Guest Interview with Author and Illustrator Phyllis Keels

Welcome to my new blog just for writers! I'm so happy you're here and hope you will leave comments and ask questions about anything regarding writing.

Today's guest interview is with writer and illustrator Phyllis Keels. Phyllis is the author of the novel, The Lady of Daldriada, and the author and illustrator of the children's book, Emma and the Paper

I loved Phyllis' paintings so much, I asked her to work with me on my upcoming book, When I'm With Jesus.

One of the paintings Phyllis has done for my book.

Welcome, Phyllis! Tell us about when you started drawing.

I've dabbled in drawing most of my life, but never thought of myself as an artist. In 2009 when I couldn't find anyone I could afford to illustrate the children's book I had written in honor of my dad, I decided to give it a shot. 
What do you like about illustrating books?

Oh, the best part by far is reading the story for the first time and getting to see the pictures in my head. That's how I know what to draw. I have to make notes when that happens because sometimes the images come pretty quickly and I don't want to forget them.

I try to enjoy the process of how the images come to the paper while I'm drawing. Instead of worrying about getting them just right, it's fun to see them grow right in front of you.

Most authors can't illustrate their own books. Do you see advantages to being able to draw your own pictures?

Definitely. As the author, you have the best vision of your characters, the settings, and the message you want to convey. If you can do your own illustrations, even if you think they are not perfect, it's worth doing it, even if you do it only once.

You never know what will happen from that. I was certain that the book design company for "Emma and the Paper" would not want to use my illustrations. The first thing they said to me after seeing the original hand-bound version I made for my dad was, "We love the illustrations! We think they should stay."

Where can authors see some of your illustrations?

The best examples of my work are in "Emma and the Paper". You can get to it from my website: or the Pinterest page for my books:

Do you illustrate for other authors? If so, do you charge a rate per picture, or share royalties after the book is published?

I sure do. I can do either a fixed rate for the project or share royalties.

Are you currently open to inquiries from authors? If so, how can authors contact you to consider illustrating their books?

Yes, I am open to inquiries and can be contacted through my website:

What do you think is unique about your illustrations/style?

Probably the childlike quality in the drawings. When Emma and the Paper came out, one comment I heard was, "Phyllis, there is such a tenderness in this book."  That's always a good thing to hear about a children's book.

When I've held book readings for children's groups, the children always comment on how much they like the pictures. That is such a great feeling - not being praised - but that they might be able to feel the love and affection that went into those illustrations.

Were you a writer first or illustrator first?

I was a writer first for sure. In the past, when I did draw, it was simply to draw, not to illustrate a story.

Which of the two is most enjoyable to you?

I enjoy both but for different reasons. Writing appeals to the adult in me because of how characters develop, the choices they make, how they honor one another and the Lord.

Illustrating wakes up the child in me. There is a freedom in it that takes you back to the innocence of childhood. That's always a great place to be.

Tell us a little of your personal story.

I guess in a way I've been a writer all my life. I used to play in the woods near our house, pretending I was off on an adventure in the middle ages or another planet. Those years of daydreaming and pretending prepared me to let the stories flow out onto paper when I grew up.

I was close to giving up on writing during the busy years of working and being a mom, but I didn't. Even though there were long periods of drought where I wrote little or nothing, I always came back to it.

When my daughter died suddenly in 2011. I thought I would never be able to write again, because I never thought I'd never be able to breathe again.

Yet, it didn't take long for the Lord to show me just how tenderly He had prepared me to be a writer, how He had carried me and loved me. 

He let me see the thread He had woven through my life, the thread that brought me here - where I can use my gift to tell others how completely faithful Jesus is.

Since that time, I see writing as a lovely privilege, because it is almost as if He sits with me while I write. I feel like the most blessed person in the world.

Anything else you'd like to tell readers?

These things take time (finding out who you are, learning to use your gifts). Enjoy the part where you are now, even if it's not where you want to be. 

One day you'll look back on this time and see how very sweet it was.
Thanks for joining us today, Phyllis! 
 Image of Phyllis Keels
Find out more about Phyllis Keels on her website,
or blog:  The Gifted Writer

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How to Use Createspace, Amazon's POD Option

There is a publishing option that won't put you out thousands of dollars or leave you with hundreds of copies collecting dust in your basement.
It's called Print-On-Demand, and it is changing publishing forever. offers one of the best print-on-demand options available, called CreateSpace.  Pull up and you will notice three categories: authors, musicians and filmmakers.  If wanting to publish a paperback book, click on the author section, then browse the options to learn about choosing the trim size for your book, download a template for the interior and cover of your book, and even calculate your royalty share based on the book price you choose.
As it can feel overwhelming to be responsible for so much, let’s take a tour through the process, as if you were using CreateSpace to publish your book.
1.       Create an account on (see the long blue bar near the top of the website).
2.      Next, click “Create a book.”
3.      When the options appear, choose “Paperback book,” then click the “Get Started” button under the guided setup option, rather than the expert.
4.      The site will give you easy-to-follow instructions, asking for information such as your book title, price, size, etc.  Whenever it seems confusing, look for blue underlined phrases—usually those will give you helpful information about what they are asking.
5.      You will need an ISBN number.  CreateSpace will provide a free ISBN for your book unless you want to purchase your own.
6.      When you get to the interior book section, download the template based on your chosen book size.  Then copy and paste sections of your book into the template.  It will look off kilter, but that is so it will look right when bound into a book.
7.      Next is the cover.  CreateSpace offers pre-designed templates to choose from, or you can download a blank template and create your own design.  
8.      Once your interior and cover are ready, they need to be saved as a PDF file.  If you have an advanced version of Word, just go under “Save As” and it will give you the option of saving it into a PDF file.  If you do not have that ability, you may have to pay to have someone else do it for you.  (CreateSpace offers services for nearly every stage in the process.)
9.      Now you’re ready!  The website will lead you step-by-step to upload your interior and cover according to their specifications.  Once done, you can order a proof of your book, and it will likely be in your hands within a week.  
10.  After thoroughly checking your new book, you either approve of it, or send a corrected version.  Once it is approved, it is available for sale on your personal CreateSpace store page, and will be up on within fifteen days.

Whether you have a collection of family stories you want to give as unique Christmas gifts to twenty or thirty people, or you're hoping for a world-wide bestseller, print-on-demand is a great new way to get work in print without high up-front costs.  If you’re a writer who wants to be in charge of your next book, marketing it yourself and seeing how well it is received, again, print-on-demand provides what you need at very little risk or cost.

Happy Publishing!

Writing What I Know

Sometimes I have wondered why God sent me overseas for so many years, then brought me back.  I spent so much time studying and adapting to different cultures, I learned a new language, I was ready to give my life to overseas missions.

Then my health problems brought my whole family back to America.  As far as we can tell, back to stay. I would be lying to say I haven't wondered why.  So many people are not willing to go.  We were willing, so why keep us here?

God does work in mysterious ways, and some questions will never get answers until heaven (and by then likely they won't matter anymore anyway!).  Then again, sometimes God lets us see glimpses of the answers here in this life.

I think my glimpse has come in the form of a series on human trafficking. The setting is Kolkata, a place I've visited twice, next to Bangladesh, where I lived for 2 years.  Writing it was like going back for a visit.  And the main character's experiences--being young, idealistic and desperately wanting to do something of significance--all of that was written more from memory than imagination.

They usually only do this when you get married, but I couldn't miss out on the fun!

They (whoever they are) say you should write about what you know.  I did.  I wrote about a girl who appears competent and confident but is really insecure, and wants to make a difference to show herself and God that she is worthwhile.  I wrote about arriving into a world that has too much evil, too many orphans, too many trapped women, and the painful realization that she cannot save the world, no matter how much she cares.

And I wrote about learning that worth does not come from what we do for the Lord, but from who we are in the Lord, and His value of us is based on the extent of His love, not the extent of our abilities or achievements.

I'm certain that my years in missions were not for the sole purpose of being able to write a good book, but I see that being able to write from memory, from real experiences and thoughts and feelings, creates a much more powerful essence than I could have created from research.

Shanty town, Bangladesh

So all that to say, those nebulous "they" people were right.  Writing about what you know is more powerful. Who knows?  Maybe some young woman will read my book, and God will use it to call her to overseas work.  Maybe my book will result in women being rescued that I myself could never have reached.  It's just a glimpse, but that would be a good answer to the question of why God sent me there, then brought me back.  I know it's not the whole answer, but it is enough of an answer to remind me to trust Him with the rest of the question.

And He alone knows what He plans for the future, so I might as well stop trying to figure it all out and just let Him be in charge.  He does so much of a better job at it than I do, anyway.

So I shall continue to write what I know, and let God use it however He will.

What do you know? What have you experienced that affects your writing? What lessons have you learned that you want to share with the world?

Why Write? Hasn't It Been Said Already?

When I lived in Uganda, West Africa, driving anywhere was an adventure in frustration due to the huge, sometimes car-sized potholes in the road. Sometimes it seemed better to just give up and stop trying. However, giving up meant not going anywhere.

Now THAT's a pothole!

Writing is similar. There are all sorts of "potholes" that show up--an offhand comment from someone, the arguments we put in our own heads, Satan's lies--that get in the way of where God wants us to go. Sometimes they are so big and daunting, we give up and decided to stay put.

I think this one won the fight!
However, unlike in Uganda, the potholes in our thinking can be conquered, bridged over with truth until they're just bumps to get over rather than massive craters waiting to swallow us whole. Here are a few of the bigger potholes, and the truths that bridge across them.

1. There is so much already out there. Why should I bother?
If you put the word "blog" in the Yahoo search bar, you get over 78 million to choose from. Yes, there are words aplenty out there. Why bother writing any more?

This is a legitimate question and one that will keep you from moving forward if you let it. However, the wonderful thing about being a daughter of the King of kings is that He has a distinct and important purpose for your life. Yours. And if He has called you to write, there's a reason for it. You may not be able to see where your voice is needed, but God has a place for it.

For example:
Asha, the main character in my Stolen series on human trafficking, goes in search of her birth parents in the 2nd book in the series, Stolen Child, desperate to know why they gave her up. In the end, she finds out that her worth and value are not based on whether her biological parents wanted her or not (she does end up being rejected by her father again) but rather in her relationship with Jesus Christ.

A woman wrote to tell me that after reading that fiction novel, she now has the courage to seek out her own birth father, despite fearing he will reject her again as well.

There are multitudes of books and blogs out there on adoption, on facing fears, on finding worth in Christ. But she wasn't reading those books. She was reading mine. And God used it to meet a need in her heart.

2. Someone else could do this better.
I've thought of that as a mom with health problems, but God still gave me 2 kids and told me to raise them. He did not give them to anyone else--anyone "better." Because they are mine, because God assigned them to me, I am the best mother in the world for them. In the same way, if God has given you a message to share with the world, you are the best person to give that message.

3. I don't have a broad enough outreach for my message.
A little boy gave Jesus one lunch once. Jesus could have used it to feed one person. Instead, He used it to feed thousands. But remember, the little boy had to give the one lunch first, even though it was laughably inadequate for the need.

4. I'm not a "real" writer yet, so maybe I shouldn't put my words out there yet.
Yet is a big pothole of a word. You can't get anywhere without starting! Just because someone else is farther along than you doesn't mean you should feel overwhelmed or intimidated, any more than a child should feel overwhelmed that most of the people in the world are older than he is. It's not a child's job to catch up to everyone older. He is growing at the exact age and stage of development God intended for him and his life. Don't compare your details to other people's details. God makes individual plans for His kids, not group ones. =)

5. If I don't write, I won't fail.
Not true. If you are meant to write, not writing is the only way you can fail. This comes down to obedience verses fear. Did God tell you to do this? That's all you need to know.

6. Everybody is writing about this topic these days. Why should I add to it?
Have you ever wondered why there are 4 Gospels in the Bible instead of just 1? If you asked a large group of people which book--Matthew, Mark, Luke or John--helped them grow in their faith the most, you will get all kinds of different answers.

Why? Because people are different. They approach God different ways and learn about Him differently. The 4 Gospels are the story of Jesus from the unique perspectives of 4 different men. Their encounter with Christ was unique even though many of the settings and events are the same.

It's no different today. Your unique perspective is significant; it cannot be replicated.

I'll leave you with this thought: I'm sure plenty of people have written about why you should write despite the arguments that would hinder you. However, you are reading my blog right now, not theirs. If I avoided this topic because other people have covered it, you might never have read whatever God wanted to use from this post to minister to you today.

Those potholes are big and daunting, but next time you face one, throw a bridge of truth across the void and drive right over it!

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. 1 Thess. 5:24

Your Bio--Introducing Yourself to the World

I've heard that your bio is the most important thing you'll ever write. That may be an exaggeration, but your bio is definitely an important marketing tool, one that will either work for or against you and your work. It's worth taking the time to do it right.

You'll want several different versions of your bio, for different genres of your work.

Your bio is your way of introducing yourself, like a verbal handshake.
I can't think of a better way to explain it than to show you examples, so please excuse having to read about me over and over again--mine are the only bios I have! =)

Different bio styles:

1. Your working bio. This goes on the bottom of articles you write or your professional work. It gives your professional credentials, a way for people to find more of your work, and very little life/family information.


Kimberly Rae has lived in Bangladesh, Uganda, Kosovo, and Indonesia. She now writes from her home in Lenoir, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two young children. Kimberly has been published over 250 times and has work in 6 languages. Her Christian suspense/romance novels on international human trafficking (Stolen Woman, Stolen Child, and Stolen Future) are all Amazon bestsellers. Find out more at

2. Specific genre bio. If you're writing something that focuses specifically, you want a bio that fits that focus. My articles on trafficking may mention that I do a lot of public speaking on trafficking and how to contact me for that. However, if it's about health problems, I need to write why I'm qualified to write about chronic illness.

Here's mine for my soon-to-be-released Sick&Tired book. The book is meant to give empathy, encouragement, and a little practical help, so I tried to make my bio friendly and casual, while still being informative.


With 5 different health conditions, including Addison’s disease, asthma, and a cyst on her brain, Kimberly Rae knows what it is like to live tired of dependence on medication, guilty over needing help, and frustrated over fielding the frequent comment, “But you don’t look sick!”

Rae has been published over 250 times and has work in 6 languages. After years overseas in several countries, her condition now keeps her in the US. She writes from her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her very patient husband and two young children who regularly pray, “Please help Mommy to get better,” and who both love cars and trains despite one of them being a girl.

3. Casual bio. This is for your blog or website, where you want to be more personal and friendly. This is where you talk about your kids, your hobbies, your favorite kind of latte or whatever. My bio here on the blog is one I'd never put on something professional--for one it's way too long!--but I get to share more of my heart. On my website, I put in a bio and added 10 random facts, just for fun. See: 10 Random Things About Me

Along with your bio, you'll want an author photo. Again, this photo can change based on the feeling of your bio. A professional head shot is always appropriate, but you can also put in a fun one for a fun bio (the one below is one I use sometimes on fun pieces about international culture. It makes me more approachable as a person, not just an author).

Your photo can help your bio in that it adds information about you as an author that saves you from having to put that in words. The above photo tells readers several things: I have traveled, have seen very unusual things, and have a quirky sense of humor. A reader might not consciously think through these things, but they will mentally ingest a general feeling about them.

In conclusion, regardless of the different types, every bio should let people know who you are, why you're qualified to write a particular piece or book, and how they can find out more.

Plots and Sub-Plots: How to Outline if you Hate Outlines

I hate outlines. The only way I can make a good outline is to write the book and then go back and outline it. Not real helpful.

Being a visual person, all those words in linear order feel like a math problem to me. With a novel especially, I can't figure out where to put all the sub-plots and characters and such into an organized order from the top of a page to the bottom.

That's why I love the tree concept. I don't even remember where I found it, so I apologize to whoever invented it for not giving proper credit!

The tree works great for fiction or non-fiction, books or articles. I'll put in examples from my new Sick & Tired book since it's fresh on my mind. Here's how it works:

Get a posterboard and draw a big tree trunk, and here we go!

1. In the trunk, write the main idea/point of your book. (How to Live Joyfully with Chronic Health Problems when you'd rather just Kick Something!)

2. Underneath the trunk, draw roots. That's backstory info that you'll need to put in somewhere, but it's not really part of the plot. So write your backstory facts, one for each root. (Why I'm qualified to write this book, why this book is needed, etc.)

3. Now it's time for you main plot themes. Draw large branches from your tree and write the major things that need to go into this book or this story, one major thing for each big branch. (Grieving is okay, not just accepting your limitations but adapting, what to do when you're ready to snap, freedom from what other people think, etc.)

4. Now from each branch, draw smaller branches. Those are your sub-plots, or for nonfiction, the points you want to make or illustrations you want to use within that larger heading. (For the grieving branch, I would want to make the points that it is natural, it is okay, different people have different time spans for grieving, etc.).

5. Keep making your branches branch off into smaller branches until you have covered that topic thoroughly. (I could list a specific story I want to tell, or some statistics, or verses I want to use to go under each idea.)

Wallah! You have your book. The tree concept works for me. I can look over the entire project and see all the parts of it shooting off in the right places, and it doesn't feel stressful to me like an outline does. And if you're really the visual type, as you complete a section, you can color in the branches you've worked on and always be able to see how far you've come and how much you have left to do.

My precious...

Hopefully this will help those of you who feel like you're drowning in information about your book and don't know where to put what.

Happy outlining--or happy treeing!

POV--Point of View

When I was ready to write Stolen Future, the last book in my Stolen Series, I went back to read through the first two books to make sure the story would flow. I started reading the first book, Stolen Woman, and was appalled at myself. I was "head-hopping" all over the place! Didn't I know about that back when I wrote the first book?

He thought, then she thought, then he thought, then...
Apparently not. Head-hopping, in case you haven't heard the term, is when your point-of-view goes from one person to another, as in you're telling this person's thoughts and feelings, then another person's, and the poor reader is getting confused or feeling rather schizophrenic.

I checked the second book in my series. Sure enough, it was there, too, but not as much. I made sure the third book had it right, and then went back and fixed the first two books and made new editions of them. I feel rather embarrassed about all those people who bought my first edition copies!

So, to save you that kind of embarrassment, here's a lesson about Point-Of-View so you won't be head-hopping your way through your writing.


When you write a scene, whose perspective is it coming from? I learned that, though in lighter fiction (like light romance novels) the writer can pop back and forth from one person's perspective to another, in general it is considered better quality to keep your scene from one person's perspective. If you change perspective, you need to put a break in your text to show that.

Now that I know this, it makes perfect sense. If you're reading, it's very hard to get sucked into a story when it keeps popping from this person's thinking to that person's, back to this person's. My one writer friend calls it "head-hopping."

To give an example, I'll pick on myself. Here's a scene from Stolen Woman where I kept hopping from Asha's perspective to Mark's. I'll highlight Asha's perspective in yellow and Mark's in blue.

      Having decided to make the best of the situation they had both been thrust into, Asha smiled brightly.  Besides, she was finally feeling the effects of jet-lag starting to wane, and the small burst of energy that filled her felt good.  Maybe he would take her on a tour of the city.  Or shopping.
      Once face-to-face, she stood looking up at him expectantly.  “Well, boss, where do we start?”
      Her smile was drawing his attention to her mouth.  She was not wearing any lipstick, but she did not need any.  Her lips were full and red.
      Mark’s brows furrowed.  This was not going to work.  He had not spent years preparing to return to India, only to get sidelined by a woman who would only be around for a few weeks.
      Asha’s face turned quizzical.  What had gotten him all peeved?  Was he still upset about being assigned as her overseer?
      “We’ll start with the rules.”
      Asha almost laughed, but his face told her he was serious.  No shopping?  No ride in a rickshaw to see the sights?  She might have known he would start with the boring stuff.  With an air of martyrdom, Asha tromped back toward the building, sat on a rickety chair on the porch, and sighed.  “Okay, let me have it.”
      Mark wanted to roll his eyes at the dramatics.  With an answering sigh of his own, Mark joined her on the porch.  “I didn’t ask for this responsibility, you know.”
      Bristling at the idea of being a “responsibility,” Asha’s retort was sharp.  “And I didn’t ask for a personal babysitter.”
      His mouth tipped to one side.  “You sure could have used one yesterday.”

You'll notice I jumped into Mark's brain and talked about what he was thinking and feeling, but then popped back over to Asha's. Not good. So I had to go back and change this scene. The dialogue and actions stayed the same, but the perspective (thoughts and feelings) needed to be from only one person, again, unless I put a space break so the reader's mind can make the jump.

POV Conclusion--each scene should be from one person's perspective, 
unless you put a break to show the change.

VLOG: A Cheaper Option for Promotional Materials

An author who goes to book signings, speaking events, or libraries benefits from having business cards to hand out, flyers or posters to advertise, maybe a banner. For everyday, it's useful to have professional business materials include letterheads, postcards, etc.

However, materials can be costly, and some companies only give good prices if you order hundreds or thousands at a time. Who wants to be stuck with 2,000 flyers, especially if, after you get them, you find a typo, or want to change information? Yikes.

Making materials has helped my sales. It has helped me develop a brand and present myself as a professional. 

Here's a video I made on creating a brand, and my favorite place to go to find inexpensive (they're always having sales!) and sometimes even free materials!

(I think I was tired the day I made this, so just pretend I'm smiling through it. =))

Creating consistent materials are a great way to present yourself as a professional, advertise your work, and spread the word! Just sign up for their e-mail updates and you'll start getting the great sales.