I Got This -God

A week and a half ago I headed to the ACFW Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. I packed my suitcase to the brim with everything I’d need, got my sheets ready for appointments, and somewhere along the way ended up dragging along a gut full of nerves.

Several things of note happened on this trip.

The first happened during the landing into Nashville. I was using my One Sheets (essentially back cover blurb and elevator pitches) to memorize during my flight for my agent/editor appointments. I’m not sure if anyone else is like me, but it is hard to concentrate when there’s loads of action going on around me. Suffice to say my memorization wasn’t taking, and so I bowed my head in prayer. When I opened my eyes back up and looked out the plane window I saw a full-sized rainbow across the window.

RainbowEven if you don’t believe in signs, this was a goose-bump moment for me. It really sealed for me that God had this.

I got into the hotel and up to my room too late to check in to the conference that night, and so I had to miss out on the genre dinner. This dinner is where some of the conference goers dress up in clothes that match their genre, such as period dresses for historical romance writers. I was really sorry to miss it, but had a great dinner with two of my Splicketeer team, so I felt as if I was truly blessed to have friends around to talk to and share a meal.

The next day we got to choose which continuing education class we wanted to go to. I chose Allen Arnold’s The Two Realms, because, well Realms. Allen started the class by informing us he had purchased and prayed over one hundred thirty notebooks. When he felt moved by the Spirit, he wrote down what God was telling him. Then during class he passed the notebooks out at random to everyone attending.

It was another God moment for me.

In the notebook Allen gave me was written: “With Me, you have all the time in the world. You are not late but right on time. –God

Okay, God. It’s been ten long years of learning to write and getting my stories down. But You’ve got it. The timing is Yours. Okay, I’ve got it.

Well, I still had nerves the whole time I was at conference. There were a few times I had to withdraw from everyone and just go somewhere quiet. I had three appointments, only one of which ended up with a request. I did get to brainstorm my brand and platform with the wonderful Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency. So I counted that as a win.

Kathy, Dawn, and Diane at the galaAt the gala, my nerves were really going crazy. I sat by two of my Iowa/Nebraska ACFW buddies, Diane Kenyon and Kathleen Anderson, who herself was up for a Genesis award. After Kathleen won and came back to the table it was my turn. When they called my name as the winner of the Speculative genre, I literally jumped. I vaguely remember going up to the stage and saying a few words. My inner concentration was on trying to keep my knees from buckling and collapsing to the floor.

I did get to watch the replay on You Tube, and realize I looked much more in control than I felt. It was an amazing night. And though I don’t have a contract yet for my fantasy novel, I’m making progress on building my platform. I actually have had a couple of people ask me where they can find my books.

Imagine that!

I can’t get there fast enough, but I know that God has this. He told me twice to make sure it got through my insecure brain. So, I’m taking that rainbow promise with a notebook message on the side to heart.

Yep. God’s got this. And what an amazing ride this last year has been!

Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of attending the Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference, held right here in Bellevue, Neb. In fact, the conference was held at my church, LifeSpring Church, a mere four minute drive from my house! (They kept asking who came the farthest to get to the conference, but no one thought to ask who came the shortest!)

Unlike some writers conferences, like the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference that attracts writers from all over the country, this was more of a weekend retreat. The Wordsowers are a fine local group of writers, and they put on a wonderful, cost-efficient conference that has grown a lot in the four years they’ve been putting it on.

Cheryl St John
Active, Vivid Writing with Cheryl St. John.

The conference consisted of an opening session on Friday night, followed by a night cap to meet fellow conference attendees, authors, and speakers. On Saturday, an opening session featured speaker Troy Griepentrog of Focus on the Family, and then workshops throughout the day that ranged from The Ten Commandments of Humor and Digging Deep Into Your Characters, to Song Painting and Using Sales Funnels to Fins New Readers. There really was something for every type of writer (well, maybe not technical manuals…)

One thing I was impressed with was the sheer amount of talent in this region! Writers from all over came (including a few from Illinois and Texas), to teach, to learn, to share their writing experiences. While this wasn’t the type of conference where fledging writers come to meet with agents and publishers in hopes of getting “the call,” it is a great place to meet others journeying along this path to publication. To meet people who “get” what it means when you talk in acronyms like POV and MC. Who understand when you talk about the struggle to translate the rapturous visions in your head to the black and white computer screen. Who don’t ask why you need to know a good way to kill someone with a musical instrument; they just ask if you’re thinking of using one from the brass or woodwind family (oh, wait, that’s just me!).

Brainstormers
My brainstorming group: Mikal Hermans, Sara Bernier, me, and Jennifer Slattery.

I love hanging out with other writers because they “get” me. Other than learning new ways to make my writing sing, Wordsowers was a lot of fun because I got to hang out with my kindred spirits, old and new. Whoever thinks writing is a solitary business obviously isn’t doing it right.

For anyone interested, Wordsowers 2017 is already in the works, with New York Times best-selling author (and a Lincoln, Neb. transplant!) Tosca Lee headlining as the keynote speaker. Mark your calendars and come join us!

Tosca Lee

Jammie Time

Several years ago, when I was still trying to get published, I saw a movie trailer about a writer. He worked in his bathrobe, slept onJohnny Depp in Secret Window47 his couch, never got dressed, and let his housekeeper take care of everything. All he did was write. I thought it was awesome. As the movie trailer continued, he had problems. Lots of problems. But the bathrobe and uncombed hair in pursuit of his passion–I got that.

Since I got published,  I do get dressed and function in the outside world. And I do take care of lots of other things besides writing. But because writing is my job–I get away with a lot of fun stuff.

1. Working in my jammies. First I was a hairdresser, then I worked at a bank, then in corporate offices. I had to show up looking presentable. But with writing, I wash my face, brush my teeth, and go to my computer. But don’t come to my house before 2:00. I won’t answer the door until I’m presentable.

2. Working my job around my family. During the school year, I write during the day. In the summer, I write after everyone’s in bed. When they’re around and awake, I focus on them.

3. Flexible hours. On most days, I send my family off to school and work, then write while they’re gone. But if there’s a school function in the middle of the day, a Christmas float to decorate, or a church member in the hospital, I can take the day off without worry.

4.Having a job that requires daydreaming. All of my life, I’ve tried to listen and pay attention, but my mind would wander. With writing–having a wandering mind is encouraged, an active imagination is required, and daydreaming is allowed.

5. Making my characters do whatever I want them to. I’ve always thought I could solve a lot of problems if my friends and family would just take my advice. My characters listen to me and do what I say. It’s the ultimate control freak job.

6. Hearing voices and having imaginary friends. Oh the wonderful people who live in my head. And everyone thinks it’s okay and normal since I’m a writer.

7. Meeting authors. I love going to the bookstore, scanning the names on book spines and counting how many I’ve met. They may not remember me, but I remember them. I’ve talked to Denise Hunter, hugged Lenora Worth, laughed with Mary Connealy, and rode in the elevator with Terri Blackstock—just to drop a few names.

8. Sleeping in fancy hotels with women I barely know. There for a while I was sleeping with someone new at every ACFW conference. The friendships I’ve made through our common pursuit of publication are priceless. Isn’t that nice alliteration?

9. Having writing buds who really get me. There are friends and then there are writing friends. Writing can be very lonely, but not with friends to share the valleys and summits, highs and lows, thrills and spills. When I have writing news—good or bad—I share it with my family, then my writing buds.

 10. Connecting with readers. Either in person or online. It’s exhilarating to know someone is actually reading what I write, enjoying it, and appreciating my efforts. Through books, God has blessed me with the ability to witness to more people than my mouth will ever meet.

It worked out for me to be a stay at home mom before I got published. We’d already given up my income, so anything I make now is just a bonus. My hat’s off to the published authors who have a full time job and still manage to write books. I honestly don’t know how they do it.

And to those still seeking publication–don’t give up. Keep writing. Persistence + Patience = Publication. I hope you get to work in your jammies someday soon.

We’re giving away a copy of Rose Ross Zediker’s Wedding on the Rocks. Comment to enter – deadline Nov 30th.

Wedding On the Rocks Cover 1Jennifer Edwards is back home again…

When she traded small-town life for the bright lights of Chicago, Jennifer Edwards yearned to discover a world beyond Faith, South Dakota. So when her father’s illness calls her home to run their cattle ranch, she tells herself it’s temporary. Then why is she even thinking about a future with archaeology professor Brett Lange—the boy she left behind—whose life’s work is digging up the past?

Twelve years ago, Brett had a crush on Jennifer the size of the T. rex that put his hometown on the map. Now she’s a citified magazine editor who prefers designer duds to dungarees. Except that’s not the real Jennifer. Brett needs to make her see how a little faith can go a long way in uniting two perfectly in-sync hearts.

Along for the Ride

Pella meetingOn a rainy April day back in 2008 I sat beside Lorna Seilstad on our way out to Pella, Iowa. Lorna had learned of a meeting of Iowa writers and although excited about the prospect of meeting other writers, was a little intimidated to go by herself. I, being the great supporting character that I am, offered to go with her. It was just a fun trip to get out of town and have some girl time.

Little did I know that day would change Lorna and my paths forever. The meeting did start out a little rocky, we were waiting in the loft for the women to come—they were waiting below for us to get there—it ended up to be fortuitous since that is where we met Judith Miller.

It never fails to amaze me how God moved us at the right time and the right place to meet the right person for our future.

I was still along for the ride. Judy encouraged Lorna to join the ACFW. Not to be left out, I joined also, even though I really wasn’t seriously writing. But, I had recently been able to quit working which gave me time to work on my writing, even if it was just for fun.

In the meantime Lorna submitted her manuscript to the Genesis contest, received an offer to publish it, and off we went together to the First ACFW conferenceACFW conference that fall. I can honestly say both our minds exploded just a bit at that experience.

I went to one agent meeting that year, and looking back I had no clue what I was doing. And it didn’t go so well, but I did get bitten by the bug. After that conference, I knew what I wanted to do.

I don’t know that Lorna ever saw any real promise in my writing. Looking back, as most of us do, I realize how much I had to learn. But it was only because Lorna had the courage first, to take that initial step out of her comfort zone, that I got to go along for the ride. It was, after all, in God’s plan all along. I know that now.

So, the author that influenced me the most is none other than our very own Lorna Seilstad. Because she never once laughed at my efforts (although she did chuckle—and still does—at some of my crazy ideas) and she continues to encourage me every time we talk. She’s relentless in her support, always willing to listen, and read, and every once in a while chastise me when I need it.

I’m blessed to have a best friend who has cut the path ahead of me because God knew if I had to do it myself, I never would. He sent me along for the ride, first.

My Go To Gal

Agent. A word that once made me shudder for reasons I won’t go into here. For a long time, I went it alone. I signed contracts for six books without an agent. And put off getting one for as long as I could. But after the Heartsong Presents line changed hands and my editor didn’t make the transition, I decided it was time. Kicking and screaming and shuddering, I decided I’d have to start agent shopping. But they still scared me.

At the 2011 ACFW conference, I asked an author I’d met there who her agent was. She promptly took me to meet Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates. Karen wasn’t scary either as she gave me her business card. When I got home from the conference, I decided to bite the bullet. I picked four agencies, including Karen’s, who’d been around awhile and had good reputations to query.

While I waited on answers, I talked to another very nice agent I’d met at ACFW and talked to her on the phone several times. She didn’t scare me, but her client list was already pretty full. Two other agents were interested, but weren’t in love with the proposal I sent them. I wanted an agent who loved romance like I do.

Then I heard back from Karen. She loved my proposal, loved my writing, but her client list was also full. She asked if she could forward my work to her newest agent, Nalini Akolekar. I said, sure.

The very next day, I received an e-mail from Nalini offering a contract. I shuddered all day, made a list of questions to ask her, and set up a time for her to call me the next day. When she called, her voice was so soothing. The first question I asked her was how to say her name: A cola car. Then she asked me how to say mine: Van Adder.

I learned that though Nalini was new as an agent, she’d been in the industry working in other positions for a number of years. She encouraged me to contact her clients. After we talked, I did and they sang Nalini’s praises. I talked to Nalini two more times and tried to explain why I was so hesitant to sign with her. I ended up spilling my guts about every bad thing that had happened to me during my hard knocks journey to publication. Okay, not everything, I didn’t want her to think I was a whiny bag.

She calmly listened and instead of thinking I was delusional or whiny, she was sympathetic and told me she understood. That I should take my time, but she hoped I’d sign with her. I took my time and prayed about it. A few weeks later, I signed the contract. And I’ve never regretted the decision.

Nalini checks with me regularly to see how my deadlines are coming and if I have any problems. She congratulates me on Facebook when my books release. And when I have difficulties or hair-pulling issues, she does a lot of hand holding on the phone with her soothing voice.

Several months ago, another past hard knock came up while writing one of my contracted books that could have messed up everything. I had to tell Nalini the rest of my story. She didn’t chastise me for not telling her up front, held my hand, and handled the situation smoothly. When it was over, she told me in her soothing voice that I’d seen enough of the ugly side of the industry and she wanted to help turn things around for me

As I near completion of my current contract, she e-mailed me a few months ago and said she wanted to set up a time to call me and talk about my next project. I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I have this French guy who’s been bugging me for years. But his book is a longer length and I only have three chapters written. Since I’ve only had category length books published, the trade length publishers want a completed manuscript.

In the wake of one of the longer length publishers cutting their fiction line, I knew Nalini would want me to stick with shorter books for now. And wait for the industry to get better, then worry about my French guy. But it’s not just the French guy. I’m long-winded which makes it a challenge for me to write short books.

She called and I told her I want to spend Sept. – Dec. finishing my French guy’s story. In her soothing voice, she said, “Okay, just don’t wait too long before getting another proposal out.” Before we ended the call, I heeded her wisdom and decided to put together another proposal for a short book and send it out, then concentrate on my French guy. That way, I don’t fade away while I get this French guy out of my head. And if the industry improves, I’ll have a completed longer book.

And she’s right. Since then, another trade length publisher bit the dust. For now, I need to stick to where my bread is buttered–in the shorter length realm.

Not only does Nalini know the industry, I’ve never failed to feel better after I talk to her.

Four Indispensable Editing Tools

Since the ACFW Conference, many authors are whipping out their editing tool kits so they can polish their requested manuscripts and proposals before sending them off. I’m no exception. My editing toolkit holds a variety of tools, but there are four that I can’t live without.

  • Calendars – At this time of year many businesses are giving away calendars. My advice to you is accept any that are offered. I keep a stock of calendars for the sole purpose of recording my novels’ time lines. It’s a great way to visually see when events occur in your story.
  • A laser printer – The best way for me to catch errors is to print out my book. Seeing the words on a medium besides the computer screen helps point out those mistakes that are otherwise overlooked. Using a laser printer is a cost-effective way to print your pages.
  • 3M Post-It Products – As you can see by the picture (No, my kitty is not an editing tool, she just wanted to make another appearance on the blog), I make generous use of  Post-It Products. When I’m reading through those newly printed pages, it’s so easy to mark my changes with highlighters and flags. Then I can quickly make the edits on the computer.
  • eReader – Now that you’ve made all your changes in the computer, it’s an excellent idea to read your story again (even though you may be sick of it by now). An excellent way to “see” your story with fresh eyes is to send it to your eReader. Reading your story like you would any other book makes those last pesky errors stand out. Besides, it’s fun reading your own story on a Kindle–you almost feel published!

What are your can’t-live-without editing tools?

Shannon's Survival Kit

In twelve years of writing, I’ve come up with a list of must haves for the diligent writer:

1. A quiet house.

When I first started writing, my husband worked later in the evenings than I did. For about an hour and a half, the house was quiet. Me–home alone–writing. Once our son was born, a quiet house was impossible. I adapted. Before long, I realized I could write with the TV on in the same room as my desk. Three years of noisy writing. Then we decided to send him to preschool three days a week because he had no clue what to do with other kids. Miraculously, my house was quiet again. Since then, I once again require a quiet house. During the school year, I write during school hours. In the summer, when everyone else is in bed.

2. Coffee!

I don’t know how non-coffee drinkers write. When the story stalls, I go get a cup of coffee. When the edits come from the publisher, they make me so sleepy. In editing mode, I’m not into the story, just searching for things to fix. Coffee time and my eyes pop open. And lately, I’ve discovered something even more effective.

3. Chocolate covered coffee beans!

The chocolate is yummy. The bean is gritty, so make sure you have something to drink to chase it down with. Preferably coffee. These little jewels pack a powerful punch. I’m not a morning person, never have been. No matter how many hours of sleep I get–3 or 10, when I get up, I’m heavy-lidded and brain-stalled. No matter what time I get up–5 AM or noon (doesn’t happen often), I’m heavy-lidded and brain-stalled. I pop one bean and I’m awake and ready to write. But be careful, I ate 4 in one day once and the top of my head started tingling. I usually only have one in the morning except during edits. Then I allow 3.

4. Sunflower seeds.

The kind still in the hull, so you have to work to get them out. Another handy dandy trick for combatting sleepy eye when my edits come. They’re good for you and very filling, so you eat less for lunch and supper.

5. Things that inspire me.

I have framed covers of all my books in my office, along with poems and pictures, inspirational sayings, miniature high heel shoes, my name tags from all the ACFW conferences I’ve attended, writing awards (from the first one I won at a local writing contest to my IRCA), handmade gifts from my son, gifts from my husband, writing craft books, writers market guides, novels by other authors, seashells, and a cotton boll. Each of the items inspire me.

I’ve always loved seashells. To me, it’s proof of God’s hand. Such intricate shells where tiny creatures live. The cotton boll reminds me that my parents grew up picking cotton and I don’t have to. One gift from my husband dates back to our dating days. It’s a plaque with a silver platter and a red heart in the center. The poem says, ‘You’re the only who’ll ever matter, so here’s my heart on a silver platter.’ He dated it and signed it. This reminds me of our longevity. A gift from my son, a cardboard trinket box from Bible school. The box was already made, but he painted and decorated it in seashells because he knows I love them.

Each item has special meaning to me. Most people, including my husband, would say it’s clutter. But with all my special things around me, the words flow.

6. My idea book.

It’s really a journal. Hardback with spiral bound pages, but not your typical notebook. Sturdy, with lots of pages that don’t tear out unless you really work at it. I write all my ideas in it. One sentence. Partial sentences. Pages and pages on one story. Everything I think of that could go in a potential book goes in my idea book. Sometimes I get up in the middle of night and write things in it. Sometimes, I capture dreams in it. I also take it with me for notes on research trips. When I’m between projects, I flip through my idea book and see what grabs me. Whatever idea I think about most is the one I go with.

Anybody else have any of the items on my list in your survival kit?

Interview with Denise Hunter

Shannon here: This fall–in between deadlines–I set out to find an agent and my writing twin. When a writer sends proposals to agents or editors, we’re supposed to compare our books to published novels. I needed a published author who writes similar to me to compare myself to. 

I’d heard of Denise Hunter, seen her at the American Christian Writers Conference, and knew she was a best-selling contemporary romance author. I bought The Convenient Groom and immediately wished I’d come up with such a great premise.

At ACFW this year, I introduced myself to Denise, told her why I bought her book and how much I loved it. She asked if I’d found my writing twin. Not by a longshot. Denise is a much better writer than me.

Since then I’ve read A Cowboy’s Touch, Driftwood Lane, The Accidental Bride, and Smitten. I read the last two in one weekend. Both of them.

I’ve discovered so many authors with a book I love, but then I’m often disappointed by at least one of their books or I don’t like the others as well as the first book I read by them. Not so with Denise Hunter. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by her and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Next on my list–Seaside Letters. So without further ado, here’s Denise:

  • What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year – craft, career, writing life, etc? How did you solve it?

My biggest writing challenge is finding my way through the middle of my stories. It really is like driving at night, and you can only see as far as your headlights will shine. I get through it with lots of prayer and lots of forcing myself to sit and work when I’d rather be doing anything else (laundry, dusting, toilets, ANYTHING).

Shannon: Okay, maybe we are twins. The middle befuddles me too. But not enough to make me want to clean or do laundry.

  • If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?

I enjoy design—actually started college as a commercial art major—so that’s what I’d do. Maybe even designing book covers to combine my interests.

  • Where is the coziest spot in your home?

My spot on the sofa/recliner. That’s actually where I work. 🙂

  • What is your favorite time of the day?

The evening, after dinner, when all the day’s work is done and the family is just hanging out.

  • In what ways do you think your writing journey has benefited your family? How does your writing affect your family?

Great question! Besides the obvious financial benefits, my career has made me a happier more well-rounded individual. It has forced me out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways. One of the best things about writing, though, is that it has allowed me to stay home with our kids.

  • If you could pick a theme song to play every time you entered a room, what would it be?

LOL! “Move” by Mercy Me. Sometimes I need extra motivation.

Shannon: Mercy Me is my favorite group.

  • What is your most laughable dating story?

When I started dating Kevin (my husband) I turned into an instant klutz. I spilled, I dropped, I tripped. Only around him, mind you. I still do that.

  • Which amusement park ride is your favorite and why?

Definitely roller coasters. But due to an old neck injury, I can’t ride them anymore. So I just live vicariously through my boys, who love them as much as I do.

Shannon: I grew up 5 miles from Six Flags over Georgia and never met a roller coaster I didn’t love.

  •  What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?

The internet. Research is SO much easier than it used to be. And communication! It has its negatives too, I know, but it’s so easy to keep in touch with family and friends now.

  • Would you rather live a week in the past or a week in the future??

Interesting question! A week in the future. I prefer the unknown.

  • How do you balance writing, exercise, home, etc.?

Not very well! The home and writing I’ve got down pretty well. The exercise, not so much. A couple months ago we even moved the treadmill into the living room so it would stand over our shoulders making us feel guilty. I’ve used it once since then. I do much better when it’s warm out though. I like to walk outside.

  • Would you rather meet your great grandchildren or great grandparents?

Great grandchildren, just to be certain I’ll get to, and because I DID meet my great grandparents.

  • Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My pal Colleen Coble. She’s everybody’s biggest cheerleader!

  • What actor/actress would you want to play Shay Brandenberger from The Accidental Bride?

Mandy Moore.

  • What is the best book you’ve read recently, and why did you like it?

“Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers—although it wasn’t my first time reading it. The message of love and redemption is amazing.

  • What or who makes you giggle and why?

Bffs Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt, and Kristin Billerbeck. Because we know one another so well. Also my church small group, for the same reason.

  • What is your favorite season and why?

Spring and fall. Because we only get about two seconds of each in Indiana!

Shannon: My favorite seasons too. I hate being hot or cold, so I love the in between.

  • The biggest challenge in writing this book?

The middle—always!

Shannon: Ditto!

  • What do the Post-Its around your computer/screen/ bulletin board say?

They’re my lists of what I need to buy, who I need to call, and what I need to get done.

  •  What is your favorite research or reference book or tool??

“Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass.

  •  What is the most unusual costume you ever wore at a Halloween party?

I was Gilligan one year. It seriously disturbed my husband.

  • If you could have free unlimited service for one year from a cook, chauffer, personal secretary, housekeeper, or masseuse, which would you choose and why??

Oooh, I want one of each! Probably the cook. I love to bake—cooking, not so much.

  •  Which character in your books is the most like you? How?

Definitely Reese in “Smitten”. I wrote that one with my 3 friends Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, and Diann Hunt. In order to keep our characters consistent throughout, we gave each of our protagonists a healthy dose of ourselves. 

Shannon: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Denise. I so thoroughly enjoyed it.

My take on Denise’s books: I hated for each book to end, but each gave me that satisfying ahh moment. I love the characters, fell in love with each hero, and marveled at each great, complicated story premise.

The Convenient Groom: She wrote the book–literally–on finding the right mate. But does she really understand what love’s about? Five hours before her Nantucket beach wedding–and on the eve of her big book launch–celebrity marriage counselor Kate Lawrence has everything in place.

Everything, that is, but the groom. She might not have a career, either, when her nationwide audience finds out their marriage guru has been left at the altar.

Enter Lucas Wright, who offers to stand in for the missing husband-to-be and marry her. Kate’s desperate enough to agree–although she’s sure this Mr. Wright is completely wrong for her. But can they pull it off? And why would Lucas marry her in the first place?

Could it be that “Dr. Kate” doesn’t know the first thing about love? An inspiring tale of enduring love set in romantic Nantucket.

Made me cry just reading how much the hero loved the heroine as he tried to win her heart. Such a great, complicated premise, I really wished I’d come up with it.

A Cowboy’s Touch: Abigail is just in Moose Creek, Montana for the summer to temporarily care for her great aunt. But a tender-hearted cowboy beckons her to stay.

Abigail Jones intends to spend just one summer in middle-of-nowhere Montana with her Aunt Lucy. Time away from her job is just what Abigail needs to reassess her life. The slow pace has her breathing deeply for the first time in years. And the majestic scenery encourages her to get reacquainted with herself . . . and God.

What she didn’t count on was the handsome widowed cowboy who owns the ranch where her aunt lives. When the rancher loses his daughter’s nanny, Abigail decides to lend a hand for the summer.

Wade Ryan can’t help being attracted to Abigail. But he’s given up everything to protect his daughter, and he’s not about to risk it all on a pretty face.

Under Abigail’s care, Wade’s home and daughter thrive. And with Wade’s touch, Abigail’s heart feels at home at last. But Abigail knows this elusive rancher is hiding something. Will her own secrets separate her from the cowboy who finally captured her heart?

I love the characters and ached for them. I truly couldn’t see how this story could end happily-ever-after. So many complications.

The Accidental Bride: Shay Brandenberger is raising her daughter in Moose Creek, Montana, on her childhood ranch, nestled against the Yellowstone River. Despite the hard work, she can’t seem to keep her head above water—and now the bank is threatening to foreclose. She prays for a miracle, but the answer she receives is anything but expected.

Having agreed to play the bride in the Founders’ Day wedding reenactment, Shay is mortified to be greeted at the end of the aisle by none other than Travis McCoy, her high-school sweetheart—the man who left her high and dry for fame and fortune on the Texas rodeo circuit.

Then the unthinkable happens. Thanks to a well-meaning busybody and an absentminded preacher, the make-believe vows result in a legal marriage. But before Shay can say annulment, Travis comes up with a crazy proposal. If she refuses his offer, she may lose her home. If she accepts, she may lose her heart.

Shay isn’t sure if the recent events are God’s will or just a preacher’s blunder. Will trusting her heart to the man who once shattered it be the worst mistake of her life? Or could their marriage be the best accident that ever happened?

I loved the hero, Travis. So tough, yet gentle. I loved Shay’s temper, yet Travis knew just how to settle her down.

Driftwood Lane: Meridith believes she is capable of weathering any storm. But she’s never experienced a love powerful enough to uproot her…until now.

Meridith Ward has crafted a carefully ordered life to make up for the chaos that plagued her childhood years. But one phone call upsets all that. Within the span of several minutes, Meredith learns that the father who abandoned her is dead and she’s been named the sole guardian of his other three children. She nervously heads to Nantucket to care for the siblings she’s never met with plans to stay until their uncle returns from his trip before relinquishing guardianship to him.

She arrives to find the children living in Summer House, a Bed & Breakfast that’s falling apart around them. Meridith wants to move on as soon as possible, but the inn will never sell in its dilapidated condition. Then an itinerant handyman, Jake, shows up with an offer she can’t refuse.

Much like the powerful ocean just a short walk from her deck, Jake appeals to Meridith. But she senses he is also capable of pulling her under in a heartbeat. What if the thing she fears the most is exactly what she needs? Can she trust God with the details and relish the adventure?

Besides the romance and the complicated premise, I loved the one upmanship basketball scenes between the hero and his best friend. And I was reminded that all I really need is a solid foundation through Christ. Everything else is just a bonus.

SmittenWelcome to Smitten, Vermont. With the help of four friends, it’s about to become the most romantic town in America.

The proposed closing of the lumber mill comes as unwelcome news for the citizens of Smitten. How will the town survive without its main employer? A close-knit group of women think they’ve got just the plan to save Smitten. They’ll capitalize on its name and turn it into a tourist destination for lovers—complete with sweet shops, a high-end spa, romantic music on the square, and cabins outfitted with fireplaces and hot tubs.

But is this manly town ready for an influx of romantically-minded guests?

Country music sensation Sawyer Smitten, the town’s hometown hero, wants to help by holding his own wedding there on Valentine’s Day. And little Mia’s lavender wreaths hang all over town as a reminder that faith can work miracles. Along the way, four women spearheading the town’s transformation—energetic Natalie, sophisticated Julia, graceful Shelby, and athletic Reese—get in the spirit by reviving their own love lives.

Join best-selling inspirational romance authors (and real-life BFFs) Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter for an inspiring stay at the (soon-to-be) most romantic town on the eastern seaboard.

One visit . . . and you’ll be smitten too.

I laughed a lot while reading this book and enjoyed each story equally. Quite a feat. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novella collection by different authors and been unable to pick my favorite story.

About Denise:  Denise lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons. In 1996, Denise began her first book, a Christian romance novel, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her books often contain a strong romantic element, and her husband Kevin says he provides all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too! Learn more at www.denisehunterbooks.com. 

GMC: The Engine Behind Your Characters & Plot

GMC. The first time I heard of it, I’d signed with an agent. Back in 2002 with my original version of White Roses. She told me I should read GMC. I thought car. She patiently explained that it’s a book—GMC: Goals, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon. It was out of print, but I found a copy for $19.95. I was a stay at home mom and it wasn’t in our budget to pay that much for a used book.

Shortly afterward, the agent downsized her list and I was one of her clients that got cut. Looking back, I don’t know why she signed me. She’s a good agent, still in the business, and has sold a lot of books. All I can figure is that she saw promise, but soon realized she didn’t have enough time to polish a diamond in the rough. And I don’t blame her. I know now that my writing wasn’t anywhere near publishable then.

Fast forward to 2008. I went to the ACFW conference in Minneapolis, where I had a paid critique for Rodeo Dust with Margaret Daley. In my original version, my heroine is at the State Fair of Texas, touring livestock barns with a co-worker/date. Even though, she hates farm animals and she has a rule about not dating co-workers.

Margaret: “Why would the heroine go to place she doesn’t enjoy with a co-worker on a date when she has a rule not to date co-workers?”

Me: “So she can meet the hero there.”

Margaret: “You need to read GMC.”

Okay. I gave in. You don’t have to beat me over the head with it. When I got home, I ordered the book. By then, Debra Dixon had gotten the rights back and I got a new copy for $19.95.

I read it from cover to cover and discovered a whole new world. A world that makes everything your characters do—make sense. I changed it to where my Rodeo Dust heroine went with her brother to the fair because she wanted him to date her best friend. So she accompanied them, so it wouldn’t seem like a date and they could realize how much in common they had. See how much better that is?

I also worked out the GMC for White Roses and every other book I’d been reworking for years. Now, I carefully chart out my GMC before I start a book.

Most of the time anyway. I jumped into a story not too long ago, just because it had been bugging me for a long time. I wrote the first three chapters in a hurry, then had an editor express interest when I showed her the One Sheet. I sent it to my critters, Brenda, Lorna, and Jerri. 

Brenda: “I don’t understand her goal.”

Me: “Oops. I just dashed it off and forgot to do the GMC.”

I worked out the GMC and made changes. Brenda liked it. And so did I

So for a short lesson:

G – Goal: This is what your character wants. 

M – Motivation: This is why your character wants the goal.

C – Conflict: This is why your character can’t reach their goal. 

My heroine wanted her brother to date her best friend because she wants them both to be happy, but they wouldn’t agree to go out on a date.

Thus my Rodeo Dust heroine tours the livestock barns, hating every minute of it. But her brother and best friend love it, proving that they should live happily ever after, just like she knew they should. It makes perfect sense for her to be there. And while she’s there, she meets the hero.

This is only the GMC for the first scene. Your GMC for the entire plot needs to have much more at stake. Something like, if the heroine doesn’t get her brother and best friend together, her brother will accept that job offer in China.

I could get into a lot more detail, but I believe that’s called plagiarism. In short, your story should have an over-arcing internal and external GMC. But each scene should have GMC also. If you work out the GMC for every scene, everything your character does will make perfect sense. 

Maybe if I’d have gotten the book back in 2002, I’d have sold White Roses in 2003 instead of 2009.

To get into all the intricacies of internal and external GMC, I highly recommend the book. This is one of the few craft books that doesn’t make my brain glaze over. It’s all laid out in a simple, easy to understand format. Debra Dixon is now an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. And since 2008, I’ve had editors actually ask me about my characters’ GMC during pitch sessions.

Big Fat Juicy Worms

Didn’t go to ACFW and everyone else diiiiiiid

Going to the garden to eat worms, worms, worms, worms.

Big fat juicy ones, tall thin slimy ones

Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny worms

Yum. Yum.

 Reading all the ACFW conference memories has put me into a bit of a funk so I had to resurrect my childhood pity party song. There’s nothing like wallowing in a wormy warble – especially  since I despise those intolerable invertebrates. True they are a gardener’s best friend – fisherman’s too, but I can’t get past the memory of Robbie Gunn cutting one up in five squirmy pieces and throwing them all at me. I don’t know how many sections slithered down my back but I’ve held a grudge against worms – and Robbie Gunn – ever since.

So, what’s a girl to do when she’s left home alone fishing worms out of her shirt? Weeeelllll….first she has a pity party complete with theme song and chocolate and then she turns to her constant companion, Google, who is always able to get her in the back door of any function. After blog-hopping, I’ve narrowed down some of my favourite bits of conference wisdom to these three.

 For some lovely post-conference advice:

http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/2011/09/acfw-post-conference-tips.html

 Check out this blog post that highlights different authors’ favourite memories of conferences past. They’re brief and well worth the read – from funny to touching.

http://roniekendig.com/acfw-conference-favorite-memories/

 For a bitter-sweet reflection on what might have been but still can be, check out Mary Demuth’s post-conference thoughts.

http://www.marydemuth.com/2011/09/regret-at-acfw-mindlessness/

 And, ever the optimist, once the worms have crawled back from whence they came,  I can look forward instead of back, hoping that someday some of those memories will belong to me.

  Klink – that’s the sound of another twoonie hitting the bottom of my ACFW Conference or Bust jar.