What are you reading?

What are you reading?

I asked this question to approximately 40 aspiring writers this weekend as I sat across from them at a table during our private one-on-one sessions at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference. A few of them would tell me of a story that they were reading, a bestseller perhaps or some obscure book from series they liked. And then I would ask them is this story in the genre you are writing?

Only a couple nodded. The rest sort of shrugged and said, “well, no, I actually don’t read in my genre.”


They followed up with, “I really prefer this genre over the one that I’m writing.”

“Then why are you writing in that genre?” I asked. “Because if you don’t love it then why spend all that time writing in it?”

And, honestly, I was astounded at those that admitted they weren’t reading. They were simply writing.

Writing is GOOD, very good for a writer. But…how will you know what to write in the genre, if you’re not reading in that genre?

Becoming an author isn’t an instinct…it’s a craft. It’s something you need to be proactive about. But you can’t be trained by simply going to writer’s conferences, or reading books on writing. (Although, I do understand that I have a writing website, and teach people how to write on it! So I definitely want you to stop by and take a look!)

Of course learning the craft through classes is essential as you pursue your writing craft. But you need application as well. Which means you need to learn from those who are already exercising the craft. Reading a writing book is fantastic when you then take those lessons and apply them to a book by, say, John Grisham. Or Stephen King. Or Harlan Coben. Or Nora Roberts. Or any of the bestsellers that we find on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, CBA, and ECPA bestseller lists. You must look at those who are already good at their craft, already making sales, already connecting with their audiences, to understand how to apply those writing techniques.

Analyze, then turn to your own work.

The learning curve is steep for an aspiring writer. You must learn how to plot, how to create great characters, how to layer in metaphors, how to create scene tension, how to create storyworld, how to make sure the middle doesn’t sag, and do it all in a way that doesn’t stunt your voice. Don’t make it tougher on yourself by having to learn a genre that you’re not already familiar with. When we read, the elements of the genre we’re reading naturally sink into us. Those who write suspense instinctively know they need to set up a problem, illustrate that problem by having a danger or a dead body at the beginning of the book, create a trigger that ignites the suspense plot, add a deadline and utilize a number of other elements to create the suspense. But because they’ve invested in reading suspense, they already understand these elements. They just need to learn HOW to implement them (cue: writing classes!)

Same with romances. All romance writers know they need a “meet cute” at the beginning. They need a reason for the hero and heroine to spend time together. They know there needs to be at least a breakup even if they don’t know how to create it or why. And they know there needs to be a happy ending.

Reading in your genre is essential to understanding that genre.

Summer is busy. Family vacations, kids at home, visiting relatives. It can be hard to study the writing craft. Instead, I give you permission to turn to novels. Read a novel in your genre. Get it into your heart, if not your head. You might not have time to analyze it but if you’re reading it you’ve already learned something.

I have a strategy. During the week I read for work–I read research books, biographies, and novel about my topic. Right now I’m reading a novel in a first person voice, similar to one I’m working on.

On the weekends I read for pleasure. I find a book that’s going to delight my heart. On Monday I go back to reading in my genre—my work.

Here’s the secretwhen someone asks me what I’m doing when I’m sprawled on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, listening to music, my feet up, the laundry undone and supper forgotten, reading a book, and eating bon-bons (really, what are bon-bons, anyway?) I can turn to them and say… I’m working! Can’t you tell?

So, pick up a book and read something brilliant this summer!

I have a couple great events coming up.

One of them is a career building event that will help you figure out how to launch your writing career. It’s a summit I’m involved with along with a number of other masterminds in the industry. It’s awesome and it’s only $99 during the early bird! You don’t want to miss it because it will ignite your publishing career.

The next thing you might want to take a look at is our Deep Woods Writing Camp! It’s an intense week of writing for authors at every level. (If you’re new, you might have some prerequisites for you to prepare, so check with me first (susan@mybooktherapy.com)) If you’re a little farther down the road, spend a week with me in the north woods of Minnesota, writing, getting feedback on your stories, and brainstorming with other authors. I can’t wait to come alongside you and help you write your brilliant story.

Your story matters! Go! Write something brilliant!

Susie May


5 Tips on Writing a Historical Novel

I love writing historical novels. I love diving into the research of the era.  I do crazy things like get dressed in the right attire, and listen to music from the area.  It’s so important to get it right.

I wanted to quickly give you 5 tips on writing a great historical. It’s all about knowing your Era!


  • Get books and articles written in the era to understand the lingo, the culture concerns, the political issues.  You need to get your head in the mind of your character by diving into that era.
  • Rent movies and read books set in this era!  You can’t always rely on other people’s research, but you can get ideas to confirm later on.
  • Read biographies about people set in this time.  It’s another great way to get in the head of your character.
  • Visit – either in person or virtually the area you are setting the story so you can understand the world of your character.
  • Listen to the music of the time. It’s a great way to really get into your character.


I had a great time writing Duchess, my newest novel set in 1930’s Hollywood.  I researched it with my buddy James Scott Bell, who is the perfect Hollywood tour guide.  The book comes out soon, and in celebration THIS WEEK ONLY…

Get Heiress, book ONE for FREE on Kindle!  Click HERE!

And…Get BARONESS book TWO for $1.99!  Click HERE!

Look for Duchess in March!

Thanks for reading and Happy Writing

The Fairytale Code: Write a great story using Fairytale Elements

One of the things we love to do at My Book Therapy is “break it down.” Just what does it take to write a great story?

Fairytales capture our imagination in many ways. The art of creating worlds full of the supernatural, good verses evil and true love have been around since… well, The Garden.

The elements of traditional fairytales are often found in fantasy and modern day science fiction. And of course, love stories.

This week and next, I want to break down the technical fundamentals of a fairytale. You’ll see we use them in our “non fairytale” stories as well.

Story world. All stories must have some story world, but those with a fairytale element, must have a rich, dynamic story world. The characters’ world must go beyond four walls. There must be some mystical element, surreal and incredible about their world.

In Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” television series, the heroes lived on a “boat” called Serenity, flying through “the black.” Their earth was a spaceship. Surreal, if not unreal. Incredible.

In Cinderella’s world, the Disney version, she talked to animals and birds. We don’t. But she does. It’s surreal, incredible.
You must create an element of the “supernatural” for your fairytale stories. In literature we see witches, good and bad, magic, fairies, trolls, wizards and talking mice.

In romance, how does this play? In my book The Wedding Dress, I used the supernatural occurrence of the Lord appearing to my heroines Emily, in 1912 and Charlotte, 2012. He was distinguished by the color he wore: purple.

In Once Upon A Prince, there is a homeless woman who taps into the Divine to push Susanna along her journey. (Don’t want to say more. You have to read the book.)

Lessons. Every fairytale is about a lesson. We are going to learn something as the reader or viewer. We’re inspired to be better. Do well. The lessons can be both obvious or symbolic.

In George McDonald’s Photogen and Nycteris, a wicked witch manipulates two pregnant women to give her their children. Photogen is a boy trained to live only in the day. He never sees the night. Nycteris is a girl trained to live only in the night, in a cave. She never sees the sun nor the moon.

As the story unfolds, Nycteris disovers the moon, then the day as Photogen discovers the night. And they are frightened of what they do not know,what they do not understand. The lesson is obvious. Back to Cinderella. The lesson is humility and love. We see it by her actions.

Personified evil. Fairytales are famous for the witch, the wolf, and the wizard. Elements of evil are given breath and a heart beat, words. In fiction, we call it the villain or the antagonist.

But what is great about the personified evil is how it makes us hate the evil all the more an root for good to triumph.

It’s one thing for Cinderella to have an unfair stepmom. Yeah, okay, it’s not pleasant but Cindy is surviving. Life is not fair, right? But the moment she manipulates against her and assigns her more work than she could possibly do in a day (supernatural element again showing up) we hate the stepmother. She’s evil. We cheer all the more for Cinderella.

Watho, the witch in McDonald’s story has a wolf inside her mind, representing her “animal” non human side. She is evil personified. When she is killed, in wolf form, we cheer.

It’s a nice touch too from McDonald to transform the human witch to her animal alter ego so our hero, Photogen does not kill a woman but a wolf. Subtle, but nice…

Evil can come in different ways in your stories but it must be tangible and real, effective.Firefly’s evil was the government and their sub humans called reavers. In Cinderella, it was her stepmom. In The Wedding Dress, it was Jim Crow laws.

Awakened Desire. All stories must be about a journey. The protagonist must desire something. Your story, all stories, are about the moment when the protagonist must choose to go for their desire/dream or quit and live the rest of their lives in fear/cleaning Drizella’s nasty shoes.

In McDonald’s story, Nycteris began to wonder about the door her keep, Falca, and Watho, entered and exited. What was beyond her cave?
Cinderella starred toward the palace each morning and sang of love coming to find her.

In Once Upon A Prince, Susanna wanted to find what God purposed for her after her own plans fell apart.

In The Wedding Dress, Charlotte had to discover the history of a hundred year old gown that looked brand new!

Awakened desire is a part of every character journey. It is what pushes the protagonist beyond their fears and limitations toward her destiny.

What makes the desire journey more fairytaleish? The supernatural breaking in. In The Wedding Dress, I used a man in purple. In Once Upon A Prince, the homeless woman aided Susanna.

In Love Starts With Elle, I used white feathers appearing out of nowhere.

This element may not work for you or the type of story you are writing, but how can you show your spiritual thread through the supernatural or the Divine?

Instead of having the characters say a prayer, why not have introduce a fragrance whenever your heroine needs guidance. Be creative. Ask the Lord to teach you!

So, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, read George McDonald’s Photogen and Nycteris. If you Google it, you’ll find it online.

Next week, we’ll continue with elements of fairy tales.

Rachel Hauck, Write a book proposalBest-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel.

A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: Rachel@mybooktherapy.com.

Go forth and write!

Do you need help with your story idea, synopsis or proposal? How about some one-on-one craft coaching. Check out our menu of services designed to help you advance your writing dreams.

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Ask the Doc: How do I decide what scenes to put in the book?

Have you heard “let the action unfold on stage” while studying the craft of writing? If not, you have now. 

On stage means “on the page.” As you write your story and plot your scenes a critical choice you face is deciding what must happen on stage, and what can happen “behind the scenes.”

I’m going to quote one of my favorite books, “Love Begins with Elle.”  When I chose my on stage scenes, I always asked: What is important for the reader to invest in?

No enough on stage action, and the readers don’t care. Too much, and I’ve bogged down the story with every little detail.

The major scenes are easy. Like when the heroine meets the hero, when the heroine is proposed to, when the heroine realizes she’s engaged to the wrong man, when the heroine meets a key character, when the first disaster or heartbreak happens.

But what about the in-between scenes? The linking scenes. Here’s an example.

In “Love Begins with Elle,” the heroine, Elle Garvey, visits her fiance, Jer, in Dallas where he’s recently moved to pastor a large, prosperous church. She’s quickly overwhelmed with his life as a senior pastor. Their goals begingto conflict. Ultimately, they must have a fight that puts the first nail in the coffin of their relatioship. Because Jeremiah is not my story’s hero.

How do I do this? Show the conflicting goals? Should I show her at the church talking with the women who expect her to head up the ladies’ ministry? Do I show her with his family? Do I show her with his football friends? Do I create a Sunday morning scene?

I had to ask myself, what’s my goal as the storyteller? One, show Elle and Jer’s different goals and expectations. Two, show how a pastor’s wife often has expectations on her to work with her husband when perhaps she has goals and dreams of her own. Three, to ultimately have Elle and Jeremiah decide they are not on the same page of life.

Also, I asked, why did Elle travel to Dallas two months before their wedding? Answer, to find a house.

So, that’s where I decided to go.

First, I thought it was important to show Jer with the church, and develop some of Elle’s apprehension. It’s a great place to show their differences.

First scene of Elle in Dallas is at a big church dinner… in her honor. Jer seems to be a very different man, even speaking in a different voice. Do I also show Elle hearing from the women how excited they are for her to take over the ladies’ ministry? Hmm, that could be another scene. Do I need it? More on that later.

Jer also has a surprise for Elle. A big one. She hopes it’s a space for her Dallas art gallery. Instead, it’s the prospect of hosting a TV show together. This is huge for Elle, so I felt it needed it’s own scene. Lots of tension could be developed and more of the separation of goals and expectations.

Finally, I created a house hunting scene. I chose to advance time because at the end of this scene, Elle would half-heartedly suggest not getting married.

I open the scene with two lines of summary how they’d spent seven days house hunting wiht seven days of headache. Opening a scene with a summary paragraph is good once in awhile, but don’t use it often. Like “and so they build a house and moved in.”

Does the house building scene need to be on stage? If you’re doing a lot of summarizing when you start new scenes or chapters, you might be skipping great story points. Remember, conflict and tension are key.

For Elle and Jer, they could not agree on a house. After the two lines of summer, I went to tense dialog and frustration. The scene showed how they are finally facing their huge differences. Elle didn’t want to be on TV, she didn’t want to head the ladies’ ministry (so, that did not need it’s own moment on stage) and she hated the new tract homes Jer loved. She wanted a fixer-upper farmhouse.

Jer wanted all the opposites.

So, those are the moments I decided to put on stage.

I also added one short scene. Kind of like the dramatic ploy of having the character stage right or left on a dark stage with only a spotlight on them. Have you seen those? It’s a personal moment where the character muses (or sings) over her situation.

In Elle’s story, something unique and supernatural happens to her. So, while in Dallas I created a short, short scene to show this supernatural event. No conclusions, no story clues other than this one spectacular thing.

Again, I have to decide when and where these heavenly moments happen. On stage or off?

Hope this helps with deciding what scenes you should have on stage.

Rachel Hauck is the best-selling, award winning author of over 15 novels. Her latest, The Wedding Dress appears in bookstores in April. Rachel serves My Book Therapy as the lead MBT Therapist and excels in assisting aspiring authors to find their story and voice via her one-on-one book coaching.