Novel Rocket

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hey, Someone Put Facts in My Fiction!

© momius -
by Alton Gansky

One of the most pervasive myths in the literary world is this: fiction is all make believe. It ain’t true. There is often more fact in fiction that reader’s realize. True, you wouldn’t use a novel in a footnote to document a point in your PhD dissertation, but that doesn’t mean everything between the covers of a novel is suspect. In fact, the best novelists do copious amounts of research to get the facts correct.

True, the plot of a novel is fabricated, the characters are made up, and the situation is contrived (in a believable way), but that does not mean it contains no truth and should be distrusted. I have learned amazing facts from novels.

The difference between a novel and a nonfiction book (I write both) is this: a novel is designed to help a reader experience something; a nonfiction book helps the reader learn something. Novels are about exploration; nonfiction works are about education. Both require rigorous research.

As a novelist, I cannot allow myself to say, “Eh, nobody is gonna care about that detail.” Yes, yes they are. At best, you might get letters; at worse, readers will write you off as careless and not worth reading.

Of course, we all make mistakes. In one of my Perry Sachs adventure novels I refer to a jet-fighter as an F-2. There is an F-2 fighter aircraft but it’s made for the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, not the US Air Force. Of course, I meant an F-22 but for some reason the second “2” didn’t show up in the final manuscript. I blame my keyboard.

In a novel I did with Zondervan a decade or so ago I have a character shipping out on a WWII submarine. He recalls watching The Milton Berle Show with his wife. Unfortunately for me, I was a couple of years too early for the Berle show and a reader called me on it. The odd thing is, I don’t recall writing that line. I may have meant it to be a placeholder, a name for me to double-check later and then failed to do so. That’s more of an admission of guilt than an excuse. I have many more mea culpa examples but I won’t bore you (or humiliate myself) with them.

I have a friend who writes historical fiction and was reminded by readers that his character couldn’t have tied her shoes. Women were still buttoning shoes in the year when the story takes place.

The lists are long. We all make such literary boo-boos. Even the most famous writers have dropped the ball on the details. I catch them at it all the time. It happens in nonfiction books as well. One of my favorite books on church history has been around for decades and is in its fourth printing. It has the wrong year for a particular pope’s death—a simple transposition.

Okay, so it happens to every writer, journalists, writers of screenplays, novelists, and nonfiction writers. Still, it is incumbent on all writers to do their best to get the facts straight, if only to avoid driving readers away.

There should be another reason, one more noble than avoiding gotcha letters: the duty to put out the best book we can. Writers of Christian material have—yes, even (maybe especially) novels—have a duty to the truth, because we represent the Truth. Shoddy research tells the reader the writer just didn’t care enough about the facts of the story, or for that matter, about the reader, to present the best possible work possible, one that has been properly researched.

This research extends beyond just facts but extends into human behavior. I wrote two series of novels with a female protagonist. Not being female, it proved to be a challenge. Fortunately, I had three female readers who kept me on track, allowed me to peek in the lodge of women’s shoes (which left me thoroughly intimidated), and corrected me with comments like, “A woman would never say that . . . or wear that . . . or feel that . . . or think that.” I did better than I thought I would but it took a great deal of observation and a willingness to ask for help from that crowd that has two X-chromosomes. I now know what a shell top is (as uncomfortable as it sounds) and tell the difference between spectator pumps and sling-backs. Yes, I have moments when I question my masculinity, but it’s all for the cause of writing.

All that to say, “Let’s get our facts straight, even in fiction.”

(c) Mary Denman
Alton Gansky writes, edits, leads the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and produces and hosts Writer's Talk.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meet Debut Author, Kimberli Buffaloe

Available at Amazon
I first met Kimberli Buffaloe when she joined the Penwrights Critique group where I was already a member. I soon fell in love with her writing and as our friendship grew, came to love her as a friend. She recently joined the ranks of indie authors with her debut novel Learning to Live Again, written under the pen name of Kimberli McCay, and I’m happy to introduce her to you now, with this interview.

* * *

Kimberli, this is your debut novel. What sparked the story?

The original plot was inspired by a debate I had with my husband, with me setting up the story as I would a chessboard and attempting to move the characters toward checkmate. I was a newbie writer at the time with an agenda, so it was a game I lost. As my writing matured, I dug deeper into the characters’ lives and motivations and found the real story.

What would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

Pray harder, speak less, listen more.

Share a bit of your journey to publication.

After several false starts, my journey began ten years ago after we moved to South Carolina so my husband could attend seminary full-time. We suddenly became empty nesters, and though I worked, I found myself with time on my hands. I joined an online writers’ group, which led me to American Christian Fiction Writers. The story after that is typical of most authors—high points and low, earning publishing credits, and meeting great people.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy nook?

We live on a half-acre in a neighborhood surrounded by farmland, so I camp out on my sofa with my feet propped on the coffee table where I can gaze out the window and daydream when I need to think through a scene.

What would you do if you didn't write?

I enjoy Carolina history so much, my husband claims I should teach the subject. But I’m a pastor’s wife, so my work has to be flexible and portable. I would love to work at the Caroliniana Room at the University of South Carolina, though.

What issue makes you struggle as an author? How do you handle it?

Discouragement, of course, but when I look back over the years, I can see how that discouragement led to personal and professional growth.

What are your top 3 recommendations for a new writer?

Present yourself as a professional, whether at a conference or in an online group. It’s easy to grow comfortable and vent or share too much of your personal life.

Always assume you have more to learn. Listen to those in the industry and to those who provide feedback.

My youngest daughter, a former Airman, participates in Spartan Races. She loves that participants often help one another over difficult obstacles and that they encourage one another toward the finish line. The writing life can easily be compared to those brutal races (though the Spartan finish line is far closer!) so do ye likewise.

Then what 3 things would recommend not doing?

Don’t pass up the opportunity to attend a few writers conferences.

Don’t hope an agent or editor will love your story so much, they’ll overlook the flaws in your writing. They won’t. If an agent or editor requests material, send a well written, polished manuscript.

Don’t ignore an agent or editor’s guidelines.

Some say a writer is born and others say anyone can learn. What do you think?

I believe it’s both. Certainly some authors have a gift for prose, but some have a gift for storytelling, and still others have a story to tell.

What's the strangest or funniest experience you've had in writing?

I embarrassed myself in front an author at a Blue Ridge Conference. Next question.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?

My preference has switched over the years, and I now prefer editing. That’s where the real crafting begins. Research? Love it.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

No. Visuals would only confuse me.

Do you work best under pressure or do you write at a leisurely pace??

Definitely under pressure. After my husband accepted a call to a church in an agrarian community, I found myself in the enviable position of having all the time in the world to write. I went from pounding out a draft in thirty to forty days while working full time, to pecking one out in a year as a stay-at-home pastor’s wife.

What are your writing rituals?

If I wanted to accomplish anything, I had to make changes. Following the lead of a professor I know, I started writing for an hour a day. Within the first five days, I had written close to five thousand words. That was motivation enough to continue the schedule. Now I clean my house, then write. I’m generally done before two in the afternoon.

What are your thoughts on critique partners?

I have very warm and fuzzy thoughts about them, especially mine. They do more than offer suggestions and corrections. They challenge me to grow and offer encouragement. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Any final thoughts?

We sit alone and write, and then we’re faced with the task of promoting ourselves and rising above the competition. Like the Spartan racers, don’t overlook the joy of boosting a straggler over a wall toward the finish line.

Learning to Live Again -- What's it about?

Some women have to forgive their husbands for being unfaithful. Vicky Morgan has to forgive hers for dying.

A year after a botched carjacking turned her into a widow at the age of twenty-five, Vicky meets a former police officer with connections to the crime that wrecked lives and sent her into hiding. She not only learns the fate of the officer injured in the attack, she has support from the only person who can understand what she suffered through that fateful night.

Clay Waters faces an uncertain future after his wife takes an extended vacation from their marriage. Unwilling to risk leaving their son without a parent, he quits his job at the police department. A decision that leaves him feeling useless until he meets the petite recluse who barely survived a face-off with a murderer.

Vicky gives Clay the sense of purpose he wants, and he provides her with protection she needs as she gradually expands her world and renews a faith she once tossed aside for a man. But when friendship turns to love, will the faith teaching them to forgive now keep them apart?

Kimberli's book is available on Amazon

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats, an hour's drive away from her hometown which she visits often to dig into its historical legacy. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She can often be found speaking at events around Lake Geneva or nosing in Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Certain Clear Perspective

by Marcia Lee Laycock

I love poetry. I love the way poets use words so succinctly and often in ways that make me stop and ponder what the real meaning of that word is. Sometimes a word is placed so well it takes my breath away. 

I received a poem in my inbox a while ago - Genius by Billy Collins, one of the poems in his collection called Aimless Love. The poem ponders the word genius, how it is used sarcastically at times and what the word really means. The poet causes us to ask ourselves, what is true genius? In the end he concludes that genius lies in ordinary things, like swans floating on a lake and he gives himself that label because he is taking the time to watch them.

The verse that made me stop was this one - 

Twenty-four geniuses in all,
for I numbered them as Yeats had done,
deployed upon the calm, crystalline surface—

I was especially struck by the phrase, ‘deployed upon the calm.’ It’s an unusual use of the word deployed, a military term defined by as “to spread out troops to form an extended front; to arrange in a position of readiness.” Troops are deployed to a battlefield – a stark contrast in my mind to swans gliding across the surface of a placid lake. So it stopped me, made me think, made me ponder.

And I thought about how we too, as believers in Christ, are deployed upon the calm, sent out into the kingdom of Christ, to form an extended front, ready to do His work among His people. It is a battlefield we are sent to, one in which we fight against the darkness, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Yet we are sent out “upon the calm,” confident in Christ because we know He is ruler of all realms and all principalities. There is no need to fear, no need to be anxious about success or failure. Our position is Christ gives us a certain clear perspective.

Whether it be writing a novel or painting a portrait or cooking a family meal, we are deployed, sent out, to work “with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23,24).

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Write on.

Abundant Rain, an ebook for writers of faith, can be downloaded here

Accepting an award at Write! Canada
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her second novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary fiction category of The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been included in several anthologies and endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Visit Marcia’s Website

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Does Getting Published Equal Nirvana?

By Michelle Griep
Attracting the attention of a publisher, receiving a fat advance in the mail, basking in the joy of seeing your novel on a bookstore shelf, these are indeed the sweet little bon bons that puff up a writer’s self-esteem and validates them as a “for real” author.

But should it?

Must one be published to call oneself a legit writer?


I’m here to blow out of the water this sea monster of a myth. A writer writes. Period. Do you write? Then read these words, memorize them, tattoo them on your palm so you can smack yourself in the head every time you doubt . . .


It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if you’re published or not. It doesn’t even matter if the best you can do is scribble cat, rat, and mat in chalk on the sidewalk. If you scrawl down words in any way, shape, or form, then you, little cowboy, are a writer.

Does signing a contract with a traditional publisher mean you can slap on some lipstick and kiss all your anxieties good-bye?

Double nope.

Once you sign on the dotted line with a traditional publisher and think you’ve arrived, it’s welcome to Worry-About-Marketing Land with a day trip to I-Wish-My-Sales-Were-Bigger City. Honestly, the grass isn’t greener on the publishing side. There is always something more to stress over. Contentment isn’t an external event. It’s an internal choice. Choose to live in and enjoy every moment, whether that’s your first years of bumbling pitches and rejected queries, or one-star reviews and dismal sales.

Are traditionally published writers higher up the authorly food chain because they’re better than the lowly self-published mealworms?

A big, fat nopey-nope with a side of no no sauce.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to go into a self-publishing vs. traditional publishing rant here. The only point I want to make is that both types of authors are valid. Yes, there’s a lot of crap (and yes, I said crap) on the self-publishing shelves because some people pump out a book simply for fame and fortune, bypassing the hard work of writing and the expense of hiring an editor. But I’ve also stepped in steaming piles of literary manure excreted by traditional publishers.

Before you go casting stones, realize that authors in both camps have glass houses worth shattering—but they also each have stunning and exquisite works of art. Box up your judgmental attitude and coexist already.

The bottom line is this: getting published by a traditional publisher is a noble goal, one that most writers hope to attain. It’s a worthy ambition, something to strive for, but never, ever—ever—tie-in that goal with self-worth.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas…professionally, however, for the past 10 years. She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. Her latest release, A HEART DECEIVED, is available by David C. Cook. You can find her at:, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.