Especially for Writers

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The Write Path, with guest Betty Owens

In perfect timing after after Monday’s “The Dangers of SOTP Writing” article, Betty Thomason Owens shares a positive experience with writing by the seat of the pantsThree cheers for chasing rabbits . . .

I had the perfect plan for my final book in the Legacy series. For the first time in my life, I was using a plan. I’d laid it all out in advance…plotted the story. This was going to be fun.

Then one of the characters, who happened to be a pivotal one—my original antagonist—surprised me. This guy was prom king, a football hero, troubled, but popular at school. He tended to party too hard, and he’d tried to take my protagonist with him, until her dad put a stop to it, which only drove him harder. Then he was out to get her, make her turn back to him.

In my plan, he’d been awarded a free ride, a football scholarship. I was all set to write a chapter having him stop at home to grab his belongings and head to college. That’s when the surprise came. I had not planned on what met him at the door of his home, nor did I plan on how it all played out. But the words came fast and furious. It had to be right. It felt right.

After that chapter, I had to find a way to use what I had learned about this character. I read the chapter again. And again. And then, in true pantser fashion, I followed its lead. The storyline was stronger, rich with life and drama and angst. I’d been given a glimpse into something real.

Down the road, my antagonist would reach a turning point, and it wouldn’t end the way I’d planned. But I love how it played out. As I formed the words at the end of the story, I smiled. Well, I cried a little too, because life had worked through a difficult situation and turned it into destiny.

As a writer, I spend hours making up stuff. When I’m finished polishing the things I’ve made up, I hope it looks like real life. I hope it mirrors images. The little surprises that come along the way fortify the stories and make them more real. Sometimes real life isn’t pretty. Not all stories will end well.

My best laid plans may be interrupted by real life. When life intervenes, I wonder whether what I do serves any purpose at all. I’m just making stuff up. Am I making a difference?

I believe this final chapter of the Legacy series answers my question with a resounding “Yes!” The message woven into the story is a good one—a sound one. The scripture I placed at the beginning of the book lays the foundation: For it is by Grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

I’ve written a story filled with unplanned moments that in the right circumstances could shed light on some very important Biblical principles. Yet the story also contains fun, adventure, mystery, and a healthy dose of romance. And I wrote it by the seat o’ my pants.

Betty Thomason Owens has been writing for thirty years. She’s a multi-published, award-winning author of historical fiction, and fantasy-adventure. An active member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), she leads a critique group, and serves as vice-president/secretary of the Louisville area group. She’s a mentor, assisting other writers, and co-founder of the Inspired Prompt blog. She also serves on the planning committee of the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference.

Betty would like to invite you to her Facebook author page, Twitter, GoodReads, Pinterest, Instagram, Amazon Author Page. And she posts weekly on her blog, Hello, Thursday Morning, found at https://bettythomasonowens.com/.

Rebecca’s Legacy, Book 3 Legacy Series

Nancy and Robert Emerson’s daughter Amy Juliana is doing her best to follow in her mother’s rebellious footsteps.

Her desperate attempt to escape Dad’s control comes at the worst possible time. A threat against their family and Sanderson Industries has Robert Emerson taking extra steps to guarantee his family’s safety. He sends Amy, an heiress and a debutante, to the country to work on a produce farm run by Aunt Rebecca. Humiliated and angry, Amy contemplates a path that will lead her even farther from home, away from Dad’s protection.

Will Aunt Rebecca’s quiet strength and unconditional love be enough to still the prodigal daughter’s rebellious ways, and open her heart to the plight of others around her?

Matt Wordsworth is the man Robert calls upon to help keep his daughter in line. She thinks the guy is an old fuddy-duddy. By the time her ideas about him begin to change, it may be too late. When an old friend tests her loyalty, she is forced to face her past. But, is she playing into the hands of the enemy?

What will it take to teach a spoiled heiress that the greatest legacy is love?

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The Dangers of SOTP Writing

SOTP Writing: writing by the seat of your pants. No outline, no written plan, no safety net. That’s how I started. That’s how many authors still produce their stories. The successful ones have developed ways, as I have, not to be quite so impulsive. We may not outline on paper, but we do have a general idea of where we want the story to go. We may not have character bios, but we know them all intimately.

Some of us just flat do not like to outline.

I do a little of both—intuitive and planned writing—though I tend to start working out an outline around midpoint and even then, it’s vague and generalized.

As a reader and an editor, though, I can usually tell whether someone uses an outline. Some of my favorite authors are incredible intuitive writers, but what I find as a freelance editor is quite different:

Lack of cohesive plot

The fun thing about writing by the seat of your pants is that you get to chase rabbits. An idea will hit you, and you grab your shotgun and Elmer Fudd hat and take off after it. But, unless you rein in your will to hunt, you end up with lots of activities without a strong thread linking them. The characters race from one pointless event to another, and the story lacks depth.

Follow the rabbits to their holes on a different page and see where they lead. Will they enhance the plot? Add depth to your character? Up the stakes? Can you weave it into the story smoothly and logically? Does it fit with what your character would do or think?

Sometimes a rabbit hole is just a hole.

Hodge-podge of genres

Okay, so you want a mystery-thriller-historical-romantic-comedy novel. It’s not impossible. I should know, since I recently published a women’s fiction/mystery/thriller myself. Was I successful? Some readers say yes, some say no—which is true of everything anyone writes.

Thing is, you have to understand the structure of the different genres before you can successfully blend them. Romance has a formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Where in the formula do your characters fit, and how do you intend to conclude their relationship with the required happily-ever-after ending? Each genre has a subgenre. Mystery: cozy, professional, police-procedural, etc. Comedy: slapstick, farce, humor, etc. Each genre has requirements. In a mystery, the crime to be solved occurs within the first few pages, but a thriller is allowed more time to set up. Historicals demand fidelity to the era. Romance, as I said, requires an HEA ending.

When you don’t understand your story’s primary genre and its requirements, you end up with a mess when you try to blend them.

No structure

Regardless of the genre, each story must have a structure. Readers expect certain things to happen at certain times. If by page 150 of a 350-page book, you’re still setting up your story, you’re cheating and frustrating your reader. If by page 300 of a page 350-page book, you’re still writing mid-point material, you’re doing the same.

Each genre has a structure. With romance, the guy and the girl meet early in the novel. In mystery, the crime to be solved occurs early. In women’s fiction, the woman’s crisis is introduced early. But from there, things are the same in all books. A few pages are allowed for character and setting introduction and to introduce the issue. Then “something” happens to kick the story into gear, and by midpoint, the character’s reaction to that “something” begins to shift. Several failed attempts by the character to solve her own problem build to a climax, which ends in a satisfying wrap-up and denouement.

You must know and understand basic structure to have a successful story.

Shallow characters

Without characters, there is no story. Everything is about the characters and how they grow, the stakes involved in their story, the people who help or hinder them along the way. The more you focus on devising events for the characters, the more shallow your characters become, because then, your writing becomes more about creating crises than it does creating stakes involved. Your character jumps from one event to another without apparent growth or emotion. Don’t get me wrong—you can devise some pretty exciting events. But without character reaction and growth, you don’t have a memorable story.

You can have your plastic GI Joe accomplish amazing feats to save an equally plastic Barbie, but in the end, your characters will still be plastic. The characters respond to everything the same way. He fights against everything; she cries over every little thing.

Want your readers to remember them? Give them flesh and blood. Show him with a sense of humor along with his sense of duty. Show how he feels when he fails. Show what’s at stake for him if he doesn’t accomplish his mission. Show her with both a soft side and a tough side. Show her fighting with her wit and intelligence. Show her uncertainty along with her determination. Show them both maturing, changing, growing as a direct result of their plight and their influence over each other.

In other words, show emotion, grow your characters.

The thing is all this takes work on your part. Dreaming up events and typing them into your computer is fairly easy. Understanding where they go in the story and how your characters should react to them is the hard part. The best writers study writing. There is far more to it than most people realize.

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Especially for Writers

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Along Came a Writer interview

When someone says “radio,” my first image is of the knobs in my car or the semi-useless black thing that sits on my kitchen counter. I often forget about blog radio, but my interview with Along Came a Writer host, Linda Kozar, got me so excited, I ran down to my local Staples store and bought earphones and a mike. Now, I’m building up my list of Christian blogtalk radio programs to add to my marketing and promotions list.

If you have a few minutes today, check out my interview with Linda. I share my thoughts about Christian romance novels, writing and editing in general, and tales about my Circle Bar Ranch series. You can even hear me fail a true-false test about horses!

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Especially for Writers

Here’s the question:

Here’s the answer:

Writing. Only the naive think it’s easy.

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A Southern Season–Pre-Order Info!

Hard to believe I’m already promoting another book, but what can I say? I’m excited! A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing is now available for pre-order! Its official release date isn’t until November, but for the print version of this 252-page collection, you won’t see a lower price than this $7.99 offer.

Eva Marie Everson, Claire Fullerton, Ane Mulligan, and I each picked a season and an area of the great American South in which to create stories that will touch you, make you laugh, cause you to think. My story, Ice Melts in Spring, takes place on the Texas Gulf Coast, so it won’t be long before I’m redecorating all my social sites with beach scenes. I have to admit, I get a kick out of decorating.

Author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including the award-winning The One True Love of Alice-Ann, Eva Marie is the managing editor of Firefly Southern Fiction imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She lives near Savannah, Georgia, and unabashedly owns her Southern accent.

Originally from Tennessee, Claire Fullerton is the author of the newest Firefly rave, Mourning Dove. According to Kirkus, Mourning Dove is “an accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South.” Claire lives in California now and has three titles available. She has been a finalist in several literary contests.

The ever-fun, ever-zany Ane Mulligan is author of the Chapel Springs series: “With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.” She is also one of the authors of Coming Home: a Tiny House Collection with me and five others. Also from Georgia, Ane is closer to the Atlanta area, but her accent is no less Southern.

Being from Texas, I have dual allegiances. I feel Southern, thanks to my rural- Georgia heritage from my father. But I’m a Texan, and though deep east Texas is much like the American South, the state’s size demands it to be an entity of its own. I’m not always sure where I fit in.

Big-time marketing won’t happen until closer to November, but I did want to tell y’all about the pre-order price. If you want to know more about our collection, go to my website, Linda W. Yezak, where you can also read the first chapter of Ice Melts in Spring.

 

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New Book, New Series, New Resolutions

The Circle Bar Ranch Series is now completed. Someone suggested I write a book 4, and it’s tempting, but no. I think I’m ready to move on.

CBR wasn’t intended to be a series, so despite the fact that the first two novels were award-winners, it is the biggest lesson in how not to do things known to mankind. This time around, with the Southern Challenge series, I’m going to do things differently and implement some of the lessons I learned the hard way with my first series, starting with the most obvious: I am writing a series. To a certain extent, I got lucky with the Circle Bar Ranch. I’d left just enough open in the first book Give the Lady a Ride, to design a series around afterward. Though each book was a different genre, each continued a tale started in the first.

This time, I know in advanced I’m writing a series, so I get to plan each book ahead of time and I get to maintain its genre from book to book.

But like I said, that’s the most basic lesson. Based on others I learned, here are my New Series Resolutions:

Write with an eye on marketing/promotion

As I write, I can develop my promo tools and ideas that will help to market the new release. Getting a head start on this will make the actual release events easier. Although  I did a lot of things “right” with CBR, I could have been far more effective. So, as I write, I will:

  • design a Pinterest page dedicated to Southern Challenge
  • make a list of great metadata terms
  • make a list of hashtags
  • create memes featuring character quotes
  • share my writing experience and fun outtakes with my blog, website, and newsletter readers
  • write articles about things I’ve researched
  • keep a lookout for plot-related giveaways
  • keep an eye out for genre- or subject-related blogs that may host me

If I do a lot of this early, then by the time the manuscript is in the hands of my critique partner, copy editor, and beta readers, I can develop the specifics of my marketing plan with much of my materials already developed.

Pre-determine the path to publication

If you didn’t already know, not only was Give the Lady a Ride supposed to be a stand-alone, it was traditionally published at first. Because the publisher decided to drop the Christian fiction line, I discovered my only recourse was to put it out myself. And because I’d done that, I did all the others myself too. And, because I never really learned how to do formatting and such, each one of the books is different from the other. The only thing uniform across the series is the cover design. Until recently, spine width was different on each book, with the first being especially thin because of the tiny font we used.

Starting with a new series gives me a clean slate, and the clean slate gives me more options:

  • self-publish
  • publish with a midsized house that has already shown interest (and already has one of my co-written nonfiction books and two novellas)
  • seek an agent and take it to the big time

Currently, I’m leaning toward the third option. I enjoy the control with indie publishing, but I could do without the headache. It’s been years since I’ve had an agent, and I’ve never been with one of the larger houses, so I wonder what I’m missing. Lately, I’ve been reading a few agent blogs. Chip MacGregor’s farewell-to-blogging post held an interesting paragraph:

I’m awfully tired of getting harangued by authors who haven’t sold much, who aren’t really making much money, and whom most of us have never heard of, but who insist they know everything about publishing, and are sure that everyone who works at a publishing house is wrong because they never bought my book.I’ve seen it over and over and over. And over. Thin-skinned writers who are sure of themselves, even though they don’t seem to know Jack-squat…

I’m not the author who believes I know everything. I’m well aware I know Jack-squat, but what caught me was the “haven’t sold much, who aren’t really making money, and whom most of us have never heard of.” The point of the agent is to put you where you can make money and can become someone people have heard of. I don’t particularly want to be famous, but a little more visibility would be dandy, TYVM, and if an agent can help with that, then I’m in.

So, if this is what I decide to do, and I’m leaning heavily in that direction since I believe I have the street creds to be more successful this time, I resolve to:

  • research agents
  • develop my proposal, synopsis, and chapter outline
  • hone my elevator pitch
  • interview/meet agents at major conferences

The ACFW Conference is in September every year, and next year it’s in San Antonio. Now I have a goal: my manuscript and proposal must be ready by September 2019.

Make self-imposed deadlines as practice for mandatory deadlines

That’s a biggie. I’ve always been far too lenient of a boss. I finished my contracted novellas, Ice Melts in Spring (available for pre-order in the Firefly Southern Fiction’s collection, A Southern Season) and Loving a Harvey Girl (releasing in August, 2019, in the Smitten Historical Romance’s collection, The Cowboys) by the required date, but novellas come easy for me. Novels are different. I’ve watched deadlines fly by on jet’s wings and didn’t blink twice. Being your own boss has advantages, but those same advantages are detriments when someone else has contracted to boss you around. If there’s a resolution I’m worried about keeping, it’s this one.

What about you? Where are you in the writing process? What are your plans and goals? Is there anything you can do now, as you write, that will make the marketing process easier later? Do you know what you want and how to make it happen?

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Especially for Writers

I just finished Loving a Harvey Girl for my publisher, so now I’m ready for another project …


 

Actually, I started my next contemporary western romance series a long time ago, called Southern Challenge. Haven’t looked at it in ages, so this is more accurate …

 

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New Christian Titles for August!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:
Out of Their Element by Angela Breidenbach, Robin Lee Hatcher, Vickie McDonough, and Deborah Raney — They are totally out of their element! Four mismatched couples find unexpected romance. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

The Redemption Road by Christa MacDonald — As Alex awaits retribution, he means to keep Annie safe at any cost, but she knows it’s redemption he needs and she’ll pay any price for him to find it. (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

Scarlet Tears by Laura Hervey — Caught in a romantic triangle with her brother’s best friend and a charming pastor, former call girl Carly Lawrence struggles to start a new life. (Contemporary Romance from Alabaster Box Press)

Historical Romance:

Rebecca’s Legacy by Betty Thomason Owens — After a threat against her family, a spoiled heiress is sent to the country to work on her aunt’s produce farm and finds love. (Historical Romance from Write Integrity Press)

 

The Patriot Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse — Faith Jackson is a wealthy widow, friend of George Washington, and staunch supporter of the Patriot cause. Matthew Weber is friends with both Ben Franklin and his son William, who increasingly differ in their political views; and Matthew finds himself privy to information on both sides of the conflict. When a message needs to get to a spy among the Loyalists, Faith bravely steps up and in turn meets Matthew Weber. Suddenly she believes she could love again. But someone else has his eye on the Faith she portrays in elite social circles. What will Matthew and Faith have to sacrifice for the sake of their fledgling country? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Cozy Mystery:

Deadly Harvest by Marissa Shrock — Georgia’s biggest challenge in the farming town of Wildcat Springs, Indiana, is figuring out how to win Evan Beckworth’s heart. Until the day she discovers the body of a former student in the woods. When she starts to suspect this wasn’t an accident, memories stir of her father’s murder nine years earlier. A murder never solved. As Georgia works with the sheriff’s department’s newest detective, Cal Perkins, she finds her heart slipping into his hands. But her head is pummeled with conflicting evidence and anonymous threats of severe consequences if she digs any deeper. In the end, Georgia faces a paralyzing choice. Ignore the dark secrets inside the family and friends who surround her or be willing to risk her own life to uncover the truth. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)

Unknown Enemy by Janet Sketchley — A young woman with a traumatic past must discover the truth about who’s playing mind games with the Green Dory Inn’s owner. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Hiding in Plain Sight by Mary Ellis — When a Charleston PI rents a room above an Italian restaurant owned by a handsome chef, she lands in the middle of a family feud with robbery, arson and murder for the daily specials. (Romantic Suspense from Severn House Publishers LTD)

Wildfire by Gayla K. Hiss — A female wildfire scientist and a firefighter team up to solve the mystery behind the outbreak of wildfires in the Rockies and find themselves at the center of a firestorm. (Romantic Suspense from Mountain Brook Ink)

Amish Country Ambush by Dana R. Lynn — A police officer and a dispatcher travel deep into Amish country to rescue her nephew and to escape a killer. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])


Imperfect Promises by Elizabeth Noyes — When a homegrown terrorist threatens the woman he loves, former Special Forces soldier Jonas Cameron calls on old friends to help him eliminate the danger. (Romantic Suspense from Write Integrity Press)

Cold Fear by Susan Sleeman — When a sniper’s ex-girlfriend, a musician, is framed for murder during her summer tour, he jumps to defend her from an imminent arrest and a killer’s deadly rage. But the evidence against her stacks higher as three bodies are found with her name tattooed on their wrist. (Romantic Suspense from Edge of Your Seat Books, Inc.)

Cold Case Cover-Up by Virginia Vaughan — The first thrilling Covert Operatives tale An infant is believed to have been murdered thirty years ago—but investigative journalist Dana Lang is convinced she’s that baby. Now someone’s willing to kill to stop her investigation. And only secretive deputy Quinn Dawson, whose grandfather may have faked Dana’s death to protect her, can keep her safe. But a killer’s dead set on burying the past—and them—for good. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Thriller/Suspense:

Pretense by John Di Frances — A dark cloud hangs over Europe after the brutal murders of two heads of state just days apart. A diabolical plot appears to stretch westward to the United States, implicating the CIA. But do the facts reflect reality or is there a sinister force working behind the scenes to destabilize Europe and NATO? The team of investigators led by Interpol’s Marek Frakas, ‘The Wolf,’ moves quickly to track the perpetrators and uncover the identity of the unseen mastermind behind the conspiracy. This cadre includes the lovely Adrianna, a young forensic weapons expert who can hold her own on the male-dominated international team of investigators. Together they seek to understand reality versus the shattered mirror-like reflections meant to obfuscate the truth and shroud the mastermind’s identity and ultimate purpose. (Political Thriller from Reliance Books Publishing, LLC)

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig — Dismantled centuries ago, the sword of Goliath is still rumored to thirst for its enemies’ blood. Cole “Tox” Russell wants only to put the dangers of his past behind him and begin his new life with Haven Cortes. First, though, he’s called to complete a final mission: retrieve the sword and destroy the deadly Arrow & Flame Order. The AFO, however, is determined to reunite the sword. With the Wraith team slowly being torn apart, things worsen when Mercy Maddox, a new operative, emerges with the stunning news that the artifact is tied to a string of unsolved serial murders. Tox and the others are forced to set aside fear and anger to target the true enemy. No matter the cost, Wraith must destroy the AFO . . . or join them in the flames. (Military Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])

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