It’s Never Too Late to Write a Novel

image by Bru-nO

My guest today, Joanie Walker, gives hope to those who have always wanted to capture their life adventures into a novel. Joanie’s writing journey is a good representation of what writing hopefuls need to do to be successful. Read more about her novel, Drafted to Deceive, at the end of her post.

A late-blooming writer confesses all …


image by TheDigitalArtist

Fifty years ago, I was almost a Spy… I had flirted with D.C. area intelligence work during college, then refused a clandestine assignment with the National Security Agency after graduation, besides having dated a few spooks during my two years serving Uncle Sam as a civilian in Cold War West Germany. All that should qualify me to write a spy novel, right?

So why did I delay a half century to create my first fiction? Well, my marriage to an inveterate adventurer/business man kept my suitcases packed and adrenalin racing. Our saga includes sailing our 38.8-foot Bristol sloop throughout the Chesapeake Bay and bareboating in the Virgin Islands—until the vast blue of the sky beckoned. Our sailboat morphed into a succession of single and multi-engine fixed wings. For twenty years I sat in the right seat while my pilot husband flew us around the country for business and as an Angel Flight volunteer, moving patients to hospitals for treatments or transplants.

I detailed our thirty-two-day odyssey from Virginia to California in our A-36 Bonanza for the American Bonanza Society’s monthly magazine. “From Sea to Shining Sea – Bonanza-Style” was a three-page spread with photos. Nonfiction I could handle (journalism-trained at The College of William and Mary), but fiction I had never attempted.

image by iamanilozturk

In early 2016, with my pilot retired and suitcases stored in the closet, I decided to weave real-life adventures into story form. But, how to begin?  

When I sent an SOS to my editor friend, she rescued me with writers’ lifesavers like excellent how-to books for novelists, directions to a novel writers’ conference, and links to articles and blogs focusing on successful fiction writing. She also invited me to join her critique group which evolved into a Word Weavers chapter with great fellowship and support each month.

With my detail-type personality, I latched onto the “Plotter” method in formulating my story with timeline charts, stock photos for main characters, index cards noting each chapter’s action, and a binder filled with characters’ backstories and idiosyncrasies. It worked for me.

However, I failed to tabulate my total word count. I emerged at The End to discover I’d written the equivalent of two books, word-wise. Determined to pare down and polish at the same time, I spent months editing the manuscript at least twice, which improved it immensely.

Meanwhile, I learned the value of entering my first chapters in contests for feedback from judges. Before conferences I also paid a nominal fee for critiques by faculty members to gather more helpful suggestions.

By the time I wrote The End again, I had two agents plus a publisher interested in the novel. I signed with the agent who has encouraged me ever since he heard me say at my first conference, “fifty years ago I was almost a Spy.”

See how a woman who was almost a Cold War spy wrote a novel later in life. Click to tweet.

What’s holding you back from writing a novel?

Drafted to Deceive

Still stinging from a ruined romance, twenty-four-year-old Christina Hayword opts to leave heartache behind by traveling the world and serving her country. Poised to depart the U.S. for a two-year contract in Cold War Europe as a Department of Army civilian, she is snared by Military Intelligence for some mysterious undercover work halfway across the globe as well.

After initial reluctance, Christina agrees to assist the special task force searching for East German counterfeiters who plot to undermine the West German economy with bogus currency as well as destroy U.S./West German relations. Her mandate:  detect suspicious behavior among the civilians, military, and local nationals she meets through her Special Services position in Nuremberg, West Germany.

Despite her resistance to any new emotional entanglements, Christina is enchanted by two valiant team members vying for her romantic attention, besides her ex-fiancé’s appearance in uniform at a nearby installation. While juggling both her regular and undercover work, she finds threads of the Soviet-motivated scheme intertwining both. Remnants of former Nazi operations figure into her ultimate identification of the counterfeit masterminds. When a gunshot heralds a harrowing climax, Christina alone must thwart the counterfeit masterminds to save West Germany and her own life.

Visit for more information about Drafted to Deceive, Joanie’s first novel in her Cold War Conquests series.

Pointers for Writing Book Discussion Questions

image by geralt
image by geralt

Before you write your discussion questions that appear at the end of your book, keep in mind the viewpoints of book clubs and of authors/publishers.

Book Club Viewpoint


image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

Book clubs care about the following elements for discussion:

  • Readers’ expectations
  • Author’s presence (intrusion, world view, reason for writing book)
  • Enjoyment (how quickly engaged, recommendable)
  • Themes/messages (importance, relevance to reader)
  • Plot (credibility, predictability, page turner, formulaic, twists)
  • Characters (relatable, admirable, real, believable, likeable, memorable, how they change, how their pasts affect them, their new awareness/perspective)
  • Actions (plausible)
  • Setting (importance, as a character, representation of culture and era)
  • Symbols (metaphors, significance)
  • General feeling (amused, sad, disturbed, confused, bored)
  • Book structure (chronological, number of point of views, interlocking short stories, narrative devices, flashbacks)
  • Ending (as readers expected, readers’ satisfaction)
  • Comparisons to author’s other books

Author/Publisher Viewpoint


Authors draw from the book-club viewpoint. They’re interested in leading readers and book club members through engaging, meaningful discussions so readers will:

  • image by StartupStockPhotos
    image by StartupStockPhotos
    enjoy the story and characters again;
  • understand how characters changed and how this might help readers grow or have a new perspective;
  • find moments in which readers related to characters or situations; and
  • express their concerns, delights, thoughts, differences of opinion, and emotions.

Tips to Create a Discussion Question


1a.  State succinctly a story instance concerning a character, social issue, or event.

1b.  Ask readers how they understood the instance, how they would have reacted or done something differently, how their opinions changed when they learned more, and/or to give similar instances in their lives.

2.  Ask  readers to recall passages they found funny, touching, sad, or made them angry and to express why they felt that way.

Here are possibilities to use for 1. above:


  • definitions of themselves
  • vulnerabilities or past hurts
  • methods to deal with their fears
  • choices
  • misjudgments of others
  • sacrifices, temptations, release or fulfillment of dreams
  • offer, acceptance, or rejection of forgiveness
  • growing or deteriorating relationships
  • accomplishments (something they can do at the end they couldn’t do at the beginning)
  • differences in two characters’ beliefs or in how they operate


  • Scriptures mentioned and how they relate to characters, events, or issues
  • Symbols and metaphors
  • Social causes characters support
  • Social issues addressed
  • Setting’s impact
image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash


  • Marshal misjudges Darla’s motives for attending Carl and Cynthia’s wedding. When Marshal blasts Darla, she leaves town, devastated. If you were Darla, what would you have done? When have you misjudged someone else and what were the consequences?
  • Candice mistrusts Michael in his relationship with Samantha. And she’s suspicious of Leo trying to take her job. When was a time you struggled with trust issues? How did you work through them?
  • What did Stephen sacrifice for Marla? Why? What was the result? What is something you have sacrificed for someone? How did your sacrifice affect you and the recipient?
  • Which scenes made you laugh? Which made you emotional?

Tips to write discussion questions for novels. Click to tweet.

What type of discussion questions engage you?

Non-Fiction: Novel Ways to Spice It Up

image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

I’m working on a non-fiction book based on my blog’s writing posts and more. The book’s purpose is to help writers transform their manuscripts into editor-friendly books in 32 steps.

Here’s what I learned about introducing novel ideas into non-fiction books from Debbie Harmsen’s article, “Straight Up Non-fiction With a Twist” (Writer’s Digest March/April 2015).



image by Deedster
image by Deedster

Harmsen talks about how we present our thoughts, ideas, and information. This involves the title, chapter titles, headings, and running themes. She suggests the that framework add fun, make the content memorable, and provide lightness.

I want my title to communicate the benefits the book provides. But I also want readers to anticipate fun as they work on their manuscript.



When I brainstormed titles, the first seven revealed my book’s benefits, using lofty but tired words. Then I pictured what my book would help writers do to their manuscripts. With the resulting simile, I wrote a title that sported creative words. I brainstormed other images, similes, and creative titles.

Once I choose a title, I can work the theme of the simile into the chapter titles and headings.



image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Next, Harmsen mentioned the novelty of exchanging the normal cheerleader approach with helping readers realize whether the work involved is right for them.

In my introduction, perhaps I’ll ask whether performing 32 steps seems too much work to improve their manuscript. Writing a sellable novel is much work, and getting one into shape may not be worth their time. That’s okay. Another choice may be to pursue forms of writing that require less editing.

Scenes and Dialogue


In this section, Harmsen discusses using stories to show how a principle works, e.g. characters in business situations.

My book will have plenty of fiction examples to support the principles.

image by eslfuntaiwan
image by eslfuntaiwan

Supplemental Material


Here, Harmsen talks about the importance of such things as sidebars and subheadings. She stresses adding novel materials that interactively engage the reader, such as quizzes and fun extras at chapter endings.

So, I’ll include simple, humorous drawings, text boxes, and worksheets to help readers work on their manuscripts.





Harmsen suggests a flashback could work well in non-fiction books. She mentions opening with a failure story about a person who hadn’t used the book’s principles and then closing with a success story for a person who had.

My book is for:

  • the unpublished writer, whose manuscript needs work, has been rejected, or received low contest scores;
  • the self-publisher, who knows his manuscript needs work or has received poor sales and reviews; and
  • the published author who wants to improve her manuscript.

Therefore, my targeted audience should identify with my opening failure story, and my ending success story.



Testimonials can make information and principles stronger. Dave Ramsey sprinkles in testimonials in his Financial Peace books.

At the end of each chapter, I might add a testimonial about how a writer improved his manuscript by applying a technique or principle.

(If you’re interested in possibly having your testimony in my book, contact me at with “Testimony” in the heading.)

Try these novel ideas in your non-fiction book. Click to tweet.

What technique made a non-fiction book you’ve read enjoyable to read?