Posts Tagged: Writers Conference

Dangle Your Modifiers In Someone Else’s Fairytale, Por Favor

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tired dragon resting on books

by Carrie Talbott

Once upon a time there was a faculty member—the fairest smarty pants in all the camp. “Kill the adverbs and avoid split infinitives.”

Totally nodding my head in agreement, wise instructor lady. Love your class so far, but if you call on me I might have to break up with you and slip out the double doors.

Your basic writers’ conference gives you tools to become a better writer. Tips to hook your reader. Insights to hone your craft.

The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference gives you a whole lot more than basic. And when one of your instructors is the Senior Acquisitions Editor from David C. Cook, you are clearly not in English 101.

Her split infinitives were plenty for this simple writer. But when overachievers in the class started showing off their grammar skills, we who just want to write glazed over and slumped down.

Feel free to look these up if you want to thoroughly kiss up to impress an editor or aggressively bore your neighbor.

  • Independent and relative clauses,
  • Third conditional sentences,
  • Imperfect past participle,
  • Quantifiers of relative quantity.

Um, what? Totally impressed, old guy in the front. But I don’t need a play-by-play of your dramatic narrative nonfiction and how you used quantum physics in your life to manifest what you wanted while using the above list.

Spacing out now …

Craving an adjective? I gotcha covered. Need a verb? I’m your girl. Beyond that—not so much. Of course, life would be lovely if I actually knew what each of those intimidating terms meant and how to use them while I write, but alas, I do not.

I got almost straight A’s through every English class; why didn’t these rules stick? My normal routine includes hitting “Control N,” staring at a blank screen and clickety-clacking my way through new ideas. Now I wonder if I’m doing it wrong.

What’s “it,” Carrie? Don’t write like that—you know better.

Do I?

I’ve got an idea, future editor of my future book… how ‘bout I write the stories and you let me know if I ever breach the English 909 rules. This will be our relationship.

When we moved on from the über overwhelming parts of the classes to the helpful, practical parts, I woke up and sponged.

“Avoid clichés like the plague.”
Yessss. That’s as refreshing as water in the desert.

“Show, don’t tell.”
I’m trying. I mean, I tried. Err … I will try.

“Write your introduction last.”
Okay. Seems awkwardly backward for Type-As, but okay.

“Don’t use words like ‘awkwardly.’”
You’re losing me.       

“Practice B.I.C. (Butt In Chair)”
Woohoo—I’m doing this right now!

“Have you thanked Jesus for unanswered prayer?”
Uhh—no. But I could!

And on I went, typing with focus, ignoring my insecurities, ready to attack my new challenges. After five days of this, however, my soaked sponge clocked out and I continued on autopilot.

Don’t curl up in the back, just take copious notes and absorb when you get home.

In the midst of grammar chaos, I snagged a few quotes from our fantastic instructors and speakers. Don’t have to be a writer to love these….

Favorite Quotes

      • “Show up and serve.”  ~ Kathi Lipp
        “Develop a heart of integrity. Don’t allow jealousy to fester. Remain humble. Surround yourself with friends who hold you accountable.”  ~ Carol Kent
        “Our failures only matter when we allow them to prevent God from embracing us.”  ~ Mick Silva
        “There is still room for your voice.” ~ Alice Crider
        “When God is about to bring up a new thing, Satan is usually about to bring up an old thing.”  ~ Susie Larson
        “There will always be trolls; develop thick skin now. Is this your call from God? Then get back up and move on.”  ~ Bill Giovannetti

In addition to the wise writers and editors, I met a multitude of conferees who surprised me with their stories and encouraged me through mine. They wrote about everything from sexual abuse and politics, to alcohol addiction, psychotherapy, and autism.

We exchanged business cards like cute little author nerds and agreed to connect in cyberspace. Not in the midst of the fourteen-hour days though—once we all got home and decompressed from the lack of sleep and firehose learning.

I learned more. I feel smarter. Maybe not compared to those of you who know what modifiers are and why you shouldn’t dangle them, but smarter than two weeks ago. And I’m more motivated than ever to continue writing thanks to Mount Hermon and the rad faculty members.

Will I return next year? Heck yeah!

I mean yes. Lord willing, yes.

And they all wrote happily, forever, with laughter.

The End.

photo of carrie TalbottRecent transplants from twelve years in Baja, Mexico, Carrie now lives in California with her husband and two boys. Raised in the forest at a Christian camp, Carrie’s heart is for young women and all things wood. She has a children’s book about bullying, writes for magazines, and is currently collaborating on a memoir about grit and resiliency while outlining a book about their rough and zany years in full-time ministry. Carrie is dedicated to Jesus and avocados, and blogs regularly about hope and how-to’s with a splash of wit at She can also be found on Instagram @carrie_talbott_ink, on Twitter @carrie_talbott and on Facebook at Carrie Talbott Ink. She believes normal is boring and weirder is better.

First-Timers Contest Open

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by Susan K. Stewart

I pulled my suitcase from the carousel, turned, and looked for the sign to direct me to the shuttle. I may have looked like any other traveler. Or maybe I didn’t. I’m sure what I felt inside showed on my face. “I’m almost there!” A forty-five-minute drive is all that was left.

As others chatted in the van, I watched as the city started to give way to the lush hills. Soon the van left the freeway to start a curvy two-lane road up the California coastal mountains. Trees became the predominant scenery. I began to recognize landmarks along the way. As the van topped the summit, I was awed to see the restaurant we used to stop at when I was a child traveling the same route to Santa Cruz.

Finally, the turn to the conference center. Not far now. I made it. I finally made it.

Attending writers’ conferences is an annual event, sometimes twice a year, a local conference and a regional one. But THE conference for me was always Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. I stepped off the van, looked around. I’m here! My brain shouted.

Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference had long been a dream. Let’s face it, though. It is a pricey conference. I knew when God’s time was right, he would provide what was needed for me to attend. And he did. (Why are we often surprised when God does great things for us?)

If like me, you have prayed for the opportunity to attend this premiere conference, then the Mount Hermon First-Timers Contest may be it.

Ten winners will receive a full scholarship, including economy lodging and meals. The contest is open to unpublished and published writers who have never attended. There is no fee to enter. The deadline is December 30, 2017.

The entry can be an article, blog post, fiction or non-fiction book manuscript, or poetry. The piece does not need to be overtly Christian but must have a Judeo-Christian worldview. Complete entry submission details are at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference website, click here.

God wants to do great things for us. For many writers, a major conference, such as Mount Hermon may be that great thing. Prayerful consider entering the First-Timers Contest and you too can enjoy the excitement of that trip up the mountain.

Susan StewartWhen she’s not tending chickens, peacocks, and donkeys, Susan K. Stewart teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen and Preschool: At What Cost? plus the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. You can learn more at her website

First-Timers Contest For MH Writers Conference

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pen, notebook, and coffee for writersWhen I attended my first writers’ conference years ago, I didn’t realize how dramatically it would change my life. I met so many professionals in the publishing industry and authors I admired (and came to admire later). And it really kicked off my own writing career!

Major writers’ conferences can be expensive. But they can be valuable investments in our future.

If you’ve always wanted to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, but never been able to afford it, I have exciting news for you.

Mount Hermon is running a First-Timers Contest for the 2017 conference. Ten winners will each receive a full scholarship, including economy lodging and conference meals.

There is NO FEE to enter this contest. It is open to both published and unpublished writers.

Just send a five-page writing sample (fiction or nonfiction). In addition to writing quality, winners will be determined based on the answers to these questions:

  1. Why do you want to attend the Mount Hermon Writers Conference?
  2. Why have you never attended before?
  3. What do you hope to get out of attending in 2017?

Once submissions are narrowed down based on those factors, the final decision will be made based on prayerfully asking for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Deadline to enter is December 30 at midnight Pacific Standard Time.

Go to for details, guidelines, and submission instructions.

Please spread the word to anyone you know who might benefit from this amazing conference.

Kathy Ide, Director
Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference

Strategies for First Time Conference Goers

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A writer as green as spring grasses arrived at the San Jose Airport, looked for the Mount Hermon Shuttle Sign, boarded a van, and began an adventure into the publishing industry that resulted in long-lasting relationships that deepened her spiritual roots and nourished her as a writer and speaker.

I’m that writer. Mona Hodgson.


Twenty-eight years and hundreds of publishing credits later, I still look forward to returning to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference every spring.

Now it’s your turn. You’re the one arriving at the conference for the first time. And you’re probably feeling as green as spring grasses. Excited. Nervous. Maybe even scared.

I’m hoping these 15 Tips and Tidbits will help prepare you for your God-ordained adventure at Mount Hermon!

1.  Connect with Mount Hermon Writers on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll continue to post updates there and on the blog.

2.  Are you flying in to San Jose and signed up to use our Airport Shuttle Service? At the airport, go to Terminal B Baggage Claim and look for a friendly face. Bob, Linda, or Marci will be waiting for you and holding a Mount Hermon sign.

Bob HodgsonLinda SmithMarci Seither


3.  Upon arrival at Mount Hermon on Wednesday or Thursday, go to the Administration Building (beside the Mount Hermon Post Office). That’s where you’ll check in, receive your room key, and your conference packet. For Friday arrivals, if the weather permits, you can check in at the kiosk next to the Mount Hermon Book Shop, across the street from the Administration Building.

4.  Cruise the website with frequent stops on the pages under Program, Faculty, Resources, and Blog.

5.  Take advantage of the free critique available as part of the pre-conference manuscript submission feature. Even if you plan to pitch to an editor or agent, make sure at least one of your two pre-conference submissions go to the Critique Team.

6.  Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be shy. New friends are waiting to meet you. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. The benches around the fire circle are a great place to meet and greet. So is the line at the Expresso Cart in Central Lounge (above the Mount Hermon Book Shop).

MH fire circle


7. Make education a priority. It’s tempting to focus on the pitching, networking, selling yourself or your work, but be sure you engage in a Major Morning Track (or the Morning Mentoring Clinic, if that’s the option you choose), afternoon workshops, and night owls. Visit The Critique Team in the Hospitality Center (Multipurpose Room, below the Dining Hall). Get comfortable with the idea that your first foray will be a learning experience. Be sure to join Nick Harrison in the Auditorium, Friday, March 18th at 1:45 pm for the First Timer’s Orientation.

8. Remember, it’s not just about the writing. Or publishing. Be open to God’s plan for your conference experience. Anticipate and welcome the work God wants to do in and through you. One way to prepare for that is to come with prayer support. Ask friends and family to be praying for you.

9. Expect to be overwhelmed. Information overload and over-stimulation is a normal reaction. And it’s bound to happen more than once during the conference. Pace yourself. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to do it all, all of the time. Take a walk. Find a quiet corner or bench where you can breathe and pray.

MH FLowernig Tree bench


10 Download “You Make Me Brave” by Amanda Cook and Bethel Music onto your phone and listen to it every time you begin to have doubts. (Maybe not during a workshop or one-on-one appointment, but soon there after.) By the way, even faculty members and seasoned veterans experience doubt and insecurity. You’re not alone.

11. Set goals realistic with your level of experience. Prepare emotionally and spiritually for the fact that your expectations might be unrealistic. Remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. Give yourself grace. That’s the beauty of the conference, it provides you with a place to learn what you don’t know.

12. The folks on the faculty have left families and desks that will pile high to meet you, to serve you. Sit with different ones at lunches and dinners. Introduce yourself to them and the others at the meal tables. They are coming to the conference to bless others and to be blessed by their Father.

13. Schedule time with God during the conference. Visit the A-frame chapel or one of the tables in the field down the road from it.

Chapel Exterior


14.  Be open about any health problems or physical limitations that might impact you at the conference. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it.

15. For questions or concerns about the Mount Hermon grounds or accommodations, check in with the front desk in the Administration Building. For program related questions or concerns, see Gay or Lynn at the Hospitality Tables in the Hospitality Center (Multi-Purpose Room, below the dining hall) or connect with me (Mona).

Do any of those tips and tidbits speak to you? I hope so.

I can’t wait to meet you!


Director, Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference

You Want to Speak at Schools? Do Your Homework.

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Tim will serve as a fiction mentor for a Morning Mentoring Clinic at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016 and lead a bonus session Friday night, Preparing for the Appointment 



Speaking at a school is a pop-quiz—and a quick way to ruin your reputation. If you don’t do your homework, that is. Some authors seem to feel that just showing up for a classroom visit is enough. They go in with a celebrity mentality, and that’s a big mistake. Huge.

There was a day when meeting an author was rare. Now you can hardly ride an elevator without bumping into a writer. Authors aren’t the novelty they once were. If we want the admiration of others, we need to earn it.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting into schools is other authors who have been there before you. Authors who thought they were celebs. Authors who bored the students. Authors who left faculty unimpressed—and consequently gun shy to bring another writer in.

You want to create a good impression … so here are some things to remember when you’re doing your homework for a school visit.

-Be normal in the way you talk, act, and dress. Building a quirky character for your story? Great. Being a quirky person in real life? Weird.

-Find out how the teachers dress. You don’t want to overdress, and definitely don’t want to be more casual than they are.

-Trying to be cool is not cool at all. Don’t wear jeans and a T-shirt because you’re a cool author—or want the students to think you are. News flash … if you’re over twenty-five you’re old in their eyes.

Don’t try to be like the students. Kids don’t respect that. You’re older. You have wisdom to offer. Share that, and many students will long to be as smart as you. You’ll inspire them and give them something to aim for. Dumb speakers try to be like the kids … and give the students little to shoot for.

-Arrive early. Stay late. Try to deliver more than the teachers/staff expect.

-Bring a gift for the teacher or librarian. A poster of your book. Your book.

-Bring something for the kids. A bookmark picturing your book works well.

-Have more prepared than you can possibly use for an author visit. Have things ready to fill time if kids aren’t asking questions. Was there some actual event that inspired your story? Is there some inside scoop … some little detail about your story that nobody else knows? Kids love to hear about that stuff.

-If they offer you a stool or chair, thank them … but stand. Sitting up in front of a bunch of kids in some elevated king-chair drips with self-importance. Stand. Move around closer to the students.

-If you’re not a people person, stick with a blog. Please. You’ll hurt your reputation—and people may think you’re writing is just as awkward.

Speaking at schools is like a pop-quiz. Whenever students are involved, you never really know what’s coming next. But the grade will stick. Do your homework, and you’ll do just fine.


Come meet Tim Shoemaker at the 47th annual Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.


$75. Early Bird Discount expires February 1!


Workarounds: Finding an Agent

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Literary Agent and Vice President of Books & Such Literary Management

Co-Teaching a One-Hour Workshop and serving on the Agent Panel.


Too often we hear writers mourning the “fact” that one can’t get published without an agent (which is not true) and that it’s near impossible to find an agent in this seemingly shrinking market.

Anytime the front door to a problem seems blocked, I like to find a workaround. Let’s look at the problem and see if we can figure out the workaround.

Problem: Catching the attention of an agent and getting him to ask for a proposal or manuscript.

Traditional Solution: Write a smashing query letter, send it to multiple agents and hold your breath.

Workaround: Meet the agent or publishing professional in person. Sounds complicated, but it’s not. And we’re not talking about the fabled literary dinner parties and salons of Maxwell Perkins, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

A century ago, people didn’t travel like we do today. Writers, agents & editors gather together in person more than ever before. Forget the dinner party, you can now spend an entire week with your favorite publishing professionals, practice the craft and learn about the business of writing. Agents and editors are committed to making ourselves available at writer’s conferences. It’s my favorite way to meet writers who are willing to invest time, energy and fiscal resources in their careers. I’m preparing for the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in three months. It’s still one of my favorite weeks of the whole year.

Simple fact: Agents attend writers conferences to meet new writers. The good conferences give us plenty of time to connect with writers. Mount Hermon is one of my favorites. In addition to the appointments we schedule, we share seven or eight meals with writers. Those relationships forged around a table of eight are the basis for many a professional relationship.

It may take a number of different face-to-face meetings until your target agent decides he can’t live without you, but there is something about that real-time connecting that overshadows the traditional methods. It’s the perfect workaround.


Come meet Wendy Lawton at the Mount Hermon, March 18-22, 2016, where she’ll participate in a couple of workshops, review pre-conference manuscripts, and meet with writers!

Are you looking for the agent who is right for you? Eight agents plan to join us at Mount Hermon in the spring. I hope you’ll consider doing so, too.

Click here to REGISTER.

Success! Are You Ready?

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Tamela Hancock Murray

A Literary Agent with The Steve Laube Agency, Tamela will teach an Afternoon Workshop, participate in an Agents Q&A, and meet with potential clients at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in March.


Recently one of the faithful readers of The Steve Laube Agency blog asked if I would write a blog on how to handle success. Here are a few of my thoughts, in no particular order:

Once you are successful, prepare to…

Be gracious. Whether you struggled for years to be published or if you’ve never heard the word “no” from an agent or editor, when writing in public forums or speaking in a group setting, always temper your enthusiasm about your success. No doubt and you simply want your friends to celebrate with you. We all want that. But in a public forum, there will always be the person your success makes feel small, and words that can be interpreted as boasting can hurt, no matter how pure your heart.

Deal with backbiting. Since we live in a fallen world, even if you are the most gracious and lovely person you can be, someone will be envious of you. Someone will say your writing stinks. You may never hear this. Or you might. Either way, keep walking with God, and realize that writing touches the gamut of emotions. We cannot control responses to our writing. No one is immune to criticism. Don’t believe me? We just celebrated Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us, His crucifixion brought about by His actions — and His words.

Realize that people who were never on your team still won’t be. We’d all like to think that if only we could appear on TV and become rich and famous, we could finally prove our critics wrong. Nope. They’ll just hate you more. Don’t worry about them. Enjoy your true friends. You know who they are.

Adjust your financial plan. You may receive no advance, a four-figure advance, or an advance large enough to make a real difference in your life. But please remember, you will be taxed on that advance and any royalties so hold back at least 30% for when the tax bill arrives. And if you are using an advance to live on, make sure to budget so that the money will last well past the date you can expect your next payment on your contract. Unsure of how to handle your new finances? Your local bank should be able to help you find professional help so you can form a plan. Bottom line: it’s easy to spend a fortune so don’t get caught short on money if you can avoid it.

Be watched. People who never looked your way before may suddenly notice you. You may gain more friends than if you had just issued a public invitation to a vacation home on the beach. Enjoy the popularity, but keep a balance of how much to let others into your life so you don’t become overwhelmed. This is a good time to solidify friendships you already have with other published authors and get a few tips from them on how to form boundaries with fans.

Expand your social media presence. Now more than ever, you will need to communicate with fans. Set up a schedule for Twitter, Facebook, and your newsletter and/or blog. Remind fans that you are still writing, and keep them up to date on important events in your life so they will feel as though you are a friend. Don’t hawk your books, though. Let readers find you and your books, although letting your fans know when your publisher is offering a free download can be a great idea.

Be asked to speak. Speaking engagements may start coming your way. If you need to hone your public appearance skills, many people recommend Toastmasters

 Master time management. You will no longer have the luxury of taking as long as you want to write a book. You will have relentless deadlines — several with each book. Be prepared to meet them all and schedule your time accordingly.

Be with those you love. Make spending time doing fun activities with everyone you love a priority.

Enjoy your success!

Do you have other suggestions for those experiencing success?


Come meet Tamela Hancock Murray at the 47th annual Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, March 18-22, 2016.

Click here to register. 

Passive Vs. Active Verbs

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Coordinator of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference Critique Team

Freelance Editor



Wherever possible, strive to use strong, precise verbs rather than weak, vague verbs. Instead of saying, “They were going,” write, “They went.” Or better yet, show how they went. “They jogged,” “They raced,” “They ambled,” for example. A single descriptive action verb is almost always better than a weak passive verb.

Here are some examples:

Passive: It is believed by Sue that a curfew must be placed on her son, Matthew.
Active: Sue believes that she must place a curfew on her son, Matthew.

Passive: It was earlier demonstrated that Matthew could be intimidated by too much freedom.
Active: Friday’s party showed Sue that too much freedom could intimidate Matthew.

Passive verbs often indicate that a subject exists, or that something happens to the subject. Active verbs describe something a subject does.

Passive: Andrew had dark, curly hair and a bushy beard.
Active: Andrew ran his fingers through his dark, curly hair and stroked his bushy beard.

Passive: Two cups of coffee were on the table.
Active: Joe picked up two cups of coffee from the table.

In nonfiction, there are a few acceptable reasons to use passive verbs:

1. To emphasize the action rather than the subject.
Example: Jim’s bioengineering proposal was approved by the committee.

2. To keep the subject and focus consistent throughout a passage.
Example: The astrobiology department presented a controversial proposal to the committee. After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by …

3. To be tactful by not naming the subject.
Example: The e-mail message was misinterpreted.

4. To describe a condition in which the subject is unknown or irrelevant to the sentence.
Example: Every year, many people are diagnosed with Environmental Illness.

5. To create an authoritative tone.
Example: Visitors are not allowed after 9:00 p.m.

Even in fiction, the occasional use of a passive verb is acceptable. But do a search of your manuscript for is, was, are, were, be, been, would, could, has, had, and have, and wherever you find one of those words, see if there’s a way you can show what’s happening instead of just telling about it.

NOTE: It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the author. To request permission, please e-mail

How about it, are you seeing opportunities in your article or book proposal for tightening your writing using active vs. passive verbs?


You’ll meet Kathy Ide at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, where she serves as the coordinator of the Critique Team.

Register Me Now!



Can Bunnies Pray?

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Can Bunnies Pray graphic



Children’s authors often use animals as the main characters in their stories. Anthropomorphism, also known as personification, is attributing human characteristics to anything other than a human being.

Using animals as characters works well for children’s stories for many reasons:

  • Children love animals and like to read stories with animals as characters.
  • Using animals gives the author more freedom in creating his or her characters and stories.
  • Animal characters appeal to both boys and girls.
  • Using animals as characters avoids the issues of stereotyping in race, gender, or age.
  • It is more acceptable for an animal to disobey than for a young child to disobey, therefore the author can teach deeper lessons with stronger emotions.
  • Animal characters can add kid-friendly humor to the story.

Writing stories using animal characters works well for the Christian market as well as the secular market. However, authors need to be careful when getting into spiritual matters. For example, can bunnies (or any animal) pray?

There are two answers: YES and NO.


When anthropomorphism is used and the animals are given human characteristics, then the animals can pray. If Bunny talks like a real person, lives in a house, wears clothing, and goes to school, then when the Bunny Family gathers around the dinner table to eat their meal, they can ask God to bless their meal or thank Him for their food. When Bunny gets lost, or he meets a bully, or anytime he is afraid, he can pray to God to help him. Mother and Father Bunny can tell Junior Bunny about God and how He is always with them. The Bunny family can read Bible stories at bedtime and say their bedtime prayers. This is fine!


When the characters in the story are humans and there are animals in the story who are “real” animals, then the animals do not pray. I once read a children’s story by a Christian celebrity. In her story a little boy is following a bunny (a real bunny) and the bunny gets lost. The author wrote that the bunny was frightened and prayed to God to help him. Not okay! It would be okay for the little boy to ask God to help him find the bunny, or for God to keep the bunny safe, but real bunnies do not pray because they do not have a personal relationship with God.

 God and Animals

We can teach children that animals are an important part of God’s creation and that He cares for them just like he cares for the people He created. In my devotional book, My Mama and Me (Tyndale, 2013) I have a verse that says:

God helps the squirrels find nuts to eat.
He helps the bees make honey sweet.
He helps the robins build their nest
so they can have a place to rest.

Do Pets Go to Heaven?

I once read a book where a mom tells her little boy about heaven. He wants to know if his bird went to heaven after it died. The mom tells him that because he loved his bird, it is in heaven. Really? Though this may be comforting to a child, we do not have Scripture to back this up. In Isaiah 11:6-7 we read the prophesy of animals co-existing in peace and harmony, but this refers to the future and does not mean there are animals in heaven right now hanging out together. There might be—I don’t know—and so my advice is to avoid this topic and stick to what we clearly know from Scripture.

As long as there are authors writing books for children, there will be stories with animal characters. I hope this discussion helps to clarify the issue of animals praying. I am open to feedback and would love to hear your opinions.

Always writing for Him,

Crystal Bowman

Crystal Bowman from FB


Crystal Bowman will serve as a children’s writers’ mentor in the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinic, teach an Afternoon Workshop, and serve on the Critique Team at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.


Register now to join us for the Children’s Emphasis Extravaganza at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 16-22.

Writing Your Proposal From Your Heart Goal

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MickSilva_2 (800x577)BLOGGER: MICK SILVA

Mick Silva will serve as a fiction mentor in the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinic and serve on the Critique Team at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.


I’ve helped dozens of authors sell and publish books and I use a very simple form which is on the front page of my website ( When people come to me for editing or coaching, at the beginning of the process I have them fill out these 10 questions, starting with the last one:

“In 100 words, share why you wrote this book. What does it mean to you personally?”

The purpose of this question is to cut through all the fluff and stuff and get to the heart of what will make people pick up your book over the millions of others out there. Your strongest competitive advantage is how truthfully and succinctly you can answer this question and summarize your passion for your project. All of your other proposal pieces—your pitch, your positioning, your audience, your comp titles, your marketing materials—are secondary and derive from this.

A big reason Mount Hermon has become the premiere conference for Christian writers is not because of its fluff and stuff, but because they know their why. And their long legacy shows their leadership attracts a high caliber of writers who know their why.

I’ve seen this over many years attending and watching the writers who succeed and stand out. Such writers spend time crafting their why, and gotten to know their ultimate goal. They’re interested in the why of others, the masters and the soon-to-bes. But most of all, they remain solidly attracted and attached to that primary motivation, their deepest heart goal.

Mick Silva Proposal Pic


Focus on the Heart

Everything they do emanates from and is an extension of that heart goal.

And whether you’re an aspiring author or a world-class writers conference, that heart goal requires a bedrock commitment to digging deeper than surface-level and initial impressions. That’s why people will be attracted and dedicated to you, not simply to your products, but because you reveal a process. Namely, a process of refinement.

So seek your why diligently and commit to refining the statement of your goal until it’s clear, concise, complete and uniquely you. It needs to offer the best glimpse into what makes your work remarkable.

The remaining answers will follow—your summary, audience, felt needs, the benefits, market potential, comparative books, even your qualifications—those other sections every proposal needs. Endorsers and those critically important partners you can call on will also be those who share that heart goal.

This is the best advice I can give. Research other successful authors’ heart goals. It may not be obvious at first, but it’s there. This isn’t just being smart; it’s vitally important for success. Then, keep refining until you land on the best way to express yours.

Borrow the Best

I suppose I think I write about this a lot, but maybe it’s not enough. Especially in learning to write your books, proposals, publicity pieces, and even blog posts and Facebook posts, you’ve got to learn to express your heart goal by learning how others express theirs.

In the same way you can’t just read the books that made you want to write yours, but have to pick them apart piece by piece, you also have to find what went into the posts and proposals and marketing of your favorite authors that makes their stuff work? What makes it so attractive and “sticky?”

I guarantee it’s the way they’ve learned to crystalize and express their heart goal.

Be Adventurous

What has happened to our sense of adventure in this spoon-fed culture of ours? Everything’s how-to’s and “short cuts” but nothing is really nailing the core of how to be a successful author. I don’t know, but I think that’s because no one wants to hear you just have to read others’ successful examples and learn it yourself.

I’m not being particularly original here. Isn’t this how authors have succeeded for ages? You read and then you copy and in the process, you find your own way. I think it’s clear that’s how all those teachers and guidebook writers found their material that they’re now trying to package for you. But what they can’t give you is the self-satisfaction and deep value for these insights from actually discovering them yourself.

It may be that this is a difference between successful writers and the rest. Maybe the successful writers know which tools and tips and secret methods to value more because they discovered them from their own indigenous sources.

If that’s true, maybe learning our heart goal from our deepest why could help us find freedom, instead of focusing on more teaching and training, simply to write more.

And ultimately, through refining to express it better, we might come to know our true selves more fully, to simplify and return us to our first love—that original experience of a better, more fulfilling way.


Come meet Mick Silva at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 16-22, 2016.



3 Ways to Impress a Judge

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Angie will teach an Afternoon Workshop and serve on the Critique Team at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.


Do you have the courage to put your work in front of people who will judge…you? Entering contests is like standing naked and alone. Confidence is a tough commodity when all possible flaws are visible. Waiting and waiting and waiting some more while other people read, comment, and score your book is excruciating. How do you make sure your entry isn’t a waste of time and money? Here’s a couple of tips to help and why those simple tips are important.

Angie Impress Judge Post


1. It’s not about you. The book or project you’ve created is not about you personally. Take the element of “them versus you” out of the equation. Don’t get offensive or offended. Judging a professional project isn’t about attacking an individual. It’s about looking at the project as an objective outsider. Ask, “Does it meet the criteria of the contest?” before sending the book. Then, above all, do not try to sell your work to a judge. (Yes, I receive sales materials regularly from contest participants.) It’s a huge faux pas unless the rules specifically allow it—and most don’t. Don’t send flyers, bookmarks, postcards, etc. The judge is not going to promote your work. It’s unethical for a judge to do so.

2. Read the rules. Elementary, right? Wrong. Having judged close to 1,000 books, often well over 50% of writers do not follow the contest rules. If not disqualified, missing the details can cause your book to score so low it’s a problem even if the book is fantastic. Publishers, contests, news outlets (the list is endless) all have guidelines. Writers lament over not being accepted or always losing. Too often the reason is that they haven’t paid close attention and, gasp, followed the rules. Check formatting, topic, word count, font, header/footer, book cover front/back elements, interior styles and placements, and any other rule. Check again. Once more before sealing the mailer!

3. There may be exceptions to writing rules, but not in contests. Yes, writers who know what they’re doing can, and do, successfully break writing rules. But in a contest, you’re showing you know and understand those rules. It’s like being back in school. A test demonstrates knowledge and ability to apply what you’ve learned. A contest could be considered a professional level test of what you know and understand about writing a non-fiction book or novel. Write the best book you can. Your book will stand out when you do follow the rules because, though a shocker, a large portion of entrants will not. How do you annoy a contest judge? Present a project and ignore the rules they’ve signed and/or agreed to use in judging the books. One last thought on those nefarious rules. If there isn’t a way to equalize the field, then how would you know what a win looks like? Try playing any game with no rules or the wrong set of rules. You get the picture.


Come meet Angela Breidenbach at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22.

Click here to Register Now!

A Writer’s Sabbath in a 24/7 World

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Historical novelist Sarah Sundin will serve as a mentor for the Morning Mentoring Clinic, teach an Afternoon Workshop, and serve on the Critique Team at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.

Sarah Sundin Sabbath Post


Feeling overwhelmed?

While the life of a writer sounds idyllic—spinning stories and autographing books—the reality is a whirlwind. When my fourth novel released in 2012, I worked nonstop—writing, emails, Facebook, interviews, Twitter, newsletters, articles, speaking engagements. By November, I was a wreck.

I haven’t been a big fan of “God’s One Word of the Year for You.” One word only? Every January 1? Right on schedule? Really? However, in 2013 a word emerged for me. Granted, God gave it to me in February. But I knew it was from God because I didn’t want to hear it.


To most of us Sabbath means going to church every Sunday. Sure, we can do that. But God’s commandment is much more than this. It’s a command to rest.

Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.”

If the Lord Almighty took a day off, so should we! The Lord knows our tendency to run ourselves ragged. Before creation, he knew we would live in a 24/7 world with our faces glued to our screens. The Lord made us, and He knows we need rest.

The command to rest is an exercise in trust. Do we trust the Lord to help us meet our commitments, even if we take time off? Like the manna in the desert that decayed when the Israelites gathered too much, the time we “steal” from the Lord decays in our hands. We end up burned out and less productive than if we’d rested in the first place.

How loving and merciful He is to command us to rest. Yet we resist, like toddlers being put down for naps.

Practical Approach

What does Sabbath rest look like for a professional writer living in a 24/7 world, where deadlines need to be met, emails need to be answered, and social media needs to be updated? How can we incorporate Sabbath into our lives?

For me, this means a two-pronged approach. First, I’ve trimmed things down. Instead of jumping on each writing or promotional opportunity, I evaluate it. Does it meet my career goals in a significant way? Will it reach new readers, connect with current readers, or minister to people? If not, I’ll pass.

Second, I’m intentionally working Sabbath into my routines. Daily—time in the Bible and in prayer, plus regular breaks to walk the dog or read a novel. Weekly—in addition to Sunday services, taking a day off—except the daily internet necessities (sigh). Yearly—a vacation focused on family and being outside.

How about you? How can you incorporate Sabbath into your life?


Meet Sarah Sundin at the 47th annual Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.


Allowing God to Lead You

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Managing Editor, Molly Green Magazine

Reviewing Pre-Conference Manuscript Submissions and Meeting with Writers at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22.



“Then Moses called Bezalel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, everyone whose heart was stirred, to come and do the work” Exodus 36:2, NKJV

A few years ago our pastor challenged us to ask God to use us in our area of talent. My heart leapt and I immediately thought, “I want God to be glorified through my writing—I want Him to use me.”

This wasn’t something that unexpectedly pounced on me that morning. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed imagining and writing stories. I majored in Communication Arts, but in the busyness of raising and homeschooling six children and being a wife and homemaker, I pushed the desire to create to the sidelines. Occasionally I’d slip away to write, but rarely found or made time to do.

That Sunday morning something changed. I could feel it. God stirred my heart and I responded.

Within a short period of time I began to see Him answering. Completely unaware of my whispered prayer, I was asked to co-write the skits for the upcoming VBS at our church—an event that averages about 500 children a day. Then the Women’s Ministries offered another writing opportunity. My dormant desire was being nourished and once again I began working on my unfinished books and stories, as well as these other projects.

In 2012, after an incredible and encouraging experience at Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference, I decided I needed a platform. Within a few months I stumbled on an opportunity—writing literature unit studies for a homeschooling website—perfect for this season of my life. This opportunity led to writing articles, as well, but also to my current position as the Managing Editor of a magazine that covers topics that highly interest me and still allows me to home educate our children.

As I look back on the past few years, I see how faithful God has been to answer my prayer to be used in an area I love, and to guide my steps—even when I feel like I’m flailing.

Maybe for years you’ve had a desire to write, but the circumstances in your life haven’t allowed you to be able to commit the time needed. Is now the time? Is your heart being stirred like the artisans in Exodus to come and do the work and allow God to direct your writing journey?

Ask Him.

Perhaps attending the Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference in 2016 is the next step and will help lead you to a new season in your life. If your heart is being stirred, He’s the one inspiring you.

What will your journey look like?


Come meet Marla Schultz at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.


Writing for Middle Grade Boys

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Serving as a fiction mentor for a Morning Mentoring Clinic at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.

Leading a bonus session Friday night, Preparing for the Appointment 



If you’re writing for middle grade kids, you may be making a critical mistake. Writing for “kids” suggests you’re targeting both boys and girls. Do that and you’ll likely only get the girls.

A better technique? Write for boys. You’ll get the boys and the girls if you do it right. Girls will read great writing targeted for boys, but many boys won’t read something they sense is written for girls. Lets look at things your writing for boys needs, and things you need to avoid.

Three Things Writing for Boys Needs

White Space– If you have too much margin-to-margin text your book looks like work to read—instead of fun. Many boys will simply close the book. Break up the page with dialogue, interior thought, etc.

Short Chapters– Some boys count the pages for a chapter before they read it. If the chapter is too long, they may not even start. Sometimes a boy only has fifteen minutes to read. If they can’t finish the chapter they’ll be frustrated. Find a good place to end the chapter sooner. I often average five or six pages. And remember … more chapters mean more cliffhangers—which is exactly what you need for boys.

Strong Starts– You know you need this. Your story is like a car on the line at a drag strip. When the reader opens to Chapter One, that’s the green light. You can’t be adjusting your mirrors and showing the reader what the track looks like. On the first line of the book you pop the clutch and stand on the gas. From the very first line you want to intrigue your reader … hint at danger. And not just the first line of the book, but the first line of every chapter.

Three Things Writing for Boys Must Avoid

Romance– Middle grade is a tricky time. Some boys are interested in girls, some aren’t. Many writers want to put a little romance in their stories just to keep the girls interested. Don’t do it. You’ll lose too many boys, and it isn’t needed. Girls will read—and love—a well-written story that has no romance.

Preachy– A good, well-written story will teach subtle spiritual truth. Including portions of a sermon the junior high character just happens to remember comes off as hokey. And so do many conversion scenes. They won’t seem real to the boy reader. When the story doesn’t seem real you’ll lose much of the potential impact your book could have had.

Lengthy Descriptions– The detailed descriptions you think will bring life to your story will more likely kill it. Boys skim descriptions—unless you’re describing a weapon, a cool machine, etc. They don’t care what most rooms look like. Honest. Limit your description only to the details that matter to your POV character at the moment, and give it to the readers in very small doses.

You want to write for middle grade kids?

Excellent. Target the boys, and you’ll get them all.


Come meet Tim Shoemaker at the 47th annual Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, 2016.

Registration is Now Open!

Writing and Selling Your Memoir: It’s All About Theme

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Memoir Cartoon


Associate Editor, Nonfiction, David C. Cook Publishing

Reviewing Pre-Conference Manuscript Submissions and meeting with writers, March 18-22, 2016



“Memoir is about handing over your life to someone and saying, ‘This is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it.’ It’s honestly sharing what you think, feel, and have gone through. If you can do that effectively, then somebody gets the wisdom and benefit of your experience without having to live it.” ~ Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

You have a personal story. It may have been tragic or traumatic or very emotional, and you not only survived it, you learned valuable life lessons from it. Perhaps it can help others if you share it. So, what do you need to know about writing and selling your memoir?

Here are some basic writing guidelines:

  1. Rule #1: Your memoir is not about you. There’s more to crafting a memoir than writing your life story. It isn’t one long journal written in chronological order. It also isn’t a book-length rant. Writing your memoir can be cathartic, but good memoir is geared more toward the reader’s experience.
  2. Tell the truth. With recent books having been fabricated, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’ve got your story straight. That doesn’t mean you have to remember what color shirt you were wearing on a certain day, or that you have to include every factual detail. It means be honest, don’t embellish, don’t exaggerate. Also, you’ll want to document facts, especially if you have legal or medical aspects to your story.
  3. Use fiction techniques. Every page must drive your story forward, so you need to create tension and remember to show, not tell. A good memoir often begins with an intense, emotion-packed moment of drama.
  4. Make ‘em hungry. Only include things that will actually interest your reader and make them want more. So what if your cat hacked up a hairball? Just because something happened, doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Keep in mind that the reader wants an emotional experience, and they’re always looking for what’s in your story for

Annie Dillard says, “You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arms, like a drunk, and say, ‘And then I did this and it was so interesting.’”

What do agents and editors want to see in a memoir?

  1. A query with a strong hook. Unless you’ve met in person with an agent or an editor, don’t send anything more than a query letter. Make your letter stand out by creating a compelling hook for it.
  2. A complete, compelling proposal. Follow agency guidelines when submitting to agents. If you haven’t already written a book proposal, do this even before you finish your manuscript. A book proposal is like a business plan for a book. It will help you fully evaluate your audience, your market, and your own merit for writing a memoir.
  3. Excellent writing—an absolute must. Do not send your manuscript to an agent or editor until it is ready! The worst thing you can do is to be in a hurry to publish. Have a professional critique and/or edit your manuscript and proposal first, and be willing to do revisions if needed.
  4. A sensational or highly emotional story. Readers only keep reading memoir that holds meaning for them personally. They want an experience, not just lovely prose. Also, note that Christian publishers prefer a redemptive ending.
  5. A considerable platform and/or media attention. This is especially important to publishers these days, so you’ll want to give it your best effort.

Finally, remember that writing your memoir, even though it’s your story and what you learned along the way, is not about you. It’s about your reader—their life, their issues, and what they care about. And readers only read because they want to.

Alice CriderCome meet Alice Crider at the conference, March 18-22, 2016!

Registration is Now Open!

A Courage Challenge

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Many thanks to our 2016 Faculty for supplying two posts a week through the conference in March. 


Nonfiction Author

Pre-Conference Next Level Clinic Coordinator and Nonfiction Mentor

Morning Mentoring Nonfiction Coordinator and Nonfiction Mentor



Artist Vincent van Gogh asked the question, “What would life be like if we had courage enough to attempt anything?”

As a writer who is also a credentialed life coach, I love asking questions like this. They are big dream questions that lift us out of the narrow scope of vision we are living. They help us explore, not simply possibilities, but where our heart might be already longing to go, where perhaps God has been inviting us to go next.

But what is courage enough for us as writers?

Courage enough to…

  • slash what isn’t working in our stuck plotline
  • cut open the tough places of our own story
  • take that leap toward a different reader-audience focus
  • face down the daily taunts of inadequacy
  • add our voice to a seemingly satiated market
  • compose those first difficult words of a new project

These are what stir our writer’s gut with longing or fear, where we find we are holding our breath.

What is stirring for you as you look at your unique writing projects or publishing hopes and dreams? Capture a clear picture and then allow me to add one more—a courage challenge:

Courage enough to trust God to take you wherever he needs to in order to shape you as his writer so he might powerfully set loose words and stories through you for his purposes.

Where might he take you? Can you imagine the heights? Or does hesitancy keep you grounded? You might have already seen and been inspired by the popular quote by contemporary poet, Erin Hanson:

There is freedom waiting for you,

On the breezes of the sky.

And you ask, “What if I fall?”

“Oh but darling,

What if you fly?”

In those words, and really throughout Scripture, we see a companion to courage called trust. The question that begins and ends the whole adventure of flying is God’s: “Do you trust me in this?”


Where do you struggle most with courage?

You’ll meet Jan Kern at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 16-22, where she will coordinate the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinics and coordinate the Nonfiction Morning Mentoring Clinic. Jan is also a nonfiction mentor in both programs.

Magazine Writing: Starting Point or Destination?

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Each Monday, we’re featuring one of the Major Morning Tracks lined up for March 2016.

Choose one of seven tracks designed for writers at every skill level for your Major Morning Track—Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Designed with three parts packed with benefits.

  • Morning Instruction
  • Guided writing in tandem with the teaching
  • Afternoon Mentoring Groups

Instructor: Jesse Florea, Magazine Editor and Author 

Jesse FloreaJesse Florea has worked at Focus on the Family for more than 22 years. For the past 18, he’s been the editor of Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse magazine (for boys and girls ages 8 to 12) and is currently the editorial director for youth publications where he oversees Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. Additionally, Jesse has written for dozens of magazines, including current monthly assignments from devotion and teen publications. He has helped co-write more than a 20 books (including The Case for Grace for Kids, The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions, The One Year Devotions for Active Boys, The One Year Devos for Sports Fans, Linspired: The Jeremy Lin Story and Playing With Purpose Mariano Rivera).  He lives with his wife, Stephanie, in Colorado Springs, and enjoys hanging out with his two adult children.

Major Morning Track #6 of 7

Magazine Writing: Starting Point or Destination?

Is print dead? No way! But the industry is changing. This workshop looks at the reasons you may want to write for periodicals, which include the 3P’s (not to be confused with the C-3PO’s): profit, platform and portfolio. It’s also a great way to express your passion. (Hey, that’s a fourth P!) We’ll talk about how to capture an editor’s attention, practice crafting an effective lead, learn about different types of magazines (online and print), delve into devotional writing and discover how good interviewing skills can open doors to big-time periodicals.

What specific questions do you have that you’d like Jesse Florea to answer in his Major Morning Track?

If you missed any of the previously featured Major Morning Track posts you can view them here.

Join Mount Hermon Writers on . . . 




Mount Hermon Writers–A Timely Distraction

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The Major Morning Tracks at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference experienced a makeover this year. Each of the six offerings delivered three key components–Instruction, Directed Writing, and Mentoring to students in all stages of their development as a writer.

In No Excuses Nonfiction: A Bootcamp for Serious Writers, taught by Lynn Vincent, the participants worked on narrative nonfiction pieces written in response to their experience at the 2015 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

Congratulations to Eileen Kusakabe! Her post was one of two chosen to appear on the Mount Hermon Writers blog.

Eileen Kusakabe with her daughter Elyse

Blogger: Eileen Kusakabe

My pulse quickens as I hear others around me tapping furiously on laptops or scribbling their lines on notepads.

“Why am I here?” I moan to myself. “Lord, I want to bring you glory, and present the best story I can about what you are doing in my life. You alone know my lack of education, my overuse of commas, and the genuine struggle to get thoughts and ideas down on paper. Please guide me and provide what I need to serve you well.”

My chest heaves as I take in a deep breath to settle myself and begin the task before me. “What can I write about my Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ conference experience?”

Just last Wednesday I was rolling off an inflatable mattress, reaching to turn off my “Morning Song” phone alarm. How could such a beautiful song start such a sad day? My swollen eyes bore proof of all the tears shed the night before. The end of our time together was at hand. Tiptoeing around the dorm room, I gathered my last few belongings to take down to the car. After quietly changing, my daughter Elyse gathered the car keys and we headed out the door. The crisp early morning air kept us walking at a brisk pace.

My flight, the first of three legs in the journey to Mount Hermon, was set to leave at 6 a.m. Hearing the chimes of Raley Chapel at Oklahoma Baptist University, we knew we were right on time. Few headlights crossed our path as we drove down the wide open roads of Highway 40. We both sat quietly, lost in our thoughts of the past 10 days together. Nearing the Will Rogers World Airport, her wavering voice broke the silence, “I will miss you so much, Mom.”

Feeling my own tears prick the corners of my eyes then splash down my cheeks, I hoarsely replied, “Thank you for letting me see your life and your world. I have enjoyed every moment with you, and can’t wait to see you again.”

Parking at the curb, we pulled out my suitcase, and hugged tightly for a long moment. “Want to pull a ‘Thelma and Louise’ instead?” I whispered into her thick, long hair. Elyse leaned back and rolled her teary eyes.

“Oh Mommy!” She chuckled. I stood alone as she got into the car and called out one last time, “I love you!” Spring Break has ended, and the journey to Mount Hermon begins.

“This is so crazy!” That mantra runs through my mind as I trudge down the staircase to the baggage claim area of San Jose International Airport. My heart flips when I see the “Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference” placard in the hands of a tall balding man. “This is it.” Straightening my shoulders and extending my hand, I introduce myself.

He warmly replies, “Well hello, Kristal you say?”

Shaking my head, I say too quietly, “No, Eileen.”

Continuing down the list he holds, he says,

“Courtney?” Turning my head to one side I smile and jokingly reply, “Nope. Would you like to continue guessing or can I give you my name?”

He nods offhandedly, still looking at the list.

“Eileen Kusakabe.” Looking over his shoulder, I point it out.

“Oh, you’re early,” he states, pointing to a far wall. “You can go stand over there.”

I see a group of enthusiastic men and women smiling and laughing together. I sidle up to the far edge of the group, and notice that a few of these faces look familiar. I had seen them on the website!”

Brief “hellos” are exchanged before I wander off to retrieve my suitcase from the carousel. Thoughts run rampant through my mind. What am I doing here? They look so smart! My pulse quickens as I look down at my old jeans, dirty jacket, and sneakers. They even dress smart! Coats, slacks, scarves, and shoes seem to be the norm. Oh Lord, what have I gotten myself into? Did I hear correctly when you gave me Psalm 32:8? Is this really the best pathway for my life?

Swerving through the mountains in the crowded shuttle I suggest we play, “Jello.” To the right, I hear a faint chuckle.

Small talk ensues with, “Where are you from?” and, “What are you writing?”

Unsure of myself, I rattle off a short concise response that doesn’t portray the depth of what I feel about my writing. “I am writing a memoir about my cancer journey.” How boring! How unimaginative!

Why can’t I convey that God sent me here? How do I get out the story that burns within? Will this conference help me in my quest to write, or confirm my fear that I am incapable? I feel like a spy with a secret identity that I cannot reveal. Maybe I am crazy.

Sleep eludes me after days of endless eating, teaching, and clock watching. I feel as if I am a cup being held beneath a raging waterfall.

Stacy Hawkins Adams, Eileen Kasakabe, and Lynn Vincent


It is Palm Sunday, and I long for some refreshment and reflection. The birds call out back and forth between the tree tops, “chrrip, chrrrip, chrrrip” as I walk outside my door in the predawn morning. Though bundled in many layers of clothes, the cold air still seeps through to touch my skin.

Seeing silhouetted forms huddled in front of the coffee shop and hearing faint conversation, the now familiar mantra in my head begins again: Do I really belong here…? Suddenly self-conscious, my gait slows as I make my way across the street. I hear a quiet, “Hello” and, “Good morning” tossed my way.

A fellow writer, Frieda, comes over and gives me a hug, as does my Pre-Conference Head Start teacher, Judy.

A new warmth seeps into my tired bones as I realize I feel a kinship towards these women. Though I have only known them for a few days, they have already read some of my deepest secrets and fears.

A hike to the cross on Mount Hermon’s expansive grounds begins with our group of enthusiastic men and women smiling and laughing together. The cold within melts away as we continue the steep climb. Gasps of delight ensue as we catch our first glimpse of the cross, silhouetted by the faintly lit sky. We circle in and begin singing psalms of praise and offering brief heartfelt prayers.

As the sky begins to lighten, so does my countenance. I am thrilled with the insights learned and the ability to see scenes in my writing. As the sun peeks beyond the horizon, I realize I am in community with these writers. I am no longer afraid.


NOTE From Mona Hodgson, Director of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference: Thanks for sharing your blog post with us, Eileen! And many thanks to Lynn Vincent for her stellar contribution to the 2015 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

For those of you who left Lynn’s classroom wanting more AND for those of you who missed out and need another opportunity, I have great news! Lynn Vincent plans to return to Mount Hermon, March 16-22, 2016, as a nonfiction mentor.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And plan to join us in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California in 2016!





Writing Bootcamp

Posted by & filed under Writers Conference.

The Major Morning Tracks at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference experienced a makeover this year. Each of the six offerings delivered three key components–Instruction, Directed Writing, and Mentoring to students in all stages of their development as a writer.

In No Excuses Nonfiction: A Bootcamp for Serious Writers, taught by Lynn Vincent, the participants worked on narrative nonfiction pieces written in response to their experience at the 2015 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

Congratulations to Bethany Macklin! Her post was one of two chosen to appear on the Mount Hermon Writers blog.

Bethany Macklin

Blogger: Bethany Macklin

“This stupid thing, I can’t get it to work,” my husband said swiping back and forth on his iPhone. His recent job loss had been hard on all of us. He glanced at me. “My mom is sending group texts about Easter plans. I hate group messages!”

We sat in the car waiting for my ride to Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. Going to Mount Hermon this year was a gift from God. In the face of our financial crisis, I had planned to cancel my reservation, but a generous campership had come through at the last minute. Good thing, too. I didn’t know how much more stress I could take and I hadn’t been able to write for a month.

I needed to get away. To regroup. To recharge my writing call. After months of intense work pressure, impossible ministry deadlines, and three weeks of back to back mind-numbing 14 hour days, I was done. Finished. Cooked. My mind a puddle of primordial goo. I just need to get out of town, I thought.

I sat slumped in my seat, my phone askew on my lap, exhaustion oozing from every pore. I ignored my husband’s outbursts. Instead, I stared out the window at the curb, my mind a mush pot of resume outlines, women’s ministry tea ticket sales, and tax prep. I couldn’t absorb another thing.

The energy needed to encourage my husband amidst his job angst was tapped out. To make matters worse, the late night hours I’d spent performing plastic surgery on his resume had depleted my reserves even further. By the morning of the conference, I barely had enough strength or presence of mind to dress and gather my bags.

“I can’t figure this stupid thing out.” Mike jabbed ineffectually for a moment then thrust the phone toward me, “Could you figure it out?”

I took the phone and stared at it, unable to process the simple screen. I needed to get away, but was I ready for Mount Hermon?

My goal for the conference was simple: meet with my target publisher and pitch my project. See what happened. Although editors had requested my proposal in the past, my project hadn’t made it through the final committee–despite the editor’s initial excitement over it. After seven years of incorporating suggested edits, the pressure to return home with good news hung like a yoke around my neck.

I needed a breakthrough. A prayer team had supported my writing for over eight years and my husband had funded it at great cost. And although I’d published articles with leading magazines, I didn’t always feel like a real writer. “Real writers” produced more material.  “Real writers” published books.

I could see it now:

“What project are you working on?”

“Well, uh…the same one I was ‘working on’ the first time I came 7 years ago.”

“Wow, you haven’t gotten far have you?” Translation: What a failure…

My ride pulled in and I climbed out of our car. Finally I was on my way. As we hummed along the freeway, I tuned out the happy chatter of my fellow travelers. They were going to a writers’ conference–I was going away. Destination: “Anywhere But Here.”

When we arrived at Mount Hermon I was still in zombie mode. Brain-dead and leaden limbed. A by-product of pressure overload.

My car mates had slated us for a day at the ocean to defragment before the conference began. As I sat on a bench overlooking the beach, the ocean air penetrated the pressure induced coma I’d been functioning in for the last two months. I felt the breeze on my skin. I could see the faces of those walking past me on the sidewalk. I could hear snatches of words–and they made sense. My wine even tasted good at dinner.

After a good night’s sleep, I walked briskly down the narrow cobbled path to my major morning track refreshed by the calm mountain setting. I could feel the writer in me stirring. I didn’t want to talk with anyone. I just wanted to think. To focus. To write. “Bootcamp.” Sounded about right. What my writing needed was a “do over,’” a hard reset and I was ready for it. Hungry for it.

Lynn Vincent and Bethany Macklin

A young woman pulling a small black suitcase, it’s wheels clacking on the rutted walkway drew up beside me, “Is this the way to the class?”

“Yeah, I think it’s up here past the parking lot. I’ve been coming here for several years and have never been back here.”

“I haven’t either,” the young woman walked beside me at a clip to keep up. I slowed my pace to a friendlier stride and we walked in to the first morning workshop. I was awake, engaged, and ready for a breakthrough.

That first day, I felt great. Full of hope. Of cheer. Of benevolence. Then I made the trip to pick up my submission envelope within whose fate-lined seal lay my hopes. I opened it, drew out the blue comment sheet and read the few words scrawled across the bottom, “See me at dinner to make an appointment. Are there more studies than this? What’s next after this?”

Disappointment descended like fog, dense and heavy, obscuring the optimism of the morning. I had hoped for more. I’d heard this before and thought I’d addressed it in my proposal. Obviously not. But it was a familiar question at least, and after eight years I knew how to answer it.

It took an evening of wrestling with God in prayer, rest, and renewed surrender to God’s plan before I broke through the heart fog. By the following day, I was alert, laptop open, fingers poised ready to report for “Bootcamp.”


NOTE From Mona Hodgson, Director of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference: Thanks for sharing your blog post with us, Bethany! And many thanks to Lynn Vincent for her stellar contribution to the 2015 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

For those of you who left Lynn’s classroom wanting more AND for those of you who missed out and need another opportunity, I have great news! Lynn Vincent plans to return to Mount Hermon, March 16-22, 2016, as a nonfiction mentor.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And plan to join us in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California in 2016!

10 Reasons You’ll Want to Visit the Critique Team

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Kathy Ide, Critique Team Coordinator for the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, shares some of the many benefits of stopping by the Hospitality Center during the afternoons.

Kathy Ide

Blogger: Kathy Ide

The Critique Team is one valuable resource of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that sometimes gets overlooked in the frenzy of editor appointments and workshops. Conference participants can stop in on a break or during any of the afternoon workshop times for a 15-minute one-on-one meeting with a faculty member. No appointments are made; just come by whenever is convenient for you. As many times as you wish.

This year we have almost a dozen faculty members on the Critique Team, with expertise in fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, YA, poetry, articles, short stories, indie/hybrid/e-book publishing, blogging, ABA markets, and more. No matter what type of writing you do or what stage of writing you’re in, you will benefit from a personal meeting with one of these industry professionals.

Here are ten reasons you will want to make time in your schedule to visit the critique team:

Direction on a project or idea – The Critique Team can help you decide if your nonfiction book or novel is ready to pitch to an editor. Or whether you should turn your idea into a book or start with an article. You’ll want to visit the Critique Team early n the conference so you know whether you should start making editor appointments or if you need to take a particular workshop.

Brainstorming – Have you been told your book idea would work better as a series of articles? Or that                         your memoir would be more marketable as a Christian Living book? Does your novel lack something but you              don’t know what it is? Our Critique Team members can help you brainstorm, plot, and plan.

Feedback on your work-in-progress – If you never show your work to anyone (besides family and close friends), how will you know if it’s any good? Bring a few pages of your writing to the Critique Team. We can offer honest feedback that will help you see your project’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Practicing or preparing a pitch – You have a meeting scheduled with an editor and feel completely clueless. Everyone is talking about “pitches.” What exactly is a pitch anyway? Is yours any good? Visit the Critique Team for an opportunity to practice a pitch or start one from scratch.

Industry Insights – How does this whole publishing thing work? What are your options? Do you need an agent at this point? Ask a Critique Team member for some insights.

Help Processing –If you submit a manuscript to two editors and get responses that seem to conflict, or if an editor review leaves you confused or hurt, come see us. A Critique Team member can look at those comments through the eyes of experience, point out common themes, and help you make sense of what was said. Don’t waste time on frustration or confusion, come see us!

Encouragement and prayer – Writers’ conferences are exciting and fun, but they usually include moments of       information overload and discouragement too. Come talk with a Critique Team member if you need to pray with someone about your writing goals, cry over a disappointing manuscript review, or be talked out of going home early. (You wouldn’t want to miss what God has planned for you, right?)

Processing exciting news – Sometimes good news can overwhelm us. What does an editor mean by “Send me a proposal?” Did the agent really mean it when she said she wanted to represent you? Or maybe you just want someone to celebrate with. The Critique Team would love to share your exciting news—especially if we prayed you through a difficult moment or evaluated the manuscript that just got requested!

Applying advice – You’ve received great feedback at the conference; the question is how to apply it to your work-in-progress or to future projects. Before packing to go home, visit the Critique Team and ask for tips on applying comments and suggestions or understanding how to implement something you heard in a workshop.

Planning your next step – Whether you’re brand new to writing, coming out of a season that affected your creativity, or needing to take your career to the next level, a Critique Team member can help you figure out where to go next. You might want to do this near the end of the conference as you prepare to go home and apply what you learned.

The Critique Team is located in the Hospitality Center, under the Dining Hall. Critique Team hours are Saturday through Monday, 1:15-6:00 pm, during breaks and while workshops are in session. (Instructors understand that conferees sometimes need to leave for appointments. So if you find that a workshop you’ve chosen isn’t right for you after all, feel free to leave quietly and come see the Critique Team.)

This valuable service is included in the price you paid for registration. Don’t leave the conference without taking advantage of it. At least once!

Have you been to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference before? Did you take advantage of the opportunity to meet with a Critique Team member? Why? Why not? 



Break In Writing Devotionals

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Do you love spending time in God’s Word? As you move through your daily life, do you see God at work?

Have you thought about writing devotionals?

Maybe it’s time you did.

We have editors from two different daily devotional magazines joining us at Mount Hermon, March 27-31, 2015.

URE_MA15_Brz75.jpg Indeed MagazinePathways Susan King New

From Susan King, Associate Editor at The Upper Room

“Whenever I find my writing getting sloppy, I write a devotional for The Upper Room and it tightens it right up,” book author and former editor (The Saturday Evening PostGuideposts) Hal Hostetler once told me. He claimed that writing devotionals was the best discipline a writer could have. Then he added, “And who can resist the reach?” He was referring to the opportunity The Upper Room offers to connect with millions of readers in over 100 countries worldwide.

But these aren’t the only reasons to write devotionals. This practice also provides great spiritual discipline. After all, connecting God’s Word to the experiences of our lives is what Christians should be doing every day. Have God’s care and presence become real for you in your interaction with others? Has the Bible given you guidance and helped you see God at work? Has the meaning of scripture become personal for you as you reflected on it?

Yes? Then you have something to share in a devotional.

For more detailed guidelines and all sorts of helpful tips on writing devotionals, go to

Click here to read Susan King’s BIO.

Chris Tiegreen

Chris Tiegreen, Editor of Indeed Devotional Magazine and Pathways Magazine, is teaching an afternoon worksh0p — Devotionals: Breakfast with Your Readers

“One of the most effective ways to get your message in front of readers daily is through devotionals. But a good devotional is more than just an encouraging thought for the day. Learn how to draw readers in, take them deeper, and leave them with an insight that lingers long after they have finished reading.”

Click here to read Chris Tiegreen’s BIO. 

Join us at Mount Hermon to learn how to Break In Writing Devotionals.


About That Conference Appointment

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Steve Laube, a Literary Agent and President of Steve Laube Agency, is back on the Mount Hermon Writers blog again sharing a Faculty Guest Post Q & A. Click here to read the full bio for Steve Laube.

Steve Laube

Steve will join us at the conference, March 27-31, 2015, to review manuscripts, meet with writers, teach one afternoon workshop and co-teach another. Click here to view the workshop summaries for Landmines in Your Book Contract and Planning Your Book Launch.

Blogger: Steve Laube

About that Conference Appointment 

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.




What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations. The biggest mistake is thinking that this is the guaranteed method for getting a book contract and that you have one chance to make or break your entire writing dream. Modify those expectations. Instead see it as a learning experience and a place to listen and absorb the sights and sounds around you. It can, in some ways, be a safe place to fail.

Over the years it is estimated that you’ve conducted nearly 2,000 of these appointments. What are you looking for in a new author or client? Is there an element in a pitch that you look for?

This a VERY difficult question. Reading anything is an extremely subjective experience. If I like the pitch I may not like the writing. And sometimes the pitch is weak but the writing is great. And furthermore, what gets me excited may cause another agent’s eyes glaze over.

In the appointment I’m looking at the person as much as the pitch and the writing. It is the connection made with their personality and their passion and their overall presentation of themselves. That is as much a part of the pitch as the actual words in the manuscript. It is one of the reasons why agents and editors go to a conference…to see firsthand that “snap” or “spark” which makes that person stand out. Hopefully the execution of the writing delivers as well.

Understand that I’m not saying that someone has to be a “bigger-than-life” personality. That would be a rather shallow perspective. Instead it is reading the person behind the page. It is hard to explain and impossible to teach to someone else. But those of us on this side of the table know what I mean. The successful agents and editors have the ability to pick those few from the crowd..

So, please understand I’m not talking about a song and dance routine. But instead I’m talking of the internal fire, that God given spark that says, “Steve? Pay attention.”

What is the one thing that drives you crazy about people when they pitch. What is the one thing you wish they would do?

On the one hand is the person who tries to tell their entire novel or book idea with excruciating detail. That is either a case of nerves or a case of failing to practice ahead of time.

On the other hand is the person who is so precise that they sit down, smile, and hit me with their 25 word blurb. Then they close their mouth and expectantly wait for my august pronouncement, as if that is considered a conversation. That “interview” has lasted for all of two minutes at that point…. and the silence is rather awkward. (Realize I haven’t read anything yet.)

The key is a strong balance between being over eager and talkative and the sterile precision of a practiced speaker. Remember, this is a conversation. I am not only listening to your pitch, I’m also listening to you. I am also meeting you.

But if I say “No. This doesn’t work for me.” That doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It is like the sidewalk vendor who shows me their turquoise jewelry and I say “No thanks. Not today.” I am declining a business proposition not crushing your soul.

Is there any sort of unwritten protocol to which you can clue us in?

Use your common sense. The jokes about slipping a proposal under a bathroom stall door are based in fact. Imagine my surprise while standing in the bathroom doing my business when a fellow comes up to me and starts pitching his book idea. I turned my head and sternly had to say, “Not now! Do you really want me to associate your book idea with this experience?”

At one conference a woman followed me into the men’s room while making her pitch. I had to ask her if she would mind waiting outside for a moment.

I’ll never forget another lady who came up to the appointment table, stood over me, and shook a finger saying, “Now you be nice to me!” And then gestured aggressively at another editor in the room, “Because that man over there made me cry.” I timidly asked her to take a seat.

Once a writer was so nervous about the appointment that the moment she sat down she burst into tears.

My advice to every writer is to r-e-l-a-x. Be yourself. The editor/agent is not necessarily an ogre. (However, after watching me at a writers conference in Oklahoma City Thomas Umstattd gave me the title “The Harbinger of Grim Reality” or “ogre” for short. Gee, thanks Thomas.)

If you run into an editor/agent in the hall or the elevator, it’s okay to talk to them! We are not “rock star celebrities” for goodness sake. We have come to the conference with the goal to find new talent and to nurture relationships.

Try not to argue with the editor/agent. It’s okay to disagree and state your case, but if you let it devolve into a snit you need to apologize…and so does the editor/agent. Civility should reign. If I make a statement regarding the receptivity of the market to your book idea, I’m not asking for a debate (“But mine is so much better than Harry Potter!”), I’m merely expressing my observations about the marketplace.

It’s been said that some editors and agents request everything pitched to them at a conference. What is your take on this, and how often do you make requests?

There can be the problem of the “false positive” at a conference. By “false positive” I mean the editor/agent says, “Send it to me” only to later send a stock rejection letter. It is a problem of which there is no real solution. Editors/Agents cannot fully evaluate a project in a 15 minute meeting or over a group dinner table. Back in the office they can weigh your project against the others they are considering. But at least you are being considered! If you had not gone to the conference you would not have had that chance. I can name numerous times in my past where I contracted someone after reading the proposal in the office. Of course the majority receive the “no thank you” letter. Just because the faculty member says, “send it” doesn’t carry with it a guarantee of a sale.

It is especially difficult with fiction because the reading is more of an experience than an evaluation. I’m not afraid to say, “This needs work” to any writer and many of you reading this blog have heard those words from me. But at the same time our agency’s door is always open. We are always in the hunt for the “next best.” I can’t know if that is the “next” unless I get it reviewed and read it myself in a different context outside the conference.

Have you ever signed an author after meeting with them at conference?

Many times. Both as an agent and back when I was an editor at Bethany House. It does happen. Most recently it happened at the Mt. Hermon conference in March 2010. This first time author made her initial pitch during dinner. Her non-fiction idea was great and the pitch was dynamic. We then met later one-on-one to discuss the idea further. Then I spent time with the sample writing back in my office. We decided to work together and spent a few months developing a top-notch proposal. After sending it around we have had interest from five publishers with two wanting face-to-face meetings at their headquarters. Ultimately it turned into a high value multi-book offer from a major publisher…for a first-time non-fiction author. And it all started with a short meeting at the conference.

I can safely say that every editor or agent would agree that if they find one (only one) new talent from a conference it is considered a success.

I’ve had many times where nothing specific came out of that conference but years later it bore fruit. For example, Paul Robertson attended a conference where I spoke in the late 90s. He said he sent something afterwards that I rejected. Eight years later he sent me a proposal that is now a published book (The Heir) with Bethany House. So while I didn’t necessarily see anything at the time it had results nearly 10 years later.

Have you ever rejected someone who later became a successful author?

Of course! Ask any editor/agent about the “one they let get away.” They’ll be “happy” to tell you their story.

At the Florida writers conference a few years ago we had a faculty meeting prior to the event. Each faculty member stood up and introduced themselves. The first turned and said, “Hi, my name is ____ and here is my new book….which Steve Laube rejected.” We all laughed. Then the next person stood and said, “Hi, my name is ____ … and Steve Laube rejected me too.” There were over a dozen published authors in that room who claimed the “Laube rejection.” So when it came to my turn, I stood and said, “Hi, my name is Steve Laube and I’m the key to your success.” Hilarity ensued.

A lot of writers deserve their initial rejections! Often they start out with a half-baked pitch or with an idea that just landed on the bestseller list written by another author. Jack Cavanaugh went to writers conferences for ten years before he sold the first of his 25+ novels. During those years he learned the craft, he learned the industry, and he became friends with editors. And when the time was right his novel was accepted and a career was born.

Click Here to learn how to make an appointment with agents and editors at the Mount Hermon Christian Wrtiers Conference!


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Creating the Perfect Opening for a Novel

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Blogger: Joseph Bentz

Creating the Perfect Opening for a Novel

Joseph Bentz Book Pages

If you come to Mount Hermon to learn how to be a better fiction writer, one concept you will no doubt hear repeatedly is how important the first few pages of your novel are. If done well, they can invite the reader into your book, but if handled poorly, they can slam the door shut and prevent the reader from proceeding to any good material that follows.

How can you write a compelling opening for your novel?

In a California literature course I teach at Azusa Pacific University, we study Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep, a classic of hardboiled detective fiction that features private investigator Philip Marlowe solving mysteries in a noir-ish and unforgettable Los Angeles setting.

After the students read the book, one of the first ways we study it is simply to read out loud and analyze the first few pages. Chandler wastes no time. His opening establishes the novel’s tone and atmosphere, captures the personality of the narrator Marlowe, and propels the plot into motion. It isn’t easy to do all those things at once. If you don’t believe me, try it.

Joseph Bentz The Big Sleep Cover

Take a look at The Big Sleep’s first two paragraphs:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. he didn’t seem to be really trying.

What information do we learn from these two paragraphs? A private detective has dressed up in a nice suit in order to call on a wealthy client who lives in a mansion.

Those are the facts, but Chandler’s words tell us much more. Why describe the outfit in such detail, even down to the socks? If you pick up a hint of sarcasm in that little bit of over-description, it is confirmed in the next sentence: “I was neat, clean shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.” That declaration conveys more than the surface meaning of the words. As one of my students put it, “Someone who is usually sober doesn’t need to point out that he is sober.” The same is true for being clean and shaved. Marlowe may be revealing a few weaknesses in that sentence, but also a few strengths: he’s frank, down-to-earth, and he has a self-deprecating sense of humor. I like him already.

Almost every sentence in these two paragraphs has something to commend it. For example, take at “I was calling on four million dollars.” A lesser writer might have settled for something like, “I was calling on a wealthy client.” Chandler’s sentence is better than that in both tone and content. We now know how wealthy General Sternwood is (his four million is in late 1930s dollars), and more importantly, the tone indicates Marlowe is not over-awed by money.

His sarcasm toward ostentatious displays of wealth is extended in the second paragraph, when he describes the Sternwood mansion. He doesn’t need any direct comment about how gaudy he thinks the place is. The fact that the entrance doors “would have let in a troop of Indian elephants” tells the reader plenty about Marlowe’s attitude toward the house. His commentary on the stained-glass artwork tells us as much about the unpretentious detective as it does about the questionable artistic taste of the Sternwoods.

The opening paragraphs of The Big Sleep let us know we are starting a journey with a narrator who knows what he’s doing, both as a detective and as a storyteller. We like him from the start, and we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. He doesn’t disappoint.

Joseph Bentz, a freelance author and an English Professor at Azusa Pacific University, is part of the faculty for the 2015 conference. Click here to read the full bio for Joseph Bentz.

Joe Bentz casual

Joe will join us at the conference, March 27-31, 2015, to serve as a Morning Mentoring Track Nonfiction Mentor and teach an afternoon workshop. Click here to view the workshop summary for Strategies for Writers with No Time to Write.


Does the opening to your novel need strengthening? Do you want to make your fiction more compelling? Think about taking your fiction to the next level in our Head Start Pre-Conference Mentoring Track. 

Say No to Creativity

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Meet Nick Harrison, Senior Editor, Harvest House Publishers! To Read the full bio for Nick Harrison, click here.

Nick Harrison

Nick plans to join us at the conference, March 27-31, 2015, to review manuscripts, meet with writers, and teach an afternoon workshop. Click here to view the workshop summary for What to Do When You Don’t Have a Platform.

Blogger: Nick Harrison

Say No to Creativity

taking a testStop it with the creativity….for a while anyway. Being creative doesn’t get you published. Many very creative people never make a go of their writing career. Why?

Because they’re so busy being creative, they’re not taking the time to plan their career. And many mediocre writers succeed because they’ve stopped being creative long enough to plan to succeed.I’m going to put on my drill sergeant’s hat now (reluctantly of course) and have you take a little test.

How many of the following statements are true of you?

  1. You have more than half a dozen unfinished writing projects somewhere on your computer.
  2. You resent the intrusion of having to write a book proposal, rather than just work on the book itself.
  3. You write when you can with no specified writing time, often missing two or three (or more) days at a time.
  4. You are a self-confessed procrastinator about your writing.
  5. You’ve come up with acceptable reasons for not attending a writer’s conference this year.
  6. You have no idea how different your writing career will be one year from now.
  7. You do not impose deadlines on your projects.
  8. You’ll skip writing to watch a mediocre television program or spend more time on Facebook.
  9. Your writing future consists more of hopes than it does of plans.
  10. You’re still bummed about your most recent rejection. (Get over it! Blame it on the editor if it helps you get past it.)

If you answered yes to a few of the above, that’s okay. Welcome to the real world. None of us is perfect.

But if more than half are true of you, you need to turn off the right side of your brain—the creative side—and engage the left side of your brain to set up a plan to succeed. That plan can consist of several possible elements, not limited to these below.

  1. Compose a mission statement for your writing. What is your goal as a writer? Keep it brief. Just a couple of sentences should suffice. A mission statement will help you stay focused.
  2. Create a list of your writing projects prioritized by their importance. You can define importance in the way that works best for you. For me, the list is prioritized by my passion combined with what I perceive as the marketability of the idea. I’ve just winnowed my list down to 44 items. If I live long enough to complete 5-10 of them, I’ll be happy. We all know not all ideas are created equal. Some are true duds and can eventually be discarded. Some simply arrive before their time and must wait several notches down on the list until they “ripen.”
  3. Take your top three projects and assign deadlines for some aspect of their progress. For instance, set a deadline for when you will have a completed proposal on number one on your prioritized list. Set a deadline for a “one-sheet” description of book number two on your list. And a deadline for a paragraph summary of book three. Other possible deadlines: securing an agent, sending a query, conducting an interview for your project, etc. Most writing projects are unique enough to have several possible deadlines. Be sure and write your deadlines and goals on your calendar. Keep them in mind daily. Move toward the goal with anticipation of setting a new deadline when the present one is reached.
  4. Set aside a specific time each day to write. For those of us who are admitted procrastinators, the trick is to tell ourselves that this sacred time needs to be only five minutes. Anyone can sit down and write for five minutes. But hopefully you’ll discover, as I have, that those first five minutes are the hardest. One you commit your backside to the chair and begin to write, the five minutes will turn into fifteen, then into half an hour and beyond. Simply committing yourself to those five minutes is key. And even if you do only write for five minutes and move on to something else, you’ve started a habit. Now keep it up.
  5. This will be the hardest for some of you. Search out a good Christian writer’s conference near you and plan to attend. I know the reason this is hard is often due to economic reasons. If that’s the case, ask the conference director about scholarships. Or about working for your tuition. Back when I was just starting, I couldn’t afford to pay for a conference, so I volunteered driving conferees back and forth to the airport. Another option is to see if your church will pay your way. After all, for most of us, writing is a ministry. Pray the money in. Just do what you can to be there.

Okay, there are just five steps to take to begin planning to succeed as a writer. Add more as necessary. When you set these five in motion, go get creative again.

If all this makes writing sound like a job….bingo! A pleasurable job to be sure, but a job and a calling nonetheless.

Taking off my drill sergeant’s hat now.

YOUR TURN: Do you have more trouble turning on the right side of your brain (the creative side) or turning it off?

Conference Discounts

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Unbeatable Value and the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference~One and the Same:

But wait, there’s still more . . . TWO DISCOUNTS!

dollar sign with Save

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT ~ Register by February 1st and receive $75 OFF!

WRITERS’ GROUP DISCOUNT ~ Register with a group of 5 or more and save $50 each! Call 888.642.2677 for group registration.