How an Author Inspired Me

Throughout the month of May, our contributors will be sharing their inspirational stories of times when an author inspired them. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile and a word of encouragement. Other times, it may be a recommendation, or a good review. In some way, the author offered encouragement to keep writing, keep trying for an open door into the publishing realm.

For the most part, I’ve found authors to be very helpful and giving. They know how hard it is to write and have your work pored over by readers, editors, and agents. Sometimes the whole process seems to chip away at your confidence. For some reason, I had a sudden vision of a pigeon atop a statue. You know what pigeons do to statues. Yes, sometimes, it is very like that.

Especially when you send a portion of your work through an online critique loop. It’s like hitting send and launching a piece of your heart into the great void. Will it make the journey? Will it be torn apart by frenzied critiquers? Will they laugh uproariously, though it’s not a funny manuscript?

Several years back, a very hopeful younger version of myself joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), took the preparatory course on critiquing, then joined the huge online critique loop. I had a completed historical manuscript to send through chapter-by-chapter, and I was ready to begin my journey. I composed my first email, attached my first chapter, and hit send with a trembling index finger.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I got a couple of crits. One was very helpful and nice, though there were a lot of suggestions. A LOT.  The second one was from a dear lady who must have been “up there” in age, because she said she remembered those days (the 1920s). She went on to say that no young lady would ever put on a pair of dungarees (which my character had done before climbing out a window and down a tree). I had a photograph of my grandma in a pair of dungarees. The picture was taken in 1924, the year I had chosen to begin my story.

She said a lot of other things, like how she laughed uproariously at some of my mistakes, and maybe I should do a more thorough research before I sent the rest of the story through. Of course, I was greatly offended. After crying over it for a while, I put it away. When enough time had passed, I compared her assessment with the few other critiques I received, and made some changes. I also made changes to the second chapter and sent it through, only to receive another scathing review from that dear lady.

I know you’re wondering why I’m writing about this in an article about authors who inspire other authors. Well, I’m getting to that. After having my feelings completely trounced several times, I contacted the critique group coordinator. That was my first interaction with Fay Lamb. She assured me this was not the typical critique, and I shouldn’t take it personally. She also suggested I not read anymore offerings from this person, and in the meantime, she would contact the lady and make a few suggestions of her own.

Not only that, but Fay Lamb read my chapters and was very helpful. She was kind, but honest. I needed to up my game. I did that, and she encouraged me to keep moving forward. She also encouraged me to leave the big loop and opt for a smaller group, instead. I worked with one or two other writers for a while, then joined a second small group.

When my first book made it through the critique process, I looked for an editor I could pay to help me whip it into shape. I knew Fay was working as a freelance editor, so I hired her. She held my hand through the process, and we ended up with a completed novel.

Then she suggested I send it to a small press publisher. A little over a year later, the book was published by Write Integrity Press.

I might have given up along the way, except for Fay’s encouragement. “You’re a good writer. Keep working on it.” Her example kept me moving forward through some very dark times. I wanted to quit. She wouldn’t let me.

Betty & Fay

Fay and I became friends and discovered we had so much in common, it was uncanny. In fact, we’ve found so many weird connections, we may possibly be twins separated at birth. We finally met in person at a Christian writers conference in Atlanta. You’ll find her name on the acknowledgment page of most of my published novels.

I am not the only writer she has helped. I know many others can tell similar stories with Fay Lamb as the star. Well, except for being her twin. That may be unique.

Thank you, Fay, for being there for me, and helping me through the tough times—the inevitable deep lows that come to all who profess to be writers.


Writing Prompt: [Finish this thought with a complete sentence:] The most helpful suggestion ever made to me by another author is…

Click to Tweet: Sometimes the whole (writing) process seems to chip away at your confidence. I’ve found #authors to be very helpful and giving. They know how hard it is to write and have your work pored over by readers, editors, and agents.

How to Market with Attitude

Attitude: A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual’s choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).

Four major components of attitude are (1) Affective: emotions or feelings. (2) Cognitive: belief or opinions held consciously. (3) Conative: inclination for action. (4) Evaluative: positive or negative response to stimuli. Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/attitude.html


(1) Affective – How will a reader feel when she looks at my book? Will the cover create a positive or a negative reaction? Will the blurb I’ve written bore the reader? Repel them? Or, will it draw them in to the story?

Of course, I want the latter to be the case, so I do my best to create a compelling blurb. A cover artist uses easy-to-read, eye-catching fonts on the cover, combined with an inviting image with colors that draw the eye. If I will be my own cover artist, I study the craft before beginning, because the cover is often the most effective way to sell a book.

Book cover, blurb, and advertising that touches a reader emotionally, will sell books. This is affective advertising.

(2) Conative and evaluative are behavioral responses.

Our words, advertising, memes, pictures, themes, and titles are all tools we use to stimulate and persuade readers to pick up our stories and read them. We not only want the reader’s positive response to the cover, we want them to buy the book, take it home, and READ it. Then pass it on, or give it an honored spot on their personal bookshelves, and tell others what a wonderful book it is.

We want to develop a following. Give our readers a reason to return when another book is released. We want them to care about our hand-crafted item. This outcome is a gold medal for the writer—an accomplishment that brings a collective sigh among a writer’s closest friends, street team, agent, and publisher.

(3) Cognitive

Can I persuade you to take a chance on me, a writer you’ve never heard of? A writer whose books have garnished few reviews, and those were possibly close friends and family? [I’m not talking about me, just using this an example!]

Cognitive marketing is the art of figuring out how to persuade a person to buy my product. It may seem overwhelming (and often does), but it is not impossible. By far, my best chance at this is face-to-face at book signings, conferences, and other functions where marketing can be very personal. At the least, I can give away bookmarks, brochures, or business cards that will keep my name in front of them.

So, I create my best product. I work every day to improve my craft. I do my homework to find out what readers like and want. I’m preparing myself both mentally and physically, figuring out how to touch my readers with the promise of a good story.

I’m also crafting memes and tweets and Facebook posts, short articles for blogs, all with a positive theme. All with an eye-catching design. Using prose, I skillfully form sentences to draw the reader in and persuade her that she really wants and needs to read what I’ve written.

Create marketing with attitude. All my life, I’ve struggled with attitude. I was an introvert who’d just as soon crawl under a rock or hide behind a door than face a buyer. I’m the daughter of a successful insurance salesman, but sales is the last thing I ever wanted to do. I don’t like salespeople who get in my face and try to talk me into something I don’t want. Thankfully, Dad wasn’t that kind of salesman. He was a good ole boy who never met a stranger, and made friends of all his clients.

See? That’s the goal—to make friends. To change my attitude from one of hard-sell to how-can-I-help-you. Touch hearts with my message. Persuade with a smile and let them know I’m happy to make their acquaintance, even if they don’t want or need what I have to sell. Invite them to follow me on social media. Give them something valuable in content on my marketing sites, offer occasional free gifts. Be a servant.

In my opinion, that, my friends, is marketing with attitude.

Click to Tweet: I’m preparing myself both mentally and physically, figuring out how to touch my readers with the promise of a good story. #marketing #amwriting 

Writing Prompt: You’ve written a book about an elderly lady who raises prize-winning roses. One day, she goes out to find her newest creation has been stolen. Write a short sentence to hook your readers.

Research: The Inspired Prompt Way

Research. We’ve spent the month of March dissecting this topic from all angles. From how to start, to research on the road, and current events research, a way to gather information should be coming clear.

I’ve asked the Crew to share their go-to source when it comes to research. Here’s what they said:

Harriet Michael: As a Christian nonfiction writer who writes a lot of Biblical pieces—devotions and essays to a Biblical theme, my go-to resource is Bible Gateway where I can look up passages, do word searches, find commentaries, and find passages in all translations. Here is their link: https://www.biblegateway.com/

Jennifer Hallmark: Sometimes when I write, I just can’t think of the right word so I use an online thesaurus. Even if I don’t find what I need, it often gets my creativity flowing so I can move forward in my writing. Their link is http://www.thesaurus.com/

Kristy Horine: I find the Blue Letter Bible www.blueletterbible.org to be a great resource due to its interlinear concordance, cross references, language explanations, and access to commentaries. It has an app that is free that can be downloaded to your phone.  In addition, www.biblestudytools.com is helpful in the commentary area.

Another source is www.thoughtco.com. This is not a Christian-based resource, but it sure is fun for those strange and unusual questions like if brain cells regenerate, or the difference between racism and prejudice. It is based on the idea that we should be lifelong learners and seeks to teach just that. Plus, it has a really neat daily email you can sign up for. And, for numbers: www.barna.com and www.pewresearch.org

Betty Thomason Owens: I attended a class on researching at the Mid South Conference. The instructor gave us the Library of Congress website. It’s huge. You can find articles, photos, and lots of other interesting studies and stories and books. https://www.loc.gov/  I also love History.com  https://www.history.com/ and the Smithsonian.com https://www.smithsonianmag.com/.

Gail Johnson: I use the Bible, Webster’s dictionary, and the Strong’s Concordance. Also Bible Gateway and the online versions of the dictionary and thesaurus.

Bonita McCoy: I love  Biblehub.com because it gives you the verse in several translations. I use it for my Beautiful Pieces of Grace blog. Also the good old library for articles for the Inspired Prompt site and my Courageous Writers blog.

Fay Lamb: My research varies on what the subject happens to be. If it is medical, I will look up medical research on various sites, but I also look for journals of people who have undergone medical procedures. I also use slang dictionaries for slang for certain times. I even have a surfers’ slang dictionary.

Tammy Trail:  I tend to look for historical societies. There is a blog I like to catch up with too, Colonial Quills. Lots of historical information there for me. I use the Colonial Williamsburg website also. For writing related information, I love Seekerville.

Carlton Hughes:  Like others, my research varies depending on the subject. I’m mostly writing devotionals now, so usually I’m searching for a specific scripture on Bible Gateway. Blogs like Novel Rocket are good for general advice on fiction writing.

Shirley Crowder:  I use Blue Letter Bible — lots of commentaries, words studies, etc. https://www.blueletterbible.org/

Karen Jurgens: I use Google for whatever I need to know when I’m writing about Paris and other parts of the world. I study maps of the city, and I use reference books I’ve purchased while visiting. For example, I bought lots of historical books and maps of Cayman Island when I vacationed there a couple years ago. I always write about settings I know personally or have visited.

Cammi Woodall: Started in September of 1998, Google is the world’s largest search engine. You know how I know that? I googled it! When you can use your search engine name as a verb, you know you are doing something right. I love other sites like AskJeeves.com or Yahoo.com, but I always come back to Google. In one research session, l learned that the world’s oldest church is the Dura-Europos house church in Syria, arsenic poison will still show up in your fingernails 6 to 12 months after ingestion, and a ten-gallon hat really only holds three-quarters of a gallon. Who knew? Google did! And now I do, too.

Thank you, Inspired Prompt Crew! As you can see, there are research sites galore for the fiction and non-fiction writer. Do you have a go-to site that’s not listed above? In lieu of a writing prompt, we’re asking you to share that in the comments below…

Click to tweet: The Inspired Prompt Crew shares their go-to source when it comes to research for writers. #research #Google

Research: Where to Start

You want to write a story, but don’t know where to begin. The setting is current, your idea is for the main character to be a firefighter. Problem is, you’ve never even known a firefighter—you’ve only watched a movie about one.

Or, maybe your story is set in Boston, in the early 1900’s. You’ve never even been to Boston.

You need to research, but where do you begin? How do you find the information you need?

My first works of fiction were historical, and at the time, I had no home computer and no access to internet. Yes, I know—ancient days. We still had an antennae connected to our television, and the phone was on the wall.

I drove to the library, and returned home with a stack of books. These included a book that gave the reasons behind the stock market crash. Another book about the famous cruise lines of the day, a pictorial history of the Great Depression, and a couple of well-known novels set in the 1920s.

I hoped these would help me work up a timeline and get into the mindset. They did, to a degree. But my resources were limited.

These days, it’s a lot easier and so much more convenient. You can Google whatever you need to research. You don’t even have to leave home. Here are a few things you may not have considered:

  1. You Tube videos from the 1920s and ‘30s – even one that shows a family on a cruise ship. You can also find newsreel videos on a variety of subjects. Very interesting!
  2. Don’t forget the popular songs of the day, which will add depth and atmosphere. Listen to them, as you construct scenes.
  3. Current events – these can add reality to your conversations, fill a quiet moment of contemplation. Troubling events often occupy our thoughts. Your character would react in much the same way.
  4. Google locations can take us to the very spot. Select “street view” and voila! You’re looking at houses and images that will add definite reality to your writing. The earth is at your fingertips. Choose a location and go there. It’s not quite as good as actually being there, but it’s better than nothing.
  5. Make the trip. Even a short day trip or over-niter is often enough to inspire your writing.
  6. Antique shops and cemeteries! If your story is historical, visit local antique shops. Look for interesting ordinary objects that would populate a home from your particular era. Sometimes, the shop owners/clerks can help you. We have a number of antique shops near my home, along with a cemetery dating back to the early 1700s. What a wealth of information can be gained, just walking around in there.

Current interests, like the firefighter, can be easily researched on the internet. You’ll find numerous blog posts, news stories, television shows, movies. After you’ve read enough to get a good background, I suggest you call a local fire department and see what’s available to you. In some cases, a writer can tour the department, and interview actual firefighters.

Today, if we can imagine it, we can find it on the internet. Your setting is in the Antarctic? Or, your main character is a science officer on a space station? No problem.

Stay tuned all month for more articles from our contributors on research, how-to, and why. We’ll give you tools to make your writing pop.

Click to Tweet: #Research is the key that will unlock all the information you need. Sometimes, we are only limited by our imagination via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting

Writing Prompt: Arlene knelt in front of the tombstone. Weather had etched it until she could barely make out the dates 1652 – 1717. There was only one name—Corley—was it the surname? And beneath it, three words…

You May Be a Fiction Writer

I always thought it would be fun to write fiction. After all, it’s just made-up stories, right? So, I started writing, and I enjoyed it immensely. Well, until I realized my stories needed a plot to make sense, and some sort of structure and plan. I needed to learn the basics of fiction writing.

Off to the bookstore I went, to find a couple of self-help books. But, I’m more of a hands-on learner. I closed the books, and put those principles into practice. All right, I was onto something. It was looking good. Until I sent my first chapter to a critique group. I was so embarrassed by all the corrections, and the not-so-gentle suggestion, “…you really need to polish this more before you send it in…”

Maybe fiction writing wasn’t as easy as I thought.

How do you know you’re a fiction writer? What clues you in?

Here’s what led me to believe I may be destined to write fiction:

  • My mother. She called me a storyteller a long time ago. It wasn’t a compliment.
  • Years of living in my imagination–my “happy place”–creating stories in my head.
  • Reading my way through the fiction shelves at the local library. While reading, I was figuring out a better way to tell that story.

You might be a fiction writer. But–brace yourself–it’s not easy. Matter of fact, it’s a lot of hard work. You not only have to begin a story, but end it, and the ending, or “denouement” needs to make sense, and satisfy the reader. Quite the challenge, especially in this age of instant books, when writers crank out multiple novels a year. Their loyal readers devour those novels as quickly as they appear. How did they do that? Let’s dissect the thing and find out.

Write. Sit down and write. There’s no substitute for it. Tell your story, as only you can. And, while you’re at it, learn the craft. Read, study, follow blogs, take classes, attend conferences. Fellowship with other writers. Find a good critique group–this last one is essential–truly the best way to learn. Notice I said, GOOD critique group. Find a group, either in person or online, that will challenge you and help you grow as a writer. As Sara Turnquist said in Back to Basics – How to Start, choose a group that has at least one published author.

A good work of fiction includes…Even in fiction, facts are not only welcome, but necessary. What makes a really good story? It’s believable. It could really happen. It mirrors real life.

Like the house built on sand, a story with no foundation will quickly wash away, and its writer will look very foolish. Include a factual foundation, such as, basing a story in a real place, or using everyday articles that might be found in someone’s home. Sometimes, good characters and engaging dialogue are enough to ground the story. Think of the best scenes in your favorite movies. Don’t they usually include dialogue and interaction between the characters? They become real in those moments, and you become part of the scene. That’s great fiction.

Showing … not telling–One of the greatest commandments of fiction writing! Fiction is a finely-crafted work of art. A really good story doesn’t just tell you what’s going on, it shows you. You get so wrapped up in the story, you feel what the character feels, see what he sees. You’re emotionally involved. I read an excellent blog post on this subject, written by Cindy Sproles, on The Write Conversation. You can access that article here: Writing With Emotion.

Read good fiction. Find writers whose books you love, and read. I use the following list of questions as I read:

  • How does the writer make me want to turn the page?
  • What draws me to the lead character?
  • When are the stakes raised?
  • How does the writer integrate minor characters?
  • What makes a scene work?
  • What’s the key to the conflict?
  • How does the writer handle dialogue?

These questions also work with television shows and movies. The answers can be very revealing. What are the author’s strong points? What are his shortcomings? What’s your takeaway? Challenge your own writing in this way, and you’re bound to improve.

I don’t claim to know it all, because I don’t think it’s possible to learn all there is to know about writing. It’s an ever-changing scene that needs to be edited and updated, molded to fit genres and themes. And there’s no way I can tell you all you need to know in 750 words or less. But, if you really want to learn, and you want to excel at the craft, or at least develop your personal style and voice, you can achieve that.

Click to Tweet: I jumped in, feet first, and guess what I learned? It really is fun to write fiction.


Writing Prompt: Your main character (Jill) has just moved to a new city, where she’s taken a job. Jill accepts a coworker’s invitation to an informal gathering. As she steps inside the room, describe the scene, using conversation between Jill and the coworker.