Girls Write Out
Monday, April 29, 2013

SearchRescue Featured

I'm getting ready to go to the Romantic Times conference. Excited to see my peeps Ami McConnell (editor) and Katie Bond (marketing manager) for a few days. Ami, Lenora Worth, and I will be teaching a workshop on inspirational fiction. One of the things I want to talk about is What is Christian Fiction? 

I'd love to get your opinion. When you go to the store or browse an online shop, what makes you decide to buy the book? What is Christian fiction to you and what strong elements make a difference for you when deciding whether or not to plunk down your money?

I'll pick 5 winners from the comments, and they will get Rock Harbor Search and Rescue, the newest in the Rock Harbor series. So put on your thinking caps and tell me what does Christian fiction mean to you?

Colleen Coble  
posted at 7:11 PM  
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Sunday, April 28, 2013
There are few things that can sink a good romance novel faster than a weak obstacle. The purpose of the obstacle is, of course, to keep the hero and heroine apart until they reach happily ever after.

Most romance novels have 2 obstacles: internal and external. An internal obstacle is something that occurs inside of us. It involves issues such as:

fear of loving
inability to trust
past betrayal

External obstacles are more tangible.

Feuding families (Romeo and Juliet)
Geographical separation (Sleepless in Seattle)
Separated by time (The Lake House)
Already engaged (The Wedding Planner)

The internal obstacle comes pretty quickly for me when plotting, but the external obstacle usually requires more planning. And I've learned (the hard way) to really think this one through. If you have a strong external obstacle, writing the novel will be easier. If you have a weak obstacle, not only will the story be unsatisfying, but you'll find yourself plodding through the middle of the book trying to find reasons the hero and heroine can't be together. Or, equally worse, you'll keep using your weak obstacle and make a molehill into a mountain. The reader will see right through this.

So do yourself a favor and make sure both of your obstacles are strong enough to keep the hero and heroine apart for the course of the novel. You'll be thankful you did--and so will your readers.

Have there been any obstacles that have kept you apart from a loved one? What is the obstacle keeping the hero and heroine apart in the last romance you read?

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Denise Hunter  
posted at 9:17 PM  
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Although I do appreciate the gorgeous silhouette these dresses from 1855 offered women, I'm just so doggone glad I never have to worry about being poured into one of the corsets they had to use. I like to breathe too much. It wasn't until I started researching information on my earlier historical novels that I grasped the extent of discomfort women experienced to follow the rules of fashion. In fact, compassion for the characters in my book, plus the lack of logic displayed by all the accoutrements of dress, incited me to place my characters in the country, far from city life, where they were free to dress comfortably enough to ride a horse astride.

As for me, I've never been a style maven. I don't even like to shop, so when I find myself in need of something to wear, I'll rush into a store, purchase anything that looks halfway decent and feels comfortable, and it isn't until I get home that I realize I look better in vee neck tops, not mock-turtlenecks, or that the hem doesn't come down far enough to cover the widest part of my backside, or that the color makes me look washed out. It doesn't help that I change my hair color every few weeks. Colleen is going to faint dead away next time she sees me, because now I'm blond--it was simply easier and cheaper than having it highlighted every six weeks.

As for comfort, I stopped wearing heels thirty years ago. Now everything I wear is comfortable, walkable and supportive. Now my clothing and shoes fit my lifestyle--comfy, laid-back. I figure if I'm comfortable in my clothes, I'll be more able to put those around me at ease, so Mary Janes, Sketchers and Birkenstocks are my footwear these days. My pants are so stretchy I could sleep in them if need be, and my tunics are loose enough that I don't have to suck in my stomach. Ever. My biggest nod to fashion is an occasional wide belt to emphasize that there is a feminine shape beneath that loose clothing.

I would love any tips on comfy fashion these days, since I'm scheduled to speak at least a couple of times this year, and am finally presenting my face in public after a long year of hibernation. Any helpful hints?

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Hannah Alexander  
posted at 12:47 PM  
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Friday, April 19, 2013

At 2:45 a.m. one morning this week, Mel and I were getting a good night's sleep after a tornado warning the evening before. These days those warnings are barely a blip on the radar for us, since we get them all the time this season of the year (actually, most seasons of the year) and it's been a couple of years since our town was hit by one. It's been almost a decade since a tornado took out the whole downtown, so we've become a little lax about the weather.

Despite the excellent earplugs I always wear to bed, I was awakened by the low-but-annoying squall of  our town's tornado alert system. Too tired to function, I pushed a loose earplug back into place and buried my face in my pillow. The siren grew louder, echoed by another down the road. I tried to block it out and go back to sleep. We live in a brick house. Tornadoes have always missed us before. Besides,  Mel always said he wanted us to go together. Here was our chance--I don't always think clearly when I'm half asleep.

Of course, then my conscience kicked in while Mel snored softly beside me, oblivious. What if we were hit by a tornado and badly injured? Instead of dying and going to heaven, we'd be stuck here in damaged bodies. I hadn't even asked Mel what he wanted to do, so I was making the decision for both of us without consulting him.

With great reluctance, I slid out of bed and pulled the covers off Mel. "Honey, we need a flashlight."

"Mmmfttt-t-t" Or at least, I think that's what he said, because I still had my earplugs in.

"We can sleep with the cats the rest of the night." The basement is the cat's domain at night, because if we don't shut them down there, they'll either wander around outside and get eaten by coyotes, or try to break down the bedroom door and sleep with us. And they are NOT easy to sleep with.

"Is that a tornado siren?" Mel asked. I think. I refused to remove my earplugs because if I did, I'd wake up and never get back to sleep.

"We can sleep on the bed in the tornado room,"I told him. "It'll be fun. Something we've never done." We have a beautifully decorated room with no windows in the basement. It has a mural on one wall of a peaceful lake scene, and there's a very comfortable bed down there about half the size of our king bed. We could do this.

But we got down there and discovered that someone (Mel) had allowed the cats into the back half of the basement at some point, and now there was cat hair all over the bedding. I reached for an ever-ready cat-hair sticky roller and got to work. We live with four cats in our faces, so there's not much difference between that and sleeping in their hair. With the siren still blaring--warning us that we'd better stay down there and not go back upstairs to bed--we finally shut the door on the four wide-awake cats who were in the mood to place. I fell fast asleep.

Thank you, dear Denise, for introducing me to those silicone earplugs. They rock at blocking out caterwauling. At some point during the night, Teddy Bear, who considers herself a rock star, decided to serenade us. She has a voice like a garbage truck without a muffler, and goes around the house in search of the best places for her voice to echo. Poor Mel, who typically sleeps like a lump of lead, doesn't wear earplugs. He didn't get much sleep that night, so it's a good thing he didn't work ER the next day.

Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate our small town's desire to protect its citizens with this great alarm system for dicey weather. I even appreciate the company of our four strays on occasion. But sometimes the mix just doesn't work.

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Hannah Alexander  
posted at 1:42 PM  
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Nobody Knows Anything is a famous quote by writer William Goldman.  It's about how in Hollywood, just like the publishing business, they don't know what will be successful.  Of course, they can take risks and use their educated backgrounds to guess, but ultimately, no one can tell you why "Shades of Grey" broke out over say, the tons of erotica garbage that's already on the market.

As a writer, that has been one of the hardest lessons for me.  I KNOW why the classics have stuck around.  I can see the storytelling capability, the beauty of words...often in today's bestsellers -- some with people's names on the covers who didn't even write the books -- I can't see why they're bestsellers.

That is frustrating for an author.  Why this one?  What am I missing?  Incidentally, I'm not envious because I feel like God has His plan and He decides ultimately, who will have success.  However, just from a learning standpoint, I get frustrated that I can't understand it.

Have you ever felt like that about a book?  There are books that I haven't liked, but I still see why they broke out.  Here's an example.  I loved "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger, but I couldn't get through two chapters of her breakout book, "The Time Traveler's Wife."

Is there a bestseller that surprised you?  What about one that lived up to its hype for you?  (For me, that would be "Gone Girl" but I know Colleen didn't really care for it.)

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Monday, April 15, 2013
We asked for title ideas for Smitten 3, and boy did you all come through! Thank you so much for your numerous ideas. Y'all are so creative, it was hard to choose!

The winner of a signed Secretly Smitten copy is Barbara Thompson who suggested The Smitten Bookclub. Congrats, Barbara! Please send your mailing address to

But, we're giving away one more copy. We also liked Smitten Ever After (Jordan Sims). However, our publisher has a similar title releasing around the same time, so we had to throw that title out. Anyway, Jordan Sims, please send your address to the email above, and you'll receive a complimentary copy too.

Also, if either of you would prefer Smitten instead, just let me know.

Thanks again for all your help, friends! We know where to go next time we can't come up with a title!


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Denise Hunter  
posted at 8:16 AM  
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Friday, April 12, 2013
This is the time of year when the wild geese and ducks can be seen flying in formation--or in confusion--all around our town. Spring is bursting forth! Since Di was recalling a long-ago memory, I thought I'd follow along the same line of thinking. Many, many years ago, when I was single-again and staying with my mother far, far, far out in the country after my father died, I enjoyed living on the farm. I think that isolated farm, 1/2 mile from the nearest neighbor and hidden from the world behind trees, was my favorite place in the world.

Of course, the cattle were no longer our responsibility. Daddy sold them to a neighbor before he passed on, so the only animal life we had to deal with were dogs, skunks, armadillos and the occasional deer. Except for the skunks and one brainless dog who didn't know when to stop teasing the pretty black and white "kitty," it was calm on the farm.

I recall driving to work one morning during that time and watching the sky and the surrounding trees for pretty birds. We had all kinds of birds, from whippoorwills to nuthatch to bluebirds and jays. This one morning, though, I became excited when a flock of geese dove from the sky in formation and flew barely a foot above my car! Rarely have I seen ducks or geese fly this low, and I was so honored to be a part of it! I even stopped the car, mouth open in awe. How I wished someone could have been there to share it! Have you ever had that kind of moment? The life of the wild, right outside your car window? I felt so blessed.

Seconds after, however, I received yet more evidence of life flying over my car.  Something plopped on the hood. I get the feeling the geese weren't as enchanted by my presence as I was with theirs.

Suitably put in my place, I continued my drive to work, but throughout the day I thought about those geese and chuckled. Sometimes you get a little bird plop in your life, but take heart, at least it's a sign of the nature that surrounds us, in all its glory.

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Hannah Alexander  
posted at 5:23 PM  
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Thursday, April 11, 2013
Grandkids are great fodder for books. I love this picture of two of our grandkids. It reminds me of Happy Days. You know, two teenagers sipping on a drink in a soda shop. Of course, my grandkids here aren't teenagers, but it makes me think of that.

It also puts me to mind of great friends. This picture could trigger an idea for a book of a budding romance that started as friends when they were little kids.

Ideas for writing come from everywhere. Many times pictures spur that in me when nothing else can. It's a jumping off point. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For me, the picture gets those thousand words on the page! Magazine pictures, websites, and yes, even the grandkids. It's all fair game.

Life is full of snapshots. You know, those moments in your day that for some reason stick with you for a long time. I'm always amazed at the trivial things that stick with me. For instance, when I was in fifth grade, school let out and it was pouring down rain. I normally walked home (about 12 blocks), but on this particular day, my mom was there to pick me up. I remember the smell of the rain, the chill in the air, the pounding of the rain on our car, the blurry windshield wipers, and running into the house where a pot of chili simmered on the stove.

I wonder if that sticks with me because I felt secure, cared for, loved? I didn't have to walk home in the cold rain. After school, I was hungry and hot soup waited for me. My mom's actions were an expression of love and it stuck with me.

Do you have a random memory? One that makes you wonder why you remembered it, but there it is?

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Diann Hunt  
posted at 8:21 AM  
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Friday, April 05, 2013

We have a dear friend who wanted to write a novel about a character with face blindness. She thought it would be a great suspense novel. Unfortunately, the editor she communicated with was not as well-versed in the ailments of the day as we novelists typically are, and she rejected the idea. So I'm here to tell my readers everywhere (all three of you) that faceblindness is alive and well right here in Southwest Missouri. See this guy? He's face blind even when his eyes are open.

We were watching television last night. Eureka, I believe it was. One of the characters, a tough deputy sheriff named Jo, got out of uniform and into a nice black dress and let her hair down. Not only was this NOT the first time last night that we'd seen her out of uniform, but her face was right there, dark brown eyes and all! Mel said, "Sweetheart, is this a new character? Where'd she come from? What kind of writing is this?"

I said, "Honey, this is Jo. You know Jo. She pulled a gun on the sheriff in the last episode."

"Naw, that can't be her. This woman's got dark skin, dark hair. What do you think she is, Native American?"

"Mel, you know who Jo is! She's been in the show since the beginning, she's just not wearing her uniform. She has her hair down."

"I don't believe it! It can't be her."

"Just because she isn't wearing that tight bun doesn't mean she's a different person, honey. That's Jo. Trust me. I know."

He gave me a suspicious look, as if I might be trying to pull a trick on him.


Mel has face blindness. It does make things difficult when he lives in a small town and everyone expects him to know them if he's seen them in the clinic. That can get dicey. And as for church? Mel shakes hands with everyone, calls everyone the wrong name. We've gone to church, and often ended up in the same Sunday school class with an optometrist Mel has referred patients to for nearly twenty years. But Mel doesn't even know Greg when he walks into the classroom.

I can do you one better. A couple of years ago (yes, I know I've told you this, but it definitely bears repeating) I got my hair lightened and cut, and then went to a local restaurant to meet Mel for lunch. I was already seated when he arrived. I smiled and waited for him to walk back to me. He walked right past me to the back of the room, all the time, looking for his dark-haired darling. He had to be led to the right table by a server. THAT is how face blind he is. Our friend who wants to write about face blindness should just go ahead and write the book. I know there will be an editor wise enough to realize that there really is such a kind of person, and the affliction is real, and there could be some really scary scenes in a book like that. You should have seen how scared Mel was when he discovered I was his wife, sitting there all pretty with blond hair.

Yep, face blindness exists. My husband is living proof.

Hannah Alexander  
posted at 4:54 AM  
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Wednesday, April 03, 2013
The third Smitten book is nearly done and we're in need of a title.  We decided to put it out to you and see what you think.  Do you have a title that applies to Smitten 3?

The main mystery revolves around an antique book written by one of our heroine's ancestors.  The girls all know each other through a book club in town and band together to help their friend, young widow Molly and her son, Noah.

We need to have Smitten in the title and we'd like to have it related to books. Since the theme of the stories and the key to the mystery are all related to the heroine's connections with books.

Got any ideas?  As a reminder book one is called "Smitten" and book two is called "Secretly Smitten." Thomas Nelson may use your title and we will send that person a book signed by all of us.  God bless and thanks for the help!

posted at 8:56 PM  
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Every writer hears this sentence when they tell people what they do, "I'm going to write a book some day."

The truth is, that day will never come if people don't sit down and do it.  Having written is wonderful.  Writing takes effort.  As the mother of four teens, my life is constantly turned upside down by their schedules and I've found that unlike when they were young -- and there was NAP time.  There is no such break for the mother of teens.

After you drop them off at school, there are bills to pay, laundry to do and naturally, the constant grocery shopping.

This week I'm reworking my schedule so that I can get everything done like I used to.  For example, Wednesdays used to be errand day.  I didn't run errands on other days, it could wait so that I only had to leave the house once.  It can STILL wait.

For me, there needs to be set hours for writing time.  My brain doesn't turn on until about ten a.m., so I can get a lot done in those hours before that. But I'll often set a timer to make sure that time is ONLY for writing.

On Focus.  It can be hard to know WHAT to work on when you have multiple projects going on -- Personally, I need to set my schedule the night before and know what needs to be accomplished the following day.  It can feel really great if you make a list and cross things off as they're done.  (In the Scrivener program, you can set up word count goals and that helps me a lot!)

Deadlines.  As a writer, you must set your own deadline.  Even if you have a publisher telling you when something is due, you must plan for all of the things that WILL go wrong to meet that deadline and plan accordingly.

Once you're out of your routine, getting back to it is doubly hard, so start your schedule and stick to it!  I'm giving myself the sermon, hoping you might benefit from it as well.  I wrote nearly 40 books with four kids under six at one point.  You can do this.  I can do this.

posted at 2:25 PM  
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Tuesday, April 02, 2013


I love it when it's time to think up a new idea. I know it can be challenging for some but I have a system I'd like to share with you. Some authors search for a new character or inciting incident first. That can be a fun way to come up with a story idea, but I go about it a little differently. I pick the SETTING first. Figuring out the WHERE can be a great jumping off place for several different reasons.

1. Characters are different based on where they live. A protagonist in California is different from one in Indiana. Michigan characters are different from those in Texas. The culture that goes into creating them are very diverse. So I start by picking an area. Then I read the history of that area. 

2. Area newspapers and magazine articles can springboard the plot idea. Rosemary Cottage will ship in June. The idea came about after reading an article about a swimmer struck by a boat. I got to wondering what would happen if the death wasn't an accident. Lots of fertile ideas and themes sprang from that. 

3. The setting has to set the atmosphere for me too. I tend to choose small town or remote areas where I can ramp up the suspense and sense of isolation. You may choose a city for a reason that suits your story. 

So here's what I want you to do. Go read about Missoula on Wikipedia.,_Montana Read the history, the current challenges facing the area, the entire thing. Jot down 3 possible ideas based on what you read there and let me know what you come up with.

What are some strategies you use to come up with a new story idea?

Colleen Coble  
posted at 2:22 AM  
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Monday, April 01, 2013
It's no secret that my least favorite part of writing happens during the middle of the book. They don't call it the sagging middle for nothing, folks. If you're not really careful, that baby will sag so low you'll be tempted Select All and Delete. Or at the very least, whine to your critique partner that you're in the middle of your worst story ever and your career is over. (Sound familiar Colleen?)

The easy cure for the sagging middle is The Domino Effect. It's just as it sounds. Create conflict that pushes the next domino down. If the conflict isn't strong enough to push the next one down, make it stronger or change it altogether. Don't just string together a series of events. Don't just write the next scene that comes to mind. Think How is this scene going to effect my protagonist? What reaction is this going to cause? If the reaction is daydreaming while sipping Earl Grey tea, it's not the right scene.

Make something happen. Something bad. Your protagonist's worst fear. At the worst time possible. Be mean. It's fiction, you're allowed. Your character will grow, your reader will experience the vicarious thrill of victory, and you won't have a middle that sags to the floor.

FYI  Preorder Barefoot Summer on Kindle or Nook for only $4.99 starting today! And no, it's not an April Fool's joke. :) Kindle  Nook

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Denise Hunter  
posted at 9:30 AM  
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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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