The Emerging Story

In third grade, I won a writing contest with my short story, Monica’s Broken Arm. It was my first indication that I might be good at what I loved most: writing and storytelling.

As I grew as a writer and a young woman, I explored many genres and disciplines. But one thread wove through all my efforts and experiments:

God, please give me a story to tell. I don’t want to write a beach novel, a book that women will take with them for mindless reading on their summer vacations.  I want to write something with meaning, something that matters.  I want to write something that will build community, something that will bring people together to know each other more.

Recently, I found this page from my journal, December 2009. Here is what I wrote:

“Holy Jesus, you reign. I rejoice in your sovereignty and I delight in your grace. O, how you love me. Lord, I know you have given me words. You have given me things to say, read, and write, and the skill to use them carefully, efficiently, and productively. I give all my words to you. Please use them. Whatever you put before me, I promise to do the best that I can. Whatever you put before me or inside me, I will bring glory to you with my words. Thank you for the ministry you have given me, as I write.”

One year later, my husband died, tragically and suddenly, two days before Christmas. Overnight, I became a widowed single mom of two little boys who were not yet in kindergarten.

In this rupture of my world, a story emerged.

Yes, it is a story of grief, loss, single parenting, and deepest heartache, but this is also a story of hope, bonding, laughter, overcoming the worst, and getting up again the next morning.

Certainly this isn’t the story I intended to tell, and I won’t say that God allowed my husband’s life to end so my prayers could be answered. But I do wonder if perhaps it happened the other way around: God planted the desire in my heart, so that when such tragedy struck my family, I would know how to respond: to keep writing. In the horrible days, the easier ones, the loneliest nights, and always in honesty.

Robb used to say, “She’s going to be a successful author, and I’m going to retire early.”

Well, the plan looks different than we thought, but it still happened as he said. He retired early. And now I’m writing books.

In my words, may people find hope, grace, courage, and the tools to walk with someone through the valley of greatest tragedy to the sunshine on the other side.

As I asked him, God has given me a story to tell. How is he using your gifts and answering your prayers in ways you had not expected?
For more of Tricia’s story, please visit her at

Top 5 Self-Editing Tips: Structure

Writing is rewriting, and rewriting is self-editing. “But isn’t that the job of the editor after I’ve made the sale?” No. Some writers think running spell-checker is self-editing. Not so much.

“But won’t rewriting my work edit the life out of it?” No, but it will catch the eye of an agent or editor as a well-written manuscript and may lead to a sale.

Obsessive editing during the writing process will destroy your work. However, after you’ve written the first draft, gain some distance and perspective on your manuscript by setting it aside for a few weeks or a couple of months. Now it’s time to rewrite.

Here are my top 5 self-editing tips in their order of importance for polishing your work to a high sheen.

  1. Structure: Think of the structure of your work as an arched bridge spanning a great river. If the contractor takes short cuts (such as using less cement, steel, or fewer bolts) because she’s bored with the process and rushes to the end, the bridge is weakened and will collapse.  The same holds true for both ends of the bridge. If too much cement is used at either end of the bridge, it will collapse from the added weight.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll concentrate on the structure of novels. If the structure of your story is solid, the reader will continue to turn the pages until the ending scene.

The material of the structure is comprised of the elements of the story arc (the basic story thread) held in place by a beginning, middle, and end. Pretty simplistic, huh? Yet the three-act structure has worked since Aristotle’s days whether you write plays, scripts, short stories, or novels.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Some authors maintain they have a four-, five-, six-, or even eight-act structure. I maintain if you break down the parts of their story arcs, you will discover classic Aristotelian structure.

Using the bridge analogy, a car drives onto the bridge. This is the point in the novel when you can lose a reader in the first page or two. I’ve thrown many a book (or manuscript) on the pile beside my bed if nothing happens right away. The author might as well have written “blah, blah, blah-blah, blah.”

A novel that piques the reader’s interest starts as far into the story as possible. I don’t want to know that the protagonist’s parents left him stranded in a snowstorm when he was a toddler and that’s why he’s terrified of snow (or abandonment). That’s back story. The story should begin with stasis (a state of equilibrium) and then the main character, pressed with conflict, reveals her goal.

One of my favorite movies is Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The story throws you into the action, and the back story―Indy’s character, profession, the setting, and the antagonist―are revealed as Act 1 plays out.

As the story progresses into the middle (Act 2) and the bulk of the novel, you should have rising and falling tension as your protagonist encounters numerous obstacles or crises.

The main turning point, or big surprise, comes in the middle of the novel. By this time the reader believes he has the story figured out. You need to turn his assumptions on their head. The major turning point should be such a shock that no one sees it coming. It should keep your reader up at night turning pages.

The crises continue. Will he? Won’t she? Oh, no! What will happen to this character your reader has invested her time in? Will everything turn out all right? How will the story ever end on a happy, satisfying note now?

Tension mounts and we reach another major turning point before we head into the final third act. Every turning point should be a surprise to the reader.

The crises are unrelenting until we reach the climax halfway through the third act. The protagonist faces off against the antagonist. The clash of the titans ensues. A woman faces her attacker or her paralyzing fear. The antagonist is not always a person. A man pushes his wife out of the path of a stampeding herd of cattle. Will he live? You get the picture.

Tie up all the loose ends of your storyline in the denouement―the final resolution of the plot or story arc. Is your ending satisfying? Does the main character live happily ever after? If you live and write in America, trust me, she better if you want to succeed as a professional author. Americans are eternal optimists.

To be continued…

How will you self-edit your novel to make sure your structure is strong enough to carry your storyline through to the end?

Photo credit: Sydney Harbour Bridge with the Opera House in the background by Ian.

WordServe Literary News

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

March New Releases

WordServe has several collaborators who do a fantastic job at writing the message/story for others. Marcus Brotherton collaborated with Jonathan Falwell, pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church (not a WS client) for 1000 Days, a book about the ministry of Christ (Thomas Nelson).

Zeke Pipher launches his book career with Man on the Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life (Howard).

New WordServe Clients

Amanda Jenkins, daughter-in-law of well-known author Jerry Jenkins, is a nonfiction author who has written Journey of a Recovering Perfectionist. She lives in the Chicago area with her filmmaker husband, Dallas, and their four young children, including their newly adopted 5-year-old son. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Tara McClary Reeves, daughter-in-law of football star and head coach Dan Reeves, has written a children’s picture book with Amanda Jenkins titled The Night and the Firefly. She also writes nonfiction. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Tricia Williford, blogger, mother of Tuck and Ty and reluctant widow at a young age–this extraordinary writer ( is putting the finishing touches on her first book with a tentative title of, And Life Comes Back. Part memoir and part practical thoughts for those whose life gets turned upside down. (Agent: Greg Johnson)

New Contracts

Mindy Ferguson, founder of Fruitful Word Ministries and a published author, received her signed contract from AMG Publishing for two Bible studies titled: Eyewitness to Majesty and Eyewitness to Glory. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Fred Hurr, a resident of London, signed a three-book contract with B&H Publishing Group for a series of spiritual warfare novels. The novels are tentatively titled: Light of the Wicked (previously published in the U.K.); Light of the Holy, and Light of God. The contemporary novels are set in Wales and England. These are Fred’s first books! (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Paul L. Williams, a multi-published author, received a contract from New York-based Prometheus Books for his non-fiction investigative work titled Crescent Moon Rising: The Cultural Transformation of America. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Mike Yorkey, collaborator and sports author, got the deal of the month. Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American NBA player for the New York Knicks, has captured the attention of the sports world with his stellar play the last three weeks. It’s “Tebowmania” all over again. Mike had interviewed Jeremy last April for Playing With Purpose: NBA. Back then, he was a nobody. Greg was actually representing Barbour Publishers on a licensing deal, taking the content from this book on Jeremy, having Mike expand it times three, and then selling trade paper rights. Zondervan won the day after multiple offers were turned in over a 24-hour period. Included is a book for kids. (Agent: Greg Johnson)

Joe Wheeler signed a six-book deal with eChristian (Mission Books) for short story collections for boys (2), girls (2), new moms and new dads.  He also signed an audio deal for Great Stories Remembered Vol I, Joe’s first book to sell over 100,000 copies. (Agent: Greg Johnson)

What We’re Celebrating

Amy Sorrells is a finalist in the Thomas Nelson Women of Faith Writing Contest for her novel Comfort and Salvation (recently retitled Canary Song.) Congratulations, Amy!

Barbara Scott and WordServe Fiction Coordinator and Associate Agent Sarah Freese attended the “Writing for the Soul” conference in Denver. Barbara had lunch with Jeana Ledbetter of Worthy Publishing and was able to chat with publishers from Tyndale, Charisma House, Waterbrook, and Marcher Lord. She also had a conversation with client Henry McLaughlin.

Greg Johnson went to Nashville to the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention at the Opryland Hotel. He met with publishers from Thomas Nelson, Howard, Harvest House, Lifeway and Leafwood. He also me with clients Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Craig Parshall, Sue Buchanan, and Tami Weisert.

Share your news with us! What are you celebrating?

Agent versus Agency

If your agent leaves an agency, several issues may crop up that, as an author, you may find surprising. If you follow Christian publishing circles, recently an agent made a change between agencies, and several authors had to make a decision about what to do.

Stay with the agent or the agency.

Several details may play into your decision. What have you done for me lately? Perhaps you’re not on the best of terms with your current agent, and you want a fresh start. Staying with the agency may be a good choice. Or, you have a great working relationship with your agent and can’t imagine not moving forward with him or her. What’s the reputation of the new and old agency? Does it matter to you?

But the decision may not be as easy as just those questions.

Here are a few things I learned that surprised me.

1. You may not be able to leave. This sounds strange, so let me explain further. Your agent may not be able to take you away from the agency. This depends on the contract your agent signed with the agency when they developed their partnership. So, if you love your agent and never foresee parting ways, this may be an important piece of information for you to know. Personally, I never thought about asking this. Though, my agent is president of his agency, so he likely won’t leave himself.

2. Your contract will stay. Even if you leave the agency with your agent, the contract he/she negotiated will probably stay with the agency. This presents an interesting situation. It’s likely you’ll be working with both parties for the duration of the contract. The agency may handle some aspects, and your agent may handle others. Be sure you’re clear on these details.

3. You may have to reorganize. Perhaps your only social media presence was through your agency. Your picture was only on their web site. You blogged only through their outlets. This speaks to not having all of your eggs in one basket. Remember, your name is your brand. This should be developed separate from what your agency does. So, be blogging in multiple places. Have your own web site. The more internet presence you have, the less likely a change like this will affect your ability to get your message out.

What about you? Do you think you’d be more loyal to the agent or the agency?

When Mom and Dad Split Up

Getting an early morning call from your agent can lead to adrenaline induced heart arrhythmias. Working in the ER, I’m trained to assume and prepare for the worst case scenario. That’s the nurse in me. But, what do you do when you get a cryptic message from your agent?

Me—assume the worst. What could he be calling about? Is it an issue with my publisher? Is he dropping me? What could it possibly be?

Not only am I an ER nurse but a suspense author—so I may lean toward the dramatic.

Quick dial back.

The news was not anything I expected. An agent was leaving the fold as Greg mentioned in late December as part of the agency news. What did that mean? The reason for the call was to discuss what would happen to this agency blog when several contributors were leaving.

The WordServe Water Cooler started in the middle of last year as an agency blog with the focus of helping authors a little further back on their writing journey navigate the publishing road. Since it is an agency blog, professionally, it needed to be maintained as such. Those authors choosing to go with their agent to the other agency would not be able to participate.

Problem was—we had become a family along the way.

Initially, when the blog was set up, a Facebook group was started as a communication tool to facilitate signing up for posts. What it morphed into was a true community of authors supporting, encouraging, and praying for one another’s triumphs and difficulties.

Personally, I didn’t want to lose touch with those who were leaving. It felt like my family was splitting up. Greg had tasked me and another author to take over administrating the blog. We began a conversation with the current overseers about how to handle the change.

How this multi-author blogging group handled this agency change has been humbling and inspiring and I believe has some lessons that can be learned by all—both on a personal and professional level.

Here are a few I’d like to highlight.

1. Do not gossip. On our group Facebook page, there would have been ample opportunity to gossip about the situation. Who was leaving? Why were they leaving? What do you think of such and such agency? Agent? I can honestly say this did not happen. Everyone was professional and supportive and prayed over those having to make tough decisions and over those who were most affected by the change.

2. Your decision is personal. Whether or not you decide to stay with a particular agent/agency is a private matter—not a group discussion. Only a few trusted people should be privy to the reasons. This is handling it professionally. Airing grievances publicly, particularly on social media, will come back to bite you. The world of publishing is small, and people will remember how you acted.

3. Create a neutral meeting ground. To meet the need of maintaining those relationships that developed via the Facebook group—a new private group was created where those who left could still interact with those that stayed. Of course, I can’t tell you the name. It’s a secret.

4. Be open to new opportunities. Change is part of life. The choice you make is how you handle it. You may be presented with opportunities to grow and stretch. Don’t be shy about stepping up and learning new things. This month, you’ll see several new talented authors contributing to this blog—including superstar agents Greg Johnson and Barbara Scott. You’ll learn more about marketing and social media from publicity expert Ingrid Schneider. Ever wonder what it’s like to intern at a literary agency? Check out Sarah Freese’s posts.

Question for you—what’s been the biggest change related to publishing/writing you’ve had to deal with?

WordServe Literary News

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

February New Releases

From Santa to Sexting
By Dr. Brenda Hunter and Kristen Blair
Leafwood Publishers
Non Fiction/Parenting


Something New
By Dianne Christner
Barbour Publishers
Historical Fiction

Into the Free
By Julie P. Cantrell
David C. Cook Publishers

Sweeter Than Birdsong
By Rosslyn Elliot
Thomas Nelson Publishers
Historical Fiction

 • • •

 Agent News

Though Rachelle is “gone”, she’s still closing deals for her authors that were submitted last fall: Sandi Bricker got a 3-book contract with Moody for fiction; Billy Coffey a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson for his next two novels; Susie Eller with Regal for a non-fiction book on forgiveness, and several others.

• • •

 Barbara’s New Clients

Dianna T. Benson, EMT and Haz-Mat Operative, is a suspense/thriller novelist.

Terry Brennan, author of The Sacred Cipher published by Kregel, writes political thrillers and is Vice President of the National Organization on Disability in Manhattan.

Ann Lang Bundy, is a former police officer, home-schools her five children, and is a lay Bible scholar. She writes long biblical fiction.

Mary Davis, authored numerous bestselling Barbour/Heartsong books and is writing a longer work of fiction.

Sharon A. Lavy, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren and author of traditional Old Order fiction. Sharon lives with her husband on a farm in southwest Ohio.

Sandra Dionne Mooore, multi-published Barbour/Heartsong author, has written a longer historical fiction novel.

Stephanie Reed, is a published author and currently in the editing stage of an Amish novel for Kregel.

Amy K. Sorrells, a registered nurse, writes women’s fiction.

Janalyn Voigt, will publish her first epic fantasy novels with Harbourlight and is also writing historical fiction.

 • • •

Greg’s Request

Would appreciate prayers for Lauren Scruggs. She as the woman who was in that horrific airplane/propeller accident where she lost her left hand and eye before Christmas in Dallas, Texas. She’s the daughter of WordServe clients Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs (I Do Again).  She’s getting major media constantly contacting her (People magazine, and all of the morning and afternoon talk shows), and I’ve (naturally) been getting calls from publishers. She’ll be making a decision about whether to write a book about it all soon. If she does, it will likely be a family written book, as this experience has tested them all.

• • •

Sarah’s New Client

Kimberly Vargas, Kimberly Vargas has created instructional design content for companies such as Capital One and GEICO, and she is the 2011 Reader’s Favorite award winner for the category of Fiction—Chick Lit for her novel, Gumbeaux.

• • •

 Contract News from Greg

Heather James signed a three-book contract with Kregel Publishers for contemporary suspense. The novels are tentatively titled: Lure; Lust; Lies.  These are Heather’s first books! Kudos to Sarah Freese for helping with the proposal and manuscript.

The Center for Bible Engagement CEO Arnie Cole and Senior Writer Michael Ross signed their second contract with Bethany for a non-fiction book titled: Tempted, Tested, True: A Proven Path to Overcoming Soul-Robbing Behaviors  (their first book, Unstuck, comes out in May).

Using the research from nearly 20,000 surveys, the authors share the new research that reveals a solution to resisting its grip, untangling negative emotions, and breaking free from behaviors that rob our souls of the life God wants to give us.

Gilbert Morris signed a three-book contract with B&H Publishing Group for a historical series called “All That Glitters”. It’s a series set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

Rich Marschall got a contract from Dover Publications for a reprint of 1987 book he wrote called: The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough: Early Writings and Cartoons by Dr. Seuss.  As a former syndicated cartoonist, Rick knew and knows all of the big-time cartoonists/authors from the day.

 • • •

 Other News from Greg

 Author Ken Gire has decided to give back to authors everywhere and do a month or two-month mentoring intensive for new or seasoned writers (reasonably priced). Ken has written both fiction and nonfiction, and is considered one of the finest devotional writers of our time (Intimate Moments with the Savior, among others).  If you or a writer you know is interested in hearing more about what it all entails, please contact me at or Ken directly at You can also find Ken on Facebook. Tell him you read about it on the WaterCooler. (He’s hoping to join us soon!)

• • •

 That’s our good news for the month.

Please share yours in the comments so we can celebrate with you.

How to Get Any Book Into Your Lap…Free!

Have you ever been in the situation of wanting to look up one item in a book, but the book is either expensive or obscure. Chances are you turn to your local library. Many people know about Interlibrary Loan (ILL) within their own library system, but what happens if your library system doesn’t carry a specific book?

In my last post I described how to get ahold of serious research in professional journals by accessing your library’s computer database. Today I want to describe how to get any book, from places all over the world, and have it delivered directly to your library branch?

The first time you do this it may seem tedious, but once you know how, it’s a breeze. I typically order about a dozen books a month this way. Your library system may vary, but here’s how my library does it:

  1. Bring up my library web site: Jefferson County Library
  2. Click on maroon-colored icon called “Research tools”
  3. This brings up:  “Subscription Databases A – Z” Click on this.
  4. In the Databases A to Z, click on “W” and choose “World Cat” or scroll down to “World Cat” Click link.
  5. Search for book. It is best to put several items in the search boxes. For instance, the book title and the author. Here I selected the title Seeking Peace and the author Mary Pipher. (I write about self-care and wanted to see how a bestselling author and psychotherapist burned out and subsequently learned to simplify her life.)
  6. When the world catalog finds your book, either print out the page, move it over to a dual monitor, or jot down the most important items: Publisher, year, and the OCLC number. (For Mary Pipher’s book the OCLC number is at the bottom of the page and is 233547957)
  7. Now go back to your library’s main screen. Choose the blue icon on the left side, “Find Library Books and More” – You will find a link called “Interlibrary Loan Request.” Double click. At the bottom of this page is a link called “ILL form for Books/AV Materials.” Click on that.
  8. Fill out the author, title of book, publisher/place/date, format (book, video, DVD), pick-up location (for me that is “Columbine Library”) and OCLC number.

*I don’t fill out the part about paying money for the request or the “cancel if not filled by date” information.

At the bottom of the page, I type my name and library card number.


Almost any title from across the miles will be delivered right to my library. It takes about a week. If you find this confusing, go into your library and ask how you can use the World Catalog and Interlibrary Loan. Chances are your librarian has a bookmark with instructions already printed on them.

I’m curious, did you know you could do this?  What research tips do you have to offer writers? 

The Write Death


They raced through my brain going Mach 5. Brilliant ideas and heart-grabbing experiences I felt called to share. They screamed to be captured for the multitude, so write I must!

Lassoing the brilliance and transferring it to paper would be a piece of cake. C’mon, I’m from Texas. Throwing a lasso comes naturally.

Full of self confidence with excitement electrifying every nerve, I arranged my desk just so. Lamps dimmed. Candles glowed. Laptop waited. Coffee brewed. I knew something epic was about to happen.

My fingers hovered over the keys. I took a deep breath and slowly typed, “Chapter One.” I stared at the screen at those wondrous words. Enraptured. Savoring each letter.

This was a glorious moment. I had embraced my calling as a writer! And now…time to write. Let the brilliance shine!

Blink. Blink. Blink went the cursor.

Blink. Blink. Blink went my eyes.

Repeat 30 times.

And then it happened. My brain’s hard drive melted like wax. (It must have been all the self-induced brilliance.) The ideas tangled like rubber bands. The mental beavers built a dam at lightening pace – smack dab in the middle of my brain.

My lasso kept missing. The brilliance was just an illusion. My coffee grew cold. In tears, I blew out the candles and turned off the laptop. Those two words were all I typed that night.

And so began the journey of writing my first book. Thrilling, right?

That evening something died, and rightfully so. Ego. Writing a book isn’t about me. It never will be. It’s about an unlasso-able God who desires to communite to me, through me, and oftentimes in spite of me.

In my eagerness to stand as a published writer, I forgot to kneel before the One who called me to it.

That night drastically altered my writing perspective. I don’t care if my desk is tidy. It doesn’t matter if the candles glow softly. It doesn’t matter if the coffee gets brewed. If I don’t start in prayer, I don’t start at all.

Today, Chapter 1 has successfully passed through the hands of my editor. But God accomplished something far greater that night. He caught my fall, reminded me of His love, and encouraged me to start again.

Something epic did happen. Instead of allowing me to capture the perfect phrase, He
re-captured my heart.

Thank you, God, for your brilliant grace.

Let’s chat: What did you experience as you launched into writing your first book? At what point did you have a meltdown (or did you)? What kept you writing after that?

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