Monday, June 29, 2015

June 20 meeting notes

If you didn't get to go to the meeting last week (like me), then you'll be excited to know that Janice posted her notes on our very own private Facebook page. Go to the Writers on the Storm page, click on "files," and find WOTS C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T.

Don't forget--the 2015 Storming the Short Story: Dance Edition entry deadline is June 30 at midnight! Hope you get your entries in!!!

Also coming up, the Central Houston IWA Conference info is up! You still have time to register. Conference date is August 1.

Coming up in July: Anita Higman is our guest speaker, and she'll be teaching us how to create an irresistible proposal. Getting us ready for conference season! F. Scott Fitzgerald is the author of the month. If you don't know much about him, now's a good time to learn.

Hope to see everyone July 18!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Different Kind of Conflict

conflictYou've heard authors talk about turning off their internal editor? There's a reason for that. Authors and editors think differently, and if one can't shut off the other when necessary, there is conflict.
I doubt I'm telling anyone what they don't already know, but this really is a right-brain, left-brain kind of thing.
I always get it confused, so in case you do too, here's the theory: "right brain" folks tend to be more artistic; "left brained" folks more logical. So when the right brained author has the left side of his brain pokin' its nose into his business, he gets stymied. Stilted. Stopped.
And when the left brained editor is reading the wonderful works of the writer who has pushed the limits of artistic license, he becomes mortified and indignant and threatens to yank that license away. Illegal use of imagery!
Not long ago, there was a discussion on an editor's loop about using the thumb to wipe away tears. "He wiped away her tears with his thumb." For some reason, the originator of that discussion simply couldn't picture it, said nobody'd ever wiped her tears with a thumb. I tried to picture it the way she was talking about it--a hitchhiker's digit coming at my dampened cheeks certainly did eradicate all thoughts of sweetness and romance.
But that's the way editors think. Logically. Literally. Which is how the floating body part became a bad thing.
If you picture it literally, "her hand trailed the banister all the way to the second landing" gives you an image of a disembodied hand floating up the rail. The editor in me is giggling at the image the entire time I'm striking out the line. The author in me knows darn good and well that the reader isn't going to think a hand would actually take off up the stairs without the benefit of the rest of the body. Readers are smarter than that.
But the editor says, "Illegal use of imagery!"
The author sulks and types, one jabbed, resented key at a time, "She walked up the stairs."
Can't even say "she walked dreamily up the stairs" because "dreamily" is a dadburned adverb, and you already know you're gonna get dinged for having anything on planet Earth with an -ly suffix, and hang all editors!!!
But let's go back to "He wiped away her tears with his thumb." I'd be willing to bet that a bit further up the page, the author had written something along the lines of "he cupped her face in his hands." If that's so, it makes perfect sense. Guess which finger is closest to the tears when her face is cupped in his hands. Can ya guess? Can ya? Huh?
Score one for the author.
Or the author uses punctuation to present attitude. "Wouldn't that be nice." reads a whole lot differently than "Wouldn't that be nice?" to me. The first has snark written all over it; the second sounds like my sweet Aunt Joyce in all her Southern charm.
The editor's first response is to slap a question mark on the snark.
It may be grammatically correct, but it lacks punch. Paint the bulldog's toenails pink, and he just doesn't seem the same. It's conflict, I tell ya. The editor's adherence to the rules will always conflict with the author's inherent desire to break 'em.
The flip-side of this causes conflict, too. If you're a left-brained author taking a stab at fiction, you gotta let go and let it flow, 'cause if you don't, you're gonna sound like a textbook.
This isn't just the "editor" in you getting in the way of your writing, which is problem enough. Having the editor butt in means you can't get ahead unless you fix absolutely everything that's wrong with every single paragraph, line, and word that has hit the page thus far.
No, it's also the invasion of the logical side of you--the side that looks at your line, "she settled behind the steering wheel" and whispers, "before she gets in the car, she has to open the door. No wait--before she can open the door, she has to unlock it. But then, she'd have to get her keys out of her bag. She'd probably have them in a particular pocket in her purse, so she'll have to reach into that pocket to pull them out..."
It's one thing when the editor and the author are two different people. It's another when that conflict rages within one head. Truly left-brained people need to learn how to give in to their right brains while they're writing, and keep a tight lid on the left side until the first draft is done. Truly right-brained people need to learn how to give in to their left brains while they're editing what they've written, and not a moment before.
When you figure out the mystery of how to do this, let me know, okay?
Don't forget--Janice is teaching on C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T. today, June 20th, at Lupe Tortilla's at 11:00. Hope to see you there!

Do you have your short stories ready for the contest? Get writing! We put a PayPal link on the right sidebar for your convenience, and you can find all the other particulars for the contest on the Writers on the Storm, Short Story Contest page

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ane Mulligan: Conflicted about Conflict?

I cut my authorial teeth on writing plays for use in the church. They ran the gambit from 90-second to 5-minute sermon-starters to full length musicals. For the short sermon-starters, there was a problem and the pastor’s sermon supplied the remedy. The full-length Easter and Christmas musicals followed Jesus’ life.

My first novel was a Biblical fiction in which I strung together a bunch of scenes from Jesus’ life, interspersed with the fictional characters. There was no conflict, other than the Pharisees wanting to crucify Jesus. I figured that was enough.

Uh, no. Not for a novel. Sigh. I had a lot to learn.

I slid that first manuscript under my bed, never to see the light of day again. I turned to contemporary fiction and let my funny bone come out to play. However, I still lacked enough conflict. My crit partners (you know the ones: Attila the Holmes, Genghis Griep, and Ludwig von Frankenpen) ripped it apart.

“More conflict!” was the verdict.

But I write light-hearted Southern fiction.

“You still need conflict. Anne of Green Gables had a story question that kept it going. Would Anne be able to avoid her usual high jinks and get adopted? While not the usual conflict, it provided tension needed to carry the story forward. You need more!”

Okay, okay. I heard. I began to do deeper character interviews in which I discovered the secrets about my characters’ past. Once I found their deepest need or darkest secret, I had the basis for conflict. What was the worst thing that could happen to her/him? Do it and then go one worse.

Suspense, mystery, and adventure genres have built-in conflict by nature of the genre. They are plot driven, meaning the events cause the protagonist to make decisions.

But in character driven fiction (the character’s decision causes certain events to happen, driving the plot forward), the conflict will stem from the characters' motivation, which is based on that lie they believe about themselves.

These things, the lie and motivation, are found within the character’s backstory. That secret. That devastating childhood event colors their personality and their worldview. These are from where you draw the story conflict.

If it matters to the character, if it violates or goes in direct opposition to their motivation, it causes great conflict.

For instance, in Chapel SpringsRevival, my protagonist, Claire, wants respect. Her lie is that it’s all her fault. She lives to prove that wrong. But she’s her own worst enemy, trying so hard, she forgets to stop and think before she moves or says anything. She charges headlong into trouble, and usually ends up in a mess, further compounding her dilemma.

In Rich in Love, by Lindi Peterson, the heroine, raised on the mission field, wants nothing to do with foreign missions. She’ll serve God right here in Atlanta, thank you very much. The hero, with whom she’s fallen head over heels in love, has been called ... you guessed it—to be a foreign missionary.

Filled with conflict? Absotootinglutely!

So remember, conflict comes from within, in a character-driven novel. It comes from the characters' past, their hurts, their fears—their backstory. That backstory may never make it in the book (and probably shouldn’t), but you’ll glean so much from it, you’ll have built-in conflict.

About the Author:

President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion.

You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+Facebook, GoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.


Chapel Springs Survival 

coming Dec 2015

A mail-order bride, a town overrun with tourists, and illegal art ~
can Claire and Chapel Springs survive?

With the success of her Operation Marriage Revival, life is good for Claire Bennett. That is until the mayor's brother blabs a secret: Claire's nineteen-year-old son, Wes, has married a Brazilian mail order bride—one who is eight years older than him. When Claire tries to welcome her new daughter-in-law, she's ridiculed, rebuffed, and rejected. Loving this girl is like hugging a prickly cactus. When family members begin to choose sides, will Claire and her family survive her son's marriage?

Lydia Smith is happily living alone and running her spa—then the widow on the hill becomes a blushing bride. Along with her new marriage, she has a dream to expand her business by adding guest rooms. Things are going according to plan. That is, until her groom's adult son moves in—on everything. Will her dream survive her stepson?

From the first sighting of a country music star in Claire's gallery, The Painted Loon, to the visit of a Hollywood diva, Chapel Springs is inundated with stargazers, causing lifelong residents to flee the area. When her best friends, Patsy and Nathan, put their house on the market, Claire is forced to do something or lose the closest thing to a sister she’s got. With her son's future at stake and the town looking to her to solve their problems, it's Claire who needs a guardian angel.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fun at the National Museum of Funeral History

What a fascinating place! Of course, when I tried to explain to my husband and mom where we went, they both decided our WOTS group has a streak of morbidity running through our inky veins. But seriously, where else would I get a chance to see an ornately crafted hearse or a re-cast of the Pope's ring?

1921 Rockfalls Hearse, hand-carved

re-cast of  Pope Benedict's ring--only one in existence

I didn't realize how large the museum was, but it housed several exhibits, including an impressive array of hearses and an interesting display of unusual coffins/caskets (one was covered in crushed velvet, another in coins--and one was built to accommodate a family of three. Interesting story there). But the most unusual were the ones made in South America.

Horse-drawn hearse for an infant

We started at the exhibit dedicated to the Arlington Cemetery. Our docent, Rob Parker, told us things I hadn't heard before--like did you know that even during hurricanes and other severe weather, the guard will not leave his post?

From there, we went to exhibits pertaining to funerals for Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan. Rob taught us the difference between a casket and a coffin and the difference between lying "in state," "in repose," and "in honor." And did you know that 105 mm canon rounds were shot for the 21-gun salute at President Ford's funeral? These kind of tidbits were priceless.

Then we did some history: Egyptian mummifying, American embalming--which became a necessity during the Civil War, when men who died during the battles were carried back to their own states--and 19th Century mourning practices.

One of the interesting things Rob told us is that the Europeans--and therefore we Americans--are the only ones in the world who mourn in black. Most nations wear white to illustrate mourning, which, he said, made him wonder what they thought of our wedding practices. 

We toured the exhibit of the Pope's funeral, also, which was simply fascinating. Well, all of it was fascinating. If you missed it, you'll just have to go sometime. Far too much to discuss in a blog post. I can't believe what all I have to leave out for the sake of brevity. You simply have to go!

The Pope and the Swiss Guard

Crystal Barnes and the Pharaoh

The attending crew in front of the Rockfalls hearse


By the way, the Storming the Short Story: Dance Edition is now open for business! Get all the information you need "here" and get to writing!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Novelists: Creating Tension Wherever We Go

Next month, June, is "conflict month" at Writers on the Storm, but around my house, every month is conflict month. With three teenagers, a hard-working husband, a creative (a.k.a. crazy) wife, an eager dog, and a cat that disdains us all, can you imagine why? Yes, I have a lot of experience with conflicts of every sort. The big conflicts make our lives interesting—though I do prefer when they stay in my stories, thank you very much.

But today, I don’t want to talk about the big stuff. This conflict is so much smaller, I’m going to assign it a different name entirely: tension.

Tension: inner unrest, striving, or imbalance :  a feeling of psychological stress often manifested by increased muscular tonus and by other physiological indicators of emotion.*
“Increased muscular tonus.” Ever felt like clenching? Yeah, that’s tension.

Yes, the words conflict and tension can be used interchangeably, but I’m differentiating between them, because you can’t have major conflicts on every page. Imagine having a character barge into every scene demanding to know who stole his phone charger. It would get (Though if you wrote a teenager into your story, you could make it work.) So maybe you don’t want conflict on every page, but you do want tension on every page.

Donald Maass calls it micro-tension, and he says in Fire in Fiction, “Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” (By the way, if you haven’t read Fire in Fiction and Maass’s other craft books, get started immediately.)

We’re not talking about those big story questions—will Rafe finally tell Aubrey he loves her? We’re talking about the little things. Imagine your last Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you didn’t have any outright conflicts at the table, but often, there can be tension. There was for poor, fictional Aubrey.

Aunt Mabel leveled a look at her. “No date...again, dear?”
Aubrey forced a smile and thought about the fight she’d had with Rafe the night before. If only she’d kept her stupid mouth shut. “Not this year.”
“What about that hottie, Rafe?” Aubrey’s little sister said. “He seemed totally into you.”
Her father reached for the mashed potatoes. “Rafe? What kind of name is that?” He heaped another helping on his plate. “Sounds like a pirate.”
Aubrey’s brother settled his gaze on her. “You’re not stupid enough to get wrapped up with a guy like Rafe, right, sis?” 

They’re not fighting, but Aubrey’s definitely feeling increased muscular tonus. And if the author’s done her job, the reader is, too, wondering how Aubrey’s going to get the guy and still keep her family happy.

That’s tension, and as I just showed—I hope—it’s not that hard to slip into dialog. I’m sure you do it all the time in your books. Be careful, though. Dialog doesn’t automatically add tension. Whenever you have two people on the same side with the same goals, you’re missing an opportunity for tension. Look for those happy people/happy land, let’s sip coffee and eat cookies kind of scenes and find ways to add some tension.

But how do you add tension to description? There are a number of ways. One is to use your character’s fears and emotions in that moment as a filter. It’s a windy, autumn day, and your character has just learned she has a rare and often fatal disease. Let’s not have the leaves dancing in the autumn breeze. Rather, let’s see them hanging onto the branches, clinging to life while the already fallen crunch beneath her feet, releasing the scent of decay and death as she plods her way toward the hospital.

What about action scenes? They’re tense enough all by themselves, right? Not necessarily. Ever notice how nearly every cop show on TV has at least one chase scene. The cop/detective/federal agent stops at least 25 feet from the bad guy and yells, “Stop, police,” and invariably the perp makes a run for it. This is a great time to refill your iced tea, because there’s no tension. Let’s face it: everybody knows they’re going to catch him. Check your action scenes and make sure they’re dripping with tension.

And then there’s exposition, those paragraphs with your character just...thinking. Unless you’re intentional about adding tension here, your readers’ eyes will glaze over. One way to add tension is to fill your character’s head with conflicting thoughts. She loves him. She hates him. She can’t live without him. She’s going to leave him. Only try to make it a bit more subtle than that. And if you’re rehashing what just happened in a previous scene...don’t. Not unless you’re adding something new—and critical—that the reader doesn’t already know.

Make it your goal to have tension on every single page of your manuscript. That’s what keeps the reader up at night, turning those pages.

If you’d like to learn more about tension, ACFW is offering an online course in July on this subject—taught by yours truly. I’d love to see you there.

Your turn: What’s your favorite technique for adding tension to your novel?

* from Merriam-Webster Unabridged,

About the Author:

Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, is available now. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website,

Finding Amanda links:

My website:
Robin’s Red Pen:
Amazon:  Finding Amanda

Finding Amanda Back Cover Copy

Chef and popular blogger Amanda Johnson hopes publishing her memoir will provide healing and justice. Her estranged husband, contractor and veteran soldier Mark Johnson, tries to talk her out of it, fearing the psychiatrist who seduced her when she was a teen might return to silence her.

But Amanda doesn’t need advice, certainly not from her judgmental soon-to-be ex-husband. Her overconfidence makes her vulnerable when she travels out of town and runs into the abuser from her past. A kind stranger comes to her rescue and offers her protection.

Now Mark must safeguard his wife both from the fiend who threatens her life and from the stranger who threatens their marriage.


Don't forget our "Write-Out" Day! We're having a field trip to the National Museum of Funeral History, 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston. We'll meet at 10:00 and have lunch together at Rudy's after the tour. Entry fee is $10.00--unless we can swing 25 attendees, then we can qualify for the group rate of $8.00. Bring pen and paper. You never know what'll inspire you!

Also, the Storming the Storm short story contest officially opens June 1st. Get your stories polished. This year's theme is "Dance." Information here: 

Next meeting is June 20th, when Janice Thompson teaches us about C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T. Writers in the Houston area are welcome guests!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Storming the Short Story Contest

Announcing the 2015 Storming the Short Story Contest


Writers on the Storm (ACFW – The Woodlands) 
Houston Christian Authors (ACFW – Houston)

in partnership with Chalfont House Publishing’s fiction imprint HopeSprings Books


The Short Story contest is open to all authors, published or unpublished, 18 years of age or older.

Entries and Fee: 
An original 4,000-6,000 word short story. Entries must not have been previously published in any form.

Entry fee $25.00 via PayPal (button on right side panel).

Entry fees are non-refundable. Entry fees are used by the local ACFW Chapters to finance the contest, as well as fundraising for local chapter events.


Theme: Dancing

Your short story can be about anything as long as it fits into the one of the genres listed below, contains the theme mentioned above, and has a clear faith element (Christian). The theme should be obvious to the reader. For instance, if the theme was “Storms” there would need to be a storm in your story somewhere. Metaphorical storms would not count.

Categories and definitions:
  • Contemporary
    • Stories set in year 1960 or after that do not fit in one of the other categories
  • Historical
    • Any story with a setting prior to 1960
  • Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
    • Contemporary 
    • Romantic suspense would fit here
  • Romance
    • Contemporary
  • Speculative
    • Any type of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or combination.
    • If it’s weird, it goes here.
  • Young Adult/Middle-Grade
    • contemporary, Earth-based, regular fiction
    • Protagonists younger than 20 years
The Contest Committee reserves the right to combine categories if a minimum of 5 entries are not received.

This is a Christian fiction contest. No objectionable content allowed. 

Category Coordinators will determine whether the entries meet the required theme, content, and formatting requirements. Entries that do not meet the requirements will not pass to judging.

First Round judging: Panelists will score entries based on 5 categories. Scoring results will be returned to the contestant as feedback. Panelists can only vote in categories they have not entered as a contestant.

Final Round judging: HopeSprings Books will select stories for publication from the highest rated entries and will award at least a first prize in categories with 5 or more entries.

Winning entries will be edited with the cooperation of the author prior to publication. Winners retain copyright to their work, but the publication contract will be a 7-year license of the paperback, ebook, and audiobook rights. 

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be donated directly to the ACFW Scholarship Fund, but authors can receive a report each quarter upon request.

 Proceeds donated to the ACFW Scholarship Fund

June 1st - Contest is open for entries.
June 30th - Submissions closed (Midnight Central Time).
August 1st - Scoring begins.
August 15th - Scoring ends.
August 31st - Winners announced.

Formatting Requirements:
  1. Name should not appear anywhere on the entry
  2. Bible verses must be referenced in a footnote or endnote
  3. Manuscript pages must be in standard format:
    • Double spaced
    • 1-inch margins
    • Size 12 Times New Roman or Courier font (Including the header)
    • Unjustified and aligned left text with no extra space between paragraphs
    • Begin one third the distance from the top margin 
    • Scene breaks should be indicated with a single (#) or triple pound sign (###) as their own line with a single blank line above and below
    • Header should contain the category and title aligned left and the page number aligned right. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fun and Great Info Mark May 9th Meeting!

Super turn-out for our May 9th meeting, especially considering that it was Mother's Day weekend!

Janice Thompson presided over the meeting--which meant we had cookies after lunch. Those of you who couldn't make it missed out. She also hosted a give-away, 2015 calendars and her 3-Minute Devotions for Families.

Kathrese McKee masterfully held our attention with her speech, "Preparing for Disaster, Saving Your Manuscript from Oblivion," and fielded questions from those of us who are technophobes.

Kathrese knows her stuff, and given her background in All Things Computer, she should. She made us think about what we'd lose if something happened to our computers and we hadn't taken proper protective measures. Then she told us just what those measures should be.

If you missed it, she has generously provided the link to her notes, so you can read the outline to the entire speech "here."

My favorite Kathrese quote had nothing to do with computers: "We are never done learning English." How true is that?!


Congrats to our WOTS members!

Selah Award Finalists: Donn Taylor, for Lightning on a Quiet Nightand former member, Mary Hamilton, for Speak No Evil

Genesis Semi-finalists: Stacey Zink

Golden Quill (Desert Rose RWA) Finalist: Carla Rossi

Coming Thursday, June 4

Don't forget our "Write-Out" Day! We're having a field trip to the National Museum of Funeral History, 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston. We'll meet at 10:00 and have lunch together after the tour. Entry fee is $10.00--unless we can swing 25 attendees, then we can qualify for the group rate of $8.00. Bring pen and paper. You never know what'll inspire you!

2015 Short Story Contest

You can learn more about it "here." Contest is open for entries on June 1! Also, don't forget about last year's anthology, featuring many stellar authors including Annette O'Hare, Carla Hoch, Linda Kozar, and Crystal Barnes.

Meeting on June 20th

Regular time and place. Don't miss it!