Critters Makes for Better Writing

September 24th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

My husband is a big Star Wars fan.  He watches all six movies often, though there’s a couple he watches more often than the rest.  He collects the action figures (never call them toys to a “true” collector).  He rushes to the video store that sells the comic books the same day they call him to let him know his comic is in.  And everytime a new SW novel appears in print he combs the bookstores (ranting about it being released in hard back first and having to wait a year or more for its release in paper back, but that’s another story for another blog).  All of this means that when he found his favorite SW author’s web site he, of course, emailed a link to the site to me.

Usually I look at these “helpful” links others send me with half-hearted attention, but the fact that he raves about this author’s writing made me curious.  My initial reaction to Karen Traviss web site was, if possible, even more curiousity because the first page link she has is to something called Critters.  (My husband, being the wonderfully oblivious man he is, assumed the author was talking about her pets or some such thing.)  After looking at her other page links, which all had to do with how to be a better writer, I figured it had to have something to do with writing.

I haven’t been so surprised at being right in a long time.  It turns out that Critters is a group of writers from novice to pro who critique each others’ work.  (Hence the clever name.)  It’s a great idea.  The only catch is that all members are required to submit a minimum of one critique per week.  The good news is that there are ways to get ahead in critiquing and ways to catch up.  The benefits of having your work honestly, and tactfully, critiqued before it hits the publishers desk or you’ve already submitted it to a POD (print-on-demand) company far outweigh the commitment in time and energy spent doing a critique a week.

The best part is that you can have your complete novel critiqued as well as smaller works.  There are special provisions for entire novels and a way to get your work bumped up to the top for critique if you just don’t have the time to wait an entire month.

While it would be nice to be able to write the perfect story from the first word, a good writer knows that editing and rewriting are a must in the craft.  Having your work critiqued by others who have no reason to stroke your ego, as family and friends do, makes the process that much better (though no less painful).  Thanks to authors like Karen Traviss, who are willing to give new and emerging writers advice, and to fellow writers like those on Critters, every would-be author has a better chance at success.


Catch up on the adventure with other books in the Malkin series.

Apprentice Cat CoverApprentice Cat available in paperback and for KindleNookKoboScribd and iTunes.

Buy the .pdf now 

Also available as an audiobook on AudibleAmazon and iTunes.



Journeyman-Cat15percentJourneyman Cat available in paperback and KindleNookScribdiTunes and Kobo.

Buy the .pdf now 

Audiobook coming soon.



Secrets-of-the-Malkin-sidebar-newsletterSecrets of the Malkin ebook version available for KindleNookiTunes and Kobo.

Buy the .pdf now 




Huntress of the MalkinHuntress of the Malkin ebook version available for KindleNookKobo and iTunes.

Buy the .pdf now 

Deadlines: When The Sandstorm Approaches

September 21st, 2011

Welcome to Spirit Wednesday where we take a look at all things spiritual from meditation to prayer to cleaning the house. Yes, even house work can be a spiritual experience… if you choose to see it that way.

Just as we know certain conditions can create terrific storms, such as a sandstorm, we know deadlines do not come out of nowhere either. How we deal with that oncoming storm means the difference between increasing amounts of stress and a steady rhythm of calm.

Mounting stress…

If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter to finish a project or study for a big exam, you know what it feels like to wait until the sandstorm is upon you before deciding it would be a good idea to take cover. While we might have the gear we need to survive (notes, completed research, etc.), if we don’t then we’re looking at a slim chance of pulling through unscathed.

At the very least we’re going to feel the stress of waiting until the last moment in our bodies and our psyches.

The better solution…

Rather than waiting for that sandstorm deadline to roll over us we can plan ahead to be ready. Of course, planning from the very beginning is best, but even taking some time out anywhere before that last minute to decide on a course of action is a good idea.

For example, my goal is to finish the first draft of my current WIP, Apprentice Cat, by the end of the year. That has been my deadline since Jan. 1, 2011. However, I waited until July 31, 2011, to figure out how I would reach that goal in specific, measurable steps.

I just looked at the calendar and compared it to what I need to do in order meet my goal. Can I do it? I don’t know. That’s not the point. The point is to keep working my plan to the best of my ability.

If we stop to watch the sandstorm roll in we won’t get anything done to prepare for it. There’s time, but you have to keep moving.

Do you ever find yourself watching a deadline roll in rather than working steadily toward a goal? What do you do to keep on track?


Prayer can be as complex as we want or as simple as we need, but sometimes we need a little help getting started. In Simply Prayer you’ll discover the basics of: what prayer is, why we pray, how to pray, and how to know your prayers are answered. If you’re looking for ideas and examples on simple ways to pray you can find them in Simply Prayer, available in print, for KindleNook and audio book.

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Novel By Critique Group

September 17th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris, available at

I’ve picked up a lot of great writing tips from Roz Morris’ blog and absolutely love her book Nail Your Novel. The following is one of the many useful posts she’s written.

I rewrote my novel through a critique group but I’ve lost my way

by Roz Morris

Critique groups are a great way to develop a critical sense and to experiment with what works. And to meet other people who are as dedicated to writing as you are. But too many cooks…

I’ve had this email from Vanessa, which is a fairly common problem.

During the past 12 months, I rewrote my novel 8 times as part of a critique group, and now I’m wondering if I should just go back to my first draft and start over. My book is different now, in some ways better, in some ways worse. I’m not even sure I can work with it in its present, 8th incarnation. I’m feeling a bit discouraged and don’t know how to recapture the original freshness. I think there are some good changes in the revisions, but also a lot of bad direction. How will I sort through it?

Discounting the fact that some of the advice might be misguided, inept or even destructive, even the most accomplished critiquers will offer different approaches when they spot a problem. You get a lot of input and you don’t know which to ignore. You try to knit them into a coherent whole and then realise you’re lost. And the idea is worn to shreds.

Read the rest.


If you’re looking for ideas and examples on simple ways to pray in my book Simply Prayer, available in print, for KindleNook and audio book.

Following Your Passion

September 10th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

I just finished another scene of Apprentice Cat. Wahoo!! Each day I get just a little closer to finishing the entire book. That makes me feel great.

There are days when I wondered if I was doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life. Have I chosen the right career for me? Those are the days when the words just don’t come or the days when it seems the Universe itself is trying to keep me from working. I was pondering that very thought a while back when I read an article by Jenna Avery titled What Are You Doing Instead of Living Your Purpose?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, until finishing this last scene, I wasn’t sure I was living my purpose — at least in part. As I prepared to sit down to work today, it hit me as it hasn’t in a very long time. I was not just happy. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get started on the next scene. Writing is my purpose — to entertain and perhaps to teach just a little about life.

Being passionate about my work tells me that it is indeed what I’m meant to do. It hasn’t always been easy. (I have entire notebooks with crossed out passages!) I’m sure it’s not going to be all candy and roses now that I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Yet, it’s enough to know I’m on the right track.

How do you follow your passion?


If you’re looking for ideas and examples on simple ways to pray in my book Simply Prayer, available in print, for KindleNook and audio book.


A Mash-up of passion posts:

It Doesn’t Matter Why We Write by Tiffany A.
White — As Brenda Ueland said, try to write the worst thing imaginable and you’ll still come up with something good. The point, as Tiffany shows, is that we write.

Do you Want to be Rich or do You Want to be Happy? By Andrew E. Kaufman — Andrew asks us to dig into why we chose to write: is it for the money or because it’s who we are?

Are You Passionate About Your Stories? by Carolyn Kaufman — Carolyn suggests we follow our passion rather than try to see into the future of the market.

Write What You Love by Kate Lord Brown — Forget “write what you know,” says Kate. She encourages writers to find something that makes them want to run to their WIP instead of lazing about when everyone else is asleep.

Get the Write Focus by Vanessa W. Snyder — Vanessa gives writers tips on how to get focused on writing.

The Silent Character

September 3rd, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

Apprentice Cat Cover

As I continue working on Apprentice Cat, I’ve begun noticing something interesting.  In each scene there are the characters that are talking, acting, thinking or just hanging around, but they are there.  I point them out as being there.  Then there are characters who are there, but not there.  These are what I’ve come to call “silent characters.”

Silent, but not unnoticed…

Silent characters are those that are there in every scene, making the protagonist choose one pathway over another simply because he or she knows that is what the silent character would want them to do.  Sometimes a character chooses to not do something because the silent character would want that character to do it.  Regardless, the outcome is based on the silent character’s influence even though that character is not physically in the scene.

In Apprentice Cat the main character, Toby, is faced with decision after decision.  (What character isn’t in a good story?) What he chooses to do or not do are often heavily influenced by what his mother would want him to choose.  After the initial chapters in which Toby’s mother is introduced, she is seldom physically in the important scenes that move the story along.  However, she continues to silently shape Toby’s decisions, making her a very important character.

Another character that largely impacts Toby’s decisions is the Big Boss Troublemaker, as Kristen Lamb calls the antagonist. This character appears only in certain scenes and isn’t always easily identifiable as the one causing the plot’s problem, yet this character clearly affects decisions Toby must make.

The not-so-silent problem child…

It’s fascinating to watch a silent character mold a scene. It’s also sometimes troublesome because you may need your protagonist to choose path A, but the pressure your silent character puts on your protag may force him to choose path Z. That can be a good thing, leading to better scenes and higher tension, or it can be a bad thing, in which case you’ll have to reign in that silent character or give your protag a better reason to push that dominant character’s wishes aside. Jami Gold gives some great advice on this in her post How Do You Deal with Difficult Characters?.

How do you use your silent characters to motivate your protagonist? How much control do you have over your characters?

How To Capture Ideas When They Come

August 27th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

files photoThere are times in every writer’s life when ideas will come flooding in — but not for the story you’re working on.  You don’t want to forget those little gems because they would be great in another story, yet they’re useless for what you’re doing right now.  So what do you do?

Here’s a few ways how to capture ideas when they come:

Something I learned a long time ago was to keep an idea file.  Ideas come in many forms from quotes we’ve read to pictures we’ve seen to that fabulous new movie we just saw (if you have the time ;)).  Whatever the form, it’s best to capture the idea as soon as possible.

For certain items, such as magazine articles, it’s easy enough to rip them out and file them away in a file cabinet.  For others we have to get a bit more creative.  An example would be a wonderful painting from a museum.  It’s considered a crime to grab the painting and run (and I’m pretty sure trying to explain it away as “needing it for my idea file” wouldn’t get you very far).  Thus we must get creative.  You may be able to photograph it or, barring that, perhaps sketch it.  If you’re art skills don’t go beyond stick men, then maybe you could write a description of it.

One nifty little tool I’ve discovered is Evernote. If you’ve got a smart phone, this application can be very useful. Snap a picture of whatever sparked your story idea, then share it to your Evernote with notes, tags, whatever. Your ideas are readily available to you via the web on any smartphone (with the downloaded app) or computer. You can even do this with magazine articles instead of ripping them out of the magazine. Simply take a picture and file it away.

Regardless of how you get the inspirational item into your idea file, remember to write down the idea that was inspired and attach it.  Sticky notes work great for hard copies (though the sticky does eventually wear off so be aware that your ideas may go wandering in your file).

Writing takes ideas.  Being an Independent Author means being creative in every area of your career.  And so, that’s why it’s important to collect the little gems that inspire you along.

What other creative solutions have you found to capturing story ideas?

Photo by mcfarlandmo

Beating the Clock With Time Management

August 20th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

Use a timer to make time to write.

One of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome on a daily basis is time management.  There are times I wish I could magically create time a to write where Tiny Tot didn’t need my attention for a couple of hours and I could work in peace and quiet.  As of this moment, however, that magic ability has yet to appear. The best I can manage on a daily basis is to wait until she goes to bed and hope I’m still alert enough to create comprehensible sentences.

Thankfully Grandma likes to play with Tiny Tot, so I also have about four hours every Friday and every other Monday to write like a madwoman. Even so, that’s not a lot of solid writing time.

Reaching for the dream…

Because Tiny Tot is one of my reasons for pushing on, I know finding the time to write is essential. You see, it’s my dream to stay at home with her, so I absolutely must write (and publish) to make enough money to attain my goal.  That can feel impossible at times, especially when just starting my career.

I have no doubt there are a lot of writers like me, searching for ways to make more time for their craft.  While I don’t have the answer to how to do this, I know of a few resources to help us.

2 ways to make time…

Perhaps the best resource is Flylady.  Marla Cilley (aka Flylady) advocates a system of 15 minutes at a time.  This system is designed to work in all aspects of home life and can be adapted for writing also.  The best part is that children can begin to understand that Mommy or Daddy will be able to play with them as soon as the timer goes off.  (Flylady’s way of keeping things moving is to use a timer.)

Another writer once said her husband  helped her fix a way for her to sit on top of the fridge to work while her son played safely on the floor below her.  Being creative is what writers do.  Putting that creativity to work finding a way to snatch a few minutes to write is a logical step.  I’ve personally discovered I can work on a project during lulls at my day job.  It may not be as satisfying as sitting at my computer for a couple of hours, but it keeps me going in the right (write? 🙂 ) direction.

Trial and error…

I am positive there are other resources available that actually help (and many that don’t) with time management.  My suggestion is to try several.  Keep doing those that work for you and discard those that don’t.

Time is a commodity everyone must decide how best to use and writers are no different.  However, when you use your creative impulses, you may discover some unique ways to create time to write.

What works for you? What tips and tricks do you use to make time to write?

Life Lessons From Potty Training

August 17th, 2011

Welcome to Spirit Wednesday where we take a look at all things spiritual from meditation to prayer to cleaning the house. Yes, even house work can be a spiritual experience… if you choose to see it that way.

potty chair photoTiny Tot began potty training today. To say it’s been a challenge would be an understatement. I’m not sure who wanted to give up more, her or me. Still we persevered. Or, rather, I pushed her to keep training and forced myself to stay calm and think of ways to help her succeed.

As with any new skill we find ourselves faced at least once with wanting to quit. We can choose to shelve it all or to keep trying.

If we quit…

We may never know if we had it in us to become great. Regrets can follow us around, whispering in our minds that we’ll never amount to anything because we never finish what we start.

In short, our dreams end and our reality becomes an endless stream of diapers.

If we persevere…

We face pain. We face frustration and confusion. We face sweet success when we finally understand, when we finally get it.

Our dreams flourish and we stand taller in our big girl/boy panties.

To quit or not to quit…

Quitting a dream is something we can do ourselves. We need no help.

Persevering, however, sometimes means asking for suggestions, guidance, whatever we need to make it happen. If not for one of my co-workers’ recommendations I wouldn’t have thought to keep treats and books on hand to help Tiny Tot make the transition. Thanks to that, by bedtime she was having more successes and fewer accidents.

Regardless, no one else can make that decision for us. The choice is always ours.

When have you faced the decision to quit or persevere? What did you do? What would you do differently?

Photo by jessicafm

Am I Qualified? One Author’s Look On Writing A Bible Study

August 12th, 2011

Bible photoIt just occurred to me that some of you may wonder what qualifies me to write a Bible study, since that was my first published book.  I know I wouldn’t trust just anyone to write a Bible study worth journeying through.

To be honest, I asked myself that same question many times as I wrote it.  As I said before, “Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Lives was born from a need in my church for an adult VBS class that had no curriculum.” (read my entry “Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises Available” for more specific info on the book.)

I’ve been in ministry since I was a teenager; however, just because I’ve served in various capacities in different churches, does that automatically mean I know how to put together a Bible study?  Maybe, but there’s more to my story.

I spent 3 1/2 years at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, working toward my Master’s of Divinity.  It was during this time that I re-discovered my calling — writing.  Ministry had always been a struggle, as if I was trying to eat with my feet while walking on my hands, yet writing was almost as easy as breathing (so long as I didn’t let my perfectionism get in the way).

So I decided to quit the ministry and devote my time to writing. (Well… okay, so it took two more years, but I did it.)  I’ve still been active in my church, but not as part of the staff.  When the opportunity to write some curriculum came up you would think I would have jumped at the chance.  After all, it would be a blend of a former passion with a life-long passion.

I hesitated.  I wasn’t convinced I was qualified.  I was a ministry dropout.  What could I possibly offer?  Then my husband reminded me that many of the greatest people in the Bible weren’t “qualified.”  In fact, Moses, the man whose story is the main part of the first six lessons in Fear Not, kept giving excuses to God why he shouldn’t be the one to go to Pharaoh.

Keeping that in mind, I dove in and gave it my all for two (long!) months.  Is it the best Bible study ever written?  Probably not.  Is it a Bible study anyone can use to meet God in a new and, perhaps, unexpected way?  Most definitely.  Each lesson begins with an introduction, then moves on to a scripture reading (included), questions to ponder, a meditation picture and lastly a list of possible hands-on projects you can do.

I don’t plan on writing another Bible study, but if the opportunity arises I may just turn that corner and forge ahead.

Photo by Ryk Neethling

Fear Not: Discovering God’s Promises available

August 12th, 2011

I am so excited!  I just discovered my first book, a Bible study, is finally listed on  Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Liveswas born from a need in my church for an adult VBS class that had no curriculum.  I spent two months putting it together and then an anxious seven weeks waiting for it to appear on Amazon.

While I’m very excited, I’m also a bit disappointed by Lulu.  First of all there is no preview available.  I hope to be able to rectify that soon.  Secondly, there is supposed to be a download version available on Lulu for about half the price of the printed version, but darned if I can find it.  I can’t even find my own store front on Lulu.  This does not bode well for my staying with this company.  I’m going to do some more research to find a solution to the problem or decide to use another company for the next book.  (See my blog entry “Research Your Publishing Options” for why this is so important.)

And speaking of the next book, it’s in the works.  I hope to be finished writing it sometime in the spring.  The Misadventures of Apprentice Cat: The Secret of the Wobbly Wizard (working title) is a book based on a short story I wrote awhile back called “Apprentice Cat” that received several good reviews.  I fell in love with the main character, a cat going to school to learn how to be a witch’s companion, and decided he deserved to have his story told in a longer format.

As I’ve worked on this book I’ve discovered new and intriguing things about Toby and the people and cats around him.  I think that’s the wonderment of telling stories.  The reader isn’t the only one who enjoys the twists and turns of a good book. I plan out the general direction I want a story to take, but a lot of time my characters take me down paths I never anticipated.  It’s all part of the joy an author experiences.


If you’ve purchased Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Lives on, please remember to leave an honest review. Thanks!

I finally fixed the URL to my storefront on  Here it is: Virginia Ripple’s Storefront.  You can download Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Lives for $5 in .pdf format in my store.