An Author Needs a Teachable Spirit

dooley-2This week, I am privileged to have the multi-award winning author Lena Nelson Dooley.  Lena had sold over 800,000 of her books, spoken to groups in six states, and co-hosts a blogtalk radio show.  She and her husband live in Texas, have four grandchildren and two great grandsons.  She is reprising an article she wrote two years ago that is still important to all writers today.

An Author Needs a Teachable Spirit

A teachable spirit is a major key to success in all areas of your life–family, work, any kind of relationship. You obtain wisdom when you become teachable. Giftedness is a dime a dozen, teachableness (Writers like to create their own words sometimes.) is a great treasure.

 All through the book of Proverbs, we are admonished to learn. We can’t do that if we don’t have a teachable spirit. Pride, independence or rebellion, and insecurity lead to an unteachable spirit.

 When we have a teachable spirit, we graciously accept correction. We seek wise counsel. We submit to authority and stay accountable. How does this apply to our writing lives?

 Seeking wise counsel from the right people will help us grow in our craft. Critique partners can be a major asset as we grow. Use critique partners who understand the call of God on your life. They need to be honest in their assessment of what you wrote. Not someone who will flatter and not someone who will tear you down. Always filter what you’re told through the Lord. Just because you listen to the partner doesn’t mean you must accept every single thing they say. That person might not understand what you’re trying to say or might not recognize your voice or the voice of your character. You need balance. But always be open to learning from every critique partner God brings into your life.

 Others who will be wise counselors in your life are editors. Those you’re trying to sell to as well as those who have bought your book.

 Two things you need to understand about editors are: It is an editor’s job to make books better.

And without authors, editors wouldn’t have a job. You should form a mutually beneficial working partnership. When that has happened in my life, my books have been better for the cooperation.

 The key to your success as a writer is having a teachable spirit–but keep everything in perspective, in balance, and in Jesus.dooley - cove 3 for McKenna's Daughters-mine

Copyright 2012 – Lena Nelson Dooley

Visit Lena’s web site at:

Catherine’s Pursuit, Carolyn Readers Choice Award, CAN Golden Scroll Award Third Place Winner, Will Rogers Medallion Award Finalist


How the Book Developed

LordToday, Cyndi Lord is providing a guest post on how her Amish book came about.  Before devoting full-time to writing, Cyndi had a career as an investigator and research paralegal. Cyndi lives in northeast Texas on a ranch with her husband.  They have nine adult children, eighteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Here is her story.

Since spending four days and three nights at the Zook’s Bed and Breakfast in Lancaster County several years ago, it became inevitable to write a book. We were given a spare room in their sprawling, two story farm house which stood at the front of a hundred acre dairy. Nine well behaved children worked with both parents to run the house, milking operation, and farm. We opted for the choice of following their lifestyle during our stay.

To learn how Amish lived, beyond the fictional books I’d read, I eagerly grabbed the opportunity. My literal, rude awaking transpired at 4:00 the first morning. The evening before, sent to bed at 7:30, I wrote in my journal about our afternoon, and evening with the family. Spoiled by a keyboard, a sore spot rapidly turning into a blister from the pen, forced me to blow out the lantern an hour or so before midnight. The early morning tap on the door startled me from a deep sleep.


“Time to get breakfast. Are you up and about?” Mrs. Zook pushed the door open and the flame of her lantern flicked into our bedroom.

“No. I’ll be right down.”

In the kitchen, three teen-aged girls, and an eight year old worked together. Soon, five boys ranging in age from four to eighteen scurried about gathering up boots and hats. My husband grumbled something and went out the door behind Mr. Zook.

After a large breakfast, Mrs. Miller and her seven girls came over to pick strawberries and can jam. My husband came in from the barn for lunch smelling of cow dung and straw. I wrinkled my nose and we smiled at each other. Our lives with the Amish began.

Later, exhausted and thrilled, we lay in bed exchanging our stories. I wrote about community team work, and the adorable, kindhearted Mrs. Miller. Her twelve children, husband, and an injury to her youngest son’s leg, told to me while we picked strawberries, made their way into my book, A Plain Wish.

Our time with them ended far too soon to feel anything except sadness. My binder held a wealth of information. I’d made endearing friendships that last today with the Zooks and Millers. I cherish the letters received.

A deep understanding of the plain people and their separation from the modern world came from my visit. I grew to love and respect them in a deeper sense than ever imagined. A quandary internalized, for I longed to protect them and the privacy they strictly adhere. The journal and memories were held close to my heart for years. When outrageous television shows began airing, it angered me. People I loved were portrayed falsely, in my opinion, for monetary gain. The desire to show a real Amish family became overwhelming.

Lord - cover wishI located my journal, well protected letters, and prayed God would guide my words to never allow beloved friends to be betrayed. I chose to reach out to young adults. My protagonist, Kristi, is not Amish, but a modern, troubled, girl with an Amish pen pal. A Plain Wish opens at her father’s house, and chapter two takes you to the Miller’s Amish home. It continues this way and lets my readers see what it happening in both worlds. Kristi’s ‘plain wish’ is to find the family she lost. When she runs away to Lancaster, two worlds collide in a fabulous, heartfelt, humorous way.

Through calculated promotions and a prayerful desire for lost teens to learn about Jesus along with Kristi, I was blessed and humbled when A Plain Wish held number one in Amazon’s Hottest New Releases, Religion and Inspirational, for twenty-eight of the allotted thirty days. For ten weeks, it remained in the top ten. Ex-Amish who have read the book left reviews impressed with my accuracy in the Amish lifestyle and family dynamics. I praise God for answered prayer, and thank an ex-Amish man for his help with the complicated Pennsylvania Dutch. The Plain Series will have the second book released this fall.

JIM: To learn more about Cyndi, visit


Murder in the First …

Today’s guest blogger is Marja McGraw and she’s talking about mysteries.marja She should know, since she has worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement.  She writes two mystery series. And having read some, I’ll add my endorsement.  She’s lived in five states, but currently calls Arizona home.

Murder in the First…

…chapter, that is. More than once I’ve heard it said that a good mystery begins with a murder. I’ve also heard people say a mystery isn’t a mystery if there’s no dead body. I don’t happen to agree with this.

 Many stories need to build up to a crime. You can open the book with a murder, but then you have to let the investigation get into a backstory. What led up to the crime? Who was the victim? Do I, as a reader, even care about the victim? What made that person tick? Why would someone murder this person?

 Many television shows begin with a dead body and then the investigator(s) have to learn the backstory through leads and clues. They need to keep the viewing audience glued to the screen. Books, on the other hand, can keep you interested by carefully laying the groundwork for what’s to come. Each chapter can include a cliffhanger at the end to keep the reader interested, even if the murder doesn’t happen up front.

 Sometimes a victim is actually a bad person to begin with, and by building up to the death you can create a very unlikable victim. You can take a different path and make him sympathetic because he had a horrible background which molded him into a bad boy. Some people are victims of circumstance. Maybe this person made bad choices in their lifetime.

 Othermarja-call me ace2 victims are good people. Someone may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a reader, I’d like to know how that person ended up in the wrong place, and why did he or she have to die? I’ve heard people say there are no coincidences. I don’t agree. Sometimes things just happen, for no apparent reason. A good guy can step on the toes of a bad guy without even realizing it. There are all kinds of scenarios.

 Remember the comment about a mystery isn’t a mystery without a death? Not so, I guarantee you. I’ve read some great mysteries where no one was murdered. A missing person would be a mystery. The neighbor in a book might think Fred Smith from down the street is acting suspicious – and his wife hasn’t been seen in two weeks. Maybe the neighbor sets out to see if Fred murdered his wife and buried her body in the backyard. It makes sense to the neighbor because she never did like Fred.

 Sometimes suspicious acts can be misconstruedmarja - What Are the Odds because that’s what the observer wants to see. And in that scenario lies a mystery. It could turn out that Fred is hard of hearing, or painfully shy, and this makes him come across differently than he really is. It could also turn out that his wife left suddenly, during the night, to take care of a sick relative. In the meantime, it was a mystery until the facts were revealed. The snoopy neighbor is either going to be embarrassed for her suspicions, or she’ll feel good that she found out the truth.

 So, if you enjoy a good mystery, don’t worry about when the person dies, or when the body is discovered, and don’t worry if there is no body. Just enjoy the journey that leads you from Chapter One to The End.

 A mystery is a mystery, after all.

JIM:  Find out more about Marja and her mysteries at the links below.  And take only 5 seconds to “Like” the post, or Tweet it. of Google +1 it.  Thanks.



Books available at:


The Thing Writers Need

Today, I have a guest post from Jennifer Slattery who writes soul-slatterystirring fiction for New Hope Publishers.  Her debut novel is Beyond I Do.  She tells writers about one thing important to success.

This one thing has the capacity to set every writer on edge. Though they search for, it remains elusive, because it must come from within themselves. And yet, it must come, for without it, according to the publishing powers that be, the writer’s career could derail. Fast.

 And yet this thing, this very necessary thing can’t be forced. Somehow it must arise naturally, much like the writer’s voice. It’s similar to their voice, but it’s different. It’s deeper and more holistic.

 In essence, this thing makes up the writer, and it’s more than genre.

 It’s their brand.

 As of late, many writers have argued that having a clearly defined brand is no longer necessary. Readers are eclectic, they say. Why should I box myself into writing one type of story? If I wrote more, won’t I reach a wider audience?

 So, they diversify, dabbling in romance, a bit in time travel, then taking a side trail into an alternate history dystopian.

 But rather than initiate a debate on the value or folly of such an action, (as such debates, quite frankly, have been vastly and repeatedly discussed), I wanted to perhaps expand the idea of brand.

 Yes, brand is genre, but as I said, it’s so much more. It comprises core values that are so ingrained in an author, they come out in all they write. These elements quickly become obvious to others, though the writer himself might be unaware of them entirely.  Or perhaps they’ve even worried about them a time or two, wondering if their books were becoming all too similar. (Because secretly, all of us writers feel each book is the last creative spurt we’ll ever have.)

 This was the case with me. Though it took me a while to notice, certain themes popped up in every novel:

 Outreach. (Ok, I knew this one. This is always a major plot line.)

  • Romance (Yeah, knew this one, too. I know I’m not proving my point yet, but be patient.)
  • Strained family relationships (I saw this and got a little worried. Seriously, does every mother and daughter duo have to battle it out between the pages of my books?
  • Parallel plot lines (This one surprised me. I’m not even sure I know what it means!)

All this to say, relax. Your brand will emerge, if you let if. So don’t force it. Just pour yourself onto the page, day after day. And never write something your heart isn’t in, because that will only hurt and confuse your brand.

 In other words, be true to you and your calling. The rest will follow.

JIM:  Good advice.  You can find out more about Jennifer and her books at:

You can visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

And, here’s a blurb on Beyond I Do.

Slattery - BeyondIDocoverAinsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

<”font-size: medium;”> Click
here to read a free, 36-page excerpt.



The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Today, we have an important post for those not well-published.  It coPen-L_Headshotmes from Kimberly and Duke Pennell, the driving force behind Pen-L Publishing.  They’ll give us some advice to use before we say “I do.”


The Secret to a Happy Marriage (to Your Publisher)

 Congratulations!!! You’ve just said “I do” by signing the contract with your new publisher.

It’s going to be great! You were made for each other! You’re going to be rich and famous!

 Well – maybe.

 Just like in a marriage, newly partnered authors often have stars in their eyes. You imagine working with an editor who finds few flaws in your writing and agrees with all your counter-arguments. A cover designer who seems to have read your mind and produced the most perfect cover ever. A marketing team who has everything planned out for you – all you have to do is show up and the hungry crowd will be dazzled by your presence and buy every book you brought.

 The publisher, on the other hand, may dream of an author who happily turns over control of all aspects of the book and happily agrees with everything. One who has a major social media platform with thousands of followers, who enjoys public speaking and has an insatiable desire to meet new people and convert them to fans, and who has media contacts who will quickly promote the new book. Preferably an author who has a six-book series ahead and has already written three of them.  

 Sounds like a match made in heaven, yes?

 Well – maybe not.

 Just as in marriage, people sometimes enter the publishing partnership with differing expectations. Are either of them wrong for having an idealized picture in mind? Heck, no. Creative people are usually like that. The difficulty is when the two parties don’t take time to let each other know about their hopes.

Pen-l cover -SpaceLessFrontCover-200 Some of our authors, when offered a contract, immediately say “Yes! Where do I sign?” Others have lots of good questions. We send them all a list of what we will do and what we expect they will do in the coming year. The truth is that authors who ask the most questions become the happiest ones. They get what they expect and give what they agreed to, and life is good for everyone involved. Many publishers invest a lot of resources into their authors, not just the books, in hopes that they will continue the partnership over the years. That long-term view means you have a plan for your writing life. The old saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Your writing career is no different.

 Nearly thirty years ago, when we contemplated entering into a life-long relationship, we didn’t think much about divvying up housework, jobs, finances, or the kind of life we envisioned having together in the future. We just reveled in the fact that we enjoyed each other’s company so much and had nearly the same tastes in everything. Over the years, however, we’ve found we had to hammer out some agreements about how things worked. We are lucky that we still like the same things mostly, and have been able to compromise on the rest. But all couples butt heads on occasion. The difference between a happy outcome and one not-so-happy is how far from their expectations each person had to move. Had we talked specifically about what was most important to us, we’d have avoided some unnecessary stress.

 When we first started Pen-L Publishing, we had a few stars in our eyes too. We bumped into authors’ (and each others’) differing expectations, which created more work and stress on both sides. Over the years, we’ve learned that the more we discuss expectations with authors, they happier we all are. No unpleasant surprises.

 This year, we started presenting a workshop at writer’s events: “What Comes After ‘I Do’? How the Author/Publisher Relationship is Like a Marriage.” We’ll be in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on November 8 doing just that with the Bayou Writer’s Group at their Bridge to Publication conference. We provide a sample “Pre-Nup” that gives ideas for questions to ask a would-be publisher and topics to consider before contracting, like what and how much promotion am I willing to do? What things am I NOT willing to do? How much input do I need on the cover? How many books will I commit to write in the next five years? What are my goals for my writing over ten and twenty years?

 The more you examine your wants and needs, the better you will be at finding a publisher who is a great match for you. Just like in marriage, you don’t necessarily want to say “Yes!” to the first person who asks for your hand/book.

 Best of luck in your writing careers!

 Kimberly and Duke Pennell

Pen-L Publishing – “Books You’ll Love” – has brought over thirty books into the world since then starting up in February 2012. Founded by omnivorous readers, they publish “anything that hooks us” and have brought out nonfiction, Westerns, magical realism, fantasy, science fiction, humor, suspense/thrillers, cozy mysteries, literary fiction, and more. They are home to many award-winning authors, as well as publishing an award-winning book themselves. Find out more at



U.S.Government Supports Romance

For Love … And Money

We all know that writers have a hard time making any money at their craft.  Unless you are one of the few at the very top, making a living through fiction writing is difficult – unless you lower your standard of living.  Can’t do that?  Then don’t give up your day job. 

One of the items circulating the Internet lately says that the City of Philadelphia now requires all bloggers to purchase a business privilege license for $300.  Whoa.  Three hundred bucks to be allowed to blog?  And that is a “privilege” license? 

Actually, that information is not quite right. Philadelphia requires that those making money on their blog have a license. The $300 is for a lifetime license, or you could pay $50 for one year.

Still, it is a tax to blog, more or less.

But the federal government is more generous to writers.

 In some ways.

If you write romance.

In Wastebook 2013, by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, one of the senator tom colburnitems he discusses is the Popular Romance Project.  In fiscal year 2013, the project received approximately $914,000. The purpose of the program is to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”

Wow!  An ambitious project, and certainly one that would need nearly a million bucks of taxpayers’ money.

It aims to  “bring new audiences into the conversation about the nature of love, romance, and their expression in novels and popular culture more broadly” through four programs:

   A documentary entitled “Love Between the Covers”;

   An interactive website dedicated to romance and romance novels;

   An academic symposium on “the past and future of the romance novel” hosted by the Library of Congress Center for the Book; and

   A “nationwide series of library programs dealing with the past, present, and future of the romance novel” with a traveling exhibit.

 I can see that they may need more money.

 Here’s a few of the website topics included:

   Team Edwteam edwardard or Team Jacob?

 “Are heroes like Edward romantic or controlling?” ponders the Popular Romance Project website, referring to the vampire character in the Twilight.

    Call Me Maybe:

The Popular Romance Project website celebrates Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit song “Call Me Maybe” as a “fun, flirty invitation to a dreamy crush” and examines how the song’s video has provokes some “very interesting conversations about contemporary romance.”

   The Spy Who Loved Me:                                               .      the spy who loved me .

The romance of British Secret Service Agent James Bond, 007, is examined by the Popular Romance Project website, noting that “the recurrent death of romance is fundamental to the 007 franchise. What can popular romance scholars make of this motif?

 Given that this industry generated over $1.4 Billion in 2012, and remains as hot as ever, is this really the way to spend our tax money? 

 I write mystery and suspense books.

 Now, if the money were spent on the mystery and suspense area, well, then …


Any comments?  Is this a terrible waste of taxes – or …

And you can see what I write (not on a government site or supported by tax dollars) at:



The Key to Writing the Short Story

 Galand Nuchols grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois before moving to Texas and attending college here.  She galand-2taught for twenty-two years, ranging from second grade to high school. When she retired, she began writing.  What a great move that was for young readers. Galand writes YA and middle reader books that are very interesting and always have a moral in them. And they appeal to boys as well as girls.  She also is a strong proponent of the short story, as she will tell you now. And, she’s giving away a copy of Now Where Did That Come From? to someone who leaves a comment.  Galand –

My grandmother had a reputation for having the last laugh when it came to getting even. Tricks and retaliation was a form of entertainment for people living in our rural community before television, laptops, handheld computers, and texting. Stories of Grandma’s escapades, as well as the outrageous doings of other family members, have been orally handed down generation after generation. Several years ago my sister and I decided to record the tales for future generations.

 We filled notebooks with the anecdotes we remembered and those that family members and neighbors shared with us. We were fortunate to have some old pictures of great-grandparents and a picture of the home place from a hundred years ago. We organized it, printed it, and gave it to family members scattered throughout the United States. It was work but a satisfying endeavor. We ended the book with a challenge to future generations to continue recording their own stories.

Then the Northeast Texas Writers’ Organization (NETWO) compiled an anthology of short stories, A Treasure Box. A paragraph or two revealing information about the author and his or her thoughts about writing followed each story and made the work unique. I was caught up in the excitement of being a part of the creating process.

These two projects lead me, a retired teacher, to consider the possibility of enticing parents, grandparents, and students of all ages to begin writing short stories about their own families or about something that interested them. A picture or news item can be a seed that blossoms into a full-fledged fiction story. An article in the LongviewNewsJournal about a UFO over Stevensville, Texas tickled my imagination and “Strangers in our Midst” was born. A friend losing her dentures inspired “The Losing Place.” There is a tiny seed of truth buried somewhere in each story, but the tale is purely a creation of my imagination. Many of the settings for my fiction stories, however, are from the farm where I grew up or in our Southern Illinois community.

Would an anthology of stories with a paragraph or two after each galand - now where did that come from explaining where the idea for the story came from be entertaining and encourage readers to begin writing their own stories? With that question mind, I began collecting my favorite stories, writing a paragraph or two describing the source of the idea or seed for the story. After much tweaking, Now Where Did That Come From? was published. When a reader contacted me and said she was going to write a story about an event in her childhood, I felt the thrill of success.

Some people express their feelings and ideas on canvas; some sculpt in stone, wood, and clay, some in music or poetry. I find satisfaction in creating characters who meet and overcome various challenges in their life.


JIM:  Thanks, Galand.  You’ve shown us where to find the ideas for short stories.  Now, we can get busy, write a few, and enter the latest NETWO short story contest.  For more information on the short story contest, visit  And for a closer look at Now Where Did That Come From?, click here.  And don’t forget to click on the “Like” button.  And lastly, leave a comment and be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Galand’s book of short stories. Thanks.

What’s the Deal with Back Story?


This gallery contains 2 photos.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora … Continue reading

From the Middle of a Forest – Linda Yezak


This gallery contains 3 photos.

Today, we’re interviewing Linda Yezak, who lives in a forest in east Texas and writes uplifting books about second chances, love, forgiveness, and new beginnings.  Jim:  Linda, you’ve written books with other authors.  Tell us about that experience.  Linda:  I’ve … Continue reading

It’s 1984, Modernized

Quick, now. How many great inventions can you name that get turned into something most undesirable?

That many? That’s more than I thought of.

 What brought this to mind was a piece I read on the Internet thatred_cell_phone said, as part of its promotion,  just type in a cell phone number and they would tell you its location.  Interesting.  But, they weren’t suggesting that you had misplaced it and they will tell you it’is on the table beside your bed.  No, they were saying if you typed in, say, my cell phone number, they would tell you where in the world I was at the moment.

 That could be very helpful—under certain circumstances.

 Another company advertised that for less than $200, you could have an app that would monitor a mobile phone’s text messages, call logs, emails sent and received, and the location of the phone.

 A parent can know where her children are.  Or who is contacting them.

 But, can you envision that being misused.  I can without a moment’s hesitation.

 There are now apps (everything is an app today) that can capture computer, smart phone and tablet activity and put it into a file on the Internet that you can access from your smart phone or tablet.  They didn’t mean backing up your info.  You would be capturing someone else’s data.

 Again, I can see some good uses for this app.  But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a lawyer, to see the incredible number of abuses for this app.

 Some companies that make surveillance equipment are already selling governmentseye_pyramid_mason_236225 the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cell phone as they traveled around the world.  And we’ve all heard the controversy that arose over the NSA capturing the cell call activity of almost everyone in the U.S., although they said it was only the numbers called and the length of the calls, not the actual conversation.

 One company offered “remote monitoring,” up and running in ten minutes, and pay-as-you-go, no contract.  It didn’t sound like a baby monitoring system.

 I read another article recently that said big department stores would soon be able to track which isles you traveled and how much time you spent in a particular area, and even send you a text message suggesting some additional purchases, based on what you were looking at.

 Personally, that’s help I do not want.                               1984

 In 1984, Big Brother was watching you. But it’s now 2014, and we’ve advanced in those 30 years.  Now, anybody can track you and see what you text.  I may ditch my cell phone. 


I’d like to hear your comments on this “break-through. Or other great ideas that turn sour.  Jim Callan