Novel Rocket

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Writing Romance for Men

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

Generalities below

The knight tethered his horse and pulled the beast’s muzzle against his breast. A final goodbye? The castle rose from the jagged rocks with spires like needles pointing into the roiled sky. He lifted an armored hand and reviewed his quest. One. Spikes. Two. Rickety bridge. Three. Moat. Four. Dragon. Five. Stone doors. He made a fist. Last of all, the witch.

All to save a woman he’d glimpsed once. Her beauty captured his mind, his heart, his soul. His longing had sent him to cross the King’s favor, spite his parent’s wishes for an alliance marriage, and finally, he had forsaken his vows to finish training.

He took a step toward the castle.

His wrists locked. They were forced behind his back. What evil magic is this? He struggled to be free.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do…”

One full year community service for stalking.

I’ve been gorging myself on romance novels as if playing catch-up. As a male, I’ve learned so much my brain is spinning. But I only have time for one tip today.

Romance in novels doesn't reflect real life. If you want to get the girl in the novel, keep up the pressure. Convince her you’ll never give up on her, no matter her mistakes. When she tells you to go away, offer a lopsided grin and come closer so she feels the heat of your skin so she loses her mind. Stalking.

To win the girl in real life, apathy seems to work better. And a lopsided grin. And long eyelashes. Girls dig guys with long eyelashes.

Writing romance for men doesn’t reflect real life perfectly, either.

If you ever find yourself on another planet, like Mars, and have to write romance for men, keep this in mind—

Men want to be adored and respected

They want the hero to be adored and respected. If he's not, make sure at least his character arc is heading there...

The female heroine cannot hesitate in falling for the hero. There is no question he is the one, the only one, forever. Any difficulties within the relationship must come from the outside, giving the hero something to conquer with his sword arm, someone to protect with his shield arm. His flaws, if any, are attractive to her.

During her inner monologue, if she doubts that he is the one, the male reader is turned off to the story. The reader, projected as the hero, is amazing! Why would she doubt?

Fairytales make for great male reading. Lots of action. And the payoff? She falls instantly in love with him and he gets a kiss. Not a lot of undecided people there, wondering if this man's the one. Nope, it's happily ever after. Win. Win. Win. Win. Win.

In real life? Yeah. Lots of convincing he is the one. At first it’s fun for a guy, but then, when the relationship gets serious and the stakes are high, romance can be fulfilling or heartbreaking.

In the end, for men, the fairytale romances tell us to be manly, be ourselves, save the girl (without stalking), and live happily ever after. All the rest is simply details.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Releasing Ourselves from the Writing Comparison Trap

by Vonda Skelton @VondaSkelton

No matter where we are on this writing
journey, we tend to compare.
Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2011, my writing partner, Edie Melson and I led yearly NCompass Writing Retreats. The goal of each retreat was to offer a time of refreshing, refueling, and of course, writing and rewriting. But in our last year of retreats, we realized that year’s focus was on another re: releasing.

Let’s face it, no matter where we are on this writing journey, we tend to compare. We compare our words to other writers and determine our worth. We compare their publications to our rejections. We long for their successes and see ourselves as failures.

Even multi-published mega-authors can succumb to comparison. Why did her book do so well when mine is obviously better? How could the movie producer choose his memoir over mine?

Comparison is a trap
Comparison is trap that can lead to anger, frustration, jealousy, and resentment. It can lead to quitting when God says to keep going.

But the correct response to comparison is simple: release it. Release the responsibility to succeed. Release the motivation to beat out others. Release the drive for big sales, major contracts, and movie deals.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do our best to learn and grow as writers and to seek to get our work out–we should! His Word says to do everything with excellence. But it does mean the motivation must be more than simply money and recognition.

God is ultimately the one who determines our paths.
As followers of Christ, our motivation must be to please Him by developing the gift He’s given us, and then accept the truth that He is in control.

We can work hard and work smart and do everything we’re taught as writers…and still receive rejections.

Because we’re not in control.

We can take classes and rewrite till our fingers bleed…and never see our names on the cover of a book.

Because we’re not in control.

God can choose to bless a less-than-perfect book…while letting a well-written one sit on the shelf. And whether we agree or not, we must release it to Him.

It’s through the release that we truly become successful Christian writers. Because then He can use our words to change hearts for eternity…regardless of how we compare to others.

How do you find release from comparisons? Be sure to leave your tips in the comments section below.

Vonda Skelton is a speaker and the author of four books: Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the 3-book Bitsy Burroughs mysteries for children 8-12 yo. She’s the founder and co-director of Christian Communicators Conference, offering speakers’ training and community for Christian women called to ministry. Vonda is a frequent instructor at writer’s conferences and keynotes at business, women’s, and associational events. You can find out more about Vonda, as well as writing opportunities and instruction at her writer’s blog, The Christian Writer’s Den at

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


By Alton Gansky

Journalism has left many traditions that have washed on to the shores of other forms of writing. One of these little customs is TK. There are many book writers that have yet to see this little gem. TK is a notation that means “to come.” Yes, I know, “come” is not spelled with a K. That’s the point. TK is use because it is a very rare combination of characters and easy to recognize in a manuscript and, therefore, easy to remove.

TK is unwanted in a finished manuscript but it is a useful tool in early drafts. A reporter may be knocking out a story when she realizes that she needs a detail she doesn’t have at hand. Let’s say it’s an article about military spending and she needs the dollar amount spent on blimps in World War II. She might write, “Long considered the bargain of the war years, the U.S. spent a measly TK dollars on its small fleet of dirigibles.” Of course, she could just stop, do some research or make a phone call or two, but she would lose momentum and derail her train of thought. Better to get the article roughed out then focus on filling in holes.

A writer of nonfiction books (say, me—I’m a switch-hitter) might be creating a footnote but lacks the page number of the book he’s citing. TK comes to the rescue: Alton Gansky, 30 Events That Shaped the Church, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), TK. Our nonfiction writer can look that information up later. Stopping to find the info requires the author to step out of his work then try to pick up his momentum later.

Novelist make use of the notation in many ways. Tend to forget a character’s hair color? (I’m not saying I do, ahem, but I’m sure someone out there does.) Unless you have notes within reach, TK will do the trick for now. Or you need some technical information and looking it up might take an hour. That’s a long time to interrupt the flow of writing. Use the TK.

TK reminds us to carry on. We don’t need all the answers at the moment. Those will come. For now, we keep at it, writing, promoting, learning, making a difference one page at a time.

The advantage of TK is that it is easy to find. A simple search in your word processor will get you there, and since TK (especially in all caps) is a rare combination, the search won’t yield a bunch of false returns. (Here’s a hint: Use spaces in your search string. Don’t search for TK; search for space TK space—of course you’d use the space bar, not type the word “space.” You knew that.)

So far, this information might be old hat, but I have another twist on the topic. Writing is an iffy career. There are those who start off with a bang then fade, and those who start off slow and grow. Sometimes we live and work in a TK world. We don’t have all the information about the market, about changes in the industry, which publisher is going to file for Chapter 11, or if there will be bookstores a decade from now. There are times when it seems like TK has been stamped all over the writer’s future. So what to do?

TK is a reminder that some research needs to be done, so when we run up against a career TK we do what research we can. We educate ourselves and move on. That last part is important. TK means we don’t stop midsentence in our project, nor do we stop in our career. Yes, things might change. You can bet that publishing won’t look the same five years from now, but there will always be some form of publishing.

TK reminds us to carry on. We don’t need all the answers at the moment. Those will come. For now, we keep at it, writing, promoting, learning, making a difference one page at a time.

Alton Gansky is the author of over forty books, novels and nonfiction. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Little Spec-Fic Conference That Could

Next month is the annual ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. Labelled "the Premier Christian Fiction Conference," ACFW has proven to represent the majority of the Christian fiction industry. What they haven't proven, however, is an ability to adequately rep a small (but growing) demographic of Christian writer and reader -- the speculative fiction fan.

ACFW's ongoing, tenuous relationship with spec readers goes way back. It has led to numerous discussions, complaints, and (mostly friendly) salvos. For example, back in 2010 I hosted a Christian Speculative Fiction panel asking, among other things, Why speculative fiction is so under-represented in the Christian market. This perceived under-representation often translated into a minimal spec presence at the annual ACFW conferences. Of the hundreds of attendees and large faculty, only a small portion was ever dedicated to speculative fiction. While it always came back to a "chicken and egg" argument -- "What comes first, more available product or more people buying existing product?" -- this under-representation always became a rather routine sore spot for many spec-fic readers and writers.

So Becky Minor did something about it.

As a member of the Christian spec-fic writing community, Becky had followed many of the discussions and was well aware of the frustration of many Christian spec authors. Believing
there was enough people and enthusiasm to sustain an independent movement, Becky aimed to start a con which would represent this unique but vibrant community. Starting at the grassroots level, Becky's first step was to begin building Faith and Fantasy Alliance from which to pool resources from Christian creatives. But things quickly reached a head after the ACFW 2012 conference, heightening growing frustrations between spec fans and the conference organizers, and Becky, along with a team of enthusiasts and compatriots, immediately began brainstorming concrete plans for the first ever Realm Makers in 2013. 

Several weeks ago I returned from Realm Makers 2015. I was a first time attendee as well as a faculty member. The conference had doubled in size from its previous year, now hosting 150 attendees. But the growth hasn't stopped there. RM has begun attracting some fairly significant names, like Dave Long, senior acquisitions editor at Bethany House (BH) and well-known screenwriter, novelist, and writing coach David Farland. BH's presence at the conference would seem to indicate that some of the CBA “gatekeepers” may be taking notice. Along with Steve Laube of Enclave publishing, Jeff Gerke, Amanda Luedeke, and other agents and indie presses, (not to mention a surprise visit from NY Times best-seller Tosca Lee) RM appears to be, in this its 3rd year, gaining significant momentum. 

It’s probably unfair to suggest that the RM conference is entirely a reaction to the under-representation of speculative fiction at ACFW. Spec-fic fans, like any other genre fans, inevitably find ways to cluster. ComicCon, DragonCon, Anime Expo, and the numerous sub-groups spawned therein are evidence of the healthy evolution of geekdom. So in the simplest sense, RM is the natural migration of a niche culture of readers and writers into a more organic fold.

Nevertheless, as someone who’s been involved in both Christian publishing and Speculative fiction for a decade now, it’s easy to see groups like Realm Makers as a reaction to the lack of speculative fiction in mainstream Christian publishing. The disparity of spec-fic to Romance, Amish, Historical, and Women’s Lit in Christian publishing had been a topic of discussion for the longest. 

Perhaps the real question, however, is not whether a passionate group of literary insurgents can sustain their own movement, but whether that group represents a larger yet-untapped demographic. Is RM the tip of a big iceberg or just a small parcel within the existing Christian publishing terrain?

After a lively discussion on Facebook comparing RM to ACFW, literary agent Amanda Luedke commented:

I wonder if a bigger problem here is that spec fiction authors are expecting ACFW to be something that it just isn’t. ACFW will always reflect the biggest trends in Christian fiction. If spec fiction becomes a trend, then ACFW will adapt. But until publishers publish more spec fiction and until more agents rep spec fiction, ACFW will not be wasting their time giving a chunk of their conference to spec authors. Because as you’ve pointed out, they’ll just lose those authors to RM or WorldCon or DragonCon, etc. And to be fair, spec fiction isn’t the only genre that faces this. Childrens books get almost zero stage time at ACFW. Military thrillers, legal thrillers (many times thrillers in general!), mysteries, literary fiction, african american romance…these are genres that you could argue are running into the same issues that the spec fiction genre runs into. So my point is that ACFW caters to what the industry is selling. That’s just smart business.

Interestingly enough, Amanda was one of several agents who attended this year's RM conference. As a spec fan and an industry insider, her take is valuable. “[S]pec fiction authors are expecting ACFW to be something that it just isn’t.” The under-representation of speculative fiction in both the ACFW and the mainstream Christian market is neither the result of a conspiracy or managerial incompetence — ACFW is simply catering to what the industry is selling.

Sure, we can rage against “the industry” all we want. We can dig our heels in and call for a place at the table. But despite the negatives, this reality has forced a creative, vocal community to evolve.
  • It has forced Christian spec writers to “leave the nest.”
  • It has forced Christian spec writers to stretch their entrepreneurial legs.
  • It has forced Christian spec writers to seek out new opportunities, new models, and unreached audiences.
  • It has forced Christian spec writers to put their money where their mouths are.
The under-representation of speculative fiction in both the ACFW and the mainstream Christian market is leading to the much-needed democratization of an industry that has calcified. This isn’t to say that the Christian fiction industry is not providing good product to its fan base. This isn’t to say the Christian fiction industry can’t morph or diversify.
Rather, the indie revolution has caught up to it.
Keith Ogoreck, senior VP for marketing at Author Solutions, in his article The Democratization of Publishing writes,

Since its inception the publishing industry has operated like an aristocracy. An elite few held the power to essentially determine if an author’s work would be allowed in the public square. It was publication without self-determination for authors. For no matter how passionate or motivated an author was about his or her work, the fate of the book rested entirely with a few publishing houses. Those days, however, are over. Everything has changed.

In one sense, the ACFW and the industry it represents acts like “an aristocracy,” determining what titles will “be allowed in the public square.” But thanks to the availability of new publishing technology and social media, authors have an ability to change the industry landscape. The same shift that has transformed other arts industries — like music, film, art, and publishing — is finally catching up with the Christian book industry. (Which seems fitting because Christians are always behind the trends!)
Christian spec-fic authors and fans now have an unprecedented ability for “self-determination.”
Realm Makers is evidence of this.
With only three conferences under its belt, RM has a long way to go. Indeed, other indie presses and spec authors have been stretching their entrepreneurial legs for a while. But whatever you attribute the existence of these groups to, whether a rejection of aristocratic power-brokering or commercial pandering, pitting RM against ACFW (or the Christian fiction industry as a whole) is the wrong thing to do. It’s much healthier, and maybe even more realistic, to see the continued growth of a Christian spec-fic fan base as a necessary step in the genre’s evolution.

While Realm Makers is still in its infancy, everything appears upsides. What started as a gamble now seems a sure bet. Becky Minor and her team deserve huge props. No, they won't be "the premiere Christian Fiction conference" any time soon. But as far as blazing a new trail, the little spec-fic conference that could, has indeed proven, it can.
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Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The Ghost Box, a Publishers Weekly starred review item, The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, his short story anthology Subterranea, and the newly released Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre. You can visit his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.