Friday, July 29, 2011

WordServe Blog Tour - What I've Learned About Marketing So Far

I'll confess, I'm a timid marketer. I feel right out of my depth when it comes to this topic. Marketing is one of those Wall-Street, High-Powered, Nothing-I'm-Comfortable-Talking-About concepts.


But, comfortable with it or not, authors are expected to participate in the marketing of their books, in getting the word out about what they've written and why readers might want to take a look at it.

Gulp.

So how does one go about this when they have no idea how to start?

Find someone who knows what they're talking about.

When I wanted to learn how to write, I consulted (via books and workshops) experts in the world of fiction-writing like James Scott Bell and Donald Maass, Angela Hunt and Karen Ball. As a consequence, I decided I needed to find experts in marketing to learn from, and not just marketing anything, but marketing fiction.

So when I attended the ACFW Conference in Denver in 2009, I sat in on the professional track because they were going to talk about marketing. In this particular class, Allen Arnold from Thomas Nelson, spoke about the need to stop thinking about marketing as shoving your book under peoples' noses and rather embrace the idea of forming a tribe, which he compared to hosting a party. Now that was a concept I could get behind. I like parties.

He was adamant that the best place to host your party was on Twitter. Free, easy, and folks were joining in droves.

Meh. Twitter? That sucked all the fun out of the discussion.

Yet another thing to keep track of, another bandwagon to jump on, something else to demand my time. Wasn't Twitter just for texting-happy teens to talk about Justin Bieber and or Timberlake and how much homework their teachers were piling on? (How far out of the loop am I? I had to do a Google search to figure out how to spell Bieber and it still looks wrong.) But back to Twitter. What on earth could I accomplish towards building a tribe at only 140 characters a whack? Would I constantly have to speak in text? LOL? C U L8R?

And yet, the more Allen Arnold spoke about the possibilities, the more inclined I was to trust him. Why?

Because:
a) Allen is a great communicator
b) He's passionate about authors, and
c) He's very good at his job with Thomas Nelson Publishers.

If Allen said Twitter was a must, then I'd best take a long hard look at the whole tweeting thing.

Let's just say my first foray into the Twitter-verse wasn't a happy one. Within a month of opening a Twitter account, I got hacked and my brand new friend list got spammed with junk. Ugh. I considered scrapping the whole thing, but I decided that to really be fair, I'd give it another chance.

Since those early days, I've learned a few things about using Twitter.


  • To create a wicked strong password to avoid getting highjacked.
  • To use Tweetdeck for managing different lists of people on Twitter, and also to allow me to update my Facebook page and my Twitter feed in one step. There are lots of programs out there to choose from that will help you organize your social media, but I like Tweetdeck best. 
  • To observe what others were doing and don't be afraid to ask questions. Twitter folks are very friendly. They explained things like the meanings of hashtags (#) and the importance of re-tweets. Twitter has a jargon all its own, and while at first it might seem intimidating, with a little help and observation, it can be learned.
  • To be social. Twitter is a Social media. Use it to make friends and talk about things you have in common with other people. After all, that's what this whole marketing thing is. Finding people who have things in common with you--be it books, babies, or bunny rabbits--and get to know them. Before you know it, you'll have a tribe. You'll be hosting a party.


If you don't have an account with Twitter, I'd encourage you to test the waters. If you'd like to find me on Twitter, you can click on this link: http://twitter.com/#!/EricaVetsch or the Twitter button in my sidebar. I'd love to see what we have in common.

The Friday Five & A Baklava Recipe

This is a photo of the baklava the kids and I made, cut up and
plated so my husband could take some to the church board
meeting. He said it was a definite hit.
I'm not sure what got into me to attempt baklava, and truthfully, I wasn't even certain what it was until I started researching it online, and I'd never tasted it. This super-sweet, nutty Greek confection is every bit as wonderful as I'd heard.

So this week's Friday Five is:

Five steps to making Baklava.


  • Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough (I found this in my grocery store freezer section)
  • 1 pound chopped nuts (I used walnuts and pecans)
  • 1 cup melted butter (real butter, not margarine)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons orange juice (some recipes called for lemon juice/zest, but I didn't have any, so substituted oj)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup honey


Here are the five steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
  2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.
  3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
  4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

Have you made Baklava before? Are you adventurous when it comes to cooking?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A First Contract Story - Susan Sleeman


Susan and I and Annalisa Daughtey all received our first contracts at the same time. Sooooo much happiness in one split second! Since then, as you will read, Susan has had some ups and downs, but the floodgates are wide open now. She's a lesson in perseverance and faithfulness.

Here's Susan Sleeman:

I received my first book contract at the 2008 ACFW contest in the biggest surprise of my life. A surprise I couldn’t have dreamed of if I was writing it in a book. One only God could have created for me. At the end of March of that year, I submitted a proposal for Heartsong Presents Mystery's line to editor Susan Downs for Nipped in the Bud, and within three days received a request for the full manuscript. Then within three weeks, I received a positive evaluation of the manuscript with a few suggested revisions. Susan was not able to contract new works until the fall, and she requested I returned the revised manuscript to her by August when she was in a position to make a decision. I was pumped. I’d  have to wait until August for any firm answer, but surely this was a good sign. Right?

I made the revision and sent the manuscript back in late July. I’d completed book two in the Garden Gate Mystery series and sent that proposal to Susan, as well. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for her to call. She didn’t. No phone call. No email. Nothing. No response. And when I asked my agent about it, he was vague, encouraging me, yet at the same time saying nothing. I whined to my critique group, which at the time included three Heartsong Mystery authors. They tried to encourage me, but when August came and went, I was certain Susan had lost interest in my book.

In September, at the ACFW conference when Susan Downs took the stage to award a contract for the Heartsong Presents Mysteries imprint, I sat back and said, “Man, it’s too bad Susan didn’t like my book. It would be so cool to learn of your book contract in front of five hundred fellow writers.” Susan began describing the writer who would receive this contract. She started with vague clues and grew more specific. Imagine my surprise when I realized she was talking about me. I turned to my crit group sitting next to me and discovered that they knew about this. Some had known since April. Ditto for my agent, of course.

Yes, they were in on the surprise. They had to be. You see, I wasn’t planning on attending the conference. So they had to help Susan get me there. My first reaction was no fair. You knew for so long, and I stressed all this time. But then, I realized it was an honor to have Barbour publicly announce their affiliation with me. Today, the question I am asked most often is, was it worth waiting for months to learn of the contract this way. My answer is a resounding YES.

Now many of you know that the Heartsong Presents mysteries line where Nipped in the Bud was to be published folded. One month shy of my release date to be exact. I was brokenhearted. Even with Barbour’s commitment to publish all of the contracted books at a later day, this was to be my first book ever and I was crushed. I’d told my friends, my family and so on and now I had to say Nipped in the Bud was on hold. Plus I had two more books in my Garden Gate Mysteries series and no where for them to go.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. With the first book in the series contracted with Barbour it was unlikely other publishers would pick up the other two books. So what did I do? Did I give up? Whine? Complain? Pray? Yes. I did all of this and then I sat myself down and said, if you want to be a published author, you need to find a genre that is doing well and try to write in that genre.

I knew Love Inspired Suspense was actively looking for new authors, so I pulled out an old suspense novel I’d written in first person, rewrote it in third person, added a male point of view for a romantic suspense, and had my agent submit it to Love Inspired. Did the editor jump up and down, rave about High-Stakes Inheritance and say, yes, please write for us? No, she rejected it and explained in a very nice letter why the book was not right for their line. After being disappointed for a few hours, I asked my agent if he thought the editor would be open to me revising the book and resubmitting and he said to go for it. So I did. And she did. Contract it, that is.

So now, I had another book under contract to release in September of 2010. But I was wiser now. I knew even contracted books didn’t always get published. So I was cautiously happy and went about dealing with the edits and writing another romantic suspense book targeted at Love Inspired. And then, I got a big surprise. No, Love Inspired didn’t cancel the book, but I learned that Barbour was faithful to their promise, (Big cheer for Barbour) and in October of 2010, Nipped in the Bud was scheduled for release in the new Hometown Mysteries line as a single title book.

Yay, I mean big yay! I suddenly went from no books releasing to two books releasing back to back. How wonderful. Praise God. And when September and October rolled around, you could find me with a really big smile on my face. Not only for the release of these two books, but I’d also contracted Behind the Badge my second Love Inspired Suspense book that released in June.

Now, I have three published books, another book, The Christmas Witness, to release in December 2011 and the first two books contracted in a new miniseries with Love Inspired Suspense to release in 2012. God has blessed me so mightily. I could not be more thrilled.

So I guess, if you can take anything away from my story, take away that perseverance is a necessary trait to have in this crazy business. But not only perseverance. Remember when I mentioned the rejection from the Love Inspired Suspense editor. If I had not asked to rewrite and resubmit, but gave up as many of us writers want to do, I wouldn’t be actively writing for publication.

So keep at it. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Ask published authors for their publication stories. They will most likely be filled with many rejections and times they’ve felt like a failure. But honestly, when God’s timing is perfect, you too can have a career as a published author.


SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. She grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into writing romantic suspense and mystery novels and hosting the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.com. Susan currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable grandson. To learn more about Susan visit her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/SusanSleemanBooks  ,website  http://www.susansleeman.com   or follow her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/susansleeman .





Are you persevering in your writing? Have you had to overcome setbacks? What keeps you pressing on?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Log Cabin Quilt Potholders

In just over a month, my very first novella, Christmas Service, will release as part of the Log Cabin Christmas collection. As I was considering avenues open to me to get the word out about this collection of nine Christmas novellas, I decided I wanted to make up some gift baskets to give away at book signings. At the moment, I have five book signings scheduled between September and October. You can check out the when and where by clicking HERE.

In keeping with the Log Cabin Christmas theme, I made Log Cabin Quilted pot holders to include in the gift baskets, and I thought you might like to see the process. The Log Cabin pattern has been around for a very long time, and it's a great quilting project for a beginner quilter (like me!) Here's a step-by-step of how I created these potholders.






1. Choose your fabric. Traditionally, the center square of a Log Cabin block is red or orange to represent the hearth, then you will need three darker colors and three lighter colors. You can use one of the fabrics as the back fabric if you'd like, but I chose backing fabric that complemented both color schemes.

This was one of the most fun parts of the project, picking out the fabrics. My daughter helped me pick out the fat quarters. There were so many to choose from and we had a blast matching and comparing.

2. Cut fabric into 1.5" strips. Since all the pieces will finish at 1" wide with 1/4" seam allowances, cutting them all for width first speeds up the cutting process. I have a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and template grids, which help so much. 

I cut a lot of strips, then cut them to length. The center square was 1.5" x 1.5" and the longest strip was  10.5" 

3. I made a list of the lengths I would need to cut from these strips, and when I had them all cut out, I laid out the quilt block.

The center square is a cherry print that caught my eye. Log Cabin blocks always have one dark side and one lighter side, hence the brown and blue fabrics. I also made brown/green, pink/white, and red/gold potholders, two of each.

4. Starting with the center piece and working around counter-clockwise, I sewed each of the pieces together. I quickly learned that while plaids are easier to cut (with those built-in straight lines) sewing them calls for extra attention to make sure you keep the lines perpendicular to the seam. Once the top is pieced, I cut batting (medium weight) and the backing fabric. Because I wanted to keep things simple, I decided to roll the edge and sew it down from the top rather than cut and sew on binding by hand. This meant I needed to cut the backing to the appropriate size to allow a half inch turned in and a half inch reveal. 

This photograph shows everything inverted. Since I was making several potholders at once, I did all the cutting at the same time and stacked them between sheets of paper to keep everything straight.

5. When it came time to quilt, I pinned. A lot. Careful to catch all the layers and get everything to lay flat in the center of the backing piece.



It's really starting to take shape.
6. I quilted around each square, in the ditch/along the seam.  Then I turned the backing edges up and over on themselves, pinned it, and sewed all the way around to finish it off.

This was the trickiest part for me, making sure I caught all the fabric I needed to, and yet stayed as close to the edge of the turn as possible.
I plan to put two potholders in each of the gift baskets, along with a few other goodies. If you can stop by one of the book signings, sign up for the drawing to win one of the baskets. 


Question for you...do you sew, quilt, cross-stitch, or do other needlework?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Friday Five -CJ Style

Friendship is a strange thing. I once heard from someone that there are three kinds of friendships in the world. 1) The friends who come together for a season, like moms of preschoolers or moms of kids on the same basketball team. You're together for awhile, but you outgrow the friendship because your life grows and changes. 2) The friends who come together for a short time because of a specific project or goal. Serving a term on the PTSA, working on a committee or fundraiser together, or a church activity. You work together, maintain a working friendship throughout the project, but when the project is done, you move on. And 3) Lifelong friends who are with you no matter what. You can rely on that person to be there when you need them, to pick you up, to adjust your attitude, to cheer you on and keep you grounded.

I have one of those lifelong friends in CJ Kennedy. And we've only met in person once (though I'm out to remedy that as quickly as I can.) CJ and I met because we were fans of the same tv western from the sixties. We connected originally because of that tv show, but when we chatted in the group chatroom, we realized we had kids about the same age, that the same kinds of things made us laugh and pull our hair out, and that we enjoy each other's company very much.

CJ has been with me through some really hard times. When other friends have let me down, she's stayed solid. When I walked the very long and dark road of losing my MIL to cancer, CJ was my sounding board, my light relief, the person I could call whenever I needed to. (She still is, BTW.) CJ held my hand when I took over the company bookkeeping and didn't have a clue what I was doing. She cheered my first, wobbly efforts at fiction, critiqued (especially if my heroes weren't behaving manly enough) and celebrated with me when I finally broke through and got my first writing contract. 

We've hashed out via instant messaging and telephone topics such as kids, weight loss (or the lack thereof) the weather, hairstyles, spouses, home repairs, hormones, and sports. (I'm for them, she couldn't care less.)

So, today's Friday Five is in honor of the friendship CJ and I share. 

Five things I know about CJ Kennedy.

1. She doesn't like cheese. 

2. She is the younger of two children and of Italian descent.

3. She talks really fast on the phone with a hilarious Boston accent.

4. She is left-handed.

5. She loathes the color pink.

Today, CJ is doing her own Friday Five about me. You can read her blog at http://ponyexpressgraphics.blogspot.com/ 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A First Contract Story - Rachael Phillips


Today's ACFW First Contract story is from one of the funniest most humble ladies in the organization. I remember her reaction when her name was called from the podium--it was a joy to see. So, without further ado--here's Rachael Phillips!

First Contract
When surprised, I am not a screamer or crier. I am a knocked-between-the-eyes, jaw-to-my-bellybutton “Duh!” person.
Those sitting near me at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference found this out when Rebecca Germany of Barbour Publishing announced my novella—Ride with Me Into Christmas (in A Door County Christmas)—as a first-contract winner.
Brain cells shifted to neutral. I didn’t move. All around me, faithful ACFW friends, some of whom had cheered me on for years, clapped, cried, and pounded me on the back. Onstage, Becky waited with a smile¸ holding my dream in her hands.
Finally, I said, “Should I go up there?”
“GO!” My tablemates shooed me out of my seat. Still bewildered, I wandered up to the stage steps like an impaired driver who finally found her way to the right exit. Becky, who by now has grown accustomed to idiot writers, received me with a hug and said, “Welcome to the family.”
Thankfully, I was not required to speak. At least, I didn’t trip, faint or drool. Later I congratulated myself on having worn a decent outfit (it was the first night of conference, and I’d traveled a thousand miles), as well as refreshed my deodorant.
I was to refresh it frequently throughout the conference, as joyous colleagues—including many I didn’t know personally—wanted to give me congratulatory hugs. What a group! The selflessness and courtesy of ACFWers cannot be overstated. 
Still, some major forgiveness was in order. My three already-published co-authors—Becky Melby, Cynthia Ruchti and Eileen Key—had kept this news a secret for two months. We had brainstormed together, beginning in 2008, and collaborated on-line, critiquing each other and writing a proposal, which we submitted to Barbour. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. As summer 2009 began, I was convinced the project had died. But maybe at the September conference, our group could pitch it one last time to Becky G.
“How about Saturday noon?” I suggested. “Let’s gather at her table. Cynthia, you’re a pro at this—would you spearhead the effort?”
Gracious as always, Cynthia agreed—all the while lying through her teeth. So did Becky M. and Eileen.
So did my agent, Wendy Lawton, who in our pre-conference discussions, never breathed a suggestion that Ride with Me Into Christmas might succeed.
When I finally recovered from the shock, I said to all of them, “You know where liars ultimately go, don’t you?”
They apologized. “Fibbing on-line was tough enough. But face-to-face? We asked Becky G. to award you the contract the first night because we knew we’d never last the rest of the conference!”
They’ve made it up to me a thousand times since then, praying, critiquing and encouraging me. I knew Cynthia from earlier conferences, but did not know Eileen or Becky personally until we worked on the book in earnest. Eileen, a Texas girl through and through, and I, a born-and-raised Hoosier [from Indiana], traveled to Door County, Wisconsin, spending a few days with Becky M. and Cynthia, who are native Wisconsinites. We stayed in a gorgeous bed and breakfast that inspired Cynthia’s Heart’s Harbor Victorian Inn in her novella. What a party! Research hardly seemed like work as we toured the peninsula, taking scenic pictures of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, climbing a fire tower, poking our noses and appetites into shops and restaurants. (If you visit, don’t miss a Fish Creek restaurant called Not Licked Yet. The Door County Sundae, oozing with hot fudge and hot cherries, and Yankee Snickerdoodle Doo Sundae are to die for.) One evening, a widespread power outage sabotaged a major work session. We survived by singing “This Little Light of Mine” and praying together—a blessing in disguise that would give us the spiritual oomph to finish the book. A Door County Christmas, including my debut novella, was released just in time for the 2010 conference book signing.
Receiving that first contract has made all the difference in my writing career, and I will forever be grateful to Barbour, Becky Germany, and my scheming co-authors and agent. Last year I signed another Barbour novella contract, joining this time with Ramona Cecil, Lauralee Bliss and Claire Sanders to write a nineteenth-century historical collection, A Quaker Christmas, which will release this September. My story, Pirate of My Heart, portrays what happens when Quaker girl meets river pirate boy!
The Door County bunch just couldn’t stay away from each other, and I am delighted to work with them again. This time, we gathered in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, another picturesque town, to research Cedar Creek Seasons. In this fun romance collection, which will release in spring 2012, each novella spans a separate season. In my story, In Tune with You, a highbrow choir director reluctantly joins forces with a tone-deaf football coach/drama teacher and his pagan friends to produce the most memorable Easter cantata in her church’s history.
Despite my present opportunities, I will always cherish my first novella—especially as only a week ago, I received a phone call from the ACFW coordinator of the Carol Award competition. “Congratulations,” she said. “Ride with Me Into Christmas has been chosen as a finalist in the novella category.”
Silence. Brain cells shifted into neutral.
“You can scream if you want to,” she offered.
“I’m … not …a …screamer,” I said. Once again, I was a knocked-between-the-eyes, jaw-to-my-bellybutton “Duh!” person.
I could really get used to this.


Rachael Phillips, a former choir director, owes her unplanned writing career to a church secretary who solicited staff contributions to the church newsletter at gunpoint. Rachael writes a weekly humor column called “Coffee Corner” for the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, the Plymouth, Indiana, Pilot News, and the Marion, Illinois, Review. Rachael has written for magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership and Kyrie. The 2004 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award winner, she published stories in the Zondervan collection Help, I Can’t Stop Laughing (2006), which features authors such as Barbara Johnson and Martha Bolton. She also has published devotions and stories with Guideposts, Moody Publishers, and others. 
            Recently the American Christian Fiction Writers organization notified Rachael that her first fiction, a novella called Ride with Me Into Christmas, in the collection A Door County Christmas, was nominated for the ACFW Carol Award.  Barbour Publishing soon will release two of Rachael’s new novellas: Pirate of My Heart in the historical collection A Quaker Christmas (September 2011) and In Tune with You, a comic contemporary romance in Cedar Creek Seasons (spring 2012).  She also co-authored a reference guide called Women of the Bible (February 2011) and wrote biographies featuring Frederick Douglass, Billy Sunday and St. Augustine, as well as a collection of four mini-biographies of hymn writers called Well with My Soul. More information can be found on her Web site, http://rachaelwrites.com.
            Rachael has been married 36 years to Steve, a family physician and adjunct professor at Taylor University. They attend Upland Community Church. Steve and Rachael have three married children: Beth (Frank); Christy (Bryan), and David (Janelle). Five perfect grandchildren provide lots of writing inspiration: Annabelle Kate, 7; Joey, 5; Linus, 3; Jay, 3, and Simon, six months.



Thank you so much, Rachael, for visiting On The Write Path. 

For you readers, what's the best ice cream sundae you've ever had? 
           


Monday, July 18, 2011

Three Tip Monday - Rest and Relaxation

This past weekend my agent, Rachelle Gardner, posted about taking a day off to rest and rejuvenate. You can read that post HERE. She asked several questions, but the main idea was do you take a work-Sabbath?

Reading through the comments, I see she got a variety of responses, everything from folks taking a weeklyHammockphoto © 2005 Jeff Kramer | more info (via: Wylio)
Sabbath away from everything except church and family to some folks who never take a day off at all. Some said they take mini-breaks throughout the day, and others said they need several days off in a row to really get rested up.

Often, as writers, our creative batteries can run flat. Writing a novel is no afternoon project. It's prolonged effort over weeks and months. And if you're anything like me, your novel-writing lamp never really goes off. Even when I'm away from my laptop, I'm thinking about and planning my next scene, next chapter, next book, next proposal. I even dream about my stories.

So how are we, as novelists on the long journey of writing, supposed to recharge those creative batteries?

Here are three tips I've found that help me.

1. Do something creative that isn't writing-related. I've found that accomplishing something creative that has nothing to do with writing often refreshes me and unclogs a sticky point in my writing. For me this might mean crocheting on a baby blanket, sewing quilted pot-holders, or making baklava. (More on these last two pursuits in another blog post.) For you it might mean painting a mural, taking photographs, or designing a house. Find some crafty, hands-on thing, and let your mind and body be creative in a whole new way. It might be just the jump-start you need.

2. Re-read or re-watch an old favorite. I'm definitely a re-reader and re-watcher when it comes to movies. And I have a few 'go-to' favorites when I need a pick-me-up. Longshot or To The Hilt by Dick Francis, anything by Essie Summers, or even one of the Little House books. Re-reading a favorite story is like a long visit with an old friend. My go-to movies...Open Range, El Dorado, While You Were Sleeping, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium...and a bunch more...re-watching a favorite movie lets me enjoy a story without the demands of "whodunnit" or "what's going to happen next?" I just get to enjoy the story, and if I get interrupted, no big deal.

3. Date Night. Every Friday evening, my honey and I go out, sans kids, and have dinner together. We talk and talk and talk, sometimes about the writing, and always about us and our kids and our church and our extended families and the news and sports and politics and the family business and a zillion other things. This time is so precious to me. We instituted date night a few years ago (once our kids were old enough to be left without a baby-sitter) and I have never regretted it. I LOVE date night with my husband. If you can't make date night a weekly occurrance, try for once a month, or schedule it for in house after the kids are asleep. Have Dominoes deliver so you don't have to cook, turn off the tv, the laptop, the phone, and just enjoy talking to an adult.


So, how do you recharge those batteries? Have you found anything that really picks you up when you're feeling creatively dry?

And the winner of Cara Putman's Canteen Dreams is.... Beth Steury. Beth, please contact me at ericavetsch at gmail dot com and I'll get your info forwarded to Cara.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Friday Five

Goldfish Crackersphoto © 2008 Crowbeak.Sasquatch | more info (via: Wylio)As writers, we are supposed to give our characters quirks, habits, compulsions, etc, in order to make them come to life. Characters who always act as expected become stereotypical.

In thinking about this, I wondered what quirks, habits, or compulsions I had that might provide a jumping off point for exploring what to give to my characters.

So here are five quirks, habits, or compulsions I have.


1. I love to watch cooking shows, but I don't like to cook. I'm not a good cook, certainly not an instinctive one, but I'm fascinated by cooking shows on PBS and Create.

2. I don't like fish, and I'm not a big fan of cheese that isn't cooked, but I love goldfish crackers. :)

3. I always listen to the radio in the car when I'm driving. And I sing along. Very loudly.

4. I love to read mysteries, but I NEVER know who dunnit until I turn the last page. I'm hopeless at figuring them out, but I do love them.

5. No matter how late at night I go to bed, I always have to read for at least 15 minutes in order to fall asleep.

How about you? What quirk do you have that might prove an interesting trait to give to one of your characters?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A First Contract Story - Cara Putman

Today I'm pleased to have another ACFW/Barbour First Contract story, this time from Cara Putman. I hope her story encourages you as it encouraged me.

And now, Cara Putman.


In September 2006, I walked into my second ACFW conference. I was excited to see friends I’d met the prior year. I also couldn’t wait to hear Liz Curtis Higgs speak. I knew I would learn so much to improve my writing and hoped to meet some editors who might be interested in my writing.


Little did I know what God had in store for me.


At the opening evening that year in Dallas, I could feel the energy in the air. One of the exciting things about the ACFW conference is that Heartsong Presents and Barbour Publishing often award first-time contracts at the conference. It is an amazing time, getting to sneak a peek as an author gets his or her very first contract, a life-changing event that usually occurs with a phone call or message that no one else gets to see.



In 2005 when the conference was in Nashville, I watched Mary Connealy receive her first contract. As I sat at the table that’s when I realized this might actually be possible. I mean if she could get a contract, couldn’t I? Wasn’t it possible? Seeds of hope were planted in me by watching Mary’s moment.



Little did I know that 2006 would be my year.



I’m sitting at a table with a few friends waiting for the opening keynote address. Then Brandilyn Collins invited the Barbour editors to the podium. When JoAnne Simmons approached the podium, the excitement rose in the room. She held an envelope and said it contained an offer to publish Canteen Dreams.



My breath caught and my friends screamed. My mentor Colleen Coble was across the ballroom and I could hear her shriek. As I made my way to the front, she met me and gave me the world’s largest hug and spun me around.



Shaking, I accepted the letter then made my way back to the table. Pam Meyers slid a cell phone to me, but I waved her off. After a moment, I decided she was on to something and headed outside and called my husband. I’m amazed he could understand me.



The wonderful thing about ACFW is that everyone celebrates with me. Throughout the conference people congratulated me. 



Now you need to understand a bit about my frame of mind as I drove to the airport EARLY in the morning I received the contract. Late the night before I’d received an email from an agent who’d considered taking me on as a client since the prior year’s conference that I wasn’t a great fit. I appreciated her honesty, but it kind of spun me around.



Add to it the fact that the editors I had connected with at Heartsong Presents were no longer there. JoAnne had started over the summer, and I just knew my proposal and manuscript had disappeared in the transition. I walked in to the conference without an agent and without a connection to the house I’d written the book of my heart for. Everything I’d anticipated had disappeared.

As I drove to the airport, tears coursed down my cheeks as I turned over my expectations once again to God. I know that I only wanted to write if that was what God had for me. I didn’t want to force it, but it was a deep desire of my heart. That drive felt like I was offering an Isaac/dream in my life to God.



Then, God gives me this amazing gift. A public contract award. It was the beginning of an amazing emotional rollercoaster. Would JoAnne realize she’d made a mistake. Put the wrong name on the letter? Fortunately for me, she didn’t. Instead, that first contract led to five more books, all set during my favorite time period. The stories of my heart written to honor a generation of heroes.



Dreams do come true. For me Tracie and Jim Peterson encouraged me at the 2005 conference and after as I developed Canteen Dreams based on a conversation Jim and I had. Then JoAnne Simmons decided she saw something in a simple story of a couple finding love in the early days of World War II and gave me a chance. I will always be grateful for the doors they opened for me.



If you are still waiting, pray. Hold your dreams out to God. Trust Him to care more about your dreams than you do. And trust Him to provide the perfect time and home for your stories. He will.



Cara Putman is a woman living a dream. Barbour's Heartsong Presents has released six of her books, including Canteen Dreams, a WWII historical set in Nebraska that won the ACFW 2008 Book of the Year for Short Historical. She also has written romantic suspense for Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense, contemporary mysteries for Guidepost, a historical romantic suspense for Summerside, and the Complete Idiots Guide to Business Law. Cara is an attorney, wife, mom to four, homeschool teacher, occasional professor at Purdue, active at her church, and all around crazy woman. Crazy about God, her husband and her kids. Http://www.caraputman.com
http://www.facebook.com/caraputman

Thank you, so much, Cara, for sharing your story with us.

As an added bonus, leave a comment, and you might win a copy of Cara's debut novel, Canteen Dreams. I've read it, and I know you won't be disappointed. I'll announce the winner next Monday.

Question for you:  If you are published, what was your reaction to your own first contract?  If you are not yet published, have you imagined what you will do or say?

Monday, July 11, 2011

3 Tips Monday - For Teen Writers

I'm excited to have my friend Stephanie Morrill guest blogging today. We met ages ago at a writer's conference and have been friends ever since. Be sure to check out her cool blog GoTeenWriters (link below) and pass the word to any young writers you know. They'll find a very lively community of terrific teens, as well as a wealth of writing advice and support.

Thanks, Steph, for stopping by!


3 Tips for Teen Writers



Sookie St. James - Gilmore Girls
I’m so touched that Erica invited me on her blog. Though, as I consider what to write in this post, it feels like a form of torture to limit myself to three things. The whole reason I started GoTeenWriters.com was because I had such a hard time limiting my answers when teens emailed me and asked what tips I had for young writers. I feel about like Sookie from Gilmore Girls when she’s asking to do cooking classes. And she says something like, “We’ll talk about muffins and scones. Oh, but breads … and jams. And sauces!” I looked for the snippet on YouTube but found nothing. So you’ll have to accept my point without the help of a video clip – I had a tough time narrowing my response to three things.



1. Consider keeping your novel to yourself. At least for a while. Every writer’s different, of course, and some writers swear by letting people read chapters as they write them, but I think doing this can really mess with your voice. (And your confidence if one of those friends gets snarky with you, but we’ll focus on voice.) Let the first draft be yours. Free yourself of concerns of how people reading it might think it’s worthless drivel. No one will see it. If you want to wax on for 2 pages about Kelly’s green dress—go for it. When you free yourself from other’s opinions, you liberate your writing voice. Wait until the second draft to edit yourself.



2. Write complete manuscripts. This is a very tough thing to do. I tend to get a little antsy somewhere around the halfway point. Often times another book idea sparks, and I have to force myself to stay focused on the story I’m writing. If you’re a new writer, it’s okay to project hop a little. But it wasn’t until I pushed myself to write a complete manuscript that I saw great improvement in my writing. When you write the story from beginning to end, you grow in understanding of what ideas are big enough to sustain an entire manuscript and what ideas are not.



3. Find a writing community. In high school, I didn’t know any other writers. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I found my first writing friend in Erica. It was indescribably wonderful to be able to send Erica a quick email that said, “What do you think of this idea?” or, “This sentence reads funny to me. Do you know how to fix it?” Thanks to the internet, it’s much easier to get plugged into a writing community. The writers hanging around GoTeenWriters.com are pretty awesome, but Caleb Jennings Breakey (http://www.calebbreakey.com/) and Jill Williamson (http://teenageauthor.wordpress.com/) have great ones too.




The Sookie in me is thinking, “And read a lot! And write a lot! And make your first line incredible! And write a sympathetic main character!” but alas, I agreed to limit myself to three tips, and I’m a lady of my word.



Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. Her only talents are reading, writing, and drinking coffee, so career options were somewhat limited. Fortunately, she discovered a passion for young adult novels and has been writing them ever since. Stephanie is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and is currently working on other young adult projects. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers and does so on her blog www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out www.StephanieMorrillBooks.com.

Thank you again, Stephanie! It's always great to have you here.

Question for readers: Were you a teen writer, or did the writing bug bite you later?

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Friday Five - Guilty Pleasures

Nutellaphoto © 2010 Like_the_Grand_Canyon | more info (via: Wylio)Today's Friday Five is:

Five guilty pleasures.

1. Nutella. Oh. My. Sainted. Aunt. This stuff is soooooo good.

2. Wipeout. I can't help it. From the announcers to the obstacles to the ridiculous contestants, I love this show.

3. Survivor. I admit it. I love to see who gets voted off. Every new season my husband says he isn't going to watch, but because I watch it on the tv that sits between our two computers in the office, he gets sucked into the show. :)

4. Crossword puzzles. I love the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper and never read the rest of it. :)

5. The Chicago Cubs. I love the Cubbies. They break my heart every year, but I keep coming back for more. :)


What about you? Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A First Contract Story with Cynthia Hickey

Today I'd like to welcome Cynthia Hickey, another author who was surprised by Barbour Publishing with her first contract during a General Session at the ACFW Conference. She was awarded her contract at the first ACFW Conference that I attended, and I was so excited to learn that Barbour awarded contracts during the conference. I had no idea that the next year would be my turn. :)
Here's Cynthia!
I joined ACFW in 2006. My husband bought me the registration for Christmas, and although I was super excited to know I was going to my first ever conference, I had no idea how my life was going to change. 2006 was an uneventful, uninspiring year, as far as my writing goes. But seeds were being planted. Then, Barbour announces they're opening a cozy mystery line.
Not knowing what a cozy mystery was, I didn't pay much attention until a friend dared me to write one. So, I looked up what a cozy mystery was, and early in 2007 wrote the story, entered it into a contest, won first place in the inspirational category, and acquired an agent. Unbeknownest to me, my agent had also sold the story to Barbour. This was in May of 2007. Throughout the entire summer, my agent and Barbour kept this a secret, putting off my questions, until I wanted to pull my hair out! They were great at keeping a secret.
Then, at Friday's luncheon at the ACFW conference in 2007, I was awarded a contract by Barbour for my cozy mystery novel, Fudge-Laced Felonies. I sat in my chair, shell-shocked, until my agent pushed me forward and on robotic legs I made my way to the front of the room. My life hasn't been the same since.
That first book led to two more, and now I have a novella releasing in 2012. My three cozies are being re-released as ebooks, and I have ten proposals floating around the publishing world waiting to hear word on, and have recently signed with a new agent. It has definitely been a whirlwind last few years.
Cynthia Hickey lives in Western Arizona with her husband, two of their seven children, a dog, two cats, a snake, and a fish named Floyd. She's been making up stories since she was a child and is thrilled that God finally gave her an outlet for the voices in her head.
You can find Cynthia online at:
Question for you:
Do you like to read mysteries? Do you figure them out before the ending?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Friday Five

Vintage lunchboxesphoto © 2010 joeymanley | more info (via: Wylio)I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today, so this week's Friday Five is:

Five things I remember about switching from public school to a small Christian school at the beginning of my fifth grade year:

1. I went from a class of about 30 to a class of 1. Midway through the first semester I got a classmate, but he was a boy, so that hardly counted!

2. Having to wear dresses every day! Gone were my Toughskin jeans, striped t-shirts, and Converse tennis shoes. It was skirts and blouses, dresses and dress shoes every day.

3. No more hot lunches. We brown-bagged it. To this day, I can't face bologna sandwiches.

4. Fractions. The curriculum at that school assumed you'd learned all about fractions in fourth grade, but the school I came from didn't really teach them until fifth grade. I was behind, and I felt so stupid. I got a D in math that first semester.

5. Having my older sister in the same classroom as I was. 4-6 grades were all in one room, and you can't get away with ANYTHING when your older sister is watching your every move.

As I read down this list, I'm thinking, yikes, what a downer! But truthfully, that transition was hard. I grew to love Faith Christian School and I wouldn't change much about my time there. I made some life-long friends (no, not that boy from the fifth grade. He quit attending Faith after seventh grade.) I made some amazing memories, and the education and guidance I received there set me on the path I'm on today.

I just wish I'd learned fractions a wee bit earlier. Would've changed most of fifth grade...

How about you? Did you ever change schools? Was the transition hard?