Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't Just Read a Blog - Comment by Ava Pennington

Thanks to Ava for reminding us to comment! Not just read! In a couple of weeks, we're going to have blog posts that we'll need your help with! We'll need your comments - so this post is quite timely!

Don’t Just Read a Blog - Comment!

Before I began blogging last year, I spent several months reading a variety of blogs. I subscribed to book review blogs, political blogs, spiritual blogs, and blogs for writers. I read posts written by those who had just entered the blogosphere, and posts written by those who had been blogging for years. I finally initiated my own blog, Ava Pennington’s Pen Station in May, 2010.

But there’s more to blogging than writing your own blog and reading those written by others. The blogosphere is a community, and community means interaction. Most blogs are not intended to be monologues. They’re meant to be part of a dialogue between writers and their readers. The ensuing “conversation” can broaden the worlds of both parties.

So how do you join the community and add to the conversation? The easiest way is to provide meaningful feedback by commenting on individual blog posts. Many bloggers make it a practice to end each blog post with a question that invites the reader to participate. What do you think? Have you had a similar experience? How have you responded to this situation? What would you do if this happened to you?

The way to answer these questions, and perhaps post one or two of your own, is by leaving a comment. Most blogs have a Comment hyperlink at the top of the post or a Comment box at the end of the post.

What kind of comment should you leave? In her book, Blogophobia Conquered, Laura Christianson noted, “When readers compliment my writing, it stokes my ego, But the comments I value most are the ones that challenge my statements, share information I forgot to include, or offer meaningful commentary.”

Laura also identified several types of commenters:

Fervent Fans – people who love the blog

Personal Promoters – people who comment to promote themselves

Happy Hecklers – people who post nasty comments just to irritate the writer

Deferential Dissenters – people who courteously disagree and open a dialogue with the intent of learning through sharing

Irrational Inciters – people who hate the blog

I would add one more type: the non-commenter or lurker. I confess I am often guilty of belonging to this last category. I slip in and out of blogs, reading but not responding. Taking, but not giving. Listening, but not adding to the discussion.

I want that to change. Community requires interaction. Conversation requires dialogue. I’m looking forward to not just learning, but also sharing what I’m learning.

Care to comment?

What type of commenter are you?

Carol here: My favorite blog to comment on is Seekerville. What great fun they have over there on a regular basis! What's your favorite? And while you're commenting on blogs, I am so excited to have been featured in the Purple Shadows contest yesterday - stop by and let me know what you think! Be sure to vote in a couple weeks too =D.

Ava Pennington is author of One Year Alone with God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God (Revell). She is also co-author of the Faith Basics for Kids picture book series (Standard Publishing). The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? For more information, contact her at

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I'm Ada by Virginia Elizabeth Proffit Crane

Pentalk Books by Carol McClain

     Set in Virginia and West Virginia, this lovely little book tells the first person narrative of Ada King. Born out of wedlock to a poor mother, Ada never succumbed to despair. She married, moved to the coal mining region of West Virginia, birthed five children--lost two of them. Suffered through failed marriages, the poverty of coal mines and the isolation illiteracy brings. Yet eventually rose above her circumstance with hard work and grace.
     Virginia Elizabeth Proffitt Crane wrote this biography of her grandmother. The setting spans the twenties, through the Great Depression and World War II and gives us a glimpse of a hard life sustained by the hand of a loving God.
     I found the story unpretentious and engaging. You can contact Ms. Crane on facebook or purchase the book at

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Reasons Why Writing Isn't an All or Nothing Deal by Naomi Musch

Pentalk is pleased to welcome Naomi Musch to the blog! Make sure to check out how she did in the the most recent Clash of the Titles!

The Reasons Why Writing Isn't an All or Nothing Deal

By Naomi Musch

Scott Hamilton wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Great Eight which

inspired me in several ways. Hamilton discussed his desire to make a return to skating after hitting age fifty. In the telling, he described how he learned to accept the fact that everything doesn't always turn out precisely as we want it to, even if we're doing everything right, and even if we feel God nudging us to continue on. Our picture of success might not exactly be what God pictures.

On that line, the book is mainly about how we make or break our own happiness or, better said, contentment. But it wasn't the "great eight" that inspired me so much as one individual story.

Scott told about a friend, a successful song writer, who was writing a book and felt a bit insecure about it. So the friend gave the manuscript into which he'd poured his heart and soul to a well respected friend in the literary world for feedback. But he didn't get the feedback he'd expected. He was basically told that it could be edited back from 250 pages to about 50. At first, his heart was broken.

But then he thought more about it and realized that his joy had come in the process of writing! He decided why should I let anyone take that away, just because they might be looking at it from a different point of view? Hamilton's friend planned to keep writing because he enjoyed it. If someone else wanted to read it or publish it, fine. But if not, that was going to be okay with him, too.

What a great reminder. We don't have to always live up to other people's expectations of what we should be writing about, or how we should be going about it. And, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT PUBLISHING!

Writing is simply not an all or nothing deal.

It's about following through on our God-given promptings, enjoying the process, baring our souls.

So press on, my friends. Don't fear for their faces! Don't cringe at critique! Love the words. Express your hearts, your stories, your dreams, your rantings. Continue to commit to the process. And let all your hard work and effort leave you happy and fulfilled in what it is, and not discontent in what it is not.

Naomi is the author of The Green Veil, the first in the 3-book historical series Empire in Pine under contract with Desert Breeze Publishing, and Heart Not Taken, a novella from Black Lyon Publishing. She also serves a staff writer for the Midwestern paper Living Stones News and as a freelance writer encouraging the home school community. She and her husband Jeff live in the big woods of northern Wisconsin where they enjoy epic adventures along with their five young adults. Drop by to say hello and peek at her projects and passions at and look her up on Facebook and Twitter (NMusch).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Part 2: Using Historical Research by Christine Lindsay

Thanks once again to Christine Lindsey for sharing how she researched Shadowed in Silk.

Historical Research, Part 2

Previous day I wrote about the research I did for my hero, Major Geoff Richards of the Cavalry in India during the British Raj.

Today is my heroine’s turn. Abby is a plucky American who is also half English, being the daughter of a famous English general. I researched what her life would be like by reading autobiographies of famous British women in India, as well the experiences of lowly female missionaries. Whether they were as illustrious as the Viceroy’s wife, or that of a humble soldier, most people made the trip to India on the P & O line—Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

I found enough detail on the internet for Abby’s clothing, such as the calf-length skirts she would have worn in the year 1919 just after Great War. But I learned more about her lingerie and grooming products by plowing through autobiographies. One of my favorite tiny details is the soap that Abby would have used—Vinolia.

Too much detail can bog a story down, but a little detail here and there nails the scene in reality and gives it texture, taste and fragrance. It’s my opinion that readers want to be whisked away to a far off place, to experience something different from their real lives, but at the same time they empathize better with the characters if they know how characters do their hair, the laundry . . .

If I were writing a contemporary novel I’d never bore the reader with how the laundry gets done, but when you’re in such an exotic land as India in 1919, it’s nice to pop in a quick line of dialogue that the dhobi takes the dirty washing away one day and brings it back the next.

I also believe that readers like to read about food, to be made hungry. So I studied British Raj cookbooks written by English women. It was there I learned a favorite of English children growing up in India was a chappati spread with marmalade. Abby’s little boy Cam found this a great treat. My Indian characters mustn’t be left out though. They had their staple of dal and rice on a daily basis, but people are people. All cultures have special holidays where candy is a big part of life, or as the Indians called candy at that time—sweetmeats.

My research taught me a lot about their favorites like jalebis. I used this particular sweet in several scenes. Abby, Cam and Eshana order these crisp, golden spirals from the shopkeeper in the bazaar who waves a reed fan over them to keep flies away. When they bite into the jalebis, they taste sweet rose-scented syrup that glides down their throat.

I lost count of all the books I read. My guess is somewhere around 30. But there were books on Indian women’s lives, weddings, flora, cooking . . . the various religions there. I even know how to make a fire in a desert—with thorn bush and camel dung.

It was the history of Christianity in India and on reading about the political climate through biographies of Gandhi and Nehru that I came upon a true event that shook India and Great Britain—the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. It was this terrible event that helped Gandhi rise to fame. And it’s against this true event that I set my fictional characters and take them through a turbulent time.

But after all was researched and my story written I wanted to make sure.

A friend who’d lived in India and Pakistan read the novel with the intent of finding mistakes. And still wanting to be sure, I found Dr. Shirley Hereford, a charming Indian woman with a PhD who teaches literature at an all-girls Indian university in India.

Perhaps I did too much research, as a non-published author at the time with no deadline. After reading my story, Dr. Shirley said that she was astounded I’d never been to her country. I seemed to know the place so well. But then . . . I had been there, through the eyes of others.

And I hope that you will come there too, through my eyes—SHADOWED IN SILK.

She was invisible to those who should have loved her.

After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.

Major Geoff Richards, broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France, returns to his cavalry post in Amritsar. But his faith does little to help him understand the ruthlessness of his British peers toward the India people he loves. Nor does it explain how he is to protect Abby Fraser and her child from the husband who mistreats them.

Amid political unrest, inhospitable deserts, and Russian spies, tensions rise in India as the people cry for the freedom espoused by Gandhi. Caught between their own ideals and duty, Geoff and Abby stumble into sinister secrets . . . secrets that will thrust them out of the shadows and straight into the fire of revolution.

Christine Lindsay writes historical inspirational novels with strong love stories. Her debut novel SHADOWED IN SILK is set in India during a turbulent era. Christine’s long-time fascination with the British Raj was seeded from stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in India. SHADOWED IN SILK won the 2009 ACFW Genesis for Historical under the title Unveiled.

The Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle, is Christine’s home. It’s a special time in her life as she and her husband enjoy the empty nest, but also the noise and fun when the kids and grandkids come home. Like a lot of writers, her cat is her chief editor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Part 1: Using Historical Research by Christine Lindsay

Today and tomorrow, Christine Lindsay joins us with tidbits about using history in your fiction!

Using Historical Research

Being a history buff, I loved researching SHADOWED IN SILK. But after writing 2 novels, and currently on my 3rd, I sometimes despair. The world is full of couch experts like me, not to mention professionals.

Like every writer, I’m prepared for when my book comes out, and hoping a reader won’t stop mid-sentence to say, “Hey, wait a minute, that detail’s wrong.”

My daughter, the real history major, gave me this advice. When writing a university paper, a student must use at least 2 primary sources——meaning first person experiences, in other words, autobiographies and such. For that kind of research, I find the good old library is best.

The hero of my story is a major in the British Cavalry during England’s rule over India. To understand the myriad of details that go into the life of that kind of officer, I read the autobiographies and biographies of military personnel from before and after the WWI era that I was writing on. Certain details just don’t change while others do.

One thing that didn’t change for quite some time was the galvanized bathtub my Major Geoff Richards would bathe in. But I wanted to get the details of his uniform correct, details such as his khaki drill jacket and the Sam Brown Belt that the British are so proud of. Geoff keeps his clothing in the same tin-lined truck that he’d first brought out from England as a raw subaltern. You need a tin-lined trunk for your clothes in India, to keep the bugs out.

I read about the type of tents an officer would sleep in while away on maneuvers, and one of my favorite details—what it ‘feels’ like to sit on a cavalry charger as it jumps over irrigation canals in Northern India.

I took copious notes, very careful to not use the other writer’s words, so as to avoid plagiarism, but took their details and created my own scenes with my own words.

One of my favorite lines which I did not use for my book was the way one real-life Brigadier General referred to the short colorful jacket an officer would wear for fancy dress—he called them bum-freezer jackets. I didn’t use that particular colloquialism as my character Geoff simply would not speak in a vulgar manner ever. He’s a serious-minded man, my Major Geoff. But I did dress him up in a short dress jacket with epaulets on his shoulders, slim black slacks, and white gloves. He looked quite dashing the night of the New Years Eve ball set in the Governor’s mansion and the gardens heavy with the scent of roses. All details checked on, as yes, the air is heavy with roses in the city of Lahore at that time of year.

Music sets an era like nothing else can. It was easy enough to find out on the internet what kind of music was popular during WWI, and I could even listen to it. I’ve included the link here for you to hear the love song that keeps my heroine Abby going through four lonely years of war and afterward when she finally gets to India.

At the beginning of Shadowed in Silk Geoff has just returned from the Great War. Like a lot of soldiers who went through that war he is suffering from shell shock. Thanks to my daughter majoring in history, I was able to use her notes and books on WWI to find out how shell shock affects various men, where they would have stayed in hospital. Not all the details that I researched went directly into the story, but I needed to know where Geoff would or would not have been.

As Geoff suffers from nightmares, I needed details of what the screaming minnies sounded like as they exploded close to where he would have been hunkered down in the trenches with his men. I needed to know why Geoff is scarred emotionally inside as well as outwardly.

Next day, I’ll talk about the research I did for my heroine, Abby Fraser, and how I tried to make her life come alive. I hope you’ll join me again. Here is the back of the book blurb for SHADOWED IN SILK

She was invisible to those who should have loved her.

After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.

Major Geoff Richards, broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France, returns to his cavalry post in Amritsar. But his faith does little to help him understand the ruthlessness of his British peers toward the India people he loves. Nor does it explain how he is to protect Abby Fraser and her child from the husband who mistreats them.

Amid political unrest, inhospitable deserts, and Russian spies, tensions rise in India as the people cry for the freedom espoused by Gandhi. Caught between their own ideals and duty, Geoff and Abby stumble into sinister secrets . . . secrets that will thrust them out of the shadows and straight into the fire of revolution.

Christine Lindsay writes historical inspirational novels with strong love stories. Her debut novel SHADOWED IN SILK is set in India during a turbulent era. Christine’s long-time fascination with the British Raj was seeded from stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in India. SHADOWED IN SILK won the 2009 ACFW Genesis for Historical under the title Unveiled.

The Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle, is Christine’s home. It’s a special time in her life as she and her husband enjoy the empty nest, but also the noise and fun when the kids and grandkids come home. Like a lot of writers, her cat is her chief editor.

You can find Christine on her blog at

Friday, April 15, 2011


Today we’re hearing from Pentalk founder, Linda Rondeau

                What is Pentalk all about?

                Ever go shopping at Walmart? In addition to low prices, the beauty of Walmart is convenience, everything you need all in one place. When I conceived the idea of Pentalk, I hoped for a writer’s group that was inclusive: all genres, all belief systems and all levels of experience. I envisioned a community of writers comprised of not only authors but those who provide services for authors such as freelance editors, proofreaders, consultants, artists and agents. I envisioned a place where writers would support other writers in encouragement and advice. I hoped for a place where writers could post their achievements, advertise their books and blogs and help promote other writers’ works as well. I hoped for a community where we would grow together in the written word.  

                What is Pentalk’s structure—

                Pentalk is structured to provide writers with connection options or “portals” if you will depending upon what that author needs or desires through Pentalk. We began as a group page on Facebook. However, soon some of our members wanted more than a page to tweet or post. The Community Page was established to promote our books through the book cover album, to hold forums and discussions and to post announcements. We are hoping to grow the Community Page and to maximize its unique benefits. The group page sends out email alerts to all members when a post is made. When an administrator posts to the Community Page, that post will go to everyone’s Facebook wall. But all members can post on either page. By hitting share, you can post your post to your wall. If you are on the Community Page only, I encourage you to join the Group Page, too, for the networking freedom this page provides. Pentalk also has a yahoo page for those who are not on Facebook. With the explosion of Facebook, the yahoo community page is small but it is another option. Pentalk grew rapidly. It soon became obvious that we needed a steering committee to keep the community afloat. Dan Waltz serves on the committee in advisory capacity and manages the book cover albums. Dale Langlois does the weekly for fun writing prompt and is co-manager of the author interviews together with Carol McClain. Carol Moncado is our blog editor-in-chief and has the huge job of keeping our blog fluid and full of helpful information for our members. I am deeply indebted to the dedication of this committee as we strive together to make Pentalk a viable service for all writers.

                How can Pentalk help you?

                By belonging to a writing community such as Pentalk, you are increasing your exposure and building your platform in addition to obtaining links to other resources that can help your craft.  Our weekly prompts and monthly writing challenges are designed to help your creative juices. Who knows what future publication can come from these challenges? I have been pleased to see the number of posts for and about writers in addition to blogs. When you post your blog, feel free to hit share and post it to your wall encouraging your other Facebook friends to share as well. This is the beauty of social networking.

                How can you help Pentalk?

                Pentalk’s mission is: writers helping writers. If you post your blog then take the time to share another member’s post on your wall. If we share one or two for every one of our own posts and list Pentalk as the source, our numbers will grow. As we grow, your exposure and platform grows as well. If you have a book, we are happy to do an author interview for you. You can help Pentalk by sharing its link or links.  If you provide a service, we welcome you to be a guest blogger and provide an educational tip in exchange for the opportunity to advertise your service. Again, share the post and list Pentalk’s link. You can invite your writing friends by sending a personal message. While the group page has an add button, I caution adding people arbitrarily unless you are certain they would like to join. Joining is easy for either the Community Page or the Group Page. Share the blog on your wall and encourage your writing friends to follow.

If you are not on either Facebook page, simply “like” the Community Page and/or request to be added to the Group Page. However, the pages are independent of one another, although content may be similar.

                I am excited for Pentalk’s future. I’d like to hear from you as to your thoughts about Pentalk. How has it helped you and what do you think we could do to improve our service to writers. Let us know. Post a comment here or email us at

Happy writing!
Linda Rondeau

Linda Rondeau is multi-published in short form both in non-fiction and fiction in venues such as anthologies and on-line and traditional periodicals. She contributes a recurring column to her local newspaper, “This Daily Grind”, patterned after her blog with the same name ( In addition, Linda maintains the blog, “Back in the Daze,” commentary on the adventures of getting older ( Other sample writing may be viewed on her website, ( Contact Linda Rondeau at or


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Teacher Becomes the Student by Christa Allan

Thanks to Christa for joining us today!

The Teacher Becomes The Student

It’s much easier to assign writing than to teach writing.

That epiphany in my profession as a high school English teacher was a blessing and a curse. . .for me and for my students. It meant I stopped bombarding them with the alphabet soup of essays (analysis, biography, comparison, definition, exemplification, etc.), and started devoting more time to the writing process. Brainstorming, rough drafts, more rough drafts, editing, revision, more revision (FYI: they hate revision).

It’s exhausting. They don’t know what to write, where to start, when to finish, how to finish, if their sentences or paragraphs are too short or too long, or if it “sounds stupid.”

Their first question is usually, “How long does this have to be?” Generally, my response is , “the miniskirt rule”: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting. (FYI: they hate this rule).

I pace the classroom chanting my mantras: Keep pushing your pen across the paper; don’t paralyze yourself waiting for the perfect opening or word, some lousy writing is better than no writing, writing is messy business, create chaos-we’ll find a way to make order of it later, don’t

fret over the introduction-you’ll probably ditch it later anyway. I tell then to read the paper out loud to hear the ebb and flow of their words, to remember their audience and to forget the “cotton candy” words (the words that look pretty, but lack substance).

They whine. “Why can’t I write like Asmeralda? She writes better.” I answer, “Because you’re Fred. Because she’s writing from a different place.” I don’t tell him it’s because she and a younger sibling and their mother lived in their car for two years.

“Don’t over think it. Just keep putting one word in front of the other.” When I say this, they look at me as if I’ve just announced the cafeteria would be serving lima beans for lunch.

I’d wonder why they wouldn’t trust me.

Until I started writing my first novel. Which proved to me, once again, that God does have a sense of humor.

Almost every writing chant I used in class perched on my shoulders and giggled as I stared at the cursor on my monitor. Every blink, a taunt.

I returned to the classroom a humbled writer-in-the trenches with my students. They know I suffer with them. I think they derive a certain malicious pleasure from that if not a grudging respect because they’re aware I’m not asking them to do that which I’m unwilling to do myself.

When my second book was due, they badgered me about my word count on a daily basis. I showed them my messy beginnings. When my edits arrived, I scrolled through my manuscript so they could see that someone bleeds on my papers too.

I don’t teach writing any more.

I learn writing. Everyday.

Special note! Christa's Abingdon is offering Walking on Broken Glass as a FREE Kindle download April 15-21!

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan’s novel Edge of Grace will release in August. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, was published by Abingdon Press in 2010. her next three novels are scheduled for 2013 and 2014,

Her essays have been published in The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort, Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul. Christa is the mother of five, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs.

You can find Christa at, on Amazon, and Twitter.

Photos provided by:
Image: Felixco, Inc. /
Image: nuchylee /
Image: Felixco, Inc. /

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Deep Future by Curt Stager

Interview by Dale Langlois
Curt Stager is a well known North Country personality who chooses to surround himself with the Adirondacks. He studied zoology and geology at Duke university. He is a professor of natural resources at Paul Smith's college in upstate N.Y.

Q: Your first book, Field Notes from the Northern Forest deals with nature in the Adirondacks, or basically the northern woodlands. Your second book, Deep Future involves the whole planet. Your new book describes the planet’s past and its possible future. Can you tell us what inspired you do the research and put in the time to write this book?
I had two main sources of inspiration for this project.  The first was an article in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert, titled "The Darkening Sea," which introduced me to the subject of ocean acidification. Until then, I had never heard that carbon dioxide from our fossil fuel emissions was not only changing climate but also changing the chemistry of seawater enough to threaten coral reefs, shellfish, and anything else that requires a chalky shell or skeleton.  The other major inspiration was the work of University of Chicago climate modeler David Archer, whose groundbreaking scientific papers I came across while browsing the web.  His research shows that a large fraction of the heat-trapping gases that we're emitting now will stay in the air much longer than most of us yet realize - not just centuries but tens of thousands of years, long enough to interfere with future ice ages.  Both of these topics immediately fascinated me, and I started the book as a way to learn and communicate as much as I could about them and what they mean for the future of the world.

Q: The time spans in your book are longer than most people can easily imagine. How does a scientist relate to the non-scientist just how long a million years, or a billion years is?
It's not easy - I even struggle with it myself.  I tried to keep that difficulty in mind as I wrote the book, going step by step and providing as many visual examples and metaphors as possible.

Q: Along with two books and two blogs: ( and, you do a radio show, can you tell us more about the show, and how important you think it is for a new writer to “get his name out”?
I've co-hosted Natural Selections with Martha Foley on NCPR since the early 1990s (, and we both still love doing it.  Staying on the lookout for new things in the natural world to talk about makes life all the more interesting, and sharing it over the air and internet with others who live here in the North Country (and elsewhere) is a real pleasure for a teacher like myself.  Although these are my real reasons for doing the show, I agree with your suggestion that exposure such as this is important for writers.  The same goes for musicians, artists, business folks, you name it - getting your name out in public at every possible opportunity is as important as keeping your line in the water is for fisherfolk!
 Q: Did you use an agent for one or both of your books?
Yes, I used an agent for Deep Future; Sandra Dijkstra, who is one of the top literary agents in the country.  I was incredibly lucky that she took me on as a client, and she worked wonders in getting four major publishers for it.  The first book had no agent and very little marketing or promotion behind it - I barely broke even after paying for the artwork myself.  It's been quite a different story with Deep Future, thanks to Sandy!

Q: You have a blurb from Bill McKibben. What advice do you have for up and coming authors so they can get a blurb on their works?
Bill was kind enough to provide a blurb, in part, because we've known each other for years.  Some of the other blurbs on the cover are also from people whom I know personally, and the others were solicited by my publishers.  In that regard I'd say, go to see such folks when they give presentations and buy their books so you can offer them positive feedback and make a personal connection before asking them for such a favor.  But above all, don't take it personally if they turn you down - these folks are BUSY! 

Q: Give us your best advice for the novice who has found his/her passion in writing.
Don't give up - much of the secret of winning the battle is just staying around long enough to build up your skills and your reputation.  I'd also recommend getting some training from one or more real pros if you can manage it, whether in the form of courses, workshops, or personal connections.  I got major help in developing my writing skills from my editors at National Geographic and Adirondack Life, for example, and also from my radio co-host Martha Foley. 

Q: Thank you again for the interview, now where can your books be found?
All of the major store chains and online services have it, as do lots of independent booksellers; multiple links are posted on my website (

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Worlds Shaken by Sheila Odom Hollinghead

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those in Japan.

Worlds Shaken

by Sheila Odom Hollinghead

The world shook, their world,

And mine.

Waves washed over lives, their lives,

And mine.

Smiles faded from faces, their faces,

And mine.

Deep within cores melted, their cores,

And mine.

Hands lifted in surrender, their hands,

And mine.

The world broke in minutes, their world,

And mine.

Their cores melt still.

Arms forever unmovable,

Raised in surrender.

Bodies forever broken,

Washed to the shore.

Their world shakes still.

My waves wash over me;

Shaky and tearful,

I throw my arms up in surrender

To he who mends broken lives.

The unshakable solidifies

My faith, my core,

Steadies and

Hands clasp, to steady theirs.

Sheila is a retired middle-grade science teacher and proud grandmother to three. She lives in south Alabama with her husband of thirty years.

She has two blogs, one for Christian writers called Rise, Write, Shine! (url: and a devotional blog,Eternal Springs (url:

Thank you to Sheila for participating in last month's challenge! If you'd like the opportunity to have your challenge response posted, respond to this month's challenge found in the post from April 2.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mining through History to find a Gem of a Story by Patty Hall

Thanks to Patty Hall for giving us great tips on using history to help add depth, even for writers of contemporary fiction.

Mining through History to find a Gem of a Story

When I share some of the history I use as background in my stories, I always get a thrill when friends and editors alike tell me that I have a knack for finding unique settings and historical events in which to set my stories. I blame my Granddaddy Smith for that. At an early age, he spun stories of family history and books that ignited my imagination as we rode home in the backseat of my Dad’s Comet. Thus, my love of history began.

Now before all you contemporary writers check out for the day, history can play an important aspect in giving your stories colors and texture. For example, my hometown welcomed the state fair every September with a loud, huge parade. School was dismissed an hour early so that all the moms could get a good parking place along the parade route. It was a big deal in our neck of the woods.

Take that information and think of it in terms of a story. Let’s say we have a heroine who grew up in this town but left under a cloud of heartache the day before graduation. Now a developer, she’s back and ready to tear down the town she grew up in. The hero is her best friend from high school, the boy who loved her and doesn’t understand why she suddenly left. To add to the conflict, let’s make him the mayor of this town who is determined to keep it as a historical site. How would you use the town’s parade in a scene to reveal the character’s motivations or internal conflicts? Here’s my try at it—forgive me for its imperfections:

Marley walked along side him, a wave of reddish blonde hair falling to her shoulders as she tipped her head back. Her gaze moved over the crumbled brick and cracked mortar of what use to be Goldman’s department store. Was she remembering the last time they’d walked this sidewalk, talking about school and dreaming of the day they would return and make a life here in Marietta?

A life, he had hoped, they would build together.

“It wouldn’t take much to take this place down,” she said, her lips thinning into a straight line.

Matt’s stomach tightened. When had she become this consummated professional, bound and determined to change the homey feel of the town they had both grown up in? Had Marley forgotten all the good times they shared here? Maybe all she needed was a little reminder.

He pointed to a row of store fronts across the street. “Remember Eddie’s.”

She turned sharply, her gaze following the length of his arm to the familiar set of pane glass windows filled with various wares for the amateur magician. “Eddie’s is still up and running?”

“Don’t you think every town needs a magic shop?

Marley laughed, a rich throaty sound that warmed his heart like a summer day in July. She glanced at him, her eyes wide and full of unrestricted happiness. “Do you remember the first time you took me there?”

Matt nodded. “We skipped sixth period so we could get a good seat in front of the Strand for the state fair parade.”

“And you dragged me into Eddie’s to get those fake cigarettes.”

“Hey, I didn’t hear you complain,” he answered, laughing down at her. “I seem to remember you were always up for a good joke.”

She punched him gently on his arm. “Until Mrs. Davis saw us and told my dad we were smoking the real things.”

“I thought it was that tattletale cousin of yours that ratted us out.”

“Taylor.” Marley’s face went blank, all the happiness from just moments ago replaced by the cool determination of the professional she had become. Her cell phone rang. She pulled her cell phone from her purse. “I’ve got to take this call if I want the demolition crew here Monday morning.”

Matt grimaced as he watched her walk away, clearly lost in the details of destroying their hometown. Had something happened between Marley and her cousin, something big enough to drive Marley out of his life? But what?

That’s what he intended to find out.

See how just a bit of history can layer your story and work to bring out a character’s internal conflict and set up the next scene.

So where are the best places to find those little bits of information that makes our stories shine like jewels?

Your Local Library

Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE the internet. Knowledge at your fingertips is awesome. But the first place I start my search for a new idea is in the children’s section of the library. While the adult selection of autobiographies and history books have a ton of information and can be a great resource latter in the plotting process, children’s books are laid out more like bullet points, fast and to the point. Those short blurbs can fuel some fascinating ideals.

For example, years ago, my daughters were totally into the movie Pearl Harbor and made a point of reading everything they could get their hands on about World War II. So when I was standing at the checkout, a stack of books piled high in front of me, I flipped open a book my oldest had picked out. It was about women serving in the war. It had the usual suspects—nurses, reporters—but on the last two pages, I came across a piece of history I’d never heard before—-women pilots. A few years later, the intrigue I felt over these great women garnered me the Genesis Award in Historical Romance and a contract for my book, Hearts in Flight.

Another wonderful item most libraries offer are the stacks—newspapers from the area that date back over a hundred years in some cases. If you’re unsure of what historical event you’d like to center your plot around, the newspaper collection is the place for you. And if you’re a contemporary writer, you can get a feel for the setting by reading the town’s newspaper—it may even offer you a state fair or parade. Yes, the internet offers this option too, but without the freedom of endless searching and usually at a hefty cost.

Audio/Video Histories

When I was in college, I was assigned a term paper on World War I, a subject I found as dry as a Georgia July. That was until my father introduced me to my Uncle Sam. At 92, my uncle not only knew about WWI; he had fought as a doughboy in the trenches in France. One afternoon, tape recorder in hand, I listened for three enthralling hours as Uncle Same relived the horrors of mustard gas, the delusion of a country promised peace and thrust into war, the memories of a country boy who traveled half way around the world to fight a war.

I got an A+ on that paper, but more importantly, that tape become one of the first entries into the vast audio/video history at my college. Most universities collect these about the areas around them and make them available on the internet for free. All you have to do is enter the subject you’re looking for into the google search engine and let the web do the rest.

And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget those wonderful gems of information that are our elderly family members. In a society where youth and technology are prized, it’s a crime to ignore the wealth of information these wise people have to offer. And I want to give a shout out to my grandma right here—without her stories about an antebellum house we were visiting for a wedding reception, I never would have found the main setting for one of my manuscripts.

Photo/Story Collections

I’m a very visual person so to me, a picture truly is worth a thousand words! Which is why I love the photo collections by Arcadia Publishing. Each book offers photos along with a short description that are set in a timeline from a town’s inception to present day. Books in the collection also cover such historical events like WWII in individual cities or pastimes like baseball and road races. For visual writers having pictures helps with descriptions, promotes ideas for new scenes and acts as a photography reference. To look over their vast selection of books, go to

Another great resource is Reminisce magazine. Not only does it have fantastic pictures, it publishes firsthand stories from people or family members who lived through various times of history. It’s also a wonderful reference for period clothes and glimpses into daily life. Contact them at

In her recent article in Romantic Times, Jennifer Hudson Taylor talked about the uncanny connection between her ancestors and the characters she’d created in her books. She had researched her family tree and found that one of her Scottish grandmothers several times removed was the spitting imagine of her heroine in Highland Blessings.

As a big family person myself, I started researching my grandparents on recently and found so many wonderful documents and stories, particularly about a grandfather who traveled to the New World soon after his wife died. In researching her, I found that she passed the same day as her father. My imagination went wild! Did she die in a plague or some tragic accident alongside her father? Or was she a victim of the religious persecution that was going on in England during that time? Great idea for a book, don’t you agree?

Other sources

1) Historical Societies—even the smallest town has a historical society and when it comes time to plot out a book, the resident historian can be a writer’s best friend. Most large cities charge $50 or more for a yearlong membership but offers rare papers and traveling collections that you may not find anywhere else. Plus,
the permanent collections can spark new ideas. For example, I found out recently that Sherman’s march through Atlanta was not the biggest fire to destroy the city—the Great Fire of 1917 was. Also, make sure to visit the Societies’ store—most offer books on local history that can spark ideas.

2) The Library of Congress—you may not live in Washington, DC, but the national library and its experts are available to every citizen of this country through the internet. Simply go to their website, and type in your questions. An expert in the field will get back to you with references and articles addressing your needs. And if you’re ever in DC, stop by and get your library card that gives you access to private areas of the website.

A romantic at heart, Patty Smith Hall is an award winning, multi-published author of historical romance. Her stories of encouragement and hope can be found in Guideposts, Journey and Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. Her Genesis award winning manuscript, Hearts in Flight, will be released by Love Inspired Historical in July, 2011. Patty resides in her home state of Georgia along with Dan, her husband of 28 years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tagging and Other Electronic Miracles by Donna Fletcher Crow

Carol here: Donna posted this on one of the ACFW loops recently and I found it very interesting! Thank you, Donna, for sharing with us!

Tagging and Other Electronic Miracles

In our brave new world, AKA The Jungle, of selling books electronically it’s all about getting your book to show up in the searches, especially on Amazon.

With just a few clicks you can significantly help boost the sales of your or a friend’s book. But before I ask you to make those clicks, let me give you the numbers. About a week ago I read a super article on marketing ebooks (or print as well, for that matter):

I got serious about following those suggestions. At that time my sales ranking for THE SHADOW OF REALITY were in the 65,000 range. After engaging in some serious tagging (as I explain below) my ranking went to the 35,000 range. So I started tagging friends’ books and asking them to do the same for me. My ranking went to 25,000.

Yesterday I got a Google alert that Amazon had put my book on Spring Sale special: I think the price is about $2.14, although it seems to vary. Like I said, it’s a jungle.

But the point is that this morning my rank down to 20,000. Hardly the Top Ten, but a huge improvement. So much so that I wanted to press on.

I sent an e-mail to family and friends asking them to please, please take a minute to do this for me:

1. Go to the Amazon page for each of my ebooks by clicking on the links below.

2. See those stars beside the title of the book? If you see a like button, click it. If the button doesn’t appear, roll your cursor over the stars.

3. Then scroll on down to the reviews. Below each review it asks, Was this review helpful to you? For the good reviews— 4 or 5 stars— please click the yes button. (for 2 stars or less, please click no. None of us deserves bashing.)

4. Now scroll on down. You’ll see a list of tags. The quickest thing to do is simply click on Do you agree with these tags? That will check all the tags, making the title of that book show up more quickly when a reader enters one of those terms in a search. Of course, you can select tags individually or even add new ones if you wish, but one click will do it.

I invite my author friends to send me their links and I’ll do the same for their books. For my readers I send my undying gratitude.

Remember, this works for print books as well as ebooks. But you want to be sure your tags are right. If some enthusiastic soul has added a tag you disagree with you’ll see an edit button beside the box for adding tags. Changes are easily made.

Now, double check your work. Go to the search bar at the top of the Amazon page. Type in 3 or 4 of your tags that you think might be popular ones a reader would use when searching for a book like yours. See if your book comes up. If it doesn’t, or is so far down in the list no one would scroll that far, adjust your tags. You can add 15 tags. If you need more, ask a friend to enter some for you. Of if you have more than one e-mail account, switch screen names.

Here’s how it worked for me when checking my tags for THE SHADOW OF REALITY:

First I tried: mystery romance, female sleuth, Christian, fantasy. It didn’t come up.

Next: mystery romance, Christian, woman sleuth. It came up third in the list

Then: mystery romance, Christian, female detective. Didn’t come up.

Finally: mystery romance, Christian, English. Came up first.

Well, the combinations are endless, but that gives you an idea how it works.

And now, the links for my books if you would be so kind. And remember to put your links in the comments below and I’ll tag you.




And of course, if you want to leave a review while you’re there. . .

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning epic GLASTONBURY, is her best-known work, an Arthurian grail search covering 15 centuries of English history.

A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders a clerical mystery series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2, A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out this fall and she is at work on book 3 AN UNHOLY COMMUNION set in Wales.

THE SHADOW OF REALITY, Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook. A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE will be out soon.

Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener and tea-drinker. To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, to order her books, or to see pictures from Donna’s research trips, go to

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Look at April!

Hey Pentalkers!

We've had a snafu this week, but hopefully it's all fixed!

April looks to be a great month! We've got blogs on tagging, blogs, and research among others! We also have some member contributions from the challenges last month!

Make sure to email us at with any news you'd like us to share!

April's challenge was issued by Linda the other day.

View this video.

What are these brothers saying to one another? As writers we need to hone our dialogue skills. Each character's words will reflect their individual personality, education, and experiences. Whether fiction or non-fiction, writing good dialogue is critical.

Have fun. Here are the guidelines

Write a short story, poem, or essay prompted by this video using effective dialogue techniques.


Pentalk doesn't want to censor submitted material, so your cooperation in following these guidelines is greatly appreciated.

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