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Friday, March 30, 2007

Novel Journey's Interview with Linda Olsson

Linda Olsson graduated from the University of Stockholm with a law degree and from Victoria University of Wellington with a Bachelor of Arts in English and German literature. She has lived in Kenya, Singapore, Britain, and Japan and has been a permanent resident in New Zealand since 1990.

Ms. Olsson's debut novel, ASTRID & VERONIKA (Penguin Books), has been published in 6 countries and last month became available for sale in the U.S. A large grassroots movement for the novel has already started among American booksellers.

The novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two w

omen. Veronika, a young writer from New Zealand, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who gradually becomes a presence in Veronika’s life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Both women are harboring secrets, which they slowly reveal to one another as the year progresses and the seasons change. And what happens between them will change both of their lives forever. Set against a haunting landscape in the Swedish countryside, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters’ secrets are revealed.


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

I would like to mention Maurice Gee’s ‘Blindsight’, the latest, if perhaps not the all time best by my favourite New Zealand author. I am not sure if it has been released in the US, if not, it should! And I have just read ‘Death in Danzig’ by Stefan Chwin, a strange and absolutely wonderful book.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long did it take before your novel was published?

As you may know, my book was originally a postgraduate thesis at Auckland University. At the end of the one year course, my professor, the acclaimed author Witi Ihimaera, suggested I should try and get my manuscript published. I sent it to Penguin New Zealand, and three weeks later they rang to say that they would like to publish. As simple as that. Frighteningly easy – all good authors have been rejected. My book was subsequently published in Sweden, again too easily. I had approached the Swedish publisher Bonniers to ask for their help in locating the owners of the copyright to all the poetry that I had quoted in my book (as long as it was an academic thesis, copyright was not an issue). They were helpful, and at the end of our e-mail correspondence, they asked if they could see my manuscript. I sent it to them, and three weeks later they told me they would like to publish. I also found my brilliant US agent, Kathleen Anderson, by sheer luck. Luck is generally an important ingredient in the process of getting published, I think. Next after actually writing a manuscript, I suspect that luck might be the most important part.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Though I did not go about it in the most professional, or recommended way, it somehow worked. I probably made mistakes, but all in all everything has worked out so well that I have decided to dwell on what could have been even better.

When I realised I needed a US literary agent I drew on a friend of a friend. My good friend here in New Zealand told me she knew a literary agent in the UK and said I could contact her and ask her advice for some names in the US. She was very helpful and gave the names of four. I decided to try them in alphabetical order, starting with Anderson. Kathleen Anderson came back to me within the day and said that I didn’t need to send her more, she would be delighted to represent me. She went on to sell the rights in the US, Holland and the UK, and I think a few more are in the pipeline.

I have come to think that – apart from the fact that you do have to have a good manuscript – personal contacts, introductions and luck are vital ingredients in order to get published. It is very difficult to get a hearing, to be noticed and read. Particularly if you are from a small country far away. It is important to apply your creativity also to the process of getting published, a fact that many authors, particularly first time authors, may find difficult.

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

Difficult to say, because I have so often done the opposite to what I have been advised. I do think that it is good advice to learn the basics about how to present your manuscript and how approach publishers, i.e. what shape and form a manuscript should have, how to write a short and sharp synopsis, to do your homework and understand which publishers are likely to publish your type of manuscript etc.

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

To carry on right through to the end without ever looking back until you are finished. It might be good advice for some, for me that would be impossible.

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

I wish I had understood more about the technicalities of contracts, and been able to better evaluate how international rights are best handled.

What are a few of your favorite books?

An impossible question, the list keeps growing day by day. But here are some that have been with me a long time:

The Overcoat, by Nicolai Gogol – because all Western literature grew out of this little book
The Red Notebook, by Paul Auster – because I am also fascinated by chance
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka – because it never ceases to intrigue me
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Wolf – because she can make the seemingly trivial utterly significant
A Madman’s Defense, by August Strindberg – because he writes with fire – and he is Swedish
The Victim, by Saul Bellow – because he grabs your hand and pulls you in and you suffer and sweat with the main character

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

I am very proud of my short story ‘Someone to Watch over Me’, which won the coveted Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition here in New Zealand in 2003.

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

Most typical is a day when I sit and stare helplessly into my computer screen for hours on end without writing anything. Rereading what is already there, changing a word here and there, adding a comma... I am totally undisciplined and genetically predestined to procrastination. But when it happens, when the words flow, the feeling is almost trancelike. And wonderful.

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

I would like to be brave and write with total abandon like Franz Kafka.

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

I would like to write a novel drawing on my own experience of growing up in Stockholm, Sweden in the 50’s and 60’s.

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

Overall, it is such a privilege that it would be hard to think of anything negative. Other than the fact that it is difficult to live off your writing. The moment when you understand that as a writer of fiction you can create anything, you experience a miracle. Anything is possible. A drawback for me personally is that I am sometimes reluctant to leave my fictional world and return to the real one. With the novel I am writing at the moment I am extending a particular part day by day for purely selfish reasons, I think. I just don’t want to let it go. But eventually you have to, of course. The moment you give it away for others to read it is no longer yours. A bit like a child, perhaps. The day you realise your children are no longer children, that you will never again be able to kiss their dimpled buttocks or the soles of their feet (which you probably wouldn’t want to, even if you could), then everything shifts a little. You no longer have any influence, and you have to share your creation with others.

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

Within reason, I do whatever I am asked to do. By my agent, my publishers and the general public. I find it very rewarding and also challenging in a stimulating way. Discussing my novel with others, I am constantly intrigued by how much a reading experience is influenced by the reader. The text is the beginning, but each interpretation is fresh.

Parting words?

‘You write better as you age, that is the advantage with aging. Your brain may deteriorate, but not so you feeling for the language. In addition you get bolder and less inhibited.’

Göran Palm, Swedish political commentator and novelist, 1935

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Novel Journey Critiques

Remember, our suggestions are just that—suggestions. The wise author will use discernment and pick up what works for him/her and ignore what doesn't. Our hope is you and this author, who bravely subbed his/her work, will benefit.

Our critique code is as follows:
( ) = suggest deleting
[ ] = sugges adding
** = comments
gws=goes without saying
rue=resist the urge to explain
im= interior monologue

Original Chapter

Perhaps I’m a heathen but I don’t feel like going to church this morning. Not that I have anything else to do, and I didn’t do anything exciting last night that would give me an excuse to sleep in. Nothing fun ever happens in my life.

Maybe that’s the problem.

My days are fairly rote. I rise and go to work, then return home, have a quiet meal by myself, watch television, and by ten I’m in bed. If not earlier. Nothing changes in my life, it seems. Even my weekends are bland. I’ve gone to the same church for years, sat in the same pew, said hi to the same people, and nothing ever happens. Well, nothing out of the ordinary. If I weren’t scheduled to sing a special today, I’d consider going to another church. Some place that would give me a jolt, big enough to jumpstart my life.

The clock doesn’t seem to realize my dilemma; otherwise, it wouldn’t keep buzzing, reminding me to move. Move. I hate that word. But I force myself to roll out of bed, throw my blankets into place, and head for the shower. Lathering my body and hair feels like a chore. My arms are heavy. As I rinse, the spray works the kinks out of my tired muscles. I begin to feel better about the day, my life.

Toweling my hair dry, (my hair, another long, depressing subject) I go to my closet and study my choices. Clothes line the rack but I don’t have anything to wear. Nothing new—the story of my life. I think about wearing my blue dress, then cringe. I wore that last Sunday. I can just hear the gossip now—Doesn’t she have anything else? I know it sounds silly, but does anyone really keep track of how often you wear the same clothes? Is there someone assigned for that duty every week at church? Is there a clothes patrol? Do they track the styles of the day on their little attendance clipboard? “Oh, Susie is here and she wore that outfit last month . . . Checkmark.” In my mind, I know this sounds ridiculous, and would even be funny if I didn’t know that Pam could be the committee leader of the clothes patrol. She does keep track. Well . . . sort of. She’s my best friend, and I hate to mention this, but there have been days when she has leaned over and whispered, “Look at Mindy, didn’t she wear that same thing two weeks ago?” Or, “Look at Sally, isn’t that the same dress her mother wore at Thursday’s fellowship?” It wasn’t like a really big deal. I’m sure Mindy did her laundry at least once during those two weeks, and Sally probably just liked her mother’s dress. But if Pam recalled that information about Mindy and Sally, what do other people remember about me?

I struggle to remember what I’d worn two weeks ago as I sift through the clothes in my closet and wonder if I should call Pam for details. But that would alert her to my problem. I figure I can handle this and look at my clothes again. Whatever I wore to church two weeks ago leaves me drawing a blank. It’s as if my memory has been wiped clean. With a deep sigh, I consider posting an erasable board inside my closet and make a daily schedule for my clothes. I could call it my fashion menu. Then I could make sure each piece of clothing was worn at appropriate intervals so as to not offend the clothes patrol.

I finally decide on a fifties-style dress I purchased on EBay. It has frills around the hem and is hued in a delicious color that reminds me of elbow-dripping peaches. Kind of an orangey-yellowish-pink color. I’d bought it to kind of spice up my life and I love the style. To tone it down some, make it more suitable for a dowdy soul such as myself, I’d shortened the billowing sleeves and made a belt for it but I really can’t remember wearing it yet. And I’ve had it for months. Maybe I shouldn’t wear it; my inner angst agrees. But a girl has to spruce up her life sometime. Before I talk myself out of it, I take the dress out of the closet and lay it on my bed. Then I go and blow-dry my hair.

What an ordeal! My hair has a mind of its own! I clip the stubborn mop of straight, dishwater blond/brown nothingness back from my face, and am aghast at the sight. So I try spraying and molding, and ratting and curling. I get the back looking good and turn to find a Chow has taken residence in my mirror. I rinse my hair and begin again, only to pull it back in barrettes. Why people always compliment my hair, I’ll never know. After I dress and put on my makeup, (I only have to apply it twice), I twirl in front of the full-length mirror. In the dim light of my bedroom, I don’t look so bad. I like the way the ruffled hem flutters against my legs. It feels like silken caresses just below my knee. And the color seems to complement my complexion (what there is of it. Thank you, Almay.) It even seems to brighten the blond highlights I added to my otherwise mousey brown hair.

I look good. Not that any of the single guys at church will notice. Usually, I’m just part of the scenery, the part that no one really looks at, or they’ve grown so accustomed to me they pay no attention. I’m nothing special. Pam says it’s because I’m too quiet, that I won’t cross the room to talk to someone; I make them cross the room to talk to me. And guys don’t. They have enough girls willing to chase them that they have no interest in.

Ane's Critique

I love the voice and style of this, but it went on way too long. By the second paragraph, I've got the fact that she's down on herself. The ONLY thing that kept me reading was your voice. It's very good. But you need to condense the first 1000 words into about 300. The rest can be interspersed into the rest of the story, but let's get on with the action. What is the inciting incident? I felt like this was a large back story set into the present so I might not notice. BUT – all that said, be encouraged. You are a story-teller—a good one. You have a natural voice and wit that I like. Keep working. I believe you're going to make it.

Perhaps I’m a heathen[,] but I don’t feel like going to church this morning. Not that I have anything else to do, and I didn’t do anything exciting last night that would give me an excuse to sleep in. Nothing fun ever happens in my life.

Maybe that’s the problem.

My days are fairly rote. I rise and go to work, then return home, have a quiet meal by myself, watch television, and by ten I’m in bed. If not earlier. Nothing changes in my life, it seems. Even my weekends are bland. I’ve gone to the same church for years, sat in the same pew, said hi to the same people, and nothing ever happens. Well, nothing out of the ordinary. If I weren’t scheduled to sing a special today, I’d consider going to another church. Some place that would give me a jolt(,) big enough to jumpstart my life.

The clock doesn’t seem to realize my dilemma; otherwise, it wouldn’t keep buzzing, reminding me to move. Move. I hate that word. But I force myself to roll out of bed, throw my blankets into place, and head for the shower. Lathering my body and hair feels like a chore. My arms are heavy. As I rinse, the spray works the kinks out of my tired muscles. I begin to feel better about the day, my life.

Toweling my hair dry, (my hair, another long, depressing subject) I go to my closet and study my choices. Clothes line the rack but I don’t have anything to wear. Nothing new—the story of my life. I think about wearing my blue dress, then cringe. I wore that last Sunday. I can just hear the gossip now—Doesn’t she have anything else? **Okay, about this time, I'm getting a bit bored with all this. We got it already. There are some things you just need to condense, in my opinion. Now I LOVE your style and voice, so don’t get me wrong. I just think you could shorten the opening and move onto the inciting incident that is going to change her life. Then intersperse all these others into later bits. They're good, but too much for the opening. This paragraph is WAY too long.** I know it sounds silly, but does anyone really keep track of how often you wear the same clothes? Is there someone assigned for that duty every week at church? Is there a clothes patrol? Do they track the styles of the day on their little attendance clipboard? “Oh, Susie is here and she wore that outfit last month . . . Checkmark.” **New paragraph here**In my mind, I know this sounds ridiculous, and would even be funny if I didn’t know that Pam could be the committee leader of the clothes patrol. She does keep track. Well . . . sort of. She’s my best friend, and I hate to mention this, but there have been days when she has leaned over and whispered, “Look at Mindy, didn’t she wear that same thing two weeks ago?” Or, “Look at Sally, isn’t that the same dress her mother wore at Thursday’s fellowship?” It wasn’t like a really big deal. I’m sure Mindy did her laundry at least once during those two weeks, and Sally probably just liked her mother’s dress. But if Pam recalled that information about Mindy and Sally, what do other people remember about me?

I struggle to remember what I’d worn two weeks ago as I sift through the clothes in my closet and wonder if I should call Pam for details. But that would alert her to my problem. I figure I can handle this and look at my clothes again. Whatever I wore to church two weeks ago leaves me drawing a blank. It’s as if my memory has been wiped clean. **Again, the writing is good, the voice is good … the content here is overdone, too much. Remember, less is more. TRUST your reader to get it, and don't belabor a point** With a deep sigh, I consider posting an erasable board inside my closet and make a daily schedule for my clothes. I could call it my fashion menu. Then I could make sure each piece of clothing was worn at appropriate intervals so as to not offend the clothes patrol.

I finally decide on a fifties-style dress I purchased on EBay. It has frills around the hem and is hued in a delicious color that reminds me of elbow-dripping peaches. (Kind of an orangey-yellowish-pink color.)**This isn't needed. You just said peach, and then described peach. Use one or the other, not both. RUE** I’d bought it to kind of spice up my life and I love the style. To tone it down some, make it more suitable for a dowdy soul such as myself, I’d shortened the billowing sleeves and made a belt for it but I really can’t remember wearing it yet. And I’ve had it for months. Maybe I shouldn’t wear it; my inner angst agrees. But a girl has to spruce up her life sometime. Before I talk myself out of it, I take the dress out of the closet and lay it on my bed. Then I go and blow-dry my hair.

What an ordeal! My hair has a mind of its own! I clip the stubborn mop of straight, dishwater blond/brown nothingness back from my face, and am aghast at the sight. So I try spraying and molding, and ratting **Do they still use that term?** and curling. I get the back looking good and turn to find a Chow has taken [up] residence in my mirror. **LOL – GREAT line!!** I rinse my hair and begin again, only to pull it back in barrettes. Why people always compliment my hair, I’ll never know. **New paragraph**After I dress and put on my makeup, (I only have to apply it twice) **Ditch the parentheses and use an em dash to set this thought apart. The parentheses feel like author intrusion**, I twirl in front of the full-length mirror. In the dim light of my bedroom, I don’t look so bad. I like the way the ruffled hem flutters against my legs. It feels like silken caresses just below my knee. And the color seems to (complement)[compliment] my complexion **use an em dash here, too**(what there is of it. Thank you, Almay.) It even seems to brighten the blond highlights I added to my otherwise mousey brown hair.

I look good. Not that any of the single guys at church will notice. Usually, I’m just part of the scenery, the part that no one really looks at, or they’ve grown so accustomed to me they pay no attention. I’m nothing special. Pam says it’s because I’m too quiet, that I won’t cross the room to talk to someone; I make them cross the room to talk to me. And guys don’t. They have enough girls willing to chase them that they have no interest in.

Gina's Take

I agree with my partners that you have a nice voice--an unpretentious style. I also agree this was a bit long winded. The paragraphs could be broken up and I found myself wanting to skim to get to something more exciting. I'd follow Ane's advice. Make sure everything you write is for a reason and move the story along in the beginning as quickly as you can. If I'd picked this up in a bookstore, I'd have read the first paragraph interested, and by the third, would have set it back down. I squinted a lot because of the run on feeling of it all.

You've got tons of talent and a wonderful voice. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I see a lot of promise here.

Jessica's Take

I completely agreed with Ane. The voice was wonderfully done, but as Ane suggested, the opening needed to be condensed.

-- Not that I have anything else to do
-- I didn’t do anything exciting last night
-- Nothing fun ever happens in my life

These three thoughts all occur in the first paragraph.

Then in the third paragraph:

-- My days are fairly rote
--Nothing changes in my life
--. Even my weekends are bland

By the time you get to this line, (in the 5th paragraph) "Clothes line the rack but I don’t have anything to wear. Nothing new—the story of my life." The full enjoyment of the line is robbed, because the fact that "not much happens in her life" has been overstated. Otherwise, I would have found that line cleverly placed.

I suggest shifting the flow of that (5th) paragraph, so that when your protagonist is looking at the blue dress, she hears Pam in her head, and then having her launch into a thought about clothes patrol.

I would suggest trying to cut your word count by half and seeing how it reads. Thanks so much for submitting to us! You've got an amazing voice. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Following the Don Brown interview, Novel Journey is pleased to announce Mike Ehret won the lastest addition to Brown's Naval Justice Series, Defiance.

Novel Journey is also delighted to help two scribes. Please click on the link below and see the most creative announcement we've seen.

http://www.ritersbloc.com/surprise/announcement.htm

Author Interview ~ Janet Tronstad

One of Janet Tronstad’s favorite childhood memories is of borrowing Zane Gray novels from her grandfather’s bookshelf. "I still remember what it felt like to start reading a new book. It’s the same excitement I feel today when I start writing a new book.” She likes to write books that show people struggling with issues in their life and in their faith. Janet holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and was published in various national magazines before starting to write fiction.





What new book or project do you have coming out?

That would be “The Sisterhood of the Dropped Stitches,” the first book in my new series just out from Steeple Hill. I’m really excited about this one – the characters in the book, four young women who survive cancer, form a knitting group because they can’t bear to think of joining a cancer support group. Even after they are classified as survivors, they still meet to knit and talk about their lives. It’s during this time that the book begins and shows them trying to take back their lives. For instance, Marilee, the heroine of the first book, stopped dating when she found out she had cancer and didn’t start again until the beginning of the first book.

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

I had a good friend die of cancer and the ‘what if’, of course, was to think how her life would have been changed even if she had survived. From that, I moved the age downward until I thought of teenagers whose lives would really be disrupted by a life-threatening disease.

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 had been writing magazine articles for a long time before I seriously started to work on a novel. I also spent several years doing freelance writing for an ad agency. Both of those experiences helped me when I started to write novels. Still, I wrote two full novels before I wrote the one, “An Angel for Dry Creek,” that first sold. I found out about the sale when I got ‘the call’ from an editor at Steeple Hill. I was overjoyed that they were taking the book.

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

I’ve never really had writer’s block. I procrastinate, but that’s another story. Usually, if I sit down to write, I can put some words on the page. Some days those words aren’t worth much, but I tell myself that’s okay. I can re-write (which I do again and again anyway).

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

I have a big office desk in my third floor condo that looks out over an empty lot with lots of trees (a rarity in the middle of an urban area). I love to have the window open so I can hear the birds and the sounds of the squirrels running around the tree that is closest to my window.

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

I do have a mental expectation of how many pages make a good day and it varies depending on where I am in the book. In the beginning part of a book, I can only do three to five pages a day because I figure things out as I write the first part of the book. When I am in the middle of a book, I usually can do six to ten pages a day. When I get two-thirds through a book though I can generally write twenty pages a day.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I took a leap of faith and left my day job last year to focus on my writing so I am fortunate to have a fairly typical writing day. I spend the morning doing a few chores and my exercise routine. I generally start my writing time around noon. I take breaks every couple of hours and may do an errand or a load of laundry or something. I will write until dinner time and will take a longer break. I may go out to dinner with a friend or go to a church event or a meeting for my home owner’s association (I am on the Board of our association). If I have no other plans in the evening, I often write, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning.

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

I agree with the old adage that “there is only one rule in writing, unfortunately no one knows what it is.” The longer I write and the more I talk with other writers, the more I know that everyone does it differently. Related to that, the best advice would be to find out what works for you as a writer. I used to be intimidated by stories of writers who got up at four o’clock in the morning and wrote for four hours before they started their regular days. Now, I don’t worry about it. Those writers are in bed when I’m doing my best work so there’s really no difference.

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?

Something I learned when I was pitching to magazines, that I wish I’d known on day one of my writing, is that you can under-pitch yourself. In other words, don’t aim for the least of all your markets just because you don’t have the confidence to aim higher. While it is true that as a new writer you might not get the top market at first, there’s no reason you can’t get somewhere in the middle of your list.

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

I have done very little marketing and should do more.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you’re a writer, enjoy your time writing. I believe all writing effort is rewarded, not necessarily with publication, but with something internal that happens with writers when they write. You know it when you feel it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Award Series: Christy Award

Kelly Klepfer writes from the lovely state of Iowa. She tends to live in the even lovelier state of Denial. She is the mother of teens and young adults which may have something to do with the denial thing. Her husband loves to listen to her endless writing tales and he smiles and nods, a lot. She currently works on two novels and scads of articles and short fiction.




Eugene Peterson's profound words share the heart of the Christy Awards. "Authority and precedence for writing fiction comes from the Jesus who told stories. His stories, as good stories always do, penetrate our imaginations and take on a life of their own in us."

If you write Christian fiction, chances are you've heard of the Christy awards. Chances are also good that you'd like to receive that honor someday.

If you've already been awarded with a Christy, let me go on the record to a) congratulate you, and b) say "lucky!"

But luck has little to do with it.

What's a Christy Award, you might ask? Good question. Let me introduce you.

Christian fiction is young. In 1967 Catherine Marshall's, "Christy" became a groundbreaking novel which opened doors in Christian fiction.

Fast forward a few decades and enter a dozen or so publishers who met in the spring of 1999. This group of quality Christian-worldview-fiction-lovers felt the name "Christy Award" would honor the beloved heroine, her creator, dubbed by the New York Times as " America's most inspirational author," and Christian novelists who excel in their craft.

This honor and award was designed to:


*"Nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview.

*Bring a new awareness of the breadth and depth of fiction choices available, helping to broaden the readership.

*Provide opportunity to recognize novelists whose work may not have reached bestseller status."



Each year, publishers are invited to submit novels from a Christian worldview, and copyrighted in the year preceding the awards. The genre categories for Christy Awards include: Contemporary, Fantasy, Futuristic, Historical, Romance, Allegory, Suspense and First Novel.

A panel of seven judges made up of librarians, reviewers, academicians, literary critics and other qualified readers evaluate each entry based on a ten point criteria. The novel is rated on characterization, plot, theme, setting/atmosphere, mechanics, point-of-view, writing quality, passion and understanding. In order to win a Christy, a novel must score above 80% which ensures that the Christy Award is given as an indicator of quality.

In a 2004
Faith*in*Fiction interview, Donna Kehoe, the administrator of the Christy Award, stated the number of annually released CBA novels as 200 – 250. Publication in Christian fiction is challenging enough. The award of a Christy is a tremendous distinction.

Several Christy Award winners have been interviewed by Novel Journey, and some talented authors have been awarded this honor more than once.


Click on the Christy Award Website below to see past winners and nominees.
Information courtesy of the official
Christy Award website , Wikepedia, &
Faith*in*Fiction.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Interview with Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Journalist

Geraldine Brooks, Australian author and journalist, grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and after being educated by the nuns of her convent secondary school attended Sydney University and worked as a reporter for the city's major newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald.

She completed a Master’s Degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York City in 1983, and worked for the Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans.

Brooks married Tony Horwitz in Tourette-sur-loup, France, in 1984. They have one child and divide their time between homes in Virginia, United States and Sydney, Australia.


Her novel, Year of Wonders is a gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the "Plague Village," in the rugged mountain spine of England. In 1666, a tainted bolt of cloth from London carries bubonic infection to this isolated settlement of shepherds and lead miners. A visionary young preacher convinces the villagers to seal themselves off in a deadly quarantine to prevent the spread of disease. The story is told through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Anna Frith, the vicar's maid, as she confronts the loss of her family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As the death toll rises and people turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna emerges as an unlikely and courageous heroine in the village's desperate fight to save itself.


Ms. Brooks was awarded the 2006 Pulizer Prize for Fiction for her novel March.

From Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war leaving his wife and daughters to make do in mean times. To evoke him, Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father, a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

In Brooks’s telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near mortal illness, he must reassemble his shattered mind and body, and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.


[Click Here to Visit Ms. Brooks Website]


Is there an upcoming book or project you'd like to tell us about?

I have just finished another historical novel based on the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Hebrew manuscript created in Spain during the era of Christian-Muslim-Jewish Convivencia. It is titled People of the Book and will be published by Viking in January.


What brought about the desire to write fiction? Was it something you always knew you were going to write or was there a catalyst?

I was a foreign correspondent for many years, covering crises in Africa, the Mideast and the Balkans. When my son was born in 1996, I discovered I no longer wanted to go off on open-ended assignments to dangerous places. So I turned to the story that had taken hold of my imagination almost ten years earlier, when I’d visited the village of Eyam in the English Peak District and learned what happened there in the plague years.

How long does it take you to write a novel? Will you describe the steps you take in the writing and revisions?

There is no good answer to this one. It takes as long as it takes, and each book is different in that regard. Year of Wonders took less time than others simply because I had been chewing on it for ten years before I finally rounded up the courage to sit down and try to write it.

Because I use first person narrators my first task in beginning a novel is hearing the voice of the protagonist. So I read diaries and letters and so forth from the period. When I find the voice, it tells me who that person is, and that dictates the action of the plot. Then I know what I need to research. I do just enough research to keep writing, letting the story drive the research and not the other way around.

Which book are you most proud of? Why?

It’s like children. They are all special to me for different reasons.

Which book was the most difficult to write? Why?

“March” presented certain difficulties because the protagonist was male, and that required a different kind of imaginative, or empathic, leap. “People of the Book” spans many different cultures and periods as it follows the Haggadah from its creation in Spain to the present, so that was challenging in terms of finding a coherent narrative, and in the prodigious amount of research that was essential.

Tell us about winning the Pulizer Prize for fiction? What were your thoughts? What went through your head?

My first reaction, when an old colleague from the Wall Street Journal rang to tell me the news was “That’s impossible Ken, I haven’t done any journalism this year.” The idea that “March” might be considered, much less win, hadn’t even occurred to me.

Sol Stein argues in his writing books that the writer must never lose sight that they are writing for an audience, while William Zinsser advises writers not to envision "the great mass audience" but write primarily to please yourself. When you're writing, where do you fall on this scale?

I write what I like to read. I write the best book I have in me at the time.

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

I have been very fortunate in making the transition from daily journalism, to non-fiction (“Nine Parts of Desire” and “Foreign Correspondence”) and then in making the leap to fiction. My books have found an audience, and I continue to be gobsmacked by my luck to be able to continue to do this.

Do you still experience self-doubts about your writing?

Of course! Every day.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long did it take before your novel was published?

My career wasn’t that typical. I was approached by an agent when I was still working as a newspaper reporter. I had a high profile beat, covering the first Gulf war. After some discussion I decided to take a leave from that job to write the book that eventually turned out to be Nine Parts of Desire. That book, about women and Islam, was very much a journalist’s book, entirely factual, based on my own six year journey to understanding as a western feminist set down among women who lived very different lives to the one I knew. It sold well and so paved the way for the next book, ‘Foreign Correspondence.’ I wasn’t sure if I could make the transition to fiction. I wrote four or five chapters of “Year of Wonders,” and my wonderful agent very quickly found a publisher based on that.

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

“When there’s no wind, row.”

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


Plot doesn’t matter.

What sort of novel draws you?

A wide assortment: Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead, Andre Makine’s Dreams of My Russian Summers, Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces, Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music. Anything by Jane Austen, Brian Hall or Clare Messud or Ian McEwan or Rose Tremain or Salley Viccars…I could go on….and…on…..

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


The only way to do it, is to do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission to write. Writers are luckier than filmakers or actors or architects--you don’t need producers, you don’t need clients. It’s just you, alone in your room. Nothing stopping you except yourself.

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

I write when my son is at school. It’s a habit I got into when he was little, that the school day became my work day. Now he has his own busy life after school and doesn’t need me hovering, but I still tend to knock off then and do other things—gardening, cooking, dog walking—the domestic things I couldn’t do all the years I was a foreign correspondent with no fixed address…

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

Shakespeare’s deep understanding of the human soul.


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

A book like “Silent Spring” that changed the way people lived on the Earth.

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

It is all good, a great privilege.

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

I do whatever my publishers tell me! I actually love getting out of my room for a month or two and connecting with readers in far flung places. But flying around the US has become a real chore since 9/11…

Parting words?

Please keep reading. The world of books is humanity’s most singular achievement.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sunday Devotion: Giving it away

Janet Rubin

I can’t remember a time when I did not believe in God. When I was little, mom told me that He was there, He loved me, and that I could talk to him. I thought that was neat.


One thing I couldn’t get excited about though was Heaven. It just seemed, well, boring. Sitting around on clouds, hanging around singing with a bunch of people (even cool people like Moses, Samson, and Noah), for eternity wasn’t my idea of something to look forward to.

In one Sunday school class I remember a teacher telling us something that made Heaven seem a bit more promising: when we arrived there, she said, we’d get crowns. Well, I could dig that idea. A real, gold, jewel-studded tiara just like Cinderella wore, gracing my head. That would be something. My excitement deflated at her next revelation: “We’ll all throw our crowns at Jesus’ feet.”

Say what? I get a crown and have to give it right back? What fun is that? That’s like donating all your Christmas presents to Good Will the day you unwrap them. Why would Jesus give us crowns if He doesn’t want us to keep them?

Honestly, this image troubled me not only in childhood, but through the years. But as I’ve pursued my writing, I think I’ve come to understand a bit more. A talent for writing is a gift. If I have a passion in my heart for writing, I only have it because it has been given to me by my Creator.

When I write, doing my very best and seeking God to lead me on, I am giving the gift back. Casting my crown at His feet. Then the Holy Spirit can use the returned gift to work in others’ lives. When I see someone blessed by something I wrote, or when I feel that God is pleased with me, I am filled with joy.

Sometimes I selfishly insist on wearing the crown. Swelled with pride I desire to receive praise, to be admired. I want the glory and I want to write whatever I want and plan my own writing destiny. This is folly. The crown weighs heavy on my head. Its jewels grow dull and lose their glitter. Any praise I receive leaves me feeling empty. Inevitably, my plans crumble.

The crown wasn’t meant for me to keep. It was given so I can give it back, and so God can use it as He pleases. In giving it back, I don’t experience a sense of loss, but rather of joy and excitement as I wait to see what He’ll do.

And Heaven? I look forward to it now. The One who made all that we see had surely prepared for us more that we could ever imagine. I can’t wait to see the ultimate Creative One and cast my crown at His feet.

1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"

Lord, Thank You for the gift of writing. I know this gift is not just for me to clutch to myself, but to share. Help me to offer it back to You daily and to trust You with the results. Allow me the blessing of knowing You are proud of me and of seeing others drawn closer to You. Amen.

The Writing Spouse

I imagine it must be very difficult being married to a writer.

First, we're prone to days of inspiration and days where there's nothing happening. I don’t know about you, but if affects my moods. If I nail 5K words during my writing time, I'm in a much better mood.

Second, it doesn't look like we're working when we are. I'm accused of laughing out loud when I'm writing, which is good because it means I found the humor I use to balance the more gothic tone of my trilogy. However, it doesn't bolster the image that I'm hard at work.

Third, depending on your personality type, your real life and your writing life can compete heavily for your time. Often times my mind will choose a date or a talk with my sister to suddenly show me the next path in my story. I've learned to school my face and thoughts or get asked, "You're thinking of your book, aren't you?"

I hear all sorts of stories that go from husband and wives hating that their spouse writes to incredibly supportive spouses. As for my husband, he's an artist himself and uplifts me before others, so despite the occasional tug-of-war for my time, I knew he understands the path I'm on. I use to think I'd never find a way to balance home, career, mom, wife, and writer. But slowly a balance is starting to emerge.

What about you guys?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Preparing for Writers Conferences, by Rebeca Seitz

With many of us preparing for the upcoming Mt Hermon Christian Writers Conference, I thought I’d spend a few minutes today discussing the preparation for a writer’s conference.
Whether you’re an aspiring novelist or a writer with 10 published books to your credit, there are some things that never change about writer’s conferences.


First, always bring comfortable shoes. I have the hardest time following this most basic instruction because (say it with me, ladies) I LOVE SHOES! Sequins, colors, ribbons, and bows – shoes are such an easy way to express your individuality without the annoying hassle of permanence and needles that come with tattoos. But let my years of blisters be a warning to everyone: the writer’s conference is not the time to show off your new kitten heel sling-backs. Find two pairs of comfortable shoes (because I’ve yet to find a shoe that is still comfortable after four constant days of wear) and think of them as your conference shoes. I recommend ones with good arch support and strong construction. Wear them around your house for the entire day and then evaluate that night.

Second, have business cards available. Even if you have no published work to your name, you’ll still need to provide your contact information to the people you meet at conference. While I don’t use them, several authors have recommended
VistaPrint in the past, so check there.

Third, drink water! At the conference, it’s easy to get caught up in being surrounded by other people who see the world through an author’s eyes. Sitting in a roomful of like-minded individuals is a heady experience! But don’t forget your body’s basic need for water in all the hubbub. When you first arrive at the conference facility, find the gift shop or snack shop so you’ll know where to get water. (Most conferences now also provide water to attendees throughout the event.)

Fourth, pack your Bible. I know, I know, it should go without saying that Christian writers will pack their Bibles for a Christian writer’s conference. Since I’m the one who always forgets the most basic things, I thought I’d better add that little tidbit.

Fifth, pack breath mints. Sitting in a workshop for an hour after eating granola and bananas for breakfast can wreak havoc on your breath. Pop a couple of mints, though, and you’re ready to sit down with an editor or agent at a moment’s notice!

Finally, pray – right now, when you board the plane or get in the car, when you arrive at the conference, and every day throughout it – pray for God’s will to be done in your personal and professional writing life. Ask for His direction to supercede your own. And then rest in the knowledge that He listens to His children and promises them the life abundant in His riches.

Happy conferencing!

Critique the Critiquer

Just to be fair, we figured we'd give you a chance to slash us, er, I mean help us improve our work. This chapter is Gina's. It's excerpted from a novel rejected across the board by CBA publishers and is now shelved. It was her second manuscript. She's currently at work on number five.

What stands out to you which could be improved? We'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Don't worry, Gina's skin is even thicker than her skull.

A Demon, a Diva and a Dog Named Dirk

The psychiatrist scribbled something in the notebook resting on his crossed knee. “What made you finally call me?”

Valencia Shannon lay on her back, trying to ignore the lumps of couch cushion jutting into her spine. She gazed at the particles of dust frolicking in a stream of sunlight filtering in through the A-framed ceiling’s wood beams. “Before she died, my Mom told me if the voice ever came back, she’d take me to see you. That any other doctor would label me schizophrenic and wrap me in a straight-jacket.”

She propped herself onto her elbow and faced him. “Well, it’s back.” As she waited for him to say something insightful, she eyed a painting of a man riding a winged horse into the blazing sun … upside down. She turned to look at another painting, this one of a mother cradling an infant, also facing south. Craning her neck, she scanned the room. A half-dozen oil paintings, all expensive looking, all framed in gilded gold … all hanging upside down.

The doctor cleared his throat in an exaggerated manner, then tossed his notebook across the cocktail table, knocking over a small potted ivy. Dirt flecked with white spilled over a yellowed National Geographic. “You’re insane.”

The heat of anger mixed with embarrassment set a fire under her and she bolted upright, planting her feet on the thread-worn rug. “Excuse me?”

The psychiatrist peered over his finger-smudged bifocals at her, looking as bored as a human could stand. “That wasn’t one of your auditory hallucinations, Ms. Shannon, I said you’re nuttier than a Snickers bar.”

She wrinkled her face in horrified disbelief. It had taken all the courage she had to admit she heard things no one else did. Terrible, frightening, things. After twenty-two years of denial, she finally mustered the courage to tell someone, other than her late-mother, that she was different than other girls. His reaction was the one she feared most.

I shouldn’t have come.

Tears threatened to strangle her words. “That’s not what you told my mother.”

The over-sized plaid chair he sat in made him seem even scrawnier than his one hundred fifty pound frame. He un-crossed his polyester covered legs and didn’t bother to cover his yawn. This rude twerp was the man her mother shared her secrets with?

He stared at her with eyes a little too close set, magnified to twice their actual size by thick lenses. Maybe she was missing something. If Mom felt comfortable with him, then he had to be all right, didn’t he? Yet her instincts screamed that this was all wrong. He was all wrong.

“If your mother heard voices, then she was loony too.”

“What do you mean if?”

She threw a glance at the desk littered with stacks of ancient, leather-bound books and re-read his brass nameplate just to be sure—Dr. Bartholomew Stein. Maybe there was more than one psychiatrist in Arlington by that name? “You don’t remember my mother, Kelly Shannon?”

He sucked in his lips then blew them back out, making an unexpected display of raspberries. She thrust back to avoid being soaked by his flying spittle. He jerked his head back and forth on his narrow shoulders like a human pendulum. “Kelly … jelly … welly … Kelly.” Without warning, he jumped up, threw his arms out airplane-style, and began ‘flying’ around the room.

All hope of his assistance dissolved. She grabbed her coat and bag and headed for the door. “If I’m a Snickers, you’re a Payday.”

As she reached for the knob, the door swung open and a white-haired man dressed in a thick cardigan and fat, brown tie stared back at her. “Sorry I’m late, Valencia.” His gaze darted from her, to the askew paintings, finally resting on the human 747. His tone took on a crisp edge. “Marvin, what have we talked about?”

The plane landed.
“I’m just filling in. Marvin likes to help. Marvin likes to pretend.”

The white-haired man, Valencia now presumed to be the real Dr. Stein, shot her an apologetic glance, then headed toward the painting ahead of him and turned it upright. “I know Marvin likes to help, but I’ve asked Marvin,” he hung his head for the briefest moment, then turned around, “—you—I’ve asked you twice before not to enter my office. You’re job is to simply ask patients to sign the book and have a seat.”

Marvin jutted an accusatory finger in her direction. “She’s crazy. She hears voices.”

The doctor pushed Marvin’s finger down. “Not everyone who hears voices is crazy, Marvin.”

“Marvin hears voices.”

Dr. Stein gently lifted the glasses off him. “Though some are.”

“Marvin feels sad.”

The doctor drew a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed the lenses clean. “That’s called remorse. It’s normal and shows me you’re sorry.”

Marvin looked up with wide, adoring eyes. “I’m normal?”

Dr. Stein slid his bifocals on and blinked at Marvin an uncomfortably long time. “It’s normal to be sorry for something you’ve done wrong. And this was wrong, Marvin. One more time and I’m going to have to let you go.”

“I’m not fired then?”

“The next time you impersonate me, you will be.”

Marvin’s grin threatened to split his face. He gave one more celebratory flight around the room, zig-zagging between the couch, chairs and finally circling Valencia as she clenched her arms to her side to avoid being hit. Dr. Stein held the door open and Marvin tilted his wings, then made a bizarre exit.

Dr. Stein locked the door behind him and turned to Valencia, his brow creased with concern. “I should know better than to leave my door unlocked. Did he do much damage?”

“He told me I was nuttier than a Snickers.”

Shaking his head, his expression hinted of mirth. “If you’re a Snickers, he’s a Payday.”

She set her purse back down. “That’s exactly what I said!”

A dimple on his left cheek sank into white stubble. “Great minds think alike.” He paused and gave her an odd, scrutinizing look. “You bear an uncanny resemblance to your mother … I miss her.”

Her stomach tightened. “So do I.”

He held out his arm toward the tattered, burgundy sofa, sending a hint of Old Spice her way. “Please have a seat.”

Following his direction, she made her way back to the couch.

He sat in the chair Marvin occupied earlier, though it didn’t swallow him as it did the smaller man. His mouth twisted into a cross between grin and grimace. “So, you’re ready to admit you have the gift?”

Valencia licked her lips, tasting the strawberry of her gloss. “Gift?”

He chuckled, shaking his head as though remembering bygone times. “That’s what your father called it anyway.”

“What did my mother call it?”

His smile died. “A curse.”

She took in a deep breath, filling her lungs with the freshest air she’d had in a very long time. Mom may have tolerated her calling, but she hadn’t embraced it either. The thought gave Valencia surprising comfort. Memories played in her mind like an old movie-reel. The countless times she had to make excuses to friends who saw her “talking to herself”. The guidance counselor she had to convince that she’d only been joking when she told her friend that she heard voices. No, not voices, just one. “I’m ready to admit the voice I hear may be real.”

“That’s a start.” He looked down, his chin nearly touching his sternum, a wisp of white hair flopping forward from his head.

The tick of the cuckoo clock hanging above his chair measured the passing time. When seconds turned into minutes, her impatience ebbed. “What are you doing?”

He peered up with glistening eyes. “I’m praying for you, Ms. Shannon. You’ll need all the help you can get.”

She wrung her hands together and studied him, hoping to gauge his meaning without having to ask.

Suddenly he stood and tugged on the hem of his cardigan to pull it back over his rounded belly. “Our time’s up.”

Warmth flooded over her. “But I have an hour appointment.”

“Sorry, but Marvin needs me.” As soon as the words left his mouth, a dramatic sob bounded from the other side of the closed door.

“How did you—”

He unbuttoned his sweater, removed it, and slid it over the shoulders of his desk chair. “I’m not psychic, Valencia, I’ve treated Marvin long enough to know the sequence of his episodes. We’ll talk again. Please make an appointment with my secretary on your way out.”

She squinted at him. “But, isn’t that Marvin?”



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Author Interview ~ Valerie Hansen



Valerie Hansen's books reflect her growing faith and a joyful appreciation of the life the Lord has always provided for her, even when she didn’t have a clue what was going on - which was most of the time. And it still is! She believes in happy endings, endless possibilities, perseverance, romance, and looking for the best in every situation. She loves her family, friends, animals of all kinds, gardening, chocolate, and writing the books of her heart. Now, if chocolate weren’t fattening, life would be just about perfect.

What new book or project do you have coming out?

In 2007 I’m scheduled for four releases so far. In Jan. there is the “Love Inspired Classic” featuring 2-in-1 reprints of SECOND CHANCES and LOVE ONE ANOTHER, two of my earlier titles.




In May I have DEADLY PAYOFF, book #5 in the “Secrets of Stoneley” series, a Love Inspired Suspense.

Then, in June comes SHADOW OF TURNING, also a Love Inspired Suspense but set in rural Arkansas in the fictitious town of Serenity, as are many of my other books. Sept. 2007 brings me back to Love Inspired Romance with A TREASURE OF THE HEART, again set in rural Arkansas.

And that’s just 2007. I have more scheduled for publication in 2008, including my first Love Inspired Historical.

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

Many of my contemporary titles are based on the small town life in “Serenity”, while the series books take me to many different places. Those are a challenge but fun because I get to work with five other authors to make the series fit together, although each book must also stand alone.

DEADLY PAYOFF is about one of six sisters whose mother has been missing for most of their lives. It’s a fascinating premise.

Then, in SHADOW OF TURNING, I deal with a storm-chasing meteorologist and an antique dealer. I’ve been personally certified as a “Severe Weather Storm Spotter” by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and that training led to some of the basics in this book.

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

I’ve been writing for some time but the first Love Inspired contract was still special. I had felt for some time that I belonged in Christian publishing and had been studying the market. I had an appointment with an editor at a Memphis writer’s conference and had planned to pitch a historical ms. when I was told that that editor had just been assigned to head the new Love Inspired line! I had the appointment before she even had the job!

In the thirty minutes I had to prepare, I managed to pull my thoughts together and convince her I could provide exactly what she was looking for. That was in 1998 and I’ve been writing for that line ever since.

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

Writer’s block can be tricky. I either hike in the woods behind my house or ride my bike or exercise or vacuum --- anything to free up my mind and relax. If none of those thing work I sit down at my computer and just write!

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

My husband built a room onto our old renovated farm house and I work there. Best of all, he’s retired and has discovered that he loves to cook so I’m free to concentrate on writing.

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

No. Daily goals don’t work for me. When I have a contract for a book I’m obsessed until I finish it. Then I take a little time off before starting another project.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I stay up late and start my day later than most. I’m usually done checking email by 10 am and then open my files to start work. My most productive times are afternoons.

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

READ. I dedicated reader has all the tools she needs to write, even if she does have to bone up on English and punctuation a bit.

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 was very naïve at the beginning. If I had dreamed how hard it was to break into the business I might not have tried. By the time I figured it out, I was already published!

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

I keep a personal website at
www.ValerieHansen.com and try to update it regularly, although it does sometimes suffer when my contract schedule is too full. Beyond that, I answer all my fan mail myself and do autographing when asked.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Looking back on my writing career I’m struck by the way things have fallen into place for me. Why? I believe it’s because I was ready. Prepared. I wish I could remember where I heard this quote so I could attribute it to the proper source but I love it. “Success is when preparation meets opportunity.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tribute to Author Jane Orcutt

Novel Journey would like to pay tribute to the passing of acclaimed author Jane Orcutt. Jane finally lost her battle with cancer on Sunday, March 18th and went home to be with our Lord.

Jane was the author of four novels and two novellas. The Fugitive Heart and The Hidden Heart have both been finalists for the prestigious Rita Award. The Hidden Heart was also a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award.

A valued member of ACFW, Jane will be sorely missed by her fellow authors. Our heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to her husband and two sons.

Every Time I Look at You I Go Blind

Gina Holmes

Every time I look at you, I go blind.

That’s a line from my favorite Hootie and the Blowfish song. He, of course, is singing about romantic love--I naturally have a writing related spin.

I recently wrote a scene for my WIP, (work in progress). I read it. I edited. I reread it. I re-edited. It was now scintillating/marvelous/fantabulous and I sent it through to my critique partners. They read it. They shredded it. I reread it. I tossed it.

Why couldn’t I see the fatal flaws they pointed out with ease? Because every time I look at my own work, I go blind. I’m too close to it. I can’t see what the reader truly sees. I need help. Wait, that didn’t come out quite write: I need writing help. (And yes, probably other kinds too--hush, Ane.)

I have some incredible critique partners whose opinion I respect every bit as much as my agent’s or editors. You see, I’ve read their writing and well, they rock. Over the years they’ve improved my craft more than anything else. More than a hundred conferences could have. Though they’ve never exactly said, “Gina this truly sucks”, they don’t sugar-coat either. And the best part about this small group of writers? They aren’t blind when they read my work, as I am.

Yes, we at Novel Journey are PRO critique group. With a capital P. We’ve of course had critters come and go who did nothing but try to edit the life out of our work, but we’re discerning and know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. We’ve filed our personal group down to a very small number of those who are the least blind when they read our work. Getting an occassional, “great writing” is wonderful, but when there is no red ink on the white page again and again, we can assume one of two things: the editors rejecting our work don’t know perfection when they see it OR (and I lean heavily this way), our critique partners are blind themselves.

I know some great writers work very well solo, but for those of you who don’t seem to be growing in the craft as fast as you feel you ought to be, or want to be, do yourself a huge favor and form or get with a good critique group. You may think if everyone is on the same level, it’s a case of the blind leading blind, but that’s not so. Ane, Jess and I have been together for years. We started green together but have grown each other up in craft very well. You see, Ane has a wonderful sense of story and character motivation, Jess is the queen of description and I’m great at diaologue and metaphors. We compliment each other and fill one another’s gaps.
If you could see how poor my descriptions were two years ago ... The difference was Jess taking the time to teach me how to paint a scene. If you could see the juvenile mistakes I made three years ago… but Ane taught me the basics and I in return taught them to tighten up and sprinkle into their manuscripts, a few talking whales.

Where can you find a good critique group? Make your own. Go to Yahoo groups and sign up to be a group. It’s ridiculously easy and fast. Then keep your eyes out for writers who might want to hook up and pass papers, then invite them. Some will say no, some will say yes. You only need a few. Our experience is that you’ll get way more than you need. Then, after you have your posse, put your walking sticks away (you’ve been whacking people left and right), form a single file line, hold hands and lead each other down the road that leads to stellar writing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Author Interview ~ Don Brown revisited

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Don Brown, a former Navy JAG Officer and the author of Zondervan's Navy Justice Series, is founder of Brown and Associates, PLLC. Don received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina and is proud to be a lifelong Tar Heel fan. Following his years at Carolina, Don went on to receive a Juris Doctor degree from Campbell University School of Law. He continued his studies at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island earning the Navy's nonresident certificate in International Law.






Tell us a little about your latest release, Defiance.


Defiance, the third novel in my Navy Justice Series, is set to be released at a time when America’s most talked-about senator is making moves that parallel one of the main characters in his book.

Senator Eleanor Claxton is a US presidential hopeful trying to gain support by attacking JAG officer Zack Brewer for prosecuting
a sailor charged with homosexual assault on board a U.S. Navy submarine. Locked in a political cliffhanger against conservative Southern Democrat Roberson Fowler, she must win California to win the democrat presidential nomination.

To do that, she needs liberal support in the San Francisco Bay area to tip California into her camp. Ruthless in her quest for power, she pulls out all the stops to get what she wants. The circumstances aren’t exactly the same as Senator Hillary Clinton’s, but Claxton and Clinton share similar political views.

Based around the life of Lieutenant Commander Zack Brewer, Defiance picks up where my second novel, Hostage, left off.

Several themes in Defiance relate to current political happenings. Worldwide conflict, mysterious deaths, hostages – we hear about all this on a daily basis in America. Defiance touches on some controversial themes, but that’s okay in my opinion. Fiction that steers from controversy is bland. Hopefully, Defiance will be anything but bland.


How many books do you think there will be in this series?

The contract currently calls for a total of five. Book 4, which has already gone to the publisher, is tentatively scheduled for release in the December 07-January 08 timeframe. My agent, Steve Laube, has not yet had discussions with Zondervan on whether they will wish to extend this particular series beyond that, or go in another direction. The series could be extended because I think there are a number of colorful characters who have been introduced already in the series whose lives would make fascinating storylines. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. I’m constantly getting emails, however, from folks who say they want more in the series, and for that I’m grateful. We’ll see what happens.

What are the benefits of writing this type of series? Is there a downside?

I think perhaps the biggest benefit, Gina, is that there is a natural, built-in interest in the contemporary events of the world which surround us, particularly in legal and geo-political affairs. So the premise of these novels tends to pique the reader’s curiosity, I think. The downside? I can’t really think of a downside.


Do you get bored writing the same characters in multiple books?

If the characters were boring, then I might get bored. But if the characters are exciting, then no, I don’t get bored. Therefore, the challenge is to create exciting characters who, like Tom Clancy’s fabled Jack Ryan, or or Al Gansky’s venerable J.D. Stanton, can withstand the test of time and reappear in subsequent novels with zest, appeal, and dramatic flair. I like to think that Zack Brewer, the quintessential “Super JAG,” has sufficient staying power to accomplish this over the course of multiple novels. But ultimately, my readers will be the judge of this supposition.

Above and beyond that, each of my novels introduce new characters who may or may not reappear subsequent novels. For example, in Treason, there was Zack’s sweet and deep-thinking paralegal Amy Debenedetto, an enlisted woman whose feelings for Zack crossed the tabooed line of officer-enlisted relationships. And then there was the power brokering, Boss-Hog politician Senator Roberson Fowler, who tried pulling Zack out of the JAG Corps with a guaranteed promise of a congressional seat in Louisiana.

In Hostage, we meet two strong female leads in NCIS Agent Shannon McGilverry and the brilliant and gorgeous JAG Officer, Lieutenant Commander Wendy Poole, who sets her big blue eyes on Zack, much to Diane Colcernian’s chagrin.

In Defiance, Senator Eleanor Claxton and her cronies appear on the scene to torment Zack and impose their will on America. And you will meet Chris Reynolds, a deranged stalker who oh-so delicately indulges himself by carefully eating the crème from his Oreo cookies as he obsesses over Eleanor and plots against Zack.

In Book Four, tentatively entitled The Black Sea Affair, remember this name. Lieutenant Commander Pete Miranda, United States Navy. Pete Miranda is a hotshot Chilean-American sub commander who must make some very difficult life-and-death choices, with the spectre of nuclear war hanging in the balance. Wait till you see how Zack gets involved in all this.

I guess I say all that to say that no, there’s been nothing boring at all about this writing odyssey. These characters, who just seem to have appeared out of nowhere, have kept things pretty exciting for me.


You're an incredibly busy guy, three children, law practice, running marathons, etc. How do you stay disciplined enough to meet your deadlines and market yourself?

Ah. You asked about my marathon! On December 9, 2006, at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, I ran my first. I’m glad you mentioned it, because I’d like to plug fellow Zondervan author, the dynamic and talented Brandilyn Collins, for unknowingly helping to provide the inspiration for this.

Here’s how it came down the pike. A couple of years ago, I was invited to a writers’ retreat up at Zondervan in Grand Rapids.

Finding myself sitting around the table with some of the biggest names in Christian Fiction – Al Gansky, James Scott Bell, Terri Blackstock, Davis Bunn, Gil Morris, Robin Lee Hatcher, Brandilyn Collins, just to name a few – I wondered “what in the world am I doing here?” Perhaps an administrative error, I rationalized, or perhaps exceptionally loving benevolence on the part of my wonderful publisher. Whatever the reason, I was happy to be there, because the opportunity for fellowship and learning was immense.

At an intimate weekend setting like that, you get to know everybody quite well. And soon it became obvious that there was one athlete in our midst – Brandilyn.

First thing every morning, when everyone else was up feasting on sausage and gravy and hashbrowns and bacon and pancakes, Brandilyn was nowhere to be found. Why? Because like a machine, she was out on her daily five-mile run through the cold, Michigan morning air.

In my
younger years, I was a more dedicated runner, having done several half-marathons. But then, I got out of the Navy, and discovered an activity known as the “power lunch.” Needless to say, I’d gotten out of running.

Well that weekend, one of the thoughts that entered my mind was “If Brandilyn can do this, then why can’t I get back into it?”

I wrestled with that question for about another year nine months or so, and then one day, I just downloaded a six month marathon training schedule off the internet and started on it.

Now will I ever do another one? Don’t know. It took me about six hours to run the 26.2 mile route, and I remember that that evening I couldn’t walk. I discovered that eating sushi was good prep food for the marathon. In fact, I ate a bit of sushi beforehand. So the evening after I finished the run, I remember a runner leaving my hotel that night to go get me sushi and cold beverages, as I lay helpless in bed in my room all night long.

Still, it was a neat feeling to cross that finish line. Thanks to Brandilyn for helping to inspire.

Back to the question. I suppose doing all these things that your question presupposes that I do is really an issue of time management. I wouldn’t describe myself as a great time manager at all. But we get the things done that are at the top of our priority list. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the sheer number of items on a checklist. But we just have to prioritize the importance of the items on that list, the roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s no magic solution to time management. At least if there is, I haven’t discovered it.




If you could go back and speak to the Don Brown who was attending his first writer's conference, green and full of hope, what advice would you give him about the future?

It’s okay to be green and full of hope. But being green and full of hope alone won’t put the mayonnaise on the salami sandwich. Like my granddaddy said, “the best ability is stickabilty.” And like Bo Jackson said, “just do it.”

So here’s the advice that I’d give a younger, green and full of hope Don Brown. First, go buy and read Write Great Ficton: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Then, read On Writing by Stephen King. Then, whatever Bell and King tell you to do, just do it. And every day, make sure you stick

What do you know now, that you didn't know when you first published?

I now know that the business and marketing end of the publishing industry is a whole different ball of wax from writing and editing. Getting a publishing contract is just the first step. Marketing a book is yet another job in and of itself. I’ve also learned that unless your name is John Grisham, and mine isn’t, that many publishers prefer a series as opposed to stand alone novels, at least at first. In theory, I suppose that a series may help to build name recognition for a previously unknown author – a category which I definitely fall into – whereas a stand alone novel may not do that so much.

You made some radio commercials to publicize this series to the
military. Has that paid off?

We ran some radio spots in 2005 in conjunction with the release of Treason, the first novel in the series. Because these are Navy novels, we tried being selective, and targeted our two largest naval cities, the Ports of Norfolk and San Diego.

It’s hard to quantify to what extent these paid off, but I did a book signing in Virginia Beach shortly after the spots ran, and that was very well-attended. So I like to think there was a cause and effect there. If you’d like to hear one of the commercials, you can go to my agent
Steve Laube’s website , and click on the mp3 file to hear it.


What do you do to continue to grow in the craft?

Reading and writing every day. There’s no substitute for this formula.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just started Russka, by the British author Edward Rutherford. This is a sweeping historical fiction novel about Russia. It looks to be quite literary, and I think it will be an interesting read.

Your first novel was a historical love story yet to be published.
Do you think you'll stay with suspense or continue to dabble in other genres?

Thanks for asking. My first novel, Destiny, is a World War II Historical fiction which is not yet under contract, although I’m grateful that my publisher is now taking a look at it. It’s interesting that Destiny, which as you point out has not yet been published, and Treason and Hostage have both received some fleeting movie interest. Of course I take all that movie stuff with a grain of salt. But I do hope Destiny will be under contract soon, because frankly, I think it’s my most powerful storyline.

Obviously I love historical fiction and also love writing suspense. I’ve had some talks with my agent, Steve Laube on this very question. I’d like to be able to write both, if possible. Whether I write one or the other, or both, I want to keep writing against a military backdrop. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

Walk us through your creative process of writing a novel, from the initial idea to the finished product.

There are generally two schools of thought here. First, some novelists outline their novels down to the detail, then start writing. Others, like the famous novelist Stephen King, adopt the “let it flow approach.” In other words, they just sit down at the laptop, close their eyes, hum a little bit, and then let her rip.

Although I’m more in the “let it flow” camp, I’m not totally there. First, unless you’re John Grisham, that is with such supreme name recognition whereby the pubisher will publish anything you write, most publishers ask for a proposal with at least the basic ideas about the novel’s storyline.

In my case, I’m not organized enough to use a detailed outline and it would probably cramp my style anyway. I do, however, like to use a short story format, which serves as a “big picture” roadmap as I write.

For example, the short story may contain a line like, “when Sally murders Bob with a pistol, she sets out to destroy all the evidence and eradicate the paper trail from the bloodhound detectives at the San Diego Police Department, who are hot on her trail.”

From that, I’ll write the murder scene in lurid detail. Then maybe I’d do a bit of internal monologue inside Sally’s head, maybe showing some anxiety at the prospect of getting caught. Then maybe I’d have her take a charter boat out into the Pacific, where she slips to the back of the boat and tosses the gun overboard. But wait! Maybe the good-looking first mate walks to the back of the boat just as the gun is tossed. Sally’s eyes lock with his, and she wonders what he saw. Should she kill him before he reports her?

See. Here’s the idea. The basic idea – when Sally murders Bob with a pistol, she sets out to destroy all the evidence and eradicate the paper trail from the bloodhound detectives at the San Diego Police Department, who are hot on her trail – gives me several chapters worth of material.

Anyway, that’s the way I do it.


What are your dreams for your writing future?

Aside from the fact that I’d like to write full time from a beach house in Hilton Head and a Mountain home atop Mount Helix in San Diego County – hah – I want to write books with cinematic storylines. In other words, since you asked about my “dreams,” I’d love to see Treason, Hostage, Defiance and Destiny all on the big screen someday. If Don Quixote can dream the impossible dream, why can't I?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQnFBAja7_U&mode=related&search=