Girls Write Out
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
We've been talking about going to Hawaii again. Last time we went our kids were young and we took a Nanny. I love this, she says it's the best family vacation she ever had (ie., not with hers. LOL) Anyway, last night of all things, the Hilton people called about their time share in Hawaii. The deal was great, but it was for a family of I told him, I can't leave two people behind, but thanks anyway.

He tries to tell me to take the kids with the best grades. Um, no. That won't work. Have a good night. He's going to put me on hold and check what he can do.

My son is getting ready to go to college. Next year, he's a senior, so I feel like our time for family vacations is drawing to a close and I panicked. I'm not good at planning and have you ever tried to organize six people on a plane? It's a complete pain.

Well, he talked to his manager (just like when you buy a car!) and got me a deal on a two-bedroom suite. And a free rental car. Granted, we have to go listen to the spiel about the time share, which I've never listened to, even though I've stayed at multiple places that have time shares. But the kicker for me, where I signed on the dotted line was when they said THEIR reservationist would make the plane reservations. SOLD!

Have you ever had something you were planning when some divine opportunity intervened and you knew it was right?
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Monday, September 26, 2011
I just got back from the most amazing conference ever. The 2011 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference was held in St Louis at the Hyatt Regency. Fabulous hotel and staff, by the way. From the left this is Denise Hunter, our agent Karen Solem, me, and fabo editor Ami McConnell.

Everywhere I turned, I saw writers being Jesus in the flesh there, from praying with us all for Di to sacrificially giving up a spot beside an agent or an editor for someone else. Loved being part of it!

But, ahem. Those of you in attendance may have noticed my handsome hubby in a tuxedo jacket, um, over jeans. It was not planned that way. He packed his entire tuxedo to wear. I'd just slipped into my fancy dress. I heard him call for me with more distress in his voice than I'd ever heard. "My pants aren't here," he said. I pooh-poohed the notion. I was sure I'd packed it. We looked EVERYWHERE. Those slacks were nowhere to be found.

He had nothing else to wear but jeans that he'd worked in at the church. They were covered in sawdust, but there was no option other than sweats. So we shook off the dust and wiped them down with a damp washcloth. He put them on and I had Ami and Becky, my editors from Nelson, tell him whether or not to wear a tie (the decision was not to) and he went with a ruffled shirt and tuxedo jacket over jeans. It was dark enough that no one seemed to pay any attention.

When we got home, the first thing we did was try to find those missing trousers. They weren't here. We checked everywhere. I was beginning to think someone had stolen his slacks. But why? My mystery brain evaluated and rejected every possible scenario. If someone was going to steal his trousers, wouldn't it be logical to take the entire suit? But something had to have happened to them.

Then Dave started the laundry. They were in the laundry bag. I distinctly remember him asking me if those black slacks were dirty. I said, "Yes, but I thought I put them in the bag. I must have missed." No, I didn't miss. The trousers fell off the hanger onto the floor and ended up in the laundry. We've had a good laugh all evening about it. And I'll always remember Dave in that very stylish getup. :)

How about you? Have you ever done something that made you blush?

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Colleen Coble  
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Today's my first day back from the ever-amazing ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. Normally this is the place where we girls gather every year, so there was a hint of sadness for us (Colleen and me) that we couldn't all be together this year.

But we made the most of our time in St. Louis. Praying for Di, corporately and privately, made us feel close in spirit even though we were far apart physically.

The conference was a whirlwind of networking, worshipping, learning the craft, praying, spending quality time with our Thomas Nelson friends and our agent, meeting new friends, and getting reacquainted with old ones.

Our generous publisher presented complimentary advanced copies of "Smitten" to all 750 conference attendees! We're so thankful for their support and excitement about a project that's so dear to our hearts. Here we are proudly holding our copies.

It was heartwarming to see and hear about so many selfless acts of love at the conference. I saw others give up their seats at editor tables so other writers could pitch their manuscript. (You have to be a writer to fully appreciate that!) People giving up class time to pray with others, and many other selfless acts. The spirit of love at this Christian event is a testimony to Christ's love.

What was the last selfless act of love you witnessed? Or the last selfless act bestowed on you?

Denise Hunter  
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Friday, September 23, 2011
I'm sure I've said this before, but I love to color my hair. It began when I wanted to go blond with all the other girls in my high school freshman class, but I get bored easily, so after I tired of blond I went red, then green--yes, that was an accident by a hair stylist. My hair is accidentally red in the picture here, but I kind of like it.

I found out, however, that since I'm going silver now, I might as well follow that natural change, so my hair stylist really hit the light blond. Yeah, really natural, huh? Then she went on maternity leave. Because I learned the hard way that I should never cut my own hair ever, ever again, I'm actually waiting until she returns before I get a cut, so now it's grown past my shoulders. The other day I was walking down the sidewalk in town and turned to see some young punk hanging out his window gawking at me. He probably wet himself after he saw my fifty-something face, but I was too busy laughing to notice. What is it about men and blond hair? Brother.

Mel is accustomed to my changes, but I knew I'd taken things a little too far one day when I went to meet him for lunch immediately after my stylist appointment, and he walked right past me in his search for me. Didn't even look my way. And I thought I looked pretty good. So I keep trying. Maybe someday I'll catch his attention.

So that's what I like to change a lot, as well as style of glasses, clothes, makeup, as most of you probably already know. But I'd love to know about you. How many colors and styles has your hair been in, say, the past five years? What's your clothing style? How do you dress up for a night on the town? Have you ever thought about making a quick change? Getting a new kind of trim? Cutting your hair short or letting grow out longer than usual? Getting a mohawk or a bowl cut? Have you ever gone to a hair studio where they actually match your bone structure and hair type to the right hair cut?

And speaking of changing hair styles, our Diann wins the award for changes and bravery. Please continue to pray for her.

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Hannah Alexander  
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If you've ever talked to Colleen on the phone, let me just say, she's enthusiastic. You usually can't tell if she's crying or insanely happy, so you try to get your bearings while she gets it out.

Yesterday, she calls me at work and screams in my ear, "Oh Kris, you have to get on a plane and get out here right now!"

I am freaking. I'm thinking Diann's surgery didn't go well. She needs moral support. Where can I get help for the kids? I will have to tell my boss I'm leaving for a while...all this runs through my head while she blurts the rest out...


Really? I'm having a heart attack and this is about my bath fetish? LOL Colleen and Denise are at ACFW and I should be there too. (It's in St. Louis this year.) But it's been so busy around here, I haven't had time to think or finish my rewrite, so it seemed very unprofessional to go at this juncture. But I'm really lamenting my friends being together when I'm not with them. I miss Colleen's enthusiasm. I miss Denise's voice of reason and mostly, I miss Di's fellow goofy ways. We are all soul sisters, and I'm so grateful.

But let this be a warning to you. Colleen Coble cannot be trusted on the phone!

The picture is the new cover they'll start from. The other one just didn't depict the story, though it was a great cover. Thank you all for your feedback!
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Thursday, September 15, 2011
For the time you would have read any words I might have written today, this weekend, next week, please, please pray for our Diann.


Hannah Alexander  
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Here are two covers for my upcoming novel about Daphne Sweeten, a "nose" in the perfume industry. Let me know your thoughts. And please pray for Di today!!!

Also, if the book isn't primarily set in Paris does the cover still work for you?
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I had a surreal experience last week. We went to Vermont to research the next Smitten book. I thought I would have to see several Vermont villages and put ideas together to match the Smitten we saw in our heads. We'd been to Stowe and the surrounding area, Burlington, and tons of other towns. They were all charming and wonderful. The people were friendly and I absolutely fell in love with Vermont. We were on our way out of the state to go to the Adirondacks to research a series I want to set there. 

I glanced to my right and there it was. Smitten, rising like Brigadoon. 

Dave got off the interstate and we made our way down a road back to Smitten (aka the town of South Royalton.) The flood had devastated the area. We saw mud that had been PLOWED from the road. It was in huge piles like snow, at least four feet high and four feet wide. A huge iron bridge had collapsed, and a house was barely perched on the its sides with all the underpart of the house gone. I feared what we would see when we got to town. 

We drove into town and stepped out of the van. It was PERFECT! Right down to the commons with the gazebo. Right down to the strip of shops. Right down to the quaint houses. It was an amazing experience to stand in a place that our minds had conjured up. We just loved it. I can't wait to show the girls the town. 

How about you? Have you ever gone to a place you knew but had never actually stepped foot in?

Colleen Coble  
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Would you like a sneak peek at The Accidental Bride? I have 3 advanced copies to give away--the book doesn't release until January.

Advanced copies are expensive for publishers to print, so I'd like to get as much bang for their buck as possible.

Here's how you can enter: 

1. Leave a message telling me what you'll do to promote the book (post reviews on Amazon, CBD, blog, etc) Be creative!

2. Leave your email address.

3. I'll choose 3 entries as winners and contact them Tuesday, Sept 13.

Here's a blurb of The Accidental Bride:

Two high-school sweethearts, a wedding reenactment, and one absent-minded preacher. Is it a recipe for disaster or a chance for a new beginning? 

         Shay Brandenberger is a survivor. She's lived through a crazy childhood, a failed marriage, and single parenthood-with her confidence intact.

         But not for long. Because when Shay participates in her town's Founders Day wedding reenactment, she finds herself face-to-face with the one man who leaves her weak in the knees: Travis McCoy.

         Travis is back in town after years way on the rodeo circuit. His one regret in life is breaking Shay's heart when they were high-school sweethearts. He's determined to get it right this time.

         So when their Founder's Day "marriage" is accidentally made official, Travis seizes the day. Can Shay put aside her pride to let Travis help her, or will their accidental marriage be over before he can say annulment?


Denise Hunter  
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Friday, September 09, 2011
Have you ever wondered how a writer can spend hours a day alone in her own head, making up stories on the computer--or even by hand--without losing her mind?

Who says we don't?

A writer's life can be a lonely life, hence one reason we reach out to one another. I worked for fourteen years writing manuscript after manuscript with no sales. And then I met Mel, and we began to collaborate on the novels I had written. And then we got married and when he came home from work he would talk about the exciting life of an ER doc. He once told me that he felt his job was a sacred trust. I gasped and said, "Honey, what a great title for a book! Why don't we write one together?"

I would like to say the rest was easy, but it wasn't. Those first six novels I wrote with Mel's input were the most difficult I had ever written, because not only had I studied the art of novel writing for fourteen years, but Mel had studied the medical arts for about the same amount of time. We were very knowledgable in our fields, but I wasn't knowledgable in his field, and he wasn't knowledgeable in mine. Mel had to learn a new language when he went to med school, and it's called medicalese. I didn't understand that language. He didn't always understand mine. I had to explain what I needed for a specific scene, and then I had to get him to slow down and stop talking so I could write it down. Then I had to ask him to pretend he was talking to a kindergartner. Our six hard-hitting ER-type novels proved our love for each other in very concrete ways. If a marriage can make it through that kind of miscommunication without more than one fight, it can last through anything .

After those six books, we switched publishers, and they didn't want hard-hitting ER novels, they wanted women's fiction. We continued to write about characters with medical skills, and we still included medical scenes, but we backed far away from the constant trauma of ER medicine. You cannot imagine how relieved I was. Mel says he still misses it, but I think secretly he's relieved he doesn't have to work so hard. Editing a complete manuscript for me and placing a medical scene here and there is easier than dumbing down a whole book ilea with complicated procedures for someone with the understanding of a five-year-old.

Working together on a book is just like working together in life. There will be disagreements and misunderstandings. The trick to getting through it with friendship intact is to trust your partner's heart. Mel didn't purposely make medicine difficult for me to understand, he simply took for granted I had a brain. I didn't purposely make him rewrite and dumb down medical scenes just to irritate him, I simply needed to make sure all of our readers would be able to see the scene in their minds as they read.

Mel and I are thrilled with the books we've worked on together, and we look forward to working on many, many more. We also look forward to more years of marriage, of loving each other through the hard times, and learning to trust one another more deeply. That's what true collaboration is about.

What are some of your tricks and practices for getting along with others?

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Hannah Alexander  
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Thursday, September 08, 2011

When I played paper dolls as a kid, I had no idea it was shaping my future.

I loved paper dolls. Even the colorform kind--was that what it was called? I can't remember. But I loved dressing up my little dolls for appropriate social events, casual outings, whatever.

Think about it. When you played paper dolls, it wasn't all about the clothes, was it? I mean, in my imagination, it was more than that. They dressed for an event because they had a life. I knew quite a lot about my little paper friends. Their families, their quirks, their struggles and their joys (well, depending on how long my mom let me play). So you see, I was learning about building character and fictional lives even back then.

Some days I miss my paper dolls. So I just grab my laptop and start creating. The only thing missing is the paper. :-)

What helps you most with creating characters? Magazine pictures? Conversations? People watching? Playing paper dolls?

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Diann Hunt  
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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

One of the most important elements that will make a book all your own is voice. But voice isn't talked about a lot because it develops naturally over the course of your writing life. Think of your favorite authors and how strong their voice is -- how they can take a perfectly boring subject and entertain.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen

Jane has it all: humor, social commentary and an indication as to where her story is going. All in one line. That is serious voice.

So how do you find YOUR voice? Well, as I said, it develops naturally, but I wrote many a book before figuring out that my voice was in first-person. My strength is in commentary and the dialogue of humor. To pinpoint your voice, practice this way: Take your protagonist and have them write out their thoughts and views on life. It's separate from your story. This is just for practice.

Is your protagonist's viewpoint strong on setting? Emotion? Angst? Fear? Do the beats of how he/she speaks ring in your ear? Or is it something you see on paper. Look at how your sentences are structured. Are they long? Do you enjoy beautiful prose and metaphors? Are they short and choppy with many beats? This is how you develop voice. Voice takes a simple story to the next level. And no. There's no reason for the Colin Firth picture -- other than do you need a reason for Mr. Darcy, ever? I think not.

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Monday, September 05, 2011
So many aspiring writers ask me where to start when planning a novel. I love to start with brainstorming the idea with friends like we did last week in Brown County, Indiana.

To do this, it's best to have a partner or two or three. Do you have a friend who loves to read, even if they aren't a writer? Or a writer you've met at a conference? If so, then grab them and curl up for some fun. Remember:

1. YOU must have the passion. All the great ideas in the world won't work if it doesn't resonate with you.

2. Anything goes. No idea it too stupid to throw out there because even if it doesn't work, it might ping off into some other idea that does.

3. Chocolate is the necessary brain food. And coffee. Lots of coffee. Though I do feel badly that I didn't think to bring decaf and poor Ami was awake half the night. :(

4. Read some newspapers in the area to see what kinds of things are going on there. Visit the area. See what kind of people live there. To me it does no good to come up with characters first because the people in different areas are so unique. A character from California is totally different from one in Michigan. So figure that out and jot down ideas from travel guides and newspapers. Take a drive around town and watch people. See if some idea catches your interest. Sit in a populated area and listen in. You might catch a snippet of conversation that launches you into a great story. Have those ideas ready when you get together with your friend.

5. Try to make the "hook" as strong as you can by bouncing it around with your brainstorming partner. That's the interesting premise that launches the story. With Lonestar Angel (shipping in about 3 weeks!) I noodled about how a woman might think she was divorced and yet still be married. And what could make her go off with her supposedly ex-husband in spite of everything? I came up with Clay arriving to tell Eden that the child they thought had died in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong was really alive--and he needs her help to find out which of 5 little girls is theirs. Of course, the villain was luring them to the remote Bluebird Ranch. . . I was hooked and I hope you will be too!

6. When you think you've milked an idea and it still isn't right, change tactics and go on to something else. You may even find you need to merge two ideas.

7. If you can, get away on a retreat. Going to a cabin this past week was just what we needed. We came up with some great ideas for the next Smitten story. And I came away charged up and thinking about my next Hope Beach story as well. But if the budget doesn't allow for this, just do the brainstorming in your living room.

8. Let the idea sit a while then look at it again. See if it sparks something even more new and fresh.

9. Think hard about your spiritual thread. A strong story can be created around something you feel strongly about. I was thinking today about a movie I saw when I was a teenager. It was called Imitation of Life and I've often thought about it over the years because it made a social statement about something the writer felt passionately about and it made me look at what I saw around me with fresh eyes. In Tidewater Inn, the first Hope Beach story I just finished, I loved showing how the path to sin is so subtle. The villain takes first one step then another in the pursuit of money until he is willing to commit murder to get what he wants. And at the same time, Libby is learning from Coast Guard officer Kirk that real joy in life is in giving. It was way fun to show that juxtaposition.

I'm on my way to Vermont to take pictures and get ideas for all of us. But there is something about being in the car that stirs my creative juices. I think I have the opening scene and premise for Rosemary Cottage. I was captivated when I found out that rosemary is for remembrance and also means dew of the sea. You'll have to wait to find out where those bits of knowledge led me but it was fun to go at it from that angle. My heroine's name is Kate which means pure. So you might take a drive with your spouse when you want brainstorm even more.

Have you ever brainstormed an idea? What helped you get to the gold nugget you needed for the story?


Colleen Coble  
posted at 9:29 PM  
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Sunday, September 04, 2011

It's the first week of the month . . . that means it's time for World of Writing (WOW) week at Girls Write Out! Stay tuned this week for some fun insight into novel writing!

Last week we (Colleen, Kristin, and I) brainstormed Smitten 2 with our editors at a cabin in the woods. (Here we are signing the contract.)

We came up with the main plot for Smitten then we plotted our individual stories. How does a writer begin to plot a story? There are several jumping-off points a writer might use:

1. Setting Setting is always critical, but some authors like to start here and build out. Once you determine setting, you can choose an occupation that's suitable for the town or determine who or what the story is about. Colleen's Lone Star series is an example. Everyone loves a Texas setting!

2. Character No story will go far without memorable characters. When you start here, you let the character's personality determine the direction of the plot. Kristin's Ashley Stockingdale series is a great example. Ashley is just quirky and spunky enough to carry a whole series.

3. Hook This is the "something" about the plot that makes a shopper slip the book into their cart. If you read a one-sentence blurb about a book, the hook is usually in that sentence. Diann's recent release Love Letters in the Sand is a great example. What happens when old flames are reunited by circumstances but separated by secrets? (I'll tell you what happens, you end up staying up way to late to find out!)

4. Occupation All protagonists need one, but in some stories, the occupation is critical to the storyline. Silent Pledge by Hannah Alexander is an example. This story (and many other books by Cheryl) centers around a female physician. When you're married to a doctor, this is a great way to go!

5. Opening Scene Some authors come up with an intriguing opening scene then figure out who the characters are and how they got there. In The Convenient Groom I envisioned a bride being left at the altar and a groom who steps in to save the day. Under what circumstances could that be plausible? Finding out was half the fun. :)

Which of these jumping off points intrigue you most often--as a reader or as a writer?

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Denise Hunter  
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Friday, September 02, 2011
Finally, after over 2 years, we have another book out! The title is The Wedding Kiss, and it's a romantic suspense set in our beloved Jolly Mill, MO, only a few miles from where we live. You can see the copy of the book on the sidebar of the home page. Some artist did a fabulous job with the cover, and I'm thrilled with it!

The Wedding Kiss is one of two books that are launching a new historical line with Summerside/Guidepost books. The other book was written by our friend, Margaret Daley, and we have been so excited about doing this together that we decided to run a contest together, including both our books. Check my website, for the rules of the contest. There will be a question from each book that needs to be answered. All correct answers for both books will be entered into a drawing, and on Oct. 31 of this year, five winners will be chosen for a four-night condo resort stay from Monday through Friday. Winners will have their choice of several times and places.

So look for The Wedding Kiss, by Hannah Alexander; as well as From This Day Forward, by Margaret Daley. Find the answers to the questions you receive on our website, and take a chance for a wonderful trip. Tell your friends, because if they win, maybe they'll take you along!

We're excited. I hope you are, too. Even if you like to stay at home and just read about the excitement of other characters, you can have a choice of a free book from us if you so desire.

Get ready for some fun! Any questions?

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Hannah Alexander  
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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

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