Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm A Scribble Chick!

Erynn Mangum recently invited me to join her and three other writing gals at their new blog Scribble Chicks. Each of us will post once a week about our writing and publishing journeys, and things we've learned (and are still learning). The blog's tagline is: "A bunch of us pecking our way through the publishing world".

The other ladies posting are: Erynn Mangum (of course!), BJ Hamrick, Betsy St. Amant, and Christa Banister. I'm really honored to be a part of this great group.

My posts will appear on Fridays, and my first is up today! It's called Mastering Your Doubts. I'd love it if all of you could take a look and leave a comment.

Don't worry... I'll still be posting here. Probably more often in fact. Having a deadline for your work does wonders. :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thicker than Blood available for pre-order!

It's hard to believe release day is only four months away! But even though my first novel Thicker than Blood releases in January, 2010, it's available for pre-order now at these online retailers:

It's surreal to see the book up there like that, let me tell you! Tyndale showed me the back cover and spine of the book recently, and I was blown away---they did such a fantastic job! The design makes the novel look like an old book, complete with a book spine for its spine.

Advance copies of the book are being sent out to magazines and reviewers soon, and I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of the story.

Here's the new little summary we're going to be using on the back cover:

Christy Williams never imagined that a stolen Hemingway first edition would lead her back to the sister she left fifteen years ago. But when things begin to unravel, she finds herself on May's doorstep, fearing for her life.

After a bittersweet reunion, will the two discover that some hurts can't be healed, or is there a tie that's thicker than blood?

Read the first chapter on my website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome Home Woodhouse Family!

I'm a recent watcher of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I'd heard so many great things about the show but hadn't checked it out for myself. Well, I have now, and I must say that show is doing some beautiful things. The Woodhouse Family no doubt agrees! They have been the recipients of one of those amazing houses, and after reading their story in mom Kim's new book, you'll understand why.

When Welcome Home first appeared in my mailbox I picked it up that day expecting to read just a page or two. I didn't expect to be pulled into the story so quickly. Kim has a wonderful way with words, and this book reads like a novel.

But in this case, truth is definitely stranger than fiction. If Kim were to have written a novel featuring the twists and turns her family has experienced in real life, no one would've believed her.

This family has been through a lot, but the amazing thing is, this book isn't a downer. Yes, you grieve with the Woodhouse family as they learn their daughter Kayla has a rare disorder that doesn't allow her to feel pain and doesn't allow her body to cool properly. Yet even through the trials, one thing the Woodhouse family doesn't lose is their joy. Sure, it's tested. Yes, they have their days of doubt and incredible discouragement. But through it all God never lets them forget that He is there with them. He is holding them. He is.

Welcome Home is a story about joy and hope. In fact, hope permeates its pages. Thank you, Kim, for so honestly telling the world your story while somehow managing to weave the thread of hope through it all.

Publisher's summary:

Thanks to being featured on the hit TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the Woodhouse family of Colorado Springs is known across the country. Their poignant, heart-touching story of having a child with a rare medical disorder, which led to a mountain of hospital bills and the loss of their home—and their need for a home that would be safe for daughter Kayla—has put them in the public spotlight and kept them there. The theme that carries through Welcome Home is James 1:2-4. We’re all a work in progress, and it can be “Pure Joy” to be a parent. But, how does joy evolve out of a potentially devastating reality? Kimberley’s candid stories of both failures and successes, and the ultimate resource—the Bible, will point readers in the right direction for establishing JOY in their homes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's You, Not the Guitar

Last weekend found me standing in the middle of a crowd, pressed in on each side by complete strangers. All of us were waiting for the next band to start at the Purple Door Arts and Music Festival. I was minding my own business trying not to think about how much my feet were hurting (I'd been standing for hours by now).

Two guys stood behind me and started talking with each other, introducing themselves and seeing if they had common interests. One guy was a gangly, fourteen or fifteen-year-old who looked like he was much older. The other probably was college-aged. Conversation quickly turned to music, and Mr. 15 couldn't help but point out he played guitar, bass guitar and drums. I smiled to myself.

I couldn't see either of their faces, but I have a feeling Mr. College was smiling inwardly too. But he took it all in stride and kindly humored Mr. 15. Then talk turned to equipment, i.e. amps and types of guitars. Mr. 15 was desperately trying to sound like he knew everything there was to know about these sort of things. Then he said something that almost caused me to chuckle out loud.

"My guitar makes me sound bad," he said.


"Yeah, if I had a really good one, I'd sound great."

Um, okay. Your guitar makes you sound bad. Hmm. I wonder if it would've made Jimmy Hendrix sound bad.

I got to thinking about this little exchange later, and it reminded me of how often we all choose to blame our equipment rather than acknowledge our own weaknesses. If I only had that iMac I could write so much better. If only I didn't write in my kitchen but had my own office. If only I had a better this or that ...

The way I see it, if we can sound good (or, excuse the grammar, write good), or do anything well on what we have, then that's the sign of true talent. If we can develop our skills on what we've been given to use today, then maybe God'll give us something better tomorrow. It's sorta like that parable which talks about being faithful in the small things.

We don't have to have the latest gadgets or the most expensive equipment to become good at whatever we've been called to do. What really matters is our attitude. Will we make the most of what we've been given today?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Funny Cat Picture

This cracked me up. If you've ever had a cat you know this is exactly how they act!

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing The Opening Scene of a Novel

With the release of my first novel just around the corner (January 2010), and my second novel finished for now, it's time to start a third book. I've been mulling ideas for months but none were exactly the story I wanted to tell.

The time has come. I had some characters itching to tell their stories, and they wouldn't leave me alone. Only one problem. I didn't know where to begin. I needed a dynamic opening scene. Which isn't to say that scene won't be changed in the future, but for me as the author to feel ready, I needed a good opening.

Well, I came up with something. It was dynamic and thrust the main character into serious trouble right from the get go. I was ready to begin it. But then I started thinking about the novels I've read that didn't allow me time to connect with the characters before they threw them into a tailspin. Those novels were easy to put down.

This made me re-think. In order to care about a character, you need to get to know him/her if you're going to read about their predicaments. Which isn't to say you begin a novel with a slow scene, but I realized I was thinking about starting this novel too far into the story. I needed to back up, just a little bit, and create some empathy for my character.

I envisioned another scene which took place before the scene I'd originally planned. It too had some action, but I hope it allows the reader time to care about the main character.

I'm going to do something I don't normally do---share with you the rough draft opening paragraph of this novel. Keep in mind that it will probably change, and most certainly be tightened, but here it is:

The car door slamming startled Brynn Taylor awake. She crawled on her elbows up to the zippered door of her two-man tent, swallowing hard against a wave of nausea. She unzipped the flap and peeked out. Parked at the edge of her camp was a white police car, and walking toward her tent was the cop.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Power of Music - Flame by The Echoing Green music video

I know this blog is about writing and books, but sometimes we gotta sit back and chill to a good song, don't you think? To me, this is a good song. The Echoing Green has been spinning in my CD player for years now, but they're still a somewhat unknown band in Christian music. The electronic genre hasn't made a big splash in the Christian market yet, I guess. These guys could be called synthpop in some ways (at least in their early days). They've branched into a little bit darker sound (not in a bad way) with their new tunes of late. I'll listen to anything they come up with.

This video is for their song called "Flame". The song's been around for a couple years, but they're just now making a video for it. I suspect it'll appear on the album they've been working on for about the same amount of time now. I'm intrigued with the concept behind this. It tells a story. I'd love to know what you think about the lyrics and the video. What story do you think it's telling?

That's one of the great things about music. It pulls on your emotions, takes you to a place. Think about movie soundtracks. Without a single word uttered a scene is set. Songs can inspire just like a magnificent painting. It's all art. Whether we paint with brush, pen or keyboard, we're all artists tugging on the emotions of humanity.

Maybe this post is about writing after all. :)

P.S. If you like what you hear, visit The Echoing Green's myspace page.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Rene Gutteridge (Advice for Novelists, Part 102)

Next up in our Advice for Novelists series is multi-published author Rene Gutteridge. Here's her response to my question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Write when inspiration is nowhere to be found. That’s the fastest way to becoming a professional, because inspiration is fleeting, and also cleverly disguised at times within discouragement and trials. You’ll be amazed, looking back, how much you accomplish writing in times that you feel the least inspired.

--Rene Gutteridge, co-author of Never the Bride (with Cheryl McKay), the Boo series, the Occupational Hazards series, and more. Visit her website to catch the latest.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How to Write A Synopsis for Your Novel

Many of the questions I've been receiving from folks lately fall into the nuts and bolts of writing techniques category. A big one I struggled with was, "How do you write a novel synopsis?" I finally heard a great response to this question from Randy Ingermanson. He spells it all out for us in great detail. My one comment is in bold.

The Dreaded Synopsis
by Randy Ingermanson

Sooner or later, virtually every novelist has to write a synopsis. This is a little odd, because most of my editor friends tell me they hate reading synopses ("they're boring") and most of my writer friends tell me they hate writing them ("they're boring.")

Seems like there's a pattern here. And yet we still have to write the miserable things. I'm not going to speculate on why the synopsis is such a staple of the process of selling a book. It just is. The best thing to do is to write the wretched beast right the first time and get it out of your hair.

First things first. Always find out how long of a synopsis you're expected to write. Generally, the
editors I've worked with wanted about two pages. If you find an editor who wants only a page, send her a page. If you find one who wants more, then send more.

Formatting for a synopsis is pretty simple:

* Use 12 point type that has a serif. Times-Roman or Times-New-Roman are good readable fonts with serifs. Helvetica and other sans-serif fonts are less readable.

* Use one-inch margins on all four sides.

* Single-space your synopsis.

* Either indent the first line of all paragraphs or else add an extra blank line between paragraphs.

* Number your pages in the center of the footer.

* [Optional] I normally put my last name on the right side of the header of each page. I don't use the title of the book, because the title may not work for the editor, and I don't want to keep reminding the editor that I have rotten taste in titles.

If you follow this formatting, then a two-page synopsis will run roughly 1000 words. If your novel has 80 to 100 scenes, then that gives you 10 to 12 words to explain each scene, which is not enough.

Let's repeat that, because it's important: You can't describe every scene of your novel in your synopsis. You don't have enough word count in two pages.

What's a writer to do?

That's actually pretty easy. You're going to have to combine scenes into "scene sequences" and write a paragraph that summarizes each "scene sequence." I got this idea from the book STORY, by Robert McKee, who develops the notion of sequences of scenes.

This is absolutely fundamental to writing a good synopsis. Break up your novel into 10 or 15 "scene sequences." Write a paragraph on each one.

Keep doing that until the end. That's your synopsis.

If you have a book with multiple point-of-view characters, then you'll need to go heavier on the
scenes that deal with the lead character and lighter on the scenes featuring the other characters. You don't have any other choice.

You may be worrying that this isn't enough, that your editor won't be able to understand the story unless you give her more details.

I don't believe this for a second. Your editor is smart. What she wants is the big picture of your story with only enough details to prove to her that you have some idea how your story works. Two pages is plenty for that.

If you think two pages isn't enough, then remember that you can summarize your story in a paragraph of 60 words if you strip it down enough. You can slash it down to a sentence of 15 words if you cut it all the way to the bone. Compared to a sentence or a paragraph, two pages
is a scandalous waste of words.

Here is a simple checklist for writing your synopsis:

* Write a "scene list" that contains one sentence telling what happens in every scene in the story. This is convenient to do in a spreadsheet.

* If the ordering of the scenes is out of whack, then feel free to reorder them slightly so that the related scenes are together in blocks.

* Color-code the scenes in groups of related scenes. Each group should be roughly three to seven scenes. The colors that you use don't have any meaning, so just use any convenient colors. You might make one set yellow and leave the other set white.

* Count the number of groups of scenes you have. You're looking for roughly 10 to 15 groups. If you've got too many or few, then either combine groups to get fewer, or split groups to get more.

* For each group, figure out the main story idea and focus on that. Write a paragraph that summarizes this plot thread. If you can end the paragraph with a major setback, then that's ideal.

* Read the whole synopsis and edit it for flow. Are the paragraphs well-connected? If not, tweak them so they are.

* If you have a brilliant surprise ending, should you tell your editor? That's up to you. You can tell it all, or you can be vague. You might even opt for an ending that appears to be a brilliant surprise ending but which still doesn't give away certain critical details which make it even more of a brilliant surprise. That way, when your editor reads the story, she'll get to enjoy at least some of the surprise. [Many books I've read have said to ALWAYS include the ending of your book, but then again, rules are made to be broken, eh?]

When your synopsis is done, have a writer critique it, preferably a writer with experience in writing synopses. Edit the synopsis based on the critique you get back.

Above all, don't spend three months writing your synopsis. It's only two pages. Write it. Edit it. Move on. If you're going to spend extra time polishing something, spend the time on your sample chapters, not your synopsis. If your synopsis is a little boring, well, your editor expects a boring synopsis, doesn't she?

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND
have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cheryl McKay (Advice for Novelists, Part 101)

Here's another informative entry in our Advice for Novelists series. I've asked authors, agents, editors and publicists their response to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Write from a place of personal experience and passion, and even from an area of pain. Your story will stand out over a story you can’t relate to.

--Cheryl McKay, screenwriter and co-author of Never the Bride (w/ Rene Gutteridge). Visit Cheryl's website for more info.

Offworld winner

And the winner is...


(Please e-mail me at cj at cjdarlington dot com with your mailing address)

For those who didn't win, be sure to pick up your own copy of Offworld at the following great online sites:
Barnes &