Posts Tagged ‘novel writing’

A tool is something that aids our process.

I think TIME can be one of our greatest tools in the writing trade. Everyone has it. Everyone uses it. It’s how we use it that makes the difference between success and failure.clock

  1. Time to Plan

Preparing ourselves to write is a wise place to start, otherwise our progress (or not) might reflect Stephen Leacock’s Lord Ronald (from Gertrude the Governess) who “rode madly off in all directions.” What is our goal? How do we plan to achieve that goal (break it down into manageable pieces)? You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating.

  1. Time to Think

As writers, we need time to imagine, explore our thoughts, mull over ideas. This is the brainstorming process, or mind-mapping, or whatever we choose to call it. Some writers think about a story for years, then sit down and write it. Some of us have the initial ideas or characters or setting in our minds, but the story only comes into its own once the words hit the page. Whether we think in silence or on paper or screen, we need time to analyze our imaginings. Schedule it.

  1. Time to Write

Whether this is point three or four for you, it’s still an important aspect of our trade. I need something to organize before I can set it to rights. I need to figure out what kind of story I’m writing, and that often only comes once the fingers start tapping keys. If you’d rather organize first, outlining everything down to the chapter, go for it. But eventually, we have to commit this to the characters’ viewpoints and show the story through them.

  1. Time to Organize

There are many methods of organizing our stories. Here are a few I’ve tried:

* Storyboard – buy a science project board for a couple of dollars. It’s already folded into three parts (Acts I, II, III) and works very well for visual writers who need to see the process. Outline your story, broken into acts, with turning points at the end of each act.

* Index Cards – outline each scene in a few words on an index card. You may include the Goal, Conflict, Outcome questions as part of this exercise. Once all scenes are represented on cards, lay them out on a very long table and arrange them the way they make the most sense. You may also use a different color card for each main character so you can see if there’s a proper balance of points of view.

* Sticky Notes – these can be used on the storyboard using different colors for different characters or storylines.

* Spreadsheets – if you have a mind that loves order and charts, use this form to set out scenes, characters, settings, synopses, etc. You can also employ colors for various areas.

NOTE: There are times when all our best-laid plans go awry. Edie Melson writes a helpful post on Novel Rocket that speaks to this: http://www.novelrocket.com/2015/02/writing-through-chaos.html Well worth reading.

There are charts available so you can record and plan every waking hour, down to fifteen-minute segments. If you’re a driven person, try it. If you’re not, save yourself the stress and allow for more latitude. (I use a couple hours each morning for social media and learning. In the afternoon I work on novel drafts or edits and blogs.) However we use our time, we must remember to live. As author Allen Arnold writes, we can be the biggest threat to our novel if we don’t take time to live a little.


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Thanks to Gio and the G-Zone for another opportunity to talk about writing in general and my writing in particular. This being my second radio interview, I cannot claim innocence as to my expectations regarding a live conversation.

One strives to remain calm and alert, to use clear and concise terms to express oneself, to say what needs to be said. And as with anything “live,” an interview is full of surprises. I hope I have conveyed my ideas clearly in this audio interview. Enjoy and pass it along if you see fit.


Here’s the link:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gelatisscoop/2014/08/20/janice-l-dick-other-side-of-the-river



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Caroline Way

Caroline Way

Janice: Welcome to my blog, Caroline. I look forward to our visit today.

CAROLINE: I do too, and thank you for having me.

Janice: Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did your writing interest begin?

CAROLINE: I don’t know that I always wanted to be a writer. I have always loved to write. In high school, I would always pick the creative option out of the essay questions, rather than pick one of the “analyze the imagery in….” type of questions. In university I wrote a lot of letters – no email then (gasp!) – and once took a page from Chaucer and wrote a Canterbury Tales type of letter about the new friends I was making. I wrote a lot of plays for summer camp, and in graduate school, moved on to screenplays. It was then that I really determined writing was something I wanted to pursue in a serious way.

Janice: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

CAROLINE: While there are certainly people who have influenced my decision to keep writing, I think the decision to start writing was born more out of different events or interactions with certain individuals.

There was a youth group leader to whom I sent the Chaucer influenced letter. When I was home on break one time, she said, “You write very good letters. You could be a writer.” I kept her words inside. Every now and then they would creep to the front of my thoughts, but I would dismiss them. Her words stayed with me. I think it served as the validation for giving in to the compulsion to write the letter in the first place. Then there was the high school teacher whose praise, after I created my own modern myth instead of the answering the other essay questions on Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business. Again a moment of validation. There were others, but really, it was while I was pursuing my Master of Arts degree in Film, that the bug took hold.

In our Principles of Christian Communication class, we were assigned the task of communicating a common Christian principle in the creative manner of our choosing. There were so many creative people selecting all manner of mediums but, I wrote. Once the idea came to me, the need to get the story down was consuming. That, combined with the resulting response, is what really pushed me in terms of making a decision to write seriously.

In terms of people who influence me to keep writing, my very good friend, Cheryl McKay would be among the top contenders. She’s a wonderful screenwriter and is now venturing into novel writing. Her honest feedback and encouragement has been invaluable. As well, I consider myself lucky to have friends who are honest in their feedback, freely expressing what they like, or what they don’t like, and taking a sort of ownership over the story in such a way as to almost be as invested in it as I am. It’s been amazing.

And of course there’s you, Jan. Your friendship and mentoring has meant so much, I don’t know if I can express it adequately. You helped keep me motivated to finish and to remain true to the characters as I went.

Janice: Well, thanks, Caroline. Your novel, Confessions from a Farmer’s Wife, released in November of 2011 with Greenbrier Book Company. How long did it take you to bring it from concept to completion?Confessions:Farmer's Wife

CAROLINE: It took a very long time. I started it just as I was finishing my MA in 1996, and didn’t finish it until 2010. I didn’t take it seriously for the first little while and let life distract me.

Janice: Tell us a bit about the book and why you wrote it.

CAROLINE: I think the story found me. The book originally started out as visual image for the beginning of a short film idea, but the more I wrote, the more I realized it was bigger than I had thought. The visual is still the beginning – two kids sitting on the bank of a creek, meeting for the first time. But even before that moment when the image came into my head, the idea behind the book came about from a remark my mother made. She had written and directed a play based on the book of Job. I don’t remember what our conversation was about when she commented that all we really know about Job’s wife is that she tells Job to curse God and die, but her comment really made me think. It struck me that she, Job’s wife, lost everything too. It would make sense that she would have a lot to feel about the matter. I started to explore the idea of what it would take for a wife to tell her husband, whom she knows values his relationship with God above everything else, to turn his back on his God and die. What did she mean by it? What was her faith like compared to that of her husband? These are the ideas I wanted to explore.

Of course, being a parallel of the Book of Job, there are certain themes that run through the book, the idea of believers suffering and who is responsible for it. What do we do when we suffer? How do we keep faith when it happens? How do we deal with God? Heavy thoughts for a novel, and I don’t try to answer these questions, because I certainly don’t have all the answers. I think that’s the main theme – What do we do when we don’t get any answers, and not just ones we don’t like?

The book is very character driven. The entire book you’re in the head of Jessie, the main character as she recounts the events in her life from the time she is six years old through young adulthood. You see the other characters through her eyes and learn what they mean to her, how she feels about them, and what impact they have on the choices she makes.

Janice: Sounds amazing, and since I’ve read it, I can attest to that fact. Are you currently working on a sequel or another novel?

CAROLINE: I am currently working a second novel with the same characters. It’s a bit of a sequel as it picks up from where the first book finished, but it’s also a prequel in that it takes us back further in time and into the lives of other characters – a different POV. I also have an idea for a sort of mystery thriller that I’m toying with. Very different from Confessions.

Janice: Cool In what genre would you classify Confessions?

CAROLINE: I would classify it as contemporary. It’s a little historical in terms of setting, but the historical events are not what drive the plot.

Janice: What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you? And your favorite part?

CAROLINE: The most difficult part of the writing process is having to pull myself out of the world I’m creating. When I’m there, I just want to stay there. When the phone rings or other things demand my attention, I get a little crabby. I resent everything that keeps me from getting back there. And yet it’s probably a good thing to touch base with reality more often than not! That’s also my favorite part. If I want readers to want to spend time with my characters, I have to want to as well. I love the feeling of sinking into the process, loosing all track of time and awareness of anything but the emotions of the character and the click of keys on the keyboard. I can feel my heart rate increase as I being. It’s a very heady feeling.

Janice: What did you learn while writing Confessions?

CAROLINE: This is tough. It was such a personal journey. While I’ve never suffered through the events that my characters have to go through, I struggled and still struggle with many of the questions that they do. I think I had to come to terms with the understanding that there are things that happen and that God, in all His wholeness as loving, just, jealous, forgiving, sovereign, and many more attributes, is God. There are many things I will never understand, but my faith is not misplaced.

Janice: Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you use any computer programs to aid your writing process?

CAROLINE: I think I’m a mix. I know where the story will end. I have to have this first. Then I can know where I want it to begin. I will have several key events that will have to happen to get me from beginning to end, but how we get to there will be anyone’s guess! I do make what I call a “shot list” – I think in film terms even when it’s a novel. This is a list of key points that need to happen either in a particular scene or to link two events. Sometimes I make the list because I know what I need to happen in advance of sitting down to write. And sometimes the list grows organically out of what is happening emotionally with the characters as I write. I’m usually thinking, “What has to happen plotwise to get my character to this point, and what is plausible in terms of story/setting etc?” But I’m also thinking about surprising the reader. I’m not always sure how successful I am, but it’s something for which I strive.

Janice: How do you promote your book? How much is your responsibility and what do you expect from your publisher?

CAROLINE: I’m an awful promoter. I don’t really do it. I have some postcards printed up with the book cover on one side and where to order it on the other, but it’s something that I’ve struggled with for a variety of reasons. My publisher doesn’t really promote, except from their website in terms of, “These are our writers, and here are there books.”

Janice: We hear so much about social media these days. Are you into that and if so, how do you use it to promote your book?

CAROLINE: I have a personal Facebook page, I’m on twitter although I can’t tell you the last time I tweeted. I had a cell phone die and haven’t downloaded the twitter app to the current phone. I also have a personal website, but again, I don’t update except maybe once every year or two. I’m pathetic because I recognize that it would be extremely beneficial to utilize the whole social media venue to promote my book, but I just hate the thought of how much time it takes. Plus, I’m not much for selling myself. I find it very difficult, as do many other writers, I’m sure. My profile picture on Facebook is my book cover, if that counts?

Janice: I think many writers understand the difficulty of promotion. How do you research and how can you be sure of your sources?

CAROLINE: I research a bit at a time. I don’t enjoy it all that much. Beyond finding what I need to be certain that where the story is going is plausible, I find it laborious. I use the Internet and the library, and I try to confirm the information with more than once source so that I can be fairly comfortable that it’s accurate. I’m not sure I always get it, but I try very hard.

Janice: Is writing your career or do you have a day job? How much time do you set aside for writing?

CAROLINE: I would love for writing to be my career, but no, I have a day job. I work as an Administrative/Executive assistant. I have a problem setting aside time to write. I commute over an hour to work each way, and when I get home I have to feed the dog, feed myself, exercise the dog…and so on. So weekday evenings are not good. I try to do some at lunch sometimes, but by the time I get in the groove, my lunch is over. I would love to keep all weekends to myself for writing but there are friends and family that I enjoy spending time with, so this is why it took me a long time to complete the first book!

Janice: I empathize! Although not all readers are writers, I know that all writers must be readers. What are you currently reading? What’s on your to-read pile? Do you read mostly print books or digital? Why?

CAROLINE: Currently, I’m not reading, which is probably why I’m not being too creative. I like a good romance when I’m on vacation, or a good mystery. I like Francine Rivers, Charles Martin and stuff like that. I don’t generally do non-fiction – I’m convinced I have a block where that’s concerned, but if the story interests me, I’ll read it. I just need strong characters that I care about. I read a mix of print and digital. I love the feel of a book in my hand, and how the accomplishment of the number of pages read turns into the disappointment of how few pages are left and wanting it to last a little longer. But I do love my e-reader for sheer convenience. Currently, I have your latest book ready to read on my Kindle, and I’m waiting for my friend Cheryl’s latest novel to be released, Song of Springhill. It’s about one of mining disasters in Springhill, Nova Scotia in the 1950s.

Janice: Enjoy the books. For reader interest, what are some of your non-work/non-writing involvements and hobbies?

CAROLINE: I love going to movies, even bad ones, although I try to avoid them I can. I also love photography. I have a couple of friends with whom I go shooting regularly. One day we’ll focus on black and white, another we play with long exposure. I’m very much a novice, but I love it.

Janice: Do you have any tips for newbie or wannabe writers?

CAROLINE: Believe in your story, but not to the extent that you turn a deaf ear to constructive criticism. It’s not personal if someone doesn’t like your writing, even if it feels that way. Not everyone will like it. Be objective about criticism, encouraged by enthusiasm, and grateful for both as it means you’ve written something and someone is reading it.

Janice: Thanks so much, Caroline, for taking time to tell us a bit about yourself and your writing. All the best in your writing future.

CAROLINE: Thanks, Jan. All the best to you as well!

Caroline Way was born in Portland, Oregon, raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland until high school, when her family moved to Ontario. Currently she lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she received her B.A. in Drama from McMaster University. From there she went on to obtain an M.A. in Communication from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where she studied film making and screenwriting. Once an active member of community theatre in both Ontario and Virginia, Caroline has always enjoyed exploring the “how” and “why” questions of the characters she portrayed, directed and created.

Caroline has worked on many types of productions, from television commercials to feature films, in a variety of capacities. She has written and directed two of her own short films as well as a documentary for the town of Pickering, Ontario, and instructional video for the Ontario Principals’ Council. Currently, Caroline works as an Executive Assistant.


Caroline’s “Blahg” is at http://www.carolineway.com 


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writerPlato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Kimberly Yuhl suggests you have eight words to capture your reader’s attention.

Rob Weatherhead states in the article, Say it Quick, Say it Well (please excuse the grammar), that the attention span of a modern internet consumer is short. “Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.”

Marcia Hoeck, in her article How to Capture Your Reader’s Attention, writes: “You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider language or visuals, which are often lost on people.”

Whether or not these statistics apply specifically to fiction writing is immaterial. They apply to today’s readers. Knowing these facts should motivate us to put extra effort into creating captivating openings for our stories.

I find that examples aid my understanding, so let’s take a look at some classic examples of beguiling beginnings:

* (my favorite) “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” This from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

* “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” The Private Patient, by P.D. James.

* “When the coppers talk about Marsha Morgan, they start with her death—how she fell off the Chesapeake Belle and drowned in the Miles River.” From Ron and Janet Benrey’s Little White Lies.

* Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner begins this way: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

* Caroline Way’s Confessions from a Farmer’s Wife: “I am the last one. Of those whose lives I will speak of here, I alone remain.”

* Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: “It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.”

What do these examples have in common?questions

– they are concise

– they raise questions for which we want answers

– they create a mood

– they suggest the kind of story that’s coming (plot driven / character driven)

– they draw us into the story

How can we create a similar effect?

– we must decide what we want to convey; what is the most important aspect of the story?

– we must ask the right questions

– we must decide what the mood of our story will be

– we must know the style of story we are writing

– we must revise and polish until the beginning is irresistible

fascinated reader

Having said all this, remember that you can tweak your beginning many times, especially after the ending has been written. After all, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” T.S. Eliot.

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Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia Lee Laycock, interviewed in last week’s blogpost, writes in various genres.

For many years Marcia wrote a column called “The Spur” for local newspapers. 41kNxY+SJCL._AA160_Her articles look at daily events in her not-so-ordinary life, meditations that draw the reader to God. She later compiled these inspirational articles into a book titled Spur of the Moment. This volume won an Award of Merit in the God Uses Ink Christian writing conference in 2003.

In 2006, Marcia won the Best New Canadian Author Award from Write! Canada’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards with her first novel, One Smooth Stone, subsequently published by Castle Quay Books.

One Smooth StoneThis novel follows Alex Donnelly, a young man trying to disappear into the vastness of the Yukon after a life of abandonment and abuse. When an unexpected inheritance draws him back to civilization, Alex discovers more about his past than he bargained for. Yet, through all his painful experiences, Christian people show him love and understanding and the father-heart of God.

Laycock tells this story with literary skill and a caring heart. The characters become real on the page, the plot twists to engage the reader, and the writing flows smoothly and swiftly to a satisfying ending.

A Tumbled StoneLaycock has also written a sequel, A Tumbled Stone, the story of Andrea Calvert, a young woman in trouble, who takes circumstances into her own hands and runs away to protect her family from shame. Little does she know that God is waiting for her at every turn, and cares for her through Evie, an unlikely angel who understands more than Andrea guesses. There are many forces at work in Andrea’s life, and as she is buffeted on every side by decisions and unexpected situations, the Lord surrounds her with love and protection.

Again, the author has created a believable world of good and evil, of forgiveness and fear. The characters move through the intricate plot to arrive at surprising conclusions. Well worth the read.

Besides fiction, Marcia Lee Laycock writes blogs, book reviews, short stories and poetry. Her work has appeared in the compilations Hot Apple Cider, A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider and InScribed.

Marcia is also a popular speaker. For more information on Marcia and her writing, check out her website at: http://marcialeelaycock.com.

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Let’s begin our interview with Marcia’s photo and bio:


I was raised on an island off the north shore of Lake Huron, ran away to Alaska and then the Yukon, had a “road to Mayo” conversion in 1982, leaped by faith into Briercrest Bible College with my husband in 1985 and landed in the “promised land” of central Alberta in 1988.

I’ve also had the privilege of living a few miles south of the Arctic Circle (Dawson City Yukon) and a couple of degrees south of the equator (Papua New Guinea).

I suppose that’s why my writing is steeped in the imagery of winter with the odd palm tree thrown in.

For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer.

The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

I am honored to have served on the executive of Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, been a long-time member of The Word Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers, and been privileged to teach for some of these groups.

I am also a sought-after speaker for women’s retreats and one day events. I have spoken widely for Stonecroft Ministries.

Janice: Hi Marcia. Welcome to my blog. Glad you could stop by today. Marcia (pronounced Mar-SEE-ah), you are a multi-genre writer, as well as being very involved in Christian ministry. Tell us a little about your various involvements and how they came to be.

MARCIA: Well, it seems that the Lord often just drops things into my lap. I began writing for publication when we first moved to Alberta. My husband took over as the senior pastor of a good-sized church and one of the things he was told he had to do was write a faith column for the local newspaper. He was already overwhelmed with everything else on his “to do” list so asked if I would do it. I put together a short piece and took it to the editor. He was happy with it and that was the beginning of writing for local and provincial papers for more than 20 years. About that same time I sent off my first short story to a magazine and received a cheque in the mail. Then began writing short stories for Sunday school publications and my hobby became a career.

I have always been very involved in women’s ministries since becoming a believer at the age of 32, so when I heard about Stonecroft’s Christian Women’s Clubs it seemed a good fit. I took their speaker training and began travelling around Alberta and Saskatchewan, speaking to women. That has led to invitations to speak at retreats and other events. I’ve since had further training under Carol Kent. I love speaking and teaching and God has blessed me abundantly with this ministry.

Janice: How do you balance your writing and personal life?

MARCIA: It’s not always easy. When my kids were young I spent mornings doing housework etc and most afternoons at my keyboard at a small desk in our living room, until the girls came home from school. As they grew that time increased and now that they are grown I am able to spend as much time as I like writing. My husband has become very supportive over the years. I’m blessed to have family who understand and support my ministry. I am quite active in our small church as well, so there are days when there aren’t enough hours, but I love being busy. My challenge sometimes is learning when to say no, when to take time to just be with the Lord. In 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the next two years in treatment and recovery, a time that was a blessing in many ways as the Lord taught me to draw close to Him. That time changed my perspective on many things and helped me to see the importance of being still and focusing on Jesus.

Janice: When did you first take an interest in writing and what sparked that interest?

MARCIA: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I was always scribbling something or other, leading my mom to say she thought I was born with a pencil in my hand. But at the age of eleven an aunt gave me a copy of Emily of New Moon, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. As I read it I was thrilled to discover that you could actually call yourself a writer and determined at that time that’s what I would be. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers who encouraged me in that pursuit. When I became a believer it was another blessing to realize that I could write for the kingdom of God.

Janice: What prompted you to branch out from non-fiction to fiction?

MARCIA: I had always written fiction – mostly short stories and poetry when I was young, but I knew you couldn’t make a living doing that, especially in Canada, so I decided to go to Carleton University to study journalism. I discovered fairly quickly that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, but I received some good training there that has come in handy over the years. I did a fair bit of journalistic writing for local newspapers when we first came out to Alberta, while still writing fiction on the side – mostly children’s short stories. Fiction really was my “first love” as far as writing was concerned, so it was a dream come true when I won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award and One Smooth Stone was published.

Janice: You’ve had interesting experiences with regard to publication. What have you learned on the journey?

MARCIA: A great deal! Some of the highlights:

1 – the industry is always changing and you have to try to keep up by following blogs and staying in touch with other writers, editors and publishers.

2 – when you view publication as a ministry as well as a business, you begin to realize that it’s not all about selling books. It’s about relationships. I’ve been blessed to have developed some wonderful relationships that have made the journey a joy.

3 – you never know when a door may open so you need to be ready and willing to jump through it. For instance, when the Sunday devotional columnist at Novel Rocket.com had to quit, I emailed the woman who owned the blog and offered my services (with fear and trembling I might add!). I’ve been writing for them for several years now and that has opened doors for me with people in the industry. The blog has been on Writers’ Digest’s list of best 100 blogs for writers for some time.

4 – never “despise the day of small things.”(Zech. 4:10). A small thing in God’s hand is a mighty sword.

Janice: What social media do you use and which do you find most effective?

MARCIA: I love Facebook and have made some good connections there. I use twitter a bit, but probably not as much as I should and am now investigating Google + and Goodreads. I think as far as marketing goes it has really helped to do a lot of guest posts on other blogs besides my own. It’s been a thrill to see some of my posts picked up by people in the industry who have huge followings. I try to keep in touch with members of writers’ groups, comment in forums etc.

Janice: When you begin a novel project, what comes first: characters, theme, plot?

MARCIA: Usually the characters and often one or two single scenes will spark a project. The theme emerges as I write, as does the plot.

Janice: What prompted you to write One Smooth Stone and A Tumbled Stone? One Smooth Stone A Tumbled Stone

MARCIA: A woman from a local crisis pregnancy centre was speaking at our church. I chatted with her afterwards and she said something that stuck in my mind: “Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to discover his mother had tried to abort him?” I did imagine, and the character of Alex Donnelly in One Smooth Stone emerged.  When I came to the end of that book I wasn’t ready to let go of the characters so talked with my publisher about a second book and wrote an epilogue that led into it. The character of Andrea, Alex’s sister, formed quite quickly. A Tumbled Stone had a rather drawn out journey to publication and there were many times when I thought it would not happen, but the Lord had a plan and it was an exciting day when that book arrived on my doorstep.

Janice: I have to tell you, I loved your Christmas short story, An Unexpected Glory. It’s such a “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” kind of tale. How did you come up with the idea?

MARCIA: I’ve always had a soft spot for Christmas pageants (you can read a bit about that here) and I like playing with the idea that God’s “economy” is so very different from ours, so when Kathi Macias asked me to write the novella, I jumped at the chance, even though I had a few other things on the burner at the time. That story seemed to almost download itself into my brain. I had a lot of fun writing it and have been really thrilled that so many people have referred to it as a “Christmas classic.” Many have mentioned the Best Christmas Pageant Ever when they refer to An Unexpected Glory and I’m kind of ashamed to say I’ve never read that story – but I plan to! 🙂

Janice: What kinds of books do you most enjoy reading? What format do you read in most?

MARCIA: I love a good story, no matter the genre and I tend to read quite widely across genres. I tend to like books that are more ‘literary’ in style, with strong characterization and setting. If I had to pick, I might say the mystery and fantasy genres are my favourites.

I won a Kindle a few years ago and got to really like it, especially for travelling. I now own an ipad mini so use it for reading at times, using a Kindle app, but I love the feel of a real book in my hands and do most of my reading in a comfortable corner of our living room.

Janice: What hobbies or special interests do you have and how do they affect (or not affect) your writing?

MARCIA: I’m intrigued by technology and science, but that doesn’t seem to have affected what I write – though I love sci-fi and may write a novel in that genre someday. I also love horses but have never written much about them, other than a few children’s short stories for Scripture Press that were set in cowboy country. My main hobby is reading and I do enjoy watching some TV, which I think has made my writing more visual and fast-paced.

Janice: How important are writing conferences, in your opinion? Writers’ groups?

MARCIA: Essential. If you are serious about a writing career I think it’s vital to join a writers’ group, connect with other writers and attend conferences whenever you can to meet editors and publishers. I have been an active member in InScribe for many years and have gotten to know many writers across Canada through The Word Guild as well. I attend both of their conferences each year.

Janice: From your perspective, what is the most difficult aspect of writing? And the best?

MARCIA: The most difficult for me has been the isolation and facing the lack of understanding from some Christians in our churches who don’t realize that writing is my ministry. I have faced a frustrating lack of support from some churches who seem to look on a writing career as something frivolous that has no value.

The best part is hearing from people whose lives have been changed in some way by what I’ve written. I’ve had some amazing emails, letters and phone calls from all over the world that tell me that God has a purpose for what I write and He often uses it in powerful ways. That keeps me going.

Janice: How do you write? Are you an outline person? Do you work better alone or in a busy place?

MARCIA: I’m in the ‘seat-of-the-pants’ category – I jump right in and then outline a bit as I go. At some point I’ll stop and do a bit of a time-line but that’s about it.

I know writers who do their best work in Starbucks, but I need a quiet place with little distraction. That’s been a challenge since we planted the church we are in now, because my husband and I share an office in our home. We are literally back to back so it can be interesting. 🙂

Janice: How do you research your books? What is the importance of research, in your opinion?

MARCIA: My two novels did not take a lot of research since they were set in places and dealt with things with which I was very familiar. But I do try to be careful to get the details right. I think it’s vital to the credibility of a story. For instance, when I was writing One Smooth Stone I woke in the middle of the night in a panic because I realized I had to check some details about the use of radio phones and cell phones in the Yukon. We had used a radio phone a lot when we lived there but I had to find out if they were still used and if it were possible to connect from that to a cell phone. I had no idea where to find that information so I simply called a telephone operator and asked to be connected to a Yukon operator. She was very helpful and gave me all the information I needed to know. I’ve read stories where those kinds of details are wrong and they really throw me off the story. I edited a romance once that was set in the north. The writer had the heroine walking along a sandy beach in the Yukon, staring at the stars with her romantic interest. The problem was that there are very few, if any, sandy beaches in the Yukon and it’s impossible to see the stars in the middle of the summer due to the twenty-four hour daylight. Those kinds of mistakes are deadly. Research is important.

Janice: If you were to give three writing tips, what would they be?


1. Write every day, even if it’s just for a few moments squeezed into a busy schedule.

2. Read widely and read good writing.

3. Never quit, even in the face of discouragement. God has a purpose for your work.

Janice: Thanks so much, Marcia. I enjoyed visiting with you today, and I’m sure my readers will also. All the best in your future writing career.

MARCIA: Thanks for having me, Jan. It was fun. 🙂

Connect with Marcia at the following links:

Website & Blog – www.marcialeelaycock.com

Facebook – www.facebook.com/marcialeelaycock

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/MarciaLeeLaycock

Blog for Reviews – www.writer-lee.blogspot.ca

Twitter – @marcialaycock

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What is plot—besides a piece of ground used to bury dead people (that’s from James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure)? In my mind, plot is the story itself, with a beginning, middle and end. Of course there are literary works that don’t follow any of the rules, not even as guidelines, but I’m thinking of genre writing. Plot is the skeleton of the story, the bones on which the rest is built and fleshed out.

            THE HOOK

fish & hook

Stories must begin with an appealing element of some kind, an aspect of the piece that draws us in and makes us want more. In fiction writing, this is called the hook. Switch over to a fishing analogy: the fish sees the worm or lure and can’t resist a taste, but alas, once he grabs it, he’s hooked and committed. That’s the kind of draw we need in our stories, one that grabs the readers by the senses and holds them while we reel them in through the depths of the rest of the story. And the read should be worthwhile.

Here is an example of a hook that drew me in:

– P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” Well, that immediately raises a plethora of questions for which I want answers.

* A tip: you don’t have to have your hook intact right away, just have an idea of it. You can tweak it many times in the process of writing and editing.


hands in conflict

Another element of plot is conflict. All the examples given above hint at clashes and tension, and that’s what makes a story. Each scene, each section of dialogue, must involve tension and lead us deeper into the tale.


WORKING TITLE                                                             

I          Prologue

II        Part One

            A. Opening Disaster

                        1.  Introduce main character


If you are an outline person, you will work through your main plot elements in point form first, filling them out as you develop the storyline. If you are not an outline person, you will organize in your head as you write. It’s a matter of what works best for you. There are many formulas and templates to help us create a workable plot, and we’ll discuss those next time.

SCENES & SEQUELSScene & Structure

plotWhen plotting a story, it helps to write in scenes instead of chapters, in my opinion. The book Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham is a great way to learn about the differences between action scenes and internal episodes and how they compliment each other. Another excellent resource for plotting is Plot by Ansen Dibell. These are both Writer’s Digest Books and are available online in print and digital formats.

In Plot, Dibell writes: “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward” p. 6. So it follows that as we plot our novels, we need to consider who the characters are, what they do, how they live and think and feel, how they communicate, and how this all works together to lead us to the desired ending.

* Note: sometimes the story takes a direction the author did not foresee, and the resulting ending differs from the original thought. Plotting must be a flexible endeavor.

You can follow your instincts in plotting a novel—it’s best to study up on it first, though—or you can use some of the resources and ideas suggested above, but get plotting. We’re waiting for your novel.

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My blog plan is to interview an author the second Tuesday of each month, then review one of his or her books on the following Tuesday. Last week I posted an interview with Murray Pura, and since he has quite a few publishing credits, I decided to post brief reviews on several instead of just one.

Murray Pura

Murray Pura


To see Murray’s complete list of published works, visit http://www.murraypura.com/library.htm.


The White Birds of Morning, PuraThe first book I read by Murray Pura was The White Birds of Morning (not to be confused with The Wings of Morning, which is another of his titles). White Birds is a fat novel of almost 600 pages with a most intriguing cover.

Summary: Andrew Chornavka is required by the Vatican to once again open up his past from the WWII years and to examine his and his family’s role in war and peace from 1939-1943. See full review on amazon.com/ca

I found this story, told by the lead character in first person, to be intense and haunting. It’s not an easy read to follow Andrew’s memories and the vast cast of characters involved in this riveting saga. The writing is stellar, the characters so real we mourn with/for them, the settings devastatingly authentic. In short, this epic work imprinted on my mind and left me wanting to read the sequel. I see by the book list that there is a previous book called Zo, which I must read. More to follow in future too.


Rose of Lancaster CountryMurray’s writing covers many genres, one being Amish fiction. Today I’ll feature The Rose of Lancaster County series. This story was originally released in installments or “volumes,” of which there are ten. It is now available as a complete digital or print book.

This series takes place in 1720s Pennsylvania with Rose Lantz, a quiet, dedicated young woman of the Amish community who is accused of witchcraft. Is her faith strong enough to carry her through this nightmare while her future hangs in the balance?


Ashton ParkOne of Murray’s most popular historical fiction series is the Danforths of Lancashire, the first of which is Ashton Park. Written in the style of Downton Abbey, these books offer a host of colorful characters, unique settings and a convincing plot line.

So far there are two sequels to this series: Beneath the Dover Sky and London Dawn. Set in the momentous times from midway through the first world war (1916) to the late 1930s, these stories are as epic as the era they encompass.

The Night of the HawkLet’s switch genres once again. One of my current favorites is The Night of the Hawk, which is also being released in installments. Three volumes are out at present.

A young man of unknown origin and hidden giftings has been called to an adventure that takes him from Skyrl into a world of evil and supernatural conflict.   With the disarmingly beautiful Skaytha at his side, Hawk ventures out to face his destiny, achieve his goal and turn darkness into light.


Blue Heaven Romance-1Besides more series, Murray has penned some stand alones and is also “hosting” a series titled Blue Heaven Romance. This is a story scenario he came up with and then recruited other authors to each write a part of the whole. The first volume is pictured at left: Emalyn’s Treasure by Joy Ross Davis.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today. I hope you broaden your reading horizons by picking up a few of Murray Pura’s books. Whatever your favorite genre, it’s bound to be in his booklist.

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Marcus Varitor, Centurion, is book two of Anne Baxter Campbell’s Truth Trilogy, and it’s just recently available for purchase. Check it out on amazon and B&N for either digital or print versions. Marcus Varitor book

Book one, The Roman’s Quest, tells the story of Centurion Julius and his Jewish love, Miriam. Uniting a Roman centurion and a Jewish maiden involves many challenges in the first-century Roman world.

Book two, Marcus Varitor, Centurion, follows one of the characters from book one—Julius’ friend Marcus—and weaves his story.

Decanus Marcus (decanus means “chief of ten”) is a young centurion (a professional officer of the Roman army) who has lived a rather riotous life, but seeks to straighten his course because of the change he sees in his friend Julius as well as the attraction he feels for a young Egyptian slave named Meskhanet. Julius has become a Jewish proselyte and Meskhanet also is trying to understand the ways of Adonai, the One God.

Featuring strongly in this story is the infamous Barabbas, whom we know as the criminal freed instead of Jesus. From the start of the book, we know that Decanus Marcus is committed to capturing and convicting Barabbas, but the insurrectionist is a slippery fish to catch and also has plans for revenge and betrayal. The chase leads from Jerusalem to Rome and back, which offers much fodder for story depth and color.

The plot is further complicated by Marcus’ difficult relationship with his family, Meskhanet’s wish to serve her mistress instead of marrying, Barabbas’ mother and her divided loyalties, and many more fascinating subplots. The storyline is intense and unpredictable, which makes for a gripping read.

The characters are strong but not flawless, a must in order for us to identify with them. Campbell makes us care from the beginning what happens to the characters. Dialogue also plays an important part in giving a story credibility, and the author does this well.

Anne Baxter Campbell

Anne Baxter Campbell


Both these books are impeccably researched, from my point of view. Campbell knows the money, the clothing, the lifestyles from Israel to Italy (including Barabbas’ camp), the place of women in society in that day, the relationships between slaves and masters, and many other details we take for granted when we read the story. As in any good historical fiction piece, I learned a lot from the experience and was entertained and inspired at the same time.

I highly recommend this book to readers of historical fiction as well as those who do not normally read in that genre. The writing flows, the stakes are high and the takeaway value is worthwhile.

See more about Anne Baxter Campbell at the following links:

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Anne-Baxter-Campbell/e/B00G7RTTDO

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Anne_Baxter_C

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/AnneBaxterCampbellAuthor



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This post is designed for “My Process Blog Hop” hosted by Travis Perry http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/2014/03/sharing-my-writing-process-experiment.html, which I’ve joined with several other authors.

My Works-in-ProgressRiver 6

  1.  The project taking most of my focus right now is my historical novel Other Side of the River, which is coming out in installments—volumes—as a Kindle and Kobo read. Six volumes are out, three more to go. I wrote this story a couple of years ago, but am now dividing it into segments, each with its own sub-title.
  2.  On the organize-and-edit plate is my partially completed sequel to River.
  3.  I recently signed a contract to collaborate with a number of other authors on a historical series, but it hasn’t started yet. I have a Scrivener folder earmarked for this project with and filled with as much info as I can scrounge up without knowing the specifics.
  4.  Besides the historicals, I have a cozy mystery that’s been sitting impatiently on my computer, awaiting publication. I’m currently going through it with my local writing group and appreciate their critique.
  5.  My blogsite is another project that’s always underway. Until late last fall, www.janicedick.com was a wasteland hardly anyone ever ventured into. However, due to a push from my publisher, I’ve been putting more time, energy and creativity into my site, with positive results.
  6.   Recently, thoughts came to mind for another historical series. I’ve been planting seeds for this story in my Scrivener folders, and have experienced some sleepless nights thinking about all the elements that need to be figured out.

How Does My Work Differ from Others in its Genre?

My published historicals—Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm and Out of the Storm—are based on family history from the Russian Revolution era, so I have access to family documents, letters, diagrams, maps and drawings, as well as incidents and themes that spark the writing.

My current historicals loosely follow the real experiences of a young man in Manchuria who finds himself and his family caught in a country in the midst of drastic change—for the worse. Truth is stranger than fiction, so I use fictionalize the truth to fit it into the required novel elements. I think this true personal angle adds a unique perspective to the books.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I grew up hearing stories of times in southern Russia, a once-bountiful land spoiled by war and political greed (sound familiar?). The tales teased my imagination, as did reading classics like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, etc.; and watching movies like Nicholas and Alexandra. When I came upon the documentation mentioned earlier, I felt the time had come to convey these stories of faith under pressure in story form, because that’s how some of us learn best.

My contemporary cozy is a fun attempt at mystery writing, because I love to read mysteries, especially gentle ones.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Some days I wish I knew. I long ago switched from pen and paper to keyboard, whether for better or worse. I’m always fighting with my internal editor, since I am (she is) somewhat OCD, but I take comfort in the fact that there is no right way to write.

I need an outline, a general idea of how the story will be set out. It may not follow the outline, but I need a realistic goal. If I don’t have that, I feel I waste a lot of time writing things that will never fit.

I use Scrivener to write my books, so I begin by filling Research files, Character and Setting Templates. There will always be more research to do as I go along, and many adjustments, but I need to start by knowing something about the time, place, political situation, world events, etc. I have to find the mood of the piece.

There are numerous rewrites and edits, the earlier ones resembling a bland soup where I almost throw it down the drain, only to realize that this has happened before and will eventually work out. What’s required is a lot of muddling, organizing, messing around with index cards and lists and story/character arcs. Then a printout.

Then it’s back to the grind of re-reading and editing, going through the manuscript many times with a specific goal each time: character arcs, spicing up word usage, literary devices and symbols, consistency of facts, and so on. And eventually I have something I feel good about. Then more polish, and deciding when it’s done.

Why do I keep doing this day after day? Because I can’t not do it. My name is Janice and I’m a writer.


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