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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best of the Bizarre

by Mike Duran

Who needs traditional "Best of" lists when there's so much peculiarity to choose from? For instance, Paste's Top 100 Albums of 2007 is not nearly as entertaining as The Onion AV Club's Worst Band Names of 2007. I mean, how can you not love band names like Harmonica Lewinski, Dance Me Pregnant, The Asbestos Tampons, and Yo Momma's Big Fat Booty Band. My personal favorite? The Color Fred.

But being this here's a writers' site, I should probably stay on topic. Earlier this month, Merriam Webster announced its
Word of the Year, and I've got to admit, I didn't have a clue. The top ten words for 2007 are:

2. facebook
3. conundrum
4. quixotic
7. apathetic
9. hypocrite
10. charlatan

The number one word of the year?

1.) w00t

The word is a hybrid of letters and numbers used by video gamers as an exclamation of happiness or triumph. According to Merriam-Webster's president, John Morse, "w00t" was an ideal choice for the Word of the Year because it blends whimsy and new technology. Hey, I'm all about blending "whimsy and new technology." (Although I've heard Windows Vista is far more "technology" than "whimsy".)

But while you're busy adding words to your vocabularly,
Lake Superior State University 2007 List of Banished Words will assist you in subtracting lame lingo. For instance,

NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS -- Heard in movie advertisements. Where can we see that, again?

"How often do movies premiere in laundromats or other places besides theaters? I know that when I want to see a movie I think about going to a shoe store." -- Andrea May, Shreveport, Louisiana.

WE'RE PREGNANT -- Grounded for nine months.

"Were men feeling left out of the whole morning sickness/huge belly/labor experience? You may both be expecting, but only one of you is pregnant." -- Sharla Hulsey, Sac City, Iowa.

"I'm sure any woman who has given birth will tell you that 'WE' did not deliver the baby." -- Marlena Linne, Greenfield, Indiana.

And while we're on the subject of words and stringing them together, The Book Page's World's Worst Book Title was a stimulating read. The competition was stiff, with titles like

“Who Drooled on My Shoulder? A Guide to Sleeping Well on Trans-Atlantic Flights”

“Everything You’ll Need to Remember About Alzheimer’s”

“Curious George and the High Voltage Fence”

“Letting It Go: a History of American Incontinence”

“The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification”

So what title could possibly be better than these titles? How about "Cooking with Pooh". Can anyone say bon appétit?

But we're just warming up, folks. Slate's
The Questions We Never Answered in 2007 contains a whole bunch of questions I, well, never asked. The most baffling, however, were, "Why do men almost never win on ABC's Wheel of Fortune?" and "When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?" Don't lose sleep over that one.

No, I was not one of the judges for
America's Best Restroom 2007, but I'm as picky about my potties as the next guy. Apparently, so is ex-Senator Larry Craig.

And speaking of bums... The
Most Hated Company of 2007 is Exxon / Mobil, with good ol' WalMart a close second. (Come to think of it, why WalMart is so hated may be one of those Questions We Never Answered.) Equally as despicable, however, is The Phoenix's 100 Unsexiest Men 2007. I can barely stand to look at these brutes! Yet, seeing that Sanjaya made the Top Ten added to my already exultant holiday cheer.

And here in SoCal, no year-end list would be complete without
Best Bumper Stickers of 2007.

Ask me about my vow of silence.

Without geometry, life is pointless.

Stable relationships are for horses.

National Spellling Bee Runer-Up

I didn’t believe in reincarnation in my last life, either!

If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

Dyslexics are teople poo.

My mother was a moonshiner, and I love her still.

If you believe in telepathy, think about honking.

Who knew that sitting traffic could be so productive?

Well, it's been great perusing the peculiar with you. No doubt 2008 will have its share of Bigfoot sightings, stupid band names, and wayward senators. From all the staff at NJ: Here's to a fun, fitful, and increasingly prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sunday Devotion- A thimble of grace

Cindy Sproles

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – Romans 5:20

Try and explain grace. Think it through for a minute and then try to explain exactly what grace is. Sorry, but Webster is out – can’t use it. It’s a given what Webster says about grace. Pardon, reprieve, approval, favor, even privilege. However, what the assignment consists of is, you explaining grace in your own words.

My son and I were driving to the store one afternoon, when he asked, “Mom, tell me what grace means.” That would be easy or so I thought and I began listing all those words Webster offers. That’s when the realization of grace came to me. It’s more than single words. Grace is a concept – a big concept. In order to get our mind around it, we have to understand the concept.

Look at grace like this: you take a thimble, a tiny little sewing thimble. Pretend you’re standing on the beach gazing at the ocean. Now, jump in the water, swim out just a bit, dip your thimble in the water, and swim back. Once back on shore, look at the water in your thimble. It’s such a tiny amount of water. Imagine this. That small amount of water, when poured on your head, will cover you completely, soaking you to the bone. One more thing, look at that ocean. It’s huge. You could stand at the beach and dip your thimble into the ocean bazillions of times through your lifetime and never come close to using up the grace that God offers.

One might ask why do you have to swim into the ocean to fill your thimble? Can’t a person do that from the beach? Certainly, but the point of grace is diving into it. The full effects are felt when we immerse ourselves fully into the process. Isn’t that amazing? God’s marvelous grace is so abundant we can’t begin to make a dent in His ocean. Better yet, one thimbleful is concentrated – you know – a “little bit goes a long way” cliché.

There are many Christian concepts that sometimes throw us for a loop when we’re trying to grasp hold. We can be a great theologian and still not really “get” a concept – that’s why it’s important to ponder them. Study. When you least expect it. God will explain it.

So, today when I sat at my desk, I asked the Father, “What’s your definition of grace?”

He pulled his chair close to me and laid His hand on the desk, tapping His fingers in thought. “Grace is my way of canceling out the bad. A freedom of sorts, but one you must make the effort to receive. That’s why I sent you My Son. Grace.”

“Did you like my explanation of grace? You know, the thimble story.”

“I did. And now, here’s the question I pose to you. I freely give grace. What about you? It’s easy to receive grace, but it’s hard to give it. Who do you need to offer up a thimble of grace?”

I was stunned. “I thought grace was a God thing.”

“It is. But the idea is the same. If you can receive grace, you must also learn to offer it. It’s not my grace, because only I can give my grace, but you can offer your version of the idea and find a great peace in the forgiveness that lies beneath a simple word like grace. You know – give a gift. It’s Christmas.”

“Is grace my Christmas present?”

“My Son was your Christmas present. The grace is what wraps His packages.”

“Alright, so You’re saying I can give grace as well. That it’s not just a “GOD THING?”

The Father smiled as He tinkered with my keyboard. “Of course you can give grace. And it is a God thing, however, it’s a gift and gifts are meant to be given.”

I thought for a minute and came to the conclusion, God does know what He’s talking about. There are tons of gifts under thousands of Christmas trees this year, but does one of them contain grace? The Father sent us His one and only Son. What a wonderful and miraculous present and it came wrapped in this amazing paper called grace. A gift that money cannot buy but that blood purchased and paid for in full.

Wow. What a prize.

This year I’m mailing a couple of unique packages to people who’ll never expect them. They’ll open the boxes and find a note that simple says, “I offer you grace.” They’ll probably wonder what I had to drink but the fact remains the gift was given. It is easy to receive but difficult to give at times. That when I think of the sacrifice which came to me without hesitation – note attached – “For you….my gift of grace.”

God makes sense when we listen.

The Novel Journey

It's Friday evening, and the post I was planning to put on Novel Journey tonight isn't going to work because I didn't realize the book's release is still a few months out. Argh! Who wants to write a blog post between Christmas and New Years?

As I considered what to write about—briefly toying with the idea of touching on platform, or publicity, or working with your local bookstore, it occurred to me that I had no idea what was going to happen to my life the day I finally decided to sit down and write my novel. Little did I know when I wrote the "The End" and made a pledge that I would do whatever it took to see this book published, what that would entail.

The first ACFW conference I attended, guest speaker Karen Ball urged us not to miss the journey along the way to publication. I remember feeling this knot in my stomach, thinking it was easier to say than to live out, for if my novel wasn't published, I'd just wasted two years of my life and more money than I had to spend.

Since then, I've come to a much better understanding.

The journey really is something worth experiencing.

If it hadn't been for this journey, I wouldn't have tried my hand at publicity, or be working on my public speaking skills. Neither would have I started to learn graphic or web design. I probably never would have worked at a local bookstore. And currently, I'm taking the skills I learned writing and editing and applying them to video production.

And while those skills are useful in and of themselves, there have been deeper lessons than those. Lessons of perseverance—such as deciding to invest another year to rewrite a manuscript that I'd worked years on, and lessons that nothing can stop you from putting one foot in front of the other if you choose to pursue your dreams.

I've picked up honesty along the way, which might sound surprising coming from a Christian and a writer. I'm talking about the kind of honesty that tells (and writes) the truth, no matter how much it hurts or we hate to admit it. Recently my husband played in a concert, and with everyone around him assuring him the performance was stellar, he turned and asked me my opinion. My reply, "I think you did about 80-85% of what you're capable of." Shock registered on the faces around me until my husband smiled and said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking too." He knew that from me—if he asked—he'd get an honest opinion.

I've also learned there's a very careful balance between career and family. In the end, it's only a book and some things in life are not worth missing on a chance that may—or may not—happen. Yet at the same time, I've learned if you don't clear your schedule and make time, it definitely won't happen.

There's a saying that publishing won't change your life, you're the same person after publication as you were beforehand. I won't argue with that, but I will add a clause that says, there's a mighty good chance you'll be a different person than the one who decided to start the publishing journey.

It's nearing the end of 2007 and for some it might mean the end another year that they didn't see their novel or book published. I'd like to remind everyone of the best advice I've heard yet—Don't forget to enjoy the journey along the way.

Photo credit:, djayo.

Friday, December 28, 2007

WaterBrook Press Publicist Kelly Blewett ~ Interviewed

Kelly Blewett works in the publicity department of WaterBrook Press. She is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio, where she earned a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys spending time with her husband Ken (returning home from Iraq!!!), reading, brewing delicious pots of coffee and organizing blog campaigns!

Of all the creative author marketing and publicity you've encountered what effort has provided the most effective results for both the publisher and the author?

I’m not sure exactly how creative this is, but it’s definitely effective for an author to consider all the types of readers who will be interested in their novel--and then formulate specific strategies to publicize to those folks. Sometimes when we ask authors about their target market, we hear "all women between twenty and fifty." That's fine, but it's more effective to say "Well, there's a strong pro-life message in my story, and one of my characters is in the military." That's what Bob Elmer said about his recent release, Like Always, and that helped me form a specific plan to approach pro-life outlets as well as websites for military personnel.

Of all the marketing and publicity angles you've seen – what would you suggest that an author not do or not invest in?

Don’t approach media directly without talking to your publicist! There seems to be a strong emphasis on novelists taking the lead on their publicity. While being a self-starter will produce results, I recommend working closely with your publicity team to make sure efforts don't crossover. I recently had an author who contacted a well-known blogger to review her book-and I had already sent along a review copy! These crossovers just make the author and the publicist look out of sync and unprofessional.

Do you see a difference in book success between an author who lets the publicity department run with the book, vs. an author who works to make their book known?

I think an author should ALWAYS do both: Let the publicity department run with the book (after all that is our job!) AND work to make your book known. As Liz said in her interview, the best publicity campaigns almost always involve the author and the publicist working hard together. Understand what you can bring to the table: the deepest and most profound understanding of your book (you know how it connects to your life, where it came from, why you wrote it), and contacts from a variety of sources (reviewers from a hometown paper, a list of radio stations that you’ve been on in the past, a high-profile person who may be uniquely interested in promoting your story).

By thinking broadly and creatively about how the book could be positioned, and who you personally know that can help the campaign, you’re prepared to equip your publicist to run a better campaign for the book. In turn, the publicist will bring a huge list of media contacts, experience in promoting novels and hopefully savvy spins to make your topic especially relevant for various kinds of media.

Are there any personal touches that you can recommend to authors who might be very introverted and begin palpitating at the thought of crowds?

I suppose it would depend on what kind of crowd you're facing! Remember the reason you’re connected to these people. If you’re at ICRS and panic at the thought of leaving your hotel room, remember that everyone in that room LOVES books and is a fellow Christian. If you’re nervous before a signing, remember that the people you’ll be meeting are there because they love your book! If you attend a writers conference and clam up at the thought of sharing your work, remember that the people there are fellow writers and future friends. I think we work in a very kind industry, filled with people who are available and with whom you probably have a great deal in common.

What kind of results are you seeing from your blog tours?

I love blog campaigns! It’s such a fun way to raise an author’s online profile. But beyond creating buzz, I do think that blog campaigns lead to book sales. We’ve noticed, particularly with one campaign, that blog readers bought the book, resulting in a large buy-in from Amazon. While it’s hard to say how much blog campaigns lead to sales, there is a correlation there. It’s an excellent grass-roots publicity tool, both for writers and for readers looking to stay informed about the newest releases.

What have you learned since you started blog tours?

I’ve learned not to put your bloggers in a box! Our WaterBrook Multnomah blogger list has enjoyed reviewing everything from fiction books, to parenting books to devotionals. These bloggers are just avid readers, ready to give an opinion on almost any kind of book. It’s fun to work with such passionate readers.

What changes have you noticed in fiction recently? Do you find these changes good or not so good, explain your answer.

The consensus seems to be that Christian fiction is a higher quality now than ever before—the books are not nearly as “cookie cutter” nor the characters as one-dimensional as perhaps they once were. I also think the writing is all-around better J. I find these changes to be satisfying, and I think fiction from Christians is reaching more readers than ever before.

Bonnie Calhoun recently wrote that Christian fiction is the largest growing segment in the publishing industry. That’s a great thing for all of us who love to read, write and promote it!

What one or two things could you share with Novel Journey readers that might surprise them regarding bookselling?

It seems that many Christians are going to Barnes & Noble and Borders these days to pick up new inspirational reads--and correspondingly these major chains are really interested in the newest Christian fiction. Check out The Christian Book Reader, a free magazine distributed at Borders nationally that features new Christian books (produced by Strang).

Even though this development is cool as it indicates that our market is widening, it dismays many wonderful booksellers who own Christian independents. Keep shopping locally!

Personally -- what are your favorite genres?

Honestly I’ll read just about anything! I love coming-of-age stories, sassy stories of young women caught in an improbable situation, sweeping romances, spare poetry and especially a well written essay collection. But I’ll take memoirs, biographies and mass market suspense titles, too.

Favorite books or authors?

You should know better than to ask a publicist! I truly enjoy our WaterBrook titles—Cindy Woodsmall’s books I read in giant gulps (then long for more!). Jane Kirkpatrick’s gutsy women inspire me. Lisa Samson and Geof Wood are deliciously quirky, and Jeffrey Overstreet turns a wonderful sentence. But beyond the WaterBrook faves, I’d have to add that I love the humor of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and almost anything written by Jerry Spinelli makes me smile (especially Stargirl). Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott and Barbara Kingsolver have been wonderful companions for the journey, too.

If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists what would it be?

Keep writing!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Research 101 by Elizabeth Ludwig

I read an interesting article the other day. The author sprinkled in bits of humor that made it fun to read. Except…they cited a stretch of highway on IH10 from Port Charles, Louisiana to Beaumont, Texas.

Um…Port Charles is the fictional town from General Hospital.

Living close to the area the author described, I knew the name of the city is actually Lake Charles. While it didn’t make me dislike the author, it did pull me from an otherwise captivating story.

Another example: I read a wonderful book last month. The characters were funny, the setting vivid. Except…the heroine drove a silver Beamer. Now, BMW aficionados will quickly inform you that the correct spelling is Bimmer.

I know, I know. These are petty examples, and yet…the editor in me was a little irritated that two such easily verified facts were overlooked. Suddenly, the author’s credibility was questionable. What else wasn’t right?

New authors, especially, make the mistake of thinking that only writers of historical fiction need to research what they write. Nothing could be further from the truth. Readers are smart. They want to believe you know what you’re talking about, and they trust that you do—until you don’t. After that, it’s very difficult to win that reader back, which makes getting it right the first time doubly important.

There are different means to accomplishing this. Some writers stop what they’re doing and conduct the research immediately. I like to highlight the information I’m questionable about. That way I'll be sure to catch it later, but I can continue writing without interruption. Either way you can be certain of one thing—readers want truth and accuracy, even if it is all fiction, which proves my English/Literature teacher was right after all.

As far back as elementary school, I’ve always had at least one teacher whose standard answer to every question was, ‘look it up.’

If I asked how to spell something, they said, ‘look it up.’ Now wait a minute. How in the world am I going to look up a word I don’t know how to spell?

If I asked who the 13th president of the United States was, they said, ‘look it up.’ Does that mean that they didn’t KNOW who the 13th president was?

Irritating as it was at the time, that ‘look it up’ philosophy has proven to be very beneficial. Now that I’m writing full time, I find myself ‘looking it up’ more than ever. So, as my Christmas present to you, here are a three of my favorite sites, places I go time and again whenever I find myself having to research.

Wikipedia Who’d thunk it? After all those years of looking it up in World Book, my favorite source for online research would be another encyclopedia! But this is so much more than your average fact book. Besides pages and pages of helpful information, this nifty site includes more than your local library with its Help Desk, Reference Desk, multiple language capability and Community Portal. Got a question? Post it Wikipedia’s bulletin board! Also, be sure to check out all of Wikipedia’s sister sites, including Wiktionary and Wikiversity.

DEA – Official site of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. What better place to research illegal drugs, law enforcement, or drug policy, than from the pros themselves? Referred to me by an actual police officer, this site has proven to be a valuable tool, full of beneficial information. Best of all, I know it’s accurate.

The Writer’s Medical and Forensics Lab Okay, so unless you’re a medical examiner, you probably don’t know how long it takes for rigor mortis to set in, or what the effects of monkshood are on a person’s nervous system. But this guy does, and let me tell you, he’s good. Post your question, wait anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and voila! He’ll email you back with a detailed answer to your question, as well as offer suggestions for tricky scenarios and twisted plots. Not to mention he has several books available for purchase. I’m adding two of them to my wish list!

And that’s it, the short list. I’ve got lots of places bookmarked, but these are by far my top three ‘go to’ places on the web.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Deborah Raney ~ Leaving November

Deb, you are one of the best women's fiction authors in the CBA (and my personal favorite). You're now on your 17th or 18th novel. Women's fiction by definition is women's issues or issues of the heart. There are just so many of those issues. Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere I turn! Ideas are literally everywhere! But it took me 38 years to come up with an idea for my first novel and one of my biggest fears while I was writing it was that I’d never come up with an idea for a second one (and I desperately needed to, since my first contract was for two books!) But somewhere in the middle of the rewrite on my first novel, the idea was suddenly there—inspired by a brief conversation I’d had with my father-in-law twenty years earlier!

Now that I understand how a tiny seed of an idea can germinate into a full-blown novel, I keep my eyes and ears open. Because I write contemporary stories, the morning newspaper, magazines, talk shows and real life (I’m a talented eavesdropper!) are great sources for stories. Of course I never use a real life story in its entirety. But after I’ve changed all the details “to protect the innocent,” real stories make great backstory for my characters, or great jumping-off points for my plot.

In the Clayburn series, and specifically Leaving November, what issue sparked the story?

In Leaving November, Jackson Linder, the alcoholic gallery owner from Remember to Forget (the first of the Clayburn novels series) is the hero. Jack is fresh out of rehab and trying to stay sober and make up for the disappointment and damage his addictions have caused.

I explored a different kind of disappointment in my heroine,Vienne Kenney, who has just failed the bar for the second time and been forced to move back to Clayburn even though it’s the last place on earth she wants to be.

The issues Jack and Vienne deal with are more similar than they first realize and of course the issues that first divide them, ultimately bring them together.

How do you find a fresh approach to the issue for Leaving November?

I think one of the elements that provides a fresh look at this issue involves the type of counseling Jack came out of. In researching this story, I discovered there are two basic lines of thought in treating alcoholism, and they are often at odds with each other. In a nutshell, one view looks at alcoholism as a disease, the other looks at it as sin and choice. I explored the latter view, while concluding, personally, that the truth is somewhere in the middle. It was a little risky writing Jack’s story the way I did, and I’m prepared to get letters from counselors who disagree with my conclusions. But I talked to enough real people who have survived the battleground of addictions—not only with alcohol, but with drugs, pornography, overeating, financial issues—and shared Jack’s experience, that I feel very confident in handling this topic the way I did.

WF usually has an element of romance. How do you keep your story within the WF genre and still develop the romance fully?

Quite honestly, when I’m writing, I don’t give that balance much thought. I simply let the story unfold and make sure my characters interact with all the people in their lives. Making certain they are true to themselves (which, I guess does take some forethought on my part) seems to result in a story that satisfies both women’s fiction and romance fans.

Oddly enough, several of my best-received stories—A Vow to Cherish, A Nest of Sparrows, Over the Waters—are written primarily from a male point of view. And yet I think they certainly fit well within the framework of Women’s Fiction/Romance.

How would you describe the difference between plot driven and character-driven?

In a nutshell, a plot-driven novel keeps you turning pages faster and slows down for a peek at the characters’ thoughts far less frequently than a character-driven novel. So-called character-driven novels must have a plot, of course—the more complex the better—but some readers are more content with a novel that’s taken up with the characters’ inner lives as much or more than the external conflicts with which they struggle. Of course, the best novel has a perfect balance of both.

WF is normally character driven. In Leaving November, how did you weave the plot and keep it character-driven?

Well, since I pretty much stink at plotting, writing character-driven stories comes pretty naturally and easily. I think your choice of the word “weave” is perfect, because that’s how I write. I spin the story chronologically, but most of the important work comes in the rewrite when I go back and weave in character traits that reflect and reveal who I’ve discovered each characters to be by the end of my first draft.

With a few exceptions like A Nest of Sparrows and Beneath a Southern Sky, my novels’ plots aren’t terribly complicated. I’m more concerned that the inner lives of my characters be complex—and I think that’s the secret to a character-driven novel. Again, the best novel has a nice mixture of complexity in both plot and characterization.

When you read, do you stay pretty much within your own genre? Why or why not?
I started writing women’s fiction because that’s what I loved to read, but I was growing frustrated by the progressively worse morality (or lack of it, I should say) portrayed in secular women’s fiction. Since that was almost 15 years ago, before there was such a wealth of wholesome Christian women’s fiction, I decided to write my own. Now there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the great stuff that’s being written from a Christian worldview.

But I’m trying to branch out and read some different things. I love James Scott Bell’s legal thrillers, and I’ve even given two of Brandilyn Collins’ scary suspense novels a try (and I did enjoy them once I was done and realized I survived!) As Tamera Alexander’s critique partner, I read historical fiction and truly enjoy it.

I love biographies, and I read a lot of non-fiction for research, of course, but yes, when it comes to fiction, my first choice is always contemporary women’s fiction, whether secular or CBA. I mostly read books that I put down and say “Ah…I wish I’d written that!”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunday Devotion- It's all about how we choose, by John Aubrey Anderson

"Enemy-occupied territory—that’s what this world is."
C. S. Lewis

I want to ask you a question, but before I do, I need to tell you a story.

Take a moment and imagine yourself as a Marine lieutenant stationed in Southeast Asia. It’s 1968, and the war is cresting. For the men around you, Viet Nam is four things: red dirt, rank sweat, dense jungle, and a dangerous enemy. For you, it’s those four things and one more—it’s a choice. You volunteered for this duty because you believe wholeheartedly in what you’re fighting for. You’re a warrior.

This particular late afternoon finds your recon patrol deep in enemy infested territory. As night settles, you and your men dig in on the crown of a small hill. Midnight comes; sleep doesn’t.

You hear a man-made sound and look out of your small pit to check the area . . . shadows are stirring at the foot of the hill. Even as you watch, the shadows become men—enemy soldiers crawling up the slope. When they’re halfway to your position, the soldiers rise to their feet and begin sprinting in your direction, yelling as they come. It’s sapper unit—a suicide squad with grenades tied to their bodies.

A dozen automatic weapons open fire around you, drowning out the screams of the attackers. As the sappers draw near, they begin blowing themselves up in an effort to kill you and your men.

One of the enemy makes it all the way to the top of the hill. He’s headed straight for you—running full tilt—yelling words you can’t hear. You turn your 12-guage shotgun on him and fire pointblank—the man’s momentum carries him into the hole with you. Before you can recover, the bundle of explosives strapped to his chest detonates and hurls you both into the air.

Now. My question is: If you’re a warrior who has trained himself to focus his life on being effective and you’ve just been blown into the air by a satchel full of high explosives, what is your first thought?

Personally, I like the reaction of
Lt. Clebe McClary, USMC, the leader of that thirteen-man recon patrol. He would later say, “As I was flying though the air, all I could think of was, ‘Man, where’s my shotgun!?’” McClary was still in the air when he realized he didn’t have his shotgun because his left arm had been blown off.

Well-armed soldiers followed the sappers, and a major fire-fight erupted on the hill. When the young lieutenant and his men ran out of ammunition, they fought hand-to-hand against a force that out-numbered them ten to one. For Lt. Clebe McClary, the cost of that engagement was an arm and an eye and more than thirty painful follow-on surgeries.

Professor Lewis was right . . . you and I live behind enemy lines in the midst of a global war. It is our responsibility—every minute of our earthly lives—to thwart the purposes of the enemy, and Clebe McClary’s response to that midnight attack epitomizes what I want in my spiritual life. Regardless of the nature and magnitude of any offered distractions, I want to be tunnel-visioned on making myself more effective for the cause of Christ.

Given the scope of the conflict, should our enemy’s power be cause for trepidation? Not hardly. Dedicated followers of Christ have boots and breastplates, shields and swords. Because you and I write Christian fiction, we have an additional weapon that is specific to us . . . an instrument of war as effective as any modern firearm. You and I have our words.

You and I, fellow writers, have been given an immeasurable gift. We are a small and special remnant of a chosen race, a people for God’s own possession. He has carefully selected us—set us aside—to be His marksmen, and He has assigned to us our target—the hearts of men . . . in some cases to heal, in others to slay them to themselves.

So . . . keeping in mind that we are in a war and that we are gifted with a weapon that has the potential to make a monumental difference, consider the following statement: "For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." (NASB)

Well, there it is: Our effectiveness won’t hinge on our talent, our skill, or who we know—it will be determined by that to which we give our hearts.

You and I need to live our lives in a way that arrests God’s gaze; we need to weld our hearts to Him—seamlessly. If our hearts are completely His—if He strongly supports us—the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil cannot turn us from what He would have us accomplish. If God owns our hearts, the impact of our writing will be measured on the meters of eternity.

I’m not a prophet, but if you’re a Christian, I can tell you this with utmost confidence: You do not want to take anything off this battlefield—nothing. On that bright day when you stand before the Bema to hear Jesus’s assessment of your life’s choices, you will want to be able to look back on an earthly existence that left you utterly depleted . . . emptied of all potential for His grand cause . . . a dry husk.
Choose well.

In closing . . . if it happens that you’re not a Christian, and you’re at a point in your life where you’re open to exploring the claims of Christ, I’d be honored to
visit with you.

John Aubrey Anderson is the author of THE BLACK OR WHITE CHRONICLES—comprised of Abiding Darkness, Wedgewood Grey and And If I Die. He lives in Texas with his wife.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fiction Publicist, Elizabeth Johnson ~ Interviewed

Liz Johnson works in the publicity department of Multnomah Books. She is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, where she earned a degree in public relations. Her favorite people in the world are her nieces Julia, Emily, and Rachel…and their families too. In what spare time she can manage to find, she enjoys reading and writing fiction, ice skating, and going to the movies. And reading blogs, of course.

Of all the creative author marketing and publicity you've encountered what effort has provided the most effective results for both the publisher and the author?

One of the best publicity pitches for a novelist is to somehow make a connection between their novel and other parts of their life. Take for example Sharon Dunn’s newest cozy mystery series about the Bargain Hunter Network. Sharon loves to save money and clip coupons. She’s an experienced thrifty shopper, and her publicist knows this. So her publicist can craft a pitch about being contentious about money and having a godly perspective on shopping that opens her up to a much broader audience than what she might get with a simple cozy mystery pitch. So if you have an interest, expertise, or experience that is related to your book, make sure that your publicist is aware of it.

Of all the marketing and publicity angles you've seen – what would you suggest that an author not do or not invest in?

You can see this answer by subscribing to the Novel Journey Newsletter. It's simple and free. If you are already on the mailing list, well, you'll just have to wait with everybody else.

Do you see a difference in book success between an author who lets the publicity department run with the book, vs. an author who works to make their book known?

At the risk of sounding cliché, it depends a great deal on the book. The most successful novel campaigns I’ve seen involve both the author and publicity departments working hard together. For the author, this means understanding and respecting your publicists experience and time. If you feel overlooked, don’t be afraid to pipe up. But also remember that your publicist is likely working on at least five other titles, and her time is very precious. It also means being available for every interview that your publicist can set up, even when it means a 4:00a.m. wake-up call. You should always be prepared to share any personal or professional media connections you may have with your publicist, but let your publicist pitch your book. This takes advantage of your publicists experience and connections, while making use of the time you’ve invested in getting to know the media.

Are there any personal touches that you can recommend to authors who might be very introverted and begin palpitating at the thought of crowds?

Most writers write because they feel called to share a message. When your palms start sweating and your head spins at the size of the crowd eagerly anticipating your wisdom or waiting for you to sign a book, focus on why you wrote the book in the first place. Focus on the story you’ve been given to share. They’re there to see you because they loved the book too. And if you have to share a few words verbally … well, practicing really does go a long way.

What kind of results are you seeing from your blog tours?

Blog campaigns are really the best form of grass-roots publicity I’ve seen. It’s word-of-mouth available to hundreds and thousands of people at the same time. The exact results are hard to measure, but the buzz created about a book is definitely substantial. The New York Times, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly have all run articles about the explosive power of blogging. While it may not be possible to state quantifiable results right now, we know that they are effective in spreading the word about great books.

What have you learned since you started blog tours?

Blog tours are useful not only to promote books among fans, but also to educate those who may not be aware of what's really available. In fact, Kelly Blewett and I are writing an article for an upcoming issue of CBA Retailers + Resources (a national trade magazine) informing booksellers about the information that blog tours provide. The tours provide opportunity for sellers to be informed without having to crack every cover, especially of a book in a genre they might not enjoy. Avid fiction bloggers are often some of the the most informed people on the web.

Describe today's fiction reader based on your observations.

Today’s fiction reader is more diverse than ever. Traditionally fiction readers were mostly women in their 30s and 40s, but that’s definitely changing. With the upsurge of chick lit, thrillers, and YA novels, the CBA fiction market is reaching a much broader, more edgy audience. High school students are reading about other teens while their moms and dads enjoy novels targeted specifically at them as well. As the market offers more diverse titles, the readers will continue to grow and change.

What changes have you noticed in fiction recently? Do you find these changes good or not so good, explain your answer.

Specifically within the Christian fiction market, I see a movement toward books that are edgy, away from the traditionally “safe” books of twenty years ago. While I grew up reading Gilbert Morris and Bodie Thoene, there are fewer and fewer books that fall into categories with those authors now.

New authors like Eric Wilson, Melanie Wells, and Jill Elizabeth Nelson are pushing the envelope, including characters that experience doubts, that struggle with daily dilemmas, like their readers do. There has also been an upsurge in the quality of writing in Christian fiction over the last five years. These are great changes for our market.

What one or two things could you share with Novel Journey readers that might surprise them regarding bookselling?

Booksignings are not always the key to bestseller status. In fact they are more often a miss rather than a hit. As someone who spends a solid chunk of my day organizing and publicizing booksignings, I wish that I could guarantee that every one will be a dream come true for the author and the bookstore. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. While they provide an excellent opportunity to meet fans, unless you’re Liz Curtis Higgs or Francine Rivers, you may not have enough fans in any given city to fill the store. Consider wisely if doing a booksigning is really going to be the best use of your time. If you do commit to one, then go for it. Enjoy every minute of chatting with your new friends, who likely will look forward to buying your next book too.

Personally -- what are your favorite genres?

I’m a complete YA fanatic! I think I just like reliving my high school years vicariously through these books. I love chick lit and Christian romances too, but will generally read about anything that I can get my hands on including historical nonfiction.

Favorite books or authors?

Some of my favorite novelists are Tamara Leigh, Francine Rivers, Jill Elizabeth Nelson, Meg Cabot, and too many more to name. My favorite book of all time is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. My mom had me read it for a homeschooling assignment when I was in third or fourth grade, and to this day, I have the same dog-eared, spine-falling-apart copy. My mom tried to replace it with a new copy a few years ago, but I refused to part with my classic copy. Too many good memories are unwrapped when I reread those pages.

If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists what would it be?

I’m going to completely demolish a line from Facing the Giants: Writing only for publication is too small a thing to live for. If God has given you as story, write it, even if no one else will ever read it. Practice your craft, take courses, get friends to read/edit your stuff. Work hard, always keeping I mind your goal, whatever that may be. And if you get published, give God the glory. If you never get published, give God the glory.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Agent Interview ~ Natasha Kern

Today’s guest is Natasha Kern of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. Before founding her own agency in 1986, she worked as an editor and publicist for New York publishers (Simon & Schuster, Bantam and Ballantine). Natasha has personally sold more than 800 books and says she has a strong commitment to discover and develop new talent in inspirational fiction as well as other genres and helping writers develop their careers. Her client list includes several New York Times best-selling authors, USA Today Best Sellers; and RITA winners. She represents Christy winners Robin Lee Hatcher and Michael Joens as well as Christy finalists Angela Benson, Harry Kraus, and other popular CBA authors.

She has taught numerous workshops and been a speaker at writers’ conferences across the country. She is a member of several writing organizations including Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and The Authors Guild, just to name a few. For two years, Natasha agreed to serve as an industry advisor for The Industry Advisory Committee of Faith, Hope, Love. Her agency represents books that provide entertainment, inspiration and information. Natasha regards herself as a steward of ideas and stories that inspire hope, faith, insight and action.

Natasha, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed today.

How long have you been an agent? 21 years

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

Absolutely not! Agenting is a calling for me and there is nothing that better suits my temperament and talents. This isn’t a matter of preference or personal taste alone, but of knowing what is right for me and where I should invest my life energy—of the gifts I have been given that I want to give back as part of living a dedicated life.

What mistakes did you make while starting your own agency?

This is a really odd question. In looking back I can say I did a lot of things that were great like being mentored by more experienced agents and hiring excellent assistants or working with clients I respect and whose work I like. I sold 25 books my first year so I can’t have been making many mistakes!

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

Inscrutable royalty statements.

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

Since the readers of this blog are presumably not people hoping to become agents but those hoping to become published writers I’m going to change this question as I don’t see how trying to come up with something for this will be helpful. It would have been nice to have had a crystal ball and envisioned email or blogging and so forth existing in the future.

What categories of fiction do you look for and what do you look for in a project you will choose to represent?

I do not look for categories but for writers. I look for talent (life is not a level playing field unfortunately) and training, an outstanding concept and a novel that is well written, touches our hearts, makes us think, captivates the reader and is inspiring. OK, this isn’t really how it works. Of course I want wonderful writing and storytelling. But what really happens is the author knows that I am the right agent for her and I know that her work is right for me--often before we even meet or when I have read a few pages of the submission. Then when I stay up all night reading it and can’t put it down and it really makes me laugh, cry, turn the pages and feel inspired I absolutely know it is right for me—sometimes because I know what is needed to take it to the next level to launch her career.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Middlemarch, George Eliot; War and Peace; The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantzakis; The Brother’s Karamazoz, Dostoevsky; The Secret Life of Bees.

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

Robin Lee Hatcher’s The Forgiving Hour and Beyond the Shadows because they are life transforming; Nikki Arana’s Winds of Sonoma and As I have Loved You because they are books with a ministry that are powerful and heartfelt; Julie Lessman’s A Passion Most Pure because it breaks new ground in Christian fiction; Eliot Pattison’s Tibetan series beginning with The Skull Mantra because he raises awareness of what happened in Tibet far beyond any work of nonfiction; Hope Is the Thing With Feathers because it is a beautiful book that really is hopeful; Kathleen Morgan’s Scottish books because they combine historical authenticity with great romance and her Woman of Joy because it meant so much to both of us. The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones because of the insights about the lives of the wives of Muhammad and the founding of Islam; Elvis Takes a Back Seat by Leanna Ellis because it ROCKS! The Curse of Blessings, by Mitchell Chefitz because it is an outstanding example of the art of storytelling, profound and wise. Breathing Grace by Harry Kraus because it personally inspires me. Girlwood by Claire Dean because it introduces a generation of young women to beautiful lyrical writing and opens a path to a new world view. I’m trying to think if I could add dozens more here. Hard to be limited. I have cared deeply about so many books that I have worked on.

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

I like reading Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest because it always seems like he has somehow managed to work through the night to sneak the daily scripture in that exactly applies to me for that day.

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

There is no typical. Obviously, negotiating contracts, calling editors, reviewing or writing jacket copy, looking at new covers and responding with requested changes, making sure clients are getting paid, discussing marketing plans with clients or publicists, reading and responding editorially to mss, supervising office staff, working on film deals with co-agents in Hollywood; working with foreign agents on concerns of theirs or new books for their lists; working with in house staff on options for selling rights; career management and building; future plans for clients near term and long term; analyzing royalties; tracking book sales and best seller listings; keeping up with industry news and changes; answering about 100 emails each day; consulting on publicity plans with publishers and clients; working with private editors; ensuring that schedules are on track; getting rights reverted; and the office and business side of agenting; reviewing catalog copy; obtaining jacket blurbs; developing proposals or helping authors understand how to write them; developing workshops or setting up meetings for when I am in New York or at conferences; writing pitch letters for submissions; developing sales plans for properties I represent; conducting auctions; analyzing numerous spreadsheets; tracking contractual matters like due dates, payments, pub dates, rights allocation; reading queries; and a lot of other things.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being an agent?

Favorite thing discovering new talent; least favorite thing having to get involved in lawsuits against publishers.

Do you help your clients market their books? What's your favorite part of marketing?

Yes, of course. I worked in publicity and like doing it although I don’t have much time for it on individual books. I like working with in-house publicists and marketing people to use them most effectively for positioning each client and book. I am extremely good at this. Everyone pretty much knows this so I am almost always included in developing marketing and publicity plans for authors so a there is a sold team effort.

As an agent, what's that special something you look for in a book?

That is it exactly—that undefineable special something that is like falling in love, that makes it impossible to put a book down.

We all hear how subjective this business is. Can you elaborate on that?

Of course, it is subjective. This is an art not a science and anyway science is also often subjective.

What's the best piece of advice you can give our readers about getting published?

The best thing is to write the story God has given you, the story in your heart and He will create the opportunities and prosper what you give back to Him from the gifts He has given you (this is intended to be gender neutral). If a writer looks at the market and consider writing spiritual works to fit into a niche, this would be someone I would not choose to work with.

Let's say I have an intriguing query, a well developed synopsis and my three sample chapters are strong. Why might I still get a rejection?

It depends on what you mean by strong. Most rejections are because the writing just isn’t at publishable quality and the writer lacks a clear voice, there is no dramatic tension, weak character development and a lack of mastery of the craft. There are also rejections because the author simply doesn’t understand what a novel is and the structural requirements of this art form. Beyond that, I might just not like it or feel it is a match. So it is partly talent, something that REALLY makes me laugh, cry, turn the pages, feel inspired, and a matter of personal taste.

What are the biggest mistakes writers make when pitching their work?

The problem isn’t pitching their work but whether they are at a stage of mastery of the art of writing to be ready to sell. I don’t think agents expect writers to master ‘pitching’—that is our job. Has the writer really spent the kind of time required to become a professional that say a doctor or lawyer might invest in developing a career? Writers worry too much about pitch sessions and not enough about how long it takes to master any profession.

If a writer is rejected and reworks the manuscript, can he/she resubmit it?

If I have agreed to that. If I am interested in a writer or her work, yes. It can take some time to get things right.

Would you recognize a resubmission? If you did, would you be able to see it with fresh eyes?

Yes. Always. I would only look at one if I had previously agreed to do so. I have worked for months or years with authors who had talent and still had to master the craft before making a sale.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

In nonfiction, writers need to have something of unique value to write about and the skills to express it as well as a defined readership. In fiction, study the craft, join writing organizations and attend conferences. Make sure you know the indwelling spirit of your work. Develop your writing toolbox and then allow the story to be told that has been given to you. Trust that inner voice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Emotive Power of Words ~ Margie Lawson

In the last three years, Margie has taught a dozen on-line courses and presented full-day Master Classes in over thirty cities across the U.S and Canada. Her deep editing techniques have been used by hundreds of pre-published writers as well as authors ranging from debut to multi-award-winning.

Margie holds a Master of Science degree in Counseling Psychology with a two-year concentration beyond her master's degree in psychiatric counseling and nonverbal communication. Her resume includes college professor, clinical trainer, sex therapist, Director of an Impotence Clinic, hypnotherapist and keynote speaker.

Margie merges her two worlds, psychology and writing, by analyzing writing craft as well as the psyche of the writer. She presents 1) Empowering Characters Emotions, 2) Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More, and 3) Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors in one and two day master classes. She also teaches these topics in month-long on-line courses and offers Lecture Packets through PayPal from her web site.

You're writing a mainstream suspense with your husband. Tell us about that. What's your process?

Ah – I’ll expose the mystery of coauthoring.

Lucky for us, most of the suspense, tension, and conflict is in the story, not the coauthoring process!

Honest – my husband and I have such fun brainstorming and what-if’ing. Then, we decide who writes which scenes – and we edit each other’s work. Given my propensity for deep editing, I dive into my scenes, as well as his scenes, and deep edit, deep edit, deep edit . . .

Collaborating usually involves synapses cross-firing between our brains, but it’s not always magical. When needed, we use a 100 POINT PLAN.

If we don’t agree on something, we quantify it. The writer has up to 100 points. The challenger has up to 99 points. If the challenger gives their suggestion 40 or 50 points, they realize they can easily let it go if the writer’s points are higher.

No external conflict. No internal angst.

If the challenger has heavy-duty points in the 80’s and 90’s, the writer usually rethinks it. Often the scene is tweaked, torqued, or trashed, resulting in a new scene that pleases both writers. A scene that carries power.

Like every writer, our goal is to plot and craft the best scene possible. It’s easy to jettison your idea when the other person’s idea is better.

You have a closet full of hats: counseling psychologist, college professor, workshop presenter, keynote speaker, clinical trainer, sex therapist and hypnotherapist and writer. Which is your favorite and why?

Ane – You’re asking me which of my children I love the most. You’re so mean!

I have a strong inner need to be creative – and I wear my creativity hat in all my roles. I’m fortunate. I have a brimming-over life that’s rewarding for me. Multiple hats might make others crazy, but they keep me energized.

Hmm, which role do I like best? To draw from the song, “I love the one I’m with.” The role I’m in at any moment is usually the one I like best. My roles are all creative, all helping in some way (real people or fictional characters), all fabulous fits for me.

You've said you're fascinated with the psychology of writing. You love to unravel the psychological nuances of the craft. If the story is good, I get caught up and forget to dissect what I'm reading, even if it’s a second or third reading. How do you dissect a scene?

In school, I loved anatomy. Loved dissecting everything. Exploring layer after layer. Understanding the intricacies. Exposing the magic.

I’m equally passionate about dissecting scenes. I get to expose the writing magic.

On my first pass, I’m 99% reader. That remaining 1%, I sticky tab whatever grabs me. It may be fresh emotion, nonverbal communication, one of 30+ rhetorical devices, or a line that could boost the author onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Next, I go through the book and type some of the tabbed examples in a file. I may have 2 to 10 pages of examples. Some authors WOW me with their fresh ways to hook the reader viscerally.

I draw from those examples for my on-line courses and my full day master classes. Writers get to see how I dissect writing and learn how to write their own passages loaded with psychological power.

To analyze a scene in depth, I use my EDITS System as well as my 5Q, (my Five Question Scene Checklist). For details, keep reading.

When did the writing bug bite you?

Young. Very young. But I didn’t trust that I could be a writer. I whipped straight through school focusing on psychology. I allowed myself to write psych-based articles on intriguing topics like the emotional impact of impotence. Not destined for bestseller lists.

What sparked the desire to teach writers?

Writers didn’t have anywhere else to acquire this knowledge – and they needed it.

I used to teach college, from undergraduate to post-graduate courses. Abnormal Psychology, Group Dynamics, Psychology of Learning, plus all the other courses I taught, gave me a strong foundation to teach writers. Not that writers are abnormal.

I sat through your Empowering Character Emotions class at the ACFW conference and it's insightful. How did you develop the course?

I didn’t have a big plan to develop any courses. I dove deep into analyzing books and developing systems so I could understand how writers were successful at capturing emotion on the page. I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to be successful too.

Over time, my systems evolved, courses evolved, and presentations evolved. Voila! My non-fiction writing career was launched.

Empowering Characters’ Emotions was created to teach writers how to write real emotion. Emotion so strong, so smooth, so immediate, that the reader is hooked viscerally.

When the reader is hooked viscerally, and stays hooked, you’ve got a page turner.

How can Empowering Characters’ Emotions benefit novelists?

As a psychologist, I know the impact of body language. I also know that writers often use tried and trite body language. In Empowering Characters’ Emotions, I teach writers how to expand their repertoire of nonverbal communication, including the full range of facial expressions, flicker face emotions, movements, gestures, ideomotoric shifts, and vocal cues.

Empowering Characters’ Emotions also introduces my EDITS System, explores the Four Levels of Powering Up Emotion, and teaches writers how to write fresh. The course is loaded with hands-on tools guaranteed to add psychological power.

Since we're on the subject, how do we avoid clichés and still convey emotion?

Here are two ways:

1. Rewrite clichés. When you find clichés in your manuscript, highlight them, and insert these words in bold, right after the cliché: WRITE FRESH.

2. Use my Four Levels of Powering Up Emotion to stack basics in a creative way to create complex, empowered, or super empowered passages.

I bet you’re wondering -- How do you write fresh? Challenge yourself. See how the masters write fresh. How they twist, avoid, or think outside the cliché.

Dean Koontz is a master of writing craft. He avoids clichés like vegetarians avoid haggis.

How’s that for a fresh simile? I didn’t fall into that predictable line: He avoids clichés like the plague.

Ane – Fantastic interview you did on Novel Journey of Dean Koontz. Masterful!

Let's talk about editing. Some writers hate this part and others love it. It's my favorite part of writing. Tell us about your Deep Editing Course. How did you develop this one?

Most writers don’t know why some writing hooks them. They don’t know why some books are page turners. They don’t know why when they read certain books, they become engaged viscerally. Heart rate up, breathing shallow, muscles tense.

They could be reading any genre – and have the same gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching physical response. And still . . . not know how the writer grabbed them.

We’ve all read passages that by their content, should have hooked us emotionally, but didn’t. We’ve written scenes that we expected to pop, but went pfft. They fizzled.

Tighten your cognitive seat belt. Here’s why I developed my Deep Editing course.

To teach writers how to write to psychological power.

To teach writers how to build credible conflict and crescendo emotion.

To teach writers how to speak to the unconscious of the reader.

To teach writers how to wrap their words around the reader’s heart and squeeze.

And again, how would your Deep Editing course benefit novelists?

WHOA! I’d need a million words to adequately describe my DEEP EDITING course and how it could benefit novelists. I’ll give you the fast-track description.

Deep Editing covers four major psychologically-anchored topics:

The EDITS System goes deep, deep, deeper
My multi-layered Five Question Scene Checklist
Twenty-Five Rhetorical Devices for adding power using style and structure
More Deep Editing Techniques

Writers have a galaxy of choices to add power to their writing, yet many writers repeat the same basic patterns. I developed my Deep Editing course so I could help writers go deeper. Duh! The full title is: Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More.

Can you briefly explain your highlighter system?

A EUREKA moment! That describes how I stumbled on developing my EDITS System.


I’m a visual person. I wanted to analyze what I had in each scene. Wanted to see where I had strong emotion, where I had dialogue (and assess stimulus/response sets), where I’d kept the POV character in their head (internalizations), where I’d slipped in setting, and where I needed to add more tension and conflict.

I picked up some highlighters and matched colors to those five elements of fiction and highlighted those five components. When I realized that Emotion, Dialogue, Internalizations, Tension, and Setting spelled EDITS – I shrieked.

My EDITS System is multi-dimensional, multi-applicable. It helps writers identify their weaknesses, their voids, their less-than-desirable patterns and shows them what they need to do to write a page turner.

So what's in your future? Are there any more Margie courses lurking behind your office door? Maybe a new take on character personalities? Come on, you can tell us.

Ane – Are you a mind-reader? I do have new material!

Interested in learning SIMPLE SELF-HYPNOSIS?

That’s one of six new topics I added to my Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors course (offered on-line in January). I also added writing-on-the-go, the power of sleep, stretch breaks, blasting writer's block, and optimizing productivity.

I’m offering a new opportunity in October – a two-week intensive study: Digging Deep into the EDITS System. Writers have been nudging me, requesting a course focused on analyzing and applying the EDITS System. Here’s their chance to dig deep applying the EDITS System to their work in progress.

Empowering Characters’ Emotions (March) and Deep Editing (May) have some new topics too. One of the new sections is called Stretching Time. Writers will learn how to amplify and deepen Motivation Reaction Units. How to draw the reader into the nuances of moments that may take a page or more to describe. How to stretch time and keep the reader not only engaged, but holding their breath.

Ane – There are so many amazing authors you can interview, I’m honored to be interviewed on Novel Journey. Thank you!

NJ: You can visit Margie's website by clicking here or on her photo. Thanks, Marige!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Debut Author - Cheryl Wyatt ~ Interviewed

Cheryl Wyatt's closest friends would never dream the mayhem she plots during announcements at church. An RN-turned-SAHM, joyful chaos rules her home and she delights in the stealth moments God gives her to write. She stays active in her church and in her laundry room. She's convinced that having been born on a Naval base on Valentine's Day destined her to write military romance.

Prior to publication, Cheryl took courses through Christian Writers Guild. An active member of RWA, FHL and ACFW, she won numerous awards with multiple manuscripts. Visit her on the Web or here. Sign up for her newsletter for news and chances to enter contests with great prizes. You can also find her skittering around Steeple Hill's message boards as "Squirl" at

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

My debut novel, A Soldier’s Promise is a January release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired and on sale now. It is book one in my Wings of Refuge Series (about a team of USAF pararescue jumpers and the ladies who capture their hearts). It received a Jan. ’08 Top Pick! from Romantic Times BOOK club. A Soldier's Family, book two-Wings of Refuge-releases from Steeple Hill Love Inspired in March, 2008 but can be pre ordered now on most online booksellers. The RT reviewer summed up the book like this:

"Cheryl Wyatt infuses A Soldier's Promise (4.5) with kindness, compassion and love. Plus, each character in this strong story is multi layered. When young Bradley, a boy dying of cancer, writes to the Air Force Pararescue team, he gets to meet jumper Joel Montgomery, who connects with Bradley and feels an instant and shared attraction to the boy's teacher, Amber Stanton. This absolutely fantastic debut novel proves that while challenges and boundaries are not always easily resolved, they're definitely worth the work." ---Robin Taylor-Romantic Times Reviewer

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

I’ve dabbled in writing all my life. I received my first rejection in third grade. I started writing fiction seven years ago but a great portion of that time was spent learning craft since rejection alerted me that I had no clue what I was doing. LOL!

My seventh manuscript sold. I will never ever forget the day it happened or how excited my agent sounded when she called. Her sweet voice still is so clear in my mind as she said, “Cheryl! This is THE Call!” Still gives me goosebumps. I remember not being able to think, or comprehend that this long-held dream could finally be coming true. In fact, I had to call her back because I couldn’t complete a coherent sentence and because my shrieks before the blubbering sent my toddler running for cover under the table asking, “Wh-what’s wrong with my mommy?”

A couple years before I sold, God did some major revisions on me. During that time, He got me to a place (kicking and screaming at times…LOL) where I’d be content if all it ever meant was worship to Him. If I never saw a book in print, it was okay as long as I was being obedient.

The day The Call came, I’d just sent an e-mail and my eyes lit on my tagline that says, “Pouring my vial of words over Him.” I literally felt Him draw near and ask me again, “Will you promise to always write as worship?” He’d asked me this before and the first time, it was hard to answer because I feared He was asking me to lay down my dream of publication. I mean, who doesn’t want their kids to be able to point to a book at the store and say, “My mommy wrote that.”? So this time, without hesitation or heaviness of heart, I whispered, “Yes, Lord, You know I will.” I am not kidding when I say THAT very second…the phone rang and it was my agent with The Call.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Oh, yes. All the time. In fact, a good writer friend (Mary Connealy) calls it “Sender’s Remorse” and I’m afflicted by it every time I mail something out for submission. I am a perfectionist and want every book to be better than the last. But with deadlines, I don’t have time to let the stories gel for a couple of years like I did prior to publication. LOL! I’m not as confident in sending stuff out.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Submitting things before they were ready. I was too new at it to even know I wasn’t ready. The mistake was thinking I was better than I was craft-wise. I naively thought, I wrote a book. Someone should publish it, right? Ha! After that, the more I learned, the more I learned I needed to learn.

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

That has to be from my editor, Melissa Endlich. She said when an author gets to a point where they are publishable, sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the right story in front of the right editor at the right house at the right time. Don’t give up. Keep submitting.

The other thing was from Krista Stroever, Shirlee McCoy, Tamela Hancock Murray and Chip MacGregor who all said, “Be someone (character-wise) that they (editors and agents) want to work with.” You can have the best story in the world, but if you gain a reputation for being difficult, that could be reason enough for rejection. And definitely do not expect editors to have time to clean up your work. Aim for excellence. Send it in the best shape possible.

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

This question is so hard because I’ve hardly heard bad advice. Probably from secular writer friends, who I love dearly, and who took my writing to new levels craft-wise. They told me to steam up my stories because erotica was hot and selling right now. I said I’d rather never sell than sell out. I hadn’t always been a Christian and wanted to honor God with everything I do and am. I wanted to chase after Him and not market trends or money. BTW I was the first in that group to sell, LOL! Gotta love God’s humor. I must say they are all truly, genuinely happy for me though.

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

That it is okay to follow up with a polite letter in a reasonable amount of time. I’m such a rule-follower, and didn’t want to take up agents’ or editors’ valuable time with a follow up letter. I learned the hard way that things DO get lost and fairly often in publishing. On the other hand, if it’s only been three to four months, don’t harass them. Be patient but don’t wait three years to follow up either.

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

I haven’t encountered what I’d call a set back. My first post-sale rejection was a bummer. Not because I didn’t expect to ever get one, but because I felt like I’d let my editors down. In my mind, they’d invested time in me and in reading the ms only to end up not being able to use it. Now I know it’s better to take fifteen minutes to run an idea by them than to fly blind and solo and have her spend hours reading a project that won’t work. I needed to realize I now have a working relationship with my editor, and she’s very open to access and gracious about brainstorming ideas with me.

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

I love true stories about people whose life had maximum impact on this earth. Books about Mother Theresa, or Corrie Ten Boom. Books from Jackie Pullinger-To and Mahesh Chavda. There are many more, but those came to mind. I love Max Lucado’s books, especially an older one called The Applause of Heaven. I love Passion for Jesus by Mike Bickle.

Fiction-wise, I read anything high action or romance both secular and Christian. Dee Henderson’s Uncommon Heroes books are among my favorite, as are Suzanne Brockmann’s secular SEAL series. (If you pick Susie’s books up without having read them, consider yourself warned that they WILL melt the covers off your Heartsong and Steeple Hill books if you set them in the middle of your bookshelf. LOL!) If you can rip your eyes away long enough to flip past those parts, they’re fabulous reads.

I also love to read stuff by Ravi Zacharias. I’ve been to India on a missionary journey with his daughter Sara Davis, and she’s as gifted in logic, humor and writing as her father. She writes books about realness and relationships titled Confessions from an Honest Wife and Transparent from Revell. Similar to Shaunti Feldhahn’s books. I enjoy Linda Lael Miller, and of course so many ACFW authors, I can’t name them all for fear I’d forget one. LOL!

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

A poem called “Dear King” that I posted on my blog. I had so many private e-mails from people who were deeply moved by it, I know it had to be from Him. LOL!

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

Not really, other than contest entrants complaining publicly about their judges if they haven’t finaled, or about editors, agents or houses who’ve rejected them. To me, that is unprofessional and shows inconsideration for the valuable time and effort made to help them. Sure, we all get disappointed and need to vent sometimes, but it would bug me less if people would keep it private or contact the coordinator after they’ve had a few weeks to get over the initial sting. I’m probably going to make people mad saying this but in my opinion, the contest forums need to mysteriously “go down for repairs” for about two weeks following the announcement of finalists. LOLOL!

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

I like to write about characters with really unique careers. So I know my characters first. That takes weeks or years. Then comes research which is ongoing and intense. I went to another continent to research a book once. I go to extreme measures but entire series come out of this.

When I have sufficient information, I plot out a series idea and blurb several stories. I get to know my characters deeper for the first book. I think of a working title and figure out their story goals, motivation/background/childhood, as well as what makes one or both of them resistant to relationships. I determine who is most resistant and why. I determine what, plot-wise will throw them together in the book as well as challenge their growing relationship. I figure out their spiritual issues or their faith struggle.

Then I plotstorm and compile a scene index and think of my major disasters and conflict so my story will have sound structure. With that info, I complete my synopsis. I spend an excruciating amount of time thinking of my opening hook then I’m off and running. I hole myself up and write for days until the mess draft is finished. Or at least the first three chapters since I’m selling on proposal now. I start and end every chapter with a hook, and even each scene if I can.

Then I make sure I have at least three reasons for a scene (great advice from mentor Margaret Daley). Then comes tedious rewriting and revision and layering that comes in several passes. I then go back and wear my keyboard out polishing the first chapters and layering which consists of deepening emotion and POV, and the sensory experience. Then I send it to my critters for slaughter and they do send it back bleeding and I crave that. So I fix any common concerns and then proof it to death and send it to one more set of eyes because by now I can no longer see the mistakes and I’m sick of the story that I just want it GONE.

I let it sit for several days or a few weeks so I can come back to it with fresh eyes and proof it once more. Then I mail it and dive into a
nother story as therapy for “Sender’s Remorse.” LOL! I do want to say though that it’s important for each writer to find out what works for them. I don’t know any two writers who write the same once they get their groove.

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

I can’t believe I’m admitting these, but here goes. These are my Eph 3:20 dreams:
---Race my editors to the stage at RWA when we win a RITA.
---Race them again when ACFW’s Book of the Year Coordinator calls our names.
---Final in the Maggie Contest.
---Have Robin Lee Hatcher, Debbie Macomber or Francine Rivers call, begging to endorse my book. LOL!
---Have Margie Lawson use a snippet of my book or books in her EDITs workshop on the projector screen in her class.
---Get a Reader Letter from Laura Bush saying she loved the book
----Have Kelly Ripa call, asking if I can fit her into my schedule.

ROFL! Okay, now, I’ll be serious: Mostly, more than anything, I want God to smile at every word I write, and for Him to reach through those pages and apply my words like balm to reader’s hearts. Whether they need to laugh, or want to get to know Him better and wonder if He will love them like He loves my characters….THAT is the ultimate dream. I hope to satisfy the core readership of my publisher, but also, I really hope to widen their readership base by reeling readers in who don’t normally read Inspirationals.

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

No. There was a time I feared God would ask me to, and I would certainly freak out if that happened. Yet, I’d obey. That’s the only way I could quit. I have to write. Have to. I know 100% writing is one thing I’ve been put on this earth to do.

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

Least part? Having to tell people about my books. I hate feeling like I’m pushing myself off on people. Unless they ask and genuinely want to know, then I can’t seem to shut up. I promo and market in creative ways and try to have a sense of humor about it. LOL!

My favorite part, I discovered recently, is getting reader letters. Good ones that is. LOL!

Another favorite part is the challenge of revisions and getting my line edits back from my editor and see the places she wrote hearts or smiley faces. That is way cool. I love seeing the passage the SH team picked out for the teaser page, and I love reading what they came up with for the back cover blurb. It’s the most amazing feeling to work with a team of people who are as excited about the story as you are, and to see they really get what you tried to do. That team effort and vast collaboration utterly fascinates and humbles me.

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

I do nice pens and postcards that I can cut in half then and make bookmarks out of if I have any left over. I am big into digital marketing because it’s mostly free and gets the word out rapidly. I think writers should do what they like most, because their excitement for their project will show. Be creative about it. Use your strengths. Rely also on God to market your work. Ask Him to draw people to your book. But don’t use that as an excuse not to do any marketing or promo. Seek Him for how much money and time to spend on it then don’t do one minute or cent more or less than what He tells you. He’ll spark creative marketing ideas.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

I’ve received so many letters, and each one is special. But letters from military personnel or their families have meant the most because my constant prayer in planning and writing this PJ series was that God would help me honor them and not offend. Also, one woman said my book made her genuinely laugh and she hadn’t in quite some time because of difficult life circumstances. She said (and I’m tearing up as I type this) that she knew my book was meant for her for this time in her life as it tugged her out of a depression. Another military reader, separated from her new spouse due to deployment, said a certain page in A Soldier’s Promise made her know beyond a doubt that God would work it out. She mailed the book to her husband, also deployed but in a different country than her.

Parting words?

I think I’ve covered it, but I just wanted to thank you for having me. I love Novel Journey and consider it a great privilege to be featured. Thank you for helping to promote our books. You guys are wonderful as is this blog. Thanks also to everyone who took time to read the interview. Your support means so very much. Thank you. Now please go purchase one or two or ten copies of the book to read and give away. LOL!