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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We thought this article would be appropriate for Halloween. Seems this week has been ghoulish with this story on demons and Mike's "Good Vampire," and an interview with a well-known horror writer. Did we even pay attention to Halloween on Novel Journey last year? Hmmm, I'll have to check the archives. I can't remember. But since it is Halloween, any there are any true scary stories to share?


Halloween. Time for ghosts, goblins, princesses, pirates, witches, warlocks, and…demons? From a Christian novelist?

Author Tosca Lee says, yes, demons exist. “On the earth. In the air. In the heavens.” It’s that belief that caused Lee to pen the recently released, Demon: A Memoir.

But, just as this holiday itself draws criticism from Christians, Lee has had to handle critical response from the faith-based community questioning her beliefs. Some even wondered if she’d communed with demons to write the eerie manuscript.

“No, I’ve never had a personal experience with an angel or demon,” Lee responds. “Not in the visceral way that others describe. Thank God. I think I would have had a heart attack.”

The surprise success of her novel was enough to get Lee’s heart pumping. Her Amazon rank across all Christian fiction was in the top ten and her writing drew comparisons to the great C.S. Lewis work The Screwtape Letters. The Smith College graduate has criss-crossed the country on a whirlwind book tour in such cities as Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and her home city of Lincoln. Yet time on the road is a welcome respite from the strange encounters Lee suffered during her writing.

“Things broke down in my brand new house. Mice infested it. The water turned blue. Smoke came out of my dishwasher. These were petty and stupid happenings that made me roll my eyes.”

Then, it got even more strange.

“My computer’s motherboard fried—I could smell it burning. I became more prone to anxiety attacks. My new laptop began to blank out in the middle of working on the story before I had saved anything. I was constantly distracted. While all of these events have practical explanations, it was the timing of all of them that made them a bit weird.”

Then came the fear.

“As the things that happened became both more subtle and distracting, I had moments where I actually began to worry about the safety of those around me and, at times, for myself. Yes, I know it may sound superstitious at best to anyone who doesn’t believe in these things. For me, though, I believe I was peering into a realm that should be understood to the best of our ability, but one that consists of opposing forces.”

Whether coincidence or demonic activity, one thing is certain. Tosca Lee is happy to be writing about something else while Demon hits the shelves for Halloween. Her second novel is about Eve.

“At the heart of these books is my desire to more deeply understand this idea of God, of good and evil,” Tosca says. “And of the struggle of the first people to grasp these concepts and deal with their implications. I write foremost to fill in the gaps in my own conceptual understanding of my faith. When a reader writes to me and says, ‘You made me see something in a whole new way,’ or ‘I never thought of that before,’ that is the greatest compliment.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Accepting Your Natural Bent ~ Kathy Herman

Before becoming a bestselling author and an award-winning poet, Kathy Herman worked on staff at the Christian Booksellers Association and served as a preliminary judge for the ECPA Gold Medallion Awards. She gained eleven years of bookstore experience as a children’s products specialist.

Herman earned accolades when her first book, Tested By Fire, became a CBA bestseller. Her popular Baxter series and successful stand-alone book, Poor Mrs. Rigsby followed. The author of twelve novels, Kathy’s newest dramatic series, Phantom Hollow, has now taken center stage. The debut novel in the series is, Ever Present Danger. The second installment, Never Look Back, is available in bookstores now.

Kathy Herman and her husband Paul, residents of Tyler , Texas , have three grown children and five grandchildren. Her hobbies include world travel, deep sea fishing and ornithology.

By Kathy Herman

Practically from the beginning of my writing career I recognized that I’m a “seat of the pants” suspense novelist who creates stories without following an outline or implementing a set technique. I’m required to give my publisher a synopsis of the storyline, usually a year before the deadline, but I know the story is going to evolve into something much better than what I include in the synopsis.

Truthfully, I would much prefer to follow an outline. I think it would be less stressful to have the entire storyline nailed down ahead of time. But I’ve learned to trust my natural bent because things always seem to fall into place. I’ve tried outlining and employing some of the techniques my peers do, but I feel as if someone has put me in a box. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m much more effective doing what I do naturally. I’m always guided by the synopsis I give to the publisher, but inevitably it develops into something much better as I get into the heads of my characters, who often move the story in directions that surprise me. But even in my less-than-conventional approach to novel writing, I have developed patterns over time.

First of all, I choose a setting for each series. I decided on Colorado for my current series, Phantom Hollow, because I lived in Colorado Springs for fifteen years and did a lot of traveling around the state. When I began to think about this series, my husband and I took a car trip to the western slope of Colorado to do a little research. One of the things I enjoy most about starting a new series is putting together a mental picture of the fictitious elements I want to create. Phantom Hollow does not exist outside the pages of my novel. But it’s as real to me as Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. I can close my eyes and see the jagged peaks of the San Juans that rise high above the valley floor and surround the little town of Jacob’s Ear like a pure white fortress. I can smell the rich, robust aroma of coffee wafting from Grinder’s Coffee House and taste every buttery bite of a homemade fruit muffin Jewel’s CafĂ©. I tend to pick locations that appeal to me because I “live”(in my imagination) in that setting for the entire time it takes to finish a series. Once I feel at home with the setting, adding the fictitious elements is easy.

Also creating a host of characters is easy once I can picture the setting. I decide who should populate the story and give them names. They don’t come to life for me until I get into their heads, but I find it rather easy to develop a cast and come up with names.

Before I begin to write the story, I choose a Scripture that I can build a story around—something that lends itself to the suspense and is relevant to the reader. For example, in Never Look Back, book #2 in the Phantom Hollow Series, I chose Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” This verse lent itself perfectly to my protagonist, Ivy Griffith, who has just been released from jail after serving six months for covering up the strangulation death of a high school classmate ten years earlier. She’s paid her debt to society. Kicked her decade-long drug habit. And recommitted her life to Christ. But she hasn’t even begun to deal with the judgmental attitudes of other people.

Everyone in her hometown of Jacob’s Ear, Colorado knows what she did. And her brother Rusty wants nothing to do with her or the child he thinks she should never have had, seven-year-old son, Montana. Plagued by her own shame, her brother’s rejection, and her little boy’s cries for male affirmation, Ivy is reminded of her failures every single day. Keeping Psalm 103:12 as my central focus, I know that Ivy must eventually confront her doubts about whether God truly did remove her sins as far as the east is from the west—and not just the sins others judge her for, but the secret sins she can’t forgive herself for. Not only is this verse powerful, but it’s also easy to weave a highly suspenseful story around. The spiritual theme gives me direction but leaves the story wide open for all kind of twists and turns.

Undoubtedly this story would have been easier to write if I would have been able to determine ahead of time exactly how it would play out. But it was only after I was engrossed in the story and became intimately acquainted with the characters that I knew to take the story through twists and turns I would have never gone if I’d decided to stick to an outline. Again, this is so individual. Truthfully, I wish I were the type of writer who could follow an outline and bang out a story according to plan. But that methodology stifles my creativity and removes the element of surprise I can’t predict at the time I submit the synopsis.

I’ve learned that being a highly intuitive/feeling author working without an outline does not have to be a disadvantage. For me, it’s important to focus on the Scripture I choose and build my story around it, using as a guide the synopsis I give my publisher. So much of the story’s effectiveness depends on how well I develop my characters and how well the reader connects with them. When I create characters the reader cares about, I have the power to turn up the suspense by putting any of those characters in danger.

The writing of a suspense novel can sometimes be as exhilarating as the reading of it. I’m often surprised when one of my characters takes an unanticipated right turn. My choice to follow has resulted in my books being a much more exciting read. And when I submit that final manuscript to the publisher, it invariably turns out to be a deeper, richer, and more inspiring story than what was in the synopsis.

If you’re a “seat of the pants” writer, it probably won’t do any good to fight it. My advice is learn to accept your natural “bent” and let your own individual methodology of novel writing develop. But by all means, stay teachable. I know my way of developing a story has improved as it has evolved. I don’t believe there is a right way or a wrong way to write a novel as long as the methodology enables me to do my best work.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Good Vampire

Mike’s stories have appeared in Relief Journal, Forgotten Worlds, Alienskin, and Dragons, Knights and Angels, with articles in The Matthew’s House Project, Relevant Magazine and the forthcoming 316 Journal. He is included in the upcoming Coach’s Midnight Diner anthology and was one of ten authors picked for Infuze Magazine’s Best of 2005 print anthology. Mike is an ordained minister, has led numerous small groups and developed discipleship-training curriculum for several churches. He and his wife Lisa live in Southern California, where they have raised four children. You can visit him at

By Mike Duran

Those words seem like an oxymoron, don’t they? Good vampire? Aren't all vampires bad – night loving, Christ-hating, sex ravished ghouls? But if vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?

Not long ago, I pondered the idea of a vampire novel from a Christian perspective. The genre, it seemed to me, lent itself to great redemptive possibilities. Anne Rice, author of the Interview with the Vampire Chronicles, says as much. On her blog, in a post entitled On the Nature of My Earlier Works (you must scroll down on her page for this essay), she discusses the concept. Since publicly professing faith in Christ, Ms. Rice has been repeatedly asked to renounce her earlier vampire works. After tracing the history of “dark stories” — from Dante’s Inferno, to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, to Flannery O’Connor — she states her belief that many such stories are “transformative” in nature. According to the author, the gist of her popular series is the “near despair of an alienated being who searches the world for some hope that his existence can have meaning. His vampire nature is clearly a metaphor for human consciousness or moral awareness.”

I’ve not read the books and thought the movie was pretty gloomy. Nevertheless, the idea that the vampire figure holds a mirror to “human consciousness or moral awareness” is intriguing. Historically, the vampire motif is often used to portray Original Sin, wherein fallen man is viewed as an addict, thirsting after wickedness. As such, vampire lore is rife with biblical lingo and imagery.

So there I was, a neophyte novelist, conniving this idea about a vampire who wants deliverance from her infernal appetite. After all, people don’t willingly become vampires, do they? Much like Original Sin, the vampiric nature is inherited" or, should I say, inflicted. Then it only stands to reason that some would despise what they have become and battle the impulses. Right? Okay, so figure on a Christian vampire -- more accurately, a Christian bitten by a vampire. Let’s suppose she was nipped in a botched raid on an unsuspecting local crypt and, after busting her braces and developing a revulsion toward garlic fries, is exiled to the underworld. But our Bat Babe won't go down without a fight. She stays home when the gang goes out for dinner, renouncing blood like a vegan does Prime Rib, and takes to dividing the flock with the promise of deliverance. They can't kill her, she's already undead. But even though the poor thing is anorexic and iron deficient, they give her the boot. She is a disgrace to vampires everywhere!

Our heroine wanders the city, shunned, feared, hunted. She takes refuge in a cathedral and contemplates suicide -- but the thought of chugging a receptacle of holy water is just too painful. Here, she encounters others like herself -- a subculture of conflicted night creatures living in the catacombs, a monastery of abstinent bloodsuckers. They perpetuate tales of a coming day when unwashed necks will cease to appeal. But they may never see such a day because, as we speak, some misguided Van Helsing type is plotting a massive campaign against vampires, an ad hoc inquisition designed to rid the world of genetic and spiritual impurity. Thus, the good vampires find themselves on the wrong end of the theological stake. They must yield to either indiscriminate slaughter or band together to fight both their blood brothers and the unmerciful Pharisaical persecution.

Okay, whaddya think? So far, so good?

Well, the storyline is not that original. Take for instance the Confessor, a character in the comic book series, Astro City . The Confessor was a Roman Catholic priest who was seduced by a vampire. As penance, he fought crime in Astro City , eventually becoming a religious-themed costumed hero. The Confessor’s mantle is eventually taken up by Altar Boy. He confines himself to the church during daytime, and on his chest, wears a large, shining cross that inflicts sufficient pain to prevent his temptation to drink blood, and remind him of his mission.

As one inclined toward penance, I must admit that the idea of prancing around in tights, adorned with a large enough crucifix to administer pain, tickles my flagellistic fancy. Anyway, the point is that people have been tweaking the vampire tale for a while now; making the night creatures conflicted, sympathetic, even good. So why not a Christian vampire?However, the more I floated my idea, the more I discovered a great resistance within the Christian fiction community. We don’t do vampires, was the resounding response. Some suggest it is the horror genre in general that causes CBA publishing houses to hedge (although, there are positive signs that is changing). Others say that the vampire genre has become so laden with erotica and evil that it carries an automatic stigma, making it unsalvageable.

Coach's Midnight Diner, recently released by the folks at Relief, is subtitled The Jesus versus Cthulhu Edition. Created by horror-meister H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is a fictional entity, one of the Great Old Ones, possessing a tentacled head and a grotesque scaly body (think Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean ). The ancient monster has become an icon of terror for horror / sci-fi fans everywhere and may even rival the vampire in terms of its rabid following. Nevertheless, when the anthology was first announced, there was some discussion among Christian authors about the convergence of those characters. Jesus and Cthulhu? Is that really right? Cthulhu stands for all that is evil. How can we even associate him with Jesus? Some disavowed the concept on the basis of its incongruence, others on biblical grounds.

But the answer that resolved it for me was this: It’s fiction, baby! God is written into many fictional settings. We may argue that a biblical caricature of God does not exist in all fiction. That’s a given. However the idea of inserting the real biblical God into hypothetical situations with fabricated figures is the basis of all Christian fiction. So if God can interact with Ransom, Reuben Land, Elmer Gantry or George Bailey, then why can’t He engage Cthulu or Count Dracula? After all, none of them – except God -- really exists.

Much as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sought to reclaim mythology and unearth the underlying sediment of biblical truth inherent in folklore and fable, perhaps the same could be done with vampire lore. Current notions of the nocturnal nemeses are shaped largely by superstition, gothic literature and pop culture. Therefore, it remains in flux, unmoored, largely freed from factual constraints and rife for further tweaking. But, as Christian authors, do we dare?

Either way, I’ve since scrapped my idea about a Christian vampire story. Too many Van Helsings with theological stakes to drive. Nevertheless, the question still remains: If vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Devotion- Crawl-ins Welcome

Janet Rubin

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I love reading signs and bumper stickers. Being a bit "wordy" myself, I'm often amazed how much can be packed into so few words- humor, cynicism, a powerful message. One of my recent favorites is the fishermens' twist on the "Got Milk?" slogan. They've got a bumper sticker that says, "Gut Fish?" Another all-time favorite of mine is the one that says, "What if the Hoky Poky is what it's all about?" (Thank God, it isn't!)

But it was a sign that got me thinking recently. I pass a chiropractor's office in my daily travels. They just put up a new sign by the road. On it is a picture of a stick figure person on all fours, and instead of "walk-ins welcome," it reads, "crawl-ins welcome." Isn't that great?

I thought it would be a great sign to put up in front of a church. People shouldn't have to have it all together to come to church. They come to be healed, touched, restored. Walk-ins welcome, Crawl-ins welcome, drag-ins welcome. Even the ones we have to carry in. Amen?

My pastor says church is like a hospital. You don't come because you are healthy. You come because you are sick and need healing. So we shouldn't be surprised when the people around us are bleeding and vomiting and crying. We should be glad they are in a place where there is help.

I have a terrible habit of shying away from the throne when I'm messed up, feeling that I need to fix myself before I can be with God. But Jesus wants to meet us right where we are. And without an encounter with Him, there is no healing. Are you hurting today? Get yourself to Jesus. Walk, crawl, or just cry out. You are welcome.

Lord, Thank You for welcoming us, whatever shape we're in. You are the Healer. May you sprinkle this message into our stories: "All are welcome." Amen.

Matthew 9:12 " Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dean Koontz ~ Interviewed

When he was a senior in college, Dean Koontz won an Atlantic Monthly fiction competition and has been writing ever since. His books are published in 38 languages. He has sold 325,000,000 copies, a figure that currently increases by more than 17 million copies per year.

Ten of his novels have risen to number one on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, making him one of only a dozen writers ever to have achieved that milestone. Fourteen of his books have risen to the number one position in paperback. His books have also been major bestsellers in countries as diverse as Japan and Sweden.

The New York Times has called his writing "psychologically complex, masterly and satisfying."

Novel Journey has called Dean Koontz "Novel Journey’s super-coolest interviewee to date" ... faster than a speeding metaphor ... leaps tall plot holes in a single word ... stronger than a passive sentence ... Look up on the NYT Bestseller List ... It’s Super D!

What new book do you have coming out?

THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR arrives in stores on November 27. It's a dog story, a suspense novel, a love story, and a comic novel about commitment, redemption, mercy, the wonder of the human-dog bond, the nature of identity, the mysterious order that underlies all examples of chaos, and the wisdom of having a Power-Pak II crematorium at your disposal at all times.

Was there a specific "what if" moment that sparked this story?

Books like THE HUSBAND and THE GOOD GUY start with a what-if, but not this one. An interest in volunteer groups that rescue abused and abandoned dogs, in particular golden-retriever rescue, led me to the realization that this would be a good background for both a lead character and a novel: colorful, emotional, and fresh.

I knew at once that it would also be a novel in which virtually all the characters had secrets that would detonate throughout the story and that it would be about the strange patterns in life to which we often willfully blind ourselves. Don't ask me why I knew those two elements would be essential to the story; when writing, I travel on wheels of intuition.

You are known as perhaps the hardest working novelist of our time. To what do you attribute your work ethic?

Two things. First, I am enchanted by the English language, by its beauty and flexibility, also by the power of storytelling to expand the mind and lift the heart. Language and story offer possibilities --intriguing challenges--that I couldn't exhaust in many lifetimes. The work is joy when it's going well, even when it isn't. Second, I believe that talent is a gift and that it comes with the sacred obligation to polish and grow it.

You wrote two books on writing popular fiction. If you were to write another today, what advice would be different?

Probably 99% of it. I was young when I wrote those books, and in the hubris of youth, I thought I knew so much. Later, I learned that after decades of dedicated work, I knew about 1% of what I had thought I knew back then. The learning never stops.

You are one of the most prolific fiction writers of our time. What keeps you going?

In addition to the enchantment with language and storytelling, there is the fact that I wouldn't know what the hell to do if I were not doing this. Some leisure is fine, but not an unrelieved diet of downtime. I'm also writing to ensure that our foundation--which focuses largely on organizations for the severely disabled, critically ill children, and dogs--will be deeply funded and able to support those organizations long after Gerda and I are gone.

You seem to be the writer other writers look up to. I know novelist Alton Gansky has made small references to your work in his own, and James Scott Bell holds up your work as a great example in his book Plot and Structure. Who do you look up to?

Among writers, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, the late suspense novelist John D. MacDonald, who at his best was a wizard at character, Flannery O'Conner, the cultural theorist Philip Rieff, G.K. Chesteron, C.S. Lewis, Walker Percy....

I've read that you will rewrite a page until it's right before moving on, sometimes redoing a draft thirty or forty times. This must make for a slow process. Approximately how long does it take you to write one novel?

I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day. On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad.

And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions. A month--perhaps 22 to 25 work days--goes by and, as a slow drip of water can fill a huge cauldron in a month, so you discover that you have 75 polished pages. The process is slow, but that's a good thing.

Because I don't do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece--and therefore entertained. A very long novel, like FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE can take a year. A book like THE GOOD GUY, six months.

It's been said that writers reveal their own struggles, fears, dreams, etc. through their work. Which of your novels reveals the most about you?

Everything I believe about life and death, culture and society, relationships and the self, God and nature--everything winds up in the books, not in one more than another, but equally, title after title. A body of work, therefore, reveals the intellectual and emotional progress of the writer, and is a map of his soul. It's both terrifying and liberating to consider this aspect of being a novelist.

You had an agent in your early years tell you that you'd never be a best-selling writer. Did that discourage you or make you more determined to succeed?

I have more self-doubt than any writer I've ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt--if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it--is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image. Having been your own hardest critic, you still have dreams but not illusions.

Consequently, thoughtless criticism or advice can't long derail you. You become disappointed in an agent, in an editor, in a publisher, but never discouraged. If anyone in your publishing life were to argue against a particular book or a career aspiration for reasons you had not already pondered and rejected after careful analysis, if they dazzled you with brilliant new considerations, then you'd have to back off and revisit your decisions. But what I was told never dazzled me.

For example, I was often advised, by different people, that my work would never gain a big audience because my vocabulary was too large, because my stories were often too complex, because my themes were too much at variance from the cynicism of the postmodern reader. You see? Mostly, those people were underestimating the intelligence of the average reader--for whom there is often near contempt in publishing circles--or were assuming that their own cynicism was universal. That kind of thinking is dismaying but not discouraging, because it is a product of a detachment from reality.

Is there an up and coming writer you've read that we should be checking out?

Unfortunately, for a while now, family and professional obligations have been such that I read less fiction than I once did. Much of my reading is either research material or works of a philosophical nature, like those of Philip Rieff.

When I do read fiction, I tend to go back past the 20th century, to novels in which the characters were not based on the ravings of Freud and had more reality. I know I'm allowing a woeful gap to form in my knowledge, so I hope to get back to reading some contemporary fiction within the next year.

In your process of writing a novel, do you have a theme in mind before writing or does it naturally present itself as the story unfolds?

I never start with an outline, only with a situation, a hook, and a couple of characters that seem interesting to me. Sometimes, the theme or themes of the story will seem obvious: ODD THOMAS was primarily about the necessity of perseverance in the face of great loss; THE FACE concerned, in part, the power of love to lead the darkest heart to contrition, and was about the absolute necessity of contrition in a well-lived life.

With some books, the obvious theme remains the theme, though associated themes may arise. In other instances, the obvious themes collapse in a chapter or two, and other--and usually better--themes arise. If I write more than two or three chapters without a solid sense of what the book is about on a thematic--a subtextual--level, I back off the project because it feels empty to me.

Because you don't outline, and have only a premise and characters in mind, do you ever write yourself into a corner?

I'm always terrified of doing so, after stacking up a few hundred pages. So far, I've always skated.

Is it true your first four novels never sold? What encouragement would you offer to newbies who are receiving rejection after rejection and wondering if they're just fooling themselves about seeing their name on a book cover?

By the time I started writing novels, I had sold a few short stories, so I knew I wasn't entirely delusional. These days, good-paying short story markets are so few that not many writers can begin as I did. Four failed novels did make me wonder if I was being unrealistic about my prospects.

What kept me going was reading fiction that I admired, that filled me with wonder and inspiration. But in truth, I also at times took consolation from reading bad fiction that offered ham-fisted prose, paper-thin characters, bad research, and muddy thinking. I would finish such a book and tell myself, If that can be published and succeed, surely there's a market for something that strives to avoid all those faults.

It turned out that I wasn't just fooling myself. But we never know, do we? The ego so easily misleads, and hubris is the path easiest to follow.

Success is said to change everyone it visits. How would those close to you say success has changed you?

The better the books have sold, the more private I've become. The American fascination with celebrity disturbs and bores me. I do one in twenty interviews I'm asked to do. I've never done a national book tour. I've managed gracefully--I think--to decline invitations from a number of network TV shows.

The place I'm most public is at my web site--which really isn't public at all. The longer I work at this, the more certain I become that talent is a grace and each new story a gift, and that it isn't the writer that matters but the story that was given to him. I spend ever more time at home, and am happier year by year.

Writers often hold themselves back from writing something too far out there. You don't seem to have that inhibition. Has that always been the case and if not, how did you overcome it?

It's always been the case. Not to beat the same drum again and again, but it comes from viewing talent as an unearned grace--and trusting it because it comes from some power greater than oneself. My publisher, after reading the manuscript of ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN, called me and said, "You sure do go out there where the trains don't usually go, but it works." In fact he sent me a painting he had the art department work up, in which a train is chugging trackless through clouds and stars, and I smile every time I see it.

If you give yourself entirely to intuition but then bring hard intellectual analysis to what the intuition produces, you'll be okay. Take the far-out element and consider it in the same spirit that St. Thomas Aquinas used clear cold reason to prove the existence of God. Aquinas took the hardest challenge of all and succeeded brilliantly at it.

I've got a much easier task even when, as in LIFE EXPECTANCY, I suddenly find myself writing a clown, of all things, into the opening sequence, a clown in an expectant-fathers waiting room at a hospital. At the time, as I typed the word clown, I could not imagine where that could go or how it could be made believable, but I trusted intuition--which is seeing with the soul--and now it's impossible to imagine that book without the clown.

If you could go back to the young Dean who was being supported by his wife and trying to break into the market, what advice would you have for him?

"You're an idiot! Not always about the writing, but about a scary bunch of other things. Straighten up, Koontz. Think. Don't forget that your end is in your beginning and your beginning in your end-- and I'm not talking about your novels or suggesting that you've too often got your head up your ass, though you do. Eliot wrote that we are born with the dead, and that's a truth we're wise to remember every day." I'd also tell my young self to stop, for God's sake, wearing those hideous tie-died shirts.

Regarding branding: You've written under several pen names. If you were going to write something completely different from what fans expect from you (like a prairie romance), would you choose to use one again?

I'll never use a pen name again. In the early days, I used them when agents and publishers insisted on it. The thinking was that the public expects the same kind of book each time from a writer, not just in the same genre but in precisely the same style. I drove them nuts by writing all kinds of different books, and I was not so successful that I could insist on putting them all under my name; I had to take the multiple-personality plunge.

Eventually, when my books became bestsellers, I was able to publish the best of those pen-name books under my name, in paperback, and as I had suspected, readers were happy with them and not at all troubled by different genres and styles as long as they could detect a thread of the author's voice in the tapestry of the story. But even after I had seemed to be winning this argument, I continued to have problems with publishers who thought the latest book was too unusual or too far off the Koontz track.

When I delivered LIGHTNING, Putnam didn't want to publish it. They wanted to put it on a shelf and hold it for seven years, because they said it was so different that it would alienate my audience, which had begun to make bestsellers of my books. We had a terrible, protracted row over it...but when they finally caved and published it, the book sold better than anything before it.

Years later, when I delivered INTENSITY to Knopf, they were wary of it. My editor told me it "moved too fast" and needed "a couple hundred pages of less interesting material" to modulate the pace. He also worried that it was "avant garde," and therefore perhaps not appealing to thriller readers. I never understood--or got an explanation of--what he thought was avant garde about the book, which is after all a headlong thriller. I think he was referring to the use of present tense for the antagonist's scenes, to what Louis Lehrman in a nice Times review called "tumbling, hallucinogenic prose," and to the way metaphors and similes and other figures of speech were crafted differently for each point of view in the story.

By the way, that last device led to one of the most ignorant bad reviews I ever received. Writing in a major magazine, a reviewer decided I was illiterate because in the opening scene, which is from the killer's point of view, he stands overlooking a vineyard and compares a woman's face to a succulent bunch of grapes. If the reviewer had read farther than two pages, he would eventually have discovered that the antagonist--Vess-- suffered from synasthesia, a condition in which his senses became confused, so that for him some sounds had a smell and some sights had a taste, etcetera, and his pov scenes contained figures of speech reflecting that condition.

Anyway, the book was published without the 200 pages of less interesting material, it went to #1, and over the years it has continued to sell strongly. Again, all the concern about it was based upon the same conviction that drove the demand that I use pen names: a conviction that much of the reading public is dim-witted.

Is there something you'd like to write that might surprise us?

I would hope that, to some extent, each book surprises, and that by now readers will go along with my changes of direction at least long enough to determine whether, this time, I've lost my mind.

Do you think a new novelist should take the route you did and write some easier to place genre fiction to get their foot in the door or begin with the type of fiction they hope always to write?

Out of the gate, run with what you most love. Starting in a genre--if you don't expect always to stay there--will label you, and the labor needed to strip off a publisher's label, once it has been applied, is Herculean. I know because I've had to reinvent myself more than once.

What props do you use when you write (pictures, whatever)?

When I'm working, stacks of reference works, specific to the subjects touched upon in the novel, surround me, but otherwise the only things on my desk are a lot of framed photos of Gerda and me, of our beloved (and now gone) golden retriever, Trixie, and of friends.

You are a master of metaphor and simile. How do you constantly come up with ones that aren't cliched?

Following Hemingway, rich figures of speech fell out of most fiction. Hemingway wasn't bland. His stripped-down style had a poetry of its own. Personally, I find the world view of his work depressing and wrong-headed, but as concerns style, he was a genius. Unfortunately, the inarguable brilliance of his work led to generations of writers who imitated it, but who imitated only the surface effects and not the substance of the style, which is where the poetry is embedded.

Think of Hemingway's work as a helping hand held out to struggling writers who are trying to find their way; in the upturned palm, they see the skin, the pads of the fingers, the metacarpal creases, the heart line and the head line, and they recreate all that in their work, but the result is bland because the substance of his style is in the muscles and tendons and bones of that hand, in the veins and arteries, which you don't see but without which the hand would have no life, no function.

So we've had decades of bad imitations of Hemingway. And then a worse thing happened--a lot of writers adopted a minimalist style because it was easy if they didn't care that they were recreating only the surface effects of Hemingway. Even in a book using swift, almost minimalist prose--like THE HUSBAND or THE GOOD GUY--there is room for metaphor and simile if they, likewise, are crisp.

For me--and a writer can only talk about what works for him or her, no rules are universal in this game--the figures of speech in a novel can be kept fresh if you hold in mind four things.

One: a metaphor isn't meant to dazzle readers, but to seduce them into a more intimate relationship with the story. This means every figure of speech should be consistent with the mood of the scene in which it appears. In a moment of brooding menace, you don't want a metaphor or simile to delight a reader into an amused laugh or to give him a spiritual lift--unless the spiritual lift, by leading him to think of the peril to the human soul in fallen world, adds to the brooding atmosphere.

Two: you should never go inside more than one character's mind in the same scene; each scene is from a singular viewpoint, and therefore a metaphor or a simile should be in the voice of the narrator of the scene. It should come out of his or her life experience, either out of what has thus far been revealed to the reader or out of what is yet to be revealed.

Three: Metaphors and similes and other figures of speech describe a scene or a character more succinctly and more colorfully than chains of adjectives, and they are tremendously useful to reinforce mood, but some of them also can have--and ideally should have--a connection to the underlying themes of the work.

For instance, in VELOCITY, a novel that is in part about the tension between personal autonomy and the necessity of a strong community, and that is in part about thorny issues of free will--such as, when is it virtuous to repress certain desires and when is it not? when does righteous violence become something darker? when is sacrifice an error that serves self-pity and when is it a an admirable act? can mercy sometimes be misguided and serve evil?--so it's not happenstance that throughout the novel, a significant percentage of the figures of speech refer to birds, which serve well as both a symbol of community (the flock) and of the singular potential beauty of each human heart (one soaring figure in the sky).

Four: ideally, a metaphor or simile, or other figure of speech, should bring the reader into communion with the mystery of this world and mystery of our lives. We live in a magical world of which science understands only the tiniest fraction. If you don't believe that, then read a lot of science by the best writers in their disciplines, and you'll see that what we know of anything is but a shadow of the full and still hidden truth. Every discovery in, say, molecular biology, raises many new questions. And that we exist, that we think and love and hate and yearn, is arguably the most amazing thing of all; there are thousands of different insects and species of plants beyond counting, but there is as far as we yet know only one consciousness in this material world that can build civilizations and contemplate its purpose at profound depth--human consciousness.

For me, a metaphor or other figure of speech can be an enchantment that brings the reader more intimately into the story by speaking to his or her subconscious awareness of the mystery and magic of the world and the human journey. If you keep those four things in mind, more often than not, the figures of speech in your work will be fresh, apt, and engaging.

How do you get into character? Before you begin writing a new novel, do you use charts or have real people in mind?

I begin with a character in a stressful or intriguing situation--the narrative hook. Then I ask myself what kind of person would I find most interesting to follow in my desire to see what happens next. In THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR, Amy Redwing rescues abused and abandoned golden retrievers. Logically, the novel should open with a sufficiently dramatic rescue to grip the reader and to establish vividly the dog-rescue background.

When I ask myself what kind of woman would be most interesting in such a scene, I answer that she should be clever, quick-thinking, and emotionally solid--but also absolutely reckless in her commitment. It's always fun to read about a character who has reckless disregard for her safety--but the recklessness can avoid seeming self-destructive and stupid if it is founded on competence and experience. Then it becomes a kind of courage, even a grace.

Next I ask myself why a woman would put her own life at risk and take such terrible chances to save a dog. She would love dogs, of course, but that would not be enough to motivate her to these extremes of action. A woman might be driven to save dogs at virtually any cost and might take great risks if the work was a continuing act of redemption. Therefore, she must have something terrible in her past, some experience that has driven her to seek redemption through her service to abused and abandoned dogs.

That's when I start writing. I don't want to figure out what that secret in her past might be. I want her to show me what it is as she leads me through the story. I have no charts. If the character comes alive in the opening scenes, if her dialogue sparkles and her actions compel attention, she will weave for herself a complex character with the warp and woof of every line.

Giving characters free will, instead of outlining them in detail before the writing begins, allows a story to flow naturally and allows the characters to become more real and more interesting than they could be if they had to act within a rigid profile created in advance of the actual writing.

With as much success as you've had, is there anything left that, as a writer, you'd still like to accomplish?

An infinite number of stories wait to be told, with an infinite cast available. I write largely to remind myself of the beauty and the wonder of this life, this world, and to explore for my own enlightenment the meaning of it and the remarkable ways that people find hope or forsake it. I love the process, dislike the aftermath. I like writing, not having written.

The one accomplishment that matters is achieving those moments, in the course of telling a story, when I feel that I am in contact with a higher power, when the very act of creating a story feels like communion with the ultimate Creator. Those moments are exhilarating, full of a quiet joy that alone makes the hours at the keyboard worthwhile, which is why I kept my hands on the keys during all those early years when success seemed unlikely and when a life of genteel poverty seemed all but assured.

If your writing isn't about making money or being famous, if it's not about ego, but about seeking to understand life and yourself, to explore the extent of your talent and discover its limitations, then in my experience, the success comes almost as a side-effect.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Speaking of that...a Lesson on Dialogue with Gail Gaymer Martin

Multi-award-winning author, Gail Gaymer Martin ,writes for Steeple Hill, Barbour Publishing, and Writers Digest. Gail has signed forty fiction contracts and has over 1 million books in print. She is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers and a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at conferences across the U.S. She has a Masters degree and post-master’s classes from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Look for her book, Writing the Christian Romance from Writers Digest released in December 2007. Visit her website at


"Hi. How are you?"

"Fine. Thanks, and you?"

"I’m doing well."

"Glad to hear it."

Would you read a novel that offers this kind of dialogue? I doubt it. Dialogue is not conversation. Conversation can be boring. In a romance, as in any fiction, dialogue serves three basic purposes—to move the storyline forward by providing backstory or new information, to set a mood or establish a theme, and to reflect character through attitude, speech mannerisms, and word choice. Dialogue can tell us something about the characters education, career, ethnic background, age, and place of residence.

Purposes of Dialogue

Chitchat is part of daily conversation, but dialogue must move the story along by filling in the blanks. In Loving Ways, we learn more about Annie and Ken’s characters through dialogue when Ken notices a water color hanging on her living room wall and realizes Annie painted it. Read the dialogue without the action and introspection and notice how much you learn about the characters through their words.

"Annie, they’re beautiful. I had no idea you were an artist."

"I wouldn’t call me an artist."

"I would," he said.

"Thank you."

"You’re welcome. Have you painted others?"

"A whole attic full."


"Seriously. Sailboats. Sunsets. More flowers."

"You should sell them."

"You mean I should rent space at a gas station like the people who sell those black-velvet paintings?"

"Not quite. Look. I’m practical. Don’t forget this is a tourist town. People spend money like water when they’re on vacation, and paintings like these could sell. Once you have a reputation, who knows what they would bring in?"

"I don’t think so," she said. "Look at them. They’re flawed."

"Life’s flawed. That’s what makes them real."

Dialogue Styles

One thing that’s obvious— men and women have different interests and styles. Men talk about sports, politics and business. Women talk about feelings and relationships. Women express their emotions. Men tend to cover them with silence or change the subject.

Dialogue should reflect the way people really talk, but needs to be controlled so that it’s realistic yet purposeful.

How can an author do this? First, people don’t speak in long paragraphs. Dialogue is often broken by interruptions or by action and introspection. Sentences are not always complete or follow a logical pattern. Responses sometimes only repeat what the other character has said. Questions are avoided by talking around the question or responding with another question. This keeps the dialogue sounding real while creating conflict and interest. It also gives the page white space which is reader friendly.

"Why are you so quiet?" Sue asked.

"I’m thinking," Bob said.


"Yes, about my business trip this weekend. I’ll have lots of free time."

"Free time?"

"Would you like to go with me?" he asked.

"Go with you? Why?"

"Well, I thought--"

"You figured I’d jump at the chance to go. Well, you’re wrong."

He Said. She said

Look at the dialogue above. Notice the word said or asked is used only three times yet the reader knows who is speaking. If tags are used, said and asked are the two most acceptable choices. Most other tags (replied, inserted, quipped) are distracting and are signs of an inexperienced writer. Rather than using tags, an author can use an action or internal monologue and introspection to show the speaker. Using the lines above, notice how this makes the speaker obvious.

"Go with you? Why?" She shifted closer.

"Well, I thought--"

You thought. I bet you did. For the first time she realized the kind of man he really was. "You figured I’d jump at the chance to go. Well, you’re wrong."

Dialogue Subtext

Subtext is the underlying meaning in dialogue. In real life, people often say words that have an added meaning below the obvious one.

"Do you like my dress?"

"The color is beautiful."

The question isn’t quite answered, and the comment leaves us wondering if the person responding dislikes the dress so only comments on the color. In Loving Ways, Annie’s two sisters, Donna and Susan, arrive for their father’s funeral. Much of their conversation has subtext. Here’s an example:

Donna’s expression registered the first note of empathy Annie had witnessed. "You spent your life rescuing dad when no one else would."

Susan snorted. "That’s because the rest of us had better sense." She glowered in Annie’s direction. "And don’t start quoting the Bible."

Donna slapped her hand against the chair arm. "Susan, you don’t have to be unkind and you know the Bible makes sense. Annie did what she thought was right." She looked at Annie. "What will you do now?"

"Good question. I had to quit my job when Pa got really bad, so I suppose I’ll have to find work."

"We don’t want a pity party, Annie," Susan said. "You chose to stay here. As Mom always said, you made your bed and now you have to lie in it."

"Donna asked the question, Susan. I’m not complaining. I’ll have to get things in order here, and then carve a new life for myself."

The thought of carving something cut through Annie’s mind. Her sister’s pearl-draped throat, for one. The evil thought made her smile inside but, as quickly, caused her to send up a prayer. Patience, Lord.

"When you think about it, Annie," Donna said, "you’ve had it pretty easy. No kids to worry about, no husband to please. . .or try to please." She rolled her eyes. "You didn’t even have to work the past couple of years."

"I wouldn’t call that easy," Annie said. "Pa was still as tough as nails to--"

Donna eyed her manicure. "Speaking of nails, I haven’t had mine done in weeks."

The dialogue is rich with undertones that helps bring the characters to life and makes it sound real.

Real but purposeful

Remember, making dialogue realistic is making the words work to move the story forward. Use the dialogue to reflect characterization, to arouse the reader’s curiosity, and to create conflict. Break up large pieces of dialogue with character actions and interruptions, and don’t forget internal monologue which adds the element of truth to the dialogue.

A pregnant, widowed migrant worker in labor, a wealthy ranch owner who lost his wife and son in childbirth, and God's miraculous blessings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bestselling Author ~ James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell studied philosophy, creative writing, and film, acted in Off Broadway theater in New York, and received his law degree with honors from the University of Southern California. He's also a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. A former trail lawyer, he's a winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in inspirational fiction, and is a three-time finalist for that award.

He is a contributing editor to Writers Digest magazine. His book Plot & Structure (Writers Digest Books) is one of the most popular books on the market for novelists and screenwriters. He serves on the board and faculty of Act One, the Hollywood screenwriting program, and is an adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University in Malibu. He was recently hired to adapt a bestselling Christian novel for feature film production. In addition, he works as a script doctor, specializing in faith-themed scripts. Jim lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Cindy.

Tell us about your newest novel to hit the shelves, Try Dying.

It's a straight on suspense thriller, about a high flying lawyer who is forced to go down to the mean streets to solve a murder. How does he survive? And will he find them before they do away with him?

Center Street, part of the Hachette Book Group, which USED to be the Time Warner Book Group (pause for breath) is the publisher.

NJ: Leave a comment for Jim and be entered in the drawing for a copy of Try Dying.

Is this a series or a stand alone?

It's a series. The next title is Try Darkness and will be out in July. In addition to Ty Buchanan, the Lead character, I have Father Bob, a fallen priest, and Sister Mary Veritas, a basketball playing nun, who help Ty in a time of need. Characters to come include a former Cal State philosophy professor who went insane and now runs a coffee bar, and various others that my imagination is now playing with.

What's different about this book?

This is not strictly in the inspirational genre. This is a book I wrote for the general market, and here's why. I got mad. I think there's a trend in secular thrillers that is too dark and gratuitous. I wanted to go the other way. I wanted to write in the tradition of 1940s and 1950s film noir and crime fiction. These managed to be suspenseful without gagging you. Why can't we still do that? We can.

How did you get the idea for a series character?

Like most good ideas, this one came up randomly and refused to leave. I read a bizarre account one day about a guy in L.A. who shot his wife, then drove to a freeway overpass, stopped, got out of his car and shot himself. His body fell 100 feet onto the freeway below, hitting a car and killing the driver.

That story haunted me. I kept thinking about it. Then I decided to start a book with it, and ask, What if the driver wasn't killed by the body, but somebody at the scene finished her off? Why would somebody do that?

Who would the driver be? The fiancé of a lawyer, who then became my Lead character. Who then became the series character.

How do you go about getting ideas?

They're everywhere, everyday. Your question shouldn't be where do I get ideas? It should be, how do I possibly pick from all the ideas that are out there?

The imagination is a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the better it'll respond. Here's an exercise. Take the front page of any newspaper, and for each story on the front page create a novel idea. It can be just one line and it doesn't have to be brilliant. Just get into the habit of trying. Soon you'll find yourself doing this with billboards, TV commercials, junk mail. It just keeps on going.

In my book on writing, Plot & Structure, I have a whole chapter on this, and how to nurture the more promising ideas.

Since you brought it up…

Shameless, isn't it?

Well, it has proved quite helpful to many. Why did you write Plot & Structure?

For that very reason. I wanted to help. I wanted to give writers what I didn't get when I was starting. I wanted to save them years on the learning curve. Apparently, it's succeeded. I get such wonderful comments about it.

Where do you like to write?

My local Starbucks. I wrote a blog entry about this once, so if I may, I'll post a little of it here:

There's something about having a little bit of human activity going on around me that stimulates my writing. I don't know why that is. I don't know why I shouldn't be like Proust, rolling in agony on the floor of his quiet quarters, trying to bleed the perfect word out of himself. He would have gone mad (if he already wasn't) at Starbucks.

Balzac, on the other hand, would have been right at home here. He wrote over 100 books on the equivalent of industrial strength speed – 40 or more cups of thick, dark coffee a day. "Coffee is a great power in my life," he once wrote. "I have observed its effects on an epic scale." He would have his servants wake him up at midnight, get to his writing table and write until exhausted. Then he'd start with the coffee and keep going.

Me, I like to have one cup of drip at Starbucks, after my morning home cup of Sumatra or Verona or Komodo Dragon.

I actually do have a "real" office, but don't usually go in until my morning writing quota is done. I suppose I could stay writing at Starbucks all day, but then I am reminded it was caffeine poisoning that killed Balzac at 51. I'm off to get a refill now. Decaf.

What is a question we haven't asked you that you'd like to answer?

What is the capital of North Dakota?

Okay. What is the capital of North Dakota?


Thanks whole bunches.

It's been a pleasure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gina Tells All

Gina tells all today on Okay, maybe not ALL. Okay, I just answer a couple of questions really. No, it's not about my personal life. THAT would be boring--about trends in fiction and what I've learned about how to scratch media's back so they'll scratch yours. That sort of thing.

YA Author Interview ~ Stephanie Moore

Stephanie Perry Moore is a best selling Christian fiction novelist with over 15 books in print. Her groundbreaking Payton Skky Series is the first African-American Christian teen series in the country. She also pens the Laurel Shadrach Series, the Carmen Browne Series and two adult Christian Fiction titles, Flame and A Lova’ Like No Otha’. In 2007 she will have seven new titles released. Among them, Chasing Faith, her next adult title will be released in March of 2007. She will have two new teen series break into the marketplace as well, the innovative novelzine of Faith Thomas and the male series, Perry Skky Jr. She is also the co-editor for the impactful BibleZine, REAL. Mrs. Moore speaks with young people across the country, showing them how they can still be cool, but do it God's way. She lives in the greater Atlanta area with her husband, Derrick, and their children.
(Interview conducted by YA Correspondant, Noel DeVries)

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

God wants you to Shine is the second book in the Faith Thomas series. This title deals with self esteem issues. It's a fun read for girls ages 12-18 years of age. Any young lady struggle with finding their self worth will this read feeling like the jewel the Lord has created them to be.

Also, I'd like to say that I’m thrilled about this fresh, new series that focuses on a 13–year–old Nashville native. She’s a sassy eighth grader with a lot on the ball. She’s also smart, athletic, and really cool. It also doesn’t hurt that her famous father is one of the country’s best Christian singers. However, she’s not totally happy, and she doesn’t know why. Faith is a character that most teen girls will easily identify with. She’s searching for something, and by the book’s end, she will find what can make her life whole—a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What is a Novelzine, exactly?
Ahh, a novelzine is mostly a fiction story that is part magazine. The concept of the Novelzine™ is this: Most of the text is written as a novel but included are a bunch of other features that are nonfiction, designed to help the reader enjoy the story more, grow stronger as a Christian, and simply have fun reading.

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

Actually it was quite difficult for me to get published. It took seven years. I tried to get an agent at first and that brought me three rejections. I then sent a baby name book that was never published to companies; I got several rejections on that idea. I was discouraged, but God gave me the strength to forge ahead and keep the faith.

Since my husband was playing for the Detroit Lions, he was speaking all over the city and meeting several wonderful people. He gave me a hook-up when he mentioned to the right people about my African-American Christian, teen novel. Two years from that meeting, my first title in the Payton Series came out. I guess you could say God worked it out His way, in His time. I was overjoyed.

What influenced your departure from traditional novel format?
I'm still writing series in the traditional format, however, I call this an expansion. I was inspired to create this concept after working with Thomas Nelson Publishers on their BibleZine REAL, which is the NCV version of the New Testament that looks like a magazine. It includes extra features to further explain elements of the Bible for young believers. Also, as I talked to young people across the country they had questions about the storyline or wanted to have direction to grow their own relationship with God. This format, allows them to be entertained, but inspired and charged at the same time.

What has reader response been to novelzines?
Everyone that reads the story loves it. We're trying to get the word out about their series so more young people can enjoy all that it entails.

What prepared you to write for young adults?
I speak to kids across the country, and I enjoy question and answer times. Actually, when the kids are done with their questions, I get to ask mine. Mainly I ask, “What are you struggling with? Tell me what type of stories you’d like to see in a novel. Give me some dirt.” It’s a fun time of interaction with young people, and it really puts a spark into my writing, making it that much more real and helpful to the readers.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?
I'm a Max Lucado fan. Also, I love reading Robin Jones Gunn's YA books. Anything that inspires me to become better for Him is something I dig reading.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
Well, I have three kids that keep me on my toes. So now that they are back in school, after I get them off, I start talking a chapter into my digital voice recorder. Next I usually I have to edit another chapter from a different book. Then I create the outline for a completely different title. God keeps pouring out the ideas.

Is there a particularly difficult setback that you've gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

I've been published almost ten years. I still hoping to have a bigger impact. It gets tough when you work and you work and you feel like you're not hitting the mark the Lord placed out there for you. But thankfully in those times of writer's doubt, God send a message form a reader of how my books have blessed their soul. That wind of sweet words, propels me forward.

What piece of writing have you done that you're particularly proud of and why?
I'm proud of the Payton Skky books, particularly, Staying Pure, because they were my first titles and the impact those books are having is still being felt many years later.

Are you worried about your Novelzines finding a place in bookstores because of their magazine format?

Yes, I'm in prayer about this. God gave me the vision and I know in His way He will open up doors for this novelzine to flourish and change lives for the better.

How do you plan to market them?

We have two sites now for the Novelzines. Also, I am touring and Harvest House is doing a great marketing campaign with publicity and radio to expose many youth to these books.

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

Well, I used to write episodes of “The Cosby Show” for fun when I was in middle school. Didn’t ever get them to Bill Cosby; however, it did give me a love for and a desire to pursue the field of writing. Actually, writing for television and film is still where I hope God takes me to one day.

Who do you hope will pick up a copy of your novelzine?

I hope everyone picks it up and browses through it. The teen girl herself, seeking hope. The mother or grandmother hoping to some piece to help them better help their child. The father who wishes their angel would see her self as a gem. Or anyone looking for a great gift item to inspire a young person.

Parting words?

I pray that the drama–packed story, God wants you to Shine, with a biblical message will touch someone’s heart. It’s good to be entertained, but it is life–changing to be inspired. So basically, I hope to move all my readers closer to the Lord. And one day, I can’t wait for God to say, “Good job, my good and faithful servant.”

Monday, October 22, 2007

Author Interview ~ Francine Rivers ... and a Redeeming Love Giveaway!

Francine Rivers had a successful writing career in the general market and her books were awarded or nominated for numerous awards and prizes before becoming a born-again Christian in 1986. Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. Since Redeeming Love, she has published numerous novels with Christian themes – all bestsellers-- and she has continued to win both industry acclaim including nominations for the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997 Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine and her husband Rick live in Northern California and enjoy the time spent with their three grown children and every opportunity to spoil their four grandchildren.

(To enter to win one of two hardcover copies of Redeeming Love, leave a comment under Ms. Rivers' interview. Two names will be drawn, and the winners announced in our next Novel Journey newsletter. (Must be subscribed to win).

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

The last of the Sons of Encouragement series, The Scribe (Silas), was released this summer. I’m working on a new full-length novel that will be a mix of contemporary and historical. It will focus on mother-daughter relationships over a period of four generations, and the different ways these generations have looked at God and faith.

Redeeming Love is being re-released. This amazing novel deals with some really dark subjects. Others quote the scripture that we should meditate on that which is good, pure and lovely – arguing that reading a book dealing with rape, abortion, alcoholism, adultery, etc. is not obeying that scripture. How would you respond?

Several things come to mind. First, a text out of context is a pretext. Secondly, we shouldn’t be afraid to look around us and seek ways to bring Christ into everything. Thirdly, we have to think of people, and not generalizations. I try to do this in my writing. I’ve dealt with many serious topics, all of which you mention, but I think in terms of the person (character).

The quest is always to find God’s perspective. Is there any topic not addressed in Scripture? How can we not address serious subjects that are happening around us – as well as in our churches? We live in a fallen world. For too long, Christians removed themselves from areas of our culture that were considered evil; politics and entertainment as primary examples. Now, we wonder why our country is cutting God out of everything!

We are called by God to be salt and light on the hill, not a hidden under a basket or hiding behind the doors of a church. We must live openly for Christ, know what’s happening around us, speak (write) when opportunities arise. All one has to do is read the daily newspapers or watch the news to see how desperately our people need Jesus. Christians should impact society, not the other way around. What holds us back? We have nothing to fear! Our God is a mighty God and He goes before us.

How difficult is it to be transparent in your writing, revealing your own failures, dreams and struggles and how do you overcome the natural inhibitions that make most of us try to sugar-coat them?

It is very difficult. The hardest book I have ever written was The Atonement Child that dealt with my abortion experience, and my mother’s. It took a long time, and a lot of nudging by the Lord, before I was willing to tackle that story because it meant going back and really looking at myself through God’s eyes. And I was afraid. I went through a post abortion class while I was writing the story. Fear almost paralyzed me, but I knew I couldn’t quit. God wouldn’t let me. And friends kept praying and encouraging me. God brought tremendous healing during that year, not just to me, but to others as well. The things I feared would happen did not happen. It was a faith-building experience.

I often begin in darkness, not knowing where I’m going with a story or what the purpose is. All I know is God has brought the question to mind and He is going to teach me something through the story. My job is to get rid of my preconceived ideas and be open to what He has to say, and then be obedient in what I’m called to do.

On your website, you tell the story about how your writing dried up for three years after becoming a Christian. Looking back, what developed in your life as a result? How did the creativity open up again?

I had written for a number of years in the general market before I became a Christian. The first thing that happened after I came to Christ was the end of my ability to write. God knew writing had become an idol in my life. I didn’t know for a long time because I was too busy fighting Him and trying to go on with my life (writing) as I had been. I couldn’t make it work. During that three year “writer’s block”, we started a home Bible study. I prayed the Lord would remove my interest in romance novels and replace it with a passion for His Word. He did. I read the Bible over and over.

When writing ceased to matter, God showed me the depth of His love as we were studying the minor prophets. Hosea transformed my thinking. The prophet’s story tore down all the walls I had put up around myself. How can anyone not fall passionately in love with God after reading Hosea? The Lord nudged me to write again, not the steamy historical romances I had been writing, but a real love story, a story of truth, about God, an allegory like Hosea, using the same “romance” format I had for years. It was my opportunity to write a story for readers who had followed my secular career and show them the difference God had made in my life – and could make in theirs. The result was Redeeming Love.

What advice do you have for other writers who God has placed “on hold”?

If God has put you on hold, there’s a good reason. Don’t fight Him. Seek Him! It may not be clear now why you’re “on hold”, but one day it will be. Wait for Him to give you that nudge. Consider the time precious. Focus your energy on deepening your relationship with Jesus and learning more about Him. He will use it all in what He calls you to write.

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

It was a banner I saw inside a church where a writer’s retreat was held: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! Don’t make publication the end-all reason for writing. Write what the Lord calls you to write and then seek His will in what to do.

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

Write for the market.

Would you share some of your secrets of researching historical periods?

Start with the general and move to the specific. Try to find information written closest to the time period. Keep your notes in order so that you will know the sources of your information. A good publisher will always check things out, and ask if they have questions about your research. Be able to back up what you write.

Do you write using any props?

I wouldn’t call it a prop, but on the wall behind my computer, I have a Morgan Weistling print of Jesus praying. Looking at Him makes me remember He is the center of whatever I’m doing. The story is all about Him.

Where do you write and on what type of schedule?

I write in a downstairs office I share with my husband. Rick and I start our morning with devotions and prayer. Then I spend time in study. After that, I start writing. I try to do four pages a day. I don’t always make that quota.

The Last Sin Eater was made into a movie. Were you happy with the results? Which of your other novels would you most like to see on the big screen?

I was very happy with The Last Sin Eater. Michael Landon, Jr. and Brian Bird did a wonderful job. I’m eager to see what they will do in the future. As to other books, Redeeming Love has been optioned for a movie. There has been some progress on the project lately. We will see what God will do in bringing all the necessary pieces together.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Again, this is a very hard question because I enjoy whatever I happen to be reading, and I read all kinds of books.

You mentioned in your TitleTrakk interview that you’d love to write a nature devotional. Have you toyed with writing in other genres that might surprise us?

We’ll see what comes.

Do you have any plans to write a contemporary any time soon?

The novel on which I’m working is a mix of contemporary and historical. It’s a mutli-generational story focusing on family relationships.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I love the whole writing process. I start with a question, study Scripture and pray for answers, unleash my imagination to create people to struggle with the question from different angles and see what happens. When the manuscript is “done”, I love the editing process – tearing it down, deleting, adding, reworking. The part I don’t enjoy is trying to make sense of all the little notes I jot in the margins and between lines and making those changes in the computer. I also enjoy the “revision conference” with Tyndale editors. The questions they ask always send my imagination racing. I enjoy brain-storming.

The least favorite parts are the first blank page, and when the project is finished. I never know where I’m going next.

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

I leave marketing and publicity to the experts. My job is to write the best book I can possibly write.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Winner of First Draft in 30 Days

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Sunday Devotion- No ending

Janet Rubin

I'm going to attempt to put into words a feeling familiar to all book lovers. It's the bittersweet sensation that swells in one's heart with the ending of a fantastic story. It's almost like the end of a love affair. First we "meet" a book; we are attracted by its cover, its name, perhaps a few charming words on the dust jacket. We decide we'd like to know this book better. And we read the first page. We see something there that draws us in further- something intriguiging or lovely, something that makes us want more. And we decide to "commit," handing over our library card or our Visa, we take possesion of the volume, planning to read every page. And in the very best, luckiest times, we find we've gotten our hands on a real gem- a story with prose that delights, characters we care about deeply, villains we despise, truths that resonate in our souls, and a plot that keeps us riveted. We fall in love. When we love a book this much, we are pleased if it is the beginning of a series. We can finish a book secure in the knowledge that there is more to come.

However, not every wonderful book has a sequel. And even series come to an end. Perhaps not everyone experiences the feeling of loss that I do when I know my time with beloved characters draws to a close. Right now I am reading the last book in a series I've enjoyed more than anything I've read in a long time. As I near the midway mark in the book, I'm enjoying the story. Things are coming together in a satisfying way. I'm still riveted and I can't wait to see how it ends. Yet, I'm trying to read slowly, and I'm worrying about what I will find to read next that will fill me with as much pleasure.

Of course the books we read become a part of us. The ones we truly love, we read again and again, maybe to the extent that we can quote passages from memory. Yet, after "The End" there is no more. The characters will never say or do anything new. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing more.
It reminds me of the faulty concept of life without the hope of a Savior and an afterlife. Without the hope of Heaven, the best one can hope for is a peaceful END. (Though those of us who know God's Word realize there is no such thing as an END. For souls go on-- whether to eternity with or eternity without God.) How glad I am that this life isn't all that there is! That I will never have to mourn the loss of a loved one who is a brother or sister in Christ, or even the end of my own life, without the security of knowing there is a glorious and everlasting sequel.

I am reminded of a quote James Scott Bell shared in Dallas: "Great art makes you homesick for Heaven." Maybe that is what that sadness at the end of a great book is all about. Our hearts long for eternity, for a joy and beauty with no ending. All of the beauty and excellence we encounter is just a foretaste.

Lord, Thank You for all we have to look forward to. I can't imagine what wonders You have planned for us. Eternal life. What a gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.