing a sequel to a book I enjoyed. The reviews let me know that several readers finished the book feeling frustrated about their perceived regression in the characters' developments. That told me so much more than a 3-star review without an explanation.
  • State the facts about the story and why you enjoyed it/didn't enjoy it. Was the story engaging? Was there a specific reason you didn't like it? Is the issue you have with a book a major stumbling block... or personal preference? I've liked a few movies that critics graded an F, and disliked a few well-regarded movies, but I'd read reviews in advance and determined the critic and I judged on different merits. Same with books. That reviewer's three-star rating might be my perfect cozy afternoon read.
  • Consider the book's audience. It's not fair to criticize a book for being what it's supposed to be, ie, by disparaging the spiritual elements in a Christian book, finding the hero too young when the book is a YA, or for bemoaning the lack of blood and gore in a cozy mystery.
  • Mention if you received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This is the law.
What's not helpful when writing a book review?
  • Don't stress about recapping the book. Some reviews summarize the plot or back-cover copy, which can be helpful to readers, but it isn't necessary.
  • Don't rate the packaging, shipping speed, book cover, or other things an author has no control over. Sometimes this extends to the title, too.
  • Refrain from spilling the author's private info. You may know where the author went to high school or where she gets her hair cut. This information, spread on the world wide web, is an invasion of her privacy, and to many readers, it negates anything positive that was mentioned in the review because it makes a review sound inauthentic.
  • Harsh language isn't polite.
  • Avoid spoiling the plot. Announce if you're divulging anything twisty or pertaining to the end with an all-caps SPOILER ALERT.
Some other facts about book reviews?
  • Yes, authors do review their friends' work sometimes. It's less about boosting one another up as it is sharing honest reviews, because authors are big readers, too.
  • Mean-spirited reviews do hurt authors' feelings sometimes. They don't expect everyone to love their books, but nobody likes to be called names.
  • They last forever. Or until the internet explodes. Just as in real life, our words stick around.
What do you think when you read book reviews? Do you often review products you buy?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Independence Day!



Giving thanks for our nation, our heritage, and the sacrifice of others so we could enjoy freedom. Happy Independence Day!