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Saturday, December 31, 2005

S'up Saturday

Hi all. Wow, what a year. On a personal level, not so hot, but things are looking up. (Especially when I look up.)

Writing wise, this year has been the best. I've learned more about the publishing business than I could have dreamed. Publicity, marketing, editing...and of course, blogging!

I started this blog less than a year ago and it has really taken off. It's one of those things where you look around at what you've got and think, what the heck just happened here? I realize it was a God thing. I want to be writing novels, but God also wants me promoting Christian authors.

Besides the interviews we do here on Novel Journey,
Ane Mulligan and I have started a sister site just for
novel reviews.

It's in infancy. We've only got a few up so far and are working out some kinks, but we're hoping to get the word out to readers about it, and not just CBA readers. We're really looking to get the word out to those who don't even know there's such a thing as "Christian Fiction".

Until Left Behind, I sure didn't.

Next week we have an interview with Chris Well and a contest.
Stop by on his interview day (Monday Jan. 2nd) and leave a comment for him, to be entered to win one of 3 copies of Forgiving Solomon Long.

If you miss out on that, the very next day we'll be reviewing his book and you'll get a second chance to win one of 2 copies by leaving a comment under the review.

Chris was very generous to give away so many copies. From what I hear, the book is fantastic!

A Sing Along!

My only requirement is that you sing this song out loud, sitting at your computer to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music....

My Favorite Things – Writer Style
(by Trish Berg

Fingers on keyboards and coffee for power
Spending all day in my sweatpants unshowered
Finding the right words to make my thoughts sing
These are a few of my favorite things

Queries through e-mail and columns and edits
Contracts and deadlines and due dates I’ve met
Writing all night with the moon glowing bright
These are a few of my favorite things

Publishers asking for my book proposals
Phone calls and IM’s and agents who know all
Bright sunny mornings when I can sleep in
These are a few of my favorite things
When the e-mail Says 'no thank you'
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad
(Repeat verses as needed)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Contest Announcement & Name Dropping

I've mentioned in January we have some great author interviews including: Robert Whitlow, Randy Ingermanson, James Scott Bell, Bill Myers, Susan Meissner, Cindy Thompson, Rachel Hauck (and several others who are in the works). These interviews are among the best!

Tomorrow we have a contest announcement, so stay tuned in you like to win stuff. I personally hate anything free, but maybe you're different?

Hope to see you Saturday!

Meissner's, In All Deep Places reviewed

In All Deep Places
Susan Meissner
ISBN# 978-0-7369-1665-3
Release Date: 1-01-06
Fiction – Contemporary, Christian

Reviewed by Kelly Klepfer

Some go for quick escapist fiction, along the lines of fast food gulped en route to the next stop. I prefer to ponder the words, like a county fair judge might determine the subtleties of the perfect apple pie.

Susan Meissner serves up wonderful word pictures like, "He scampered off, returning a moment later with a faded rag frozen by time and neglect into a stiff terry-cloth fossil," in her new novel, In All Deep Places.

Luke Foxbourne, carries a burden that comes to a boil through a series of events. The reader is taken to the segment of time that branded his life, and continues to haunt him. Ms. Meissner gives us insight into her protagonist's confusion and sorrow with, "'I don't understand You," Luke whispered aloud, but he was afraid to whisper anything else. He was afraid a cosmic hand would reach down out of heaven, pluck him from the tree house, and fling him to the frozen ground."

My eye has been trained to seek flaws in writing. I suppose a lot like the judge who notices a smidge too much salt, or the wrong kind of apple. It has become, for me, a sign of good fiction, when I get lost in the story and respond to the lives of the characters.

I read Ms. Meissner's novel in three sessions – devouring what I could fit into the very busy holidays. Her characters, her writing lingered. I'd find myself clinging to a neatly turned phrase or trying to squeeze the had-to-do's into smaller time bits so I could sneak a look at what might happen next.

In my opinion, Ms. Meissner writes Christian Fiction the way it should be written, with threads and hints and God webs interwoven into not very rosy pictures of broken lives. In All Deep Places contains tinges of hope, an aroma of life, a slight glow of light, and a lingering trace of poignancy. And that is the stuff of life, the moments when we are forced to think, to face our smallness and the immensity of God.

This is the second of Ms. Meissner's books I've had the pleasure of reading. I intend to continue consuming her books, going back and picking up the two I've missed, and eagerly awaiting the next one.

If you only read books with talking animals or those that end with the words "happily ever after" you might not share my opinion.

If you prefer your fiction to be a little more like real life with spots of word weaving magic, I think you'll like In All Deep Places.

Book Review: Wedded Bliss?

Wedded Bliss?
Susan Downs, Kristy Dykes, Sally Laity & Carrie Turansky
Barbour Publishing
ISBN 1-59310-632-7

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Susan Downs, Kristy Dykes, Sally Laity and Carrie Turansky serve up four poignant tales of Wedded Bliss? As four couples' silver anniversaries approach, they wonder: when had their love changed? Where did they grow apart? More importantly, can they find that love again?

Facing situations that unfortunately happen in life, each couple manages by seeking God, to get back on the right footing. The well written stories are touching, occasionally humorous, but always thought provoking.

I enjoyed this book, comprised of four novellas, thoroughly and look forward to reading more by these talented authors.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Author Interview~ Carrie Turansky

Carrie makes her home in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, with her husband, Scott,of twenty-seven years who is senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Mercer County.They are blessed with five great kids, a lovely daughter-in-law and an adorable grandson. Carrie teaches women¹s Bible study, and enjoys reading,gardening, and walking around the lake near their home. She is the author ofthe novella "Wherever Love Takes Us" in WEDDED BLISS? From Barbour. Her novel ALONG CAME LOVE will be published by Steeple Hill Love Inspired inApril 2006. Visit her web site

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

Gina, thanks for this opportunity to connect with you and your readers. My newest project is WEDDED BLISS? which includes my novella “Wherever Love Takes Us.” It is a 4-in-1 romance collection published by Barbour and was released this past November. The co-authors are Susan Downs, Sally Laity, Kristy Dykes and myself.

We hope these stories will inspire as well as entertain readers, especially those who are in the "middle years" of marriage. Each novella features a couple who is approaching their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and is facing a difficult issue that could either destroy their marriage or make it stronger.

In Wherever Love Takes Us, Tessa and Matt Malone need to rebuild trust in their marriage after a business failure causes them to lose their home and savings. Then Matt inherits property in another state and wants to move his family there and start a new business. Tessa can’t imagine leaving her hometown, family, and friends, or giving up the cozy teashop that she co-owns with her sister. Whose dream will they follow, and how much will it cost their family? Is their faith and love strong enough to hold their family together?

For more information about WEDDED BLISS? or my other books please visit my website:

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I have been seriously working on writing fiction for seven years. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers almost six years ago, and that has helped me hone my skills and make some great connections. I met my agent through ACFW and also my co-authors for this project. We submitted the proposal for WEDDED BLISS? almost three years ago and received the acceptance call March 2004. So you can see it’s a long process and you need patience and perseverance to become a published author.

I continued to work on other projects and submit to other publishers while I waited to hear if WEDDED BLISS? would be accepted. In February 2005 I received a call from my agent telling me Steeple Hill had accepted my novel ALONG CAME LOVE for their Love Inspired Line. It will come out April 2006. I also recently received an acceptance call from Barbour for another 4-in-1 romance collection KISS THE BRIDE, which will include my novella, Tea for Two. It will be published in the fall 2006.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

I know I need to continually learn and grow as a writer and as a Christian in order to improve the quality of my writing and hopefully have a greater impact for the Lord. That is my goal. In order to do this I need to continue reading, attending conferences, taking classes, be involved in a critique group, be mentoring “younger” writers and most of all . . . write!

I believe if I am serious about my calling as a writer and diligent to learn and grow, God will take care of the rest. I don’t want to let doubt or comparison hinder me from doing my best for Him.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Join American Christian Fiction Writers or other professional writers group where you can learn the skills you need and also learn about the publishing industry. You may have a great story, but if you don’t know how to “package it” and who to present it to, then no one else may ever be able to read it. Do your homework and find out what it takes to become a published author and be willing to put in the time needed to bring your skills up to a high level. The competition is stiff!

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

Just write the story of your heart. Don’t worry about the length or if any publisher is looking for that type of book. Don’t plan, just pour it out and see what happens. That can be a great writing exercise, but if you want to be published, you have to learn the “rules” and follow them so that an editor will take you seriously and read your book.

You need to learn about the different publishers and what type of books they are looking for. Though their needs do change, this will still give you an idea of what to aim for and what type of project to invest your time and effort into.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Be sure you have several other people read your manuscript before you submit it. It’s too easy for an author to see what they meant to type rather than what’s actually there and overlook mistakes. It’s very embarrassing to have an agent or editor reject your book and tell you your manuscript is “unprofessional because of the typos and errors.” I only did that once – never again!

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

This fall I have been involved in the Believing God Bible Study taught by Beth Moore. Beth invites us to experience a fresh explosion of faith in this study. One of the key points of the study is: I am who God says I am. Ephesians chapter one talks about all the benefits we receive as God’s child. Beth encouraged us to memorize this list. “In love I am blessed, chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed, and forgiven. I am believing God!” Wow, what a wonderful heritage to enjoy every day!

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

About two years ago an editor told me he liked one of my books and asked me to make some minor changes to it. I did that within a week and returned it to him. He said he loved it and was taking it to committee that month.

I didn’t hear anything from him for several months. Finally, eight months later, I saw him at a conference and he told me his company had decided to change directions and he would not be able to accept my book. He said he held on to it for so long because he really liked it, but it just wasn’t going to work for them. That was disappointing, but I pressed on and have submitted it to other publishers.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Some of my favorite books are Nest of Sparrows by Debra Raney, Kissing Adrien by Siri Mitchell, The Mitford Series by Jan Karon, Under Cover of Darkness by Elizabeth White, The Debt by Angela Hunt, The Sisters and Brides Series by Irene Hannon, Colleen Coble’s series set in Hawaii, From Dust and Ashes by Tricia Goyer, Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker, Brides‘o the Emerald Isle by Tamela Hancock Murray, Vickie McDonough, Linda Windsor, and Pamela Griffin.

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

I once played the lion in a school play, so he is my favorite character. I sometimes need courage to press on not let fear prevent me from doing all God wants me to do for Him as an author. Stepping out to meet booksellers and the public can be scary for a writer, so I need courage and confidence to do that.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

My Love Inspired novel ALONG CAME LOVE tells the story of a single mom who returns to her Vermont home to make a new life for herself and her six-year-old son. When she meets an ex-missionary trying to hide his past, she must learn how to forgive, heal, and love once again.

God gave me some wonderful ideas on ways to weave the themes of forgiveness and unconditional love through this story. I am excited about the potential it has to touch people and cause them to look to the Lord for healing of past hurts.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I think it’s funny when you meet someone and they ask what you do, and you tell them you are a writer. Then they say, “Oh, I’m going to write a book some time.” They have no idea how much work it takes not only to write a book, but have it accepted for publication. I usually just smile and nod my head. Every once in a while I do meet someone who is serious about writing, and I try to help that person get connected with writers’ organizations and resources.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I usually get up early to pray and spend time in the Word. Only three of my five kids are still living at home and they are all seniors in high school, so after I get them off to school, I have the morning to focus on writing.

In the afternoon I take care of household duties, shopping, and running errands. I try to get in a 30-minute walk 4 –5 times a week. Dinner and early evening are family time. If everyone else is busy with homework and jobs, I head back to the computer for a couple more hours of writing. I teach a women’s Bible study one weekday morning, and I also am involved in church activities on weekends and some occasional weeknights.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I admire so many writers that it’s hard to choose one. So I will combine several authors who I think do this one thing very well. I would like to create deep characters like Susie Warren, Kristin Heitzmann, and Siri Mitchell.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I would love to write an international romantic adventure set in Kenya with missionaries as the main characters. Our family lived in Kenya for one year as missionaries and we had some thrilling adventures. I love the country and people and hope to write this story some day. Right now my agent says it is hard to sell international stories, but hopefully after I build a name as an author I will be able to branch out and write it.

Was there ever a time in your writing career when you thought of quitting?

Yes! When I attended my first writers’ conference, I received a brutally honest critique that almost made me give up. But as I prayed about it, the Lord spoke to my heart and gave me clear direction that I needed to persevere, improve my writing, and never give up. I am so glad I listened.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part about being an author is having friends and family read my books and discuss them with me. Hearing their positive comments means more to me than a good review from someone I don’t know.

Waiting forever to hear if your proposal will be accepted is probably my least favorite part about being a writer. I spend several weeks and sometimes months creating characters and plots. I get very involved with the story and excited about it. Then I submit the proposal and have to wait months and sometimes more than a year to hear if it will be accepted and I can finish the story. The wheels of publishing turn slower than… anything I can think of!

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I am a newly published author, so I am just learning how to market my books. I think using the Internet is one of the best ways to market your book. Review your books at on-line bookstores like Amazon and Christian Book Distributors. Send your book to others and ask them to submit reviews for you. Team up with other authors in your area to do group book signings. Create an interesting website. Give your book away!

Parting words?

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to talk about my books and my writing ministry. I hope it is an encouragement for other writers to keep learning and growing as a Christian and as a writer. Trust God for the future and give Him your best effort. Success is loving, obeying, and serving Him.

Ane Mulligan will be reviewing Wedded Bliss? tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Author Interview ~ Ron Benrey

Ron Benrey is a highly experienced writer who has written more than a thousand bylined magazine articles, seven published non-fiction books, and seven Christian romantic suspense novels (co-written with his wife, Janet) for Broadman & Holman, Barbour Publishing, and Harlequin Steeple Hill. Ron is also an experienced orals coach who helps corporate executives give effective presentations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

The Final Crumpet was published in September; it’s the second book in our Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries series from Barbour Books. We’ve also completed the first book in a new cozy mystery series for Harlequin Steeple Hill, but it won’t be published until early 2007. It’s called Glory Be!

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Janet and I tell our story in the workshops we give at writers’ conferences, because it illustrates an essential point: that these days only “publishable” fiction gets looked at by agents and editors. I had written lots of non-fiction and had been a professional writer all my career (mostly marketing communications writing and speechwriting). Janet and I got the bug to write fiction in 1989, but nothing happened. In 1995, after six years of no response to our work, we finally admitted to ourselves that our manuscripts were simply not quite good enough to be published. I attacked the problem like an engineering challenge and figured out the “requirements” for publishable fiction.

In 1996 we threw away our current work and began again – this time with much greater confidence. We rebuilt our writing portfolio by 1998 and received our first contract in 1999. We’re currently working on our seventh joint novel and I have several proposals out there.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Actually, not very often. My confidence as a professional writer, (developed through more than forty years as a non-fiction writer), has “merged” into my fiction writing. When I sit down at my computer I feel confident that – given enough time – I’ll be able to create publishable fiction within the limits of my writing skills. This isn’t arrogance or hubris, rather a belief that I have the experience and know-how to do what’s necessary. I also have processes that help me plan and plot novels – they go a long way to removing uncertainty.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Ernest Hemingway wrote that the most important thing a writer needs is “a built-in, shock-proof, manure detector.” (He actually used a pithier word than manure.) He’s absolutely right. A writer has to know when his her stuff is good and when it’s... well, manure. You can’t rely on other people to know or to be willing to tell you.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

“This manuscript is good enough to send in now. If we keep trying to make it perfect, we’ll never send it in.” That’s what Janet used to say back before we knew how to write publishable fiction. I felt that something was wrong with our prose – I described it as “dead” – but I didn’t understand what was amiss. And so we wasted lots of “golden arrows” (opportunities to have our work read by agents and editors) because we sent them writing that wasn’t ready for prime time.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Most editors and agents – even so-called experienced ones these days – are not capable of diagnosing why a manuscript is not publishable. They recognize it isn’t publishable when they read it, but they don’t know why. Consequently, their rejection letters contain vague statements, (e.g. I couldn’t get close your main character), rather than useful suggestions for improvements. Every writer has to be able to diagnose publishability problems by him or herself

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power...” 1 Corinthians 2:4 (NIV). I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians for a non-fiction project I’m developing. This statement by Paul – aimed at preaching – is equally good advice to fiction writers who want to deliver a Christian message

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Early In 1995, when we first recognized that we didn’t know how to write publishable fiction, we talked about chucking it in. After all, why keep bashing our heads against a door that would never open.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I consider one of the most compelling novels (in the sense that you are driven to keep reading) to be The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

My favorites in Christian fiction is the Church of England series by Susan Howatch, a British writer.

I also read a lot of theology. My favorite theologian these days is N. T. Wright.

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

Most writers are like the cowardly lion – blustery but easy cowed by the “slap” of rejections or bad reviews. I’m sure I have a helping of that.

I also see some of the Wizard in me. After all, one of the aspects of writing fiction is to create things that really aren’t there by proper application of smoke and mirrors.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

If you’re talking about fiction, that information is typically classified “top secret” by the Benreys. Because Janet and I work together, we never point to “nifty bits I wrote.” However, one passage I can talk about is the courtroom scene in Humble Pie. As the lawyer in the family, I wrote it all by myself. I think its nifty.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Christian publishers can’t seem to get their act together. There are simply too many strategic shifts and editorial changes. In recent years, Christian novelists have gotten much, much better. It’s time for the publishers to begin to think and act like real publishers.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I have a day job, so I usually write only during the evenings. If I have a day off or a weekend close to deadline there’s nothing remarkable about my typical day. I force myself to stay seated at the computer and grind out words. I’ve never “enjoyed” writing. I can’t imagine why anyone would joyously perform hard, tedious work. In the immortal words of someone, I enjoy having written (I’ve seen that aphorism attributed to Virginia Wolfe, Jimmy Breslan, and Robert Lewis Stevenson. Take your pick.)

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

Not one particular writer – but several I won’t bother naming. I wish I could do a better job on humor. I’m not completely without the ability to write humor, but I’d like to be funnier than I am.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

As Janet gets more deeply involved in agenting, we’ll write less together. I’ve proposed an usual mystery series and several “bigger novels” to several publishers. Therein lie my writing dreams.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Sure. As I said above, we came close to quitting fiction writing in 1995. we decided to give it one more chance after I figured out what publishable fiction was. Of course, that doesn’t mean we actually would have quit.(Fiction writers often make stupidly dramatic statements that they subsequently regret.)

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorite: I enjoy talking with people about writing fiction. That’s probably why I enjoy teaching at writers’ conferences.

Least favorite: I hate the occasional feelings of desperation that surface when deadlines loom, the job is going slower than it should, and I’m in a mood to procrastinate.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

We don’t do nearly enough. Marketing is essential, but neither of us like to do it. On the other hand, I do create our web sites, which represents lots of hard work, and I participate in several writers’ conferences each year. But I dislike book signings (probably because too few people generally show up).

Advice: write a major blockbuster. Then marketing will be fun and easy.

Parting words?

A point I like to make during our writers’ conference workshops is that we receive more rejections now than we did before we were published. I often jolts the participants, but it’s true. If you want to write fiction, you need lots of “product” (manuscripts, proposals, ideas) and you need to keep pitching – assuming, of course, you’ve figured out the requirements of publishable fiction. That’s really the single most important aspect of getting published. If you can write publishable fiction, the chances are actually quite good it will be published.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Literary Agent Interview~ Janet Benrey

{Tomorrow Part II: Author Interview with Janet's husband and writing partner, Ron Benrey}

Janet Benrey brings a diverse business background—including experience as editorial director of a small press, a professional photographer, an executive recruiter, and a novelist—to book development and literary representation. Janet is an agent at the Hartline Literary Agency; her clients include well-known writers of general and genre fiction and non-fiction books. With her husband, Ron, she has written seven Christian romantic suspense novels for Broadman & Holman, Barbour Publishing, and Harlequin Steeple Hill. Over the years, Janet has also been a writing coach and a marketing communications writer. She earned her degree in Communication (Magna cum Laude) from the University of Pittsburgh. She is also a graduate of York House College in Kent, England, where she studied commerce and languages.

Plug time: Is there a project you would like to tell us about?

I’ll let Ron talk about our fiction projects. On the agenting side, it’s impossible to pick one project over another, as all of my projects excite me in some way or I wouldn’t have taken them on. Actually, rather than plug a particular project, I’d rather plug my agency and point out that Hartline Literary will still consider representing unpublished authors. Our website – – explains how to send us a book proposal.

You’re also an author, do you feel these two hats you wear get in the way of each other?

I find my role as an author to be very challenging, but it’s not in conflict with my job as an agent. Agents, like authors, love to read, and this is a job that requires a lot of both. I do feel that because I’m an author that I understand writers, who really do put themselves out there for their craft. I know what it takes to begin a project and to finish a project. I have tremendous respect for people who are able to finish what they’ve started. So when a new author finds a home for her work, I’m almost as excited as he/she is because I know how hard it is to get published these days.

Can you tell us about your writing?

It’s hard for me to talk about writing without first talking about reading. I have always loved the mystery genre, and over the years I’ve read a lot of mysteries. My decision to write a mystery with Ron was made almost out of the blue. Then we set about the challenge of learning to write one. It took years for us to get it right, now it’s second nature. What it has come down to now is creating the fictional dream for the reader to fall into and holding him/her there until the last page.

What made you decide to become an agent?

Joyce Hart, our agent, asked me and I said yes. It was as simple as that. Of course, Ron insists that he gave Joyce the idea in the first place. I’ll admit that he did think I’d be a good agent.

What makes for a good agent?

Perseverance and patience, two virtues that also serve a writer well. And a love of the printed word. Oh ... and a tough skin. I’ll sometimes get three or four rejections in a single day.

What's your favorite part about being an agent?

Finding a good writer. It’s great fun to sit down, read a proposal, then discover you have a really good story in your hands.

Your least?

Chasing after royalty payments. Some publishers have problems with their accounting systems.

How many agents do you recommend an author query at a time?

I don’t make that recommendation. I’ve know authors who’ve queried everyone, but that strikes me as a waste of time and energy. An author needs to find an agent who handles the kind of material he or she is writing. That’s why the best way to meet the perfect agent is to attend writers’ conferences.

Once an agent requests the full manuscript, is it assumed by the agent that they are the only agent reviewing the work unless the author states otherwise?

I always assume that authors send out multiple queries to agencies. But once I begin to review a manuscript I want to know if anyone else is looking at it, too. I make a tremendous investment in time when I read a manuscript. That time is wasted if another agent is close to representing the author.

What if an author receives an offer for representation by an agent but another agent, who is their first choice, is still reviewing the work and hasn’t made a decision? What is the etiquette here?

It’s more a question of “a bird in the hand” than etiquette. The author who delays runs the risk that the less-preferred agent will withdraw the offer because he/she has accepted other clients. An author who finds herself in that happy situation should tell the preferred agent what’s going on – and encourage him/her to make a fast decision. I’ve been on both sides of the situation.

Do you work with a signed contract or a handshake?

Hartline has a straightforward agency contract that spells out the agreement between author and agent.

What’s something you wish more authors knew?

I’ll give you two things.

First, too many authors don’t understand the “qualities” that are essential for a manuscript to be publishable.

Second, those that produce publishable work must recognize that their writing is competing with many other good manuscripts. Receiving an offer to publish can depend on finding the right editor at the right time. Success in this business is often a matter of good timing, as unfair as that may sound.

So, how impatient are we authors?

This is a slow-moving business and it’s easy for an author to forget about the tens of thousands of other manuscripts going through the review process. I find that authors have sudden bursts of impatience – that’s when I get calls at odd hours.

Describe your dream author.

That’s easy. It’s the author who writes a best-seller. Or if not that, who has many projects to offer for sale and is agreeable to making changes when necessary.

What's the average amount a new author can expect to get for an advance on a novel?

The amount received would depend on the genre, but for a first time author writing romantic fiction, a $5,000.00 advance would be acceptable. Sometimes first-time authors worry too much about the advance. An advance is payment against royalties. You won’t earn a penny more if the book doesn’t sell.

What's the average number of books printed in the first printing for a first time author?

This again depends on the genre. And remember it’s always easy to go back and reprint the book. It’s not so much how many books are in the first print run that counts, it’s how many copies can you actually sell over time, that’s important. If an author does receive a high advance, then the print run will also be higher as the expectation of sales is higher.

What is the process an agent goes through when deciding whether or not to represent an author?

That’s an intriguing question, because the day-to-day work of most agents is to represent manuscripts written by authors. I suspect that most agents make the decision after reviewing the authors work. I begin every review by asking myself a simple question: If I like this manuscript, will I be able to sell it? That’s the first thing that pops into my head. My next question: Is it well-written? And my third: Is this a story that’s unique enough to grab an editor’s attention? There are “well-written” books that will never sell because the author invented a new genre, or wrote too long, or two short, or to the wrong audience. A dynamite story that’s well executed and aimed at a well-defined market will almost always find a home.

What catches your eye in a query or proposal? What makes you cringe?

Catch: enthusiasm, simplicity.

Cringe: bad grammar and spelling mistakes.

Actually, I think too many writers – and writing gurus – overstate the importance of a query. The first paragraph of a manuscript tells me more than any query letter possibly could.

What can an author do to make their agent's job easier?

I hate it when an author decides to make substantive changes to the book I’ve just read and have agreed to represent. Send an agent the best book you’ve written, not a draft of the best book you intend to write.

What are some new trends you're noticing in CBA fiction?

Chick lit and mom lit. Fantasy.

Is there a type of novel you are particularly interested in representing?


Once you sign an author on to represent them, what happens next? Please walk us through the agent’s submission process.

It’s not a complex process. Once our agency agreement is in place, I begin the process of identifying suitable homes for the manuscript. I typically call editors directly, but I sometimes visit them or meet with them at industry conferences. I will keep submitting until the manuscript is purchased or it seems clear that it will not find a home in its present form.

Parting words?

Consider your relationship with your agent a partnership. You are both aiming for the same gold ring – publication. Anything you can do to help reach the goal is appreciated – and that means attending conferences and meeting with editors and letting them know you exist and are serious about your writing.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Something to Look Forward to...

This week we have interviews with author Ron Benrey, author/agent Janet Benrey (who will speak on the agenting side of things), and author Carrie Turansky.

Next month an interview with Chris Well (including a FIVE book giveaway!), interviews with Robert Whitlow, Susan Meissner, Randy Ingermanson, James Scott Bell, Cindy Thompson, Aaron Thiel, Rachel Hauck...and more!

Pick Up Your Pen and Step Away From the Ledge

With the new year quickly approaching, many of us, will hopefully be getting our first publishing contract. Or our second or third.

Many of us will be getting bombarded with a stream of rejection letters as editors get busy after the holidays.

The odds are stacked against us in the business of publishing, so unfortunately, more rejections--way more--will be on their way than acceptance calls.

Par for the course.

Still stinks though.

The worst rejection letter I ever received, and believe me I have a few to choose from, came from an acquisition’s editor in regard to my first novel.

I sent this kind sir a query.

He liked it and requested a proposal, which of course I sent.

He liked that and requested the first hundred or so pages.

I received a very enthusiastic e-mail about how tight my writing was. What a page turner. I’d like to take it to committee. And then a page of revisions he would like to see.

Hooray. I was as good as contracted!

I made the revisions, sent it back. The tumbleweeds began to roll...and then a rejection.

Now, up until that point, I had received rejection letters, but getting as far as the words, “going to committee” from the acquisition’s editor, well, the first cut is the deepest.

So, here I am a year or two or three, (it’s beginning to blur) later, my manuscripts, (two now) in the hands of editors, I am a bit more guarded. Hopeful, don’t get me wrong, very hopeful, but I’m tightening my stomach this time so the gut punch doesn’t knock the wind out of me.

If the rejections come, I will do what I have done in the past:

A. Run on my treadmill until I nearly pass out.
B. Get busy on something new and get my passed over manuscipts back out for another round.

C. Reread Ralph Keyes' The Writer's Book of Hope

The Writer's Book of HOPE [Getting from frustration to publication]
Ralph Keyes
Henry Holt & Company


In 1889, the editor of the San Francisco Examiner, having accepted an article from Rudyard Kipling, informed the author that he should not bother to submit any more. "This isn't a kindergarten for amateur writers," the editor wrote. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."

A century later, John Grisham was turned down by sixteen agents before he found representation-and it was only after Hollywood showed an interest in The Firm that publishers began to take him seriously.

The anxiety of rejection is an inevitable part of any writer's development. In this book, Ralph Keyes turns his attention from the difficulty of putting pen to paper-the subject of his acclaimed The Courage to Write -to the frustration of getting the product to the public. Inspiration isn't nearly as important to the successful writer, he argues, as tenacity, and he offers concrete ways to manage the struggle to publish.

Drawing on his long experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Keyes provides new insight into the mind-set of publishers, the value of an agent, and the importance of encouragement and hope to the act of authorial creation.

Reviewed by Gina Holmes:

The Writer's Book of Hope, released in 2003, continues to be a beacon of hope to those on the long and tumultuous path to publication.

Keyes gives antidote after antidote on writer's rejected who went on to become best-sellers.

"Ursula Le Guin sent out her first story when she was eleven. She got her first acceptance at thirty-three. James Dickey endured years of form rejections before he finally saw hand-writing on one that said, "Not bad."

According to James Lee Burke's agent, 100 editors turned down Lost Get-Back Boogie (including multipe editors at the same house) before Louisiana State University Press bought Burke's first novel for a pittance.

It's a rare writer who doesn't have to hack through a jumble of rejection slips before (and after) getting published. Some of history's best-known books were rejected many times before finally being accepted. The Ginger Man, by J.P. Donleavy--now considered one of the best 100 novels ever published--was turned down by thirty-six publishers before it found a home..."

Besides happy endings to rejected beginnings, Keyes takes us inside the world of publishing. Some of the Chapter titles:

~AFD Syndrome~ (before drinking hemlock)
~Dealing with Discouragers
~Rites of Rejection
~The Publishing Tribe (Why publishing Resembles High School)
and more...

This book is one of the few writing books I can't bring myself to give up. Every so often, I find myself discouraged beyond reason, and this book takes me back from the ledge of despair.

It's a must read for any pre-pubbed writer needing an injection of optimism.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Thank God you came.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Vickie McDonough's Sooner or Later Reviewed

Sooner or Later, by Vickie McDonough
Heartsong Presents
ISBN 1-59310-850-8
170 pages

Book Description:
"Rebekah's dreams have become a nightmare.
For years, her mother told her, "Sooner or later, some handsome man is going to sweep you off your feet and make you his wife." But that was before her mother and brother died, and before her stepfather agreed to marry her to a repulsive neighbor in exchange for liquor and a side of beef.
Mason Danfield has no interest in a wife. He's focused on his motherless niece and nephew. But when Rebekah flees her home in the middle of the night, Mason must intervene or see her suffer, maybe even die, on the prairie.
Will God lead Rebekah to the love she yearns for sooner, rather than later? Will Rebekah and Mason allow God's direction to fulfill their dreams?"

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

When Rebekah Bailey discovers her stepfather has traded her to a man more than twice her age for a side of beef and jug of moonshine, she escapes during the night. Out of water and exhausted, she's found unconscious on the plains by Mason Danfield, a widower taking his motherless niece and nephew to find their father.

Set in the time period of the great land races, a delicious romance blossoms on the prairie. While the plot is predictable, it isn't boring at all; McDonough's characters are delightful and carry the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and look forward to more from this author.

Mary DeMuth's Watching the Tree Limbs Reviewed

Watching the Tree Limbs
Mary DeMuth
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Navpress Publishing Group (March 5, 2006)
ISBN: 1576839265

Book Description:
Callously passed from relative to relative, 9-year-old orphan Mara takes comfort in her imagination---especially playing Nancy Drew with her best friend, Camilla. But some mysteries seem unsolvable. Who is her mother? Why won't the neighborhood bully leave her alone? Can she endure the heartache of a shattered childhood and begin again, with God's help?

Reviewed by Michelle Therese

More than just a's a masterpiece. This story gripped me from page one. At first, you wonder how anything good could come from something so bad. And though good things (per se)didn't come, Mara did find love in this world. She learned to trust, found strength despite her traumatic past, and discovered who she was by novel's end. This story will make you think more, want to love more, seek God more and most of all, will leave you with a sense of completion and satisfaction.

I was sad when the story ended, but am ecstatic that a sequel is coming out called Wishing on Dandelions. If it's half as good as the first, it's still superior to many books on the market today. In my mind this story is a classic just like To Kill A Mockingbird and is a must read for someone who wants to escape to another time and place. Since I grew up in the 1970's, it was especially nostalgic for me. I kept picturing myself as Mara at her age.I felt for her and wanted someone to come to her rescue and fill the void inher life. Beautiful story. Wonderfully written. Life-changing. A must read!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Author Interview: Athol Dickson

Athol Dickson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1955 to a traveling salesman and his wife. His first bed was a drawer lined with towels in a travel trailer. When he was three months old, his family moved to Dallas, Texas, where he has stuck ever since. He has been a newspaper boy, taco bender, clothing salesman, boxer, carpenter, bartender, drug addict (reformed), Zen Buddhist (reformed), art student (reformed), born-again believer in Jesus, architect, successful entrepreneur, writer, and Sunday school teacher, roughly in that order. He owns a flatbottom boat and attempts to get lost in swamps as often as possible. He has been to Mexico twenty-one times, not counting border towns, and speaks enough Spanish to kid around with cab drivers there. His marriage to the lovely Sue from Salina, Kansas, has been a seventeen-year slice of heaven.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

River Rising is hitting the shelves this week. It’s set in a village near the mouth of the Mississippi River during the great flood of 1927. A stranger shows up and seems to work a miracle to save a baby’s life, but then the baby goes missing and everyone suspects him. He goes out into the surrounding swamp to search for the child, and finds a whole lot more than he bargained for.

You said River Rising is set during the flood of 1927, which we’ve all heard about since the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Did you write the book because of that?

No, I finished River Rising about a year before Hurricane Katrina hit, so that’s just a coincidence. But I knew about the flood of ‘27, and I know south Louisiana pretty well, so it didn’t take a prophet to think up the scenario.

What went through your head when New Orleans went under water recently?

I was in shock, just like everyone else. Very worried about my uncles, who live in New Orleans. We didn’t find out where they were until three days after Katrina hit. They were safe, but so freaked out they didn’t think to call. They drove all the way to Ohio before they remembered to let anyone know where they were.

Though you wrote the book far before the real life flooding, do you worry readers won't realize that and may think you are trying to capitalize on a tragedy?

I hope people aren’t that cynical. The possibility didn’t even occur to me until Bethany House [the publisher] brought it up a few weeks after Katrina. Maybe it will turn out the other way around. People might be interested because of Katrina. We’ll see. I guess.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started writing back in the early nineties. I was practicing architecture and having some success, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be when I started out. I was too busy doing business to enjoy the creative part. Hiring other people to have the fun of designing buildings, while I did meetings and wrote proposals and whatnot. It was pretty frustrating. So one day my wife got tired of hearing me complain and said, “Why don’t you do something creative on the weekends?” I started writing my first novel that same day.

This was Whom Shall I Fear?

Yes. I finished the first draft in about a year and a half, writing early in the mornings and weekends, and having a ball. Then I boxed it up and put it on the shelf, because of course I knew how hard it was to get published and I didn’t want to get involved in pitching it to people, since that sounded too much like doing business, which was the whole thing I was writing to escape.

So anyway, about six months later I met this editor for the Dallas Morning News, this great guy named Alan Pusey, and he offered to read the thing. He came back with eight pages of notes, typed single spaced. That was when I knew I might be on to something, because you know, who takes that much time on someone else’s project unless they really think it’s worthwhile?

So I made the changes Alan suggested, and meanwhile he showed the rough draft to another editor at the DMN, Howard Swindle, who had written some true crime and won a Pulitzer or something, and Howard thought it was pretty good so he volunteered to send the rewrite to his agent in New York, and she liked it and took me on and got Simon and Schuster interested.

But wasn’t Whom Shall I Fear? published by Zondervan?

That’s right. Simon and Schuster said I had to tone down the references to Jesus. This was after Alan and the agent had both suggested I make the spiritual theme more overt, and I’m not even sure if either one of them is a Christian. It didn’t feel right to me, so I turned them down.

You turned down a contract with Simon and Schuster? That must have been hard.

People told me I was crazy. It wasn’t easy. Took me a whole week to make the decision. But up to then I hadn’t written a single letter or made a call or done anything at all to try to get published. It was like God just dropped the opportunity in my lap. So I figured it would be pretty ungrateful to go and cut Him out of the book.

Obviously that wasn’t the end of the story.

No. The New York agent dropped me like a hot potato, and I was feeling pretty low, so I cried on the shoulder of an old friend, not expecting anything but commiseration, you know? Then it turned out he knew a guy who knew an agent who worked with publishers in the Christian Bookseller’s Association. He made a call and I ended up with another agent and another offer from a big publisher without even trying. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “Christian novel,” so there again, it wasn’t due to anything I said or did.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Sometimes when I’m having an off day. Not very often. Based on how I got here, I’m pretty confident I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Also, I’ve figured out there is a cycle to it. Everybody starts thinking, “Nobody’s gonna want to read this trash,” at some point in the process. The best thing is just keep typing. Later that same day you’ll probably write something that really shines and start thinking you’re a genius, or if not that soon, by the next day at the latest. Assuming you keep typing.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

I like Hemingway’s “Writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.” I think he got the ratio about right.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

It’s not advice, exactly, but there are a lot of people who think you have to write fast and get a lot of novels out there or readers won’t remember you. I get the marketing logic of that, and maybe its good advice if all you care about is making money, but I think it’s a bad plan for a Christian.

We need to be the ones who are excellent at what we do, so the others will see and be drawn to the truth. And it takes time to tell the truth well. Even people who claim to get a novel done in two or three months, if it’s a good novel, they’ve already put in months or years of thought and research and just plain living in order to be able to write it that fast. I don’t think anyone is smart enough to crank one after another out, three or four a year, and still get down to things that matter. You have to pause and reflect and live a little in between.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Get to know the marketing and sales people! Send them chocolates and gift certificates!

But seriously, I read an interview with James Lee Burke and he said he didn’t listen to his editors at first, and got crossways with them, and couldn’t get another publisher and basically didn’t get another book deal for something like twenty or thirty years. He said, “Always listen to your editors. They are on your team,” or words to that effect. It’s great advice.

You need outside input. You get too close to it and can’t see the boring parts sometimes. Putting out a good novel is a team effort. Fortunately, I had already learned this basic lesson in architecture. Prima donnas usually end up looking foolish. Writers: don’t do that. Be on the team!

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

For several months I’ve been focused on, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:24] As I get older I realize how hopeless it is to think I’ll ever be the kind of man I want to be. So I’m trying to remember not to try so hard. Jesus came to rescue me. If I keep flailing around and trying to get myself all straightened out, He can’t get ahold of me to take me to the better shore. So I’m trying to relax a little, and Jesus do his thing.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

I lost my mother in 2001. Next to my wife, Sue, she was my best friend on earth. Her name was Mary, but her friends and family called her “Sugar,” which tells you something about her personality. It took her eleven months to die, and I stayed at her house and nursed her through that. So I didn’t get much writing done that year, and then the next year I was among the walking wounded. Couldn’t write then, either.

That was two years gone, and it takes me about a year to get a book done so that put the old career back a bit. But like I said before, you have to have pauses in-between to do good work, even if the pauses are imposed on you. It’s how you find your stories. I just started my third novel since my mother died, and I still have plenty of material to work through from all the things I learned.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I love the series of books Patrick O’Brian wrote about Jack Aubry and Stephen Maturin in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. I’m not a war novel fan, but I love the sea and boats. Even if I didn’t, I’d still think O’Brian is one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century. His characterization is just amazing.

Speaking of characters, if your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

Probably the “man behind the curtain” in that scene when they finally get in to see the Great Oz, and they discover this nervous little old guy manipulating things in the background. The guy is so embarrassed to be back there, and if you remember the scene, he’s nearly overwhelmed by all the levers and things he has to work to get the Great Oz to speak. And he gets the Great Oz to say, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

That’s me. I always feel in over my depth, and a little bit out of control, but some people read my novels and non-fiction and think I’m all cool, calm and collected. Ha! If they only knew! I’m socially awkward and easily intimidated and I always say the wrong thing without meaning to. Sometimes I wish I could write all my own lines in advance. It’s better if people don’t pay much attention to me, and just read the novels.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I try hard to improve with every novel. So the latest is always the one I feel most proud of. Right now that would be River Rising, in terms of what’s available to buy. But I just finished the rough draft of the next one, called Adrift, and I think it’s the best so far.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

People who write below their abilities in order to crank out tons of books and make a buck. Especially Christian authors who do that. Outsiders judge us for it, and make fun of us for it, and it makes Jesus look bad. We of all artists on earth should be the most concerned with doing our best possible work at all times. We of all people should write with all our hearts, as if writing for the Lord and not for men.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I’m usually at the computer about six or six thirty in the morning with a cup of strong French roast coffee at hand. I do my most creative work in the first three or four hours, and then take a break. Maybe change out of my robe and do a little housework. Get my mind into a different place. Also, I love naps, so I usually sleep a little while. Then I spend the afternoon editing what I wrote that morning.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I wish I had a better vocabulary, and the ability to use words in more unexpected ways. As far as who does that, the list is very long. Joseph Conrad, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison…there are so many. Dale Cramer is doing some of the best Christian fiction work today, writerly-wise. His Levi’s Will is a masterpiece.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

There’s no master plan or anything. I’m just interested in telling the next story as well as I can and hoping the sales will be there to let me keep it up until I can’t see the screen or move my fingers anymore.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?


What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I love writing and re-writing. Stringing words together in search of the perfect combination of rhythm and meaning. I hate plotting. Also, writing novels is a very lonely art form, as you know. Unlike screenwriters and playwrights, you and I don’t get to watch an audience experience our work. Even painters and sculptors can lurk around in galleries and museums and watch people interact with their work. Novelists don’t get that opportunity, except at a reading, and those are few and far between and generally not well attended.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I got into writing to get away from the business side of art and architecture, so I’m not real excited about doing my own marketing. I don’t do direct mail or newsletters or any of that stuff. I do love interviews like this, because it allows me to think and talk about writing with other people who know what they’re talking about.

Parting words?

Thanks for this opportunity, Gina. And keep up the good work. We need you.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stay Tuned!

Tomorrow: Interview with Athol Dickson!
Saturday: Reviews of Mary De Muth's, Watching the Tree Limbs
& Vicki McDonough's, Sooner or Later.

Author Interview: Jill Nelson

About Jill Nelson: Children have been the focus of Jill Nelson's ministry for twenty years. She and her husband have four--two boys, two girls--all teenagers. (Prayers, please.) Jill supervises the children's ministry at her local church and delights in writing her own material. Her heart is to glorify God by guiding children into a powerful personal relationship with Him.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

THE RELUCTANT BURGLAR, the first novel in my romantic suspense series, is slated to release in August of 2006 from Multnomah Publishers. THE RELUCTANT RUNAWAY and THE RELUCTANT SMUGGLER will follow in six-month increments.

If anyone enjoys Elizabeth Peters’ historical novels, my books are something of a modern version of the adventures of Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson. The unifying thread is the art and antiquities world.

My female protagonist is the head of a museum security corporation. She’s a highly trained “thief” in order to STOP theft. (Think the recent movie “Entrapment,” only the heroine doesn’t go bad.) The male protag is a martial arts champion FBI agent.

The Lord has fulfilled the desire of my heart in hooking me up with Multnomah. Since 2001, when I read their release of Francine Rivers’ REDEEMING LOVE, it has been my dream some day to publish with them. I had no inkling this would happen with the very first contract!

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

When my agent called to give me the news about a three-book contract offer, my first response was, “Really? Are you sure?” That’s kind of like questioning the doctor when he announces the sex of your newborn. My next reaction was: “Wow, God! This is so far beyond anything I could even ask or think!”

Ironically, I got the call during the awards banquet of the Christian Writers Group conference themed, “Answer the Call.” Everyone there got a kick out of the God-incidence. Most precious to me were the testimonies of those who were encouraged by my experience to think that one day they too might get “the call.”

I’ve been seriously working toward publication for four years. One of the speakers at the conference, Randy Ingermanson, has a Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior theory about writer progress. (For details, see his web site at He proclaimed me his poster child.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Immediately after getting the offer, every writerly insecurity I’d ever experienced hammered at my door. I hear that’s normal, but it’s still daunting. My salvation is in the knowledge that I don’t walk through this new “published author” world alone, any more than I navigated through my “pre-pubbed” world alone.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Pay careful attention to writer’s guidelines before submitting work. Don’t think you’re going to be the “magical” exception to what a publisher wants.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

Christian fiction is nothing but preachy schlock. Don’t bother writing or reading that stuff. Talk about counter-productive! For the past three years, I’ve been the Senior Inspirational Reviewer for Romantic Times BOOKClub Magazine (secular periodical). After reading and reviewing 12 – 15 Christian novels per month for 36 months, I can testify this complaint is sooooo out of date.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Realistic word counts for novels. My first attempt was off-the-charts long.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

This is the Scripture from my e-mail signature lines. I try to let this command be the driving force in all that I do, not just writing.

Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season...fulfill your ministry. II Timothy 4: 2 a and 5 b.

What could be more vital than carrying out the purpose for which we are place on earth?

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Back to my first novel attempt in 2001, it was quite a blow to discover I had a monstrosity instead of a gem on my hands. I still love that book, and it’s undergone several revisions. Maybe someday it’ll be presentable.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

THE HOBBIT by J. R. R. Tolkein (I love the humor and the endearingly flawed hero Bilbo.)
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS by C. S. Lewis (Hah! Take that, Mr. Devil!)
THE BROTHER’S KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Seriously! This book had a major impact on me when I was in my 20s. I wouldn’t read it again, though. Talk about looong!)
REDEEMING LOVE by Francine Rivers
COLOR THE SIDEWALK FOR ME by Brandilyn Collins (The best women’s fiction I’ve ever read.)

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

Toto—that faithful fur-ball took daring chances and never gave up, despite the odds. Also, he caught on to the fake wizard before anyone else had a clue. Smart pooch on the cutting edge! I aspire to be like him.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

Not so much a single piece of writing, but my whole reviewing gig with Romantic Times. The Lord opened an awesome door for me to toot the horn for good, clean novels in a magazine that reviews all sorts of fiction, including erotica. Also, my 2003 article on positive peer pressure in Children’s Ministry Magazine. It’s hard to break into that publication.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

All the hurry up and wait. But I don’t guess that’s going to change, so I’ve figured out that I’d best buckle in for the ride and let things take their course.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

Since I work a full time day job, head up the children’s ministry at my church, and have an active family, I write in scraps of time when I can find them. Evenings work better than mornings. This is a daily discipline, however. Not some once in a while thing. Now that I have a fresh novel due every six months, I need to increase my output. I’ve figured out how many words I need to average per day, and I think it’ll be doable.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

One writer? Get outta here!

Let’s see now . . . For the entrée, I need Brandilyn Collins’ mastery of characterization and story structure. I’ll also take generous sides of Randy Ingermanson’s plotting skills, as well as Cec Murphey’s experience and common sense. Oh, and I’ve got to have a heapin’ helpin’ of Frank Peretti’s twisted imagination, garnished by Francine Rivers’ deft hand with disturbing topics. Then round the banquet off with Karen Kingsbury’s emotional knockout punch. Greedy li’l thing, ain’t I?

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Some day I want to write a book that goes over as big with nonbelievers as believers. I want to touch people with God’s grace who would rather suck an egg than enter a Christian bookstore.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

I have felt the call to be a writer since the 6th grade, and there have been periods of some success with short pieces. However, the dream pretty much went dormant while I raised four children. Now that they are all nearly grown, I’ve been able to “answer the call” again. Evidently, this was God’s time for me, because He has already blessed abundantly, and I have every anticipation of more to come.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorite = writing the story
Least favorite = writing the story

I love research. I can piddle around for hours finding things on the Internet. And who wouldn’t love traveling to the places where your novel is set? But actually writing the story and wrestling those words into shape is both the joy and the pain of being a writer. No wonder we often compare the work to birthing a baby.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’m just starting out with this, so I’m looking for advice rather than dispensing it.

Parting words?

Be like the graphic of the frog stuck in the pelican’s mouth with his little forefeet squeezing the bird’s throat so he can’t be swallowed: Never EVER give up!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Author Interview: Jill Stengl

Jill Stengl lives in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with her husband, Dean, a former military pilot. Only two of their children are still living at home. Tom is currently a senior cadet at the Air Force Academy, Anne Elisabeth is a sophomore at Grace College, Jim is a junior in high school, and Peter is Jill’s last home school student. The family also has three very spoiled cats.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

Masquerade, a Barbour novella anthology, comes out in December 06. My story, “Liberty, Fidelity, Eternity,” is set in Paris in the early days of the French Revolution. It’s suspenseful and romantic, with lots of ambience.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started writing in 1991, and my first attempt turned into a monstrous 150K tome that has never been published and probably never will be. But the first publisher I queried about it requested the full, which was very encouraging for a rank beginner! After that I tried writing a Heartsong. I wrote the full manuscript and submitted it in July of 1994. One year later I received an acceptance letter in the mail—and of course I was thrilled! One year after that I got the contract, and in fall of 1996 it was published as Eagle Pilot.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Only on a daily basis.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

“Write your passion!” Meaning, write the books I would like to read.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

“Write what you know.” This is true only up to a point. I took it to mean “Write what I already know,” and since that isn’t much, I would never have dared to write historicals! Research is a beautiful remedial therapy for ignorant would-be writers.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

How to plot a story in advance. I wrote strictly SOTP (seat of the pants)for many years—which is one reason I could produce only about one book or story a year.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

I can’t think of anything particularly difficult, although I’ve had dry spells and writer’s block many times.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Lord of the Rings by Tolkein, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Beauty by Robin McKinley, and the Harry Potter books. All of these are books I read, or will read, over and over again and never tire of them. They have tremendous themes and memorable characters.

If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?

That’s a no-brainer—ooh, bad pun! Definitely the Scarecrow. I often think how much I could get written if I only had a brain. I did have one around the house once, but she left for college, and now I’m bereft.
See? I’m boasting about my weakness. Seriously, I do believe the Lord made me absent-minded and tongue-tied for good reason: I humiliate myself frequently. Anything I accomplish is obviously through Christ’s power, not through my innate brilliance and finesse. Wish I had some of those last, but God knew better.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I’m proud of Faithful Traitor. I decided to use a classic storyline (I won’t divulge which one—got to read it and see!) in an unexpected setting—New York City during the American Revolution. It was fun to write, and I learned some fascinating American history while researching for it.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Not really.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

Some days I’ll sit down and write a chapter or two, but then days will pass when I do nothing worth mentioning. However, on days like that I often research material for upcoming chapters and think a lot about how to improve the plot or deepen a character. Because I also home school our youngest child, my writing times have to be flexible.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I admire Kim Vogel Sawyer’s ability to write with incredible speed and still produce quality stories and characters.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I would love to write a Victorian gothic novel with a fantasy feel and a Christian theme. It’s in my head and heart, but I don’t yet have the ability to write it the way it should be written. Someday!

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

The summer of 2004 I seriously wondered if I still wanted to write, but selling the Masquerade story resuscitated my interest. Sometimes I play around with other genres for variety.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is writing a story I love and seeing it flow from my heart onto the screen. My least favorite part is trying to write a story I love and having it come out all wrong.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’m trying to learn marketing skills. Now that most of my kids are out of the house, I’m trying to write more regularly and do book signings. This year I also entered some books in two contests and won three awards. Faithful Traitor won first place in its category in both contests. That was very exciting, and hopefully more people will remember my name because of those awards. I attended my first-ever writers’ conference this year—the ACFW conference—and it was well worth the time and the money.

Parting words?

I would advise aspiring authors to write their passion, but also to constantly work hard to improve their craft. There is always more to learn. Study the greats for their big themes, and study modern writers for modern writing styles.

Don’t labor to put God into your work. If your life is truly His, He will shine through everything you do without conscious effort on your part.
Happy writing!