And the Winners Are…

GREAT BEGINNINGS LOGOJill Hackman and I have been busting at the seams to announce the winners of our 1st Keystone Great Beginnings Contest.

They are:

1st Place – Rachel McDaniel for The Red Canary

2nd Place – Elizabeth Van Tassel for The Crystal Domain

Honorable Mention – Kerry Johnson for The Name Game

Thank you again, to ALL of you who entered. Your judged entries will be returned to you soon. Take the comments and learn from them to make your manuscript better. I’ve had to do that several times, from a professional editor and contest judges.

Stay tuned here for announcements concerning our 2nd Annual Keystone Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference.

Donna L.H. Smith – President


Lots of Exciting News Coming Soon

from Flickr

from Flickr

It’s an exciting time for our ACFW Pennsylvania State Chapter.

We passed our first anniversary in March as a chapter, with our first online meeting in April of 2015. We continue to meet monthly, but we will take a short break this summer.

Watch for a new blog post late Tuesday evening or Wednesday that announces the winners to our Keystone Great Beginnings Contest. I’ll give one hint: I’m pleased that a chapter member won 1st prize.

Also – mark down Saturday, November 5th, 2016 on your calendars and join us in Harrisburg for our 2nd Annual Keystone Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. We are fiction only, and fiction first. We are the only Christian writers’ conference that is all fiction. We’re nailing down the details as this is being written. We think you’ll like what we’re planning.

If you have any questions regarding chapter membership, please let one of the board members know.

We’ll be unveiling more information soon!

Thank You to All 17 Contest Entrants


Thank you! We had an astonishing 17 entries (we were hoping for 15) for our Keystone Great Beginnings Contest. The judges are currently reading and scoring entries, and winners will be announced at our online meeting, April 26th at 7:30 p.m. and here on this blog.

It takes a lot of courage to submit one’s work for critique and scoring. Only one can win 1st place with a $50 prize. If you don’t win, don’t give up. Keep working on your craft, your story. Take the judges’ comments and learn from them. It will help you improve and maybe, the next contest you enter, you’ll place!

If you win here, you’ll be rewarded monetarily, and that will show potential publishers two things: 1) you are serious about your writing, and 2) you are willing to put yourself out there and try to get published.

Two years ago, I entered the ACFW Genesis contest. I didn’t make it past the first round, and one judge seemed quite harsh with their low score. After a period of time, though, I was able to re-visit their score sheet, and learn what I needed to do to improve my novel.

The next time I submitted it, I made the semi-finals in Operation 1st Novel.

So whether you win or place here, even with an Honorable Mention certificate, the point is: learn, progress, and keep submitting. Perseverance is the key. I know. I’m still persevering, hoping for a publishing contract in my future. Blessings to you.

No Dead “Beats”

mcmurray-HR-9By Robert McMurray

As one who prefers not to use attributions, I had a tendency to overuse action beats to delineate speakers, often groping for a variety of beats to use, when many were unnecessary and intrusive. These dead beats often proved to wreck the rhythm of my writing.

Yet, well-placed action beats, often called descriptive beats, can heighten the story, give your characters character, when used as reactions to dialogue to show movement or emotions. Reading your scenes aloud should show natural pauses which would benefit from beats or reveal where beats you have used are intrusive and interrupt the flow of the story.

Beats like a raised eyebrow or a quivering hand can ground your character. However, having him raise an eyebrow or have his hand quiver for no reason other than as a substitute for a dialogue tag is a dead beat that does not move your story forward and hinders the rhythm. In a recent editing experience, I encountered the following: “How dare you speak to me in that manner?” She set her cup on the table. “Get out of my house.”

drumsIt appeared that the beat was merely an attempt to avoid an attribution and it mitigated the emotional effect of the scene. The first revision simply omitted the beat: “How dare you speak to me in that manner? Get out of my house.” This implied a controlled, seething anger which did not fit the character, and, when read aloud, showed a pause.

The result: “How dare you speak to me in that manner?” She slammed her cup on the table, sending shards of china skittering across the floor. “Get out of my house.” Here the emotional impact is heightened with a solid visual image that displays her anger.

Although solid beats add life to your story, dead beats serve to lessen the emotional impact and rhythm of your writing. So watch for dead beats and remove or revise where necessary.

Winter Writer’s Retreat

20160227_152227On Saturday, February 27th, at Lisa Betz’s house in Morgantown, six members and one guest participated in what we called the Winter Writer’s Retreat. Look under the Writer’s Retreat tab for more information on how to hold one in your area.

The day included devotions, prayer, creative writing exercises, brainstorming, and critiquing. We had lunch together and also had time to work on our WIPs.

We decided to do this more often. Another retreat is being planned for May with more actual writing time included to work on our WIPs. Members present: Kelly Barr, Lisa Betz, Alison McClennan, Robin Archibald, Laura Zimmerman, and Donna Smith. Our guest was Amy from Lancaster Christian Writers.

Dress for Success and Corrie ten Boom

Carol Hamilton

Carol Hamilton

Blogger: Carol Hamilton

Although you may not like it, today’s authors should be speakers also. To make yourself more comfortable before an audience and to allow your audience to be more at ease with you, learn to dress for success.

When you stand on a stage, the crowd sees more of your feet than they may want. Women, be sure heels aren’t spiked enough to get caught in cracks on a wooden stage and that you can stand comfortably for your entire session. Closed-toed shoes present a professional appearance. Toastmasters’ Past International Director, Ruth Ray, says, “No one wants to see your toes.” I’ve been known to break this rule when speaking at a women’s retreat at the beach, but only with a fresh pedicure. Men, be sure you polish your shoes. Well kept shoes give subconscious credibility. The exception would be if you use your shoes as part of your persona, like entertaining anti-bullying speaker, Michael Karpovich, who wears different colored Keds on each foot.

Michael Karpovich and Corrie ten Boom

Michael Karpovich and Corrie ten Boom

Let’s go to your head. Men, learn to tie a double-knotted tie so it remains centered. Otherwise a disgruntled OCD person may leap onto the stage to straighten your tie. Ladies, avoid earrings that sparkle and spin like fishing lures. Draw attention to your face so the audience can focus on what you teach. The bling of your necklace should balance with the size of the crowd. Smaller crowd, simple, less flashy choker length shouldn’t distract. If your theatre is vast, sparkle close to the face will attract the gazes of the audience to your face. Avoid dangling necklaces since they shift and twist. I play too much with bracelets and large rings, so I don’t wear them. If you can leave them alone, they are acceptable.

Know how your audience will dress and take it up a notch. Wear clothing you can move comfortably in. If you wear a jacket, it should be buttoned at least one button when you begin.

Once you have chosen your outfit and dressed to the best of your ability, go onto the stage and forget about how you look. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

When I was a teen, I saw the astonishing Corrie ten Boom speak. Even though it’s been over forty years, I still remember the stories told by this wrinkled old woman in orthopedic shoes and a hair net. Lessons of forgiveness only God could instigate. Reminders to get rid of sin and let your light shine for Jesus, the One Miss ten Boom loved the most. Her clothing was plain, but her face shone with the love of Jesus and her words of truth resonate still.

What you wear and how you look shouldn’t be distracting to the audience, look the best you can, but in the end, it is a dynamic message that matters.

My Top 5 Writing Tips for Christian Authors

KelleherBlogger: Ellen Kelleher writing as Elle E. Kay

There is so much useful information available on the internet that it is difficult to narrow the list to a manageable one, but here are the most helpful tips I’ve discovered. #amwriting #writingtip

  1. Prepare spiritually. Yes, it sounds like common sense, but how often do we sit down at our computers or open our notebook without having first taken the time to pray. Click to Tweet How often do we neglect our daily Bible reading? If we prepare spiritually, we will be writing with Jesus on our minds and in our hearts. There is no other single step that will produce a more fruitful result.
  2. If you get stuck use a prompt. There are websites devoted to providing prompts to kick start your writing. There are picture prompts and word prompts, full sentence prompts, and even story starters. Don’t just sit there starting at your computer. Use a prompt. Some of the best writing I’ve done started with a prompt.
  3.  Edit. Once you have a beautifully written masterpiece, put it aside. Come back a few months later (sooner if you are on a deadline) and look at your work with fresh eyes. Tear apart that manuscript and make it better. You may be surprised at the number of errors you find. Once you’ve done that, share it with your critique group (ACFW has a good one called Scribes). Then after all of that, pay for a professional editing.
  4. Market. Yes, you need to market. It isn’t fun for introverts. I get it. We still have to do it. You should have a presence on social media. At the very least, you should be on Twitter and Facebook. You should also seriously consider a website and a blog.
  5.  Reviews. Most reviews will be positive, but there will be some negative. Don’t dwell on the negative. Sometimes you can even wear them as a badge of honor, like when someone accused me of proselytizing. Well, thank you. Yes, I followed my Lord’s command and told people about Him. Amen. I’ll take that one star review. If you can’t handle the negative reviews, don’t read them. Click to Tweet Whatever you do, don’t respond to them.

There you have it. A simple list of the most helpful advice I’ve found. #writingtip #amwriting

Happy 2016! New Year, New Things

2016We have some new things planned, changes in old things. Keep updated by following this blog so you’ll be “in the know” as we walk through this year together.

Do you make resolutions? I don’t. I’m deciding to change one thing about my life this year, because I know a “list” won’t work for me. Our home page tells you who our new officers are this year. But in addition, we’ll have new “non-board” positions to help the chapter board make this year, our first FULL year of existence – something special. If you have any ideas of things you’d like to see or do – let one of the board members know.

Blessings as we move forward in 2016.

December ACFW Pennsylvania News

Christmas Tree flashWe’ve had an amazing ten months of existence as a State Chapter! Thank you for your participation. But let’s look to the future. And let’s change it up a bit.

Here’s a survey link to tell us when you’d prefer to meet. It’s a short two-question survey, text box-style, so you’re free to write comments.

Link for Meeting day and time preferences:

Chapter members are also voting on a new officers board for 2016. Those candidates are: Donna L.H. Smith for President, Robert McMurray for Vice President, and Carol Hamilton for Secretary. A treasurer will be named later.

Our first conference was a Success!

Jim & Joyce Hart, Mike Dellosso, Carol Hamilton (L to R)

Jim & Joyce Hart, Mike Dellosso, Carol Hamilton (L to R)

Our first Keystone Christian Fiction Writers Conference held on Saturday, November 7th in State College, PA was a success! We had around 30 attendees. Not quite half the chapter attended, with a few who had registered who couldn’t come due to physical illness.

We learned a lot from the day, and we’re excited about future possibilities. Here’s a few photos from the day.

If you were there, we hope enjoyed your day. If you weren’t there, we hope you’ll join us next year.

Brad Herman & Jonathan Nori, Christine Whitaker, Gloria O'Donnell, & Dwight Kopp (L to R)

Brad Herman & Jonathan Nori, Christine Whitaker, Gloria O’Donnell, & Dwight Kopp (L to R)

Chapter Member Carol Hamilton speaking on Social Media

Chapter Member Carol Hamilton speaking on Social Media

Chapter Member Kelly Anne Liberto

Chapter Member Kelly Anne Liberto speaking on Hiding God’s Word in Your Story