Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sound of Verb

"What did you say to him?" Lightning forked from a black cloud and sizzled across the sky. Shannon doubled over and smashed her hands against her ears. Seconds later, the ground rumbled with the howl of thunder. Kent threw his body over hers, forming a heavy, protective shell. "I haven't talked to Mason since Sunday, Shannon, I swear." He pushed her toward the door. "Get inside."

"Then why did he leave me?"

"He wouldn't do that."

"Well, he did." Wrestling from his grip, she spun toward the car. Another explosion crackled through the sky. She dropped to the ground. Bits of concrete dug into her hands and knees. "Oh, God, oh, God, help me."

Did you hear that? The noise you heard wasn't lightning splitting atmosphere or the sharp crack of thunder. That, dear reader, was the sound of verbs.

Writing instructors pound into us the need for good strong verbs. A word that does more than just "express an act, occurrence, or mode of being..."* A word that, in the split second it takes to read it, conveys action and emotion. One that paints a picture. Verbs that aren't a form of "to be". 

And, I finally figure out, words that create a nice, sharp sound.

Read the excerpt above again, and listen to the sound created by the verbs:


Did you hear it? The sound is created by hard, double, or triple consonants. The reader hears it as well as they immerse themselves in the story, though they're not aware of it.

There are times when a writer has to use a softer sound. A reflective moment. A tender moment. A moment of grief. That doesn't mean the author has to use weak verbs, just verbs that consist of softer consonants: reach, pat, kiss and more.

So when you're writing a scene, listen to the sound of your verbs. If they whine, sharpen them. If they sound tired from overuse, you may need something new. Here's a link to Deanna Carlyle's famous list of verbs:

A symphony of words.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

More Fiction to Enjoy

Shannon McNear has broadened my front porch fiction experience by introducing me to novels written by Rachel Hauck. I recently downloaded sample chapters of Rachel's Sweet Carolina and Love Begins with Elle. Both are based in the Lowcountry, are rooted in setting and community, and have that sense of love I mentioned in my previous post. I look forward to reading them.

Rachel has also written several other novels, including her upcoming release, The Wedding Dress. My reading list is growing!

For more information, go to

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wrapped in Love

At Edenton, NC, setting of
Sparks' The Rescue

One of the things I love about front porch fiction is the sense of love wrapped in and around the stories. Not necessarily romantic love, though front porch fiction often contains a romantic element. I'm referring to the strong sense of family or small-town community that flows through the story. Mayberry, if the Andy Griffith Show had been filmed in the 21st century. So even when the character is fighting adversity, they're never truly alone.

I believe that comfort draws readers. It not only adds to the experience of curling up on the couch with a good book (or e-reader), it touches something deeper. A desire to experience that warmth and love. Writers of Christian fiction have the advantage of using that desire, and the reader's captivated attention, to share the Gospel which, as Jesus explained to a social outcast, fills and satisfies after it accepts and forgives.

As I've learned, it's a love that wraps in and around the heart, and never leaves us alone.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Sweet Potatoes in Your Stories

Four years ago, my husband accepted a call to a church located in an agrarian community. I'm city born and bred, so I knew little of life among the crops. I'd seen corn and cotton in passing as I traveled down roads from one town to another, but I had no idea when seeds were planted, when crops were harvested, which crops depleted nutrients in soil, and which replenished them.

I also didn't know sweet potatoes were planted beneath tobacco. I don't know when the seeding occurs, but as the tobacco grows, so do the sweet potatoes. The tobacco is harvested in the fall, and what's left behind is a sparse, unidentifiable vegetation. The unsuspecting haven't a clue the versatile and nutritious sweet potato lies beneath.

What Lies Beneath?
We've had the privilege of gleaning fields in search of these delights, and they're not always easy to find. We'd wiggle our fingers in long mounds of dirt that once nurtured tobacco until we hit something hard. Sometimes we would pull out a small potato, barely worth keeping. Other times, a rock. On occasion, though, we would dislodge what's referred to as a #1 or #2 potato that the commercial harvester missed. A big one that would compliment dinner that night.

Authors, we often have sweet potatoes in our story as well. The first draft with its plot and character motivation are, like the tobacco, the primary crop. We revise it a time or two (or four or more), fixing typos and polishing grammar, tweaking storyline here and there. Once finished, we breath relief and submit it to an agent, editor, or a contest hoping someone will see its brilliance.

But there may be something lying beneath the obvious action, motivation, and characterization. Something deeper that we inexplicably build into the story and often overlook. At times, our subconscious is aware it's there, and forbids us to continue. A short-term writers block can occur, and we blame events in our lives for the drought, not realizing we're missing an important element in the story.

When that happens, grab a spade and start digging. Why did this character react like this when you expected her to do that? What's driving her? Not what you think is driving her, but what, deep in her heart, pushes her forward and causes her to behave contrary to your perceptions? Why did this secondary character suddenly move to the forefront? What is their connection? It's there. Keep digging, even when you hit a rock.

Ask questions. I did, and by digging around in my stories, asking myself those questions, writing flash fiction based on the novels, and considering the imagery I used in scenes, pondering why I used what I used, I found several sweet potatoes. In an early novel, I discovered a denied fear of death drove one character's obsession for another. An agnostic, he harbored a deep fear that maybe, just maybe, there was a God and the other character somehow held the answer. Through events in another novel, my protagonist discovered an impatience, and then a prejudice, against a class of people. I'm still sifting through the dirt in another novel, searching for the sweet potatoes there.

So, you've written a novel, then revised and polished it. It may be perfectly fine as is, and, like tobacco, even addicting......Sorry, I had to include that. But for a richer, deeper story, hunt for the sweet potatoes before you ship it off to market.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass is a great aid in helping authors dig deep into their stories.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reading List: The Best of Me

The day of its release, I downloaded a sample copy of Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Best of Me, to my Kindle. There was a time when I would have rushed out to buy a hardback version of whatever he wrote. I stood in lines that wound around the shelves and out the door of The Open Book in Greenville, SC, and gleefully handed my treasure to Mr. Sparks for him to sign. I once permanently borrowed my daughter's paperback copy of The Rescue, and despite the telling, pages and pages of backstory, and the headhopping--all of which irritated me, though I had no idea what to call it at that time--I read it. Several times. The story sucked me in and it remains one of my favorite Sparks' novels.

I'm also a fan of A Bend in the Road and The Wedding, and enjoyed Nights in Rodanthe and True Believer despite the endings. My interest began to wane At First Sight. I skipped over a good portion of The Choice, refused to read Dear John when I figured out the end at the beginning, and despite the premise, I couldn't get into Lucky One. It took six months to read Last Song. Someone asked why I bothered. I had to. Steve's chapters were poignant, beautifully written, and resonated with me. I wish the story had been his and not Ronnie's.

Safe Haven came and went without catching my eye, and then The Best of Me popped on the radar. Instead of rushing out to purchase something I may end up giving away, I downloaded a sample copy.

And despite the telling and blocks of backstory, it sucked me in.

The reviews on Amazon are mixed, but I'll happily give it a chance. If it doesn't capture me, then I'll re-read The Rescue. It's been awhile.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I included my cell phone in the photo above...Nicholas Sparks used it during that signing to wish my daughter a Happy Birthday. How cool is that?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Alice Wisler: All Things Southern - Moonshine

Alice Wisler stopped by the porch to share a tale from the mountains. A tale she wove into her new novel, A Wedding Invitation. This comes at a great time. Recently, I purchased James Stehlik's Distilling the Mysteries of Hogback Mountain, a presentation on moonshining in South Carolina's Dark Corner. More on that later. For now, grab a chair and hear how North Carolina's moonshine industry influenced NASCAR.


Sugar, water, malt, cornmeal and yeast. These are the key ingredients for moonshine. No, I'm not planning on making a batch today, but I am interested in the subject, especially since it fits in with my novel A Wedding Invitation, and making moonshine has been quite profitable in my state of North Carolina.

What's the history of moonshine? Well, one thing is for sure, it came about before NASCAR (National Associate of Stock Car Auto Racing). In fact, making a moonshine run in a fast car was how NASCAR got her beginnings. During the Prohibition years of 1920 through 1933, running from the law in order to make a moonshine delivery at night in a souped-up car was common in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Once Prohibition ended, the question of what to do with these racing cars was raised. That's when car races became popular entertainment in the rural South. Wilkes County, North Carolina was the hot spot to see the races. Vance Packard called Wilkes County the bootleg capital of America.

Who invented moonshine? We can thank the Scots and the Scotch-Irish, who settled in the Appalachian Mountains 300 years ago and made moonshine like they did back in Scotland. In their Scottish farmlands, these farmers used leftover grains to ferment into liquor. The farmers, weary of over taxation on their properties and the absence of religious freedom, immigrated to America for better lives. They brought their hopes, families, and distillery ingenuity with them.

Today, folks are curbing the 180 proof moonshine of days gone by and giving the whiskey a smoother, gentler taste. Liquor stores sell moonshine flavored with fruit which is easier on the palate. And moonshine is legal to produce as long as you have a license like the makers of Catdaddy, a distillery in Madison, North Carolina.

In A Wedding Invitation, there is much talk of Uncle Charlie, a notorious relative, who had his share of moonshine tales. Here's some about him on page 53.

I nod, recalling having previously heard the name of this particular cemetery. Uncle Charlie is buried there, with a headstone that has a motorcycle engraved in it. My great-uncle liked to ride fast, and my relatives tell me that his Harley out-sped any police car on the Forsyth County squad. He also made moonshine, borrowing a recipe from Scottish immigrants who settled in the Appalachian Mountains.

Anyway, I saw a program on how moonshine was made in our mountains (and am sure it still is), and ever since then knew I had to incorporate my new knowledge into one of my novels.

Moonshine, truly a Southern tale of adventure, secrecy, and the birth of NASCAR.


Alice J. Wisler grew up as a missionary kid in Japan. Her first novel is Rain Song (Christy Finalist 2009), followed by How Sweet It Is (Christy Finalist 2010), and Hatteras Girl. Her fourth novel, A Wedding Invitation, was released on October 1, 2011. All of her books take place in North Carolina where she lives with her husband, two dogs, and children. Alice also teaches grief-writing workshops---Writing the Heartache---and speaks at conferences, retreats, and seminars in memory of her son Daniel, who died in 1997 from cancer treatments at the age of four.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: A Wedding Invitation

Stay in the car! Instead of meeting on the porch today, we're running over to Shannon McNear's place to read her review of Alice Wisler's A Wedding Invitation. And there's a giveaway!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Dish on Details

She exited the Interstate and turned onto the two-lane highway. Despite the years, nothing had changed. Longleaf pines still bordered the shoulder on one side of the road, and on the other, a dozen men dressed in jeans and wide-brimmed hats roamed through tobacco plants harvesting the bottom leaves.

It took some time, but a writing instructor finally helped me understand the importance of details in a story. Not just information on what a character looks like, what they're wearing, or a description of the setting, though all can be essential. She was talking about details unique to the character’s environment within a given scene.

These details are crucial, and a recent Sunday morning service provided me with prime examples of details that could be used to add authenticity to a story. Every autumn, churches in our area celebrate Homecoming. Before we moved here, our concept of this event involved a school dance or football game. But this version of Homecoming is a call for members whose attendance has tapered off to reclaim their place in the pew.

She turned right, into the parking lot. A sea of battered pickups and old sedans clustered around the little brick church, but she drove behind the building and parked in the scraggly grass of what they once called the overflow lot. She stepped out of the car. The scent of chicken and hot bread carried from cars to the fellowship hall filled the air, and bells in the tiered steeple played, urging those who were weary to come home.

More local flavor is found in the meals that take place after Homecoming and other special services. After partaking of the fellowship table, any author can walk away with a full stomach and a notebook filled with details on regional dishes. Then, instead of using a nondescript “dishes overflowed with…” a typical food found anywhere in the country, an author whose story is set in eastern North Carolina could instead make readers’ mouths water with an image of favorites such as sweet potato casserole, chicken pastry (a dish similar to chicken and dumplings, but made with thin strips of pasta instead of clumps of dough) and Bright Leaf’s signature red hotdogs.

Once the picture is painted, anchoring readers in the culture of the region, those details can be “snapped” to the character’s journey.

She climbed the steps toward the front doors. The pews would be filled now. Overflowing like the table in the fellowship hall. She reached for the doorknob. The sleeve of her blouse slipped back revealing the butterfly etched into her arm. Come home, ye who are weary, come home, the bells rang. She wanted to, but would they make room for her or for the child she carried?

So while researching a setting, don’t forget to check newspapers and church calendars for annual events and celebrations, and local restaurants for regional food favorites.

Interested in trying Chicken Pastry? Here's a recipe I found:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Interview with Alice Wisler

by Shannon McNear

A few might remember my stint at Christian Fandom as interview coordinator. I've adapted some of the questions I used there (a grateful nod to Greg Slade) for Alice Wisler, author of A Wedding Invitation. I'll be posting a review in a few days.

Alice, other interviews have covered your background and family life, but I can’t recall seeing any detailed mention of how you got started writing. Could you tell us about that?

I’ve been writing and saying that I was going to become an author since I was six. I used to write stories and give them to my first grade teacher. She had me read them to the other grades in our small international school in Kyoto, Japan.

What works have you had published? (not restricting yourself to fiction) Articles, short stories? Which one is your favorite? (including works in progress)

In addition to my four novels with Bethany House—Rain Song, How Sweet It Is, Hatteras Girl, and A Wedding Invitation—I published two cookbooks in memory of children back in 1999 and 2003. My four-year-old son Daniel died in 1997 from cancer treatments and the cookbooks hold his recipes and those of other children.

The first time I was paid for a piece was in 1988 when I submitted a story to David C. Cook for their take-home paper for middle-schoolers called “Sprint”. I also sold a number of devotions.

Now I write for various bereavement magazines and websites. My grief-related articles are at a site called Open to Hope where I just became the new forum editor for the Death of a Child section for this much-needed website.

As far as which work that has been published is my favorite, I would have to say I’m excited about the novel I’m working on now that is set in the North Carolina mountains in a town I made up—Twin Branches.

Who are your influences as a writer, and why? What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing? How about non-Christian?

To be honest, I’m inspired by the life and death of my son, Daniel. He was a delight and a brave one for all he went through with his cancer treatments. I miss him each day.

I enjoy reading Elizabeth Berg’s novels because she makes her characters come alive. And Rick Bragg, the wonderful Southern writer from Alabama, truly inspires me with his literary skills.

As for Christian writers, Henri Nouwen’s works speak to me. I like this quote by him, “What I am gradually discovering is that in the writing I come in touch with the Spirit of God within me and experience how I am led to new places.”

As a fellow mother who has suffered the loss of a child, I’ve been very interested in your “Writing the Heartache” endeavor. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Writing the Heartache is the name I give to the workshops I teach on grief-writing. I offer them online at my website: I also have all-day workshops (the next one is on 11/5 in Frankfort, KY) where those suffering from all kinds of losses join me to discover the benefits of writing. The holidays are approaching, and I was asked to present this workshop to help others in getting through a season that can be difficult.

I love it when a participant in one of my classes sees how therapeutic and healing writing from pain can be!

I see that you use a very gentle touch when dealing with grief issues in your own fiction. How has loss changed how you write, and do you have any particular philosophy about letting your own experience in this area seep into your stories?

I never want to bleed all over the pages. I want to get folks to be moved by the grief my characters face, and to weep with them, not feel that I’m trying to force them to be sympathetic.

I add grief and loss to all of my novels because death is part of life, whether we care to admit it or not. I do have one novel I’ve finished that deals with a mom who has lost her son. (My agent tells me publishers are looking at this manuscript; I’m hoping someone wants it because I think the message in it is important.) Anyway, as I wrote that novel, I had to make sure that the mother in it was not me. That was challenging.

What sorts of things stir the pot of creativity for you? Music, artwork, certain films, etc. And what do you do when you aren't writing?

Cooking! I just made a batch of Bailey House Lemon Cookies from my novel, Hatteras Girl, for a book release party tonight. Cooking inspires me. I like to make lots of Asian meals. Going out on our boat also gives me much creativity. And the ocean always lures me into wanting to create.

Do you have a favorite place for writing? Do you try to work each day until you're "done," or do you have certain hours, or daily word count goal?

I like our local library and go there to write. I also enjoy spending time with my lap top at coffee shops. For me, I’m motivated by a daily word count. I like to write at least 1,500 each day. 5,000 would be better, but I’m not that disciplined!

Do you tend more toward outlining, or do you work with just a general idea of where the story is going, and the characters just tend to take over on the details?

I prefer to outline. That keeps both me and my characters within boundaries. Of course, often one of my characters will want more of a role. That’s what happened to Monet, the three-year-old in Rain Song. She was only going to get a small part, but she demanded more.

What are you working on now, if you don’t mind sharing? What do you hope to be working on?

I’m writing a story about an Amish man who leaves his community and starts a new life in the mountains of North Carolina. He helps other Amish relocate and find jobs. I was inspired by a program I saw on TV about a person who has helped Amish ease into twenty-first century society.

The last question is this ... what 3 bits of advice would you give new (or not so new) writers?

Never give up! Yes, writing is hard, but you can do it! Make time for writing and value that time so that you can eventually complete a work you are proud of.

Thanks for the interview!

Thank you for taking the time, Alice!

Again, I'll be reviewing A Wedding Invitation in just a few days.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Herald-Sun Interview with Alice Wisler

Alice Wisler just passed this along to me. It's a link to an interview published in Durham's Herald-Sun.

A Carolina Journey--for the author and the characters

A wonderful article, and in it, the reporter observes, "Wisler said she likes writing about North Carolina towns" and "gathering at the table or in a kitchen is integral to building relationships in Wisler’s novels – and in most of our lives, too."

And both (small towns and food!) are integral to front porch fiction. Our Shannon McNear is planning a review on Alice's latest novel, A Wedding Invitation. I'll post as soon as it's available.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Front Porch Fiction Alert: The Best of Me

****Alert****Alert****Alert! The master of front porch fiction is about to release a new novel. Nicholas Sparks' The Best of Me, will arrive on October 11!

This latest novel is set in Oriental, North Carolina. We visited this coastal town located "at the end of the highway" as it was described to us, shortly after moving to eastern NC. Laid back, with inviting benches and colorful chairs dispersed throughout the hamlet, the town is clean, charming, and friendly. The perfect setting for a novel (drat, why didn't I think of that??) I look forward to revisiting it in Spark's latest offering. Definitely front-porch fiction. How can I tell before I read it? Check out the cover!

I wonder if I can buy a print.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pass the Chicken Pastry!

One common element in front porch fiction is food. Gobs of food. That's because food is the staple of community relationships. At church fellowships, tables are crammed with platters of fried chicken and deviled eggs, and local fire stations hold barbecues to raise money.

So if your mouth doesn't water at least twice while reading a book, you know you're not reading front porch fiction.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Link to an Interview with Alice Wisler

I wish I had started this blog before the release of Alice Wisler's A Wedding Invitation and not the day of. I met Alice via email during my years as Area Coordinator for ACFW and thought she was just darling. Then I met her in person. Guess what. She is darling.

Compelled by our acquaintance, not to mention the setting, I bought her third novel, Hatteras Girl, and quickly devoured it. Though written in first person present, or perhaps because of it, thanks to Alice's attention to detail and her ability to reach the recesses of the heart, the story popped off the page. And then I found a cookie recipe. The perfect ending.

A Wedding Invitation was officially released today. I've yet to purchase my copy, but will soon. Set, in part, in Winston-Salem, the story deals with a former missionary to the Philippines who is invited to a wedding and ends up crashing her own past. This, I have to see.

For more information, pop on over to the Giveaway Lady's blog to read an interview with Alice, or check out Alice's webpage at