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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Novel Journey's Own ~ Elizabeth Ludwig

Elizabeth Ludwig has written a number of historical books, and two romantic suspense novels including A Walk of Faith, a finalist in ACFW’s 2004 Noble Theme Contest. Other notable accomplishments include two top ten finishes in ACFW’s 2005 Noble Theme Contest, General Historical and Historical Romance categories, respectively. Her first mystery novel, Where the Truth Lies, which she co-authored with Janelle Mowery, is scheduled for release in spring of 2008 from Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES!, an imprint of Barbour Publishing. Book two of the series, Died in the Wool, will be released in spring of 2009.Attendance at writer’s conventions like the American Christian Fiction Writers Annual Conference and active membership in her ACFW critique group have helped hone her skills. She works fulltime and lives with her husband and two children in Texas.

You and Sandra are the Novel Journey team's first published novelists . . . so far. So tell the scoop: What new book do you have coming out?

So far is right. I’m in such talented company here at Novel Journey, I know it won’t be long before the rest of this team publish novels as well. I just happened to luck out because right about the time Barbour announced the launch of its new mystery line, my critique partner, Janelle Mowery, and I were discussing co-authoring a cozy together. What we came up with is a quirky little mystery entitled, Where the Truth Lies. It’s due for release from Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES! this April.

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

Actually, there was. I was home for Christmas and staying the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law in Michigan. He works full-time as a youth minister. We got to talking about Jacob and Esau and their rather strange, rather strained, relationship. Later that evening, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I called Janelle, and together we came up with this loosely based idea about twin brothers—one who dies, and one who lives to inherit everything.

You wrote this with Janelle Mowery. How do you divvy up the work?

Different authors have different approaches to co-authoring. Janelle and I thought it best for each of us take one character and write strictly from their POV. I believe the end result works because as readers, we often expect characters to act, think, and speak differently from the other characters in the book. With this expectation in mind, the transition from one author to the other becomes a lot more seamless. Of course, we’ve each edited one another hundreds of times, so our work is already on much the same level.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I finished my first novel in 2001. Like every other aspiring author, I sent my (VERY) rough manuscript out expecting every house I submitted to, to beg me for the right to publish my book. After all…I was an English major in college and I had read all the great works. Imagine my chagrin when every single publisher turned it down! LOL!

So, I started entering contests. I joined a critique group. I bought books on writing. All of this led me to understand how much I had to learn. Several years and manuscripts later, I sold my first novel to Susan Downs at Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES!

I’ll never forget that day. Janelle called me at work to tell me she had just finished an Instant Message with Susan. She was interested in our cozy.

“How interested?” I asked.

“They want it.”

I’ve never heard more glorious words.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I do, and it’s usually when I’m very tired. Nothing squelches the creative juices in me more than being overly stressed and exhausted. That said, the quickest way I’ve discovered for overcoming writer’s block is a good night’s sleep! Well, that and really sappy, romantic movie like “While You Were Sleeping.” Watching stuff like that makes me want to write equally sappy, romantic books. LOL!

Oh, and music will do it for me on occasion as well. Remember that final scene in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”? The one where the entire cast is in church and the pastor starts singing, “Father, Can You Hear Me?” Every time I hear that song I want to stand up and PRAISE God. That is what I want—to write something that SO inspires someone they automatically want to praise God.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

As I stated earlier, I was an English major in college. I’d already learned the mechanics of writing—sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. It was the finer points of fiction writing that gave me trouble, things like story arc, goal, motivation, conflict, and POV.

Finally, having had my fill of hearing that my work “wasn’t quite there,” I took the plunge and hired a freelance editor to help me pinpoint exactly where “there” was and why I wasn’t reaching it. This lady not only helped me clean up some of the basic problems I was having with POV, she really helped me understand the importance of giving my characters a goal and a past history that drove them to want it.

How did you climb out (overcome it)?

Hiring a freelance editor was, of course, just the first step. I’m still buying books on the craft of writing and studying them every chance I get. I also attend writer’s conferences when I can and take notes like crazy. I’m active in three different critique groups and judge two different contests because I believe we learn the most from studying other people’s mistakes. Lastly, I read as much and as often as I can.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

My favorite place to write is on the couch, my laptop in my lap, and my dog curled up by my feet. Noise doesn’t usually bother me, but if it gets too loud, I move to the bedroom. My family understands when I really need to work. They give me space when I’m in writing mode.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Are you ready for this?

I wake up around 6:00 or 6:30. I get the kids up, feed the dogs, and get ready for work all within an hour. If I have time, I throw in a load of laundry before heading out the door.

From 8:00-4:00, I work as an Assistant Superintendent’s Secretary at a public school. I have an hour off for lunch, so I try and answer email, write blog articles, and make changes to my website during that time.

I also work part-time as a youth minister, so on Mondays and Wednesdays, I go straight to the church and start getting ready for my meetings with the pastor and with the youth. Believe it or not, both of these provide excellent fodder for character ideas.

Once I get home, I usually have two or three chapters to critique. I try and do those before starting supper, unless I’m on a deadline. In that case, I work on my own stuff first. After that, I clean up in a hurry and either cook (or buy) something for the family to eat. Then it’s back to the computer for an hour or two more.

Bottom line: housekeeping doesn’t carry the same urgency it used to.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

It depends. There are times I see a scene so clearly in my head, the words literally FLOW from my fingertips. Other times, it feels more like pulling teeth. Either way, I’ve discovered I can’t avoid the issue. I have to get past each scene, so whether it’s easy or hard, I have to force myself to sit down at the computer and put words to paper.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

Writing mysteries is so different from anything else I’ve done. No longer do I plop myself in front of the computer and start plunking down words. Now, I write a detailed timeline BEFORE I even start chapter one. I know exactly where the story is going to go from start to finish, I have all my clues and red herrings, a list of suspects, and character sketches handy. I even (shudder) write my synopsis before I start the actual story. That way, I am able to spot any potential plot problems before they get too far out of hand.

Once these items are accomplished, I’m ready to start writing, but even the first draft is nowhere near the end. After numerous rounds of self-editing, I send my book through two different critique groups (waving to Crit3 and Silverarrows) and they help me polish the finished product to a fine sheen.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

My favorite books are usually the ones I’m reading that day! Seriously, the only book I can truly say has stuck with me over the years is a tiny little children’s book I read when I was in elementary school. It’s called No Flying in the House by Betty Brock and Wallace Tripp, and I recently purchased a used copy, just for nostalgia’s sake.

That’s not to say I don’t have books that have touched me deeply. Deb Raney’s book, Beneath a Southern Sky made me boohoo for days. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers challenged me to write better and more powerfully than I’d done before, and The Prisoner’s Wife by Susan Page Davis proved it was possible to tell a full, well-developed story in fewer than 55,000 words. Each of these books helped me as an author in some way, but then again, I try and learn something from every book I sit down long enough to read. That’s what makes it so hard to say which ones are truly my favorites.

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

Get to know your characters early. It’s okay if they surprise you from time to time, but you definitely want to know them well enough to write them well.

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

I wish I’d taken the time to learn the craft before I started submitting. Rejections are hard, and they hurt! I learned so much more from entering contests and getting feedback than I ever did from a form letter rejection. If you’re going to spend your money, use it for contest entry fees instead of postage. You’ll get a much higher return.

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

I don’t have nearly enough time to market like I should. I do update my website and blog regularly, though. I also contract as many speaking engagements as I can manage, and schedule blog tours, interviews, and appearances whenever possible. I’ve created a book trailer to help generate excitement for my upcoming release, and before too long, I’ll mail out the postcards, bookmarks, and newsletters I ordered informing people how they can get their hands on my book. It’s definitely work, but let’s face it, writing is a business. To make it successful, I have to invest a certain amount of time getting it off the ground.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t give up. No matter how long you’ve been at it, the real tragedy will be if you stop writing before God is ready to let you go.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Author Interview~Cecilia Samartin

Cecilia Samartin was born in revolutionary Cuba and left Cuba with her family when she was still an infant. She has lived in Los Angeles all of her life and has worked as a psychotherapist with immigrants from South America and Mexico for over twenty years. This work has been the primary inspiration for her two novels, BROKEN PARADISE and TARNISHED BEAUTY. She currently lives with her husband in San Gabriel California where she continues to see clients as she works on her next novel.

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

My latest novel, TARNISHED BEAUTY was just published by Atria, a division of Simon and Schuster on March 18th. BROKEN PARADISE, was released in hardback February of 07, and just recently released in paperback as well. I’m very pleased to have two books out on the bookshelves at the moment.

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

This is the story of a young woman who is born in Mexico with a disfiguring birth mark. She crosses the border to find medical salvation and meets an old man who tells her the story of his pilgrimage in Spain. Because I’ve worked as psychotherapist with immigrants from Mexico and South America for many years, the story evolved over many years. I walk several miles daily for exercise and inspiration, so it’s not a surprise to me or anyone who knows me that I’ve written a book inwhich the characters are also walking, mile after mile, day after day to find themselves.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

Approximately five years passed from the time I began writing my first novel to the time I was first published. And it was somewhat of an unorthodox journey in that my first publishing contract wasn’t with an American publisher, but a publisher in the UK. In fact, my first novel was published in several countries abroad before it was ever accepted for publication here. When m agent called me at my office to inform me that an offer had been made, I was in a state of delighted shock for several days. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it was to have finally reached my goal. It is a sense of wonder and accomplishment that I’m deeply grateful for.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
So far I haven’t experienced writers block in the typical sense, probably because I force myself to write through stagnant phases even if it means writing badly. The worst thing I can is to allow paralysis to take hold. Eventually I trust that I’ll find my way and often I make delightful discoveries, as long as I just keep plugging along.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
It’s important to have early readers who you trust and who understand your uniqueness and are able to read your early drafts and give you much needed feedback and advice. I’m very fortunate to have a few such readers. I begin my novels with a clear sense of what I want to say, but a more or less hazy notion regarding exactly how I’m going to say it – the finer details regarding tone, characterization and plot work themselves out as I’m writing and in this way I’m able to stay engaged in the process. Characterization comes more easily for me than plot development – creating that right balance between the two is something I constantly struggle with.

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?
I’m going to rephrase this question as, How do I get out of my own way? I meditate and pray, I take long walks, I focus on the lives of my clients, refresh my mind and soul, forgetting about myself by helping somebody else. This more than anything inspires me with ideas that are fresh and real, and not just a stale regurgitation of the same old characters, messages and voices in my head.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I write in my living room in my favorite chair surrounded by windows, with my dog Tobi at my feet, and cat Julian nearby. They are my writing buddies!

What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up very early, about 5:30 a.m. and I go for a long walk. I’m a morning writer, so depending on my client schedule I will write in the morning until about noon, and then put on my psychotherapist hat for the afternoon hours. This is a good balance for me.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

It really depends on the story, the scene, and what kind of day I’m having. There are days when the words flow freely, but sometimes it can be arduous. Even when I’m not at the computer, I’m thinking about my characters, and some of my best “writing” happens when I’m not at the keyboard. My morning walks help me to work out the scenes in my head so that I’m usually ready once I confront the page.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

It’s important for me to begin with a working title, even if it changes later, because it helps me stay focused, and guides me towards creating a cohesive story. My early drafts are more free flowing and expansive in nature. I’m putting all my thoughts and ideas related to the core of my message out there and not worrying too much about which ones will stick. In order for this to work , I have to forget about editing or writing well. The important thing is to write honestly, about something that is real for me. If I don’t have this base early on, no amount of polish and revision later will salvage the work. Once I have this basic structure down, I edit and rewrite. When I think I’m done, I put it away for awhile, and when I look at it with fresh eyes, there’s always more rewriting and editing to be done.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Jane Eyre,
A Death in the Family
To Kill a Mocking Bird
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Madam Bovary
The Scarlet Letter

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

You have to let yourself write badly in order to write well. In other words, if you’re constantly editing yourself, you’re going to get very little done and drive yourself nuts in the process, and lose the joy of the creative process. First drafts need to be just that, first drafts meant for your eyes or for trusted first readers only. The time for editing will come later.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
Don’t rush, trust the process and enjoy the journey.

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

I haven’t had a lot of time to market myself, and I know little about it, but I’m very fortunate to have friends who’ve been helping me. One of my goals is to learn more about this aspect of the business because I know it can make all the difference.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Believe in your dreams, and don’t allow the discouragement you will undoubtedly encounter along the way silence them. Dreams are born of the soul and they need to be protected and nurtured because without them there is no inspiration, no creative yearning and ultimately no novel or story that’s worth a dime.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jedi G and the Audible Omelettes

by Mike Duran

The jury's still out on
postmodernism's societal contributions. Yet when it comes to the arts, is there any question but that the absence of absolutes exponentially increases our creative options? Like I'm writing a story about an operatic trance band named Creamy Bubble of the Seventh Iguana when I suddenly realize how utterly liberating this postmodern vibe makes everything -- especially music.

It used to be that band names like Led Zeppelin and Smashing Pumpkins were edgy, kinda cryptic. Welcome to the 21st century. Now there's
Noodle Muffin and the Pig Squints, Amputatoe, Rainbow Butt Monkeys, Tonto's Expanding Head Band, and Crocheted Doughnut Ring. Who knew?!

So your next novel or screenplay is in dire need of a goth garage band or a mercenary posing as a dance house DJ with an inconspicuous handle. Well, look no further.
Random Band Name Generators will scramble words into an audible omelette. At this site, I simply plugged in the name "Gina" (in honor of NJ's own diva), and received the following randomly generated selections. How's this for potential band names?
  • Jedi Gina
  • Flavor of the Gina Prism
  • Gina Identity
  • Gina's Bad Break
  • Gina Puke And The Luminary Rin-tin-tin
  • Gina Pod
  • Almost Gina
  • Crooked Gina and the Unintended Melons
So if the writing gig doesn't pan out Gina, you can always explore your options as an Unintended Melon.

But you'll need a genre. The effects of postmodernism in music has not only led to an explosion of quirky, avant-garde, stylistically-inbred and musically mutated artists, it has also spawned a menagerie of morphing genres. Just take a look at this list of *new* musical styles and descriptions I've culled from various sources (mainly from my weekly reading of the L.A. Times Calendar section) :
August Brown, in writing for the L.A. Times, describes the White Stripes, as having a "peppermint candy-meets-Flannery-O'Connor mortician aesthetic." Mortician aesthetic? Anyway. . . Then you've got Math Rock, which Epitonic describes thus:
Take the intricacy and complexity of classic weirdo hard rock bands like Rush and Voivod, then add some of punk's hyperspasmodic schizophrenia, and you'll have a legitimate math rock contender. Math rock bands take pleasure in being erratic and unpredictable, often experimenting with peculiar tempos and jazz-derived rhythms while keeping the rock hard and aggressive all the while. Their lyrics tend to be as cerebral and expertly designed as their songs. These bands are rock's architects of the future, recrafting and reinventing the genre's tired song structures.
Tired song structures? Right now, I'm tired of trying to keep up.

Perhaps the one good thing about postmodern music is that there's something for everyone. Goths. Punks. Emos. Headbangers. Celebutants. Nerds. It's all good. Of course, I'm still trying to find a name for the techno-punk-Gypsy-pop band with a hyperspasmodic mortician aesthetic that I so dig. Oh well. Until then, keep an eye out for Jedi G and the Audible Omelettes coming to a lounge near you...

Sunday Devotion- Big Small Things

Janet Rubin

My friend Judith and her daughter Emily recently started a ministry they're calling KWAM (knitters with a mission.) They are knitting scarves for orphans in other countries. Bubbling with excitement, Judith told those of us gathered at our artists' group about the new ministry. She showed us the brightly-colored scarves she'd been feverishly knitting each night and the fliers she printed to give out at church. Judith and Emily called their first project (scarves for orphans in Chile) "Chile-warmers."
The next thing they knew, knitters were popping out of the woodwork, dusting off their needles and setting to work. Others were donating yarn or money. And soon, Judith had over sixty scarves and $60.00 to send to Chile. In an email, Judith said this:
"Nothing else is more important to me in my life right now than doing something that is what God is calling me to do. Sometimes I have been (almost) thinking.....this isn't much. but I cut those thoughts out, because HE gave me this passion. And any passion of HIS is not a small passion. What a beautiful gift from all the wonderful people who knitted and crocheted.we had beautiful things from women 85 and 88 years old!!! they thought they had nothing left in life to do for the Lord! this has touched MANY MANY ways."
What Judith said about thinking that what she was doing wasn't "much" hit home with me. I'm just one of those people who dreams big. I want to do BIG things. Problem is, my definition of "big" is different that God's. My definition usually includes something that brings me glory. His definition is all about others, and His vision blesses so many. I love hearing about those elderly women who were able to knit and contribute to Judith's project. How sweet and tender of our God to show them that, yes, He was still pleased to use them- their hearts, their hands, their prayers. He is using His vision to bless Judith and Emily, and who knows how many children, first in Chili and soon in Ukraine. Now, He is using Judith's "little" idea to bring churches together; seems some other churches got wind of this and their people are knitting too!
Do you think your service for God is small? One time, a little boy offered a meager lunch to Jesus...and Jesus used it to feed 5,000. It isn't the size of the offering, brothers and sisters. It's the size of our God...and He is BIG. And like Judith said, "Any passion of His is not a small passion." Did He put a passion for writing in your heart? Then write, and write for Him! He will use it.
Matthew 14: 17-18 "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.
"Bring them here to me," he said.
Dear God, Thank You for Judith and Emily. Please continue to encourage them and to use their efforts in amazing ways. I ask Your blessing on every child who receives a scarf- that each one will feel warm and loved and will come to know You. Help us not to believe the lies of the enemy, who tells us our offerings are too small to matter. All you need is a mustard seed's worth of faith and a heart willing to follow the passions You put there. Thank you for caring about knitters and orphans and silly writers like me, who have big dreams and a lot left to learn. Amen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Novel Journey's Interview with Randy Singer

Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed author and veteran trial attorney. He has penned six legal thrillers, including Directed Verdict, which won the Christy Award in 2003 for the best Christian suspense novel, and three nonfiction books. In addition to his law practice and writing, Randy teaches at Regent Law School, serves on the Board of Legal Advisors for the American Center for Law and Justice, co-hosts a radio show on Sirius Channel 161 and serves as an interim preacher for two churches in Virginia Beach. He and his wife, Rhonda, live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They have two grown children.

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

My next release is called By Reason of Insanity and it hits stores on May 1. It’s the story of a Las Vegas lawyer named Quinn Newberg who specializes in the insanity plea. I can’t really explain it any better than the inside flap description so I hope that’s not cheating. Here’s the blurb:

Quinn Newberg’s latest client is Catherine O’Rourke, a Virginia Beach reporter accused of being the serial killer named the Avenger of Blood. Catherine maintains her innocence, though she claims to have seen visions with graphic details of the crimes—details only the killer would know. Quinn doesn’t believe in the supernatural and thinks these “visions” are nothing more than the product of a fractured personality disorder, triggered by a traumatic event in Catherine’s past.

Quinn knows insanity cases are unpredictable, but nothing in his past has prepared him for this one. To win, or even survive, he’ll need more than his famed legal maneuvering and biting sarcasm.

On this case, he’ll need a miracle.

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

About nine years ago I started my first book, Directed Verdict, and had no clue how the publishing business worked. I don’t want to over-spiritualize this, but at the time I just felt like God had given me this story so I wrote it down. A year later, after getting up at about 5:30 every morning so I could write for a few hours before I went to work, I had a novel but no plan about how to get it published. I prayed, researched Christian publishers, sent out about six letters with a copy of the manuscript and waited for the We loved it and want to pay you big bucks! letter to arrive. To tell the truth, I didn’t get a ton of rejection letters; it was more like I didn’t hear much of anything. After a few months, I prayed that God would show me what He wanted me to do next. His answer: “Write another book.”

“Okay, God. I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”

After a few more months, with nothing to show for it but a few “no thank yous,” I wrote a little entry in my journal. First, I listed all the reasons for despair. Getting my first book published truly looked hopeless. After filling a page or two with “woe is me” stuff, God inspired me to write this:

What I’m about to write has nothing to do with the critics, the publishers, those who have told me how hard it is to get books published or even those who have served as a great source of encouragement. Instead, it’s about believing the promises of God; the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.

God called me to write these books. God inspired the ideas. God flooded my mind with words and thoughts even faster than I could get them down. Before I could complete one book, God gave me the plot for another. It is God who wakes me up with the books on my mind and in my heart, it is God who gives me a thread of the plot on my morning runs, it is God who develops these characters and brings them to life. And it is God who has assured me often, and again very recently, that this is not a waste of time.

The God who lived in Christ spoke in parables and God is not out of the story-telling business. He has given me stories of persecution, stories that highlight apologetics, stories that share the Gospel in simple terms. Why would I ever think He would abandon me now?

The God of the pen is the God of the publisher. He has already prepared the way for these books. My job is to continue believing, continue writing, and continue praying as I have been for the last four years. Thank you God for what you are doing and what you will do. I will praise you today for what you have done yesterday. But I will also praise you for what I know you will do tomorrow.

I wrote that journal entry on June 11, 2001. A few months later, I received an offer from WaterBrook Press to publish Directed Verdict.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I didn’t research the industry as much as I researched my novel. I should have gone to writers’ conferences earlier. I should have gone to trade shows and networked. I should have joined writers’ critique groups. Wouldn’t it be a little easier if you just asked me what mistakes I didn’t make?

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

Don’t quit your day job. Not only do many writers quit their jobs too early in their writing careers, but being part of the rough and tumble of the “real” world keeps us fresh. Admittedly, it can also keep us frustrated and burned out, but my best writing seems to happen when my back is against the wall in real life. It’s easier to write legal thrillers when you are still tasting the sweet victories or the bitter defeats of the courtroom. A second good piece of advice (this is a bonus) is to take your time writing and not worry about your audience. I care a ton about my readers, but when I write, I have to block all that out. My writing is best when I write the story straight from my heart to the page, without trying to filter it through the expectations of others.

Tell us about winning a Christy? What was that like?

It was surreal. It happened on my very first book so I had no idea what to expect. At the banquet, I was in the just happy to be here mode so when they announced that Directed Verdict had won, I was probably the most surprised person in the room.

I went to the podium and gave what I thought was a rousing thank you speech. Others didn’t seem that impressed. When I sat back down at my table between my wife and the President of WaterBrook Press, a great guy named Steve Cobb, my wife had her head in her hands—never a good sign.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Ask him,” she said.

I asked Steve. And he told me. I had thanked the wrong publisher! I guess I was so stunned to actually win the award that I somehow thanked the publisher of the book that had just won the prior category. I must add that Steve and his team were incredibly gracious about it, though they did enjoy giving me a mock-up of the book with the other publisher’s emblem on the spine a few weeks later.

The moral of the story? God has a way of keeping us humble even in our moment of victory.

What advice would you give someone just entering this business? How should they maneuver the publishing life?

I would probably advise them to get an agent. As a lawyer, I felt like I didn’t need an agent. I was a big boy. I could negotiate my own contracts, thank you very much. But an agent does more than negotiate contracts. An agent is part cheerleader, part advisor, part advocate and part reality check. I don’t care if you are a lawyer—get an agent.

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

Don’t write books outside your genre. Find what you love writing and stick with it. I’m a legal thriller author. That’s what I love doing. That’s what I do best. Like a lot of other folks, I had to learn the “focus lesson” the hard way.

What’s a good novel to read in regards to study of the craft?

I struggled early on with point of view issues. Then I read Richard North Patterson’s Protect and Defend. Though Patterson and Singer are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, especially on the issue of abortion, I went to school on the amazing characterization and point of view techniques in this book.

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

I really think that I’ve found my voice in my two most recent books—False Witness and By Reason of Insanity.

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

This will sound clichéd, but there is no typical day. I’m holding down two day jobs—Teaching Pastor at Trinity Church and litigation partner at my law firm, so I squeeze writing in whenever I can. I love writing so I seldom lack motivation, it’s just time that is hard to come by. As a result, I’ll either get up early and write first thing in the morning (when my creative tank is full) or during the evening (when I’m looking for escape). I have been known to get up in the middle of the night with a scene on my mind that won’t go away. I don’t try to fight it; I just fix a pot of coffee and start in.

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

I struggle with creating scenes and describing the external traits of my characters. Lots of folks do this very well and I’m not choosy--I’ll borrow talent from any of them.

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

My dream is to someday write the type of novel that transcends time and place. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example. How can anyone read that story and not be moved? How many folks did that book send to law school? How many kids learned to love reading courtesy of Harper Lee? A truly great story gets lodged in the heart. I can’t be Harper Lee, but I can strive for the type of story that does more than just entertain.

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

I love most everything about writing. I love the research. I love developing the characters and the plot. I like cranking out that first draft and I even like the editing process. I could do without the deadlines, however.

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

I try to let the marketing flow out of my life. I tend to do a lot of public speaking so this helps. I am also a regular guest on a radio show. Other than that, it’s pretty much the standard things that most authors do. My advice would be to let your marketing be dictated by your personality. Some people like to be in front of groups; others like to crank out newsletters or blog. Marketing should play into your strengths. The key is to be willing to put yourself out there and be authentic about it.

Parting words?

If you’ve been called to be a writer, don’t let the frustrations of “the business” steal the joy of the craft. As a writer of legal thrillers, God has called me to “speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.” (1 Corinthians 2:7). What could be more fun?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Industry Interview ~ Veritas President Don Otis

Veritas President, Don Otis, has over 20-years experience managing successful marketing communications, author and corporate publicity campaigns. Otis is also the author of five books with Fleming Revell, Chosen Books, Shaw / WaterBrook and AMG Publishers. Don and his wife, Jill, live in Cañon City, Colorado.Otis’s credits also include:

Co-founder of the Voice of Hope Radio Network and Middle East Television Associate producer for over 200 television programs Radio talk show host at KVOH, Los Angeles, CA

What’s the difference between book buzz and a marketing campaign?

A media campaign is designed to create exposure in the marketplace for a book. Book buzz comes when other people talk about a book they have read. This creates a momentum of its own. A media campaign is really designed to help jump start a book – to get the buzz going and to create an appetite for the book.

Dollar for dollar, what is the benefit of a private publicist?

Some in-house publicists are often distracted with too many other duties or too many titles. I like to say a freelance publicist is only as good as his last job. I tell people, we have three bosses: the publisher, the author and the media. If we mess up the relationship with any of these, we are in trouble. A freelance publicist has a built-in incentive to produce; and by produce, I mean stir up as much media exposure as possible. If he does well, he will get another chance to shine.

At what point in the publication process should a writer begin promotion, marketing, seeking a publicist?

If an author has a publisher, the decision is based on the marketing budget for the book. I suggest that authors ask publishers right up front, before they sign the contract. You can ask a publisher to provide a plan. Most publishers will resist this or give a boilerplate plan that looks good but that is used for most of their titles. If you are a nonfiction author, ask for a publicist. You can even ask for a specific freelance publicist as part of the deal. It can make the difference between the success and failure for a book.

You have to look at fiction on a case-by-case basis. Not all radio or television programs will consider fiction. In fact, most won’t. As a fiction writer, you have to revise your expectations for the quantity of interviews. This is when blogs like Novel Reviews and Novel Journey can make a difference in getting the word out.

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

The media is efficacious. I have seen one media campaign that elicited 11,000 phone calls in a three-day period after a 700 Club interview we set up. These viewers were desperate for the book that was offered – a book about marriage. These kind of results are rare but it does show the power of the media. The key is to tap into the felt needs of the listeners or viewers. To the extent that an author can connect with their audience, sales will be the effect. In such instances, the publisher, the author, and the viewers/listeners all benefit. This type of quid pro quo relationship is what you hope to achieve.

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

First, you have to see marketing as a pie. Publicity is a slice of that pie. An author or publisher can spend scarce marketing dollars in many ways – direct mail, print advertising, publicity, etc. I have rarely seen print advertising make a significant difference. It is expensive and the cost-to-return ratios are low. I prefer to give authors an opportunity to talk about their own material and interviews afford this chance.

Second, the closer you are to direct contact with your potential buyer, the better chance you have to make a sale. Personal encounters and public speaking are usually superior to other forms of communication. Publicity is next in line because potential buyers at least have a visual or auditory connection whereas these cannot happen in print.

Do you see a measurable difference in book success between authors who let the house publicity department handle the detail of promotion versus an author who works to make their own book known?

I am going to generalize here. Some publishing houses have terrific in-house people who do excellent work. Nevertheless, this is rare. Why? Most in-house publicists are pulled in too many directions. They may have conferences to schedule, meetings to attend, or staff to manage. I have found most to be distracted and overwhelmed by too many titles.

In my experience working with hundreds of authors, a handful, probably less than 1 in 100, has the time, knowledge or contacts to do their own publicity. The reason is that reputable publicity firms spend thousands of dollars each year to keep updated records, nurture relationships, and to purchase the latest directories.

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

The reality is that some authors are great writers but lousy speakers and vice versa.

Nevertheless, a writer can learn to speak. Radio and television are very different.

Most authors do phone interviews and these are easier. The key is to have a conversation with the host. On television, it is tough to focus on the interviewer and ignore the cameras and lights. You have to realize that you are communicating to one person at a time because that’s essentially what you are doing. A good interview is conversational. For television, don’t be afraid to smile, to move your hands, or to lean forward. The tendency is to be stiff because that’s what fear does to us.

A number of years ago while speaking in England and Canada; I would go out for a run before speaking. For me, running or physical exercise helped relax me beforehand. For some people it is an excellent for of stress relief but each author has to find what works best in coping with the pressure.

Another way to allay your own fears is to be prepared. Re-read your book, skim your interview questions, memorize a few quotes. There is nothing like being prepared to offset your fear of the unknown.

What kind of results do you see from Internet promotion versus traditional?

The jury is still out on the overall effect of Internet promotion. Again, you can’t lump everything together here anymore than you can for radio or television or print. A publication like Focus on the Family magazine is going to have far more readers than a smaller denominational publication. Likewise, a multi-market show like Prime Time America, Janet Parshall’s America or Point of View will yield better results than a small non-commercial radio station. So far, I have yet to see significant quantifiable results from Internet promotion. I think this is changing but we’re not there yet.

What changes have you noticed in publishing recently? Do you find these changes good or not so good?

Without a doubt, the advent of printing on demand has enabled more people to be published quicker and at a lower cost. While self-published and POD books still carry a stigma, I see this beginning to change as the quality, design, and editing improves.

Another change is the proliferation of secular publishers buying Christian publishers – Zondervan, Multnomah, WaterBrook, and Howard are examples. These publishers are looking for the next big winner – the next Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, or Prayer of Jabez. I was pleased when Don Piper’s book written with Cec Murphey – 90 Minutes in Heaven (Revell) took off to become a New York Times bestseller. When we did PR on the book, we had no idea it would become such a hit. We can’t eliminate the providential aspects of marketing and I think Jabez and 90 Minutes both had a Divine push.

I have also seen authors become more perceptive about marketing – speaking, blogging, and networking. This has become a necessary component. If you don’t have a platform, some publishers won’t consider publishing your writing. In other words, the publisher-author partnership is definitely bigger than it has been in the past.

The good news for publishers and authors is that when there is an economic downturn like we have seen recently, book sales tend to do well.

Finally, one change that is not good is that Christian bookstores continue to struggle as superstores and online retailers gobble up profits. Only the best selling books get rack space in airports, WalMart or Target stores.

Describe today’s reader based on your own observations.

Not sure much has changed in recent years. Women still purchase more books, read more, and spend more on new titles. Men are visual so I’m not sure they will ever catch up. I also see a trend toward shorter books and shorter sermons. We live in a fast-paced world and most people want the Cliff Notes version of almost everything.

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

There is no science to this. There are no guarantees. A good publicist knows this, works the angles, and is always looking for creative ways to get coverage for an author.

Second, it is not really about book promotion as much as it is promoting ideas. Think of your book, especially if it is fiction, in terms of the connection to current events or real life issues. You must position yourself as an expert, or as someone who can talk about real-world issues that you address in your novel.

What are your favorite genres? Favorite books and authors?

I gravitate to sociology, psychology, men’s issues, current events and history. In fiction, I like Kathi Macias and Karen Kingsbury. In nonfiction, I read secular books but enjoyed Wild at Heart – most titles by Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, Chuck Colson, and Gregory Boyd.

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

If God has given you a gift, don’t give up on it. Be patient, learn from others, and ask questions. I also believe that we tend to ignore the favor of God in our marketing efforts – expecting that we can make it all happen on our own. We need to pray for His favor, His wisdom, His direction.

Author Interview ~ Carole Whang Schutter

I’ve always been a romantic who has had the good fortune to live in romantic places. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii with its enormous diversity of culture filled me with stories from around the world and nurtured my love of history and the people who came before us. From there, I moved to Aspen, Colorado which is completely unique and different from almost any place on earth. I experienced a world of glamour, excitement, and tragedy.

The desire to inspire others and to cause people to think inspires me to write. If anyone finds enjoyment in what I write, or finds something profound that will change or better their life, or finds comfort, inspiration, or a kernel of knowledge that affects their thinking and/or world of feelings, then I have done what I was supposed to do.
Now, at a time when most people are heading for retirement, I have finally jump-started my writing career. Thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, I became part of the 1.1% of all screenwriters that ever get a movie made. The book, by the same name, was based on the movie, “September Dawn.”

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

I’ve optioned a romantic family movie about a historical character. She is a wonderful character and I write about her as a young girl and teenager. She is Granuaile O’Malley, otherwise known as the pirate queen of Ireland. She is my Pirate Princess. We hope to begin production sometime next year.

I am also redoing a historical family saga I started years ago called “The Ohana,” which means family in Hawaii. It covers three generations of three immigrant families to Hawaii. A Korean family, a Japanese family, and an Irish family. It is the story of how their lives merge against the backdrop of Hawaiian history, the Great Depression, World War II and the Vietnam War. Quite a project. Maybe someday it will become a mini-series, for now it is a novel.

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

One day, while driving through Colorado and talking to God about my lost dreams of becoming a writer, an idea popped into my head about a girl going to the California Gold Rush. I imagined a band of Mormons, dressed as Indians, attacking the wagon train and killing almost everyone. The girl was the daughter of a pastor who fell in love with the son of a Mormon Bishop. The idea wouldn’t leave me. I researched the Internet and found the story of the Mountain Meadow Massacre. I was astounded. I felt it was supposed to be a screenplay but I didn’t know how to write a screenplay. Not knowing how to write a screenplay was a technicality. Years before, the Lord made sure I became friends with Christopher and Sharon Cain. He was a movie producer/director and screenwriter. And in a flash, my dream of becoming a writer was restored.

The only ‘what if’ moment was when I was trying to decide whether or not to risk being laughed at by taking my version of a screenplay to Chris. But he’s such a nice guy, I knew he wouldn’t tell anyone if it were really awful.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I didn’t decide to do the novel until the eve of actually shooting the movie. After I wrote it, I got Kathi Macias, an incredible editor and teacher, to edit my book. I got an agent, Greg Johnson, pretty fast and we started the process of trying to get a publisher. About five months past with no luck and the movie was scheduled to be released. Greg told me no one would be able to get out the book in time for the movie. I talked to Kathi who is a writer too and we all decided that I needed to get the book out in time for the movie. Kathi suggested Authorhouse as a self-publisher and they were great. They got my book out quickly and did a great job with the cover.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Yes, of course. Sometimes I force myself to just write anything and it begins to flow. Other times, I just have to take a break. If the block lasts too long, I seek God and that always works.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

I don’t do outlines so sometimes I just can’t move the story forward. I don’t know where to go. That is when I go hiking (except during the winter) and pray. It is a time of quiet and meditation. At other times I simply ask God, “What do I do next?” I need to get so into my characters and their lives in order for me to write the story. So, at times I just meditate on what I’ve already written and the next part of the story jumps out at me.

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?

I think I’ve answered that. Through prayer and meditation with God.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I have a home office surrounded by pictures of my family with French doors that look out at the mountains through the tall trees in my yard.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Unfortunately, my days are full of junk. However, before I even get out of bed, I try to pray. That sets the mood for the day. Soon after, the phone starts ringing, and I have the inescapable problems of life to attend to. Then there are the interviews, emails, and news to read or watch. After that, I try to ski or hike a few hours each day, depending on the season. Three times a week, I try to get a workout in.

I write at night when the phone is mostly silent and the house is quiet. I think, work, and create better at night.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I don’t know how many words I write a day but when I’m flowing, I write until my back screams in pain.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I just sit down and write from start to finish. I’m constantly revising in between and after the “finish.” I have to stop myself from going overboard on the galleys and revising them over and over again. It seems I have to make myself stop polishing my writing. As Chris (my co-writer and director/producer) says “When you say you’re finished, you’ve only just begun.”

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

I love historical fiction, like James Michener, Leon Uris, Ken Follett, and James Clavell. I love romantic stuff like Nicholas Sparks. Having been married to a lawyer, I enjoy John Grisham. But most of the time, I read inspirational books by Joel Osteen, Larry Huchs, Rick Warren, and others. Of course, my all time favorite is the Bible and of course, like all romantics, I love Gone With The Wind.

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

Focus on a few characters and write only from their point of view. Keep that point of view consistent and don’t skip around from character to character in one scene. From Kathi Macias.

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

I should have read Kathi Macias’ book Train of Thought Writing Method.

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

I am trying the Internet to market my book. I’ve used publicists and because of the movie, I’ve done some TV and radio. A Daystar interview that appeared on GodTube did the best for me.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I don’t know if I’m the right one to advise as everything I’ve done is outside of the norm. But I think getting a great editor like Kathi Macias is very important. One has to send in a clean manuscript. If you really believe in yourself and have the money, and the time to promote yourself, go to Authorhouse.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nicole Baart's 5 Tenets on Writing

Though I’ve been writing nearly my whole life, I find it difficult to categorize all the things that I have learned along the way and condense them into advice for fellow writers. The truth is I don’t think there is a formula that works for everyone. What is groundbreaking for me may be ineffective for you. That changes the way I write forever may be something you immediately disregard. But I do think that writing is a journey that is far more enjoyable with traveling companions, and I love sharing the things that have helped me out over the years in the hopes that someone else may find inspiration.

The following are five tenets that guide my writing.

Stop self-editing the first draft

As a perfectionist, I spent many years crippling my own ability to write. I’d carefully type a sentence or two into a neat Word document, then spend the next five minutes deleting, subtracting and adding ideas, and second-guessing my word choice. It drove me crazy and I quickly became defeated. I was convinced I was a terrible writer because I couldn’t get more than a paragraph done at a time and even then I was dissatisfied with the content.

It wasn’t until I bought a brand-new notebook and a set of excellent pens that I discovered the joy of writing longhand. Suddenly, I wasn’t self-editing anymore--I was writing. I’d scribble ten pages in a stretch and then go back and edit later. It freed me as a writer, and more often than not I was pleasantly surprised by what my mind was capable of when it was allowed to roam free. I suggest that you do whatever you need to do to quiet your inner editor as you write your first draft. There will be plenty of time for editing as your manuscript unfolds!

Get to know your characters

When I taught creative writing, this was the one thing that I insisted on talking about nearly every day. I made my students do exercise after exercise delving into the personality traits, motivations, background, relationships, appearance, and even idiosyncrasies of their characters. It probably drove my students crazy, but after a few weeks their characters were as real to them as their friends. And when those characters became real to their young authors, they became real to readers, too.

I believe that you have to know your characters inside and out to make them true and compelling for your audience. It’s not enough to know hair color and occupation; you need to know this imaginary person as intimately as you know a close friend. What do they love to eat? What do they hate to do? Why do sappy telephone commercials make her cry? Why does his eye twitch when he’s nervous? It’s fascinating to really know a character because after a while he will take on a life of his own. You’ll find yourself able to know exactly how he would handle this situation or what he would say in response to that question because he is vibrant and animated and full of life. Not to mention fully believable.

Reveal, don’t preach

Everyone who writes has heard the saying: “show, don’t tell.” It is such an important concept to keep in mind as you write! When I read sections that I have written, I am constantly searching for areas where I have told my audience what is happening instead of showing them.

I believe the same holds true for any message that I hope to convey through my writing: “reveal, don’t preach.” If I interrupt the narrative to preach at my audience, not only have I broken the flow of the book, but I have also insulted the intelligence of my readers. My readers are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusions. If I have any talent as a writer at all, I should be able to weave ideas through the narrative and hopefully take a stand for what I think or believe by artfully crafting it into my writing.

This is so hard to do! By no means have I mastered this concept. In Summer Snow, the sequel to After the Leaves Fall, my editor found a paragraph that was little more than a lecture. I was horrified to find it there and eager to ax the entire thing. As I continue to grow and mature as a writer, I am committed to never taking the easy way out by allowing my characters or my narrative to blatantly state some platitude that I think my readers should all adopt. My readers are clever enough to derive their own truth from my writing, and I am able to accept that it’s okay if we don’t believe the same things.

Find a writing partner

One of the best things that ever happened to my writing was the introduction of my writing partner. Though it was quite awkward in the beginning, over the course of five years our relationship has grown to the point where we can be totally, brutally honest with each other. Todd is my biggest advocate and encourager, but he also knows my weaknesses and limitations better than anyone else. He can see things in my writing that other people can’t, and he is constantly pushing me to further develop my gifts. I would be half the writer I am without his wisdom.

In warning, I believe a writing partnership is only beneficial if you are able to develop a thick skin. Sometimes Todd’s critiques hurt, but I have to be able to look past any criticism and understand that he is just trying to help me reach my full potential. More often than not, when I gain a little distance from the situation I can fully admit that his assessment of my work is right on. I can grow and develop, working through the problems in my writing in an environment that is both safe and supportive, but also real and honest.

Figure out what works for you and stick with it

I spent so many years of my life flip-flopping between different writing techniques and practices. Someone would offer advice about where to write or when, and I’d accept it as the gospel truth. Use a typewriter! I only got sore wrists. Write first thing in the morning! I have two small children so that is virtually impossible for me to do. Write a synopsis before you begin writing! I write best when I just sit down and do it, letting the story develop as I go. Keep your narrative straightforward! I’m a poet at heart and my writing is usually very rich.

The point is I didn’t settle into myself as an author until I discovered what worked for me in every area of my writing. I have my own unique style and it’s perfect for me--even if some of the things I do have been bluntly derided by books on how to write. Actually, I tend to avoid books on the art of writing because writing is exactly that: an art. You have your own unique style, your own needs, and your own inspiration. Figure out what you need in order to write well, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong.

Happy writing! May your craft be a joy, your words a blessing to all who read them, and your art a fragrant offering to your God.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lisa Lutz~Author Interview

Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping from a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and reviewing a mob comedy called Plan B. She began working on The Spellman Files in January of 2004. In the fall of that year, she drove across the country and moved into a 200-year-old house in the tow of Westernville, New york (pop. 300). It was there Lisa shoveled snow and wrote the bulk of her first novel.

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

My second novel – Curse of the Spellmans (Simon & Schuster) – the sequel to The Spellman Files just came out in hardcover.

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

My novels are about a family of private investigators and how the nature of the business affects their family life. Quite some time ago I worked for a family-run private investigative firm in the Bay Area. While none of the employees at the firm bear any resemblance to the Spellmans, it was th
e contrast between genuine affection present in the office and the natural suspicion that goes along with detective work that provided the germ of the idea.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

My journey was long. Let me reduce fifteen years to a few sentences. I wrote screenplays for over a decade. One in particular, Plan B, a mob comedy, I wrote and rewrote for about ten years. I’ve estimated there are least twenty-five drafts of that script. When the film was finally made and went straight to video, it became clear that no one was interested in my writing anymore. Because I had no real job skills and I felt that writing comedy was the only thing I had learned how to do, I wasn’t ready to give up. However, I knew that writing another screenplay was a dead end. The Spellman Files was my last screenplay and when I could barely get anyone to read it, that’s when I decided to write a novel. From that point on, everything just fell into place.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I’m banging my head right now. I’ll have to get back to you on the solution.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

I don’t think I’ll ever write a book with an implausible plot. I like my characters to be grounded in some kind of reality, so sometimes it’s hard to keep all the threads together, but I like to believe what I’m writing.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write from home or hotels (if I’m on the road), but mostly in private. A cave would work for me as well, as long as there were no other tenants.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The sun rises and it sets. That’s pretty much the only thing that stays the same. Mostly I try to write in the morning when my mind is fresh. But whenever I can is really the better answer.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Who are they? And if you could give me a full name and address that would be great.

I say they’re ruining this gig for the rest of us.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I have the premise, usually a few scenes mapped out, often involving snippets of dialogue, and I have a vague sense of the arc of the story. Then I think about how I want to introduce the characters. For the Spellman books, I like to begin with a crisis, something that puts a question into the readers’ minds that hopefully keeps them curious.

I finish a draft, I revise. I finish another draft or two and then I send the manuscript to some people I know whom I’ve learned are good at offering notes and not just saying, “it’s good.” Then when it’s presentable, I send the manuscript to my agent, who will offer notes and then decide when it’s okay to give it to my editor. When my editor gets the manuscript, we go through a few months of revisions, then the copyeditor has it for another few months, and I make more changes. Then it’s in the publishers hands and, in theory, I should be starting on the next book.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

These are some of my all-time favorite books, but I doubt I could really come up with a solid answer for why. There was probably something funny in each of them, something moving, and something that I couldn’t explain, but kept me reading.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

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

Find your own voice. Don’t copy anyone.

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

I could say that I wish I had thought about writing a novel earlier, but frankly, I think I needed all those years writing screenplays to find my own voice. For me, I don’t think there was any way I could have expedited the process. Making a living as writer is hard. For most people it will not pan out or take a long time and be a struggle. If you succeed, however, it’s worth it.

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

I think for any author interested in selling books, a web presence is key. I haven’t been doing this long enough to know what works exactly. If you’re sent on a book tour, the best advice I’ve heard is “Don’t count heads and take Airborn.” I have a cold right now, so I clearly didn’t listen to the second part.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

There’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself, but if your goal is to get published, never forget that you have an audience.

YA Author Interview: Joan Bauer

In her nine novels, Joan Bauer explores difficult issues with humor and hope. Her books have won numerous awards, among them the Newbery Honor Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, the Christopher Award, and the Golden Kite Award of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Joan lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, computer scientist Evan Bauer, and (when she's home from graduate school) their no-longer-teenage daughter.

Tell us about your upcoming novel, Peeled.

I’m really excited about the new novel because it combines so many things that interest me – truth in the media, how to fight against fearmongering and propaganda, the importance of small town farmers, the rights of free speech. It centers on a teenage reporter, Hildy Biddle, who dares to question the headlines of her local paper and begins an investigation to seek the truth.

What are the highlights of your journey to publication?

I began over twenty years ago writing for small magazines, moved to screenwriting where I got a hot-shot agent, but didn’t sell anything. My film career was greatly impacted by a car accident I had. During my recovery, I got a crazy idea to write a novel about a teenager who wanted to grow a giant pumpkin. That book, Squashed, won the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel and I’ve had nine YA novels published to date. I had to wait nine months to hear about the Delacorte Prize. When I finally got the call I was simply in heaven. What a rush!

Why do you write for young people?

I like them, I respect them, I’m intrigued by how they think and process the world around them.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Pray for illumination!

Plot, seat-of-the-pants or combination?

I’m not sure I understand this question, but I am a character-driven writer all the way. The character always influences the plot and the direction it will take in my novels.

You taught at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing this month. When leading workshops, what is the primary idea you want writers to walk away with?

Courage that they have more inside than they think they do. Release of old thought processes that might be impeding their creative process. Joy in being part of this remarkable community of storytellers.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing for young adults?

The best: Write when you feel like it and when you don’t.

What aspect of a story is most challenging for you: strong setting, vivid characters, engaging voices, delicious prose? How do you develop your weak areas?

The first draft drives me crazy!! I’m always afraid I’ll die in the process and people will read it and say, Gee she wasn’t very good, was she? I can spend way too much time in the beginning of a story and I’m learning to push through in the early drafts because that beginning is going to change as I get a true sense of the story. But there’s a great deal of groaning coming from my office.

What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?

To Kill a Mockingbird just knocked me out when I was 13 – the Atticus Finch character was everything I was looking for in a father. I try to create adult characters who can be role models.

What prepared you to write for young people?

My grandmother was a storyteller, so I grew up in a house where stories swirled around us. They explained the world to me. Also, I had a very, very tough time as a kid, and I look back on that now with my new perspective of hope.

Your novel, “Hope Was Here” won a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association. How did that award change the way you write, market and live?

Well, first—I was shocked when the Newbery folks called. And the response of the industry was so lovely. I got emails from all over the country from people I’d never met; Hope made the NY Times Bestseller list for several weeks running. I’d certainly won other awards over the years, but this one was the biggest. When the Newbery stickers came I felt like slapping one on my forehead! Doors opened for more speaking, I made more money, etc. I think for a while I became more nervous about my writing – that each book had to be better somehow. But I’ve gotten over that. You’ve got to write the book that’s burning inside you.

What are a few of your all-time favorite books?

To Kill a Mockingbird
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Great Gatsby

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

I enjoy the empowerment after I’ve done two drafts and I’ve really got the flow of the story and the cadence of the characters. I love when the characters have become so real that they begin to tell me where the story needs to go. But, honestly, what I like least is when the book is done and the marketing and PR begins. Those folks work awfully hard and I’m grateful for all they do, but I don’t like talking about a book I’ve just finished. I like a little time to digest it. Also, I’m already writing the next one, but not ready to talk about it yet. It’s a weird place in space. And, you know, I used to be in marketing. Go figure.

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

The days aren’t typical anymore. Depending on what draft I’m on, it will be different. At the beginning of a book, I can’t work more than 3-4 hours. At the end of a book, I’ll be pushing 12 hours sometimes.

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

I love Garrison Keillor’s gently humorous perceptions on faith. I would love to be able to do that.

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

I don’t do anything. I let the publisher handle it. I tried a few years ago to do a few extras and, man, it was so much work. I don’t know how people do it!

Do you have a dream, something you’d love to achieve with your writing?

I just want to go deeper – into humor, into understanding the human condition, into writing stories that speak to the headlines of our day and, hopefully, have staying power.

Parting words?

I used to think that when I finished a book, that was it – it was done. But now I see it’s just beginning because that book goes out to readers and they put their stories on what I’ve written and that makes the book so much more than I ever envisioned it could be.