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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Work and Publicity

Have you ever seen the movie, The Coal Miner's Daughter?

It follows the story of Loretta Lynn through her childhood and into the struggles of being a star. What's impressive to me is the part where Loretta goes from an unknown to a known.

I don’t how much is fact or fiction, but it teaches an incredible lesson. Standing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry didn't happen over night. The movie shows her husband working to package the records, make their own "professional" pictures, type the letters, mail out the packets and then driving to the locations to follow up. I love that he keeps a list of radio stations he crosses off, one-by-one. No stone unturned.

In the film, they were so busy promoting themselves on the road they didn't even know they'd hit number 14 on the charts. When they learned, they turned around and went straight to Nashville—not sure how they were going to manage to get on stage at the Opry House, but just knowing they were going to get there.

Publicity takes work.

Not just for the publicist, but for the author as well.

Even when I garner the hit, it does not excuse the author from the work. While I might orchestrate schedules, assemble press kits, write new releases, and come up with an appropriate Q&A, the author is the one stepping on the plane, spending a night in a strange city, scheduling time for radio interviews, or appearing before the camera.

Constantly, I have authors sending me contacts and information they've gathered for the campaign. They call with ideas for radio interviews, or magazine articles. Like the Loretta Lynn story, they don't stop with just the recording of the song… but keep the ball moving.

What are you doing this week for your book?

Author Interview ~ Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick is a best-selling, multi-award-winning author of two non-fiction books and twelve historical novels, and Literary Guild, Doubleday, Crossings and Book of the Month book club have featured her titles. Jane is a former mental health director in Deschutes County and a former consultant in mental health to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. An international speaker, she and her husband Jerry ranch along the lower John Day River in rural Sherman County, Oregon.

What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

I’ve just put the finishing touches on the second novel in my Change and Cherish Series based on the life of the only woman who with nine male scouts was sent out from Bethel, Missouri in 1853 to the West to find a new site for their communal religious colony. It’s called A Tendering in the Storm and will be out in April. It follows A Clearing in the Wild which is the first part of Emma’s story. Just as we were working on the final galleys of this second book, I learned some new information about Emma that I just HAD to incorporate into the story. It’s one of the challenges in writing a novel based on the lives of real people. When I learn something from a descendant – which is what happened – that I hadn’t known before and it informs the story, I have to change it. Fortunately the publisher was fine with my doing that. Whew!

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I’ve been very fortunate. Since my husband and I left suburbia and moved to where we live now, rattlesnake and rock ranch, I started writing nonfiction articles and essays for newspapers and magazines. That was in 1984. People thought we’d really gone off the deep end to leave our jobs (I’d been the director of a mental health clinic and my husband was a builder) to move to remote property that had nothing on it, no house, no power, 25 miles from the nearest town, seven miles from our mailbox. So I wrote to friends and family to assure them we were still alive and one of them wrote back and said they saved my letters and turned off the TV and read them out loud because they were like chapters of a book. That’s when I decided to write a book.

A memoir (as though I thought I had something fascinating to say!) It wasn’t to be a “how to” book, but a “follow your dream” book. Anyway, I wrote a proposal and sent it out along with 10 sample chapters – the proposal looked like a term paper! After six months I got a call from the editor in Texas. He asked if the manuscript was still available. Still available! I hadn’t written anything on it since I’d sent that proposal AND I hadn’t sent the proposal anywhere else. I assured him it was then went outside to tell my husband that the most extraordinary thing had just happened. I was about to write a book! We danced around on the deck as the dogs barked their happy jubilation thinking we were about to go for a walk. To me it was an affirmation of following our hearts and stepping out onto a cloud of faith, believing we wouldn’t fall through.

I received an unagented contract and that book came out in 1991 with Word. The book was just reissued with a new section from WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House this past fall. So I guess it was seven years of writing before I got a contract. But the book contract came from a proposal.

My first novel came out in 1995. I had a contract before I’d written it. My agent sold it by proposal and I’ve had contracts in advance of the writing for all of the now thirteen novels since. I have contracts for four more. The good news about “selling” a book before it’s written is that I know I’ve convinced someone it’s a great story and that’s how I felt about the novel, A Sweetness to the Soul published by Questar (which became Multnomah). My agent called to tell me and I was elated. She also said they’d be interested in possibly three more. The bad news about selling a proposal is that I never know if I can actually write it. So each novel is a step into the wilderness. (But as writer Terry Tempest Williams says, “to step into the wilderness is to court risk; but risk favors the senses which allow the good life.” I have a very good life.)

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

See above, but yes. Each time I start something new I think I can’t. I’ll re-read what I’ve written on a particular day and think it’s drivel. I tell my husband what I’ve done that day is awful and he’ll say “Gee, you’re feeling that way earlier in the process than before” so apparently it’s a part of my routine. With deadlines, I don’t have a lot of time to obsess about how bad my writing is. Anne Lamott’s words “You Don’t Have Time For That” sit on my computer.

I’ve taken to imagining the negative voices sitting behind me as the harpies in a Greek tragedy and I have to imagine them with duct tape on their mouths. I don’t have time to listen to their negativity because it isn’t my job to write the great American novel nor to get Oprah to know my name. It’s my job to tell the story I’ve been given the best way I know how and to trust that I’m not alone in the telling. As Madeleine L’Engle noted, when we create, we co-create: with spirit and with our readers. So I trust that I’m sitting at that computer for a reason and somehow that story has found its teller and I just need to be truthful and faithful to that.

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

I’ve been writing for other people to read for about 22 years. I never thought of not writing during that time, especially since I had contracts so I knew others depended on me. But I did not attempt to earn my living totally from writing until about four years ago. Up until then, I continued to work as a mental health consultant on an Indian reservation about 100 miles from our home. Sometimes I didn’t think I could keep that pace up, of working away from home three days a week, helping on the ranch and writing, but I never thought of giving it up. I just got up earlier to write and turned myself into a morning person!

What mistakes did you make while seeking a publisher or agent?

I sent a lot of my nonfiction pieces out to publishers that were just not going to be interested. I didn’t do the marketing survey as well as I could have. Sending a 75 page proposal is pretty naïve too though the editor at Word forgave me. I pitched my work and myself to agents at writing conferences and while I didn’t garner an agent or publisher from them, it was really good experience and exposure. I hadn’t really researched the agents to see what they handled and that would have saved my time and theirs. I also did get asked to submit some pieces to a NY agent at one of the conferences and I didn’t follow up on it because I was sure he hadn’t really meant for me to do that. I’d just wandered in to his session.

This past summer, I had a chance to talk with him about a writing conference I helped organize and in fact he remembered me! So who knows, if I’d trusted in my work, I might have had a NY agent! Ultimately I got my agent through referral from a publicist hired by the publisher to promote my first book and she’s been my agent for the past 14 years. We have a great working relationship. So whatever mistakes I made along the way did help me arrive with an agent who has been right for me.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

With my articles, it was to make a list of 10 markets and write them on a folder with the date I sent the query or article out. When it comes back, read it once and if it still reads well, send it to the next market on the list within 24 hours out. I did that and rarely did I get to number 10 before the article sold. I don’t think that’s because it was a great article. I think it was because when I was feeling good about the work, I located the markets and I had a next step to take when the rejection letter came back. Keeping our work in circulation is important and the rejection letters can devastate. So I like always having a next step.

As for fiction, I think the best advice I had was to make a commitment to a story and then trust that with the words of Goethe, “Providence moves.” I was advised to just choose the story I was going to tell and then trust that what I needed to tell it would be there. It always has been. A corollary is from a prayer by Barry Longyear published in Writer’s Digest 22 years ago that I have stuck on my computer and one of the lines is “Help me to enter and live my story.”

Living it and not worrying about whether it’s good or not is great advice I think. And finally, a fellow author took me aside after my fifth novel and told me I was a great writer but that I needed to write with a single person in mind, maybe the mom picking up a book at the grocery store or a grandmother looking for a book for her granddaughter but one she’d read herself first. Making one’s work accessible was his advice and it was good advice. It’s a challenge to write for many while still imagining that individual whose life I hope will be touched.

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

I had this idea for a book once and I told a writer who had just gotten published about my dream to write a book. I didn’t say what it was about, only that I wanted to write. “You’re going to write a book? Good luck. It’s a more miserable process than you’d think.” I thought if a published author felt that badly about it, who was I to think that I could write something worthy or that I’d enjoy the process. I didn’t write that book and it was a couple of years before I had the courage to listen to my heart again and write ANY book. It wasn’t bad advice, really; but my poor interpretation of it. I deprived myself of the joy of this writing life!

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

My husband says it’s the strangest business he’s ever heard of, where you GIVE books away to booksellers hoping they’ll order in more and where the author whose work is being sold receives the smallest percentage of the income…if there is any. But every biz has strangeness to it. You just have to find the way through. I’ve worked in large organizations: the pet peeves of publishing are nothing.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

Coping skills. My husband once asked me to get him a hacksaw from the shop and I brought him his saw but also one that looked a little different. It was shaped like a U. It was called a coping saw and he said it was used to fit things into tight places like a cabinet into a corner. He told me the blade was very strong but also very flexible. If it was too strong it would splinter what you’re trying to fit; if it was too flexible, it would leave gaps. The blade also allowed you to change directions quickly without a lot of friction. In order to cope you have to be strong, but not so strong you’re rigid and you have to be flexible but not so flexible you stand for nothing. And then there’s that changing part, without friction. (It was the Marlboro man meeting mental health!).

So I wish I’d realized early on that change is just a part of the process, that authors don’t always get to choose their titles; that publishers have more than one book (mine!) to promote; that when an editor makes a suggestion and I have to defend why I want that scene, that defending makes me a better writer and if I can’t defend it well enough, then I have to decide whether to trust the wisdom of someone who ALSO wants me to succeed or get rigid and maybe splinter what I’m trying to fit. Publishing really is a team effort. It’s not all about the author. It’s about production and promotion and sales and distribution and it’s about the reader, getting the best story into the hands of the reader. I wish I’d known that earlier. I think I’d have not taken things personally that were just part of the process.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

One of my books, a second in a series, was rejected by the publisher. I hadn’t written a series before, only a “collection” so I didn’t realize I had to carry the stories of these characters through the entire series. I got in to introducing new characters and of course, readers want to know what happened to the others they fell in love with. But I didn’t know that. I was devastated. It was like getting an F when you’re an over-achieving-A kind of person. The good news is that after a couple of days of crying…the editor and I talked again and she had some great suggestions for how to salvage the book, what we might do, etc. Her suggestions made me dig deeper and find a way to retain the new characters and weave them into the story of the original characters. It worked! Book three was also much easier to write and that series has gone on to be my bestselling series ever.

When a book goes out of print, that feels defeating, the hassle of getting rights back, etc. and trying to resell it. Fortunately I’ve been able to find other publishers for the two books of mine (nonfiction) that went out of print so that now all fourteen of my books or a version of them are in print.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Vinita Hampton Wright’s Dwelling Places is an all time contemporary favorite along with Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead. I loved Linda Hall’s Sarah’s Song as well as her other mysteries. B.J. Hoff’s books are gems and Liz Curtis Higg’s books, too. Sue Grafton novels. Linda Hunt’s Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victoria America is terrific nonfiction read. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Ivan Doig’s English Creek. The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas (along with her others) and this may seem strange, but Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Kit is just the best book about writing. Oh, but of course Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. Molly Wolf’s White China: Finding the Divine in Everyday Life and Christina Baldwin’s book StoryCatcher: Making Sense of our lives through the Power and Practice of Story. Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water. Kathleen Norris Amazing Grace and Dakota. And finally, anything at all by Barbara Brown Taylor and Frederick Buechner.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

Does this have to be about writing? Because I think some of my best work has been with families of children who have disabilities and my being able to learn from them while hopefully helping them to discover their own strengths. I also believe that mentoring or encouraging young writers is good work and I’ve done that in a number of ways. And encouraging people to remember and write their own stories down is important work. I feel blessed that my counseling life and my writing life do blend, for as it’s said, stories do heal. Work with traumatized children at Baylor University verify that, that such children benefit most from music, dance or movement (quilting? Woodworking?) art and story.

It seems no coincidence to me that the Hebrew word for parable meaning “toss along beside” like a pebble is similar to the Greek word for comfort meaning “to come along beside.” In my writing life, I’m proud of my first novel, getting it written and believing it was a good story before I even tried to write it down. It earned a national award and was recently named to Oregon’s Literary 100: 1800-2000 being named one of the best books about Oregon written in the past 200 years. That’s cool.

I also compiled some encouraging words I’d given my sister when she was dying and said she couldn’t concentrate long enough to read an entire book. A Simple Gift of Comfort grew from that book and I’m grateful for that.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

I’m fond of Deuteronomy (a word that means “these are the words”) 6: 6-9 which I paraphrase to mean that we should remember the stories and teach them diligently to our children and “write them on the door posts” and never forget what God has done in our lives. This scripture gives encouragement to write, to remember, to encourage others to do likewise. I have this little saying at the end of my email: Stories are the sparks that light our ancestors’ lives; they’re the embers we blow on to illuminate our own. Deuteronomy says to remember and to write it down.

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

When I’m in my “writing” part of the year, I’m up early, sometimes at 4:00 AM taking a break around 9:00 then back to write most of the day with a break for lunch and I finish at dinner time. I have an office that looks out onto the rimrocks and the ridges of the John Day River. I use a computer. I begin each book by doing a timeline of significant historical events in the life of the characters and also in the country at large, to see how my character might have been affected by the Civil War, let’s say; or the British influences in the Northwest Fur Trade. I spend a lot of time seeking out descendants and interviewing them to hear the family stories that often aren’t written anywhere.

That’s especially true since I write about historical women, primarily, and I really have to scrounge to find authentic information about women. Usually I have to track their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons to know where they might have been and to wonder how their lives were spent. I don’t look at emails until 11:00 AM Pacific time, in case my editor has contacted me and then I don’t look at them again until 5 or so. I don’t answer the phone, just take messages and answer them back in the late afternoon or evening. Otherwise I get distracted.

I usually don’t write on Saturday or Sunday but on those days I read books I’ve been asked to read for endorsement and do pleasure reading. I also make presentations, lead women’s retreats, speak at historical societies etc. I’m doing research in the evenings and weekends too but usually that’s sandwiched in between the things of living like cleaning the house. This is my January to June routine. I’ve had a book come out in April or May for several years now.

That means I’m on the road launching the new book but I’ll still be writing using a laptop and my flash drive to finish up the manuscript due in June. I don’t like that writing as much because I can’t access the shelves of reference books available to me that I accumulate for each book. As I get close to finishing and with a deadline looming, I often wake up at 1 or 2:00 AM and just go in and work then come back to bed at 8:00 AM to nap. I don’t set any number of words or pages as goals for my day. I do write one chapter at a time and not specific scenes that I later move around. It’s pretty much chronological for me. Boring, eh?

Then from June to December, I’m researching the next book and rewriting the manuscript I turned in the previous June. I usually don’t get up so early; I’m showing up by 9 and work until 3:00. I can participate in blog interviews! I look at my emails more often. I have a three to four week break when I don’t read the manuscript or work on it but let it cook and wait until the editor has comments for me before I begin the rewrites. This is the best part of writing for me because I know where the story is going and now I can put in the things that deepen it for me and hopefully for the reader.

Usually during the latter half of the year I’m also re-reading galley proofs, talking with the copy editors and I’m researching the next book but I may also be verifying something a copy editor has questioned. In between I’m spending time with my family, writing Christmas cards or at this time of the year, going pheasant hunting with my husband and our Wire haired Pointing Griffon dog. I’m always thinking ahead to what the next book might be. I never know when a particular story will hit me and I’ll have to write it down.

I also participate in a writer’s organization called Women Writing the West and that takes time away from writing so I have to watch that just as I have to be careful of spending too much time on other loops, blogs etc. There are other writing on-line groups (ACFW, CHI LIBRIS, Western Writers of American) that I belong to and I could easily churn my day away reading about writing rather than, well, writing.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

No. I like to write an entire chapter in a day but I rarely get to. They’re usually 5 to 6000 words so I guess that’s a goal. But mostly I feel like I’ve been successful when I’ve shown up, kept my commitment to “assume the position of a writer” and then just trust what will happen. I have good days and bad days of writing but even the worst days of writing are better than not writing at all.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

Someone once asked Albert Einstein how he worked and he said “I grope.” I grope too (and I’m groping dead people whose stories I’m telling so there is probably some mental health disorder named for that) But I’m both a SOTP and a plotter. Because I write about actual historical events or people, I do have some sort of historically based plot or sequence of events that I know I’ll be working into the story or that drives the story forward. I also have an idea of where I want to start and where I think I’ll finish, a final scene, let’s say. But in between, if I know my characters and the setting well, then they are free to lead me and I am then going by the SOTP method. I like it when I end a chapter with “As she looked over the hill she knew from what she saw before her that her life would change forever.” But then not know what she saw until the next day when I start writing again. Writing ought to have surprises for the writer and the reader, at least that’s my theory.

What author do you especially admire and why?

Frederick Buechner. Because he writes both fiction and nonfiction, he writes with great wisdom and compassion. He’s innovative with his thinking and he integrates issues of faith so delicately and with such grace that I am always moved, never led to feel guilty but always led to be a better person, live a better life, deepen my faith and reach out to my neighbor because of what he wrote. I’d like to move people in that way, to write like that.

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

Favorite part is “having written” as some wise person once said. Knowing I did it, that I silenced the harpies in my head. Least favorite? Writing the “suggested reading list” because I have to remember the style requirements: last name, first name, period. Title of book. Place published. Date. All that stuff so I have to lay my hand on the book to get it right.

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

When my first book came out and I realized it wasn’t going to be a bestseller and the publisher would move on to their next releases, I asked my brother, a successful salesman, what he wanted in a product that made it easy for him to sell. He said two things: you want to know that you have a quality product, the best it can be. Second, you want a story. A story? I asked. Yes, he said, because if it’s a quality product, people can buy it anywhere, but they’ll buy yours and from you because they’ll remember your story.

So first I want to be sure that my book is the best I can make it. Then I become a marketer not of my books but of the importance of story in our lives, of the people I write about and how I think it’s important for the world to know about them and what they have to teach us about living today. I also “market” my own story about living on Starvation Lane and how my life changed when we took a chance and followed a dream and that we’re still here at the end of the rutted dirt road. We have a sign on our gate that says “We seek neither convenience nor ease but to live at the edge of possibility.” In some ways, that’s what I market. I like best the chance to be with readers, telling them stories, answering their questions.

More specifically though, I have a website and I write a monthly essay of encouragement on it to bring people back. I respond to my guest book entries personally. I participate in some blogs on a regular basis. At signings I have a guest book where I solicit postal addresses and my niece maintains my mailing list and when a new book comes out or I’ll be at an event in an area, we send postcards to announce that. I also keep a schedule on my website. At various time I’ve paid for a publicist’s help. At times I’ve been fortunate to have the publisher provide a publicist to work with me to set up events etc.

I speak or attend signings maybe 100 times a year. Out of those events have come some great connections (including being asked to speak to the European Council of International Schools) as well as learning about new stories. The people who like my books are my best marketing. They tell their friends and family, order signed books from me, attend events even when they don’t plan to buy a book, they just come to support me. What could be better than that? My least favorite part of marketing is having a signing that’s set up for say two hours and we’re trying to get people to come into the store to just stop and buy a book. I much prefer having an “event” where I’m talking about stories or history or women’s issues for a half an hour or so and then signing afterwards. When it’s just a “signing” and since I’m not famous, it can sometimes get pretty lonely and I feel badly for the store. I do read a lot of other people’s books that way, though. The end cap books I pick up while waiting for a customer.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Only that you can see by the length of my answers why I have to work with good editors, to keep me within a word count! Brevity is good. Writing spare is good. But finding your own style and voice is best of all. I hope you keep writing until you do. Thanks for staying with me to the end!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Author Interview ~ Merrillee Whren

Merrillee Whren is an award-winning author who in 2003 she won the Golden Heart Award presented by Romance Writers of America for best inspirational romance manuscript. Her first book, THE HEART’S HOMECOMING was a finalist in the More Than Magic Contest. Merrillee has lived in Spokane, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, and Chicago and now resides in Florida. When she isn’t writing, she works part-time for her husband’s recruiting firm or enjoys walking on the beach, playing tennis or doing a little yard work. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of thirty plus years, and has two grown daughters.

What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

I have a book, LOVE WALKED IN, coming out in December 2006 from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. It’s the story of Beth Carlson, single mom, who has her hands full with a teenage son. She doesn’t have time for romance, especially with her new neighbor, Clay Reynolds, who is only in town for a few months. Besides, she learned long ago that love doesn’t last. But Clay is good to her and her son and has helped her with her faltering faith, and he makes her wonder whether she’s been wrong about God and love.

For those who have read my first book, THE HEART’S HOMECOMING, my December book is set in the same fictional town of Pinecrest, Washington.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I wrote my first novel when I was in high school, but it wasn’t until many years later that I thought about writing for publication. I always loved reading romances because I wanted a happy ending. After reading dozens of romances, I decided that I could write one, too. I started writing long hand in a spiral notebook. This was around 1984, and thankfully, not long after that, I was able to get a personal computer otherwise I may never have had the endurance to type a whole manuscript, as I am a terrible typist.

I wrote off and on, mostly on, for the next twenty years. I submitted to publishers and entered lots of contests. During that time period, I wrote and rewrote eight books. I sold book number eight and eventually sold book number six. Book number seven won the RWA Inspirational Golden Heart Award in 2003, and I still hope to sell that book. The other books were my practice books, but parts of THE HEART’S HOMECOMING, my first book, came from book number five.

Here's my call story. February 20, 2004, a Friday, I went to get my haircut and stopped to pay our water bill. When I got home, I saw the light blinking on the answering machine. I punched the button to play the message. "This is Diane Dietz from Steeple Hill. Please call me." My heart was racing, and I was thinking this has got to be THE CALL. (I missed it!!!) My husband was busy on his business phone and didn't answer our home phone while I was gone. Then I thought maybe she wasn’t calling to buy my book, but I thought surely she wouldn't call unless she wanted to buy the book. (Was I a little neurotic or what?)

My hubby was still on the phone, so I couldn’t scream or talk to him. Instead, I got teary eyed and waited around until he got off the phone. I told him Diane Dietz called and I think she wants to buy my book. He said call her back. I said, “I'm afraid. What if she's not calling to buy the book?” He just shook his head. I told him I’d call when I got myself together. So I took a few minutes to calm myself down. Then I punched in the number, hands shaking. She answered and asked me if I was sitting down. I was. She said, "I'd like to offer you a contract on Second Chances."

At least I think that's what she said. I had to be very calm because hubby was still on his business line just up the stairs. I said that's fabulous. I think she was a little disappointed that I was so calm. I told her I'd taken plenty of time to calm myself down after I listened to her message. Anyway, she went into details about money, time lines of revisions, option book, publication, etc. And she explained some of the revisions they wanted. After going over all this, I told her I’d call her back that afternoon.

After I hung up and hubby wasn't on the phone, I screamed, "THEY WANT TO BUY MY BOOK." Our younger daughter just happened to call to talk to her dad about business stuff. I told her I had sold my book. I called my mother-in-law. She was thrilled because she knew how long I've been at this. (She can't understand why they haven't bought my Golden Heart book. She did proofreading for me on that book and loved it.) Minutes later, older daughter called to say congrats. I later called back and accepted the contract.

During the rest of the afternoon, I sent emails to everyone I could think of to let them know I'd sold. Then I went for my walk so I could burn off some of the adrenaline. The weather finally turned nice so I could walk at the beach. I was grinning from ear to ear, but I resisted the urge to go up to complete strangers on the beach and tell them I'd sold my first book. I came home did my lower body workout. Believe me I had lots of energy. I finally saw the flowers my girls sent while I was out walking. I couldn't believe they got there so quickly.

Hubby and I went out to dinner to celebrate. What a day!

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Always. Each time I start a new book, I wonder whether it will be any good. I feel like I’ll always be learning to write better.

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

Absolutely. One of the hardest rejections that I had to deal with was one where the publisher had my manuscript for nearly a year. I was so sure that I would sell that book. I think getting my hopes up during that prolonged wait made the rejection that much more difficult. I almost quit writing after that rejection. It was at then that I did some real soul searching.

After writing for so many years, I was wondering whether I should give up. Was God trying to tell me that I wasn't cut out for writing? That I should use my time in some other way? In 2003, I had entered the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Contest. I had entered this contest several times before and never came close to being a finalist. The thought kept going through my mind to lay a fleece before the Lord. "Lord, if you want me to continue writing, let me win the Golden Heart." I have to admit I was afraid to pray that prayer because if I didn't win that meant God didn't want me to write.

I wasn't sure I could give it up even though many times I became so discouraged I wanted to give up. But I always came back to it. Even though I didn't pray that prayer, God knew what was in my heart. In 2003 I won the Golden Heart for best inspirational romance manuscript. A few months later I sold my first book. I didn't even sell that Golden Heart winner. I still hope to sell that one.

What mistakes did you make while seeking a publisher or agent?

I think my biggest mistake was taking too long to follow-up on submissions.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Don’t give up.

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

“This book isn’t saleable.” This comment about my second book, AN UNEXPECTED BLESSING, made me more determined to sell it.

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

Before I was published my pet peeve was waiting so long for responses.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I’m not sure having known something earlier would have helped. I really feel God had a time for me to be published.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I can’t say that I have any favorites. I love all the books that I finish. If the book doesn’t grab me in the first 100 pages, I don’t finish it. I don’t want to waste my reading time that is harder to find now, since I have deadlines of my own.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV) “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God.” This verse reminds me of the power of the gospel that I have the privilege to share in each of my stories.

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I have no typical day. Each day is different for me. Tuesdays and Thursdays I sometimes play tennis in the morning. Wednesday morning is Community Bible Study. The other mornings I often do some work for my husband’s recruiting firm. I do most of my serious writing in the evening. If I’m on a tight deadline, I may closet myself away in our bedroom with my laptop and write most of the day.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

When I’m on a deadline, I do have a daily goal. It’s usually somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words per day.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?


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

Getting letters and e-mails from readers is my favorite part. Promotion is my least favorite part.

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

I don’t do a lot. I have bookmarks made and send those out to family, friends and groups who are looking for promo items for goody bags.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Give God the glory.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Author Interview ~ Daniel Kalla

Daniel Kalla was born and raised in Vancouver where he continues to reside along with his wife and two young daughters. He spends his days (and sometimes nights) working as an Emergency Room Physician at an urban teaching hospital.

His latest release, RAGE THERAPY (a psychological thriller), came out in hard cover from Forge Book in October 2006. In it, Kalla plumbs the depths of forensic psychiatry and the emerging fields of impulse and rage control therapy.

In 2005, he was featured on the front page of the Globe & Mail Review section and was interviewed on national TV on the Vicki Gabereau Show. CNN, CBC radio, The National Post, City TV, and The Vancouver Sun have also interviewed him.
He received his B.Sc. in mathematics and his MD from the University of British Columbia.

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

RAGE THERAPY is my current hard cover release. It’s a dark psychological thriller flavored with my behind-the-scenes medical experience.

Dr. Joel Ashman, a young widowed psychiatrist, narrates two stories. One follows the fatal beating of his mentor Dr. Stanley Kolberg, and the other the suicide of a beautiful but emotionally fragile patient. A year apart, on the face of it the events are unrelated. But as the investigation into Kolberg’s murder wades into an ugly world of sadomasochism and patient abuse, the relevance to his patient’s death grows. After the murder of a second psychiatrist, Joel realizes he is on a crash course with someone willing to do anything to distort the past.

Who killed Stanley Kolberg and why? The answer lies in a lurid underworld of violence and predators—and in the tortured past of a disturbed young patient.

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.

Oddly, my very first submission, a feature script I co-wrote with two friends fresh out of an introduction to screenwriting course, was optioned within a week. And I thought this writing gig was a joke. Then, a failed production, two novel manuscripts, three agents, and five years later, I wasn’t laughing! However, on my third manuscript, my third agent got a big bite from Tor/Forge books in New York. And I have to say, receiving that confirmatory email was one of the highlights of my life. A kind of mix of elation and validation that still feels good to remember.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

All the time! Now I’m working on my fifth novel for Tor/Forge (that has a guaranteed pub date in 2008), and I question myself more than ever. But that’s not necessarily bad. As long as the self-critic does not paralyze you as a writer, then I think it can actually be constructive.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I think all agents (even the high-powered A list ones) have a tough job in pitching and selling new authors. If you have an agent you like and trust, you’re in a good position. And when I was waiting / hoping to find a publisher, I think I let my impatience sometimes get the better of me. I regret that. And I wished I had concentrated on simply writing more and letting the agent do his or her job.

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

Someone once said that publishers love to find stories that are similar and comparable to other “hot” titles, but trying to be derivative of another writer or book is the worst career mistake a writer can make!

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

Write what you know. Obviously, it has its inherent wisdom, but if you write fiction, eventually you have to make stuff up!

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

There are terrific books and websites available on finding agents and publishers. I would suggest the Jeff Herman book, but there are numerous others. When I finally found them, the work of shopping my work was cut considerably!

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

I had a near miss when a major publisher expressed interest but did not make an offer. For whatever reason, I was crushed, but the sky did not fall and other opportunities came along.

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

Gold Coast – Nelson DeMille
Summer of Katya – Trevanian
Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins

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

I am the guest writer in the Vancouver Province’s inaugural novel-writing contest. Briefly, we’re writing a collaborative thriller novella, with a new chapter chosen every week for twelve weeks. There are a few swank grand prizes. And I was allowed to introduce the story any way I wanted. And I will write the final chapter on December 10th. Every week in between readers (unpublished writers) have been vying for the the next chapter. We’ve had up to 360 entries one week, and you would not believe how many talented writers are emerging from the woodwork. I am proud of the project and the opportunity it has given other writers. (You can check it out at:

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

It seems to be a reactive business. By that I mean the importance placed on a new title and its orders are driven by who, what, and how many sold last year, rather than what will be great this year.

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

I hold a day job as an ER physician, so I write when work and family demands are not too much. As long as I have something to say, I can writer anywhere, anytime.

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

John Irving’s genius for wrapping the reader up in his characters.

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

Yup. Inside this thriller writer’s exterior is a poet waiting to emerge. Just kidding! But I do have an idea for a historical novel that I’m chomping at the bit to write.

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?

My favorite parts are writing and celebrating the release of a new book with the friends and family who made it possible. My least favorite part is stressing over sales figures and the economics of the biz.

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

Aside from what my publisher chooses to do, the only marketing I believe a writer in my position can do is network with readers, booksellers, and other writers, especially in person. And I do that at every opportunity.

Parting words?

Wish I had something wise. Instead, I’ll just wish the best of luck to my fellow writers out there.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Author Interview ~ Scott Nicholson

Scott Nicholson is the author of six supernatural thrillers, including The Farm and The Home. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where he tends an organic garden, collects mountain folklore, and picks an acoustic guitar. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and has published over 50 short stories. His Web site contains folk wisdom, writing tips, and fiction excerpts.

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

THE FARM came out in July, a tale of a little mountain town where a dead circuit-riding preacher puts in an appearance about once a decade. My vampire action novel, THEY HUNGER, will be out in April. It’s billed as “Deliverance with Fangs,” and we’re trying to set it up with Hollywood at the moment.

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 always wrote as a youngster, but didn’t pursue it seriously until about 10 years ago. I immediately began sending off stories and getting rejection slips, and it wasn’t until I’d finished five novels that I finally sold one. I was at work when the editor from Pinnacle Books called, and I think I jumped out of my seat without using my legs. I knew it would happen sooner or later if I stuck to it, but still, it was the culmination of a long dream, but also a wake-up call that the next steps were still ahead.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Sure. You’re only as good as your last book, and, indeed, even your last sentence. There’s always a chance the well will dry up or your career will collapse or readers simply stop caring. I remain optimistic that if I holed up my end of the bargain, the rest will sort itself out.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Not understanding the markets well enough. I used to send my novels to every publisher listed in Literary Marketplace, and I’m lucky some of those places didn’t accept them, because my career would have died before it even started. Sometimes rejection is a favor, not an insult.

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

Keep at it. Beat your head against the wall until the bricks fall. Don’t take “no” for an answer, and don’t let people around you kill your dream.

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

Write what you know. If we stuck with this rule, fantasy, science fiction, most horror, and mystery wouldn’t exist. Sure, you should be emotionally true, but the rest you can research and invent.

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

Realities of the publishing industry. The publisher really does have hundreds of books to release and promote, so yours is just one in the stream and the next new one is coming up fast behind it. Instead of being bitter, try to build a mutually beneficial partnership and trust that the publisher knows what it’s doing.

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

Promotion is difficult. I’ve tried dozens of different approaches, and even though I am experienced with media, it’s hard to tell what’s working. After five years of doing it, I’d say book signings, banner ads, bookmarks, newspaper and web interviews, writing articles, and writing groups all help a little bit and that you should spend as much time, energy, and money as you can afford.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I love Dr. Seuss and Mark Twain. MISERY by Stephen King—there’s a writer’s tale for you! Dean Koontz, John Steinbeck, William Goldman. To kill a Mockingbird is a great book, as is The Haunting of Hill House.

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

My story “The Vampire Shortstop” was very effortless and it won an international writing contest. Plus the viewpoint character is autobiographical. It’s been published several times and appears in my collection THANK YOU FOR THE FLOWERS.

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

Some new writers think established writers have time to read their unpublished work. That’s why I do freelance editing as a sideline, but I just don’t have time to read stuff for free, though the new voices are important. I do read for pleasure, but that’s different. Too many books, not enough time.

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

I’m a reporter, so I write every day for my job, and then write my fiction and writing articles when I can. Usually, I sneak a wedge of time during the morning or night. Some days I can spent eight or ten hours on a project, but consistency is the best approach for me.

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

The pacing of William Goldman—novels like Magic and Marathon Man are taut, with no wasted words.

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

Right now I just want to continue improving and expanding and gaining new readers. Eventually, I’d like to write fiction full time, possibly teaching or editing a little on the side. Like I said, all of this can go away very quickly. On the other hand, if you don’t take risks for your dream, why should anybody else believe in it?

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

Almost every day…right in the middle of that first sentence, when it seems like the most difficult thing in the world. But like Santiago in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” you know you’ll soon row yourself warm.

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

Favorite is sitting around in sweatpants and T-shirts, working at home. Least favorite is trying to make money from it.

Parting words?

You’re the only one who knows how to tell your stories. It’s a sacred duty, so do it as well as you can.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sunday Devotion: The Sign

Janet Rubin

“Kiss-your-asters-good-bye sale!”

So reads the sign standing by the road in front of a little store called Green Survival here in CT. An old, family-owned business, Green Survival provides a nice contrast to the plant sections at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. The place has character—cats prowling around the plants outside, roosters crowing behind the building and an ancient parrot beside the register who says hello to customers. The perfect place to get your pet food, fresh eggs, pumpkins in fall, and Christmas trees in winter.

But the best thing about Green Survival is the sign. Even when I don’t need to stop and buy anything, I love driving by and reading the latest message. Like most signs, the point is to give information about a sale or product in the hopes of attracting customers. But whoever makes up the signs at Green Survival is clever. They manage to give the information in a creative way, eliciting giggles from me every time I pass. (i.e. “Thank you very Mulch for your business.” Or “Tweet the bird-lover in your life to a new birdhouse for Christmas.”)

More than once, after reading the sign (and nearly swerving into oncoming traffic in the process), I've decided to pull in and take a look around. But then, that’s the whole point. Anyone can report the facts. Using creativity to present the facts in a way that draws people in is a different matter.

Jesus knew how to do it. His message was simple- "Repent," "Follow Me." He was all about truth. In fact, He was The Truth. But He took the time to present His message creatively, packaging it in stories that touched the emotions, engaged the intellect, and even amused. He used allegory, metaphors, and similes. Jesus could have just laid out the plan of salvation once and let people take it or leave it, but He chose to go further, telling the story again and again, in different ways so people could “get it.”

God still uses people and stories to communicate His truth. Though the plots of the stories we write differ, the truth contained within them remains the same. I am amazed to think that God could use my writing to touch people’s hearts and perhaps help them better understand some bit of truth. Like how much God loves them, how endless His supply of grace and forgiveness is, or that He loves to give people second chances (and third and fourth…). He can use you too. What will your sign say?

Mark 4:2 Then He taught them many things by parables.

Lord, Thank You for the simple truth of the gospel. And thank You for loving us enough to put that wondrous truth into stories that still touch people today. Thank You for making me a story-teller. Please help me to represent the truth well in my stories, and then use them to touch hearts. Amen

What R U Reading?

I'm curious what everyone's reading these days and why you're reading what you are.

I'm working on a medical series so I've been reading some of Tess Gerritsen's work, which I'm enjoying. I just finished Tim Down's upcoming release, Head Game. I can pretty much pick the books I want to review and I chose this one because I'm currently shopping a psychological thriller and wanted to see how I fared. Tim's is a great book. I'll be writing a review probably today and will post it on Novel Reviews in the next week.

I just started A Pagan's Nightmare by Ray Blackston. I loved Flabbergasted and I like Ray, and well, the cover is really cool, so when the publisher asked if I wanted to review it, I said heck yeah.

Next in my pile is a book I asked to review: By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt. This one's a secular title from Henry Holt. I write thrillers so I asked for this one because it looked particularly suspensful and I'm always looking to improve in that area.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is something I'm going to bite off in paragraph size chunks. It's a monster of a book but Jess was calling me up reading me passages from it which were just my sense of morbid humor, so I finally bought it. I have too many other books to read and review to take a couple months off for this one. It's a slow read so I'll just take my time with it.

The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles Of Narnia). I'm almost done this book which I'm reading with my nine year old, Jacob. I didn't read through these as a child and I am LOVING this book, more than my son is but he's coming around.

Also in my to be read pile is A Bigger Life by Annette Smith. The book hasn't released yet but a friend who had an advanced copy is gushing over it. When she gushes, I pay attention. I asked her for an advance copy to review. Can't wait to get that.

One more in my TBR pile: Paul Auster's to be released: Travels in the Scriptorium. Another Henry Holt, BEA title. I didn't ask for this one but they sent it and it's really short and has a great cover, and the premise is intriguing, so what the heck? I'll probably read this one when I'm done the others.

I'd love to sneak a classic into my pile and I really want to read Gilead as well. Maybe I can take some time off from reviewing soon to do this. I think I will.

So, what are you all reading? Anything particularly good? Reading for research, review or fun?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jess' Turn ...

I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving and safe travel. For the last 'Thanksgiving' post, I wanted to mention people everyone in this writing community has reason to be thankful for. These individuals freely give their time and energy to promote Christian writers.

Bonnie Calhoun with the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, who is dedicated to promoting Christian Fiction. She gives up many hours of her life to promote authors and titles.

Michelle Hutchinson, who features authors and reviews many books.

C.J. Darlington, with
TitleTrakk, who reviews, interviews, and works to unite Christian music with CBA fiction.

Lena Nelson Dooley, who must spend hours a week preparing interviews and providing spotlight for authors in her newsletter.

Barbara Warren who keeps track of the news and updates, generously giving her time for others.

The girls from the
FabFourBookPicks, who not only review and interview, but I see their comments all over the net about books

Ane Mulligan with
NovelReviews, who works tirelessly to keep the review site up current.

Gina Holmes, founder of
NovelJourney, who works to keep this blog growing and informative and people connected.

I'm sure there are more names that deserve to be listed above. I'm thankful for those who promote others and impact lives.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Our Thanksgivings ...

Ane's Turn:

Mary DeMuth started a wonderful thing on her blog by declaring this Bless an Author Day. As I thought about who I would bless, the list grew way beyond the space allotted—so many have blessed my life. But I finally narrowed it down to these:

Deb Raney for making me cry with her books and teaching me so very much. You opened the doors of good writing for me. You are my benchmark.

Diann Hunt for making me laugh so hard with her novels and for being my mentor. We decided we must have been separated at birth and are fraternal twins. ;)

Sally John for tackling hard subjects with such beauty in writing and deep stories. I always sigh at the end of your books, hating that they're finished.

But above all, there are two yet-unpublished authors (although not for long): Gina Holmes and Jessica Dotta, my beloved blog and crit partners. You two push me beyond myself and never, ever allow me to settle for anything less than my best. You love me enough to rip my work to shreds where it needs it, and then lift me up with the encouragement to rewrite it until it gleams.

The Penwrights, a group of up and coming writers who Gina, Jessica and I mentor, you all have added to the tapestry of my life with rich hues and flawless designs. I know God has brought each of you into my life for a special purpose, but while we discover what that purpose is, I'm relishing the journey with you. I love each of you dearly.

And so on this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks to God for each one of these mentioned. I'm thankful you're in my life. To each of you, I send my undying thanks and love.

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving,

Gina's Turn:

It goes without saying that I'm thankful for those who critique my work and let me cry on their shoulders and listen to my delusions of grandeur (which are many): Ane, Jessica, Michelle Griep, Sandra, Mike D, and Lisa Ludwig. Also to the folks I randomly bother to be a fresh set of eyes: Ron, Wayne, & Mike.

I'm thankful beyond words that I, a wretch, should be called a child of God...thank you Jesus! And for my boys, Jacob and Levi, whom offer me unconditional love that feels straight from Heaven. My children are sweet, smart, funny, kind, beautiful, and love God. Um, am I blessed? Ya think? I have a wonderful and enormous family: sisters, brothers, parents, etc who I adore and know I don't deserve whom of course I'm also very grateful for.

I'm thankful for my agent, Chip, who is amazing. Many, if not most of you, know him so I won't go on except to say, he's incredible at what he does (and is one of the few people who I don't have to constantly say "I was just kidding" to.)

I've been blessed with incredible mentors. Some of these folks read my work and give advice, others are there for an occasional question or bit of encouragement but who bless me on a continual basis: Alton Gansky, Don Brown, Kathy Mackel, Colleen Coble. Also: Deb Raney, Bob Liparulo, Camy Tang, Gail Martin,Tony Hines, Brandilyn Collins, Randy Ingermanson, and the list goes on. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be there whenever I've called on you for help.

With the exception of our always encouraged and encouraging Ane Mulligan, writers tend to be a moody, melancholy bunch. I'm no exception. I've had certain folks whose edification is medicine to my soul and always when I need it most: Cindy Sproles, Kelly Klepfer, Reni Bumpas, Janet Rubin, and Mark Ragonese, to name a few.

ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers): If you're not a part of this huge group of encouragers and talent, you should consider it.

I'm thankful to the publicists who make my job easier here on Novel Journey: I appreciate them all, but several have gone above and beyond for us: Rebeca Seitz & our own Jessica Dotta of Glass Road PR, Dave Bartlett, and Jeane Wynn, though I appreciate all of you!

Our Penwrights, who were hand picked originally for their incredible potential. Man, these folks are talented! But more than that, these people from all over the country, oops-make that world, love each other like family. These are quite possibly the loveliest group of PEOPLE, not just writers, that I've ever been a part of.

I'm thankful to all the authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc, who come to Novel Journey and write for us or allow us to interview them and learn. What a blessing you've been! And to our many book reviewers over at Novel Reviews. You all do this as a service to the writing community and we are so very grateful to you!

And a huge thanks to the community of readers of Novel Journey. When I started this site, I would never have dreamed we'd grow the way we have and it's really all of ours now. Thanks especially to those who consistently leave comments for the authors (Mary DeMuth and Kristy Dykes come to mind off the top of my head but you all know who you are). It might seem like a little thing, but it makes a difference in their day, and I appreciate this kindness!

Wow, this is starting to sound like an acceptance speech, (remember those delusions of grandeur I suffer from?) I just wanted to take this rare opportunity to tell each of you reading this that you have blessed me in some way.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Gina Holmes

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guest Blogger ~ Debra White Smith

Please welcome Debra White Smith, our guest blogger. With her new book releasing in January 2007, Debra talks about what she's learned from Jane Austen and sharing it with Novel Journey.

Debra White Smith has more than 40 books to her credit and over 1 million books in print. The author of Romancing Your Husband (more than 100,000 copies sold) and the popular Jane Austen series, Debra’s award-winning writing, entertaining humor, and solid biblical knowledge have made her a reader favorite and a sought-after conference speaker. Debra holds an M.A. in English.

My next book releasing is January 2007 is What Jane Austen Taught Me about Love and Romance. A nonfiction wrap-up to the Jane Austen Fiction Series, this book takes the Great Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, and highlights the way Jane Austen reveals the differing facets of love in her novels. Here's the back cover copy:

Dear Jane…

I always ache for Knightley's unrequited love for Emma...celebrate the sparkling excitement between Darcy and Elizabeth...long for Edmund to wake up to Fanny Price's undying love...and cheer for Elinor Dashwood as she learns to love Edward with abandonment. I sigh when Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are finally reunited...and laugh out loud at the forever naive and dear Catherine Morland as she bungles her way into Henry Tilney's heart.

What a cast of characters. What a writer. What a woman you were! The novels you wrote have forever left an impression upon my mind, my heart, and my writing.

Your devoted fan,
Debra White Smith

In tribute to Jane Austen’s genius at revealing the intricacies and foibles of affairs of the heart, bestselling romance writer Debra White Smith highlights the delightful interactions between Austen’s people and celebrates the many facets of love. Drawing on her own irrepressible humor, Debra also shares her often hilarious encounters in her quest for love to reveal the timelessness of romance.

An insightful and charming read for anyone who loves Jane Austen, romance, and laughter.

Please share with us something you've learned about writing in your journey as a novelist.

I never seem to get to a point in writing novels where I stop learning. I'm forever turning a corner and bumping into new insight or a new way of crafting my stories. In the last few years, there have been several "Eureka!" moments I've experienced, but I think the strategic use of details and description has been a long lesson and one that I'm still trying to perfect.


Scene: I'm a detail person and love to include realistic, concrete details in my novels. However, I've learned that you can actually use key words and phrases to bring up an immediate image in your reader's mind that save you the necessity of going into too much description. For instance, "antique dresser." Most readers already have an "antique dresser" image "saved" in their mental files.

So, unless there's a specific reason to go into detail on the intricacies of that dresser, then stop there. The reader's imagination will fill in the rest. Now, if you're writing a mystery novel and the clue is in the antique dresser and the detective knows it is, then by all means, describe that dresser. But, if your hero enters a house with an antique dresser in the foyer, just hit the highlights and mention the dresser to give the ambiance of the room, then move on.

Adjectives/Color: Another area this has really been helpful to me is in the use of adjectives, specifically colors. As a beginning novelist, I wanted to write my stories in living color. Problem is, if you're not careful, too many color adjectives--or other adjectives, for that matter--can become extraneous and actually detract from the story.

Now, when I'm trying to decide whether or not to include a color or adjective, I ask myself, "Is it imperative that the reader have the color of (or adjective about) this item?" For instance, if the heroine wears a red jacket that reminds the hero of his high school sweetheart, then that jacket must be red. If the heroine just has a jacket she's throwing on, then there's no need to tell the world it's red...unless it's being used as a character building element. For instance, if her favorite color is red and you want to show that, you can mention that the jacket is red. Bottom line is, only use the adjectives and colors that are necessary to the story.

Emotions: One of the things I've learned in the last few years is to do the best I can to exclusively show, not tell the emotions. For many of my earlier novels, I realized I was showing and telling the emotions. For instance, "Her fists clenched, Jenny marched across the room in anger." "In anger" is not needed. I've already shown that Jenny is angry. Usually, these emotions are written in a prepositional phrase. "He blinked in confusion," "She laughed with joy," "He snorted in derision," "The dog barked and ran in terror." If a novelist is doing a good job of showing these emotions, there's no reason to write them in. If you feel like you have to include the emotion word to communicate the emotion, then chances are high you haven't completely shown that emotion.

Clothing: First, by all means put some clothing on your characters. I can't tell you how many times I've read books or manuscripts in which many of the characters must have been nude! No clothes or precious few clothes were mentioned. But, as with the above mentioned details, there's a fine balance, here, as well. Don't get bogged down in describing what your characters are wearing--unless there's a specific reason to go into detail. Make sure that whatever they wear, it reflects their character. And understand that you can indicate what characters are wearing with a few key actions by the character, without actually ever having to say, "She wore..." For instance, "She squeezed her sweater's button until it left an imprint on her finger." This one phrase tells us that the character has on a button-up sweater and that she's very likely tense about something.

So, it takes care of two necessary descriptions in one sentence without ever having to tell the reader, "She wore..." or "She was tense." I usually try to mention a few key, clothing words per scene per character and then don't go into long description on the clothing unless it's necessary to the plot. Also, remember the point made under the first section, "Scene," applies here as well. For instance, most people have a mentally "saved" image of what a butcher looks like.

So, if a character goes into a deli and you say that the butcher was behind the counter, then we immediately dress him/her in white, wearing a butcher apron. Unless there's a good reason to mention that butcher apron, then let the reader fill in the rest on that. If an incidental cowboy walks by, most people will dress him in jeans, boots, a hat, and a western shirt. However, if your hero is a cowboy, you do need to go ahead and mention some clothing clues. If the cowboy/hero always wears a leather vest because it belonged to his grandfather, then that leather vest becomes a character issue. If a heroine was "born" wearing blue jeans and she dresses up in a frilly dress, then the hero is going to really notice that dress. So it should be described.

Connect Your Character to the Scene: Frankly, this is a huge mistake I see many authors make--even multi-published ones. Always remember to keep in mind what is going on in the scene around your character and have the character acting in sequence with and reacting to the scene. For instance, if your characters are in a long conversation while riding in a car along a bumpy road, then those characters are going to be jostled around the whole conversation. Many times, I've seen long stretches of conversation in such situations and there's no showing of the character moving in sequence with the bumps.

Show a purse falling in the floor, characters straining against the seatbelt, bumping against each other, etc., as they talk. If it's a warm day, show the character wiping sweat or taking off a jacket. Too many times, I've read scenes where the reader is told it's hot or the car is bumpy at the first of a scene and then the character is never wholly connected to that scene. Don't overkill, but do sprinkle in these details along the way to continue to give your reader the ambiance of the scene. Remember, whatever is going on around the character is best described by that character's interaction with the scene. If a character is near a swamp late at night, don't forget how mosquitoes bite, how fog blocks the view, and how amphibians are no respecter of shoes.

Even in the most tense scenes, keep the character connected to the scene. Nothing builds tension more than something like knowing the killer is just on the other side of the tree, where the hero is hiding...he can't move...and then, a mosquito lands on his cheek and starts a bite that won't stop. The reader is itching with the very thought, and that's exactly what you want.

Debra White Smith

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Author Interview ~ Todd and Jedd Hafer

Jedd Hafer is an award-winning writer, comedian and speaker. He has written seven books with his talented brother Todd. Jedd also works with troubled teenagers at Childrens ARK treatment centers in Colorado . Jedd is in demand as a presenter on topics related to working with kids, parenting and stress (in no particular order).

Todd Hafer has written more than 30 books, many of them with his talented brother Jedd. His day job is senior editorial director for Hallmark Books, a division of Hallmark Cards, Inc. When he's not doing book stuff, he's running miles and miles across the Kansas plains.

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

Our new novel Bad Idea. We are psyched at the attention it’s getting! People we respect a lot are calling it “Incredibly witty” and “brilliantly crafted”.

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.

Fortunately, by the time we sent out our 1st proposal, Todd had written a few children’s books through his employer, so he already had a track record. We sent proposals for our humor book (Snickers from the Front Pew: Confessions from 2 Preacher’s Kids) to about 4 different houses. We ended up going with the 1st house that expressed interest.

The whole process took about 2 years and then over another year for the book to actually release. The biggest rush was to walk into a store and buy one off the shelf. We’ve even sold TWO ADDITIONAL COPIES since then, so you can imagine the excitement (even though our aunt bought both of them… and she meant to buy the last 2 Left Behind books instead – but still).

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Sorry, we had to change our 1st answer because it wasn’t good enough. Umm, yes.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Sadly, I think we assumed that Christians would automatically be kind and fair 100% of the time and that wasn’t true.

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

“Use verbs.” Our stories have moved so much better since we heeded this advice.

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

“Who needs verbs?” No, actually, we were once told to “give ‘em what they want” meaning commercialize your writing. Glad we haven’t done that.

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

Everything takes forever! Nothing will happen quickly.

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

We did once have an issue with a publisher not wanting to pay us, but we were able to laugh about it. Luckily, we hadn’t earned enough for it to be that upsetting.

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

Anything by Brennan Manning or CS Lewis. We both love Max Lucado.

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

This novel. This is the best thing we’ve done. It’s funny and raw and real and honest and we don’t make the mistake of saying “and” too much.

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

We’re not fond of formula fiction (which is why our books contain zero handsome strangers).

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

There is no such thing. We both have several other demanding obligations and active family li- HEY, YOU KIDS GET AWAY FROM DADDY’S COMPUTER! Most writing must get done very late at night. You can always check the next day to see if your exhausted ramblings made any sense.

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

Jedd would like to have Todd’s discipline. Todd would like to have Jedd’s ability to slack off and not feel guilty.

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

We’d like to crack double digits in sales. When that 10th book finally flies off the shelf… SWWEET! You gotta dream big.

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

Again, because we both do so many other things, (freelance, editing, comedy, speaking, trying to develop a decent frozen waffle) it doesn’t seem possible. We both dream of quitting the other stuff.

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

The best part is when a reader is moved by something you say. If we can make readers laugh or cry or move them to some action, that’s pretty rewarding. We once got an email from a fellow writer stating “Because of you guys, I’m going to start using verbs TOO!” That kept us on a high for weeks. The least favorite part would have to be being misunderstood. You know what we mean? Darn.

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

Until now, we haven’t done enough. The advice would be to hire somebody who knows the business. That makes all the difference. We love our publicist and she’s worth all the yard work we do to pay her.

Parting words?

Please take a look at Bad Idea and let us know what you think. We believe it will make you laugh, make you think and move you. We read and respond to every email at
God bless,
Todd & Jedd Hafer

Monday, November 20, 2006

Author Interview ~ Lisa Samson

Lisa Samson is the author of nineteen novels, including the Christy Award winning Songbird. She has been called, "one of the best inspirational novelists in the market today" by Publishers Weekly Magazine. Lisa broke ground in CBA fiction with her novel The Church Ladies, a novel portraying broken, brutally honest women who struggle with their faith. She has continued to offer her readers an edgier experience with books such as Tiger Lillie, The Living End and Women's Intuition. Quaker Summer, set to release in March of 2007, deals with social justice and mercy themes and will be Women of Faith's Novel of the Year. Lisa lives in Kentucky with her husband and three children.

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

Straight Up
, released September 18th. Georgia Bishop has wasted her life on booze. Her cousin, Fairly Godfrey is entering a consumeristic and social-climbing vacuum. Both women are giving God the cold shoulder in their ‘own special way’. Straight Up explores what it looks when we choose to live in the shadows of our own pain instead of using the gifts God has given us: time, talents, people, places, to crawl back into the light. It explores what grace might look like to those who seem to deserve it the least because they’ve been given the most talent, energy and drive and yet, have thrown it away completely or centered it on the temporal. I admit, my take on that grace is a little crazy, but that’s nothing new.

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 was writing for about a year-and-a-half. Yeah, it’s a Cinderella story and I totally DID NOT deserve to be published. What went through my head? It’s ridiculous but here goes. “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna be a published author. Now if I write five of these a year and they sell 40,000 copies a piece I can break six figures!” I kid you not. And hey, you asked for specifics.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

More than ever before. It’s like the widow’s cruise of oil. Just never seems to stay empty.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

As I said, a Cinderella story. I’m the last person to give advice for that. However, personally speaking, waiting to get published was like being drunk on the bathroom floor. I don’t know how many times I begged God to “get me through this.” I was really an emotional wreck and that’s too bad. I should have trusted God more. But I didn’t.

I also thought I was pretty darned something because I finished a book. Okay, plainly speaking, I was arrogant and I had no right to be. I still don’t. I’ve learned a lot over the years but not nearly as much as I want to or can or should. So the question you ask, while meaning your first novel, should be applied in the present tense, year after year. “What mistakes am I making?” Getting published doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. It simply means the cubicle’s been set up, the chair is in place and I’ve got a new job to do. The great thing about that is, for every book, you at least get a new boss to work for, and depending on what your protagonist is like, that can be good or bad! But at least it’s always interesting.

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

Write the book. I think that’s where I had the advantage, even in my Cinderella experience. I had a completed manuscript before I ever tried to get published. Also, make sure your manuscript is as polished as can be, because you can be sure someone else’s manuscript in that slush pile will be, and who’s the editor going to pick?

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

As a first-time novelist you don’t need more than three chapters and a synopsis. Now, I’m just speaking as someone projecting herself into the acquisitions editor chair. I know I would think, “How do I know if this person can actually pull off a novel? I need to see it all.” So what I’m saying right here might be absolutely worthless. But it seems to me, that would be the case with any art form.

Another piece of advice I read one time, and I have no idea who said this but they were really famous, was: (and I’m paraphrasing) If you’re hungry, don’t eat, write. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t go, write. If your children need you, tell them “Not now” and write.” And blah, blah, blah! By the time I was finished reading it, I wanted to say, “Lady, you need a lobotomy!” Personally, if we’re not really living, what are we actually going to say in our writing? In other words, get out of that darned chair too!

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

That publishing is quite possibly an industry slower than molasses dripping from a hole the size of a pinhead. In Antarctica.

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

Believe me! None of my favorite books are written by me! Ack!

The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (Okay this is a guilty pleasure read and I can’t believe I’m admitting this here.)
Katrina’s Wings, by Patricia Hickman
The Second Coming, by Walker Percy
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
Pretty much anything by: Anne Tyler, Larry McMurtry and Douglas Coupland
I would put down Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, but this has become for novels what that Aslan “safe” phrase has become for quotes. (I know, I’m awful.)

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

I’m not particularly proud of anything. Upon reading the books of those writers up there, I know how far I have to go. The book I’m most likely to give to people to read, however, is The Living End. I like the way the relationship with God is presented in this book. I like the way my protagonist does things a lot of us would like to do but don’t have the guts to do. Then again, she pretty much had nothing to lose. And I sure can’t say that about myself.

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

That novelists are encouraged to have “a platform”. IOW, if you’re a speaker or have a ministry, you have a greater chance of getting published because you already have a marketing machine in place. That’s crap. Not that people with platforms shouldn’t write novels if they’re good novelists. But good novelists shouldn’t have to become speakers. I just hope and pray our publishing house aren’t choosing mediocre novelists with platforms over excellent novelists without them. Dear Lord, I hope not! But I’m not on the inside, so I wouldn’t know if this is happening or not. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that there’s some integrity about it.

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


Get up. Make my favorite tea. Read the Bible while my mind wanders, beg God to let me actually get through the day. Check email and blogs. Walk Jake to school. Sit here at Starbuck’s (or Third Street Coffee or Kiser’s) like I’m doing right now. Write. Sometimes go to mass. Walk home. Homeschool Gwynnie. Write while checking email at least ten thousand times an hour and bloglines another 250. Fold laundry inbetween, pay bills, talk on the phone, stand in front of the fridge and wonder what there is to eat.

Sometimes I wish reincarnation were true so that perchance, I might be able to come back as a focused, organized individual. Even if I was a focused, organized horse or cow, that would be okay.

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

I would be focused and organized. Like Angie Hunt.

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

I want to write compelling fiction for the general market someday. But God keeps me in the CBA. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be in CBA to kick against the goads or to learn to be content. Both frighten me.

Other than that, the Pulitzer for fiction would be okay too. Ha!

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

Um, does yesterday count?

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


Making my own hours, writing wherever I want, being finished with a project and having something physical to show for it, getting paid for exploring a creative outlet.

Least Favorite:

All of the above. Making my own hours? I’m undisciplined! Writing wherever I want? I have the focus of a gnat. Being finished with a project and having something physical to show for it? You mean it’s done? I can’t change that? Everybody’s going to see that? Getting paid for exploring a creative outlet? I must be done by X date no matter what. I know there’s a better ending out there, but there’s no time. I can’t mull over this one . . . well okay then, there, that’ll have to do.

That’ll have to do. Are those words horrible to admit to or what?

Another big fave? Meeting other writers!

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

Hardly any. I blog, send out influencer copies, book club leaders copies, speak occasionally, do interviews on the radio. I’m the last person you want advice from! Especially on things like the best place to get bookmarks printed up.

What are you most encouraged about when you read CBA fiction?

Some houses are willing to take chances these days. I’ll be a little shocked at times and say, “Wow, my editor would never let me get away with that!” I’m all for putting little fires under the status quo.


Most of what I find discouraging about Christian fiction lies more in the lap of the industry itself. And I'll just leave it there, except to say, should Christian “anything” ever have become an industry? It’s a tension, me being a part of that industry, that I live with every day.

Is there an upcoming writer that you're particularly excited about?

Claudia Mair Burney. Read her blog When the rest of our books have been returned to the earth, nary a copy remaining on the planet, Claudia's writings will be read by the faithful.

What are your thoughts on the ongoing debate of writing fast vs.writing well?

If you can't write well and write fast, then please don't. If you can, go ahead! Ray Bradbury always comes to mind. So there are speedy exceptions. The trick is not to fool yourself that you're a Ray Bradbury simply because the words come out fast. They might be a swift current of dreck! Always, always, always the artist must tell him/herself the truth about their art.

Is your fast work mediocre? Then be man or woman enough to admit it. We simply must look at ourselves with an extremely critical eye. I've got to say, I totally respect Ray Blackston's take on writing only the books you're supposed to. I know I could bathe my work in a LOT more prayer than I do and I have at least two titles out there that I wonder whether they were something God wanted from me or not. Thankfully, I have a lot of good people praying for me so hopefully I won't put too much out there that the world would be better off without.

Parting words?

Read great books. The best way for a novelist to get better is to read great books that have stood the test of time and find out which books today are well-written. It doesn’t have to all be literary, surely you must read the classics but find the top of your genre as well and learn from the masters, old and new, in it. For instance, for pure pleasure, I picked up an old Ellery Queen novel called The Glass Village. Oh my goodness! I am blown away by the imagery, the description, the delicate, almost magic wand touches of character development. Reading is part of “what the novelist does” and it stands to reason, the higher the quality of books we’re reading, the higher the quality our own output will be.

Other than that, no parting words, really. Ha!

Thanks for having me!