Saturday, December 31, 2011

Weekend Worship—Happy New Year!

Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

I love New Year’s Day. Not because of the partying and hoopla, but because it marks an end and a beginning. You see, by the time I get to the end of a year, no matter how many good things have happened, I feel dragged down by all the junk that has accumulated.

Those unfulfilled expectations.
The unrealized dreams (usually because I didn’t put in the necessary work).
All the people I’ve let down and who’ve let me down.

By the time December gets here, I can generally pull up enough stuff to depress an elephant. And even worse, it’s never a stretch to blame myself for ninety-nine percent of the failures. But January first gives me the opportunity to start over and begin again, hopefully a little wiser than the year before.

That’s what God is all about, second chances and new beginnings.

So as this New Year begins, join me in putting away the stuff from last year and resolve to begin again on a new year filled with hope and possibilities!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Evaluate, Update and Recommit to Your Blog for the New Year

This time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often a no-man’s land of lethargy and laziness…at least for me. Part of it has to do with the surfeit of calories and gatherings. The rest seems to stem from re-evaluation.

I can’t seem to help it. The approach of New Year’s, with its focus on resolutions, pulls me into a period of introspection. Actually, it’s a good thing. It gives me a chance to look back over the past year and decide what worked and what didn’t. It also gives me a push toward trying something different.

Today I’d like to invite you to join me in one aspect of this journey and take a look at your own blogging aspirations. Click on your own site and look at it with these thoughts in mind. Here’s the checklist I use to evaluate my sites. Don’t hesitate to tweak it to fit your needs.

  • Make sure your site hasn’t become too cluttered in the sidebar area. Clean out any old links and add any you’ve been considering.
  • Recheck your default font. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve drifted into a different one. Whatever font you use, make certain it’s easily readable…on all screens.
  • Update your about me section on your site. Include the things that have happened over the past year in regard to publication, job changes, awards, and anything else applicable.
  • If you have a calendar with your speaking engagements, update it as well.
  • Also be sure to update any lists you have of other sites, like those for writers, photographers or others.
  • Now take out your mobile device (cell phone, tablet, eReader, whatever) and make certain your site is optimized for mobile viewing. This is vital because at least a quarter of all visitors to your site will be looking at it from a mobile device and that number will continue to increase!
  • Reassess what action you want your reader to take after viewing your blog. Maybe you want them to share your site with their friends/readers. Perhaps you’re selling a book. Even if it’s only to follow you on Twitter, make sure it’s easy for them to see what you want and then execute it!

This is also a good time to look at your blog posting schedule and evaluate the popularity and efficiency of your different topics. You can do this by utilizing the stats section of your blogger dashboard or of your specific blogging platform.
  • First, look at the most popular posts of the past year. Do they fall into a specific category or theme? If this isn’t the main focus of your blog consider making it a bigger part of your posting schedule.
  • Next look at the day of the week when you get your most hits. Does it correspond to your posting date or is it the following day? You may need to tweak when your email notification is sent out.
  • Finally, Google the subject of those popular posts. Don’t plug in the exact title of those blogs, instead try a more generic subject search. The purpose of this is to see where within that search your blog entry is falling. Not certain what I’m referring to? Read my posts about SEO and Tagging.

We all benefit from a yearly checkup and our blog is no different. I’d love to hear how you use this time to get ready for the New Year ahead!

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Clash of the Titles Cover Winners

*by COTT Sr. Editor, April W Gardner

Cover Images Clashes are becoming hugely popular at the literary contest site, Clash of the Titles. Voters have been turning out by the droves to give their opinion about which cover they find most eye-catching.

Their latest Clash featured three Christmas cover images, all of which would have been worthy winners. There’s just something about holiday d├ęcor that warms the heart! A book cover with Christmas dressings is no different.

Here’s what hostess Gail Pallotta had to say about the three covers. “The mountain scene in A Log Cabin Christmas took away my breath and sent a peaceful feeling over me.  The lovely smile on the young lady on the cover of Christmas Belles of Georgia brightened my day and spoke to me of Christmas joy. Christmas Pearl stood out and proclaimed this holy season.”

But the voters decided, and the winner of the 
Christmas Cover Images Clash is:


This is what voters said about Christmas Pearl:

*'Christmas Pearl' simply struck me as beautiful & I sank right in as I read the blurb.
*I think all three are charming, but 'Christmas Pearl' does it for me!
*"Christmas Pearl" is just plain lovely. I love the way the pearl imitates a tree ornament. Very well done cover and quite evocative of Christmas.

Well said!

COTT  is currently taking a Christmas break, but please visit  January 9 for a new clash that will – literally – take your breath away! If you're an author, don’t forget to check upcoming open clashes and submit.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Clash of the Titles!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Contest

Today it's my privilege to publish Tim Knopp's winning story. Vonda and I have absolutely loved reading this stories and I'm certain this contest will become an annual event. Not sure what I"m referring to? Here is the first and the second about our first annual, Flash Fiction Contest!

'Til Forever
by Tim Knopp
Morning cast her golden countenance over the room rescuing Eric from a fitful sleep.  His lower back twinged as he rolled to where his wife should lay.  Empty.  Had she slept?  Or like him had she tossed until the night kindly dragged her away?  The coolness of the sheet suggested she hadn’t waited for morning’s coaxing to rise.  Throwing back the blanket, Eric stretched on the edge of the bed unsure how his comforter had been so inappropriately named.

He stepped on stiff legs to the dresser by the bedroom door.  A framed picture of his wife held a tiny note in its crook, and he lifted them both to his tired eyes.  Funny, he thought staring at the picture, how the years had aged her without his noticing.  She had outgrown the homecoming queen of his memories.  Still, a beautiful woman was a beautiful woman, and he thanked the Lord for such blessings.

Pulling the note from the frame, he opened the bedroom door.  A half dozen strangers occupied his living room, some lounging their grey heads on his couch, others in white uniforms moving busily around the place.
“Hey,” he called, his voice hoarse and dry.  “What’s going on here?”

A small, middle-aged thing approached him.  The tag on her uniform read “CLEARVIEW RETIREMENT”.  “Oh, Mr. Stewart.  Good morning.  Have you read your wife’s note yet?  That usually helps.”

Confused how this woman would know of his wife’s note, he gazed at the paper held in his shriveled fingers.

“God doesn’t just love; He is Love,” Eric read aloud.  “Remember that when you can no longer remember me.  Yours ‘til forever, Eva”.

The tear of a half-memory soaked the faded note.  Eric smiled at the nurse in bittersweet recollection, just as he had each morning for years.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Clash of the Titles

Thank you to our blog alliance partners
by Gail Pallotta

Jessica Keller works from an office her husband set up for her in their Chicago home. Using a bright orange laptop she posts five days a week. She blogged big-time in college, garnering a huge following. She says, “It got to the point where people I didn’t know would walk up to me and start talking…about my life because they were addicted to my blog.” 
After graduation she ended that blog and went to work in the records department of law enforcement. She figured her blogging days were over, but she started writing novels. She thought about author blogs she loved and wanted to “create a place like that so…someday when a novel-length piece is published…” she’ll already have a blog.
Her blog reflects her love of baking, her communications and Biblical studies degree and her enthusiasm for books. She’ll read over one hundred this year. On Mondays she muses about life in general. Tasty Tuesdays give cooking advice and recipes. On Writing Wednesdays she shares her writing struggles and advice or hosts experts. Thick-of-it-Thursdays feature a spiritual message, and Fridays for Readers introduces new writers. At least once a month there’s a cookie give away. Yum.
During the past nine years she’s written articles, short stories and a novella and recently made the finals in three contests. When she isn’t writing she runs in 5K’s and mentors college-aged women. When asked for a random fact about herself she said, “I have two cats named for super heroes, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent.”
Visit Jessica's blog here.

Carol Moncado blogs about life and writing from a big cushy chair in a basement in the Ozarks. She says the area “is slowly becoming my office/library.” She’s written on and off ever since she was a kid, seriously for the last two years. She blogs everyday attracting readers, other writers and friends who want to know a little more about her, her writing and the authors she likes. She says, “I try to have humor – and we all know laughter is the best medicine!I love to get comments.”
As for her writing, she’s currently blogging her way through NaNoWriMo. When she isn’t blogging or working on her own writing projects, she takes care of four children, reads and watches television. Her all time favorite show – NCIS.
When asked to share a random fact about herself she said, “When we moved into our first house, we moved on Friday the 13th to a house on Elm Street. We found and put an offer on our second [current] house on 06/06/06.”
Visit Carol’s blog here.

Marianne Evans started her blog, A Minute with Marianne, a little over two years ago. She says, “I loved the idea of chronicling my thoughts and expanding my writing platform…Call it ‘keeping up with the times.’” An added bonus. “It’s a blast…”
She posts almost once a week. A Minute with Marianne introduces readers to writers and books they may not otherwise hear about. Marianne says, “There are so many wonderful inspirational, Christian themed books out there. I love shining a light on them and getting the word out on new and exciting authors.” Her blog also covers writing inspirations, motivational tidbits, reviews and publishing news.
She keeps her blog casual with highlights on having fun, getting to know people and sharing a passion for great writing. When Marianne isn’t blogging, she writes.  She’s A Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence winner for Hearts Crossing. She was a 2011 finalist for Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year for Hearts Surrender. Marianne says she made the jump from secular romance to Christian Inspirational romance/fiction when “the call on her heart matched the ideas in her head.” Visit her blog here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Flash Fiction Contest Winners!

Today, I'm posting our Second Place Winner in the Upstate Fellowship of Christian Writers Flash Fiction Contest! Not certain what's going on? Read Friday's post here and get up to date!

by Marcia Moston

Soraya Rasheeb closed her mind to the metallic stench of blood and raw meat that settled on her hair and lined her nostrils. She plunged her latex-gloved hand into the cavity of the chicken and tugged at its innards before the conveyor belt delivered the next clammy carcass.

“Listen, Sugar, this isn’t exactly the fine jewelry department at Macys. I ain’t gonna get my black butt fired cuz of you. Yank them things out of there and get goin’.”Sweat beaded on Latisha’s smooth dark skin. She was one of the women from the shelter who was thankful to have landed a job, even if it was at the chicken factory. Next to her was Lori. Both were rebuilding lives that had been shattered by drugs, men or misfortune.

Soraya nodded and pushed the chicken down the line. She remembered a time when strands of fine jewelry had slid through her fingers, when someone else cooked her meals and washed her clothes, a time when … she pushed the memory away. It was best forgotten. They were all refugees of one sort or another now.

A commotion snapped her out of her reverie.

“Hey, whatcha doin? You okay?”

A silver-haired woman stumbled away from her spot in line. Her slurred words incoherent. She swayed and then fell onto the conveyor belt, her hand catching in the rollers before the emergency switch shut down.  Blood squirted from her wrist as she lay unconscious.

A yelled, “Someone Help her!” failed to mobilize the shocked group standing there in their white paper jackets and hair nets. “Can’t somebody do something?”

Slowly, like an emerging photo in dark room, a memory surfaced, took form, propelled Soraya Rasheeb, gifted doctor from Kabul Afghanistan, to action.

“I can.”

Judging a Book by Its Cover

*by Michelle Massaro

Last week Clash of the Titles held their first ever Clash of the Covers. This fast-paced clash was different than their usual fare because instead of judging the author's story, we judged how well their cover designs matched their theme or made us want to pick up the book. There were four books to vote on, from authors Cathy, Erica, Lacy, and Maggie. The books were Marrying Miss Marshal, Spring For Susannah, A Bride's Portrait, and Deeply Devoted.
It was a VERY CLOSE race and it saw enough voter participation to max out the scoreboards!

Some of the comments included:
Spring for Susannah - Susannah is aware of the man but she looks as though she could turn away, or turn towards him.

Marrying Miss Marshall seems to speak volumes about the heroine--just in her position.

The cover of A Brides Portrait, really sells the title by having the woman with a camera on it. Caught my attention.

I love cover C...looks like the "old west"!!!

Marrying Miss Marshal. Hmm, with that rifle laid across her lap, one wonders who's daring enough to approach her, much less marry her. Intriguing.

I loved A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City - it added so many components of the story into the cover besides just a profile :)

Love this (A) - it's intriguing. I'm not sure from the picture whether she's toting for justice, revenge, or protection. Makes me curious.

The Champion Book that was voted
Springtime For Susanna, by Catherine Richmond

This week, COTT is sporting a holiday/winter theme with host Gail Pallotta. We expect it to be another huge turn-out so please join us. We'll cozy up to the virtual fireplace, egg nog in hand, and browse for books. In this case, it's okay to judge the cover. =)

We’ll be taking a break December 26 – January 6
And then come right back on January 9 with a new clash that will – literally – take your breath away! If you're an author, don’t forget to check upcoming open clashes and submit

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday Review—Flash Fiction Contest Winners

I purposely didn't post my Thursday review yesterday. I wanted to wait a day so you'd have the opportunity to read some great flash fiction. Our local writers group just held our first annual Flash Fiction Contest. Yesterday we announced the winners at our group's Christmas party.

If you're not familiar with Flash Fiction, it's a growing genre of micro fiction. It's an entire story told in a very short word count. The word count for our contest was 300 words. Depending on the submission guidelines, the word count can vary, any where from 100 words up to 1000. It's harder to do than you might think. But our winners did a great job!

So with no further ado, drumroll please!

First Place
Lori Roeleveld for
Old Soldiers Never Die

Second Place
Marcia Moston for

Third Place
Tim Knopp
'Til Forever

And we decided to add an honorable mention because the scoring was so incredibly close:

Honorable Mention
Jen Bobo for
Her Favorite Thing

The next few weeks you'll be in for a treat as we publish some of the winners. Today we're starting with Lori's first place offering.

Old Soldiers Never Die
by Lori Roeleveld

Grandma’s been hearing critters in that attic. See anything, boy?” Howard took a step up the ladder, wincing when it creaked.

“Not one more move, Howard. Leave it to Tommy.” Alice hollered.

“Fine.” He grimaced but then Tommy’s feet appeared. “You got something?”

“No squirrels, but I found this.” He passed down a rectangular package wrapped in Christmas paper.

Howard set it down, bracing the ladder as the teen descended.

“Did I spoil someone’s surprise?” Tommy asked.

Howard sniffed, shaking his head. He folded up the ladder door.

 “What gives?” Tommy asked.

Howard put a finger to his lips and motioned him into the study where he gently unwrapped the G.I. Joe action figure. Tommy examined it then raised his eyebrows, puzzled.

“I bought it for your father when he was, I don’t know, ten.” Howard nodded toward the door.

“You know how your grandmother feels about war toys but, it was all Dennis wanted that year. I meant to surprise him.”

“What happened?”

“Got word on Christmas Eve about my brother. Vietnam was almost over but no one told the land mine that took Trevor.” Howard paused. “Guess I just forgot about it.”

Tommy ran a finger over the clear plastic window. “Dad told me Uncle Trevor’s death is what made him decide to become a missionary, did you know that?”

Howard nodded. “Losing someone young changes you. Made his mother proud.”

“Funny.” Said Tommy. “When he died in that church fire in Indonesia, Grandma said he was a casualty of war.”

“Battle for the kingdom.” Howard sighed. “Keep the toy soldier. Maybe it’ll remind you that we’re all soldiers on a vast battlefield. Always remember what you’re fighting for, Tommy.
Howard watched his grandson flip over the little tag still taped to the box.

“Merry Christmas, son. Love, Dad.”

Be sure to visit Lori on her blog, Deeper With Jesus in Rhode Island

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Write Conversation—Do You Pinterest?

Believe it or not, I do have interests other than writing.

I absolutely LOVE to knit. I also enjoy making jewelry. And although I tease about my idea of exercise being nothing more than turning the pages in a book, I do love the out-of-doors. Hiking, camping and especially horseback riding are all favorite pastimes.

Another hobby of mine is fashion. I admit it, I do love to shop. New shoes and new fingernail polish are particular weaknesses!

I have finally found a place to enjoy all my interests—

This is a genius site. Once you join you can set up your own BOARDS, trolling the Internet for things that inspire you. Anything you see on the web, you can click, copy and pin to a board.

You can find boards with pictures of places to hike. Pictures of clothes (and brightly colored fingernail polish). I've even visited people who have pages of knitting. It's a kaleidoscope of possibilities—limited only by your imagination.

Now you may be asking why I'm talking about this website on my writing blog, but it's more applicable than you might think. Actually, it took me a little while to catch onto the relevance myself. But when I did, I knew I had to share my discovery with you.

When I first started playing around with Pinterest, I felt noble and wise. Here I was, so smart to be pursuing outside interests. After all, we've all been told we should take time away from our jobs, right?

Then I stumbled on the first board with a link to a blog post on it.

Yep, you read that right. I was off and running. I immediately did a little research and discovered what some of you may already know...Pinterest is a great way to connect with new readers. It doesn't matter if you're a blogger, a freelancer or an author. This is another great way to get exposure to people who get you…whatever your topic.

So I'm curious, how many of you Pinterest?

Wanna connect? I'd sure love to connect with you!

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Clash of the Titles!

Christine and Pamela!
A huge welcome to blogger and author Christine Lindsay! Christine is another extraordinary member of the COTT Blog Alliance. On Wednesdays she posts the COTT weekly article, and on Fridays she posts either an editorial/devotional or a review on a book.
What's her blog like? Christine wants her blog to be somewhere a reader can find a true inspirational story to encourage their faith. For example, on her blog she has in book-length the entire story of her experience as a birthmother. From the moment she found out she was pregnant, to the relinquishment of her child, and to their reunion 20 years later.

Do not miss this testimony. Her birth-daughter, Sarah, modeled for the cover of Shadowed in Silk. Take a look at how it all came together—it's well worth the read.

I asked Christine who she is outside the realm of writing and publication and all that jazz.
"I am so ordinary, it's hilarious. I used to be an administrative assistant, going off to work in suits, high heels and makeup. Now that I'm following the labor of my heart (writing) I work in my home office and wear the closest thing I can get to pajamas—sweat pants and a sweat shirt.
"But there are times I have to go out and leave my beloved laptop behind along with my cat. Then I slap on some mascara, whip a comb through my hair, put on some decent slacks and head out the door with a cup of tea in my hands. I can drive with one hand and drink my tea with the other."
What "ordinary"? That's multi-tasking!
Why is she willing to give COTT space on her blog every other week?

I find the COTT alliance an energetic group of writers that inspire me. I love the fun and camaraderie with the clashes," she said. "And it gets the word out to readers of all the great Christian fiction that's available. They are a great group of people to be affiliated with. I consider it an honor."
The feeling is entirely mutual!

Book trailer

Meet Pamela S. Thibodeaux:

Award-winning author, Pamela S. Thibodeaux is the Co-Founder and a lifetime member of Bayou Writers Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Multi-published in romantic fiction as well as creative non-fiction, her writing has been tagged as, “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ and reviewed as “steamier and grittier than the typical Christian novel without decreasing the message.”

A great big welcome to Blog Alliance Partner Pamela S. Thibodeau. We're so pleased to have her aboard.

I asked this author and blogger where she finds inspiration for her blog, Pamela S. Thibodeaux—Blog.

"I must admit that, personally, I'm pretty burned out on topics…but I love showcasing other authors on Saturday Spotlight and hosting their virtual book tours. This helps me fill in when I can think of nothing to talk about. LOL!"

Honesty…I love it! (Also really glad to know I'm not the only blogger with this kind of problem…)

I'm always interested in why our Blog Alliance members choose to be members. Here's Pam's reason:

"I believe in what COTT is doing and frankly, any website that helps promote Christian authors—especially those who are new, unknown, small press or independently published—is a place I try to support. Doing regular posts for COTT helps me do just that."

Pamela's newest release, The Visionary, is an absolutely wonderful book, one I can whole-heartedly recommend. Without being offensively graphic, it deals with some pretty heavy issues of child abuse and its aftermath.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

The biggest challenge I face is not having my work accepted by the “Christian” publishers. As one reviewer said, “Though undeniably Christian, it is never dogmatic or insular; offering faith rather than religion.” (From Elizabeth Burton's review of Tempered Dreams for Blue Iris Journal) My books deal with issues in a way that is unacceptable in the traditional CBA market. Now that is not saying that my books are better than those published through traditional CBA publishers, only different. As I’ve said many times, everything that gives God glory deserves to be praised!

So true. And all I can think to say in response is a very sincere, "Amen!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekend Worship—You Gotta Go Deep to Get Fed

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:3

We were fortunate to spend the week of Thanksgiving at the beach. We rented a house right on the water and all our extended family spent the week together. It was a much needed family time, filled with long walks on the beach and late nights around the table playing games.

One of the things I enjoyed was sitting on the beach watching the waves. I was also entertained by the many types of birds we saw, especially in the morning and evening. Each type had its own way of foraging for food, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between my own spiritual life and their quest for a meal.
The smallest birds were the quick sandpipers that ran along the shoreline. They appeared to almost be playing tag with the waves, alternately chasing and being chased, as they darted here and there in search of food. Getting fed seemed much more of a game than a serious quest, hence their tiny size.

The most aggressive were the seagulls. They’d approach anyone they thought had food and we saw several instances where they dove at unsuspecting beach goers, mistaking silver hair for food. They were indiscriminate in what they ingested, carrion or fresh meat was equally appealing to these bullies. They were a scruffy bunch and I noticed the rest of the animal kingdom kept well out of their way.

The largest winged creatures were the pelicans. These majestic birds tended to stay further out from shore and found hearty prey under the sea. I was fascinated by their varied flight path, moving from grazing the tops of the water with their wings to spot their targeted meals, to a steep dive that took them completely out of sight under the water.

As my mind wandered to spiritual application I couldn’t help notice the largest and strongest birds were the ones who were willing to dive deep for the choicest food. The most delicate were those who waited on the banks for whatever tidbit was deposited within reach, while the bullies were shunned by all.

How like us they all were! I hate to admit how I could see myself in every group. I’ve lived (or tried to live) like those tiny sandpipers, living off crumbs—from books about God—instead of going to the Bible itself. I’ve also chased after many kinds of unhealthy theology, thinking being full was enough. And lately, I’ve learned to spend time in the Word, diving in and going deep. There I’ve found the abundance of what I need to live in strength and health.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Review—The Birth Order Book

A Guest Post by Lynn Blackburn.

I'm a new writer and one of my great challenges is creating characters with a unique voice.

Because after the first draft, most of them sound a lot like me.

I know me (more or less) but all you other people? I don't get you at all!

For example . . . Today is December 1st. How does that make you feel?
  • “A” —You feel compelled to double check your planner, make a list of gifts to purchase, and send an email detailing the Christmas plan to all participants. You may appear calm, but inside you're wondering where you put that paper bag the last time you hyperventilated.
  • “B” —It’s no big deal. You moved to the other side of the country years ago. You may plan to enjoy the holiday with a group of friends. Then again, you may surprise the family and show up for dinner.
  • “C” — So? Plenty of time! You’ll be in CVS on Christmas Eve, hoping to find a gag gift for your brother-in-law. Worst case scenario, you'll grab some gift cards and a tin of popcorn and call it done. You're looking forward to hanging out with everyone and you've got some great stories to tell.

If you had a panic attack after you saw the words “today is December 1st” then you probably answered “A” and are either a firstborn or only child. If you rolled your eyes because none of those fit you quite right you may be a middle. And if answer “C” fits you best, although you resent the implication that you're a bit of a slacker, maybe you're the baby.

Or not.

Turns out, there's a lot more to birth order than I realized. Are you the second born but the first girl? Or the baby by more than five years? Do you have a sibling with special needs? There are all sorts of variables that impact whether you are a “functional” firstborn or lastborn or whether you enjoyed being the middle child or felt squeezed by your siblings.

Dr. Kevin Leman revised and updated The Birth Order Book in 2009. His writing style is engaging and humorous and the book is full of real world examples from his own family and practice. There are great insights for parenting and how our birth order affects our marriages. You might even finally figure out why your brother or cousin or aunt are so, um, challenging!

As good as all that is, I chose this book for its subtitle, “why you are the way you are”. I thought it could be helpful as I try to create a cast of characters that behave, well, not like me.

I'm working on creating tension and conflict in my novel. And understanding what makes people—even imaginary people—tick is the best way to know how to mess with them!

Now it's your turn. Anyone care to guess my birth order? Edie's? Ever thought about how birth order influences your characters decisions?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of three amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.
Follow Lynn on Twitter @lynnhblackburn

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Top 10 Gift Giving Ideas for Writers

All I want for Christmas…

‘Tis the season of gift-giving and I’d like to propose a few. Most of us are members of critique groups or have a special friend who’s a writer. Here is my top ten list. Consider these a jumping off point, use them for your own Christmas list or as a way to bless another writer this season.

10. A Christmas ornament. This could be something that pertains directly to a WIP (work in progress) or be more generic in nature. Through the years, my critique partners have gifted me with some amazing Christmas ornaments and I look forward to adding them to my tree.

9. A special notebook. I know we live in the age of electronics, but for me, nothing replaces a special notebook. Of course, that leads me to the next idea…An unusual pen. I have a favorite type of pen (roller ball, very thin) but think outside the box. Many bookstores and stationary stores have unique pens.

8. A CD of writing music. Many of us write to music (at least music without words). There are lots of great movie soundtracks, why not gift one to your best writing buddy.

7. A subscription to Writer’s Digest. It could be digital or physical, but there’s no better (or more inexpensive) gift. Not convinced? Read Lynn Blackburn’s review here!

6. A Starbucks gift card. I know, this seems a little out of left field. But many of us find the formula of Starbucks coffee combined with a different setting the magic combination we need to pound out the words. (AltonGansky, this one’s for you!)

5. A gift card to Barnes and Noble, so they can purchase that one writing book they still lack.

4. A weekend away. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but what a gift of 48 hours of uninterrupted writing time!

3. A scholarship to a writing event. It could be a workshop or a conference, but trust me, every little bit helps! Here's a great one February 24, 25 & 26, Writers Advance! Bootcamp 2012.

2. A gift of peace of mind. Do you have a back-up system in place for your computer? If not, you should. Personally, I use Mozy. It’s less than a hundred dollars per year and works like a dream. I know because several years ago I lived through a catastrophic computer crash and lost…NOTHING!!!

1. For those of you who know me, you’ve probably already guessed what number one on my list is—an iPad 2!

So whether or not you use these as your own Christmas list, or an idea for a friend, don’t wait ‘til the last minute. I left a lot of ideas off, but I’d love to hear some of yours.
What was your favorite writing gift ever? What would you most like to have?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Real Life

*guest post by Michelle Massaro, Asst. Editor at COTT
Can you believe it's almost December? I love the holidays, but I always struggle this time of year. My heart aches for the Thomas Kinkade paintings, for smiles and laughter and goodwill toward man (especially between siblings in the house!), for snuggling by the fire, kisses under the mistletoe, all that good stuff.

Real life is not a painting. Or an old black-and-white movie. (That's often why we love escaping into our novels.)

Nope. Real life finds too many dust bunnies when it's time to move furniture to make room for the tree. Real life has pouting kids who don't want to help lug in the decoration box or be pulled away from their video games in order to just sit by the fire with mom. Husbands who tolerate, but don't enjoy, watching White Christmas, and who grimace and sweat--and possibly even swear--while wrestling with the Christmas lights.

Add to that the fact that I never got around to shedding that extra five pounds--and now feel it's too late to try--the constant pain in my neck, the myriad bills we aren't sure how to pay, a toddler in the throes of the "terrible two's" (to be fair, he's the sweetest boy in the world, just extremely rambunctious), and homeschool pressures...and each day starts to feel overwhelming. Beyond my ability. Sucking me under. Life does not meet my expectations. I'm failing.

And sometimes "failing" at something as simple and earthly as creating the "right" home atmosphere can lead to a depression that slips into spiritual darkness. Lies. All lies. But too often, I believe them.

Maybe you can relate. Or maybe your set of challenges lies elsewhere. Regardless, we all have seasons, or areas of our life, where we don't feel up to the task. And we grieve that ineptitude.

A dear friend recently gave me a gift--a daily devotional--and the first day's reading hit its mark in my heart. In essence, it reminded me that the measure of God's strength given to me on a daily basis is determined by two things:
The difficulty of my circumstances, and my willingness to depend on Him for help.

This concept completely changed my thinking when it came to facing challenges. Demons. I don't need to assess the situation and measure it against my usual ability and strength. I need to depend on Him and believe that He can and will empower me that much more in order to handle the task. And tomorrow, when the challenge is not so great, He will give me just the strength I need for that day.

Today it might be preparing the house, encouraging generousity in my kids, and finding ways to trim the grocery budget so that we can get that tail light replaced.  Tomorrow it could be the death of a loved one, a falling away of a brother or sister, or the loss of a job. But the degree of His power available to me will match whatever circumstance comes my way.

And the same goes for you, too. So if there's any chance that one of you share this struggle of mine at this time of year, I pray this truth shines like a beacon in your heart and gives you hope. It did for me.

If you're interested in the devotional I mentioned, it's called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. The entry I referenced was November 11th. :-) And if you want some great Christian novels to dive into or pick up as gifts, you always know where to find some winners. (There's always a contest going on at COTT, so I hope you'll join us this week for a look at a couple great cover images.)
Have a blessed week!
Michelle Massaro

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Child’s Play—Learn to Tag Your Blog Post Successfully

Last week I promised a post about tagging, today I deliver. Even though successful tagging may seem like a complicated formula—one part magic and two parts luck—it’s more of a game and not nearly as difficult as you may think.

Tagging, sometimes called labeling, is closely related to key words. If you missed last week’s post on key words you can click here to catch up.

I used to be rather lacadaisical about tagging until I accidently stumbled on success. . .then I was hooked. This picture is a screenshot of where my blog post about Facebook showed up in a Google search. Just FYI, it's number 3 out of about 237,000,000. Not bad. 

Warning, Brief Geek Content
To understand how tagging can help your blog post get found (or lost in the sea of other blogs) you do have to understand a little about search engines. Search engines crawl the Internet searching and sorting all the information. In the simplest of terms, the more your information about and on your page matches up, the higher you rank.

Now, for those of you who truly understand search engines, you know this is way over simplifying the concept. Lots of other things come into count when your post is ranked, but tagging correctly will get you way on down the road!

Here are some of the basics of how to tag successfully.
  • Start with your title. Like I said last week, make certain your title is literal.
  • Repeat key words throughout the blog post. Don’t overload your copy with words. Always make sure the writing is good. Think of it as an exercise in focus!
  • Re-use your title in the first couple of lines. It doesn’t have to be an exact repeat of the phrase, just be sure to include the key words.
  • Tag with phrases, not just words. This is something a lot of people miss. When you tag (or label) your post, use your entire title. Then, if you have room, you can also include individual words. Think of it this way, when you enter something into Google’s search box, do you enter just one word or a phrase?

Like Shellie Braeuner reminded us in the comments of last week’s blog, you can also use Google Adwords to help you make wise selections for key words.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but I spend almost as much time on my title and keywords as I do on composing a blog post. And it's paid off time and again. This post on using headline techniques with social media is number 3 out of about 151,000,000. Like I said, it can be totally habit forming!

So what successes have you had in the blog-o-sphere? What questions?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clash of the Titles Winner!

Guest post by Delia Latham

The Amish are known for their quiet, unassuming manner. Their love of all things peaceful…and shunning of competitive pastimes.

Well. I'm afraid that all flew out the window in the COTT Clash featuring Amish fiction. It was a fight to the finish.... a nose-to-nose race...a no-holds-barred dash to the finish line!

Contestants were:

Suzanne Woods Fisher
(Click on the cover to read Suzanne's Excerpt A)


Laura V. Hilton
(Click on the cover to read Laura's Excerpt B)

Both authors hit the ground running with sizzling teasers that presented a definite challenge to our readers. Both were super-fantastic! Both offered a tantalizing glimpse into an amazing read.

But only one of these fabulous excerpts could take the win.

When at last the dust died down…the crowd silenced in expectation…and the winner stood revealed…

held the finish line ribbon firmly in hand!

The choice was not an easy one, as our readers made perfectly clear in their comments:

"Both of these excerpts are immediately engaging—I think I'd like to read both books!"

"Both excerpts are winners. Can't wait to read them."

"I enjoy the Clash of the Titles!! Each author is fantastic!! And such a great place to hear of new authors that perhaps you haven't read before. Good luck!"

"I love to read stories of the Amish. Thank you for your hard work."

"The authors who write Amish fiction are doing a great job keeping true to the Amish ways while holding the reader's interest with wonderful story lines over and over again."

Heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to both Suzanne and Laura. I wish we could call it a tie and put both in the winner's slot, because both authors truly are winners.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Worship—The Freedom of Discipline

I press in toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:14

Freedom and discipline may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. But recently I’ve discovered, through experience, how related those two terms truly are. For those of you who follow my blog regularly you’ve noticed a common theme in my Weekend Worship—stress due to saying yes to often.

There are many reasons I tend to automatically say yes instead of no. 
Some of them may strike a nerve with you as well.
  • I don’t want to disappoint someone.
  • It feels good to be needed.
  • I don’t want to be left out.
  • I enjoy that particular task.
  • I feel God has called me to do this. 

Some are good reasons to say yes, some aren’t. I put the reasons in this order on purpose—not because that’s a good order, but because it’s an honest one. All too often I put God’s calling last…not first. And I’ve found that doing things for the wrong reason enslaves my time and doesn’t leave me free to fulfill the call God has put on my life.

Over-indulgence is an exercise that leads to slavery—NEVER a demonstration of freedom.

So today I’m continuing my resolve to pray first, wait on God and PRESS ON to His goal for me—no matter the consequences.