Meet My Critique Partner Laura Hilton

Longtime readers of my blog may have an inkling of how long I’ve been on this writing journey, but here’s a quick recap. I started writing in 2005, beginning with non-fiction articles and two book manuscripts before turning my attention to fiction. My first attempt at a novel in 2008 was truly awful but the rewrite in 2009 actually went on to be Runner-Up in ACFW’s Genesis contest. That same year I started blogging…and connected with the critique partner I still have today as I’m working on my seventh fiction manuscript. Laura Hilton is the first person to see my stories now and it’s a pleasure to share a bit of her amazing journey with you as well.

What do you remember about us becoming critique partners? What were you looking for?

I discovered you in Scribes (just one of the many benefits as a member of ACFW), I think, when it started … I read some of your chapters and loved your style of writing and you reciprocated by critiquing my chapters and you were exactly what I was looking for in a critique partner without my even knowing what I was looking for! I just knew I was sick of the “Yes crowd” who found nothing wrong. I needed someone who stretched me.  

Where were you at that point in your writing journey?

I was at the point where all I heard was “no” from agents and publishers, and … Dee Henderson offered a free writing evaluation that one of my friends told me about it. My friend was at the same stage as me then and she was told that her writing was good enough to be published. I wondered what Dee Henderson would say about my writing. So I submitted the chapter for the evaluation, and waited on pins and needles for a commentary on what was wrong.

What I got back was the same thing she told my friend. My writing was good enough to be published. I wondered if she even read it and if that was her standard answer to everyone. (It wasn’t.  She was truthful. I didn’t ask her, but I heard from several others who did get detailed reports about what was wrong and why.)

How many manuscripts had you finished at that point or before you got an agent?

Ha. Well, I don’t exactly know. Shadows of the Past, First Love, one that I can’t remember the title of (I have lost that manuscript somewhere over the course of time), Hot Chocolate, First Class Wrong Flight, Presque Isle, Love Offering… I think I actually acquired my agent with Love Offering, but she refused to represent that book because it was a “Hosea/bad girl” type story. And then there was On The Run.

After my first two books (Shadows of the Past and Hot Chocolate) were published with a small press, I went to a conference. I met with a couple big name agents, sure I’d wow them. Instead I got comments like “you need a platform.” I asked what a platform was (I was new) and was told “If you have to ask, you don’t have one.” Okay then. So I was afraid to approach the agent who had expressed some interest in me until some time later. She was the one who eventually referred me to my current agent (who was at that time part of her agency and in charge of ‘romance’).

When we met and started doing critiques for each other, I remember seeing assorted chapters of Hot Chocolate, Presque Island, and actually found an early chapter from On the Run on my computer. But what I remember most was you getting your first three-book contract with Whitaker House and our starting to work through that first Amish book Patchwork Dreams. How many books have you written since then?

Again, I don’t know how many you’ve helped me with. There were several proposals in there that never went anywhere. They might, someday. Maybe. I know you critiqued some of the books I wrote before I was agented as I attempted to clean them up for various publishers. And then of course there were the ones that were published. Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts, Promised to Another, Healing Love, Surrendered Love, Awakened Love, A White Christmas in Webster County (all with Whitaker House), followed by Swept Away (Abingdon Press), then The Snow Globe, The Postcard, The Birdhouse, The Amish Firefighter, The Amish Wanderer, One without a title yet coming in 2018, The Christmas Admirer (all for Whitaker House) and Married by Mistake (Barbour Books).

That’s a lot of books and a bunch of characters to have had rambling around inside your head. Oh, and I also remember Christmas Mittens, which you published independently in there too. You’ve become quite the book machine. How many did you write and/or release last year? And what does the schedule look like for 2017?

I wrote about 4 or 5 stories last year. One was released. So far in 2017, I have The Amish Wanderer releasing in February by Whitaker House; a novella, The Kissing Bridge releasing in April with Celebrate Lit; a novella, Married by Mistake releasing in August with Barbour; The Christmas Admirer releasing in September by Whitaker House; a novella, Silver Bells releasing in October in an Indie collection; and maybe another Indie book, First Class, Wrong Flight. That one was supposed to be in a collection released in November of last year but it was delayed due to a few unforeseen problems with a few of the other authors. And then in February 2018 I have the book with the title yet unknown releasing with Whitaker House. Hopefully, there will be more after that.

I’m exhausted just thinking about writing that much but also excited to see new stories arriving in my inbox. I count it a privilege to do my part with a critique now and then to help stretch your stories to new heights. So, what can you tell us about February’s release, The Amish Wanderer?

Bethany Weiss has been fascinated by Silas Beiler since he spent a couple of years in Jamesport, Missouri, before he and his family moved to another Amish community. They hadn’t kept in touch, but she hasn’t forgotten the friendly young man who brought her lemonade and took her home once from a Singing years ago. When she finds a man sleeping in her family’s barn, like Jesus sleeping in the hay, she is stunned to recognize Silas. He’s left the Amish and is backpacking across the country. She talks him into staying, at least until after Christmas.

Silas’ family has never been happy living in one area for long, and their vagabond ways are wearing on him. He’s lived in Amish communities all over the nation, moving whenever his daed became disgruntled with the leaders, and he’s looking for some sense of stability. His intentions are to make it back to Pennsylvania and stay with his Englisch onkle and his family—and pursue an education. Will Bethany be the one to bring Silas in from the cold? Or will he continue on his way to his extended family and become Englisch?

I personally can’t wait to read the finished product, especially since your books aren’t the typical Amish stories. I love how your characters face more modern challenges and discover a true faith in God through the struggles. Laura, thanks for sharing a glimpse into your writing journey as evidence that perseverance pays off. And readers, you won’t be disappointed in a Laura Hilton book, so check them out at these links:

Find her books: http://www.amazon.com/Laura-V.-Hilton/e/B004IRSM5Q 

Visit her blogs: http://lighthouse-academy.blogspot.com/  & http://lauravhilton.blogspot.com/ 

twitter: @Laura_V_Hilton

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Laura-V-Hilton/161478847242512

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/vernetlh/

Writing As Warfare To Push Back the Darkness

 

Earlier this year, an agent made a few predictions about the writing industry in 2017 and triggered a great debate about the future of Christian fiction. In a Facebook group I’m a part of, Mary Weber, author of the Storm Siren series, hammered back at the questions with the truth that Christian fiction will continue as long as there are Christians who write. She eloquently stated that we use our writing as warfare. That we personally soak in God’s truth through our personal devotional times and then go out to share Jesus to different corners of the world through the stories we tell. Whether we write fantasy or romance, historical or dystopian, or even for the general market or for the Christian market…our words shine a light into the darkness.

A few days later, a writing group I’m part of discussed how hard it is to even write sometimes. That we get stuck and it seems like life is conspiring against us with distractions and discouragement…yet this is often because we are working on a story that will transform hearts with truth. Almost as if we face a spiritual battle to even bring the words to the page. And that by choosing to power through with prayer, we are actually using our writing as warfare to push back the lies of the enemy.

About a week after these discussions, our pastor shared a prayer from the Global Leadership Summit that the church staff prays daily…and it certainly applies to my work as an author using my writing as warfare.

“God, this is a new day. I freshly commit myself to the role You have invited me to play as You are building Your church in this world. I am awestruck again today that You include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavor. So today I joyfully offer You: my love, my heart, my talents, my energy, my creativity, my faithfulness, my resources, and my gratitude. I commit all of myself to the role You have assigned me in the building of Your church so that it may thrive in this world. And I will “bring it” today. I will bring my best. You deserve it. Your church deserves it. It is the Hope of the World.”

What is my small role in building God’s church? To demonstrate how God’s love changes everything. To show that true peace is possible in the middle of chaos. That broken hearts can be made whole. That everyone has a place in God’s family if they want it. That we Christians are still wondering, wandering, doubting, tripping, works-in-progress. That God is setting up a Kingdom on Earth and evil will ultimately be defeated.

When I tell the story of a bitter athletic trainer learning to forgive and look past the surface of a person’s skin, I’m offering a glimpse into God’s unfailing love. When an orphaned actress relies on faith to satisfy her parched soul before finding a family to call her own, readers catch a glimpse of that same joy to know that God dances over them. When a disillusioned photographer sees past religious rules to focus instead on the beauty of God’s love… When a desperate diva craving the spotlight finds the acceptance her heart yearns for and learns to sing a new song for an Audience of One… When a success-driven professional learns to serve… When a self-sufficient handyman accepts help… When a burned-out caregiver finds a fresh purpose in life… Or even when a bookworm lifts her eyes to see the real adventure around her…

Every story shines light. Every character discovers something new about God. Every reader soaks up a little more hope for the journey.

That’s why I will keep writing stories of faith, hope, and love. Because I have a lot to say and writing as warfare pushes back the darkness with the truth of God’s love.

Paralyzing Procrastination

So much to do and so little time. And what do I do? Almost nothing, except sit around guilt-ridden for how little has gotten done in the last month. (Please tell me someone out there can relate to this paralyzing procrastination!)

This year started out with such high hopes. My list of goal projects was ambitious but certainly doable, especially since I had discovered a new plan that would help me get the main things done while holding on to my precious sanity. Then I found myself fighting a bit of a cold and the resulting bleah feeling made it perfectly logical to put off a few afternoon tasks while I rested up and read a good book. One book led to three more and a gradual return to energy and focus.

Except I also found myself behind on my self-imposed editing goal. Of course, editing this book is really more like a complete rewrite since I wrote it so fast last November. The pages are riddled with present tense,whole paragraphs of telling, and complete dialogue exchanges missing all forms of punctuation. Can we say tedious? But that’s okay, because even if I didn’t make as much daily progress as I’d hoped, the good words would eventually start to add up.

Then the second-guessing began. Should I really be focusing on that snail-progress editing job first or on the non-fiction, mentor-other-authors-and-make-a-little-income business idea that’s screaming from its second place in line? The income generated would take pressure off the financial need for the dwindling day job and free up more time to write…but the income won’t come until the content is written…and the content won’t get written until the editing job is done, which at this current pace might be May.

Unless I switched the two projects around in order. Or tried to do both at once while wrestling with a not-so-low-level of guilt that I really should be actually working on something and making a whole lot more progress instead of simply treading water dabbling in two projects at once. Not to mention, there’s a potential agent out there who could jump start a completely different project with a need for a second book in that fresh series. And a coming editorial letter from my publisher for February 2018’s contracted release so I’d have to stop work on whatever I’m finally doing in order to meet that deadline.

Yikes! And all because I have too many amazing projects on my wishlist for this year and since it wasn’t completely clear which should come first, I stalled out on everything for a few weeks.

Whew. So I think I’ve sorted through the quagmire and tallied all the pros/cons and decided to tackle the non-fiction project first. Get that guilt off my back and start generating a little income. Then let the editorial letter changes re-ignite a passion for this series and put some sparkle (and speed!!) back into my editing project. Freeing me up for that next book or series to write.

Actually, now that I think about it, both projects I’ve been wrestling with were slated for this first quarter of the year. And if both get mostly done, it’s still a win. If only I hadn’t spent so much time paralyzed by procrastination before busting through to actually make progress.

What about you? Are there projects that you dread and keep putting off? Or are they too massive to comprehend and even thinking about it makes you tired so you never start? How do you bust through procrastination?

Learning To Abide

abideAbide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5 ESV)

When I started thinking about this new year, my mind immediately jumped to a list of things I’d love to accomplish. Books I’d like to write or publish. A business idea to launch. Financial goals to reach. Dreams for our family along with memory-making trips and experiences. All great stuff and ambitious things to aim for…but also overwhelming in terms of how much time and work it would involve to get those things done.

And suddenly I was tired before the year even began. I wanted a fruitful life, but somehow forgot that it doesn’t all depend on my efforts. Fruit happens when I stay connected to the Source of life. When I’m disconnected, I inevitably fail…and get all brittle and dried out in the process.

So, in 2017, I’m learning to Abide. Well, actually I’m trying to remember a lesson that God taught me five years ago when I spent a year blogging about the idea of being like a tree planted by the streams and bringing forth fruit in season. (Check out my “Tree Theme” category of posts or read them all in one place in Be Like A Tree.) I guess that means I’m a slow learner or maybe that I need to grow the idea at a deeper level this time around.

Abide. To accept or act in accordance with. (Not doing my own thing. Ouch.) To hold, conform, adhere, or stick to. (Think Super glue and we can’t be separated.) To stay or live somewhere. (Not a momentary thing but a permanent settling in and making myself at home.) To remain or continue with. (Think long-term commitment.) Abide.

On a practical level, that means putting God first. Seeking Him for wisdom to prioritize the day’s tasks. Returning often to prayer as needs and questions arise throughout the day. Staying in an attitude of worship through music playing on the radio. Turning my thoughts toward the question of what God would have me do in this situation. Listening to that still small voice for direction. Being still as I stop striving and instead let God fight my battles. Partnering with Him when I sit down to create. Feeding my mind truth throughout the day.

But mostly just being aware of God’s presence in my life. Letting Him hold, carry, and flow through me moment by moment.

If I can grasp what it means to abide in Him this year, the fruit will happen as a by-product. Or else, I’ll discover I was trying to grow the wrong kind of fruit in the first place. Either way, it will be a good year.

What about you? What is God teaching you (or reminding you of) lately? What kinds of fruit would you like to see in your life? What does abiding look like to you?

Too Much Stuff

clutter-560701_1280Everywhere I look, I see too much stuff. And not just stuff, a lot of dust-covered stuff. Which tells me two things. First, I hate dusting, especially in and around the nooks and crannies of all my stuff. And second, all that dust tells me that the items in question have not been used or moved in way too long and I should probably get rid of them so I don’t have to dust them anymore. Not to mention, dusting empty surfaces is so much easier than cluttered ones and then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t dread dusting so much.

I read a book a few weeks ago that talked about unshackling our lives from our stuff, obligations, fears, etc. in order to have the white space or margin to think creatively as well as the time to focus on the things that matter most.

I know it’s true in my life. I have a hard time sitting down to do one thing—especially to relax or recharge my mental batteries—when a dozen other things are screaming to be done. And it’s really hard to think positively and creatively about writing a novel when a chunk of my heart feels like a failure as a housekeeper, mother, wife, cook, or friend simply because of a packed schedule that never quite gets done. I guess guilt is some of the “stuff” that I need to get rid of.

So, in 2017, I’ve started a system to help get control of the gazillion details, appointments, and need-to-do’s that clutter my mind. Armed with detailed lists in an app that will filter them out to me on the required date or only one next task at a time for the big projects, my daily and weekly schedules have developed some breathing room. The lists are still there so I won’t forget anything, but they are out of sight. All I see is a prioritized handful of things to do today that easily fit within the routines of my day. Just breathe in that thought for a moment. Ah.

The mental clutter is getting under control, but that still leaves too much stuff in my house.

The book I read had a few rules about getting rid of the physical clutter. First, do I use it? Second, do I love it? (Meaning it’s okay to keep a few things around that remind you of a loved one or a special vacation or simply because they are beautiful and speak to your soul.) Third, if it fails the first two tests and I’m keeping it only because I might someday need it, what would it cost to get a new one if that time ever comes?

This process of physically decluttering is taking longer than the mental part, but I can already feel the load lifting as I tackle a shelf, drawer, cupboard, or counter per day. Some gets trashed. Some gets returned back to where it should have been in the first place. Some will get listed on Craigslist or Ebay to make a little money, but more stuff gets added to the donation box. And the lucky things that remain find their own breathing room in a clean and organized environment.

Bit by bit, I’m conquering my problem of too much stuff. Of course, I’ll still need to sweep through the house and my calendar on a regular basis because I’m not the only one who lives here, but the very thought of breathing room in my home and my mind is motivation enough to keep it up.

What about you? Do you have too much stuff? How hard is it to get rid of things you haven’t used in a year? Can you imagine the freedom if there was less stuff cluttering your home and mind?

Get Your “But” In Order

but-godDo I have your attention? When I say to get your “but” in order, I’m not talking about prying my lazy book-reading carcass off the couch and heading to the gym. (Although this time of year, that might be a good idea too!) The “but” I’m talking about is a mental shift. An attitude adjustment that will make all the difference in your faith walk this year.

Let’s see if I’m the only one who has ever said something like this. “Dear God, I know that You are faithful and loving and own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know You are good and merciful and can provide all that I need, but I can’t see past the pile of bills that’s keeping me up at night. I’d be willing to work more except my health isn’t the greatest and my schedule is tight since I take care of the kids and…”

God is ______, BUT I’ve got a problem. (And another problem and another.)

What if we changed the order of that sentence?

Try this instead. “God, I’ve got a pile of bills that’s keeping me up at night and I can’t see how to solve the problem given my health and childcare issues, BUT I know that You are more than able to provide for our family’s needs. I know You can supply wisdom and open doors. I know that You are good and excel at giving clean slates and second chances to those who rely on Your grace and mercy.”

I have a problem (or ten), BUT God is ________.

The reversed order in this sentence takes the focus off of myself and onto who God is. It puts the focus on God’s power instead of my problems.

And it echoes the cry of the Psalmist. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is my strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Life happens. Tears get shed. Hearts get broken, but God restores.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

Making the decision to get your “but” in order this year might be semantics, but I believe the you’ll feel the difference. What do you think? How would you reword your current prayers to get your “but” in order?

Goal Setting 2017 Style

goal_setting2017Can you feel the anticipation a New Year brings? The blank pages of my calendar are loaded with days just waiting for a taste of the adventure 2017 holds. And if you’ve spent any time reading my blog at all, you know that I am big on goal setting so that those days get filled with meaningful activities that bring me closer to my Big Picture Dream. Because while I might not hit the target or reach the destination, having goals keeps my eyes focused on the things that matter the most. Not to mention, it sure beats wandering around aimlessly for months wondering if I should be doing something!

Of course, I spent last week in serious reflection about 2016’s goals and took an honest measurement in how I did. You can read about my 2016 goals here, but here’s the short version. I determined that I was going to “FOCUS” on five areas of my life: Faith, Family, Fiction, Fitness, and Finances with a few smaller goals in each area.

Some areas were harder to measure, but I believe we successfully launched my oldest son from high school into his first year of college. I found outlets of service at our church and we transitioned away from using a credit card to actually having an emergency fund in our savings account. I walked what felt like a gazillion miles (even if Fitbit would disagree) and found a writing rhythm as I completed two new manuscripts, launched my second novel, and signed a contract for the third. Focus was certainly needed, especially when I found myself rising before dawn to write (a.k.a. Turtle Power), but I also struggled to maintain a healthy balance between life and my self-imposed deadlines.

Which brings me to my goal setting plan for 2017.

I feel like God is telling me that my word for the year is “ABIDE” where I learn to stay intimately connected to Jesus and let His life flow through me to bear fruit. There may be storms on the horizon as well as new opportunities, but the only way to remain unshaken and deeply-rooted is to learn how to abide.

In keeping with the vine-branch-root analogy, I can also see my life as a tree with six big branches: Faith, Family, Fiction, Fitness, Finances, and Friends. (I added that last one mid-way through 2016 when I realized that I had let my priorities slide and was losing touch with the real people in my life and replacing them with online writing connections and fictional characters.) Within each area, I have created a mini-list of things I’d like to change, improve upon, or do in the coming year. Those include everything from exercise goals and financial numbers to speaking opportunities and book releases.

Rather than spell them all out, I’d like to share a new strategy I’m using to design my days and weeks for the most impact in using my gifts and calling to reach my Dream.  (Check out Tracy Higley’s Impactivity series for more of what I’m talking about.) By setting up an electronic task system, I’ve moved most of my to-do list and scribbled notes about future ideas into an organized structure that will trickle them out when I need to do them but also assure that they won’t get lost. I’ve also determined to de-clutter my physical spaces and email inbox to create the white space necessary for creativity. Using another one of her ideas, I’ve built more into my existing morning and afternoon routines (“habit chains”) in order to get most of my daily tasks done without much thought.

Why? To free up the mental and emotional energy I need to spend on the projects that matter most. The projects that use my unique gifts and callings to impact the world. It’s not about getting more done, but rather about finding joy as I make continued progress toward the Dream of telling stories of Faith, Hope, and Love that encourage others in their life journey and point to God as the source of all I could ever need.

What does that look like? An early hour of writing where I can romp creatively through the ideas tickling the back of my mind. A couple hours of morning routine as I get the kids out the door, laundry done, cleaning chore done, supper planned and thawing, etc. followed by my personal devotional time as soon as the house is quiet. The rest of the morning is dedicated to a focused chunk of time where I work on the next project on my dream list or knock out a batch of marketing tasks on Mondays. Noon brings a “power hour” to clear emails and make phone calls in addition to lunch. Thanks to my past health issues, I need a nap and some recharging time before my kids get home. The afternoon is devoted to family tasks like carpools, sports, going on a walk, homework, a craft project, de-cluttering a shelf, and fixing supper with the evenings reserved for reading a book or crocheting (or if I’m on a deadline, another focused work period) before bedtime.

Of course, I’ll let you know how this plan works in the real world, but I can already see the healthy balance between personal care, family time, household tasks, spiritual feeding, busy-work, marketing, and blocks of time for creativity along with times to recharge. And within those focused times to write, I’ve got a prioritized list to work down…but no deadlines to create extra stress or guilt. Can you just feel the weight lift off and the joy return?

So that’s my goal setting plan for 2017. What about you? Do you pick a word for the year and let that influence every area of your life? Do you make a long list of goals or stick to a few you can count on one hand? Do you have a plan to get it all done or expect to burn-out in the first month of effort?

Christmas Came Early This Year

bling-third-contractEvery year, I find myself struggling to get my to-do list accomplished so I can finally sit down, relax, and enjoy the season. In the scramble to finish this year’s projects and brave the stores for those remaining perfect gift ideas, it’s sometimes hard to remember the blessings.

But Christmas came early for me this year and I’m excited to share the highlights. (In other good news, my house is already decorated, the traditional cheese balls and salamis are made, the shopping is complete, and all that remains is the wrapping.)

The first gift? I signed a new contract for my third novel with Bling! Romance. Focus On Love is the sequel to Dance Over Me and brings readers back to The Wardrobe Dinner Theater. Tentatively scheduled to release in February of 2018, I’m looking forward to the editing and other production phases during the coming year.

Next? I tackled NaNoWriMo to get a jump start of the third book in that series and am so excited to report that I wrote “The End” of Sing A New Song last week. Of course, by writing that fast, the story is a sloppy mess of a first draft so I’ll be starting 2017 with a major revision goal. But, it’s done…and that means I wrote two complete books this year in addition to launching my second published novel.

Third? My college boy came home for Christmas. We expected him to be home for a short eight-day window starting today…but as a red-shirting basketball player, his coach gave him the entire Christmas break off. That means he showed up last Tuesday and gets to stay for another three weeks!! Which all goes to show that this Mama is thrilled to have all her kiddos under the same roof again, even if the laundry basket is overflowing and milk jug is running low.

With a week until Christmas, my heart is overwhelmed with blessings and I’m very aware of God’s presence in my life as we prepare to celebrate the season when God came down to dwell with mankind.

So, pardon me while I curl up with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate beside our tree, because Christmas came early.

Behind the Scenes with Author Marian Merritt

marian-merritt-2In a world where authors invest hours creating complex characters with unique quirks and set them loose into an adventurous romp through the pages, well sometimes the author becomes anonymous. And yet, we authors have our own unique likes, dislikes, and fun facts. So today, I’d like to take you behind the scenes with Marian Merritt with what she calls “Ten Things.”

Ten Things she likes a lot:

  • Jesus
  • My Family
  • Sunshine
  • Rain
  • Snow – only when it’s falling
  • Baby Giggles
  • Puppies (who doesn’t love puppies?)
  • Optimism
  • Vintage Sports Cars
  • Saints and Broncos Football

Ten Things she dislikes a lot:

  • Negativity
  • Shoveling snow
  • Dull knives
  • Feeling helpless
  • Burrs in my dogs fur
  • Flies in my kitchen or soup!
  • Bullies
  • Insincerity
  • Painful shoes
  • Liver

And Ten Things about her that are pretty unique when you think about it.

  • She cried when she saw Michelangelo’s David.
  • She drives a truck.
  • She has climbed Diamond Head in Hawaii.
  • She has owned two Harley Davidson motorcycles – A Sportster 883 and a Road King Classic.
  • She believes in pursuing your dreams.
  • She can shuck an oyster.
  • She graduated with a degree in physical therapy at thirty-four.
  • She has walked on the Great Wall of China.
  • Most of her childhood was spent running around barefoot.
  • She “kinda” speaks Cajun French. (Can understand a lot and speak a little.)

gumbo-weather And…drumroll please…one last super-exciting thing. Marian has a new book release just in time for Christmas! Check out Gumbo Weather: A Bijou Bayou Christmas Novella (plus it’s priced at just $.99 — that’s a gift!)

Colorado sports reporter, Noel Winters heads to Louisiana after finding love letters in her deceased mother’s belongings. When her car breaks down near Bijou Bayou, a handsome, struggling pitcher and part-time mechanic comes to her rescue by fixing her car, and offering to help her find her father. Only problem? As her alias, Micki Barrett, Noel wrote an article criticizing Justin Gravois’s big league debut. Now she’s fallen for him, can she ever find the courage to tell him the truth? Justin Gravois, professional pitcher, wanted to make his uncle proud. When he finally got his shot, his dream turned into a nightmare. It didn’t help that sports reporter, Micki Barrett, wrote such terrible things about him. Now, Justin wants to forget about the past and move forward to next season. When he falls in love with Noel he wonders if she’s an answer to his prayer.

Marian Pellegrin Merritt writes stories that blend her love of the mountains with her deep Southern roots. Her tagline, Where the Bayous Meets the Mountains, grew from both loves. This Louisiana native writes her Inspirational Christmas romances and Southern women’s fiction with a Louisiana/Colorado connection from the Texas home she shares with her husband and a very spoiled Labradoodle.

Connect with Marian through her:  Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Marian P. Merritt’s Readers Group   Buy links to Marian’s Books: http://www.marianmerritt.com/#!/cnec

I Won NaNoWriMo, But Would I Do It Again?

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winner-square-sizeWell, I did it. I survived National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and along with thousands of other crazy writers, I attempted to write 50,000 words of a new book in the month of November. Actually, my personal goal was to capitalize on the momentum and accountability to jump start the fast draft of this book and then finish it up by mid-December.

By 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, I finished writing chapter 18 (of 23 on my outline) of Sing a New Song and passed that 50,000 word mark. A few clicks later and my word count had been officially validated by the powers-that-be and I won NaNoWriMo, thereby gaining access to the really cool graphic for this post. And then someone asked if I would do it again, which got me to thinking really hard about what I have learned over that crazy month of November.

First, I wrote what I call a fast draft where my only goal was to get as much of the story as possible out of my brain and onto paper. With fingers flying across the keyboard, I didn’t bother with proper punctuation or even spelling and the pages are littered with starred notes to myself to add an action beat or verify some story detail. Complete sentences were also optional as I sketched the stage directions and internal reactions of the characters as they navigated a particular scene. The story is there on the page, however, by writing fast, I still have a lot of work to do before I can even start sending chapters to my critique partner.

Still, by winning NaNoWriMo, I learned that I can churn out books faster than I ever have before. If I took two days per chapter with the same intense focus, I could not only fast draft the scenes but also get the pages into a pretty clean condition before moving on to the next chapter. At a pace of three chapters per week, I could have a complete book done and generally self-edited in about two months. (Which, once I finish writing the remaining five chapters and clean up this draft would be about the same. Hmm.)

And if I attempted to write a shorter novella or two for a collection, I could whip out a fairly decent story in a month since those are only 25,000 words. So, if I applied this level of NaNoWriMo effort to the future books currently percolating in my brain, I could have a lot more stories ready to share with my readers. And more books out in the world means more sales to even more potential readers which is a really good thing for building a writing career.

But I’ve also learned how draining the NaNoWriMo focus can be on my creativity, so I’m definitely taking time this month to recharge my mental and creative batteries….and dream big ideas for 2017. Can I say that it’s perfect timing for resting up with Christmas and family and non-stop Hallmark movies in addition to my loaded Kindle app?

Which brings me to the next logical questions. What’s next and would I do it again? First up is finishing and then revising this current book. Then, as I always do at the end of a year, I’ll be dreaming up a list of projects for 2017 and developing a strategic plan. One writer friend of mine plans in 90-day or three-month chunks and I like the idea of breaking the year down into four main projects. Depending on how those projects line up, I could see myself ready to write a new book come next November. Or I could see myself doing a personal writing challenge in October instead.

Am I glad I attempted it? Yes. (I’ve tried twice before but never made it past the first week before being slammed with serious heath issues that put me too far behind to try to catch up.) Am I thrilled I won? Absolutely, because I know that intense focus toward a goal reaps results. Would I encourage others to do it? Yes, even if their personal goal is a lower word count because the accountability and focus build those writing muscles.

And what does all of this rambling reflection mean for you? More stories to come from my brain to yours. Speaking of which, I really should get back into editing mode.