Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Researching via Virtual Reality

How do you research the setting for a book?

Ideally, we write about someplace we know, someplace we've lived or visited, right?

But how do you research when you can't go there (but really need to use the setting)?
Historical writers are used to researching settings we can't visit, but contemporary authors have to research also.

In the olden days, we researched in the library (or if you're like me, you bought every book you could find on the topic!)

Remember encyclopedias? 

Then there was the internet. Even in the early days of online research, you could find tons of photos, connect with residents, Google map your location.

And of course there are YouTube videos.

If you want something more specific, Google Earth lets you zoom in on any spot you want anywhere around the world. Have you tried that lately? It's all kinds of awesome. You can zero in on any spot in the world and feel like you're right there. (Though honestly the zooming makes me a tad dizzy!)

I'm researching Idaho for a current book. Google Earth made me feel like I was walking through the forest.

I could even feel what it was like to set up camp.

Recently, I discovered what may be the "next best thing to being there" - Virtual Reality.

But let's take a step back in time first.

Do any of you remember these?

I had a Viewmaster when I was a kid. Who knew I was on the cutting edge of technology?

No kidding. Apparently, the same technology in these 3D static images, applied to videos, is the concept behind today's Virtual Reality headsets.

I'm by no means a pro at this, but I was curious. Several years ago my husband got a Google Cardboard for free from somewhere. At the time, neither of us had an iPhone, so the device sat on the bookshelf gathering dust (literally!).

Then earlier this year, my principal got a donation of a box of Google Cardboards. I decided to use them with my class to help them understand what it was like to climb Mt. Everest (to go along with a book we were reading).

It's pretty easy to set up. You download a free app, then insert your phone into the cardboard viewer and immerse yourself.

Unfortunately, I discovered that all the really good Everest simulations were for far more expensive VR systems, but along the way I learned something new.

YouTube is VR central. Many of the videos available on YouTube have a little cardboard viewer image in the lower right corner.

This indicates that the video is compatible with Google Cardboard and can give you an immersive experience.

So, back to Idaho - I can watch this video on YouTube and have a pretty wild ride down the river, but if I open that same video on my phone and put it in my Cardboard, I am right in the boat with them, feeling every swell, taking every curve. It was almost enough to make me seasick!

Now, let's say I wanted to set a book in Scotland. I could go to YouTube and watch this lovely video.

Or, I could go to the same link on my iPhone and insert the phone in my Google Cardboard, and I would have 360° access to the same video. I can look down at the ground, up at the sky, see who is behind me and twirl in a circle if I want to.

On my phone, the screen looks like this. Look familiar? (See the Viewmaster above.)

But when I open it in Google Cardboard, I am right in the scene, walking under that bridge.

One caveat - at least with the 1st generation, cheap viewer that I have, the quality isn't always crystal clear, but I suspect that will improve with time. In the meantime, I'm just happy to be able to experience areas that I want to write about even if I can't afford to travel.

Not bad for under $10!

Of course someday, maybe I'll spring for one of the fancy sets like Oculus Rift with all the supportive, advanced videos, but for now, I'm happy to stroll along Loch Lomond and hum a tune (where no one else has to listen).

Have you tried VR for research or just for fun?

What's your favorite way to research?

I'm giving away one Google Cardboard, so let me know in the comments if you're interested!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Beating the January Doldrums

It’s the third week of January. Do you know where your WIP is?

If you’re like me, you’re looking at the goals you made two weeks ago and cringing. What happened to the enthusiasm? What happened to the resolve?

Nothing is quite so defeating as feeling like a failure. Again.

But I'm here to tell you you're not a failure.

Just stop for a minute. Take a deep breath.

What many of us feel during the first couple weeks of January is burnout. We’ve just finished the busiest and most emotionally charged two months of the year (November and December) with all the busyness, projects, money spent, decorations being dragged out of storage (and shoved back in,) too much sugar, not enough sleep, runny noses, and long dark nights.

I think you have the picture.

And then the New Year comes and we’re so READY to get back to “normal” that we makes all kinds of plans, draw up schedules, and jump into an entirely different – but just as busy and emotionally charged – season as the previous two months have been.

What suffers? (Besides our immune system?)

Our creativity.

Writing – the most cherished expression of our creativity – has become work. Hard work. The joy is gone. Slogging words onto the page is like running up a sand dune. We go to the well, but it’s dry. Maybe a few drops of water – enough to meet today’s word count goal – but it isn’t refreshing. “Who is even going to read this stuff?” asks our pesky inner voice.

The solution? Let’s refill that well.

After all, you still have the enthusiasm for your writing, right? And you know how to pull up your big girl panties and move on after a hiccup in your plans (BTW, thanks to Ruthy for that persistent image!) We just need to prime the pump.

Sometimes the best way to fill that well of creativity is to step away from the computer. Sometimes we just need to let our minds play.

Here is my strategy:

1) Reading is a big love of mine – I’m sure it’s a huge part of your life, too. For my reading goal this year, I’m revisiting my old friends: my collection of favorite childhood books. I read ten Happy Hollister books in a row before picking up my copy of Little Women. Coming up is the Swallowdale series by Arthur Ramsome, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. And many, many more. Revisiting my best friends from childhood moistens the parched ground at the bottom of the well.

2) Outside. Breathing fresh air and getting some exercise as I walk Jack wakes up my brain. Every morning. Even when it’s below zero. There was a time when I would listen to a podcast or an audio book while I walked the dog, but I’ve learned to listen to the quiet and watch the world around me. Story ideas play through my mind as I let nature’s quiet take over. Drip by drip, the well fills.

3) I'm addicted to cross stitch. In fact, I love all needle arts. Last week I got out my smocking pleater (that has been in storage since hubby bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago) and re-learned how to smock by watching YouTube videos. The spark kindled by my daily hour I spend cross stitching was flamed into life when I set myself down to learn this skill I hadn’t practiced for thirty years. The well bubbles up to overflowing.

I know your next question: "When do I do all this stuff? My schedule is so busy that I barely have time to write, and you want me to do more?"

Just like we need to make time for writing, we can make time to refill our creative wells. Your means of filling that well will be different than mine, but I’m sure there’s something that you would love to spend a few minutes a day doing – or an hour once a week.

And just like we need to sacrifice something in our lives for writing, we need to sacrifice something to make time for filling our wells.

But the best part is that often that thing that refills our well is something social. Taking a painting class with a friend, or a cooking class with your sister, or a morning walk with your spouse. Connecting with others may be the most effective way to keep that well from running dry in the first place.

So, what do you think? What ways have you found to keep your creative well flowing?

By the way, decluttering is also one of the best ways to refill my well - and I'd like to declutter some books! One commenter will win one of my print books of their choice. Check out the list on my website (click here to find the book list) and let me know which book you'd like in the comments!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Weekend Edition


If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes.  Note our new email address and please send your emails to

This just in! Somehow Ruthy forgot to post the New Year's Eve winners, but she is rectifying that mistake right now.... So here, in no particular order (Ruthy's been wanting to use that phrase because it is so cool...) are the winners!


1. Winner of Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling" is Caryl Kane!

2. Winner of Ruthy's newest release and FIRST GOLDEN GROVE book  "A Hopeful Harvest" is Susanne!

3. Winner of Mindy Obenhaus's newest release "Her Rocky Mountain Hope" is Tracey Hagwood!

4. Winner of a brand new edition of Janette Oke's famous "Love Comes Softly" is Pat W.!

5. And winner of Anne Bogel's "Reading People", a thought-provoking way of developing characters and characterization is Pat Jeanne Davis!

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Monday: Robin W. Pearson brought us a beautiful post on 
How Healing Happens...Letting Others Into the Hurt.

USA TODAY Bestselling author Debby Giusti blogged about a favorite item in her toolbox--her whiteboard. Those who left a comment were entered in a drawing for Debby's latest release, HER FORGOTTEN AMISH PAST. The winner is KATHRYN BARKER! Congrats, Kathryn!

Friday: Winnie Griggs encouraged us to think about a special One Word and look around with open eyes at the distractions that might keep you from attaining your goals. The winner of any book of Winnie's backlist is Lori Smansky. Congrats, Lori!

Monday:  Jan Drexler is here to help you beat those January doldrums. How can we refill the well of creativity? Jan also wants to declutter her stash of author copies, so be sure to tell her which title you'd like to win in your comment!

Wednesday:  Cate Nolan is taking you for a ride into the world of virtual reality research. Grab your iPhone or Android and hop aboard.
Friday: Pam Hillman is our hostess today.

Available in print this week!

Learning to trust can be the greatest adventure.

She’s always played it safe…Can he reach her guarded heart?

Ready to open his camp for young cancer patients, Daniel Stephens must impress foundation overseer Blythe McDonald to ensure she approves funding for next year. But the cautious former cancer patient was once let down by a similar program, and she’ll leave no stone unturned in her evaluation. Can he convince her his camp is worthy of the money…and that he’s worthy of her love?


Dangerous Amish Inheritance
By Debby Giusti
“Move off the mountain. No one wants you here.”

Can this Amish widow survive her dangerous stalker?

Someone wants Ruthie Eicher off Amish Mountain…enough to terrorize the widow and her boys. Now Ruthie must rely on her former sweetheart, Noah Schlabach—the secret father of her eldest son—as they figure out why. But Noah has turned his back on love and the Amish way of life. Can he shield Ruthie…without breaking her heart again?

Pre-order HERE!

The Crucial First Page of Your Novel by CS Lakin at Live Write Thrive

3 Factors to Consider Before Hiring an Editor by Michelle Griep at Learn How To Write A Novel

5 Common Story Openings To Avoid - If You Can Help It by Jane Friedman

Time Management For Writers by DiAnn Mills at Learn How To Write A Novel

How To Accomplish More in 2020 by Janice Hardy at Fiction University

3 Life Changing Rules for Finding More Writing Inspiration This Year by KM Weiland at Helping Writers Become Authors

Friday, January 17, 2020

My Word For 2020

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.  Several days ago, Mary Connealy shared her word for 2020, namely FOCUS. Reading her post inspired me to search for my own word to guide me in the coming year.

I thought about it long and hard.

Focus seemed like a good word to, well, focus on, but that felt like cheating, sort of like copying off of someone else’s paper. 

The next word I thought of was PRODUCTIVITY. After all I just signed a three book contract with Grand Central for books to be delivered 7 months apart, an ambitious schedule for me. But that still didn’t feel right.

Then I looked around for inspiration, I eyed my very cluttered house with its crammed to overflowing junk drawers, closets and guest rooms, and it hit me – SIMPLIFY.
This word works on a number of different levels for me.

I need to simplify my living environment by cleaning out a lot of the clutter that I’m holding on just because I “might” need/want it someday. There are clothes in the back of my closet that haven’t seen the light of day since I retired ten years ago, there are also cute shoes I love but will never be able to wear again because of my foot surgeries over the past few years.

I need to simplify my writing environment. Having lots of craft books and reference books lying around, as well as paperwork and easy access to social media has allowed too many distractions in my workspace.

I need to simplify my family life – I’m a compulsive list maker and perfectionist. By focusing on my to-do lists and trying to get everything just right, I sometimes miss out on spontaneous opportunities that present themselves to enjoy time with family and friends.

There you go – my word for 2020, let’s hope I can make it work for me.

So let’s chat. If you haven’t already mentioned your word (or goals or focus) for 2020 on Mary’s post, share it here. Or if you’ve tried the ‘simplify your life’ plan in the past, please share any tips, pointers or lessons learned that you think might help me.

I plan to give at least one person their choice of any book from my backlist.

And just an FYI, at the time this goes live I’ll be in the hospital recovering from foot surgery so I may not be able to respond right away, but I promise to pop in over the weekend if need be to read and respond to everyone’s comments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Whiteboard in my Writing Toolbox

By Debby Giusti

Happy New Year, Seekerville!

My January posts usually focus on motivation and goal setting for the year ahead, but a different topic started pestering me a few weeks ago. Like a character demanding attention in one of my books, the idea wouldn’t let up. Finally, I gave in, which is the reason today’s post features a seemingly insignificant item in my toolbox—a whiteboard.

The Whiteboard

I purchased my whiteboard to use during a workshop I presented at Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight & Magnolias Conference in 2015. During the session, I led the roomful of attendees through an interactive brainstorming session. Working together, we fleshed out a hero and heroine’s GMC and backstory as well as important plot points—the inciting incident, escalating conflict, black moment, climax and resolution. Finally, we discussed how to weave the elements together seamlessly to keep the readers turning the page.  By the end of the hour, we had an overview of a story outlined on my whiteboard that could easily be transferred into a written synopsis format and eventually expanded into book form.

The Dreaded Synopsis

Ask any writer about the most difficult part of the submission process, and I dare say most folks will admit their greatest challenge is creating the dreaded synopsis. The task can seem so daunting that writers sometimes complete their manuscripts before they write their synopses.

For me, the synopsis plays an important role in my story creation. Written prior to the manuscript, it helps me ensure all the elements of my WIP are in place and flow together to create a satisfying read.

The Whiteboard Technique to Build a Story

A few years ago, I was mulling over a new story and stymied as to how the plot would unfold. On a whim, I grabbed the whiteboard I had used at the M&M Conference. Although working alone, I plowed through the brainstorming process just as I had done in the GRW session and jotted down my ideas on the whiteboard. Within a few hours, I had formatted my story.

Whether published or unpublished, we all rely on various tools to facilitate our writing. Using a whiteboard helps me develop my story and home in on the significant aspects of the plot and characters.


I’m a visual learner, which might be the reason the whiteboard triggers my creative process. Changes can be made with a whisk of a dry eraser as I switch names or rearrange escalating danger and attacks against my hero and heroine. The use of different colored dry-markers for my protagonist and love interest provides a distinctive way to ensure each character has his or her own story arc and a satisfying resolution to any internal or external conflict. Noting the various plot points in one contained space allows me to view the entire story at a glance so I can quickly identify holes in my story. 

From Whiteboard to Manuscript

Once the story is outlined, I refer to the whiteboard while I write the synopsis and often keep it close at hand as I pen the story. If a problem develops, I check my whiteboard—my storyboard—to ensure I’m on the right path. Furthermore, I can add or delete items as the plot shifts or deepens. The finished manuscript may vary somewhat from that initial whiteboard overview, but throughout the process, the outline provides a guide to keep me on track.

If you have trouble brainstorming a story or writing a synopsis, try my whiteboard technique. Perhaps, like me, you'll find the whiteboard is a valuable addition to your writing toolbox.

What tools help you create your stories? Can you suggest other uses for a whiteboard that facilitate your writing process? Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for a copy of HER FORGOTTEN AMISH PAST.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti


She can’t remember who she’s running from.

Is she safe with the Amish?

Someone wants Becca Troyer dead, but who or why is a mystery to her. Seeking refuge at the home of Amish farmer Zeke Hochstetler is her only hope to stay one step ahead of the killer. With every clue she finds about her past leading to more confusion, Becca and Zeke must untangle the truth before her pursuer discovers where she’s been hiding.

Order now at Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Healing Happens with Guest Robin W. Pearson

I'm pleased to have Robin Pearson with us today. Be sure to check out her debut novel from Tyndale, A Long Time Comin', which got a starred review from Publishers Weekly! Thanks for being with us today, Robin!

How Healing Happens
Letting Others into the Hurt

By Robin W. Pearson
When Hubby has something to say, he says it. He doesn’t believe in toting around his hurt feelings like a turtle bears its shell, burrowing inside to hold his tongue or hide his thoughts. He doesn’t wound with his words, but the weight of them often pressures me into sharing what I haven’t sifted through and muttering an “I’m sorry” or an “I forgive you” that starts in my head and ends nowhere near my heart.
I do admire his forthrightness, his boldly going where my tongue dares not go. All my peeps can tell when my feelings are really hurt—generally, by the words I don’t say. The heat of my anger, disappointment, and frustration can cause the temperature in my house to plummet nearly twenty-five degrees. More during the wintertime. I’ve reconciled this silence by calling it my “process”—the time I take to self-evaluate and self-edit to whip my mind and my mouth into obedience. At least that’s what I’ve told myself and the people I’ve refused to talk to.
Now, if I follow the world’s line of thinking, I’d point all five fingers to our pasts and blame “learned behavior” for our present choices and actions. While my daddy and mama love without restraint, dispensing hugs and kisses like candy from a parade float, they can turn home into a chilly, silent place when an internal storm brews. They’ve been known to go a week without speaking to each other until Sunday dinner melts the ice between their lips.
And on the other side of the family table sit Hubby’s folks, who love just as hard and deeply as my own parents. My in-laws don’t spew emotions and ooze advice long after their initial outburst, like volcanoes, or reveal only a little of what’s floating underneath, like icebergs. They’re more like your favorite two-liter sodas that have rocked and rolled around the floor of the car. Once uncapped, they’ll likely spray anyone who doesn’t get out of the way. But when all is said and done, it’s just that.
So needless to say, Hubby and I have brought along a bit of life-size baggage on our wonderful marriage adventure, and we’ve had to unpack and stow our emotional “belongings” just so. To let the other in without shutting the other out. To talk a lot more while the other . . . well, talks a little less. To redeem healing from the hurt.
Acknowledging the (Holy) Ghost Writer
We do carry our own family history, complete with its blessings and burdens. It seems I inherited an invisible “gene” for stewing, as well as procrastination, sarcasm, hugs, and a love for all things cheesy. Yet, my heavenly Father designed me with unique thoughts and feelings—and a manner of communicating them. In order to take up my cross daily—and not become the one someone else must bear—this “fearfully and wonderfully made” child had to accept responsibility for my own choices and use my writing powers for good . . . and God (Psalm 139:14).
Editing the Story
Truth: A “cooling-off period” doesn’t give me time to think before I speak. It merely helps me gather more wood to stoke fires yet smoldering. Instead of building up my arsenal of silence and wielding it, I record my prayers, feelings, and memories in journals, type them on my laptop, and jot them down on notepads. Reading the hurt in black and white takes some of the sting out of the pain and helps me see many injuries are either self-inflicted or at least, not life-threatening.
Once I see myself and my role in events and relationships more clearly, I recover more quickly from conflict. I sincerely extend and accept forgiveness. I see that what was doesn’t have to be.

Telling the Tale
What’s a story without an audience? Sometimes my written prayers and pleas are meant for One—for God’s ears and eyes only. At first. He, in turn, enables me to open up to Hubby and the little people, flesh of my flesh, and uncover those hurt places I’d bandaged with a smile.
Then I’m often led to set my sights on the million after the One. In my blog, Mommy, Concentrated, I write about my daily walk as a freelancing homeschooler. I work through the whys, whos, and hows that help me interpret and apply His life lessons. I intermingled lore and life in my debut, A Long Time Comin’, a work of fiction that reveals many truths about faith in God and the impact of long-buried memories. My book and my blog let others into how I’ve been hurt and helped, providing encouragement and comfort as I’ve been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4). 
Telling the tale is how I “let the works I’ve done speak for me” as my church mothers sang. It’s my way of acknowledging the Author of my life’s story and why I’m continually reviewing and editing, for I know that what was doesn’t have to be. How do you invite others to come alongside, whether to wail or to whoop for joy? Use your words, whether they’re written or spoken—or written, then spoken. Let them speak life and healing.

A Long Time Comin'
To hear Beatrice Agnew tell it, she entered the world with her mouth tightly shut. Just because she finds out she’s dying doesn’t mean she can’t keep it that way. If any of her children have questions about their daddy and the choices she made after he abandoned them, they’d best take it up with Jesus. There’s no room in Granny B’s house for regrets or hand-holding. Or so she thinks.

Her granddaughter, Evelyn Lester, shows up on Beatrice’s doorstep anyway, burdened with her own secret baggage. Determined to help her Granny B mend fences with her far-flung brood, Evelyn turns her grandmother’s heart and home inside out. Evelyn’s meddling uncovers a tucked-away box of old letters, forcing the two women to wrestle with their past and present pain as they confront the truth Beatrice has worked a lifetime to hide.

About the Author
Robin W. Pearson’s writing sprouts from her Southern roots and her love of her husband and seven children. Both lend authenticity to her debut novel, A Long Time Comin’. After graduating from Wake Forest University, she has corrected grammar up and down the East Coast in her career as an editor and writer that started with Houghton Mifflin Company twenty-five years ago. Since then she has freelanced with magazines, parenting journals, textbooks, and homeschooling resources. Follow her on her blog, Mommy, Concentrated, where she shares her adventures in faith, family, and freelancing.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Weekend Edition


If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes.  Note our new email address and please send your emails to

Monday: Mary brought to mind what we need to begin the year with...VISION and ONE WORDS. Have you chosen yours yet?

Wednesday: Who better to talk about the Rules of Positivity than our own Ruthy?! Winner of a copy of Ruthy's latest release "A Hopeful Harvest" is Laurie Wood!

Friday: Carrie shared tips for authors on achieving a successful blog or social media tour. The winner of a free 1-day blog blitz with JustRead Tours is Regina Merrick!

Monday:   Guest blogger Robin W. Pearson is bringing us an amazing post on How Healing Happens...Letting Others Into the Hurt. She's also sharing with us a little about her debut novel from Tyndale, A Long Time Comin'. Don't miss it!

Wednesday:  USA TODAY Bestselling author Debby Giusti will be talking about a favorite item in her toolbox. Stop by and leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for Debby's latest release, HER FORGOTTEN AMISH PAST.
Friday: Winnie will be our hostess today.

The Accidental Guardian -- Book #1 in the High Sierra Sweethearts Series is ON SALE for $1.99 in all ebook formats. 
Wherever you get your ebooks.

COMING MARCH 2, 2020 and available for Kindle Preorder now! 
We're so excited to bring you this third "Wishing Bridge" story, set in the small town with the big heart!

Social Media for Authors: How to Avoid Wasting Writing Time by Rachel McCollin at ALLi.

How Facing Your Space Could Improve Your Writing by Donald M. Rattner at Live Write Thrive

Three Things To Remember When Revising From A Critique by Janice Hardy at Fiction University

That Dreaded Word - Exercise by Patricia Bradley at Learn How To Write A Novel

Social Media Cheat Sheet 2020: Must Have Image Sizes by Louise Myers at  Louise Myers Visual Social Media

Sell Your Book Through All Retailers...Not Just Bookstores by Brian Jud at Bookbaby

Art Is Therapeutic, Not Therapy by Julia Cameron at The Artist's Way