Category Archives: Writing

Practice in the Waiting

With the Winter Olympics wrapping up, I need to confess that I have failed to watch more than a couple of videos on Facebook of some of the highlights. However, watching even a few minutes of Shaun White tumbling through the air high above the ground reminds me of the commitment to practice and determination that is required to compete on this level. We don’t get see the bruises and tears—the sheer exhaustion that must come at the end of a week of training. Most of us can’t imagine the kind of dedication it takes to become an Olympic athlete. Most of them won’t stand on the podium, and yet they keep practicing, striving for that goal. Some will fail but return more mature, stronger, more agile. Maybe it will be their time, and they will win but what if they don’t?

More to the point, what are us average humans striving for? Some days, I’m patting myself on the back because I figured out a way to make supper without returning to the grocery store. I mean, sometimes that takes real ingenuity.

  A year ago I attended the Florida Christian Writers Conference. I had just completed my third book and spent significant time honing my skills. I cringe to think I actually let people read my first book, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say, after reading several craft books and listening to experts, my writing had improved. Most of you know that I found a great deal of success at the conference, so I won’t bore you with those details. (Click here to read that post. ) I really thought I was ready for publication. I had an agent and two books—wasn’t it my time? Apparently not, but I say that with thanksgiving. Since that time, I have learned so much more about writing and the publishing world. When I spoke to my writing coach and mentor yesterday, she even mentioned how much stronger my writing is now than it was then. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the picture of patience. I detour into doubt. But there’s something about training to be better, trying new things, and exploring alternative approaches that keep me going. Looking back even six months, I know I wasn’t ready. In the process and the practice, I know God is preparing me for just the right time.

“He has planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:40).

Few of us will win the big prizes, so where does that leave us? I’m so excited to let you know: it leaves us with Jesus. In this reality, we are just like the athlete wearing a gold medal. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Co. 9:24-25). I’m thinking that crown might just rival a gold medal.

Granted some days, it feels like we’re swimming against the tide, but God is always working. He has marked out a race for us. Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance with our eyes fixed on Jesus. (Heb. 12:1-2). When our patience is growing thin and our faith is shallow, we must remember that God works in his time and that what we are learning while we wait may be just the thing we need when it is time. I love that I can look back and see how my writing has improved with practice (Well, maybe love is a little strong, but I’m certainly encouraged that the time has been well spent.) What’s even more important is that I can see how I’ve grown in my faith, and hopefully, when God asks me to do something for him, I will be ready. I know I will be ready to give him the glory because he has molded me into the right person for the right race.

When the drills seem too difficult or the rejection too hard remember this: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Phil. 1:6

What are you practicing for today? What is hindering you from following God’s calling?

An Aspiring Author’s Christmas Wish List

What do you want for Christmas? The question on everyone’s minds this time of year. Someone recently asked me, and my sassy spirit almost responded honestly. I want a book CONTRACT! Seriously, as an aspiring author is that too much to ask? A love may have been all Mariah Carey wanted but I want an acquisitions editor to call my agent and say those magic words. “We want to acquire this book for publication.” From here, I started to write my Christmas wish list.

An Aspiring Author’s Christmas Wish List

  1. Book Contract with a Major Publisher – I mean, if you’re going to ask, may as well go big. By the way, my agent sent my book proposal out to publishers at the end of November, so prayers are appreciated. Although if you happen to be one of the editors who received my proposal, I’ll take a contract with your prayer, please.
  2. Ten Thousand Followers on Social Media – Some of you have been an audience to my begging, but publishers look at these numbers to determine if you can sell books. Ten thousand followers seems to be a magic number. My high school Sunday school class students and my daughter would also appreciate this gift, so they could gain some relief from my weekly, okay daily, Instagram follower updates. Just in case you want to help, here are the links:

Instagram – @lesliedevooght

Facebook – Leslie Kirby DeVooght- Author Page

Twitter – Leslie DeVooght- Twitter

  1. A Box of Assistants, including a Personal Assistant, Web Designer, Editor, Cook, Carpool driver, and Blog Writer. – I’m throwing everyone in here because we only allow our children three gifts at Christmas. We are of the opinion, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus, then it’s enough for our children. (Don’t worry. Their Grammy and Nana totally violate the rule.) Last year, our daughter devised the Box gift. She asked for a “Camp Box” which included a battery-operated fan, bandanas, a bunk hook, compact sleeping bag, and an Eno hammock. This is the definition of loophole, but when both of your parents are attorneys, we call it creativity.

As this year draws to an end, I was asked what my greatest writing accomplishment was for the year. As I responded, I became aware of how big God has blessed me. This time last year, all I hoped for was a writing coach. Well, I found her in February. Thank you God for the gift of Lindsey Brackett, but he didn’t stop with my short list. He blessed me with contest wins, two published flash fiction pieces, and signing with the Steve Laube Literary Agency, not to mention all of the wonderful friends I have made.

Yes, I’ve had several losses and setbacks this year, but I choose to focus on the blessings. For the gifts that went beyond what I desired and was not bold enough to ask for, but received anyway. God is so good.

How has God blessed you in 2017? What is your Christmas dream gift?

Research Makes a Good Story Great

In the South, when we invite you to a barbecue, the only meat being served will be slow smoked pork, so if you’re expecting hot dogs or hamburgers, you’d better head to a cook-out. What does this have to do with writing fiction? Everything because nothing is more distracting in a story than when an author gets the facts wrong.

When I started writing fiction, I never dreamed I would spend so much time researching, but accuracy is important. I just finished reading a book that is supposed to be set in coastal Georgia less than two hours from where I was born and raised. I’m already a little irritated that the characters have yet to utter a “y’all”, but then they say they are looking forward to the barbeque, and I’m expecting pulled pork sandwiches or ribs. But no, they are eating hot dogs and hamburgers. It is so wrong. It would be fine if they were somewhere else in the country, but barbecue is an important part of Southern culture. You just can’t get something like that wrong. And now that I think about it, those characters haven’t once eaten grits or pecan pie.

Lately, I have spent hours learning about helicopter pilots. So much so, my daughter asked me if I was going to become a helicopter pilot. Did you know a helicopter can cost over $300,000.00? I didn’t, but it changed the plot of my next book. This girl wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy her own helicopter, so I needed to figure out how I was going to make the story work. When I wrote my flash fiction piece, Waterford Crystal Daydream, I wrote lists of Irish slang and watched videos of glass blowing, taking copious notes. I probably spent more time researching than I did writing the seven-hundred-word story, but I loved it. (And now for a shameless plug, if you want to read Waterford Crystal Daydream, go to www.splickety.com and register for a free subscription. Spark will arrive in your inbox next month with my story. Yes, I said free.)

Of course, all this research is good news for me because I love it. I did spend several years as a research attorney. Although sometimes, I probably go a little overboard, going down rabbit holes or getting bogged down with an insignificant detail. Like the day I spent two hours trying to figure out what kind of flowers are at the beginning of My Fair Lady. I had my answer in five minutes after I put the video on Facebook.

Research for fiction writing isn’t just about an online search. It is about experiencing all aspects of your characters’ world, and it can be a lot of fun. For example, when my heroine wanted to learn to stand-up paddleboard, I bought a paddle board and learned how. That being said, I have been on a helicopter, and it resulted in terrible motion sickness, so I won’t be experiencing that again, but won’t it be funny when my big, strong firefighter finds himself trying to keep down his breakfast while impressing the female pilot. Oh, I can’t wait to write that scene.

Research is also great for brainstorming, not to mention, it’s a legitimate way to procrastinate. It can supply material for new scenes or even new stories. You might find an interesting blog post to share on social media. As writers, we spend a lot of time in front of a computer, but research takes us out into the world, engaging with God’s creation in all its forms, so we can share it with our readers.

What factual errors irate you the most when you’re reading fiction? What are some fun things you have gotten to do in the name of research?

Why We Need Critique Groups

A published novel is always the work of a team. One of my favorite parts of books is the acknowledgment’s page. Go ahead and call me a book nerd, but I love to see all the people that have contributed to a finished manuscript. Almost always the name of a critique group will be included with a list of names. At my first writers’ conference, I set out on a mission to find my group and prayed God the right people in my path.

 

My First Critique Group at the 2016 ACFW Conference. Photo credits Kailee Diaz. Also pictured Amanda Everett and Lauren Luckhart.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since I met four aspiring authors at the AmericanChristian Fiction Writers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. We live in four different states and are of all ages and stages of life. I fill the role of the old lady with three kids.  These talented women have provided much-needed critique, prayer, encouragement, and often just the right phrase or word. I credit one of them with writing the best opening line for my book blurb and pitch.

 

But one critique group wasn’t enough for me, I now have two more groups of writers to help me on my quest. I need a lot of guidance. One group is mostly for encouragement and has a cute name, but when one of us needs a quick edit, we can hop on our private Facebook group and someone is usually available. Plus, it’s nice to have a safe place to be honest, and let’s face it, vent about the ups and downs of the publishing industry, but only so we can pray for each other of course.

After attending my second writers’ conference, I learned about the Word Weavers critique group that met near my home. Last weekend, I joined them for the first time at the Panera Bread in Fleming Island. At this gathering, one person reads aloud what you have brought and the rest follow along, jotting notes and making suggestions on their own copy. Yikes!!! (Yes, that did deserve three exclamation points.) Nothing like having people you’ve only met once or twice discuss your writing. I certainly didn’t need the cup of Hazelnut coffee, the fear of their thoughts in this open forum caused adrenaline to pump through my veins like I was sprinting for my life. By the way, I forgot to mention as the writer, you are not supposed to respond to the comments. Good news, they were very kind and liked my piece, while they also made valuable suggestions.

This, my friends, is not always how my critiques go, and I’m usually very glad to be by myself and several states away from the person commenting on my work. I may, just may, call her a name or shout my disbelief at her opinion. But most of the time, after I take a few minutes or hours or sometimes days to process the critique, and even when I disagree with a comment, it points to something I need to alter. This is how we learn and grow, and sometimes it is a little painful but well worth the results.

In writing, as in life, the best friends are the ones that will tell you the truth even when it hurts, and trust me nothing hurts more than seeing a red line drawn through one of your brilliant sentences. But it also feels amazing when one of your critique partners starts her comments with “this is some of your best writing,” or “I love your voice.” The best part of my groups is that they care enough to point out the problems, but also pour on the praise when it’s warranted. We all cheer when one of us wins an award, signs with an agent, or publishes a book.

So, since, I don’t get to include an acknowledgment’s page with my flash fiction stories in Spark, and I’m waiting to hear back from an editor for my book, I want to say thank you to the fantastic members of my critique groups. Y’all are the best! Thank you: Kailee, Lauren L., Amanda, Lindsey, Kimberly, Hope, Kelsey, Anna Grace, Lauren C., Jenifer, Victoria, Kelly, and Shari.

How do you take constructive criticism? Do you have a group of friends or a person that will tell you the truth no matter what?

Christian Fiction?

Summer reading for our family.

Christian Fiction? If you’re like I was, the first time I heard this term I thought: I don’t want to read about people during Biblical times doing good all the time. What fun would that be? But I was so wrong.

Fiction written for the Christian market is so much more than you have ever imagined. Yes, there are authors who write during Biblical times, and from what I hear, those books are amazing. If you are interested in that, Francine Rivers has a highly-acclaimed series. But there are books written in every genre you can imagine: Suspense, Contemporary Women’s, Speculative, Historical, Young Adult, Middle grades, Historic Romance, and my current genre Contemporary Romance. A librarian gave me my first Christian Fiction book, and I read the first 100 pages without stopping, staying up well past midnight. What I’m saying is these books are page turners.

So why does it matter if you’re reading books written with a Biblical worldview? Well, if you’re not a Christian it doesn’t matter, but for those of you who are following Jesus, I believe all our entertainment choices influence our walk with Christ. I’m not suggesting everything you read, watch, or listen to needs to have a Gospel message, but it is important to avoid things that go against the Bible’s teachings and glorify sin. What that means to you is a personal choice but know even if you take the book jacket off to disguise what you’re reading to the world, God still knows. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

But what about the entertainment value . . . the quality of the writing? I will tell you from my experience, it is excellent. And there are so many choices, you will never run out. You may even recognize some of the authors. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has a search engine for finding just the right book for you. Check it out. https://www.fictionfinder.com/   Also, from time to time, my daughter, my sons (when I can convince them), my husband, and I will be posting reviews of books we have enjoyed on this site. We are of diverse ages and preferences, so that should also be a jumping off point.

But for now, check out the authors and books I have listed below. Please leave a comment with your favorite books or authors. If you want a recommendation, I will do my best.

One last thing for those of you with tweens and teens, implore you to check their books, even the ones assigned for school. For reasons I can’t begin to imagine, schools aren’t assigning the classics as much anymore, and the books chosen may have themes that you don’t want your children exposed to without your knowledge. I’m not suggesting banning books but take the time to be aware of what your kids are reading. I’m just as guilty as the next mom of being “too busy” to vet every book my kids read, so I love having Christian authors to turn to. Obviously, I would be sure those are appropriate also. It is impossible to write about real adults without exploring real adult problems and temptations. If you have questions, please ask.

Okay, I’m off my soap box. Here’s the list:

My List: (Mostly Contemporary or Historic Romance or Straight Contemporary) These are in no particular order. Books I recently read will be at the beginning because I am now over 40 and the memory is going. The nice thing about these books is your teen can read most of them too.

  • The One True Love of Alice-Ann; Things Left Unspoken – Eva Marie Everson
  • Still Waters – Lindsey Brackett (coming in September, set on Edisto Island, SC)
  • The Thorn Bearer – Pepper Basham
  • The Lost Heiress – Roseanna White
  • The Memory of You – Catherine West
  • Her Lakeside Family – Lenora Worth
  • Then Came You – Becky Wade
  • The Christmas Family – Linda Goodnight
  • Safe in a Stranger’s Heart – Angel Moore
  • Lighthouse – Eugenia Price
  • When Crickets Cry; The Mountain Between Us; Unwritten – Charles Martin (Carlton has read most of Mr. Martin’s books and recommends them all.)
  • Just Between You and Me – Jenny B. Jones
  • The Wedding Shop – Rachel Hauck
  • Redeeming Love; Her Daughter’s Dream; Her Mother’s Hope; The Scarlet Thread – Francine Rivers (these are historic but not the Biblical times books I mentioned above)

Young Adult/ Libby’s List (Either Libby or I have read these)

  • There You’ll Find Me; So Not Happening; In Between – Jenny B. Jones
  • Czechmate; Bolivia Knight – Felicia Bridges
  • Sunset Beach; Christy Miller Series – Robin Jones Gunn
  • The Healer’s Apprentice; The Merchant’s Daughter; Fairest of Them All – Melanie Dickerson

Historic (Carlton read the first two and recommends them)

  • The Shiloh Trilogy – Karl A. Bacon

Middle/Elementary Grades (These are books the boys have read and really enjoyed)

  • The Kingdom Series – Chuck Black
  • The Prince Warrior Series – Priscilla Shirer
  • How to Almost Ruin Your Summer – Taryn Souders
  • Dead Possums are Fair Game – Taryn Souders

 

 

© Leslie DeVooght 2017