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The Punctuation Test


A couple of months ago, I told you about the games we play in our home. Everything from Scrabble to Monopoly. And I mentioned that word games are a special favorite.

For this month’s interview with Kathy Ide, I’m going to take game-playing to another level. Kathy is an expert in grammar and punctuation, and those are areas I’m a little weak in. So we’re going to have a fun test to see if you can spot errors in my sentences. After all, we’re readers and most of us are writers, so we should be able to pick out the mistakes in no time at all. Right?

Take a look at the sentences below and decide where the errors are.

The Punc Test

  1. I think its a shame that Mrs. Fletcher’s Fabulous Chicken Restaurant closed.
  2. Frank ate the hamburger, and went to the park.
  3. I’ve seen the best movies, including: Casablanca, Forrest Gump, and Schindler’s List.
  4. Donna told me that “there is nothing like fried ice cream.”
  5. Is this theme-park a dog friendly place?

You can check your answers here.

How did you do?

If you missed three or more, you might want to brush up on your grammar and punctuation. Kathy Ide’s Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors would be an excellent place to start!

If you only missed one or two, you’re doing well, but you probably need an editor to check your work before you publish. You can find excellent ones at

If you got them all right, you may be ready to become an editor or proofreader yourself! Check out Kathy’s Christian Editor Network at!

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   I am delighted to welcome Kathy Ide back to the Craft of Writing Blog Series. Along with her numerous activities in writing, editing, and mentoring, Kathy is owner of the Christian Editor Network, the parent company of four divisions for aspiring and established freelance editors and proofreaders. In addition to her latest book, Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Kathy has written Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the Capitalization Dictionary. She is also the compiler and editor of a four-book series of Fiction Lover’s Devotional books, including 21 Days of Grace21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, and 21 Days of Christmas.

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Welcome back, Kathy, and thank you for joining us!

It’s been a little over a year since you were here last. What have you been doing in the interval?

Still doing a lot of editing for authors, which I love. The SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference went virtual this year, which was a blessing to many people who couldn’t have attended in person.

The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, which I’ve directed the last four years, was cancelled due to COVID-19. The conference center has been hit so hard by the pandemic, I was laid off (along with 90% of the MH employees), and the ministry leaders decided not to sponsor the writers conference anymore. I’m praying they will recover from this terrible situation, and if they do, I’m eager to see what God does there.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying more time with my family now that my conferences, travel, and visiting relatives are off my calendar due to the virus.

What made you want to become an editor?

When I lost my day job in an office, my husband suggested it might be a good opportunity for me to do something different with my career. He asked what I’d choose if I could do anything for a living, and I immediately said, “Write!” But I knew I couldn’t earn a living with my writing at that point. He asked what my second choice would be, and I said, “My critique group likes what I do for them, and I love doing it.” He suggested I see if I could make a career out of that. I asked my workers’ comp coordinator about it, but she said that since I didn’t have a college degree, it was “impossible.” When I heard that word, I heard God say, “Impossible is my specialty,” and I knew it was a direction He wanted me to pursue.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. While I love writing, helping others improve their writing is an absolute delight for me.

Why did you decide to write Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors?

In my work with authors, as well as attending and teaching at writers’ conferences across the country, I developed several flyers on various aspects of editing. Most were based on advice I’d picked up from best-selling authors I’d met and learned from over the years. Putting those flyers together into a book, weaving in direct quotes from my multi-published author friends, just made sense.

When Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors was published, it was intended to be the first in a series. Editing Secrets seemed like the logical second book.

This has been a strange year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. How has that affected your work?

With the cancellation of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the in-person SoCal conference, as well as other travel and out-of-state relatives visiting, I am no longer behind on any deadlines! It’s an odd feeling, but I have to say, quite satisfying.

Some of my editing clients are using the extra time to get lots of writing done, so they’re keeping me busy. Other clients are finding it difficult to concentrate on their writing with all that’s going on, so their slots on my calendar have been moved. So it all works out for everyone.

Many of the people who visit this blog are new authors. What one piece of advice would you give to them?

Only one? J Let’s see … I think the most important would be to trust God’s calling and his timing. Many new writers get so excited about what God has put on their hearts to write that they tend to rush the process. They set self-imposed deadlines for when they want their books published before they realize all that’s involved and how long those steps can take. God called you at exactly the right moment for you to learn how to write well, make connections with other writers who can help you hone your craft, work with a professional editor to polish your manuscript, and then follow whatever path he has chosen for publication of that book. He knew at the start how long that process would take. He also knew precisely the right time for your book to be published so it would get into the hands of the people he knew would need to read it. So relax, take your time, do it right, and enjoy the ride.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

There are many, and I’d be hard pressed to recommend one craft book above all the others, so I’ll go with The Chicago Manual of Style. It’s not so much on the craft of writing itself, but once you’ve read many craft books and implemented their techniques into your manuscript, it’s important that you do that final polish and make sure your punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling are according to the book industry’s standard guidelines. Because if you have a lot of errors in your manuscript, publishers (and readers) will be so distracted by them they’ll have a hard time getting into your story or your message.

The publishing world seems to be changing daily. What do you see in store for us in the future? What advice would you give to authors to navigate this labyrinth?

That is so true, Kay! My best advice for keeping up with changes in the publishing world is to attend writers’ conferences. COVID-19 has forced several to cancel, but some have gone online … and we’ll be able to have in-person events again at some point. Conferences that have active literary agents and acquisitions editors on faculty will give you the opportunity to find out from them what’s going on in the industry.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you for this opportunity, Kay.


Join the conversation with author, editor, and mentor Kathy Ide Click To Tweet





This month I’m happy to welcome Gale Sears to the blog. Although Gale has previously published other titles, The Fifth Favorite is her first foray into middle-grade fiction. It was published and released in November 2019 by CrossLink Christian Publishers.

From the Amazon book blurb:

Eleven-year-old Allie Whitman is dealing with stress about her sixth-grade science project, embarrassment about her chicken costume for Halloween, and fear of the Mad Woman of Tahoe Meadow. Added to this, she feels that she is her mother’s fifth favorite in their family of six. She tries hard to up her status, but competing with her dad, a charming older brother, a brainy older sister, and a younger sister with autism; Allie laments that she may be stuck forever as low man on the totem pole.

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Gale Sears


Gale Sears is the best-selling author of the well-loved children’s story, Christmas for a Dollar. She has a degree in play writing and a masters degree in theater arts. She grew up in the magic of Lake Tahoe, which colors the story of The Fifth Favorite.


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Welcome, Gale, and thank you for joining us!

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

I grew up in the wonder of Lake Tahoe which shaped my joy and imagination. I also spent time in Hawaii during my high school years, and then attended college in Utah and Minnesota. For many years, my profession centered in Theater Arts. I spent time acting, directing, and playwriting. Later in my life, the Lord moved me onto another path—novel writing, specifically Historical Fiction.

I am married to George and we have two children, Shawn and Chandler. Our son, Shawn, passed away ten years ago. It was a painful experience which brought our family to that crisis of faith faced by many. Would this great loss have us doubt the Lord or bring us closer to His divine love? We chose closer.

After having written other novels, what made you decide to write in the middle-grade genre?

I had a story bumping around in my head about life in Lake Tahoe during the innocent age of the early 1960’s, and a young girl’s discovery of the principle of seeing into a person’s life and not judging them on first impressions. It was a fun book to write as my historical fiction books require hundreds of hours of research and tons of organizing. With The Fifth Favorite, I was able to let my imagination fly! And, there were several characters who marched themselves onto the pages without invitation. It’s always fun when people or events magically pop into the book.

Give us a short synopsis of The Fifth Favorite.

Eleven-year-old Allie Whitman is growing up in a place of beauty and wonder, Lake Tahoe California. During her sixth grade year she experiences exciting adventures and encounters some difficult problems. She also comes face to face with school friends and neighbors who challenge her childhood perception of people. One of the main people who changes her thinking is Mrs. Hemmett, who is the frightening odd-ball character of the community. Allie thinks Mrs. Hemmett is completely creepy until she has the opportunity to get to know her.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a middle-grade novel?

I found the most difficult thing was going back into my middle-grade self to remember what those years felt like. It was important not to talk above the age level, but also not to make light of the real concerns facing the characters. It was vital to express the characters’ genuine stresses and emotions.

Describe your path to publication.

Years ago, when I was still doing theater, I had an idea for a story which did not work as a play. I began building the skeleton of the story and found it worked better as a novel. I wrote the first four or five chapters and an associate of mine knew a managing editor and suggested I meet her and show her the work. She encouraged me to finish the novel and present it to her publishing house. This I did, and they accepted the work. I have been very blessed in my efforts as an author, and I do not have any ego in my accomplishments, because EGO is Edging God Out. I am grateful to be able to tell stories that hopefully lift others.

Prior to this favorable outcome, I’d spent about a year sending out a manuscript which received many rejection letters. It made me evaluate whether I had the talent or tough enough skin to be an author. I kept going. That’s always my advice to new authors, keep going! Book publishing is a fickle business and the needs of the industry are ever changing. If you love your story and have done the work to make it clean and crisp—power ahead.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

Be gentle and non-judgmental of other people and the path they’re traveling. You never know what they’ve suffered or are suffering. I realize that today life is gritty; we do not live in the innocence of the 1960’s, but we can still offer others understanding and compassion.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Be a good storyteller. You can study books and books on writing, but I think if you come up with an amazing character that goes on an adventure (either actual or of the soul—or both!) you will keep your readers interested.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I like to spend time hiking in the mountains or at home cooking! Some of my favorite things to cook—beef stew, chicken and dumplings, and banana bread. Also, when the opportunity presents itself, I like to travel with my cute husband, George.

What are you working on now?

I just finished an historical novel. The working title is “Sisters.” It takes place in 1898 and tells the story of the first sister missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were only twenty-two years old when they were called from Utah to go to England.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My web site is

Thank you, Gale, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thanks, Kay! And the best to all the wondrous writers out there!



The Emotion Game


We love games in our home. Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, you name it. Anything that involves a bit of chance and a little expertise.

We especially love word games. Scrabble, Password, and Boggle are some favorites, and you can find copies of crossword puzzles spread around on almost any surface in the house.

We even make up our own games. My husband, Frank, is particularly fond of this. As a retired college professor, his idea of a great game is one in which the student (usually me) is given a cryptic question and challenged to find the right answer. So it’s no surprise when Frank purchased a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus to help him with his novel-writing that he found a way to incorporate a game. Here’s the way we play it with friends:

First, the challenger secretly picks out an emotion from the thesaurus and reads one of the “physical signals and behaviors” that accompany that emotion. The contestants each guess the emotion. If one of them is right, they win. If not, the challenger may choose an “internal sensation” or a “mental response” from the book for the same emotion. This keeps on until one of the contestants identifies the correct emotion.

So, would you like to play our little game? I’ll give you a set of clues and you guess the emotion. The answer is provided later. (No fair peeking!)


  • A wide grin
  • Singing, humming, or chanting
  • Getting the giggles

Got it? Here are some more clues.


  • A lightness in the chest
  • A fast pulse

How are we doing? Here’s one more set of clues:


  • Camaraderie with others
  • Imagining what could happen

So what emotion did you identify? Make your guess and click here for the correct answer.


Whether you enjoy playing games or not, as authors we know the importance of providing an emotional journey for our readers. To do that, we need to understand how emotions manifest themselves in our characters. The Emotion Thesaurus is the place to go to gain that insight.


I am especially excited to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, to The Craft of Writing blog series.

Angela Ackerman Becca Puglisi

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (now an expanded second edition) and its many sequels. Their books are available in eight languages, are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over half a million copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end, they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters. Originally created in partnership with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows and Linux, One Stop for Writers is now a shared venture between Angela and Becca.


Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!

Angela: Thank you for having us! And your husband is awesome. I love the game he created from the Emotion Thesaurus. That would be a fun one to do at writing conferences to sharpen everyone’s show-don’t-tell skills when it comes to emotion.

A note to readers: Because Becca and I are basically the BORG from working together so long, we’ll each answer a question in turn.

How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

Angela: We actually met on an online critiquing site called The Critique Circle. We each wrote Kidlit & YA and started critiquing one another’s work. I think we really connected with the other’s style of writing, values, and desire to gain more knowledge. In fact, we took an entire year to study the same writing craft books so we could discuss the same concepts and help each other fill in the blanks. I think this really helped us become strong collaborative authors.

What prompted you to write The Emotion Thesaurus?

Angela: We both struggled with showing our characters’ feelings as it seemed like they were always rolling their eyes, smiling, and shrugging. Becca and I felt like our inability to write emotion in a more compelling way was holding our stories back, and so we decided to build lists of different emotions and how a character might express them. Becca had already started keeping track of a few emotions, so that kickstarted us. We blogged these lists and the response was so huge, we realized this was a widespread problem, not just for us. So, to help everyone, we put all our research into a book.

What made you decide to write other books on the craft of writing?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was fairly well-received, so we knew that we were on to something. As Angela said, the issues that pushed us to write that book were universal in nature, and it made us think: What other writing problems did we have in common with authors? So we started exploring those areas of struggle at the blog in the form of various thesauruses. When people began clamoring for them in published form, we knew we had more books to write.

I hear you have a new book out entitled The Occupation Thesaurus. Tell us about it.

Becca: As with all of our books, The Occupation Thesaurus is about helping writers accomplish more with fewer words—to streamline their writing and do more with less. As authors, when we reveal a character’s job, we simultaneously show certain things about him or her, such as their beliefs, priorities, desires, and needs. So an occupation can cover a lot of characterization ground, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It can also provide much-needed conflict scenarios, hint at motivation in the form of unresolved past wounds or unmet needs, and offer symbolism opportunities. So this book is really about educating writers as to the importance of choosing character occupations carefully. If anyone wants to check it out, they can find it here at our bookstore.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Angela: Tough to narrow it down to a single piece of advice, lol. I think what I would probably say is to not be in a rush. Developing strong storytelling skills takes time. Can anyone belt out a book and publish it? Yes. Should they? Not if their intent is to have a satisfying career if their skills are not at the level needed for that to happen.

Writing a story is something that, at first blush, seems like it would be easy. But the more we study strong writing and understand the many, many elements that go into a powerful reading experience, the more it becomes apparent that we need to work hard to become great storytellers. Opening our minds to learning and not getting caught up in timelines gives us the freedom to truly focus on elevating our craft. We end up putting out better books…ones we are proud to have our names on.

Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?

Becca: I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one J. Story structure has always been this big confusing mess for me, and Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell was a gamechanger because it brought clarity to that whole process. And when it comes to the nitty-gritty of how to tighten up your writing, I adore Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. There’s so much meat there, and it’s a resource I refer to often. Here’s a big list of books for writers we personally recommend.

What do you do when you want to get away from writing for a while?

Angela: If I am at home, I usually end up in the kitchen. I love to bake and try new dishes, but I honestly don’t have a ton of time between the books Becca and I write, our blog, our subscription site One Stop for Writers, and building/practicing workshops for online and in-person teaching. So for me, taking the time to prepare a special dish for my family always recharges my batteries. I also love to travel, and so that’s another way I refill my creative well. I love visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. So far, my favorite countries have been Vietnam, Italy, and Australia.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Becca: Our Writers Helping Writers’ bookstore page contains information on all of our books, including full descriptions, sample previews, and ordering information. As for One Stop for Writers, Angela has created an excellent walkthrough video that shows authors the tools and resources that are available there. And if you’d like to catch up with us on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter (Angela and Becca).

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for having us! It is always nice for us to reflect on how we started and how we are all on the same path. Happy writing to all!



Staying on the Vine

This month I’m happy to welcome Gordon Castelnero to the blog. Although Gordon had previously published two non-fiction titles, his first fiction work, Staying on the Vine, was released in April 2019 by CrossLink Christian Publishers.

Staying on the Vine is the story of Lindsay and Nick, two divorcees who have sought fulfillment in everything but God. Their individual journeys lead them to a second chance at marriage and a better life in Christ.

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Castelnero (1)

Gordon Castelnero is a native of southeast Michigan.  He left his hometown to attend California State University, Long Beach where he graduated with a BA in Radio/Television/Film in 1990.  Upon his return to the Midwest, he worked as a producer at an adult contemporary station, WNIC-FM, for four years.  While in radio, he successfully transitioned into television as an independent writer and producer of multiple documentaries for the Detroit market.  His productions were recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – Michigan Chapter with an Emmy award and several nominations.

In 2006, Castelnero’s first book, TV Land Detroit, was published by the University of Michigan Press.  He later collaborated with his former banjo instructor to co-write Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon, the first authorized biography of the famed country/bluegrass musician, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017.

Staying on the Vine is Castelnero’s third publication and first novel.  His faith in God compelled him to chronicle the “ordinary everyday” events in his life, as well as his wife, in a character-driven story reflecting their kindred journeys to Christ and each other.  Gordon resides in a suburb of Detroit with his wife of ten years and their eight-year-old daughter.

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Welcome, Gordon, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay.  Good to be with you.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

Writing is something that I kind of fell into unexpectedly.  It was never an aspiration, as I wanted to be a television producer.  When I was in college, I discovered that my ability to write good essays and papers is what attributed to my graduation.  Afterward, I produced and wrote a few local television documentaries, which received some accolades.  I then wrote a few trade magazine articles, which brought me a lot of personal joy.  From there, I took the next step into books.  My first two projects were biographical non-fiction.  Staying on the Vine is my first novel.

After having written non-fiction pieces, what made you decide to write a novel?

The novel came out of a series of disappointments in my pursuit to write another biography.  Even though I could write an unauthorized book about any public figure, it’s not my style to do so without their permission—all of my documentaries and non-fiction books are authorized works.  Well, I didn’t want to stop writing so I thought it best to write a book about something that I have exclusive rights to, and that’s my journey in coming to Jesus Christ.

I originally drafted Staying on the Vine as a screenplay back in 2011.  Since it didn’t pan out as a movie, I decided to rewrite it as a novel.  It’s kind of funny the difference in constructing a screenplay versus a novel.  The screenplay was completed in a few weeks, while the book adaptation took about nine months.  A lot more material needed to be added, not to mention the extra attention to detail.

As I mentioned, it’s mainly based on my spiritual journey, plus my wife’s faith walk too.  There are many elements to the story that required the compositing of characters and events, along with streamlining them into a compelling story that moves quickly.  I tend to write for the easy reader so anyone and everyone can breeze through the story.

Give us a short synopsis of Staying on the Vine.

Like so many Americans, Lindsay Kish and Nick Robinson grew up as Christians in name only. Their perceptions of life mirrored the idolatry of the world in rejection of God. Both of them nurtured appetites for their biggest vices, which tainted their judgment in romantic relationships. Their spiritual darkness ultimately led them down the aisle to childless marriages besieged by never-ending sins. Yet, during their trials of tribulation, God always threw them a lifeline of grace through revelations they routinely ignored but would come to embrace after hitting rock bottom.

Based on a true story, Staying on the Vine is portrayed through character-driven backstories depicting the doubtful romance between two mid-life divorcees who ignored God’s many calls, until they came together as the result of answered prayer.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Aside from staring at a blank page, I’d say, keeping your ideas fresh.  I learned early in my career that no matter how original you think your ideas are, there’s always someone else who’s done the exact same thing, or gotten eerily close to duplicating your grand designs.  The difficulty is how to spin them out of the realm of predictability so the reader can say, “Wow…I didn’t see that coming!”

Another difficulty is finding adequate time to write—not always easy to do when juggling a job and family.  I always tell people that creative writing isn’t like painting a house or mowing the lawn.  That kind of work can be started and stopped without missing a beat.  Writing on the other hand, at least to me, doesn’t work that way.  Once you’re on a roll, you can’t stop until your thoughts have been completely transferred from your brain to the page.  Interruptions cause me to forget the ideas I was just about to type, and they rarely come back to me.  When I sit down, I like to know that I’ve got plenty of uninterrupted time ahead of me, so the creativity can pour out of me freely.

Describe your path to publication.

It took me three drafts before I felt the manuscript was ready for solicitation.  Once completed, I worked on a synopsis, and then a query letter.  I had no idea just how competitive the Christian book market is until I threw my hat in the ring.  I’m not a pastor, I don’t have any kind of platform, so I really felt that the deck was stacked against me.  What I did have going for me were my previously published books.  Even though they were not in the same genre as the novel, they were published by reputable publishers: the University of Michigan Press and Rowman & Littlefield.

I had hopes of securing an agent for this project, but the process was taking a very long time.  I must’ve queried over twenty literary agencies, and was either declined or never received a response.  Rejection is not an option with me, so I decided that I’d have to seek a publisher directly, which is what I did with my previous books.  In fact, I contacted my editor at Rowman & Littlefield for assistance.  She was kind enough to send me a vetted list of Christian publishers.

I queried a few of the publishers on the list, and it was Rick Bates at CrossLink Publishing who gave me the most favorable response.  He’s been great to work with and my experience with CrossLink has been an absolute pleasure.

What lessons learned can you share with our readers?

Don’t be preoccupied with what competing authors are doing.  When I started my first book, TV Land Detroit, I was convinced I had a concept that no one else had ever done.  During the research phase, I learned that someone else was doing a similar book, which took the wind out of my sails.  The “someone else” had name recognition, credentials, and industry contacts way above my pay grade.  Thinking his was going to be much better than mine, I seriously thought about aborting the project.  But since I had already made commitments to people who agreed to participate, I felt obligated to continue.  And was I ever glad that I did—my book turned out to be much better and outsold the “other” book, which is now out of print.

The same thing happened again with Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon.  Not too far into the project, I stumbled upon another author who was working on an Earl Scruggs biography.  In the same respect to my previous comment about original ideas, you’re bound to cross paths with another writer pursuing the same subject matter as you.  Never let it distract or deter you from completing your book—the end result may surprise you.  The worst thing you can do is constantly worry about something you have no control over.  By doing so, the quality of your work will suffer.  Just stay focused on your material as if you are the only one in the world doing it, and it will be great.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

The story is relatable to everyone who reads it.  All of the disastrous choices made by the protagonists are typical of most non-believers who seek fulfillment in everything but God.  I think readers will see a part of themselves in the characters of Lindsay and Nick.  Their second chance at love, marriage, and a better life, in Christ, is an inspirational testament that failure is not final!

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Have faith in your work.  If your project is something you really believe in, don’t give up.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I try to get outdoors as much as possible—there’s nothing like fresh air and sunshine to put me in a good mood.  I enjoy long walks, bicycle rides, and a good book with a cup of coffee.  I look forward to church every Sunday, sermons online during the week, and of course, spending time with my family.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a new G-rated novel in the romance genre.  It’s an original story I’ve kicked around in my head for over twenty years now—one of those ideas you get but just don’t know where to go with it, so it goes nowhere.  Last fall seemed like a good time to revisit the concept and develop it into a novel.  I’m almost done with the first draft.  By the time the revisions are completed this summer, I will be ready to query it in the fall.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I don’t have a website.  Just type in my name on any search engine, and my books come right up—I’m the only person on this planet with the name Gordon Castelnero.

Thank you, Gordon, for sharing your expertise with us!



By Kay DiBianca


Did you know the deadliest aviation accident in history happened on the ground? It occurred in 1977 when two 747’s collided in dense fog on a runway in the Canary Islands. Here’s how it happened:

An air traffic controller in the tower had instructed a KLM plane to taxi to the end of the runway in preparation for takeoff. He had also told a PanAm plane to taxi on the same runway and then exit at a certain taxiway. Because of the fog, the crews of the two planes could not see each other, and the air traffic controller could not see the planes. They were relying on accurate communication to guide their movements. If the crews of both planes had obeyed the controller’s instructions, the accident would not have happened.

The tower never gave the KLM flight clearance to take off, but the captain of the KLM plane thought he had been given the okay. Because of his misunderstanding and his inability to see clearly, the giant 747 began barreling down the runway, unaware that the other plane was in its path.

The takeoff plane was traveling at approximately 160 mph when the crew spotted the other plane dead ahead. They were only one hundred meters apart. There was no time to stop or swerve to avoid the other plane. The captain of the takeoff plane pulled the nose up sharply in an effort to “leapfrog” over the other one. He didn’t make it. The lower part of the KLM aircraft struck the PanAm plane and crashed onto the runway, exploding in a huge fireball.

Although the crews of both planes were experienced, five hundred and eighty-three people died in that accident. All the people on the KLM flight perished, and most of the passengers on the PanAm plane also died. And it happened because the captain of the KLM plane lacked “situational awareness”, or the ability to understand his environment clearly. He acted on an assumption that the runway was clear. He was wrong.

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Situational awareness applies to many aspects of life, not just flying. Authors need to have a clear picture of the publishing landscape in order to be successful. Even though an inability to see clearly won’t endanger our lives, it just might endanger our livelihoods!

If you’re a pilot, you depend on the air traffic controller to direct your flight. When you drive, you may use your car’s GPS system to get you to your destination. For those of us who are new to publishing, we rely on experts in the field to lead us. Experts like Terry Whalin.

In his book “10 Publishing Myths,” Terry has identified a list of beliefs that can mislead an author on the path to publication. Terry not only shatters these myths, he provides practical exercises to help us as we continue on our writing journey.

So don’t go wandering in the vast publishing labyrinth unassisted! Be aware of your situation. Pick up a copy of “10 Publishing Myths,” and you’ll see more clearly how to get where you want to go.

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TerryWhalinW. Terry Whalin knows and understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and a writer and a literary agent. A former literary agent, now Terry’s an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 Christian and general market publications plus he’s written more than 60 books for traditional publishers. His personal site is located at:

A journalism graduate from Indiana University, Terry writes a wide spectrum of subjects and topics for the magazine and book marketplace. His latest books include Billy Graham, A Biography of America’s Greatest Evangelist (Morgan James) and Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (Morgan James). He is an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Also, Terry is the creator of a popular site for writers: Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Colorado.

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Welcome, Terry Whalin. Thank you for joining us!


Why did you write 10 Publishing Myths?

I’ve worked with hundreds of authors and spoken with many more over the years. Many of them have unrealistic expectations about what will happen with their book. I wrote 10 Publishing Myths to help authors have practical ideas about how to succeed with their book. There is much that can go wrong in the publishing process. Many of these things are outside of the author’s control. My book is focused on practical ideas every author can do to reach their readers.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

It may sound cliché but writers need to learn the craft of writing and telling stories. Storytelling is a skill that can be learned but takes time and practice. I know people want to write books but I recommend writers begin with a magazine article. If they write fiction, then begin with short stories in magazines. Why? In the process of creating such stories, you learn the craft of storytelling. Plus you are working with a shorter form of writing than a lengthy book.  In general print magazines have a high standard and you will have to work hard at the craft of writing to get published in magazines.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? Which method would you recommend for a new author?

Publishing is a complicated business and I don’t know I can capture these in just a few sentences but I will try. Traditional publishing is the path in most people’s minds about publishing. They find a literary agent who shops the book to publishers. These publishers pay an advance and give a royalty contract. There is no cost to the author. The publisher does the editing, the design work, the distribution to bookstores and some marketing. They take over the control of your book too so you as an author have little say on the title, the cover design, the cost and many other factors.  The process of getting a literary agent or an editor of a traditional house interested in your book to give you a contract is complex. I wrote a book for writers called Book Proposals That Sell to help in this process. I have all of the remaining copies of this print book and discounted the price. The book has over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews and has helped many writers. Agents and editors in traditional publishing make cautious decisions because the decisions are based on book sales. Thousands of dollars are involved in this process and the authors who get contracts are ones that have a market or the ability to touch their readers and sell books.

Self-publishing is a huge area at the moment with 1.6 million self-published books last year. The author has complete control for their cover design, title, etc. I’ve met self-published authors who have spent $20,000 on their book (a scam). The average self-published book sells about 100 to 200 copies during the lifetime of the book. The reality is there is still a lot of poor books produced in the self-published market.

The best publishing in my view is a collaborative process. I work for Morgan James which is one of the top independent publishers in the U.S. We pay traditional royalties and have a small advance but there is a partnership in this process. Our books have broad distribution and have been on the NY Times list 29 times during the last 18 years. To explore the system is free and something I recommend authors do. Just reach out to me is a way to get started.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

Every writer needs an editor—even someone like me who has published a great deal. Each of us have blind spots and our writing can be improved with a professional editor. The key word is “professional.” Often finding the right editor is like trying to find the right spouse. You have to check them out, look at their references, see what it will cost and when they could get it done, etc. There are some terrific professional editors but select the right one is my caution.

Why should an author take 100% responsibility to sell his or her own books? Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

As the author, you have the greatest passion for selling your book—whether you publish traditionally or self-publish or use something in between. Your excitement and energy to market your own book will last longer than anyone else (an editor, a publisher, an agent, a PR person, etc).

How does a new author get connected with others in the publishing industry?

Who you know in publishing is almost as important as what you know. People connections are very important. I encourage authors to join an online group but also to get to a writer’s conference. You can also network with others on LinkedIn. A lot of publishing is about being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff in front of the right person. It takes a lot of persistence to get those rights to line up but it is possible.

There are so many books coming onto the marketplace every day, how can a new author maximize his or her chances to be successful?

One of the most important things any writer can do (new or experienced) is to build their connections to their readers or audience. In publishing we call this building your platform or tribe. Yes people love to tout Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn as where they are building their readers—but there is a caution about these sites many people forget—they are rented space. You don’t control Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn and in fact could be banned from there in an instant. It’s much better for you to build your own website and your own email list because they are under your direct control.

You are both an acquisitions editor and an author. How do you find time to handle both of those demanding roles?

I’ve worked for Morgan James Publishing for eight years and it is my third publisher in an acquisitions role. It is a matter of finding balance between my acquisitions work and my work at an author. Often the two intersect and I promote both of them—like this recent podcast I did with Christine Kloser.  Some of my editor friends do not write and only edit. I believe being both an editor and a writer helps me have a greater understanding for my authors.

What are you working on now?

I have a variety of projects in the works—and something I recommend others do as well. It’s called diversity or creating multiple streams of income. I write books for other people and have a couple of those projects in the works. Also I’m a part of a small team helping shape Bible studies for The Passion Translation (Broadstreet Publishing). I worked on the study guide for Isaiah which will come out later this year. Also I’m continuing to devote time to promoting my newest book, 10 Publishing Myths.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

People wonder how I’ve been able to write and publish so much material over the years. Several years ago I stopped and figured it out. It’s not that I’m the best writer in the room. I am one of the more consistent and persistent people you will meet. I go to conferences, listen to editors and meet them and pitch my books like everyone else. After I pitch, sometimes the editor will show interest and ask me to send them something. I immediately make a little note, go home and follow-up and send them what they requested. It doesn’t mean that I get published from it—but I at least give myself a chance to get published. What I realize from going to conferences as an editor, I often will hear a good idea and ask them writer to send it to me. In fact I will email them and at times call them asking for it. But I’ve learned that only about 10% of people that I meet will actually send it to me. My main guidance would be to keep pitching, listening to the editors and their needs, then sending them what they request and what they need. It is that simple. Just look at the Foreword Mark Victor Hanson wrote for my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book.  Everyone forgets Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected many times.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My blog, The Writing Life has over 1500 searchable entries. Also my website is located at: Others can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Thank you, Terry, for being with us today!






This month I’m delighted to welcome debut author, Lori Altebaumer, whose novel, A Firm Place to Stand, is the story of one young woman’s journey through difficult circumstances to a place of forgiveness.

I had the great pleasure of being one of the beta readers for Lori’s book, and I highly recommend it.


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Lori Altebaumer and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her to the Craft of Writing blog.

LoriAltebaumerA life-long Texan, Lori lives in a small rural community not far from the rugged West Texas landscape she loves to write about. The mother of now grown twins, she has learned the secret to survival is a well-developed sense of humor. After years spent working in the insurance business, Lori now uses her time to educate, inspire, encourage, and entertain through the written word.
A Firm Place to Stand is her first novel.

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Welcome, Lori, and thank you for joining us!

First, give us a short synopsis of your book.

A Firm Place to Stand is a book about finding forgiveness in a world where things aren’t always black and white.  A long list of poor choices has driven Maribel Montgomery to the rustic (and fictional) Texas town of Turnaround.  Blaming herself for the death of a teenager, she wants nothing to do with other people and the responsibility of caring for them. Unfortunately, a young girl who is lonely and scared and an elderly woman dying of cancer take up residence in her heart. When Maribel finds the dead body of someone connected to both of them, she’ll have to risk trusting herself again in order to protect them. But can she trust herself with good-looking born-again believer, Conner Pierce? He wants to help and may be the only source of help she can find, if only she didn’t think he was stalking her.

What made you decide to write A Firm Place to Stand?

I always dreamed of writing a book. I have also always believed that was all it was or could be—a dream. But as I neared my fiftieth birthday, I found myself at a turning point. I had worked in my husband’s business for years, but when we decided to sell so he could pursue another opportunity I found myself needing to decide what I wanted to do with my time as well. My children were teenagers about to go away to college and I was about to have a lot of time. I needed to figure out how it was meant to be used. My dear husband told me that after all these years of working for him, he wanted me to do what really made me happy. He encouraged me not to just find a job, but to take a leap of faith and write (did I mention he is my #1 fan?). And I knew he was right. If I really believed God had given me a desire and passion to write, then now was the time to take it seriously.

As for the story itself, the original idea that started me on Maribel’s journey came about in a dream. After writing and rewriting, fine tuning the plot, and exploring the characters, the final story bears little resemblance to the dream that started it all. But the dream was the match that lit the tinder. The breath of God just blew the fire it started in a different direction than I expected. The end result was a journey and message of forgiveness that was as much for me as for my readers. God is so good like that.

How did you get interested in writing?

I have apparently loved stories for even longer than I can remember. My mother tells me that when I was a child, my great grandmother kept a stack of children’s books beside her rocking chair and in the evening she would set in that rocking chair next to the wood burning stove in her kitchen, and with me in her lap, read to me. That kitchen was one of my happy places growing up.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I became interested in actually writing, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t formulating some sort of story in my head. Probably from the moment I learned to turn letters into words and words into sentences, I have loved expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing. The love of story is wired into my DNA. I see story in everything around me—old houses, tall trees, park benches, city sidewalks, and gravel roads. Perhaps that is what it means to understand that we, too, are a part of the greatest story ever told—God’s story.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

You say that as if there is might be only one! For me there were a thousand things, and on any given day it could be a different one. Of course, just the commitment and perseverance to finish is a challenge. It takes a long time and often feels like you are trying to walk through wet cement–you don’t see very much forward progress but you sure are making a mess.

For me though, I’ll say the overall most difficult thing was to be fearless. To write thoughts that were raw and real, and then to let others into that private place in my head. It felt very vulnerable and I don’t think many of us really like feeling vulnerable.

Describe your path to publication.

My path to publication looked a lot like the crazy wandering path you see in the Family Circus cartoons. There are so many options for authors these days and finding the best one for you can involve some trial and error, especially as you are just getting started.

I set out with the intention of finding an agent and going the traditional route. I won a few contests and got some really good feedback from agents on my work. But I soon learned what the word “platform” means and the effect it can have on which path you take. Marketing is something that an author will have to do whichever publishing route they choose, but learning the ropes of marketing and platform made me slow down and really consider my purpose in writing. What were my goals? My strengths and weaknesses? Why did I even want to write in the first place. Once I understood who I was as a writer, I made the decision to indie publish my first novel and my first book of devotions. There are still many options and choices to make in how and where to indie publish. It is an ever-evolving process for me in which my absolute goal is to do a bit better every time.

What lessons learned can you share with our readers?

While writing this book, I really had to think about and consider how the consequences of the things we do don’t always match the intent of our actions. Often those consequences bring pain not just to us but to others we never intended to hurt. Working through this forced me to think about people I had trouble forgiving. I had to look beyond their action and the result, to see why they might have done what they did. What I learned is that I can trace the root cause all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me now that I understand this, to hold onto a grudge for something that was set in motion so very long ago. It has changed my perspective on how I view others and what I allow myself to believe about their actions towards me.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

The power to change your life, and indeed the world, lies in forgiveness, not bitterness, shame, or regret.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

If you believe you are called to write a book, then write the book. Don’t wait until you feel you know enough about writing a book to write a book. So much of the craft of writing must be learned by writing. For years before I started writing, I read books about writing. But sitting down and actually working through the mechanics of completing a novel taught me more than all the books I’d read combined. Studying the craft is important, but applying it to your own active process of constructing a novel is crucial to mastering those teachings. Going through the process gave me understanding of what the books were teaching. Don’t worry if your first attempt looks like a big nasty mess. If you’ll stick with it until the end, you’ll be surprised at how much more clarity you have when you start the next one.

A bonus piece of advice (since the question asked for just one) … I received this gem of wisdom from a publishing industry veteran and author. He told me to always be mindful of where I am seeking validation. Am I looking for validation from being published by a traditional publishing house, winning awards, achieving a sales rank, etc…? I try to ask myself that question every time I’m faced with a decision concerning my writing.

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

Ughh… one of the hardest questions I’m ever asked to answer. We live in an amazing time due to the richness and availability of reading material now. Invariably, I’ll remember others I wish I had mentioned. Reading is a major love of mine, so the list is quite long. However, I think A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers always ranks well toward the top. The entire series is great, but that first book pulled me deeper into my relationship with God than just about any other novel I’ve read. The Mitford Series by Jan Karon holds a special place in my heart. Recently I fell in love with A Vast and Gracious Tide by Lisa Carter and The Love Letter by Rachel Hauk. A Love Restored by Kelly Goshorn was a surprise debut novel that I’ll never forget. And The Jealous Son by Michele Chynoweth made me a fan of her work as well. Okay, should I stop now…?

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I don’t view writing as work, and since I write full time, I don’t know that I ever truly want to get away from work. Let’s be honest, as a writer I am constantly harvesting material from the world around me and concocting scenarios in my head (which is admittedly where most of them need to stay). I haven’t figured out a way to turn that off. Also, for me writing is a time of exploration and creation in the presence of and with God. I’m constantly asking things like: Okay God, what would you like me to say about this? How should I express this thought or feeling? What is true about my characters, their world, their faith, and how they see each of those things? What are you revealing to me in this?

Therefore, it’s not something I necessarily want to get away from, but sometimes I do need to take a break so I can let God speak to me. I can get so caught up in the story it becomes a distraction to what He is trying to say.

Sometimes my characters can drain me emotionally, especially when writing a serious scene and going through the emotions with them. That usually does require some downtime afterwards.

When that happens, the best thing for me is to go for a walk. I enjoy being outside and watching the seasons come and go. Sometimes reading a good book helps me recharge. And of course, sometimes a good old-fashioned nap is just what I need to get things going again.

And when I really want to recharge and refresh, I go to the mountains.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on the second book set in Turnaround, TX.  In it my protagonist is learning that keeping secrets can be as damaging as telling the truth. She’s built a new life based on holding it all in, but she’ll find it just might be worth letting go of the secrets she keeps in order to have the life she really wants.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can visit my website, to find out more and sign up for my newsletter. You can also follow my Facebook page Lori Altebaumer Writes. I enjoy hearing from others so feel free to reach out and just say howdy.

Thank you, Lori, for sharing your expertise with us!








by Kay DiBianca

In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.

The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.

Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.

There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic.  Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!

As writers, we can identify. I often start the day rarin’ to go with my to-do list propped up next to my laptop. I can hardly wait to start pouring my soul into the keyboard at hundreds of words per hour. But first I check my book’s sales rank, then I respond to emails and read my favorite blogs. Time to take a break, get a cup of coffee, and check my sales rank again. Oh yes, I better click over to Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo to see if my book received any new reviews. And then there’s social media to catch up on. You get the picture. On those days, I become kinestatic — rushing through the day and getting nowhere.

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In order to have the discipline to stay the course as a writer, you have to know the course. James Scott Bell’s book “How to Make a Living as a Writer” lays out practical steps to navigate the labyrinth of the publishing world and become successful.

This book is an entire library of writing information, from creativity to business acumen. Goal-setting, publishing, branding, marketing. It’s all here.

Whether you intend to make writing your primary source of income or not, get off the treadmill and pick up a copy of this book. It will enhance your writing life.

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JSB Author Photo 2015

I am doubly thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell as my guest today. Mr. Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer.

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Welcome, James Scott Bell. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me, Kay.

Why did you write How to Make a Living as a Writer?

For a couple of reasons. First off, I know there are many writers out there who dream of making this a full-time occupation. It’s not easy to do, but it’s especially hard if you don’t have a strategy. I wanted to lay out a strategic approach any writer can use.

Second, I wanted to give writers the basic business principles they need to succeed. This is, after all, a business, whether you publish with a traditional company or go out and publish on your own. This book helps on both counts.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

Production and growth. You have to be able to produce the words, the books. That’s why I’ve always been a quota guy. I tell people to figure out the number of words they can comfortably write in a week, then up that by 10%. Divide that into days. If you miss a daily goal, you can make it up on other days. I usually take one day off from writing every week, to recharge.

And keep growing in the craft. Read books and blogs (like, go to conferences, get feedback. Apply what you learn to your writing. Write practice scenes to try things out. Just like a golfer who goes to the range on his days off.

Do you recommend traditional publishing or self-publishing?

There are pros and cons to each, of course. Traditional publishers know how to design a book and get it into bookstores (those that remain, that is!). But in return a writer signs away rights to his work that can be difficult to get back should things go south. This is where a writer needs to be aware of contract terms so he can discuss things with his agent.

An indie writer keeps his rights and can publish more frequently, but also has to learn how to produce a good-looking product—formatting, cover design, and so forth.

Marketing is another skill a writer will have to work on, because most of that effort now falls upon their shoulders, whether they are traditional or indie.

Eventually, it always comes down to the books themselves. They have to be good, they have to please readers.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

A good, experienced editor can help a new writer. It’s expensive, but if you look at it as an investment in your career, it can make sense. Do some research, get a recommendation, see if the editor will do a sample edit with you before you sign up.

An alternative is a good group of beta readers. After all, you’re writing for readers, ultimately. Advice on this option can be found by going to and searching for “beta readers.”

Are audio books worth all the trouble and expense?

Audio is definitely the growth area in the book industry right now. Long term, it’s a good asset to have. ACX from Amazon offers writers the opportunity to team up with narrators and split the royalties 50/50. This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to go about audio. The alternative is to shell out the money up front to hire a narrator and keep all the royalties.

A new outfit called has come on the scene. I don’t know much about it, but it is worth checking out.

I purchased my own equipment and am doing my own audio versions. The big challenge is time. It takes a long time to record and edit an audio book. On the plus side, all royalties flow directly to me.

So each author needs to take an objective look at their time, ability, desire, and wallet to sort this through.

With so many resources available: podcasts, blogs, email loops, how does an aspiring author decide which ones to join?

Research and recommendations. Just make sure that none of these overtake your main priority: writing and producing the work.

I hear a lot about branding. How does a new author go about establishing a brand?

A brand is a set of reader expectations. You want to build a readership. You want that readership to become a fan base. That means giving them content they like, which is usually a specific genre. Stephen King specialized in horror. Grisham in legal thrillers. They only deviated from their brand when they were big enough that their publishers allowed a one-off. Then they got back on brand.

So I would advise finding the genre you love and specializing in it. If you’re an indie writer, you have some freedom to try new things, especially in short form. But for the most part, sticking to a brand makes building a fan base easier.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

I like what a writer named Michael Bishop once said: “One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that.”

Where can we find out more about you and your work? and

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today!

My pleasure.






AllInImageThis month we’re adding a new element to the Craft of Writing blog series. Every other month I will feature an author whose first novel has been published within the last couple of years.

This month’s author is Lisa Simonds whose debut novel, All In, is a story of one young woman’s journey through a worldly life to redemption.


Link to book trailer video:

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Lisa Simonds and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her as the first debut novelist to the Craft of Writing blog. Writing as L.K. Simonds, Lisa’s novel All In was published and released in 2019.


L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

All In is her first novel.

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Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! I’m thrilled to be with you and your audience today. It’s such an honor to be your first debut author interview.

First, give us a short synopsis of your book.

I’ll let you in on a secret—a synopsis readers won’t find on the back cover or Amazon. But if they read All In with this synopsis in mind, I’m sure by the time they finish they’ll agree it’s spot on.

All In is a love story about a Man’s pursuit of a young woman named Cami Taylor, whom He loves desperately. This Man is all in to capture Cami’s devotion, even though she is completely oblivious to His existence. Enter the Man’s agent, his go-between, Kate Davis, who comes on the scene in Chapter Two. Kate is all in too, even though Cami doesn’t make it easy for her. The entire story is about Kate’s undercover work, as directed by Cami’s ardent suitor. Who is this Mystery Man?

Some readers might not recognize the REAL story right away because they’re seeing events unfold through Cami’s unreliable POV. But there’s a BIG clue in the novel’s front matter: An epigraph from the prophet Isaiah, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.”

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

God loves you with an everlasting love.

What made you decide to write All In?

I was sitting in Trinity Writer’s Workshop in Hurst, Texas, on a Tuesday evening in the mid-1990s, when the idea occurred to me to write a story about a person who makes the journey from not believing God exists to falling in love with Jesus. At the time, I was writing unpublished children’s chapter books about a cat named Rodney, so this idea was quite a departure. I wasn’t sure how to even go about tackling such a book.

Around that same time, I vacationed in NYC with friends, and we got out the Manhattan phonebook in our hotel room to see if there were any people with our last names. We traveled together often and did this quirky thing on trips. There was one person, just one, whose listing had initials and a surname, as single women often listed their numbers in those days. We said we should call and see if she’s a long-lost relative who might show us around town. We laughed about it. Of course, we didn’t call.

But the idea stuck with me. What if you did call? What if a friendship formed? And what if the person you called was about to have a crisis and the friendship became a lifeline? All those “what ifs” became the basis of All In.

I chose to write the novel from the POV of the person who received the call, Cami Taylor. One reason was that I wanted to portray all the conflict happening inside Cami, even though she never tips her hand to the people around her, at least not until the end. For Christians who read the book, I wanted to show that our words and actions may have a lot more impact on people than they let us see, which is why it’s so important to say yes to those little prompts from the Holy Spirit. He knows everything about everyone.

What steps did you take to have your book published?

Kay, I may have taken almost every step a writer can take between completing the first draft in 1999 and the novel being published in 2019.

When I finished the manuscript twenty years ago, I queried agents and publishers like crazy. No one was interested. After a couple of years of rejection, I decided to go indie. Only indie wasn’t indie back then; it was vanity publishing. But I believed in the book enough to brush aside the stigma. With the help of Xlibris Publishing, the book released in 2002 in paperback and hard cover—no eBooks back then—under the title A Lifetime Ago. The self-published book was a sort of test ship to see how readers responded. “Test ship” is slang we used in air traffic for the first aircraft to go out and find a passable route through weather.

The book got some good reviews and feedback, including the attention of a senior editor at Harvest House. He pitched it to the pub board there—unsuccessfully, but still he pitched it. That was so validating. An author named James Baldwin once said a writer needs someone early on to let them know the effort is real. Nick Harrison, who is an agent with WordServe Literary now, was that person for me.

But writing is time-consuming work, and I was very busy with my FAA career. Alas, writing slipped away for quite a few years, but I still imagined I’d return to it one day.

But when I retired in 2012, it wasn’t writing I thought about. I was into flying and had every intention of becoming a flight instructor. I have a natural bent toward teaching, so instructing seemed like a great way to scratch the flying itch without spending an arm and a leg on airplane rentals. But then I really thought it through. How fun does it sound to sweat out hot Texas days crammed in a Cessna with a student pilot who’s trying to kill us both? Not very. Plus I needed to relearn a whole bunch of technical stuff that I’d forgotten and had no interest in anymore. No thank you.

What to do now? Hello, writing! Long time no see.

I dug into craft again and started writing a historical novel inspired by my aunt’s life. I even made half-hearted revisions to A Lifetime Ago and published an Amazon Kindle edition through Create Space. It got a very nice review from a judge in a Writer’s Digest contest, even though I didn’t feel the novel represented my writing style anymore.

By 2016, I had a complete—though rough—manuscript of the historical novel, and I had learned a heck of a lot more about writing. You know who my best teachers were and continue to be? Other authors. I truly believe reading a variety of novels by other authors has done more for my craft than any other single thing. Reading others’ work is like flying with other pilots—you pick up all kinds of new tips and tricks.

I believed the historical novel I had just written would be my debut. My real-live-I-am-not-fooling-around-anymore debut. I began querying agents.

Then one day in 2017, without thinking too much about it, I walked into the garage and looked at the half-dozen copies of A Lifetime Ago stacked on a shelf. “This is a good story, a God story,” I thought, “but it will never go anywhere if I don’t rewrite it.” And that’s exactly what I did. I took everything I had learned and spent six months cleaning up the manuscript, slashing almost 20,00 words, strengthening the characters, and sharpening the prose. The novel as it exists today represents the best craft I can offer readers at this time in my writing career.

When I finished, I found a freelance editor in my writers’ group, Leslie Lutz of Elliott Bay Editing. Leslie gave the manuscript a beautiful line edit, offering suggestions that focused the story even more.

I very much wanted a traditional publisher for the newly minted, newly titled All In, but the book was problematic. The narrative departed from accepted conventions for the Christian Fiction genre. But it was way too evangelical—and I admit “Charismatic”—for general market publishers. I knew this. I could have changed the novel to fit either of these markets, but I felt the story would lose too much.

I was not looking forward to indie publishing, believe me, and I prayed earnestly for help and guidance.

By then it was 2018. I’m in an online group called the Writers View forum. One week, in response to a “Writing Journey” topic thread, I talked about All In. The next thing I knew, an acquisitions editor named Terry Whalin contacted me about submitting the manuscript to Morgan James Publishing. MJP partners with entrepreneurial authors to get their work to the marketplace, pairing the benefits of traditional publishing with the author control of indie publishing. It was a match made in heaven, and by June 2018, I had a contract.

My debut novel, All In, released in August 2019.

Twenty years from first draft to debut.

What lessons learned (positive or negative) would you like to pass on to other new writers?

Respect your readers.

If you’re writing for yourself, buy a journal.

If you’re writing for readers, please, please, please consider their valuable time before asking them to invest 6-8 hours in your flight of fancy. A good place to start is Elmore Leonard’s Tenth Rule for Good Writing: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

And be sure to let readers know up front what they are getting into. I’ve discovered readers like surprises, as long as the surprise isn’t the kind of book they’re investing their time in.

What is the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Unequivocally, getting started. Everything about beginning a new novel is challenging: Finding the story. Finding the voice. Finding the characters.

I believe a novel has its own voice, which is unique to that particular story. Music influenced the voice of All In. I was deep in a personal revival—listening to worship music all the time—when I wrote the first draft. There’s one particular song that I think of as Cami’s theme song: “Sing of Your Great Love” by Hillsong Worship. Particularly the lyrics, “It’s You alone Lord Jesus Who can cause the coldest heart to find Your love and everlasting peace.” To this day, I’m overwhelmed by those lyrics. They really are the “elevator pitch” for the book, but this is the first time I’ve shared that pitch. Coming up with an elevator pitch is the worst, isn’t it?!? The pitch I came up with for All In was, “This is the novel you give to your friend, your sister, your daughter, who needs to know God loves her.”

I have a playlist on my phone for my second novel too. When I listen to that music, much of which is Bluesy, I’m immediately transported to the times and places in the story.

I never listen to music while I’m writing, only when I’m ruminating.

Another hard part about getting started is finding the characters. I’m still such a rookie, even after thirty years of practice, practice, practice. Finding the characters takes me a LONG time, months even. I had several false starts when I began to write All In, but when Cami finally clicked, she was there in totality. I knew what she would think, say, and do in every situation and with every person.

The same was true for my second novel, Stork Bite, which is in the revision phase. I wrote all over the place before finding those characters—in this case, five characters. But when I finally found them, they were as real as living people, or more accurately, they are as real as memories of living people.

And finding the story? That happens over writing the first draft, at least for me. It happened with All In about halfway through writing the first draft. In Stork Bite, one of the characters had been waiting in the wings as little more than an extra. But when he walked on stage, he immediately shouldered the others out of the way. He created a story from what I realize now was only an idea when I began to write.

What are you working on now?

Stork Bite. I’m scheduled to have the manuscript to that wonderful editor, Leslie Lutz, by the end of March. I really need to hit that deadline because Leslie has her own debut YA novel, Fractured Tide, coming out in May and she’ll be very busy then.

What are your favorite craft books?

My all-time favorite craft book is Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy Here’s an example of the practical wisdom Mr. Percy offers:

“When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient – fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently place the reader in the story.”

I’m currently in an intermediate novel writing class at Writing Workshops Dallas that uses Thrill Me as the textbook.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I have a full-time job, so writing usually feels more like an escape than work. My manager, a friend of twenty-five years, occasionally asks me how my “other job” is going. I answer, “Are you talking about my nonprofit?” and we both laugh. For me, writing is not profitable work, money-wise. At least not yet.

This is a really good spot to bring up a book I recommend for writers and Christians. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. Mr. Hyde explores the differences between gift economies and barter economies. God’s kingdom is a gift economy in which a few fish and loaves of bread can feed thousands. God’s kingdom is an economy in which a writer may not be able to measure her success in profits and reviews. Success may be measured by a book’s effect on individual readers, which the author only learns of anecdotally, or not at all.

But I digress. I’m not one to kill myself with work—paid or unpaid—and I do like to have fun. Fun for me is hanging out with friends and family, which almost always involves eating. Okay, I admit it. I’m a foodie from a long line of foodies.

I’m a reader too, more so with each passing year. I’m active on GoodReads, and anyone can see my reading lists and reviews there. I like to swap books with other authors. I have enjoyed some beautiful books from writers I’ve met, including The Watch on the Fencepost by Kay DiBianca.

My favorite hobby has been flying, but I had to give it up when I made a serious commitment to writing. There simply wasn’t enough time for both, and a pilot who isn’t proficient is dangerous. I haven’t flown in several years, but maybe I’ll return to it someday. My dream aircraft is the Citabria 7ECA. It’s a friendly, nimble pleasure plane.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Do. Not. Stop.

Keep going through the rejections and disappointments. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Thus you’ll encourage yourself. If you must fall back to regroup or to lick your wounds, give yourself some time and then get back in there.

Terry Whalin, my acquisitions editor at Morgan James, sends me little notes from time to time. “You’re doing great, Lisa. Keep going!”

Keep going. Keep going. KEEP GOING!

In due season, you will reap the benefits of your endurance.

Hey, Kay, that sounds like a marathon metaphor!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have an author website where you can find a link to Leaves of Grace. Leaves of Grace are essays I write monthly (theoretically) about spiritual topics that are on my mind. Sometimes the essays are about writing.

All my social media links are on the author website. I’m most active on Facebook.

I do want to share a video about the experience of sharing All In with women who are incarcerated in Texas prisons. It’s under 5 minutes long. Here’s the link:

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Kay. It was my sincere pleasure, and I look forward to responding to questions and comments from your readers.






by Kay DiBianca

January 13, 2020

If you want to learn something about story stakes, run a marathon. Anyone who’s trained for a marathon will tell you that you commit your life to the race. For months, everything else – your job, meals, sleep – becomes secondary. A good performance equals success. A slow finishing time means disappointment. And having to drop out of the race amounts to devastation.

When I secured a place in the 2010 London Marathon, I was thrilled. Frank and I were celebrating a significant anniversary that year, and I intended to honor our marriage by running my fastest marathon ever. I put together a 4-month training plan to guarantee success.

Obstacles popped up like adventure-killing jack-in-the-boxes. Our treadmill broke. Then I suffered a knee injury and had to lay off training for a while. No problem. Get healthy. Work harder.

Then disaster! Our flight to London was canceled when a volcano in Iceland erupted and sent a cloud of ash over Western Europe. It looked like I wouldn’t make it to the starting line, much less the finish!

After a few days, the skies cleared, and we caught another flight. But we were days behind schedule, and there was little time to prepare. After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up on race day exhausted and jet-lagged. I hauled myself to the starting area and felt a tired sense of relief when the gun sounded.

Everything went wrong. My GPS watch malfunctioned, and I couldn’t rely on it to pace myself. I got a side-stitch and had to stop occasionally to stretch. When I finally reached the 20-mile marker, way behind my scheduled pace, my back hurt and a blister was forming on my left heel. I was so hungry I would have snatched a sandwich from a spectator if I could have, but all I had were a couple of Gu gels.

But nothing hurt as much as my pride. I decided to drop out. Maybe I could save a little face by telling people I had to quit because of injury.

But give up? This was the race to honor our commitment to our marriage, and the marathon is an excellent metaphor for that very thing. With six miles to go, I made up my mind to cross the finish line even if I had to crawl. Even if I was the last person to get there. Even if the organizers had rolled up the mats and gone home, I knew one person would be waiting. And no matter how bedraggled I looked, Frank would smile and say, “Great job, honey!”

I trudged on, fantasizing about hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes, until I reached the finish line. It was my slowest marathon ever. A volunteer handed me a medal and a T-shirt, and I walked into the finishers’ area and saw Frank. He smiled, jogged over, and hugged me. “Great job, honey!”

It was my best marathon ever.


When I read H.R. D’Costa’s book “Story Stakes,” I immediately thought of my London Marathon experience.  D’Costa includes eleven types of story stakes in her book and shows how to use them to increase tension and reader engagement.

I zeroed in on Stake Type #11: Hero Happiness. D’Costa defines it this way: “If he succeeds at the climax, and wins this prize, then his future happiness is ensured. If he fails, he will be devastated.” In reflecting on this definition, I began to see how we (and our characters) can easily set up a stake for ourselves that isn’t the real key to happiness, but we can use the resulting journey to shine a light on our own misconceptions.

No matter what genre we write in, the ability to keep our readers interested is fundamental to our success. Check out “Story Stakes” for yourself. It’s much more informative (and a lot easier) than running a marathon!


I’m excited to welcome H.R. D’Costa, author of Story Stakes, to this blog series.



A graduate of Brown University, H. R. D’Costa is an author and writing coach specializing in story structure and story stakes.

Through her website, her “deep dive” writing guides, and online course Smarter Story Structure, she provides novelists and screenwriters with practical tools to create stories that readers can’t put down.

Her popular resource, the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet, has been downloaded over 37,000 times by writers from around the world.


Welcome, HRD, and thank you for joining us!

Hi Kay, first let me say thanks for inviting me to participate in your Craft of Writing series. I’m excited to be here!

How did you get interested in writing?

My interest in writing stems from all the reading I did as a kid. I loved the days when my dad would take me to the library. He’d hunker down at a table with a newspaper, while I would amass a stack of books. I’d gather so many that it was an adventure to get them to the checkout desk (and then to the car) without dropping any.

From all of that reading came a love for storytelling—and a desire to create my own stories to share with the world.

What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

That’s a long story!

Here’s the short version: I gave up an incredible opportunity and took a low-paying job with flexible hours so I would have enough time to write. However, I did anything but.

At the time, it was terrifying to face the blank page, so I kept putting it off.

Years later, I realized that to overcome my fear, I needed to (1) work on my inner critic and (2) improve my plotting skills.

Writing craft books emerged from item #2. Although I had read several writing guides, there were still some missing pieces. For example, I knew that a strong midpoint and “all is lost” moment would prevent the middle of my story from sagging…but when it came time to plot, I didn’t know exactly what to put in those places.

So I analyzed novels, screenplays, and films to look for answers, and to discover why some stories were so gripping—while others were easy to walk away from.

It seemed only natural to share what I had learned, whether that was through my blog at or through the more organized format of a writing guide.

What prompted you to write Story Stakes?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t initially set out to write a book on stakes at all.

I was actually working on a writing guide about how to craft a killer climax. When conducting my research, it became clear that stakes—the negative consequences of failure—were pivotal to creating a story climax that would thrill and delight readers.

As a result, I started to explore them more deeply. Frankly, I was startled by what I found. A lot of ink has been dedicated to plot, character, and theme…but hardly anyone talks about the stakes.

And yet, without them, readers won’t be emotionally invested in your story. You can have the most intriguing premise in the world, but without stakes, no one will feel like finishing your book. Along with structure, they’re the key to creating reader “glue.”

If your story feels flat or your beta-readers’ reaction to your book is lukewarm (but your character and plot seem solid), there’s a good chance it’s a stakes issue. Check to see whether you’ve:

  • included stakes (they’re omitted more often than you might think!)
  • formed a connection between readers and the stakes
  • periodically reminded readers about the stakes
  • raised the stakes

If you don’t know what to use for stakes in your story, and you’d like a convenient list of options, you can download this cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes from my website.

What is the most difficult concept to get across to new authors?

I’m going to interpret difficult as meaning something new authors don’t want to hear, which is this: your readers come first, before even you.

If you do a quick search for speechwriting tips, you’ll come across advice to think about the big takeaway that you want your audience to have.

If you do a quick search for copywriting tips, you’ll encounter similar advice. The sales pages with the highest conversions focus on the pain points of the customer, and how your product will solve them.

The way I see it, novel writing is no different. If you want readers to buy your books, you need to take their expectations into account at some point—if not when you’re writing, then at least afterward.

To sum up the above three paragraphs: audience before speaker; customer before product; reader before author.

By putting readers first, it doesn’t mean that you write by committee or cater to the lowest common denominator. It just means that before you send your story out into the world, you ask yourself, Okay this was fun for me…but will it be fun for my readers?

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

The advice I’d give is to make sure that you work on cultivating the right mindset. In fact, I’d put that above even developing plotting and marketing skills.

With a healthy mindset, when you run into a thorny plot problem, you won’t give up on the manuscript (or perhaps on writing itself). Instead, you’ll persevere. You’ll power through.

Do that enough, and eventually you’ll become so good that your work can’t be ignored. Literary agents will reply to your query letters; the Amazon algorithms will show your books some love.

Put another way: they say overnight success is 10 years in the making. You need grit to make it through those 10 years.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

I really like Write Away by mystery novelist Elizabeth George. It emphasizes the importance of connecting your scenes through cause and effect, which is a good lesson to learn early on. Also, her book will train you to avoid writing scenes that are heavy on dialogue, but low on concrete details, so it just feels like two heads are talking to each other.

I’d also like to recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book to help you learn how to overcome the inner critic and enjoy the process of creating art. (I know you said one craft book, but because mindset is so important, I wanted to add it to the mix.)

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

My all-time favorite book is Pride and Prejudice.

In terms of genre, currently I’m into YA romances like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

I’m also a fan of mysteries, especially Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series (which is another reason why I love her writing guide—it explains how she plotted the books in the series).

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

When I want to take a break, I like to watch Graham Norton clips on YouTube.

The best episode is the one with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Hugh Bonneville. Search for it now; thank me later *wink*

I also like to bake, but since I’m trying to reduce my sugar consumption, I bake a lot less than I used to. I need to find a new hobby…green smoothies perhaps?

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find more about me and my writing guides on my website

If you want to develop your structure skills, check out my article on the 8 essential plot points in a script outline (don’t worry, the essential plot points are the same for novels).

After that, download the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet. At 18 pages, it’s comprehensive, but not overwhelming. And it’s free 🙂

If you want to explore story stakes, read this article on what stakes are and how to raise them. You can also download the cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes that I mentioned earlier in the interview.

Thank you, HRD, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thanks again, Kay, for having me today. I wish you and your readers lots of luck with all your writing endeavors!



alpsCropped CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN IN 2020!

Kay DiBianca

December 30, 2019


People occasionally ask why I have a banner with a photograph of mountains on my website and on my personal Facebook page. Am I a mountain-climber? No. But there’s something about that picture that symbolizes for me the challenge of writing.

After all, we authors know what it’s like to look up at a goal that seems unrealistically far away and wonder if we’re up to the task. We share the doubts and fears climbers have when taking on a major quest. Am I willing to push myself beyond my shortcomings? Suppose I don’t have the talent to succeed? I’m not sure I can make it to the top. What if I fail? With so many things in common, maybe we can learn something from the way our mountaineering friends prepare to start their adventure.

So, what do you think? Ready for a literary workout in 2020? You don’t even have to buy an expensive plane ticket and travel to the other side of the world. Just grab your laptop and join the expedition.

  • Decide which mountain you want to climb. Whether It’s a short story, a novel, mystery or romance, choose your goal. Read books in the same genre to get an idea of what’s selling in today’s marketplace.
  • Get a guide. There are tons of books and blogs that address the “how to” of writing. I’m running a series on my own blog entitled “The Craft of Writing” to equip and encourage new authors. Make use of all of the expert guidance available.
  • Gather your gear. Fortunately, we don’t need backpacks, climbing boots, ropes and picks! A good laptop and word processor are enough. But there are plenty of other tools to help the aspiring writer along the way. Scrivener, Grammarly, and Reedsy are just a few. Research and grab the equipment you feel will help you in your climb.
  • Train. Many of the experts I’ve interviewed say the same thing: if you want to write, you have to spend time writing. Give yourself a daily or weekly word quota. If you don’t practice climbing the small hills, you won’t be able to take on a full mountain.
  • Join an expedition. Attend a writer’s conference and meet editors, publishers, and other writers who can help you up the mountain. Network through email groups, comment on blogs, and post to social media.

Most of all, let’s accept the challenge in 2020 to go beyond our comfort zones. And let’s support our fellow climbers through the ups and downs of trekking to the mountaintop.

I’m setting up my tent at base camp now with a continuation of my website blog series “The Craft of Writing”, where I plan to alternate monthly blog posts between craft experts and new authors. Be sure to join the discussion on January 13 when H.R. D’Costa will be my guest, and we’ll take a look at her craft book “Story Stakes.” In February, my guest will be L.K. Simonds whose first novel, ALL IN, was released in 2019. Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with these two. They have a lot of good information to share.

2020 is almost here. Come on over, and let’s climb that mountain together.

Do you have a writing goal you’re targeting for 2020?

What new challenge are you taking on in the new year?

What advice do you have for fellow writers?

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