A to Z Blogging Challenge

A to Z Letter AWe here at Routines for Writers are big fans of writing challenges, specifically, NaNoWriMo. The November writing frenzy is firmly implanted in my writing routine arsenal. Even if I don’t write a novel that month, I at least increase my output for whatever I’ve got going at the time.

So imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a month-long blogging challenge in April! The A to Z Blogging Challenge has you blogging every day (except Sunday) using the letters of the alphabet as your prompt. Every. Day.

As I type this, I’m getting ready to blog the letter M on my personal website. It will be a wonderful Mushroom Soup recipe that my mom gave me last winter. Yummy. Check my blog on Tuesday: http://shonnaslayton.com/

Here is what I have experienced so far, and why I think writers should participate in a challenge such as this:

1. You learn to blog faster. You can’t spend forever thinking about what to blog, writing the blog, editing the blog, etc. If you are going to survive, you’ve got to pick up the pace. Don’t worry about being less than perfect.

2. You learn to write shorter blogs. People are busy and they are zipping through the blogs. Be short and sweet. Write the occasional masterpiece to stand as an evergreen article, but not every time you blog.

3. You learn to write about topics other than writing. You become very aware that the people visiting your site for the month will not all be writers. They aren’t going to want to read about plot structure. They are readers .You have to entertain/inform them a different way. Isn’t this the problem so many of us writers have? What else are we going to talk about if we aren’t writing about writing?!? Take the blogging challenge and find out.

4. You learn to visit other blogs–not just writing blogs. This has been one of my favorite lessons. As part of the challenge, you start at your name in the sign-up list and you visit the five blogs below yours. I’ve learned such interesting things this month, going outside my normal blog-type.

Also, this sequential method gives you a reason to visit a random stranger’s blog. You are all in this challenge together and it brings an instant sense of camaraderie. You’re not just trying to sell your book or build your platform.

5. You learn to comment. When you visit the five blogs a day, you are supposed to comment. And then if you have time, you can go back and visit the blogs of the people who left comments on your blog. I’ve “met” some really great people and found some new blogs and Pinterest boards to follow.

Bonuses: I’ve picked up a couple Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers. I feel more connected to the blogging community. My blog is not as lame as it used to be 😉

How about you? Are you in on the A to Z challenge? Are there other challenges like this out there?

Who Are Your Influences?

John has a knack for finding cool photos of other people’s amazing libraries, reading rooms, and funny things made out of books. This staircase is something he promises to paint for me when we have a home of our own. I love it! When I look at it, I see a pyramid of influences.

When we paint our own stairs someday, I think I’ll paint the Bible on the bottom step. It’s my first and most important foundation for all things including my writing life. There is excellent advice on the best way to use your time, how to manage your money, how to grow as a person, and how to build healthy relationships with other people. It also gives me a lot of story ideas! The backstory of my superhero novels comes from Genesis chapter 4.

I haven’t decided who I’m going to paint on the other steps, but some of the other influencers in my writing life include Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Christopher Vogler, Dean Koontz, and C.S. Lewis. To name a very few!

When it comes to who I really listen to, though, that’s a somewhat different list. Of course, Shonna and Stephanie here at Routines for Writers are major influencers in my writing life. So are my writing friends Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Damp Wright, Marcy Weydemuller, the Reunioners group, and The Coven, my writers group in Australia. My Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America are also high on my list. And I listen to almost all of the workshops of the annual RWA conference when I’m running, so those writer-speakers are some of my big influencers as well.

I’m beginning to find that some of my readers – old friends and new – are becoming influencers for me, too. I’ve gotten some of the nicest compliments from friends and strangers (i.e., friends I don’t know well yet) who have read Little Miss Lovesick or my short story that just came out, “Hero in Disguise” in the anthology Romancing the Pages. The things they’ve told me about what made them laugh and what they found to be romantic gave me good ideas for how to keep giving them more of the same. (And, of course, it felt great to get such positive feedback!)

I just went to the Dave Ramsey one-day EntreLeadership course on Friday. Dave has become another one of my influencers on the business side of writing. (Well, personal finances, too.) He and the other speakers at the event reminded me that if you “just” have a business and it’s not doing well, there’s nothing wrong with quitting, shutting it down, trying something else. But if you feel strongly that there is a reason for what you’re doing – I want to help young women understand they have more power over their happiness than they realize – then you should never, never, never give up!

When it comes to encouragement, I want to be one of your influencers reminding you of that same thing: if this is more than a hobby, if it’s more important than pursuing a dream for yourself, if your writing is about changing the world for the better – never, never, never give up! And while you’re at it, try to be a positive influence on those around you. Slowly, but surely, you will make the world a better place! And in that you’ll find that you have more power over your own happiness than you may realize.

Interview: Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright, Authors of “Dog Daze”

I am so excited! My friends Lauraine and Kathleen have written a chapter book for ages 8-12 – Dog Daze, the first book in The S.A.V.E. Squad series – and it releases today from Barbour Books! And it’s Kathleen’s first book! Yay! I asked the ladies if they would stop by and join us for an interview. Please welcome Lauraine and Kathleen!

Kitty: How did the two of you meet and come to the idea of co-authoring a book?

Kathleen: I still don’t know how it started. I got a flyer for a writing conference I don’t remember asking to get.

Lauraine: We met when I was the teacher at a writer’s workshop in Grand Junction, CO, a bunch of years ago. We stayed in touch and became good friends, thank you Lord.

Kathleen: At the conference, she asked us to raise our hands if we were writers. I didn’t, because I was seriously discouraged about writing fiction for publication. I didn’t want to lie. She noticed that. Then, I said to Lauraine that it would be cool if I could come to her house and have her teach fiction tips. So she began a fiction intensive week at her house. I eventually ended up teaching at it.

Lauraine: We critiqued the projects we were working on separately and several years ago, came up the idea of this series. Now we go camping together, trailer/RV style and what do we talk about—-a lot? Why faith and writing, our two favorite topics. And our dogs. My rescue basset Sir Winston–

Kathleen: —And our rescue border collie, Cash the Wonder Dog.  The two couldn’t be more different.

Lauraine: We figure God has a plan for these two couples and this summer, I will have a bike to ride with the others too. Look out world.

Kathleen: I can’t wait. I found her a great bike for $27.50 that retailed for $399 and still looks new.

Lauraine: And yes, Cash the wonder dog, and Sir Winston C ob de mountains, go along–but not on the bikes. We hope that eventually they’ll become as good a friends as we are.

Kathleen: I am not optimistic.

Kitty: Good luck with that. Sounds like you’ll need it! So how are your work habits alike and different from each other?

Lauraine: We both love brainstorming, looking for the unusual and finding the humor in life’s situations. However, Kathleen is a techie whiz and I’m not. But she helps me along, dragging me into today’s world of technical wonders. I brainstorm on paper with a pen or pencil; she adores the cool programs that are out there to assist writers.

Kathleen: Yep. I’m always looking for a way to eliminate the paper issue since I don’t work at a desk. My “office” is wherever I’m sitting at the moment. I use Scrivener in a very basic way to get the scenes going for a story. I wish it was available on the iPad. I have also fallen in love with Evernote for my Android phone, my Mac, and my iPad. I love Infinotes for my iPad for brainstorming. I like moving stuff around.

Lauraine: We both trust that God will give us supremo ideas, and then use our work in ways we can’t even dream of. That makes for exciting discoveries and conversations.

Kathleen: I can tell you that there are things in Dog Daze that were a direct present from God, that’s for sure. They were dancing around and shouting moments when I saw how they enriched the story.

Kitty: Oo, I love stuff like that. How did you work the collaboration?

Lauraine: We brainstorm the ideas, both do research. My favorite is go to the place and talk with the people who are doing or have done what I need to know.

Kathleen: I’m lucky that I have been teaching long enough that there are almost always kids of some age that know about what I’m writing about. Like how whiskers work for cats. For the third book, Second-Hand Horses, I have a former student who is shooting pictures for me at her aunt’s ranch (’cause I need to see a barn and covered corral) and sending me YouTube videos on horses doing the very thing I need to know about. She’s loving it and so am I. I’ve gotten to see up close and personal the great work that rescue organizations are doing in my local area as well.

Lauraine: We go back and forth in the idea stage and critique the outline or synopsis. Then Kathleen writes the story with me commenting. We go back and forth with suggestions. We meet and talk more through; we both love to work in coffee shops with lattes at hand.

Kathleen: That’s my favorite way to work. Us with our husbands and dogs and RVs in the same place and finding the local coffee shop–with high speed wifi. And then a good hot tub later.

Lauraine: And then the final edits. Now we are learning more about marketing and publicity.  There’s a lot that goes into the making of a book that readers will love.

Kitty: I’ve brainstormed with you two in a hot tub. The ideas come faster than we can write them down! I understand you two used Skype to line edit the book together. How did that go?

Lauraine: We did use Skype and it was a great experience, me from my office in Tehachapi, CA–

Kathleen: —And me from my travel trailer on a lake in Utah where my husband and border collie were spending the month working and living. Lauraine kept talking about how amazing it was we could do this.

Lauraine: We went over Dog Daze line by line, word by word. What a marvelous way to rewrite and edit. Our editor was rather pleased too. So few changes needed.

Kathleen: As in about eight! And most of them were about timeline bumps that show up after chopping and editing.

Kitty: That’s amazing! Was this a first for you to publish a children’s book?

Kathleen: Yup! Well, make that, publish any book. I’m a complete newbie and shrieking my head off regularly now that I’ve touched Dog Daze, which is Book #1 of the four-book series The S.A.V.E. Squad. Miss Eight Million Published next to me here can tell you about her kid series.

Lauraine: Not a first for me. My lifetime dream was to write horse books for girls. So my first book was titled Tragedy on the Toutle about a family that lived in the valley when Mt. St. Helens erupted. The title now on the reissue is What About Cimmaron? By the way, a first clue for beginning writers is to write what you know. Cimmaron lived in our back yard and belonged to my daughter Marie and I. He was quite a character.

Since then I have written twenty children’s books with the horse theme, two series of ten books each. The Golden Filly series and the High Hurdles series. Both series are now available in four volumes of five books each.

Kitty: How is writing for children different from writing for adults?

Lauraine: The main difference is the age of the characters. The pacing is usually faster too with less introspection, characters thinking and feeling things. But readers of all ages have enjoyed these series because they are books about families.

Kathleen: I think the dialogue is different as well as word choice. Kids see things differently and can be very profound in a very short comment. The four girls and CP, the neighbor boy, all are smart kids who don’t miss much. As an example of a kid and their depth of feeling but short of speech, here’s a quote from the book that a reviewer used as a favorite: “”A forever home,” she said, rolling the words around in her mouth. They sounded safe.”

Kitty: There are four books, right? How did you get the idea for the series?

Lauraine: Kathleen and I have both had numerous rescued pets and I wrote an adult book called Breaking Free about rescued Bassets and Thoroughbred race horses who could no longer work the track. Disposable animals?  How sad, so we try to do something about that. But one day we were talking and you could have seen the lighbulbs going off over our heads. What if?

Kathleen: Two of my favorite words–what if. As a fiction coach, I gained the nickname The Whatif Girl.

Lauraine: Now those are two magic words for writers. What if we were to do a series for girls about rescuing animals? I think we’d just read one of those marvelous stories of all the great things that kids manage to accomplish. The ideas started popping and haven’t stopped.

Kitty: That’s so cool. And the girls are so different. How did you come up with such differences?

Kathleen: I wanted to make the girls very different and tie each girl’s story arc with the animal’s need. I was very intentional with where they each went to school and what their personalities were like. One 5-star review mentioned the girls were so diverse, any girl could find herself relating to one of them. That’s what I was going for!

Lauraine: That is always a goal for story tellers, make your characters different so they react to things differently, so the reader knows which character they are reading about at that moment. So we talked about general differences and then Kathleen hit on the different education programs for our girls. We thought of three, but then four girls and a neighbor boy  just kind of waved their hands and screamed “pick me, pick me.” So we did.

Kathleen: How the name of the squad came about was very cool. Makes me want to spin thinking about it! I can’t tell you anymore than that, ’cause you have to read the book, but it’s neat.

Lauraine: It really put some major pieces in the wild puzzle called, figure out the story. Just think how boring this world would be if everyone were exactly alike?

Kitty: So true. Which girl do you think you’re most like?

Lauraine: Probably Sunny since she is such a great example of a sanguine personality. And not finishing things? Hey, I’ve spent most of my life as the queen of starting great and then having another to-be-finished project somewhere. Sunny spins when she is excited and I rub my knuckles together and look about to fly. Just ask some of my cousins.  See me doing the eye roll thing. After all these years, that’s what they remember about me most? Not good.

Kathleen: Yayness! (one of Sunny’s words). She is the fave so far of everyone who’s read the book. For me, I’d like to be Sunny and have such a great view of life and fun. Some days I’m Sunny, only I wave my arms instead of spin. Other days, I’ve got my hands flying to my hips with a real Esther thing going on or I’m making lists like Vee. I’m not much like Aneta, although I have a friend who’s very MUCH like Aneta.

Kitty: This sound so fun! Are there any other children’s books planned from either of you?

Lauraine: I certainly hope so, although maybe a better term is dreamed rather than planned at the moment.

Kathleen: I have a magic realism series for the same age group that is close to getting the proposal finished. The rest are women’s contemporary and cozy mystery book and series ideas in varying stages of finished and pitch-able.

Kitty: What other books are in the works for you?

Lauraine: Since I write both contemporary and historical novels, I have others coming out in both genres. Currently I am finishing up a three-book series titled Wild West Wind, set in South Dakota. Wind Dancer is a black and white paint who excels in performing as part of a trick riding act, with his human Cassie. George the bull buffalo also plays a part, oh and don’t forget, Othello who likes to ride behind Cassie. Wind Dancer doesn’t mind.

Kitty: Wow, what a fascinating and exciting journey! I’m sure our readers will be looking for Dog Daze today, and your other books, too! Thanks so much for joining us!

Lauraine and Kathleen will be stopping in during the day to chat with us, so please leave your questions and comments below. Dog Daze is available today at your local bookstore and at online retailers. You can watch the totally cute book trailer on YouTube. I hope you enjoyed our interview!


Award-winning and best selling author Lauraine Snelling began living her dream to be a writer with her first published book for young adult readers, Tragedy on the Toutle, in 1982. She has since continued writing more horse books for young girls, adding historical and contemporary fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers to her repertoire. All told, she has more than sixty books published. You can follow her on Facebook.

Kathleen Wright teaches writing to homeschoolers and online college freshmen and can’t wait to buy a student’s first novel! Her first series debuts in March with book one Dog Daze in The S.A.V.E Squad series, co-authored with good friend Lauraine Snelling.When Utah-based Kathleen’s not dreaming up adventures for her characters, she’s riding bikes with her husband, playing pickleball, and trying to convince her rescued Border Collie that Mom knows best. Join her on Facebook and Twitter.

So Much to Learn in Self-Publishing

It’s January and it’s Monday. Beginnings make me feel like it’s time to hurry up and get moving. I’m a morning person (when I’ve slept well) and mornings make me feel that way, too. Hurry up! Go running and eat breakfast and hurry to your computer! So much to do! (Or on more embarrassing days – Hurry and get to your computer! What do you mean it’s dinner time? I haven’t even taken a shower, let along exercised or anything else!)

There’s so much to do because there’s so much to learn. I spent all day last Thursday just trying to read through some of the online group posts about writing and publishing and self-publishing, and then clicking the links to the great posts those people had found, which led to more links and reading more posts. Sheesh! How’s a girl to get any writing done?

But there’s a lot more to being a 21st century author than there was to being a 1950s author. Not only do you have to learn a lot, you have to do a lot. I took Kristen Lamb’s class on Becoming a Brand two weeks ago and now I’m trying to do everything I’ve been learning about. I’m following more people on Twitter and Facebook, retweeting and replying, and commenting on blogs. I think I did a week’s worth of social media in one day.

I saw some immediate results (I tripled my Twitter followers and got my own blog up and rolling again), so I downloaded the Kindle samples of both of Kristen’s books, Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer and We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I loved the samples, so I bought the books. I’m reading both at the same time now, and trying to apply something new every day. Wow.

There are a gazillion great blogs out there and I read a lot of them last week! (This week, I swear, is going to be more about writing and balance.) Instead of trying to explain everything I read, I’ll just give you some short descriptions and you can decide what you can use.

Oh, and in case I lose you somewhere amongst all these links, let me remind you that Author Crush Month starts on Wednesday! Yay!! We love Author Crush Month, and we know you do, too! We’ve got some really great guests this month talking about their process, their craft, their journey. Be sure to stop by every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in February.

Also, we will have a special guest joining us on the first Tuesday of every month beginning in March. You’re going to love her! (You might even already know her!)

And tune in tomorrow as we welcome Janice Cantore to talk with us about her new book, Accused. If you remember, Janice has been struggling to sell her books with a small press but last summer signed a 3-book deal with a major publisher! Her new book releases February 1st. Woo-hoo!

And now to my list o’ links:

Elizabeth Spann Craig explains how she uses Google Calendar to stay organized

An online self-publishing conference! I’m waiting by my Inbox for an email with details about registration costs.

The CEO of Smashwords gives us his thoughts on self-publishing in 2011

A Smashwords blog post about the Amazon Select program

I took an awesome online class in November about helping your brain work better, and the teachers wrote this guest post

I’m signed up for another online class next month on how to write cozy mysteries, and here is an article by the teacher (I’m hoping it will help me bring my superhero romantic comedies up a level)

A great craft post from Jody Hedlund on how to make your book play out like a movie

Another self-published author, PJ Sharon, shares her 2011 numbers

From Kristen Lamb’s blog, What’s the Problem with FREE?

Sharpen Your Blogging Habits, a 4-part series from Kristin Nador

Which could lead you to this brilliant post on creating better tag lines for your blog  (I just changed my tag line for my own blog. What do you think? Better? Not quite right yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!)

From Bob Mayer, a post that explains why I’ve never dreamed of being on a bestselling list, I dream of selling books for the rest of my life 

From Writer Beware, The Fine Print of iBooks Author, free software from Apple to create ebooks that can only be sold in the iTunes store

And the blog author’s reply to common misconceptions about what he wrote

Books I’m reading: Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer; We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media; Dollars and Sense: The Definitive Guide to Self-Publishing Success

Wind and Shadow by Kathy Tyers

          Last month, I had the wonderful opportunity of reading an advance copy of Kathy Tyers latest release, “Wind and Shadow,” which continues the family saga begun in the previous Firebird series. These stories take place in an inter-planetary world, known as the Whorl, where one small, conflicted race safeguards a holy prophecy of the Word to Come. The holy books of Thyrica, home of a genetically-enhanced race of telepaths, predict the coming of One who will destroy all evil.

          In “Wind and Shadow,” the sons of Firebird and Brennan Caldwell, possible heirs to the prophecy, find themselves in conflict with remnants of the unethical, unscrupulous faction their parents supposedly defeated. The now militarily occupied world of Mikuhr is in a state of barely contained unrest. Kiel Caldwell, Thyrican priest-in-training, answers an official request for assistance from Wind Howath, the Mikuhran-born, Thyrican raised and trained ambassador. When the priest is abducted, the nearest military unit, commanded by Kinnor Caldwell, is dispatched to investigate and contain the situation. Both men along with Wind and those people influenced or inspired by them are forced face personal demons and to make choices that will affect the future of many for generations.

          Kathy Tyers has created yet another rich, compelling story, with a world peopled with interesting characters and conflicts. “Wind and Shadow is a stand-alone story, chronicling the conflict and doubts, defeats and victories of Kiel, Kinnor and Wind. Knowing the history of Mikuhr, the Caldwells and other characters of Thyrica and Mikuhr may enrich the story experience for a reader, but it is not a necessary prerequisite. A reader could read and enjoy “Wind and Shadow” and never read the previous three books in the Firebird trilogy. Kathy Tyers weaves and layers the backstory and information from the previous Firebird books throughout “Wind and Shadow” in a way that tantalizes and informs and entices the reader to continue turning pages to the end.

          “Wind and Shadow” is published by Marcher Lord Press, the only publisher devoted to exclusively publishing Christian speculative fiction. In business since October 2008, Marcher Lord Press has succeeded in creating, maintaining and growing the market for speculative fiction that entertains from a distinctly Christian worldview. “Wind and Shadow” one of five titles released this October, is yet another example of the quality stories published by Marcher Lord Press.

Readers Who Are Not Writers

I spend a lot of time talking to writers about books and writing. I can get on a Skype chat with Kitty and Stephanie and we can spend many happy hours discussing the finer things of plot points and voice and character arcs.

But when my husband is having trouble falling asleep he asks me to talk about writing. It started off as a joke, but in reality, talking about the latest behind-the-scenes YA controversy puts him under like nothing else.

Last year I signed up for a book club and I’m the only writer in the bunch. I also belong to a large homeschool support group, and if you know anything about homeschoolers, you know they love books.

I’ve been noticing some similarities, but more interesting to me, differences among my writer friends and my reader friends.

Readers aren’t that interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff. The odd tidbit here and there they find interesting, but if you talk too much, their eyes tend to glaze over. One example, at my last book club meeting we were reading The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson. I just so happened to have a copy of the BOOK PROPOSAL that sold the book. (Don’t ask me how I got it…don’t remember, it’s just one of those things that I picked up somewhere!)

No one wanted a copy. No one even wanted to take home the copy I brought. My reader friends thought various parts were interesting and it provided additional information for our discussions (like the meanings of the character’s names). But that was it. Had this been a group of writers, we would have been making photocopies and spending the rest of the evening analyzing it.

Readers are intensely loyal to their favorite authors. Even when those authors bomb. In book club we were reading one book that I could not even finish. This was a book that appeared to be pushed through the pipeline at the last minute. The writing was poor, the editing was poor. I wasn’t the only one who found editing mistakes—content editing mistakes—not just a missing comma or a misspelled word. But the author has written a ton of books. We all made excuses for this particular book and assured each other that her others were better. (I have to admit I really like this trait in readers. Grace when we happened to slip up is a good thing.)

Readers know when a book works. (And when it doesn’t work!) They may not know all the ins and outs on why it works, but the good books stand out and make readers happy. Very happy.

Parents DO care what their children read. They wish that authors would support the morals they are trying to instill in their kids. I learned this both from book club and from my homeschool group. One of the ladies I know whose granddaughter, a teenager, is struggling with all that teenage angst, made the comment that “there is just no support” meaning, she was feeling the culture pressing back on everything she was trying to help her granddaughter navigate. She was talking about more than just books—movies, TV shows, clothing, etc. But you get the gist. Another mom wrote to our email loop asking for book suggestions for her daughter. She said she and her newly 13-year old daughter went to the YA section at the library and she “just about had a heart attack” when she saw the books available in the youth section.

Characters are real to readers, too! The gals in my book club talk about characters like they are living people with histories (backstory!) and hopes and dreams (motivation!). However, readers talk about character in a slightly different way that writers do. I’m still trying to put this nuance into words, because it is so slight and when I think about it, the thought slips away. It may only be the difference of coming at a character from the back end (deconstruction) VS the front end (construction.)  Whatever it is, I’m learning a lot about effective character development by just sitting back and listening in book club.

 In all, I love how enthusiastic readers are. They love books as much as writers do and that’s a great thing!

Weird Routine

I have a weird routine and I’m curious to see how many of you writers also have this odd behavior. I’m guessing there are more like me out there. Incredibly, my husband does the same thing, which I discovered on our honeymoon in Alaska. (Is it possible to be too compatible?)

What is this weird routine? Visiting libraries while on vacation. Bookstores too, but there’s something about a library.

I’m thinking about it this week because Kitty is in New York for RWA and I’m really hoping she visits the New York Public Library (and gets her picture taken with a lion.) If I ever go, I have an unanswered research question that I just know I could find the answer to in those shelves.

On my first visit to Phoenix I made my friend take me to the ASU library so I could research a book I was thinking about writing. She thought I was crazy, but I bought her an ice cream and told her we might see some cute guys. By the time we found the library I only had time to pull up the card catalogue and drool over all the books I could have taken out. I don’t remember if she spotted any cute guys.

On another girls weekend to Leavenworth, WA, a cozy Bavarian town, I found a little library to poke my head into for a bit. My friends indulged me while I perused the kid’s section.

One of our favorite libraries that we visit on vacation has a room designated for Friends of the Library book sales. We travel with an empty suitcase inside my big suitcase so that we don’t have to hold back if we find any treasures. We’ve always come home with something.

When our kids were preschool age, we included library story times into our plans. I liked seeing the variety of kids programs out there. One year we came across a fantastic storyteller and I still have the handouts she gave me.

And I suppose, if you are published, this visiting-libraries-routine could be added to your marketing plans–have bookmarks, will travel! 

If you have not tried this, I encourage you to check out libraries in the towns you visit this summer. See what regional flare they have; what different variety of books they carry. And bring some pocket change. You might stumble across a ten-cent book sale.

A Look Ahead: A Guest Blog by Davis Bunn

In his last guest blog of the month, Davis Bunn shares what’s coming up in his writing life. If you haven’t tried his books yet, start with book 1 of his Storm Syrrell Adventure series, Gold of Kings. Or try the Acts of Faith series beginning with The Centurion’s Wife. We hope you enjoyed our time together this month! Thanks again for joining us, Davis!

One of the nicest things that has come from regular blogging is having readers write back saying that they are committing to pray regularly for me.  These gifts of prayer and encouragement mean the world.  In return, I would like to share with you a bit of what I am working on now.

I have wondered whether this is something that should be included in my online connections.  This is all very new to me, and in time I hope to shape a structure where my readers and friends will know what to expect when they log onto my sites.  Right now, I am still trying to define parameters.  So your response to this in particular would be helpful.

The problem is, my current work, where my creative heart is most focused, will not appear in print for another ten months.  With some publishers it is even longer.  Simon and Schuster wants to have my books in house for over a year prior to publication.

Right now I am working on a new story, and a new series concept, for Bethany House Publishers.  Janette is probably retiring after this current work, due to her health.  I have been in discussions with BHP for some time over a new idea, and they have urged me to begin work this summer.  This initial story, what I am deep into first drafting right now, is entitled Lion Of Babylon. The concept for the series is as follows.  I would love to hear what you think.

A leading trend in the Christian faith is the explosive growth in the number of believers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Researchers predict that by the year 2050, only 20% of the world’s three billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Caucasians.  This phenomenon of global Christianity, as it moves beyond European and American traditions, provides a compelling background for a series of contemporary suspense novels.

Each new story will highlight a distinctive moral message, centering on the example and teachings of Jesus.  Such a series will help promote inter-faith understanding within the US, along with a willingness to learn from other communities and cultures.  It will also bring to life in fictional form some of the global social issues which are increasingly addressed by church leaders such as Rick Warren and Jim Wallis.  The stories will blend elements of mystery, romance, political intrigues and spiritual power with unforgettable international settings.

The first of these stories, entitled Lion of Babylon, will deal with the theme of RECONCILIATION.  Set in contemporary Baghdad, the message of Jesus as an instrument of peace is upheld.  The distinctive contributions of Christian-Muslim dialogue help to save lives and re-build communities.

Sean Venture is a skilled but somewhat defiant security expert, based with the US Department of State’s intelligence operations.  He is unexpectedly dispatched to the Green Zone in Iraq – the heavily-guarded hub of American activities in Baghdad.  Their chief of security has vanished.  Acting with utmost speed and secrecy, Venture’s task is to locate the officer before news of his demise threatens both the stability of the region and the credibility of US strategy.  Soon they receive an ominous warning from the son of one of the leading Ayatollahs.  Could it be that the kidnappings are not random incidents – but somehow interconnected in a sinister scheme?  If so, who is behind it and how can they be stopped?

Davis Bunn, a professional novelist for twenty years, has sales in excess of six million copies in sixteen languages.  He has appeared on numerous national bestseller lists, and his titles have been Main or Featured Selections with Doubleday Bookclub, Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, Word Bookclub, Guideposts, and Crossings Bookclub.  He is known for the diversity of his writing talent, from gentle gift books to high-powered thrillers.  Davis has received numerous accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.  He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.  He is a sought-after lecturer on the craft of writing.

Writing Conferences: A Guest Blog by Davis Bunn

Today Davis Bunn, in his second of four Tuesday posts this month, offers a professional’s opinion on writers conferences and lists some of the best ones for Christian writers.

The most important advice I can possibly offer a Christian author is this:  Attend one of the major five-day Christian writers’ conferences.  Seven are listed here.  I have selected these because they are large enough, and so well-established, that every major publisher and agent will attend at least one of these each year, and perhaps more.  This is a crucial component of a successful conference.  Do not be swayed by one that is quicker, closer, or cheaper.  You need to have the connection to the commercial world, and see your work through the eyes of those people who have the power to offer you a contract.

There are a number of significant differences between one of these Christian conferences and the mainstream conterparts.  Most of these began as church-based ministries, and ALL of them see their work as a service to our Lord.  The same is true for the teachers.  We come in order to serve God and further the Kingdom’s work.

The days are basically split in two.  In the mornings are ‘major tracks’, ongoing classes designed to cover the basic nuts and bolts of your chosen direction—fiction, non-fiction, song and poetry, magazine articles and greeting cards, and screenwriting.  The afternoons are focused upon the commercial side of the writing world—meetings with agents and publishers, classes on pitching and presentations and marketing, and so forth.

Two other advantages come from attending such a conference.  The first is, you have the opportunity to discuss your work with other authors, and know what it means to translate a private dream into a commercial reality.  The second is, you are granted a set of realistic expectations and tools for change.  Both of these are vital components to growth and success.

The main Christian writers conferences are as follows:

The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, each September, location varies


The Write to Publish Conference, Wheaton College, Illinois, each June


The Christian Writers’ Guild Conference, Colorado, each February


The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, Santa Cruz, California, every April


The Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference, each May


or www.brmcwc.com/ and click on “About the Conference”

The CLASS Christian Writers Conference, formerly called the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference, New Mexico, each October


and The Florida Christian Writers Conference, each February


Davis Bunn, a professional novelist for twenty years, has sales in excess of six million copies in sixteen languages.  He has appeared on numerous national bestseller lists, and his titles have been Main or Featured Selections with Doubleday Bookclub, Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, Word Bookclub, Guideposts, and Crossings Bookclub.  He is known for the diversity of his writing talent, from gentle gift books to high-powered thrillers.  Davis has received numerous accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.  He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.  He is a sought-after lecturer on the craft of writing.

Writing Partnerships: A Guest Blog by Davis Bunn

Shonna and I first met Davis Bunn when he was teaching fiction writing at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. A gentle sense of humor and a passion for writing are part of what I think makes him a great writing teacher. Books like The Great Divide are what I think makes him a great writer. I hope you enjoy his encouraging posts every Tuesday this month!

In December, my third book in the Biblical trilogy with Janette Oke (The Damascus Way , Bethany House Publishers) will be released.  Because of Janette’s health issues, this may be her last book.  We have worked together for almost ten years.  It is a hard moment to face.

Working with Janette Oke has granted me a rare opportunity for an author.  Nowadays an author is ‘packaged’ by the publisher.  The crowded market, and modern readers’ tastes, demands this.  This is far more than a general concept, or some vague agreement between author and publisher.  My New York mainstream publishing contracts will go so far as to state the type of books to be written (as in, contemporary suspense-drama), and then name the principle character (as in, ‘A Storm Syrrell Mystery’).

This is done in order to give the sales and marketing people a focal point for their efforts, both on the current project, and for the future.  Oftentimes people ask if writing under these restrictions could possibly harm the creative flow.  I have trouble answering this.  What I am tempted to say is, not as much as not having a publisher.

I come from a business background, something I will talk about at a future date when I discuss how I came to be a writer at all.  So for me, the issue is how to work in tandem with the entire publishing team.  The sales and marketing staff have a very tough job.  If part of my responsibility is to be packaged in this way, so be it.

Even so, working with Janette has been a wonderful gift of freedom.

Janette has a remarkable ability to capture the soft strands of emotional story.  She can perceive a woman’s heart better than any author I know.  There are many times when I have sent her part of a new manuscript, and watched her insert her own scenes, and be amazed at how perfect they draw out the feminine side of the drama.  And at the same time I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could not have come up with what Janette has done.  Not in a hundred million years.

The one bit of advice I would offer any author considering a joint project is this:  Wait until your own personal voice is well established before linking yourself with another writer.  The critical issue is that writing together requires enormous flexibility.  In this way, it is much like a marriage, where you accept and endure changes you would never go through alone. And yet it can be an enriching process, so long as you are able to hold on to your core values and direction.

The same is true in a writing partnership.  You must adapt, you must sacrifice, and you must change.  The vital issue going in is for you to have a clear awareness of who you are, what your ‘voice’ is, and where your boundaries are.  What can you change and still remain true to your calling?  When you know this, the other issues, the non-critical components of your story, can be refashioned in utter safety.

Davis Bunn, a professional novelist for twenty years, has sales in excess of six million copies in sixteen languages.  He has appeared on numerous national bestseller lists, and his titles have been Main or Featured Selections with Doubleday Bookclub, Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, Word Bookclub, Guideposts, and Crossings Bookclub.  He is known for the diversity of his writing talent, from gentle gift books to high-powered thrillers.  Davis has received numerous accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.  He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.  He is a sought-after lecturer on the craft of writing.