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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Author Interview - W. Dale Cramer

W. Dale Cramer is a husband, father, electrician, and author of the acclaimed novels Levi's Will, Sutter's Cross and Bad Ground as well as several published works of short fiction. His second novel, Bad Ground, was selected by Publisher's Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2004. He and his wife and two sons make their home in northern Georgia. Visit his Web home at

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

I just finished my fourth novel, a story about a reluctant stay-at-home dad who gets educated by his kids, his neighbors, and the Man With No Hands. The title is Summer of Light, and it’s due out next spring from Bethany House. Early readers are saying it’s a feel-good book— honest, engaging, and funny. I drew heavily on things I learned while staying home with my own kids.

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 started writing short stories in ’96, began a novel in ‘97 and got a contract in early 2002, so about five years. I spent three years writing my first novel, learning by doing— a novel is a very different animal from a short story. I spent a year finding an agent and rewriting, and another year marketing before getting a contract. That was an instructive year.

We gave an exclusive to an editor at a major publishing house (who shall remain nameless), who sat on the manuscript for six months without reading it. After that, my agent proposed the manuscript to three publishers at the CBA conference and all three expressed an interest. But the capriciousness of the business reared its head when the full novel landed on their desks the week after 9/11. Two of them stopped all acquisitions pending a rethinking of policy based on current events, and the third held onto it for several months.

Right before Christmas 2001 they rejected it in committee, deciding to put their money into their existing stable of authors. My agent sent out another round of proposals in January ’02, and Bethany offered me a contract almost immediately. But between concept and contract was an endless series of small steps punctuated by setbacks and promising rumors, a slow and incremental process. Becoming a published author just sort of crept up on me. There was never any one great blinding moment, but it always seemed to me that the biggest hurdle was getting an agent. After that it just felt like a matter of time.

You're a Christy Award finalist. How was that process? How did you find out about being a finalist?

It’s all fairly low-key. The publisher submits the book; I don’t really have anything to do with it. The first I heard about being a finalist was when I got an email from Bethany House. The Christy people keep it under their hat until they’re ready for everybody to know, then they send out emails notifying the publishers, who notify their authors.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Every day.

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

Every day.

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

I honestly don’t think I made any mistakes there. Everywhere else, but not there. I thoroughly studied the market as I neared completion of my first novel, and I trusted my instincts. All the how-to books said not to bother with an agent in the CBA, but certain indicators in the market guides led me to believe publishers were getting flooded with manuscripts at an unprecedented rate.

The problem was slush piles. It seemed reasonable to assume that the same amount of effort it would take to get the attention of one editor could net an agent, who could pick up a phone and bypass half the slush piles in the country. I researched agents, made a list, sent out seven proposals, and ended up with an excellent, well-respected agent, Janet Kobobel Grant. Not only does she find a home for my books, but I trust her with all the business/career decisions, all of which helps me concentrate on writing. She’s also a very astute editor.

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

Diana Gabaldon, when asked by an aspiring writer what was the best way to get published, said, “Write a good book.” Actually, that was the best publishing advice I ever heard. The best writing advice was, “Study writers you admire and take their work apart to see how they do it.” My real breakthrough as a writer came from studying Steinbeck.

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 never really faced a lot of frustration or rejection, I think mainly because I took it very seriously from the beginning. I read a lot about what makes writing good and focused almost entirely on craft rather than marketing.

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

I wouldn’t call it a setback, but when I wrote my first book I failed to grasp the importance of Point of View. I think POV is one place where novice writers would do well to pay closer attention. It’s a red flag to an editor. The wake-up call came when Janet read the manuscript and wrote back saying she would consider representing me if I could straighten out the POV issues. I bought several books on the subject, gave myself a crash course, and spent six weeks in intensive rewrite. Apparently, I got it right the second time.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Cannery Row, East of Eden (anything Steinbeck), Jayber Crow, The Memory of Old Jack (anything Wendell Berry), Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird (my son thought it was a how-to book), Silent Victory. I really liked Life of Pi, but wasn’t crazy about Lovely Bones or Secret Life of Bees. I’ve read a lot of classics and bestsellers and a little of everything else, both fiction and nonfiction.

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

I’m proud of Levi’s Will for a couple reasons. First, I think it’s my best work from a literary standpoint. It’s loosely based on my father’s life, and when you do something like that you tend to put a little more shine on it. Second, I’m astonished at the impact the book has had within the family.

My father was actually banned by the Amish. For as long as I can remember, many of his family refused to eat with him, ride in his car, or accept any gift from him, but when they read Levi’s Will it opened up a lot of new discussion. In the end, as a direct result of the book, the ban was lifted. I was with my father last fall when he sat down for Thanksgiving dinner at his only sister’s table for the first time in sixty years. Sometimes, when you see what God does with the work of your hands, it makes you proud and humble at the same time.

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

Proverbs 16:9— The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Most of my daily angst comes from the tension between those two things.

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

I get up at 6:30, put on coffee and oatmeal, wake up the wife and kids. After they’re gone off to school and work (on the rare occasions when I don’t have to go do something else) I get down to writing. I work until about two in the afternoon, when I break away and start doing chores.

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

Not really, but I consider it a decent day if I get 1500 words or more. That may seem a low total for some, but I spend a lot of time going over it. At the end of the day it doesn’t usually require a lot of rewriting.

Are you an SOTP writer or a plotter?

Seat of the pants, unfortunately. I wish I could plot. I wish I could sit down and write out an outline and paint by the numbers, but I just can’t do it. I can’t tell you what a character will do until I get to know him, and even then I mostly know what he won’t do. I’m never quite sure where a book is going until I get there, which in the end I believe produces a less predictable experience for the reader.

What author do you especially admire and why?

I’ve always admired Steinbeck’s economy. He can pack more image and experience in a sentence than most people can in a page. When I focused on that economy I found a couple of his secrets, and it vastly improved my work.

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

My favorite part is the commute. I walk into the living room and I’m at work. There’s very little traffic. My least favorite part is deadlines. Taking your own experience and shaping it into (hopefully) meaningful and vibrant stories is hard work. I know of nothing that requires more faith than sitting down in front of a blank page with the intention of producing something good and true. A deadline, at least for me, can sometimes hang like a Damocletian sword over the whole process.

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

I really don’t do much marketing. I enjoy meeting with groups like book clubs, and I do the occasional signing, but for the most part marketing has been unproductive and discouraging for me. I’m no salesman. I have always believed word of mouth is a writer’s best marketing tool, and word of mouth advertising is a byproduct of the quality of a book. Consequently, I feel my energies are far better spent making sure I produce a book readers will recommend to their friends.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

For new writers? Read. Study.

Who is your favorite writer, and why? What is it they do that makes them stand out?

If you’ve found a writer who captivates you and pulls you immediately into her world, take her apart and see how she does it. It’s like listening to a great pianist: while the effect may be magical, producing it is a discipline.

Ane: Blogger is being blogger and won't upload photos this morning. I'll keep trying throughout the day until I can get Dale's photo and his book up. Sorry!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cover Story by Deborah Raney

Deborah Raney is at work on her thirteenth novel. Her books include A Nest of Sparrows and RITA award winner, Beneath a Southern Sky (WaterBrook Press). Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired World Wide Pictures’ award-winning film of the same title and will be released June 1 in an updated and expanded format from Steeple Hill. Coming in January 2007, Remember to Forget from Howard/Simon & Schuster.

With a bit of advance planning, the cover of your book can go to work for you long before the book hits the bookstores or the binding is even on the book.

As soon as your publisher has a cover design for your approval, request that they print 3-500 extra cover flats when they go to press. These overruns cost the publisher a pittance, but are worth their weight in gold when it comes to promoting your book.
Ask your publisher to ship the covers to you flat and trimmed, but in one piece. (If your cover will be embossed, request they not run these promotional sheets through the embosser.) Using a paper cutter or craft knife, cut each cover into three pieces––front cover, back cover, and spine. A professional printer can also cut these for you at minimal cost.

Here are some ways you can use each piece to allow your cover to pave the way for your book’s upcoming release.

Front Cover:

• To make an oversized postcard, run the front covers through an ink-jet or laser printer, printing an intriguing “blurb” about your book on the back, left-hand side. Address the right-hand side, stamp, and send these announcements to your mailing list of fans and readers.

• Print a short bio, a list of your books in print, and your web site information on the back and use as giant business cards to hand out at book signings, speaking engagements, etc.

• At book signings you can autograph or personalize these cards for people who plan to buy your book when it comes out. Readers can post this on their refrigerator or bulletin board to remind them to watch for your book’s release.

• After your book comes out, it’s nice to have these overrun covers on hand at book signings to autograph for shoppers who already own your book but forgot to bring it to the store with them, or who want to buy the book, but can’t afford it until next payday.

Back Cover:

• The back cover usually includes a short synopsis of the book, endorsements by other authors, and a photo of the author. Get permission to put a stack of these ready-made promo pieces on the desk at your local bookstores and libraries. It's a great take-home incentive to remind people to pick up your book the next time they are shopping or browsing the library. If you are available for speaking engagements, you can print your contact information on the back side.

• This also makes a perfect piece to include in the promotional packet you send to organizations where you will be speaking or signing books.


• The book’s spine makes an excellent bookmark to give away at book signing parties, to make available to libraries and bookstores, or to hand out when you speak at an event.

• Depending on the layout and design of the spine you may be able to cut it into traditional business card-size stock and print your contact information on the back. (Hint: It’s easier to print this information before you cut the flats apart.)

Whole Uncut Flat Covers:

• These are handy to have available to give to newspaper reporters, interviewers, or bookstore owners when you are promoting your book. Besides providing a convenient written synopsis of the book, I’ve found that many times, when I’ve made a cover flat available to them, newspapers and magazines will run a facsimile of my book’s cover alongside my photo in the article.

With some creative inspiration, you can put your book’s cover to work for you long before it serves its intended purpose––to cover the pages of your book.

A VOW TO CHERISH was Deborah Raney’s first novel. Library Journal calls this award-winning classic novel “a startlingly honest portrayal of love, commitment, and redemption in the midst of tragedy.” When his precious wife of thirty years receives a devastating diagnosis, John Brighton is torn between doing what he knows is right and doing what his heart tells him can not be wrong. But John soon discovers that the heart can’t be trusted where true love is concerned. Now updated and expanded for a new generation, A Vow to Cherish was the inspiration for World Wide Pictures’ bestselling film of the same title.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Author Interview ~ Deanne Gist

As a journalist and member of the press, Deeanne Gist, has written for national publications such as People, Parents, Parenting, Family Fun, Houston Chronicle and Orlando Sentinel. She also has a parenting line of products called I Did It!® Productions that is available nationwide. These products reinforce family values, teach children responsibility and provide character building activities. Her debut novel, A Bride Most Begrudging, hit five bestseller lists and has been nominated for a 2006 Christy Award.
Her latest release, The Measure of a Lady, hits store shelves June 2006.
Gist lives in Texas with her husband of twenty-two years, her four teenagers and two dogs.

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

My new release, The Measure of a Lady, has just been released. Rachel Van Buren reaches San Francisco in 1849 to discover she is the first “real” lady to establish a home in this town full of adventure-seeking, rowdy men. Cloaking herself with a mane of respectability, she takes on the task of civilizing them.

A Bride Most Begrudging has been nominated for a Christy Award in the “Best Romance of the Year” category. The winner will be announced at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver this July.

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 began reading secular romances at age 16. At that time, the moral fiber of the heroines was quite high. Over the ensuing years, that bar began to lower. By the time I had children of my own I began to worry that my daughters would read these romances and think that the moral liberties the heroines were taking would not only be acceptable, but would be something to strive for.

So, the Lord challenged me to write a secular romance where the two protagonists were Christians. There was no big evangelical message, but instead was a story about two Christians who were trying to overcome adversity. I finished that manuscript (A Bride Most Begrudging) in 1997.

A top New York agent picked the manuscript up and shopped it around, but none of the secular publishers took the bait. Meanwhile, the Lord impressed upon me the desire to manufacture and produce a line of parenting products that promoted traditional family values (

Over the next five years the parenting product line took the driver’s seat in my career. Until the Lord sent a third-party publisher to my doorstep. They licensed my parenting products, freeing me to go back to my writing. That was in 2003. I reworked Bride for the inspirational market and sent it to Bethany House in 2004. On my blog ( I took my readers on an 8-day “Journey to Publication” in July 2005 that give all the particulars of this journey (

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

All the time. Most of these center around producing novels on demand. Bride took me three years to write. I am contracted to write a novel for Bethany House every year. So writing a quality novel in a timely manner was intimidating, to say the least.

Compounding those feelings of self-doubt were the expectations of the publisher and my readers to produce a novel as good as (or better than) Bride. But that’s what’s so great about being a Christian. I just spent a lot of time on my knees telling the Lord I wanted so very much to use the gifts and talents He had given me to bring glory to Him. I thanked Him for this opportunity and asked Him to guide me, give me inspiration and to fill me with His peace. I cannot imagine doing something like this without Him. Blessed be His Name!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

The first manuscript I wrote was horrible, but I didn’t know it. I thought it was great. I basically sat down at the computer and went from Prologue to Epilogue without any knowledge of the craft. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers. They all said the same thing in their rejection letters: “You can definitely write, but you need to learn your craft.”

I decided then and there that I would never again get another rejection because of craft. I spent the next three years doing everything I could to learn the art of writing fiction. Which leads me to your next question.

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

Learn your craft. You can be the best athlete in the world, but unless you know the rules, you can’t play basketball. Same with writing. Read how-to books, go to writing conferences, enter contests, join a critique group, listen to CDs, read author blogs, join writing organizations, take workshops. And keep doing this not only on the road to publication, but after publication. Never think you have “arrived.” Everybody has room for growth.

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

Nobody cares whether the facts in your novels are accurate or not, they just want a good story. **NOT TRUE** Nothing puts readers off more than a book that hasn’t been well-researched. And I’m not speaking just of historicals. I read a contemporary novel set in Houston where the heroine drove on an expressway. The author immediately lost credibility in my mind. Had he done the barest minimum of research, he’d have known we don’t have expressways in Houston. We have freeways.

Never underestimate your readers.

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

I wish I had known how valuable writer’s organizations were. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. They are hugely responsible for giving me what I consider the equivalent of a degree in writing fiction.

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

Oh my goodness. I think I’ve highlighted my whole Bible, just about. This morning the verse I highlighted was Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you each admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” It reminded me of the importance of memorizing Scripture (which I really struggle with. My favorite memory verse? He wept. Yep. Shortest verse in the Bible. I’m telling you, memory is not my gift.) Colossians 3:16 also reminded me of the importance of worshiping and praising God with a community of believers and with a grateful heart.

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

It is imperative that you are well-read in the genre in which you write. In 200X, the Lord took my secular romances away from me. He showed me that I had become addicted to them. I would go on binges where I read one after another, after another, after another. When I read them, I would ignore all else. I didn’t clean; I didn’t cook; I didn’t do laundry; I ignored my husband; I ignored my kids.

Instead, I lost myself in a world of fiction. Not good. While watching a Beth Moore video during Bible study, the Lord convicted me and said it was either Him or the novels. You would not believe how I cried and carried on. It was ridiculous when I think back on it. But cry I did.

Beth was talking about how Christ had come down off His throne to humble Himself and live as a man on earth. I kept telling the Lord, “I know. I know. But not my romance novels!” (Ugh!)

Before Beth was through speaking, I knew what I had to do. I had to remove all romances from my shelves. Please, please understand, I do *NOT* think there is anything inherently wrong in reading romance. I have many, many dear friends who write romance. The problem was with me.

Anyhoo, the only romances the Lord did not make me get rid of were the ones I had written. Everything else had to go. For the next two years I did not read or own a romance.

When I sold my manuscript to Bethany House, the Lord lifted my quarantine. I have found, though, that my taste for romance is not what it used to be. Now, I read all kinds of genres. But none of them have a stronghold on me.

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

My favorite book of all time is To Kill A Mockingbird. My favorite romance is Years by LaVyrle Spencer.

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

I remember typing “The End” on that first manuscript (awful though it was). That night I told my husband. He nodded and said, “That’s nice.”

I smiled, thinking he was kidding. Then realized he was serious. So I tried again. “Honey, I said I finished the book, not a chapter.”

He immediately froze. “Oh! I’m supposed to say something, aren’t I?”

Yep. It was a big moment for me. ;-)

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

Folks seem to have a hard time taking what I do seriously. Friends will phone and say, “I thought I’d call now because I knew all you were doing was writing.”

My kids will ask me to take them here, there and everywhere, because after all, I’m only writing.

My husband will send me to-do lists via email, because after all, I’ve got time.

I would imagine this is something a great many people who office out of their homes experience. My family is learning. My friends leave messages.

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

First thing in the morning I do my Bible study. On MWF, I work out. On Tuesdays I have breakfast with my newly widowed father-in-law. On Thursdays I go to Ladies Bible Study. So, even though I get up early, my work day starts pretty late.

Once I am in front of my computer, I read, answer and generate emails. I post on my blog. I return phone calls. I take care of any administrative duties that need to be done. Then, I hunker down and write.

I get into a real groove around 2:00pm. My high schoolers start arriving at home around 2:30. The first thing my son does, without fail, is work on whatever song he is writing.

Have you ever been around a song writer? They play the same thing over and over and over and over, adding a stanza here, adjusting a line of melody there. Then he goes back and adds the bass. Then the lead guitar. Then the drums. Our music room has great acoustics.

My “groove” doesn’t last as long as I’d like it to. ;-)

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

Patti Hill, Christy award nominee and author of Always Green, is a master at using descriptive metaphors and poetic prose. I am in awe of her gift for making moods and settings come alive for the reader.

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

My goal is to use my gifts and talents to glorify God. Anything beyond that is gravy.

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

For a few years I launched a line of parenting products called I Did It!® During that time I pulled my manuscript from circulation. A few months after the first product, I Did My Chores!, was released, a third party publisher licensed it. This allowed me to return to my writing.

As far as quitting goes, I try to be very open-minded. I wanna go where God goes. If that’s writing, I’m all for it. If it’s not, than that’s okay, too. Just so long I’m doing what He has for me to do.

Right now, looks like writing is where He wants me be. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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

My favorite part of being a writer is working out of my home and hearing from my readers. My least favorite part is having a deadline--or due date--for my manuscripts.

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

Bethany House does a superb job of marketing their titles. This allows me to devote more time to writing. Still, I do some as well. Since time is so precious, it is imperative to make the biggest bang with my time and resources. I have found the 80/20 rule that Bethany House has taught me very helpful: A few (20%) have the greatest impact over the many (80%). The value of this rule in marketing is that it reminds you to focus on the 20% that produce 80% of your results.

Were you surprised at the phenomenal success of A Bride Most Begrudging?

The Lord has truly been amazing throughout this entire process. Through Bethany House, He gave me awesome editorial support, cover art that was over-the-top, a marketing department that came out with both guns smoking and a production department that runs like clock work. He blessed me with enthusiastic sales reps and booksellers who have graciously placed Bride face out and in key spots in their stores. I am humbled and overwhelmed and thankful.

In a market where historicals seem to be a tough sell, what is it about your book do you think that offered such great reviews and sales?

Golly. That is a question better suited for my readers than me, I think. How ’bout I give you an excerpt or two from some email I have received from my readers? Would that work?

“I appreciate having a Christian fiction author who seems to take such great effort at being historically accurate.”

“Thank you for creating passionate, REAL characters. I felt like I could feel their emotions and understand their journey together. I also wanted to thank you for not shying away from the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship. So often, Christian writers just ignore that aspect all together, but it is a real part of life and love in a marriage, so I just wanted to say thank you for including it and not acting like it doesn't exist.”

“I loved your in-depth insight into your characters and the way you delicately, but effectively wove the religious faith aspect into the fabric of your story, as well as the deep redemption-theme of Drew toward the end.”

“I enjoyed the humor threaded thru the story line. Lovely characters.”

What makes for a good historical?

Since I allow my characters to have good hygiene and all their teeth, I try to make up for that by being meticulously accurate with all my other historical details. The balance, however, comes in weaving it into the story (as opposed to dumping a bunch of historical info in all at once).

Is there a key difference in writing a historical for the CBA as opposed to the ABA?
There is definitely a difference in writing for the CBA vs the ABA, but not necessarily in the historical arena. From a historical standpoint, readers of both industries expect the historical facts to be accurate. (The length of novels vary from publishing house to publishing house no matter whether you are writing for CBA or ABA. Some like 'em short; some like 'em long; some don’t care either way.) The readers in those two industries, however, differ in their tolerance levels as far as how strong the Christian message can be, how much drinking takes place (if any), how much swearing takes place (if any), and how much sensuality occurs (if any).

You can visit Deanne and her blog at:

Friday, May 26, 2006

I-CAN Publicity

I cannot think of a better prerequisite to publicity than that of becoming a published author. Strange? You betcha.

But think on it. Consider how many proposals a year hit an editor's desk. Although I've never actually seen a slush pile, according to rumor, we can safely assume it is a huge, never-ending monster capable of permanently swallowing your precious manuscript.

But you did it! You succeeded, despite the odds! You managed to crawl out from amongst all the other 1"-doubled spaced-Times New Roman or Courier- non-widowed-non-orphaned manuscripts and become noticed. Not just noticed, but read. Not just read, but contracted.


Well, while it might not be the same for everyone, most have followed a similar path. By now you have mastered the following:

· The query letter—which means you're pre-groomed to write the pitch letter in your press kit.

· A well-written manuscript—you know your story so well that Q&A for your press kit should be a breeze.

· How to write a proposal—which means the prep work for your bio, endorsement page and one sheet, is already done.

· Networking—You can try, but you will never convince me that it's more intimidating to approach a bookstore owner, radio station, magazine editor, or book reviewer than it is to stop an editor/agent during a conference to pitch your novel.

Getting media attention is a lot like getting your book published. The skills you've learned to break into this industry will now serve you well in your new small business. Whether you can afford a professional publicist or not, publicizing your book isn't out of your reach, and with a little knowledge, there's plenty you can do. Perhaps the hardest part about publicity, just like becoming published, is learning the system.

From this point forward, we'll start on that path. Next week, we'll discuss working with your publicist, and what you can do if you have no publicist and can't afford one.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Author Interview~Cyndy Salzmann

Cyndy Salzmann is a wife, mother, popular national speaker and the author of several Christian books including her latest – Dying to Decorate – book one in her Friday Afternoon Club Mystery series.

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

I just completed edits on Book Two of my Friday Afternoon Club (FAC) mystery series – which is part of Howard Books’ Motherhood Club line. The first book in the series, Dying to Decorate, has already been released. It’s a lighthearted mystery with a mom lit feel – and since I’m also a cookbook author – I included 45 of my favorite recipes that go along with the story. A reader wrote me recently that her husband said my Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pot Roast was the best thing she had cooked in 20 years of marriage. The series is based on my own group of friends (also named FAC) that have gotten together on Friday afternoon for the last 15 years. No agenda. No crafts. No schedule. Just a time to relax and recharge with women who get me – and don’t care if I’ve shave my legs. : )

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 began writing books as an excuse to avoid laundry. Frankly, I wish I had a loftier reason for kick-starting a writing career. But I don’t. The simple truth is at the bottom of the laundry pile – probably under a pair of smelly socks.

I despise laundry. I’m not sure why. I just do. My husband claims that at any given moment, I can come up with a list of ten reasons why we have no clean towels. He’s probably right - but for the last seven or so years, hunching over my laptop, pleading looming deadlines and artistic angst, has proven to be a handy excuse to stay out of the laundry room.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Yes! Yes! When I heard NovelReview was reviewing my book, I felt the familiar pang of self-doubt. “I hope whoever reads it, likes it!” In fact, I can’t even read my own work without wanting to take out the editing pen. I try to remember some advice from Cecil Murphy who has written more than 100 books. “This is the best I can do at this stage in my development.” Then I keep working to do better on the next project.

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

I think about this at least once a week. The work is HARD, promotion grueling and I am always behind on laundry. I think – “WHY am I doing this? I could have a drawer full of clean underwear!” Then God softly whispers – once again – in my ear, “You know why…” Then He reminds me of the same words of encouragement David gave to his son Solomon when he passed the baton, “Be strong and courageous – and do the work.” (I Chron, 28:20) So I pull on a pair of my dh’s underwear (since I don’t have any clean ones) and fire up my laptop. : )

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

This is sooo embarrassing. I attended my first writer’s conference after I had three nonfiction books on the shelves. Although I hadn’t written a word of fiction since high school, I pitched an idea for a mystery series to an editor. I described it as similar to the books of a famous author – but “much better written.” He said, “You do know that most of her books debut on the NYT bestseller list?” My response was something like, “Of course, that’s why I’m confident my books will do so well.” Can you believe my nerve?? I just CRINGE thinking about that conversation and every time I see this editor at a conference, I duck into the nearest restroom.

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

It comes from Stephen King… “To write is human. To edit is divine.” Listen to your editor. : )

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

“You must have a synopsis that ‘sings’ to get an editor to look at your work.” Phooey – in my opinion. Most editors I’ve talked to say they turn first to the writing – and if this catches their attention – turn to the synopsis. Personally, I’ve NEVER read a synopsis that I didn’t have to force myself to finish. In my opinion, if a story can be told well in a few pages, it should be a short story. A caveat… I might be so passionate about this because I really stink at writing a synopsis. In fact, now that I think of it… this COULD be the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received.

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

Although I can understand their rationale, it really bugs me when “gatekeepers” in the CBA (editors, publishers and agents) discount the “call” to write when addressing new authors. The first thing one learns in “Pitching Your Project 101” is to never say “God told me to write this book.” My response to this is, “Then why in the world would I bother writing it? I could be traveling, gardening, cooking – or even be caught up on laundry if I didn’t feel that God wanted me to write Christian books.” Now I would never utter these words to a gatekeeper… but it’s nice to dream.

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?

Writer’s conferences are more about connecting with other writers and learning your craft than pitching your project. Sure… pitch your project. But relax. Meet new friends. Have fun. Then go home and do the work (I Chron. 28:20).

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

When my medium-sized publisher was sold to BIG publishing company, I panicked. What if the BIG company looks at my writing (or sales numbers) and says, “Why in the world does she have a three book deal? We need to get out of this ASAP!” Of course, nothing like this has happened since the sale… I just wasted a few weeks and a fantastic manicure worrying in case it did.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I have lots of favorites but I am currently really impressed by the work of several new writers. Susan Meissner (Remedy for Regret and others) strings words together soooo beautifully. Mary DeMuth (Watching the Tree Limbs) tackles difficult subjects and incorporates great emotion in her writing. And I felt like I’d been on vacation in France after reading Siri Mitchell’s Chateau of Echoes. I also think Sharon Hinck (The Secret Life of Becky Miller) is a stitch.

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

Much of my new book (the second installment of the Friday Afternoon Club Mystery series, Crime & Clutter, Spring, 2007) is based on personal experience regarding the abandonment by my father in the turbulent 60’s. It was very difficult for me to write but ended up being very healing. I’m hoping it will do the same for other women facing the same issue.

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

Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I need to always seek wisdom and balance my life so my work does not adversely impact my family. Easier said than done when I’ve procrastinated and end up under a killer deadline of my own making. Or taken on more work than I can comfortably handle.

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

Roll out of bed – sometimes early/sometimes later. Make coffee. Drink a glass of OJ with a little umbrella in it while I check email. Grab cup of coffee and read my email devotion that comes from Reflections Ministries: Write in my prayer journal.

Then... if I don’t have a speaking engagement or other pressing obligation, I head to a nearby coffee shop and write or edit for as long as I can – usually 2-3 hours. I also try to do a little marketing while I’m there – at least an hour. For example, today I discovered a great new cooking show and emailed the host to tell her that my mystery series has recipes that go along with the story. She was excited, emailed me right back for a review copy and is going to schedule me on her show. My publisher was thrilled.

The rest of the day is spent on home stuff – housework, kids, etc. I try to keep evenings free for family time. : )

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

Not unless I am in a deadline crunch. It works better for me to have a “time” goal rather than word count. When I think I MUST write 1500 words – or whatever – I check the word count every 10 minutes and get nothing done. But when I am behind with a deadline looming, I divide up how much I need to get done each day and stay glued to the chair until I reach it.

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

Pretty much SOTP – although I have a general idea where I’m going. I do a lot of research before I start writing so ideas are mulling through my mind. Also, if an idea occurs to me, I’ll write a rough scene and put it in my file.

What author do you especially admire and why?

Cecil Murphy. As I said earlier, Cec has written more than 100 books and is deeply committed to his calling as a writer. Many are familiar with the bestselling 90 Minutes in Heaven that he wrote with Don Piper. Cec isn’t just talented. Anybody can have talent. He is disciplined, hard-working and committed to developing his craft – even after all those books. He also gives back tremendously to other writers through his mentoring clinics, by teaching at writer’s conferences and as a panelist on The Writer’s View. All this and he is the most humble man I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. By watching him from “afar,” I have learned much about doing my best -- for God’s glory.

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

The work. I love research and writing when it’s really clicking. When it’s not or I’m behind schedule, it stinks.

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

I founded a nonprofit promotional co-op of Christian authors last year – aptly called the Christian Authors Network (CAN) as a way to divide up the marketing monster so writers could still have time to write. In about a week, we had 40 authors signed up – and decided to close membership until we could get rolling. In just a year, we’ve held more than 40 retailer events, set up an email Christian book club (You’ve Got Books), developed monthly ezines for readers of both fiction and nonfiction as well as retailers, started a blog and are refining our website to make it a resource for readers, retailers, media, event planners and writers. We’ve recently decided to begin accepting applications for membership again.

My favorite part of marketing is connecting with readers either by email, store events or speaking. It keeps me motivated to know that God is working in reader’s lives.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

It’s not about the ending… it’s about the journey. Stay close to God and enjoy the ride. : )

Author Interview~Vanessa Del Fabbro

Vanessa Del Fabbro was born in South Africa in 1968. After majoring in communications and English literature, she worked in print and radio journalism, then spent a year in England before coming to the United States in 1995. She has lived in St. Louis, Missouri, Montgomery, Alabama, and now makes her home in Houston, Texas.

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

The sequel to my first novel, THE ROAD TO HOME, comes out July 1. SANDPIPER DRIFT continues the story of journalist, Monica Brunetti, and her two adopted sons, Sipho and Mandla. As in THE ROAD TO HOME, I tell this story from two points of view, Monica’s and, this time, Francina’s, the Brunetti family’s housekeeper of many years. It’s an uplifting story and I hope that people will feel good after reading it. So much of what’s written about Africa concentrates on the negative, and after the drama of my first book I decided that I wanted to portray beauty, both of the land and its people. It is not at all unrealistic, as real life problems intrude regularly, but I have chosen to highlight the quiet dignity of ordinary people. These are people who are not involved in large-scale plans to enrich the impoverished, empower the disenfranchised, or rewrite laws and policy, yet in the peaceful and gracious way they go about the business of their lives, with respect for their neighbors and a disregard for race and economic standing, they are doing as much for their country as elected officials.

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 started out as a journalist, so I’d had non-fiction work published but never any fiction. The idea of writing a full-length novel seemed daunting, even impossible. But when I came to this country I started to realize that I had a story I had to tell and that the best way to reach a lot of people was through fiction.

You're a Christy Award finalist. How was that process? How did you find out about being a finalist?

The announcement of the finalists was only supposed to come in May, so in late April when I received an e-mail from the co-editor of my second novel I was shocked. And overjoyed. A couple of minutes later my editor, who was at home recovering from surgery, phoned to congratulate me.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Only all the time! I am constantly coming across books that make me think, why don’t my descriptions sound that poetic, why doesn’t my dialogue crackle on the page like this? But I think that a certain measure of self-doubt is good. It keeps me coming back to my computer, determined to be a better writer.

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

While I was writing THE ROAD TO HOME I thought that I would be content if I could get one book published, and that would be the end of my career as an author. I thought I might make a return to journalism. But after my first novel was published I realized that I had more stories in me. To a large extent, this is probably due to the confidence that I gained from the positive feedback from readers and reviewers. I suddenly thought, well maybe I can do this, maybe I am an author after all.

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

I wouldn’t do anything differently because I am very happy with my agent and my editor. I consider myself fortunate that things worked out the way they did. I wish I had found them sooner, but that’s life.

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

Show, don’t tell. That little gem of advice is always in my mind as I write.

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

Don’t think about your readers when you’re writing, write for yourself. This is a lofty ideal, but not at all pragmatic. Writing fiction is not writing a diary; authors need readers.

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

I would be happy if CBA novels weren’t hidden in the far recesses of big bookstores where only those in the know will find them. There’s no chance of browsers coming across my book by accident there. I’ll just come right out and say it: I wish that inspirational novels were shelved alongside general fiction novels. Novels that deal with faith in other religions are not sidelined but considered exotic.

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?

If I’d taken time before starting THE ROAD TO HOME to plot the story chapter by chapter I think I would have saved an enormous amount of time. Not everybody needs to do that, but I think I’m better off with a road map. I can then also check for weaknesses in the plot and places where characters aren’t getting their fair share of “page time.”

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

It took a long time for me to find a publisher, and at one stage I thought that THE ROAD TO HOME was going to end up being a doorstop that would constantly remind me of my failure. But I persuaded myself that even if I never became a published author, I had written a book! And that was an achievement in itself.

What are a few of your favorite books?

My all time favorite book is LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia- Marquez. I have read it three times and will probably read it three more times. Marquez is a master of creating a whole new world for readers. I also really liked BRICK LANE by Monica Ali, and I have to include DISGRACE in this list, a novel by Nobel prize winner J.M. Coetzee. I’m a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith and was very excited to meet him last month at a signing in Houston. I have just recently enjoyed OVER THE WATERS by Deborah Raney, and at the moment am reading ENDLESS CHAIN by Emilie Richards, which is the story of a Guatemalan woman trying to escape her past. As you will no doubt have noticed, I like to read stories set in different parts of the world or stories of cultures colliding.

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

I wish you’d ask me that in the fall, because by then I hope to have raised money, through the sale of my book, for Cotlands, a non-profit agency in South Africa that cares for AIDS orphans and children with AIDS. I am putting together a presentation about the desperate situation of the more than one million AIDS orphans in South Africa and will hopefully be invited to present it at churches, civic organizations and senior groups.

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

"If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will be My spokesman." ~ Jeremiah 15:19.

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

I write from 6 A.M. till 8 A.M., which is when I hear the cry of “Mommy” and I know my four-year-old daughter is awake. After 8 A.M. I switch to my other life, that of a stay-at-home Mom. Three days a week I manage to get an extra hour of writing in when my daughter goes to school, but that’s about it. I often think that I should get up at five A.M. to write so that I have an extra hour, but this thought never becomes more than that. I write six days a week and take Sundays off.

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

1,000 words per day, on good days 1,500.

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

A plotter definitely, but sometimes the characters start taking me in a different direction and more often than not, I trust them and go back later and adjust the outline.

What author do you especially admire and why?

Alexander McCall Smith. He reportedly writes 1,000 words an hour! And at his signing in Houston he admitted that he never rewrites and that in the case of the Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series he is hardly edited at all. The man is an intellectual, yet his stories are accessible and charming.

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

My favorite part is receiving e-mail from readers who say that they were touched by my book. My least favorite part is being forced to approach shoppers in bookstores when I’m doing a book signing. So far, I have had no choice but to actively sell my book. I get up from the table and wander around asking people if they’d like to take a look at my book. I live in hope that I will one day be able to sit behind a table at a signing and have people come up to me—lots and lots of them!

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

For SANDPIPER DRIFT I’m doing book signings here in Houston and closer to the time will send out press releases to the local media. I also maintain a database of names and addresses, some of readers who have written to me, some of friends, some of friends of friends. Just before publication I’ll send them a letter telling them about my new book. I also have a website.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t give up, even when the rejection letters keep coming. If you have a good story to tell, it will find a home with the right publisher. And keep writing every day, even if you don’t feel inspired. Think of writing as sculpting; You chisel away and chisel away, 1,000 words here, 1,500 words there, and before you know if you have a novel-length manuscript.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Believable Characters: Consistency is Key

Tamara Tilley resides with her husband, Walter, and their two sons at Hume Lake Christian Camps in the Sequoia National Forest. They have served on full-time staff and have ministered at Hume for more than eleven years.
Tamara manages one of the retail stores at Hume Lake, which serves thousands of kids visiting the conference center on a daily basis.
She completed twelve years of home schooling with the graduation of their youngest son, John, in 2005. Her family has recently expanded with the marriage of their oldest son, Christopher. His wife, Jennifer had been a welcome addition to the family and a wonderful picture of God’s faithfulness.

By Tamara Tilley

A common response to my books is, “How do you come up with your characters? They seem so real.”

I’ve had many people comment about my characters both the good ones and the bad. In fact, I had one person tell me, “You know you have a good book when you can really love one character and really hate another.” He explained to me that if the character that had so incensed him had been real, he would have punched him in the mouth. Another reader said that she so hated one of my characters, she found herself not only clenching the book but clenching her teeth. Of course, I also include some real champions in my books. I have gotten wonderful feedback regarding some of the characters that are so authentic, so compelling that the reader can’t help but fall in love with them.

I'm thrilled when I receive such expressive comments. I'm excited to know my books can raise such emotion in people. My desire is to create characters that are so realistic you can picture them in your mind and either love them or hate them. That’s what I think makes a great book.

While the goals of my stories are entertainment, and encouraging the believer to be all they can be, in no way do I paint a picture of perfection. Many of my characters are what you would consider flawed. They have their weaknesses and personal battles they struggle with. My characters are not necessarily all Christians, and the ones that are, are by no means perfect.

I would love for readers to be able to pick up one of my books, fall in love with the characters and get pulled into the drama and intrigue. I prefer the stronger characters in my books, to not stand back and talk about their faith, but to live it.

If a character is struggling with something in their life, I want the reader to be able to identify with that person. It might be a struggle the reader or someone close to them has experienced. This makes the reader feel as if they are in the story with that character, feeling their hurt, sensing their pain.

The key to creating individuals of depth is to maintain consistency. Sometimes mental images can fade and you lose the vividness of a character. As an author I’ve found great value in creating a personal profile of traits, timelines, and details specific to each person in my books. This becomes my reference point as I write so that I don’t contradict myself, confusing or surprising the reader.

I first start with the physical characteristics of a character. I am very detailed when if comes to their eye color, features, hair color and texture, and age, just to name a few.

I then move into their background, which can be anything from their relationships and family history, to their jobs, likes, dislikes, and hobbies. I do this for secondary characters as well as main characters. The more information I have to reference, the more likely I am to avoid discrepancies.

Not only do I create a profile for each character, but I find it helpful to profile all aspects of a book. This includes the timeline, the seasons and any holidays mentioned, when the characters first interacted with each other, settings, and anything else relevant to the overall flow of the book.

For example, if a reference is made in the opening pages of a book regarding the fall leaves rustling underfoot, but within the next few pages your reference is to the warm summer breeze blowing through the trees, you’ve successfully confused the reader. They will assume one of three things. Either, they’ve missed something and will flip back through the book looking for those details, they’ll assume nothing happened in the story throughout winter or spring. Or worse, the reader will feel as if they have been excluded from that part of the characters lives.

Don’t confuse profiling with outlining. I do not outline every nuance of a story before I sit down to write it. I start with the common details, but continue to add to the profile as I go. Here’s another example. If two characters meet on a Monday, and have a date or an appointment that Friday, I jot it down in the profile. Any references to future meetings, dates, or appointments, can get forgotten by the author if they don’t make note of it. This way, if I have to put my writing on hold for a few days, when I pick it back up, I’m less likely to make the mistake of talking about how the characters spent a fun-filled weekend, never referencing the meeting of the previous day. By writing down these little details, I have been able to avoid omissions or writing out of sequence.

As a reader I am often frustrated when details seemed contradictory or vague. As an author, I feel it’s my responsibility to paint with precision the characters and settings that make a book real, consistent, and memorable. It’s my desire to create a world you can escape into and enjoy from the first chapter through the final pages.

As a beginning writer, I know I’ve enjoyed the practical advice offered to me by other authors, both renowned and newcomers in the field. I hope these small suggestions have been helpful or at the very least given you something that you can build on as you continue to develop your own writing style. I am by no means done learning all there is to know about writing, but I am enjoying the journey.

Check out Tamara's debut novel by clicking here.

A quiet beachfront town.
An attempted hit.
A shaky romance.
An unexpected twist.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Author Interview ~ Allison Bottke

Allison Bottke is the creative force behind the God Allows U-Turns series and ministry, author of 20 books, including God Answers Prayers and God Answers Moms’ Prayers, and coauthor of I Can’t Do It All, a self-help book for women. Having spent her first thirty-five years as a nonbeliever, Bottke is a relatively new Christian, coming to the faith in 1989 as a result of a dramatic life U-turn. Before she was a successful writer, in-demand speaker, and sought-after writing teacher, Bottke was a ground-breaking full-figured fashion model for the prestigious Wilhelmina Agency and a savvy professional fundraiser. A Stitch in Time is Bottke’s first novel.

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to share with us. I know you’re one busy lady! I also wanted to thank you, for a kindness you served me years ago when I was a new writer. I had sent a story in for one of the God Allows U-Turns compilations and had received my second ever acceptance letter. The story was later cut in a final edit. You sent the sweetest personal letter to me that really softened the blow. I’ve never forgotten that you took the time to do that.

Oh gosh, bless your heart for saying that—and for remembering it. I’d have to say that sending rejection letters is painful for me! I have a heart for authors, that’s why I teach at so many writers conferences. I spent countless years getting rejection letters myself. However, if as writers we are not getting rejection letters, then we are most likely not sending out our work. We need to get tough skin and not take rejection personally. I know personally that I have to reject stories not because they aren’t good enough but for other reasons like too many of the same type of story, or it’s not the correct topic/niche for a particular volume. I try whenever possible to be kind.

You have your first novel, A Stitch in Time, coming out soon. Please tell us about the upcoming book and why you moved into writing fiction.

I love to read all genres of fiction, particularly contemporary women’s fiction. After I had lost 120 pounds from having gastric bypass weight loss surgery (WLS), I had the idea that it might be a kick to write a novel with a character that also had WLS. Plus, all the writers’ conferences I ever attended stressed that we should “write what we know.” I know a lot about fundraising and fashion and special events, so I figured I’d incorporate that into the book as well. I developed a chapter outline and wrote a few chapters and took an intensive fiction writing workshop at a writer’s conference. One thing led to another and that book releases this year in June 2006.

How did you learn to write fiction?

Mostly, by reading it, and by reading about how to write it. I am basically self-taught. I also attend writers conferences and listen to “How To” tapes and CD’s. I had no idea about all of the various POV’s (point of view) so I read a book on point of view and decided to use First Person for A STITCH IN TIME. There are several amazing authors who are also gifted teachers when it comes to generously sharing their knowledge about writing in the CBA market. I’ve learned valuable tools for fiction writing from: James Scott Bell, Brandilyn Collins, Angela Hunt, Randy Ingermanson, Tracie Peterson, and Gayle Roper.

But I guess the most vital way to learn to write fiction is to read fiction! When I hear folks say they’d love to write a novel but don’t read much fiction, it makes me crazy! Read-read-read!

Did you find the experience enjoyable and do you look forward to more fiction titles to flow from your fingertips?

God willing, I would love to write one novel every year. I am contracted with Bethany House for a second novel to release in June 2007. It’s not a sequel to A Stitch in Time, but it does feature one of the characters we met briefly in my debut novel.

I know you tell this story often but some of our readers may not have heard how you came up with the God Allows U-Turns series and how it turned into the ministry it is today.

I came to know the Lord at the age of 35 after living a spiritually empty life. The first 35-years of my life were filled with extreme trials and tribulation. My background includes early childhood molestation, extreme domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, abortion, divorce, and more ups and down than humanly imaginable.

Because I have always been a writer, as I walked more closely with Jesus, I found myself pouring out my life story in an epic memoir that never did get published, I mean really, who would want to read it? But one day I was inspired to make my testimony part of a larger group of testimonies that shared how new life could be lived as a Christian … how God allowed us to turn around no matter how many mistakes we made, or how lost we were! “God Allows U-Turns” had been the name of my memoir, and I retained it as the name of my book series. I wrote a book proposal (using online resources for How to Write a Book Proposal) and sent it to a list of agents. Within one month it was picked up by one of the most respected Christian literary agencies in the country – and the rest is history.

Do you find it difficult to share some personal details about your life?

Not any more. At first, many years ago, it was painful to discuss being molested as a child, and then years later the extreme abuse I endured at the hands of a violent husband. Sharing that you are a survivor of childhood abuse and domestic violence is never easy, but the more I talked to others about it, the less painful it became. Plus, and this is the big thing, I began to see how God used my transparency to help others through the same issues.

You have been heralded as a marketing whiz. How did you acquire this skill and what have you learned about publicizing and marketing your own books that you could share with some upcoming authors with their first books releasing soon?

Once again, I am self-taught in many ways. Yes, my prior career was as a professional fundraiser which helped to give me some background in marketing, publicity, promotions, and such … but I devoured books and magazines on all those topics to learn more. I still do. It is vital that we stay on top of trends, and learn about marketing. We must do our homework to remain on the cutting edge. It’s not enough just to be a writer, we need to be versed in a host of topics such as marketing, advertising, web sites, branding, strategic planning for our ministry, blogs, trends, and a host of other topics.

How different is it getting publicity for a novel than for a non-fiction book?

I’m not sure, I’m just learning. Because I don’t have a background in this area, and because the window of opportunity is open for only a short time when it comes to releasing a “debut novel,” I opted to hire a professional publicist (at my own expense) to promote my first novel.

You’ve appeared on numerous programs and in publications from CBN to Writers Digest magazine. Are you contacted by producers/editors or do you somehow make that happen?

Both. When my first book released in July of 2001, I was blessed with a cover story feature in Writers Digest Magazine. This was the first time in their 8-year history they had featured on their cover an author working in the CBA market. My publisher at that time also hired a professional publicist to promote the God Allows U-Turns series. Between her work and my follow-up marketing, I began to build a reputation among the media. This is key. You want to make their work easy—by having professional publicity materials, timely responses to their queries, and ongoing communication regarding your ministry. I have a press kit that is available online as well as in hard copy form.

When a new project is developed, I look at key media niches to contact. For example, the lead character in my debut novel has had gastric bypass surgery. There is an international magazine for gastric bypass surgery patients called Obesity Help Magazine, or O.H. for short. Since I’ve also had gastric bypass surgery, I contacted them about my personal story, as well as sharing my novel with them and I was featured on their cover last year. They will also be reviewing A STITCH IN TIME in their June issue. It’s all about staying on top of the market opportunities and making personal contact as a professional.

What do you wish you had learned early in your writing career that could have saved you time or resources?

Web design. I’ve been dependent upon web designers for years and it’s made things a bit challenging from time to time. I saw right away the need for a professional web site when communicating with the public, the media, customers, and even with publishers. The God Allows U-Turns web site is very “deep” in the content it contains, and it requires a lot of work. I’ve been blessed with amazing volunteers and paid professionals over the years. But there are days when I’d just like to go in and make my own changes, but alas I cannot. At least not unless I learned it and right now I don’t have the time blocks to learn this skill set. Way too many writing deadlines.

Do you have a dream for your writing future?

Oh my, yes. My longtime goal has always been to write for the Big Screen. I long to write screenplays. I grew up at the Saturday afternoon matinees in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. I watched old RKO films on the TV every chance I could get growing up. Romantic comedy is my favorite genre, and I would love to see my debut novel, as well as my second novel, translated into films. In fact, my second novel, the one I’m working on now, started its life as a screenplay. I had an actress in mind and wrote the outline for the movie and began dialogue on this project many, many years ago. Now, I’ve picked it up, dusted it off, and I’m writing it first as a novel.

I was Playwright-in-Residence at a small theatre in Southern California for many years. Three of my full length plays were produced on stage. I love life theatre. One day, I’d like to own a small theatre, maybe 75-100 seats. I would produce my own original plays, as well as the originals work of other playwrights.

Advice for aspiring novelists?

I know it sounds so easy to say, “Never give up,” and yet that is first and foremost the advice I give. I’m fifty years old! I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was a kid. The second bit of advice I share is to never judge yourself by what others have done or are doing. We set ourselves up for failure when we do this. There’s always going to be someone better, someone different, someone yada-yada-yada … we must look at our individual talents as gifts from God and forge ahead! The third and final bit of advice I will give is to never stop learning. My bookshelves are filled with “How To” books and tapes, and CD’s, and DVD’s. I subscribe to writer magazines, attend writing workshops, and strive to stay on top of the fresh resources available to help fine tune my craft as a writer.

And last but not least … PRAY! Not as a last resort, but as the first line of defense against anything that might happen in daily life! Prayer changes things, no doubt about it!

God’s Peace!
Allison Gappa Bottke

Friday, May 19, 2006

Why Publicity? Part II

When was the last time you saw, read, or heard something about a novel that made you commit the book to memory for future purchase?

In my case, four books immediately come to mind.

The first is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Last year, upon learning that I was writing a historical trilogy, my neighbor's sister began telling me about this book she was reading. It so captivated her, that when she finished it, she planned on re-reading it just so she could underline her favorite passages.

The second is a novel called The Collector by John Fowles. In one of Sol Stein's writing books, he recommends novelists to study this particular novel.

The third is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Though I'd heard of the book on numerous occasions, it wasn't until I heard an editor say it was the best Christian fiction book ever written that I finally decided to read it.

The last book is Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. It was this amazing review by the Washington Post that influenced me.

Now think about a book advertisement that caught your attention.

This time, three books come to mind:

The first is advertisement from my childhood. It's Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. While writing this, I left my computer, found my husband, and asked whether he could remember the book that was advertised with a volcano. He remembered the name of the author, and I was able to find the title on Amazon.

The second is an advertisement I saw on the daily e-mail sent by Publisher's Weekly. I think the title may have had the word Monster in it. The advertisement had a red, demon-looking beast in it.

The last book, I cannot tell you anything about the title or author. However, the commercial usually airs during CNN's Showbiz Tonight. The plot has something to do with a painting (no it's not The Da Vinci Code,) and the cover has what I believe is a Van Gogh painting on the front.

Why is it that I can remember the first group so clearly, but not so with the second group?

In an era where we are bombarded with commercials, advertisements, and pop-ups, a recommendation from a trusted source becomes golden.

According to the PRSA, publicity is five times as effective as paid placement in getting a consumer to purchase a product.

A study featured last year in Publisher's Weekly stated the #1 reason a consumer purchases a book is because a friend (trusted source) recommended it. Ads were extremely low on the list of persuaders because the consumer views them as biased.

I'd love to hear your comments on this. What influenced you to buy your last five books?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Author Interview ~ Melanie Wells

A native of the Texas panhandle, Melanie Wells attended Southern Methodist University on a music scholarship, and later completed graduate degrees at Our Lady of the Lake University and Dallas Theological Seminary. She has taught at the graduate level at both OLLU and DTS, and has been in private practice as a counselor since 1992. She is the founder and director of LifeWorks counseling associates, a collaborative community of creative therapists in Dallas, Texas. Melanie is the author of several novels, including When the Day of Evil Comes. She lives in Dallas with her dog, Gunner, who wishes she wouldn’t spend so much time at the computer.

The Soul Hunter, sequel to When the Day of Evil Comes is coming out next month, is that correct?

Righto. It should be in stores by the end of May. I just got my copy in the mail. It looks GREAT! The cover is extremely high on the creep-o-meter.

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 the mid-nineties. I was living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and had been sick for a few months during the winter. That January, it snowed 15 feet. In one month. All snow, all the time. I’m not a TV person, so I was reading a lot of terrible books. I kept thinking – I could do better than this! So I started writing my first novel. That novel, called The Permian Game, eventually found its way to Rod Morris’s desk at Multnomah, through another Multnomah author I met at a party in Vail (I was already back in Texas, but in Vail for a visit). Multnomah needed something with more obvious spiritual themes, so they couldn’t publish that book.

About six months later, I had a dream at a friend’s house while on a writer’s weekend. The dream became the first chapter of When the Day of Evil Comes.

Rod had said he liked my voice, (he’s the senior fiction editor at Multnomah), so naturally, I began stalking him. I finally met him at a writer’s conference in Amarillo, TX, which happens to be my hometown. I’d seen on some brochure that he was going to be there, so I flew up there and tracked him down. I shoved my chapters (there were three or four by then) under his nose and convinced him to give me a read, which he did. He kept in touch with me over the next couple of years as I pecked away at the book. Eventually, I sent the finished draft in and waited. And waited. And waited. He kept me informed as it passed through each hoop – there are committees involved with this sort of thing.

Finally, about six months after I’d sent the draft in, he e-mailed the magic words: “I like it. I want to publish it.” I started to cry. It was a grand moment. That was almost ten years after I wrote my first word of fiction.

You mentioned in a previous interview that you had a few novels collecting dust that you hoped to get published. How’s that coming along?

The Permian Game is the first of a series, set in Texas, involving a really groovy girl named Abbie Sullivan. It’s now on an editor’s desk in NYC. Wish me luck.

Tell us about the Peter Terry website.

People write me all the time with their creepy Peter Terry stories. (Character from When the Day of Evil Comes and Soul Hunter). I finally just started him his own little blog. He’s got quite a following. He’s very popular, in a sick sort of way.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Well, all of them, really. First, I wrote a really catchy query letter and sent it to one agent and then waited confidently for them to call me. They sent me an unsigned form letter rejection. Lesson: catchy letters are bad. Then I wrote a less catchy but still quippy letter and sent it to several agents. Multiple signed form letter rejections. Lesson: quippy letters are also bad, though not as bad as catchy ones. And so on… I finally learned to follow the formula they give you for query letters in the Guide to Literary Agents.

Eventually, I landed a hot-shot New York agent for The Permian Game. He hired an editor to help me with a re-write. The editor hated the book, but I accomplished the re-write anyway, in spite of the derisive bombs the editor continually lobbed in my direction. After the re-write, the agent let the manuscript sit on his desk for six months and then sent it back to me with a note that he was going to limit his business to non-fiction. Lessons: hot shot agents are not that hot. And even a snobby editor might have something to say. Auxiliary lesson: Thick skin is good.

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

Learn to write. Keep at it. Don’t give up. A good book will eventually find a home.

You mentioned in another interview that growing up in a musical family you had learned to accept criticism and the importance of “being bad out loud.” How would you suggest fledgling novelists get feedback on their work?

I don’t really bother showing my work to other fiction writers. They’re usually insecure and will come up with something picky to say just to feel better about themselves. I do get a lot of feedback from songwriters (I know lots) and writers of non-fiction (ditto). But my best feedback always comes from readers. People who buy a book at the grocery store check-out and then throw it away if it’s not any good. Those are your critics. They’re almost always right. Let them read your work and then listen to what they have to say even if it makes you want to cry (it’s unseemly to cry in front of them – do that in the car on the way home).

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

Treat it like a business. Learn to craft your product and be willing to do what it takes to sell it. Don’t be sentimental about it. That’s the kiss of death.

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

Isaiah 54. It came to me in a very difficult time and still provides me with peace in the midst of turmoil. God lights my way with that chapter.

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

Losing the hot-shot agent was a setback. I gave up for a while after that. I was very emotional about writing during that period of my life. I’d go months and not write a word if I got stuck. Now I’m pretty businesslike about it.

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

I read a lot of non-fiction. I had a friend climbing Everest last month, so I’m reading Into Thin Air at the moment. It’s gripping. I also love Anne Lamott. And David Sedaris. I howl with laughter while reading his books. It’s really quite embarrassing. I love Harper Lee and Truman Capote. In Cold Blood is a brilliant book. And of course, every girl wants to be Scout and to have Gregory Peck for a father.

Why write spiritual warfare?

I was in the midst of a tumultuous time in my life when I started writing When the Day of Evil Comes. I felt surrounded. It was a very real, gritty spiritual war which had an unsettling, other-worldly quality to it. The dream happened during that terrible time, and I think it was a reflection of what was going on in my life.

What makes for good suspense?

I think good suspense is all about what you DON’T say. I don’t like gore and I don’t like to scare people in a cheap, goon-in-the-closet way. Peter Terry is a stalker. The sort of being that would come to your house while you’re not there and just move things around. The sort of being that wants you to know he’s there. He’s covert, not overt. That’s what makes my books chilling. Much of the scary action happens while you’re not watching. So you’re left to sort out the results and figure out what might happen next. Also – since the subject matter is so dark, I think it’s crucial to add humor. Dylan is a likeable girl with a fantastic, if cynical, sense of humor. She’s someone you’d want to hang out with.

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

That everyone gets paid better than the writer.

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

I only have a couple of days a week to write, since I have a counseling practice also (shameless plug: LifeWorks Counseling Associates in Dallas:

So on my writing days, I’m very structured. I get up and have some breakfast, then head upstairs to write. I work for several hours and then take a break for lunch and maybe walk my dog or something. And then I go back upstairs and stay until supper or until I can’t stand it anymore, whichever comes first. And when I finish a chapter, I always write the first line of the next one before I quit. That keeps me moving.

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

My goodness. They’re too numerous to catalog. I aspire to write nuanced, layered prose that’s simple while conveying complex ideas. K.L. Cook is a perfect example of this. K.L. writes literary fiction, so it’s not fair to compare my writing to his, but if I had the time and the dedication, I’d be writing denser paragraphs and saying more with fewer words.

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

I hope to continue to turn out readable books that get great reviews. That’s a rare combination. If I can keep that up, I’ll be golden.

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

Tons, but not enough. I have a publicist in addition to the resources (marketing and publicity) at Multnomah, so they all keep me pretty busy. I’d love to say writing good books is enough, but it isn’t. You have to go out there and sell them. Meeting people is great fun, though. So it’s pleasant work.

Parting words?

Writing is an elusive craft. It’s dreadfully boring and tedious and difficult. But seeing your name on a book cover and opening the book and seeing your words? Unbelievable. Absolutely worth every keystroke.