Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Creating Worlds - Jeanette O'Hagan

By Jeanette O'Hagan

For me one of the joys of reading —and writing— is being transported to another place and time. Maybe to encounter ancient or not so ancient societies and cultures (Medieval, Egyptian or Incan). It might be to a strange dystopian future or across the universe in a FTL spaceship. Or it might be the streets of New York or Sydney, the vast Australian Outback or the green hills of England. Books have whisked me away to all these places – and fired my imagination.

Creating Nardva

I changed schools in the middle of grade one, the first of many such shifts. The playground became a lonely place until I discovered the school library. My imagination was already fired up as each night my parents read from the pages of Narnia. Enriched by story-worlds, I began creating my own and this world grew and grew and grew. The result was Nardva – a planet in many ways like our own, but with two moons, strange cultures, shape-shifters, special magical gifts and epic and every-day challenges.

As a teen, I moved from recording my world-building (maps, languages, genealogies, customs, art, images) to writing down the stories. Most of my fiction, from the underground adventure of Heart of the Mountain, to courtly the intrigue of Akrad’s Children to my futuristic cyborg story in Project Chameleon (Quantum Soul anthology), happens within this fictional world.

Worlds with Depth

Even the most fantastical world draws inspiration from our world. As writers, we walk in the steps of our own Maker who spoke the cosmos into being. I find this thought both inspiring and very, very humbling.

Setting is important. Stories without sense of place result in ‘white space’ and ‘talking heads’ — boring, paper-thin worlds and characters. Just as we are shaped by our environment, our ‘where’ and ‘when’, so too are our characters and so are their motivations and the challenges they face. For me, the best stories have a sense of history, the sense that the world stretches to the horizon, the sense that if you peeked behind you’d find more than two-dimensional set pieces of plyboard and badly applied paint. A fictional world should be complex, dynamic and interactive. History, geography, ecology, economics, cultures all interact, yet are rarely monolithic, and are always changing. A fictional fantasy world, even more than the real world, needs to be consistent and coherent, with believable conflicts and power struggles.

Engaging Worlds

On the other hand, as my editor reminds me, I need be careful not to clutter my story-telling with too much detail, too much back-story, too much description, too much history and legend. I’ve spun and woven my world into existence over many decades and, as a result, my Nardvan stories are interconnected and occur in different time periods, geographical locales and among different Nardvan peoples. Writing whole scenes of tangential backstory or lengthy description of customs and architecture is a temptation that must be resisted.

We live in an age where readers become inpatient with huge slabs of description or information dumps. Our fictional worlds can be woven in through telling details in the narrative, fused with the point of view of our character, through their thoughts and reactions, through their interaction with the world, and through their speech. We need to make descriptive detail work for us.

Here Ruhanna (from Ruhanna’s Flight, in Glimpses of Light anthology), waits for her father to arrive at her island home.

From the little kitchen came tantalising smells fit for the palace in Silantis. Mariam had surpassed herself with Baba’s favourite dishes—turtle and seaweed soup, baked fish, baby tomatoes and sea-sage, oysters and rock crays with a creamy dill sauce, stuffed quails and fresh wave-berries with yarma cheese to finish off. Everything was ready by late morning. Ruhanna sank down on a cushion in the reception room, stroking the carved albatross on Baba’s box, and waited.

In contrast, the twins Retza and Delvina (from the novellas Heart of the Mountain and Blood Crystal) live deep under the mountain, their diet and perception of the world is very different from Ruhanna’s or indeed, Zadeki, a young shapeshifer whose people live in the forests.

Though Delvina’s stomach grumbled with hunger at the savoury fragrance, her fingers hovered over each bowl offered to her. Some looked like cooked leaves or roots, others held rolled up balls of white stuff sprinkled with seeds. Only when she saw the snails in a green tinted broth and a bowl of fried mushrooms, did the tension release in her shoulders. At last, something she understood in this strange land.

Whereas, Dana (features in Space Junk, Mixed Blessings: Genre-lly speaking, and Rendezvous at Alexgaia, Futurevision anthology) lives in Nardva’s space-age.

Dana snatched a food packet and shoved it into the rehydrator, keying in the sequence. Red lights flashed as the mechanism whined. She gave it a brisk shake. A sharp hiccough, it hummed, green lights winking on.

A close point of view and telling details help conjure world setting even in a few words.

I firmly believe that desire to create reflects the image of our Maker and Saviour. Writing immersive fictional worlds with stories of hope can fire the imaginations of our readers and open their minds to His grace.

Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fantasy, science fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures.

Recent publications include her debut Novel Akrad’s Children and novellas Heart of the Mountain and Blood Crystal. She also has over a dozen stories and poems published in different anthologies such as Glimpses of Light, Futurevision, and Quantum Soul.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Find her at her Facebook PageGoodreads, Twitter, Amazon or on her website Jeanette O'Hagan Writes.

Monday, October 30, 2017

"Don't Sign the Contract. I'll Call Tomorrow..." – Katherine Reay's Road to Publication

Patricia Beal here :) Please welcome author Katherine Reay to the blog once more. Her fifth novel comes out next week, and she's here today sharing her incredible and most unusual journey to publication. Enjoy! 

How did you get your first publishing contract?

That is such a fun story, and a longish one…

When I started querying for Dear Mr. Knightley, I received over thirty rejections – and those were the agents willing to reply at all. Just as I was about to give up, a small publishing house offered to buy the manuscript for an ebook collection. I’d met the publisher a couple years earlier when DMK was still an idea rather than a novel.

As I printed the contract, my inbox beeped with an email from a writers group. I opened it and found my picture, a random galley shot from a conference, staring back at me under the headline “Why You Need An Agent.” Flabbergasted (that word actually works here!), I immediately wrote the head of the group, explained my situation, noted my picture, and asked if I needed an agent. He wrote back that, yes, an agent was necessary and not to sign any contract without one.

But who? So many agents had turned me down. Instead of going back to any of those agents, I went to my bookshelves and pulled down books I admired. In the acknowledgments, one agency’s name turned up in three books out of ten. I looked up the website, saw a man’s picture, and felt in my heart, “That’s your agent.” It was an agent I hadn’t queried because the website said a writer needed to be previously published. It also said the writer was to write a query and patiently wait – six to eight weeks. I didn’t have six to eight weeks. I had a contract with a deadline. I broke all the rules and called.

I was shocked when the agent called me back, and humiliated when I couldn’t answer any of his questions.

Lee: “Give me your elevator pitch.”
Me: “What’s an elevator pitch?”
Lee: “Give me your story in three minutes.”
Me: “It’s complicated. Can I have ten?”

After what I am sure for Lee was a very frustrating half-hour, he closed with, “I’m not taking you on, but I will help you out. Send me the manuscript and the contract and I’ll call back Monday with my best advice.”

Monday came with no word. Tuesday too. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to pursue other agents so, on Wednesday, I planned to sign the contract. That morning, a one-line email arrived:

Don’t sign the contract. I’ll call tomorrow… Lee

The next day Lee offered to represent me. He sold Dear Mr. Knightley a couple months later to HarperCollins’ Thomas Nelson imprint, along with two subsequent novels.

A career begins: Katherine Reay and Julie Cantrell with their Carol Awards
There you go… My road to publication. And I did most things wrong… But that’s not even the best part. God doubled down on his love when he gave me Lee for an agent. Lee was one of the most Christ-like men I’ve ever known. In the year we worked together, before he died of cancer, Lee taught me not only how to navigate book writing and publishing, he modeled how to be more a gracious and considerate person.

And that’s what makes my journey to publication so extraordinary. On days when I get caught up in my own problems, irritations and little frustrations, I cast back to this time and I remember.

What’s the best thing about being published?

I won’t lie – it’s thrilling to see your book in print and to know readers enjoy it. It’s fun to share with readers when they write to you and to be a part of a wonderful world of books.

The Austen Escape:  After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards her best future.  

What’s a not so good thing about being published?

While it’s delightful to see your book out in the world, it’s also a very vulnerable position -- not everyone will enjoy it and not every reviewer will be kind. That’s a reality of putting anything out there and fiction is no exception. So each and every day I must remember why I write and let the chaos of publishing, social media chatter, reviews and comparisons fade away and get my job done.

Thanks so much for asking me to be here today. And please find me on social media. I’m always out and about on FB, Twitter, Instagram and on my own website, www.katherinereay.com

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, The Bronte Plot (an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist), and A Portrait of Emily Price, which released in November 2016 with Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!

The Austen Escape releases November 7, 2017.

All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. 

After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Coming Up This Week 


Patricia Beal: "Don't Sign the Contract. I'll Call Tomorrow..." – Katherine Reay's Road to Publication


Narelle Atkins


Rita Galieh


Janice Dick

Friday Devotion

Shirley Corder


New Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Better Than a Crown, Book 3 in her Christmas in Montana Romance series, releases independently in October 2017.

Carolyn Miller's regency romance set in England, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Book 3 in her Regency Brides series, is an October 2017 release from Kregel.

Lucy Thompson's historical romance set in Australia, Waltzing Matilda, in The Captive Bride Collection: 9 Stories of Great Challenges Overcome Through Great Love, is an October 2017 release from Barbour.

Sandra Orchard's Amish mystery The Hound and The Fury, Book 17 in Amish Inn Mysteries, releases in October 2017 from Annie’s Attic.


Upcoming Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Rooted in Love, Book 2 in her new Garden Grown Romance series (part of Arcadia Valley Romance multi-author series) releases independently in November 2017.

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in USA, Vanishing Point: A Nikki Boyd Novel, will be a November 2017 release from Revell.

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in Amsterdam, Deadly Exchange, will be a January 2018 release from Love Inspired Suspense.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the USA, Wishes on Wildflowers, Book 4 in her Urban Farm Fresh Romance series, will release independently in January 2018.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the USA, Harvest of Love, Book 3 in her Garden Grown Romance series, will release independently in May 2018.

To find more International Christian Fiction books, please visit our 2017-2018 Book Releases page, 2013 - 2016 Book Releases page and Backlist Titles.

Friday, October 27, 2017


By Leila Halawe
But I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. - Luke 22:32 (NRSV)

If there was one thing that Jesus demonstrated to us, it’s that He is a cheerleader of people. He was an advocate; a defender for those that society deemed unsuitable and unworthy. He was a defender of the weak and the social outcasts, for the sinners and the unrighteous. While He walked the earth all those years ago, Jesus showed time and again that He was for people. More than 2000 years later, He is still an advocate and a defender of people. He is still a cheerleader, only not just for the outcasts, but for you and me.

When Peter passionately declared that he would die for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter that he would, in fact, deny Jesus before the night was out. Jesus knew what Peter didn’t; that within a few hours the fear of persecution would overcome him and he would deny Jesus not once but three times. Jesus knew that Peter would not loyally and boldly stand up and defend Jesus, but instead cower in the shadows. He knew the fear would overtake Peter before the night was out but instead of rebuking him, Jesus encourages Him. Jesus urges Peter to be strong, to get back up and strengthen those around him. At a time when Jesus would have been well within His rights to tell rebuke Peter harshly or walk away from Him, He prays for him. Why? Because He loved him.

And He loves us.

One thing that can be said about Jesus is that when it comes to loving people, He is all in. He gives it all. For the love of the Father, He left His rightful place in heaven and came down to earth to fulfill the greatest rescue mission ever known to man. And for the love of us, He willingly went to the Cross and endured the pain and sin and shame. He endured it all because He loved us. He loved us before we even knew who He was and He loves us now, even when we don’t deserve it. especially when we don’t deserve it. Why? Because that’s who He is; love and grace and mercy. If you struggle to grasp that sometimes, you are not alone. I am regularly asking God why He still loves me despite my failings and inadequacies. Despite occasionally turning my back on Him and raising my fists to heaven because my prayer is going unanswered. Yet, He still loves me. Jesus still went to the Cross for me knowing full well the amount of times I would be ungrateful and unworthy of His love. But He is all in. For me. For you. And instead of being disappointed in us when we stumble and fall, He prays for us. He stands in the gap and advocates for us. He cheers us on from Heaven because He loves us.

Wherever you may be right now, I pray that you can take a moment and just rest in His love. Rest, knowing that He is all in on this journey with you and won’t let you go. Ever.

Leila (Lays) Halawe is a Sydney based coffee loving nonfiction writer and blogger. She has published a short devotional, Love By Devotion, and shares her views on life and faith via her blog page Looking In . You can connect with her via Facebook at Leila Halawe Author  and via Twitter @LHalawe.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Author Newsletters — Part 4: Tracking Statistics

By Valerie Comer

Welcome to the final section in my series on author newsletters. We’ve already talked about Getting Started, Finding Subscribers, and Choosing Content. So now you have a newsletter set up, you’ve attracted some subscribers, and sent out a few emails.

Is it worth the effort? Are you doing it “right” or are you missing the target?

Let’s go back to an early question: why have an author newsletter? My answer: to turn leads into fans who will buy my books. It wasn’t because I was bored and needed more on my to-do list!

As Randy Ingermanson puts it: Any working marketing strategy needs to achieve three things. If you do all three of these things well, you succeed. If you fail on any one of these three things, you fail. The three phases of marketing are 1) attract, 2) engage, and 3) convert.

In the earlier parts of the series, we focused on attraction and engagement. Let’s turn to conversion. How do I know if my emails are converting? I can look at the end result. Do book sales or pre-orders take a jump commensurate with the number of subscribers in the hours/days following an email? While no one is going to sell a book to every subscriber, there are ways to gauge where in the system things are going awry.

Different service providers show statistics in different ways. Mailerlite gives me the following data after each campaign:

1. Open Rates

The stats show how many emails were actually sent and how many recipients opened them. Mailerlite gives this as a percentage and an actual number both. You’ll never get to 100% opens. For authors, anything between 40 and 60% is average. My goal, which I haven’t achieved, is 80%.

Please note that the stats shown in your dashboard are not accurate. Many readers read the entire email in a preview pane, which won’t register as an open. Gmail also admits to not supplying accurate stats, so don’t go on a purge to delete all subscribers who haven’t opened an email! Because they might be reading every one of them.

Tip: If your open rates are low, consider the following. Is your subject line intriguing? Did you send the email at a good time of day/week?

2. Click Rates

This is a more useful metric to determine how engaged readers are. How many recipients clicked a link in your email? Side note – you DO have a link in there somewhere, right? Remember to always have a CTA (call-to-action) with a link.

A 25% click rate is considered decent. Some authors report click rates in the 60% range.

Tip: If your click rate is lower than you’d like, consider the following. Do you have so many links recipients don’t know which takes precedence? Is the link easy to find? Does it clearly show where the click will take the reader? What’s the “sales copy” leading up to the CTA? Do they know why they want to click?

3. Unsubscribe Rates

You’ll see how many recipients unsubscribed (percentage and actual number). Don’t sweat these people unless the number is higher than 3%. People join lists and leave them for all kinds of reasons. If they want to leave, that’s great. They’re not your target audience, and you don’t want to pay to keep them.

Tip: If your unsubscribe rates seem high, consider the following. Are your emails what you promised to send in content, frequency, etc, from the signup page? Did you participate in multi-author list building promotions that were not well-targeted to your writing (eg: a secular promotion for books that are explicitly Christian)?

4. Spam Complaints

This is also given as a percentage and as an actual number. If the number is very low, don’t sweat it.

Tip: If your spam complaint rates seem high, consider the following. How easy is it to find your unsubscribe button? Are you sending emails with words that might automatically be filtered to spam? Click for an exhaustive list of possible spam triggers.

5. Bounce Rates

Mailerlite defines bounces like this: A soft bounce is an email message that gets as far as the recipient’s mail server (it recognizes the address) but is bounced back undelivered before it gets to the intended recipient. A soft bounce might occur because the recipient’s mailbox is full, the server is down or swamped with messages, or the message is too large.

A hard bounce is an email message that has been returned to the sender and is permanently undeliverable. Causes include invalid addresses (domain name doesn’t exist, typos, changed address, etc.) or the email recipient’s mail server has blocked your server. Repeated soft bounces to the same email address can result in it becoming classed as a hard bounce.

6. Reading Environment

This one is informational only, showing you the percentage of opens on webmail, mobile, or desktop mail clients. However, mobile is a growing percentage, so consider how your email looks on your phone and tablet occasionally.

7. Top Email Clients

Also information only, this offers the percentage of readers who use certain email providers (gmail, etc) as well as their internet browser of choice.

8. Link Activity

This section of the report lists every link in your email, including social media and unsubscribe links from your footer, and shows you both the unique clicks and total clicks on each one. Unique clicks are more useful, but I’m always interested to see the difference between the two numbers. I understand that people might click on the link in mobile, then return on their computer to click it again to actually buy in an environment they prefer.

So there you have it! The ins and outs of author newsletter in four parts. Feel free to ask any questions that may have come up while reading any of these posts, but please comment on this post.

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:
• Part 1: Getting Started
• Part 2: Finding Subscribers
• Part 3: Choosing Content

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily-ever-afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie is a USA Today bestselling author and a two-time Word Award winner. She writes engaging characters, strong communities, and deep faith as she injects experience laced with humor into her green clean romances. Visit her at ValerieComer.com.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mawage, er, Marriage Proposal Traditions

International Proposal Traditions 

By "international" I mean "outside of the United States". ;)

Ever wondered what other traditions there are out there for marriage proposals? Just how do they do it in a place such as...

They have one such tradition as women proposing to men.
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25087659
 But only once every four years. Time and Date (of all places to read about proposals!) say this:

"According to an old Irish legend, or possibly history, St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men – and not just the other way around – every four years.
This is believed to have been introduced to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar."

This romantic comedy movie is super fun. I highly recommend it.

Australian Aboriginals
Traditionally promised to marriage at age five. Nowadays, Aboriginal people are quite contemporary, especially those who live in country towns or cities.


 The Netherlands
Clogs as a marriage proposal, what could possibly be more Dutch than THAT!

Image from creative commons.

One story says that young men once carved clogs to leave on the doorsteps of their chosen ladies, and if she wore them the next day it would signal an acceptance of the marriage proposal. Aww. In contemporary Dutch wedding traditions, some couples may wear clogs for the wedding day and later display them on the walls of their home with dried flowers.

Apparently we also have the Dutch to thank for bridal showers, wishing trees, and lilies of the valley. Ah. Where would today's brides be without those traditions? :)

Giving one's true love a lumpy iron band. Cos, you know, nothing says "I love you" more than THAT!

Iron Roman wedding band. Photographed at British Museum, London.

 But Italians being the clever people they are figured out that iron rusts and decided to make them out of gold instead. And then add diamonds. And clasped hands (fede ala Claddagh) style rings thus bringing the tradition full circle from "I own you" to "I promise to marry you/trust you" to "I love you".

There are more traditions over at THIS blog. In the meantime, here's the mawage clip from the Princess Bride.

Your turn! What marriage proposal traditions have YOU heard of that is unusual?

God bless!

Lucy Thompson is a stay-at-home mum to five precocious children and wife to the ultra-handy Dave by day, and a snoop by night, stalking interesting characters through historical settings, and writing about their exploits. Catch her on facebook. She'd love to make a new friend. :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Emma Movie Night


Today I'm blogging from Las Vegas, Nevada!

Before I left home, I received my advanced author copies of Jane Austen’s Emma Colouring & Activity Books! They were packed as precious cargo! :)

I'm so pleased with them! They’re perfect! They fit in beautifully with the other two books in the series, Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice Colouring & Activity Book, and Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility Colouring & Activity Book!


And even more exciting news, Jane Austen’s Emma Colouring & Activity Book is available for pre-order! Here are just a couple links:



Now I want to reissue my invitation for you to join me for an Emma Movie Night Party!

Location: Facebook

Event Name: Emma Movie Night (you can search for it using Facebook’s search)

Date: Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Time: 6:45pm - 10:00pm EST

Please have your copy of Emma (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) ready to play!

If you don’t have the movie and still wish to come, please do!!! I know some of us have watched this movie and read the book so many times we have them memorized

Plus, there will be prizes!

So please save the date!

And finally, I’ll be hosting a Goodreads Giveaway in November, so please look for that and enter to win your free copy of Jane Austen’s Emma Colouring & Activity Book!

Hope you have a lovely day!

And see you on Thursday, November 9th, 2017!

Eva Maria Hamilton is the author of Highland Hearts, a Love Inspired Historical novel published by Harlequin. Her novel, Highland Hearts, won 2nd Place in the Historical Romance, as well as the Traditional/Inspirational Romance Categories in the Heart of Excellence Reader’s Choice Awards, and was an Inspirational Series Finalist in the 2013 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Her short story, Disinherited Love, can be read in the anthology, A Kiss is Still A Kiss. Eva Maria Hamilton is also the owner of Lilac Lane Publishing, which is currently publishing the Jane Austen Colouring & Activity Book series.

To connect with Eva Maria Hamilton, please visit her at www.EvaMariaHamilton.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Travel Inspiration

by Lisa Harris

I’m often asked where I get my ideas for my story lines. It’s funny, actually because until not too long ago, I thought everyone had stories running through their heads, and I was just someone who decided to write them down.

Apparently, that’s not true. :-)

My mother-in-law, after asking me that same question, told me that the only thing she has running through her mind most of the time is her grocery list. Never stories. And that revelation really surprised me.

So where does inspiration come from? Well, for me, it can come from just about anywhere. This past week we visited a church while traveling through the US, and a couple graciously gave us two nights in Victoria, Canada. To get there, we had to take a ferry which turned out to be a lot of fun, but it also sparked a slew of ideas in my mind.

We parked on the ferry, then took the stairs up a narrow passageway to the deck where we could sit and watch the water. By the time we got to our seat, my mind was already racing with ideas of what could potentially happen on board. Missing people, missing bodies, stalkers. . .(Remember, I write suspense!) We passed islands, forested with trees. A perfect place to run from something. And the scenarios just kept coming. Now I've got to write a story set in that part of the world.

While not everyone has stories and characters running through their minds, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all inspired by different things. Music, art, books, and people, for starters.

On our travels over the past few weeks, we’ve also seen the incredible colors of fall and stunning flowers. It’s refreshed my spirit. God’s handiwork is so beautiful and amazing. And so inspiring! 

I'd love to hear from you. What inspires you?

Be inspired today, wherever you are!

Lisa Harris

(To find out more about Lisa's books, visit her website!)