Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Six Websites to Help Your Writing

Definitions and pronunciation.

Online publisher of literature, references, and verse.

The author, Dr. Brians, is an English Professor at  Washington State University. I ran across this online source of information while checking out every day vs. everyday.

This is one of my favorite sources of information about the English language.

Started and used by children, adults will also find excellent help on the use of punctuation. National Punctuation Day is September 24, but the website is available all year.

Helps keep your writing free of clichés.

Do you have suggestions for additional resources for writers? Add in the comment section below.

Monday, March 26, 2012

COTT's Fiction Flash Clash

*guest post by Michelle Massaro and April Gardner
Last week, COTT posted a "Flash Clash" in which readers had just 2 days to cast their votes between two 100-word excerpts. It was a fast one! But not so fast that voters didn't have time for their say.

To add to the tension, the winner took the clash by a margin of one vote. That’s right. ONE vote difference. Both excerpts were so good, readers were split almost exactly down the middle. I love clashes that are this close!

The winner of our Flash Clash First Hundred is…

Rebecca Carey Lyle’s Winds of Wyoming.

Winds of Wyoming clashed against Tom Blubaugh’s Night of the Cossack. It was a pleasure getting to know both authors during this fun, super-speedy clash. We wish many blessings on their writing paths!

Here's what readers had to say about both books:

*Great excerpts...both caught my interest immediately!
*Wow - two really great flashes that sound like amazing stories! Love it!
*Keep writing and don't give up!
*Both excerpts were great, especially given the short time to convey what was happening in the story. Keep up the good work!

COTT is taking a spring break starting immediately. We will begin clashing again on April 2, 2012 when hostess Gail Pallotta brings us a brand new clash--Comparable Covers!

In the meantime, check out these other Splashdown Books…

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Are You Addicted to High-Tech?

My peers and a few of the younger generation call me Mr. Facebook, but I'm not sure that is a complement or not. I tend to check-in and post several times a day. I'm retired and travel a lot so I set up tweets to publish automatically while we're gone and all the tweets go automatically to Facebook. I also have blogs that are prewritten and scheduled to post automatically. I'm even getting repined in Pinterest now, even though few of my friends have yet to join in the fun.

I'm no Camy Tang

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Camy Tang, but after working in the computer field for more than fifty years, I learn this new high-tech stuff pretty fast. After all I have a masters in computer science. On second thought, I guess that's worthless. Everything I learned is obsolete. Isn't that the way it is with college degrees? I guess all college graduates can say is that they had the gumption to follow the requirements of the school and the drive to do what was needed. That is worth something. What? Attitude? That's important.

I could be addicted

Like all good things, there is a tendency to overdo. My wife thinks I need to get away from the world of technology some. She's hinted at this before, but I think what finally convinced her was when I did a Facebook check-in during our anniversary dinner last week complete with photos and then made notes about a blog idea that came to me. She didn't mention it, but I don't think she liked the fact that I selected the restaurant because it was similar to a fictional one I had used in Where Love Once Lived and I wanted to check it out.

Tech-free times

So, we have these tech-free times now. It's not so bad. We are fortunate to have a place on the lake without television and with little to no phone service. ATandT is helping wean me from my daily data diet, too. The first time we were there I got this nasty email about using too much data download on non ATandT service. I talked to them on the phone about it and learned all I could do was turn off the phone while I was there. So, now I set it on airplane mode. Well, most of the time.

Finding the sweet spot

Last time I was there a neighbor with an iPhone just like mine said he gets phone service on the northwest corner of his dock near the white rod holder. I tried it, but it didn't work for me. However, that let me know there is ATandT service in the area. After searching for a signal for several days, I found a sweet spot. It's in the bottom right corner of my dining room window. The phone has to be touching the glass, so usage is limited to hands free only. I tried the area outside the window, but couldn't find a signal there.

My reason for searching for a place where I can get phone service, I told my wife, is in case someone calls. Some emergency type of thing. But I have to admit that when the phone touches that window pane in just the right spot, I can quickly download my email and see what's happening on Facebook. I guess I am addicted.

Hey! I'm writing more

Most of the time, I enjoy having a tech-free time. We read, work jig-saw puzzles and go for walks. There will be fishing soon. We've agreed the use of the laptop is okay for writing. Since there is no Internet connection for it, it is not considered a problem. I noticed I tend to write more when I'm not constantly checking email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest. So there is a benefit to this tech-free time after all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Lion of Babylon by Davis Bunn

This story is about what happens after Marc Royce, a former State Department agent involved in covert operations, is called back into service in Baghdad to find his best friend Alex Baird, a CIA agent who has disappeared. In addition to his friend, there are two women missing, Claire Reeves, a nurse, and Hannah Brimsley, a volunteer at a church in the Green Zone. Farouk El-waziri, the son of a prominent Iraqi family who knew the three Americans is also missing.

Marc had been forced out of his job as a State Department operative because he had insisted on being with his wife when she was terminally ill. The story begins three years after her death and Marc is working in Baltimore as a forensic accountant when his former boss, Ambassador Walton comes to urge him back into service.

This is also the story of Sameh el-Jacobi, an Iraqi lawyer who is a member of the Syrian Christian Church in Baghdad. While helping influential people find family members who had been kidnapped, Sameh crosses paths with and joins forces with Marc early on, but the reader continues to be treated to viewpoints from both the East and the West.

Marc and Sameh, along with the help of Major Lahm, once highly respected in the police who is now serving as a prison guard, they find and free a number children who had been kidnapped.

Jaffar, the Grand Imam's son, hires Sameh to help him find Farouk El-waziri, the son of a prominent Iraqi who went missing along with the Americans.

Jordan Boswell, deputy to the United States ambassador who doesn't believe Alex and the two women were kidnaped, is upset by Marc's participation in freeing the kidnapped children and wants to send him home. However, Marc's connections are stronger now and he continues to search for the missing Americans.

The ambassador offers Sameh four green cards for him and his family to go to the United States, with a deadline for deciding. Sameh is tempted by the offer to move to the United States. Primarily for his family. His wife, Miriam, his niece, Leyla, who lives with him and his wife and works in his law office,  and Leyla's daughter, eleven year old Bisan, who is wise beyond her years.

Although the book is fiction, I had a feeling that the author had been to post-Saddam Iraq or had done a great deal or research about the setting. What he says about the people and the place rings true. I liked the inside look at what it is like to live and work in Baghdad after the fall of Hussein. I also learned more about Iraq and its history. I was surprised to learn about the Christians in Iraq.

This was the first book by Davis Bunn that I've read, but I now understand why he won three Christy awards and is a bestselling author of more than six million copies. See my review of Book of Dreams: A Novel, published after Lion of Babylon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five Government Websites Every Writer Should Know About

I use this Social Security site when looking for a name for a character. You can see what the most popular male and female names were by year.

You can search for information about copyrighted material here. There are also links to information about copyright law.

The Library's mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

American Memory from the Library of Congress provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides this Website. It offers information about population and much more that could be useful when researching a book. You can type in a city and find breakdowns by gender, age, race, income, education, etc.

Do you know a government-sponsored site that you would recommend to writers? If so, add a comment below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writer's Research. How Important Is It?

On this first day of Spring, I thought about how an author decides the season for setting a novel. When I wrote Where Love Once Lived I wanted it to be contemporary. That's all I knew at the time. I had no reason to fit it into a particular time period. Even so, while writing I felt more comfortable knowing the date of each scene. Since it didn't matter to the story, I used the date I started writing. Scene 1 also needed to happen on a Tuesday. So, the date I picked was November 16, 2004. The dates for the scenes that followed were based on this, rather arbitrary, starting date. The final scene turned out to be May 26, 2005.

I used real weather reports for the scene dates to add realism. However, I made a point of not mentioning year. Since this was my first novel, and I didn't know much about writing one, it took a long time. The book wasn't published until July 2010.

But, that didn't matter since I wanted the book to appear to be in the reader's current time. I wasn't completely successful at that. One reviewer said:

The setting is a mid-sized Southern city in the mid to late 20th century (Austin, Texas) and exceptionally apt descriptions of real recognizable places and accurate references to the "times" lend authenticity to the novel.

At one point in the book, I found a need to mention a year, or at least a decade. Here is the quote:

“Guess what?” she asked, still holding his hand. “I walked through the Tower on the way here and saw a display of photos from the seventies. Want to go look at the exhibit together after lunch?”

See the references to the seventies? Karen is talking to Brian about an exhibit in the University of Texas where they had met to talk. The reader knows at this point that they had met at the university thirty years ago. This clearly identifies the time of the story to be between 2000 and 2010.

So, even though I didn't start out to write a novel set at a particular time, I ended up with one set in a particular decade. As I wrote I considered what major events were happening in the world. Wars, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, deaths of famous people, etc. Of course there 9/11. I made it clear that the book took place after that. I didn't mention Iraq or Afghanistan, but referred to the war in the Middle East. In the sequel, Afghanistan is named.

To help research important events in history, writers use websites such as:

From here, you may select a year or a decade to find information about major happenings. If more details are needed about a particular event, then you can do an Internet search.

If you're interested in other research tools used by writers, click on Links on my website:

Monday, March 19, 2012

COTT Speculative Clash Winner Announced

Guest blogger: Jennifer Slattery

Sometimes Clash of the Titles highlights great talent. Other times we get to "discover it." This is exactly what happened with our speculative fiction unpub'bed clash.

Join me in welcoming Chawna Schroeder to the COTT family!

There's nothing like discovering great talent before it goes to print! And I have a feeling we're going to see our latest COTT champion's books on bookshelves very soon. When we do, we can all say, "We saw her on COTT first!" And this clash--a battle for best speculative fiction unpub'bed--was even more exciting because the winner has been invited to submit a full proposal to Asraea Press for immediate review!

Her winning excerpt was pulled from the pages of Metamorphosis, a gripping tale of a Beast and her master:

Once upon a time there lived a Beast…
Not in a shining castle, but among a pack of dogs.

For as long as Beast can remember she has lived among her master’s dogs. With them she sleeps. With them she eats. With them she fights and struggles to survive. But through hunger and cold, she dreams of one day becoming Master’s favorite, earning bones with meat and a place beside the fire.

Then strangers attack. Her pack scatters. Fire eats the village. And Beast knows: Master is no more.

Alone and unprotected, Beast tries to defend herself against slavers scavenging for any leftovers. But she is only one, and they are strong.

Tracked by men, sold as a monster, is Beast only prey to be hunted…
…or something more?

A few comments from readers:

"I enjoyed both excerpts! I am curious about the world created in A, but B really got me in the gut."

"Great job! Keep writing!"

"God has given you a gift. Your TRUE fans will always be there for you!! Never give up and follow your dreams!!! I am sending up a prayer for you and your family!!!"
Join us March 19-23 for a fun Flash Clash!

Friday, March 16, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Wrapped In Rain by Charles Martin

This is the story of Tucker Mason and how he overcame growing up in the home of an abusive, strict, alcoholic father. His half-brother, Matthew, who goes by Mutt, didn't fare so well. When the book opens, Mutt is in a mental hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Their father Rex left the boys for long periods of time with a caregiver. When he was home, he mistreated the boys.

In flashbacks we learn about Miss Ella Rain, the black woman hired to care for Tucker and Mutt. She was forty-five, a childless widow, and daughter of the son of a slave. She helped her younger brother Moses get through college. He serves in the military and become a doctor.

When the story begins, we learn that Miss Ella has died and Tucker has taken her last name. Tucker Rain is an internationally renowned photographer with cover photos on all the major magazines. He is on his way back to the family home in a small Alabama town even as his agent tries to get him to go on jobs. The family home, which Tucker now owns, is called Waverly Hall. Tucker's father was a mean person, but he had a knack for making money. He was worth more than $50 million by the time he was forty.

On the trip home, Tucker meets a woman, Katie Wither with a child, first at a food stop and later when her car breaks down. It turns out she was a neighbor of the Mason's and a close childhood friend. She was a talented musician, who played the piano as a child at the Mason's home with encouragement from Miss Ella. She left to study piano at Julliard, and later married an unfaithful and abusive man, Trevor. She divorced him, but ran away to protect her five-year old son, Jase.

After rescuing Katie and Jase, and learning of their situation, Tucker talks her into hiding out at the Mason home. When they get there, Tucker finds out his brother has left the hospital where Tucker had taken him seven years earlier.

Katie, Jase and Tucker find Mutt and the three adults recall childhood memories and get together to plan a super Christmas. Moses is at there, too.

The background information is introduced gradually, as needed, without distracting the reader from the main flow of the story.

I loved meeting these characters. Tucker was able to forgive his father and that is what made him special. Mutt tried to control himself, but he couldn't. He was a good man, but unable to be like others. Katie was a good mother who let herself get tricked into marrying an abusive man. She would survive. Moses, set good examples for the brothers when they were children and when they were adults. Along with Ella, he helped them survive.

It was a satisfying story with characters you'll not soon forget.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

COTT Spotlight on Gail Pallotta

*guest post by COTT Sr. Editor, April W Gardner

This week, it was my privilege to spend a few extra minutes with author Gail. Gail is one of the blog alliance correspondents at Clash of the Titles.

Her husband, Rick, says she’s the only person he knows who can go in the grocery for a loaf of bread and come out with someone’s life story. That’s probably because she inherited her mother’s love of people and enjoys talking to them. Working as an editor and freelance writer, Gail published a couple hundred articles. While some of them are in anthologies, two ended up in museums. In 2004, the American Christian Writers Association named Gail a regional writer of the year. She recently published her first romance, Love Turns the Tide. When she isn’t writing she likes reading, swimming, and getting together with friends and family. Gail wants to write books of faith that show God’s love. She and Rick live in Georgia. Just a couple hours north of me, actually! We’re practically neighbors. :-)

Every COTT staff member is a professed child of God. Gail, can you tell us about your relationship with Christ?
I can’t remember when I didn’t love Jesus. My father’s father was a minister, so I grew up listening to Bible verses and references to Jesus. But my mother played a huge part in helping me establish a relationship with Christ. At bedtime she said prayers with me and told me stories from the Bible. First, she taught me “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” but even then I had a copy of “The Lord’s Prayer” hanging on the wall above the headboard of my bed. She taught it to me a few lines at a time. We soon started saying it instead of “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” She also told me about the Crucifixion in her own words, explaining how much Jesus had to love me to die for me. She taught me to talk to Jesus, to say the things I was thankful for, to praise Him, and ask for things I needed. I did the same with my daughter. I’m so grateful for the many blessings Jesus has given me and that He’s always there for me. I don’t always get the answers I want to my prayers, but I get the answers I need to fulfill God’s plan for my life. Whenever I’ve needed a miracle, Jesus has supplied one. There are several hymns that touch on how I feel about my relationship with Christ. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “He Leadeth Me” are two. My daughter recently gave me a CD, Elvis, An Evening Prayer. The first song on it, “His Hand in Mine,” conveys how I feel about my relationship with Christ. It’s an old gospel song written by Mossie Lister. It’s on YouTube. The URL is

Beautiful testimony! A mother’s faith is essential in a child’s life, and you’re proof of that!
None of us are perfect though, so what’s the craziest thing you did as a teenager? 
Gail Pallotta
I grew up at the foothills of the mountains. At a reunion a few years ago, many of us told our beloved biology teacher how much she meant to us. She replied, “Well, I had to teach biology. There was no one else in town that could.” Teachers were scarce. We had a very old algebra teacher. He couldn’t stay awake during class. Nope. He took the roll and told us to turn to the next chapter and work the problems. Then he pushed back his seat and propped his feet on the trash can. We’d give him about ten minutes, and he was out like a light. His classroom was in the basement with a window level to the ground. In the spring as soon as he started snoring, we went out the window, got in my friend’s convertible (she had the only car) and went to the lake.

No way! That’s so funny!! How long were you gone? What is something else people would be surprised to know about you? 
At age twenty-two when I graduated from college, I packed my clothes in a medium-sized suitcase and moved to a large city with eighty dollars in my pocket. Had no car, no job, and nowhere to live. 
Wow! You can’t leave us hanging, lol! How did that work out for you?

On a slightly more serious note, what is the nearest book to where you’re sitting? 
I love to read anything, non-fiction, fiction, any genre, Christian and many secular. But the book closest to me, probably because I also write as well as read, is Essentials of English.

I’d imagine that covers grammar? Forms of writing? Sounds like a must-have for every writer! What are three things you can’t live without?   
Faith, family, fun

Three very important f’s! Makes me wonder though, when I say the word “fun,” what’s the first thing to pop into your mind?

What is the message you most want to convey to readers with your writing? God loves you. Accept His love and let the greatness of it overcome the imperfections of this world. 

That brings to mind. John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." NAS (©1995)
Anything else you’d like to add? 
I was honored when asked to be part of the Clash of the Titles Staff. I love helping to promote Christian books and writers.
And we love having you!!
Get to know Gail better by visiting her website or her blog.

Monday, March 5, 2012

COTT Unpublished Clash Winner Announced!

*Guest post by--COTT Sr. Editor, April W Gardner
*This clash sponsored by WhiteFire Publishing

The first five hundred words of any story are usually enough to clue us is as to the author's style, the tone the book will take, and whether or not the story will hold our interest. It's those five hundred from two different unpublished novels that Clash of the Titles presented to you last week. 

Will Ramirez's Soul Yearning
Nancy Kimball's Chasing the Lion


We asked our readers which they would be most likely to continue reading and this is how they voted:

by Nancy Kimball

In addition to a hearty welcome to the COTT family, as announced yesterday, Nancy was invited by Astraea Press to submit a complete proposal for immediate review.

Maybe one day very soon, we'll see Chasing the Lion come back to Clash of the Titles to compete as a published novel!

This is what our readers had to say about Chasing the Lion:

*The first excerpt really grabbed my attention- especially since it stirred my emotions... and my love of mystery. 
*What was the answer his mother gave that caused this strong boy to run away? Very well done!
* Who's the dad?!?! I'm hanging off a cliff wondering!

About the novel

Author Nancy Kimball

From the blood-soaked sand of the Roman arena, a divine destiny will rise.
For as long as Jonathan Tarquinius can remember, everyone has wanted something from him. His brothers want him dead. His master’s wife wants his innocence. The gladiator dealers want him to fight, and die, for their greed. The humble slave girl who tends the wounds on his body and the hidden ones on his soul yearns for him to return to his faith in God.
God wants something from Jonathan, too. Something more than anyone could ever imagine.
What Jonathan wants is simple—freedom.
The young warrior’s journey will push him to the very limits of human endurance and teach him the only true freedom is found in Christ. The greatest battle Jonathan ever fights will not come in the arena, but deep within himself, when he is forced to choose between vengeance and forgiveness, knowing the fate of all he holds dear hangs in the balance.


Monday, March 5, COTT will see the start of yet another unpublished clash. This one however, carries the theme of speculative fiction, a newer genre that's taken the market by storm. Come on by for another opportunity to vote and win a copy of previous COTT Champ Diane M Graham's new novel, I Am Ocilla!