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One Brave Step Leads to Another: Sally Matheny’s Writing Journey

Sally Matheny leaning on a treeAs promised, here’s the full story of Sally Matheny’s writing progress, featured in our “Success Stories” announcement on April 9.

I attended my first Write2Ignite conference in March 2012. I remember that my enthusiasm for the adventure barely overrode my terror. At the time, I didn’t have writer friends who wrote for children. Feeling quite inadequate, I went alone.

Taking that one brave step opened the floodgates in my writing journey. Here is a sampling of the blessings:

  • I forged friendships with writers I still hold dear today.
  • I connected with an editor from Clubhouse Jr. In a fifteen-minute session, I showed her the first picture book manuscript I had written. She offered kind and helpful advice. That particular manuscript still sits in my filing cabinet. However, I later wrote two articles published by Clubhouse Jr. It took roughly a year of edits for each of them before reaching publication. It was a long learning process, which grew me as a writer.
  • After that first conference, I decided to write an article on a high school student making her first Christian film. I had a question I couldn’t find an answer for, so I contacted W2I workshop presenter Bill Reeves (founder of Working Title Agency). I had not taken his workshop, but I had mustered the courage to introduce myself to as many people as possible, including him. Not only did Bill answer my question, but he also opened a door of opportunity I had not expected. He offered an interview. After much prayer to overcome my fear of inadequacy, I conducted the interview. Taking that one step, I found I relish interviewing people and sharing their stories. It was the first of many interviews to come. It also grew my confidence to approach other people and initiate conversations, some of which have been catalysts of further writing projects.
  • Although my article on the young filmmaker was rejected, and although it sat in my files for several months, I tweaked it and submitted it to AppleSeeds, which published it.
  • After that first W2I conference, I sent a thank-you note to the W2I director. Further conversations followed, as well as an invitation to serve on the W2I Leadership Team.
  • Serving on the W2I Leadership Team educated me in the many aspects of writing, including publishing and marketing. I learned a great deal from the excellent leadership team as well as from those who presented workshops. Using my newfound love for interviewing, I conversed with writers, editors, writing instructors, and publishers. Wow! Talk about a blessing! I learned a lot, and friendships blossomed from many interviews.
  • One of the people God brought into my path during that first conference was Kim Peterson. Through her practical, hands-on writing instruction, I felt as though I had been given several shiny new tools to add to my writing toolbox. Years later, I’m still learning from her expertise and mentorship. We’ve become great writing friends.

Two main things made my first W2I conference meaningful to me: an even blend of the Christian atmosphere and the quality of instruction. If there were only the Christian atmosphere, I’d have been at a wonderful revival but would have left without furthering my writing skills. If there were only quality instruction, I would have left not fully understanding the call God had placed on my life. I would have missed the wonderful encouragement of and growing friendships with fellow believers. Write2Ignite is a huge blessing that has been instrumental in the training and focus of my writing journey.

I highly recommend the Write2Ignite Conference. Take that one brave step—even if you must come without a friend. Because if you do, not only will you leave with a bundle of fantastic instruction and inspiration, but you’ll also come away with a batch of rich friendships as well.

A freelance writer and blogger, Sally Matheny has published in numerous online and print publications, including AppleSeeds, Clubhouse Jr., Homeschooling Today, Practical Homeschooling, and The Old SchoolhouseSpeaking at events for women, children, and married couples, Sally enjoys encouraging them to be strong and courageous as they grow in their faith. A former public-school teacher, Sally has homeschooled for over fifteen years. In addition, she teaches history and creative writing classes to homeschool groups. She leads a NC junior historian club in association with the NC Museum of History. She and her bi-vocational pastor-husband have three children and one grandchild. They live in the foothills of North Carolina.

Connect with Sally via her blog (, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Facebook.

Writing Contest and Anthology Publication


According to author and founder Cheri Cowell, EA Books Publishing will offer a writing contest and publication opportunity open only to those who register for and attend the September 21–22, 2018, Write2Ignite Conference. Participants who attend the conference both Friday and Saturday may submit one entry on the theme of “Faith and Freedom”—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry—for a writing contest to be judged by editors of EA Books Publishing.

Contest award: Twenty to twenty-five authors will be chosen to have their work published by EA Books Publishing in a print anthology entitled Faith and Freedom. Authors will be able to purchase books at a reduced rate and keep the profit from their sales.

In keeping with Write2Ignite Conference’s primary mission of producing Christian worldview materials for children and young adults, the anthology will include stories by, about, and/or for children and youth of various ages as well as content for more general or adult readers.

Contest Guidelines

  • Open only to unpublished authors (“Unpublished” is defined as follows: the writer can have articles, blogs, or online content published, either paid or unpaid, but cannot have a traditionally published book or inclusion in another published anthology.)
  • Each contestant must be registered for the full 2018 Write2Ignite Conference. The contest is not open to single-day attendees. Both adult and Teen Track participants are eligible to enter.
  • Only those who follow the full submission guidelines will be considered.
  • Only one submission per person registered for the conference
  • Genres accepted: short story, article, devotional, or poem
  • 300–1000 word limit
  • Include a 50-word bio at the end of your submission. At the top of the first page of the submission, place a title and your name with contact information (email, address, and phone number). (This page heading is not included in submission word count total.)
  • Standard manuscript format (Times New Roman, 12-pt font, double spaced, 1-inch margins, Microsoft Word doc or docx)
  • Submissions must be submitted via email attachment to by midnight on September 10, 2018.
  • Include W2I in the subject line.
  • Criteria: Those that best reflect the theme (Faith and Freedom), who meet submission guidelines, and represent the best writing of a new author, will be chosen for inclusion in the book. Winners will be announced during the conference.

What will you enter?

  • Set your plans now for registration.
  • Write your entry on the Faith and Freedom theme.
  • Submit by the deadline on September 10, 2018!
  • Attendance will be verified before winners are announced.

Author and Founder of EA Books   

A New Take on Avoiding Writer’s Block

Today’s guest blogger, author Max Elliot Anderson, writes fictional adventure stories for middle-grade readers. When you read his techniques for keeping writer’s block at bay, you’ll get an inkling of the zaniness, action, and humor essential for keeping his young audience, especially boys, engaged!

I have to say that writer’s block, or blank-screen-itis, has never visited my writing. And this is true after completing nearly forty manuscripts. But maybe I cheat the system a little. Here’s how.

I write action-adventures and mysteries especially for middle grade readers, eight and up. Before I begin writing a story, it’s been percolating in my mind for a couple of weeks at least. Finally, the whole thing comes crashing in all at once. It’s at this time that I stop what I’m doing, pick up a recorder, and briefly tell myself the story, just as if I were telling it to a group of kids or to my own children when they were young. After doing this, I know the beginning, the middle, and the end.

This gets typed and usually runs eight to ten single-spaced pages. The notes are put into a file and set aside. I don’t look at those notes again until the first draft is finished. I write as I go when it comes to the manuscript. It is only after that first draft is finished that I ever look at it or the original notes. I’m always amazed to see that all the elements of the original story have found their way into the first draft. That has never failed yet.

Then, to get myself into the mood to write, I make sure to do a few things. Around my computer I place several photographs and any props that will help me think about the story and characters. Once, I was writing about the Pacific Northwest and logging. I went out and caught a chipmunk in a drain spout and placed him in a small cage with cedar chips. At the end of the day, I let him go, but I wasn’t finished with the sequences in the woods. So the next day, I went out and caught another one. The sight of the chipmunk and the scent of the cedar helped set the mood.

The next thing I do is to always burn a candle next to the computer. I do this only while writing. I never do it during brainstorming, editing, research, or reading a draft. The candle helps take me to a different place.

Finally, I play mood-appropriate music for the scene I’m writing. If it’s a funny scene, I play comedy. A sad scene requires a single piano or violin. The music brings specific images into my mind as I write.

One more thing.

If I’m writing about a hot place, I like to write in the summer with the air off. If it’s a winter scene, I try to write that scene when it’s actually winter. I have written hot scenes in the winter, but that’s when I crank the heat way up high. I may have to stop doing that with the economy getting so shaky.

All of these elements, working together, go a long way toward setting the mood, conjuring up the proper images, suggesting dialog, and preparing the way to write. And using them, I have never faced a block of any kind. Not yet, anyway.


With recommendations from Jerry B. Jenkins and Bill Myers, Max Elliot Anderson draws on his experience in “dramatic film, video, and TV commercial production” to create exciting middle-grade adventures and mysteries for readers eight and up. Author of the Sam Cooper Adventures series and the Accidental Adventures series, Max has just released six additional middle-grade adventure and mystery books through Book Club Network. You can read more about Max at his blog:



Featured image by thegeometricfox

“Christian Overtakes Faithful”: The Allure of Vanity Fair in Children’s Writing (in the Era of the Selfie)


Shortly before they enter Vanity Fair, Evangelist meets the pilgrims to give them a prophetic message about the dangers they will face there. Bunyan’s narrator follows this warning with the reminder that Christian and Faithful cannot avoid this test of faith, for “their way to the [Celestial] city lay through this town”; leaving “the way” was not an option, but biblical instruction, with Evangelist’s parting exhortation, helps fortify them against temptation:

“Let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you, and above all, look well to your own hearts, . . . ‘for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’; set your faces like a flint; you have all power in Heaven and earth on your side.”

Disillusionment with worldly pleasure emerges in Ecclesiastes, with its refrain “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Christian and Faithful encounter Vanity Fair, Bunyan’s embodiment of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Visitors are constantly called to sample the city’s merchandise and recreational activities to gain public approval. The pilgrims’ refusal infuriates the residents, who accuse them of either being mad or deliberately undermining society with their claim that instead of the fair’s wares, they will buy only “the truth.”

Testing in Vanity Fair begins with mocking, which both men answer gently and persistently. When some residents begin to recognize that their townsmen are lodging “baseless” accusations, the enraged majority incite more extreme persecution: imprisonment, torture, and a trial with life at stake.

How can we communicate the concept of vanity to children? What in a child’s world may be examples of vanity? Materialism is one form. Being targeted by advertisers to want the newest game or toy is a concept we can help children understand, analyze, and start applying critical thinking to. On a less superficial level, we might discuss what children value most and what things are really irreplaceable, using the example of a house destroyed by fire or flood. Toys can be replaced, but a special photo, craft, or original comfort item, such as a favorite blanket, may not be.

Sheltering children from bad news is a luxury, but is it the best biblical model? Children in many parts of the world face uncertain and harsh conditions: famine, religious persecution, war, or displacement as refugees. In the U.S., weather-related disasters, shootings, and other high-profile events confront us in news broadcasts, in newspaper headlines, on magazine covers, and in Internet photos. Knowing how much of this reality to share with children of different ages is difficult. Informing them of dangers and losses that children experience in places like Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq may help them resist the Vanity Fair mindset which leads our first-world culture to seek increasingly self-indulgent lifestyles.

This is not to say that an occasional visit to a county fair or theme park is bad. Stories for today’s children need to include scenes of fun activities while building core values of healthy home and family life; interaction with and care for people; acquisition of important skills and knowledge; and especially, knowledge and love of God. Yet in this world, children as well as adults will “have tribulation.” They may experience loss of a home, a family member, a diseased or injured limb, a pet, a friendship, a favorite toy, a neighborhood or school due to family moves. They may face dangers including bullying or cyberbullying, molestation, substance abuse, gender confusion, and depression. Children may be victims or perpetrators. In a perfect world, they would never experience any of these evils, but we do not live in that world.

We think of today’s world as more dangerous and violent than Bunyan’s 17th century, but that’s probably not the case. In a time when public executions existed; when Bunyan himself was jailed multiple times for preaching; when lack of his income endangered his family and his wife begged his judges to release him; when meetings of “dissenting” believers were subject to sudden invasion and arrest by authorities, with trap doors for pastors to avoid their being seen entering or leaving the buildings;* children witnessed firsthand governmental and societal conflict as well as problems like poverty, disease, natural disaster, and crime.

Bunyan’s allegory incorporates elements necessary to form the character and commitment of a follower of Jesus Christ:

  • Clear, effective communication of doctrine—biblical truth attached to each episode of the story
  • Values (attitudes, behavior, responses to temptation or attack) based on the Bible principle
  • Repentance and confession when characters sin, forgetting biblical instruction
  • Encouragement (“edifying”) at key moments to prepare characters for trials to come
  • Coping skills to help characters whose natural response might be fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, or denying faith in order to fit in or avoid persecution

Bunyan leads his characters to understand, define, and demonstrate “HEART-WORK”—the difference between saying and doing, head knowledge versus heart knowledge. Christian and Faithful don’t just “Talk the Talk” of faith (like Talkative, the character they leave behind before Evangelist prepares them for Vanity Fair) but “Walk the Walk,” as they will need to there. Faith, not just a slogan or a proposition, must be lived out, as they do in this climactic chapter. By remembering everything they have learned from the Bible, Holy Spirit interpretation, and previous trials and errors, they not only maintain their integrity during the “testing of [their] faith” but also show the faith so persuasively that some in Vanity Fair become believers.

Do we help children acquire knowledge, coping skills and values, preparing them to respond appropriately to temptations, difficulties, and tragedies? Not every story will treat these hard subjects—but some must.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” 2014.


Write2Ignite Conference Celebrates Success Stories!

Maria Bostian: author of What Should Daisy Do? and Firefighters’ Busy Day

As Write2Ignite Conference 2018 approaches, we want to highlight what we’re calling “Success Stories”: stories of past participants whose attendance at W2I led to specific contacts, published work, and even jobs! We often emphasize the benefits of attending a writing conference—benefits that include networking, learning, honing skills, and gaining inspiration and encouragement—and it’s time to celebrate some W2I benefits that our attendees have shared!

Maria Bostian, Fire & Life Safety Educator at Kannapolis Fire Department, first attended in 2014 and credits both professional and personal gains to W2I:

“[The] most important thing that happened as far as my writing is concerned: I met [Brenda Covert, Editor at Ambassador International] during one of the ten- minute critiques. It was fate! I missed my first session [ . . . ] I didn’t know to interrupt when someone was taking up my time. (It was my first conference and I just didn’t know these things.) I was upset and didn’t know what to do so they let me sign up again and I signed up with [Brenda, who] suggested that I make a few changes to my manuscript and submit it to Sam [Lowry]. I did and went on to publish it and another fire safety book with Ambassador International.

“[The] most important thing personally: I met Laura. She and I were both a few minutes late and we registered at the same time. We had to practically run in the rain to the next building to get to the pre-conference workshop. We forged a friendship that is still going strong. We are each other’s sounding boards, pillars, shoulders to cry on, cheerleaders, and most importantly . . . each other’s Friday accountability partner! That’s something unique and special that I believe has something to do with the true magic that takes place at Write2Ignite.”


To learn more about Maria Bostian, you can find her books and read reviews on Amazon at; visit her author website,; or check out her author page on Facebook at


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