Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing in Harmony

with guest Helen Gray.

 First of all, what is harmony?


  •      Agreement in action, feeling or opinion; accord.
  •      A pleasing combination of elements in a whole.
  •      Simultaneous combination of notes played at the same time, a chord.
  •      A collation of parallel passages, especially from the Gospels, with a commentary demonstrating their consonance and explaining their discrepancies.

How can we achieve harmony in our writing? Here are a few tips.

  •      Maintain the flow and rhythm of writing. Espress ideas of equal value must in parallel constructions.
  •      Balance comparisons, modifiers, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and clauses.
  •      Keep writing smooth, interesting, logical, and potent.
  •      Present only one main thought in a paragraph, avoid overlong paragraphs, and glide smoothly from one paragraph to another.
  •      Use language that is simple, direct, and clear.

The most common chord is a triad, a combination of three notes. Two common triads that occur in writing are GMC and TRILOGIES. Let’s talk about GMC first. (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). 

(Yes, I know we’ve talked about this many times. But repetition is reinforcement. Right?)

  •     The GOAL is what (a dream, want, etc.) a character wants or thinks he/she is after. It needs to be measurable and possible within the story time frame.
  •     The goal must be important to the character, and it is best if it is urgent for the character to achieve it.
  •     There should be a long-term goal. It sets up the forward motion for the story and often changes as the story proceeds and conflicts are faced and met.
  •     There should be short-term goals. These are specific tasks, objectives, or actions the character believes must be accomplished in order to achieve the long-term goal.
  •     There should be an external goal, an important, urgent need or desire for which the character must strive.
  •     There should be an internal goal, an emotional need within the character that must be met.  It usually drives the external need.  


  •     Motivation is basically WHY our characters want this goal/dream, what drives them.
  •     Like with the goal, it is best if it is urgent for the character.
  •     A  strong motivation will bring conflicts, force characters to adjust their goals.
  •     Tip: Coincidence is not motivation. A misunderstanding that can be easily talked out by the characters involved is also not motivation.
  •     There should be external motivation. Every goal must have a solid reason behind it.
  •     There should be internal motivation that harmonizes with the external motivation.

Oops, here’s where we disrupt harmony.
(As much as we like harmony, conflict is story.)

    The dictionary says conflict is: to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash. 

  •     Conflict is what keeps them from reaching their goal until the end of the story when their original story goal is either met or changed by way of compromise on the character's part.
  •     Without conflict to keep the characters from reaching their goals, there is no story.
  •     Meeting and dealing with each conflict strengthens the character and makes him/her decide how to continue toward his/her goal, or if the goal needs to be modified.
  •     There should be internal goals, emotional issues that complicate reaching the goals. (such as wanting to belong, to be loved, to be feared, to be rich, to be famous, to control others, to be safe, to be free, to achieve revenge, or to know something.)
  •     The internal, emotional conflict harmonizes with, and fuels, the external conflict. 
  •     There should also be external goals, events, other people, or situations that work against the characters reaching their goals, anything that happens physically to a character.


Disclaimer: I know series can be longer than three books, but trilogies are SOOO popular.

Why should authors create a series of books? From what I’ve read and heard, publishers want them. And readers like them. Do you? I do.

There are several things to consider if you plan to write a series.

    Books only make a series if there is a thread ties them all together, makes them harmonize. 

    There are three kinds of series: serials, sequels, and spinoffs.
  •     Serials follow one particular character throughout many different, mostly unconnected, episodes. Each book could be read as a stand-alone title, but each one that follows tells more about the continuing characters.
  •     Sequels contain one continuing story in a number of volumes. 
  •     Spinoffs take an existing minor character, setting, or concept from the first stand-alone story and create a new storyline for additional stand-alone stories.
    There are some things to remember as you write a series.

  •      Plan the whole series before writing the first book. Make each book strong and write each one with an ending that won’t turn away future readers.
  •      Create a compelling main character whose work and life allow for a series of stories on them. Be sure there’s potential for more adventures for your main character. Also, you need to develop sub-characters and sub-plots.
  •      Understand timelines and allow for growth and change in the lives of your characters. Stay consistent through the books. Plan carefully.
  •      Add hooks into the current book that relate to previous books. Be sure you make references back to adventures in previous books, so readers can go find those earlier books and read them too. 

     Keep the details of each book original. A series must have similarities in plot and style even though the plots are not original.

     Keep a physical record of your characters—their ages, birthdays, appearances, wants and fears, strengths and weaknesses, anything that will affect how those characters react moving forward. Be sure to include maps, world-building details/rules, tech and terminology, etc. 

     I personally like titles that harmonize, like when they have a common word that identifies them as part of a series. Although all three titles of my series got changed, I was pleased to get to keep ‘Ozark’ at the beginning of each one.


My third book, Ozark Wedding, released September 1. Leave a comment today for a chance to win your own copy. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

How do you keep harmony in your writing? How do you balance writing and personal lives?

Helen Gray lives in SE Missouri with her pastor husband of 50 years. A retired business teacher and church music director, she happily spends her time making up stories--which makes her three grown children think she's slightly nuts. But that's all right. She's growing old graysfully.

Pictures from Helen's recent Wal-Mart book signing!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Raising the Stakes

courtesy of John Smarch Photography
Janet here. There’s so much to learn about writing a romance novel. To name a few: Storytellers must give the hero and heroine strong book-length goals, motivations and conflicts. Characters should be strong and active, not victims. Everything that happens in a story should feed into the plot. No tea scenes allowed. In each scene, the point of view characters should have goals that fit their book-length goal in some way. 

Whew, the craft "To Do" list is long, but today I want to talk about the importance of raising stakes. If we hope to keep our readers turning pages, we have to keep making things worse. Don’t you love that we romance writers have two story people to torture? 

Well, maybe not, especially if you’re stuck in a scene trying to figure out what to do next to up the stakes and make our characters worry so our readers will worry, too.

I’m guessing most writers—even Seat of the Pantsters—have a general idea of events in key scenes like the crisis, black moment and climax. The premise and the characters’ goals seem to demand these pivotal scenes. Other scenes may not have that desperate, must take action or all will be lost intensity. But without something happening that worries our characters, we won’t give readers what they’re looking for—conflict.

Not every scene is a cliffhanger so how do we make things worse for our story people in every scene? We are able to up the stakes by using what may appear on the surface as mundane goals, but for our characters the action required can carry a big wallop. By that
I mean every time the stakes are raised, our characters are shoved into disquiet or anxiety or even terror and that forces them to confront their deepest fears.  
There are countless ways to ratchet the tension by using the elements of story. To come up with ideas on ways to raise the stakes you might want to ask yourself some questions. To come up with the answers we need to know our characters well.
      How can things get worse?
·         How can this feed into the characters’ deepest fears?
·         How can I make these characters face what scares them most?

      Even ordinary goals can up the conflict and make things tougher on our characters.

·         Use the Plot.

The stakes are raised when another character thwarts the pursuit of the characters’ goals. Or the hero and heroine’s goals clash. Or a looming deadline adds pressure. Or a character intentionally or unintentionally stirs up past hurts and buried guilt.  
Fabric Storyteller from Colorado

·        Use the Romance. Remember the romance is not the plot. The romance complicates the plot.   

Attraction in a romance is good, right? Not when the attraction is unwelcome, complicates or makes things worse. Attraction is a fun way to strike terror in the hearts of our characters and put them in self-protective mode.

·       Use the Motivations.

Create events that threaten to expose the character’s motivations, especially when those motivations are not laudable or dredge up a past the characters can’t face.  
     Use the Faith Thread

You will up the stakes when a character with faith is dismayed to be attracted to a character without faith. Or when a character's actions prove her faith is shaky. Or when churchgoers fight the character’s worthy goal.
     Use the Setting.

      The setting can trigger upsetting memories that up the stakes.

I will give examples of using these devices to up the stakes in scenes with mundane goals from my novel Wanted:A FamilyIn this story, pregnant widow Callie’s book-length goal is housing unwed mothers. Orphan carpenter Jake’s book-length goal is to find his birth mother.

In the following excerpt Callie’s scene goal is ordinary—she wants to pry up the rotten boards on her unsafe porch—yet this goal feeds into her book-length goal of housing unwed mothers. Callie has reason to be suspicious of strangers but her desire for her goal overrules her disquiet over hiring Jake and her unwanted attraction to a drifter.

Again his gaze roamed the house. “I’ll restore this beauty for a roof over my head and three meals a day, a price most folks appreciate.”

She appreciated the price all right. But he was still a stranger. “I've got to wonder why a man with your experience would work without a wage. I’ll still have to say no.”

“I can’t allow a woman to harm herself, even a headstrong woman like you.”

Of all the nerve! She glared at him. “I’m perfectly capable of handling whatever task I set my mind to.” 

His eyes held a flicker of respect. “I’m sure that’s true, if setting your mind to a task got it done. But, this job requires more brawn than brains.” He winked, bold as brass. “That makes me perfect for the job.”

Aghast at the rush of attraction that shot through her, Callie folded her arms across her chest, more determined to send this rogue packing.

“One day I want a business of my own. Why not give me a chance to test my mettle by bringing this Victorian back to life?”

Though he’d used that spiel to manipulate her, she couldn't argue with his logic. Fixing up her house would prove his ability and allow her to keep her house.

Besides, she didn't see anyone else lined up to help her.

If the house wasn't safe, Martin’s parents would insist she live with them, putting an end to Callie’s dream. What would happen to Elise and her baby then?

In the next excerpt I use the PLOT to up the stakes. Jake’s scene goal is to fix Callie’s porch, again an ordinary action, but the job fits his book-length goal of finding his mother. When Jake is interrupted by Commodore Mitchell,Callie comes out to deal with her father-in-law, a difficult man who is fighting her goal so doesn't want Jake repairing the house.

“I appreciate your concern, Commodore, but I've already arranged for Mr. Smith to do the work,” Callie Mitchell tapped the toe of her serviceable shoe on the newly laid porch floor. “His work speaks for him.”

“Let’s have that tea,” Callie’s mother-in-law said. “Please.”

Ignoring his wife, Mitchell frowned. “You’re hardly a good judge of character, Callie. The last man you hired ransacked the place and took every cent in the house.”

Jake took a step forward. “Where I come from, a man speaks kindly to a lady.”

Mitchell turned suspicious eyes on Jake. “And where is that, Smith?”

“Does it matter? I believe good manners are the same everywhere.”

“I’ll tell you what I believe. A drifter has something to hide.” He smirked. “As soon as someone gets close to his secret, that’s when he leaves.” He turned to Callie. “Reckon I’ll stop at the sheriff’s office. See what he knows about ‘Smith’ here.”

He thrust the bundle at his daughter-in-law, then took his wife’s arm and stomped down the walk.

The threat tore through Jake, heating his veins. Even if the sheriff didn't find anything on him that didn't mean he wouldn't come around asking questions. It wouldn't be long until his past caught up with him and forced him out of town.

Can see how the encounter with Commodore has raised the stakes for Jake and has put fear in Jake’s heart? 

In the following excerpt, Elise pleaded with Jake to accompany her and Callie to church in hopes of taking the attention off Elise's first time back to church since her pregnancy became public knowledge. Jake agrees, and protecting Elise becomes his scene goal. But, the setting awakens bad memories in Jake and worse he's getting involved in the life's of others, the last thing he wants. Especially when these women are making him see the difficulties a single mother would've had raising a child.

Clay storyteller from New Mexico
Jake rose from the pew and stepped aside, letting Callie and Elise lead the way. As in jail and the towns he’d stopped in since his release, he felt eyes on his back. A stranger would naturally create curiosity. How long before those stares turned hostile? And curiosity became judgment?

Why he’d agreed to stay for the meal baffled him. With an instinct that rarely failed, Jake sensed few would welcome Elise or him into the fold. Fine. He’d never seen anyone until Callie do more than mouth their faith anyway. 

When Gerald Swartz had picked him out from the lineup of orphans, right after Jake’s sixteenth birthday and taken him home, Jake had believed he’d attained his childhood dream. As long as he could remember, his fantasies had centered on having a family, a home, perhaps sharing a room with a brother or two. At last, someone wanted him.

They’d wanted him all right.

To work from sunup to sunset handling every imaginable chore they threw at him. Eager to please, he’d slept in the barn, bathed in the creek, worn hand-me-down clothes, done exactly as told without complaint, certain he’d earn their trust and prove he wouldn't be a burden.

Soon they’d include him in the tight circle of family.

Soon never came.

Not that the Swartz’s were cruel. They’d filled his belly. Had taken him to church and sent him to school, exactly as the rules required. But he’d never been welcomed in. He’d never spent a single night under their roof. He’d never received an affectionate hug or a personal word.

Each Sunday, they’d sat in their church pew, nodding at the message of love, but never showed him a speck of it by word or deed. The night of his seventeenth birthday, he’d run away. Better to expect nothing than to live with unfulfilled hope. Better to learn a trade and earn a wage than depend on scraps of a family that kept him out. Better to go through life a loner than count on anyone.

Hadn't Susan given him further proof of that?

One church visit brought it all back. If these folks resembled the people he’d spent that year with, they were welcome to their songs. Welcome to their sermons. Welcome to their God.

Hypocrisy. All of it.

He couldn't wait to leave, to reject the stifling pretense of piety, but he couldn't desert Elise and Callie in case they needed him.

Jake’s attitude about churchgoers and faith won’t endear him to Callie. Yet underneath, he's conflicted by his anger at God.  

In the next excerpt, Jake’s goal is to finish repairs on the stair railing, but that’s not his true motivation and he almost gets caught, upping the stakes:

But the invitation gave him an excuse for finishing the railing, the little job a convenient ploy to get into the house early.

On silent feet, Jake moved down the hall toward the library. The knowledge Callie trusted him alone in her house tweaked his conscience, but seeking the woman who gave him birth wouldn't bring Callie harm.

At the last door on the right, he turned the knob. Inside the library, he strode to the desk. He’d leave the door open, listen for Callie’s return.  

The first stack of newspapers looked recent, but over to the side a pile, brittle and yellowed with age, looked promising. He’d start there. Rummaging through the stack, he discovered the newspapers dated decades before his birth.

His hand moved to another stack, yellowed but in better condition. His throat clogged. This stack might hold the information he sought. Flipping through the dates, he located the year 1877. With shaking hands, he looked for May 21, 1877. His birthday.

Or so he’d been told.

A squeak of the floorboards overhead. Jake jerked to his feet. One of the women would soon arrive downstairs. He straightened the newspapers and eased the door closed after him.

He made it to the foyer, grabbed the cloth and polished the banister, revealing the soft glow of the wood’s patina just as Callie made the landing.

In all of these excerpts the scene goals required ordinary actions, but, they still upped the stakes for the Point of View character. Notice how raising the stakes bonds readers to our characters. 

Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card. I brought breakfast sandwiches, melon, coffee and tea for breakfast. Pull up a chair and let’s chat about ways you raise the stakes. Or tell me how many kids each of the storytellers has listening to her oral history. Aren't they cute?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Weekend Edition

 Today is National Fortune Cookie Day...so do celebrate with a Seeker Fortune Cookie!

We Have Winners

Be sure to contact us if you are a winner (send an email to seekers@seekerville.net with your snail mail address unless email is specified). We don't have time to track you down. Do let us know if you don't receive your prize in 6-8 weeks. Rules are located here, on our legal page.

 Winners of $10 Amazon gift cards from last week's Weekend Edition "Ruthy Goes Rogue with Random Uprising" are Carol Garvin, Andrea Strong, and Terri Weldon! Thanks for celebrating Ruthy's new contract!!!

Monday Love Inspired author Missy Tippens brought us a nice friendly kick in the pants--Ruthy style with "5 Ways to Beat Average." Winners of Missy's latest release, The Guy Next Door, are Tracey Hagwood, The Artist Librarian, Cindy Huff (Jubilee Writer).

 Oh, no, she's back!!! Tuesday we dug out our grammar texts and started cramming, as the  Grammar Queen returned with her post, "More Commonly Confused Word Pairs!"  Cindy Huff is the winner of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

What’s the MOST valuable thing Julie Lessman learned from a writer’s conference? Well, I can tell you this — it’s not just a lesson for writers, but a lesson for life, so we hope you didn't miss Julie’s encore presentation of “Conference CPR.” Wilani Wahl and Patti Jo are the winners of a signed copy of any of Julie’s books, including her upcoming October release, Surprised by Love.

 Friday we welcomed the third author of the "Big Sky Centennial" continuity, Carolyne Aarsen! Carolyn stoped by to tell why she's "Crazy About Continuities" Winner of  three copies of Her Montana Twins are Meghan Carver, Jennifer and Lyndee.  And  winner of Her Montana Twins AND three books from the "Hearts of Hartley Creek" series is Cindy Regnier.

 Next Week in Seekerville

Monday:Love Inspired Historical author Janet Dean will be challenging writers to torture their characters in her post "Raising the Stakes." She will offer examples on how to create anxiety in our characters, even in what appears on the surface as routine events. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Tuesday: Triple Header! Helen Gray returns with the launch of the third book in her Ozark series. Join her today with her post, "Writing in Harmony," and a chance to win Ozark Wedding.

Wednesday:Award winning author Debby Giusti blogs today,and will share information about the Writers' Police Academy she attended last weekend. The event sold out in 12 hours and is a coveted conference for suspense and mystery writers. Learn about law enforcement and crime scene investigation as well as bizarre crimes and other inside information provided at the four-day event. Debby will be giving away a copy of her upcoming Love Inspired Suspense anthology Holiday Defenders, featuring her novella, "Mission: Christmas Rescue."

Thursday: Seekerville is delighted to welcome two-time Golden Heart finalist and Indie author, Piper G. Huguley today, with her post, "Why You Should Submit to the RWA Golden Heart® This Year." Stop by and chat and you could win a very nice $10 Amazon Gift Card.

Friday:Today we will be joined by C. Hope Clark, author of both fiction and non-fiction and owner of the successful blog Funds for Writers. Funds for Writers has been named one of Writer's Digests 101 best websites for writers from 2001-2014. Setting is as important as the protagonist in C. Hope Clark's mysteries, and in her new release, Murder on Edisto, setting defines not only the place but also the plot and the character's journey. Healing on Edisto Beach discusses the important of selecting setting, and how it helps an author write her best. Hope will be giving away a copy of her September release, Murder on Edisto, book one of The Edisto Island Mysteries.

  Seeker Sightings 

Mary Connealy LIVE WEB CHAT!  You can join the Facebook page for Mary's Web Chat.The chat is on September 23rd at 7 pm Central Time.To find out more find the Author Landing Page & the Webcast Landing Page. Up for grabs are a Kindle HDX, AND the Trouble in Texas Series.

 And on Thursday, September 18th, Mary Connealy will be at Petticoats & Pistols talking more about her new release Tried and True.


Friday, September 19th, Tina Radcliffe is guest blogging with the fillies at Pistols & Petticoats. We're all going to be surprised at what she is blogging about, and in fact Charlie the Cat may be ghost blogging for her.

  Random News & Information

 Healthiest Way to Work Standing vs. Sitting and Everything Between (bufferopen)

 I'd Know That Voice Anywhere (Writer Unboxed)

Author Conference of the Future (JA Konrath)

The Music Industry Has 99 Problems. And They Are…(Digital Music News) Is this a lesson for authors?

This Might Be a Terrible Idea (Let's Get Digital)

Paid Book Reviews and Potential Google Penalties (ALL INDIE WRITERS)

Bethany House promotes four in editorial (Christian Retailing)

It's not too late to sign up for our October Night class.  A self-paced course to help you as you finish your manuscript. Details here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing Continuities, Babies, Westerns and Romance with Carolyne Aarsen

Hey there. Carolyne Aarsen here. 

Sitting at my computer, all alone, trying to work up the energy to go for a walk and then dive into edits. When I had starry-eyed dreams of writing, I didn't realize how much time I would be spending on my own - just me and the voices. There are many times I wished I had a group of people to work with.  People who cared about my characters the same way I did. People who could help me work through the process. I have a writing partner and we do fantastic together, but sometimes you just need another voice.
And then, into my life, came continuities. These are editor driven series written by various authors. The first time around I was overwhelmed by the people I was working with. Smart, savvy and quick. They helped me decipher the ‘bible’ and showed me to create a proper flow from one book to the next. I discovered that working in this group environment was way more fun than I thought it would be.  I had found….my people. And every time, after that, when I got asked to do a continuity, I said yes.
This past year I’ve had the special privilege of working with an amazing group of people. Okay, I know your thinking “Obligatory public thank you speech” wherein you proceed to gloss over any and all troubles that occurred within the group.
But I don’t need to to any glossing over. We had such a great time together. There was an energy and interaction that made the writing more fun. 
It all started with the introduction of the fellow members of the continuity. We introduced ourselves and we were away. Val Whisenand set up the first book and let us know what she was doing as she fleshed out her characters, gave quirks to secondary characters - Rusty Zidek and his mule -  and introduced new ones. She set up the story world, Ruth took over from there and both gave me a foundation to work with. As Jenna, Brenda and Deb all participated we solved problems in the storylines, came up with additions and changes. Details were seen to and inconsistencies were addressed.
There was an energy to the group that I fed off of. Whenever I read what the others wrote, I would get pushed to try just a little harder. To write a bit better.

Every morning one of my favourite moments was when I opened my e-mail and saw all the letters from my fellow continuity writers. I knew they understood the story world I usually spent so much time by myself in. They knew my people and I knew theirs. 
With this group I had people to complain to, people who understood my story and cared about my characters and slowly, as we work together we started sharing more than just story ideas. We shared personal stuff. We shared virtual cups of coffee and tea and chocolate. We became friends.
I truly had a wonderful time working on this continuity and I was sad to see my part in it end. I hope it shows in the story!

Ruthy here: We had so much fun on this project that it should be classified as illegal by federal marshals!!! (Because federal marshals are C-U-T-E but not as cute as cowboys!!!!) Carolyne's right, we not only worked well together, we became friends and that made the whole project special.

Come on inside and leave a comment... no drive-bys!!!... and Carolyne is graciously giving away 3 (THREE!!!) copies of "Her Montana Twins" and one winner will receive a copy of those two precious babies (Her Montana Twins) AND three books from Carolyne's "Hearts of Hartley Creek" series! 

We've got Friday morning food revved up, a full breakfast buffet from Le Peep (Love their food) and fresh coffee with a barista on hand! Come on in... Set a spell... Let's talk writing and great books!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Checklist for Entering Contests

My former boss always said that my attention to detail was what made me good at my job.  And just for the record, I quit my former job a few years ago to write, work in the Christian publishing world, and manage the books on the family farm. It wasn't like I was fired from that day job! Just sayin' :)

So, this slightly OCD trait also comes in handy when preparing manuscripts for mailing, whether to contests, agents, or editors. But if you’re not detail-oriented, not to worry. Here are some tips to help keep you on track.

Keep in mind that some of the tips below do not apply to all contests. This list of tips is to help you get in the habit of doing all the steps every time you enter a contest, so that you can whip out an entry in a matter of hours. If something doesn't apply, you just mark it off your list.

Once you’ve got the content of your manuscript and your synopsis polished to a shine and/or there are only 3 hours until the receipt deadline, then:

1) Review the big picture rules
a. Does your ms fit neatly into one of the categories?
b. Do you know who the finalist judges are?
c. Have you looked at a sample score sheet if available?
d. Is the deadline a “receipt” deadline or “postmarked” deadline? Most, if not all, unpublished contests are online these days, but published contests will involve mailing books. Rules are there for a reason. If the deadline on a mailed entry is receipt, then the contest coordinator is honor-bound to abide by the rules regardless of when it was postmarked. 

2) Review the rules specific to your manuscript and your synopsis
a. Check the margins
b. Check font and font size
c. Check to see if there is a title page. A lot of online contests have moved away from title pages, but it never hurts to check the rules, just in case.
d. Check header. What exactly does the contest require in the header? What does the contest forbid in the header (like your name or pseudonym)?

3) There are few contests that require you to mail in your entry, so you don't have to print out the entry form these days, but if it helps you to keep everything on track, by all means, print it out. And especially if you are mailing in your entry, you might want to print out the mailing address for one last check when you get to the post office. In your excitement, it’s much too easy to get to the post office and seal that sucker up, forgetting all about the return postage and/or your check.

a. Did you include enough books or copies of your manuscript? If books for a published contest, did you sign them?
b. Did you double-TRIPLE-check the mailing address?
c. Pay a bit extra for Delivery Confirmation. You'll be glad you did. (The same goes for those wonderful contracts you're going to be snail-mailing someday!)

Entering unpublished contests have changed a lot over the years as the bulk of them have gone online. On one hand, the process is much, much easier and cheaper, especially since you don't have to print or mail anything. Isn't that a blessing? Contests with 3-5 print copies of a 20-25 page manuscript added a chunk of change to someone's contest budget. Also, for you young whippersnappers, us oldies had to pay for printing, postage to mail our entries, and a SASE envelope with enough postage for the contest to return all our judged entries. I like online much better.

But online contests don't come without problems. Slow internet, incompatible software, corrupted files, and failure to confirm your entry or payment can knock you out of a contest.

A year or so before I sold, I found out about a contest that was low on inspirational entries, so with hours before the deadline, I entered two manuscripts. One went through fine, but for some reason the other one kept converting from 35 pages on my computer to 39 on the coordinator's computer. Same two computers and the same coordinator as the other manuscript, minutes apart. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen and neither of us could fix it. The coordinator bent over backwards to help, but in the end, I had to make a decision. In desperation, I chopped 5 pages off the end, and sent it in with 2 minutes to spare. The manuscript was within the page count at that point and wasn't disqualified. (It finaled and actually won the contest. Go figure...)

Once a contest lost my digital entry. Just literally lost it. I can't remember if they gave me a refund or if they had someone read for me. In the course of writing this post, I found another one that I'm still not sure I ever got the results on. Let it go! Let it go! It never bothered me anyway....

Always, always, always make sure you use an email address that you check regularly and especially check your email after the fact if you end up entering a contest with mere hours to spare. Contest coordinators are amazing at bending over backwards to let people fix issues, but in fairness to other entrants, once the deadline has passed, there's nothing they can do. Stay on top of your entry and don't be disqualified for something that could be prevented just by being aware of your email trail.

Generally when you enter a contest, you will receive at least two emails. Possibly more.

1) Payment confirmation. Most of the time, this email will come from PayPal as that's the go-to for most online payments these days. PayPal allows non-users to pay with a debit or credit card, but the email will still come from PayPal.

2) Entry confirmation receipt. This receipt will be from group/chapter hosting the contest OR the contest coordinator's private email, depending on the software the contest is using. It confirms that the contest coordinator received your entry. Again, generally speaking, #1 and #2 go hand in hand and are automated responses when you complete your entry. This email will usually let you know if you need to look for additional emails.
3) Additional emails might land in your inbox once contest coordinators have laid eyes on your manuscript pages and made sure they meet the guidelines.

Then you sit back and wait for the results...or...

better yet, write another book!!!

By checking your email, you ensure that you've completed the process, sent in your manuscript and received payment. The best laid plans can go awry even after you do everything perfectly, hit submit, but then go off to celebrate your achievement... only to find out that there was a glitch with your PayPal account. 99% of the time, you will receive an email confirmation immediately from PayPal. If you have time to wait 24 hours, do so. If the deadline is looming, it wouldn't hurt to check on the status of your entry.

It never hurts to check and double check everything. You’ll feel better, your package will be neat and tidy, and the coordinator will be forever grateful.

So, any contest war wounds? Lost submissions? You sent in your fee, but forgot to send in the manuscript/books? You sent in everything except your fee? You entered your ms in the least likely category that it could ever possibly final in? 'fess up! :) 

Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. 

The Evergreen Bride (Barbour Publishing) Available October 20th as ebook only and in The White Christmas Brides Collection, exclusively at Walmart. Cover coming soon!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Hi, Julie here, and I'm sorry, but whenever the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference rolls around, I can't help but think about the very first time I ever attended a conference, and trust me — it wasn't pretty. So if you're going to ACFW later this month, loaded for bear with hopes, dreams, one-sheets, pitches, and confidence galore  then maybe you don't need the lesson God taught me in 2003.

On the other hand, if you have blood in your veins and breathe air, maybe you do. Because the truth is we're all painfully human, and the lesson God imparted to me then will most likely speak to you now, whether you're a writer, reader, or starry-eyed hopeful like I was back then, desperate to soak up everything I could from workshops, sessions, and people in the know. Whatever your story, here's mine the year I learned the most important lesson of all.


“Are you okay?” Someone shook me hard. I lay there, unable to speak, eyes welded closed.

“Are you okay” the voice came again, louder this time, more insistent. No answer. I felt the press of fingers to my pulse followed by a quick sweep of my mouth, clearing all obstructions. With a pinch of my nose, someone began to breathe life into me while a gentle hand compressed against my chest, finger on my heart …

Okay, just for the record—I did not choke on a piece of chicken at an American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference nor ever had to be resuscitated in any way.

Uh … that is …  not physically.

But emotionally and spiritually? Oh, yeah,  I was a goner. Cried enough tears for the housekeeping staff to think I was heisting Kleenex. But something amazing happened to me at the very first ACFW conference I ever attended—I received CPR in a very unlikely manner, and I gotta tell ya, folks—it saved my life.

So I thought since ACFW is right around the corner,  it might behoove me to repeat a past Seeker blog about this life-saving experience I received when the Holy Spirit administered a heavy dose of truly miraculous CPR—Cry, Pray, Repent.

Oh, how I wish someone had told me what I’m about to tell you before I went to my very first writers’ conference in Houston, Texas in 2003. It was the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, only back then, it was ACRW, American Christian Romance Writers. I went by myself without knowing a soul, which is a hard thing to do, as so many of you are aware. Up until that point, I had done everything I could to put me on the path to publication—took fiction-writing courses at the community college, attended small writing seminars and local RWA chapter meetings, queried publishers until I was blue in the face, and entered contests until I was in hock over binder clips.

I knew in my gut that the time had come for me to venture far from home and interface with other writers of my ilk. I mean how difficult could this be? Although by nature I am a recluse of sorts, I like to joke that I have the misfortune of having an outgoing personality, so the word “shy” isn’t part of my vocabulary. So I smiled and mixed and mingled until my teeth ached and made a lot of acquaintances, but no real “friend” to connect with. Everything felt surface to me, and it seemed like everybody I spoke to was either published, had an agent, a contract in the works, or fulls requested.

That night I cried on the phone to my husband, and I’m talking major sobbing! I told him I felt lonely and jealous and like publication would never happen for me. He comforted me and prayed with me and told me everything would all right.

But it wasn’t. The next day I would attend a seminar, then go up to my room and cry, clean my face and go back down to smile some more. That went on all day as the loneliness and jealousy seemed to grow, and that night my poor husband got another earful of long-distance weeping. God love him, he prayed for me and encouraged me and told me to put my hope in God. Yeah, right, I thought to myself, and how is that going to change these waterworks? That night I cried myself to sleep, rivers of tears seeping into my pillow.

What happened next is nothing short of supernatural. The next morning, even before my eyelids peeled open, my brain was pelted with hope Scriptures in rapid-fire succession:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:12-14

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. -
Romans 5:4-6

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. -
Psalm 25:2-4

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. -
Psalm 62:4-6

But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. -
Psalm 71:13-15

Now, first of all, I wasn’t aware that I even knew that many hope Scriptures. In fact, they shocked me so much, my eyes popped open and I lunged for the Gideon Bible inside the nightstand drawer. I flipped it open to the first few pages where they list Scriptures by subject and scanned the list for “Hope.” It wasn’t there, so I settled on the scripture for “Fear.” There were only two, mind you, and I quickly paged to the first one: Hebrews 13:5.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Come again? What does fear or lack of hope have to do with covetousness and ingratitude? Give me a break—the Gideons have TONS of Scriptures from which to choose and they choose this????

I blinked several times … and then the Holy Spirit nailed my butt to the wall.

I had spent the last two days of this expensive conference doing NOTHING but coveting other writers’ success and complaining that it would never happen for me. My husband had forked over $800 bucks (airfare, hotel room, conference fee) so I could fly to Houston and instead of being grateful, I was utterly lonely and jealous. Talk about a one-two punch!

I immediately fell to my knees and sobbed again, only this time my tears were tears of repentance. I told God I was sorry for being such a brat, and I prayed for every woman that I had been jealous of, that God would bless the socks off of them. I asked Him to change my attitude and give me hope and help me not to be lonely the rest of the conference.

For the umpteenth time that weekend, I cleaned up my face, put on my name badge, and squared my shoulders to go downstairs. The elevator opened, and I flashed a smile to the couple in the back, then turned to face the door. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "You’re from St. Louis?" The woman's eyes were glowing with warmth, gaze flitting from my name badge to my face with a joyous smile. "I live in Illinois, just twenty minutes across the river.”

I will NEVER forget the look of kindness and warmth in that woman’s face—like an angel sent from God. She was an ACFW author named Diana Brandmeyer (now a Tyndale, Barbour, and Concordia Publishing hybrid author), so be sure to check out her website and her wonderful books at Diana Brandmeyer. Anyway, she invited me to sit with her and her husband for breakfast, and as God is my witness, conference food never tasted so good!

Later that day, there was a contest for book giveaways. You simply had to write about someone who had positively affected you at the conference so far, and if the ACFW Master of Ceremonies (Brandilyn, of course!) picked your comment out of the hat, the person you wrote about won a free book. My eyes smarted with tears as I dashed a quick note about the kind woman in the elevator “whose eyes radiated love and warmth"—Diana Brandmeyer.

If you can believe it, out of over 350 women and like 2 men, Brandilyn picked a handful of notes to read, and one of them was the note I had written about Diana, which referred to her “eyes full of love and warmth.” My heart jumped with excitement … until Brandilyn read my name instead of Diana’s.

My heart froze when I realized I'd written my name down by mistake, thus winning a book for myself rather than for Diana.

Brandilyn called me up, and I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth, so I intended to return the book after the function was over. Imagine my shock when a few moments later, Brandilyn read another note about a woman “whose eyes radiated love and warmth,” only this one was the note I had written about Diana!

Yes, you guessed it—two women who broke the yoke of loneliness off of each other in an elevator wrote almost exactly the same thing about the other. Go ahead, tell me that’s not a God thing!

That conference turned out to be a pivotal time in my career, not only because of the amazing friendship/critique partnership that Diana and I still share today, or even the very encouraging paid critique I received from author Tracey Bateman later on that day. Nope, the main reason was the invaluable lesson that the Holy Spirit taught me from the pages of a hotel-room Gideon Bible.

Yes, contests, writing classes, and writers conferences are all important tools in traveling the road to publication. But the most important tools needed are spiritual—to keep your heart clean of jealousy by praying for those who incite it, to praise and thank God wherever you are in your journey instead of complaining, and to renew your mind with hope Scriptures instead of despair. Because the bottom line is, “hope never fails” … and neither does He.

I would love to hear your own conference CPR stories—I know you all have them (uh, especially Mary Connealy and Melanie Dickerson!), and there are a lot of first-time conference attendees that could use the encouragement. For everyone that leaves a comment, I’ll toss your name in the hat for a chance to win a signed copy of your choice of any of my books, including my upcoming release, Surprised by Love.

So goood luck … and take a deep breath!


Award-winning author of “The Daughters of Boston” and “Winds of Change” series, Julie Lessman was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards. She has also garnered 17 RWA and other awards and made Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction. Her book A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at www.julielessman.com.