Monday, August 13, 2018

When Words Heal

By Sarah Van Diest

I wish I didn’t have this story to tell you today, but I do. It sits in my hands and waits to be opened and shared. I feel a strange sense of honor holding it, while its tragic nature makes me wish it never existed. But it is also something precious and something worthy of words.

Four months ago, baby Kaenon was born. He came early. As soon as the news broke that he was on the way, his grandparents rushed to meet him. Mark and Laurie Francis arrived at daughter Ashlee’s side and welcomed their first grandchild into the world.

His early arrival meant complications though. Kaenon’s body wasn’t quite ready for the wideness of the world. He would undergo multiple surgeries and suffer great discomfort. But again, his grandparents stayed lovingly by to help this new life struggle to survive, and provide their daughter with help and support.

The story unfolds this way for a couple of months. Kaenon refuses to quit fighting, and his family refuses to let him. And then the story changes.

Without warning, this new grandfather, Mark Francis, died. A freak accident at home brought his life to a sudden close. No more visits to the hospital to caress sweet Kaenon’s head or to encourage Ashlee, his weary daughter. No more comfort to offer his wife, Laurie, as she worries about the future of their little family – a tragedy upon already difficult circumstances.

What you do not know yet is who Mark was. You don’t know that he was a dentist who gave generously of his skills and resources. When I was a missionary in Central America and came home for visits, he would always see me for free and take care of any dental needs I had. He did that for so many people.

You don’t know that he was a nature photographer for National Geographic. His work was outstanding. Beautiful. Stunning. 

You don’t know that he was Fred Flintstone in the Ice Capades. 

You don’t know that he was a gentle man of God and a devoted man of prayer. There is no doubt he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The new reality is this: As his grandson fights to stay alive, Mark can’t be there to hold his wife’s hand or speak words of comfort to his daughter. He isn’t there to leave small kisses on Kaenon’s forehead.

Yet, he is.

The decades of devotion he gave Laurie stay with her and will never be forgotten. The lifetime of love he showered on Ashlee helped make her the loving mother she is to sweet Kaenon. And I would not be a bit surprised if Mark still breathes sweet kisses on Kaenon’s forehead now and forevermore.

But why am I telling this story? This is a writer’s blog page.

Here, allow me. It was this past April when my small book, God in the Dark, was released. It is a book meant to bring comfort when trials strike and hope in the midst of despair. A copy of the book made its way to Laurie, who shared it with Ashlee, who read from it over sweet baby Kaenon as he lay in a hospital bed clinging to life. Simple, but amazing. How could my words be given a place of such honor? 

I tell this part of the story to remind you, my dear writing friends, that what you do matters. What you do makes a difference and impacts the world in ways you may never know. When our Father places words on your heart, write them, dear ones. Do not be discouraged by the voices in your head or in your circle of influence telling you it’s all a waste of time or that you have nothing to say that anyone needs to hear. Listen to your Father’s voice. Walk in the good works He prepared in advance for you. Go. Write. Love.

There are needs all around you. Take a moment and think on what they are and how you might be able to use the gifts your Father has given to help meet those needs.

The Francis family is in need of financial help as well as prayer support. If you are interested in helping, please take a look at the page they have set up:  Ashlee is a fitness trainer, so she set up a fitness fund raiser, but you don’t have to do the workout to help out. If you just want to give your support, go here:
And remember this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23,24).

Now, go! Write! Love!

(Photos courtesy of Sarah VanDiest and the Francis family.)


Sarah Van Diest is a writer and editor. She’s the mother of two boys, stepmother to three more, and wife to David. Sarah wrote God in the Dark as letters to a dear friend whose life was turning upside down. She’s done this for years for numerous friends and will continue to, Lord willing. It’s her gift to them. It’s hope written down.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Writer, Don't Forget the Basics (Part 1)

By Andrea Merrell

We all know writing is a process, a life-long learning experience. The industry is always changing with new guidelines, new opportunities, new reference material, new conferences, new experts, new social media outlets … and the list goes on.

But even as we grow, learn, and evolve, there are basics, the ABCs of writing that remain the same. These are the elements we can easily forget or overlook if we’re not careful.

Let’s look at a few of these basics. For most of you, these will seem simple (and not worthy of a blog post LOL), but it’s always good to be reminded of what might make or break a manuscript when submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how many manuscripts I receive that still have two spaces after a sentence. The industry standard is now only one space. This makes a big difference, not only with print books, but especially with online posts and e-books.

Formatting is generally the same across the board, but always check the guidelines before you submit your manuscript, even to a contest. Standard formatting is:
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman
  • Double-spacing
  • 1” margins all around
  • No bold or underlined words
  • No words in all caps
  • No graphics, fancy fonts, sidebars, or pull quotes

Scripture passages are to be italicized or enclosed in quotation marks, not both. Do not italicize the reference.
  • Example: If used as a stand-alone verse or header: Jesus wept. John 11:35 NIV
  • Example: If used within a sentence/paragraph: Jesus wept (John 11:35 NIV).
When a Scripture passage (i.e. Romans 8:1–15) is cited in any given paragraph, succeeding references should be documented with only the verse (v. 12). If the chapter is changed but not the book, document with the chapter and verse (9:6).

When using a long passage of Scripture, it's best to use it as a block quote. No quotation marks or italics are needed, but some venues will prefer the passage to be italicized.

When quoting Scripture, be sure to use an online source such as Copy and paste the verse or verses. Don't try to go by memory.

Always proof and double-check your work. Use a good online dictionary. The industry standard is If you're not sure of a word, look it up (especially those tricky, hyphenated words). Don't depend on spellcheck.

In future posts, we'll look at some other basics such as tricky and confusing words, punctuation, sentence structure, the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, point of view (POV), crafting dialogue, creating memorable characters, writing tight, and showing, not telling.

If you have a question about a certain topic or something specific you would like us to address in one of our posts, please share in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and drpnncpptak.)


Monday, July 9, 2018

The Making of a Scene

by Eddie Jones     @EddieJonesTweet

The power of a scene is derived from the slightly claustrophobic feeling you get when you focus on the characters. They seem somehow trapped in a place, unable to leave. They are forced to face a main issue in the scene. Through your writing, you pan across the scene and set the context, then move in for a close-up shot of the characters struggling. 

In order to engage the reader’s imagination, your scenes must do one or more of the following:
·      Move the story through action
·      Characterize through reaction
·      Set up essential scenes to come
·      Sprinkle in spice
·      Reveal information that moves the story forward with new goals, old secrets, and hidden motives
·      Show conflict between characters (this adds tension)
·      Deepen the character’s development
·      Create suspense (introduce a new wrinkle that leaves the reader hanging) 

Static settings will put your readers to sleep, so get your characters moving. Show the world around them spinning. It can be something as simple as snow falling on a patio railing or bullets piercing the sides of the limo, but you must show movement. Make sure the reader “sees” something is happening.

Open with action, then place the scene in context. Why are the characters in the scene? How did they arrive? What does your Lead want? Background IS NOT history. Background IS showing your Lead’s goal for that scene. Your character must want something. What is it? This is where you will state your Lead’s goal for this scene. In each scene ask “what is discovered?” ~ STEVEN JAMES

Who or what stands in the way of your Lead reaching his goal? Present the barrier. Include conflict on every page. Never let your Lead relax. Show the struggle. Increase the risk of failure. Tension comes from unresolved conflict, so let the scene evolve into a mess.

At the end of each scene, your Lead must choose. A scene moves from struggle, discovery, choice, and change. In each scene your Lead must find a clue or open door to thrust her forward. Present two paths and make your lead pick one.

When you finish writing a scene:
·      Read the scenes before and after. Does what just happened deserve its own scene? If not, delete.
·      Could the information be placed in a neighboring scene? If so, combine.
·      Is the scene memorable?  Memorable scenes stand out because they catch the reader off guard. The emotion on the page speaks to the reader’s heart.   Memorable scenes are so powerful and poignant that readers will rush to tell their friends.  Strive to make each scene that good.

A scene is a story within a story. Picture the setting, the characters. Listen to them breathing. Hear the cadence of their speech. Study the thing they’re shielding behind their back. Force them to reveal it. Paint scenes in short strokes with vivid colors. Make sure the character’s goal is clear. Then film your characters as they act.

1.     What was revealed?
2.     What/who was changed/transformed?
3.     What is the purpose of the scene?
4.     How should the reader feel after the scene?
5.     What should the reader think after the scene?
6.     What should the reader wonder after the scene?

Now go … and make a scene!


What scene are you going to be working on? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

(Reprinted with permission from A Novel Idea: )

Eddie is an award-winning author of middle-grade fiction with Harper Collins. He is also Senior Acquisitions Editor and CEO of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas ( and co-founder of Christian Devotions Ministries ( Eddie teaches writing workshops and Amazon marketing at novel retreats, writing conferences, and to small groups. If you would like to book Eddie for your group contact him at

Monday, July 2, 2018

10 Pieces of Advice for Writers Conference Attendees

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference is held annually in May, and I serve as the conference manager. That's a fancy title to designate that I work very closely with the conference director and co-director.

As we made it through the first evening of the conference, I heard a variety of comments from conferees. Some stated they felt unprepared because it was their first conference. Others said they felt unprepared because of a last-minute decision to attend. And, I heard that some felt unprepared because life happened and it left them no time to prepare.

It's always good to come to a writer's conference with your business cards, pitches, proposals, and professional attire. But what's one to do if life throws a curve ball and you run out of time to prepare?

Preparing for a Writers Conference When You Run Out of Time to Prepare - 10 Tips from @AlyciaMorales #writing #writers {Click to Tweet}

1. Don't panic. It's not the end of the world to come unprepared to a writer's conference. It's an opportunity to think outside of the box. You're a creative. Use it.

2. Pray. We make our plans, but it's the Lord who directs our steps. Instead of panicking, pray. Ask Father what He would have you do. If He made a way for you to attend last minute or caught that curve ball life threw at you, He can direct you in the way you should go at the conference. Stop and ask Holy Spirit what to do. He'll answer. If you let Him.

3. Ask the professionals. It can be intimidating to walk up to an agent, editor, well-known author, or conference leadership team member and admit you were unprepared and ask for help. But guess what? We've all been there. Done that. And we have answers that can help you succeed. So, don't be afraid to ask.

4. Don't compare yourself to others. Just because she's got her business cards in hand and you don't doesn't mean she's going to be more successful than you. It's all about your attitude. If you walk in confidence (not cockiness), you too have a chance at succeeding, business cards or no business cards. People remember confidence.

5. Network. It's possible to do so without something to hand over to someone. Again, people remember confidence in a person. They remember kindness. Encouragement. Prayer. Interesting stories. You can do all of these things without having a piece of paper in hand. Build relationships while you're at the conference. You can always send the proposal later.

6. Memorize your pitch. Keep it short and sweet. It doesn't take long to memorize a less-than-36-word pitch. Even if you don't have a word written, it's better to have something to offer than nothing at all. If you're attending the conference, you have something you're thinking of writing. Pitch that.

7. Try something new. Pay attention during class, take notes, and go back to your room or to the local coffeehouse and try something you learned that day. Apply a new method to your writing. Try a new technique. One year, I learned a formula for writing devotions, wrote one out on a legal pad (complete with scribbles and cross-outs and arrows to move things around), took it to the instructor, and landed my first publication on their website, which lead to publication in a devotional not long after.

8. Enjoy. There's nothing wrong with taking things in at your first conference. Or your second. Or third. Or twelfth. Sometimes it's best just to go with the flow, learn some things, and work on your writing. Meet a few new people. Have a conversation or two. And relax. There's really no need to stress yourself out because you're unprepared. You're more prepared than you may realize. And that will show itself in due time.

What advice would you have for a conferee who feels unprepared? We'd love to hear in the comments below!

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Prayer for Seeking God's Will

By Andrea Merrell

“Hello. Nice to meet you. What do you do?”

Sound familiar? Why is it we always want to know what a person does as soon as we meet them. Are we nosy? Looking for something to say apart from the weather? Maybe it’s because we know deep down that God has a plan and purpose for each of us.

Looking back over a lifetime of numerous jobs and endeavors, I can remember answering that question in a variety of ways: student, wife, mother, secretary. Then later I would say grandmother, administrative assistant, teacher, author, editor. But no matter what I said, the bottom line was always child of God. I believed God had a calling for me, but for so many years I struggled to find it. Even though I was happy, there was always something missing in my life until God revealed my purpose and set me on the path He had prepared for me. 

For so many Christians, the concept of knowing God’s will seems mysterious and unattainable. What we fail to realize is that God never withholds His plans for us. He wants to reveal Himself to us, direct our steps, and lead us to our God-given destiny. When we pray, seek, and believe, He shows us the direction we should go at the perfect time and in the perfect way. Knowing and fulfilling our purpose on this earth is what brings peace and contentment and makes our life meaningful and productive.

Whether you’re a newbie, seasoned writer, editor, speaker, blogger, poet, media guru, marketing genius, or anything in between, if you’re serious about seeking God’s perfect will for your life, pray this beautiful prayer by pastor and author Bob Gass:

Lord, You knew me completely before I was born, and you shaped me and destined me for a purpose. Give me a clear vision of all You want to do in and through my life. I desperately need to understand what the hope of my calling is and the exceeding greatness of Your power to enable me to fulfill Your purpose. Show me the gifts you have put in me and how I can develop and use them for Your glory. Help me to think big and pray with boldness. I want to be open and available for whatever You have for me and not miss Your blessings by being unprepared to receive them. Help me not to hold on to things or relationships that are not of You. I want to do Your will with my whole heart. Only You know who and what is right for me. Help me to hear Your voice, and give me the grace and courage to follow Your leading when I am afraid. May the desires of Your heart become the desires of my heart. Enlarge my capacity to believe that You can take what I have and multiply it beyond what I can imagine. In Jesus’ name, amen.

No matter where you are in your journey, God has a plan for you. He has placed gifts, talents, and abilities within you. Trust Him. Seek Him. Follow Him. He will light the way before you and direct your steps.

(Photos courtesy of, imagerymajestic, and keerati.)