What to do with the hurt?

It was my fault. I’d turned my phone to silent for church and forgot to turn the volume back on. So, I didn’t hear the phone ring. 7 times. 7 missed calls…all from a restricted number in Virginia.

Where my son is stationed.

Panic. I thought—oh no! What if he’s in trouble? I checked, the number was registered to the state.

More panic. I texted my son. Nothing. Called his cell. It went right to voice mail.


Admittedly, I had terrible scenarios emerging in my creative brain—most of them ending with him in a hospital.

“Calm down,” my husband said. “It’s probably nothing.”

Right. Tell that to my mother’s heart.

Four hours later, my son texted. “I’m fine. What’s the problem?”

He hadn’t tried to call. Wasn’t in the hospital. Wasn’t deploying suddenly to war.

The calls were from a telemarketer. Are you kidding me? (and I have to say, a darned determined telemarketer!) All that fuss, worry and…


That helpless feeling, the sense of not knowing, the panic that I kept fighting was exactly the emotion I was searching for in the SCENE I COULDN’T GET RIGHT. A scene where my helpless, frustrated, panicked heroine waited for news on a loved one.

Oh brother. But Yay! Because now I knew exactly what emotions to bring to the page, and how.

Last night, Meryl Streep gave a long acceptance speech for winning the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes. Her best line came at the end—“Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

I have had my heart broken plenty of times—losing loved ones, surviving terrifying situations, being betrayed, embarrassed, humiliated. And so have you! Everything counts when you’re a writer. (even if it is your crazy mind overreacting!)

You have an amazing toolbox of writing skills if you are able to dig down and find those emotional moments that have formed you. Bring them to the page, explore them, pull out the lies, and the truths. Don’t be afraid—you’ve walked through them and survived. Now gift those moments, those truths to your reader.

It’s true that every great story has a piece of the creator in it. Let your hurt give the story power.

This is one of the many things we talk about at our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat—how to create characters who bring authentic emotion to page (and how to write it!) We also brainstorm your story, help you flesh out scenes, wordsmith and dissect that story down to find the most powerful, compelling pieces. It’s such a life-changing week that we usually fill up with repeaters within the first week of opening.

But, we leave a few spaces open for new attendees. Right now, we have 2 spots open for our retreat in Destin, Florida, in late February. Click HERE to find out more.

Use everything. Because your story matters.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

P.S, if you’re interested in the retreat, we have a twin upper bunk available, and a KING bed in a semi-private room (you share the bathroom with 2 others, but you get the bed to yourself!) Chose either of those two options in the drop-down menu under lodging and it will calculate your retreat costs. Any questions? Write to: retreats@mybooktherapy.com. See you in Florida!

Letting Your Protagonist Be Super and Human

Did you see the movie, Avengers? Did you like it? I love the movies even though I wonder how many blow-up New York City movies there can be.

I think Hollywood needs to get more creative, but hey, that’s me. Poor NYC if anything ever happens to them as depicted in movies!

Back to The Avengers. Besides Ironman, Thor, Hulk and Captain America, there are new-to-me super heroes in the movie¾Hawkeye and Agent Natasha Romanoff.

Natasha was one bad mamajama! She had “super power” out the wazoo. Meaning, she could do anything and everything. Like defeat her Russian torturers/interrogators.

Jump onto a flying machine and take out a bad guy.

All the while having neat hair and gorgeous make up!

Unfortunately, Natasha had no real flaw, no Achilles heel. Nothing that made her weak and need others. So wasn’t warm, likeable, or vulnerable.

In her opening scene, she’s being interrogated by Russians (so 1970s but whatever) tied to a chair. She appears vulnerable, weak, at the mercy of evil men, but we soon see she’s toying with them. When she gets a phone call (yea, I know, who answers a phone during an interrogation?) and learns she’s needed for a special assignment, she breaks into action, defeats the two bad Russians, all while tied to the chair.

Throughout the movie, she has no fear. No hesitation. No doubts.

And I didn’t like her.

Yeah, great she could take out a dozen of the enemy before drawing a deep inhale, but what made her like me? Nothing

Nathasha Romanoff needed a real, human side, a flaw, a weakness, a man she loved who was captured by the bad guys. Or who didn’t love her in return.

On the contrary, some Christian heroines are weak, flawed, mealy mouth protagonist that seem to barely lift their heads off the ground.

Some of the heroes too.

If they are not too sweet and always apologizing, they are too boisterous with bravado and sarcasm.

What these protagonists need is a super power. A strength that keeps them going. A talent, gift, ability that gets them through a hard time.

A super power makes the protagonist “cool,” likeable and competent, allowing the reader to think that even though she may have just lost the love of her life to war, she’s going to make it through to the other side.

She has a “super power” too.

In Siri Mitchell’s “A Heart Most Worthy,” the protagonists are poor immigrant Italians in the early 20th Century America. They are living in a brand new country, can’t speak English, are at the mercy of their families, their customs and cultures, societal prejudice, yet they have a super power!

It gives the reader hope. “They are going to make it.”

What was the heroines’ super power? They could sew. It’s their avenue to confidence and freedom.

In The Wedding Dress, Charlotte Malone lived a lonely existence since being orphaned at the age of twelve, but she was good a running a bridal shop and has the amazing ability to dress any bride from the inside out.

This ability was what made her competent to the reader. It gave us confidence Charlotte was going to be all right.

The “super power” did double duty, letting the reader believe it was why the antique wedding gown was given to Charlotte.

The super power actually ties the story together in a small way.

What is the super power?

The thing your protagonist can do that no one else in the story can do. The thing that makes them unique and competent. A feature that is stabilizing to the protagonist or to others.

In Dining with Joy, Joy couldn’t cook but her super power was her charm, charisma, and the fact she was so good in front of the camera. It endeared her to people. It was why she did the show in the first place.

So, what’s your protagonist super power?

What can he or she do that shows competence?

What talent or ability do they have that gives them confidence?

What can super power will have the reader cheering for them?

How to create a super power

  1. Think of your protagonist. What are her unique skills and talents? What can he do that no one else can do. How does it relate to your story?

Go deeper than “she can love the unlovable.” That’s swell but will probably get her into trouble more than show her competence.

How about if she can detect lies and truth in the midst of the hurting? She is hard to bamboozle.

  1. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Develop a super power that resonates with the theme or goal of the story.

In the Avengers, Natasha Romanoff needed to be super human at some level, about to defeat her enemies while tied to a chair. But she also needed to be vulnerable in an area.

Charlotte needed to be good at dressing brides or she’d not be fascinated with the wedding gown when she discovered it.

Joy had to be fab at entertaining viewers or she’d not be a TV host.


So, spend some time musing over your characters and assign him or her a super power. You’ll find it adds a layer of insight into your character and creates a multi-dimensional protagonist.

Go write something brilliant!


Note: This is a repost from an early MBT post because Rachel is on two deadlines. 😉 Pray for her.


Da, da, da, da, but, da, da, da, da, da, da until…

Rachel Hauck, How To Catch A PrinceStories have a rhythm. A melody. And once you figure that out, the whole picture becomes clear.

I’m working on a new story and I have all these ideas, what I want to do and where I want to go, working with characters I kind of know, but after a week and a half of fuzting with it, something was still missing.

This morning, at 3 a.m. I woke up and heard the song…

Da, da, da, da, but, da, da, da, da, da, da until da, da, da, da, da. Can he da, da, da, da, da?

It’s that hook, the one or two sentences that defines your story.

I thought I had my hero and heroine all worked out. He was a dutiful son following his dad into the family business.

She was a new college graduate helping her mom run the family restaurant after the sudden death of her father.

And oh, he’s a prince living 4000 miles away.

This will be my fourth royal story so I was trying to stay fresh, not go to the same well of troubles, so I didn’t want to over focus on my heroine being a foreigner.

My mind was twisting and turning with ideas.

I did the story equation.

Dark wound, lie, fear. What did they want. What could they do in the end they couldn’t do in the beginning.

What was the secret desire.

Since this is a shorter romance, I don’t have a lot of room to create layers, and I wanted to focus on the romance but still, I was somehow shorting myself on the story.

That’s when I heard the rhythm of the pitch/hook/summary.

He’s always wanted to do WHAT but his father convinced him otherwise until She came back into his life and love awakened his dreams. Can he be honest with his father and be his own man?

I was missing the “what.”

Until my heroine comes on the scene, what does my hero want?

I had to go back to work but suddenly the story opened up and I could see farther down the line.

It didn’t feel so awkward, like something was missing.

Remember the movie The Holiday?

Amanda makes movie trailers and she hears her life in movie sound bites.

“Amanda Woods is proud to present, her life. She had it all. The job. The house. The love. Until…”

When you’re working up your stories, find the rhythm. Find the magic.

For my upcoming The Wedding Chapel, it went like this…

“For sixty years a wedding chapel sat silent, waiting for love. BUT times have changed and he hour has come when it might just be too late.”


Photographer Taylor Branson comes along.

“Can she find the truth hidden in the stone walls?”

Am I making sense here?

If you’re stuck in your story. do the beats.

Da, da, da, da, da, but, da, da, da, da, da until…

What’s the irony. What’s the want? What’s tugging internally at your characters?

Now, go write something brilliant.

Lessons From the ACFW Conference

Rachel Hauck
Robin Carroll, Me and Susan May Warren. At the 2015 ACFW Gala.

Back from the ACFW conference, I am still recovering. Man, every day is a slow start.

I had a blast seeing old and new friends, and the MBT crowd.

I was able to make a few classes and pick up a few tidbits.

The keynote speaker, Bill Meyer, was fantastic. Very animated, sincere and full of wisdom.

I thought I’d recap some of my take aways from the conference.

What about writing in the general (ABA) market?

Three agents, Sue Brower, Natasha Kern and Karen Solem, presented a workshop on considering the general market.

There is a lot of room for authors who want to write without giving up their faith.

Sweet romances are popular in the general market. Among other things. Spec fiction, etc.

What about Debut authors?

I was encouraged to hear Daisy Hutton from Harper Collins Christian Publishing they are actively acquiring debut authors.

The team feels a responsibility to find new voices.

If they are, then you know other publishers probably feel the same way.

Is the market dying? 

Nope! It’s changing but it’s not dying. Print stales are still strong. But the average CBA reader is aging so there is a push to draw in new an younger readers.

Never know what God will do!

I loved Bill Meyers and his stories, his testimony of all God did in his life.

One thing that really stood out to me was Bill’s willingness to be used by God when he didn’t feel confident or qualified.

Get the recordings to hear his engaging testimony, but at the end of the day, it’s about knowing God and making yourself available to Him.

A few years ago as I prepared for Sunday morning worship, I was keenly aware of how much I needed the Lord to help us with worship.

On my own, I’m not good enough. I’m not musical enough. For a worship leader, I’m not qualified. In the natural.

But in God’s eyes, I loved to worship Him. I used my voice to do so.

I offered Him my weakness.

As I prayed about it the next few days, the Lord said to me, “Most people will not offer me their weakness.”

Meaning, we won’t do something unless we’re really good at it. Or uber qualified.

Bill detailed all the fun things he’d done in his life, the things God was currently doing in his life from writing novels to forming a movie production company.

All because he said, “Yes.”

What does this mean for you?

Finish that manuscript. Get your book submitted. Did you go to conference? Follow up on agent or editor request. Take what you learned and put it into play.

Believe in yourself. Even more, believe in God’s ability to use you!

No more recognized publisher in ACFW.

ACFW lowered the barricade on publisher requirements. There is no more recognized publisher list. If you write from a Christian world view, you can enter the Carol and put you book up on Fiction Finder.

There are also no loop guidelines BUT there is also no more loop self promotion posts allowed.

The loop will be focused on craft and the publishing industry. So be sure to check that out.

I know this is a rather eclectic recap. I don’t get to a lot of classes at conference.

At it’s 9:30 at night and I’m a bit tired. But I wanted to share what I remembered.

Frasier Winner!

Of course it was good to see the Frasier Award given on Thursday evening! Congrats to the Frasier winner, Megan Menard!

Genesius Winner!

It was so fun to be at the table when Lindsay Harrell won the Genesis Award! We were all up on our feet, cheering our hearts out.

Of course we were also proud of Genesius finalist, Jeanne Takenaka.


Okay, don’t forget the MP3s will be available soon. Check them out.

Go write something brilliant!