Thursday, July 19, 2018

Meet our Members: Naomi Eccles-Smith

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today interview -Naomi Eccles-Smith

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

I’m Australian born and bred, originally from Orange, NSW, but have been a Queenslander now for 20 years (and counting).

I’m an unequivocal day-dreamer who has mastered the art of transfiguring my thoughts into picture and story-form (although by ‘mastered’ I really mean ‘managed to somehow hold onto the reins and not fall off’).

I’m an undisputed INFJ, cat-lover, and gamer-geek, with conflicting desires to experience new adventures and remain at home happily levelling up my hermit skills.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?

I’m both author and illustrator of fantasy (high fantasy mostly). My currently published works include the first four novels of a five-part series called Dragon Calling, two illustrated Companion Guides tied to the Dragon Calling books, and award-winning short stories (Final Flight, The Drowner, & This Cruel and Beautiful World). I’ve also recently finished an illustrated children’s book called Lonely the Wolf (yet-to-be-published).

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember; throughout childhood my strengths were creatures (particularly dinosaurs) and definitely not people. But, as with any creative pursuit, the more you practice the better you get. It took me a long time to find my true style (around 20 years), but when I did, I was able to master the human form, as well as practically any and every creature my imagination could concoct.

I didn’t get serious about creative writing until I was sixteen. But once I found my love of writing, the flood of ideas burst forth, and hasn’t stopped. I’ve been seriously pursing writing as a career for 15 years, working primarily on one series in particular (the Dragon Calling series).

I write because it is my calling. I draw because that is also my calling. Knowing my purpose and pursuing it is immensely satisfying, but also overwhelming at times. It’s a road less travelled, and many of the years behind me were long, miry, lonely ones. I’m just so thankful that my family understood my passion and my dreams, and never discouraged me from going after them.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

Who has read it? Well, I guess everyone that has purchased or borrowed one of the books, lol.
As for who would I like to read my books … well, it would be really something special if some of the people who have strongly influenced me (as a person and as a writer) got the chance to read my books (Jennifer Rowe, Terry Savelle Foy, Joss Whedon, Hayao Miyazaki, J. K. Rowling, Lisa Bevere, just to name a few). Ah, it’s good to dream! ;)

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

With my writing process, I do a lot of pre-emptive planning in my head. Sometimes things get put down in note form before ending up in the story, but more often they stay as pieces of ‘scenes’ set on pause inside my head; scenes I go back to and play over-and-over and again, expanding, tweaking, piecing together with other scenes until they eventually get typed out.

I have a general idea of where I want to take the story (main plot points), but I don't hog the reins when it comes to the characters. Usually, when I'm in the zone, the characters take over and lead the story where they know it needs to go.

I almost always work on my stories chapter-by-chapter, and will go back over a chapter a couple of times before moving onto the next one. Occasionally, when I'm on a serious roll, the writing keeps coming until I realise the chapter is three times too big. I then get the itch to fix that issue, and go back through and find the right places to divide the scenes until that one huge chapter becomes a more sensible, three chapters.

I love thinking up chapter names, doing character profiles, and world-building. Those are probably my all-time favourite things to do when working on a story, and things I will work on when I feel a little stuck story-wise.

Things that help my creative process are playing immersive console games, reading and watching character-driven books and TV series, and listening to music (soundtracks, theme songs & fantasy/ Celtic instrumentals are my favourites). Also, I enjoy podcasts from Lisa Bevere and Terry Savelle Foy (they help to encourage and inspire me).

I think my biggest challenge is that I’m not very good at marketing strategies or the ‘business’ side of publishing. I do my best, but all those entrepreneur skills and traits don’t come naturally to me at all, and I’m not fond of self-promotion (I prefer levelling up my hermit skills! Lol). Thankfully, I’ve established a pretty solid author platform, and have continued to do monthly blogs (since 2011), and keep on top of my social media avenues (mostly).

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?

I actually don’t read a lot of crafting books; instead I follow several informative author blogs. And one of my favourites is K. M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors. But she’s also written several writing craft books, including Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A favourite of mine is the 5 Secrets of Story Structure; the reason being is because I have struggled with the same things as the author (the fear of story structure being too formulaic and thus predictable). But I am learning that that’s not the case, and am really enjoying flexing out of my comfort zone and working on the idea of making story structuring a better practise.

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

Could a give a shout-out to two? Lynne Stringer (who edited my latest novel), and Nikki Rogers (who has been my friend since high-school  J ).

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?

Actually my two biggest 2018 writing goals have already been accomplished! Completing and launching The Sword of Stars (Book 4 of the Dragon Calling series), and competing my illustrated children’s book Lonely the Wolf (yet-to-be-published).

My goal for the rest of the year is to continue working on the Companion Guides for Books 3 & 4 of the Dragon Calling series. I do CGs for each of the novels; the Guides include extra world-building information like maps, creature profiles, summaries of landscapes, plus comics of characters you meet in the books.

Dragon Calling is actually currently being pitched to film studios and traditional publishers via my film and branding agent. If the series gets picked up, my writing goals will change; I will start writing Book 5 of the series and only work on the Companion Guides on the side.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

I think as writers, and as people, we cannot help but insert a part of ourselves into every story we write; our passions, our curiosity, our fears, our faith.

My faith is an integral part of who I am, as is my ability to write and draw. That the one would influence the other is inevitable. By how much is the question.

When I’m writing a story, I want it to become its own creation (not a lazy imitation, or a preachy fable); and I want my personal beliefs and inclinations to blend organically.

My series is not what most could conclude as ‘Christian fiction’. I didn’t strive to create obvious Christian parallels within the main plot arcs of my story (say, like C. S. Lewis did with his Chronicles of Narnia), but my faith is an irrefutable facet of my muse, especially in regards to the world-building aspect of my books. My biggest inspiration (and example) would be J. R. R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit novel.

 Naomi confesses that the best word to describe her is: whimsical. Forget about “the girl next door” and think more along the lines of “the girl from the next galaxy over” and you’d be closer to the correct personality categorization. She is an unequivocal day-dreamer, anime enthusiast, partisan of fantastical things, and unshakable devotee to story-telling.
When not immersed in her written and illustrative projects, Naomi can be found wandering the worlds created by others, either between the pages of a book or across the sweeping digital scapes of console games. Part geek, part monster-slayer, with a heart for the pure and the wondrous, Naomi endeavours to remind us that a little bit of beautiful strangeness is a good thing to have in this crazy world.

Currently, she lives on the Gold Coast, Australia, with an assortment of cats and family members.


Monday, July 16, 2018

It’s all about the Peace

I recently had a wonderful visit from a dear friend who lives some distance away.  We had arranged to escape from my home, where not only do I juggle wife and mother duties, but write, and also manage our business. I knew it would be near to impossible to sufficiently catch up on each other’s lives if we stayed in my busy environment.

I decided to book a little cabin at Cape Hillsborough Resort. It wasn’t flash accommodation, but it was comfortable, and it was right on the beach. It was a delightful plan, but as I prepared to leave my house, my husband gave me some more food for my relaxation thoughts.

‘You’ll never be able to sit around doing nothing. You’ll be completely bored on day one,’ he said.

‘No way,’ I thought. This was something I’d desired for so long—a peaceful time away, with no demands, no stress, no daily grind. For once I could abandon my periodic complaints about not having enough time to relax. I could be at peace.
After picking up my friend from the airport, we chatted about how much we were both looking forward to the break, with nothing to do for two whole days but sit around, soak up the sun, and catch up.

Upon arrival at our cabin I busied myself unpacking, organizing bedding, and generally doing all the household chores I had happily run away from. We toured the resort then walked on the beach where I found it difficult to merely stroll. My normal beach walks are brisk—they have to be, so I can fit them into my day. I caught up with Facebook, and spent some time getting back to business contacts.

What was I doing! Wasn’t this all about the peace? I made the decision to abandon my mobile phone.

Day two started at dawn, like my normal mornings, but this time I was up early to visit the kangaroos that congregate on the beach. It was beautiful but not very peaceful, as a gaggle of resort guests had also awoken early for the occasion. The sleep-in I had mentally planned wasn’t going to happen.

I happily concurred with my friend’s plan to retire to the beach for the rest of the morning. I lay in the sun, feeling the heat on my skin and reveling in the soothing splashes of gentle waves as they broke on the shore. I sighed, pleased to be in happy sync with the tropical harmony . . . for all of twenty minutes, until the spark of an idea for a blog post topic forced me to move into the shade of a rock and grab my tablet to record my thoughts. I emerged from a self-exiled writing pause two hours later, to find the midday sun had stolen my shade, and I was slightly red on the side of my leg where the sun had been pounding.

Maybe my husband had voiced an inconvenient truth. While tossing between opposing states of vexation and epiphany, I finally admitted I was having great trouble translating the go-go-go of my day-to-day life into the peace of doing nothing.

At first, the revelation made me feel guilty. After all, my complaints about not having enough time to relax and no time to myself now sounded like elaborate whining. How could I complain, knowing I couldn’t even discipline myself to stop on a mini-holiday? But soon an entirely new perspective emerged.

I realized that peace doesn’t necessarily consist of hours spent lolling on a beach. At least, not for me. Maybe my idea of peace looked more like a conversation with my husband after a long day’s work, or a good home-cooked meal in the evening, an early night, and equally early morning at our bush camp. Maybe peace is time to write after my son and husband are asleep, an office with nothing in the ‘to do’ tray, the conversational catch-up and communion I had enjoyed with my dear friend during her stay, and unlimited time to spend with my Father in Heaven.

I realized that, for me, peace isn’t always about stopping. It’s about enjoying the moments in everyday life when peace falls upon me.

LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)

I challenge you, dear reader, to consider the places in your everyday life where you find peace, and take a few extra moments to revel in them. As Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 (NIV)

We will always have the peace Jesus offers. We have only to accept it. 

PS; I highly recommend Cape Hillsborough Tourist Park for your next get-away. It's the perfect North Queensland destination for couples, families—young and old. Affordable, but comfortable, and the locals (both human and animal) are so friendly. The beaches, sea, and national park is pretty spectacular too.

First Seen in Book Fun Magazine:

Rose was born in North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her Resolution series.

Two of the three Resolution novels have won Australian CALEB awards. She has also released The Greenfield Legacy, a collaborative novel highlighting the pain of Australia’s past policy of forced adoption, as well as standalone novel, Ehvah After. Her most recent release is the novella, A Christmas Resolution.
Her novels are inspired by the love of her coastal home and her desire to produce stories that point readers to Jesus. Rose holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, and resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband and son.
Visit Rose at:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Meet our Members: Ian Acheson

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today's interview is with Ian Acheson

Tell us three things about who you are and where you come from.
Hi all, I’m Ian from Sydney. I’m a strategy consultant and author. I’ve released one supernatural fiction novel, Angelguard, many moons ago. The second in the series, Wrestling with Shadows, is written and ready to be published (I say recognising it will need another round of edits, ideally by an editor from a publishing house).
I’ve also started work on a non-fiction project that explores the topic of ‘Intimacy’ and how there is a genuine lack of it in the modern world starting with our relationships with God who desires it for every one of us.
Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?
I write fiction to answer questions I have on the Christian walk. So in Angelguard I was led to explore the thin veil that exists between the natural and supernatural as I genuinely believe it exists. Angelguard was a plot-based story and in “Shadows” I wanted to go deeper with Jack Haines, the hero, and how he grapples with his own darkness (ie, his shadows). The third in the series, which I’m researching now, I’m looking to have Jack on “fire for the Lord” and to see what this looks like in a fictional context of good up against some pretty mean bad guys.
Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?
A bunch of kind of readers who gave up a few hours of their time to meet Jack. I’d like a lot more readers to do similar.
Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
With Angelguard I started with two words: “It’s time.” That’s it and some vague notion of having angels and demons battling while humans went about their day. I sat and wrote 2,000 words a day (because Stephen King did it) for 9 months and produced a monster of a manuscript of 707 pages. Yes, you guessed it, I didn’t know what to leave out.
Having gone through a laborious process of edits and more edits and some more edits I didn’t want to repeat the process with “Shadows” so I tried a bunch of plotting techniques which just didn’t work. Eventually I gave up and trusted in Jack to take me on a merry ride once again. A dear editor friend of mine helped me re-work the first 50 pages and reviewed my overall story. And I’m planning on doing similar with the third one.
What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?
King’s “On Writing” was the only book I read before starting out on Angelguard. I figured I better see if I really do have a story in me before I spend time reading more books.
Since then I’ve found I have a love/hate relationship with craft books. I’ve bought dozens of them, read the first 50 or so pages and then moved on. I think I work better with a coach. My first editor who, yes, read most of the 707 pages of Angelguard, taught me how to write and since then I’ve enjoyed working with two others, the one I mentioned above, and Jan, who my publisher, Lion Fiction, engaged for me. I go in with any editor with the attitude that I have so much to learn and in so doing find it very easy to take on board their recommendations, no matter how gentle or severe they may be.
One craft book I have finished is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks which I found really useful and I still refer back to it. Here’s my review on ACW
If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?
I’d like to shout out to Simon Kennedy on his Safe Harbour success. It was a bit of a treat to hear his name mentioned last week on the Logies. Simon, did you get an invite to the night?
What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?
I have two: find a new publisher for the two Angelguard novels. Lion Fiction went through a hard time a year or so back and in the end gave me the rights back to Angelguard. My second goal is to get a wriggle along on book three so I can demonstrate to a prospective publisher that the third one is not too far away.
How will I achieve them? Write, write, write and then contact two agents who I know to see if there is any interest from them to representing me.
How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
I can’t separate it as the premise of my stories is to explore a question I have on the Christian experience. My challenge is to minimise the “telling” in the message.
I think writing great Christian characters is hard. To be able to show the intimacy of a relationship with God in all its facets is challenging without “telling”. It also creates a new layer of challenge in demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit alongside the “story” and all the while showing characters having a vibrant or otherwise relationship with an invisible God. It’s what makes writing Christian fiction so much fun.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook pageand Twitter

Monday, July 9, 2018

Rights and Responsibilities of a Christian Writer - by Melinda Jensen

I have always been an avid asker of questions. Growing up, I spent inordinate amounts of time poring over Encyclopaedia and other reference books. If it wasn’t on the somewhat lean family bookshelves, I’d search the school library, snatching segments of time from my lunch break while others played sport or gossiped with their friends.

The information age is, to me, an absolute Godsend, one that is routinely hijacked by less than Godly forces. Such has always been the battle.

How do we sift through the wealth of information and make sense of what is true and what is false? Even more difficult, how do we determine what is conjecture? How educated or informed is our source? And far more importantly, what is the truth according to this world and yet not God’s truth?

Being a Christian writer is clearly not for the fainthearted. We have the right, of course, as human beings, to churn out whatever inspiration comes our way. That’s what so many writers are all about, after all, isn’t it? Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Creative license?

As Christians though, our rights are coupled with a weighty responsibility. We are to be ‘in’ this world but not ‘of’ it. Romans 12:2 makes this very clear.

‘Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God--what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.’

Immediately then, we find ourselves limited. That’s not easy for a creative soul and yet, it is a very clear requirement from our Father-Creator.

1 Peter 1:14
‘As obedient children, do not conform to the passions of your former ignorance.’

Despite our human right to self-expression, our responsibility as followers of Christ is to ensure our words do no harm, spiritually or emotionally, for words are, indeed capable of deep wounding. Words are also capable of persuading our readers’ thoughts, modifying their attitudes and inciting their passions, whether those passions are positive or negative. It can be extremely difficult to fashion our writing in a way that is real and engaging while maintaining our spiritual integrity. Steering away completely from difficult subjects (eg physical intimacy, domestic violence, and the brutality of war) tends to create a writing style that is flimsy, na├»ve and almost certain to languish in the slush piles of editors and publishers. Our books need to carry fire, whet the appetite for deeper thinking and sometimes, just plain entertain.

A month ago, I dusted off a book I’d found on my mother’s bookshelves and contemplated whether to read it or donate it to a second-hand book store. It was written by the acclaimed Morris West whom I’d studiously avoided in the past, assuming his writing would be a little too racy for me. In the end I decided it was arrogant for an aspiring Aussie writer like me to shun such a hugely successful Aussie author like Morris West. I should at least give it a try. I could always put it down if it took a distasteful turn.

And so I read it, right to the end as it happens. The subject matter was very much fast-paced political intrigue with a plot that followed the dubious activities of a fictional New South Wales politician and the hapless son-in-law who inherited his legacy. ‘Cassidy’ was neck-deep in corruption and swam in the muddy waters of drug trafficking and prostitution. There were murders and love affairs, infidelity and backstabbing on nearly every page. Yet, to my surprise, the author tackled these subjects with a great deal of aplomb and subtlety. At no point did he descend into lurid descriptions or tasteless dialogue. Instead, what emerged was an incredibly skilled expose of the potential corruption inherent in the human heart and the struggles that take place between the dual sides of our natures – the saint and the sinner.

As an example, the scene in which the hapless son-in-law succumbs to a night of adultery with a young temptress is 'suggested' rather than made explicit. There's no huffing and puffing, no unnecessary descriptions of anatomy or passion, yet we all know exactly what happened. Throughout the book the young woman is described rather fetchingly as 'Miss Owl Eyes' and no tacky objectification of her arises anywhere in the text. The scene in question simply fades after the young woman says that he and she should at least give each other one night before going back to their respective families. He agrees and the chapter ends. The next chapter begins with a hearty shared breakfast in the hotel dining room the next morning. Simple and effective.

That book taught me a lot. I’ve long held the belief that a rollicking good story, captured either on the page or on the screen, benefits nothing from the inclusion of lewdness and graphic description. We can, quite frankly, do without the nudity, the objectification, the horror, blood and gore, and most definitely without the (ever-increasing) presence of rape scenes. We don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator. In fact, we can help raise the bar for the betterment of society.

In fact, as Christian writers it is our God-given responsibility to do so. I’ll leave you to contemplate Matthew 18:6:

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’

Melinda blogs extensively on emotional and psychological abuse at She has had a smattering of short stories, poems and articles published by both print and online publications over the last ten years. Her current efforts focus on scripting and illustrating a book aimed at helping the disadvantaged to make the most of their lives, discover their God-ordained purpose and break free from the chains of poverty. She has walked the walk for decades and, in fact, still does.

Monday, July 2, 2018

On Writing Suspense

Jenny Blake | @ausjenny

Today we have Sandra Orchard visiting us talking about Suspense. Welcome Sandra. 

So you think you might like to write a suspense? 

Well, I’m Sandra Orchard and in the last seven years, I’ve had 16 novels—romantic suspense, mysteries and cozies—traditionally published. And here are my top five tips to help you get started. 

1) Know readers’ expectations of your subgenre 

Writing genre fiction is all about meeting readers’ expectations. So . . . the first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of “suspense” novel you’re writing. 

For example, if it’s a suspense with romantic elements, don’t pitch it as romantic suspense, because a true romantic suspense has both a full suspense plot, and a full romance plot that are intertwined throughout the story. And publishers such as Love Inspired Suspense know their readers want both the emotional satisfaction of a romance and the adrenalin of a suspense, and the odd romantic element tossed into an otherwise riveting suspense won’t cut it for their readers. 

And a mystery is entirely different again. In a mystery, the protagonist sets out to solve a crime that has already been committed. Readers approach mysteries with the anticipation of solving a puzzle along with the sleuth. Whereas, a a suspense is more like a coil that tightens around the protagonist. She’s in a race to avoid being the victim of a crime and the reader is more concerned about how much damage the villain will cause if he’s not stopped. Thrillers may be all of that with high action to boot.

2) Research, research, research

The more you know about the elements you wish to include in your story, the more authentic it will read. If you say, she smelled cordite after a pistol was fired, every reader who knows anything about modern guns will know you didn’t do your research. Research crimes, technology, occupations, personalities, even settings. 

Tension is often heightened in the details.

3) Use Setting to Up the Suspense

Use all five senses to immerse the reader in the action, to foreshadow and to drop clues. But … don’t stop the story to convey description. Same goes for all the other research you’re itching to include in the story. Keep description active, sprinkling it in as the story unfolds. Choose strong verbs and nouns that show the mood of the pov character to do double duty of both heightening suspense, as well as showing the character’s internal conflicts. 

For example, in my debut novel Deep Cover, I give readers this glimpse of the opening scene: 

Rick glanced skyward and prayed for a miracle. A lone backhoe loomed on the horizon, silhouetted against the steel gray sky, its tires caked in mud. Too bad the machine wasn’t big enough to dig him out of this mess. 

Notice the word choices: Loomed, steel-gray, dig, mess—they show his frustration without ever saying he’s frustrated and they ratchet up the stakes for him. 

4) Craft your Villain well 

A common mistake among beginning crime writers is to create two-dimensional, slow-witted villains. The villain’s motives should be as realistic and believable as your main characters’. Your villain’s background must be as well fleshed out as your hero and heroine’s. In my opinion, a well-characterized villain can totally justify his actions in his own mind. He needs to be a worthy opponent. Also, give him a redeeming quality.

5) Play fair

Facts are facts. You can’t pretend they’re not, just to make your life easy. That said, it’s okay if everything in your story isn’t 100% possible, but within your story world it does have to be plausible. 

Moreover, you must play fair with the reader. That means logic counts, and you can’t pull a convenient explanation or twist out of the blue; you have to set it up first. Every detail you’ve written matters, especially in whodunits. As the adage goes, if she’s going to shoot the gun hanging over the fireplace in ch 18, you better have shown it in ch 2. 

Bonus Tip: 

Up the tension and urgency in a scene with short sentences and short paragraphs, even a single word. 

Your Turn: 

Share a suspense writing tip or something you often see in suspense novels that drives you batty.   Or ask a question and I’ll do my best to answer it. 

Today's post is cross posted at Australasian Christian Writers

Sandra Orchard—winner of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, and several Canadian writing awards—leaps off the garden trails of her herbal-medicine-researcher-turned-amateur-sleuth (Port Aster Secrets) series, to the museum corridors of her plucky FBI art crime agent Serena Jones, in A Fool and His Monet, Another Day Another Dali and Over Maya Dead Body. She’s also contributing to several multi-author cozy mystery series with Annie’s Fiction. When not plotting crimes, Sandra plays make-believe with her young grandchildren or hikes with her hubby and husky near their home in Ontario, Canada.