Christmas in July Reader Give Away

Happy Christmas in July! Welcome to the 17th blog in this Christmas in July Reader Giveaway, which runs July 12-23, 2021. At the bottom of each author’s blog post, you will find the secret words. Write them all down and provide the provide the entire answer on this Google form

Note: You must grab all the secret words from every author in the Christmas in July Reader Giveaway to be eligible to win a $400 Amazon gift card. At the end of this blog post is a link to the next blog, and so on, to the final blog post (20 in all). At each blog stop, the author will also give away a copy or copies of their featured Christmas book.

Don’t we sometimes need Christmas excitement in the summer months? I hope the Christmas in July Giveaway will add fun to your summer and the many books shown will fill you with reading pleasure.

Gift of the Magpie has a story before the story in how it was born.

One day, I perused Christmas book covers on Amazon. O. Henry’s story, “Gift of the Magi,” popped into my mind. Remember, that’s the story in which a couple agonizes over the gift they’ll give each other for Christmas. She cuts and sells her hair to buy a chain for his treasured watch, and he sells his watch to buy a comb for her treasured hair. 

On the heels of that thought, the words “gift of the magpie” flashed into my brain. Huh. How could I write a winter romance named Gift of the Magpie? Something different than O. Henry’s tale. Like popping popcorn, scene ideas populated my imagination. 

About that time, I read what author David Baldacci said in an interview, “If you can take a little slice of the world and a little piece of dirt and really focus on details, you can drive large, seemingly spectacular movements.”

Hmm. A snowstorm where they don’t have enough snowplows to handle the roads would limit the world. Richmond, Virginia, where I lived for about 30 years would provide a slice of the world. The area between, and including, the hero’s and heroine’s houses was “a little piece of dirt.”

So, on that limited turf, I focused on the details and the relationship between two opposites. Amanda and Cam’s story was born in Gift of the Magpie, a book that can lift reader’s spirits at Christmas or any time of the year.

Gift of the Magpie

What do a snowstorm, a deadline, and an embarrassing disaster have in common? Camden Lancaster.

Middle school English teacher, Amanda Larrowe must forgo the Christmas activities with family to meet the deadline on her middle grade book for boys. But when photographer Camden Lancaster parks a moving van at the house across the street after Richmond, Virginia’s huge snowstorm, Amanda plans to hide from the guy who ignored her following their perfect Valentine’s Day date in high school. Now, when Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

The magpie is not a bird in the story.

For a chance to win one of two e-book copies of Gift of the Magpie (USA only, please), tell me what are Amanda’s (she has two) and Cam’s jobs in Gift of the Magpie’s blurb above. Three jobs in all.

Now it’s time for the secret words: done unto you.

Save the secret words, and when you reach the final blog, enter all the secret words on this form for a chance to win a $400 Amazon gift card!

Thank you so much for visiting! The final author on the tour is Sherry Kyle and her Christmas book Forever Yours This Christmas. You can find it at this link. Remember, this Christmas in July Reader Giveaway will end on July 23 at 8 PM EST!

10 Simple Edits for Critique Partners

image by slightly_different

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days! —Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Learn more at the end of the post.

Besides looking for heavier story problems, you can look below for simple errors that crop up in your critique partners’ submissions. 

Simple Edits 

1. Then. Place a comma before “then” in sentences.

Incorrect: Elmo raised his eyebrows then smiled.

Correct: Elmo raised his eyebrows, then smiled.

2. Was going to or am going to. Shorten to “would” or “will.”

Wordy: Amy was going to hate her gift. “I’m going to buy you something else,” Elmo said.

Better: Amy would hate her gift. “I’ll buy you something else,” Elmo said.

3. So that. Can often delete “that.” No comma before “so that.”

Incorrect and Wordy: Elmo donated fifty dollars, so that Amy would think he cared.

Correct: Elmo donated fifty dollars so Amy would think he cared.

4. Already. The word is often unnecessary.

Wordy: Elmo already had the five dollars he needed. By now, Amy should have already arrived at the store.

Better: Elmo had the five dollars he needed. By now, Amy should have arrived at the store.

5. That. Can often delete “that.”

Wordy: Elmo feared that Amy liked Barry. He hoped that she’d change her mind.

Better: Elmo feared Amy liked Barry. He hoped she’d change her mind.

 

6. Just. Can often delete “just.”

Wordy: Amy turned to a group just entering the building.

Better: Amy turned to a group entering the building.

7. Suddenly. Should delete most occurrences of “suddenly.”

Wordy: Elmo calmed, then suddenly a policeman appeared.

Better: Elmo calmed, then a policeman appeared.

8. Began to or started to. Can often delete these phrases, especially when the character is not stopped.

 

image by Mampu

Wordy: When Amy began to open her mouth to speak, the bus arrived. Elmo stood and started to walk to the bus.

Better: When Amy opened her mouth to speak, the bus arrived. Elmo stood and walked to the bus.

9. Into, in, or in to. “Into” is used with actions. “In” is used to show position. “In to” is used when the “to” belongs with a verb that follows “to.”

Correct: Elmo drove to the library. With a book in his hand and planning to walk in toreturn a library book, Elmo opened the door. He stepped into the library, returned the book, then strolled into the aisle labeled Mysteries, where he stumbled into Amy.

  10. There was or wasn’tIt was or wasn’t. Rewrite sentences using “there was,” “there wasn’t,” “it was,” or “it wasn’t.”

Wordy and passive: Because there was no sign of a struggle, it was believed the perpetrator attacked her by surprise.

Better: Because authorities found no sign of a struggle, they believed the perpetrator attacked her by surprise.

What other quick fixes would you recommend to critique partners?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Questions to Ask Your Beta Readers to Help Them Help You

image by PourquoiPas

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days! —Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Learn more at the end of the post.

Definition of a Beta Reader

Beta readers review completed, unreleased manuscripts and provide the author helpful feedback concerning what works and what doesn’t.

Below are several questions to choose from to ask your two to five beta readers.

What May Not Work

Character issues: 

  • Was there a main character(s) you didn’t like? Who and why?
  • Did any main character seem flat or like a cliché? Who?
  • Did two characters sound too much alike in dialogue and mannerisms? Who?
  • Could you identify character growth in the protagonists? What was the growth?
  • Were protagonists’ main goals clear? What were their main goals?

Confusion:

image by GD
  • Were there scenes, paragraphs, sentences, or words you couldn’t understand what they conveyed? Where?
  • Did scenes leave you confused because vital information was missing or came too late? Which scenes?
  • Were there instances when you didn’t know who was talking? Where?
  • Were there scenes you didn’t immediately know whose point of view was used, where the characters were, or when the events were occurring? Which scenes?

Readability

  • Where were words used incorrectly?
  • Were there sentences you had to read twice or seemed odd? Where?
  • Did some areas not flow well? Where?

Conflicting information:

  • Were character or setting elements different in later scenes? (Eye color changes. The sectional in the living room later becomes a settee.) Where?
  • Did you spot unintentional reversals in dialogue or narrative? (Chapter 1: She loved walking through forests. Chapter 10: Her terror of forests prevented her from following Paul.) Where?

Inappropriate pacing:

Image by PublicDomainPictures
  • Were tense scenes or dialogue too slow? Where?
  • Were laid-back scenes or dialogue too fast? Where?
  • Where did the story sag?

Boring Areas

  • Were there passages that included too many explanations or unnecessary details? Where? 
  • Were there scenes or areas having nothing to do with moving the story forward. Where?

Insufficient world building:

  • The world may be different than Earth, but where did the world’s life system not make sense or was inconsistent?

Insufficient research:

  • Where did facts about places, things, or people seem questionable?

Setting issues: 

  • Were there places in which the characters seemed like they were in a vacuum?
  • Were there scenes in which characters don’t react to or sense their surroundings? Which scenes? 

Optional:

  • Were there grammar problems? Where? 

What works

Characters:

  • Did you have a favorite character? Why?
  • Were there moments when a character’s actions touched you? Where and how?
  • Did a character’s growth over the story reveal or affirm satisfying truths to you? Which characters and what were the truths?

Suspense:

  • Did you have unanswered questions in which you looked forward to learning the answers? What were your questions?
  • Were the revealed answers to your questions satisfying? Why? 

Ease in reading: 

  • Were there places you got caught up in the story? Where?

Ending:

  • Whether the book is part of a series or a stand-alone novel, did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not?

Reactions:

  • Were there parts you particularly enjoyed? Where?
  • Were there places you laughed or felt tension, sadness, or joy? Where?
  • Was there something new you learned? What?

What other question would you ask a beta reader?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019