Amish country…through a writer’s eye.

imageI’ve just returned from Amish country and boy, are my eyes tired! I mean to say they just about leapt out of my head at the amazing sights abundant in Holmes County, Ohio. Of course, since I am a writer, I viewed the panorama unfolding around me through the writer’s lens. Particularly, I wanted to understand why Amish fiction is so amazingly popular in the inspirational market. Have you noticed? Look at any Christian fiction bookshelf and you’ll find dozens of titles with bonneted people on the cover. Wanda Brunstetter, Bev Lewis, and others have sold millions of copies. Why? What’s the draw, I wanted to know? Here’s the answer.

1. Good stories have to have external conflict. There is no greater external conflict than a community trying to live set apart in a world that intrudes on them at every turn. Amish believe they must not be conformed to modern standards, yet they exist in a world where they are regulated by a government in which they do not participate. They need tourist dollars to support their large families, yet they do not wish to be photographed, or be exposed to conduits such as cell phones, television, cars or the internet. Extending one hand out to tourism, while turning their faces away from the lifestyles of their visitors is a hotbed of conflict, and great fodder for a story.

2. Good stories echo the emotional needs of the reader. Why do so many love Amish fiction? Because in some way, we all long for a simpler time. We worry that our dependence on technology has distanced us from a meaningful relationship with God and each other. We yearn for that pure, divine communication that we struggle to discern in our busy world. During a conversation with an Amish woman in her home, I was struck by the fact that they do not listen to music, there is no cell phone beeping, or even the sound of traffic on their lonely graveled road. In that quiet space, can they hear God more clearly? It’s a question we can explore in the pages of a book.

Have you ever visited Amish country or read Amish fiction? What do you think would appeal to you about the culture? Giving away a double prize on Friday!

Writing humor is no laughing matter.

imageHumor is hard to write and even harder to sell. This probably explains why so few comic television series survive. As someone who loves to write humor (I know, not what you expected from a gal who’s written 15 suspense novels) I can tell you it’s much more challenging than writing drama. Why? Answer the questions below.

1. What is sad?

On this, I’ll bet we can agree. The death of a child. Human suffering. The power of addiction. Violent crime. Are we together on this? These are all terrible and tragic. If I wrote a novel featuring any one of these themes, we’re all going to feel similarly when we read it, if I’ve done my job well.

2. What is funny? Someone slipping on a banana peel? Bathroom humor? Esoteric jokes? Lies and subterfuge? Hmmm. Now we’re getting into some disagreement. Do you think Woody Allen’s humor is funny? How about Dumb and Dumber? Case in point is the movie Anchorman. My daughter thought it was hilarious. I found it juvenile and crude. Am I wrong? Is she? Nope, we’re just not going to agree because funny is a moving target.

That is why many publishers will not take a chance on humor. It’s too much of a risk to guarantee the books are going to sell. I so appreciate Harlequin Heartwarming for allowing me to write a book which is truly penned in my natural, goofy, voice. I think it’s got some hilarious moments. Will readers think so? No guarantees!

Have you ever seen a movie that was supposed to be funny and you didn’t find it so? Or conversely, did you laugh through a movie and have others disagree with you? Would love to hear your thoughts. Giving away a gift card and two books this month.

Hard truths about writing and eggplant.

imageimageLet me just say the hard part first. If you want to be in the writing business, you’d better know that you’re going to fail. A lot. Take in the following two points, but be sure to read to the end. The bitter comes before the sweet!

1. If you want to be a writer, you’re going to feel rejection. Looking for an agent? You’ll no doubt query a ton of them before you get a nibble. I probably sent out a dozen agent queries a week for a while. I got some nibbles, but mostly just the form letters. Dear BLANK, Thank you for your interest in Skippy Doo Agency. Don’t take it personally, but we are not interested in representing you at the present time. Truth is, I published three books with Heartsong Presents before I even acquired an agent! Same is true with project proposals. You’re going to mail out a bushel of those babies and most will come back stamped “Thanks, but no thanks.”  I used to keep a binder to track my status and for many years the rejection section was bigger than all my published works stacked up!

2. If you want to be a writer, you’re going to experience criticism. It’s the nature of what we do. We write things, craft the very best product possible and send it out into the world. Some people are going to love it, and others are going to cut you to ribbons. Publicly. On Amazon and their blogs. And Twitter. It’s just the way of the world because consumers are very empowered by technology to share their thoughts. ALL of them.

Discouraged? Here’s the sweet part. Writing is like eggplant. Some people love it, and some can’t abide the veggie. Your book or article will find its way to the people who love it and need to hear it. Those are the people you write for, those eggplant lovers who need to hear what you have to say. You’re going to bless them, but you have to endure some rejection and criticism to do that.  It takes courage and commitment, but all good things do, don’t they?

What things in your life have required courage and commitment? Would love to hear your thoughts! Giving away a Starbuck’s card and two books at the end of the month!

Reviews…good, bad and excruciating!

imageAh reviews. We authors live and die by them. A five star review on Amazon? Woo hoo! That link is going to be posted everywhere in my cyber world. A measly THREE stars from Romantic Times? Grrrr. That’s not even going to make my web page. Glowing reviews or horrible ones, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. While I’d love to believe that I am the amazing author I imagine myself to be, in reality I’m just a hard working gal who’s trying to get a bit better with each book. The same is true of the horrifying reviews (“Mentink should never be allowed within spitting distance of a keyboard again!”) If the review is a personal attack, I’m going to discount the vitriol, but generally there’s a kernel of something in there which is the truth. Characters a little flat? Ouch, but I’m going to remember that when I dive into my next novel and try to improve. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t hurt. I can read ten five star reviews, but the one that’s going to stick with me is the one suggesting that my dog could have penned a better novel. Reviews come with the territory and nine times out of ten there’s something to be learned from them (even the bad ones!) Below I’ve posted links to two of my reviews (one good and one not so good) so you can see what I mean. The second is from a reviewer who felt that I focused too much on plot to the detriment of the romance. It hurt to hear it, but it made me want to improve in that area.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R390OLQXCEUCB7/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00I66BRFC

http://romancing-the-book.com/2014/03/review-force-of-nature-by-dana-mentink.htm

Do you recieve criticism in your work or personal life? How do you handle it? Giving away a Dana Mentink and Alison Stone book this month and a Starbuck’s gift card. Appreciate your comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Series or standalones, pros and cons

I started my writing career as a greenhorn with a three book mystery series set in the tiny fictional town of Finny. I guess you could say, therefore, that I cut my teeth on series writing. However, when that series wrapped I signed on with Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense and I spent a good bit of time writing single books before I once again switched to series. So which is better? In this writer’s humble opinion, there are advantages and challenges to both.

With stand alone books, you can get in there and write a book with all manner of murder and mayhem, because the characters and setting will not have to carry on through another book. Ah the freedom! Characters can be discarded at will. Frankly, it’s easier to write a stand-alone because you have fewer details to keep track of over time. The disadvantage? Your reader may not be as invested in buying your next book. Stand-alones do not provide that built in sense of urgency about what happens next.

The series, by contrast, is a whole lot more complicated. Characters must be placed carefully in the narrative who may not have the spotlight focused on them until a few more books have come and gone. Still, they need to be set into place (and they can’t be cardboard placeholders either) until it’s their turn to shine. All of their pertinent details from eye color to family history must be recorded to ensure the facts remain consistent over the course of the series. Same with the setting, if the entire series takes place in one location. That coffee shop on the corner of Cream and Sugar had better be in the same location in book two, unless you’ve explained the change. Publishers appreciate series book because if readers enjoy the first one, they’re primed to come back for the rest which makes everyone’s marketing job a bit easier.

So what about you? Do you enjoy stand-alone novels or series? Got any favorites you’d care to share?  Giving away a Starbuck’s card and two books this month.

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I’m a professional writer…have you seen my socks?

 

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I recently read a swell interview from a multi-published romance writer. She shared her writing routine which involves entering her office (complete with walls and a door) and exiting only for lunch and at 6 p.m., the end of her day. Such is the life of a professional writer…but it’s not my life, to be sure, and right now, I wouldn’t want it to be.

First, my “office” is plopped in the middle of the living room between the box turtle and a treadmill. It doesn’t have walls, except in my imagination (kind of like Les Nessman from WKRP if you remember him.) It’s a laptop, some file drawers and a bazillion sticky notes.

Second, I’ve got two teenage daughters so my “uninterrupted” writing time is often bisected by questions like, “Mom, have you seen my socks?” or trips to the craft store for poster board, or vet visits for sick parakeets or church related meetings or fitness walks with my husband.

So how do I get three books written a year? I get up extremely early and I do it every day (except Sundays.) I work in fits and starts, between the needs of my children, my husband, my church and everything else. Is it the best way for a “professional writer” to use their time? Probably not, but at this point in my life it’s the only way I can manage.

Soon enough my children will be grown, and they won’t need me to find their socks and shuttle them around, but at the moment, I will cheerfully  sacrifice my efficiency. There will be time later when my house is sadly quiet and I will be able write for hours at a stretch, but for now, fits and starts will do.

How do you handle interruptions? What things do you struggle to balance in your daily life? Giving away a Starbuck’s card and TWO signed books this month!

Why fictionalize a setting?

 

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So you’re sitting there at your keyboard, ready to start that quirky comic romance series that’s going to zoom right to the top of the bestseller chart. It’s going to take place in a seaside town on the California coast. Excellent! Now comes the big decision…are you going to set your story in a real town, like the charming Half Moon Bay or Pescadero? Or will you make up a fictional setting, perhaps modeled from a real town? This is exactly what I asked myself as I sat down to hammer out Return To Pelican Inn. My answer? I set the story in a fictional town called Tumbledown, loosely modeled after Half Moon Bay. Come to think of it, I’ve never, to date, set a story in a real town. Why? Here are my top three reasons.

1. Real towns are more boring than those I can come up with in my mind. I live in a city of 80,000 people and it’s lovely, but do we have sand castle contests and establishments like the Brew Unto Others Coffee shop? Nothing nearly that darling. We’ve got Safeways and Chevrons.

2.  People don’t like to know there are murderers in their towns. I write a lot of romantic suspense and sadly, there’s usually a REAL bad guy lurking around somewhere. Best not to set these kinds of villiains in a real town. It makes the residents feel a touch peeved at times.

3.  A fictional setting is clay under my fingers. Need a nice beach for my characters to take in the boat festival? No problem. Want to add a lovely old inn that overlooks the sea with nary a parking lot to mess up the view? Easy! Fictionalizing a setting gives me delusions of grandeur, allowing me to make the world exactly as I want it to be!

Do you like real life settings or fictional ones? Can you think of any that stand out for you? Giving away TWO books this month (including one written by the fabulous Alison Stone) and a Starbuck’s gift card.

 

 

 

 

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