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Creating a Selling Synopsis

Guest Post by Author, Sandy Steen

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In today’s market, a synopsis is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. And a well constructed, well-written synopsis is the best marketing tool you will ever have.

To begin with, it’s essential to know the difference between a storyline and a plot. A storyline is just that – the TELLING of the story, a sketchy overview.

STORYLINE: One day, our hero, Jack decides to wash his new Porsche, which he claims came to him via the will of Bob, a recently departed wealthy friend. His newly acquired girlfriend, Jill, volunteers to help. Bucket in hand; they trudge up a hill to a private well on the back of Jack’s property. They fill the bucket and start back, but Jack trips and falls down the hill. Jill deliberately tumbles after him. When they get to the bottom, she hits Jack over the head with the empty bucket and forces him to confess he killed Wealthy Bob, her real boyfriend, to get his expensive car.

The plot contains the basics of the story but it also contains the important element of motivation. The plot is the dimensional overview.

PLOT: In the sleepy little town of Anywhere, USA on a sunny, Sunday afternoon in May, our hero, Jack, is so enamored of his new Porsche that he can’t stand to see it dirty and decides to wash it. He’s surprised and thrilled when Jill, the girlfriend of the late Wealthy Bob, stops by and offers to help. Forever bragging about his bedroom conquests, he has always wanted Jill.

Our heroine, Jill, may be a winsome blonde, but she’s no airhead. Nothing is what it seems, and she didn’t just happen by Jack’s place. She’s been shadowing him for the last two weeks hoping to get some evidence to support her theory that he killed Wealthy Bob for the Porsche. Jack certainly appears thrilled about her appearance, and even flirts with her.

The flirting works for what Jill has in mind. Positive she can charm Jack into giving himself away, her plan is complicated when she discovers Jack hasn’t paid his water bill, and they are forced to trudge up a hill at the back of his property to fetch water in a bucket. Frustrated and angry, Jack is in no mood to put up with female wiles. When he trips and falls down the hill the situation goes from bad to worse.

Her plan down the tube, Jill decides to confront Jack and force him to confess. She deliberately tumbles after him. When they reach the bottom, she grabs the empty bucket and hits Jack in the head, knocking him out.

When Jack comes to, he finds himself propped up against the car, his hands bound behind him and his feet bound in front with Duct tape. His eyes pop open to the sound of a gun being cocked. Inches away Jill kneels beside him with a Glock pointed right at his crouch. She wants the truth, or he’ll be singing soprano if he sings at all.

Thinking he will tell her what she wants while working to free his hands then escape, Jack tells her how he befriended Wealthy Bob and won his trust. Then one night he talked Bob into letting him drive the Porsche. They rode out into the country to a spot where Jack had stashed a gun. He killed Wealthy Bob and made it look like a robbery gone bad. But it wasn’t just for the car; he wanted her, too. When Jill says she is taking him to the cops, Jack merely laughs. He won’t repeat what he just said. It’ll be her word against his and she has no evidence. “Wanna bet?” Jill insists and with a big smile holds up the tape recorder that has been inside her shirt pocket and running the whole time. She dials 911 on her cell phone. The end.

The plot, which is the basis of your synopsis, MUST address characterization and most important of all – motivation. Because what motivates the characters influences how they will act, then react, how they will talk and ultimately how they will resolve their conflicts.

THERE ARE TWO MAIN SYNOPSIS FORMATS:

Summary (informal) – a brief outline of the story, stressing motivation and characterization. Doesn’t detail every scene.

Block/Outline (formal) – begins with “hook” paragraph or blurb, followed by character analysis, plot description, crisis point, resolution.

Regardless of the format, the “plot”, or main body of the synopsis are similar in that they should have several key ingredients:

1. Setting: Date (not necessarily specific) and location of the story and if fictional or real.

2. Characterization:
Major Characters – descriptions, physical and emotional of hero and heroine, including goals and motivation. Also, may contain “back story”.

Minor Characters – identify the relationship to major characters and the part they play in the plot.

3. Plot Presentation: – Set-up may include information that takes place before the story begins, may include history showing why characters will conflict.
Conflict/Complications – the basic conflict between hero and heroine, both linear or external and emotional or internal. (should parallel) Incidents to complicate conflict as the story progresses to a crisis.

Crisis/Climax – the highest emotion point of the story and the culmination of physical plot.

Resolution – the culmination of the emotional plot and the unraveling of all the ends and outs of the story, tying all loose ends, clarification and character change.

Sound familiar? Sure, these are the ingredients you have been given a thousand times in workshops on how to plot. And just as these are the basics for constructing a good plot, they are the basis for constructing a good synopsis. The main difference is characterization and motivation clearly stated. You may have your story fulling developed in your head but the trick is to make it crystal clear to an editor or agent.

Now that you know your characters and know what motivates them, select the format you favor and begin.

Summary: This informal type of synopsis is a narrative summary of your plot. It should begin with a “hook” paragraph then move right into the plot, inclusive of character analysis within the body of the summary. Detail conflict and complications, then resolution.

Block/Outline: This formal type of synopsis should also begin with a “hook” paragraph, then in order follow with a setting, characters analysis both major and minor, then finally plot.

One of the pluses of constructing a good synopsis is having to completely formulate your story…on paper. Once you’ve accomplished it, you have a more cohesive, overall picture of your story and you can more readily spot the weakness in your plot or characters. And you have a jumping-off point for a chapter by chapter outline if you use one. Think of it as drawing a road map, without which you would probably take a wrong turn or miss your destination altogether.

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Sandy Steen has been publishing since 1986, beginning her career writing contemporary romance before switching to mysteries. Her favorite things are film noir movies, cooking and spending time with her family and friends. You can find her online at: sandysteen.net

Her latest novel, “Murder, He Howled” is available on Amazon.com. And coming soon, the first in a 3 book steamy romance series, “Lone Star Lovers.”

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What I Wish I’d Known About Publishing — Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Guest Post by Alan Elliott

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In March of this year, I attended a wonderful writers conference called WORDfest 2019. At the conference, I had the pleasure of hearing a panel discussion on the topic: “What I Wish I’d KnownWhat Writers Learn the Hard Way About the Craft of Writing.” Alan Elliot was a member of the panel. He shared some excellent points about publishing, and he distributed a handout which I thought contained several golden nuggets for writers pursuing publication. I asked him if I could share the material on my blog, and he said yes! So, here goes. Enjoy!

1. PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – to be traditionally published your story/book MUST fit into standard categories – Go to a Barnes and Nobel and find the shelf where your book will be placed. If you can’t find that shelf, you can’t sell your book to a publisher. If you find that shelf, you can identify which publishers might be interested in your manuscript. See How To Make A Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn and Brian Sanderson “Business of Writing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C59eOLX2K-A

2. WRITING IS WORK — You MUST put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard regularly – daily if possible – for multiple hours a day if possible. You MUST write and REWRITE, knowing anything you write is probably garbage – UNTIL you fix it, edit it, reimagine it, and rewrite it (multiple times) Read the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont)

3. IDEAS ARE EASY – MAGIC IDEAS ARE GOLDEN – There is an unlimited number of books you COULD write – more ideas than you could ever tackle. You must decide which are the GOLDEN ideas – books/stories that demand to be written – whose title or premise makes immediate sense – books that you can describe in a single sentence that causes people to say – I want to read that – that’s so funny – what a great book idea. Concentrate on THOSE projects. (Read the book The Magic Word by Cheryl Klein.)

4. PERSISTENCE AND DETERMINATION ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN TALENT – Yes, you must have skills to write, you must learn the craft of storytelling, and you must know how to write compelling stories and/or sentences – that gets your foot in the door. What REALLY MATTERS is that you commit yourself to the (usually) LONG process of writing, perfecting, and SELLING your work. You must be prepared for REJECTION upon REJECTION – You must be able to pull yourself back together and try AGAIN and AGAIN, sometimes YEAR after YEAR. You must be an optimist – and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – faint at first, but brighter the more determined and persistent you are. (Read the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth.)

5. START WITH A BURNING DESIRE — You should write because you want to write – because there are stories that must be told, books that must be written. And you have a burning desire to write those stories and books. To get there you must learn the craft of writing – which is more than what is typically taught in any English class. Yes, you might be able to tell a story – but can you construct a PUBLISHABLE story? Learning any craft takes hours and hours of hard work. Like learning any skill (ice skating, piano playing, baseball), to become skilled enough to play in the major leagues you need well-planned and deliberate practice to hone your craft. This practice is sometimes tedious, lonely, and tiring. But you do it because you’re after the RESULTS – you spend time learning and growing because you know that’s what it takes to enjoy seeing your work published and enjoyed by others. See the book Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.)

6. SUCCESSFULLY PUBLISHED! – BUT YOU MUST MARKET YOUR BOOK! Once your book is published, you’ll need to market it yourself. Yes, the (traditional) publisher will get it to bookstores, and do some preliminary marketing, but you’ll want to do book signings (book tour?), go to conferences, be on social media, etc. to get the word out on your book. Work with your publisher’s PR department to get the most mileage out of whatever they have to offer. (See Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl (and many other webpages on this topic.)

Publishing

Alan Elliott is a native Texan with a knack for story. He is co-author of the family comedy movie Angels Love Donuts (with Leon McWhorter) filmed in Dallas and released on DVD. Two recent books include Willy, The Texas Longhorn, a children’s picture book from Pelican and On Sunday the Wind Came (bilingual) from Babl Books. Alan can be found online at: www.alanelliott.com

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2019 DAWG Summer Writing Workshop Series — Three Awesome Guest Speakers!

Are you looking for a writing workshop to kick-start your 2019 writing project? Or are you feeling like I am — a little sluggish with getting your writing project in full swing? Well look no further, the Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG) has the cure for what ails you — three phenomenal writing workshops presented by three dynamic, award-winning, well-published authors!

JUNE 22, 2019

“MAKING IT REAL” presented by New York Times Best-Selling Author Rachel Caine

Writing a book seems like an overwhelming job. How does anybody go from “wanting” to “doing”? Let a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 50 novels walk you through steps and strategies on how to make your book go from concept to chapters. You’ll leave this 3-hour session ready to create compelling characters, stress-test your plot, and set up a plan for how to make your book happen, one scene at a time.

JULY 20, 2019

“WRITING and PUBLISHING YOUR NON-FICTION CHRISTIAN BOOK” presented by Award-winning Author Michelle Stimpson

Are you tired of feeling guilty about not answering the call to write? Ready to share your testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you? Inspired to share a message that will impact people’s lives? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’ll want to attend this workshop designed to help you move past procrastination, craft your content, and then share it with a specific audience desperate to hear from you.

AUGUST 17, 2019

“WANT TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK?” presented by Best-Selling Author Janee Trasler

Want to write a children’s book–but don’t know how to start? Come learn about the elements of writing that make a great children’s book. How to get started. How to tell a story without being “preachy”–the voice the story should use. Discover the various levels of children’s stories from board books, picture books, easy readers, chapter books, MG (middle grade), and YA (young adult).

Each writing workshop is on a Saturday morning, 9 am-12 noon at the Meadows Conference Center, 2900 Live Oak, Dallas, TX 75204.

The cost is $35 ($25 for DAWG Members). Limited seating.

Register now! www.dallaswriters.org

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6 Key Ingredients for Creating a Memorable Protagonist

How do you create a memorable protagonist? In order for a story to be meaningful or memorable, it must have a protagonist that has a certain something that makes him/her real to us.

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As you watch your favorite movie or read a favorite book, I’d bet there is something about the main character that resonates with you which makes you want to keep watching or keep reading to find out what happens to him or her.

Take the movie Casino Royale, for example, one of my favorite James Bond films. James Bond takes on arch criminal Le Chiffre — their high stakes poker game extending from the gaming tables to the realm of international terror networks and stock market manipulation.

I found myself rooting for Bond because first of all, he’s a spy. And there’s just something fascinating about spies. I admired his bravery and his superior physical and intellectual skill as an MI-6 agent. I was on the edge of my seat as he faced his arch enemy at the poker table — hoping he’d win. When he was stripped and tortured, I cringed. And when he finally found the man responsible for setting the entire chain of events in motion, I cheered.

It’s the same for writers as we write our stories. We must create a protagonist whom the reader identifies with, roots for, or perhaps even admires. If we fail, the reader will ultimately lose interest in the story. And once the book is put down, it’ll never be picked it up again. This is NOT what we don’t want!

So, to create a memorable protagonist that keeps your reader glued to the pages of your book, I’m going to share 6 key ingredients he or she must have:

1. OBJECTIVES – Clearly define WHAT your Protagonist wants. What is the goal? What must he/she achieve?

2. MOTIVATION – Readers need to understand WHY your character wants the thing he/she is pursuing.

3. STAKES – What are the CONSEQUENCES if your character fails? The stakes don’t have to be fatal, but they need to be high. The higher the stakes, the greater the tension–the greater the tension, the better the story.

4. OBSTACLES – Place at least 3 OBSTACLES in your character’s path. By overcoming the obstacles, your character must exhibit strength, wit, or both, thereby creating admirable qualities.

5. FLAWS – No human being is perfect, so your protagonist must not be perfect either. Your Protagonist needs FLAWS that threaten to derail the journey. You can use the flaw as one of the obstacles. Flaws can also make the reader sympathetic toward the protagonist.

6. PAST – What is the BACK STORY that caused your character to be in the position he/she is in? By giving your protagonist a back story, it creates a more rounded 3-dimensional character.

What do you think? Drop me a line and share with me a memorable protagonist from your favorite movie or book.

Blessings!

Catherine

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So, You Want to Write a Novel?

I’ve run across several people who’ve said to me, “Oh, I want to write a novel,” after learning I’m a writer. Many of them have great story ideas in their heads, but struggle to get them out of their heads and onto paper. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s fear of not getting it right, or maybe it’s simply not knowing where or how to start.

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So, what I’d like to do is help you get started, if you don’t know how. I want to introduce you to a tool I came across that may help you get your novel onto paper. When I discovered this tool, I found myself playing with it for hours. I was struggling to come up with a short story idea for a creative writing class, and this plot generator helped me come up with a great story idea.

Now, here’s my disclaimer. I’ve never heard any writing expert recommend this tool. But I found it very helpful in stimulating ideas for me. And I will also tell you that the results are not perfect and require some tweaking because depending upon the information you plug into the generator the results may read a bit wonky. Still, I found it extremely useful to get me started when I couldn’t come up with a good short story for my class.

The Plot Generator can be found at this link: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/
Here’s an example of what the generator produced as one short story idea for me:

“The Smoking Gun”
by
Catherine Tucker

The small, desolate town of Titus, Mississippi holds a secret. Kendall Moore has the perfect life working as a cop in the city and living with her handsome boyfriend, Scott Jacobson. However, when she finds a recently fired gun in her cellar, she begins to realize that things are not quite as they seem in the Moore family. The death of her mother leaves Kendall with some startling questions about her past, and she sets off to quiet Titus to find some answers. At first the people of Titus are warm and supportive. She is intrigued by the curiously determined detective, Oliver Watts. However, after he introduces her to some unsavory characters, Kendall slowly finds herself drawn into a web of kidnapping, arson and perhaps, even murder. Can Kendall resist the charms of Watts and uncover the secret of the gun before it’s too late, or will her demise become yet another Titus legend?

Does this story read perfectly or make perfect sense? No. Not by any means. In fact, I had to tweak several words and phrases within the story for a better flow. I also changed some of the adjectives and corrected several pronouns. But what this story did is give me a good jumping off point. So, I changed the character names, their occupations, the objects, the emotions—whatever the generator requested, to get several different story ideas. Eventually, I settled on my own unique story idea, but the generator helped my thoughts become more fluid.

I only had one week to complete my short story after being stuck for the better part of a month. But after submitting it, my creative writing instructor stated my story was in the top three strongest in the class.

This plot generator will generate short story ideas, novel ideas, movie scripts idea in a variety of different genres, and so much more. Check it out–plug in your characters’ names and other details to see your story come to life before your eyes. Then, drop me a line and let me know what you think. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Blessings!

Catherine

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New Year’s Resolutions for Writing: How to Make Them Work for You!

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Did you start the new year off by making New Year’s resolutions? Well, the month of January is half-way gone already, but there’s still time if you haven’t. Are you good at keeping your resolutions throughout the year or does your resolve fizzle by mid-February like mine? 😉

So this year, like I’ve done the past two years, I’ve set goals instead of making New Year’s Resolutions. And since my primary focus is enhancing and elevating my writing, my goals are centered on improving certain aspects of writing and publication.

I’ve found that when I set goals, I’m more successful at keeping them. By establishing target dates, I have something to work toward. If I don’t set dates, more than likely I won’t accomplish the task.

Below are suggestions for establishing writing and publishing goals. If you don’t have any, perhaps you can utilize these to customize your own goal-setting:

WRITING

1. Set Strong Target Dates

Last year I set a target date of February 28, 2018, to finish writing the manuscript I’d been working on for two years. I missed my deadline by about a month, finishing up at the end of March instead. But had I not set a solid date to work toward, “The End” would be nowhere in sight.

If you haven’t set a date to finish your manuscript, go ahead and look at the number of pages to have left to get to your desired page count and set a date.

If you have finished your manuscript, but now need to edit it or have a professional editor do it, set a target date to get that done too. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll accomplish just by having a goal to work toward.

2. Establish Daily Writing Goals

I’m taking a Creative Writing class this semester. In his discussion on “How to Write a 70K Word Novel in One Year” our instructor, Brian W. Smith presented a technique for establishing weekly/monthly/quarterly writing goals in order to have great productivity in one year’s time.

Brian recommended writing 200 words a day which is roughly equivalent to one typed page. At that rate you will complete 1,400 words in a week; 5,600 words in a month; and 16,800 words in a quarter. Completing 16,800 words during each of the four quarters in the calendar year equals 67,200 words, just shy of reaching the goal of 72,000 which you’ll need if you’re writing a novel.

Brian also suggested that if you fail to reach your daily goal, as life sometimes gets in the way, double up the next day and so on.

PUBLISHING

1. Complete and polish your query letter.

2. Write your synopsis. Again, set target dates to accomplish both of these tasks.

3. Establish a goal to send out “X” number of query letters per month. You determine what the number is.

4. If you’re self-publishing, determine your “next” steps and move forward.

PLATFORM BUILDING

1. If you write non-fiction, you should create a website or a blog site if you don’t have one. You’ll need a landing page for prospective readers, literary agents, or editors to find you. For non-fiction writers, it’s important to show that you are knowledgeable in the area for which you are writing.

2. If you have a website or blog, but you’re not getting the traffic you’d like. Improve the appearance and functionality of your site, perhaps by purchasing a premium template or add an e-mail list builder.

3. Create Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media accounts to establish your digital footprint. Link your website or blog site to those mediums so that your new posts go to them automatically.

Note: Writing experts say building a platform is not a necessary requirement for fiction writers. As a fiction writer, your book will be your strongest marketing tool. But if you have published books, you’ll certainly want to use a website to market and sell your books.

EDUCATION

1. Plan to attend at least one large writers’ conference and/or a couple of writers’ workshops. If you plan to pitch your manuscript, you’ll need to attend a larger conference where literary agents also attend and allow pitch sessions.

2. Plan to take a Creative Writing class

3. Read, read, read. Reading expands your vocabulary, stimulates your creativity, and helps to improve your writing skills.

So, did you make New Year’s resolutions this year or did you set goals? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings!

Catherine

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Bouchercon 2019 — The World Mystery Convention is Coming to Dallas!

Whether you’re a veteran author, new writer, or an avid reader, you don’t want to miss Bouchercon 2019 — The World Mystery Convention coming to Dallas October 31 – November 3, 2019! Over 2,000 writers, publishers, readers, and including a star-studded line-up of the top mystery and thriller authors in the industry will converge on Dallas at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown! As a member of the planning team, I can say with certainty that this is going to be one awesome event!

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One of the major highlights of the convention is the appearance of renown New York Times Best-Selling author James Patterson, as Special Guest of Honor. In addition, several other New York Times Best-Selling authors will be in attendance for panel discussions and book-signings including Taylor Stevens, Deborah Crombie, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Charlaine Harris of “True Blood” fame and new series “Midnight, Texas.”

The three days will be jam-packed with exciting events for readers and writers, including an awards ceremony to honor the top mystery and thriller authors of our day. There will be book-signings, panel discussions, book-readings, parties, and many other social/networking events. Oh, and did I say free books? Yes, as an attendee you will receive free books (mysteries and thrillers) of your choosing!!! How wonderful is that?

Bouchercon is huge! It’s like no other writers conference you will attend. Don’t miss it! Go to the website and check out the full lineup of celebrated authors and exciting schedule of events! Register now at a super early bird rate which ends December 31st. https://www.bouchercon2019.com/

I plan to be there! Do you?

Catherine

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Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

small-beginnings

Don’t despise small beginnings,” said a woman named Mildred in a recent meeting I attended. Mildred’s words resonated with me. In fact, they stuck with me for several weeks. The reason being, as I’m pursuing what I believe to be my God-given purpose of writing fiction, my beginnings appear to be quite small.

You see, while my writing goals are huge, being a multi-published, best-selling author, I’ve barely scratched the surface. When I look back to when I started writing my first manuscript in 2010, I had no idea where or how far this path would take me. In fact, I didn’t know it was a path at all.

I had an idea — I believed a great story idea! And I felt compelled to write it. When I finished, I went through the editing process. Then I began pursuing traditional publication. That’s when the wheels slowed down. No, actually the wheels came to a screeching halt! I sent out numerous query letters, but the responses came back, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Discouraged, but not defeated, I began trying to figure out why my queries didn’t generate the interest I thought they should. At the same time, I started writing my second manuscript.

I was also president of the Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG). We held a short story contest during the summer of 2017. I decided to write a story to enter into the contest as a challenge to myself to see if I could win.

Well, I didn’t win, but my story did well in the ranking. Because we had several new writers to enter the contest, I recommended publishing an anthology of the best short stories to the DAWG board of directors, as this would give the writers publishing credit.

The board agreed and in October 2018, we published our first anthology of short stories, Texas Shorts, Volume I. My short story, “The Top Hat and the Feather Boa” is included in the anthology. This is my first published work.

small beginnings2While this is a major milestone, it seems small in comparison to my ultimate goal of being a published novelist. And as a result, I’ve found myself struggling with being truly proud of this accomplishment.

Earlier this week during my morning devotion, “Don’t despise small beginnings,” entered my thoughts again, and I wondered about the origin of the phrase. When I Googled it, I found it’s from the Bible, Zechariah 4:10Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…”

After reading that passage of scripture, I had a renewed sense of accomplishment, knowing that God is pleased with my small beginnings. He’s pleased because I have begun the work. It reminded me that God has the perfect timing for everything I will accomplish in my writing life. And even with the setbacks and disappointments — and my small beginnings — all of it is preparation for the “great” things He has planned for me.

So rather than feeling as though I haven’t accomplished anything significant, my new attitude is one of thankfulness for what God has allowed me to accomplish. And I rejoice in the knowledge that a foundation and a platform are being created for me which I cannot create for myself. My job is simply to continue on the path placed before me, continue to do the work, and continue to be grateful for every success — great and small — because each is part of God’s perfect plan.

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2018 “Write to Publish: Climbing Toward Success!” Workshop

Would you like to take your writing to the next level? If you live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, come join the Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG) at our 4th annual Fall writer’s workshop, “Write to Publish: Climbing Toward Success!” to be held on October 20, 2018. Two well-published authors and two New York Literary Agents will be sharing from their vast reservoirs of knowledge on the things you need to know to take your writing from drab to fab and learn what it takes to get published! See the event flyer below, then go to our website for additional information and get registered! www.dallaswriters.org

Born a Crime_

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah [Book Review]

born-a-crimeIf you only read one book this summer, it should be “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. Most of my life I thought being born “illegitimate” was the worst state in which one could be born. Being born illegitimate means your parents weren’t married.

I was born illegitimate. My mother and father never married. And it was an embarrassment. It was one of those things I didn’t want my friends, or anyone else for that matter, to know.

Well, Trevor Noah’s birth trumps mine. He was born a crime. In South Africa during Apartheid, it was against the law for a Black person and a White person to have sex. The penalty–time in prison if they were caught or somehow found out.

Trevor is the product of a White man and a Black (African) woman, conceived and born during Apartheid. Trevor tells the story of his life in an unvarnished, unpretentious, bare-it-all kind of way. He shares the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yet he does so with eloquence and humor.

Trevor’s story is like none I’ve ever read before. His life is a paradox. A contradiction. There are numerous occasions in his childhood where he’s met with circumstances that force him to make difficult choices because he’s “not black enough” or he’s “not white enough”; or conversely he’s “too black” or “too white.” It was those difficult circumstances his mother used to teach him never to pity himself and to look at life’s setbacks and challenges with humor.

When you look at this bright-face, handsome, intelligent young man, chosen by Jon Stewart to replace him on The Daily Show, you would not have guessed he rose from extreme poverty. Nor would you have thought he had to be hidden by his parents and couldn’t play outside with the other children for fear his secret, or rather his parents’ secret would be found out.

His early childhood was filled with the normal hijinks of most little boys. By his own admission, he was “naughty as sh…” Trevor’s mother, however, was a strong Christian woman and a stern disciplinarian. She disciplined Trevor out of love. She didn’t give him an easy pass because he was her son — knowing the world wouldn’t either — a world that would often judge him because of his skin color or treat him with hostility.

Trevor’s story will make you laugh. It might make you cry. But it will certainly entertain and educate you about the harsh realities of a cruel and unjust society that values people based upon their skin color. But most of all, it will fill you with joy and hope as you read about the resilience of this young boy, and the steel-will of his mother determined to expose him to things beyond their grasp to give him the ability to dream and to soar.

This is a story of love, hope, and the power of unquenchable faith. It’s the story of a modern-day miracle. If you don’t believe me, read his story for yourself. Then drop me a line and tell me what you think.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Catherine