Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Rock Star Mentors


Mentorship: “People ahead of you in their career who inspire you.”

Who doesn’t need writing support? I know my writing life depends on it, and as I've studied other authors, I've found even those on the NYT Bestsellers List depend on feedback and encouragement  from other writers.

I recently read an article by Jessica Conoley about writing support for authors. It was so good, I plan to pick it apart and use many of her points in my Hoosier Ink posts for most of this year.

Conoley says, “If you are lacking in motivation and inspiration, invest some time in finding your mentors.”

I’m not one who lacks motivation, but like a super sponge, I try to soak in gallons of inspiration from those who go before me! I follow blogs, attend conferences, and look for any opportunity to connect with published writers.

Here's one form of mentoring I hadn’t given much thought to: Rock Star Mentors. Big names. Like James Patterson or Dean Koontz or Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti or J.K. Rowling. 

Mentors from afar.

Unless you happen to be a friend of theirs, you won’t get one-on-one instruction, but you can:

1. Read their books and study how they put together their sentences, their scenes, their plot lines, etc. Figure out what they’re doing, and apply it to your own writing.

I used Marie Killilea for my rock star to study. Her book, Karen, about raising a daughter with  cerebral palsy, was the inspiration for my own story of growing up with a deaf sister. Killilea isn't a household name, but her book sold millions of copies.

2.  Look for videos on available platforms. Take notes on the shared wisdom of bestselling authors.

Since Marie Killilea passed on into eternity years ago, I've chosen Lisa Wingate as one of my favorite authors to study. It took me less than five minutes to find a video of her teaching a writing workshop that interested me.

3.  Check out their social media. Study how they interact with their followers.

I’ll admit it’s my weakest area. I’m not a chatty-Kathy type of person, so I can learn from those who appear at ease on these platforms.

I had already followed Lisa Wingate’s website, but for this article, I checked for her name in      all  the social media I use. I found out:

A.   She posts daily on Facebook (and she’s funny).

B.   She posts almost as often on Twitter. It seems to be less personal and more related to her author platform.

C.    She does a lot on Pinterest (I liked her quotes board the best)

D.    And on Instagram. I’m kind of new to both and don’t understand why there are so many different pages to follow (is pages the correct word?).

E.    I couldn’t find her on MeWe or Rumble.


Having written this post, I am now giving myself a specific assignment.

Lisa Wingate, who will probably never know it, is now my “Rock Star Mentor.” I plan to tune in everyday to her social media and study any patterns I can find (and shamelessly copy) so I can practice the same skills on my own platforms for my own work.

I challenge you to find your own Rock Star Mentor.

I will also make you a promise: if you write a comment about this post and make sure to advertise your own online presence and your hoped-for Rock Star Mentor, I promise to follow your blog and social media platform(s). Who knows? Maybe a lot of our readers will follow you, too.

And maybe you could return the favor?

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!

Where Linda can be found on the web:




Thank you to Jessica  Conoley, author and writing coach, who inspired this post! https://jessicaconoley.com/

Side note: If you also read and loved the book, Karen, I found out Karen Killilea passed away last year at the age of eighty. A rock star mentor in her own right as a quiet champion of the disabled simply by living her own life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

What keeps you from investing in a story?

 You may remember the dilemma I described last month, as my husband and I pondered over choosing a televised series available via streaming, in which to invest our time, emotions, and end-of-day unwinding time. Quick review. We’d just finished 30 episodes of a crime-thriller-drama season that had thoroughly hooked us. And now, we found ourselves wavering about our next selection, fearing it would not live up to its predecessor. That it might be a waste of our time. Unworthy of our investment. Stowing our fears to the side yet keening for another thoroughly-hooked experience, we took the plunge and began to settle into a less thrilling, less action-filled, yet highly-rated drama.

Well, I am sad to report that by the end of the third episode, we reached the mutual conclusion that the thoroughly-hooked experience we’d hope to have was not to be. With a pang of guilt, I muttered quietly, maybe so as not to offend the lingering presence of the show, “It’s just too boring. It moves soooo slow.”

Two episodes of another series followed by three episodes of yet a third one found us no closer to fully investing ourselves in a fictional series world, for one reason or another. With our hope for success but a flickering spark, we journeyed onward. Attempt number four did not disappoint. Engaging, entertaining, unique, and intriguing. But alas, this new series had but one short season currently available, so our thoroughly-hooked experience ended much too soon.

I face a very similar quandary when I choose reading material. I can often tell within a few pages whether a particular book will live up to my admittedly high standards. If it passes this first marker, I’ll give it a chapter or two, possibly three, before deciding if I will fully invest my time in this fictional world. Many books on my Kindle display the proof that I began but did not finish the story, noting the place I stopped and the percentage of the story read.

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

Poor writing tops the list of reasons I put down a book. If my internal red pen cannot be quiet, I cannot enjoy a book. I have slogged through a few books despite very poor writing, for one or a combination of reasons.

  •        The plot was intriguing enough I wanted to see how the story concluded.
  •      I liked something enough that I hoped the writing would improve. Almost never happens.
  •      I longed to discover some redeeming quality in the storyline or the characters, so much so that   I pushed myself to continue reading. Sometimes happens but the poor writing forever remains a blot on the book.
  •      Because of how poor the writing was, I determined to read on to see if it could possibly get worse. Unfortunately, on several occasions, it got worse. 

I have a wider tolerance for poor writing if I know the story is TRUE. I still cringe, elbowing my internal red pen to zip it, but I’m more likely to continue reading a real-life story. I once encountered a book that firmly hit on every poor writing pet peeve, yet because I believed it to be a true story about a subject near to my heart, I persevered. As often happens, the writing deteriorated further. I sloughed on, continually shaking my head at how awful it was. Near the very end, I looked up the author, seeking confirmation that I had been investing my time in a true story. Guess what? Turns out it was a complete work of fiction! While the storyline did have one intriguing branch, the poor telling of the story and the lackluster scenes did a great injustice to the story’s one redeeming quality.

Nudging the reader to keep turning the pages—for the right reasons—should be the goal of every fiction writer. We soon learn that the well-crafted, compelling scenes required to accomplish this feat do not happen by chance. More often their existence comes only as a result of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of the author. And then we still ponder whether the scene is compelling enough? Does it hound a reader to turn the page regardless of the late hour and the early morning ahead?

Tina Radcliffe will join the ACFW Indiana Chapter on March 13, via Zoom, for a presentation on “Creating Compelling Scenes.” Mark your calendar now for this noon to 2 p.m. discussion on scene structure, episodic writing, and tips that will take your writing from tepid to terrific. I for one can’t wait!

Check for more information on this event on our Facebookpage.

So, what makes YOU stop reading? Share the biggest offenders in the comments below.


Beth’s experiences substitute teaching and connecting with the teenage staff at the fast-food joint where she claimed a “back booth office” helped inspire her young adult “Choices Matter” fiction series. She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. Her “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog helps people of all ages navigate the choppy waters of saving sex for marriage while her “Slices of Real Life” posts find GOD in the day-to-day moments of real life.

As a genetic genealogy enthusiast, she writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents. Her journey to find and connect with her biological family is chronicled in the blog series “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers.” All of her writing endeavors can be found on her website, https://bethsteury.com .

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Dean Koontz on Plotting

Best-selling suspense author Dean Koontz had a violent alcoholic father who threatened to kill him and other members of the family. He says, “The benefit of my childhood was to show that there is evil in the world and that you have to find a way to thread through it, reject it, and find other ways to live.”[1] 

Koontz found another way to live through his Christian faith. He also realized that this pattern was a classic plot outline, which he described this way:

1) The author introduces a hero (or heroine) who has just been or is about to be plunged into terrible trouble. 2) The hero attempts to solve his problem but only slips into deeper trouble. 3) As the hero works to climb out of the hole he’s in, complications arise, each more terrible than the one before, until it seems as if his situation could not possibly be any blacker or more hopeless than it is—and then one final, unthinkable complication makes matters even worse… 4) At last, deeply affected and changed by his awful experiences and by his intolerable circumstances, the hero learns something about himself or about the human condition in general, a Truth of which he was previously ignorant, and having learned this lesson, he understands what he must do to get out of the dangerous situation in which he has wound up.[2]

This worsening-trouble story line “has proven, through generations of novelists, to be the most satisfying, flexible, and least constricting structure by which to order and give meaning to a long piece of fiction” (75). Let’s see how some best-selling authors plunge their heroes into “terrible trouble” with their opening lines:

Ernest Hemingway:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish (The Old Man and the Sea).

James Herriot:

They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back (All Creatures Great and Small).

Beverly Lewis:

Something about heading for home at nightfall tugged at my better judgment that Thursday evening (The Guardian).

Cara Putman:

“You have one chance to make this thing fly” (Shadowed by Grace).

Follow each of these stories and you’ll see the protagonist trying to resolve his/her trouble, only to get pulled into worse trouble, then worse and worse, like the tightening of a screw. (This is what we call the narrative arc.) The plot builds to a climax, to be resolved when the protagonist gains a new insight into the situation or (in the case of Christian fiction) new insight into the hero’s relationship with God. (This is the character arc.)

Evaluate the plot of your current work in progress with these questions in mind: Do I get my hero/heroine into trouble at the outset? Are the stakes high enough? Does the trouble become progressively worse as the protagonist tries to resolve it? Does the protagonist get a new understanding of the situation or of herself that leads to a resolution of her problem? 

This kind of plot makes a compelling story because it's true to life. Just ask Dean Koontz.

[1]Interview with Raymond Arroyo, “The World Over,” October 19, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyVAddoJByU

[2] Dean Koontz, How to Write Best-Selling Fiction (Cincinnati: Writers Digest, 1981), 74.