Faith, hope, & heartwarming

Living, loving, learning to trust God- and writing about it!

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A Synopsis Checklist

Autumn Macarthur:

What I wish I’d read BEFORE I submitted my Killer Voices synopsis!

Originally posted on Writers In The Storm Blog:

by Shannon Donnelly

Years ago I was struggling to try and figure out how to write a synopsis. It took a lot of input from other writers, and some workshops, but I finally became comfortable with syopsis writing—and now it’s one of my favorite tools. I’m now doing my “Sexy Synopsis workshop again for Outreach International Romance Writers, but I wanted to offer up my synopsis checklist.

A synopsis is one of the most useful tools you can have. It keeps you from getting stuck. It starts you thinking about blurb and marketing copy. It can even show up flaws you might have in your plot, as in maybe the conflict really isn’t strong enough.

The checklist I developed came from looking at a bunch of synopses and from taking a lot of classes on synopsis writings. Feel free to take this list and customize for your own use…

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On being vulnerable

January has been an interesting month.

God took me seriously when I made my One Word for 2014 Renewal, and He’s challenging me with opportunities to allow him to make a new woman of me. Every day, He asks that I surrender something more to him and trust Him.

It’s exciting and joyful but scary too. I’m being laid open, all my defences stripped away one by one.

Today, I’m fragile, vulnerable, raw.

I want to write. In my journaling this morning I had a wonderful insight for how the trigger for the darkest moment in one of my current stories could be made far stronger than I first thought. But I don’t know that I can lay myself open to the power and depth of my characters’ emotions when I feel this way.

*grin* Okay, I wimped out.

God will call me on it. He gave me the idea, and He wants me to write it. And I will, even though it’s diving into deep water without a life-ring. He’s asking me to write what I most need to learn. So my characters have forgiveness issues, worthiness issues, trust issues, control issues, and they won’t get their HEAs until they let that go. I know someone else with those exact same issues, and she’s getting told the same things.


“You want to feel My joy? You want the freedom of true surrender to Me? You need to let go. You can make your life a slice of Heaven right now, but you can’t get in the gates carrying all that baggage. Let it go.”

My characters will, and I will.

But first, I’m procrastinating, reading some wonderful blogs and calling it research. The internet is full of stories, full of people sharing a slice of their lives as a gift for others to read.

I loved this story of vulnerability. She shares about meeting an olde friend, about letting the “I’m fine” from crack and being honest. And that honesty gave her friend permission to be honest too. In their shared honesty, she saw a mirror of redemption. When we hide who we are from each other, when we try to hide ourselves from God, we can’t be redeemed.

The truth of our brokeness is sometimes the greatest gift we can give others. I wrote this in my journal this morning -

Tell the truth. None of the prettying up the ugly parts of myself or my life. It doesn’t help others when we pretend our lives are different to how they really are.

In both the stories I’m working on now, characters are keeping secrets. Shameful secrets. Secrets they fear will lose them any hope of the love they want. But the truth is, only when they let the person they love see the person hiding behinmd the secrets can they be truly loved.

Today, I also read this thoughtful blog post – On why being vulnerable is a beautiful thing.

She says -

He meets us right there in our place of deepest emptiness.  He gives us His strength in place of our weakness. He gives us His love in place of our selfishness.  He gives us His joy in place of our despair.  He gives us His hope in place of our hopelessness.  It’s God’s nature to give, because He is love.  And so that’s why being vulnerable feels like the worst thing but is really the best.  We discover our complete reliance on God – and since God is love, we begin to rely on the best thing we could ask for or imagine.  When our hearts break, we find God’s love right there to mend us.  Broken hearts hurt.  But that very brokenness that we hate and dread, brings us to a place of such vulnerability that our hearts finally melt with compassion and love when we encounter other people.  We stop seeing people as competition to be feared, and instead see them as fellow servants of the Living God, who are just as needy, thirsty, hungry and afraid as we are.  We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us.  This is abundant living.  And it’s the only way to find joy.  When circumstances and other people hurt us, and we start to live dependent and vulnerable to God out of our brokenness, we discover that our whole houses become filled with the most expensive perfume of all – the fragrance of God’s love.

My characters need to hit rock bottom before they surrender and risk vulnerability. I hope I can allow God to gently break my heart, and open myself up to Him in joy and trust. I want to come to Him, like a little child, and know that I am loved.

Image with text- Vulnerability, we pour ourselves out, trusting God to refill us


One word to change the year

Have you made New Year’s Resolutions?

Most years I write a huge list of goals and resolutions, almost none of which I end up fulfilling. I beat myself up about that feel worse, and get even less done. So this year I set some goals for my writing, but didn’t do much in the way of resolutions.

Then this morning, my husband asked me a question completely unrelated to what we’d been talking about -  “What one word would you chose as your theme for 2014?”

I went blank for a second, asked God to choose the word for me, and the word that popped straight into my head was “renewal”

It’s the perfect word for me to set as my hope and intention for the coming year. I’ll joyfully embrace that as my theme.

Renewal spiritually, strengthening my relationship with God and allowing Him to make me new, cleanse me of all that separates me from Him and from truly loving others.

Renewal emotionally, as I move away from resentment and self-criticism into love and acceptance.

Renewal physically, as I find His plan for my health through right diet and exercise.

Renewal professionally, as He helps me build my new career of writing to inspire and bring joy to readers.

Renewal in relationships, especially my marriage, as He helps me to come from love and acceptance not criticism and blame.

Probably far more renewals that I don’t even suspect yet.

I feel so blessed by that one simple word.

Image of flames and the word renewal, image courtesy Sundstrom at RGB stock.

Then I wanted to read more about the idea of One Word and found this site.

Everyone … is hoping to change.

Each January, in particular, we’re all thinking about it.

The promise of God is that He can and will change us. He’s faithful to complete the work He begins in us (Phil 1:6).

The question is, how much of that transformation will we let take place on this side of eternity? And how do we position ourselves for change to happen?

Rather than making a list of all our faults, bad habits and regrets, then trying overhaul every aspect of our lives in January (AKA New Years Resolutions), what if we focused on God and just one thing at a time – trusting Him to do the work He’s initiated and promised to complete?

Change is possible, but focus is required.

My One Word is the best tool I’ve found for providing focus.

Our resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person we’re tired of being rather than who God wants us to become. Plus, resolutions can be “broken,” leaving no room for the process of growth. What if our hopes for the year ahead centered instead on who God wants us to become, and the transformation process?

It’s okay to want to be a better you, and the New Year is a natural time to start. The question is, how? My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past.

I love that last sentence in particular. It’s almost a catchphrase of mine I nag my husband with – be in the present with your eyes on the future, and not always looking back to the past.

So instead of me setting all the things I want to change and working out how, I’m trusting God with that. What form His renewal of my life takes is in His hands. All I need to do is focus on that intention, and surrender to Him.

Of course, I’ll mess up. I’ll forget. I’ll snatch control back and struggle and try to do it my way.

But I CAN trust that He wants to complete His work in me. The struggle to do it on my own gets awfully tiring. I need to remember the word He gave me.

Renewal. That means renewal of my will in line with His, too.

What’s your one word for 2014?


Falling forward into the year

I’ve been beating myself up for failing in my plans for 2013.

All the things I thought I’d have done by now and haven’t. The story I planned to self-publish, and didn’t. The story I pitched at the RNAus conference that was supposed to be complete and needs a total rewrite. The So You Think You Can Write entry I didn’t expect to semi-final so had to edit up in a crazy four day rush. The requested full manuscript for my target line I still haven’t submitted yet.

And all the other failures, the failures of love and trust. The times I got angry with my husband. The times I let myself fall into despair. The times I hung on to control like it was a life raft when I really needed to surrender.

The thing I need to remember is – we’re human. That means we screw up sometimes. And we might make our plans, but sometimes God has bigger better ones for us.

Today I read this post on Ann Voskamp’s blog. She shared this story, about her daughter who thought she’d failed a piano exam and what the examiner told her -

“So you forgot some notes! Fear and old habits and people pressure and your own interior playlist can do that — to all of us. But! When the piece started to fall apart?

You fell forward, Hope. You didn’t fret about the music behind you — you focused on the next bar.”

Hope had nodded slowly, like a dawning, smiling.

The adjudicator looked down the row of girls and budding pianists and said it with this steady beat.

“We are all going to botch it some days. We all sometimes get the notes wrong. But the song only goes wrong when we keep thinking back to the wrong notes.”

“When a piece starts to fall apart — fall forward. Fall forward into the next bar. Moving forward is what makes music.“

And I sit there at the end of the year, on the end of the bed before the sock drawer with a lapful of holey, mismatched socks, and I can hear it, these notes that I might wear like a habit —

Failing? What feels likes failing is really gaining experience. Keep moving Forward!

Falling apart? Fall forward into His arms — falling forward is the only way you make music. Keep moving Forward!

Fearful? Fear is always the first step of faith. Keep moving Forward!

Whenever you are lost, forward is always the way Home.


This year, I’m still making plans. Plans to fall forward, into His safe loving arms.

Every new year, like every new day, is the gift of an opportunity to do things differently. I don’t believe God wants us to beat ourselves up. But he doesn’t want us to miss those opportunities He gives us, either.

Forget the wrong notes of 2013, and fall forward into a blessed, joy-filled 2014.

Lighthouse at sunset, with text by Ann Voskamp

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Rejoice- it’s Christmas!

Rejoice, rainbow coloured calligraphy

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12

May we all have a love-filled, laughter-filled, joyful and blessed Christmas, and may a sense of how great God’s love for us is surround and support us through the busy-ness of the holiday season.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ… Ephesians 2:4,5



November – blues or bliss?

November’s been a difficult month for me for so many years now, a painful anniversary of a loss that ended one of my most deeply held dreams. There’s some thing about the end of summer, the shorter days, the pinch of cold in the air, that seems to bring the sturdiest souls to their knees. And I’ve certainly never claimed to be one of the sturdiest!

The last two weeks of October were a roller coaster ride.

The night before we set off for our much anticipated trip to Bulgaria, I got an email from Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest, telling me my Heartsong chapter Believe In Me was a semi-finalist and the full submission was due in five days. Now that should have been delirious-with-joy exciting, except my “full” was a half-edited first draft, nowhere near submission ready. I’d been so convinced my story wouldn’t be picked I’d been puddling along slowly at it, with the goal of having it done by the end of the month so I could sub it via slush.

Then less than half an hour after that, I got an email from the seller of the house we planned to buy in Bulgaria, the house I’d woven a huge net of hopes and dreams and schemes around, one of the main distractions that got in the way of me making more progress on my story. Family issues meant she couldn’t travel to Bulgaria as planned to show us the house and complete the legal paperwork. Basically, she wanted to pull out of the sale. Thank God I had the rush to finish edits on the story to distract me, or I might have been even more heartbroken over the loss of that dream.

Sometimes, just acknowledging to ourselves we’re going through a tough time and need to lean on the Lord more is enough. Sometimes, He sends out other help when we feel we’re hanging from a thread.

A beech leaf in autumn, hanging by a thread
Photo by Helen at Renouf Designs, via Flickr

I’ve been blessed with a LOT of help! Today, this post from Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience reminds me and renews my hope.

… if you write down 5 things a day you are grateful for? Your happiness set point rises like a flame in the dark: you feel 25% happier.  

Like a pushing back of the dark…

How we behold determines if we hold joy. Behold glory and be held by God.

How we look determines how we live … IF we live.

The strange quiet paradox of this — our lives change when we receive life with thanks  – and ask for nothing to change.

Something to remember. Something to live by.

I feel the difference when I end my daily morning pages with gratitude, no matter how many whinges and moans I’ve written down before that. God is blessing me, all the time; and He is teaching me, all the time. The lesson in the last few weeks is to focus on the things I can control, like my writing, and to trust in Him for the things I can’t control, like whether house sales will go through or pregnancies will end up in babies.

Sometimes the things that feel like the end of a dream are simply the letting go that opens the door to another, better reality. Whether we live life as blues or bliss, ultimately, despite our circumstances, is how we choose to experience it.

Because underneath it all, under the hopes and dreams and worries and pain and gifts and joy, one thing remains, steady, constant, certain, unchanging.

God’s love for us.

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Counting blessings

Today, I feel very very blessed.

And I love the feeling.

You know how it is (I hope!).

I say “Thank You” to God, and my heart opens. I feel lighter. I can’t help smiling. It makes me want to say “Thank You” again and again and again.

So different from the closed off heavy feeling of wanting more, more more; of feeling there’s not enough; of coming from believing in lack and limitation instead of God’s abundance.

Yes, I’ve had some good things happen in my life lately.

But it works even on the bad days, the days when everything feels like it’s going wrong. Once I remind myself that God loves me and get myself to the point of being able to say “Thank You, I don’t know what the lesson is in this, but there’s gotta be a lesson,” I start feeling better.

My circumstances haven’t changed. It’s me that’s changed. God’s changed me. He’s reminded me to trust, that there’s more than my puny will at work here.

So anyway, the blessings -

  • I got a full request for my July Harlequin Love Inspired submission, His Father’s Son about forgiveness, redemption, and accepting God’s love. I can’t wait to dive in and turn my bare bones more-like-an-outline first draft into a complete story!
  • I just subbed my Harlequin So You Think You Can Write entry, Believe In Me, aimed at Heartsong this time due to the London setting. I love love LOVE this story, a Christmas story, um also about forgiveness, redemption, and accepting God’s love (I see a theme emerging!). If you’d like to read and comment the first chapter is here.
  • our lovely elderly tabby cat is lying on his back in the middle of the living room floor, doing a Maru impersonation, a bit like this

Autumn Macrthur's tabby cat on his back looking partulcarly cute

  • And last but definitely not least we’re embarking on something big that needs a whole post of its own! We’re buying a house and half an acre of land in Bulgaria for less than the price of a cheapo clunker of a used car. More coming soon on that adventure!

I hope you can also feel joy in God’s love and the blessings you have in your life right now, no matter what your circumstances are.

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Click Clack Moo- or write how YOU write

So what does a kid’s book about cows and hens who find a typewriter and start writing letters have to do with romance writing?

Not a lot, but it DOES have a lot to do with writing the story you want to write and not dumbing down, watering down, or writing what you think will sell, rather than a story from your heart.

Today, I read this post from the ever funny and always informative Naomi of ittybiz. She’s talking about business writing, but the same principles apply.

Cover image frommazon for Click Clack Moo by Dorren Cronin and Betsy Lewin
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Clicka Clack Moo)

As romance writers, we get told there are hot genres we should write in. We get told there are things we really mustn’t write, if we want to get published. We get told we have to do this and we can’t to that, about a hundred times. We can try so hard to fit in to what we think publishers and readers want we end up writing a bland inoffensive plainer-than-oatmeal story that no-one wants to read.

But I don’t think God wants us to dumb down. I don’t think God wants us to write what fits in. I don’t think God wants us to write bland stories anyone could have written.

He  gave us a gift, instead.

Each of us, a unique, one-time-only talent. Our voices. Our world views. Our experiences. The stories only we can write.

The stories like difficult maiden aunts, that don’t fit in, that have bony elbows that nudge us in the ribs. The stories like red-headed freckled badly behaved children, who enrage us then make us laugh when we never expected it. The stories like the man we love, appearing on one of those days when everything is going wrong and there’s nothing left to do but cry, with a bunch of flowers and a shoulder for us, just because he knew we needed them.

If cows can break all the rules and type letters, if a best-selling children’s book can break all the rules by using an grown-up vocabulary and dealing with difficult concepts, maybe we can break the so-called “rules” too.

Yes, read the publisher’s guidelines. Yes, understand the requirements of the genre, what readers expect when they pick up a romance or a thriller. Yes, study craft skills, story structure and all the rest.

And then, please God  we write the stories He’s given us that only we can write, in the voices He’s given us that only we can write with, to reach the readers who only we could have reached with that story in that voice.

Please God.

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Today, find joy

Image of green apples on the tree in my garden, with text "Thank You for Your abundant gifts to me"

So I’m back from my wonderful trip to Australia to go to the RWAus Freo conference, meet friends, and visit family. I’ve  spent a crazy chunk of the last few days sleeping. Thirty two hours travel with no sleep can have that effect!

Today, I want to be writing, working on a rewrite and lengthening of an old novella to enter into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. I’m going through all the journal pages I wrote while I was away, copying and pasting anything relating to the story, any insights I had.  Now, I should be working on my planning tools, digging deep into my characters. Instead, I started searching for Bible verses about Christmas and love, trying to find the right one for my story. I didn’t find it yet. What I did find was the amazing Ann Voskamp and her blog, A Holy Experience.

What a wonderful blessing it is! I’m thanking God for Ann and the gifts she’s giving to the world there. I just bought her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are on Amazon. Ever since I came home to God again, I’ve been giving thanks in my journal every morning. It makes a huge difference to how I feel. The simple act of saying “Thank You” to God opens my heart and fills me with joy in a way that I can’t explain but I surely do feel. Ann is an reminder of that, the power of giving thanks, and then the power of passing that on.

When I wrote one of my journal entries on the plane, I felt I should share it on the blog. I didn’t, but seeing Ann’s blog reminds me maybe I should. So here it is, in all it’s rawness and silliness. It’s me, giving thanks.

On the plane. So sad to be leaving Australia, both for the place and family.

My brother Andrew showed us a house for sale in the Manly Daily, on Mackerel Beach, just a fibro shack with only boat access, the cheapest house for sale in the whole northern beaches, and bidding was expected to start at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars!

Nuts! There’s no way we could afford that. Just doing the sums- we’d need a three hundred thousand dollar mortgage. That would be at least two k a month, maybe three. Yet Andrew and Karen were semi-seriously talking about buying it as an investment to rent out. Well, for us, that’s “if we win the lottery” territory. But anything can happen and please believe me Lord, I’m open to unexpected things happening if that’s your will for me.

I need to get away from the idea of buying and owning, that’s the thing. How about a long term house-sit or similar? I was reading an article in Grass Roots on alpaca, and was about to make my usual “I’d love to keep alpaca but we can’t afford it” response when something stopped me. It doesn’t have to be about owning. I could know someone who kept alpaca and needed someone to care for them after they moved away. I could be given one. Anything could happen. If I’m meant to have alpaca, alpaca will come to me. If we’re meant to have a house in Australia, we just need to be open to the possibility and the house will come to us. If we’re meant to live in Bulgaria, the right house and the means to live there will come to us. If I’m meant to have more land to care for, that will come to me too.

The stories I’m meant to write come to me, and the right way to get them published will too. I just need to trust and surrender the need to control the process and the outcome. Surrender to the process. Surrender to God’s will for me. Surrender to what is and what is possible- which is anything!

Thank You for that insight Lord. Now I understand what my husband meant a few months back when he kept saying I shouldn’t limit my belief in what our options were. I denied it, but I was. I was  coming from a viewpoint of lack and limitation. Thank You so much for waking me up to that! Please help me to believe and to have an open heart and open mind. Help me to trust that whatever You will for me is possible. Help me to approach life with an open, trusting, and loving spirit, always looking for the opportunities to give and to help and to reflect Your love.

That’s so important. I can’t do this from my own resources. My own capacity to love and to give is such a limited, broken, disabled thing. I’m held back by lack and limitation thinking. But Your capacity for loving and giving is endless. Please help me to open my heart and mind to take in Your love and to accept Your gifts. Then out of the abundance I overflow with, it’s so easy and effortless to give.

Thank You so much for showing me this. Help me to be a given. Help me to open my heart to You, and pass it on. That’s a wonderful thing. When I open my heart to accepting, giving becomes natural as breathing, an overflow, without thought, without work, without fear, without worry. No more fear of there not being enough. No more stinginess with things and love and time, I have all that I need and more.

What a gift that is! Please, help me to remember this. Help me to live this. Help me to truly be Your child, trusting, happy, knowing You will never abandon or hurt me.

Oh, I love You so much, so much. And it does make a difference. Since I opened my heart to You, I can see how my relationships have started to change. I can see how I’m more willing to accept the gifts that others offer. I can see how I’m more willing to give, trusting there will be enough for me. And often the best gift I can give takes nothing from me anyway. A word of thanks. A word of praise. A word of encouragement. A simple gift that can mean so much to the receiver, and gives as much to the giver.

Thank You for this. Thank You for Your gifts to me. Thank You for the way that through You, I’m changing. I’m becoming more like the person You created me to be. I’m so richly blessed, and at the same time, more fit to be your tool. Sorry, that makes me giggle, thinking about the other meaning of tool! But yes, I am willing to be Your tool. If following You makes other people see me as a tool, then so be it. I hope though I can follow You and reflect Your love and blessings in ways that don’t make me a tool of a tool!

Okay, maybe one glass too much airline wine (two glasses is one too many these days). But maybe this is the sort of thing I need to be blogging. Maybe that’s a way to share God’s love, to shine the little firefly glow of a light I’ve been given. Maybe that’s one little way to put some of the great gifts and undeserved blessings I’ve been given out into the world. Maybe.

The image is apples in my garden, on the tree I bought last year because I felt so sorry for the last broken dry and nearly dead stick of a tree in the shop. Last autumn, it gave me one apple. This autumn, it’s giving me twenty nine. A blessing of apples. What can I give back to the world in return?


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