Coffee Talk: Ripping the Page with Karen Benke

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Orange, Passion Fruit & Jasmine Lipton Green Tea

Today’s Scripture: Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. – 1 Timothy 4:11-12 (The Message)

As many of you know, I have a background in English and Secondary Education. That foundation has opened the doors for me to work with many talented youth over the years. Times when I’ve been blessed enough to see lightbulbs flashing in the brains of a room full of tomorrow’s leaders have sustained me through a lot. People tend to look at me weird when I tell them I love working with and speaking to teens. Yes, teens can be challenging, but so can a three-year-old who refuses to potty train. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

With that being said, let me introduce you to someone I stumbled upon when her book came out back in 2010: Karen Benke. She’s an educator, lover of kids, and encourager of right-brained thought. (If you missed my series on right-brained plotting, check out the concluding installment with links to all six episodes here.) For today’s Coffee Talk special, I thought I’d let you hear Karen’s personal story behind her wonderful, practical book called Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing.

You won’t regret it if you’re still engaged in this blog. I’m giving stuff away again. Bear with me as I really do enjoy doing this and want you to be blessed. This time around, the grab bag is an educator’s delight. Whether you homeschool or brave the halls (and random wads of chewed gum) of a public school, the resources I’m giving away will bless and encourage your journey. Included are Karen’s book; Writing with Confidence: Writing Effective Sentences and Paragraphs, Seventh Edition (which includes a two-year membership to Pearson Education’s My Skills Lab website); and The Compact Reader: Short Essays by Method and Theme. Since my background is in Secondary Education, all three books can easily be applied at the secondary level. All three are also very interactive and geared toward holistic teaching, which I’m a huge fan of.

From an advanced writer’s perspective, these three books are invaluable for their practical writing exercises, which help strengthen fundamental concepts of the English language and spark creativity. I’ll also be sending a surprise hot drink with all of my giveaways from now on. Please leave a comment below to be entered to win. I will close the comments eligible for the drawing one week from today at midnight. Thanks for stopping by my little section of the web world!

Coffee Talk: 2012 ACFW Conference Reflections

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice

Today’s Scripture: You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. – Revelation 2:3 (NIV)

I was encouraged so much by this year’s ACFW conference that I took a break from today’s writing routine to vlog about it. Happy viewing!

Coffee Talk: Lisa Buffaloe and Roll Call

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Eight O’Clock Whole Bean French Roast, ground to perfection and smothered with Coconut Creme Coffee-mate

Today’s Scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

On today’s Coffee Talk, sit back and relax for a humorous video by Lisa Buffaloe on pitching writing projects. This will be my only post for the week as I’m headed to Dallas to attend the ACFW Conference. Below the video, you can also find some highlights of my blogroll from last week. Next Monday, I plan to post reflections on the conference courtesy of a personal vlog.

Lisa Buffaloe: How NOT to Pitch at a Writer’s Conference


Blogroll Highlights for Week of September 9, 2012

Speaking of pitching, click on agent Rachelle Gardner’s picture to review some great reminders on how to do it right.

Renee Swope had a great vlog this past week about walking in confidence. She offers excellence advice about combating doubt with the truth of God’s Word. I’ll be applying some of the nuggets of wisdom she presents while walking around Dallas this week.

Look for extra encouragement and tips on the conference from the creative minds behind The Chocolate Shoppe. Here’s what those who frequent The Writers Alley will have to offer:

I look forward to seeing some of you at the conference, and I hope all of you have a fantastic week!

Coffee Talk: A Conversation with Rachel Coker

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Skinny Dark Chocolate Coconut Mocha courtesy of Barnes and Noble. (My special order coffee of choice when I was the age of this week’s featured author.)

Today’s Scripture: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12 (NKJV)

It’s ten days and counting until the ACFW conference in Dallas kicks off. In preparation for this year’s conference, I’m highlighting a special series of videos meant to inspire and educate those pursuing the Christian fiction writing journey. Last week, I posted an informative discussion between Michael Hyatt, the keynote for this year’s conference, and Rachelle Gardner, a well-respected Christian literary agent. This week, I’m featuring a recent interview with a young author who is quite impressive. She’s sixteen and just published her first novel. Did I mention she signed with one of the largest Christian publishers in the industry? Take a sip of your favorite coffee and join Rachel Coker, a young lady who is not afraid to chase down opportunity.

Whether attending the conference or not, what dreams are you chasing this month?

Coffee Talk: Labor Day Roll Call

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Dunkin’ Donuts Whole Bean Original Blend

Today’s Scripture: Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Colossians 3:23 (NLT)

It’s a holiday weekend in the States. My family has been quite busy the past few days, so I didn’t get a chance to post blogroll highlights on Saturday. Please find a few highlights after today’s Coffee Talk vlog.

In this month’s Coffee Talks, I’ll be posting a series of vlogs delivering helpful, professional information to give you a better perspective of what it means to pursue Christian fiction writing. I’m doing this as a review for myself and others as we prepare for the American Christian Fiction Writer’s national conference held at the end of the month, but you won’t have to be attending to get useful information out of what I share. No matter where you are in the writing process, this special series of Coffee Talk vlogs is geared toward educating and encouraging your growth as a writer.

First up is a great interview Michael Hyatt did with Rachelle Gardner awhile ago. If you have trouble viewing the video, please click on the link to view it from Hyatt’s original post.

Coffee Talk: Preparing for the ACFW National Conference

An Overview of Publishing c/o Michael Hyatt and Rachelle Gardner

Blogroll Highlights for Week of August 16, 2012

My new friend, Michelle Axton Kelly, shared about her difficult path to parenthood in a thought-provoking post over at the Proverbs 31 Encouragement Cafe. Click below to read more:
Just up from The Chocolate Shoppe is a post about preparing for the ACFW Conference you’re going to want to check out if you’re attending. It’s a great review for all of us!
Over by The WordServe Water Cooler there was a lot of buzz about the craft of writing. In fact, author Fred Hurr had some fantastic insight you will not want to miss.
Happy browsing!

Coffee Talk with Writer Tom Blubaugh

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Maxwell House Original Roast, black

Today’s Scripture of Choice: But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, ‘With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.’ – Matthew 19:26 (KJV)

It’s time for another Coffee Talk, Writer’s Edition. I’ve enjoyed the interviews I’ve put together this past month, and I hope you’ve been as encouraged and equipped as I have in the midst of the written conversation. This week we have Tom Blubaugh with us.

Tom defines the quality of perseverance all writers need to have. After surviving a difficult childhood and bad consequences of some resulting young adult choices, he went on to discover the healthy role writing could play in his life. At fourteen, he began writing poetry and, as he discovered what it meant to have a personal relationship with God later on, he experimented with Christian non-fiction. He self-published Behind the Scenes of the Bus Ministry in 1974 and co-wrote a devotional journal entitled The Great Adventure by Barbour Publishing in 2009. He has also written magazine articles within the Christian and insurance publication realms. He published his first fiction novel, The Night of the Cossack, with Bound by Faith Publishers at the age of 69 and is currently working on a sequel. Tom and his wife, Barbara, live in Missouri. They have six children and fourteen grandchildren.

Thank you so much for being with us today, Tom. Let’s start off by exploring your motivation to become a writer. When did you first start writing seriously? How did your life up to that point foster a love for writing?

Tom: I’m not sure I can answer this question definitively. I’ve been writing since I was a teen starting with poetry. I was serious then because it was the only way I could communicate my true feelings. Because of some unpleasant things that happened in my childhood, I had low self-esteem and low self-worth. I didn’t know this then. I thought I was just shy. My writing really took off when I became a Christian at age twenty-eight. I began writing articles for a couple of denomination magazines. Later I wrote scripts for puppets for my children’s church ministry. I had a team of actors, and I would record them reading the scripts. We had a lot of fun, and it was very meaningful for the kids. From there I began writing articles for business magazines. In 1974, I self-published a book, Behind the Scenes of the Bus Ministry, that I sold when held seminars in churches. In 2009, I was contracted by Barbour Publishing to write devotionals for their publication The Great Adventure. As I’m thinking, I suppose this is where, in my mind, I had truly become a writer.

You’ve written one novel, Night of the Cossack, in which you get to fill in unknown details of a family member’s life with fictional perspective. What did your research process look like for the novel? What was the best part about writing the story?

Tom: The research was very hard at first, mainly because I didn’t know where to start. I had a few facts about my grandfather. He was a Jew, born in Russia and a Cossack soldier. It’s somewhat humorous because I didn’t like history– or English for that matter– when I was a kid, but as I moved deeper into the research, I became fascinated with Russia and what was happening in that part of the world. Also, the Cossacks were a very interesting study. The best part of writing my novel was creating my grandfather. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, so I was blessed with experiencing them. The novel brought some closure. Even though he is mostly fictional, I know him. Strange, but true.

I’ve read that you do, as so many authors are expected to, a good bit of public speaking. What has been your favorite audience to speak in front of up to this point? Which speaking engagement has been the most memorable?

Tom: I love speaking to all ages, but I suppose teens get to my heart because I was such a ‘wild child’—a convicted felon at age fifteen. My most memorable speaking engagement will probably sound strange. I went to a rural library in southwest Missouri and only three people showed—all adults. One lady left before I was finished. I was thinking it was a waste. I did my regular presentation—the same one I’d do if there were a thousand people present. I always give away a copy of my novel to the person who can answer a question. I won’t share the question as it’s a secret. The two people who stayed were an elderly lady and her son. The son answered the question correctly, so I signed a copy and gave it to him. He was very grateful and said after he read it, he was going to send it to his uncle. I told him that was nice. Then he asked me if I was familiar with Paul and Jan Crouch of TBN. I said yes. He said, “He’s my uncle.” I think that’s when the Lord taught me that numbers are only important to me.

So many writers are also avid readers. We read whatever we can get our hands on, and we also read many books on the craft of writing. What one book has helped you improve the most as a writer?

Tom: I’m a different writer. I wasn’t encouraged to read when I was a child. I do read, more now than ever, but not like you have described. Other than the Bible, the book that has influenced me the most is The Search for Significance by Robert McGee. It is a life-changing book for me. I want to write meaningful literature that changes people’s lives. To answer your question, probably The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She helped me understand that my writing is an act of worship. That led to my understanding that everything I do is an act of worship or can be.

Finally, what specific encouragement based on your personal writing journey can you offer to the aspiring writers following my blog?

Tom: I heard a retired minister say something last night that is developing in my mind. I do some volunteer work with homeless men. This man said, “Nothing you do is wasted time when working with these men.” I think this applies to us writers. Nothing we write is wasted time no matter what happens. We have an effect on people. We don’t know what words will reach a person and cause them to change their thinking, become better– a better person– even if it’s fiction writing. The second thing– I’ve been in marketing most of my adult life, but marketing my name and my book has really been and continues to be a challenge. Don’t wait until you’ve written a book to social network. Start a blog and start drawing followers. Set up a website and start building your online presence. Make part of your avid reading about Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Pinterest. We writers have never had it so good. A hundred years ago, Zane Grey self-published his first book because he could not get it published. Getting our writing published has never been easy.

Thank you so much for being here today, Tom. I will continue to look forward to your blog posts at, and I wish you the best with your sequel!

As promised, I’m announcing the winner of last week’s Coffee Talk with Dani Pettrey drawing today. My five-year-old reached into his Lightning McQueen hat and drew out the name of Brooke W. Congratulations Brooke!

Thanks for stopping by everyone!

Coffee Talk with Author Dani Pettrey

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Iced Mocha, Dani’s Favorite

Today’s Scripture: ‘For I know the plans I have for you’ — this is the Lord’s declaration — ‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ – Jeremiah 29:11-12 (HCSB) 

I’m so excited to have one of my favorite new authors, Dani Pettrey, with us on today’s Coffee Talk! Not only does she conjure up entertaining, fast-paced reads like found in her first romantic suspense novel, ECPA bestseller Submerged (Bethany House 2012), but she is also a dedicated wife and homeschooling mom.

Like myself, Dani is always in search of the perfect iced mocha and loves to indulge in dark chocolate. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two teenage daughters, and, when she’s not writing, she can be found sharing her thoughts in the notes section of her website While working on edits of the second book in her Alaskan Courage Series, Shattered, Dani took a break to share her writing secrets with us.

Tell us about your writing journey. When did you start? How long was it until you found your niche? What has it been like to publish your first novel?

Dani: I have always loved daydreaming and making up stories. I dabbled with creative writing growing up, but set it aside. It wasn’t until after the birth of my youngest daughter and a bout with a serious illness, that I really felt God stirring me to start writing again.

I began slowly. I spent a lot of time simply reading novels, seeing how they worked, analyzing why I fell in love with certain characters and not others. I actually started off thinking I’d write historical novels because I’m such a history buff, but discovered it wasn’t the right fit. It took me a couple of years and two practice manuscripts (which will never see the light of day :)) to really ‘find my niche.’ I spent time in prayer, asking God what type of story He wanted me to tell and was greatly pleased to discover it was exactly the type of stories I’m most passionate about—those filled with romance, mystery and adventure.

It has been an incredible journey, and seeing Submerged in print is an absolute joy. I’m so touched that readers are enjoying Cole and Bailey’s adventure.

You say on your website that you love to travel. How has this love transferred to your writing?

Dani: I do love to travel. I love seeing new places, learning about different cultures, and discovering new things. I think this transfers to my stories via my characters, particularly in their love for adventure.

I’m fascinated by the Russian history you included in Submerged. What is your research process like when you write? What has been the most unusual resource you have discovered so far?

Dani: Thanks! So glad you found it fascinating. I did too. 🙂 I think that’s a huge part of the research process—loving what you are doing, being fascinated by what you are learning. I adore research—so much so that I often have to make myself stop and actually write the book.

I typically begin by making a list of all the areas I’m going to need to research. For Submerged the list included: Alaska, Russian history, cave diving, and search and rescue among others. I start by scouring the Internet for resources. I try to find a wide variety—books to get from the library, books to purchase, blogs that cover my particular area or career, etc. I set aside several weeks to really devour the information. I highlight key passages and piece together a research file that I’ll continue to refer to as I write the story.

Since I’m not a plotter, I often have areas of research that pop up as the story unfolds. If the story is really flowing, I’ll write it out and then research before my next draft. If the research will change the course of the story, I’ll take a break and research before proceeding.

Hmm. Not sure on the most unique resource… I suppose anything I experience firsthand. To really discover what rock climbing was like, I learned to rock climb. I guess that counts. 🙂

What would you say keeps you sane in the midst of the demands of a writer’s life?

Dani: Time with God. I try to start each day with quiet time and Bible study. It’s amazing to me how time with the Lord can start your whole day off right, though why should I be surprised by that! 🙂

I’ve also been blessed with an amazing mentor. She’s shepherded me not only in my craft, but in the writing life. She always says, “You have to live a full life to be able to write a good story.” I try to remember that. I enjoy time with my family, going for hikes, having coffee with my girlfriends. Life is a balance no matter what you do. Finding that balance is hard and often takes readjustment, but praying about where God wants you investing and focusing your time is key. Unfortunately I’m not always the quickest learner, so I’m exceedingly grateful for God’s patience. 🙂

What is one piece of encouragement you would give to the Christian writers who follow this blog?

Dani: Keep writing. It sounds trite, but it’s very easy to become discouraged. Writing can be a solitary endeavor and there are many obstacles along the path to publication, but if God has placed the love of story on your heart then write for Him. You just may be amazed what He does with it. 🙂

Thank you so much for sharing, Dani! Your mentor, Dee Henderson, was one of my favorite authors to read when I needed a book to unwind with in college. I can’t wait to experience your next story, and I wish you the best with your writing journey. I know you’re going to go far!

Since I’m such a fan of Dani and what she’s writing, I’m going to give away Submerged to someone who comments on this blog post. A random winner will be announced one week from today. Happy commenting!