A to Z Blogging Challenge: Table of Contents


I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I thought it would be nice to put all the A to Z blog posts together. I included a lot of writing tips that I (or someone else!) might want to refer to later. So here it is!

Blogging From #AtoZChallenge 2017: Angels in Fiction

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter B is for Battle and Beauty

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter C ~ Creating Compelling Characters

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter D ~ Dystopia

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Z is for Zenith

And that’s it! Challenge won!

If you like to write and would like to see a post on a particular subject, let me know!


A to Z Blogging Challenge: Z is for Zenith



“Z” is for Zenith!

I can’t believe I made it all the way through this blogging challenge! Thank you so much, to everyone who read even one of my blog posts. You’ve made it all worth while!

Zenith means the highest point, peak, or state. In writing that would be the climax of the story.

I am reminded of one of my characters when he felt he’d reached the opposite of that.

Since before he could walk, before he could talk, he’d had command. Of himself. Of his goals. Of others. Everything he wanted he could get. He had merely to desire something and, with little effort, it came to be. So this nadir of powerlessness and influence that had become his life should’ve caused him a bit of stress. But actually, it felt kind of good.  ~excerpt from Battle for His Soul

While Jarret is feeling pretty low at this point in the story, the plot is actually nearing its zenith!

climber-299018_1920.jpgOur stories develop with increasing tension and conflict, rising and rising as if we have been climbing a mountain, until all the events come together at the greatest moment of intensity: the mountain peak, the story climax. This is a turning point for the protagonist. He or she must reach deep inside and rise above weaknesses and fears to bring the victory. At the climax of the story, all problems and conflict must be resolved. This should be the most exciting part of the story. The antagonist is defeated, the treasure found, the battle won, the princess rescued.

To make the climax powerful:

  • make sure you’ve developed a strong protagonist that readers can care about
  • make sure the stakes are high and clear and that they are deeply important to the protagonist
  • make certain that every scene is shown vividly, weaving between action, dialog, thoughts, and other relevant details

It’s all down hill after the climax–the falling action and conclusion–so we want to keep that part short.

Happy writing! And thanks again! And a special thanks to Miranda Gargasz for the idea for letter “z”!

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for Yes, You Can!



“Y” is for Yes, You Can!

As we near the end of the blogging challenge, I want to offer a bit of encouragement.

I have never been much of a blogger because I don’t feel like I have that many ideas and I feel so busy with other things. But over the course of this challenge I have come to see that I can do it. I can find a few minutes every day to write something. I can also think about things and come up with worthy ideas while driving, washing dishes, or doing other routine things.

I never thought I could do it. But I did! (Almost. I still have the letter Z to contend with.) And you can do it too!

What are your dreams and goals? God made you unique, giving you specific interests, dreams, and talents.

Maybe He is calling you to step outside of your comfort zone or to go out on a limb. (Don’t you love my cliches?) Take a chance and give it a try! In order to reach for your dreams, you have to start somewhere and sometime.

Why not start here and now!

Make a list of your interests, dreams, and goals. Put them in order, with the one that speaks to you the loudest at the top. What would be the first step to reaching this goal?

Often the first step is prayer. Then maybe talking to your spouse or a close friend. Research will probably come next. Head for the library, bookstore, or get online. If you are like me, you might also want to get a list started. Lists are great for keeping our goals before us, especially if you look at your list every morning.

So take a chance and pursue your dreams! Yes, you can do it! And the time is now!

A to Z Blogging Challenge: X is for Xavier



“X” is for Xavier

Oh yeah! You thought I couldn’t come up with something other than x-ray, xanthan gum, or xylophone! Or that I’d have to use some strange word no one has heard of before like xeroses or xyliod! (No, I have no idea what those mean.)

But here I am rocking it with a totally cool “X” is for Xavier!

This is my youngest son’s middle name. I asked him how he felt about his middle name, and he said he likes having “X” for his middle initial because it’s cool.

Names are so important. When parents discover they are expecting a child, the first thing they do is hit the baby name books and websites. We want to find a name that has meaning. It has to be perfect.


As a writer, I put similar effort into finding the perfect names for my characters. And I also hit the baby name books and websites. If I need a name in a crunch, I use name generators. The writing software that I use, Scrivener, has a built in name generator that gives you options including gender and origin. But there are plenty of name generators online too.

A few Name Generators:

Behind the Name

Fake Name Generator

The Character Name Generator

Seventh Sanctum – this site is one of 101 best websites for writers, according to Writer’s Digest

A few Baby Name Websites:


Baby Name Genie

Oh Baby! Names

All of the names in my dystopian trilogy have meaning, including the city names, which are named after people in the Deep Green or similar disturbing movements.

Roland in Roland West, Loner is named after Charlemagne’s nephew Roland (the subject of The Song of Roland). His mother chose this name because of her love of medieval and classical literature, and other reasons that come out in a story I have only written bits and pieces of.

Eugenie von der Leyen.jpgSome of my characters’ names are based on real people. For example, Jeannie Lyons, from my work in progress Unwanted Visitor, is named after Eugenie von der Leyen (1867-1929). Eugenie was a well-educated woman of high German nobility who kept a diary of the disturbing visits she received from souls of people who had died. I based my character on her, but I changed the year to modern times, and the location to New York. This will be the focus of my upcoming posts, after the Blogging from A to Z Challenge has ended.

How much effort do you put into creating names for your characters? And what resources do you use?


A to Z Blogging Challenge: W is for Writers Conference



“W” is for Writers Conference

A writers conference is a wonderful way to develop your writing skills and find fellowship with other authors.

Registration is open for the Catholic Writers Conference Live 2017.

When: July 18-21, 2017 (Tuesday to Friday)

Where: the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel, Schaumburg, Illinois

The theme for this conference is “The Catholic Imagination.” What makes Catholic creativity different, and how can we use that to craft works that are unique?

Come for:

  • workshops on marketing and writing
  • presentations on marketing and selling your work
  • in-person pitch sessions
  • group critique sessions
  • national CWG Members meeting (guest welcome)

You will have access to the Catholic Marketing Network trade show floor and an opportunity to meet publishers, vendors, and book store owners.

You will also have opportunities to visit the St. Maximilian Kolbe Shrine and the National Shrine of St. Therese.

This conference has much more to offer. So check it out!







A to Z Blogging Challenge: V is for Virtual Travel



“V” is for Virtual Travel

In my blog for the letter “R,” I wrote about research, and I promised to share my favorite resource for researching places I’ve never been. That’s what I’ll blog about now!

I love to travel. My father was in the Coast Guard and we moved often, giving me the impression that life was an adventure. We lived in California, Guam, and Hawaii (Oahu). Then Dad retired in Ohio. And I married a life-long Ohio boy. With the exception of the one year I convinced the hubby to try Arizona, I’ve lived in Ohio ever since.

While my family takes a little vacation to one or another neighboring state almost every year, I’ve lost hope in ever moving again. But I can still see the world through my imagination and my writing!

My West Brothers teen fiction series takes place in a forested area of South Dakota. I selected this area because of the unique rock formations and caves I discovered through online research.

I don’t know how writers did it in the past. I suppose they really had to pay attention to the advice: “Write what you know.” Today’s writer is lucky. We can research online and write what we learn.

A teenage boy in Life-Changing Love gets to travel to Italy with his father. I did lots of online research for the setting details, but my favorite research tool is Google Maps “Street View.” Have you ever tried it? Pick a location, zoom in close, and place the “street view” icon (the little yellow man) on the street. That’s what I did for every scene that took place in Italy.street.png You can click anywhere on the image and it will move wherever you want to go. I was walking all up and down Florence, Italy, and Bagno di Romanga! I could almost hear the people chattering with their Italian accents and smell the fresh baked bread and coffee from the local cafes. I even went inside a few places.

Click here to see inside the Basilica di Santa Maria.

I try to appeal to all five senses in my setting details, so when I travel virtually using “street view,” I jot down notes for everything visual. And I use my imagination for the rest. I love to experience new places this way, and I hope my readers to too!

Have you tried Google Maps Street View? Where have you gone?

A to Z Blogging Challenge: U is for Utopian



“U” is for Utopian

I write dystopian fiction. A dystopia is an undesirable or frightening society characterized by misery. It is the opposite of utopia.

A utopian society has perfection in law and politics and very little crime, violence, or poverty. The term was first used by Sir Thomas More in his book, Utopia.


Saint Thomas More was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, and councilor to Henry VII.  He was beheaded for refusing to acknowledge King Henry’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and for refusing to recognize the king as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

His parting words: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

In 1516, he wrote a political satire called Utopia. While the word utopian has come to mean “a good place,” in Greek the word means “not place” or “nowhere” because the place doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. More’s story is all about the religious, social, and political customs of a fictional island. Through his story of this fictional land, he discusses some of the bad things going on in Europe at the time and he proposes a society based on rational thought, where there is no poverty or class distinction, and little crime or immoral behavior, and no threat of war.

It is a good idea for a writer to have a version of utopia in mind, all that is good and true, when they are writing conflict, challenges, and failings into the plot. We can’t delve into the bad if we don’t have the framework of good.

What would an ideal society look like to you?  What would an ideal life look like to you? What does “the ideal” look like to the protagonist in your story?




A to Z Blogging Challenge: T is for Teen Fiction


T“T” is for Teen Fiction

People love to buy books for children for so many reasons:

  • they want to encourage children to develop their literacy and language skills
  • stories promote imagination
  • reading provides a time of quiet and reflection in busy little lives
  • reading books gives parents and grandparents an opportunity to bond with their children and grandchildren
  • and these are only a few of the benefits

I would like to write children’s stories one day. I have several ideas in mind (I actually have several written as first drafts). But I love writing stories for teens, with teenage characters facing all the challenges, discoveries, and joys teens face. The teenage years can be trying in many ways, but they are also exciting. Adulthood is just around the corner. That can be terrifying but it also feels like the whole world is open to you! Where will you be tomorrow? What will you do? Whom will you meet? Sometimes the question is as basic as: Who am I?

Some studies show that kids read for fun less as they get older. But other surveys show that young adults are among those most likely to be book readers. According to one survey, over 77% of teens say they’ve read at least one extra book per month for personal pleasure.

Why should we write and why should people buy books for teens:

  • reading takes you on an adventure
  • reading can help develop the imagination
  • a person can discover new ideas, places, and people
  • reading develops the capacity to “see” the invisible, spiritual realities and moral concepts
  • it can help one to deal with our increasingly complex world and begin to understand some adult issues that a teen will soon have to deal with
  • one can find solutions to personal problems by seeing how characters solve problems
  • reading relaxes mind and soul
  • reading improves the thinking process
  • reading improves vocabulary and spelling while the reader is wrapped up in the story line
  • some fiction can even help a teen to know that they are not alone, that others may feel the same way they do
Over the years, I’ve met many authors of Christian teen fiction, and I’ve read and enjoyed their books. I’ve often shared their books with others, promoting them through social media or by word of mouth because I think others will enjoy and benefit from them.

Inspired to join together in sharing our stories, a group of Catholic teen fiction authors have recently created a website.
FB poster

Authors include:

Genres include:

This website also provides information for teachers, including themes and resources for each book.
An incredible amount of excitement surrounds this new website, including inquiries and comments from readers and authors alike. We hope to see it grow into something wonderful for God, helping young readers find books they will thoroughly enjoy and that support, rather than tear down their faith. We’ll be adding more authors and more books in the near future. So stop by often!

Do you read YA fiction? What are your favorite books and why do you read?

A to Z Blogging Challenge: S is for Scrivener



“S” is for Scrivener

What do you use to write your story? For the longest time, I used Word. Then I discovered YWriter, a free word processor designed for writers. It breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of everything. And I liked it well enough. Until I discovered Scrivener!

What is so great about Scrivener?

Every writer has their own methods. My methods tend to take up space. In addition to writing software like Word, Open Office, or yWriter, I like to use note cards, pictures, maps, notebooks, and scraps of paper. Sometimes I print and sort an entire story to ensure consistency in characters’ story lines and threads. Unfortunately, I work on a laptop at the dining room table. Space is limited. Therefore, I’m happy to have discovered Scrivener!

Scrivener allows me to use my favorite methods but in a more organized way that saves space and time. Everything is kept in one file: outlines, scenes, research, character sketches, setting sketches, synopses, website links, and images.

I will share a few of my favorite features:

Scrivener offers several templates for fiction, non-fiction, scriptwriting, and more. While there is a learning curve to make use of Scrivener’s organizational tools, it is easy enough to start writing without instruction. Simply select a template, add a few chapters and scenes, and you’re ready to write. A work in progress can be copied and pasted into the new project file. A WIP with several chapters can be imported with chapters split into separate folders.


I love the “Corkboard” view. The visually minded and “plotters” who work with index cards will love this feature too. “Pantsers” will benefit from the organizational features during the revisions of their work. Chapters, sections, and scenes can be reorganized by dragging and dropping “cards” into place. Cards can be labeled and color coded. This is a great way to mark various points of view, threads, themes, and to note the stage of a scene: First Draft, Revised, Final Copy, etc.

“Collections” is another great tool. With it a writer can group scenes or chapters without affecting the order in the story “Binder.” I use this feature to focus on one character’s scenes at a time or to focus on a specific thread. While it has no effect on the true order of scenes or chapters, changes to the text are updated in the project.

A few other features: Scrivener opens where you left off, work is saved after a pause in writing, old versions can easily be saved. It has word count tools, a name generator, scratch pad, automatic synopsis generator, and several “view” choices that allow the screen to be split or the writing area full screen.

Finally, my original motivation for purchasing Scrivener: a manuscript can be published (exported) in several formats without making several copies or altering the original document. Formats include DOC, DOCX, RTF, PDF, MOBI, EPUB, ODT, TXT, etc. I can export a double-spaced document for my editor, a standard manuscript format for potential agents and publishers, and final files for self-publishing a paperback and various e-books. I’ve wasted so much time in the past, trying to create an EPUB that passes the test and is accepted by all publishers. But now, thanks to Scrivener, it’s simple.

To learn more and experience it for yourself, a free trial is available here: http://literatureandlatte.com/forum Scrivener is available for Mac and Windows, and there are plenty of “help” resources online, in addition to the built-in help file and tutorial.

I am not a Scrivener representative, just a happy writer who has stumbled upon writing software she loves.

What do you use to write your story?

A to Z blogging Challenge: R is for Research



“R” is for Research

Love it or hate it, every writer needs to do it. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, your book can benefit from research. Since the research aspect is obvious for non-fiction, and I don’t write non-fiction anyway, this blog will focus on researching for fiction.

Ideas for Research

Characters – we want our characters to have unique talents, interests, and abilities, but we also want them to be realistic.

Got a child in your story but no child at home to base him on? Visit family or friends or even the library. Pay attention to the unique speech, mannerisms, interests, and interactions of children of different ages.

Got a teen in your story? Head out to the mall for some people watching! Pay attention to clothing styles and jewelry, along with the unique way each teen’s personality shows through body language and verbal communication.

For adult characters, consider people in your family or workplace and note different characteristics, personality quirks, and manners of speech that might work for a character in your book. Warning: don’t create a character that resembles a real person too closely if the person might take offense.

IMAG0097I modeled Toby Brandt in Roland West, Loner on my oldest son, who has autism. This character captures the personality and interests of my son at age 8 or 9, including his manner of speech and interesting behaviors and obsessions. And even some of the story conflict. While every child with autism is unique, I hope that people will find Toby a realistic character.

Setting – long, detailed passages of weather or setting descriptions will bore our readers, but we need enough details to allow them to picture the setting in their minds.

When possible, go on location to gather details. Go into the woods, warehouses, wilderness, or wherever your scene takes place. Take a notebook and focus on all five senses. When you can’t go on location or you want even more ideas, use the research of other writers, for example try the Setting Thesaurus on the Writers Helping Writers website.

I will share another favorite resource for setting details on the “V” blog next week.

Story ideas – these can come from anywhere and go in any direction but getting a few facts can go a long way in making a story feel believable. We don’t want readers to be thrown out of our story world because something doesn’t ring true.

Rightfully Ours Front (002)In Carolyn Astfalk’s new release, Rightfully Ours, sixteen-year-old Paul Porter relocates to Pennsylvania during his dad’s deployment. He makes a temporary home with the Muellers and develops a friendship with Rachel, the Muellers’ teenage daughter. Their abiding friendship deepens as they work side by side to uncover what could be lost treasure.

Author Carolyn Astfalk wanted to get her facts straight with this story so she researched sink holes (where and how they happen and how you rescue someone from one). She also researched how custody of a minor is handled when a single parent is deployed. And, she had to research how gold bars are authenticated.

Her hard work researching for this story makes it all the more believable and allows readers to truly immerse themselves in the romantic and adventure-filled story line. The e-book is available on Amazon and the paperback is coming soon. You can check out the book trailer here.

lliberty pic

The ideas for my dystopian trilogy came directly from the news. Governments too often step on the rights of the individual. Scientific and technological developments often cross ethical boundaries. And special interest groups attempt to indoctrinate us in order to push hidden agendas.

Because this trilogy is set in the near future, I did an incredible amount of online research into actual ideologies that influence world governments, the latest scientific developments, and cutting-edge technology. Unlike some dystopian stories, nothing that happens in this trilogy is that farfetched. If we don’t reclaim our culture and cling to faith, family, and freedom, this is a real possibility for our future.

The more I learned from research, the more I realized I needed to write this dystopian story. I only meant to write one book and get back to my other stories. I wanted to end Chasing Liberty showing a seed of change being planted. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What exactly is this freedom we should be fighting for? And how can one person make a difference?

This trilogy is available through most online booksellers and you can find the book trailers on my website.

What type of research have you done for your stories and what are your favorite resources?