Just One Thing

Today is Halloween, a scary time of year, indeed. But tomorrow is something even scarier, something that can strike fear in the heart of the most stalwart writer… The beginning of NaNoWriMo.

In case you haven’t heard, that funny word up there stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each year, writers from around the world dedicate the month of November to writing a 50,000 word novel. Not a perfect, ready-for-publication novel, but something that you can edit into shape. It started in 1999 with 21 writers in the San Francisco Bay area. Last year, over 300,000 adult writers participated. It’s become a big thing, a way for writers to encourage each other and get the oft-needed kick in the pants to get working.

If you’re planning to participate, you’ve undoubtedly signed up on the NaNo site, contacted your writing buddies, and checked out many of the resources available. So, in the spirit of working together (in a profession where we very often work in solitude) I thought it would be fun to share ONE THING: one thing that keeps you focused; one thing to help you maximize your writing time; one tool you want to try this year… you get the idea.

Here’s my one thing: This year, I’ve decided to use a site called Novl’r to do my writing. It looks promising, for several reasons. It was created by writers, for writers. It has at-a-glance stats to help you track your progress and simple aids like Focus Mode, which removes anything from the screen other than the writing window. In honor of NaNo, it’s free for the month of November, so I figured, why not give it a try? I found out about it through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/novlr/?fref=ts) in what is probably the first of their ads I’ve actually clicked on.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your one thing for November?

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Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

Writing Contests—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Robin Caroll
Contests—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
writing contests get a bad rap. Oh, when a writer finals, places, or wins, it’s
all good. But if they don’t . . .
there’s the whole deal of score sheets. Really, on a scale of 1-5, you expect
someone to put a point system to our works of art? And feedback? If the author
is published, how good is the feedback if the book’s published? Can’t exactly
change a character arc because the score sheet showed the hero’s journey was a
bit too slow.
judges! Who are these unnamed, faceless people? If a writer gets a good score,
they’re wonderful, brilliant and insightful, of course. But a bad score? Oh,
the judge didn’t “get” the story. Had to be someone unfamiliar with the genre.
But I
like contests, always have. Unpublished and published. I like feedback. I like
score sheets. Call me strange, but I like to know how my story interacts with
the reader. A very wise person once told me that your story is just a story
until a reader interacts with it. Stuck in my head. I like that—to think that
readers are interacting with my story, my characters, my settings.
How to
cope with bad scores? Don’t. No, I’m serious. If you get a bad score and
there’s nothing useful you can use in the feedback, shut it right out of your
mind. If you can’t get it out of your head, here’s a thought—praise God that
particular judge didn’t feel compelled to go write a review of your book up on
blessed. I finaled and placed in some amazing contests. I’m in a group of
writers who are so talented, I’m awed to be listed with them. Will I ever win?
Probably not—hey, were you not paying attention? I said those who finaled with
me are awesome! But it’s enough for me just to make the list. Have I NOT
finaled in a contest as a published author? You bet. The Edgar Awards. Didn’t
even come close. But you know what? I’m proud that I had enough guts to enter.
are what they are—subjective because each reader/judge will interact with your
story differently. Good, bad, or ugly, I love ’em. I just like to know that
readers ARE interacting with my story. That’s enough for me.
“I love
boxing. I love Hallmark movies. I love fishing. I love scrapbooking. Nope, I’ve
never fit into the boxes people have wanted to put me in.” ~Robin Caroll is
definitely a contradiction, but one that beckons you to get to know her better.
Robin’s passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others and come
alongside them on their faith journey—aspects Robin weaves into each of her 25 published
novels. When she isn’t writing, Robin spends quality time with her husband of
twenty-six years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and
their character-filled pets at home. Robin gives back to the writing community
by serving as Executive Director/Conference Director for ACFW. Her books have
finaled/placed in such contests as the Carol Award, Holt Medallion, Daphne du
Maurier, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, Bookseller’s Best, and Book of the


by Yvonne Lehman
Oh, don’t they?


I’d like to share a few things that occurred at the Blue
Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat that ended October 22.
Opening night was Sunday and everyone heard and knew
what to expect from the schedule.
Um… well… don’t we all know what can happen with
On Monday evening we were to watch Robert Whitlow’s
movie, Mountain Top. But… a tree fell on a line and Ridgecrest began
operating on generator.
WAIT, HOPE & PRAY… or revise?
A conversation between Robert (novelist, script writer),
Torry Martin (writer, scripts, acting), and Lori Marett (writer, movie Meant
to Be
)  about script writing was to follow watching the movie. We
simply switched the conversation and Q&A first while lines were being
Ah… perfect! LIGHTS! ACTION!
UM… well… something went wrong with the sound system and
a Conference Center person with the knowledge of what to do wasn’t available.
But a student, Deborah, was. She had handled such equipment at her church. She
was a lifesaver. Except… the movie needed Blueray and I, the director, had not
asked about the exact equipment needed, and I had already informed Ridgecrest
of our needs so they didn’t anticipate these occurrences.
Without an AV specialist, Deborah came to the rescue of
handling the sound equipment, being able to work it so we could watch Robert’s
movie, Jimmy (not Blueray but DVD) instead of Mountain Top.
A few of my helpers were concerned because of being
helpless, and things not going like clockwork, and our having to use a student
to operate the system. Well, I’ve directed conferences for over 30 years and am
well aware that some clockwork stops because of a lack of electricity. We must
improvise, make changes or even do without. Robert exhibited his calm, generous
nature like one aware of the same thing.
Sure, I wanted thing to be what we humans call perfect.
One of Robert’s movies was shown. A change of movie was no disaster. I don’t
think God necessarily made that tree fall on a line, but… we do know some good
comes from the worst of things, but this wasn’t a “worst” kind of thing.
Maybe. But the movie was wonderful. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Most likely (knowing God) there was one (or more) person who needed that exact
movie. We ate our popcorn, cried or felt like it during the movie, and had a
wonderful evening. I don’t think Robert minded at all, although he was doing us
the favor of letting us watch Mountain Top before its official release. Not one
person was disappointed with Jimmy. I know… because they told me.
I learned from the situation. Next year I will know what
questions to ask about technology (I’m impaired on that level…but learning),
from AV needs of faculty and Ridgecrest.
After the conference ended, I received an email from
Deborah. She appreciated the opportunity to help with AV equipment, saying it
made her interact and converse with others which otherwise would have been
difficult to do since this was her first conference. Attending a conference for
the first time causes many students to feel inhibited, not sure what to expect,
and even in the stages of discovering if they are, or can become writers.
Deborah’s helping increased her confidence and forced
her to interact and that was a wonderful experience for her and a blessing for
the rest of us.
Not only did that increase her relating confidence but
she then sent me an article for one of my Moments book series. Submitting is
also inhibiting for a beginning writer, still uncertain if the writing is in
the correct form or has enough substance. That uncertainty and insecurity often
prevents writers from submitting their work. They are afraid of being rejected.
However… the answer is already “No” if you don’t submit
your work. Submitting is also a part of the writing profession, as well as
“rejection.” I don’t like to call it rejection. A “return” may mean many
things. It may mean the company, magazine, etc. may have all the submissions in
that particular genre already. It may mean it really doesn’t fit their needs.
It may mean the writing needs to be better crafted, or it may mean the subject
needs further development. But … submitting (and analyzing why the work was
returned – or having the piece accepted) is part of this writing business.
My Titanic book was “not accepted” by several publishing
companies. Some already had a Titanic book in the process. Another simply
couldn’t use it. Another held it for some length of time with committee
considering it. Then it was too late to be published by anyone, if anyone was
left since they would need at least a year before release.
The rejections were not because the writing wasn’t good
enough (although some could have thought that). Miracles happen, as it did with
that book when Abingdon accepted it.
The point is… don’t give up when it seems impossible.
Scripture says, “Study to show yourself approves, not ashamed.” Perhaps this is
your time to be studying, so when the opportunities come you are ready to
Most of our writing is by daily working, learning,
growing. When the times come that could cause discouragement (the lights go
out! The work is too late), maybe it happened for good… even someone else’s
The lights out at Ridgecrest worked for Deborah’s good.
My “rejections” worked for my good in discovering I can produce quality quickly
if required because I have years of study, learning, growing, and writing after
As we travel through this life, we learn that all things
do work for good. It doesn’t always seem that it works for “our” good in dire
circumstances. But it works for someone’s good. Their need at a particular time
may be more needed than for our circumstances to turn out the way we want them
I could give examples of things gone wrong throughout my
life. At the same time I can give examples of God proving his love for me, that
he knows me, he cares, and when I realize the greatness of God (which I can’t
really fathom) I feel like hiding, covering myself so he can’t see me (as if he
couldn’t) and then he shows up in so-called small ways that make me laugh. He
knows how to bring good from every situation. Generally, I just see “my”
situation. He may value me enough to let things go wrong in my life… for the
good of another person.
Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC    

Sneak Attack Ideas

By Alton Gansky

Ideas sometimes attack
from behind. They arrive at the least likely times, and at the oddest hours.
The best way to find a great idea is to  stop looking for one

Writers are idea merchants, purveyors of content,
information, story, and thought. We dig around in the world’s trash bin hoping to
find something of value. We visit yard sales of content, examine stuff that has
no value until we trip over a prize. Like a spotlight we search the darkness
for something of interest; something we can use; something we can make grander
than it already is.
And it ain’t easy.
The most often asked question of novelists is, “Where do you
get your ideas?” It has made some writers a little testy. Dean Koontz has
answered that question by saying, “I get my ideas for a mom and pop shop on the
corner.” (Or something like that. I’m working from memory.) I recall Stephen
King repling to the question this way: “I have the brain of a child—I keep it
in a jar on my desk.” (Again, a paraphrase from my Swiss cheese mind.)
It is difficult to pin down where ideas come from because
they don’t come from a single place. They hover in the air, hide in newspapers
and magazines, show up in a single line in a movie; they buzz the airfield of
our dreams. If you’re a multi-book author, then you can look back over your
novels and recall where each gem of an idea came from. Most likely they came
from very different places and arrived on your mental doorstep in very
different ways.
My first novel, By My
, came to me after visiting a child and her family in Children’s
Hospital of San Diego. I had always planned to write nonfiction, but the idea
wouldn’t leave me alone. My novel, A Ship
, was a “throw away” idea. I used to include a page in my
proposals with a list of possible books, each with two lines of description. I
added that story because my list had too much white space at the bottom of the
page. I recalled something I had read in the Los Angeles Times, thought about it for a minute or two and wrote: “The
World War II submarine USS Triggerfish
has returned home fifty years late, in the wrong ocean, and without its crew—but
it did not come back alone.” What did I mean by that? I had no idea. Still,
Zondervan loved the pitch and asked for a full proposal, which I didn’t have. In
the end I did three books with that protagonist.
Ideas don’t come on a schedule. They never call first. They
just show up and refuse to go away. It’s our job to recognize the good ones.
How do we do that?
First, a good idea refuses to go away. It’s a ghost that
haunts the halls of the writer’s mind. It may stay with you for years before
fully revealing itself, but when it does, you’ll know why.
Second, you form an attachment to the idea. The characters
become real and populate your mind. Sometimes they sit quietly in the corner;
other times they demand to be heard.
It is my belief that most professional novelists have more
ideas than they can handle, but they keep gathering more. That’s the third
point: A writer never knows when a good idea will become great. My latest fiction
is part of a series of novellas written with Bill Meyers, Frank Peretti, and
Angie Hunt. The
(number eight in the
series) is based on an idea I had years ago but didn’t know what to do with.
There was no CBA publisher at the time that would touch it. I didn’t even
bother to send out proposals. Then when it came my turn to do the next book in
the series, the idea stepped up and said, “My turn.” It worked.
Novelists are merchants of ideas, finding something of value
that others will appreciate and benefit from and then making it available. The
trick is selecting the right idea at the right time. There is as much craft in
molding an idea as there is in penning a story.
Alton Gansky writes
novels, novellas, and nonfiction. He’s also been known to chase ideas with a
butterfly net. http://www.altongansky.com/