Monday, February 29, 2016


One of my dear friends, Jan Morrill, writes beautiful Haiku—a Japanese form of poetry which uses seventeen syllables in a five, seven, five arrangement. I am always struck by how powerful her poems are and how they can be read in one breath.

One day we tossed around ideas for presentations we wanted to develop. I suggested she teach Haiku, not only as poetry, but also as a way to write more powerful prose. She looked dubious but said she'd think about it. Well, last week I had the pleasure of attending her workshop: Haiku: The Power of Brevity, and I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation. She explained how this form of poetry is traditionally written in present tense, focusing on nature, using provocative, colorful images, and how it gives the reader a sense of sudden enlightenment.

And then, as I had hoped she would, she suggested very nontraditional uses of haiku to strengthen our prose, such as using haiku as a writing prompt. She showed us pictures and asked us to write a poem about the scene. By the time we were finished our minds were stimulated and our creative juices were flowing. Another suggestion was to use haiku to break through writer's block by summarizing a scene or chapter. She did this in her novel, The Red Kimono, when the heroine, Sachi, was sent to a Japanese internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jan wanted to capture the emotion of a little girl as she walked through her home for the last time. Below is what she wrote:

My house is empty
but memories will remain
echoes in my heart

Jan's final suggestion is the one that made me want to applaud! She told how haiku could help us write a synopsis. Yessss! If you've written a book I'm sure you've said the same thing as me, "Writing a synopsis is harder than writing the whole book." After all, after spending months, sometimes years, developing a world and filling it with scenes, how on earth do we condense three-hundred-plus pages into one? Well, how about condensing it into seventeen syllables? By doing this we capture the essence of our story. By way of demonstration Jan does this with Gone With the Wind:

Scarlett chased lost love
when at last she loved Rhett, he
didn't give a damn

For our writing exercise she suggested we summarize a book we have read or one of our own with haiku. I chose my newest book, Writing from Your Soul:

Life is our story
we entrust to the future
wisdom from our past

This exercise fun and mind stretching. I was surprised by how these three lines embodied my book. From this I could easily write a synopsis. Another fantastic benefit, as Jan points out, there is no better way to formulate an elevator pitch—a pitch that takes no longer to give to an agent than it takes to go from one floor to the next.

I'm having a lot of fun with this. Why not give it a try?

To learn more about Jan Morrill and haiku please visit her website:
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Friday, February 26, 2016

THE FOUR DOORS by Richard Paul Evans

THE FOUR DOORS,  A Guide to Joy, Freedom, and a Meaningful Life

Are you living life on empty? Writing on empty? Does your soul tank need filling? This book will help. Richard Evan's life has been one of overcoming and in this book he shares four principles he has learned in the process. I will give a brief account of each one:

The first door is to believe there is a reason for our being born, that we have a divine mission. You know? Most of us belief we have a reason for being born, but a divine mission? This chapter not only refreshed my thinking but also helped me delve deeper in my purpose.

The second door is about freeing ourselves from limitations. This one truly opened my eyes. He describes cages of paradigm—an intellectual perception or view as a clear example, model, or view, as to how things work in the world. If we are not careful we trap ourselves with these views and never move forward. In this chapter he tells the powerful story of his growing up and living with Tourette's Syndrome.

The third door is about magnifying our lives. This one is especially good for writers. Evan's discovered this principle when he took a risk and his book The Christmas Box became a New York Times best seller and is now a classic, and all he did was take a seat. 

The fourth door chapter was my absolute favorite. It is about developing a love centered map. If this had been the only chapter in the book it would have been enough. The age-old question of philosophers—what is love—is beautifully answered in this chapter. As believers in Christ, it is easy to tell other Christians about love, but when you get out in the world, describing love is not as easy. I love the way Evans has found to express the love of Christ to those who otherwise would not accept it.

This is a tiny book, short chapters, and easy to read. I'm reading it for the fourth time, and each time I see something different, as it should be in all good books. I first read this book when I felt I needed a life-line. Even though I already knew these principles in theory, Evans wrote so practically and fresh, I was able to put them into practice. In other words, he connected with me.

I recommend while reading this book you have either a highlighter or a pen to take notes in the margin.

Richard Paul Evans is the author of over twenty novels which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. Seventeen million copies of his books are in print worldwide and translated into more than twenty-four languages. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife, Keri, and their five children. To learn more about Richard please visit his website, or his Facebook page,

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grit to Great

Hey, writers. How are those 2016 goals coming? I recently ran across this book and it's a quick read. It's just what I needed to add to a recent study we did at church called The Beauty of Imagination. Having a vision is one thing, but doing the work is another. So I was happy to get a boost in the seat from this book.

It begins with some quotes I'd heard before, but applied to this theme were powerful. "They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity." The Incredibles, and "You're not special..." David McCllough Jr. to the Class of 2012 graduates of Wellesley High School. The authors highlight the fact that "the whole self-esteem movement has been a flop, undermining the natural grit that this nation of immigrants brought with them in building a new life in a new land."

Declaring that failure is how we learn, Thaler and Koval define the four ingredients of grit.

G = Guts
R = Resilience
I = Initiative
T= Tenacity 

The book is full of personal interest stories of people who succeeded against the odd with varying levels of grit. The book attempt to answer the question, "Why is it that some people have the grit and determination to succeed against all odds, while others do not? Research shows it's not about having nothing to lose; rather, it's about believe there is much to gain. In other words, grit speaks to our capacity for hope..."

Each chapter ends with a section called Grit Builders, little assignments to help build grit. I enjoyed it and recommend it for anyone needing an inspirational kick in the rear. 

Do you know someone who embodies the idea of grit?
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Monday, February 22, 2016

The Varied Writing Process

Every writer eventually finds a writing process that works for them. Some are strict outliners. Some are free wheeling pantsers. Many fall in between.

On the podcast I produce, my co-hosts and I have had the opportunity to talk to several other
Leonid Pasternak
authors (hopefully we'll be able to one day say several DOZEN authors, but I digress.) One thing we always talk about is their process. One author is a strict outliner. Another has a rough idea where their story is going but nothing is written in stone. But the vast majority so far we've talked to are in that in-between part.

Like me, we outline some. But we pants our way through our points. We have a pretty good idea where we're headed, but we don't always know how we're going to get there. And every author seems to have a different take on this. It's really quite fascinating to learn about the different nuances, and to know that regardless of the process, the end product--a finished, publishable book--is still the same.

It's interesting to listen to the different takes every author has. For instance, Jeff Gerke told a story about how in his early days (and pre-kids and pets) he meticulously outlined on 3 x 5 notecards an entire book, which he organized on the floor of his home. And he realized that in doing such a meticulous outline, it took the fun out of the writing process for him. As such, he never wrote that book.

But he learned that such detailed outlining didn't work for him.

For others, like K.M. Weiland, a detailed outline is the only way they can write a book. To pants their way through is nearly impossible.

Either way--plotting or pantsing (or a word we've coined on the podcast: plotsing)--works for different writers. There's no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is that it works for YOU.

So tell me, what does your writing process look like? Do you outline extensively? Or do you start writing without much more than an idea and a few characters?
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Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review of Always With You

Elaine Stock

January 2016

ISBN 978-1942513841
New Adult

Kindle 9.95
Print 15.95

From the publisher:
Can she move forward without knowing her past?
Will he enjoy his present if he can’t free himself from what he left behind?

In the heart of the Adirondacks, Isabelle lives in the shadow of a dark family secret whose silent burden strips her family of emotional warmth and faith in God. Tyler belongs to the religious sect called The Faithful, which Isabelle’s father dislikes immensely. Yet, because Tyler belongs to this group, Isabelle sees only a man devoted to his family and faith.

She wants it; she gets it; they marry.

And when the truth comes out, Isabelle faces two choices:
Staying could endanger her child.
Leaving could cost her life. 

My review:
Always With You is a cautionary tale of the dangers of keeping secrets, of following after false impressions, of swallowing one side of a truth as presented.

Lonely young people, one from a family of violent abusers and another from an austere but comfortable home, find each other during a moment of terror. Isabelle, a high school grad and waiting to get into the college of her dreams is rescued by Tyler, who lives on a compound of an outwardly innocent community. After her knight comes to her aid, she battles her family and the suspicions of her small town to look beyond their animosity toward the group who keeps itself apart from Outsiders. When she knows she can’t win, she surrenders to the Faithful.

Tyler knows inwardly all is not right with the Faithful family who rescued him and his siblings as unsecure orphans. But his desire to take care of his family, including his young wife, overrides other sensibilities and creates a desperate turmoil he doesn’t understand and does not know who to turn to for help and trust.

Told from three viewpoints, one not introduced until the last part of the story, Always With You is a frightening page turner, making any parent want to go and hug his child, no matter the age. Twists and well-planted cues lead to some inspiring aha moments, as well as the possibility of surprise in that it is not completely predictable. Recommended for those who like gritty stories of redemption and reality mixed in with credible characters in inspirational fiction.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Write What You Know, guest post by Annette O'Hare

Most authors have heard the phrase, "write what you know." This simple idiom is one reason why I wrote my debut novel, Northern Light. The setting for my debut novel is the lighthouse on the Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas coast; a place near and dear to my heart. A place I know very well.

As a child growing up in Houston, Texas, in the 1970s, my family visited Bolivar every summer for fishing, swimming, and beachcombing. My father would drive our family of five to Galveston, then take a short ferry ride connecting Galveston Island with the Bolivar Peninsula.

The ferry ride was one of my favorite parts of the vacation. While waiting in line for our turn we made playful bets concerning which ferry we would ride. Would it be the Cone Johnson, the E.H. Thornton Jr., the R.S. Sterling, or the Gibb Gilchrist? We knew each boat by name. My two older brothers and I saved back French fries and pinches of bread from our lunch. After the boat was loaded and the captain gave the safety speech, we bolted for the back of the boat to feed the seagulls and dolphins.

I always knew the exact place the ferry would dock at the peninsula because Daddy taught me how to look for a certain landmark. It was hard to find from Galveston, but the closer the ferry came to Bolivar, the easier it was to spot. By the time the boat landed, the Bolivar Point Lighthouse was as big as a skyscraper in this little girl’s eyes.

Once off the boat, we drove past the iron lighthouse. Her light extinguished, she no longer lit the way for ships coming in or going out of Galveston Bay. Daddy always pointed out the two, abandoned houses beside the lighthouse. He showed me how one of the house’s nameplates read Boyt and the other, Maxwell. I didn’t understand the significance then, but later I realized the connection. Daddy’s uncle, my great uncle, was married to a Boyt, and he and his sister, (who was my grandmother) were born with the surname Maxwell.

You’re probably wondering if my father’s family were the lighthouse keepers. No, the truth is, the Boyt family bought the lighthouse and property at an auction and it has been owned by them ever since.

The original Bolivar Point Lighthouse dates back prior to the Civil War. In fact, it was during the war that the Confederates completely dismantled the lighthouse. Some accounts say it was taken down so the Union couldn’t use the light to their advantage. Others say the Confederate army used the iron for weapons and artillery. Either way, it was this factual event that I based my first novel, Northern Light, on.

The current lighthouse was built shortly after the Civil War and shined its light until it was retired in 1933. The tower’s third-order Fresnel lens is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. The great conical tower has seen over 150 years of United States history, and it still stands tall on the Bolivar Peninsula to this day.

About Annette:

Annette O’Hare is an award-winning inspirational author who lives in Southeast Texas with her husband, Dan of thirty years. They enjoy saltwater fishing on the Gulf Coast and spending time with their family. Annette’s love for the history and heritage of her home state shines through in her writing. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers and ACFW Writers On The Storm, Annette’s desire is to reveal God’s love to her readers and hopefully give them a laugh or two. The O’Hare’s are proud parents of two Texas A&M graduates, one exceedingly imaginative high schooler and two rambunctious, loveable rescue dogs.

Northern Light

Civil War has robbed Margaret Logan of all she holds dear, including her beloved New Orleans home and her fiancĂ©’s life.

When her family moves to the desolate Bolivar Peninsula to manage a lighthouse that is no longer there, all her hopes for a normal life are dashed. Her world is rocked once again when a wounded Yankee soldier washes ashore, needing her help.

Despite her contempt for the North, Margaret falls in love with Thomas Murphy. As their love blooms, Margaret’s sister is overcome with resentment and her mind slowly slips away. Bitterness, psychosis and depression yield a decision fueled by contempt.

Will her fatal choice condemn Thomas to death?

Annette O’Hare's Links

Amazon Page:

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Shooting My Eggs In One Basket?

When I first began my writing career, I struggled. And I mean struggled. Nothing came easy--not the writing, not the self-editing, not the submissions. Especially the submissions. And even though I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing (ha! the folly of youth), I eventually recognized and accepted that I'd have to zero in on what I wanted to write. Up to that point, I was sending a short story to Magazine A, an op-ed piece to Newspaper B, an article to Magazine C--the writer's equivalent of shooting a Gatling gun at anything that would stand still long enough for me to get a bead on it. Or not. Didn't matter. I scattered those submissions around the country like bullets, just hoping one of them would hit its target. 

Here I am struggling and shooting off submissions willy-nilly, 
hoping to hit that perfect target. You know, the one who would, 
to their everlasting joy, discover me, ask me where'd I'd been all 
that time, and pay me exorbitant amounts of money to write 
anything (and any way) I wanted. Not really. These are my 
grandsons, Cannon (no pun intended, although it would be a 
a good one), Hunter, and Dustin. And no, this isn't a 
Gatling gun, but it sure is an impressive piece of weaponry.
At that time, submissions were mailed (not e-mailed) to publishers and for the most part, no multiple submissions were accepted. To the fledgling (or even mature) writer, that meant sending off your baby to parts unknown and waiting breathlessly, sometimes for months on end, to get an answer. If it was a no, and in my case it often was, then off it went to another publishing house and the waiting commenced all over again. In the meantime, I scoured the world for opportunities to submit, made sure the editor hadn't died, been fired, or moved to another publishing house, and tried to come up with suitable ideas. 

Oh, I had success with greeting cards, essays, anthologies, a steady newspaper column (twice), speech-writing, ghostwriting, and feature articles for the local newspaper. I was thrilled each time I saw my name in print, but it was hard work and drove me nuts. Eventually I came to the conclusion that none of those were what I wanted to do for the rest of my writing life. Frankly, I couldn't stand the tension, I'm not known for my patience, and I had a lousy aim. Scattering my bullets ... er, submissions willy-nilly wasn't working. Eventually it came down to one thing: did I want to wait forever on several pieces of work for a yes or no, or did I want to work exclusively on one project? I opted for the latter, so now I write novels (and blog posts).

Others might come to a different conclusion, particularly those who crave the excitement of what's around the next bend, who search for the next big thing readers are interested in, and who never get bored with just one project. I envy them that sense of adventure and their willingness to put their eggs in several baskets. But I'm one of those people who wants all my eggs where I can see them. I enjoy getting to know my characters, researching the setting, and having only one thing to concentrate on for a long period of time. I need to know that when I close my eyes at night and my mind wanders (as it inevitably does, much to my body's discomfort the following morning), I'll be thinking of ways to improve the one project I'm working on at that moment, rather than having to mind-juggle multiple assignments. Of course, writing a novel isn't easy either, but it's a far better fit for my brain. I finish one, then move on to the next. 

Thank goodness, though, for those who are capable of handling several assignments at once. Without their talents, our magazines, short stories, greeting cards, newspapers, advertising, poetry, and all other forms of creative communications would come to a screeching halt. How about you? Do you crave the diversity of traveling several writing avenues at once or prefer walking a familiar path until it ends, then finding another?

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Deadly Designs, by Nike Chillemi

Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes, former Army Ranger, has just returned from a special mission for the mysterious spymaster Janus Agard. But instead of relaxing at Agard's seaside  mansion on Long Island, he is given a new mission. Talk show host Ed Barton explains that his erratic wife, Brianna, has disappeared and has taken their daughter, Jennifer, with her. The wife's disappearance is not unusual, but taking the daughter is. There is also a possible Islamic connection. Barton's station received hate mail after a substitute for him condemned Islamic practices. And Brianna had flirted with two Middle Eastern men at a party. Barton saw them just before Brianna disappeared. So Dawson Hughes receives the mission of working with a private investigations agency to look for the daughter.

The private investigator assigned is Veronica "Ronnie" Ingels, whom Hughes has worked with before. Their cooperation with the local police follows routine, but produces no immediate results. Then Brianna and the sometime male friend with whom she shares marijuana are found dead after being tortured. Evidence leads both to drug trafficking and to an Arabian prince currently living in the U.S. The prince's henchman, Hakim, is openly vicious, but it is uncertain if he is involved with the murder or the daughter's disappearance.

From these complications and as Hughes and Ronnie come under threats to their lives, the author constructs a narrative of increasing tension that builds to an exciting climax and satisfying denouement. The author also presents a meticulously researched variety of technical equipment. The result is an excellent suspense novel that readers will find most entertaining.

Reviewed by Donn Taylor, author of Lightning on a Quiet Night, Rhapsody in Red, etc.

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