The MacGregor Legacy - From Scotland to the Carolinas

(Book 1 - For Love or Loyalty) (Book 2 - For Love or Country) (Book 3 - For Love or Liberty)

Path of Freedom, Quilts of Love series

1858 North Carolina - When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple..

Highland Sanctuary, (Highland series - Book 2)

1477 Scotland - A chieftain heir is hired to restore Briagh Castle and discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world.

Highland Blessings, (Book 1 - Highland series)

1473 Scotland - The story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise to his dying father.

Awakened Redemption (Inspirational Regency)

1815 England - A story that pierces the heart and captures the Regency era.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book Review - "Courting Emma"



by Sharlene MacLaren

(Little Hickman Creek Series)

Courting Emma is a moving story set in the late 1800's in a small town that touches on forgiveness and overcoming a painful past to live a future of promise. When you first meet Emma she appears hard and tough because she's had to be. Surviving a childhood of abuse and learning to make do on own, Emma doesn't trust others easily. So when Pastor Jonathon sets his sights on her, he has his work cut out for him in winning Emma's heart.

The characters have great depth and a reader can't help but care about them. While reading this book I could sympathize with Emma and I wanted to see her emotionally healed. I cheered Jonathon on in his pursuit of her, enjoying his patience and endurance as he slowly wore down her defenses. The pacing of this book is perfect, the story unfolds in a rhythm that will keep readers turning the pages. This is a keeper!

Description (backcover blurb)

Twenty-Eight year old Emma Browning has built a barricade around her heart to survive the pain of growing up with her alcoholic father, Ezra. As she runs Emma's Boardinghouse, she plays host to an array of unkempt, earthly characters while trying to maintain a protective emotional distance from people. No one has succeeded in getting to know the beautiful yet steely edged proprietress. That is, not until Little Hickman Creek's handsome new pastor, Jonathon Atkins, takes up residence in the boardinghouse and begins to dismantle her carefully controlled world.

Clinging desperately to her stubborn ways and unable to forgive her father, Emma begins receiving letters from a mysterious sender who somehow knows about her and has secret information about Ezra's past. Admist all this, she is surprised--and unsettled--by the attentions of both Jonathon and Billy, the smooth-talking traveling showman.

When the town of Little Hickman Creek is stunned by an unexpected turn of events, will Emma risk removing her protective shell to accept the love of God--and the love of a man?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Methods of Tags and Beats

When writing dialogue, you must be careful to make it appear realistic. It shouldn’t be too stilted and grammatically correct, or too accurate that it includes all the “um’s” we use when speaking.

Dialogue should be used to:
Move the plot forward or increase pacing
Reveal characterization
Reveal motivation
Break up monotonous narrative

Tags
A tag is used in a line of dialogue to clarify who is speaking or who is taking action while speaking. There are generally two types of tags:


1. Speaker Attribution Tag – Used to clarify who is speaking. This is most useful when you have more than two people in a scene. Pronouns do not help much when the reader doesn’t know which he or she is speaking.

Examples of Speaker Attribution Tags:
“I’m heading over to Martha’s for a picnic. Wanna come?” she asked.
“Take your hands off me,” she said.

Years ago it was a good thing to use substitute words for said so it wouldn’t be overused. Now it is frowned upon to use too many substitute words for said. Most editors and established authors now caution writers not to overuse tags and to rewrite their dialogue to include more beats.

Substitutes for said include: replied, cried, howled, bellowed, whispered, stated, replied, voiced, expressed, vented, responded, uttered, shouted, vocalized, asserted, declared.

Sometimes how a character says something is more important than what is said, and you can’t tell the difference from anything else other than a tag. For instance, you know someone might have yelled or demanded something if you use an exclamation point. But how would you know if a character said something or whispered it? There are times when it is important to use a substitute word for said, but use them sparingly.

2. Action Tags or Beats – Used to clarify who is speaking when someone is taking action while speaking. This is a great method to use whenever you want to keep a scene moving, or breakup long paragraphs of dialogue. You may have a scene where everyone is sitting around talking and the most important thing taking place is the conversation, but you don’t want people just sitting there. Have them pour tea, or walk over to the window, or swat at a fly. Don’t bore the read with “small talk”. Have your characters do something.

Examples of Action Tags or Beats:
She glared at him, saying, “let me go.”
“Don’t do it.” Brad raised his gun. “I’ll fill you with more holes than you can count.”
“Hey, where’s that smile?” Michael touched the tip of her nose and winked.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Using Fictional or Authentic Names

When writing fiction, authors must decide whether or not to use fictional or real names for celebrities, places, businesses, and brand names. Many authors feel that if they create a name it takes away from the authenticity of their book. Others are so concerned with possible law suits and legalities that they shy away from using real names at all.

I believe there is a need for balance. Authenticity is important, but so is staying out of legal trouble with copyright issues. When is it okay? How does one determine if it is necessary? Below are a few suggestions to consider.

Celebrities
There are laws that give people the right to mention household names without being sued. A household name could be a person, place, or thing that is so well known, the majority of people in each household nationwide will recognize that name. Hanna Montana, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Britney Spears, all these celebrities are examples of household names. A celebrity doesn’t have to be a Hollywood name. Just as many people are familiar with Barbara Walters, a news anchor, as with Hanna Montana, an actress and rock star.

You can use these celebrity names in your book to identify with the “look” or personality of a character, but I wouldn’t recommend making them a character in your book, unless it is a very brief and favorable moment. One example is that your main hero or heroine might love a particular star. This character might get to briefly meet this star, but keep it brief and positive. Celebrities still have rights to their privacy, and you don’t want to give any negative impressions that could land you in a lawsuit.

Another example would be stating that a character had a dark, gothic look that reminded one of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissor Hands. This isn’t referring to Johnny Depp personally, but to the character he played in that movie.

Authentic Places
You wouldn’t want to create a fictional city with all the landmarks of New York, describe its location, and then give it a different name. It just wouldn’t feel right to readers. Why? Because so many people would know you’re referring to New York since it is so well known. A widely known location like this is one of those places you would want to name in your story.

What about local communities and developments? Lots of people who have never been to New York have heard of the Bronx, Manhattan, Ellis Island and other areas around the city. I’ve never been there and I still know that there is a China Town in the city and that Fifth Avenue is THE shopping place. It would be more appropriate to create fictional names for small neighborhoods in an area of New York that isn’t so widely known.

Small towns are easier to create fictional names for because people can’t identify with places they’ve most likely never heard of or been to. If you decide to use the real name of a small town, be sure to do your research regarding everything in that town. You will want to create fictional names of streets and businesses just to make sure no one or business could be “identified” in your story.

Businesses and Brand Names
You probably want to be more careful about listing businesses and brand names than anything. People are very peculiar about the reputation of their business and their ability to increase profits. These businesses are copyrighted and any reference to them could be more of an issue because it could infringe or impact people’s perception of their product or service. This could affect lives, jobs, and profits.

If you want to indicate that your hero is an executive at Coca-Cola corporation, you should probably make up a different beverage and company name. The reason I suggest this, is because your story will need conflict, and the possibility that someone could think negative of anything you’ve written is a risk. What you think is positive may not be positive to someone else at that company.

You might be thinking, but isn’t Coca-Cola a household name? Yes, it is. And in your book you could mention that your character sat drinking a Coke. This is going to give them subtle marketing publicity, and at the same time show a personality trait of your character. It makes a difference if your character only drinks Coke and hates coffee, tea or lemonade. It shows personality. This is a brief reference that can’t be used in a negative light. But leave it at this and go no further with it.

Historical References
Historical writers tend to have a little more play with proper names of people and places that no longer exist. However, there are descendants of those people, as well as people who have lived in areas that they take pride in the history of those places. You will need to be sensitive to these feelings in your book.

If your story will show a person in a negative way, make sure it is fact based, documented, and well-researched before using it. Otherwise, you could have the great-grandchild of that person suing you for defamation of their ancestor. People who are not writers still have the impression that a book in print will make an author millions, and they could be out to make a quick buck if they think they can. Don’t give them any reason to challenge you.

With these simple suggestions in mind, write using authentic names were appropriate to enhance authenticity, in brief contexts, always keeping references to any real person, place, or thing in a positive manner, and you out of unwanted lawsuits.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Judging Manuscripts 101

Over the years I’ve entered and judged many contests. Some are very helpful with extensive feedback with great suggestions on how to improve my writing. Others leave a lot to be desired. Yes, contests are subjective, but at what point is something subjective or just downright rude and uncalled for? I suppose that is subjective, too.

I’ve listened to writers talk on writing loops about how the hardest contests were the ones that actually helped them the most—although at the time it was painful and didn’t feel like it. On occasion this has been true for me as well. However, I’ve also learned just as much from judges who didn’t call my characters names, write demeaning comments that made me feel like a child being chastised, who remembered that their writing style isn’t my writing style, and who realized that just because something “didn’t work for them” doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

If you are an untrained judge, who has been writing for several years, a few rules of etiquette will go a long way in grooming other writers.

  • Don’t call the hero and heroine names. If you don’t like a particular character, his or her behavior, motivation, or lack of motivation, simply state what it is you don’t like and why. Even in an undeveloped story from a new writer, the author is on intimate terms with that hero and heroine. It will feel no different than if you’re calling one of their family members a name. Be a little sensitive.



  • If you aren’t sure about something, don’t mark off points. If you aren’t familiar with a particular historical time period, setting, place, or location, state your concern about it, but don’t mark off for something you don’t know. I get frustrated when a judge comments, “I don’t write historicals, but I’m not sure if that word is appropriate for this time period” or “I don’t think wallets were in use at this time”. It’s okay to make the statement, but if you aren’t sure, don’t take off points. The author has probably done the research that you haven’t.



  • Don’t correct preferential punctuation. There are lots of punctuation marks (especially commas) that are preferential. The key is being consistent in their usage. Don’t go through a manuscript and mark punctuation that you “prefer” to be one way, if the author has used it correctly in a different way and has been consistent.


  • When writing comments, don’t talk down to the author as if you are superior. It doesn’t matter how multi-published and award-winning you might be. Arrogance is still arrogance. I’m less likely to listen to someone who sounds arrogant, because they make me feel as if they are incapable of being objective. Be careful in how you phrase things. I’ve later discovered some judges who I wish I’d never discovered. My first thought is to mark them off my influencer/reviewer list. That person can’t necessarily be trusted to be objective, and I’ll run into enough of those that I don’t know about.


  • Stating “it doesn’t work for me” is ambiguous. If you can’t give a valid reason as to why it doesn’t work for you, then it may be you and not the writing. Don’t take off points for something you can’t explain. As a judge you need to dig down deep to give your feedback, just as much as you’re expecting the author to do in his or her writing.


  • Don’t try to rewrite the story. Look at how many times you’ve made comments on the manuscript, “I would do this or I would do that.” Are you trying to rewrite the author’s story? Most likely you would write it differently. That’s why it isn’t your story. If you find more than three places where you’ve tried to suggest the author write the story differently when judging only one chapter, then you might want to reconsider how you are judging the manuscript.


  • Don’t judge genres you don’t like. Do authors a favor and judge what you are familiar with and what you read. Otherwise, you might be more of a confusion to a new author than a help.


  • Always say something positive. Even if the manuscript reads like a fifth grader wrote it, you can probably find something positive to say. Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. Try to encourage their strengths. The rest will come with time and persistence.


  • Don’t be condescending. If you have gone through the entire entry and you’ve said nothing positive and then you get to the end and decide you want to soften the blow and start making all these positive comments, it’s quite obvious what you’re doing. The author will feel as if you are trying to play them for a fool and then he or she will struggle to take your comments seriously.

    If you judge because you really want to help writers improve, and you want your judging time to count, then keep a few of these etiquette rules in mind, and I’m sure you will not only be helpful, but seriously appreciated—and probably in demand for contests.

    Happy Judging!

  • Saturday, May 10, 2008

    God Delivers!

    With so many people suffering across the US from the recession, lots of families are struggling with the continual rise of gas prices, loss of jobs, and the lack of decent and affordable health insurance. I want to remind you of a few things.

    "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of ALL their troubles." Psalm 34:17

    It doesn't say some, a few, a couple, one or two, but ALL their troubles. If you belong to God, for that is who the righteous are, He has given us this promise. While it doesn't say when He will deliver us, it does say that he will deliver us. So hang in there, continually pray for our country as we are in a spiritual battle during this election year.

    Also, don't worry that you don't have enough faith. Jesus said you only need enough faith as a grain of a mustard seed. That is a small amount. Remember this when you feel weak:

    "If we are faithless, He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself." 1 Timothy 2:13

    God will do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves. He understands that we are sometimes weak. It says without faith it is impossible to please God, well if you have enough faith to believe you are His, then you have enough faith to please God. He will help you with the rest. Simply ask Him.

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008

    Author Interview - Tina Ann Forkner

    Tina Ann Forkner, author of A Ruby Among Us has joined us for a great interview. I have to admit, the title is quite intriguing and I love the new cover. Tina will be giving away a copy of her novel to a lucky winner from today's drawing, so be sure to leave a comment.

    Jenn: Describe yourself for our visitors. (ex. hobbies, favorite music, ministries)

    Tina: I love my library, so I stay busy serving on the Laramie County Library Foundation board of directors. I also love ministries that help all moms, so I volunteer for one of our local MOPS groups and I also volunteer to write articles on occasion for another great, but newer, faith-based organization called Moms @ Work (http://www.momsatwork.org/).

    As far as hobbies, I really enjoy gardening and spending time outdoors with my family. Both can be a challenge living in the Wyoming area due to weather, but we do our best! I am also a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and American Christian Fiction Writers and work full-time now as a writer.

    Jenn: How do you find time to connect with God?

    Tina: It’s so easy for me to get caught up doing everything my way, so I have to check in with Jesus often and make sure I’m not taking the whole world on my shoulders when I don’t have to. Sometimes it helps to just take a walk and get away from everything.

    Jenn: Who are your favorite authors? Favorite books?

    Tina: I love a variety of authors, including Elizabeth Berg, Sue Monk Kidd, Cindy Woodsmall, Jane Kirkpatrick, Amy Tan, Lisa Samson, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Colleen Coble, and others, but I am more of a favorite book person than a favorite author person. Some of my books are The Mark of the Lion series, as well as Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, Open House, by Elizabeth Berg, The Hundred Secret Senses and Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, Watching the Tree Limbs, by Mary DeMuth, The Trophy Wives Club, by Kristin Billerbeck, To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee and Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. On occasion I like to read a good fantasy. My recent favorite is Auralia’s Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet.

    Jenn: Tell us about your journey to publication.

    Tina: I was a little kid when I told my parents I wanted to be a writer and they said, “Okay.” Much of that early writing was really bad, but my parents’ tendency to brag only encouraged me. It was a long road to publication. I majored in English in college, wrote literary poetry, lifestyle columns for my local newspaper, children’s books, etc. My children’s books were all rejected, by the way and so were many of my poems and essays.

    At one point, I went through a divorce and experienced a time as a single mom when I was forced to focus on working full-time, as well as doing the mommy thing. That’s just what was more important at the time, so I didn’t get to write much during that period.

    It wasn’t until I later married my husband that I had time to write the novel. I went to a writing conference the same year I finished the book and was invited by an editor to submit my manuscript. It would be cool if I could say, “and he decided to publish it!” But it was ultimately rejected. It wasn’t until I had an agent that it finally sold to Waterbrook Press. That was a fabulous day.

    Jenn: Tell us about your current book.

    Tina: This book is all about grace and redemption. I really hope readers can connect. No matter what relationship we each have with our mothers, daughters, or grandmothers, those relationship in many ways define us. Lucy, Ruby, and Kitty are in many ways your average women dealing with circumstances that if we have not experienced, have touched friends or loved ones.

    Here is the description: Set in the lush vineyards of present and past Sonoma Valley, Ruby Among Us weaves a story of three generations of women and the memory that binds their hearts together. Journey with Lucy as she searches for a heritage long-buried with her mother, Ruby, in this stirring tale of remembrance and redemption.

    Jenn: How did you come up with ideas for this book?

    Tina: For a time I lived in Sacramento and spent a few weekends a month visiting relatives in Santa Rosa and driving through the Sonoma Valley. The beauty of it really grew on me and served in many ways to heal my heart as I went through some tough moments known only to me at the time. I think the setting lent itself to the book easily because I had absorbed so much of it during that growing period in my life.

    One evening a few years later, when I was living as a single mom and feeling particularly down about my situation in life, I began to think about my daughter and worry about what would happen to her if I were to die while she was still young. I asked myself a question like, “What would she be told about me?”

    And then like a typical writer, I expanded my questions to the hypothetical. “What if someone decided to take her away from everything that has to do with me? How would she feel? Would she try to find out about me?” And I sensed she would, so I typed out what amounted to a few paragraphs of fiction, or maybe a few pages, I can’t remember, and then I called it Ruby Among Us and closed the file. It wasn’t until later, after I got married, that I pulled that file back out and it turned into a book. It just goes to show that things definitely happen in God’s time, not ours.

    Jenn: What's next for you?

    Tina: I have a second book coming out from Waterbrook Press in 2009 that is a standalone, but gives a glimpse of some of the characters from Ruby Among Us. I also have three other books in the works that are as yet un-contracted, but I’m hoping for the best.

    Jenn: Where can visitors find you online?

    Tina: Visitors can find me online at my site and blog, both at http://www.tinaannforkner.com/. I also blog occasionally over at Writer Interrupted http://ginaconroy.com/groupblog/wordpress.
    ______________________________________________________________

    Tina, Thank you for joining us!

    If you'd like to be entered in the drawing for Tina's debut novel, please leave your email address and at least a first name in the comment section. I'll contact the winner by email for a mailing address.