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Friday, November 30, 2007

Music Critic - Author - Christa Ann Banister ~ Interviewed

In addition to possessing a funny, whip-smart pen, Christa Ann Banister has the gift of gab.

After years of working as a respected music critic and freelance writer for various Christian publications: CCM Magazine,, Christian Single,, not to mention kickstarting the inaugural Christian music blog for MTV’s, Christa has inked her first novel about her erstwhile adventures in dating, and she hopes that her story will inspire countless twenty and thirty-somethings in their quest for snagging Mr. Right, even as they hold fast to their Christian values

Christa lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Will. They love to play Scrabble and throw darts on a map and dream about going wherever the darts land someday. And until her book hits the New York Times bestseller list, Christa is happily employed as a freelance writer for her many, many clients.

Click here to read a review (11-30-07).

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

Travel writer Sydney Alexander is ready for one particular journey to end: her frustrating search for a Mr. Right. As a Christian twentysomething navigating the weird world of dating, she's encountered more than her share of frogs. From men who can't keep a jo to self-centered professionals, her lackluster dates leave Sydney wondering where the good guys are hiding.

But things are looking way up. Just after landing her dream job, she meets an eligible round of bachelors, including a dashing European, a promising blind date, and a charming coffee-shop wordsmith. Now Sydney will discover just how far she's willing to compromise to land her dream guy.

Around the World in 80 Dates shares a woman's humorous take on being single. Filled with wit, real issues, and quirky characters, Sydney's story will encourage female readers to never settle for less than God's best.

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 a few ideas down for Around the World in 80 Dates about five years ago. Ideas soon evolved into sample chapters, and I sent out two proposals (with four sample chapters and a quick introduction) to people I knew in publishing as a result of my time at CCM magazine in Nashville, where I worked as a writer and editor for five-and-a-half years. Like the music business, the book world is all about connections, connections, connections. Many publishers don't accept unsolicited proposals, manuscripts, etc., so I had to be referred by friends who already had book deals to even get my foot in the door. And even with a foot in the door, I had to be patient (not exactly my strong suit).

Basically, I waited for months and months and did all sorts of follow up before I'd get the sorry-but-we-just-can't-do-anything-with-you-at-this-time-but-keep-working-at-it rejection e-mail. That happened twice, but I persevered and kept tweaking my sample chapters until I was really happy with them, and they eventually made their way to NavPress via my friend (and fellow author) Matthew Paul Turner.

After Matthew's NavPress contact moved on to another publisher, the new editorial assistant at Nav stumbled across my manuscript in her pile of papers, read it and really loved it. She even sent me an e-mail to that effect the next day and really began lobbying for it to get published. So of course, I got really, really excited. But that was only the beginning of the process. After a couple of months filled with phone calls and proposal forms to fill out, not to mention a couple different committee meetings at NavPress, they offered me a two book deal (with an option for a third) in October 2006. Needless to say, the third time was the charm.

After the papers were signed, I couldn't even begin to express how excited I was. So after ample celebrating, I went to work and finished Around the World in 80 Dates, a long, intense and amazing process that fulfilled one of my greatest writing dreams.

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

I think writing involves three things—a measure of God-given talent, a love of words and a strong work ethic. There are lots of people who want to write a book but don’t want to devote the long hours to developing and honing his/her craft. Sometimes I fall into that category and need a little more motivation like an upcoming deadline or the gentle nudge of my husband who’ll say something like “I need 2,000 words today!” Fortunately, I’ve never really dealt with writer’s block but that’s probably because I write every single day whether it’s a movie review, a blog entry or the latest chapter of a book I’m working on.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

One of the key things I’ve learned about publishing is that persistence pays off. Just because one publisher doesn’t catch your vision doesn’t mean that another won’t. Always keep knocking, and if you keep hearing know, consider revising your pitch.
What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?

The best advice I’ve ever heard is that it’s good to write a little bit every day. Also that great readers are great writers, so I try to stay current within the genre I write in and with pop culture at large. I guess I’ve never really received any bad advice, which I’m thankful for.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I’m a people watcher, so stories naturally seem to evolve from what I see and hear around me. My first novel is about dating, so those stories came from my own experiences and experiences of family, friends, classmates, etc.

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

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, anything by Jane Austen, Judy Blume or Sophie Kinsella. U2 At End of the World by Bill Flanagan
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
Around the World in 80 Dates was definitely a proud moment. There are several music features that I wrote for CCM, one about the London music scene, in particular, that I was really happy with because I actually traveled there by myself to get the story.
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
Maybe Oprah should consider more titles for her book club? No, honestly, aside from wishing the biz paid more from time to time, I can’t think of any.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and continue to improve in the process.

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

My favorite part is the sheer joy is doing something you love for a living. It still doesn’t seem possible sometimes. My least favorite part is that sometimes you’re just not in a creative mood—not writer’s block per say—but maybe you’re just not in that mode, and you have to be. So that’s occasionally a struggle.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?
Wordiness. I’ve had to really work at the art of editing. Saying something in a few words instead of too many. That’s something I continue to work on every day.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Grab a Diet Coke? I don’t know. I just leap right into it.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session?

Nope, I’m pretty boring in this regard. Sometimes I aim for a specific word count, but mostly I just write, take breaks, grab a Diet Coke (or coffee) and repeat until I’m done for the day.
Plot, seat of pants or combination?
Definitely a combination. I have a rough outline and go from there.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Finding the ending that really sings. I put so much energy into leading the book off that sometimes I struggle with an ending. So that’s what I have to put the most effort into.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

A few actually…and it’s been so rewarding to find people connecting with the book/stories as much as I have over the years.

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

A ton! Not only do I have two publicists, but I’m constantly blogging and doing interviews to get the word out however I can. I’ve also been known to strike up conversations with complete strangers who also end up wanting to read the book, so that’s a great thing.

Parting words?
Nope. Just I want to thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Blessings to you!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roxanne Rustand ~ Author Interview

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

The Snow Canyon Ranch trilogy for Love Inspired Suspense starts out with HARD EVIDENCE in early December, followed by VENDETTA in March and WILDFIRE in February. These books are all part of the Snow Canyon Ranch trilogy. Set in the Wyoming Rockies, the books follow the three daughters of a tough, no-nonsense Wyoming ranch widow, who each return
to the Rockies to begin a new life...only all of them face unexpected challenges and danger.

There's actually a free, online serialized story running right now at . There are twenty very short chapters that introduce this mountain town and some of the residents, including a sheriff long-past the need for retirement. The sheriff will soon leave town, making way for the hero of HARD EVIDENCE.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

I love the Wyoming Rockies. To me, the Tetons are the most beautiful place on earth! I've long wanted to set some books there, so I started to think about what could bring a trio of heroines to this area--and what sort of trouble I could stir up for them when they arrived.

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 read just nonfiction for years....then one day, my friend Judy gave me a Judith McNaught historical novel, smiled, and dared me to put it down once I started it. I did--at four o'clock the next morning. It totally swept me away, with its emotion and characterization. After that, I started reading everything I could find in the genre--I would bring grocery sacks of books home from the store. That same friend later invited me to write some human interest articles for her regional horse magazine and gave me an older computer to do so. The wonders of writing on a computer swept me away, too! It was such fun, I just kept going...and eventually started trying to write a story. Judy had a small critique group, I joined them, and found a whole new world in writing fiction. I began writing in late 1992. I puttered around with my first 127 pp for two whole years, trying to perfect each word, but learned this was the wrong approach when I took a University of Iowa Summer Writer's Festival two week class given by Leigh Michaels. The class members critiqued each other, and every one of them (AND Leigh) said my first seventy pages had to go! Ouch! They were right...but was it ever hard to do. That fall, I entered the Golden Heart. I didn't tell my critique friends because I knew they would think I was crazy to enter with so little of the book done. I wrote night and day, literally, to finish the book in time...and by some incredible miracle, the entry won the RWA Golden Heart that year. That book didn't sell. The next time I entered the Golden Heart, I finaled (but didn't win) and a final round judge (Paula Eykelhoff, a wonderful editor) said she remembered my winning entry from before. She said this new project showed growth--and she bought the manuscript plus another project that was just a proposal. So my first sale was a two book, thanks to the GH! I was thrilled beyond measure. I've now sold twenty books since late 1998 and am now working on three more hopefully, it will be up to twenty-three in the near future.

Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

After writing fifteen family drama type stories with mystery or suspense, plus light humor, I just hit a wall. I floundered for months, unable to get myself going again, but then dove into online classes and books on writing. I had to really analyze what I had been doing, and how I needed to change that process in order to get myself back on track.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?

My most difficult challenge is time management and steady page production. I was a "last minute gal" at writing papers and cramming for tests throughout college, and until deadline adrenaline kicks in, it can be hard to make good, steady progress on a daily basis. But--I'm getting better!

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I have a home office dedicated to writing only.

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

Before deadlines loom, ten would be nice on the days that I can be home to write. As the pressure mounts, I may do twenty or more.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work twenty hours a week as a dietitian, which leave me two and a half days at home. The earlier I get up, the better, as that's my most creative writing time.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.

After figuring out a setting, main characters, main external plot, and a list of possible subplots, I spend a lot of time brainstorming long lists of things that can happen, for each major and minor subplot. Once those lists are each organized in chronological order, I have lots of material to work with. I may never use half of the items on those lists. I may veer off completely. But it helps a lot to have a lot of ideas and imagination starters posted next to my computer!

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

Paradise, by Judith McNaught (and also her old historicals), some of LaVyrle Spencer's earlier books. Everything by Jane Austin, Lee Child, and my friends Cindy Gerard, Kylie Brant, Lyn Cote. I'm really enjoying reading all of the authors for Love Inspired Suspense. What great books!

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

FINISH THE BOOK! Then go back and start polishing and revising. Read all of your dialogue (preferably your entire manuscript) aloud--you'll catch awkward, stilted phrasing so much better that way!

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I often advertise in Romance Sells when I have a book coming out. I've advertised many times in RT and the RWR. I do promotion mailings to bookstores, conferences, and readers groups across the country, and participate in various blogs. I just revamped my website at . And now that I am writing inspirational novels, I have become active at and have a wonderful time interacting with the people there. Whether or not it all helps, I don't know!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

To everyone who is writing with hopes of being published, follow your dreams and don't give up!

To read a review of Roxanne's book, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Guest Blogger ~ Cathy Marie Hake

How did you go from Nursing to becoming an author?

As a nurse, I injured my back and was off work for three years and had a problem with pain. I ended up reading a lot just to escape the pain. One day my husband walked up to me and took a book out of my hands, shut it, laid it on the coffee table and said, “You’ve done enough reading, you need to start writing.”
Why did he say that?

We have two children and I was forever making up stories and telling them stories and he’d already lived through me every time we went on vacation having a perils of Pauline sort of thing where I would have the next portion of the story each time we got in the car. He was used to my imagination by then. He said that I needed to start writing.

I thought about what do I write? What I know is that the Lord loves me and I know the love of a really good man is the two things that get through anything in life. So I decided to write Christian romance.

What type of nurse were you?

I was a cancer nurse. I was in oncology for eight years. I loved it. It was a wonderful ministry. I would have stayed there forever. I had a terminal patient and his bed broke so we needed to move him from his bed to a different bed. I ended up injuring my back. It really has been kind of interesting in addition to writing, I also teach Lamaze and breast feeding. So I went from death to birth.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a native Californian.

Did you go to school to write?

God redeems all our experiences in life. I’ve always loved to read. I devoured books all my life. In college I majored in getting my bachelor’s in science in nursing but I minored in English. It was kind of a fun way of keeping up with that.

I met Tracy Bateman because a mutual friend knew that she was coming to California for a Romance Writer’s of America conference. She asked her if she’d mind taking a friend of hers around, show her Hollywood, Wax Museum, Gram’s Chinese Theater and the beach. I said sure, fine, I’d be happy to. I did not know Tracy or Becky Germany were editors at that time. I was just writing stories and really hadn’t looked at the market yet. A few days before they came out my friend said, “You do know that they’re editors, don’t you?”

How did you connect with Joyce Livingston?

Joyce and I were both writing together for Barbour. Just because we were writing for Barbour we would IM back and forth. One time I said to her that we ought to write something together. I said let’s do twins, companion heart songs. I would do one twin and she would do the other one.

She and I went through this long IM and basically plotted out the concept and pitched it and the readers were wild about it. We decided to go ahead and do two more and did those two together and now they’re coming out as San Diego. It’s been so wonderful.

Is this going to be a series?

We already have a second book coming out called Bittersweet.

What is the name of the series?

What is your favorite scripture verse?

Micah 6:8 KJV

Tell us about Letter Perfect. How much of it is based on your life?

I don’t think you could ever say there’s any parallel between Ruth and me. Definitely not. I am the person who has slipped in her own driveway and shattered her own elbow. I am the woman who can look down at her shirt and say where did that spot come from?

Recently my daughter and I were at the corner bakery and I fell up the stairs. Other than just being the woman who can just open her mouth and not just swallow not just her foot but her knee and her thigh…no.

How did you come up with the idea for the story line?

I really don’t know where that story came from. I have books that I could tell you exactly where it came from. I have one book that started from a fortune cookie. This one I really do not know where it came from.

Do you prefer to write contemporary or historical fiction?

My favorite is historical fiction especially romance. I can’t say life was simpler back then It was a harder physical life but I think that the values and the morals are ones that I’m far more comfortable with. My parents collect antiques so I spent my entire childhood going through antique stores. I love history and think it’s fun to revisit a time I would have enjoyed living in.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

I would like about 60 hours in a day instead of 24. Time is always an issue. The other one is I think a creative mind is probably an oxymoron. I once had someone say that there are filers and there are pilers. I am a piler. Living in a small house and my daughter is also a published author, between us and all of the books we need for research, it’s a challenge.

How long did Letter Perfect take you to complete?

About 4 months.

How much research did Letter Perfect take?

Oodles. I had to research to find all of these little details like have who ruled in the Pony Express, which leg of the journey did they have? I make a historical time line for each book that has both regional and national occurrences. What the inventions are at the time. I spend an extreme amount of time on research and even went to Sacramento and met Tracey there. We did a research trip there and had a wonderful time. Our husbands met each other and they’re probably twins separated at birth.

Do you have any more projects on the horizon?

We’re working on a series that’s going to be taking place in historic Texas. At least three in the series. (No name yet.) Planning on every six months for a release.

I have several books that will be coming out with Barbour. I’m writing my last book with them right now because I signed an exclusive with them.

Do you have a Favorite character in Letter Perfect?

It would have to be Ruth because I am so much like her. I was constantly surprised when I was writing her of the things that would come out of her mouth and the things that she would do and I would just laugh and go, “I could do something just as crazy”.

Who is the person who most influenced your writing?

George Reyes, he wrote Curious George. It’s the very first book I checked out of the library. It opened up the magic of books and the written word and how it can take you someplace different and someplace wonderful and each book can be a wonderful experience.

What were your favorite books as a child?

Curious George. Was there a book that I didn’t read as a child? My sister and I would walk to the library and each pick out seven books because that was the limit and we would trade them half way through the week. We’d read fourteen books a week. We weren’t allowed to have T.V. I read all of the Newbury award winners, read Ellen Tebbits to Nancy Drew to Hardy Boys. Christy was a fabulous book in my child hood. All of the Anne of Green Gables books.

What message would you like your readers to take from Letter Perfect?

That perfection is essential to love. My husband taught me that. You’ll see that in the dedication.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

To share the overwhelming, unstoppable love of God.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Author Interview ~ C.J. Box

C. J. Box is the author of the eight novels including the award-winning Joe Pickett series.He’s the winner of the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and an Edgar Award and L.A. Times Book Prize finalist. FREE FIRE was a New York Times bestseller.

His short stories have been featured in America’s Best Mystery Stories 2006 and limited-edition printings. BLUE HEAVEN will be published by St. Martins Press in January, 2008. BLOOD TRAIL, the eighth Joe Pickett novel, will be published by Penguin/Putnam in May, 2008.

Blue Heaven, your first stand-alone novel will be released January 2008. Tell us a little about it.

I first heard the term that became the title in LA when an ex-LAPD police officer told me how many of his former colleagues had moved to extreme North Idaho to a place they called “Blue Heaven.” Turns out there are scores of ex-LAPD up there. The situation intrigued me, and I went up there to do research. The storyline came from the country itself: two children are fishing along a creek when they inadvertently see the execution of a man by four others in a campground. The children run and hide and the murderers, who turn out to be ex-cops, go to town to the sheriff and volunteer to lead the search effort for the missing kids. The novel is told in real time over 60 hours from the point of view of the children, a local rancher, a banker with a secret, a cop who has traveled to North Idaho to follow up on an unsolved crime, the distraught mother, and the cops themselves. It’s a wild ride.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How you get started, how you sold your first book, how long it took, and all the gritty details.

I’m one of those twenty-year overnight success stories. I always wanted to be a novelist, and wrote in secret since college. (In secret because I didn’t want my daughters to think of me as “My Dad, the failed novelist.”) When I completed OPEN SEASON I thought I had something and got an agent in New York who supposedly showed it around for four years with no interest. Whether he did anything at all I don’t really know. I stopped calling him and later found out that he’d been dead for a year! Before I knew that, though, I went to a writer’s conference and pitched the book to agents. One bit, and was talking about it in the bar that night and was overheard by an editor from Putnam who said it was the kind of thing she was looking for. She read it and offered a three-book contract. Luckily, OPEN SEASON went on to win a slew of best first novel awards and it got excellent reviews. I was off…

You’re continuing to write your Joe Pickett Series for one publisher while writing stand-alones for another. How do you balance this and meet both deadlines?

It’s difficult but possible. I write every day and keep as organized as I can be. I treat writing as my job and I work hard at my job. And, by the way, it’s a pretty good job.

What is it about the Joe Pickett Series that is so popular do you think?

I’m always wondering that myself, so I have to rely on what readers tell me to answer the question. Part of the appeal is that Joe Pickett is portrayed as a real human being. What I mean is he works hard, doesn’t get paid well, makes mistakes, and frets about his family. I think many readers empathize with Joe. Also, each novel is built around a real-life issue like the Endangered Species Act, or eco-terrorism, or development … real social issues in the modern west. I try hard to show both sides of many controversies and balance the approach. Readers all over the country – and now in 13 countries – seem to like that. And each novel is different. There is no formula – anything can happen to anyone. Kind of like real life.

With your first novel, Open Season, I read that you began with an issue, how a well-intentioned law like The Endangered Species act can make people do things they wouldn’t normally and built your novel around that. Do you always start with an issue?

Yes, and that’s important to me. I want to write about real things, not just who-done-it. This isn’t to say that the books are screeds or rants. I don’t have an agenda other than that a reasonable approach is the best with most issues. I’ve found that readers really enjoy seeing issues explored that are close to home.

Besides crime novels like the Pickett Series, and thrillers like Blue Heaven, do you have other types of books in you that someday you’d like to write?

Oooh, tough one. I think someday I’d like to write a book of nature and fishing essays. But since that sounds really boring and I doubt anyone would want to read it, so don’t look for it soon. I’d also, some day, like to write an historical novel set in the mountain man period. Don’t look for that one soon, either.

Joe Pickett tends to clash with his bosses, does CJ Box sometimes clash with his editors? Like when they change the title of his novels for instance?

Not really. I harken back to my days as a state employee to recall those kinds of clashes. I know this sounds like I’m being a brown-nose, but my editors have all been extremely bright and supportive and have only wanted the novels to be better. If they want to change the title I hear them out and have to conclude they’re right in nearly every case.

How do you handle it when an editor suggests changes that you don’t feel are right?

It rarely happens, to be honest. Usually, if they want changes at all, they are more of the “can you please flesh out this scene more” variety. They rarely want outright changes of direction, but ask for more detail or nuance. That seems fair to me because it makes the scene better and the book better.

What are the challenges of writing a series? What about a stand-alone? What are the benefits of each?

To answer this inj full would take days, so I’ll try to be brief. One of the great things about a series is familiar characters and the continuity from novel to novel. But the baggage can get very, very heavy as well as the series progresses. I need to always remember that a reader might be picking up Book Eight having not read the previous seven, so I’ve got to introduce just enough back-story to make the characters clear without going on and on and bogging down the narrative, especially for the loyal readers who’ve read them all. That’s tricky. One way I’ve tried to keep the series fresh is to change the circumstances – Joe’s children get a year older each book, or he gets fired or changes jobs – so it’s not all rote or formula. The challenge to writing a stand-alone is the same as writing that first book in the series – a whole new world needs to be created and the style and tone needs to be shifted a bit so it doesn’t read like a novel in the series that isn’t a novel in the series.

You’ve said yourself that your craft continues to improve from book to book. What do you attribute this to?

Simply experience and an inner feel that’s tough to describe. Plus, there’s a certain arc and flow to a novel that comes with having written nine of them. I think one learns with each book what can be left out.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to write suspense novels?

Read! The world is awash in great crime fiction and much of it is as “literary” as most literary novels – only it is fun to read. Too many would-be writers don’t read enough to know what’s out there. I do think it’s a mistake, though, to read nothing but crime fiction. Horizons should be broadened. I try to read fiction, non-fiction, fiction, with a crime fiction novel being every fourth or fifth. It helps me as a writer to read great writing no matter what the genre.

Who do you like to read? Is there an up and coming novelist that you’re particularly excited about?

Here’s my list of favorite writers:

- Thomas McGuane
- Ken Bruen
- Cormic McCarthy
- Elmore Leonard
- Joseph Heller
- Steven Ambrose
- Raymond Chandler
- Dennis Lehane
- Annie Proulx
- Tom Wolfe
- James Lee Burke
- Donna Leon
- Richard Russo
- Harper Lee
- Ivan Doig
- John Houston (White Dawn)
- Thomas Berger
- Farley Mowat
- Herman Melville
- Wallace Stegner
- Edmund Morris
- Michael Kelly
- John Sandford
- George Pellecanos
- Denise Mina

Two up-and-comers I really like are Denise Mina and Kevin Guilfoile.

Would you give a tip or two regarding keeping readers on the edge seat for those who are writing thrillers?

A thriller is like a shark – it needs to always be moving forward. If it stops, it dies.

And good luck on your thriller, by the way.

You’re a family man, a writer, an avid outdoorsman, and you co-own an international tourism marketing firm with your wife. How do you time manage to find balance?

I don’t know! He cried desperately.

Parting words?

This was a very long interview, but fun as well. Time for a beer now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When is Fiction Propaganda?

By Mike Duran

Hollywood has many secrets, but its political leanings are not one of them. We've grown accustomed to Bush-bashing, religion-loathing, overly-green actors using their platform to articulate their opinions. So the recent spate of anti-war films is not a big surprise. What is surprising is the reception, or lack thereof, many of these movies are receiving.

Films like Brian DePalma's, Redacted, Into the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs (which garnered a miserable 25% rating at Rotten Tomatoes), are not only struggling at the box office, many critics are seeing them for what they are: too darned preachy. Apparently, we can handle Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. But when he swaps his six-shooter for a bullhorn, that’s when we check out.

Agenda-driven art is a turnoff. Audiences want stories, not sermons; they want to see a good movie or attend a concert without being ambushed by a lecture.

Just ask Barbara Streisand. During her last American tour, she took the opportunity in between songs to denounce the war in Iraq, endorse certain political causes, and denigrate conservatives. It rankled many devoted fans. Shouts of “Shut up and sing!” could occasionally be heard from the audience.

But, from an artist’s perspective, is it really possible to separate art from agenda? One’s values, convictions and worldview will inevitably influence their creative expressions; our beliefs cannot be easily partitioned from our craft. Should we – can we -- really shut up and sing?

The forthcoming film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s >fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, entitled The Golden Compass, has stirred great debate amongst Christians. Pullman has been clear about his intentions from the start. Describing the trilogy to The Washington Post in 2001, he said, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” Furthermore, the author has openly ridiculed C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. “I loathe the ‘Narnia’ books,” Pullman has said in interviews. “I hate them with a deep and bitter passion...” In fact, he’s called the series, “one of the most ugly and poisonous things” he’s ever read. (For further discussion, Jeffrey Overstreet’s thoughts and the ensuing dialog at his Looking Closer Journal is highly recommended.)

Webster’s Dictionary Online defines “propaganda” as: “The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” With this in mind, labeling Pullman’s fiction as “propaganda” might not be a stretch. The Dark Materials trilogy, as the author himself has said, is intended to spread “ideas [and] information” (of course, we would call it lies and misinformation) for the purpose of “helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person” (in this case, “injuring” the Christian cause and the institution of the Church). That this “atheistic propaganda” is aimed at the most vulnerable and undiscerning of audiences makes it, potentially, all the more malevolent.

However, isn’t Christian Fiction attempting to do the same thing?

For example, Christian Retailing recently reported:

Best-selling children's fantasy author G.P. Taylor has issued an open letter to Americans warning of the dangers of the forthcoming movie The Golden Compass, an adaptation of British author Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights (Scholastic) controversial for its anti-Catholic themes.

. . .In an e-mail message this week, Taylor, who lives in Scarborough, England, said that the reason he wrote Shadowmancer (Charisma House/Penguin Putnam) and the other books in the series was because of Pullman and "the damage that his books were likely to do to the Christian church."

Let me get this straight: Pullman wrote his books in response to Lewis' Narnia; Taylor wrote his books in response to Pullman's Compass. Pullman's intention is to undo the damage done by Christianity; Taylor's intention is to undo the damage done by atheism. But aren’t both authors doing the same thing? Apart from their radically divergent beliefs, they’re both using fiction as an ideological tool. Is this propaganda?

“Yeah, but OUR message is true,” retorts the Christian. “Atheism’s message is false!” Well, I agree. Nevertheless, atheists feel the same way about Christian Fiction: It’s propaganda intended to poison people’s minds.

Lon Allison, director of Illinois' Billy Graham Centre, said of Disney's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe, “We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film.” Philip Pullman desires the same thing for his film, only his gospel is secular. Nevertheless, we applaud Narnia being made into a movie but plan boycotts of The Golden Compass. Why? Christians have been proselytizing with their fiction for the longest, yet when an avowed atheist comes along doing the same thing, we get our proverbial panties in a bunch. Can someone say “double standard”?

Some argue that what makes Pullman's work so insidious is that it's aimed at children and young adults. But don't Christians do this all the time? Narnia's target audience is not soccer moms. It's children. Every Vacation Bible School that ever existed was built on the belief that young minds are impressionable, and shaping those young minds is essential to the propagation of our beliefs. So when we do it, it’s OK. But when an atheist does it, it’s wrong. I don’t get it.

In a democratic society, theism and atheism should be given equal platforms. Deal with it. Sure, it could be argued that the media is anti-religious, that Christians don't get a fair shake. It's a legitimate gripe. And while pluralism is both a result and benefit of a free society, the give and take of those belief systems can get rather sticky. Which worldview wins out is often a matter of persuasion, passion and persistence.

But what part should Christian Fiction play in this clash of ideas? And how do we keep it from becoming strictly propaganda?

I firmly believe that “Christian art” can and should compete with its secular counterparts. Yet that means backing off the boycotts and confidently entering the marketplace of ideas. Not only must we articulate a sound rationale for theism, as artists we must produce the type of quality work that gives evidence of its legitimacy. In the end, if Christianity cannot withstand the assault of atheism -- and films with anti-religious intentions like The Golden Compass -- then it doesn't deserve to stand.

Books and films impact and shape society and, like it or not, fiction has become part of the cultural / ideological arsenal. This creates a tremendous challenge for the Christian author. Why? Because readers want stories not sermons. This is something that, in fact, has worked against Pullman’s trilogy, for many readers have found it too didactic and agenda-driven. As much as we want to articulate our worldviews and give voice to the Gospel, we mustn’t let ourselves fall into the same trap and use our stories simply as vehicles for rebuttal, stealth diatribes and soliloquies disguised as fiction. Perhaps this means we should just shut up and sing. But then that depends on whether we have a song or a sermon.

Sunday Devotion- Commit to the Lord whatever you do

Cindy Sproles

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and all your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3

Writing is a passion. I find myself sitting at the computer for hours at a time, but it only feels like minutes. Hundreds of ideas fly through my head, many faster than I can jot on a sheet of paper. Each morning I rise to write a new devotion, asking God, “What’s on Your mind today, Father? What are we going to write about?” He never fails to offer me a tidbit of inspiration.

Putting words together –crafting them tediously, one by one, is like working a giant puzzle where all the pieces have been dumped randomly in the center of a table. My job is to sort through and find all the pieces that have the flat edge. I slip my glasses on and walk my fingers through the words like little shovels, scooping and sliding odd shapes furiously – joyful when I find the perfect match.

God places the stories into my heart, shuffled, and allows me the opportunity to spin them into a tightly woven blanket. I know He must sit back, arms crossed and feet resting on a stone, smiling that His child is thrilled with the toy. There are times I search for hours, attempting to locate the one thought or word that connects the puzzle together. Try as I might, nothing works. I’ve even been known to force a couple of pieces into the left over openings hoping no one will notice the picture is uneven.

“Why doesn’t this fit, God? I’ve worked and worked?”

“You’re looking over the right piece.” He tells me.

“Give me a break here. There’s a thousand pieces on this table.”

“And a thousand different ways to work the puzzle, but only one right way.”

Like I didn’t already know that. So, I begin the process of editing. Pulling pieces out one by one, realizing none of them had truly fit to begin with. I’d gotten in a hurry – thus the work falls apart little by little. “Oh no, God. It’s coming apart. This entire puzzle is coming apart.”

“No worries. You’ll figure it out.”

And for some odd reason, I’m comfortable with that remark. My writing is much like my life where sometimes everything fits. I can rub my hand across the finished piece and it feels smooth and complete. Then there are times that the edit process is almost more than I can take. These, are the moments God reminds me to commit what I do to Him and I will succeed – regardless of the situation.

Publication is the dream of the writer, but it’s only a piece in the puzzle. God wants us to craft the stories He’s given us, toil over them, polish them, and when He sees the puzzle it right, it succeeds. The same is true in our lives. Just as we spend hours choosing just the right words, God does likewise with us. He fits the pieces together, one by one, tediously – sometimes backtracking and pulling out the one odd-shaped part that looked as though it fit, but didn’t. He works in us until we are a success. Then He lifts His hands and rejoices that we are His children, complete in His word.

Commit the work to Him and the words will come. They will flow as a cool mountain stream, hard and fast. Then while you work, glance over your shoulder and look. God will be leaning against a tree, knees slightly bent, chewing on a twig, and smiling – anxiously awaiting the finished work.

PRAYER: Father, work in me for the glory of Your will.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Interview with Literary Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds, LLC

As a literary agent and cofounder of BookEnds, LLC, Jessica Faust prides herself on working closely with her authors to make their goals come to fruition. A veteran of publishing, she began her career in 1994 as an acquisitions editor at Berkley Publishing, Macmillan, and Wiley, where she had the unique opportunity to acquire and edit both fiction and nonfiction. Jessica takes her editing experience to the agency, where she works closely with her authors to create the best possible proposal submissions. A native of Minnesota, Jessica now lives in New Jersey with her family and their very spoiled dog, Sadie.

You can check out her blog at:

Will you give us an idea of how many proposals, verses how many manuscript requests, verses how many authors BookEnds, LLC takes on per year?

Earlier this year BookEnds went “green” changing our submission policy from one that accepted unsolicited proposals to primarily e-queries and solicited hardcopy proposals. This has changed things considerably for the better. I receive roughly 100 equeries each week. As for proposals I average about 25-30 a week and fulls…I would guess about 20-25 a year. Keep in mind these are individual statistics for me only. I would guess Jacky and Kim receive about the same. As for new clients this year, I think I’ve taken on about 4-5.

What's your best advice for a new author getting their work noticed?

Read Jessica's answer in our December newsletter!

(I've always wondered this,) do agents keep a file of those who've queried them, or do they rely on memory when they've been queried twice?

We do have submission logs that we keep that record the status of all submissions (not queries though). The logs go back to the beginning of the agency. I also tend to keep a small file for those authors I rejected, but would like to keep tabs on and those authors that for some reason or another I think would be best to avoid. A lot of names become very familiar over time and more often than not we’ll check with each other when a name seems like one we’ve seen before.

It seems today, that getting a book to publication has less to do with great writing, and more to do with marketing. Do you find this to be true?

I think getting a book to publication means that you have to have both. Marketing and a hook are what first grabs the attention of an editor and an agent, but it’s the writing that eventually sells the book. Readers won’t come to a new author unless the book has something special that will bring them there (usually the hook), and they’ll only stay with an author if the writing keeps them wanting more.

What’s the best money an aspiring author can spend on their road to publication? (conferences, how to books, college courses, online workshops etc)

I think it depends on the writer. Some really need to learn basics about writing—plotting, characterization, etc. In that case writing courses or workshops would probably be the most advantageous. Others have great style, but need help networking and learning about the business. In that case online sources and books are best. I think for everyone though a good critique partner or group and conferences can make all the difference. Conferences give you the opportunity to network with other authors, meet agents and editors and really learn about the craft of writing. However, not being a writer myself, this is from a different perspective. I suspect writers can give you a better answer than I can.

How helpful is an author’s marketing plan when they try to land an agent or publisher? Can you give us any advise on improving ours?

If you’re writing fiction I think it’s terrific to include anything that gives you an edge over other writers. For example, I have an author who is also a glass bead maker. She is writing a mystery with a protagonist who is a glass bead maker. I included that information as well as the author’s Web site in the proposal. Beyond that though I think a marketing plan isn’t necessary.

For nonfiction though it’s critical. If you give workshops, lectures, write a column, etc. Anything that shows your platform and can actually sell hundreds, hopefully thousands, of copies of your book gives you an edge.

My big advice for a marketing plan is only put one together if you have proven that you can do those things. Telling a publisher you plan to pitch Oprah isn’t going to get you anywhere. Everyone hopes to pitch Oprah. If however you’ve been on Oprah and she already expressed interest in seeing your next thing then go for it. That’s a marketing plan.

Does it ever affect your confidence in the manuscript after a string of rejections from editors?

Sure. In the same way an author starts to doubt herself after a long string of rejections an agent can too. There are times when I will reread part of the manuscript to remind myself why I came to this terrific work in the first place. And like everyone else I think it’s important to grasp on to the good things. If an editor gives amazing feedback, but was overruled by her editorial board then I am reminded of what a numbers game this can really be. Persistence is one very important key to success. I have sold books that sat on editor’s desks for two years and I have books sitting on shelves that haven’t sold after two years…yet. Sometimes I just need to be patient.

If you've worked with an author but were unable to place their manuscript, do you consider that business relationship dead, or do you continue to work with them? Why or why not?

I take on authors for a career not a book. The only instances where I might deem a business relationship dead or at an end is in the world of nonfiction. I take on nonfiction authors as much for their platforms and expertise as I do the book. Therefore many only have one book in them. If that doesn’t sell it’s often hard to find something else we could do together. In fiction though I’m in it for the long haul. I take on a client because I love her writing and her voice and the book I offered on is that culmination of those two things, and hopefully the beginning of a long career together. If we don’t sell that one, we’re always planning for the next.

What unrealistic expectations from authors do you often encounter?

Money. Money is one of the most taboo subjects in our culture and publishing is no different. So many authors might know that the advances are low, but expect to be able to get rich, or even live off, those first royalty statements. Money in publishing is usually slow to come. Unfortunately what we most frequently read about in publishing news are the deals that are truly few and far between. Those that allow a writer to quit her day job by book number two and never look back. I hope that someday very soon all of my clients can live comfortably on their earnings, but that takes time. You need to build an audience, a backlist and a name for yourself first.

How can we authors make our agent's job easier? What should we come to the table with?

In a client/agent relationship, one where you area already signed (or signing with) and working with an agent it’s communication. Communication is the key to all successful relationships and the only way for an agent to be able to do the best for her client is to know what that client is thinking or desiring. I can’t help an author grow a romantic suspense career if she’s never told me she really wants to be writing romantic suspense. I also can’t help correct things about our relationship a client might be dissatisfied with if I don’t know she’s dissatisfied. I try to be as honest and forthcoming as I can with my clients and I hope they feel comfortable doing the same.

For those seeking an agent I think its business savvy. I don’t expect authors to ever know the intricacies of this business. That’s what you have an agent for, but I do expect all authors to do the research necessary to understand that this is a business. You may have written the most amazing book in the world, but for an agent or publisher (or reader for that matter) to take an interest it has to be something that can make money. There’s no point in putting money behind a book that doesn’t sell. Publishers and agents are businesses and an author making the move from writing a book to seeking publication is entering a business world. Anytime you enter a new business it’s important to learn about that business to the best of your abilities.

If you were pitching a novel and looking for an agent, what some agent qualities that would be absolute "musts" for you?

Interesting question. I’ve never been asked to look at this from the other side.

If I were an author…

I would look for an agent who was honest, brutally honest. I do not want a “yes” woman. I think my fear as an author would be signing with an agent who simply sent out my work without first evaluating it and letting me know what she thought may make it difficult to sell. I also want her to tell me if my next idea sounds like a flop. As an author I’m in this business to build a career and I don’t need to waste time on ideas or projects that an agent, someone I hired for her expertise, doesn’t think it will work. Obviously I would also want someone with experience. Someone who has contacts, relationships with editors, knowledge of the industry and can negotiate a kick-butt contract. I’d also want someone I like. We don’t need to be best friends, but I need to trust her in all business matters (from money to being my voice when I’m not there to talk) and I need to be able to share my angst in lengthy phone calls if necessary.

What's the best advice you can offer someone interested in becoming literary agent?

Read, learn negotiation skills and get a job either with a publisher or an established agency first. You can’t learn contract negotiation from a book and you can’t learn how to really know what happens inside a publisher’s editorial meeting unless you’ve been there. Having sat through hundreds of editorial meetings and negotiated hundreds of contracts from both sides I’ve learned a great deal about what makes a successful book and what makes a successful career.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Guest Blog ~ Tricia Goyer ~ Switching Hats

Tricia Goyer has published over 300 articles for national publications such as Today's Christian Woman, Guideposts for Kids, and Focus on the Family, and is the co-author of Meal Time Moments (Focus on the Family). She has led numerous Bible Studies, and her study notes appear in the Women of Faith Study Bible (Zondervan).

She has written seven novels for Moody Publishing:
From Dust and Ashes (2003)
Night Song (2004)
Dawn of a Thousand Nights (2005);
Arms of Deliverance (2006)
A Valley of Betrayal (2007)
A Shadow of Treason (Fall 2007)
A Whisper of Freedom (February 2008)
Night Song was awarded American Christian Fiction Writer's 2005 Book of the Year for Best Long Historical. Dawn of a Thousand Nights won the same award in 2006.

Tricia has also written Life Interrupted: The Scoop on Being a Young Mom (Zondervan, 2004), 10 Minutes to Showtime (Thomas Nelson, 2004), and Generation NeXt Parenting (Multnomah, 2006). Life Interrupted was a 2005 Gold Medallion finalist in the Youth Category.

Also, coming out in the next year are: My Life, Unscripted (Thomas Nelson, 2007), Generation NeXt Marriage (Multnomah, Spring 2008), and 3:16-the teen version of the a book by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson, Spring 2008).

Tricia and her husband John live with their three children in Kalispell, Montana. Tricia's grandmother also lives with them, and Tricia volunteers mentoring teen moms and leading children's church. Although Tricia doesn't live on a farm, she can hit one with a rock by standing on her back porch and giving it a good throw.

Click here to read the first chapter of A Shadow of Treason and here to see a review. Or visit Tricia's website.
Wearing Two Hats - Fiction Vs. Non-fiction

When I first started writing, I wanted to write fiction. In fact, I have a half-dozen half completed contemporary novels on my hard drive! Basically, I started writing non-fiction articles to get some writing credits under my belt, and I discovered I loved writing non-fiction too. I started out with parenting articles for magazines like HomeLife and Christian Single. I thought it was great because I'd propose an article for any parenting problem that I was having, then I'd interview experts to get advice! I've received advice from people like Greg Smalley, John Trent, Gary Thomas, John Townsend, Dr. Mary Manz Simons ... and other cool people. What parent gets to do that?

My dream of writing fiction came true after hearing the amazing, true story of the liberation of a concentration camp in Austria. I fictionalized the true events and it became my novel, From Dust and Ashes. Through that book I discovered I love writing historical fiction, and my seventh historical novel will be published February 2007. I benefit from fiction because I'm swept away into another time and place. I feel as if I'm a part of the story, and I learn more about myself through the lives of characters.

My first solo non-fiction book was Life Interrupted: The Scoop on Being a Young Mom. Once a young mom myself, I wanted to give specific help and advice to those who had kids, yet were still kids in many ways. Because I write so many articles, I find all my non-fiction books have the same flavor. They chapters are short with lots of sub-headings and bulleted points. I have quotes, stats, and other interesting stuff. I also write as if I'm talking to a friend over coffee. I try to be real, because I know I won't fool anyone if I try to be stuffy. That's just not me!
In a way, I approach both my fiction and non-fiction project the same. For both I do some basic researching and some brainstorming before I “jump in.” They are different because I can work in chunks with my non-fiction. I can do a little here and a little there, yet my fiction needs larger chunks of time for me to get into the flow. Of course with both there is a time when I hit "prime." To me this means the book is in my thoughts every waking moment. In fact, it keeps working at it as I cook dinner or shop. I get to the place where it become impossible NOT to write.
I also have the same type of system for writing both non-fiction and fiction. First, I break the book into either scenes or themes, depending on if it's fiction or non-fiction. Then, as I research, I plug in the data where it goes. For example, if one of my fiction scenes is about a bull-fight, I'll type in all the research for that into the place where I think I'll use it in the book. Or if my non-fiction chapter is on sex as a married person, I'll create a file where I put all my research info. So with both types of books I have a large chunk of the research done before I ever started on page one. I find I can write fast when I don't have to stop and look stuff up all the time.

Also, with both I LOVE input. Writing is not solitary for me--I need people involved. For my non-fiction books I always interview others. For example, for Generation NeXt Marriage and Generation NeXt Parenting I interviewed dozens of Gen Xers. I did the same for all my teens books. I feed on the comments and ideas of others. I also invite those who comment to get a "peek" of my chapters ahead of time. I seek their input. I write with them in mind. It helps me to know if I'm on the right track.

With my fiction, I often interview veterans or I find experts to give me insight on the time, setting, or machinery. If I interview veterans or historians, I also ask them to read my chapters ahead of time to make sure I got my information right. I also have writing friends who read my stuff for me. Like I said, writing is not solitary for me!

I love writing both. I feel God’s pleasure as I write both. I couldn’t imagine choosing one over the other. I think that’s because I’m a teacher at heart. Anything I learn I want to share with others. I do that with sharing ideas and sharing stories. And ... you will be seeing both from me soon!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving is for Family - all kinds of family

From Ane:

Thanksgiving is especially poignant this year. Another family member, my dear sister-in-law -- my brother's wife, Dora, went home to be with the Lord just a couple if months ago. I'm thankful for the twenty years she was in our lives.

I'm thankful for my husband of 37 years. We have a new Thanksgiving tradition. We go to the home of friends of our son, Greg's. I'm thankful for their welcoming spirit.

On a day we think of family, I want to focus on my writing family: I'm thankful for the ladies of Novel Journey (my critique partners) along with ACFW, are a family. A special one to me. I'm thankful God led me to them.

I'm thankful for my friend and mentor, Diann Hunt, and for her successful surgery.

But most of all, I'm thankful for a Savior who loves me in spite of me. That's grace.

From Gina:

Every year we do this I worry I'm going to leave out someone important. This year, I decided to just limit it to what I'm thankful for at this moment.

I'm writing from the porch of Jessica's house. She invited my boys and I to spend the holiday with her family. I stopped on the way up and had lunch with my good friend, Cindy Sproles who dropped everything at the sound of my voice to meet me. My boys, Jacob and Levi are laughing, chasing Jessica's daughter around the yard.

Jess' husband, Scott served us coffee and Jess kissed him. I'm thankful for that too. For friends and love and children and laughter. That's what I'm thankful for at this moment. And I'm thankful to you who cared enough to read this.

From Jessica:

This has been such an incredible year and there's so much to give thanks for. First, I am deeply grateful for the friendship I have with Ane and Gina. To find one golden friend (and I'm not talking about Ane's age) would be lucky, but to find two such friends is simply amazing.

Recently the International House of Prayer (yes I-Hop) has opened and Nashville, and I'm thankful that among other things the group prays for Christians in the arts. I'm grateful to God for leading me there to heal.

I'm thankful for Watermelon Ministries for allowing me to be part of them.

Lastly, I'm thankful for my husband and daughter for reasons I don’t need to explain.

Give Thanks

Remember when people used to sit around the table, eating dinner with their folks and talking about everything that happened during the day? Me either.

Mealtimes for me were hurried affairs, usually consumed somewhere between practice and homework, right before bedtime. Mom cooked. We cleaned. And everybody ate in silence. Still, for a few minutes everyday, we were together.

It’s getting harder and harder to accomplish that. With a son in college and an active teenage daughter, meeting to share a meal seems almost impossible, except, of course, for Thanksgiving. Somehow, we all manage to come together, reconnecting in a way that reminds me how precious little time we have on this earth. I find I miss the sounds of childish laughter that once filled the house. Even the dirty laundry strewn on the floor means a place is lived in and loved.

So, when I stop to consider what I’m thankful for this holiday season, I think of my family. Their love and support has carried me through the many ups and downs of my writing journey. This Thanksgiving, I’ll remember to tell them so.

Giving Thanks - Kelly

Of all the attributes of God, of all His creation and His blessings, I am most thankful for God's faithfulness.

No matter how far I venture into my messed-up thinking, no matter how filthy I get while immersed in a project not of His design, no matter how high I raise my dusty, clay fist and accuse Him of unfairness, He is faithful to me.

He listens to my prayers and concerns and works them out in His own timing and plan. Not how I've suggested, of course, but so much better, bigger and more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Every once in awhile I get a shock when a sudden realization slaps me upside the head and I am aware that what is unfolding in front of me is something I prayed over months or years ago.

He is faithful to remember and to work out details which I've long forgotten.

Then He reminds me.

I hope your Thanksgiving is abundant and rich with blessings.

Janet Gives Thanks

I'm thankful for the internet, an amazing work of technology which Satan uses for much evil, but God uses for His purposes, not the least of which is allowing brothers and sisters in Christ with a passion for words to connect, encourage one another, and learn from one another. My crit partners, my Novel Journey peeps, the authors who do interviews and share their stories, my ACFW friends and fellow bloggers... you bless me over and over. I'm thankful to God for the rejections, the acceptances, the compliments and the criticisms. And that He is the One in control of it all.

I'm thankful for family, freedom, church, libraries, used book stores, coffee, oceans, mountains, music, art, health, and a million other things. Mostly, I'm thankful for the best story ever: the story of a lover who sacrified himself to save his beloved...who conquered death and went to prepare a place for his bride...who will come again and bring her home to live happily ever after. The Author of that story is the One worth writing for. Happy Thanksgiving all!

To the Thanksgiving Feast bring Five Kernels of Corn!

My family is trying a new tradition this year--as Hezekiah Butterworth's "Five Kernels of Corn" is read, we plan to pass kernels to everyone present. Once the reading is over, we'll one by one drop our corn into a cup and tell what we're thankful for. If the pilgrims could be grateful for a ration of five corn kernels, our thanksgiving should be never-ending!


Five Kernels of Corn
by Hezekiah Butterworth

'Twas the year of the famine in Plymouth of old,
The ice and the snow from the thatched roofs had rolled;
Through the warm purple skies steered the geese o'er the seas,
And the woodpeckers tapped in the clocks of the trees;
And the boughs on the slopes to the south winds lay bare,
and dreaming of summer, the buds swelled in the air.
The pale Pilgrims welcomed each reddening morn;
There were left but for rations Five Kernels of Corn.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
But to Bradford a feast were Five Kernels of Corn!

"Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye people, be glad for Five Kernels of Corn!"
So Bradford cried out on bleak Burial Hill,
And the thin women stood in their doors, white and still."
Lo, the harbor of Plymouth rolls bright in the Spring,
The maples grow red, and the wood robins sing,
The west wind is blowing, and fading the snow,
And the pleasant pines sing, and arbutuses blow.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn!"

O Bradford of Austerfield hast on thy way,
The west winds are blowing o'er Provincetown Bay,
The white avens bloom, but the pine domes are chill,
And new graves have furrowed Precisioners' Hill!"
Give thanks, all ye people, the warm skies have come,
The hilltops are sunny, and green grows the holm,
And the trumpets of winds, and the white March is gone,
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye have for Thanksgiving Five Kernels of Corn!

"The raven's gift eat and be humble and pray,
A new light is breaking and Truth leads your way;
One taper a thousand shall kindle; rejoice
That to you has been given the wilderness voice!"
O Bradford of Austerfield, daring the wave,
And safe through the sounding blasts leading the brave,
Of deeds such as thine was the free nation born,
And the festal world sings the "Five Kernels of Corn."
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
The nation gives thanks for Five Kernels of Corn!

To the Thanksgiving Feast bring Five Kernels of Corn!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Weaving the Spiritual Thread in Romance

Award winning author Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of 40 novels with over one million books in print. She writes for Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing, and her book, Writing the Christian Romance, will be released by Writers Digest in December. Gail is a popular workshop presenter and keynote speaker across the U.S. Visit her website at and her writing blog.

Gail, you've written well over 40 books (by the titles on your website, I think I got to 44). Finding a fresh approach to romance can’t be easy when you produce as many as you do. So how do you do it?

Most everything I hear, see, experience and read in the newspaper or her on the news triggers an idea that either brings to mind a new book plot or fills in an idea for a book that’s been living in my mind. My mind seems to be a research factory. I try to approach each story with compelling characters dealing with a serious issue, and this problem is usually something with which many real people struggle.

Readers relate to believable plots that show real-life people wrestling with issues dealing with family, friends, jobs, health, trust, faith, finances, and past behaviors that affect their present day lives, because this is part of the readers life as well. As long as I do good research and provide a story that’s realistic and compelling, I’m able to provide a fresh approach to common problems that Christians face in a world that doesn’t see life through a Christian worldview.

Weaving the spiritual thread into romance is tricky to do without becoming heavy handed. What's the secret?

The spiritual thread is exactly that---a thread. When we think of our lives as a tapestry, we know that each thread has a purpose, each has it’s own color, and each is important to the whole. One thread doesn’t stand out over another, but it works together to present a beautiful image. So are the threads of our story. None should take precedent over the other.

Growth of the character, the relationships, and faith is important to create the tapestry of the story. A book is first to entertain and then to leave an impact on the reader. In Christian romance, the impact is the happy-ever-after of the hero and heroine, but at the same time, it’s also important to leave the reader with a stronger faith or to mirror their faith through the characters and what they’ve been through.

This doesn’t mean that we are trying to convert everyone who reads our books. More likely we would scare non-believers away. We are to show that despite our flaws, fears, weaknesses, doubts, and sins, God loves us and keeps His promises. If we weave this into our story just as these same elements are woven into our own daily lives, then we will not be preachy, but we will just create a lovely tapestry that will make an impact and be remembered.

What sparked the desire to write a book on Writing the Christian Romance?

I am a teacher. I love presenting workshops and mentoring writers. I believe that God has given me a gift of both teaching and writing ability so I want to give something back as a thank you for these gifts. But I found once my heavy book deadlines arrived that I didn’t have as much time to mentor one on one, and that was difficult for me. Since I’ve taught so many workshops across the country, I had a great deal of material on writing and I’d given some vague thought to writing a book on writing Christian romance, since I knew that no book on the topic was available. I’d searched for them and found zero.

While writing a romance writing column for The Christian Communicator, Lin Johnson re-sparked that thought. She asked me why I didn’t write a book on the subject. She suggested a CBA publisher that was looking for that kind of book. I tucked that thought in the back of mind, and at an ACFW conference a couple years later, I discussed the idea with Randy Ingermanson. Randy suggested I follow through with my idea, but he also asked why I didn’t go first to the biggest publisher of books on writing---Writers Digest. I liked that idea, and so it began to work in my brain.

In December 2005 while being laid up with another knee revision (a nice way to say another replacement), I began writing the proposal. I wanted the book to be different so I contacted some of my Christian fiction author friends who wrote romance and asked if they would be willing to submit excerpts from their work for me to use as examples in the book. I was so blessed and received quotes, tips, and excerpts from about twenty-five published CBA authors to help support and demonstrate techniques in my books.

Although this book focuses on Christian romance and how it differs from secular romance novels, it covers many of the basic elements of good writing. It is eleven chapters that covers: understanding the romance genre, creating characters, developing the hero and heroine whether Christian or non-Christian, understanding a variety of POV and how to use them effectively, creating real emotion and using the senses to enhance emotions and characterization, understanding the differences between sexuality and sensuality in Christian romance, techniques to present spirituality in Christian romance, dialogue, introspection, plotting and pacing a romance and finally preparing a book proposal. This chapter also covers writers’ organizations and conferences that focus on Christian romance, and how to find an agent. Each chapter ends with a set of exercises to help the writer practice what was learned.

The book can be pre-ordered on Amazon and should arrive just before or after Christmas. Just click on the book cover to link to Amazon. My prayer is that this book will be a help to non-published and published authors as they hone their craft to write the best book they can for their readers and for the Lord.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Author Interview ~ David Blixt

David Blixt was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the age of 13 he grew too old to take the local acting class, and was hired to teach it. For the next twelve years he taught theatre and creative writing for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Meanwhile, after learning to bear a strong hatred for Shakespeare through regular English classes, he was surprised to find himself cast in a production of Romeo & Juliet. In doing that one play, he discovered what so many people have learned - Shakespeare is meant to be spoken, not read.
Somehow, between that time and this, David has become a professional classical actor, traveling as far as Greece to perform in the ancient amphitheatres. He has worked at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, First Folio Shakespeare, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Shadow Theatre Company, the Goodman Theatre, CityLit, and A Crew Of Patches. It was through his first directing work on a Shakespeare play - again, Romeo & Juliet - that he was received his first inspiration for a novel - THE MASTER OF VERONA. David lives in Chicago with his wife Jan and their young son, Dash.

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

THE MASTER OF VERONA, just out from St. Martin's Press. Set in 14th century Italy, it combines Shakespeare's Italian characters with the characters of Dante's Inferno and the real people of the age. At the center is the love triangle between Romeo & Juliet's parents.

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.
Here's the journey, as it happened to/for me:
Fall, 1998 - Had the idea for the novel, started doing research
Summer, 2000 - Started writing. Scrapped the first draft after two chapters, plowed back into research, then made a much better start
Summer, 2001 - Finished the first draft - 250,000 words - and started shopping it around to agents and publishers
2002 - After many lovely rejections, I got an offer from an independent agent. Out of desperation to have someone in my corner, I signed with her. Over two years, she shopped it to a number of publishers - including a really heart-wrenching push-me/pull-you with Harper Collins, who finally passed - but she was mostly pushing it as a romance novel. Which it isn't. And, to be quite honest, I don't think she ever read it through. I think she read my synopsis and the first fifty pages and took it to sell.

That was, what? 2003 by now. The book had gone through a second draft, but I wasn't happy with it - mostly because it wasn't selling, but also I had the feeling it was a little sluggish. So, I contacted an acquaintance from many years ago who had worked as an editor at St. Martin's Press. I asked if she knew of any independent editors out there in the world. She gave me the name of the best man she knew from her days at SMP - he had recently retired from the company and gone solo as an editor.
This is where luck comes in.
He read it, gave me his thoughts (including a gem that was worth the whole fee), then said that he liked the book. Really liked it. And would like to act as my agent.
So, after a discussion with my former agent, who agreed it would be best, I switched. Then my independent editor, now my agent, started shopping it. He began, of course, with his old friends at St. Martin's.
All of whom passed.
Here followed a year and a half of discouragement. If a veteran editor with 25 years of experience in one of the big houses couldn't sell this thing, then it wasn't going to sell. On my end, with his guidance, I did my best to streamline the thing, cutting over 100,000 words off of the second draft and really tightening the prose and the action.

Then, almost incidentally, he was having lunch with one of his old colleagues from SMP. (I picture the scene on some outdoor terrace, with both of them smoking - but I was in Rome when this happened, and it may be coloring my view) The SMP editor said, "Hey - is that Romeo & Juliet book still available? I can't get it out of my head."
That was July, 2005. We had a deal in November. Eighteen months after the SMP editor had first read it.

2006 was all editing. The first half of 2007 was all waiting and trying to drum up advance interest.
And now the book is in the stores.
And the sequel is with my editor…

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
About the work? No. About the publishing business, constantly. The book is quite good – I’m getting daily confirmation of that, which is lovely – but the doubts are about things like my ability to get it into people’s hands. I no longer worry if people will like my work – I’m worried that they’ll not ever know about it.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
As I mentioned, I started with the wrong agent. I signed with the first one that said “Yes.” It was a mistake, because she had a misconception as to what the book was, and it kept her from submitting it to the right people.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
The aforementioned gem from my current agent: “David, you’ve confused what an author needs to know to write the book with what a reader needs to know to read it – which is much less.”

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
I’m sure there’s been something, but I think I’ve blocked it out. Most of the bad advice, I gave myself – trying to mess with the manuscript just because it was finished and nothing was happening. My wife was instrumental in keeping me from making bad decisions – like starting from the end and doing it all as a flash-back. That was a terrible idea, and I’m glad she wrestled the keyboard away from me.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
Just how much of my own marketing I would have to do. I’ve been doing quite a bit for the last nine months, but here we are a month after publication and I feel like I’m still playing catch-up. It’s in stores, has a great cover, great quotes, great reviews. It’s barely enough to garner interest. But this is a long race, and so far THE MASTER OF VERONA is running well.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?
I remember when the Harper-Collins deal fell through. Jan and I were in Paris on our honeymoon, and I had a day of not wanting to leave the hotel. That was the lowest point – quivering on the brink of success then falling flat. However, it’s rather like my relationship with my wife – I knew her for years before anything romantic happened. I contend that had something happened early on, I couldn’t appreciate what we have now. I love my publisher, and my editor especially, and I’m sure I appreciate them all the more for the wait. It’s not simple gratitude – it’s an honest appreciation. They want my book to be the best it can be. That’s marvelous.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)
Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond and Niccolo books. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Bernard Cornwell’s three King Arthur books. And Colleen McCullough’s Master of Rome series. Oh, and anything by Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, or Jonathan Carroll. My guilty pleasures are Robert B. Parker mysteries.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’ve got a play that’s sitting in a drawer that I pull out and work on from time to time. It’s a political piece, again based in Shakespeare. It’s the germ of something that I hope will grow over time. It’s not something I can force – it comes in jolts and starts. But I’m really enjoying it. A private little project.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
Delayed gratification. A friend once told me that publishing was a series of anti-climaxes. And, coming from theatre, that feels very true. On stage you get immediate response from your audience. Not so in writing. The waiting is the hardest part, and by the time you’re getting feedback on what’s in the stores, you’re two novels ahead, and can hardly recall writing that bit of dialogue people are talking about. The delay is going to take some getting used to.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.
Step one – The inspiration.
The initial inspirations have been, so far, in those flashes of connections between stories that exist, and ones that are untold. The origin of the Capulet-Montague feud was an untold story, and I had no care to write it until I discovered a line – a single line – that hinted at it. Montague’s line upon entering the tomb at the end of the show made no sense to me: “My liege, my wife is dead. Grief of our son’s exile hath stopped her breath.” Why was Lady Montague dead? And more, why did we care? She has three lines in the play, all in the first scene. We’re not invested in her at all – why does she get the final death?

I broke it down to parts – A death offstage, according to the rules of dramatic structure, is symbolic. The only thing that ends at that point is the feud – Capulet and Montague shake hands. So, I thought, Lady Montague’s death is symbolic of the end of the feud? That doesn’t make sense –
Unless she was the cause of the feud in the first place.
That was the initial inspiration. Something similar happened for the other series I’m planning.

Step two – Research, research, and more research. Everything you need is there – details, plot-points. Writer’s block has thus far been impossible for me, because whenever I’m stymied, I go back to the research and there’s an answer looking me in the face. So it’s an on-going process. The research never ends. God bless the internet and the Newberry Library.
Step three – The first draft. 5-8 hours a day, 2,000-8,000 words per day.
Step four – First cut. Trim away the excess, the over-phrasing.
Step five – The next draft. Fill in the narrative blanks.
Step six – repeat steps four and five until your editor tells you to stop.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
Finish this series, of course. That, in itself, will be a major accomplishment. And there wife and I have written the pilot and a few episodes for a TV series that I’d very much like to see produced.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
When I was nineteen I wrote a novel that I then tried to sell. I was easily discouraged by the half dozen rejections I received, and I stopped trying to put it out there. But, honestly, somewhere in my gut I knew it was not a good enough book. It was a hodgepodge of other people’s ideas that had impacted my life somehow, and structurally and thematically it was a mess.
It was another, what, seven years before I tried writing a novel again. But that early one was a novel I had to write, if only to get out of my own way. There was quite a bit of “me” in there, thinly disguised as fiction. That isn’t true of THE MASTER OF VERONA. I was recently asked who I would play in the film version, and I said I’d like a cameo, but honestly there’s no character that’s based on me. Which is something I’m quite proud of. The story is the story – but I couldn’t have written it without that early expression of who I was behind me.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
The joy when a scene surprises you is the best. The worst is when what you’re writing bores you. That’s when you need to rethink where you’re headed.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
More and more every day. My advice is get reviews and quotes from everyone you can think of. And don’t be afraid to give away copies.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
Yeah. A friend called me halfway through to say how much he liked the story. Then a few days later he called again and left me a message. “No. F******. Way.” He was shocked at how the story turned out. That is the pithiest version of what I’ve been hearing again and again – how surprising the end is. Which, of course, delights me.

Parting words?

Support your local theatres and bookstores. Thank you, and good night.