You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

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5 Ways to Tell if You’re a Writer

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Can you name this author?

Writers are strange animals. They’re solitary mammals, prone to long stretches of hibernation unrelated to weather conditions. Generally, they’re pale, usually require glasses, and for some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, tend to wear flamboyant hats. What’s up with that?

If you suspect there’s a writer gene in your DNA, here’s a surefire test that doesn’t require a blood draw or even a swab of the inside of your mouth. See if you relate to any of the following. . .

1. You kill off your imaginary playmates.

Authors invent people. You craft words to connect readers to your characters, pulling at their heartstrings, making them best buddies. Then all for the sake of story, you take those imaginary friends and ramp up the catastrophes. Bam. Bam. Bam. All leading to a horrific climax…

“Meet Susan. She’s blonde, friendly, the girl next door with good dental hygiene. Her freckles are endearing and she helps little old ladies across the street. Everyone loves Susan. Whoopsidoodle! A Mack truck just hit Susan. Her dog died. And now there’s a one-armed stalker with an eye patch that wants to drink her blood. Poor, poor Susan.”

2. Your skill at lying is only exceeded by those in Washington.

Writers get paid to tell whoppers, kind of like attorneys, only without the debt of law school. It’s an author’s job to convince others of the plausibility of their story, to pull the reader into a whole new world—one they can taste, touch, and smell. Remember Susan? Yeah. Enough said.

3. You’re an uber-frustrated control freak.

You sit around all day, controlling what your characters say and wear, manipulating how they act and feel. You are a god of your fictional realm. Nothing happens unless you make it so. Enjoy the feeling, minion, because when you surface from Storyland, you don’t get to control reviews, contracts, publisher advances, or book placement, and you’re at the complete mercy of the Amazon recommendation algorithm.

4. You long for a raging bout of tinnitus just to shut up the voices in your head for a while.

When you’re asked about where you get your story ideas, you respond with, “What…you mean you don’t have mega-plex screens playing inside your head?” At least that’s how you answer the first time. After you’ve been scarred by the horrified face twisting that answer receives, you learn to reply, “Oh, here and there.” But that does nothing to clamp the lips of the story sirens in your mind, tempting you to listen to quite possibly the best plot idea ever in the history of mankind. And don’t bother buying the sound canceling earbuds. They don’t work.

5. You fly your freak flag high.

Hey, if being nutty-nuts was good enough for Tolstoy, Hemmingway, and Poe, you’re all for it. Besides which, you know you’re not batty, bonkers, or berserk. You identify yourself as simply being eccentric.

Any one of these five gonging a bell in your head and heart? If so, guess what? Yep. You’re a writer. Don’t worry, though. In this day of political correctness, no one will dare label you a nut job for fear of a lawsuit.

But that wasn’t always the case…(cue shameless teaser). In  A HEART DECEIVED, the topic of insanity is explored in historical detail…

A-Heart-Deceived-front-coverMiri Brayden teeters on a razor’s edge between placating and enraging her brother, whom she depends upon for support. Yet if his anger is unleashed, so is his madness. Miri must keep his descent into lunacy a secret, or he’ll be committed to an asylum—and she’ll be sent to the poorhouse.

Ethan Goodwin has been on the run all of his life—from family, from the law … from God. After a heart-changing encounter with the gritty Reverend John Newton, Ethan would like nothing more than to become a man of integrity—an impossible feat for an opium addict charged with murder.

When Ethan shows up on Miri’s doorstep, her balancing act falls to pieces. Both Ethan and Miri are caught in a web of lies and deceit—fallacies that land Ethan in prison and Miri in the asylum with her brother. Only the truth will set them free.

So when you need a break from your story world, pick up A HEART DECEIVED, available by David C. Cook and at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and ChristianBook.

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Use of Humor in Thriller Novels

Don’t we need humor in life to make it through? Life is hard. I have two very serious jobs. I’m a real life pediatric ER RN and a suspense novelist. Those can be heavy days but they can also be fun days—by using a little humor to get through.

LaughterMarriage is no different, right? Humor is necessary. What are some of the funniest things that have happened between you and your spouse? To take a break from discussing serious subjects: like death, trauma, and writing suspense—I thought I’d take a humor break and share some funny highlights from my married life.

Do you find that opposites attract? That’s the truth with my husband and I. He’s the quiet introvert. I’m the more outspoken extrovert. He gets queasy at the site of blood. Obviously, I do not. What we have seems to work—as we’ve been married fifteen years.

During our dating years, we were set to see a movie. I drove to his place and let myself in—and then sat there fuming when he was nowhere to be found. This was before the age of everyone having a cell phone. Finally, his phone rings. I answer. He’s on the line. “Where are you?” He asks. “Where are you?” I ask right back. He says, “I’m at your place!”—“Well, I’m where you should be.”

Other funny moments? Let’s see—teaching kindergarten Sunday school with his ex-girlfriend. Well, we can laugh about that now.

My husband likes to trim his own hair. One day, he mistakenly forgot to put the spacer on the clippers and took a swipe. Without much introduction, he comes into the living room and asks me, “Can you fix this?” with one bald stripe down the middle of his head.

I burst out laughing so hard—I still crack up thinking about it. ER nurse, honey—not hairdresser extraordinaire.

Then, add kids to the mix and the potential for a good laugh multiplies. We have two daughters age 8 and 10. When my youngest was perhaps 4 y/o—she was just in one of these pestering type moods. After several attempts at redirection, I finally just say, “Please, just get out of my hair!” In her sweet, innocent voice, she says—“But, I’m not in your hair.”

Sometimes, readers need lighter moments to get them through serious subjects or intense novels, too. I have a very dry sense of humor. My debut medical thriller, Proof, dealt with some very serious subjects and I thought whilst writing the ms—I really do need some moments of levity.

Hence, the humorous pairing of my odd couple detectives, Nathan Long and Brett Sawyer. Nathan means business. He’s serious and organized—bordering on an undiagnosed case of OCD. A southern gentleman. Brett’s the laid back easy type—maybe plays a little bit loose with the rules to get the job done. Often, their interactions provide comic relief in Proof. Let me give one example: an elderly woman with some questionable underwear choices serving them tea with a heavy dose of liquor during an interview. You may think that would never happen. Well, just recently I had a 14y/o show up just in his skivvies—at the ER. That’s right—just the white cotton briefs. And let me say—he was not deathly ill. Plenty of time for that young man to get dressed.

What about you? What’s the most humorous thing that’s happened in your married/dating/writing life? I’d love to know—could end up in my next book.

Names withheld—of course.

An Open Letter to All the Literary Agents I’ve Not Yet Contacted

I know that among the readers here are some who are actively seeking an agent, or who are anticipating doing so soon. You may find yourself having to create a separate file for agent rejections one day, and for that, I offer my sympathies in advance. Plus this tongue-in-cheek open letter, which I coincidentally penned immediately before signing with WordServe Literary. Please feel free to use it in the advancement of your own writing career.


Dear Literary Agent,

If you think I haven’t read your blog, you’re wrong. I thought I’d clear that up right away.

I am so diligent, I’ve even delved into your ambitious archives, perusing entries from as long ago as two weeks. At this point, I know what you’re looking for in a client even better than you do. In fact, because I am such a devoted student of your career, writings, and personal life (including that foxy photo of you on your Harley, va-voom!), I feel I can say without a doubt that I am your next dream author.

How can I be so sure? I am glad you asked!

For one thing, you’ve very clearly expressed your preference for having “good writing” sent your way. At first when I read this, I said “Doh!” but then I gave it some serious thought. I’m betting your definition of good writing is the same as my BFF’s, which means I’m in luck.

Attached is the only scene I’ve slapped together so far. After you read it (get a move on!) and I’ve agreed to be represented by you, I will gladly crank out the rest of the novel. It could take a while, though, so I’d advise you to keep your high hopes in check. I am currently in communication with many notable agents. I even know several of them by name and have called their assistants to verify whether or not “Ricky” is a Mr. or a Mrs. or a Miss. You’ll certainly realize that developing these relationships represents a considerable time commitment on my part.

In addition, submitting a proposal for a book I haven’t gotten around to writing would be a giant waste of my time and talents, as I am sure you will agree.

Second, you have indicated you don’t want to sign any high-maintenance, best-seller wannabes. I can assure you that I’ve never personally obtained a mani-pedi (photos availble upon request). Also, I can produce a matched set of yellowed postcards from my dentist verifying that I am nine years behind in my supposedly every-six-months (ha!) check-ups. No way am I high-maintenance! If you’ll either call me on my cell or email me within fourteen minutes of receiving this—as you should if you are truly the professional you profess yourself to be—we can discuss this point until I’m satisfied that you understand.

Third, you state that any client you take on must have a platform already in place. Bingo! We have a winner! I have been an active blogger for twelve plus years, during which time I have chronicled with sterling clarity my aging mother’s propensity for swearing like a drunken Marine (no worn-out cliches here, baby!) as well as her advancing incontinence.

Google my stats and you’ll see I now have six regular readers, half of whom have agreed to be sent free copies of my first book in exchange for 1-starred reviews on Amazon. You cannot buy (though I’m not against the idea, per se) that kind of fan loyalty.

Finally, you say you are seeking authors who seem unlikely to end up one-hit wonders. While I’d prefer not to promise you the moon until my staggering work of heartbreaking genius reaches the top of the NYT list, I think it’s pretty safe to say there’s PLENTY more wherever that first scene came from. Or I guess I should say, “from where that first scene came.”

In conclusion, I am absolutely brimming with potential, just the way you like ‘em.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Very soon.

Best regards,
Katy McKenna

The Awesome Power of Humor in Writing

“Lord, please don’t let me die in a CVS bathroom,” a young friend of mine, Kelli, posted on her Facebook status during the Texas Tornadoes of Tuesday, the day when semi-trucks flew like box kites.

I thought, What a great way to handle a crisis: with a prayer on your lips, your sense of humor intact.  Not only that, but I knew that keeping a sense of humor in spite of the stress and danger, would be calming both to Kelli and the frightened folks with her — because it is hard to think of something funny and be terrified at the same time.

Just moments before Kelly’s post, I had been talking to my daughter Rachel, who lives in small town Forney, Texas, and with whom I’m writing a humor food blog and book by the same name (We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook). Tornadoes are so commonplace in Texas that when Rachel answered the phone with, “Hi, Mom. I’m in the bathtub with the baby and a mattress pulled over our heads,”   I almost asked, “Again?”

This would be our third cell phone conversation this year with my daughter scrunched in the tub with her baby, her phone, her lap top, a mattress overhead. This is simply “Life in Texas” during tornado season; but  in my fifty-three years of doing the Bathtub Tornado Preparedness routine, I’ve never seen one funnel cloud.  Hard to take those TV tornado warnings seriously when they seem to happen every little whip-stitch in the Springtime.

But then Rach said, “Mom, the weatherman just shouted that a tornado has hit a Forney school.” Rachel lives only a half-mile from a Forney high school and elementary school.

All the blood drained from my face.

“Honey, stay on the phone with me…” I said, and then heard nothing from her end of the cell phone but snap, crackle, pop, followed by  … silence.  I called back, but cell phone service had ceased in her area.

I grabbed the remote, flipped on the TV only to see the words “Forney,Texas” flashing, with scenes of the menacing tornado playing across the screen.

Sick with fear, it was ten, long, excruciating minutes before Rachel called back to report she was fine, not even a drop of rain. She sounded calm, but then she’d not yet seen what had just miraculously missed her home.

I cried, my husband Greg (who is not only CEO of WordServe, but a stellar comforter) hugged me. My legs now Jell-o, I sat down, glanced at my computer and my eyes landed on Kelly’s brave/funny status post (from somewhere near Greenville, Texas) and somehow… I managed a laugh.  And with that first laugh, calm began to flow through my veins, and my traumatized brain began the process of soothing itself.

I fell in love with President Reagan the day he calmed an entire country with the words, “Who’s minding the store?” soon after he and several others had been shot.  If Reagan could still joke, and we could still laugh, everything would be okay. America breathed a collective sigh of relief, thanks to the President’s cool head and sharp wit.

I’ve written three books with brain specialists, and I’m proud that I could gather enough middle-aged brain cells to write something serious and science-based.   But what flows from my soul and my pen most naturally is humor.  I used to feel that writing humor was somehow less important, not terribly “literary.”  I know many serious writers who still believe that writing humor takes less intelligence, less skill, and not much depth of thought.  To those writers, I say, “Try it. Then, let’s talk.”  I once heard an interview in which Barbara Mandrell’s little sister (“the blond ditzy one”) said, with a wise wink, “It takes a lot of smarts to play dumb.”  It also takes a tremendous amount of skill to be self-deprecatingly funny on paper, without being corny, or forced, or silly.

Over my writing career, I’ve received hundreds of letters or emails that read something like,  “Someone gave me a copy of your book while I sat with my dying mother in the hospital, and we both laughed until we cried. Thank you for giving us that happy memory together.”  Or, “I lost my husband last year and could not read anything serious or heavy.  But your stories, and the laughter… oh, how healing it was to laugh again!”  And on and on.

My time with the brain doctors taught me that laughter is a gift to every cell in our body. If you can write stories that bring a grin or a chuckle, you share a priceless gift with your readers. You give them a short mental vacation from their worries and those common looping, overly-serious thoughts.  Laughter helps re-set the brain from negativity to lightheartedness in a short amount of time.

Whether you write books of humor, or just sprinkle some well-placed wit into your prose, there is no genre that cannot be improved, or heart that cannot be lifted, or worried brow that cannot be soothed by a touch of the clown, now and then, from your pen.

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”  Steel Magnolias

Question:  As a reader or a writer, can you recall a time when humor helped you through a dark time, a frightening experience or even a season of grief?  What authors do you admire who consistently help you laugh and perhaps gain some fresh perspective?

The Writer’s Life: On the Edge of the Cliffs of Insanity

BeingThe Cliffs of Insanity a writer can make you crazy.

Think about it:

  • Your literary heritage? A long line of creative alcoholics and drug users: Ernest Hemingway. O. Henry. Tennessee Williams. Dorothy Parker. Edgar Allen Poe.
  • Betting your life on a maybe, dependent on the kindness of others–agents, editors, publishers–for your success. And, really, their decisions have nothing to do with kindness.
  • Balancing your hopes on the seesaw of contradiction: Write your passion. Write what the market wants.
  • Hearing voices. The fictitious ones in your head that you tell what to do–and then you wreak havoc on them when they don’t. Meanwhile, the ever-present voices in the real world–your boss, your spouse, your kids–demand you focus on the here and now. The business meeting. The bills. The moody pre-teen inhabiting your daughter’s body.
  • Facing unending emotional upheaval. Waiting. Rejections. The mixture of joy and jealousy when a friend earns “the call.” (Not that you’d ever admit to even a passing acquaintance with the green-eyed monster. Inconceivable.)

Being a writer can push you to consider changing your name to Poe or Hemingway. The craziest part? You chose this life. You’re committed to this insanity. Here are a few suggestions for managing the madness:

  • Pick your mentors wisely. Just because writing drove others to indulge in mind-altering escapes doesn’t mean you must. I admire my mentors for their lifestyle choices, not just their writing skills.
  • Don’t let all your dreams be based on maybes. I have limited control over my success as a writer. Writing, however, is not all of my life. I’m pursuing other dreams with both short and long-term goals.
  • Choose between your passion and writing for the market. Or not. Maybe you’ll be the lucky author who hits the market when your passions collide with what “they” want. (Romantic-Amish-Vampire-Time-Travel-Steampunk-with-a-moral, anyone?)
  • Jump off the seesaw. The whole “balancing the writing world with the real world” challenge? I may never master that. Sometimes my mind seems full of shrieking eels, all screaming, “If only these people (husband, kids, friends) would leave me alone, I could accomplish the more important goals!” Then I know it’s time to shut down my computer and connect with family.
  • Admit you experience emotions. If emotions are good for our fictional characters, why are they bad for us? Sometimes we’re conflicted: over-the-moon-happy for our friend who landed a contract and also disappointed we’re not the one signing on the dotted line. That’s reality.

I’m curious: Am I the only writer pushed to the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity? How do you keep yourself from leaping off? (And can anyone tell me where the Cliffs of Insanity exist?)  ;o)

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.