Novel Rocket

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do You Think of Your Mentor?

I am at the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina. We have a new director since I took step back to refocus on my writing. I’ve been enjoying teaching and seeing old friends. Making new friends is also fun.

Another great joy is seeing former conferees who have worked their way into the publishing realm. Many of these former conferees are now on faculty teaching the new crops of budding writers. All of them have expressed their gratitude for those who invest their time into new writer’s career. This has me thinking about those who have had a role in helping me along the twisting path of publications.

I think of Jack Cavanaugh who called me one night many years ago to tell me that he just signed his first book contract. I was happy for him (and a little bit envious) and told him so. He then abruptly changed the topic from his success to ask me about the book I had abandoned five years before. After a bad experience I had give up writing. He asked, “What are you working on?” He knew I had tucked away my first manuscript. I made an excuse, then another, then another. He agreed with each of my wimpy explanations then asked, “So, what are you working on?”

I gave in. With my fanny still stinging from the Jack’s boot, I pulled down the manuscript, turned to page one and started rewriting.

The novel, By My Hands, next went to Dave Horton, editor at what was then Victor Books. He bought it. Joy! He did a macro edit on it. Less joy. I clenched my jaw and began my first professional edit. He was right about everything. I learned the ins and outs of publishing. Dave Horton went on to other publishers, and Victor was absorbed into another publisher. I did several books for Dave Horton, and every one was a valuable learning experience.

Along came another Dave—Dave Lambert of Zondervan. He bought my novel A Ship Possessed. Joy! He edited it. I received my first “Dave letter,” a document roughly 20 pages long. Much less joy. You guessed, he was right about everything. Working with Dave Horton was like going to college; working with Dave Lambert was grad school.

There are many others who carried me over the rough spots. Mentors, encouragers, guides. I love them all, and I think of them from time to time. They are reminders to us that no writer’s journey is a solo venture. Who helped you along the path?

Alton Gansky is the author of 50 works, fiction and nonfiction. He is also the co-host of Firsts in Fiction.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why You Should Consider Registering for Realm Makers 2016


Last year, I attended Realm Makers for the first time. In fact, I was privileged to teach two electives there. There's a bit of a story behind our intersection. While my first two novels were published in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), I have for years vocally expressed concern about the lack of representation of the spec genre in Christian publishing circles. This goes WAY back. For example, in 2010 I asked Why 'Supernatural Fiction' is Under-Represented in Christian Bookstores and also conducted a Speculative Fiction Panel in which I queried about the state of the spec genre in Christian publishing and why, with the genre's prolific representation in mainstream culture, it was so poorly repped in Christian circles. After attending the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in Dallas in 2012 (that was my third or fourth writers conference), part of my "debriefing" included these thoughts:

Christian publishers have absolutely no idea what to do with speculative fiction. Or YA. Both are a very thin slice of the industry pie and often a marketing headache. A couple examples. Randy Ingermanson was one of the first authors to write speculative Christian fiction (some novels over a decade ago). He admitted he was planning to edit the books and re-introduce them into the general market. Why? Because spec-fic doesn’t sell well in the CBA. Another example: During the agent panel I attended, the question arose about YA lit and the agents’ response was sort of meh. In fact, Rachelle [my agent] mentioned that one of her teenage daughter’s all-time favorite series was Lisa Bergren’s River of Time (the first which won the 2012 Christy Award for best YA) which was later dropped by Cook… before the series ended. Her daughter was heartbroken. Bergren has since self-published the remainder of the series through CreateSpace. It’s a sad reminder of how orphaned those who write genres other than Romance or Historicals really are.

Issues had been brewing for some time between mainstream CBA / ACFW loyalists and writers of speculative fiction who continued to feel like misfits trapped in a parallel world of Romance and Amish fangirls. Even the Christy Awards, the premiere literary awards for Christian fiction, dropped their speculative fiction category saying that there simply were not enough entries. The Christys later re-introduced a “Visionary” Category which encompassed all the speculative fiction subgenres. This did not soften the continued sense that speculative fiction was an odd fit in contemporary Christian publishing circles.

In 2012, after attending the ACFW conference in Dallas, things appeared to come to a head. After a brief run-in between the spec cosplay crowd and the ACFW staff (which you can dig around elsewhere for), "the board [was] set, the pieces [were] moving," to quote a famous wizard. Of course, I did the curmudgeonly thing and challenged spec writers to get more serious. I suggested Maybe It's Time We Hung Up the Ol' Spock Ears, and my ears were roundly boxed. Sort of. Anyway, here's what I wrote:

It’s bad enough that Christian publishers are unsure what to do with speculative fiction writers. But must we compound this by acting like outsiders?

The first ever Christian writers conference I attended back in 2006 had a workshop for speculative fiction writers. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed to be in it. Why? Not only did it seem a tad cliquish and groupie-ish, next to the cerebral, visionary sci-fi and fantasy writers I’d come to love, these folks seemed liked goofballs.

And it didn’t help that some of them were wearing costumes.

Yes, I know that conventions and conferences draw out the nerds. And there’s nothing wrong with wearing a toga or brandishing a foam sword to the banquet. If dressing up like C3PO and rolling out the British accent is your thing, go for it. Also, I realize that spec writers dwell in a sort of perpetual Neverland, seeing the world through a unique prism of imagination that Historical Romance authors would run, shrieking from, with petticoat girded appropriately. Yeah, I get all that.

But being that Christian speculative fiction writers already seem out of place in the industry, it doesn’t help our cause to act so… out of place.

This kind of give-and-take, along with the angsty noodling of people who enjoy dressing up like elves and robots, finally gave way to something that had been in the works for a while. Realm Makers held its first ever conference in 2013. Including staff, roughly 90 participants attended. Pretty good for a first-time effort. The two years following has continued to see significant numerical growth (I believe that last year attendance was in the 150 range). Logging this kind of progressive growth is an important indicator of the health, vision, and relevance of a fledgling organization like RM.

According to their vision statement, Realm Makers exists,

To provide a faith-friendly symposium for writers and artists, focused on science fiction, fantasy, and all their sub-genres. Whether participating artists wish to gear their content for the inspirational or mainstream marketplace, they have a place at Realm Makers.

So while the tenuous history between spec authors and the CBA / ACFW may play a part, RM is less a reaction against and more a response to a much larger vision. What Christian spec authors have been saying for the longest -- that speculative fiction is a powerful and popular genre for readers and writers across the faith spectrum -- is the power source behind the RM steamship. While it is acknowledged that mainstream Christian fiction is a viable genre, with many fine authors, serving a valid purpose, we also wish to acknowledge the vast, under-represented lovers of faith and speculative fiction who often feel displaced by the consensus demographic of mainstream publishing.

Possibly the best reason I can give for considering to choose to attend Realm Makers 2016 is that developing relationships with other writers who have similar faith and fiction passions is incredibly important. Look, I am not a big conference person, I lean more to introvert than extrovert, don't do cosplay, can be socially awkward, and take stress meds. (Wow. This makes me sound like a head case!) I taught two electives at last years' conference. It was my first time in attendance. I was nervous. I sweat a lot. Yes, it helped that I knew so many people from online interaction. But that also contributed to the nerves. Nevertheless, by far my biggest takeaway was meeting and interacting with so many cool people. Yes, being yoked by our penchant for the weird played a part. It's a big relief to be able to mention Miskatonic University or a Rancor without being looked at like a loon. However, the sense of camaraderie and curiosity and friendliness is what lingered. Sure, this is probably the same spiel given by many conference reps. However, I found it to be hugely important. I know many writers are like me -- not a big people person, prefer to stay home and read or write, somewhat socially awkward. But let me encourage you -- Not only are writerly relationships important, but you may have more to offer to someone else than you think. So first I'd suggest that developing relationships with other writers who have similar faith and fiction passions is a huge thing.

Which leads to a second reason I'd suggest you consider registering for RM2016 -- Developing long-term industry connections is huge to your writing career. At this stage, RM is "small" enough to provide access to many talented and influential people. Last year, I rubbed shoulders with Robert Liparulo, Tosca Lee, Steve Laube, Kirk DouPonce, Dave Long, and others. These kinds of relationships can prove incredibly valuable to a long-term writing career. Perhaps my biggest surprise was when Donita Paul said that she'd read my blog. Gulp! There's plenty of attendees who will not fit the "celebrity" bill (sorry Ben), but can be valuable travelers along the journey (I hope this doesn't come off as me suggesting to we "use" people to climb the ladder of success, cause I'm not.) Aspiring cover artists, great editors who are just now forging a career, future beta readers and online critique partners, even indie press publishers will all be relatively accessible during the conference. In fact, one of the neat things about RM (and one reason they're able to keep their prices low) is because they utilize university campus facilities and dorms (this years' is Villanova). Because most attendees bunk in the dorms, it allows for lots of after hours discussions (something I'll be doing more of this year). All that to say, RM is a great place to meet industry folks and develop relationships with like-minded authors and editors that could prove valuable to a long-term career.

Finally, let me go out on a limb and say that the reason RM has shown continued growth over the last three years is because it has identified a genuine niche. Christian artists have long embraced the speculative genres. Whether it was George MacDonald's fairy tales, Tolkein's epic fantasy, or C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, believers have often seen the spec genres as a powerful tool of apologetic and inspirational storytelling. Which is one of the reasons why spec's under-representation in the Christian market is so troubling. You can find plenty of conferences on speculative fiction -- DragonCon, ComicCon, etc., etc. However, conferences that seek to integrate issues of faith, a biblical worldview, and theology with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, are virtually non-existent. At the expense of sounding like an infomercial, RM may be tapping into an important growing trend in Christian art -- equipping and populating mainstream culture with "Christian" voices, ideas, representatives, and stories of the speculative, fantastical genre.

Anyway, there's a few reasons why I think you should consider attending Realm Makers 2016. Yes, I'll be teaching there again. (You can see my class descriptions HERE.) Yes, I'll definitely be bringing my stress meds and appearing socially awkward. And, no, I won't be dressing up like Robin Hood. (However, I may wear my Marvel socks.) Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to meeting new friends, seeing "old" ones, and encouraging a new breed of author to blaze new trails. You can register HERE.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Why Give Away a Free eBook?

post by Michelle Griep

Unless you're self-pubbed, authors don't have a say in when freebie promos happen. They just do. Oh, I suppose the publishing marketing gurus have a grand plan for when and why, but to the average Joe Schmo writer like me, it's a mystery akin to why a bird poops on my car right after I've washed it.

The first time one of my books rocketed into cyberspace with a $0 price tag dangling from the corner, I admit I was tempted to pull out my cranky pants from my closet and shimmy into them (cranky pants are notoriously tight...enhancing that pinchy feeling that really makes one snarl). Giving away my hard work for free does not go a long way toward paying my mortgage or even my morning cup of java.

Do you ever see a plumber fixing a toilet for nothing? Sorry for the butt-crack visual, but my point is that the usual routine is that a worker works and the end result is a paycheck. Newsflash: that doesn't happen when you give your work away.

So why in the world do it? Several reasons, actually. . .

It gets your name out there.
I don't care how great your mother thinks you are, the fact is that not everyone is familiar with your sweet storytelling skills. A reader is a bajillion times more likely to download a book from an author they don't know than fork over some cash for it. Okay, so maybe not an entire bajillion, but a whole freaking lot.

You're not really losing money.
It only seems like it. I know that sounds like a bunch of smoke and mirrors, but consider this. . . if someone who never would've otherwise read your book downloads your digital data and reads it without paying, you don't lose anything since that reader was not going to buy it in the first place. Savvy?

It ups reviews.
Word of mouth is the name of the game, baby. The more people who have read your book, the more likely they are to write a review about it, spreading the word. Face it. People are lemmings. If a reader sees a pack of furry furry mammals running toward a particular author, they are going to join the herd.

Increased sales.
If a reader really goes all gushy on a story, they are more likely to purchase a print copy to display that little trophy on their bookshelf. Also, free ebooks that do well stand a good chance to continue riding the crest of that download wave after the promotion is over, increasing sales. A great way to really hang ten is to follow-up that freebie with a sale.

Now then, if you happen to be on the reading-end of the scale and are looking to fill up your Kindle on the cheap, HERE's the link to Amazon's current freebies.

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sarah Sundin ~ It's A Mystery to Me....Mesmerizing Mysteries and How to Master Them

Mesmerizing Mysteries and How to Master Them
by Sarah Sundin 

What makes a satisfying mystery? As in all novels, we need intriguing lead characters, a captivating premise, and a setting that supports the story on both a physical and emotional level. But mysteries also have a cast of suspects and an interwoven plot with suspects and investigators acting and reacting to each other. Ideally, the reader figures out the mystery around the same time as the sleuth does. Too obvious and the reader is bored. Too opaque and the reader is annoyed.

When I tackled my first mystery plotlines in the Waves of Freedom series, I found I needed new ways to develop my secondary characters and plot. As an outline-oriented plotter, I laid this all down in advance so I had a clear roadmap when writing my rough draft. But a seat-of-the-pants writer may find these methods helpful when analyzing the rough draft before editing.

Suspicious Suspects

Well-developed secondary characters are necessary in any novel, but in mysteries the author needs to dig even deeper. The story needs a number of suspects, both guilty and innocent, for the sleuth to investigate.

To develop the suspects, I filled out character charts—a shortened version of the questionnaire I use for heroes and heroines, with some additional specialized questions.

To understand each person, I filled out information about his appearance, family, upbringing, education, employment, morals, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I want to know what makes him tick.

Next, I examined why the character is qualified to be a suspect. How is he clever, resourceful, knowledgeable, or skilled? What does he bring to the table in the story?

What is his driving passion? Does she want something badly enough to break the law to get it? Does he love someone so obsessively that he’ll do anything to help—or have—this person? Along these lines, what is her greatest fear and what will she do to make sure it doesn’t come to pass? What is his greatest secret and what will he do to keep it in the dark?

How does she act suspicious? If she’s guilty, how is she concealing her actions? If he’s innocent, how does it look as if he’s concealing something? Maybe he’s hiding an affair, or a surprise party, or an unrelated crime, or a secret from his past.

Each suspect needs to have the classic “motive, means, and opportunity.” Each must look as if he could and would commit the crime. But you can create “holes”—an airtight alibi or a seeming lack of connection to the victim.

Each suspect needs to look evil enough to have committed the crime. And—this is important—each needs to look innocent enough not to have committed the crime. Give each one, including the actual villain, some positive traits—kindness, humor, devotion, chivalry, courage, standing up for the downtrodden, charitable giving, excellence in his field—traits that make the sleuth and the reader write him off as a suspect.

Next, write a brief sketch of the plot from his point-of-view. What actions does he commit? How does he react to the story events, investigators, and other suspects?

Puzzling Plot

Now to set your cast in motion. You might have a dozen suspects, an amateur sleuth, and a detective. They interact with each other, respond to story events and each other, and drop clues and red herrings. They lie, conceal, and deliberately mislead.

It was enough to make me pound my head on my keyboard.

Instead I made a chart.

In a table format, I set up columns for each suspect and each investigator, including my amateur sleuth heroine.

Each row is for a scene in the novel—or for the time between scenes—and I shade these in different colors. For the scenes, I fill in what each character does or says, what others say about her, or any clues that point to her.

Just as important—the rows for time between scenes. This is what happens offstage. Perhaps a hitch in chapter 10 causes the villain to change plans. Perhaps a clue in chapter 20 leads the police to search Innocent Suspect A’s apartment. Perhaps that search makes Suspect A panic and plant evidence to place Suspect B at the crime scene.

The chart format allowed me to make sure each suspect followed a natural plot arc and acted and reacted in character. I could track what my heroine learns, when she does so, and whom she suspects most at each moment.

For you seat-of-the-pants writers who discover the true villain along with your point-of-view character, this can help you backtrack and plant appropriate story elements.

Done well, your conclusion will be a logical surprise, and your readers will be delighted.


Sarah Sundin is the author of eight historical novels, including Anchor in the Storm. Her novel Through Waters Deep was named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,” and her novella “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in Where Treetops Glisten was a finalist for the 2015 Carol Award. A mother of three, Sarah lives in California, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school. She also enjoys speaking for church, community, and writers’ groups. Please visit her at

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Magic Paragraph

One of my favorite writing tips came from the late Ron Benrey. He taught it to me about ten years ago. He called it The Magic Paragraph. It and much more are in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction.

When Ron left us to enter heaven and teach them all how to write, his wife, Janet, gave me permission to pick up the mantle on his Magic Paragraph and pass it on. This little gadget has worked well for me.

The Magic Paragraph:
  • Signal which head to enter.
  • Record an appropriate sense, emotion or mental faculty
  • Show appropriate action or response
  • Repeat if necessary 

Breaking that down, the first one is fairly self explanatory. Begin by letting the reader know whose POV.
Jane plopped her backside down on the curb.

We know we’re in Jane’s head. You don’t have to start with the name, but give it fairly soon, so the reader knows who it is. In the book I’m writing now, I start it this way:

The morning fog was about as thick as the pea soup Great-aunt Lola used to make. Claire hated that soup then and she didn’t much like this fog now.

I give you Claire’s name in the second sentence. And you wouldn’t confuse the POV character with Great-aunt Lola, because she wouldn’t think of herself that way.

In those same two opening sentences, I have both the first and second bullets in the magic paragraph.

I signaled whose head to enter and then I recorded an appropriate sense, emotion or mental faculty for the character. Here’s another one to follow Jane’s opening line.

Her spirit was so low she could probably dangle her feet and not touch the water trickling in the gutter.

Next is to show an appropriate action.
For Claire it’s: She swished her hand back and forth in an impotent attempt to dispel it. 
For Jane: She pulled a crumpled tissue from her pocket and blew her nose, wishing she could blow away her problems as easily.

The last item is Repeat if necessary. You need to keep the reader grounded in your POV character’s head. This little gadget, the Magic Paragraph, isn’t a formula per se. It’s a guide to showing what’s in your character’s head. Take your reader on the journey, making them privy to your POV character’s innermost thoughts.

Jane plopped her backside down on the curb. Her spirit was so low she could probably dangle her feet and not touch the water trickling in the gutter. She pulled a crumpled tissue from her pocket and blew her nose, wishing she could blow away her problems as easily.

So there you have it, The Magic Paragraph. Use it to help keep your story and your reader grounded in your character’s POV.

Home to Chapel Springs, (available now)

A homeless author, a heartbroken daughter, and a theatre ghost. There’s trouble in Chapel Springs.

There’s always someone new in Chapel Spring, either coming home or stirring up trouble.

Bestselling author Carin Jardine’s latest book is a flop. While the reviewers are happily skewering her, her racecar-driver-husband walks out on her and she’s evicted, because he hasn’t paid the lease on their condo for the last three months. Then she discovers he also he drained their bank accounts. Homeless and broke, she and her little boy have no choice but to retreat to the house she inherited from her nana in Chapel Springs—the house that’s been gutted. Then, a stranger knocks on her door. One that will change the course of her life.

After the residents thwarted Howie Newlander’s plans for a Miami-style resort on Chapel Lake, he’s running for mayor and spreading rumors about diverted water and misused taxes. The Lakeside Players want to remodel the town’s old theater, but it’s rumored to be haunted. When Newlander and Mayor Riley go head-to-head, Claire gets caught in the middle.

Claire’s youngest daughter is in love with a young man whose daddy is none other than Mayor Felix Riley…the man who man who blames Claire for every wrong in Chapel Springs. Having him part of her family isn’t in Claire’s plan. The years of her heartache should warn her daughter off this boy. So far, her daughter’s heart isn’t hearing the warnings.

With hearts pulled in all directions, will they find a home in Chapel Springs?


While a floppy straw hat is her favorite, novelist Ane Mulligan has worn many including pro-family lobbyist, drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane writes her Southern-fried fiction in Sugar Hill, GA, where she resides with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, her Amazon author page, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.