Sunday, March 25, 2012

QUIRKY QUILL Launched Yesterday!

I'm excited. Yesterday I launched a new blog aimed at "tweenage" readers and writers. It seemed the natural thing to do since that's the age group I write for primarily. Will you help me out, please?
  • Stop by at QUIRKY QUILL, look it over, and give me your opinion;
  • Tell the 'tweens in your life about it, and give them the link;
  • Click to "Join" the  Quirky Quill community;
  • Help spread the word to parents and grands, teachers, library professionals, children's ministry staff, and fellow writers who work with, write for, and are interested in, 'tweens.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Write On!

This morning, I read literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog article "Do You Have a Thick Skin." It was so refreshing, going beyond the usual "buck up, little camper" advice writers get after criticism or rejection.

I smiled as I read her response. Like Rachelle, I'll never have so tough a skin that criticism or rejection won't hurt. God didn't wire me that way.

Of course, it hurts. First I cry. Then I grumble to a friend or daughter. Next, I do what I should have done first--climb up in Abba's lap and pour out my heart to Him.

Lastly, I remember what Mama always, always said when classmates would laugh at my clothes or my nose or my little crooked toes: "Consider the source, Sharon Kay." Does that person's opinion really matter in the grand scheme of things? Did he raise valid points? Is she being snarky or honest? Does he know what he's talking about?

After my pity party and my time with the Lord, I'm in a frame of mind to sort through the criticism, glean the gold and toss the dross.

And though it's been a long time coming, I've learned to get my bohonkus back in the chair and write, in spite of disappointment.

Write on!

Because of Christ,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

And the Winner Is...

TAMMIE EDINGTON SHAW! Thank you, Tammie, for reading the interview with Ramona K. Cecil and leaving a comment. My grandson Eli, 6, drew your name from the envelope. Now I need your address. Please send it to skc [dot and no spaces] storyteller ["at" sign and no spaces] ballstate [dot, no spaces] bsu [dot, no spaces] edu.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ramona K. Cecil: What She Taught the Teacher

(Pictured left: Ramona K. Cecil, seated on the grass, shortly before she began her writing career.)

I love to do interviews. Maybe I'm just nosey and like to nib into other people's lives. Yesterday's interview with Ramona was especially fun because she's also a friend.

She has the heart of a teacher. As I wrote up the interview, I kept thinking of the things she has taught me through the years about the craft of writing, things I want to share.

  • If you're a follower of Jesus Christ and you write fiction, you should join American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Their website says it all. Members gain "education, inspiration, and connections." Ramona enlightened me on the benefits of ACFW and encouraged me to attend a conference.
  • Write in deep point of view (POV) for today's market. Let your readers experience the action and setting through the senses, thoughts, and emotions of the character who has the most to lose in any given scene.
  • Use "action beats." Lose most of the "he saids/she saids" by introducing or following a line of dialogue with an action:
Jake set down the cup of coffee, splashing some on the table. "I think we need to have a talk. A long talk."
Instead of:
"I think we need to have a talk," Jake said. "A long talk."
  • Show; don't tell, which incorporates the use of deep POV and action beats. In addition, it eliminates long paragraphs of narration.
  • Weave bits of back-story into the scene gently. 
  • Get to know your main characters really well before you begin writing. Interview them, as a newspaper journalist would do. Ask probing questions, and let them answer in their own words.
  • Plot. Plan your crises. Be flexible, so you can change plans, if need be.
  • Listen for God's direction.
  • Attend conferences and workshops; always be prepared to give your "elevator pitch," because you just never know when you'll meet up with an editor or agent.
  • Be real when you meet with agents and/or editors. They know you're nervous. Many of them have been in your shoes. Just be natural and trust in the Lord. His timing is always best.
  • Write on! Don't write, submit, and wait. Write, submit, and keep writing!
  • Understand you'll get far more rejections than acceptance. Keep writing. Keep improving your craft. Join critique groups--good ones, ones that are equal or better at writing than you.
  • And did I mention, "WRITE ON!"
Thank you, Kathy.

Because of Christ,

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Ramona K. Cecil graciously offers a copy of her latest historical romance novel, A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana, to one of you who leaves a comment regarding the interview post by noon of March 14. I will announce the winner on this blog site the morning of March 15, so be sure to check back here.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Ramona K. Cecil, Writing Romance God's Way

Some of the best writing advice I've received came from my friend and multi-published author Ramona K. Cecil. We live in neighboring towns, and we both were active in the same writers' group. She is the one who prompted me to join American Christian Fiction Writers. So it was with great pleasure that I sat down with her over lunch at the local Panera restaurant for an interview. She's a very busy lady, so I greatly appreciated her taking the time to meet with me.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." ~2 Corinthians 9:8

ME:  Ramona, I know you began your writing career by writing poetry. You include a poet's vivid imagery in your prose writing, as well. What is there about poetry that appeals to you?

RAMONA:  I love the beautiful "word pictures" poetry paints. I write rhyming poetry in the tradition of Helen Steiner Rice. I enjoy the challenge of constructing the poem, i.e., saying what I want to say in the way I want to say it while keeping the meter and making it rhyme without the rhyme sounding forced or contrived.

ME:  What steps have you taken to develop your craft?

RAMONA:  The poetry has always come very natural to me, so I've never really studied how to write it. I've only developed it by repetition--writing many, many poems over my lifetime. The prose, however, is different. Online writing workshops, critique groups, and reading the works of authors I admire are some of the ways I continue to develop my novel writing skills.

ME:  Where do your ideas for your poetry come from?

RAMONA:  The short answer is "Everywhere." As a child, I began writing poems about the beauty of nature, God's creation, and how that beauty affected me. As I matured, the subject of my poems became more about my Christian walk, my dependence on the Lord and thanking Him for His many blessings.

ME:  You know I love reading your historical romances, and I admire the depth of research you do to be accurate and true to the period about which you're writing. From where do those ideas spring?

RAMONA:  I'm most often inspired by real-life events in history, especially Indiana history. I like to take a nugget of some real-life occurance and build a fictional story around it. My first novel was inspired by a visit to Connor Prairie [a living history village near Noblesville, Indiana]. My latest, A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana, was inspired by stories my uncle learned while working on a family history.

ME:  Which comes first--the title or the idea?

RAMONA:  The idea comes first, but, oddly, I can't seem to begin a story until I have a title. The title may change over time, but I have to have one to begin writing.

ME:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

RAMONA:   Now, I'm a plotter. I started out a pantser, but I soon learned I needed more structure in order to write quicker and with fewer "plot holes."

ME:  How much flexibility do you allow yourself? I.e., how much straying from the plot do you allow? Can the story change radically?

RAMONA:  I do allow myself a liberal amount of flexibility. Sometimes I'm working on a chapter and decide that something I'd planned in my chapter synopsis won't work as well as I'd thought, or might even cause a problem later in the story. I just have to make sure any changes are reflected in later chapters. For instance, I can't have someone moving away and then reappearing in a later chapter without explanation.

ME:  Have you ever suffered writer's block? How do you overcome it?

RAMONA:  Yes. I imagine most, if not all, writers experience it some time or another. First, I pray for God's guidance. Brainstorming with fellow writers is another way to give your imagination a jump start.

ME:  How do you push through when life intrudes on your writing time?

RAMONA:  That's a difficult one. Since my husband works evenings, that's when I do my writing. I try to keep that time as free as possible from intrusions.

ME:  What has been the biggest challenge to your writing?

RAMONA:  Believing I can actually do this. I have to remind myself that alone I can't do it, but with God's help there is nothing I can't do. Beside my computer, I keep the verse from Ephesians 3:20:

Glory be to God, Why by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare ask or even dream of."

ME:  You have such a sweet mentor's heart, always willing to help other writers by offering sage advice and encouragement. Where does that come from?

RAMONA:  When I embarked on my journey toward becoming an author, I encountered many wonderful writers who encouraged me and helped me along the way. I love the chance to pay that forward and help other aspiring authors. Besides the thrill I get out of helping another writer along, I'm sure God expects nothing less from me.

ME:  In what ways do you partner with the Lord in your writing?

RAMONA:  I consider my writing a ministry. Through my characters, I try to show God's unconditional love and salvation and that He can overcome any problem or obstacle in a person's life, if we give Him control and yield our will to His.

ME:  Has He ever sent up a red warning flag that would seem to suggest, "No, don't go there," or "You're looking at that wrong."

RAMONA:  I honestly believe that is when I question some aspect of a scene. I call these episodes "God whispers." Sometimes something I've written or plan to write just doesn't "feel" right. Then I pray and ask for God's guidance. It may take a day or two, but an idea of how I might better handle the scene eventually comes.

ME:  What is the greatest compliment you've received regarding your writing?

RAMONA:  That my writing has touched someone in a very personal way. Whenever I hear that from readers of both my poetry and my novels, I'm simply blown away and extremely humbled.

ME:  How does your husband Jim help you in your writer's journey? Does he support you?

RAMONA:  Yes, he is very supportive. He puts up with me leaving him for days to attend conferences and has lugged boxes of books, assisting me at book signings. He has sometimes even helped me brainstorm an aspect of a story. Also, I couldn't do this and support myself financially. Jim refers to himself as my corporate sponsor.

ME:  Have you ever received negative feedback from a critique partner, an agent, or an editor? How did you deal with that?

RAMONA:  Absolutely. I have learned that to be a successful writer, one must have a teachable heart. I can usually sense if a criticism is genuinely meant to help me improve my writing or is simply mean-spirited. To be honest, I've experienced both. However brutal, the ones meant to help I take to heart and use as tools to make my writing better. The others, I simply ignore.

ME:  How did you land an agent?

RAMONA:  Basically through a conference. I got to know Tamela Hancock Murry [Steve Laube Agency] several years ago when we were stuck together at the Denver airport waiting for our flights home after a writers' conference. At that time, I was writing the short romances that didn't require an agent. Later when I began writing the longer stories, a friend and client of Tamela encouraged me to send her a proposal. I did and she accepted me as a client.

ME:  What qualities were you seeking in an agent?

RAMONA:  Someone accessible and with my best interests at heart.

Me:  What's your favorite among your books?

RAMONA:  That's like asking me which of my children I like better. I guess, if pushed, I'd say my first book, Larkspur. Though perhaps not as technically well-written as some of my later works, it is truly the story of my heart.

ME:  Tell us about your latest book.

RAMONA:  My latest book is A Bride's Sweet Surprise in Sauers, Indiana [picture above]. The story, set in the real-life German farming community of Sauers in my home county of Jackson, was inspired by actual incidents from my family history. Regina Seitz's sisters were allowed to marry for love, but Regina has been told by her father she must marry a man she has never met, just so Papa can have a German son-in-law to inherit the family homestead. Diedrich Rothhaus is as reluctant as she is, until her striking beauty and deep faith stir emotions he hadn't expected. Against both their wills, love claims their hearts. Then a cruel family secret is revealed, and Diedrich must fight to save the most precious thing in hi life, Regina's love.

ME:  Okay, Ramona. You've definitely piqued my interest in this one. Now what can we look forward to in the future?

RAMONA:  I've just finished another short historical romance, Heart's Heritage, scheduled for release later this year by Barbour Publishing. The story is set in Jackson County, Indiana, against the backdrop of the War of 1812 and the rising threats of the great Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh.

ME:  Ah! We'll be watching for that one, too. I find Tecumseh quite heroic. Okay, you're a poet and a historical romance writer. Is there another genre you'd like to explore? If so, what? And why?

RAMONA:  I've written some contemporary novellas and have even plotted a contemporary romantic suspense. I also have an idea for a contemporary women's fiction novel.

ME:  Let's play Pretend. You're having a tea party. You can invite seven writers--past or present. Who will you invite and why?

RAMONA:  Of course I'd invite you, Sharon. My other six choices would be close friends and wonderful authors of Christian fiction: Louise Gouge, Laurie Alice Eakes, MaryLu Tyndall, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Patty Hall, and Debbie Lynne Costello.

ME: Thank you for including me with this esteemed group. These all are writers I'd love to meet.

What is a typical day like in the life of author Ramona K. Cecil?

RAMONA:  Since we live a late shift due to my hubby's job, I get up about 11 a.m.. I check e-mails, then have breakfast with hubby and watch some news on TV. I'm then often jumping in the car to run errands. Fix lunch around 3 p.m., then get hubby off to work at 4:35. Then I check e-mails again and begin my "writing time." I work until 8 p.m., when I take a supper break. I go back to work from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. when hubby comes home.

ME:  What is the best writing advice you've been given?

RAMONA:   Keep writing. Never give up. Keep your eyes on Christ. Never forget

ME:  Who were your mentors?

RAMONA:  Two early critique partners, Pat Loomis and Stacy Wilder, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Louise Gouge, Laurie Alice Eakes, and MaryLu Tyndall, who continue to encourage me and help make me a better writer.

ME:  What advice do you offer to novice writers?

RAMONA:  Have a teachable heart and never give up. Keep your eyes on Christ. Remember God is in control, and His timing is perfect. Never forget Who [sic] you are working for and that He will help you do the work He has given you to do. And encourage one another.

ME:  That sounds very much like Colossians 3:23-24. Kathy, dear friend, what a blessing it has been to chat with you. Thank you. And may our Lord continue to bless you, Jim, and your work.

Write on!
Because of Christ

Gentle Readers, remember to leave a comment by noon, March 14. I'll randomly select from among those who comment and announce the winner of Ramona's latest book on this blog by 10 a.m. March 15.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Help! I Hear Voices!

Head-hopping. When I first began writing fiction, I had no idea what that was--only that it was something to avoid. It's hard to steer clear of something you don't quite get. God in His great Providence set in my path some excellent critique partners who recognized the dreaded head-hopping at a glance--in my writing, no less! (One of those CPs also does an excellent job of yanking unnecessary exclamation marks!) After much critiquing practice, I now can catch head-hopping on my own. Usually.

Head-hopping used to be acceptable. It's the third-person omniscient point of view--knowing what each character is thinking or feeling in a scene. The writer may limit omniscience to the two most important characters, but if the reader gets inside both minds in one scene, that's head-hopping.

I'm about to finish a historical novel written by a contemporary writer. It took me awhile to get into it, however. I had to push myself through the first 100 pages--a self-imposed rule I break only for moral issues. The book was worth the effort. I'm sorry to see it coming to an end. And yes, I'll likely read more by this author.

Why did it take so long for the book to hook me, though? I asked myself that question and realized it was because of the head-hopping. It distracted me. Perhaps third-person omniscience is characteristic of the genre. I'll have to read more selections to see if that's the case. Each genre has its own literary conventions, after all.

Write on!
Because of Christ,