Novel Rocket

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Good Cleaning

By Marcia Lee Laycock




It’s that time of year again – time for spring cleaning. We’ve been doing a lot of it lately, and not just in our own home. We’re helping missionary friends get their home ready to be put on the rental market. It’s a big job and when we saw the condition of the house after the last tenants moved out, we despaired of getting it done quickly. But when several people showed up for a work bee, we were thrilled. They came with rags and mops, rubber gloves and sponges, shovels and rakes, and they set about giving the place a good cleaning.

There was a team assigned to the garage, one inside the house and one outside. Before long the whole area was a hive of activity. I was working with the crew inside so didn’t see what was happening outside until it was almost time to leave. I was stunned when I saw the transformation. When we arrived the yard had been matted with old leaves and grasses, a web of winter mould laying on top. The flower beds were quite ugly, with dead growth carpeting the soil, smothering anything that might have been trying to grow. 

Several men had gone to work with rakes and shovels and the result was obvious. I was surprised to even see some green shoots coming up in the lawn. Then a friend pointed out the bright green shoots in the garden – crocuses, tulips and irises were pushing through. 

As I bent to examine them it made me think of the work God does in our lives. We sometimes must look as dreary and dead as that yard looked, layered with the leavings of old sin and covered with the webs of guilt that threaten to smother us. But God is in the business of giving us all a good cleaning.

How thankful we should be that Jesus has cleared all the rubbish away, just as surely as those rakes and shovels cleaned that yard. He did it by his death, the death we will celebrate in only a few short days. It seems odd to say those two words in the same sentence – death and celebrate. His is the only death I know of that is celebrated, by the people who say they love Him. We celebrate it because His death means our release, His suffering means our freedom and His mercy means we will have life everlasting. That’s why we call it Good Friday. 

And that’s why we celebrate not just his death but his resurrection, in this spring season called Easter. It’s a time when we rejoice in knowing our redeemer lives because it means we have access to that same life – resurrection life.

As Jesus said to his friend, Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25,26). 

Mary said yes. Have you? 

As writers of faith this is essential. We cannot produce the fruit of resurrection in our lives and through our work, unless we believe and hold onto the One who was raised. When we stand on Easter Sunday morning and shout, in confidence and boldness of faith, “He is risen!” may it resound in our hearts with joy and absolute truth.
*****


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 endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here. Visit Marcia’s Website
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Write More; Fret Less

Michelle Griep here introducing y’all to debut novelist EMILY WIERENGA. Grab a mug o’ joe, prop up your feet, and sit back for a fun interview. . .

A PROMISE IN PIECES is your debut novel. What sparked the story?

My Grandma Dow was very close to a brother who was killed in combat during World War II. Also, my grandfather served in the Second World War; I’ve always had a fascination with the time period, and being a pastor’s daughter who’s not only battled disillusionment with the church but miscarriage, the story about how God redeems broken hearts and sets the lonely in families just wove together.

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

I would write more and fret less; I would enjoy the process more, as it’s a journey and even those tiny assignments are developing your style as a writer.

Share a bit of your journey to publication.

I received my B.A. in English at King’s University College in Edmonton, AB, and then was hired as an associate editor for a non-profit newspaper for three years. After that I resigned to become a freelance journalist and columnist, and during that time was commissioned to write a book for an organization. I discovered that I liked writing books, and became a ghostwriter. I then wrote a couple of self-help books, one with a doctor, the other solo, before venturing into fiction and memoir. This summer my first memoir is releasing with Baker Books, entitled Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I thought to Look.

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

I write with my sons on my lap. I will attach a photo. I write in our office at home, or in a comfortable chair in the living room, but with two young boys ages 2 and 4, I don’t get much alone time. My best writing times happen during the kids’ nap, or in the evenings.

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

Insecurity makes it hard to market myself. I also find it hard to know how much to self-promote as I am a believer, and have been taught that the last shall be first. It is a fine balance, walking this wire between humility and a calling. I handle it on my knees.

What are your top 3 recommendations for a new writer? 
  1. Write
  2. Write
  3. Write.
 What 3 things would recommend not doing? 
  1. Don’t try to be someone you are not—don’t try to copy someone else’s writing style. Write as you feel comfortable and let your own style be birthed in the process.
  2. Don’t be discouraged by other people’s success; everyone has their season. Persevere.
  3. Don’t edit your first draft before it’s done—just get it out there, and then go back and be critical later.
A blurb about A PROMISE IN PIECES:

Following World War II, Clara Kirkpatrick returns from the Women’s Army Corp to deliver a dying soldier’s last wishes: convey his love to his young widow, Mattie, with apologies for the missed life they had planned to share.

Struggling with her own post-war trauma, Clara does not feel prepared to handle the grief of this broken family. Yet upon meeting Mattie, and receiving a baby quilt that will never hold the soldier’s baby, Clara vows to honor the sacrifices that family made.

Now a labor and delivery nurse in her rural hometown, Clara wraps each new babe in the gifted quilt and later stitches the child’s name into the cloth. As each new child is welcomed by the quilt, Clara begins to wonder whatever happened to Mattie—and if her own life would ever experience the love of a newborn. Little does she know that she will have the opportunity to re-gift the special quilt—years later and carrying even greater significance than when it was first bestowed.

Emily Wierenga is wife to a math-teacher husband; mother and foster mother to four boys; an artist, columnist and the author of Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder, Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life After Pregnancy and A Promise in Pieces (Spring 2014). For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Habits of the Slow and Steady ~ Tracy L. Higley's Writing Journey

by Kelly Klepfer

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

It’s so easy to get your self-worth tied up in the number of books you sell, and so easy to forget that writing is first and foremost creating art (hopefully), which will never be validated by numbers. And secondly, your worth has to come from someplace more secure than sales.  I’m not sure I “handle it” very well, but when I’m centered on the right things, I can let go of the need to see sales numbers climb.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

I am passionate about seeing people, especially women, live out the adventures of their lives with purpose and risk. So many of us get caught up in busyness that is not purposeful, or stand on the sidelines while life rushes past. In the stories I tell, I am always examining issues of what blocks us from pursuing the unique adventure we are each called to.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

The Queen’s Handmaid just released.  What happens when Cleopatra meets Herod the Great? This little-known historical anecdote was the starting point for a story that dives deep into the ancient worlds of Egypt, Rome and Jerusalem, a few decades before the birth of Christ. I loved exploring the relationships between Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus, through the eyes of a servant girl who sees it all while trying to fulfill her own incredible destiny.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Yes, and yes!  Always.  I don’t think this ever goes away. Lately, though, I’ve realized that I can’t look at anyone else’s pace or rhythm to be the standard for my own. And I’ve discovered that making just a little bit of writing a daily practice, non-negotiable, is a great habit for me. It gets the work done, slow and steady, without as much of that angst.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I’ve done lots of traveling in researching my books – all around the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. Getting into the culture, walking the streets, breathing the air have all been such an inspiration to me. Someday I’m going to park myself on a Greek island for a month and just write!

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I was verbally chastised once, in front of a large tour group in the ancient city of Ephesus, for “lagging behind.”  I was too far away to explain to the woman that I was researching a book, so I just called out that information over the heads of the rest of the group.  Afterward, I felt extremely vain and showy, and wished I could melt into the rocks!

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course)?

They say it’s deadly to read your own reviews, but I can’t help myself.  Sometimes there’s a review that gets me down for awhile, but for the most part I just love hearing what people enjoyed about my stories. When they say that I transported them completely to a different world and brought them back changed, it makes it all worthwhile.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

Hmmm, I’ve had quite a few!  Climbing up the suffocatingly-narrow shaft to the top of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Having the lights go out while exploring catacombs under Alexandria. Hiking to the top of Mt. Vesuvius over Pompeii and looking down into the volcanic crater. Walking the same streets as St. Paul.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you'd like.

This is my favorite place to write – a patio I created under my deck a couple of years ago. On the right is the view I see when I’m sitting at the table.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?


Plot, plot, plot.  I definitely like to have the entire thing laid out in my head before I begin. There are always surprises along the way, but I like to know where I’m going!

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?


I’ve already shared that I have a non-negotiable contract with myself to write every morning, and that’s at least 750 words. There will be other long days of writing interspersed, but if I can get that much done every day, I’m able to stay on track. I also use a time-tracking app, so when I’m ready to start my 750 words, I hit the button and race the clock to see how quickly I can get it done. Timing myself really helps me stay out of “editing” mode and in “creative” mode.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

Contests and being part of Fiction Scavenger Hunts have worked very well for me. People love to enter contests, and teaming up with other authors brings more traffic to everyone.

Parting words?

Thanks for giving me a chance to meet your readers!  I’d love to have folks hop over to my website, www.TracyHigley.com, to see my travel journals, read excerpts, and of course, enter to win a contest!

Tracy L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. Her lifelong interest in history and mythology have led Tracy to extensive research into ancient lands and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.

Higley has authored eleven novels, including Garden of Madness and Isle of Shadows, and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her books. She is thrilled to bring readers adventures set in the ancient past, and it’s her hope that in escaping with her, readers will feel they’ve walked through these deserts, explored ruins, felt the white sand and blue sea under their feet and met with the Redeeming God who is sovereign over the entire drama of human history.

For more information about Tracy L. Higley and her books, visit tracyhigley.com, become a fan on Facebook (tracyhigley) or follow her on Twitter (@tlhigley).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Reading Your One-Star Reviews...and Eating Rat Poison

By Randy Ingermanson 

(This is a two-part series of posts arguing why authors SHOULD versus SHOULD NOT read their one-star reviews. I knew Randy had strong feelings on this, and I think he nearly has me convinced I shouldn't read mine. Check in next month for the pros of reading low reviews with Julie Cantrell. I respect both authors so much and don't wish a one-star on either of them.--Heather Day Gilbert

Randy Ingermanson is the award-winning author of six novels and the best-selling book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES.  He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the creator of the wildly popular Snowflake Method of writing a novel.  He edits the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine and gets ridiculous amounts of traffic on his web site at AdvancedFictionWriting.com.  Randy sits on the Executive Board of American Christian Fiction Writers and lives at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest where he attends to the needs of three surly cats.


Don't Eat the Rat Poison
by: Randy Ingermanson



I was visiting my friend JimBob last month and we were having breakfast.

JimBob was reading the newspaper, doing the crossword, and I had my iPad out, reading reviews of my latest book on Amazon.

I slapped my hand down on the table hard. “Idiot!”

JimBob gave me a strange look. “I was just about to ask you for a five-letter synonym for ‘moron’ that ends with a T. You must be clairvoyant.”

“No, I’m furious.” I shoved my iPad over to JimBob. “Take a look at what this reviewer wrote about me.”

JimBob scanned the review. “Hmmm, what does ‘soporific’ mean?”

“Sleep-inducing. Which is ridiculous.”

JimBob kept reading. “What about ‘tepid dialogue?’ Dialogue doesn’t have a temperature. How can it be tepid?”

I just stared at him. “Do you think my books are sleep-inducing?”

“Why would you say that?” JimBob asked.

“Well, you didn’t say anything when I said it was ridiculous that this guy said it was sleep-inducing.”

“Because it was ridiculous.” JimBob shook his head. “This guy doesn’t like your writing. So what?”

“He’s an idiot!”

“So why do you care what an idiot thinks?”

I began spluttering. “Because … this review is out there in public.”

JimBob pointed at the screen. “He misspelled ‘boring’ right there. He spelled it ‘borring.’ And his grammar is horrible. I bet he’s 15 years old.”

Acid welled up in my stomach. “Is my writing really boring?”

“No.”

“Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”

“Yes.”

I stared at JimBob.

He punched me. “Teasing.”

I wanted to go punch a wall or something. I knew I was going to have another crappy day. This review was going to stick in my mind all week. I’d be thinking of all the horrible things this guy said about my book, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d be so mad, I wouldn’t be able to write. And it was all his fault.

“Why do you do that?” JimBob said.

“Do what?”

“Read your 1-star reviews.”

“Because they’re there.”

“That’s not a reason. These people aren’t in your target audience. You don’t owe them anything. Nothing you do will make them happy. Why should you care what they think?”

“Because … I might find ways that I can improve my writing.”

JimBob shoved the iPad back toward me. “This guy wants you to have zombies in your novel.”

“I don’t write zombie fiction.”

“And cussing.”

“I don’t need cussing to get my point across.”

 "And graphic sex scenes.”

“That’s not what I write.”

“So how is reading a review by a guy like this going to improve your writing? You don’t write the kind of things he wants, and you’re never going to write the kind of things he wants.”

“What, I should just bury my head in the sand and only read my 5-star reviews?”

“Who writes 5-star reviews?” JimBob asked.

“Well … that’s obvious. The people who really like my stuff. My biggest fans.”

“So if you read their reviews, will it tell you the things they like best, and remind you to do those more often and better?”

“Sure.”

“And if you read reviews by people who hate your writing, are you ever remotely likely to take their advice? Have you ever found any useful advice in a 1-star review?”

“It’s just something I have to do.”

The doorbell rang. A thunderstorm of footsteps clattered outside on the porch and down the steps.

JimBob went to answer the door.

I kept trying to think if I’d ever found even one helpful piece of advice in a 1-star review.

“Idiots.” JimBob slouched back into the room carrying a bowl. He went to the fridge, poured some milk in the bowl, grabbed a spoon and sat down at the table.

“What have you got there?” I asked.

JimBob put a spoonful in his mouth and began chewing. His face twisted into a horrible grimace, and then he began gagging. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.

I pounded him on the back.

He retched up something and spit it out on the table.

I stared at it. “What is that stuff?”

“Gift from the neighbor kids.” JimBob took another bite.

I looked at it closely. “It looks like rat poison.”

His face twisted again and he chewed furiously, then took a big swallow of orange juice and forced it down. His face had turned a sickly shade of pale green. “It is rat poison. The neighbor kids hate me.”

“Why?”

“Last month I called the cops on them because they were having a huge party with giant speakers out in the streets at 3 AM. They’ve had it in for me ever since.”

I stared at him. “So they bring you rat poison?”

JimBob nodded. “They leave a bowl of it on my doorstep every day.”

“And you eat it?”

“Yeah.”

“Why in the world would you eat rat poison?”

“Because it’s there.”

“That’s not a reason. Those kids hate you. You don’t have to eat what they give you.”

“Well, I might figure out what they don’t like about me so I can be a better person.”

“JimBob, that’s nuts! You already know why they hate you, and that’s not going to change. You’re not going to become a better person by eating rat poison.”

“What, I should just bury my head in the sand and only eat things made by people who like me?”

“That’s a whole lot better for you than eating rat poison from your enemies.”

JimBob put another spoonful in his mouth. “It’s just something I have to do.”

“Well, you’re crazy if you eat rat poison.”

He chewed and chewed and chewed and finally gagged down the mouthful. A terrible look crossed his face. He went running into the bathroom and I heard the sound of vomiting. JimBob was moaning. “I’m gonna be sick all day. And it’s all those kids’ fault.”

I shook my head. That was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard of.

I drank the rest of my orange juice and scrolled down to the next 1-star review of my book.

My face started getting hot. Here was another guy who didn’t get my writing. Didn’t like the kind of books I wrote. Wanted something completely different. And insisted on telling me all about it.

Idiot.

***Thank you for that well-written and very convincing post, Randy! Authors, I'd love it if you'd share your thoughts on reading low reviews--do you or don't you, and why or why not? Watch for next month's follow-up post!***


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big Congratulations to the Christy Finalists

Two of Novel Rocket's columnists are finalists for the Christy Awards ...
Congratulations to Brandilyn Collins and Rachel Hauck!
Congratulations to all the finalists.


Be A Champion Writer

By Rachel Hauck

This was an Olympic year. And March Madness just ended. 

And I'm sure somewhere around the world it's soccer or rugby championship.

I'm fascinated by athletes and the level of commitment they have to their craft, their skill.

They train for a shot at gold. For a college scholarship. For a championship ring.

It's a shot of a life time. A chance to chase the dream.

A lot goes into training for the Olympics, or any athletic competition. Time, heart, grit, money. Saying No to legitimate life pleasures – like hanging out with friends – so they can train.

It’s getting up early. Going to bed early. It's dedication. Devotion. Mental and physical discipline. Being in the gym, on the field or in the pool instead of the mall, the movies or on Facebook.

For writers, it’s much the same process. Maybe not with the intensity of a high-level athlete but we must focus our time, energy and efforts to be the best we can be.

I’m sudo-athletic. I like to play sports, exercise, challenge myself physically. But I’m not an athlete. Meaning, I don’t really shine in any given sport.

I tried basketball in Jr. High. Was on the team for while but was too intimidated to excel. I ran track one year.

I think, maybe, I’d have been a good softball player but I never found an organized team to join.

God had other things for me.

While I still like to swing a bat, I’ll never make an Olympic team. Being an athlete at such a level, or any level, is not in me.

Writing is my thing. I love writing. I gravitate toward it. I like to think I’m an Olympic type of writer.

Some of us will scale the heights of Olympic glory. Winning awards. Hitting best seller lists. Being known widely among readers. Perhaps getting movie and TV deals.

Some of us will earn our way into the halls of learning with our writing. Our stories will be used to teach metaphor, symbolism, angst, emotion, to teach how to comment on society along with greats like Tolstoy, Austin and Dickens. 

We won’t know this until we’re dead 150 years, but there we’ll be.

Others will own the trade fiction market like Ted Dekker, Debbie Macomber, Karen Kingsbury.

The mass market and genre fiction is where many of us will land. And stay. No shame here folks. 

Genre writers can make a fantastic living. Sure, our words fade as new releases come out. And we’ll always remember the day we see our book in a used book store with the cover ripped off, but we love what we do.

No matter which way our writing takes us, we must have a championship heart. We must train, focus, strive to use our talents the best way we can.

Writing is a competitive game. We don’t see our opponent across the field, beyond the net or in the lane next to us, we see them on the bookshelves. On blog tours. In the review cycles.

We hear of them on Twitter and Facebook.

And we feel as if we are losing, falling behind, yet we’ve barely started the race.

Writing is a marathon. I love what my friend Debbie Macomber says, “I’m a 30 year overnight success.”

Here’s some tips for staying in the writing game.

1.     Prepare for the long haul. You’re running a marathon, not a sprint.

2.     Read. Study. “Train” to be better.

3.     Write who you are. The more I write, the more I figure out the message of my heart – the one only I can tell.

4.     Don’t despise small beginnings.

5.     Don’t compare yourself. Focus on your “game” and let the others take care of themselves.

6.     Devote time. Do the “reps” as the coaches say. Write and you’ll be a writer. You’ll improve. You’ll have more to say.

7.     Earn it. Earn your spot on the “team.” While publishing, books, art, contests are all very, very subjective, write as if you have a chance to earn your place in the publishing world. How ironic for the arm chair quarterback to shout at the TV, telling the guy who DID make the cut, who IS earning the big $$, how to play the game, or what he’s doing wrong. But he did earned it. The arm chair quarterback did not.


8.     Trust the Lord.

***


Rachel lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.

She’s the author of EPCA and CBA best sellers, and RITA nominated books. She also co-authored the critically acclaimed Songbird Novels with platinum selling country music artist Sara Evans. Their novel Softly and Tenderly, was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals.

Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.

Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, Princess Ever After and novella A March Bride, released in February 2014.

Her novel, Once Upon A Prince, is a 2014 Christy Award Finalist.

Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.