Monday, May 18, 2015

To Beta Readers

Dear Beta Readers,

I want to say a huge “Thank you!!”

You perform such a valuable, helpful, enlightening service to writers. You read books that are still in the rough. You open your heart to the story, fall in loveor hateheroes and heroines with their flaws, and offer advice. You discover errors both writers and editors have overlooked. You point out strengths and weaknesses. And some—thank you so much—offer praise to encourage the writer.

What would I do without you?

I know some authors do not use beta readers. The manuscript goes to the editor, and that’s it. I’ve asked a couple of writers why they don’t use beta readers, and they told me they didn’t want their voice changed. Maybe it’s because I’m a newer writer, but I value the beta reader’s part in my storytelling a lot. I need early feedback telling me the story works. That it makes sense. And if it doesn't, I want to hear suggestions on how to make it ring true. I’ve used beta readers for all three of my books, and I truly appreciate their time and commitment to the heart of my stories.

Beta readers make books better! You are an integral part of my writer's journey. Yes, my voice might get changed a little. As it does with the editor’s chopping block. But each suggestion, whether I use the alteration in its fullness or not, gets considered and makes me think differently about the section as I go through it with my own magnifying glass.

An author’s sweat and tears and heart are poured into her story. It’s hard to take harsh criticism. But it’s so much better to get it from early readers and an editor than later with the public eye and tough reviews.

Thank you, beta readers, for telling authors the truth. For being brave enough to share the good and the bad about our stories, and helping our work become so much better.

You are the stars in a book’s success.

Thank you!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holding my Breath

When I release a new book, or play, I feel like I’m holding my breath. Waiting. Wondering. Will anyone like it? Can I, we, convey the heart of this story? Will someone “get” it?

Months, maybe a year, before Opening Night, or years if it’s a book, I've had a spark of an idea that could germinate into something bigger. It might start with a riled conversation, someone’s weakness, a character’s quirky trait, or like my latest play, a question. For me, the story develops slowly. I don’t know the ending, other than that it will be a happy one, and I don’t foresee the gritty details. But layer by layer, a tale emerges, then gets deeper and thicker with human flaws, details, interactions, and emotions.

While I typically work on a piece for a long time, I never know if the outcome will be what I'd hoped for. Is it good enough? Will the audience get the punch line? I remember one year standing behind the backdrops in my black tech clothes, holding my breath, waiting to see if the audience would laugh at a particular spot. When the laughter came, I grinned in relief at my assistant. That was a sweet moment. Another time, seven boys were doing a pretty awesome line dance. I was sure the audience would clap and cheer during the country music. I can’t see the faces in the crowd. I’m behind the set, listening, sometimes peeking through a tiny hole in the junction of two flats. On that night, throughout the entire routine, there wasn’t a sound from the audience. I couldn’t believe it. Disappointment crept through me. Then, as the song and lights faded, the room erupted with loud, wild applause. Whew. Big sigh.

With a play, I get immediate feedback in the clapping, the whistles, the laughter, the encore.

As an author, I don’t get to experience the groans, tears, or laughter as a reader absorbs the story I've lived in. After the release of a book, there’s silence. And it can be a little scary. Each day I wonder if someone, somewhere, is reading one of my books. Do they hate it? Do they like it? (grimace, sigh) I’m not sharing this to get praise or criticism for my books. Reviews do that job, and I’m not asking for that here. I’m just thinking about where I've been for the last two-and-a-half months since the release of April’s Storm. Other authors, artists, and theater directors might relate to this after-launch dilemma.

You see, I’m in wonder-land. A place of quiet contemplation. I ponder if a story that lived in my mind can be adequately felt, tasted, lived in someone else’s mind. What could I have done better? How could I improve with the next theme?

In three short weeks, I’ll get to “hear” the response for my next production A Taste of Joy, a story that started with a question—Could a person filled with joy make a difference? This Depression-Era tale is about me exploring that idea. For now, I’m filled with hope that between today and three weeks from now, my actors will step into their shoes and become their characters for a little while, to know and experience others’ pain and losses, and to find real joy in the midst of it.

And me? I’ll be backstage, behind beautifully painted flats, holding my breath a little . . . and listening.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast with Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica Dorman


Sarah Anne's Expedient Marriage 

By Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman

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About the Book:

Knowing he was about to die, Sarah Anne’s beloved father had arranged for her to marry Alexander Swyndhurst II. Alexander, a recent widower, had no intention of taking another wife; but after learning the young woman’s situation—that she had been the object of at least one man’s unwanted attentions, and that she would soon be left alone and unprotected—he had agreed to the marriage. He had one stipulation, however: He and Sarah Anne would live separately—he in Bristol, England, and she in Amesbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sarah Anne had agreed wholeheartedly with this arrangement. Will Alexander have a change of heart? What of the dangerous man from her past? What will happen while her husband is away—leaving her alone with only the servants? Even though there are connections, each novel in the series may be read as a stand-alone.

Cathy Lynn Bryant & Jessica M. Dorman 

Inspired by interesting characters and events uncovered while doing genealogical research, mother and daughter writing team, Cathy Lynn Bryant and Jessica Marie Dorman, who live in beautiful New England, have masterfully woven the stories of real people and fictional characters from the 17th and 18th centuries to develop inspirational, romantic, works of historical fiction. The Unshakable Faith series includes the following titles: Book 1 Lost Love and Shipwrecked--Madeline Pike Finds Hope in the New Land; Book 2 Grandmother's Namesake; Book 3 Sarah Anne's Expedient Marriage.

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How to Make Fun Ads with GIMP

I've been having fun making some ads with the free software called GIMP, an image manipulation program. A friend asked me how I made these ads, so I decided to do a little blog about it to help her, and maybe someone else is curious too. If you have Photoshop, you can use that. But, for those of us who are looking for something free, I recommend GIMP. You can check it out and download at

A big project, like creating a book cover, takes a lot of time and effort and learning the ins and outs of the program. But to do a simple ad like the one above isn't too difficult. If you like creative things, you might enjoy designing some ads for your book.

1.) First, you'll want to download GIMP at the website noted above

2.) When you open GIMP, Click on FILE, then NEW

3.) Choose the size you want. Like 500 X 333 or 600 X 400 (or for Pinterest, something more like 600 X 900). Click OK.

4.) Now, you should see a rectangular box where your picture will be. To the left of the GIMP screen, you should also see two small menu boxes: Toolbox and Layers. (If you don't see them, look under WINDOWS)

5.) For the picture at the top of this blog, I needed to find a picture to use. So I went to a free photo site called Pixabay at (Sometimes I buy pictures at Fotolia: For the ad above, I wanted a muted, stormy picture in the background, something that went along with the book. I downloaded (for free) a picture of rain. (Be sure to SAVE AS in a file you can easily find.) Then I took the picture into my Photoscape program (also free) and changed the size of the photo to match the rectangle shape I'd chosen in step #3 above. You can use any photo manipulation program to do that. So I chose 500 X 333. Now, save the newly sized picture under a new name. Sometimes I tweak something several times, so I'll name it rain1, rain2, etc.

6.) Back to the GIMP, click on FILE, then OPEN AS LAYERS. Click on PICTURES and find the file and picture you are going to use (the one you just resized.) Click the picture, then click OPEN. The picture will drop into the rectangle on the GIMP screen. Cool, huh? (If you can't see the picture you just inserted, but you see the outline where it should be, it means it's below the other picture. Do this: Right-click on the picture, then a menu pops up. Click on LAYER, then STACK, then LAYER to TOP. Now, you should see the book cover above the background. Yay.)

7.) Follow the same steps in #6 to bring in a picture of your book. You'll want to resize it first. I used 275 pixels.

8.) To grab hold of the book image, check the LAYER menu and make sure the picture file is highlighted with gray. That means it's now "active." Go to the Toolbox and click on the icon for "moving" as seen in this picture:

9.) Now, hover your cursor over the book cover shot until you only see an arrow and that "moving" icon. As long as there's an icon of a finger, it's not ready. (If you accidentally move the background picture, instead of the book cover, click EDIT, then UNDO. I've done this lots of times.) Now, you can grab hold of your book cover and move it wherever you'd like.

10.) (Optional) To get the book to be angled as my picture is above, Click on the ROTATE TOOL.

Then, grab hold of the book cover shot again and as you move the cursor, a grid will show and you can choose the angle you want. You can always UNDO in the EDIT section. Experiment with rotating and moving and find where you want the cover image to be.

11.) Now, it's time for words! Go to the Layers Menu and click on the file of the background picture to make sure it's highlighted. Next, click on the "A" in the Toolbox. Go to the background picture and click on it where you want the lettering to be. (You can always move it later.) Type your words in the little box. (You can also copy and paste from a Word doc) Then, highlight the words and click in the small menu where it says SANS. Here you can choose the type of font you want, and you can change the letter sizing. Usually, I remove the word "Sans" if I don't want that font, and if you type a letter, let's say "B," then a bunch of font options will pop up. Click on the one you want. Then, highlight the font and put in the size you want. This takes a lot of experimenting. In the example below, I've used Sans and font size 25.

Whenever you want to change the lettering, click the file with the lettering showing in the LAYER box, and click the "A" in the Toolbox, then highlight the lettering to make the changes. If you want to move the wording, click the "move tool" icon as we did above. Remember, you can undo anything. It's okay to experiment and to make mistakes.

I consider these little ads a work of art. They're fun to make and creative. Once you start getting the hang of the GIMP program, it's even relaxing. Hard to believe? I mean it. :)

12.) TO SAVE is different with this program. You'll need to go to FILE and click EXPORT. Then, click on PICTURES and locate the file where you want this photo to go. Click on the arrow near the bottom of the screen that says "ALL EXPORT IMAGES" and choose either png or jpg, whichever you want to save as and click that option. Then go up to the name of the file at the top of the screen and change that to jpg or png in the title. Click EXPORT. Another menu will open and click EXPORT again. Now, this has saved in a file that you can use on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest. You can't change anything from THIS file. But, you should also SAVE AS so you can tweak something or adjust it to make a different wording or picture in the future. It will save as an .xcf file.

Whew. Does that sound too overwhelming? I hope not. Like any new thing, there are steps to learn. If you take each point above and experiment along the way, you'll get used to how GIMP works. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Lots of authors are making these little ads, and I think they're pretty eye-catching. And way more interesting than showing the cover of the book only. 

Have fun with it! I know I am. If you have questions, I'm not a pro, but I'd be glad to help out.

Here are a few more of my experiments...

Here's two I did for a friend...

I have this one on my website:

Yay! You can do it too.

PS...Two days later, I'm adding a little more info. I'm always learning, making mistakes, and figuring things out, especially when it comes to technical stuff. So, I decided on Tuesday afternoon that I'd use the ad with the rain at the top of this page (I really like that one) and do a $5.00 post-boost on Facebook. When it didn't start up within the hour like they usually do, I figured something was wrong. I checked my fb page before I went to bed, and still nothing. The next morning (I live in the Pacific NW) most of the $5.00 had been used for promotion, and over 1300 people had supposedly seen it. Yay! (?) But then, I got a notice from Facebook stating my picture was denied boosting because it had more than 20% writing. Hmmm. I didn't know this little rule. So, in the future, less words and more picture. They said it can look like spam if it's too wordy. The strange thing is that it was sent out, but then rejected. I don't know what to think about that.

Until next time...

Write on.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast: Discerning Truth in a World Filled with Lies by Ron Leonard


Discerning Truth in a World Filled with Lies By Ron Leonard

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About the Book:

Are you tired of being lied to? Not sure you can trust anyone outside your immediate family (and you're even keeping a close eye on them)? Do you hate it when you discover that you've fallen for a lie? Then you're in the right place. This book is dedicated to the belief that the truth can be found and is worth any price. The author shares insights and anecdotes from his various adventures in spotting lies everywhere from our culture to our co-workers. Whether the lies come to you from advertisers, journalists, politicians, economists, friends, or even the church pulpit, this book will teach you how to question and counter the avalanche of lies you experience every day. Additional case studies are presented that tie together the various concepts in easily understood vignettes. A bonus section shares insights on truths learned from counseling with real-live individuals and couples. Key points are highlighted by personal stories from the author's life. Available on Amazon, Kindle, and Smashwords or signed copies are available at


Ron Leonard The author is a Christian therapist, MBA, and Mensa member. He has been married 25 years and has two, yes two, teenagers. After spending four years writing this book he swore not to think about writing another one for many years. Three months later, he has the rough outlines of a fiction book with two heroes, one of whom has schizophrenia.  

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Go Deeper! Character Development

In theater, I love it when my actors take their characters deeper. “I couldn't believe that was Sarah!” an audience member told me. “I came to see Ben perform, but I got lost in the story and forgot about him.” These compliments mean Sarah and Ben walked in their characters' shoes so convincingly, the audience was transported into the story through suspended disbelief. And that means my actors did good. (The director smiles.)

As a writer, I want my characters to be rich, deep, and real. So multi-layered that a reader is pulled into the story, mind and heart, at least, for a little while.

In the first week of theater practice, actors don't “get” the person they'll eventually portray. But after many hours of deepening exercises, talking in character, and reciting lines, someone new emerges—a mixture of the character AND the actor. If you saw the same play in two venues, each performance would be different because of that unique blend of actors and characters.

To reach that place of “becoming,” we do exercises to deepen characterization that an author can use to take characters deeper in writing also. Here are a few of my favorites:

Write a letter.
My first assignment to the actors, besides memorization, is to write a letter in character. Sometimes the letter is addressed to me. Other times it'll be to a person in the story. The mayor. The Baron. The cousin. This process helps the actor take a peek inside the character's head and see what drives him, what makes him sad or happy, what he wants in life. As a novelist, I've used this technique to dig into a character's reasons for doing a certain thing. Maybe the protagonist writes her grandmother and shares her frustrations with her husband. The antagonist could write “Dear Abby” and explain his horrible upbringing. Writing a letter in the hero's viewpoint takes the character's journey to another level. It deepens the backstory. It improves internal dialogue. It makes me understand my characters.

Talk in character.
One of my favorite warm-up exercises is for two actors to go to the front of the class and talk in character. “Talk about chocolate.” “Debate the Baron's rudeness.” “Gossip about Miss Mable.” This is perfect for improv, but it's also a great stimulation for deepening characters in writing. Go off-script. Take a few minutes and have a gab session between two people about a problem in the story or let them yak about another character. This gig isn't for inclusion in your story, but simply to deepen characters' thoughts and personalities. Of course, you never know, this dialogue might be perfect for your manuscript. Let yourself go and talk in character for a while and see where it leads.

Get your shoes on!
I ask my actors, "Do you have your shoes on?" This doesn't mean their tennies. This question refers to them “becoming” their characters. Sometimes, I have them leave the area when I tell them, “Get your shoes on.” They step out of the room and return in character. As writers, we have to do this also. We answer a telephone and get pulled from our work, maybe even come away discouraged. We have to think about bills, dinner, marketing, whatever. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get back into our character's head. And we must do that for deep POV. It can help to step out of the room for a moment, whether physically or mentally, and reenter with “our shoes on.” Now, I'm Ty. I rock my eyebrows like him, sag in the chair, etc. Whatever it takes, I want to stay in that character's thoughts and feelings until I'm ready to switch.

Ask questions.
I love interacting with my actors in character. In fact, I rarely call an actor by his real name. I refer to each one as his/her character's name. This helps them stay in character, and helps me direct from a different perspective. I want actors to know the characters they're becoming inside and out. I want Ben to understand why the Baron acts the way he does. What hurt him in the past? Why is he mean? What did he have for breakfast? What are his dreams? I stand at the head of the class and ask questions. Students answer in character.

Writers can do the same thing to go into deep POV. You can start by making a list of questions to ask a character. Why are you treating her that way? What were you thinking? What were you doing last night? What did you have for dinner? Spend a few minutes free-writing answers as if you are the character. This isn't a goal-oriented exercise. It's not even for use in the story. Although, an idea might pop up that will bring a whole new twist to your tale. The real purpose is to deepen your character. To explore his thoughts and dreams and pursuits. To think and breathe like him. Anyone can write a simple story. It takes work “becoming” that character.

Have fun with backstory.
Before I write a play, I write a description and brief backstory for each character. It's enough to get me into the characters' difficulties and strengths while writing. But when the actors receive their parts, they explore how they're going to bring deeper backstories to their characters. The way one actor portrays Griff Cardingham is different than the way another actor would. So it is with writing. Backstories make the difference in taking characters deeper. In acting class, when someone tells a backstory, I often have an aha! moment. “I didn't know he was Irish!” (Even though I'm the playwright.) And, I laugh. Later, when that character isn't as believable as I'd like, I remind him of his story. I inquire how that character would respond based on growing up in Ireland.

The need to deepen backstory may hit you midway through your writing. You have your pre-write-up about Clay. You know these things: he had a rough relationship with his father, he sank a boat, he robbed a bank. You know the basics. But maybe you reach a point where the writing glugs. Now's the time to explore Clay's backstory. Take it deeper, ask questions, and find those tidbits of his history like you or I would have in real life. Maybe Clay nearly drowned in the swamp by his grandmother's farm at age six, and a snake was floating in the water. Ever since, he's had a fear of snakes--and the unknown. We all have a backstory. What's your character's tale? Again, this isn't to dump a bunch of information into the story. It's to make the characters real and dimensional in our minds.

Sometimes I tell my actors, “Make me believe.” That means they aren't being passionate, they aren't getting into character, they're portrayal is shallow. What do they do? They'll have to draw from some of the above exercises to go deeper. As writers, so do we. We need to find a place where the character comes alive in us. She isn't just someone I'm talking about. For a little while, I need to become her, know her thoughts, her heart, her way of walking, and why. It's not that I've lost myself. No, I've become the character to such a degree that it's a mixture of her and me, a blending of personalities, just like my actors do onstage.

Is your character weak? Take him/her deeper. If you come to a place where you can't get over a hurdle, the protagonist seems too selfish or inept or shallow, try writing a letter in his voice. Explore through questions what the guy is thinking and feeling about seeing his old girlfriend after ten years. Or leave your writing area and return as if you are your antagonist . . . for a few minutes.

Our goal is to make the reader--or the audience--believe. It's a process of becoming. Of going deeper. Always deeper. In doing so, we make our characters live, whether it's onstage . . . or on the page.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast with Staci Stallings: More Than This

More Than This

More Than This By Staci Stallings

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About the Book:

Liz Savoy has no plans to date anyone—least of all the dark handsome mystery man who sometimes inhabits the corner table at the coffee shop where she’s working to get through school. But plans change, sometimes in ways no one expected. Jake McCoy is the next mega-millionaire author, or at least he would be if he could get the stories in his head down on the ether. With no good place to write, he resorts to dark corners in Wi-Fi hotspots, knowing no one in the world cares about him or his comings and goings one way or the other. However, there is one waitress at The Grind coffee shop with a cute smile and kind eyes who doesn’t seem to think he is as invisible as he likes to think he is. Can reality with her ever hope to match the fantasy world where his imagination has him living?

Staci new haedshot 

Now a #1 Best Selling Christian and Inspirational Romance author, Staci Stallings, a stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Although she lives in Amarillo, Texas and her main career right now is her family, Staci touches the lives of people across the globe with her various Internet and writing endeavors.

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