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Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Worthy Goal, A Precious Prize.

I read something recently about breaking free of writer’s block. The writer expressed how she had broken through and was energized again. She proclaimed – “The goal, to write. The Prize, to publish.” I felt like cheering. To write – yes! A worthy goal. To publish – yes! And it was here that I paused.

The question came to mind, What is the prize? Is it seeing your byline in a magazine or newspaper or on the cover of a book? Is it receiving a check for a piece of writing you have labored over? I’ve had the thrill of all of these, and yes, it is a thrill, but it is fleeting. The byline may not be noticed nor remembered. The check evaporates like mist. Surely there is more. Is the prize perhaps the process itself? Is the prize all that is learned along the way? Is the prize the life being lived as a writer who belongs to Christ?

Henri Nouwen wrote; "Writing is a process in which we discover what lives within us. The writing, itself, reveals what is alive! The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know."

What lives within us – that which is alive – is revealed to us as we write. As those spaces open up within us we discover Who will fill them. As we trust Him, not knowing the destination becomes irrelevant.

What greater prize can there be? When we focus on the Spirit of God as the giver and sustainer of the gift, it is as we write that we understand Who that Spirit is. It is as we build our stories, our articles, our poems, that we discover the depth of His wisdom and love.

That journey, that adventure is in itself a gift. I would own no other prize.

Saturday’s Poll

This week as I searched my house for reading material, I decided upon a book which I’ve already read three times. It made me wonder how many of you repeat read.

For me, if a book has a reputation of being really good, I don’t borrow it from my library, I wait to own it. On the other hand, I have friends who read once and move on—no matter how good it is.

I know some writers read some works more than once. In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says, “To teach short story writing, he had us read James Joyce’s “The Dead” over and over. It was from this practice that I learned the value of dissecting a piece of writing repeatedly until it surrendered its secrets.

Knowing that all books aren't created equal, for this week's polls, I’m narrowing it down to your absolutely top five favorite books.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Author Melanie Lynne Hauser ~ Interviewed

At an age when many women throw themselves back into their careers after raising their children, Melanie Lynne Hauser looked around and realized she never had one in the first place. After deciding she wasn't creative enough to start her own business (like all those women on Oprah), she turned to the one thing she did know: Books. A bookworm from the time she was able to form words, Melanie realized that what she really wanted to do was write books. So she wrote one. It stank. She buried it out in her backyard, next to the compost heap. She wrote another book. It didn't stink quite so much; in fact it got her not one, but two literary agents. Still, nobody wanted to publish it. She wrote another book. It stank the least of all, and led her to her current, wonderful literary agent, but still it went unpublished. Then she wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM. So far, nobody has said that it stinks and someone optioned the story for film. The sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD was published by NAL in 2007. And finally, at long last, Melanie has a career. (And old men in nursing homes everywhere breathe a huge sigh of relief.)

** Melanie is giving away Jumble Pie in e-book form. Click on the book cover and you'll find out what you need to do to get it on your hot little computer.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

I just settled on a new idea. I'd started a couple of different manuscripts, just playing with them, but nothing had really captured my imagination. Then I got a great idea - courtesy of a dear friend - and now I'm seized. But I can't talk about it! It's still too early.

Share a bit about your unique writing journey.

Unlike a lot of writers, I didn't grow up wanting to be one. I wanted to be an actress, actually, and had a little success with that prior to marriage. But I did grow up reading, always. When my children were of a certain age - fully in grade school - I decided I should finally get around to figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up! Books seemed to be the one constant in my life, so like a lot of people, I decided to write a novel. And like a lot of people's, it was terrible! But I learned a lot - primarily, I learned when to say good-bye to a project that isn't going to work, and I learned to have the courage to start something new. Eventually I got an agent, wrote a couple more books that were much better and came close to selling but didn't, then I wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM and got a two-book deal (including the sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD.)

What has been your biggest writing challenge and how have you overcome it?

For me, it's been what's happened AFTER publication. I thought - and I think a lot of writers believe this to be true - that once published, always published. And I think it used to be that way; writers started out small, and were given the time and support to stay at one house, and build an audience through subsequent books. It's not that way anymore; writing is more like freelancing. Once one contract is over, there's no guarantee when - or if - you'll get another one. You constantly have to be able to reinvent yourself; only a very few fortunate authors, these days, seem to have the kind of career that allows them to plan ahead, book after book after book, and know who their audience will be.

Being able to understand this reality, and understanding that it takes a lot of flexibility and creativity and just plain ol' stubborn determination to succeed as an author these days - well, I hope I have these qualities!

How has life prepared you to be a writer? How has it not?

Life experience is so key, but an author has to be able to learn from experience. I think I have the kind of personality that is constantly observing, wondering, questioning, imagining; I can overhear snippets of a conversation and suddenly I have the idea for an entire novel. That ability to hold back a bit and watch, rather than totally living in the moment is very important to writing - I'm not sure, though, that it's always the best way to live life! But that seems to be the way I've most prepared myself for writing.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Oh, that's hard! I don't really know. I think I've learned a lot of hard truths but I'm not sure I'd have wanted to know about all of them before I started writing - I might have been scared off! I think I'd just tell myself to hold on to the dreamy, idealistic part that allows me to create, while honing the more rational, realistic part that has to deal with the business part. Did that make any sense?? But I do think an author has to have both parts - a tough part and a soft, idealistic part - in order to succeed.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

I'm not sure I have an answer to that. I don't think any one event/person can have that kind of an impact. Life experience, as I said, is so important, and I think it's so true that every time you write "Chapter One," you're a better writer than the person who just wrote "The End" only a few days (or weeks) before. So every event, every experience, every person you meet shapes you as a writer, and it's all, in the end, for the better.

Do you still struggle with any aspect of writing or the writing business? What are you doing to conquer it?

Mainly I struggle with the fact that fewer people are reading and buying fiction. There's nothing I can do about that, except personally preach the gospel of BUY BOOKS! But it's the reality today, and it affects every author I know, in some way. I think that as a society we really don't value writers and writing, at least not the way other countries do, and the way we used to. There are so many more demands on our time and we seem to gravitate toward the whole reality TV version of everything - including the few books that people make the time to buy.

Have you discovered any surefire marketing ideas that you'd like to share with us? Or have you encountered any that our readers should avoid?

There is nothing surefire. And the quicker you get that in your head, the more you'll be able to relax. Because I think there's such enormous pressure on authors today; we feel that we are responsible for personally selling each and every copy of our books. Publishers put this pressure on us, other authors do, too. It can get terrifying.

But having said all that, I do know that every author today HAS to be able to think in terms of marketing and publicity (more publicity, though, since for the most part, marketing is out of our hands). We have to educate ourselves on the realities of the business. We have to understand the importance of websites, of some kind of an Internet presence, of not hiding behind some mysterious "author" curtain, high up in our ivory tower of creativity....that's not part of our "job description" any longer (if it ever was).

The most important thing? Write a great book with a unique hook or concept that will allow you to talk about it in terms other than "great prose." People need a compelling reason, these days, to pick up a book. So give it to them.

Parting words...anything you wish I'd asked because you have the perfect answer?

These are all great questions! I don't really know what else I can add. Love the writing, love the reading (and please, read contemporary fiction!! You'd be surprised how many aspiring authors don't, and I think it's tragic), and grow a tough skin. Know that there's no secret handshake to being published; it's just a combination of plain ol' hard work and determination and luck. And know that there's never going to be a place where you can relax and say, "Ahh. At last, I have arrived."

If you know that, and still can't stop yourself from writing because it's the only thing you really know how to do (which is certainly my case!), then - welcome aboard!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Patti Lacy ~ Author Interview

Patti Lacy, a former community college instructor, has penned her debut novel, An Irishwoman’s Tale. Drawn to stories involving secrets and multicultural characters, Patti has sold a second novel to Kregel and is currently working on a fictional series entitled “Spanning Seas and Secrets.” Patti and her husband, Alan, live in Normal, Illinois. They have two grown children and a dog named Laura.

Wild places like West Coast sea islands and the majestic Rocky Mountains call to the Lacys. They love to hike and take road trips when their budget permits. Another passion of Patti‘s is volunteering at Ministry & More, an organization which offers food, prayer, and hope to those struggling with burdens. Patti facilitates women’s Bible studies and small groups. More information can be found at

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

An Irishwoman’s Tale, a work of contemporary Christian women’s fiction.

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

In 1995, God dumped the story in my lap following a book discussion group meeting at my home in Terre Haute, Indiana. “Mary,” a mercurial red-haired woman, stayed after the meeting to clean my kitchen while I picked over the great eats everyone had brought for the At Home in Mitford discussion. When the countertops shone and my belly was rock-hard stuffed, we moved to the front porch, sprawled in a couple of patio chairs, and started yakking. In the middle of a chat about our kids, my new friend asked me, “What is your first memory?” Hours later, I knew I’d been gifted something extraordinary through her story.

At the time, I was getting my master’s in literature but hadn’t written much except some esoteric research papers and embarrassing poetry. Then in 1999, we moved to Illinois, and for the next six years I raised kids and taught Humanities at the local community college. In 2005, God whispered that I should write “Mary’s” story. After getting her consent and taking a research trip to the gorgeous west coast of Ireland, that’s just what I did.

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

I started my first novel, An Irishwoman’s Tale, in 2005. What I didn’t say was my debut novel was birthed as nonfiction. Two, three…thirty drafts later, I’d attended the 2006 Write to Publish in Wheaton, changed the story to fiction, hired Camy Tang and Dennis Hensley to edit the novel, switched from first person to third person POV, added and deleted scenes, and much, much more.

In December of 2006, I got an e-mail from Dennis Hillman of Kregel Publications saying, “We’d like to publish your novel.” I jumped up and down, then got a grip and started looking for an agent. In 2007, I signed with Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary, and he negotiated my contract with Kregel. I’ve been working on novels ever since.

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

Well, I don’t bang my head against the wall, I lay my head on the keyboard and cry. However, Bob Pangrazi, a colleague of my husband and author of over 65 publications, gave me a sure-fire tip to prevent writer’s block, and I try my best to adhere to it. “Set a manageable daily page goal,” he said, “then stick to it. No Matter What.”

Do not pass go. Do not set the teakettle to boil or brew a cup of coffee. Do not even go to the bathroom.

My magic number is three little pages. Not much, but it adds up to over a thousand a year. Nearly three novels, if you want to see the big picture I grit my teeth and pound my way through writer’s block like an old, out-of-shape heavyweight sparring with the young, buff national junior champion. On good days, I may type ten or more pages. On bad days, I have typewritten exactly twenty-seven double-spaced lines. Three pages.

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?

Putting emotion in my writing. I still struggle with it, and it’s the reason I still utilize two wonderful critique groups and professional editing (though thankfully I’m seeing less red ink on my current WIP, My Name is Sheba.)

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

I play music related to my writing. For An Irishwoman’s Tale, I purchased Eden’s Bridge and traditional Irish folk songs. I also read and tried to implement Iglesia’s Writing for Emotional Impact and Kress’s Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint.

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

When my daughter left for college, she donated her old bedroom, a sunny room on our second floor, to “the cause” and I was promoted out of a windowless basement room with sagging ceiling tiles and industrial carpet. In my new office, a Scott Mutter poster enlivens the south wall, and a painting by Angel Ambrose entitled "Searching for Unanswered Questions" adds beautiful green and yellow tones to the west wall. Of course there’s a sagging-from-its-load bookcase, my favorite stuffed chair, and some neat plants. And my computer and lots of notebooks and pens.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up by five a.m. so I can make my son’s lunch, get breakfast going, get menus planned. We Lacys are big eaters and try to load up on locally grown and organic produce and meats, so meal planning and grocery shopping take quite a bit of time. Then I sink into my office chair and study the Word. After this devotional period, my daily to-do list calls, as do the requisite daily pages.

Somewhere in there I work in a jog with The Three Stooges, my exercise partners. Earning their nickname by their comic relief as well as their looks, they keep me laughing so that I don’t notice the stitch in my sides and the ache in my lungs. Since writing is such a solitary profession, I try to schedule lunch and coffee dates a couple of times a week. I usually stop by three or four o’clock and start banging around the pots and pans. If it’s nice outside, we eat on the patio, then read, watch a movie, play Yahtzee, or stroll the neighborhood. With my latest read in hand, I retire early.

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 happens both ways for me. Sometimes the synapses are firing so rapidly, I stop at a house on our jogging route and borrow pen and paper to take notes. My husband (one of the Stooges) finally suggested I carry my cell phone and leave myself a voice memo. It’s not as fun but keeps the neighbors—and my husband—less stressed out.

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

After two SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) novels, I used a modified “Snowflake” method (Randy Ingermanson) to outline my current WIP, a three-book series. But even before that outlining, my novel is birthed when I hear a story or see an image that captures my attention.

For An Irishwoman’s Tale, it was that new friend telling a story she’d kept bottled up for years. For Unsettled Waters, my second novel, it was an oral narrative about two little girls in the 60s, one black, one white, who had to stick toys through the chain link fence that separated their yards because their parents wouldn’t allow them to play together. I’d wake up at night, seeing those beautiful hands, one light, one darker, reaching for each other as the world strove to keep them apart.

I read newspapers, talk to people that I meet in coffeehouses, at church, at the ministry, and put ideas in a Word file. If I think images are related, they go in the same file. Then it becomes like a jigsaw puzzle and I keep arranging the pieces (the images) until they finally fit into a story.

After I piece together the plot, the characters, and write very general chapter headings, I buy and/or check out a ton of books about the time period and all the related subject matter, take copious notes, and start writing.

I use the Google search engine like wild to find relevant memorabilia, names, and facts. But if I REALLY need something right, I take my fingers off the keyboard and let them walk through the phone book. I’ve called pool specialists, firemen, doctors, psychologists, horse breeders, historians, farmers, gardeners, jazz musicians, nurses…the list goes on and on.

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

You don’t have enough gigabytes or whatever for my list of favorite books! My old friends have gotten me through some hard and lonely times. I carefully consider on which shelf they should reside and am careful who I let them go out with.

A few old classics? Angle of Repose by Stegner for its intergenerational saga, its redemptive ending. Les Miserables because of the incredible characters. Anything by Jane Austen. Gayl Jones. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Paton. Kingsolver. I also adore Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. And I have a whole collection of multicultural novels and short stories.

In the CBA, I love all of Francine Rivers’ and Randy Alcorn’s books because of those authors’ storytelling capabilities. The Jan Karon series. I just finished Lisa Samson’s Quaker Summer and fell in love with her main character, who taught me a lot about myself and made me examine some weaknesses in my faith. This past year, I’ve been privileged to read some exciting authors: Maureen Lang, Tosca Lee, Melanie Dobson, Julie Lessman.

For nonfiction, I have a few tried and true folks who I turn to over and over. Elisabeth Elliot. James MacDonald, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis.

A few best-sellers from recent years that have hooked me into their gorgeous writing: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards and her book of short stories. Edwards has an AMAZING voice. Don’t miss her book of short stories, Secrets of a Fire King and the exquisite story, “A Gleaming in the Darkness.” I could read that story every day. Other best sellers: Atonement, The Big House, The Good German, Three Cups of Tea—I’m sorry. I’d better stop here.

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

Lynn Austin gave it to me at my first writer’s conference. “Go back to your room and decide if God wants you to write. Decide it once and for all. Then pick up your pen and don’t set it down. Try to forget about all the other stuff.” Many times I’ve grabbed my tennis shoes and headed out the door, tears in my eyes from all the “stuff” we writers have to deal with. Then that still small voice comes. “Isn’t it enough for me to read it? Can’t you give your best if I’m the only one who does?” It silences a lot of head-buzzing.

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?

Do not put a stamp on a proposal or query letter until you’ve (1) written the best book you can (2) attended a writers’ conference (3) had your book edited by a professional editor. I was doing it the wrong way when I by happenstance gave Julie Dearyan a ride at that same Write to Publish conference. In the ten minutes it took to get her back to the dorm, she got me on the right track with the above list of advice.

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

Jeane Wynn has helped me tremendously in this area of business where I feel incompetent by organizing a blog and media tour. As such a new writer, I’m struggling to work on my craft and somehow manage to do justice to the marketing aspect.

I did attend an informal lecture at one of the Chicago Northwest ACFW meetings where Travis Thrasher gave some great ideas, but hey, I’m pretty needy when it comes to marketing. If you’ve got some good ideas, my e-mail’s

Here are my current three general marketing strategies: (warning: they may suddenly change, like the Midwest weather!)

1) Contact local libraries, including the university. Arrange chat sessions/book signings/teaching seminars. This has gone fairly well so far.

2) Order a slew of bookmarks and send them with an announcement letter to a group of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

3) Send out an e-mail to people who sign up for my mailing list and website contest. In the last couple of months, I’ve had excellent traffic on the website, which, while not a blog, is updated monthly.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Daily ask the Holy Spirit to guide the words you write. Then, as Lynn Austin said: Write for God, and all the rest will fall in place, whether you get published or not. Tough words, but they have that ring of eternity about them…

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Debut Author ~ Michelle Sutton

Michelle Sutton is Editor in Chief of Christian Fiction Online magazine, Volunteer Officer on the ACFW board, an edgy fiction writer, book reviewer, avid blogger/alliance member, web designer, wife, marketing director, mother of two teens, social worker by trade, and follower of Jesus Christ. Best known for her numerous Edgy Author review sites and her Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers groups, she also gives away two books per week on her blog and posts numerous reviews on her blog. Michelle lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons. Her debut book, It's Not About Me, releases in September, 2008.
Time to crow: This is your first book coming out. Tell us about it.

It’s Not About Me is about a young woman, Annie, who just graduated from high school. She plans to go to a Christian College in the fall. Her boyfriend of four years starts getting very pushy with her regarding sex and she is very conflicted about what to do. She’s a good Christian girl, but she also tries very hard to not let people down. Then something horrible happens and her future plans are all destroyed. I can’t say what it is because it will mess up the story, but I can say that this very situation happened to a friend of mine from church when we lived in Phoenix. It really shakes her to the foundation of her faith. Both her boyfriend and his older brother care very much for Annie and she becomes overwhelmed when they keep fighting over her. But I won’t tell you who she ends up with, or if she chooses either one. That would ruin the story for you. Sorry.

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

Like I mentioned above, this situation actually happened to a woman I knew. She was beautiful, just like Annie, but middle-aged. I thought it would make an interesting story if I took a young girl who was beautiful, yet insecure in her faith, and used the situation to shake the foundation of everything she thought she believed in. The faith portion of the story is similar to my own experience when I was her age. I discovered you can know all about Jesus and not really know Him.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication?

I began writing in August of 2003. It sounds cliché, but I never wrote a word before and really believe God called me to write. I wanted to create something that would dig below the surface and touch the real issues. I’m also not afraid to be edgy. It must be the social worker in me that yearns to develop real characters with many complex layers in their mind, faith, and humanity. I don’t like the Pollyanna-type so you won’t find any perfect Christians in anything I write.

How did you find out and what went through your mind?

How did I find out about what? How to get published? I joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) to help provide support, direction, and training in writing so I could create something publishable. Many people waste time because they don’t realize there is such a valuable resource out there for Christian writers. I am a go-getter and wasting time is something I don’t allow myself to do.

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

I don’t get writer’s block. At least I haven’t so far and I’ve written over ten stories to date. If I don’t feel like writing I don’t write. Stories come out of me in spurts. But I always have several plots and characters brewing in my mind. Some simmer for years, and others bubble for mere months before I write the story. But when I have the muse, look out! I really burn up the keyboard.

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?

For me the hardest part is reading the same thing a hundred times and going through it to make it as perfect as possible. Editing isn’t awful for me, just rereading the same stuff. Sometimes I set a book aside for 3-6 months and do something else. Then I go back to it when I can reread it without going crazy.

How do you overcome it?

I don’t know about the implausible plots. I tend to write more character-driven novels. I guess for me the trick is to not make the character too realistically needy as many dysfunctional people are. I struggle most with making a character likeable despite their flaws, but when I achieve it that is such a great feeling! I just keep trying to come up with things that I can have my character do or say that will reveal a likeable part of who they are that will appeal to most readers.

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

The computer is in my bedroom. I could never write in the middle of my house.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work ten hours a day four days a week for the State of Arizona as a social worker. I have worship team practice one night a week for about three hours, then I have a women’s Bible study another night, which pretty much kills my writing time those evenings. When I can, I write the other nights.
Sometimes I just read. I read a lot of fiction so I drag a book with me everywhere. This keeps my creative juices flowing for when I do have time to sit down and write. I also spend time doing volunteer activities (like for ACFW) and blogging. And yes, I DO sleep and interact with my family. My secret is that I stay far away from the television set or I’d stare at it and get nothing done.

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 can write an entire chapter a day and sometimes up to three. It depends on how much time and muse I have. I never tweeze out anything until the chapter is done. Sometimes I’ll write half the book before I tweeze anything. That slows me down too much if I over-analyze my story while writing it.

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

The concept usually comes to me based on a combination of personal experience, work experience, or compelling issues in my life or the lives of people I know. I mull the concept over until I’m ready to write about it. When I am done with the story I go back and revise it to make it cleaner and to check for stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

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

Sheesh. I read over a hundred books last year! I couldn’t even pick a favorite author let alone a favorite novel. That’s not a fair question. *grin*
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

An amazing editor told me to read Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. That book made something click in my brain that I wasn’t getting before I read it. What stuck out most in my mind was when Stein said to supply the envelope to your reader and let them fill it. That’s a lousy paraphrase, but the point is the same.

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?

Probably not to let people know I was writing and submitting to publishers via my agent until something sold. Why? Because I get asked when my book is coming out every day—at least once—and it makes me crazy. The process takes time, but most readers have no idea how long that is. I’m just glad I didn’t sell something during my first few years because my writing has improved a lot since I began this journey. I look back at some of my earlier stuff and cringe. The story was great but the method of delivery needed WORK. Thank God I kept at it. Now I feel good about my writing when someone reads it.

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

Marketing to me means name and product recognition. I’ve worked hard to get a web presence and I think I’ve done a great job with networking and increasing my resources. I also have promo set up and people willing to not only promote, but help market my book. The list of buyers grows daily! If you Google inspirational author and/or edgy inspirational you will find me. Now if you Google my name you will also find me on the first page and not just a memorial for the girl who was the first to die in a wilderness therapy program. That was harder to achieve than you’d think. I also have many writing-related blogs, I do book reviews on numerous sites, and people know who I am. My brand is established. I’m the Edgy Inspirational Author. Believe me, it’s true.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Write what is on your heart and learn the craft so people will see your best before you start submitting for publication. And find an agent and a publisher who not only believe in you but are a fan of your work. I did and I’m thrilled about my decisions. I’m looking forward to great things in the future.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Sword is Mightier than the Pen

by Mike Duran

There has been a surprising indifference among Christian writers about Random House's
decision to forgo publishing The Jewel of Medina. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling water, we just wipe our brow and ignore the obvious. As you know, the publishers felt that the novel about the child bride of Mohammed would incite Muslim backlash. Their official statement reads thus:

After sending out advance editions of the novel THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, we received in response, from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.

We felt an obligation to take these concerns very seriously. We consulted with security experts as well as with scholars of Islam, whom we asked to review the book and offer their assessments of potential reactions.

We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some. However, a publisher must weigh that responsibility against others that it also bears, and in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.
The novel follows A'isha from her engagement to Mohammed, when she was six, until the prophet's death. Author Sherry Jones stated, "I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed ... I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder." However, after receiving "cautionary advice," Random House has concluded that "the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

There is so much hypocrisy and double-standards when it comes to the global community's -- and now the literary community's -- approach toward Islam, it's hard to know where to begin.

For one, the "small, radical segment" that Random House fears will be moved to violence is probably the same teensy weensy fringe groups that erupted in riots in 2006 after cartoons of
the Prophet Mohammed appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed in the violence and Danish embassies were attacked. Or the same year when the Pope's comments about Islamic violence
ignited outrage and protests around the Muslim world, from Iran to Pakistan to Indonesia, resulting in the fire-bombing of four churches in the West Bank. Or how about when thousands of Islamic fanatics wielding clubs and knives marched through the streets of Khartoum demanding the execution of the teacher whose class named a teddy bear Mohammed. Or perhaps the 2002 Nigerean beauty pageant that led to massive Muslim riots and the death of 200 people.

Is this the "small, radical segment" Random House is worried about?

Even worse than their refusal to acknowledge the breadth of Islamic violence, is the appalling double standard. As Catholic League president
Bill Donahue has noted,
There are several issues here. First, where is the outcry from the academic community about the scare tactics of Denise Spellberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin? She was the one who sounded the alarms and even got her lawyer to warn Random House that her name was not to be associated with her demagoguery. Second, it is known that the woman whom Jones is writing about, Aisha, was, in fact, six years old when Muhammad wrote the marriage contract; she was nine when the marriage was consummated. So now no one can write a historical novel about his perversions? Third, Doubleday published Dan Brown’s anti-Catholic novel, The Da Vinci Code, and Doubleday is owned by Random House. So what does it take for Random House not to offend religious sensibilities? Threats of violence? Great message.
Can Random House's hypocrisy be any more evident? They apparently had little problem publishing a book (The Da Vinci Code) that undermined Christian history, called into question its most sacred figure, and insulted tens of thousands of believers. Nevertheless, they quaver in fear about offending the sensibilities of the Muslim community... even if the story is based on historical facts.

But perhaps
equally foreboding is the apathy of Christian writers toward this decision and our apparent inability to discern its implications. What does it matter that a major publishing house caved in to religious extremists? As long as we have our Christian labels, Christian book stores, and Christian fan clubs, who cares how hot the water is. But how long before the PC police come knocking on our door? If this type of censorship continues, there may come a day when "that small, radical segment" demands that we Christians stop claiming that Jesus is the only way to God (Jn. 14:6) and that Mohammed is not
one of His prophets. And if we don't...?

It used to be that freedom of speech and truth in journalism were big issues in the artistic community, issues worth fighting for. But the decision by Random House to cancel publication of
The Jewel of Medina because of potential threats of violence by a "small, radical segment" heralds an ominous new age. Maybe there was a time when the pen was mightier than the sword. But, thanks to the "Religion of Peace" and publishers like Random House, that time is now history.

A Bag of Fish or Jesus - M. Laycock

My husband preached a great sermon a while ago, from John 21. The gist of it was that we are all prone to oh-so-quickly give up on God and turn back to our own resources. Just as the disciples did. Jesus had told them what to do, and where to go, but they thought He wasn't going to show up, so one of their leaders, an impetuous fellow named Peter said, "I'm going fishing." The others said, "Yeah, sounds like a good idea."

They fished for hours to no avail so when a man turns up on the shore and asks if they have any fish they all shout a resounding, "No!"

It's when that man tells them to cast their net on the other side of their boat that one of them, the well-loved John, says, "Hey - uh - I think maybe it's Jesus."
To his credit, Peter wasted no more time with the fish - he leaped out of the boat and hurried to shore. Then Jesus, who was indeed the one speaking to them, tells them to bring some of the fish they'd just caught to the fire. An interesting statement, that. Jesus already had fish roasting over the coals, yet he tells them to bring what they had just caught with their own hands, under His direction.

There are a couple of lessons to learn here. One, guard against giving up on Jesus. He will come through, He's never late, and He will always give us what we need to accomplish what He has in mind. Two, there's a principle to learn from Peter and the disciples who followed his lead. We can so easily get caught up in striving to make a living - trying to make things work out the way we want - that we can lose sight of the One for whom we are working. But as Peter discovered, when Jesus shows up, the bag of fish is suddenly of no importance. Being with Jesus is all that matters.

And there's a third principle to learn from this story. We can know that God intends to put us to work. He has given us skills - like the ability to catch fish, and write books or poetry or magazine articles - and He will use those skills to His own purposes. Part of that purpose is to teach us and bless us abundantly as we become a blessing to others. The disciples ate as much fish as they wanted that morning and had plenty left to sell. It was the fruit of their own labour but it was labour guided by their Lord, labour that taught them something about Him, labour that was indeed, life-giving.

"So, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23)

Sign up for Marcia's e-mailed column, The Spur, on her website -

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Editors Gone Wild

According to the Associated Press, two men toured the United States this Spring in an effort to correct grammar on both public and private signs.

The Chicago Tribune called them, “a pair of Kerouacs armed with Sharpies and erasers and righteous indignation.”

Hopefully after they serve their probation, a publishing company will hire them out as copy editors.

At least their story gave me a great idea for this week's poll.

Grammar is one of the most essential tools in a writer’s toolbox. For some it comes naturally, others struggle.
Where are you at?

To read more about the grammar-vigilantes, click here to read MSNBC’s story.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Author/ Writer Helper Guy Dennis Cass ~ Interviewed

Dennis Cass is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Mother Jones, and the online journal Slate. His first book, HEAD CASE: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain, is now out in paperback.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

I have several projects going right now, including my next book and a TV pilot I’m writing with a collaborator, but I’m most excited about my writing/career advice site Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I’ve made too many mistakes to count, but probably the biggest was not recognizing soon enough the importance of building an audience. For years I worked on the “better mousetrap” theory, until I learned that the world doesn’t beat a path to you door. Readers need an invitation, and once they arrive they need (and deserve) a compelling reason to stay.

What's the best or worst advice (or both) you've heard on writing/publication?

Write what you know” is probably the worst, because it misleads you into believing that the magic is already inside you and you just need to dig it out. The magic is not inside you; it’s out in the world. “Write what you’re most interested in learning about, challenging yourself with, and inhabiting for an extended period of time” would be better advice, but boy is it clunky.

How about sharing some tips from Dennis Cass, Writing Helper Guy.

The work I do over at the Awesome blog comes out of my experiences as a writer, book doctor, writing teacher and former literary agent, and my best tip is this: tips won’t help you.

The problem with tips is that they assume that if you follow them you’ll get a specific outcome. But every writer is different; every project is different, and the culture is a moving target. How could something as flimsy as a tip counter all that chaos?

Instead, I encourage writers to adopt a mindset that balances risk and respect. As an artist you have to take big personal, emotional and creative risks in order to do great work. But you also have to balance that risk with the utmost respect for your audience, who is busy and harried and overwhelmed with choices. They will follow your grand vision wherever it leads, but they also need an anchor.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I don’t put too much stock in ideas. You could give a terrible idea to a good artist and she’ll be able to make something out of it. You can give a great idea to a hack and he’ll ruin it forever.

There’s another thing about ideas that you have to be careful about. Creative inspiration feels good. There is that immediate, undeniable, physiological reward to the Eureka! moment. Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t feel good. It’s satisfying to finish a piece and know that you did it up right, but the heavens don’t part like they do during that initial surge of creativity.

If I were to pick one thing that trips writers up more than anything, it’s that we chase that first feeling of inspiration long past its usefulness. Let it go. It’s never coming back. Spare yourself the disappointment and learn to find satisfaction in the slow, small pleasures of a job well done. You’ll find yourself to be more productive (and less frustrated) than ever before.

What marketing have you done in the past that has been most effective and what are you hoping to try in the future? Any advice in this area?

My take on marketing and promotion is that you should treat it with the same creativity and care that you gave to your book. If you wage war against cliché in your work, why settle for the same old same old when you try to connect with an audience?

I’m very pleased with how the marketing went for HEAD CASE, even though I didn’t sell a ton of books. For the hardcover I did a funny PowerPoint presentation instead of a standard bookstore reading. For the paperback I made book launch 2.0, which reached more people that I ever dreamed it would.

The best part about both cases is that I feel like I made some strong connections with people. So even if I didn’t climb the bestseller lists this time, I hope that my next book will be greeted with just that much more enthusiasm. People often talk about how our culture is based on a star system, but you can’t have stars without fans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meet Victoria Barrett and Andrew Scott, Editors of Freight Stories

Welcome, Victoria and Andrew! Tell us about your Freight Stories. What is it, how did you come up with the idea for it, what are you hoping to accomplish through it?

Victoria Barrett: Freight Stories is an online fiction quarterly. We both worked as managing editors of Puerto del Sol while in graduate school. It’s an extraordinary journal with national distribution and a 40+ year history of publishing brave, big-hearted, wonderful work. The editor-in-chief under whom we served, Kevin McIlvoy, was absolutely committed to operating the magazine as a service to writers as well as readers. We learned writer-centered editing practices from him, and found that the act of putting great work out into the world was gratifying on every possible level. Because we are both writers, we feel a deep and abiding loyalty to the literary community. Freight Stories emerged, after much coffee, conversation, and imagination, as a way to serve both writers and readers, and become further engaged in the literary community we love.

Andrew Scott:
We wanted to establish a literary magazine for many years, but print journals tend to be cost prohibitive. The majority of literary magazines are affiliated with and funded by a university’s creative writing program or English department, an affiliation that tends to dictate budget, policy, and staff. We are not interested in complying with the kinds of restrictions university funding generally carries, so we made a commitment to avoid that kind of affiliation. Which left us stumped for a while.

As recently as 2004, we began a campaign to secure seed funding, an unlikely endeavor for most organizations, since an organization has to be in operation for at least three years before it can even apply for federal nonprofit status, which status is the first requirement of most funders. But Victoria has experience working as an arts fundraiser, so we put together several grant proposals.
We also became engaged to be married that year. In the end, the arduous task of securing the substantial funding required to publish a print journal while simultaneously teaching four English courses a semester, working a variety of consulting and freelance jobs, pursuing our creative scholarship, and planning a wedding overwhelmed us. Since none of the other tasks could go, we tabled our (then untitled) magazine.

Victoria Barrett: In the intervening years, something wonderful happened. Online publishing has become both easier and less iconoclastic. Online journals like Narrative have brought the editorial quality that used to be limited to print publishing to the web. While many online publishing outlets remain deliberately outside the mainstream, publishing a poem-a-day in blog format, for example, or eschewing the editorial selectivity that the limited page count of a print journal necessarily enforces, web journals began to emerge as a viable outlet for the highest quality work, the work of writers who, a few short years before, wouldn’t have considered publishing online. And so, Freight Stories was born.

In 2006, we bought a house adjacent to the original B & O Railroad (yes, the one in the Monopoly game) in the Irvington historic neighborhood of Indianapolis. The railroad now belongs to CSX, and is heavily used. Some days we hear the whistle seven or eight times; some days not at all. Meanwhile, as we came closer to making our magazine a reality, we hoped to choose a name that had real imagistic power, but also implied a sense of weight and of movement, two things we feel bound to as readers of fiction. We love—and publish—stories in many forms and styles. But they must have big hearts and move us to feel something. So: Freight.

Stories is easier. The odds of getting a poem or an essay published in a literary outlet are mathematically much, much higher than a story. There are many journals, print and online, that publish exclusively poetry or essays, but just a handful for fiction. Among the majority of journals that publish several genres per issue, you’ll find on a contents page upwards of 20 poems, and maybe one or two stories. Since we are both fiction writers ourselves, and have edited fiction in the past, restricting Freight Stories to fiction is a natural choice for us. But it also clearly serves readers and writers of fiction.

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

Andrew Scott: We want to avoid much of the anti-print bias that online journals sometimes evoke, because Freight Stories is not a protest against the literary publishing establishment. On the whole, this is very much a positive movement for us, and is all about what it can offer writers by way of exposure, and readers by way of excellent fiction, free of charge. We don’t focus much on what it is not.

What are a few of your favorite stories?

Victoria Barrett: Some of my favorite short stories include Debra Monroe’s “Plumb and Solid,” from her wonderful collection, A Wild, Cold State, as well as “What the Thunder Said” by Janet Peery. And Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t,” which we were lucky enough to hear him read a few years ago.

Andrew Scott: I admire Colum McCann’s “Everything in This Country Must,” as well as Ha Jin’s “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” but in truth, there are hundreds of writers and stories we could name here.

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

Victoria Barrett: Mary Swan is a longtime favorite. When I teach creative writing, I usually read aloud Swan’s “Where You Live Now,” from the Sudden Fiction, Continued anthology, on the first day of classes because it shows you how much emotional resonance and formal originality the short story form can contain. Swan is a known perfectionist with enormous heart in her stories. She’s not afraid to risk sentimentality or break the “rules” to move her readers. But we don’t know her at all, and requested a story as a shot in the dark. She had no reason to trust us except for our mission and the way we articulated it. So publishing her story “My Mother’s Ghost” was a big, big deal.

Andrew Scott: As was each story that came in. It all gave us a sense of what we could do. Most of our authors can publish pretty much anything they want in a print journal somewhere. Among the author bios on our site, you’ll find at least four O’Henry Awards, several NEA Fellowships, two AWP book prize awards, one Pushcart Prize, one Guggenheim Fellowship, at least two appearances in Best American Short Stories, and one in Best New American Voices—these are most of the top honors an American fiction writer can garner. They are widely anthologized writers. All told, they’ve published more than 30 books. So we knew, as their work rolled in, that we were accomplishing something special, that these were major-league writers who trusted our editorial sensibilities enough to put their work out in the least trustworthy of possible places: the web. We also knew, almost right away, that we could make our wishes for Freight Stories come true.

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

Andrew Scott: Besides our editing work for Freight Stories, we’re also full-time writers and full-time writing teachers, so our days are jam-packed with words. But a typical day for us with Freight Stories involves reading submissions, data entry, possibly line editing a story for the next issue, and getting our ducks in a row. Every now and then, we might spend time seeking artwork for an upcoming issue, or taking photographs (Victoria’s photographs have been used for the covers of our first and third issues), and in the weeks before an issue is made “live” online, we’re hard at work on website design. We also produce a monthly PDF newsletter called CARGO—which we features original essays, author interviews, and more—that we create for Freight Stories supporters.

Victoria Barrett: And every so often, we manage to sleep.

How long have you been editors?

Andrew Scott: About a decade, at this point. We have details and plans, but if we’re able to keep doing what we do indefinitely, it will be a wonderful experience and accomplishment. Our core hope is that Freight Stories can continue to bring great fiction to online readers.

As an editor, what's that special something you look for in a story?

Victoria Barrett: The bottom line is that a story must move us. Formal tradition or formal experimentation is nice, but if the story’s heart is not powerful, there’s not much point. That doesn’t mean a story has to be sad—Alexander Parsons’ story in the first issue resonates with humor, for example—though great stories often are. We believe that the real reason people read is to be moved to feel something among the sameness of everyday life. So that’s really the primary requirement.

Of course, with novel excerpts, which we do welcome, the work must be self-contained, by which we mean that the reader has to be able to get it, and to get a lot out of it, without any explanation of the novel’s remaining pages.

What are some things that set off red flags in a manuscript?

Andrew Scott: We’re not in search of red flags, for sure, but especially sloppy manuscripts make it difficult to read the story on its own terms, which is something we strive for each time. Beyond that, perhaps stories that are overly familiar.

What makes a manuscript stand out from the rest?

Victoria Barrett: A compelling, engaging narrative voice, for one. Richly drawn characters, for another. Sharp prose. There are numerous ways for a manuscript to leap out at us.

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

Andrew Scott: As for the subjectivity of editors selecting work for publication, it’s good to remember that, as with writing and love, science plays no part. We understand how writers feel when they submit their work to a journal or magazine. One article in The Writer’s Chronicle a few years ago suggested that a piece of writing needs to be submitted 55 times to have a 95% chance of acceptance; but, again, no statistical study can pinpoint how many submissions will guarantee a 100% chance of acceptance. Even though Victoria and I have similar reading tastes, we still disagree about submissions all the time—or, perhaps, we may both recognize that a story has merit, but disagree about its strengths and weaknesses.

Victoria Barrett: But generalizing the publishing of literature as a “subjective business” rings loudly of complaint. It’s valuable for writers, readers, and editors to remember that the publishing of literature in journals is usually an act of service and love. It isn’t much about “business” in the sense that it generates a profit for anyone. Is that service “subjective,” then? Until the robots take over, yes, as are all human endeavors. Let’s work to keep it that way.

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

Andrew Scott: We asked a longtime friend of ours, a fiction writer with a lot of talent, to send us a specific story that we remembered reading and liking. Instead, he sent us three other submissions, one of which wasn’t finished. The work was not his best, and when we passed on them, we again asked him to consider sending us the story we knew we liked. Instead, he replied that he would send his work to real journals, journals with name recognition, because he would be entering the teaching job market soon. His tone made it clear that we was “slumming” it for us, somehow.

There are a few things to learn from this incident. First, if an editor asks you for something—for a specific story, or for a revision with suggestions, or for anything that might help your work reach a wider audience—pay attention, and don’t dismiss it out of hand. Second, you’ll most likely be left behind if you think web publishing is going away, or that it’s always second-class somehow. As with print journals, books, newspapers, and anything else, you should learn to tell the difference between the good and the not-so-good. We’ve published the work of bestselling authors, major award winners, and brand-new writers. We only care about finding good fiction to share with our readers. Our ultimate advice: write a great story, follow the submission guidelines, and hope for the best.

Let's say I have an intriguing query, a well-developed synopsis and my writing is strong. Why might I still get a rejection?

Victoria Barrett: As an online literary journal, we don’t read queries or synopses. But in general, there are still hundreds of reasons why a piece of strong writing could be rejected by a magazine editor, book editor, or literary agent.

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

Victoria Barrett: Yes, writers can resubmit their work after its been revised substantially. But unless we specifically ask a writer to resubmit, he or she is probably better off submitting that piece to other journals. No writer should completely change his or her work just because one editor made a suggestion or comment. Now, if several editors make the same comment, perhaps the collective wisdom should be heeded.

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

Victoria Barrett: Our record keeping is quite good, but beyond that, yes, we’d most likely recognize a story submitted for the second time. Every so often we might ask an author to consider submitting the piece if it’s revised, but that happens infrequently.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Andrew Scott: Writers should read every literary journal where they might hope to publish their work. They should also subscribe to them, too, or find other ways to support the publications that shepherd new fiction into the world.

To learn more about Freight Stories, check out:

Freight Stories:
Support Freight Stories:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welcome guest blogger Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris, the award-winning author of thirteen novels and novellas, lives with her family in Mozambique where they work as church planting missionaries. When she’s not home schooling her kids, writing, and doing all the normal mom things, Lisa loves cooking exotic foods, reading, and traveling. For information on her books, plus an inside peek into her life in Africa, visit her blog or her website.
A Word of Encouragement

Nineteen years ago, I spent a summer in Kenya and was able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance. This stunning mountain is the highest on the African continent, towering just over 19,300 feet. Not just anyone, though, can climb to its summit. It takes training, both mental and physical, to make it to the top.

My husband and son have already begun making plans to climb the mountain in the next couple of years, but they both know that the climb will not be easy. It’s going to take proper physical training and preparation so they will be able to make it. On the way up, it’s cold, exhausting, and the oxygen levels are low.

So why even try? Well, for those who have made it to the summit, they know why. It’s the very accomplishment of pushing yourself to the limit, and in the end, making it to the top.

I’ve run across several authors who are in the midst of writing the next great American novel. They expect that finding a publisher will be easy and the money big, yet they have failed to prepare themselves for the reality of what it takes to get a book published.

If you haven’t already noticed, the reality is that the publishing world can be as daunting as climbing a mountain. And while everyone, it seems, wants to write a book, most aren’t willing to train.

Three of my author friends have recently landed their first big contracts with major publishing houses. Yet these very same friends have trained for years to learn the craft of writing--one friend, for over twenty years. They went to conferences, worked with critique groups, sent out proposals, and the most important part--they wrote and never gave up. It took time, energy, discipline and sacrifice, but their diligence paid off. And in the coming months, they will all be holding one of their own books in their hands.

Maybe your journey won’t be quite as rocky, or take quite as long. Or you might find yourself--a dozen or so years along this writing journey--with nothing more than a pile of rejection letters. Either way, keep this in mind. The road to publication is hard and will take time.

Here are a few mountain climbing tips:

1. Have your essential training equipment: Read other books in your genre, study books on how to write, attend online classes and writer’s conferences, and join a critique group. The best training for how to write a book, is writing. Write, write, and write some more.

2. Don’t panic: Expect the rejections, dry periods, loneliness, and even the times you will question what you are doing. Don’t ever give up. Ever.

3. Always travel in a group: Find other authors you can encourage and vice versa.

4. Check the weather: Stay current of market changes by joining a writing organization, subscribing to writer’s publications, and reading editor and publishers blogs.

5. Understand the climb won’t be easy, but remember as well that that a rough climb up can make the summit even sweeter.

And like my three friends, dreams, even in the publishing world, really can come true!

Check out Lisa’s two newest releases:

Baker’s Fatal Dozen, August 2008. Get ready to cook up a second helping of Pricilla Crumb and her hilarious schemes to serve up justice. When Reggie Pierce, who runs Pricilla Crumb’s favorite bakery, is found dead, Pricilla finds herself hot on the trail of another sticky scandal that begins with murder. Visit
Heartsong Presents: Mysteries for more information.

Final Deposit, September 2008: A fast-paced romantic suspense that deals with the very real threat of internet scams. When Lindsey Taylor's elderly father loses his life savings through an e-mail scam, she turns to financial security expert Kyle Walker for help. Will Kyle's vendetta against the Internet scheme that cost him his brother's life hinder his commitment to Lindsey? And how much danger are they in as they get closer to the criminals? (From Love Inspired Suspense)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Debut Author Interview ~ Mike Dellosso

Your first book. Wow! Can you believe it?

Not yet. The book’s been out a few months now and I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet. This has been my dream for 10 years and for 10 years I’ve worked toward this end. And what a ride it was (and is), a real rollercoaster.

How does it feel?

There’s a mix of emotions. Now that the book is out there’s a blend of pride in accomplishment and satisfaction and nervousness. As a debut author there are those feelings of apprehension. I’m an unknown and my name is right up there with Joe Blow. Questions abound. What if the book flops? Will my dream be short-lived? Will I be a one-trick pony? A never-was before I even get a chance to be a has-been? There’s a lot of jitters and nail-biting. But you know what? That shows my lack of faith (shameful, I know). I did the best I could with The Hunted, trusted God to find it a home, am doing what is within my power to spread the word about it, and now I need to put it in His hands and let what will happen, happen. And that’s hard to do.

Tell us about your book and your journey to getting it published. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract?

The Hunted is a supernatural suspense and has been compared to the work of Frank Peretti and Stephen King (something I find very humbling). It centers around a small hick town with dark secrets and a beast with darker intentions. The story is fast-paced and offers a little for every taste. There’s mystery, suspense, horror, intrigue, even a dash of romance. And on top of it all, or rather beneath it all, are spiritual themes I hope will stick with the reader long after closing the book. For me, the spiritual themes are the most important part of the book. I want to write good stories, great stories, but above all, I want to write something that will impact the reader on a deeper level, a spiritual level. I want them to see God in a new light and see how He works in our lives in a fresh way. It’s wonderful when a reader writes me and tells me they loved the story but what really gets me stoked is when someone writes and says they were blessed or moved by the spiritual undertones in the story.

Now, about how long things took. I started writing in 1998 in response to a near-fatal motorcycle accident my brother-in-law suffered (that’s another story hopefully for another time). I wrote mainly non-fiction for years while I worked on my craft and got some experience. I started writing The Hunted in late 2005. It took me about nine months to complete, just in time for the Greater Philly Christian Writer’s Conference in August of 2006. It was there I met Kathryn Mackel who critiqued the first three chapters and promised to help me find an agent. True to her word, after the conference she recommended me to Les Stobbe, a veteran agent in the industry. Les agreed to represent me, floated my proposal around, and several months later we got a bite from Realms Fiction of the Strang Book Group. In August of 2007 I got an email from Realms saying they were going to offer me a contract. It was kind of weird because I always pictured “the moment” as Les calling me and telling me to sit down, telling me I got a contract, and me running around the house, pumping my fists in the air and screaming like a little girl. In reality, it was a simple email and I sat there and said, “Cool.” Kinda anti-climactic. I’m trusting, though, that someday I’ll get my moment to scream like a girl.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Oh my word yes. Every time I write something I know “other people” are going to read, I hold my breath, say a silent prayer, and brace myself for getting called a hack or a wannabe. I’m ready for it.

I also have this terrible inferiority complex when it comes to other authors. When I read someone like Athol Dickson or W. Dale Cramer or Dean Koontz I think “There is no way I’ll ever write as well as they do.” That’s really sad, isn’t it? Because deep down I know the truth: maybe I will write as well as they do, maybe I won’t, but that’s not really the point. The point is that I have a responsibility to use the gift God’s given me and to do my very best with it. What’s it say in Ecclesiastes? Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. I don’t need to be in the business of comparing myself with other writers, that helps no one and isn’t healthy. I should be in the business of comparing myself with my own potential. Am I doing all I can to be the best writer I can be? To be the writer God intended me to be?

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Boy, I made a biggie. When I first decided to write fiction (which was in 2004) I was so anxious to get published and so naïve and ignorant about the publishing business that I rushed into a decision and signed a contract with a POD publisher. Big mistake. I was unhappy with the arrangement from the get-go and when I realized what I had done tried to get out of the contract, tried to reason with the publisher, everything, but it was useless. It’s a mistake I wish I hadn’t committed but it was also a huge learning experience too because it gave me a hunger and drive to “do it right.”

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

Terry Whalin told me at the Philly writer’s conference that every book needs a champion, to find someone to champion my book and don’t stop until I do. He said the person that perseveres will eventually find that champion. That stuck with me.

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

Before landing the contract for The Hunted, I was at a writer’s conference talking to a multi-published author about my book and how it was similar in style and genre to Frank Peretti. She told me I should look to the ABA because nobody in the CBA was going to pit me against Peretti. Talk about discouraging.

My counter-advice: Write the story God has put on your heart. Just write it.

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

That whole experience with the POD publisher. It was very stressful, very upsetting, and almost caused me to call it quits with the whole writing business. It really left a bad taste in my mouth.

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

Well, obviously I’m proud of The Hunted, my first novel. I love the story and the characters and the chills. And my next novel, Scream (coming out March, 2009), is near to my heart because of the underlying theme and the issues the main character struggles with. But a piece I’m particularly proud of and one not many people have read is a short story I wrote while recovering from my cancer surgery this past April (another story hopefully for another time). It’s called The Final Chapter and explores one man’s emotional response to the news that he has terminal cancer. The story has such an emotional blueprint of issues I was (and am) wrestling with (though my cancer isn’t terminal).

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

I know it’s been said by dozens of other authors and would-be authors but it would have to be how slowly things move. I’m not a very patient person and want to see things moving along. In this industry things move so slow you can barely see the progress. It’s like watching the hour hand on a clock.

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

It usually starts with an opening scene. I’ll conjure up some scenario that I think would make a good start to a story and toy with it a bit. I won’t actually start writing until I have the whole first scene or chapter played out in mind. Then I write that first chapter. Now, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer so there’s no plotting or outlining other than what’s done in my head along the way. After the first chapter is written I run different plots through my head, different turns the story can take, characters, back story, and so on. I usually work in my head two or three chapters ahead of where I am in writing and all the while thinking up a killer ending.

As the story unfolds I keep notes on characters, plot lines, and back story so I can keep everything straight. I don’t outline, though. I abhor outlines. Always have. I want the freedom to be able to change directions if I want to.

As the story progresses I’m constantly thinking about where it’s going, what the characters are doing, how they are developing, and how the story is moving toward that killer ending. Writing the climax is the most fun and is usually when my fingers are flying the fastest over the keyboard.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
My dream is and always has been to be able to write full-time. I’d love nothing more than to be able to devote myself fully to my writing without it competing with another job. Whether that will happen or not is in God’s hands . . . but I can dream, can’t I?

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

Many times. One time was during the whole mess with the POD publisher. Another was when The Hunted was done and I was looking for an agent or publisher and nothing was happening. There were many times I thought about just throwing in the towel. I thought my dream of publication was just that, a dream, a fantasy that would never become a reality. I was at the point where I felt it was taking up too much of my time and energy with no apparent return on the investment. I was ready to quit when my wife told me that if I truly felt God wanted me writing I couldn’t quit and that someday it would happen. She said, “So live like it’s already happened.” Wow. That hit me right in the forehead.

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

My favorite part is writing the story for the first time, that first draft. I love inventing a world and putting characters in it. I love the freedom of creating, of making something out of nothing. It gives me a miniscule glimpse of the joy God must have felt as He was creating the world.

My least favorite part is the marketing stuff. I don’t mind, and even enjoy, networking online, giving interviews, meeting readers and such, it’s the legwork and time and, yes, money involved in getting there that I don’t particularly embrace.

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

This is a tough question to answer because, unfortunately, m ability to do all the marketing things I wanted to do for The Hunted was stymied by my cancer. I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer, had major surgery to remove a tumor, recovered from that surgery, and started chemotherapy all during the release of the book. That kind of cut my marketing plans off at the knees.

I have done online networking, participated in quite a few interviews, sent copies of my book to various reviewers, held a fairly large book release party, and blogged almost daily about my battle with cancer ( I also have a website ( that I update regularly.

As for advice, I’m a newbie here and still have a ton to learn about marketing so I don’t feel I’m in a position to give advice other that what one well-established author told me: decide what you’re best at and focus the majority of your time and effort there. If you love meeting people face to face and speaking and such, do book signings and arrange speaking/teaching events. If you love online stuff and are good on the computer, capitalize on that. Go with your strengths.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

There’s a couple things I enjoy most hearing from readers. One is that they couldn’t put my book down. I’ve had men tell me, “Now, I’m not a reader, but I read your book in two days.” To me, for someone to set aside hours from their busy schedule to read my book is quite an honor. It’s very humbling.

Another is that my book invoked some kind of emotional response from the reader. I’ve had a couple people (men and women) tell me they cried at different parts of the book. For a suspense novel that’s not intended to make anyone cry, that’s something. That surprised me.

Parting words?

Thanks for the interview. I hope we can do it again sometime and I can talk a little more about my call to writing and my recent battle with cancer.