Christian Fiction Writer


Beguiled by Gist and Bertrand

Beguiled, a romantic suspense by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, published by Bethany House.

Rylee Monroe is a young, beautiful dog-walker for the wealthy families who live along the Battery on the waterfront in Charleston, South Carolina. Rylee, alone in the world except for a grandmother with Alzheimers (who lives in a nursing home), is drawn to the area where she had lived as a child with her parents. The suspense builds quickly when Rylee is followed and threatened; her car broken into; and even her personal possessions stolen from her apartment. At the same time, a thief is stealing unusual antiques, not necessarily the most expensive ones, from the homes of the families for whom Rylee works. Rylee quickly gets on the wrong side of the local police chief, who suspects Rylee, the one person in town with the keys to each of these mansions.

Deeanne Gist's contribution is immediately apparent. The book is first a love story, with lots of physical description of  the love-interest characters (rippling muscles, the hero; beautiful hair and skin, Rylee), which, I think, gets in the way of the story. ((My eighteen-year-old daughter thinks so, too)). But Gist, who writes wonderfully-researched historical romances, creatively weaves her love of history into the contemporary setting of historical Charleston. I love her use of family photographs (Rylee's grandmother's photo albums), memories (Rylee's and her grandmother's), and unique items lifted from the old mansions that turn up to implicate some of Charleston's elite in the disappearance of Rylee's parents and her inheritance.

J. Mark Bertrand's contribution is immediately obvious in the overall suspenseful mood of the story. Within the first five pages, Rylee stumbles into a bedroom being burgled by the "Robin Hood" burglar, and hides in a bathroom with her only protection, a small dog, awaiting the police. The suspense builds and the story goes quickly, because you have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

I love suspense novels, and I love history--so, I enjoyed Beguiled. I think you will, too.

Deeane Gist's website:
J. Mark Bertrand's website:


NaNoWriMo Week 1

Write His Answer: Encouragement for Christian Writers

When I am weak, then I am strong--the less I have, the more I depend on Him." (2 Corinthians 10:10)

I'm reading Write His Answer by Marlene Bagnull, the "Crisis of Confidence" chapter.

Marlene discovered that "suddenly everything seemed to be getting in the way of my writing. Other things, good things, were demanding time and energy." She felt she couldn't say "no" to these things and these people. She couldn't let down the people who were depending on her.

Sometimes, the best choice could be to take care of the problem, or help that person (like the one who may be lowered down from the rafters in front of you, as one man's friends lowered him down from a roof in front of Jesus while He was speaking to a crowd). Perhaps, just as Jesus was showing in His situation, it could be a "divine interruption."

But I'm pretty sure those "divine interruptions" are not the everyday demands on our time that we experience, such as the one Marlene Bagnull described, and like the interruptions I have been experiencing this week.

Margaret Bagnull was fortunate to have a writing mentor who saw what was happening and spoke to Margaret about it. "You're running from the very thing you most want to do," she said. "You're running from your writing....New writing opportunities are stretching before you and, to put it bluntly, you're scared. You're protecting yourself from the possibility of failure by becoming so involved with other things that you have an excuse not to write." She encouraged Margaret to "move on--to make a commitment to being successful even though success is a lonely and risky thing."

Margaret says that everyone who is serious about writing will face similar choices. "Turning points--to either move ahead or turn back." She encourages us to move ahead in God-confidence, not self-confidence.

Not to sound cheesy, but today is the first day of the rest of NaNoWriMo. So, I encourage all of you (myself included): Move ahead, confident that God has called you to succeed in the ministry He has placed you in--as a Christian and a writer.

Colossians 1:29: This is my work, and I can do it only because Christ's mighty energy is at work within me."

If You Want to Write

If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

Good morning, NaNoWriters.

Congratulations on a successful week of writing! Even if you, like me, have logged in a lonely "0" word count once or a few times this week, that's a form of success, too! We're still in the game!

This morning I am reading "If You Want to Write" by Brenda Ueland. She is very encouraging to beginning writers. She says "Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say."

I love her sassy attitude toward grammar teachers and writing critics. She reminds readers to think of when we were children and put on plays for each other and for our families and neighbors. How we spent days putting it together, and how, really, the plays and costumes were very interesting and imaginative.

But then we arrive at school and our writing, our creativity, becomes a vehicle for learning grammar and punctuation, (which isn't be so bad, except that seems to become its only reason for existence). Then off we go to high school and especially, later, to college, where teachers write "trite, clichéd" in big red letters on our essays or short stories.

And we are no longer those confident children excitedly sharing our thoughts, beliefs, and truths with the world. We've become fearful of rejection and ridicule; we're afraid of being a cliché. So we stop writing or become “frigid” writers—not writing what we feel.

Brenda Ueland is right: Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.” My prayer for you as you continue with NaNoWriMo is to be confident in what you have to say and Just Write. Forget those grammar teachers and critics who have influenced your internal critic, and do the work God has given you—writing for His glory. Even if sometimes you have to log in a “zero” for the day, log it in with a sense of accomplishment that you are still in the game!

Just Do It!

from the Inside...Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!

I read somewhere that when you don't feel like writing, just sit down and write anyway. I don't know where I heard that first, but it can be so helpful.

Even if you start out literally writing "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this" as someone posted earlier, you are still writing. And pretty soon, something worthwhile comes out and you go with it. By sitting down and just writing--even if it's gibberish--you are PRODUCING! It's showing up to work. (I'm afraid I've fallen down on the job a few times in NaNoWri).

What is helping me right now? I've used a few resources in the past couple of weeks, but today I'm back to "From the Inside... Out" by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. I don't want to sound like I'm a commercial or anything, but this really is helping me. I've got my characters fleshed out and their goals and motivations, a little backstory for understanding them, and now I'm ready to put them in scenes. There's a great section in "From the Inside...Out" on writing scenes. Basic step by step. It's just what I need. (Thank you Susie and Rachel!)

And even when my internal critic says "you can't do this, what do you think you're doing? Even if you do get down a few little character traits, that doesn't mean you can actually write a real SCENE!" My critic has a witch-like cackle for a laugh, too. Really a nasty person. Yuck! These basic steps from “From the Inside...Out” are really helping!

Unleashing Your Writing Muse

A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
I have a built in hour each day for writing; sometimes I use it for reading craft and planning, but I have dedicated this hour each day for NaNoWri. My hour is every afternoon when I drive my 15 yr old son to the gym; he exercises his bod while I exercise my writing muse! I take along my laptop and a drink, and sit in the car in the parking lot and work away; the time goes by very fast.

Okay, I do feel guilty for not exercising....I really need to do that, and I will get back to it...but I know that if I don't use this time during this month for NaNo, I'll have a difficult time getting to it.
What works for you? What special places and times do you do your NaNo writing? Anyone want to share?

Pre-writing Counts Too

Someone wrote "I may not have won...accomplished my best yesterday, but today...tomorrow...they are new days that require of me all my might for that day's task."

For many writers participating in NaNoWriMo, this is the time to reach those word count goals. Maybe they've already researched, plotted, developed, all of the preparatory work before sitting down and writing the story. And that's fabulous! We pray for fleet finger tips for them as the story spills out on the page.

And there are others who aren't at that point in their stories, yet. Maybe, like me, they're fleshing out their characters, doing some research on the locations, buildings, history of the setting and plotting with all of that information they've gained. This is prewriting, and if you're like me, some piece of information will flash a scene before your eyes, and you'll jot down a scrap of conversation. Or some piece of research tells you that "the fire was actually set in that old building when you discover that the perp was an electrician in the army and served time at Leavenworth before being dishonorably discharged for setting electrical fires in the army," and of course you have to make notes on that and pencil in a scene for it.

However, this also adds to your word count, but at a much slower speed of writing. So, while we may not reach 50K words by the end of November, just look what we will have accomplished! I think it's thrilling and I am so thankful to the Lord for everything and everybody He has placed in my path during NaNo.

I'm thankful to crit buddies who are so quick to help me brainstorm my WIP when I'm stuck; I'm thankful for all the help from craft books (Susan May Warren's Lulu books, especially; I can just copy paste from them right into my MS and have pointers in the text to help keep me focused), and so many other encouragements. I may actually get this ms finished! Wow!

So, don't feel discouraged; if you are writing, researching, brainstorming, everything associated with pre-writing, it counts. Maybe not for winning NaNo; but it sure counts in moving your story forward.


Blogging from ACFW Conference September 17-20

"The Premier Christian Fiction Conference"
Indianapolis, Indiana
September 17 - 20, 2010
"Serving Him in WORD and Deed"

If you aren't attending the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Indiana next month, check back on this blog. I'll be attending and keeping you updated. With pictues! (I hope).

Here we are at Susan May Warren's MBT Pizza Party Line Dance!(BTW, that's Susan in center wearing the blue dress and calling the moves :) and, look at the back line behind the lady in pink, that's James Scott Bell DANCING! Too much fun!)

If I were you, and other expressions contrary to fact

In my work as an editor, I’ve noticed otherwise good writers avoiding ideas that express the subjunctive mood of the verb were. Perhaps it’s because of confusion over subject and verb agreement, number, passive constructions, or any number of reasons. I can empathize. Each time I read a sentence with a singular subject attached to the verb were, I have to stop reading and check its accuracy. Chicago Manual of Style best defines the subjunctive mood as “expressing an action or state of being not as a reality but as a mental conception, a condition that is doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional or otherwise contrary to fact.” The following examples show the subjunctive mood in three of its (six) contexts. I’ll tackle the other three in another post. And be aware that grammar checkers may mark most instances of subjunctive mood for correction. Trust your writing, not grammar checkers.

Expressing conditions contrary to fact
A perfect example of the subjunctive mood is expressed in a famous first line of a poem by François Villon, “If I were King and you were Queen.” Anyone living in the fifteenth century (when the poem was written) knew that, in reality, only a few of those born to royalty became kings or queens. It wasn’t a position just anyone could apply for.

Later, playwright Justin Huntly McCarthy expands on Villon’s poetic desire (play and movie) in grandiose terms not rooted in everyday life.

If I were king--ah love, if I were king! / What tributary nations would I bring / . . . / Beneath your feet what treasures I would fling:-- / The stars should be your pearls upon a string /

Expressing suppositions contrary to evidence
M-W Dictionary defines supposition as the “mental act of supposing something to be the case, or ideas that result from supposing, especially as opposed to ideas based on evidence.” In the following example, the singular subject (soldier) takes the verb’s subjunctive (were):

• “The fingers of his right hand remained half curled even when empty, as though the soldier were unable to relinquish his sword’s haft.” (The Centurion’s Wife, Bunn, Oke) [Not was unable.]

Even multi-published fiction writers sometimes fail to use the subjunctive mood. I love Bodie and Brock Thoene’s novels, but the following sentence (if we apply the definition supplied by CMOS) while presenting the Countess’s state of being in “doubtful, imagined, or conditional” terms, fails to use the subjunctive mood:

• “Looking at the world with infinite weariness, she pivoted her head slightly, as though she was only vaguely aware of Josie’s presence.” (Twilight of Courage)

• “Looking at the world with infinite weariness, she pivoted her head slightly, as though she [were] only vaguely aware of Josie’s presence.” [subjunctive mood]

Expressing wishes contrary to reality
Sentences beginning with “I wish that I were able” express a wish that is opposite of reality or of what the writer believes that he or she can do.

• “I wish that I were able to direct the hearts and minds of all to You and, together with them and for them, love You perfectly in return . . .”—Communion prayer at

More familiar expressions using the subjunctive mood
“As you were, soldier,” said the sergeant.
“Long live the king,” shouted the group.
“Be that as it may,” said Mrs. Thompson, “we will continue with our plans.”
“Would that it were true,” said the poet.
“Be they rich or poor, young or old,” he said.

For more on the subjunctive mood, see Garner’s Modern American Usage, CMOS, The Little. Brown Handbook, or at

Vicki McCollum (c) 2010


Writer's Wisdom

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." - Anais Nin

Freelance Editor Scam Dependra Santha

Beware of a scam directed at freelance editors. It's a "fake check overpayment take-you-to-the-bank and get-your-money" scam.  Below is Dependra Santha's (the scammer) first email contact:

From: Dependra Santha
Subject: In need of an editor
Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2010, 5:49 PM
My name is Dependra Santha, I will require your service to assist me in proof reading the two documents I have attached to this email. I will like to know how much you will charge for both document. Once am sure of the price, I will instruct my associate in the USA to mail out a cashiers check payment to you for the service since I am out the country now a short course in the United Kingdom. The document will be due by the 20th of August as am trying to submit them to an accessor over here. I will be waiting for your reply,
Regards, Dependra Santha

Then he sends a "cashiers check"(mine came in a plain brown envelope and appeared to be from Wells Fargo bank in North Carolina). The check was for 3,800 dollars, rather than the amount agreed upon for the work, 350 dollars. Next came an email about the overpayment:

Dependra Santha
My associate just contacted me today that he mistakenly send the whole amount he is owing me ($3800)instead of sending the amount for the job as I directed him. Please I will want you to deduct your service charge and help me send the difference via western union money transfer service. The sending charge should be deducted from the balance after you might have deduct your service charge. The information to send the money to is;
Name; Dependra Santhamano
City; London; Country; United Kingdom.
Please note, you can deduct additional $100 for your running around to the western union location, thanks Once done with the western union, you will need to provide me with a 10 digit money transfer number known as MTCN. for the assistance.  Dependra Santhamano

Of course, after you receive the fake cashiers check, you will be contacted several times (once per hour) to send him the Western Union money transfer number. The problem: the check is a fraud; he'll take your money (had I not caught on, it would have over $3000 from my own checking account).

After emailing him to tell him I wouldn't transfer any money until his check cleared my bank, I googled his name (suspicious of his 3,800 check) and found a couple of hits about the scam. I notified my bank, which turned the check over to its fraud department. They called later the same day to say the check is a fraud.
This same group is also scamming translators. Since there wasn't a lot of detail on this particular scammer, Dependra Santha of the UK, I'm posting this to help sound the alert. I also turned him in to the FTC since he's using Western Union, misusing Wells Fargo bank material (or counterfeiting it), and the scam is international (surely breaks several laws). His IP address does show that he's at yahoo in Europe, and the envelop may have been mailed from North Carolina.


Books On My Night Stand

I'm currently reading Beguiled, by DeeAnne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, and The Centurion's Wife, by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Both look great! I'll review both books after I read them.

 I'm also finishing up a great suspense novel by James Rollins, The Doomsday Key (Harper Books), which isn't Christian fiction, but I love suspense, and Rollins is really good. Lots of fast moving action, all the characters face extinction on just about every page--but they keep going. It's great!


ECPAs 2010 Christian Fiction Finalists

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's 2010 Fiction Book Awards Finalists

Blood Bayou
by Karen Young,
Howard Books Publishers

by Jill Eileen Smith
Revell/ Baker Publishing Group

The Centurion's Wife
by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Bethany House/ Baker Publishing Group

Veiled Freedom
by Jeanette Windle
Tyndale House Publishers

Healing Waters

by Stephen Arterburn and Nancy Rue
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Watch Over Me
by Christa Parrish
Bethany House/ Baker Publishing Group

June Bug
by Chris Fabry
Tyndale House Publishers

A Writer's Sense of Place

Published in The Ready Writer's E-Zine, by Vicki McCollum, 2009

We love to read stories by writers who stir our memories, stoke our passions, and draw us into their fictional world. We go gladly because we sense truth in their writing—we trust them because we see ourselves in their characters’ struggles, our values upheld in their themes, and sense that we may discover something more about ourselves in their writing. A writer’s sense of place comes from our past—our childhood, family, and faith, as well as from the location that rooted us. Our sense of place shapes setting, people, and themes that recur in our writing. One of my favorite teachers of descriptive writing, Rebecca McClanahan, writes, “Memory is an act of meaningmaking. It collects the disparate pieces of our lives and distills them. . . . We store up sights, smells, textures and sounds of our lives, and draw upon those experiences as we writer. This doesn’t mean merely transcribing the raw material of past experience, but transforming that raw material into a new shape.”

I interviewed two Christian writers about how the sense of place affects their writing: Sandra van den Bogerd, inspirational fiction, and Elece Hollis, moderator of FCW poetry critique group.

Sandra says place is evoked in the recurring themes in her novels. “Things are not always what they seem, and sometimes you just need to trust God and others, despite the way things look. . . . I think a large component for Christian fiction writers’ sense of place is formed by our faith and values and relationships as seen through God’s filters.”

Sandra lives in Canada. Her love for the outdoors can be seen in her lifestyle and her writing. Last August, she vacationed with her husband in Canada’s north woods. She packed her manuscript, Escape to Terror (along with other necessities for surviving three weeks in the woods in a tent: thick, warm socks and sleeping bags, boxes of chocolate, and gallons of bug spray for those bruising black flies) to revise for consideration by Steeple Hill. Escape to Terror is a romantic suspense about characters stranded in the middle of the Northern Ontario wilderness.

Describing her sense of place, she writes: “I like to use setting to convey my characters’ emotions more fully and to evoke a comparable emotion in the reader. For example, in Escape to Terror, the heroine feels abandoned by God. Lost in the woods, she reflects on this: ‘She’d been like one of these gangly pines trying to survive in a forest of trees, desperately reaching skyward for a glimpse of sunlight while her hope, like their lower branches, withered in the darkness. If God had given her a reason to believe He cared, maybe she wouldn’t have given up reaching for Him all those years ago.”

Elece Hollis’s love for the Lord and His creation are frequent subjects of her poetry. Life in rural, eastern Oklahoma where Elece lives and home schools her children is reflected in her writing. Elece says, “My writing tends to be about nature, specifically about the prairie. Whether I am writing fiction, poetry, devotionals, or science articles for home-school journals, I fill them with things I know and love: the grasses and wildflowers; the wind, water and the heat; the seasonal changes, and the birds and creatures. Our writing should be flavored by and colored with our places."

Elece’s poem, “Of a Summer Morning,” reflects the sights and sounds of the Oklahoma prairie:

Out in the field where the meadowlark goes / Red Paintbrushes stand on the tips of their toes / Butterflies—yellow ones, white, orange, and black / Weave melodies over the grasses and back / Out in the pasture where cows gentle graze / White egrets stalk silently through summer days / Grasshoppers balance—on hot grasses sway / To the melodies blackbirds and barbed wire play.

While God created each of us as unique individuals, we were all made in His image. We may believe that we have nothing new to contribute. But our experiences shape our perspectives, producing in each of us a writer’s sense of place. Take time to think about the people, places, and events in your life and allow them to influence your writing.


Vicki McCollum:

McCollum Editorial Services

Sandra Orchard, (winner, Daphne DuMaurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and Colorado Romance Writers Heart of the Rockies contest, 2009) has two titles under consideration for publication, Shades of Gray and Escape to Terror. She is writing her third novel, Murder by Marigolds. Sandra’s website:

Elece Hollis is published in Humor for a Boomer's Heart, Howard Publishers, 2008; Follow Your Dreams, Graduates, Thomas Nelson, 2007; Blessed Among Women, Thomas Nelson, 2007; A Celebration of Family, Barbour ; and What’s Good About Home! A column for moms by email subscription:

Reprint from December 2009, Just Fiction Column, Ready Writer’s Newsletter

The Basics of Good Dialogue

Published in The Ready Writer E-Zine, by Vicki McCollum, © 2008
Quotation marks are used to punctuate a speaker’s actual dialogue in fiction or to punctuate a direct quote in nonfiction. Speech tags (also known as attribution tags in nonfiction) identify the speaker using speech verbs: he said, Janet yelled, Jack shouted.

Use speaker tags, also known as attribution tags in nonfiction, and separate the tag from the dialogue with a comma:
  • When asked directly, Janet replied, “No way, I’m not going there.” (direct quotation)
  • “No way, I’m not going there,” Janet said. (direct dialogue)
Don’t use quotation marks to punctuate recounted dialogue:

  • Janet said that there’s no way she’s going to go there. (recounting dialogue)
Notice that periods and commas are placed inside quotation marks:

  • “No way, I’m not going there.” (“.”)
  • “No way, I’m not going there,” Janet said. (“,” Janet said.)
Don't use commas with other punctuation:

  • "You aren’t going?,” Jack asked. ("?," Jack asked.) Incorrect.
  • Right: "You aren’t going?” Jack asked.  ("?" Jack asked.) Correct.
Speech or attribution tags may be placed before, in the middle, or after the quote or dialogue, depending on the writer’s desire to pace dialogue or stress sentences.

  • Janet’s husband said, “She never wants to go where I want to go.”
When a speech tag comes before the quote, the comma follows the tag and the speech is placed in quotation marks:

  • "Janet’s problem is that she lacks a sense of adventure,” her husband said.
When the speech tag follows quoted speech, the prounoun attribution isn't capitalized:
  • "Janet’s problem,” Jack said, “is that she lacks a proper sense of adventure.”
When the speech tag is placed in the middle of and interrupting the speech, the quoted speech continues without capitalization. (". . . problem,” Jack said, “is that she…”)

Paragraphs in direct dialogue

Give each speaker his or her own paragraph and indicate when the speaker changes by beginning a new paragraph. Example:

Janet stroked the cat behind its ears and sighed. “I’ve told you before, Jack. I hate ice-hockey. It’s too violent.”

“Since when has violence bothered you?” he asked. “It didn’t bother you when you played professional roller hockey.”

“That’s not fair.” She tossed an angry glare at him. “I played in order to pay your way through medical school, and this is the thanks I get?”

Action Tags

Use action tags to identify a speaker when you don’t want to use “said,” or other speech tags. Jack and Janet continue their conversation with each speaker receiving his or her separate paragraph. For variation, the third sentence uses an action tag; the tag shows Jack in meaningful action, which should move the plot forward, or characterize the speaker in some way.

"You never want to do what I want to do,” Jack said.

Janet said, “Don’t start with me, Jack.”

He opened the door. "Fine! I’ll go without you.”

Avoid adverbs

Adverbs are words that end with an “ly,” such as “angrily, softly, gently.” Instead of adding adverbs, allow the speaker’s words to express his feelings. Adverbs can make dialogue sound overwritten and cartoonish. Example:

"You never want to do what I want to do,” he whined pathetically.

Janet whispered angrily, “Don’t start with me, Jack.”

Opening the door he shouted furiously, "Fine! I’ll go without you.”

Readers can sense tone and emotion by the speaker’s word choice, and if the speaker's words expresses his or her feelings, then adverbs are repetitious.

Now it's your turn:

Read passages of your favorite author's dialogue. Compare how the author handles different character's dialogue. I'll bet they don't sound the same, do they? Just as people don't sound exactly like each other, neither do characters. Their way of speaking is shaped by education, work and social circles, family background, and much more. Absorb good dialogue by reading, or even re-typing, long passages of several authors' dialogue. Then apply what you've learned to your own characters' dialogue.


Creating Life-Like Characters

Published in The Ready Writer E-Zine, July 2010 By Vicki McCollum (c) 2010

We know that research yields vivid, concrete details that bring our characters and their settings to life and enrich our plots. However, the editorial task of sorting through the piles of objects, images, and textures arrives where we select only the most meaningful and significant details for our characters. This process deepens our writing and hints at our character’s moral complexities, hopes and dreams, and even fears. By selecting the right details, we create rounder, life-like characters, instead of flat stereotypes.

If we neglect this step, the overflow of information will confuse readers rather than present vivid, life-like characters. The result is that nothing stands out as particularly meaningful to the character. For example, I developed this list of details while researching my novel’s setting: the Upper French Louisiana in the late 1700s. I chose details for my character that I hoped would reveal not only her socio-economic status, but also her hopes, dreams, and fears:

Two pair of ladies slippers lay on the plank flooring under her bed. One pair with hard leather soles, made in New Orleans, and the other, soft-soled, intricately beaded moccasins. Opposite her bed stood a large chest filled with woolen bedding, linens, a silk purse, a pair of gloves, and a small, silver-framed portrait. A gilt-handle mirror hung from the rough plastered wall behind the chest.

As you can see, these details add nothing to either character or plot. Instead, I’ve unloaded my details in what’s called an “information dump.” However, if I allow my character to interact with her possessions, then perhaps the items will add meaning and complexity to her life. The next example shows the Celeste and her nurse-midwife interacting with details selected for their significance to my character’s life:

Celeste awoke. She motioned to an old chest in the far corner of the room, the chest where she stored her finery. It held her silk purse, white leather gloves, and the silver- framed portrait of herself that Philippe had commissioned in New Orleans, only two years earlier—his wedding present to her. “Find the valise and hide it from Madame, please.” The woman, her midwife, rummaged through Celeste’s clothing—a crimson dressing gown, a taffeta petticoat, all that was left of Celeste’s beauty and youth. “Quickly,” Celeste whispered, “I hear Madame’s footsteps outside the door.”

Later in the story, the valise increases in significance when the antagonist, Madame Marie-Louise, attempts to take it, and thereby increases conflict and develops the plot:

Marie-Louise stood in the shadows by the cot, observing the slave-woman’s body sway in her expression of grief. Alert for the most opportune time, she knew that Cymbee’s outlandish moans would eventually bring Philippe and the others. She would have to act fast. She dropped to her knees and searched the floor under the cot. Her stretched fingertips touched a leather pull with brass clasps. The old woman had pushed it deep against the back wall. Marie-Louise inched her way underneath the cot, leveraging against the iron bedstead to tug the bag forward, but it caught against a raised plank. Footsteps brushed past her toward Celeste and her baby. She heard Philippe’s muffled cry and glanced toward the commotion.

Through the detail of objects, setting, and character interactions, we learn something about the morality, hopes, dreams, and fears of the characters. We see Marie-Louise groveling under her slave’s cot (while her daughter-in-law is dying in childbirth) searching for the valise explicitly hidden from her. We also have some insight into Philippe through his demeanor and actions: his muffled cry and footsteps brushing past his mother towards his wife and child. Perhaps we have learned enough to judge their characters, as well as the plot, and decide if we’ll keep reading.

Now, it’s your turn. Imagine a room where your character spends a lot of time. Perhaps your character spends time in the kitchen where her family gathers during meal preparation or the family room with the large, stone fireplace where she cozy’s up to read her favorite novel. Imagine, for a moment, joining her in that space. Look around and ask yourself (and your character) questions. How does the room make you feel? Do you feel peaceful, excited, or fearful? How does the room and furnishings contribute to your feelings, and why? How does your character feel about this place? Why does she come here? Does she want to be here? Brainstorm to come up with a list of specific items you see in the room, and jot down any emotions these items stir in you. Does your character share your feelings? What emotional or life-attachment does your character have with these objects, with this place? Now, write freely, without restraint, about the strongest, most vivid impression you’ve gained from your character’s environment.



Research to Develop Your Characters and Settings

Research to Develop Your Characters and Settings© Vicki McCollum

Get to know your character through his or her possessions. Try this exercise: Describe a character’s living space using the five senses. What’s on the walls, under the bed, in the closet? Imagine your character’s room and "brainstorm" a quick but specific list of everything in the room. Don’t limit yourself. Next, free write about one or more items in the room. (Writing Fiction, Burroway, and Discovering the Writer Within, Ballenger)

Was your free writing vivid and specific or was it vague and general? It’s okay to write in vague generalities when you first describe your character’s environment. Get it all down on paper, and then fill in missing detail later.

You may discover that research will help to fill in those blanks with vivid and concrete details about your character’s setting. Do internet searches or go to the library to find information on the time period and location of your story. Or, look items up on E-bay. How are they described?

Find photographs of items and make copies to post on a bulletin board or poster. Hang it near your desk, or file it in a folder to keep for reference. Imagine your character interacting with the items. What have you learned about your character? This information will help you get to know your characters, and it will help to develop deeper characters and add richer layers to your plot.

You may not use all of the information, but a few specific descriptions bring your readers into your story. Your writing will touch their memories, causing them to fill in the gaps with their own experiences as they read.

Through research and free-writing, you may also discover the beginnings of what might be another character, story, or even a non-fiction essay.

I used this exercise to add concrete detail from information I found while researching everyday items in use in Missouri in the early 1800s, the time period of my novel. I found a picture of a rushlight, or poor man's candle, which held grease-soaked rush, a grass-like marsh plant, or candles. (Illinois State Museum Online).

I used the rushlight description to set the mood and describe the setting in a scene with my character.

A log fire in the double hearth lit the cavernous room, that and Cymbee’s rushlight on the scarred cherry table beside the bed. Cymbee replaced the tallow candle with her own twined rushes thickly coated with buffalo grease. Animal fat permeated the air as it burned, casting a golden glow into the murky recesses of the room. The rancid stench wrestled for dominance over the scent of blood and fear.

Try this exercise yourself. See where it takes you in your writing!


Resources for Writing


Interview with Martha Rogers, author of Becoming Lucy and Morning for Dove, Winds Across the Prairie series

An interview with Martha Rogers, author of
Becoming Lucy, Winds Across the Prairie Series #1 

Tell us about Lucy Bishop, Becoming Lucy’s main character.

Martha: Lucinda Bishop is a seventeen-year-old young lady from Boston whose parents are killed in a carriage accident. She becomes the ward of her aunt and uncle, Ben and Mellie Haynes, who live in Oklahoma. Lucinda is due to inherit a sizable estate at the age of eighteen. She travels to Oklahoma Territory in 1896 to the town of Barton Creek, north of Stillwater and west of Guthrie. Although reluctant to leave Boston and all she knows there, she wants to be a part of a family again, and her greatest desire is to once again belong in a family. She also fears that her father’s brother may have had a hand in the death of her parents, so she wants to get away from him.

What perked your interest in writing this story about Lucy? What drew you to set it in Oklahoma?

Martha: Our youngest son and his family lived in Tulsa and Stillwater for 15 years. When we stopped at the Tourist Information Center on our visits to see them, I picked up information about the state and became fascinated by the history, especially when they celebrated their Centennial in 2007.

When you were writing Lucy, who did you imagine its reader to be? What do you want to communicate most to your readers? What do you want your readers to gain from your novels?

Martha: Mostly I imagined the reader to be like me, a person who loves to read about another time and place in history. That reader could be anyone from their thirties to their seventies. What I most want to communicate is that God has a plan for our lives, and even though tragedy and misfortune may sidetrack us, His plan will play out as He makes blessings for us through our love and devotion to him I also want them to gain the understanding of the bigness of our God to forgive our sin no matter how horrible it may seem to us. Also, that when we believe with our hearts in God’s promises, and are obedient to His will, He will give us the desires of our heart. I also want the reader to see how we can become what God wants us to be when we are willing to listen and be obedient to His calling.

Becoming Lucy  released January 2010. Where and how can readers buy copies? Do you encourage readers to communicate with you? If so, how can they get in touch with you?

Martha: Copies are now available for pre-order at Christian Books on line and will be available in Christian book stores in January as well as Amazon. Readers can visit my website at and contact me from there. I also have a blog at

Morning for Dove
Winds Across the Prairie seriesMorning for Dove, book two in the series, released May 4, 2010.

Martha: This story is about Lucy’s best friend, Dove, and the young man who loved Lucinda in the first book and how they find true love despite the obstacles of prejudice and opposition.

Have you planned book three in the series? If so, tell us what you can about it.

Martha: Book Three will be Finding Becky. This is the story of Becky, Lucinda’s cousin from Book one. She is now grown up and returning to Barton Creek after being in college. The time is 1905, and Becky is now going by her name of Rebecca. She is a firm believer in the Women’s Suffragette movement, and strongly believes it is a woman’s right to be whatever she wants to be, professionally. Her views about religion are now much more liberal than when she left. Her childhood sweetheart, Bob Frankston, is dismayed and bewildered by the changes in Rebecca and wants his old “Becky” back. Their story is about finding one’s way back to one’s roots and the basic beliefs about God’s plan for our lives.

About the author
How long have you been writing fiction? What are the titles of any you’ve previously published?

Martha: I have been writing fiction as long as I can remember. I wrote stories to act out with my paper dolls as a child. I also wrote little skits for my cousins and siblings to perform for our parents. I wrote my first novel at age 18 while a student at Baylor University.
I have written Bible studies for First Place 4 Health and have had devotionals in a number of books for daily devotions. I’ve also had stories in Embrace of the Father, and Whispering in God’s Ear, both collections by Wayne Holmes. In 2007, the novella Sugar and Grits was released.

You are the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. Can you tell us about the conference?

Martha: The Texas Christian writer's Conference is sponsored by Inspirational Writers Alive! and is held on the first Saturday of August each year.

What advice do you have for beginning, not-yet-published Christian fiction writers? And, what is one thing that you wish someone had told you early in your writing career?

Martha: For those yet to be published, I say “Don’t give up. Persevere because if you are going what God wants you to do, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 is the verse on which I rely to encourage me. I do wish someone had told me that writing is hard work. Yes, the writing part can be fun and always has been, but all that goes with it makes for hard work. Things like editing, cutting words or adding scenes to increase word count, sending out submissions, finding an agent, talking with editors are work that must be done to eventually succeed in the business of writing. Again…don’t give up.

See Becoming Lucy trailer at