Five Reasons to Eavesdrop

My husband and I dropped into a coffee shop and while he read the newspaper, I overheard a conversation going on next to us. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. The voice of one of the three carried across the room. Here is what I took away from this free research moment:  

An idea for a story. Three college students, one male, two females, all of them a bit nerdy. None of them look related to one another. Classes had just begun and we had stopped near a University. New roommates getting to know one another? One was older than the other two. Could she be returning to college, forced to room with younger students? (I could spend much more space brainstorming in this space.)
Characters. Three people, two female, one male. One of the females bragged to the others about her fellowship. Made it clear she wasn’t a Teaching Assistant, which meant the college thought her brain was more valuable than that. She would be working in a lab doing research. The young man never said a word to the two women, but he leaned toward them, obviously interested in what they had to say. Maybe he had a crush on the younger woman.
Cadence and/or dialogue. One discussion was the European health care system vs. the US’s. The back and forth taught me how quickly the conversation can change when one person shows up another. How questions work to undermine grandiose statements.
Humorous beginnings for articles. I could take this conversation and use it to begin an article on how I used to be just like that gal—and thought I was knew a lot when I was in my early twenties. Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize how much I don’t know. She will face that moment too.
Insights into people. Listening to conversations give you insights into people that you won’t get by reading books, or watching movies, or even having conversations with your friends. Dialogue in books are well orchestrated. And when involved in a conversation with your friend—you are too close to see what’s going on. It’s much more instructive to listen to other people’s conversations—to learn from an impartial point of view.

Too Much Christian Talk?

My husband took me out to breakfast. I ordered something I don’t have every day, eggs and home fried potatoes. Unfortunately, the potatoes were too salty, which ruined them for me. This made me think about how Jesus called us to be salt in the world.
Salt is a seasoning. If sprinkled on our favorite dish, it can bring out the flavor of food. In fact, some foods, like eggs, are tasteless without salt. However, too much and we spoil the dish.
Can we do the same thing with our witness? Can we spoil our desire to share Jesus when we are overbearing and a know-it-all? Did I overdo it the time I was at my sister’s and a man came on the TV spouting new age junk, and I stated in no uncertain terms, “What a lot of bunk”?  Or how about the day I argued with my other sister about baby baptism vs. adult baptism and we ended up hurting one another’s feelings? What kind of “salt” was I that day? These are just two examples of times I should have used less salt–and more love and tastefulness.
What about in your writing? Are you over salting your novel or your nonfiction book? Signs you might have overused the saltshaker are excessive use of the word you, telling the reader how they must live, Christianese, phrases and words that have lost their meaning, and preaching, long stretches when you tell the reader about what the Bible says instead of showing them through interesting anecdotes and stories.

The Montage–a way to show the passage of time

The montage is a way to show the passage of time. It’s a rapid use of images to show days, weeks, or years passing in the life of your story. In movies you might see calendar pages falling, or a series of newspaper headings, or a tree with the seasons changing from fall to winter to spring.

Here are examples of how to do the same in your writing:

Example: Mary wandered down the street of her home town. In the second hand store window, she spotted an old camp stove, reminding her of the trips she and her husband used to take up to Lake Coeur d’Alene. She entered and poked through bins of faded postcards, shelves of old glassware, toys children had played with and now discarded. In the back she found a rack of old dresses and tried a couple of them on, her image in the mirror bringing a rare smile to her lips. How much she looked like her mother.

A clock bonged and she glanced at her watch.  Where had the afternoon gone? She was late.

Example: John planted his garden in early May after the last frost. All spring and summer he enjoyed the fruits of his labor, but before he knew it, he was picking the last of the tomatoes and squash.


When I started writing fiction, I had a hard time getting my characters from one place to another. This is what I wrote:

John hit the elevator button, stepped into the car, rode down two floors. He strode through the lobby and out into the street. He walked quickly down Elm, turned on Vine, and waited patiently at the stop light. When it turned green, he stepped out onto the street, crossing over onto the 44th. He entered Walgreens.

Whew, that’s a lot of work to move my character from point A to point B. What if I need to get through a week? A month, or five years. How do I fill in all that time?

Here are some easy suggestions I that might help you:

Transition of place:

When we arrived at Tom’s cabin . . . (You can move your characters hundreds of miles in six easy words.)

John hurried to the Walgreens a few blocks away from his apartment.

Joan worried about her family as she watched the miles fly by out the window of the bus. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . (funny, but you can see how clearly this moves the reader from point A to point B.)

Transition of time:

A few minutes later . . .

By the time the baby arrived . . .

John hit the elevator button and few moments later was at the Walgreens down the street.

Transition of subject:

Consequently. . .

In spite of this . . .

Meanwhile . . .

On the other hand . . .


Why Use Symbols in Your Writing

Have you considered adding a symbol in your novel? Some of the best novelists (and nonfiction book authors) use them to add depth to their stories and to their characters. What exactly am I talking about? A symbol can be a living thing like a butterfly, eagle, or an old oak tree. Or it can be an inanimate object like a family home, a seashell, or a precious stone. Throughout the story the object takes on a meaning larger than itself. It adds layers of emotional meaning that otherwise you’d have to explain. And it can be useful in showing depths of a character’s personality.



A butterfly can represent beauty and strength. The fact that a butterfly must struggle to get out of its cocoon or it’s forever damaged is often used to show that people sometimes must struggle in order to grow. Recently I read a book where the butterfly was used to demonstrate captivity through the eyes of a wife whose husband was a collector. Her abusive relationship was slowly revealed and likened to how he pinned his butterflies to a mat.


In the book Beloved, Toni Morrison used a ghostly baby to represent a woman’s guilt over the killing of her own child. Throughout the novel the apparition grew larger and more horrific and damaging. When the main character received forgiveness, the ghost totally disappeared.  


In the story Piano Lessons, the author uses an old piano, beautifully carved with scenes from black history. One member of the family wants to sell it and another wants to keep it. To each it represents something different. The clash of values speaks volumes about each character and what matters most to them


Another author used her husband’s overstuffed chair in a true story of a widow’s journey. She began by showing how much the chair meant and ended by showing the day she sold it as a symbol of her healing.

What not to do:


Avoid clichés like red roses meaning love, seasons denoting the aging process, and a broken mirror for bad luck. Make sure whatever you devise that it arises naturally from your story.

Some critics scorn the use of symbols as artificial and pretentious, but others agree they make for a satisfying ending if used well.                                                                                   

Ten Ways to Begin Your Novel

Editors and agents receive numerous manuscripts in their inbox. You have seconds to grab their attention with a stunning opening line. Here are ten ways to take yours from the mundane to the exceptional.

Start with a heart wrenching dilemma:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

Describe an unusual character:

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.  —Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900)

Settings are another way to begin—but keep it short and vivid.

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. —Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922)

Use a striking statement (Note how brief this is.):

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Consider an unusual presentation of ideas:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities(1859)

Grab the reader by describing the landing of a 747 or some other unusual technical device.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1950))

Put your character in immediate danger.

The last camel collapsed at noon.  —Ken Follett, Key to Rebecca (1980)

Try catchy dialogue but keep it short. Reader doesn’t know who is talking until you tell them.

“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. —Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

Openings are contrived but done so skillfully they don’t appear that way.



How to Prepare for a Writing Conference

A writing conference is a complex and multi-faceted two to five day event. To get the most for your money, spend some time preparing before your walk through the doors on registration day.

Study the brochure. If directed, go to the Website where more detailed information is given. Read carefully what is being offered, what you have to sign up for ahead of time, or on site.

Check for scholarships. Conferences can be pricey, but most offer a way for attenders to come on a discount or for free.

Contests? Many conferences hold contests. This is a way to get your book noticed or receive feedback on your manuscript from experienced writers.

Critiques? Are they offering an opportunity to have sit down with a professional author and have a ms critiqued. If so, take advantage of this time. Check to see if there is an extra fee for this. It might be worth it.

Editor/agent appointments? One huge reason to attend a writing conference is to sit down with an editor and/or agent and pitch an idea for a book ms. (Don’t neglect those magazine editors.) This is an invaluable opportunity to network. Become known by the people who make decisions about what books to publish, or not. They might say no, but give you guidance on how to make your book more saleable. They might tell you that your novel isn’t right for them, but suggest where to send it.

Appointments are usually limited, so make a wise choice. Study descriptions of those who will attend. Go to their Websites to find even more information about their literary agency or publishing house. Is this the right person for you? Don’t waste your appointment on someone who does only fiction and you’re writing a nonfiction book.

Should you bring a copy of your ms? Read carefully the advice given on the conference Website. Normally the answer is no. What you could bring is a one sheeter, a one page description of your project that includes a short bio and picture of you. Some bring a book proposal in case they are asked. Most editors and agents will ask you to send a proposal or query letter to them via email after the conference. It never hurts to come prepared.  

Book signings? If you have published a book, check for an opportunity to be part of book signing party. Authors are consumers, and this is a way to become known by all those other writers, editors, and agents who are present.

Bookstore? If there is a bookstore on site, ask if you can sell your published book. Usually you can sell it on consignment. The store takes a part of the sale price, you get the rest. Even if you don’t sell any copies, people will have seen your book on display.

Workshops. Read descriptions of each before you arrive and see which one you want to attend. Some have limits, others are wide open. Don’t limit yourself to your genre. Poetry might teach you something about use of language, rhythm of words, beauty of language. Even if you’re a beginner, it might be worth it to take a marketing class, start early to build a platform.

Are sessions taped? Usually you can’t go to everything you want to attend. Buy tapes. They are well worth the money.

Plan to network. If you are shy, they might be hard to imagine. Put yourself out and meet new people. You have something in common. A good starting question is, “What do you write?”

Exchange business cards. If you don’t already have business cards, now is the time buy some. several choices for not much money.
Examples of writing conferences

Marketing Advice for Authors

Excitement builds. Launch date for your book is two or three months away. Now it’s time to begin marketing. But what can you do to get your book noticed by readers? Here are tips from successful authors and marketers.  

Prepare a 15 second pitch. Professional marketer MicheleTennesen says, when someone asks about your book, you want an answer that makes them go, “OH! I want to read that.” Practice until you have a couple of lines that sizzle.

Find a story behind your story. Internationally recognized historical novelist Jane Kirkpatrick discovered people are interested in the story behind her fact-based tales. That’s what she communicates to her diverse audiences. She finds this makes for multiple speaking engagements, which sells her books in the back of the room.

Develop a list of influencers. Think of 20 to 30 people who are both influential and what Tennesen calls blabbermouths. “You don’t want to send a copy of your book to someone who reads it and then does nothing. You want to send it to a reader who will review it on,,,, AND tell their friends what a fabulous book they just read on Facebook, Twitter, and over coffee.”

Do giveaways on Facebook. Everyone does book giveaways, but think about doing one of an item related to your book is the advice of author Kate Lloyd. She offered an authentic Amish quilt that attracted attention to her Amish novel.

Partner with your marketing team at your publishing company. If you have resources, tell them you’ll spend $2,000 on your publicity campaign, suggests Tennesen. Then they can hire a marketing company to partner with their marketing department. Author Kate Lloyd says if you have the funds hire a marketing company yourself. They are well worth the money. You can pay by the hour, month, or a flat rate. Here are a couple of professionals: Wynn Wynn Media, Michele Howe Tennesen. They can do a myriad of things to fill in the holes of your marketing plan.

Market your book every day. If marketing feels frightening or uncomfortable, Kate Lloyd suggest treating the task like a new adventure. She’s currently developing a blog, something she thought she’d never do.  

Do a blog tour. Lynette Bonner one of the most successful authors I know at using social media says she elicits 15-25 bloggers to guest her for one day. They post her picture and one of her book cover, give a description of the book, and if they’ve read the book, do a book review.

Do interviews on the Internet. Award-winning young adult author Janet Carey does blogger interviews. She says they take time but are well worth it. She also says to get lots of ARCS (advanced reader copies) and do book giveaways.  

Don’t put off your marketing. Tennesen gave this last bit of chilling advice with the reminder that a book is considered old after it’s been out three months.

Help Your Friend Become a Best Selling Author

My friend Kate Lloyd has a book coming out soon, Pennsylvania Patchwork. She’s an amazing writer and I want to help promote her novel. I’m a busy writer, editor, volunteer, and grandmother. I can’t do everything I want to do, but here are 7 things I can do in the limited time I have:

1. Buy her book. I can pre-order her book through or, or both. Publishers notice how many people are preordering a book and this helps the author. And by buying her book new, she gets a royalty.

2. Buy her book as a gift. I already know of friends and relatives who will enjoy Kate’s novel. I plan to buy it for them as either a birthday or Christmas gift. I’ll have Kate sign her book, which makes my gift even more special.

3. Face her book out at bookstores. Whenever I stop in at my local Christian book store or Barnes & Noble, I check to see if her book (and other friends’ books) is on the shelf. Then I face her cover out, helping the next shopper notice her novel.

4. Order her book. If I can’t find her book, I ask the employees where it is. This draws their attention to her name, and title. If they don’t have it on the shelf, I will ask them to order it. I’ll also inform them she’s a local author. I’ll tell them how much I loved her last book, Leaving Lancaster, and tell them how much I’m looking forward to reading her new book. Bookstore employees can’t know all the books they carry, and this will help them find a new author they will appreciate recommending to other readers.

5. Review it. After I’ve read the book, I will leave a review on,,, and I will be fair and honest. Five star reviews sell books. Someone said I should also “Like” her books on This will help with linking her book to others similar to it. This helps other readers find her Amish fiction.

6. Reserve a copy at the library. As a former employee at the public library, I know that if someone requests a book, the library buyer pays attention. The more a book is checked out, the more likely they are to purchase more of that book. One of the best things I can do for my friend is to request her book from my local library and tell the staff that works there that she’s a local author.

7. Talk about her book on Facebook. When Kate’s book comes out, I’ll mention it on my Facebook page. I’ll link to her Website and also to places where people can buy it. Pictures help sell, and so I’ll make sure I have the cover in my picture file. If she does giveaways, I’ll pass the word along to my friends.

None of these things take a lot of time, but they will help my friend sell her book. You can do the same for your friends and in return when your book is published they might do the same for you. Maybe you have ideas of your own. What would you add to my list? Please comment below.


The River Rose by Gilbert Morse


About The River Rose     

Life hasn’t been easy for Jeanne Bettencourt, a widow approaching thirty and struggling to provide for her eight-year-old daughter. But hope arrives in the form of the Helena Rose, a steamboat she unexpectedly inherits from a distant, departed relative. Jeanne’s father had captained a similar vessel and taught her how to pilot a steamer along the banks of Memphis. She’s looking forward to a renewed livelihood on the mighty Mississippi.


However, as plans are made, news comes of another heir to the Helena Rose – a tough man named Clint Hardin — and a clause in the will that says claimants of the estate must live aboard the boat. Jeanne, a Christian woman, makes it clear she won’t stay with a man who is not her husband. But both are desperate for work, so they agree to keep their distance as Clint occupies the lower deck and Jeanne takes the captain’s quarters.

As they restore the Helena Rose, the slowly softening Clint becomes attracted to Jeanne — who is now being courted by a wealthy plantation owner. With her family and future at stake, the desires of Jeanne’s heart are duly complex. Only her simple faith can navigate her through what’s about to happen.

Read Chapter 1 of The River Rose

About Gilbert Morris       

Gilbert Morris is among today’s most popular Christian writers, his books having sold over seven million copies worldwide. A former pastor and English professor, he specializes in historical fiction and won a 2001 Christy Award for the Civil War drama Edge of Honor. Morris lives with his wife in Gulf Shores, Alabama.


Q & A with Gilbert Morris                         

What is your writing method? Do you write in the morning? At night? All day? How long do you write in a single session?
I have no set schedule for writing a novel. While I am working on it, sometimes it goes easily, and I just pour on the coal. If it goes badly, I have to spend more time on the text. Naturally, I love it when the words seem to flow!
How do you do your historical research?
I think it can be easy to do too much research, just as it can be a mistake to do too little. Some writers are so anxious the give the historical background, that they forget the story. My own problem is to do a good job with research and with the story.

How do you manage to keep your dialogue true to the time period without allowing it to sound stilted?
Reading a great deal of Dickens, for example, will carry over into the writer’s work. There is a danger that all of a writer’s characters will sound alike, which makes for bad fiction. I always try to find some characteristic that will set a character apart, perhaps bad grammar or a pronounced regional accent.

You used to follow the same storytelling technique of the late Sidney Sheldon—told your stories on tape to get the rough draft down, and then had them transcribed to start your writing process. Are you still using this technique for your current books?
Yes, I do dictate all my books. I take the outline and the list of characters, and put each chapter on a cassette. Then I have a lady take the tapes, type them out, and send them to me. Of course, when I get the hard copy, that’s usually when the hard work of revision rears its ugly head! My daughter Lynn, who has written some fine novels, helps me with this stage, for which I am profoundly grateful.
In many of your books, you feature a strong female main character that suffers from flaws and weaknesses. Why do you write about women in this way?
I try to give all characters, both male and female, young and old, flaws and weaknesses. That is human, and if a character is perfect that is totally unbelievable!


Look at the great classic novels by the great novelists. All of them set forth characters, who, in one way or another, are flawed. It is the job of the novelist to dramatize the characters as they attempt to overcome these flaws.


Your novels have a number of female characters with red hair and green eyes. Is that based on a real person? 
Got lots of red hair in my family, so I always like redheads! No green eyes. I just get tired of trying, in a book with forty characters, to give them eyes that differ. Blue, brown, green. What other colors can eyes be?
I did say of one shady character, “He had eyes the color of spit.” Now, really, that character had to be evil!
What fascinates you most about 1850s Mississippi?
It was a dramatic time in American history. The Civil War, the rise of modern transportation, the beginning of our industrial growth.
How did you decide to set your story on a steamer?
When I was a boy, I lived for a time in Helena, Arkansas. The river then was still thick with the sternwheelers, and I would sit for hours on the bank of the river and watch them, and riding on one was a thrill.
When you’re writing a series such as the Water Wheel series, how do you decide which characters to carry over into the sequels?
I usually make this decision before I begin the first novel in the series. Some generational sagas lend themselves to stepping from one book to another, others I like to confine to one book.
I have a signed a contract to do a trilogy about San Francisco in the 1850s. That opens up the door for a family to go through (1) the gold rush of 1849, (2) the rise of rich people and how they are brought down, and (3) the earthquake and how the family survives and strengthens.
What book project are you working on next?
I am working on Book #2 of a series called Western Justice. These three westerns are set in Oklahoma Territory shortly after the Civil War. Judge Isaac Parker had 200 marshals to keep order, and many of them were killed in line of duty. The most famous of these is Heck Thomas, but if you’ve seen TRUE GRIT, you get the flavor of the series. Romance, action, Christian doctrine!
What is the one thing that you want to leave readers of The River Rosepondering over?
As in all my books, I want my readers to see how vital it is to serve God no matter how difficult that might be.
Do you have a long-term plan for your novel writing? Are you planning to retire, or can we eagerly anticipate dozens more Gilbert Morris stories?
I am working on three series at the present time. One will deal with the men and women who serve in different branches of the service.
Another is the second novel about a young woman, Jordan Lee, who serves in the military, then in the House of Representatives.
The work I most enjoy is a series of mysteries featuring a man and a woman—and two cats. I’ve written three of these, and have had a blast! They are my favorite novels. The next one will be entitled Desperate Housecats.
And no, I will never retire!
How can readers find you on the Internet?

                My website and blog are at

Subscribe to my blog’s feed:


Sign up for my e-newsletter (for subscriber-only giveaways and advance notice of my upcoming novels):

                Facebook page:

Twitter: @gilbert_morris –!/gilbert_morris


I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from B&H Publishing Group. 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.