Thursday, January 29, 2015

When I started writing novels, I had no idea. About anything. Somehow, I managed to pull together a stray chapter – a fleshed-out scene. But I was proud of it. And showed it to my mentor, Cindy Martinusen Coloma, who encouraged me to get to a writer’s conference to submit my “book.”

“All you need is a proposal,” she said. “A mini-proposal, really. Cover letter, a couple chapters…and a synopsis. ”

I nodded, wondering what in the world was a synopsis? Since Cindy was a busy author, I hated to bother her with those minor details. I worked at a library; why not look it up myself? Thus began what I refer to as my evolving synopsis style.

Side Note: If one has no plot, it’s not easy to write a synopsis. Even if one memorizes the definition.

At the beginning, I was a panster. I wrote as it came, by the seat-of-my-pants. For the first conference, I had two decent chapters that had no relation to one another, except in my mind. Different characters, different points of view. I had a problem. With only an inkling of how they might fit into the same story, I needed a plot, a way to connect them, or I couldn’t develop the dreaded synopsis for my proposal.

That situation birthed what I called my trusty “plot parties.” I invited three or four writers out for pie and coffee and we brainstormed ideas for my story. Madly taking notes, sometimes I got a great suggestion that made it worth the cost of the pie. More often, something was said that caused me to think, “Not that…but how about this?” By the end of the night I was not only on a sugar-high, but had something like a story pieced together. A plot.

Though I liked the panster role, as a new writer, I didn’t have the liberty to enjoy it long. A synopsis was always required. Agents and editors alike wanted to see how I’d crafted the story from the first page to the last. My chapters would show off the writing. But the synopsis would tell them if it was worth the read.

Once I accepted my lot, I came to rely on my synopsis. I wrote long, long ones, relating everything that happened. The cat sneaked under the house and came out the next day, dragging a clue. The protagonist went for coffee, then couldn’t get to sleep that night, setting her up to see something she normally wouldn’t. That bratty child down the street threw a ball through the neighbor’s window and made her mad – maybe she had a temper that got out of control? The protagonist’s sister collected pink lustre. I put in all the details I wanted to know for later. It became a very dear guide to my story.

Saving the long synopsis as “Synopsis.mine.doc” I began to cut words for the proposal. No editor wanted to know the sister collected pink lustre. I edited it over and over, then sent it to my first reader, Maxine, who cut more. Finally, I had something I could send to my agent, who cut it some more before sending it out in the proposal.

This worked through two books. And several unsold proposals.

During the writing of A Stitch in Crime, I tried something new. I took my first, long synopsis and cut
it into chapters, estimating where one chapter should end and another begin, drawing lines for separation. Using the required word count as a guide, I decided how many chapters were needed to make up the entire book. Then, as I wrote, I noted the word count for each chapter, writing it down. Having the chapter word counts written in bold ink on the page caused me to notice if concurrent chapters were all the same length. If they were too similar, I’d find a place to end a chapter early and cut the length every so often. To mix it up.

With this method, I was better able to keep track of things that shouldn’t slip by without another mention. I’d put a Post-it in a later chapter as a reminder. It looked a mess, but it served me well.

Truly, there is no right way to write and plot. There are many ways. You must find your own way. I finally found mine.

Though someone was just talking about Scrivener….

Cathy Elliott is a full-time writer in northern California whose cozy mysteries reflect her personal interests from quilting and antique collecting to playing her fiddle with friends. She also leads music at church and cherishes time with her grandchildren. Cathy’s other plot-twisting works include Medals in the Attic and A Vase of Mistaken Identity.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

As I celebrate the recent release of my new cozy mystery, A Stitch in Crime, I find myself missing someone. Missing my plucky protagonist, Thea James, even amid much mention of her exploits. Once, her thoughts and movements and loves and concerns filled my head. They kept me company as I wrote recorded her adventures in the daytime and later, when I teetered on the edge of dreams, I’d plan what she might do tomorrow. 

I was so drawn into Thea’s story, often I didn’t notice certain things. Important things. Like the night I rushed into the kitchen, cut up my favorite veggies – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage – and arranged them in the steamer. I turned on the heat, covered the pot, and hurried back to my computer. To Thea. She was in the middle of a very bad situation, in need of immediate rescue. No one could help her except me. I had to write her out of that wrong. And be quick about it.

It took about forty-five minutes to move the story past that terrible part, allowing Thea a chance to escape, but I was focused. Determined. Single-minded, if you will. And finally managed to bring Thea through without real harm. Whew. 

I sat back in my chair, happy, relaxed, breathing deep sighs of satisfaction. But wait. What was that smell? Straightening up, I did the head-cock thing. The veggies!

Like a rocket, I zoomed back into the kitchen and turned off the heat. Picking up the pot with the steamer inside, I noticed it seemed extra light. When I took off the lid, I saw why. No water. I’d forgotten to fill the bottom of the pot with water for steaming. And forgotten to set the timer. Thea’s dilemma had consumed my thoughts so much that now I had no dinner to consume.

Turning on the water, I allowed some to accumulate in the bottom of the pot. It sizzled resentfully. Steam rose up through the vegetables, moistening them. Hey, they didn’t look all that bad. I forked through and realized they weren’t burned. True, they had a curious smoked fragrance, but I didn’t see any burned broccoli. Of course, the pot was black as soot. I sent up a “thank You” that I’d used one of my heavy-duty, All-Clad pots that I love so much just for this reason. To accommodate my absent-minded, culinary skills. Especially on deadline.

What a relief. I’d saved Thea and the pots had saved dinner. A little butter, sprinkle of lemon pepper (my new favorite seasoning), a bit o'cheese, and it became a blackened feast. Okay, in truth, only the pot was blackened, but the dish had the hint of the old campfire about it, without the roasted marshmallows. Not bad.

Thea and I had many such side trips. Where her world seemed more real at times than mine. It certainly invaded most everything I did, everywhere I went, and every conversation. At Bible study, I’d admire the quilt on the back of a sofa and think, “I bet that would be a good quilt to put in the Blocks on the Walk Quilt Show.” I’d find out the details and make a note to self. At dinner with friends, someone would tell a funny story about a relative or say something in a way I’d never heard before. “Do you mind if I use that in the book?” I’d ask, writing it down. 

Thea and I had a close relationship for some time and I enjoyed every companionable moment. Not thinking about her is an adjustment. It feels a bit like empty-nest-syndrome. And maybe I’m taking too much time to say “goodbye.” I need to do so pretty soon. Once she is settled in the hearts of new readers, living out her story, maybe then. 

After all, many other characters are waiting, vying for their worlds to be created. For their stories to be told. I think it’s almost time to open the door and welcome them inside. I’ll wave to Thea as she goes and give her a high-five, knowing she’ll be okay.

Cathy Elliott is a full-time writer in northern California whose cozy mysteries reflect her personal interests from quilting and antique collecting to playing her fiddle with friends. She also leads music at church and cherishes time with her grandchildren. Cathy’s other plot-twisting works include Medals in the Attic and A Vase of Mistaken Identity.

Website & Occasional Blog -

Sunday, January 25, 2015

just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1, NKJV)

I think sometimes the words of Scripture just slide over our minds without absorption or comprehension, especially if we were raised in church or been a believer for many years. This is one of those passages for me, or used to be ... now, I hear the deep, rich voice of an aged apostle, his inner fire burning down to a bed of embers by years of service to the Lord—and suffering in the course of that.

Maybe it’s having a fair bit of suffering under my belt as well, some of it rather fresh.

Why does this stuff happen to us, anyway?

12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1, NKJV)

Beyond the sometimes nebulous “all things work together for good to those who love God” ... sometimes the Lord gives us a glimpse of the solid and immediate. “For the furtherance of the gospel” is just another way of saying, “so that the reality of redemption of grace will become apparent to more people who need it.” Paul at this point in his life was imprisoned in Rome for his faith. It’s easy for us, on this end of the Church Age, to be a little apathetic about the reality of that. But it’s the next part that gives me pause: Paul’s imprisonment effectively put him and his faith on display for the whole palace guard—and other believers became more vocal about their own faith.

I can see that, in the case of believers in our time, speaking out about various world events while safe in our own homes on this side of the ocean, but ... how can that be, right there in the same city?

Maybe it was that in seeing Paul’s confidence as he endured various sufferings, they realized even if they too were imprisoned for their faith—or worse—God was still very much in control. That they’d be given the grace, and the words, in every situation.

And maybe that’s what it’s about, that continuing, daily grace.

We each have our own little prisons, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I think we all question why, at some point or another, but do we really believe that God can use those prisons not only for our good, but for the furtherance of His grace and mercy?

Walking in love, in grace, doesn’t mean we aren’t struggling with the situation—even Paul struggled mightily at times, and speaks in other places of being discouraged almost to the point of death. It simply means daring to continue to live out our faith despite the chains, and trust that until He frees us, God not only can but will use the situation “for the furtherance of the gospel.”

Can we do that? Can we dare to trust Him in everything?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A day in the life of a this writer. . .

I love telling stories! It’s a blessing to able to work from home and be somewhat flexible with my schedule. I say “somewhat” because now that are children are grown, I write full-time, Monday through Friday, for six to seven hours a day. My most creative time of the day is in the morning—after about 3 o’clock smoke begins to come out of my ears!

To offset all those hours spent at my desk, I go to the gym three or four times a week. At 6 a.m.! When we get home, I’ll usually start a load of laundry, make breakfast, put something in the crock pot for supper -- basically get things in shape so I don’t have to think about them for the rest of the day!
After hubby leaves for work, I spend some time with God, which means praying, reading scripture and doing some sketching/journaling. By the time I finish, it’s about 8:30. If it gets later than that, Bailey and Sophie (my dog and cat) will wait for me at the top of the stairs. They have a routine, too—sleeping beside my desk while I work!
I know some author friends who write in their jammies but it’s always worked best for me to treat writing as a “job”. I get dressed and put on a little makeup (most days!), and then I go upstairs to my office. For some reason, it helps me make that psychological transition from “home” to “work.” Once I’m there, I don’t answer the phone unless it’s my husband or one of our three children (they know I’m there!), and I try not to check email or Facebook page until my ten o’clock break.  
That said, one of the most challenging things about working from home is the many ways I can procrastinate if I get stuck during the writing process! Watching the birds outside the window. Warming up my tea. . .three times. Rearranging my bookshelf. Searching for chocolate in the desk drawer. . .
I wish I could be one of those writers who take their laptop to Starbucks (although I would have to drive 45 minutes to get to one!), but I do my best thinking in a quiet setting. No television, no Pandora. I love music, though, and I have a playlist for every book I write. It’s on my iPod, so when I’m at the gym, I’m getting inspiration for the characters before I put my fingers on the keyboard.
My office overlooks the woods, so it’s a very inspiring place to work. I’m surrounded by photographs of my family and things that are special to me, like a coffee cup from the Strand Bookstore in New York City and seashells my son brought me from Hawaii. I have a small, free-standing chalkboard that I write quotes, thoughts, or Bible verses on. Right now, I have a quote from Ann Voskamp. “The way you live your ordinary days is what adds up to your one extraordinary life.” Love that one!
In arm’s reach are some of my favorite “tools of the trade”. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, Story by Robert McKee, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, these books sharpen my skills while Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle and One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp challenge and encourage my soul.
I’m kind of old school in that I do my character studies on gigantic Post-It notes. I used to be a
total seat-of-the-pants writer but after attending some amazing workshops by authors who are plotters (and writing myself into many, many corners!) I’ve started using a combination of the two. When I’m writing a long contemporary romance like The Dandelion Field, there are more characters and a lot more going on, so plotting keeps the story from bunching up in places.
Fun fact: When I finish a manuscript and hit the “send” button, I celebrate the next day by cleaning my desk . . . which only proves that writers can be a little quirky! J But then again, we have to be. The writing life is exhilarating and exhausting, it’s input and it’s output, it’s a career but it’s also a calling. . .all at the same time!

But I can’t not write.

“My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words.”
                                                Psalm 45:1 (The Message) 

Please visit my website at and sign up to receive my free newsletter, or find me on Facebook at kathrynspringerauthor!

USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Springer grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child she spent hours at her mother’s typewriter, plunking out stories about horses that her older brother “published” (he had the stapler) for a nominal fee. Kathryn loves writing about imperfect people, small towns and a great big God. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up (in the sun!) with a good book, spending time with her family and friends or walking the trails near her country home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I’m sure my friend, Beth, didn’t know her question would end up in a blog when she sent me an email last week! She also didn’t know that the emergency room doctor had found a blood clot in my mother-in-law’s lung so I had been dividing my time between the computer and the hospital. She didn’t know that my emotional seams were beginning to unravel a bit. 
What a nice, “writerly” way of saying I was about to lose it! 
When I sit down at the computer every morning, I bring with me all the things, big and small and in-between, that are on my mind and in my heart. Prayer requests from friends and family. The items on my to-do list.
It was Beth’s question that helped me reset my perspective. Because life happens and we write about. . .well. . .life, right? 
And when life gets difficult. . .so can writing.
One piece of advice writers hear over and over is, “write what you know.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? When I write what I know, it gives me credibility. I can create a town like Banister Falls in The Dandelion Field because I’m a small-town, Midwestern girl. When I describe the changing seasons or a sunrise over a northern Wisconsin lake or an eagle in flight, the reader can see it because I’ve seen it. 
Those kind of details make for a good story, but I think a great story is the one where I’m not afraid to wade into the deep emotional waters with my characters instead of standing on the shoreline, taking notes. The books on my keeper shelf have one thing in common—they didn’t just entertain me for a few hours, they burrowed right into my heart because I felt a strong connection with the characters. It might be because we share a common experience or dream the same dream. Struggle with the same things. 
And that’s where the “life” part comes in! 
When life—and writing—get difficult, I take this a step further. “Write what I know” becomes, “Write what I know about God.” 
So. . .what do I know about God? 
I know He is faithful. I know He is kind. I know He gives beauty for ashes. I know He heals. Restores. Blesses. 
I know these things because I’ve experienced them over the years. I experience them every time I remember to look at Him instead of my circumstances.
In The Dandelion Field, Ginevieve Lightly is a single mom who finds out her teenage daughter is pregnant. She doesn’t know God, doesn’t know His character. . .but she meets someone who does and it changes her. Gin discovers that God can take the pieces of a broken past and turn it into a beautiful beginning. 
He did that for me, too. 
    What I know about God becomes the spiritual thread that runs through the pages. And the really amazing thing? While I’m writing my character’s story—stories of grace and courage and restoration and hope—He is weaving those things into my story, too. 
No, we never write in a vacuum. 
Thank you, God.
USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Springer grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child she spent hours at her mother’s typewriter, plunking out stories about horses that her older brother “published” (he had the stapler) for a nominal fee. Kathryn loves writing about imperfect people, small towns and a great big God. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up (in the sun!) with a good book, spending time with her family and friends or walking the trails near her country home. 

Please visit my website at and sign up to receive my free newsletter, or find me on Facebook at kathrynspringerauthor! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

At a certain point in our lives, we’d like to be able to settle in and just “do life.” Not think about the things we struggled with when we were younger. Move beyond the griefs, the heartaches ... hopefully even our own issues and baggage.

Real life doesn’t work like that.

Real life is, as I’ve written before, a journey, not to be finished until we step from this life into eternity. Patience is in putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how weary we are. Courage is being willing to face whatever rears up in the path, demanding our attention and energy. A loss might be decades past, barely registering now as a dull ache ... a hurt from a friend might be long scarred over ... but one blow (or several) from the enemy of our souls, whether in a news report or careless words from those we love, can hit us where we’re most vulnerable and leaves us gasping and bleeding all over again.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of regaining our equilibrium and raising that shield of faith again. But sometimes God uses that to reveal that we haven’t really healed, we’ve only ignored the stinking, dirty bandage over a still-oozing wound, where things are embedded that really need to come out.

Time to pull off that bandage and throw it away. Let the Spirit wash the wound with the Word, reminding us of God’s relentless love and everlasting goodness, in all circumstances.

Let God reach in, despite the pain, and draw out the shards of bitterness, resentment, insecurity.

Then ... move on. Leave it in His hands. Learn to walk in true strength, instead of merely compensating.

And be prepared, the next time He taps us on the shoulder and lets us know that something needs attention, that this is a process, a journey. That we’re a constant work in progress, regardless of how old we are or how long we’ve walked with the Lord.

But someday ... someday, we’ll be home. And we’ll be finished works of art.

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ... (Philippians 1, NKJV)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Many writers are introverts. They are happiest when they’re squirreled away with their computer and their imaginary friends. But for the extroverted writer, like me, a day or two of solitude is about all I can take.

Shortly after my last child left home, our dog died. The quiet was deafening. It wasn’t long before I was climbing the walls. One day I suggested to my husband I wanted a new dog…a big one so I wouldn’t be lonely or afraid to stay by myself. My husband was happy with our pet-free environment, but I’m a dog lover at heart; it’s why I write a dog into most of my stories. My Carthage Chronicles series has two of them.

So I launched my “Lynne needs a dog campaign” and began to pray.

The next Sunday at church a friend approached me with a picture on her phone of this beautiful rescue dog in need of a good home.

“Part Golden Retriever, part Great Pyrenees,” she guessed. “If he doesn’t find a home today, he’ll be put down first thing Monday morning. It would be a shame if he couldn’t have one last good afternoon.” My eyes darted between her hopeful face and the sad-looking creature in the picture.

I showed the picture to my husband.

My husband shook his head. “He’s big.”

We both agreed we weren’t ready to be tied down, but giving this doomed creature a nice afternoon was kind of like giving a man on death row a good last meal. “A real Christian thing to do,” I pleaded.

“But only for the afternoon,” my husband warned.

A few hours later, a seventy-pound mutt leaped from my friend’s car. I looked at my husband and said, “He is big.” The dog galloped across the yard, skidded to a halt at my feet, sat, and cocked his head. I looked into those big brown eyes and fell in love. From that moment on, this stray was my dog.

His plumed tail reminded me of a Roman centurion’s helmet so I named him Roman. He needed
shots, grooming, and serious housebreaking. His powerful tail could clear my coffee table with one swipe. It was nothing for Roman to snatch a loaf of bread off the counter and eat the whole thing. On walks he dragged me like a plow. Despite Roman’s ill manners, the house was noisy and busy again, and someone needed me. I felt alive. Soon, I was writing better than ever.

One chilly Saturday everything changed. Roman joined us on a 5K run sponsored by the hospital where my husband works. Dogs were welcome, so we took Roman. The director of animal therapy noticed Roman (because everyone notices a dog the size of a small horse). She was so impressed by Roman’s sweet nature, she suggested I train him to become one of the medical-therapy dogs who work in the cancer center.

“You’re kidding. I didn’t know there were dogs that did this.”

She gave me her card and told me, “Studies show petting a dog can lower stress, blood pressure, and lift spirits.”

I couldn’t argue with that statistic. My whole attitude about life had changed since I adopted Roman.

“My mother died of cancer,” I told the director. “If Roman and I can ease someone’s pain, even for a few minutes, I’m on board.”

Roman and I have completed several levels of training and testing.

My dog and I are now certified to work in the hospitals.

Twice a month we visit the oncology wards where I watch Roman bring smiles and relief to the frightened and hurting.

On days when I’m stuck at home writing, I stroke the head of my hairy writing pal who is curled at my feet and I don’t feel so alone.

As Roman and I work together, I see God’s purpose. I thought I was supposed to rescue this dog. Turns out, this rescue dog was born to rescue not only the broken and hurting; this dog was born to rescue me.

I love how God comes into our lives and rescues us from the death sentence we deserve. That’s why the theme of rescue will always show up in my adventure stories.

About the author

Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications and is a professional acting coach and playwright with several full-length musicals to her credit. She likes to write stories that launch modern women into ancient adventures, such as Healer of Carthage (2014), which was the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. Return to Exile is the second, and Valley of Decision is expected September 22, 2015. Gentry loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog.

To keep up with Lynne Gentry, visit, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry), YouTube and Pinterest (lynnegentry7).

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