About Jan Drexler

Delighted wife, mom to homeschool graduates, author - when I'm not out hiking in the hills.

When the Honeymoon is Over

When I firJuly 17, 1982 001st started writing…

I was living the dream. I spent an hour every morning adding words to my Work in Progress before our homeschooling day started. There were no deadlines; no one demanded anything of me. I dwelled happily in my writer’s cave, isolated from the world, reveling in the company of my characters.

Yes, it was a honeymoon, and everything was perfect.

But as we all know, the honeymoon has to end sometime, right? For me it came to a screeching halt when I signed that first contract.


Just like a honeymoon gives way to the reality of married life, my writing honeymoon quickly turned into the reality of being a published author. But that was all right. I didn’t want to live in a perpetual newbie-honeymoon state in my writing career. I wanted substance. I wanted long-term. I wanted a lifelong commitment.

Thanks to my hard-working agent (hi, Sarah!), I’m on the threshold of that long-term writing life. And that means multiple projects. I’m marketing one book, editing another, writing a third, and proposing a fourth. This is the challenge I thought I wanted back in the writer’s cave days.

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So how does a writer handle a challenge like that?

Here’s some advice I’ve received from writing friends:

  • Keep writing. Write 1000 words a day. Do the math: 1K per day (without Sundays) becomes 320,000 words per year. Piece of cake!
  • Keep on target. There is no magic potion. Get in a groove. Make that 1K per day a habit. Every day, same time, same place.
  • Keep learning. My 1K per day takes about an hour of “bottom in the chair, hands on the keyboard.” I spend part of the rest of my time reading writing craft books or taking on-line classes. Even after publishing four books, with two more in the pipeline, I still have a lot to learn!
  • Keep planning. I also spend part of my writing day planning the next project. After I turn in the last book for my current trilogy from Revell, I’d really like for them to publish another one. So I’m starting to lay the ground work for that series. I’m also in the middle of planning a new series for Love Inspired Historical. These new projects keep my creative juices flowing!
  • Keep dreaming. Kariss Lynch wrote a great post about the difference dreaming makes in our creative life. You can read that post here: The Importance of Dreaming
  • Keep living. The honeymoon really IS over if your writing becomes an all-consuming passion. Spend time with your family and friends. Give yourself time off.

Every once in a while, I ask myself if my current life is meeting 046my expectations.

Is the challenge I thought I wanted during my writing honeymoon satisfying enough? Is it worth the work? Does it have substance enough for a long-term, lifetime commitment?

Yes. Oh, yes.

What about your writing life? Are you still in the honeymoon stage, or on your way, navigating through deadlines and contracts? Is it worth it?

Conflict: The Heart of Your Story

One consistent problem most writers – new or seasoned – have when they’re developing their stories (present company included!) is to bring enough conflict into the story.

It’s normal to want to protect our characters from conflict. We like these people. We want them to have happy lives.

But do you know what you get when you give your characters happy lives that are free from any conflict? That’s right.

Boring fiction.

You need to bring conflict into their lives!

But how?

The first thing to remember is that conflict can be defined as goals that are blocked or defeated. So before you can have conflict, your character needs to have goals.

I hope you’ve all heard of Debra Dixon’s book, Goals, Motivation and Conflict. That’s a great place to start learning to develop your character’s GMC.

Conflict in the back story

As I develop my characters’ GMCs, I begin to discover their back story. What happened in their past that is affecting them now?

For example, in the proposal I’m working on now, Samuel and Mary’s story, Mary and her sister move from Holmes County, Ohio to Shipshewana, Indiana to live with their elderly great aunt. But why would they move away from home? What is at home that they want to get away from?

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It has to be a conflict strong enough to force them to take this life-changing step. For Mary, it’s a tragic event that happened to her two years earlier.

A Conflict within the story for each character

So the next step is to find Mary’s story conflict. I had to ask myself: What is the worst, the absolute worst thing that could happen to my character?


In my proposal, Mary’s past tragic event is that she had been attacked by a man two years earlier, and since then the attacker has been threatening her and intimidating her–blackmailing her into keeping his secret.

So what is the absolute worst thing that could happen to Mary? That’s right. Her attacker finds her in Indiana and starts the intimidation and threats all over again.

The story conflict is more powerful if it has ties to a past conflict in your character’s life.

Of course, both characters need to have a conflict, so you need to do this exercise for both your hero and your heroine.

Let the Conflict in your story increase toward the crescendo of the Final Battle

In my proposal, the hero, Samuel, is an alcoholic. He’s fighting his addiction throughout the entire story. That’s his first level of conflict.

His battle becomes much worse when he feels inadequate, threatened or guilty. When he sees Mary with her attacker, he assumes that they have a romantic relationship. That’s the next level of conflict for him.

But when he finds out he’s wrong and Mary is in danger from this man, he faces the “dark night of the soul,” the Black Moment, and is on the verge of taking that drink he’s been fighting throughout the story…and the conflict tension ramps up.

Your characters’ individual Conflicts work against each other, driving your hero and heroine apart

Ramping up the tension raises the stakes; the characters’ relationship is in danger.

Samuel’s alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy make him pull away from Mary just when she needs him most.

Mary’s fear of revealing her secret–and of being close to any man–makes her pull away from him just when he needs her most.

Levi Zook's farm, Eden Township, Lagrange County

I want my readers to question how these two can ever overcome their conflicts and have a happily-ever-after ending!

So the most important part of the story comes when the characters need to fight against this force that is driving them away from each other. The satisfying ending to the story comes when they triumphantly stand firm, fighting this final battle together.

Share with us!

Are you guilty of letting your characters get off easy? What can you do to help ramp up the conflict in your story?

Jan’s newest book is “Hannah’s Choice,” the first in the series Journey to Pleasant Prairie from Revell Books.285198_HannahsChoiceDrexler_FBHeader


Just Beyond the Manger….

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Busyness and noise…presents yet to be wrapped…Christmas dinner – has the turkey thawed yet?…the table covered with cookies, frosting smears, and stray sprinkles…and someone – we won’t name names – is singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” at the top of her voice.

On top of everything else, if we don’t get a move on, we’ll be late for Christmas Eve service!

Is that cat climbing the Christmas tree again?






As silent as snowflakes dusting the ground, Christmas comes in pristine whiteness. The babe in the manger, the choirs of angel voices, the shadow of the cross.


With painful glory, the promise is repeated. Do you hear it?

Hope is born.


Life takes on new meaning.

God enters our lives.


A turn of the head and the glimmer of light is captured at the edge of our vision.

God enters our lives in peace, hope, promise, life.


Joyful anticipation.

God enters our lives to bring us to Himself.


And a baby is born.


The Anatomy of a Scene

Learning to craft good scenes for your novel is a foundational tool in your writing tool kit. Think of the scenes as the building blocks you use to construct your masterpiece. If they’re faulty or incomplete, what will the building look like?

SceneBut there are as many blog posts about writing a scene for your novel as there are varieties of ice cream sundaes at your favorite summer hang out.

So why am I writing one more?

Because when it comes right down to it, writing a scene isn’t as hard as it seems. You only need to break it down into four major parts:

Beginning: When the scene begins, does the reader know when and where this is taking place, and whose point of view it’s in? If not, you’re in danger of leaving your reader stranded in the land of floating heads. YOU may know exactly what your characters are seeing, feeling, etc., but does your reader?

Middle: The midsection of the scene should take up the most time. A sentence or two into the scene, after you’ve given your reader the information they need, start increasing the tension and continue to the turning point.

The turning point is the main purpose for the scene. It’s where the reader learns something new about the character, or the character learns something new about himself or someone else, or a decision is made.

There are a lot of different ways this can be played out, but the main thing is to make sure the scene contributes to the flow of the story and moves things forward.

End: Does the scene resolve itself? The character(s) involved should make a decision or take an action as a result of the turning point.

And finally: Is there a hook at the end of the scene that will make the reader continue on to the next scene? Without a hook leading your reader further into the story, there is no reason for them to turn the page.

And here’s a homework assignment: Look at a scene in your favorite book. Does it have all four of these elements in it? What exceptions did the author make, if any? Now do the same with one of your own scenes.

What did you learn?


Firmly Established

When I mention the book of Ecclesiastes, what goes through your mind?

 The folk-pop song hit from The Byrds in 1965?

 “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”?

 Hopeless despair of anything one does “under the sun”?


 Look closer…there’s more to this book than the Preacher’s laments.

 At the very end of Ecclesiastes, the writer switches his voice from the Preacher to the narrator, and writes these words:

“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” Ecclesastes 12:11 ESV

 The goads mentioned in this verse are sticks used for poking and prodding sheep. Sheep are notorious for being slow-witted and stubborn. Even faced with danger, they will not obey the shepherd or sheep dogs if they think doing so would be more dangerous. At these times, the shepherd can resort to using his staff as a goad, poking the sheep to the point of pain, if necessary, to get it going to a safe place.


 I don’t know about you, but I’m often like the slow-witted sheep, going blindly down the path toward danger. My Shepherd knows there are times when I would fall off a cliff rather than listen to His word, so He will resort to the goad. I know some of the most painful episodes in my life were used by my Shepherd to move me back to the center of His will.

 The other term used in this verse is “nails.” This same word is also used in Ezra 9:8 and Isaiah 22:23. It gives the picture of a peg or nail fixed firmly and securely into place, as in Ezra, when the Lord established the remnant of the nation of Israel in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.” Ezra 9:8 ESV

 What does this mean for us as writers?

 God’s Word is the goad that keeps us in line with His direction and will. He is the Shepherd who establishes us firmly in our place.


 The next verse, Ecclesiastes 12:12, is also appropriate for us: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

 Did you see the instruction? “…beware of anything beyond these…” Beyond what? The “words of the wise,” given by “one Shepherd.”

 As Christian writers, our place is putting words on paper – words that point our readers to the One Good Shepherd who seeks the lost and redeems sinners.

Give Your Characters a Life!

We’ve all been there.

You’re sitting at your desk, fingers flying across your keyboard. Your hero and heroine are in the middle of a conflict and…wait. How does he react when she turns to walk away from him?

Every action our characters make is determined by their background. Their backstory.

Let’s look at the hero in my September release from Love Inspired as an example.

Nate Colby is a Civil War veteran. He had been part of the Union Cavalry during the last couple years of the war. During one campaign, he was ordered to move a wagon load of explosives out of a burning barn. He hitched a team of mules to the wagon, but the mules balked. They refused to pull the wagon out of the barn.

The explosion nearly killed Nate, but more importantly, the experience was the beginning of a series of events that convinced him he lacks something in his makeup that other men possess. Something inside him causes him to fail every time he attempts something important.

It also caused him to hate and distrust mules.

Fast forward twelve years. During the intervening time Nate’s view of his shortcomings has been reinforced over and over. His parents died while he and his brother were in the army. His sister disappeared into the west and became a prostitute. His brother’s children were left orphans when Nate wasn’t able to save his brother and sister-in-law from the 005house fire that killed them.

And his nephew’s favorite friend is his pet mule, Loretta.

Now Nate is left with his nephew and nieces to care for, but the past still haunts him. It affects every move, every decision. And as the story progresses, the reader gets glimpses of Nate’s backstory. It unfolds when it needs to in order to give Nate’s character depth.

But Nate’s backstory is so much more important than to make his character interesting to the reader.

Without knowing his backstory, I would be at a loss whenever he appears in a scene or when there is a plot twist.

For example, the heroine, Sarah, is a crusader, seeking to save the poor lost prostitutes in Deadwood. She is extremely naïve and idealistic at the beginning of the story, and enthusiastically recruits Nate to help her.

How does he respond? We – as readers – already know this part of Nate’s backstory. Remember the sister who disappeared twelve years ago? Nate’s experience with his sister gives him an insight into the life of a saloon girl that Sarah doesn’t have. He not only keeps her enthusiasm grounded in reality, but he agrees to help her, even though he’s afraid the plan is doomed if he has any part in it.

001Nate’s backstory drives his decision to help Sarah and his feelings about that decision. It affects all of his actions as they carry out Sarah’s plans to help one of the soiled doves in the mining camp. And it provides the starting point for the change his character goes through in the course of the story.


Writing my character’s backstory is a major part of getting to know my characters before I ever start writing my stories. It gives them life!

What about you? How far into your characters’ back stories to you go when you’re developing your next book?

Facebook: Friend or Enemy?

Facebook. So what IS it about marketing on Facebook that makes us all cringe? I know I’m not the only one who wants to forget about it and get to work writing my next book!

But after a couple of valuable appointments with marketing gurus at the ACFW conference in September, and after reading last month’s post by Casey Herringshaw, I started looking at Facebook a little differently. It is part of our lives, and it can be a valuable asset to our writing careers.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Treat both your author page and your personal page the same. Both of them are seen by your readers and potential readers. Once you’re a published author, you don’t have a private life on the internet. If you aren’t published yet, act as if you are!
  • Stick to your brand. I write historical romance books. Most of them are Amish, with a foray into a western being published by Love Inspired next year. On my sepia horse and buggyFacebook author page, I share Amish tidbits plus a fun picture of cowboys once in a while. That’s what my readers expect, and I try not to disappoint them! And yes, when I have news about one of my books, I’ll post about that, too. But that kind of post is rare.
  • Post regularly. Some authors use a service like Hootsuite to schedule their Facebook posts, but I’ve found that I like to fly by the seat of my pants when posting on my author page. I try to post at least once a day, only because that drives up traffic. Regularity is a key to reaching larger numbers of my readers.
  • Understand that even if you aren’t a public figure now, you will be. (At least 040that’s the goal, right?) As you’re sharing all about your dogs, grandchildren or passion for hang-gliding, don’t forget to insert a layer of protection between you and your reading public. Certain things need to be kept private. You can give your readers quite a bit of information about your life – and let them feel like they know you – without divulging every detail.
  • Be friendly. Whether on your personal Facebook page or your professional one, the personal distance you need to maintain shouldn’t keep you from giving your readers9780373282777_p0_v1_s260x420 a genuine smile of welcome when they drop by. Let your voice shine through. Be inviting. Make them want to spend time with you in your books.
  • Be professional. Facebook is not the place to air dirty laundry, complain about or celebrate political events, or argue theological differences. Never, ever complain about your spouse, children, in-laws, bosses, or co-workers. And never, never, never (can’t say enough nevers!) complain about or divulge information about editors, agents, or anyone else in the writing business. What appears on the internet has a horribly tenacious way of sticking around.
  • Be a good neighbor. Don’t you love when your peers share your latest status with all of their friends? Especially when you’re trying to pull readers to your latest blog post or publicize the sale price on one of your books? Do the same for them.

Sometimes I think of Facebook as a necessary evil, one of the many things we need to negotiate in order to be successful in this modern life. It won’t last forever, but as long as it’s around, we should use it to our advantage. And meanwhile, enjoy it!