A Refreshing Author Weekend

Have you ever run yourself so ragged that you just couldn’t even put two and two together?


That’s where I was about a week ago. This season of my life has been challenging. My oldest daughter graduated from high school in May and I’ve been doing ALL THE THINGS, like shopping trips for college, helping her apply for student aid, gearing her up to pack, scheduling last visits (like doctor and dentist). And…trying to keep my author business going.

It’s been a lot.

From left to right: Kari Trumbo, Elana Johnson, Cathe Swanson, Mandi Blake, Laura Ashwood, and Chautona Havig

I’m about to break the fourth wall here, but we are in a “pivot” season as far as being an author goes. Marketing books is vastly different from what it was pre-covid and even during covid. While I know there are still cases, the world’s way of thinking is different and authors are having to adjust to the way people are now consuming entertainment. Figuring out what works now, is challenging.

So, all that to say, I needed a reset!

I met with 5 other authors over the last few days in northern Minnesota. We talked, we had devotions. We worked through stuck plot points. We fellowshipped… It was fantastic.

AND, it was exactly what I needed to keep going. You see, even professionals get tired. We need someone to refill our cup too. I didn’t know who to ask, I wasn’t even sure exactly what I needed, but God knew.

The only thing I’m bummed about? Jessie Gussman was supposed to be able to come but had to cancel. Having her there would’ve been fantastic. I will meet her in person some day.

Other than myself, at least two of these authors have been on the blog before and all of them are fabulous.

The setting for the retreat was a very rural, rustic cabin out in the woods. We saw deer and one of the authors even had close encounter with a coyote. Luckily, they are afraid of people it turned tail and ran the moment it saw her.


Beyond the refreshment I got (and hopefully gave) to these great women, was the scenery. We took a day trip to Lake Superior, and everyone loved experiencing the ‘big water’, some for the first time. There is something incredibly relaxing about huge bodies of water. The waves, the sound, the scent, and the blue of the water

meeting the sky just creates this amazing internal worship. I can’t explain it any other way.

What do you do when you need a refresh?

In the past, I’ve been able to grab a good book or talk to friends and recharge my batteries, but I think I let myself get too low. I needed to get away from the ordinary for a short time (Thurs.-Sun. morning). While I can’t do a retreat every time I get in this situation, I now know that I can look forward to this every year and I’m excited for 2023.


Announcing a New Book & Release Date!!!

momlogolihI’ve loved being part of life here at Wildflower Junction, but it’s time for me to saddle up and sing “Happy Trails.”  I’m sad to leave but thrilled by the reason. As much as I love westerns, I’ve had a contemporary burning in my brain for as long as I can remember.  I’m happy to announce that Until I Found You will be published by Bethany House in May 2014.  You know how writers talk about the book of their heart?  This is mine.

HarleyI wrote the first outline for this story shortly after my husband and I got married. Since our kids are grown now–married but no grandkids yet–you can imagine how long ago that was.  I didn’t get past chapter three on that version of the book, mostly because I didn’t have the life experience to tell the story that I wanted to tell.  I set the manuscript aside, raised a family, worked as an editor for a newsletter, moved to Washington DC and generally lived life.

I didn’t know it, but Until I Found You  was cooking the entire time. I tried to write the book again in 2003 after selling a western to Harlequin.  That version didn’t sell, mostly because it didn’t have a plot. I started to work on it again in 2007, but then Love Inspired Historicals opened up and the western bug bit me again.  I set the contemporary aside to do eight LIHs, but I knew deep down that someday I’d give that story another shot.

Yes, I love it that much.  It’s about a woman struggling to understand faith, love and all those random accidents that have left her frightened and insecure. Her life’s a mess when the hero arrives  . . .  He’s a hunk, of course. A travel writer and reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, he has a story of his own to tell.  He also owns a Harley and is a daredevil at heart.  That makes him a perfect (or should say imperfect?) match for my oh-so-cautious heroine.

The back cover blurb says it this way . . .

When Kate Darby swerves off a mountain road to avoid hitting a California condor, she ends up trapped in her car, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Terrified, she breathes a prayer that changes her life: “God, if you’re real, I want to know you.”

It’s Nick Sheridan who comes to Kate’s rescue. Nick is handsome, confident, and seems to develop a habit of rescuing her, but Kate is in town only until her grandmother recuperates from a stroke. She’s not planning to fall in love with one of the locals.

Nick Sheridan is a reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, a new Christian, and a travel writer. When he sees a car dangling on the edge of a cliff, the daredevil in him jumps into action. He doesn’t expect to be swept off his feet by the car’s occupant. He’s made a vow: no dating for a year. And it’s a vow he intends to keep in spite of his attraction to Kate Darby . . .

So here we go . . .  I hope those of you who love westerns will take a chance on a book set in modern times.  The hero wears a motorcycle helmet instead of a Stetson, but I assure you he’s a cowboy at heart. As for the heroine, in my mind she’s the great-great granddaughter of the Reverend John Leaf from Abbie’s Outlaw, or maybe J.T. Quinn in The Outlaw’s Return. 

Happy trails to all! It’s been a privilege to share this journey you.

Music To Write By . . .

Has anyone else heard The Piano Guys?  I saw them on TV the other night for the first time and fell head-over-heels in love with their music. When they played Rolling in the Deep by Adele, I felt like I was hearing the melody for the first time. Their two CDs are winging their way to house, or maybe driving in the mail truck. I live a mile from an Amazon fulfillment center, and there are times I wish I could just stop by and pick stuff up, but that’s another conversation.

The Piano Guys CD are going into what I call the soundtrack pile.  These are CDs I play while I write.  The music is all over the road–everything from country to chamber music to Led Zeppelin.

A quick word about CDs . . . I have an iPod but I can’t write with ear-buds or even headphones.  Having music in the background blocks out distractions, but having it in ear is just too much. So, old fashioned or not, there’s an three-disc player in my office that usually one.

Here are some of the mixes for my books . . .

For The Maverick Preacher and The Outlaw’s Return, I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash.  His song “Hurt” captures the feelings of despair, regret and acceptance with amazing clarity.

Any Led Zeppelin fans?  I’m not really big on Led Zep, but The Ballad of Evermore played constantly for  West of Heaven, especially during the scenes where Ethan grieves his wife in one breath and admits to loving Jayne at the same time.

One of my favorite performers is Greg Buchanan, a Christian harpist who plays both hymns and other music.  No lyrics, just amazing harmonies. I heard him in concert in the middle of writing Of Men and Angels and still play that music regularly.

Movie soundtracks appeal to me as well. The Piano is pretty strange movie, and the music reflects the edginess.  Love it!  I played this a lot for my old HHs.

The soundtracks for my Love Inspired Historicals tended to be more country.  The soundtrack to Broken Bridges, the movie with Toby Keith as an alcoholic country singer getting his act together, played constantly during Home Again.  Then there’s the ultimate go-to music for any of my westerns. That’s Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads, especially “El Paso.”

This list wouldn’t be complete with a mention of country singer Gary Allan.  I heard Smoke Rings in the Dark  driving home from work one day, went to Wal-Mart and bought it. More often than not, Gary’s music occupies one of the three CD slots, sometimes more than three.  He’s got a whiskey voice, more emotion than just about anyone, and gut-wrenching lyrics that feed this writer’s imagination.  I have a lot of favorites. Among them are Loving You Against My Will, Along the Way, See If I Care, It Ain’t the Whiskey and  Just Got Back From Hell.

Another CD I play a lot is Adele.  No surprise there!  Right now, I’m listening to Celtic Woman, Alison Krauss and Civil Wars. What about you?  What kind of music do you like?  I’m always looking for something new.

A word about process…

Sometimes my mom will call me up and ask me for a recipe. At times I have it and will give it to her. At times, she has to deal with a bit of karma when I answer, “Well, I do this and put enough of this in to make it whatever, and bake it until it’s done, you know”. My mom has given me that answer plenty of times so it serves her right.

So here’s the thing. The way I cook vs. the way I bake is a lot like the way I write vs. the way I handle the non-writing part of my life.

When I’m baking, I follow a recipe. You have to worry about timing and proportions and things like leavening and consistency A LOT. So if I’m making cake or cookies or breads – anything with yeast, baking powder, baking soda, etc….I follow the recipe. But when I’m cooking a dinner dish – a casserole, something in the crockpot, roast, whatever…I usually don’t follow a recipe. I might sometimes use a guideline if it sounds good, but I often throw stuff together. Last week I thought the recipe for Turkey Meatball Chili needed to be saucier, so instead of 2 tbsp of tomato paste I put in the whole can. If I don’t have a certain veg I’ll throw another in – or add extra. Seasoning numbers? That’s a guideline only. Seriously. I wing it. A LOT.

When I’m not writing, my life is like a recipe. There is a schedule (writing is on it), and there is a list. Things are in a certain place and happen at a certain time. It’s very orderly and it works.

But when I’m writing, my process is like making chili. Or a better analogy – my Kitchen Sink Soup (recipe on my webpage). I start with a base – 2 characters with a goal, motivation and conflict and a happy ending by the last page. But everything else?

You got it. I’m what they call a pantser.

This wasn’t always easy to accept. I tried doing a synopsis ahead of time, or an outline. I tried doing up GMC charts. Tried writing to a three-act structure thinking it would make it easier when I got into trouble. Know what happened? I got into MORE trouble. Finally, finally, I came to accept that you know what? THIS IS MY PROCESS. And it works. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a tweak when it’s necessary – I totally think processes evolve with the writer. But I stopped fighting it. I embraced it. After I did that, I wrote faster and with less stress because I LEARNED TO TRUST IT.

Recently a friend was lamenting her word count compared to mine. I told her to stop. She has a certain process and it’s OKAY. She writes fabulous books, so what does it matter if it takes her a little longer, or if she has to have the front end of the book completely solid before moving on? You can’t judge yourself next to someone else’s process. And if yours works, why would you want to? Some people write a dirty draft and go back and do an overhaul. Some people write out of sequence. Some write a methodical word count every day and others strike when the iron’s hot. Some do extensive planning first and others “write into the mist” as Jo Beverley once said.

The key thing is to realize that your process is yours and it’s not right or wrong. It just is. I have learned that in every book there will come a time when a character surprises me. When a piece of dialogue or internal monologue will come out and be so powerful I will probably cry – and I haven’t planned it. That I COULDN’T plan it. That characters will take me in directions I never knew and make the book so much better than what I could have outlined. That is where the magic of my stories comes from. I know it will happen because it always does.

So if you’re a writer reading this – trust your process. Claim it, love it, embrace it. And I promise – things will be so much better when you decide to work WITH it rather than against it.

And if you’re a reader, you just got a glimpse into my rather twisted writer-mind. Meanwhile, in case my first analogy made you hungry, you can check out my recipes on my recipe page at http://www.donnaalward.com/recipecorner.htm



Jenna Kernan Talks About The Cahill Cowboys

THE LAST CAHILL COWBOY rides into Cahill Crossing this month, completing the miniseries, CAHILL COWBOYS Texas’s Finest.  Author Jenna Kernan talks about writing a continuity series.

Ever wonder what it would be like to write four stories with four authors in four months? 

That’s what the authors of the Harlequin Historical series, CAHILL COWBOYS Texas’s Finest did exactly.  I had the joy and responsibility for winding up the series.  I remember thinking, Boy, I hope I don’t disappoint the other authors.   Not the readers, or my editor—the other writers.  Here’s why…

Three talented women passed on their own precious heroes and heroines to my control.   All of them would appear in my story.  I’d never written a story with a character who was not holy my own creation and that was very disconcerting.   And I didn’t have to face the same, because my hero, Chance Cahill, doesn’t appear in their stories except by reference.  Plus, I didn’t get to see the others stories, as we were all working on them nearly simultaneously.  Was my vision of Quin, Bowie and Leanna the same as their creators?

The best part for me was the creative collaboration on the overarching mystery, of who killed the patriarchs.  That was a bunch of fun.  Why, we even had our own yahoo group that filled up with images, photos, landscapes, maps, character details, story synopses.  You can’t imagine the number of messages (431) we had back and forth. What color is Bowie’s horse?  Who ran the saddle shop?  What does the inside of Leanna’s saloon look like exactly?  Questions and more questions.

The best part of this series, for me, was working with Carol Finch, Carol Arens and Debra Cowan.

I hope you get to meet all four of the Cahills, The Rancher, Quin, The Marshal, Bowie, Saloon owner Leanna and my favorite, Bounty Hunter Chance.  In case you want a short introduction to story, THE LAST CAHILL COWBOY, here’s a little excerpt from the opening, after Chance rescues Ellie from a crazed gambler by shooting him.


“Welcome home, Chance,” Ellie murmured.

He nodded, thinking about hugging her again.

“I’ve heard you’re a bounty hunter and that you’ve killed over a dozen outlaws.”

Chance said nothing to this.  Did the number impress her or sicken her? 

“But not one person mentioned you had a death wish.”

Chance drew up short.  Ellie halted beside him regarding him with a disconcerting fixed stare.  It took him a moment to mask his surprise.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”           

“I saw you back there, Chance Cahill.  Are you trying to kill yourself?”

He gave her a look that made grown men run, but she continued to stare, her thin brows now descending low over her eyes.  This was Ellie, and she knew him or had known him back when he was another person.  The little spitfire didn’t retreat.  Instead, she stood toe-to-toe and lifted her chin in a defiant attitude.  If a man looked at him like that, he’d knock him down.  As it was he’d a good mind to kiss her, just to teach her a lesson.

“Why do you care?”

“Your mother would roll right over in her grave if she saw what you pulled in there.  You were going to let that man shoot you.”

He folded his arms across his chest.  “What do you want me to say, that sometimes I think about it?  Well, I do.  Now get out of my way, Ellen Louise, or I swear you’ll be sorry.”

Her jaw dropped open, though whether from the threat or what he had said before that, he wasn’t certain.  He left her there, wondering what possessed him to tell her the truth.  And why was it that Ellen Jenkins was the only one who had noticed that he no longer cared if he lived or died? 

Her voice followed him.  “What’s happened to you?”

He kept walking.

Excerpt THE LAST CAHILL COWBOY © Jenna Kernan



Award-winning author, Jenna Kernan has over a dozen novels published including Western historical & paranormal romance.  She has received two RITA nominations & won the Book Buyers Best Award in 2010.  Follow Jenna on twitter jennakernan@twitter.com or at www.jennakernan.com

Cheryl St.John: My Christmas Story and a Giveaway!

I just love writing novellas for the western Christmas anthologies and am always tickled when my editor invites me to participate. I’d wanted to do a train story for a long time, so when I got the call, I immediately started thinking about a train. Some stories are meant for novellas and others have enough plot for a full length book. A wise writer knows which is which. I often come up with a story idea and then tuck it away for the future, because the premise won’t sustain a full-length novel.

This time I didn’t go to those stored ideas, I sat down and brainstormed new characters. Characters always come first. Once they’re established, I know what they’ll do and how the plot will come together.

Jonah had a few other names in the process—names are a number one priority for my creative process. Without the perfect names I can’t move forward. I considered and dismissed Cole McAdam, Grady Neville, Ivan Kingsley and Jeremiah Thorpe among others. But Jonah Cavanaugh won out. He sounds like a duty-bound U.S. Marshal, doesn’t he? He’s inflexible, honorable, protective and always on the lookout for danger. With Jonah it’s all about duty.

Meredith was always Meredith. Her name came to me with the story premise, and she was the easiest to flesh out. Born into a well-to-do family with a railroad tycoon father, Meredith is living up to expectations. She doesn’t like to feel ordinary. Nothing is grand enough for her; she loves drama, and she has an adventurous spirit. She’s competent, bossy, headstrong and used to getting her own way. But while Meredith is fearless, she hides her lack of confidence regarding her true worth.

Now to get these two together.

Christmas = snow.

A few days before Christmas Jonah is protecting a gold shipment on a train pulling the Abbott’s luxury Pullman. When he spots a notorious bandit aboard, he knows there’s trouble coming, so he alerts the engineer and uncouples the last three cars, stranding the mail car, the luggage car—and the Pullman in a blizzard.

Little does he suspect the railroad heiress is traveling alone on her way to a Christmas Eve party in Denver, where her suitor will propose. Now, not only does he have a strongbox filled with gold to protect, but a pampered female—and before the day’s out—two stowaway orphans.

I had so much fun writing this story about the true meaning of Christmas and the promise of love that I believe it’s one of my favorites. If you’ve already read it, I hope you’ll leave me the gift of a comment or brief review on amazon.

If you leave an amazon review today CLICK HERE, send me a quick email: SaintJohn@aol.com and I’ll add your name to a drawing for this beautiful 50” single strand bead necklace! (The round disk beads are pale pink, which you can’t see well in my photo.)

If you haven’t read Snowflakes and Stetsons yet, here’s the link to order:


If you order today, let me know and I’ll add your name to the drawing.

Among my favorites by other authors are Mary Balough’s Christmas anthologies. Many readers tell me that the novellas are their favorite Christmas reads and they buy them all. Are you one of those readers?

Word of the Month

September is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s harvest time – is there anything more fulfilling? The leaves change colour and the days are mellow and warm, the mornings and evenings crisp and cool. I start making comfort foods. It’s back to school time – and I LOVED going back to school, cracking open new textbooks and scribblers and sharpening pencils.

So it’s no surprise that when September rolls around, I throw myself into work with a renewed energy. I make goals. I make LISTS (I’m a huge list person). I make things and freeze them.

Suddenly I seem to become rather efficient.

So the word of the month for me is productivity. I tend to be really productive in September. My office is now kid and noise free after the low-key, more relaxing summer months with a looser schedule.  Add that into my energy level and it really is a recipe for getting things done.

To be productive, I break things down into lists. My work list for this month includes handing in my latest book before October 1, updating my website and organizing the October promotion for my next releases (and I have 2 in October, which means it’ll be busy).  Then I have longer term goals – my upcoming projects mainly, and ensuring I hit word counts sufficient to make it happen. One thing that’s really helped me focus is the #1k1hr hashtag on twitter. I get a lot done that way!

I have “home” lists too – like projects to finish before Christmas, and another list – what needs to be bought for presents. I hate trying to cram shopping into the last minute, so by organizing it I can have everything done for family (all of which live out of town) by mid-November. If I do that, I’m ready for any opportunity to send things with people if they visit or get them in the mail in lots of time.

I really enjoy the harvest part too, and find myself spending a Saturday peeling 2o lbs of apples to make applesauce to freeze for eating or using in muffins and stuff.

I don’t use any fancy organizational tools, I just make my lists and take great pleasure in checking things off. What about you? How do you organize your life (or do you?) and what are your productivity secrets?

Cheryl St.John: Pushing Past Fear to Try Something New

As authors, we are asked a lot of questions, not only by readers, but by those who have a desire to write a story. At every  book signing at least a few people will ask how to get started — or how to overcome fear so they can start.

Fear often holds us back from trying new things.

In one form or another fear is the number one culprit that keeps us from going after our dreams. Fear is often insidious, disguised as procrastination or poor time management, but it can be debilitating in any form. Figure out first exactly what are you afraid of.

Give that fear a name

For the beginner: Are you afraid of trying to write because you might find out you’re not very good at it? Are you concerned you might give it your all and never get published? Recognizing that something is holding you back is a huge step. Now take another one and figure out exactly what it is you’re worried will happen.

The first thing a beginner writes won’t be publishable. Neither will the first book, most likely (okay it does happen) and maybe not the second. But you will never learn, you will never grow, you will never know that you can, until you put the words on the paper. It took me a long time to figure this out, so if I can teach you this and it sticks, I’ll consider my job done: They are only words. You can write more.

Repeat it: They are only words. If they’re not great, you can toss them out and write more. There are plenty more words where those came from. Thousands, millions, in all sorts of combinations and patterns. You don’t have to get them all right the first time.


Whenever a new member joins my RWA chapter or my critique group, I understand their nervousness. I was in their shoes once. I make it a point to tell them: We all started out in the same place. Years ago my brother knew I was writing, and he brought me a newspaper article of a published author whose husband had been transferred to the air force base in my city and she was starting an RWA chapter. I’d never heard of RWA. I was too inexperienced and uncertain to even call the contact number. Another year or more went by and one of the chapter members was featured in the Sunday paper. My brother brought me that one, too and said, “You have to get with these people.”

It took me weeks to get the courage to call. And when I did, I got an answering machine and hung up without leaving a message. I felt completely out of my league. I knew I’d be stepping into a world of English majors and professional people, and I was just little old me making up stories on my old Selectric typewriter.


Well, I finally did it. I made the call and left a message. The woman called me back and she was warm and welcoming and delightful. I went to my first meeting with my knees knocking and learned everyone there was someone like me – someone just making up stories for the pure love of it. It was months later when I finally showed a manuscript to that founding published author and she Xed out page after page and wrote “nothing happening” in red in the margins. That hurt. She also showed me the things I did well, and showed me how to change and fix and rework the story. She was the first person who said to me, “You can do this.” Her name was Diane Wicker Davis, a warm Southern lady who mentored other writers and shared her knowledge. She passed a few years ago and everyone who knew her remembers her laugh and her encouragement.

I pushed on after her critique, learning, studying, rewriting, until a few years had slipped by and a stack of rejections had piled up. I can remember becoming frustrated and being so hungry for someone to tell me I could do this thing.

No one can tell you whether or not you’re going to sell a book, publish fifty more or be a success. As much as we’d love for there to be, there’s no writer’s crystal ball to foretell the future. We all wonder if we have the stuff it takes. As beginners we wonder if we have an inkling of talent. Once other writers and readers validate our talent, we still wonder if it’s good enough, if we have what it takes. It’s good to acknowledge that we don’t know it all and to have a desire to learn and grow. But sometimes doubt holds us back. We shoot ourselves in the foot by creating and feeding feelings of inadequacy, by being unwilling to stick our neck out there and show our work. Submission requires opening ourselves up to criticism and rejection. I know a few writers who don’t even submit for fear of rejection.

Confidence comes with practice and with maturity.

Consider an athlete. He might have a desire to run a hundred meter race. So he goes out and gives it a shot, but he doesn’t do very well. Why not? He didn’t practice! He didn’t study how other runners achieve endurance through diet and exercise. He doesn’t know how good he really is until he’s trained by learning all he can, eating properly for energy and muscle and all that — and after he’s ready, after he’s prepared, stretching to limber up and then RUNNING. Then running again and again and again until he’s fast and he knows he’s fast, and he’s ready to compete.

In many ways submitting a book is a lot like that. Your manuscript will be compared to all the others that cross an editor’s desk. It will be scrutinized for its ability to make the publishing house money in the marketplace. The only way you can have the confidence to know you’re submitting something with a chance of making it past that test is to learn your craft and practice, practice, practice. Work at writing and work at it until you get better, until you hit your personal stride.

Sure, sometimes self-doubt is much deeper, it’s inadequacies we’ve carried with us from childhood and relationships and past hurts and experiences. But there’s help for those things, too, in recognizing it and getting help if need be and working on it. You’re a valuable person. You’re worth it. You deserve to give yourself the gift of improving yourself and reaching for your dream.

What else holds us back?

Fear of Embarrassment
Honesty time. This is actually your pride getting the best of you. We all had to start somewhere. We all wrote crap when we first started–well most of us anyway. When babies first learn to feed themselves and walk, we don’t make fun of them; they don’t know any better. You didn’t get on a bicycle the first time and smoothly take off.

Training wheels aren’t embarrassing to a four-year-old. Why do we think our first attempts at writing are humiliating? You have to be willing to make mistakes.
You have to be willing to be bad. You can fix bad. You can’t fix nothing.

Sometimes we’re just our own worst enemy!

Fear of Failure
What if I do the very best I can, give it my all, and fail? Failure means to fall short; failure is a lack of success. This is where your thinking needs to change. Set realistic goals, which is another entire subject. If we go back and look at the realistic goals we planned for ourselves, we can see where we didn’t fall short in our commitment or resolve or our mission. If you take the steps you planned to reach your goal, you succeed in doing the things that are within your control. Taking that action reduces fear and increases your options. Since failure is defined as an omission to perform an expected action, you haven’t failed if you’ve taken the steps to reach your goal.

Failure is not in being rejected; it’s in not taking the steps.
You can succeed by changing your thinking and your self-defeating behaviors.

And here’s the question I’m famous for asking. I ask it of myself and then I ask if of others who hesitate: WHAT IS THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?

Okay, people, we’re talking about writing a book here, not jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. The worst thing that could happen?

Your first three chapters could suck bilge water and need to be thrown out. Remember, I said there are more words where those came from.

It could take you three years to sell a book once you know how. This is my story – is it so bad?

You could write four books over twice as many years, not sell a one and give up. So? You met wonderful people, you had a great time, you learned a lot, and you stayed out of the casino. What was the worst thing about that?

I’m giving you things to think about. I’m asking you to face your fears. I’m suggesting you take steps to put doubt and lack of confidence under your feet and stomp on them a few times — then don’t pick them up and resuscitate them!

Fear is a lack of knowledge. Learn all you can about yourself, about how you work and the things that get you motivated or the things that hold you back and then take the menace out of them by taking positive action to put them behind you.

Do things differently to see better results.

What’s the formula(s) for writing success? by L.J. Martin

If you’re speaking of fiction, then the answer, if not the skill, is easy.  It’s writing compelling fiction.  That’s fiction that readers want to read, and who’ll compliment the writer or novel with “I couldn’t put it down.”  That’s compelling, and in my estimation, the finest compliment I, or any writer, can get.

So, what makes a novel compelling?  Why can’t a reader easily lay it aside, and turn off the bedside light?  It’s craft, and craft can be learned.  Much of it is simple construction.  By that I mean chapter length, scene construction, characterization, and story interest.  The first three are fairly simple; the last depends upon the writer’s experience and skill.  And I don’t necessarily mean experience in regards to writing, but rather experience in regard to living.

Luckily, some of us are born old souls, and we observe more than others, we absorb more than others.  I was not that writer until I had accumulated a few years.  Some are able to acquire the knowledge for story interest early on in life.  When I was 25 I began an adventure novel, a thriller, and after five chapters or so realized I didn’t know enough, and was too busy raising and providing for a family to take the time to try and “book learn” what I didn’t know.  So I waited until I was sans half my children and had some time on my hands.  Then I wrote a 130,000 word historical.  I can’t tell you how to make your novel interesting, but I think lots and lots of reading can do so.  You can’t, as a for instance, write about a forensics expert unless you either are one, have observed the process, or have read lots about them–usually non-fiction.

However, pacing, characterization, and the rest of the technical side of constructing a novel can be learned.  I use about ten manuscript pages for chapter length.  Why? It’s easy to get through about seven printed pages without being interrupted.  It’s a short attention span world these days.  That’s the good side; the bad is you still want to keep them reading, even if you’ve given them a chance (a chapter end) to lay your book aside.  And how do you do that?  You break a chapter in the middle of a scene, the conflict unresolved, or you end the chapter with a question the reader wants resolved.  You don’t end with “I fluffed up my pillow and reached up and switched off the light.” You end with the next sentence.  “Almost as soon as I closed my eyes, I heard the scraping of my casement window being forced open.”

And rule one, two, and three: 

1) There’s conflict in every scene, or it’s a transition and shouldn’t be longer than a paragraph. 

2) Enter the scene late and leave early.  No one cares about ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’

3) Deeper and deeper trouble. 

Those are the basic rules of a compelling novel.

L. J. Martin is the author of 20 novels and several non-fiction books (Bantam, Avon, Pinnacle) and articles, and writes a widely read conservative political blog http://fromthepeapatch.com.  He’s also an optioned screenwriter.  He’s written mysteries, thrillers, westerns, and co-written one romance with his wife, NYT best-selling romantic suspense author Kat Martin.  The Martins live in Montana and California.  A number of his articles (excerpted from his book WRITE COMPELLING FICTION can be found on www.ezine.com and several videos on GETTING PUBLISHED can be found on youtube.com (search ljmartinwolfpack). Learn more about the Martins at www.ljmartin.com, www.katbooks.com, www.wolfpackranch.com, as well as facebook and other social sites.

See the trailer for L.J. Martin’s Nemesis . . . 


Larry is giving away a copy of his western, Nemesis, and two copies of his thriller, Last Stand.  Leave a comment and you’ll be in the drawings.  He’ll also send a pdf copy via email of KILLING CANCER to anyone who requests one.

Writers and Ranchers

You know how sometimes you realize something and wonder why you never really saw it before? That happened to me last week. I was doing a little research for my new book, piecing together my hero’s past, and I had just finished a week of admin. A whole week. And that’s when it hit me. I have something in common with the ranchers I write about – more than the love of the outdoors and wide-open skies.

Is that a skeptical brow I see arched in my direction? I know. Our professions couldn’t be more different, right? I sit on my butt in front of a computer all day. A rancher spends most of his day outside, in the fields and barns. I make things up, farmers are faced with reality every moment and deal with the here and now.  Farmers are physically tough; I have a real ongoing issue with Writer’s Butt, and it ain’t pretty.

But we have a lot in common too. We’re in the business of producing goods, and if we don’t pay close attention to quality, our market dries up and we don’t get paid. And guess what. There’s not a writer or farmer I know who punches a clock. We do what has to get done when it has to get done.

More than that, though, is the change to our professions brought on by technology. Farmers aren’t just farmers and writers aren’t just writers. We are business people. There is more to being an author than writing the book. There’s more to being a farmer than milking the cow or harvesting the wheat.

Farmers need to be up to speed with developments – water management, land management, economics, livestock management, genetic developments, and dear Lord yes, finances.  I don’t think a lot of people out there realize what goes into the jug of milk they buy, the tray of steak or the bag of apples they pick up at the grocery store. 

Writers need to know the market, they need to promote themselves and keep pace with developments in the industry. The days are gone where you could write a book, send it off to your publisher and trust the rest.  I spend a good portion of my time reading up on the changes in the industry, figuring out where to spend my promotional dollars, doing paperwork, developing relationships with readers, and yes, writing new books. Because writing is my business.

It was really cool to make the parallel, and it happened when I was looking at some of the programs offered at Olds College in Alberta. The term “simple farmer” gets my goat. There is nothing simple about farming and the men and women who do it – and let’s face it, not many farmers are getting rich at it – are savvy and dedicated.

Just like a writer should be.

And just another reason why I love writing modern westerns.

You can check out my latest “innovative” cowboy in Honeymoon with the Rancher, featuring an Argentine Gaucho who uses his smarts to keep the family estancia going as a guest ranch. It’s out in the UK this month and will be in the US and Canada  in May.  And you can always catch up with my at my site, www.donnaalward.com !