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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Interview with Rebeca Seitz

Rebeca Seitz is president of Glass Road Public Relations. Her second novel, Sisters, Ink, hits store shelves this month. We sat down with Rebeca to learn more about the world of publicity. Rebeca, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed today.

How long have you been in PR?

I received my BA in communications with an emphasis in public relations in 2000. I worked in media and communications capacities in the non-profit sector throughout college, then graduated and moved to Florida to work in advertising. I went back to the non-profit world in Florida, then returned to Tennessee and spent time in commercial/medical real estate management. It didn’t take me long to miss the world of communications, though! I took my first literary publicist position with Thomas Nelson in 2004. I’ve been in literary publicity ever since.

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

No, not that I can remember. There are days when I wonder if I’m any good at this, though! That happens to most of us publicists if we’ve spent the day pitching a client and ended the day with no nibbles, not even a hint of media coverage. I’ve learned to take those doubts to God and ask for His affirmation if I’m walking the right path. Inevitably, the next day I’ll get a call from some big media outlet like National Public Radio or the Today Show or we’ll land a big client and I’ll think, “Yep, I love this.”

How many clients can you serve in a year?

Our firm handles 20-30 books at any given time. That ends up being close to 50 books per year. Thankfully, it’s not just me handling those campaigns! We have a staff of publicists and publicity assistants – as well as able support staff – that keeps all the balls up in the air.

What can your agency offer to first time authors that they might not be able to do on their own?

Probably the most valuable thing we offer to first timers is wisdom. Entering the publishing world is a lot like jumping on a galloping horse with your eyes duct-taped shut. It can either result in a thrilling ride or a painful mess. Debut authors normally don’t know who does what at the publishing house, what they can be doing themselves to promote their books, how to work well with the promotions team at the publishing house, etc. We answer a lot of questions on those topics.

As for the actual act of publicity, our relationships with media representatives are of great benefit to first time and seasoned authors alike. We can make a call or shoot an email to a lot of media reps and know we’ll be listened to because we take the time to develop relationships with those folks. We regularly fly to New York, LA, Chicago, etc. to meet with reps and ask them what they want to see. Our entire day is spent learning about these outlets – what kinds of books the reviewers like, what kinds of interviews the editors want, etc. Those relationships help us know where to steer the book rather than shooting books blindly into the night and hoping someone picks it up for a story or review.

What about established authors? Can you give us an idea how working with Glass Road Public Relations can help them?

Sure – it depends on the author’s previous media coverage and desires for the future. Some authors have published eight books, but if you mention their name to an avid reader, all you get is a raised eyebrow. With publicity, that shouldn’t happen as often. Your title list equips the publicist to pitch you to media, who in turn write articles about you and review your books. Consumers see that media coverage and become more familiar with your name. Then, when they go to purchase a book, they know to find your books. We know from a survey in 2005 that author name recognition is in the top five reasons consumers name for purchasing a book, so getting your name out there is very important!

For seasoned authors who have gotten plenty of media coverage, we take them to the next level. For instance, if they’ve been on all the regional media, let’s start talking to national media. If they’ve already done the morning news shows and talk shows, then let’s start talking to radio and print more. And, if they’ve exhausted the media spectrum (I’ve yet to meet an author who has, but he/she could exist!), then we simply need to get the word out that your next book is releasing. Educating the public to the fact of your new release spurs sales.

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

I do have one main peeve – it’s when we don’t conduct ourselves as Christians, either with each other or when dealing with non-believers in the industry. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, so know that I’m pointing my finger inward! If we’re going to say we’re “Christians” then we should operate at a level more excellent than the rest of the world. I get frustrated when people say something is “just a ministry” – as if that phrase is ever justified! Just a ministry? A ministry is a calling. And we’re told to do everything as unto the Lord. Which means if I’m operating a business that is also a ministry, I ought to be making it the most excellent business/ministry I possibly can. No cutting corners, no half-way doing stuff – 110% all the time.

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

I really love getting newbie authors off the ground. I love teaching them the ropes of the publishing world and walking alongside them on this path of publication. Don’t get me wrong – working with established authors lets me flex my publicist muscles and call up the big dog media outlets – but there’s a special joy in seeing an author’s eyes light up as those first reviews come rolling in. I’ve been really honored to work with several debut authors and I count my work with them as something I’m proud of.

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

There’s a song that I’ve been playing almost constantly for three days now. Our music minister handed me Warren Barfield’s second CD (Reach) and I can’t get enough of it. In particular, there’s a song that starts out, They say you learn from your mistakes. Well, I…I guess I should be a genius. For all the times I’ve fallen on my face. Tangled in my weakness. Wishing someone would say keep your head held high. Don’t stop believing. You are God’s child and His strength is stronger than your weakness. I love the sound of this music – he’s like a Christian John Legend! – and the lyrics on pretty much every song speak to me.

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

Danger, Will Roger. Danger! I think I just revealed my age – for all you young ‘uns out there, that’s a line from a TV show in the early eighties. Ha ha! A typical day starts out between 6 and 7AM. I get up and go straight to the kitchen for a quick breakfast (usually muffins, toast, or sausage biscuits). I take breakfast and a Diet Mt Dew into the den and flip on Morning Express with Robin Meade. I eat and get caught up on the day’s headlines, which usually takes about twenty minutes. Then I wake up my hubby and tell him I’m going to let the dogs out because he has to open the downstairs door while I’m upstairs letting them out of their crates.
I let the dogs out, then go to the office and see what’s landed in my inbox overnight. I spend about half an hour responding to anything that can’t wait until later. About the time I finish, I can hear my two-year-old talking downstairs so I take a break to go say, “Good morning” and get that ever-important morning hug. If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I help him get ready for pre-school, then go back to the office. If it’s Tuesday or Thursday, I just get my hug and go back to work. Next is my Task list. I first do anything that has a deadline on it – creating press materials, updating activity reports, sending out contracts, following up with media who let me know they were meeting a deadline, etc. Then I move on to things without hard and fast deadlines, just loose timeframes – calling and emailing media, developing media lists, scheduling trips to media-rich cities, pulling together presentations for writers conferences, talking with authors, reading new manuscripts that are coming in, etc. I break around 1 or 2 o’clock if I have a few free minutes for lunch. Otherwise, I just keep working and my darling husband ends up sitting something on my desk when I’m on the inevitable phone call. I usually stop officially working around 5 or 6 unless I’ve scheduled a call with someone on the West Coast. In that case, I keep working until the call is over.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of working with authors?

My favorite part is getting to be a portion of the dream God created for their lives. That’s just so freaking cool! My least favorite part is when an author is unteachable – when they come in having a set idea of what should happen (with no background for having formed such) and are totally closed to adapting to the environment and reality. That makes the experience hard on everyone because the author is disappointed and the publicist feels as if she’s letting the author down.

What's your favorite part of marketing?

Getting a “big” hit for a “little” author. Totally makes my day every time! My favorite part of the campaign is crafting the press materials and the branding. That’s the dreaming stage!

What things have you found work particularly well when marketing a book?

Figuring out the appropriate audience for that book, then learning enough about the audience to know what makes its members tick. What do they read? What do they watch? What do they listen to? Where do they spend time? The answers to those questions tell us where and how to promote the book.

Knowing and spotting trends is also very helpful. If I see a trend coming, I pitch it to media outlets. Their purpose is to report on what’s happening in the world around us. Letting them know what’s happening makes me an asset to them and a successful publicist – a win/win! So, for instance, let’s assume I know that 35 Christian science fiction books are releasing in August (I don’t – this is just an imagined scenario), then I pick up the phone and call a Fox News producer to see if they’d like to interview my author about that trend in August.

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

There really is no objective bar by which to measure ourselves. What I think is a fabulous story may be junk to someone else because what entertains me doesn’t entertain everyone.
When you think about it, there’s really no reason to expect otherwise. We’re made in the image of an infinite God – infinite in being. Each of us has the tiniest portion of characteristics of His making. Before the Fall, all those characteristics probably worked in beautiful harmony together. Now, they war with each other. What one person calls art, another calls horrid. We lost the ability to see the complete picture, so we praise the portions that connect with our creation.
That’s why it’s so important to measure ourselves by His standard for our lives, not one we create ourselves by looking at everyone else.

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

Take the time to think through the image of your ideal reader. Why does that reader want to read your book? Knowing your audience tells you how to reach your audience.
Also, be teachable. My mom drilled this into me as a child. None of us knows everything, so listening to each other and being open to new information is nearly always a wise choice!

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

Not tailoring the information to the outlet they’re pitching – which goes hand in hand with not knowing the outlet they’re pitching. Take the time to Google stuff. Find out what books the reviewer read in the past and liked – then reference that in your email or phone call or letter. Familiarize yourself with the outlet and you’ll know if your product is appropriate for them.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Keep your head up! Twenty years ago, promotions folks could find a silver bullet that shot a book and author up the charts almost without fail. With the plethora of outlets in the world today (blogs, internet sites, radio, internet radio, podcasts, billboards, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, book clubs, libraries, bookstores, church libraries, reading groups, etc.), there is no longer a single magic bullet. There are forty bullets and they’ve all got to be aimed carefully. Now, more than ever, promotions at the grassroots level is what will consistently bring good results. As I told an author just this morning, it’s not sexy, but it gets books in bags.

To learn more about Rebeca and Glass Road Public Relations visit or

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Debut Author ~ Missy Tippens

Born and raised in Kentucky, Missy met her very own hero when she headed off to grad school in Atlanta, Georgia. She promptly fell in love and hasn’t left Georgia since. She and her pastor husband have been married 20-plus years now, and have been blessed with three wonderful children along with an assortment of pets.

In L.B.C. (Life Before Children), Missy worked as a clinical microbiologist. Once she had her first baby, she retired to become a stay-at-home mom. She’s grateful to God that she was able to do that for 16 years and had the opportunity to pursue her writing during that time. Nowadays, in addition to her writing, she teaches as an adjunct instructor at a local technical college.

Missy is an award-winning writer and her debut novel, Her Unlikely Family, will be released in February 2008. She would love to hear from readers through her website.

I'm especially delighted to welcome Missy to Novel Journey. Missy is in my local ACFW WORD Chapter. Time to crow, my friend. What new book or project do you have coming out?

My first novel is coming out February 1 from Steeple Hill Love Inspired! It’s called Her Unlikely Family.

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

It’s been so long ago I can hardly remember! J But I do remember thinking what if? What if a stuffy blue-blooded bank owner gets together with a spunky waitress who is from a poor family? But then my brainstorming partner, Lindi Peterson, said, “What if you put a twist on it, and the waitress is actually from a wealthy family but doesn’t want to have anything to do with the wealth?” So I took her advice! Then I had to figure out how to throw the characters together.

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 writing when I got my first computer in 1995. Soon after, I started taking online writing classes and followed up by joining Romance Writers of America, then the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter. I also joined my local chapter, Georgia Romance Writers. I learned tons from all these groups, and I started submitting—and getting rejections. I also started entering contests, and eventually started finaling.

My story, Michael’s Surrender, did really well in several contests, and I sent the contest-requested manuscript to Steeple Hill. On January 30, 2007, after going through two sets of revisions with my editor, I got The Call!! I was actually in shock after talking with the senior editor. But later that night, it finally sank in, and I was so excited my toes barely touched the ground.

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

I recently had this for the first time ever. But it didn’t last long. It COULDN’T last long—I refused to allow it! (Yes, I’m stubborn.) I think it’s because I was putting too much pressure on myself to rush a proposal. I had to make myself chill out a little, to use my proven methods for plotting, and to trust God and the story itself.

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?

The most difficult part for me was, and still is, conflict. In real life, I hate conflict. I avoid it at all costs. So it’s hard for me to torture my characters. But after working with an editor, I’m learning to be “meaner” from the beginning. To find out my characters’ worst nightmares and to throw that at them. I’m also working to make sure my conflict is book-length, not a series of conflicts that get resolved along the way. This will be a learning process my whole career!

How do you climb out?

Revise, revise, revise! And even when I think I’ve overcome it, I find that I still have problems. So I’m being more alert to my flaws early on in the plotting process. I’m tweaking my writing process as I go, learning more on each book what I should be doing. Plus, reading a lot helps too. I can learn from others what a good story should be like.

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

A cave?! LOL! Well, sometimes I sure wish I had one! I have three children, and I’m set up to work on my laptop, right on the couch in the middle of the family room. I tried working at my desk in the basement, but it felt like dungeon to me. I like being in the middle of everything. I just have to tune it all out. I also try to work more during the day after teaching in the mornings but before the bus arrives in the afternoon. I tend to add more writing time at night after everyone else is in bed.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Get up at 6:30, help see the kids off to school, teach an 8:00 a.m. class at the local technical college, then go to Curves (this is something new for me!). Then I go home and try to make myself write before getting online. I try to work, with a quick lunch break, until 3 p.m. when my youngest child gets home. Then I take the afternoon off except for some online time.

I figure I’ll try to fit the Internet in with the chaos of homework. I often go back to writing at about 11 pm when my husband goes to bed. I used to work until 1 or 2 am, but I’m finding that I’m getting too old for that. I usually start falling asleep around midnight.

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 only dream about writing 10 thousand words in a day! But on a really, really good (and rare) day, I can do 5 thousand. I love getting into the flow and working for hours on end. But I’ve found that real life usually intervenes, so I’m left with short snatches of time.

I’m learning better how to deal with that by making sure I work every day (except Sunday usually) so that I can keep up with the flow of the book. My dream way to write would be to go away for a week by myself and write around the clock with time for eating brownies and junk food when necessary.

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

I usually have a what if scenario which involves characters who are opposites in some way. Then I start thinking of their backstory. I’ve found two how-to workbooks that have helped me take it from there. One is Alicia Rasley’s The Story Within Guidebook. The other is Carolyn Green’s Prescription for Plotting workbook. These have really helped me stay on track, especially Alicia’s chapters on conflict!

Once I’ve filled a legal pad with character info, sequences for how the characters will change and grow, scene ideas, etc., I start writing. I usually plow through the first 3 chapters, then struggle a little to do chapter 4. Then for some reason I hit a wall at chapter 5.

At that point, I take some time to re-read what I’ve written and to revise it. Then I move on. Once I get to the last few chapters, the writing flies by. I love to get to that happy ending! No more torture of my poor characters. *g*

After that, I begin a long revision process. I go through the book several times on paper. Then enter changes, send to my critique partner, and then make changes according to her feedback. Now that I finally have an editor, this is the point where she would get the book. And then the revisions start over again with her input. It’s been wonderful to work with an editor! I feel it made my first book so much better.

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

Gosh, this is a hard one. I’ve loved so many books! One of the ones that made me cry (literally) and say, “I’ll never be able to write like this,” was Deborah Smith’s A Place to Call Home. Her books usually do that to me. But they give me something to aim for—stories that yank the heartstrings. To feel like I’ve done my job, I want to make people laugh and cry.

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

Never give up. Persistence is more important than talent. Things along those lines. I stuck with it for over ten years and finally made my first sale.

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?

Keep writing and don’t just re-write the same stories over and over. Build up a collection of work so that once you publish, you have something else to offer them immediately. I’ve spent about 2 years on each of my first 5 manuscripts. I wish I had moved quicker and had spent more time practicing from scratch.

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

Marketing isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It’s a stretch. But I do enjoy blogging and maintaining my own website. I haven’t had a book signing yet (except for a group signing for a book of short stories), so I’ll have to let you know what I think of them.

I’m so thankful for the Internet because I think that’s the way to go, and it’s very cost effective. I’m about to mail out some postcards (with the help of my family), so I’m hoping to get a good response to that for my first book signing and book launch party at my church on February 3. I am really nervous about it, though!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Trust in God’s timing for your writing career. I was so impatient while waiting to sell, but once I did, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to handle it any sooner. I was at a place in my life where I was ready, and I’m sure God knew that!

Thanks so much for having me here today! I’ve really enjoyed being with you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Secret to Fiction Publicity

Reprinted with permission

Tess Gerritsen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University. Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and was awarded her M.D. in 1979. After completing her internal medicine residency, she worked as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1987, Tess's first novel was published. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller, was soon followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, "Adrift," which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson. Her thriller, Harvest was released in 1996, and marked Tess's debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Paramount/Dreamworks, and the book was translated into twenty foreign languages. Now retired from medicine, Tess writes full time and lives in Maine

By Tess Gerritsen

I’ve just returned from a terrific 10-day promotional tour in England and Scotland, where I was once again impressed by how book tours really can make a difference, especially in a country that’s as geographically compact as the UK.

In the US, touring novelists are challenged by long distances, frequent airline flights, disinterested media, and lackluster attendance at store events. In the UK, distances are manageable and I’ve been delighted by the numbers of people who turn up at my signings. In the U.S., I’ve sometimes traveled hundreds of miles to find only two people waiting to hear me speak. (One of them being the bookstore manager.)

But no matter where we go in the world, novelists face a similar challenge when it comes to getting media attention. Our books are fiction. Our characters don’t exist.

Why should a newspaper or radio station want to interview us about a story we simply pulled out of thin air?

“Fiction is hard,” publicists will tell you. And they’re absolutely right. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or you’re already a celebrity of some kind, no one really wants to hear how you made up your story.

My solution has been to focus instead on the real-life background behind my stories.

At store events, I never read from my books. Instead, I try to teach them
things they didn’t know, things that they’ll find fascinating and even

For THE BONE GARDEN, I spoke for 45 minutes about the history and horrors of childbed fever, and about the 19th-century medical heroes who eventually ended the scourge. I told of the tragic story of Ignaz Semmelweis and the genius of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the primitive conditions of hospitals in 1830. I read a passage from an early surgical textbook on how to amputate a thigh, which invariably made people squirm in their chairs. (But they did stay and listen.)

I probably spent only two minutes total describing the plot of THE BONE GARDEN.

Almost all of my talk was focused on an era in medical history that would give anyone nightmares. I wasn’t playing the part of novelist, but of history teacher.
No doubt there are many readers who’d prefer to hear an author read from his work, but I’ve aways loved hearing a good lecture, so it’s the way I’ve always done it. For MEPHISTO CLUB, I gave a talk on ancient religious texts.

For VANISH, I discussed the phenomenon of people being mistaken for dead. (Believe me, a few hair-raising examples was enough to get the audience squirming.) I like to think that by the time they leave, they’ve learned something they didn’t know before. Something interesting.

One of the benefits of doing it this way is that it can snag the media’s interest. I’m more than just another novelist who’s made up a story; I’m someone who can offer educated commentary on a real-life topic.

Last Tuesday, I was lucky enough to be a guest on one of the most popular shows on BBC Radio, “Woman’s Hour,” hosted by Jenni Murray. I was invited on the show not because I was a novelist, but because I could talk about childbed fever. Along with medical historian Dr. Hilary Morland, we covered a topic that was both scary and useful to Jenni’s listeners. Plus, Jenni promoted my book. Which is about the best advertisement I could hope for.

Would I have been invited on the show if I’d written just another psycho-killer tale? I highly doubt it. What could I possibly have said about my psycho-killer novel that would be relevant to her audience? “There are creeps out there, so watch out”? That’s hardly special, and something any other crime writer could have spouted.

If you’re a novelist headed out on tour, try to talk about more than
just your plot and your characters. Think about the cool stuff you
learned during your research, or something about the setting or the science that the public would love to know.

Give them nuggets of information that they can’t wait to share with their friends.
Maybe if we all did this, publicists would stop telling us “fiction is hard.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rethinking Writing Rules - Pt. 1

By Mike Duran

I'm a legalist by nature, so it's no surprise I got bogged down by writing rules. I'm not talking about the Strunk and White type of rules, the standard principles of grammar and composition. There's "other" rules for contemporary novel writing, formulas for publication which some hold to be just as binding as rules of spelling and punctuation.

Some of those rules are:

  • Show Don't Tell -- Use action and dialog rather than exposition

  • POV -- Maintain a consistent, realistic narrative point-of-view; don't "head hop" from one person to the next in the same scene

  • Avoid Passives -- Keep tenses active; "Shirley broke the window," not "The window was broken by Shirley"

  • Limit Dialogue Attribution Tags -- Avoid too many he said / she said's, and their variants: "he snorted," "she chirped," "they gurgled," etc.

Of course, there's many other rules and shifting stands (see, for instance, the recent discussion about the use of italics at super-agent Chip MacGregor's blog), but those are some of the biggies.

Being that I'm fairly new to this gig, I've learned a lot of things on the fly. For instance, once I wrote a 6K word story in Present Tense. Present tense sounds something like this:

Shirley sees a rock, bends down and picks it up. It is sharp and cold to the touch, but it'll do. She aims for the window and hurls the stone, then tears off as the glass shatters and Mrs. Mulligan emerges spouting expletives.

As you can see, present tense puts things in the here and now, rather than there and then.

Anyway, I wrote that story, was fairly pleased with my accomplishment, and submitted it to my critique group. But their response shocked me. Most publishers don't like present tense, they said. In fact, one critter stated they personally so abhorred present tense that they COULD NOT critique my piece. Huh?

My puzzlement stemmed, in part, from the fact I'd just finished reading a short story from a popular author, written in present tense. Go figger. That was my first encounter with the weird world of writing rules.

When asked what "pet peeves" she had about the industry, one CBA romance writer said this:

With so many writing rules that new authors have to follow, it’s hard for me to read writers who don’t follow the rules. I can’t hardly read one writer who was one of my favorites for years because that person tells instead of shows, head hops, and has lots of author intrusion. I never noticed those things before I became a writer, but now they jump out at me and can ruin the story.

(I'm guessing this author would loathe Cormac MacCarthy's, The Road, with its minimalist style, multitudinous fragmentary sentences, absence of quotation marks and apostrophes, and obvious disregard for many, many "writing rules." And oh, by the way, a book that won the Pulitzer Prize.)

Most intriguing about all this, and rather tertiary to the above author's comments, is the notion that new writers must follow a set of rules. However, the rules in question were not necessarily standards of grammar and composition, but adherence to certain commercial, conventional axioms -- formulas, if you will -- for publication. (Heck, for the longest time I thought Brown and King was a book in the Bible, and questioning them was blasphemy.)

So while I worked hard at following the rules, eventually I began to see a disparity between some of what I was learning and what was actually being published. This was extremely confusing. The biggest hit came when I read a very influential Christian writer... only to discover he "head-hopped' like crazy. The guy had sold a million books, but he couldn't manage POV!

Hmm. Maybe the problem was what I was learning, not what was being published.

After a season of legalism, Stephen Koch's book, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, was revelatory. In it, he writes this about POV:

Many teachers of writing will tell you that the way to unify your story and integrate it with its characters is through something called the narrative "point of view." There are even certain purists who will insist that an "integrated point of view" is the only way a narrative can achieve unity. . .

. . .The academic emphasis on "point of view" in fiction is precisely that -- academic. The notion that "the most important thing in fiction is point of view" is a beguiling but vacuous theory that bears only a marginal relation to real practice. And it causes vast amounts of misunderstanding.

. . .Of course, a consistent point of view can indeed be a guide to unity, and of course, you will want your prose to have a coherent texture. But it is a mistake to assume that point of view itself necessarily endows any story with either unity or coherence. Too often, this rather fussy doctrine pointlessly constricts writers' options and narrows their range.

(pp. 88-90)

After my early "indoctrination," it was refreshing to hear the POV rules called, "...a beguiling but vacuous theory... [a] rather fussy doctrine [that] pointlessly constricts writers' options and narrows their range."

I've since began to wonder if, at least in Christian circles, a type of authorial inbreeding is taking place. We attend the same writers’ conferences, read the same books, visit the same blogs. Aren't we in danger of living in an echo chamber, devising a "canon" of our own making?

When one lives under the notion that success -- i.e., publication, i.e., the "Holy Grail" of aspiring authors -- means adherence to a certain set of "rules," legalism is inevitable.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sunday Devotion-

Janet Rubin

It is with aching feet and bloodshot eyes that I collapse onto my couch tonight, ever so thankful to relax with my laptop and a cup of tea. Why so tired you ask? Two words:

Slumber. Party.

My Cassidy turned nine yesterday, and we're celebrating with a giggly, sparkly, nail polish-scented evening. I just gave the seven little merry-makers the first lights-out-and-be-quiet-or-there'll-be-trouble warning. It goes without saying that I'll probably be pausing multiple times during the writing of this narrative to go knock little heads together. But I digress...

The past two days have been consumed with preparation for this shindig: trips to the craft store for supplies, to the grocery store for everything you need for homemade pizza, cake, ice cream, snacks and beverages; a stop for decorations and wrapping paper. Today was spent cleaning, baking and decorating. By four o'clock the place was a balloon and streamer festooned par-tay palace. The gum drop buttons had been put on the pajama-cake. The craft supplies were laid out. The oven was preheated for the pizza.

And that was only the beginning. The last six hours have been spent serving pizza, pouring juice, cutting cake, scooping ice cream, wiping up glue and paint, doing manicures for seven (that's 70 nails; I figured it out when the fumes started to give me a buzz), over-seeing present time...

You get the picture. I suppose I ought to be in bed since I'll be up early flipping pancakes and stuffing goody bags. But I am not complaining. These little girls are a joy. And Cassidy is having the time of her life. Not only that, she is thankful. Which makes all of the work a pleasure. Even as I hear them whispering and shooshing each other downstairs, I smile, thinking of the fun they are having. It's a mom-thing, this joy that comes from knowing your children are enjoying what you are doing for them. A feeling I think God relates to.

We often think of God in terms of Father. And indeed, He is. But the Bible also gives us the picture of Him as a mother figure. In Isaiah 49:15-16 God says to Israel, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" In Isaiah 66:13, He says, " As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you." And when Jesus looks upon Jerusalem, He says, ""O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

Because I grew up fatherless, the idea of God as Father is precious to me, but I also love that He loves and cares for us like a mother as well. He is a comforter, a nurturer, a protector, One who shows compassion to His children and longs for imtimacy with them. And what He does for us makes my few days of party-labor look like nothing. Does He throw parties for us?

Does He feed us? Yes! Not only with physical food, but with His very word. Does He bother with silly things like decorations just to delight us? Check out the sunset tomorrow, or the starry night sky. But surely God couldn't be bothered with something like craft time? Then why did He give us all these lovely things like writing and music and art? Present time? Oh yes. Lots of presents! He gives Himself, eternal life, limitless grace and mercy, peace that passes understanding, spiritual gifts...I bet you can think of more.

Can God throw a party or what? He's getting ready for a serious party right now. The wedding feast of the Lamb. Have you r.s.v.p.'d? I have, and I hope to see you there!

Lord, It's easy to enjoy the party and forget about the One who's throwing it. It's easy to forget to be thankful for all You have done and are doing on our behalf. Lord, thank you for the sustenence, the beauty, the writing, the many gifts. I can't wait to feast with you...yes party with You in Heaven, when I meet you not as Father or Mother, but Bridegroom. Thank You so very much for the invitation. Amen.

The Busyness of Nothing

At a writer's meeting I once heard a published author mention that she was too busy to write, and then she ran through a list of things that needed to be done, all important, all centered around her writing career—but not writing. In fact, it'd been nearly a month since she'd had the time to write.

I remembered being absolutely dumbstruck. It didn't seem possible to me that someone could be so busy building a pedestal with nothing to put on top. After all, what good is the hype that surrounds the novel if the story itself doesn't measure up?

Then, the writing life hit me, which is sort of humorous since my first book isn't yet on any shelf, but despite this, I went from publicist to Novel Journey to bookstore, to working in a ministry to heading up Novel Journey Monthly . . . and aye yi yi, it happened to me!

Thursday, a friend and I mentioned to each other how little we'd written during the past two weeks. The conversation sparked the memory of the author too busy to write. It was sort of like those moments when we need to think back to childhood to know if something should strike us as shocking or not, because as adults we've become desensitized.

Now, I can easily sympathize with a busy writer. It's a fine line we're walking here.

It's Saturday. Hopefully many of you have the day off of work. Don't waste it. Decide what's really important. Spend time with God. Enjoy your family. And if you're called to the writing life, don't get caught up in the busyness of nothing.

(Oh, but if you want to leave a comment, that'll be okay. It is technically writing, isn't it?)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Debut Author Matthew Raley ~ Interviewed

Matthew Raley is senior pastor of a small church in northern California. He has helped launch a Christian school and an assisted living residence for the elderly. He plays violin in the regional symphony and in chamber music festivals. His writing has appeared in Christian News Northwest and Discipleship Journal, and his first novel, Fallen, is published by Kregel. He lives in Orland with his wife Bridget and his two small but dangerous boys, Dylan and Malcolm.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

I’m working on a novel about identity theft. I asked myself what would happen if three families in the same church discovered that their kids’ identities had been stolen. What if these discoveries took place over the space of three weeks? How quickly would hysteria take over? How would a pastor deal with that problem?

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

I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been pursuing publication since college. In my senior year, I started sending articles to my favorite periodical, National Review (the magazine started by Bill Buckley). I sent an article every other week on all kinds of subjects—politics, literature, music, culture. And every other week I got a rejection letter. Over time, the rejections became witty, which was thrilling for me. I felt that any emotional connection was a positive step.

A few years ago, I wrote my third novel. (The first two rest in peace in a drawer). I called it The Work Of Our Hands, and sent it to the Christian Writers Guild novel contest. The novel was awful—flat characters adrift in narrative summary. At the end, you could hear sitcom music. A couple years after not winning the contest, I improved the manuscript so that it was merely poor.

I took the novel in this condition to a Writing For the Soul conference and showed it to Jeff Gerke of Navpress, who itemized how poor it was. He refused to look at it until I memorized and used the techniques in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Browne and King. I thought this was good news, because an editor who will tell you why your manuscript doesn’t work is giving you pure gold.

Jeff Gerke’s advice is a major reason why this manuscript became my first published novel, Fallen. Improving my craft in dialogue, characterization, and creating scenes made all the difference.

A year or so later, when I saw an e-mail with “your book project” on the subject-line, I was afraid it might be spam. But it turned out to be Kregel’s acceptance for publication. It was such a gratifying moment, and working with Steve Barclift and his team has been a joy.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I used to get an inspiration and start writing, but inevitably this led to hours of watching the cursor flash. Now, when I begin a chapter, I try to form a clear idea of what a scene is about and what it needs to accomplish in the plot. I try to leave a scene unfinished, so that the next day I don’t have to start from zero. Anything that sets a direction keeps me writing.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wasted a lot of time writing for myself and assuming that others would be interested. I wish I had listened sooner to all the instruction about the audience’s importance.

I’m still concerned that I don’t understand my audience. Because I’m a writer, I don’t think like other people. I care about things that leave them indifferent—words, themes, forms, allusions, etc. Ultimately, a writer’s job is to craft words to edify people who may not care about words. It’ll be an ongoing problem for me.
But once I began to think carefully about audience, I began to see editors as friends, and I made faster progress toward publication. Editors know audiences.

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

Worst: You have to know someone in order to get published.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

My own secret conflicts. A story doesn’t have brutal honesty if it doesn’t evolve from my nightmares.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share? Or have you ever been at the point where considered quitting writing altogether?

In my senior year of college, I applied to Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. I didn’t get in. I had wanted writing to be my career, but in reevaluating my priorities after that setback, I decided that writing needed to take the passenger seat. Preaching is my primary calling, and writing is a secondary part of that life.

Once the Lord brought me to this decision, it was not a disappointment, but a refined sense of direction. And now I am beginning to see a new role for writing.

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

Edmund Burke’s Reflections On the Revolution In France is one I reread every few years both for its philosophy and its style. I love William Manchester’s two volumes on Winston Churchill. Among the books I read this year, I especially enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls.

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

It’s a good question. I just don’t have an answer. If I admire a passage, I often delete it. The test of whether a passage is any good, for me, is whether I get so caught up in the things while I read that I forget the writing. If I like the writing too much, I get suspicious that I’ve reverted to writing for myself.

Dean Koontz recently shared his take on the concept on “the writer’s sacred duty.” What comes to your mind at the mention of “the writer’s sacred duty?”

For me, the Christian writer’s sacred duty is to capture a specific experience of Christ’s redemptive grace. To be specific enough, the experience has to be rooted in the normal, not the “religious.”

I recently read Graham Greene’s novel, The End of the Affair. It’s about a woman who experiences the grace of God as a seduction away from an adulterous life. The story is told from the point of view of the lover she jilts for God. What Greene captured there was an experience that many British converts to Catholicism had.

I worry that much of evangelical writing—and preaching—about redemption describes a fantasy that no one actually experiences. Walk the aisle, presto-chango, you’re new. We drain none of the power from Christ’s name by admitting that coming to him is a process. Christian writers could praise him more potently if we captured the way that process is lived.

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

Evangelical communicators are letting their audience off far too easy. Speaking to people where they are does not mean leaving them where they are. The body of Christ faces stark challenges in America now—a rapidly changing culture, a deteriorating church life, an abandonment of biblical knowledge and memory, a loss of connectedness to one another. Christians need literature that goes deeper than making good points.

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

My desire, both in preaching and in writing, is to bring people deep spiritual truths through popular means. I wrote Fallen, for instance, to be a page-turner. I will always aspire to write books that read fast. But I wanted the characters in Fallen to challenge the reader’s most basic assumptions about the way Christians live today.

Fallen is okay. But I feel like I’m learning rudimentary steps in this larger process. I feel like I did when I’d learned how to play the violin a little. I feel clumsy.

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

My favorite part is editing, problem-solving, expanding, refining. My least favorite part is the delay before getting a response from a reader.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

The sentence was the most difficult part for me to grasp. I want fluidity. But I also want something in the movement from sentence to sentence that is delightful.

The most helpful thing in learning sentences was to realize that writing is visual. I wasted a lot of time striving to make a certain “sound” on the page. Pages can’t make sounds. Readers make sounds in their heads based on what they see with their eyes. If what they see is strong, the voices they imagine will be clear. This is why paragraphs should be short, and why, as Sol Stein famously says, 1 + 1 = ½. One word is more powerful than two.

Actually—this is the sober truth—I do better designing sentences like drawings than composing them like scripts.

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

I wait. I want to see whether the characters I imagine will turn out to be boring.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I have a couple of tables at the Upper Crust in Chico, CA. They don’t even ask what I want anymore. But I can write in other places. If I must.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination. I get the logic of the plot mapped, the basic qualities of the main characters sketched, and then go to work and see what happens.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Hemingway had a word for first drafts. The word is accurate but not appropriate.
I have found that writing too much on a first draft is a mistake. For me, better to sketch, and then fill, expand, and deepen.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response? Please share.

In college, I once wrote an opinion piece for the student newspaper. I don’t even remember what it was about, but a classmate’s response was very moving. She was a Japanese exchange student. She stopped me in class after the article appeared, unzipped her backpack, removed her small wallet, and opened it to reveal my article folded up inside. She unfolded it and read a couple paragraphs that she’d underlined, smiled, and put the clipping back in her wallet.

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

Marketing is something I don’t understand. I’m trying. I have surrendered to blogging, and it’s fun. But I’m taking advice right now rather than giving it.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

I philosophize too much. You’ve been so kind to put up with it. Thanks for your interest.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Julie Klassen ~ Author Interview

Julie Klassen is a fiction editor with a background in advertising. She has worked in Christian publishing for more than twelve years, in both marketing and editorial capacities. This is her first novel. Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She enjoys travel, research, books, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends.

Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit Julie’s website at

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

My first novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor (December 2007, Bethany House Publishers), which is a romantic women's drama set in early 19th century England. My publisher describes it as "in the tradition of Jane Austen." I can only hope!

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

The idea for Lady of Milkweed Manor was sparked by a film I once saw. The cast included a wet nurse--a stranger who lived with a couple and nursed their infant. Although this woman was only a minor background character, she intrigued me. I found myself wondering, what would it be like to have a strange woman living in your home, nursing your child? My resulting research into the private lives of women in the 18th and 19th centuries fascinated me and provided the backbone for this novel.

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

My road to publication was a bit convoluted. Since I work as a fiction editor and knew some of the people who would be reviewing my proposal, I submitted it under a pseudonym so that if it was accepted, it would be done so objectively. Of course, this also allowed me to cower under the protection of anonymity in case it was rejected! Still, as is likely the case for many closet writers, finding out my novel would be published was a life's dream come true. That was over a year ago. Since then, it has been an eye-opening experience to be on the other side of the desk—and on the receiving end of the red pen!

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

I go for a walk. I can almost always "see a scene" while walking.

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 what was when you first started on your novel journey?

It is a challenge to create complex yet plausible plots. Also, creating living, breathing characters does not come easily to me. I guess I am not the champion creator God is!

How did (or do) you overcome the problem?

I'm still learning to simplify plots and complicate characters. I have found the "Character Circuitry" grid in The Fiction Editor by Thomas McCormack to be very helpful in fleshing out character goals and conflicts.

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

I have written in coffee shops, hotels, and libraries. But mostly I write in my corner of the living room, surrounding by toys, boys, and television. I hope someday to have the proverbial "room of her own."

What does a typical day look like for you?

Help hubby get the kids on the bus in the morning, work at my "real job" as a fiction editor during the day, make supper, make myself workout, help hubby put said kids to bed, then sit down to write from about 9:00 to 11:00. Unless I have a BBC drama from Netflix. Then all bets are off...

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

Dialogue comes quickly for me. I "hear" it (my husband is a little concerned about the voices in my head…) and type as fast as I can to keep up. Then I have to go back and fill in and flesh out with narrative, which is more arduous for me.

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

I have found nothing brief about this process! Once the idea comes to me, I spend time visualizing key scenes and characters, researching the setting (I like to use old maps and Google earth) as well as customs, dress, language, medicine, and more. Scene ideas do not come to mind in chronological order, so I keep an ongoing Word file with quick descriptions and snippets of dialogue that will jar my memory when I come back to them. A lot of what I write initially I know will need to be trashed or at least revamped, but I try to just keep writing all the "fodder" I can. Once all the raw material is there, I know I can go back and fix it. I am, after all, an editor.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Here are two favorites not written—nor edited—by me:

Hidden Places by Lynn Austin—romantic, poignant, funny, and filled with memorable, quirky characters. The movie didn't do it justice. Not even close.

The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark by Lawana Blackwell—What is a Louisiana girl with a sharp sense of southern humor doing writing about Victorian England? I don't know, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Less input. More output. (Sometimes you need to lay aside the research and WRITE.)
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 didn't have a clear outline for my first novel, and while it was fun to discover where the story led, in the end, I no doubt wasted plenty of time. I have a more detailed synopsis for my second book (of course, I also have a deadline!)—but even so I have left myself room for changes and surprises.

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

I wish I had time to do more. Besides the skilled marketing that my publisher does, I have a web site and I have my mom—who is busy telling everyone she's ever known…or met once…or passes on the street…

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you're a wishful writer, do what I finally did (when I got desperate enough)—stop talking about wanting to write and write already. Tough it out, stay up late, write that first book to show yourself (and future potential publishers) that you can. Have a literary friend with a spine read it and give it to you straight. Then go back and rewrite, chop, and revise. Although some authors may say otherwise, most of us don't have our prose dictated to us from on high. We all need an editor. Or five.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Sidney Awards

The opening paragraph of a David Brooks column caught my eye. Writing about the Sidney Award, he said: "The Sidneys have become so prestigious and so life-altering that the winners know that everything they produce hereafter will be anti-climactic." The commentary went on to say that after winning a Sidney, some writers crack up (are any of us far from that to begin with?) and others commence a long, slow slide into obscurity.

It reminds me of the legend of how being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated can curse an athlete. These superstitions are unfounded, of course, but interesting to contemplate. Why would receiving recognition signal the beginning of the end for a talented writer? (This post won't pursue that question, so don't look for the answer here.)

My quick research on the Sidney Awards failed to uncover evidence of a jinx, but it did reveal that the Sidneys aren't limited to authors of magazine essays, which was the subject of Mr. Brooks' column. The fact is, annual awards are given in a number of categories: non-fiction books, newspaper reporting, photojournalism, broadcast journalism (both TV and radio) and, interestingly, blogs.

The Sidney Hillman Foundation bestows the prizes in order to recognize people whose work promotes social and economic justice. Hillman, founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (now UNITE!), is credited with inventing the version of trade unionism we know today. As a friend and influential advisor to FDR, Hillman helped shape labor legislation protecting workers' rights and living standards; and the awards bearing his name reflect the vision and commitment of the man who dedicated his life to bring dignity and respect to working people. The judges are members of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, and include assorted editors, photojournalists, authors, and activists.

The 2007 Book Award went to Thomas E. Ricks for his work, Fiasco, in which he presents a damning account of the beginnings of the Iraq war. Douglas Gray took the Magazine Award for his story, "The Invisibles," printed in West Magazine (a publication of the Los Angeles Times). He writes of undocumented immigrant college students who arrived in this country as small children and are now trapped between their illegal status and their thoroughly American lives. The Newspaper Award went to Rukmini Maria Callimaci for the Associated Press coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Blog Award was presented to Sam Rosenfeld and Ann Friedman, Web editor and deputy editor, and Garance Franke-Ruta, Era Klein, and Matthew Yglesias, bloggers, for their blog, Tapped ( That site bills itself as a "link-intensive collection of musings, ramblings, opinions and other assorted writing on the developments of the day" and is described by others as an unabashedly progressive site with a voice that's strong but not shrill.

I think it's cool that blogs can win awards. The first such site to win a Sidney was Joshua Micah Marshall, for his coverage of Social Security issues at, in 2006.

Whether or not we agree with the perspective of the Sidneys, I think we as bloggers need to realize that people do actually read this stuff, and can be moved and spurred to action by what we write. I feel honored to be a part of Novel Journey, and I want to take my small role seriously. (On that point, I hope you've forgotten my post of September 25.) We here at NJ may never win a worldly award, but it's our aim, without fanfare, to inform, encourage, and inspire writers and readers whose purpose is the most progressive ever – to see men, women and children all over this planet come to a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Interview with Erin McIntosh ~ Cybils Award Panelist

Erin is a singer who tries to be bold, a dancer who wishes she were more flexible, and an actress who thrives in the spotlight. She is first and foremost a bookworm whose wide tastes vary from Babymouse to Shakespeare. You can check out her blog at

What are the Cybils Awards?

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

How did the award come about?

I believe that Kelly made a comment on Anne's blog, or vice-versa. The wheels started spinning, and within a few days the seed had blossomed!

Is another children's book award really necessary when there are already several presented by the American Library Association?

The Newbery winners award for good writing without really considering kid appeal. The Quills is popularity vote. The Cybils provides a middle ground: Good writing and kid-friendly.

What books are eligible for nomination?

All children's and young adult books published in English in 2007, as long as they weren't nominated a previous year. (A book published in England can be nominated one year but it can't be nominated again the following year when it's published in America, for example.)

How are titles nominated?

You find the correct category for the book you wish to nominate:

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Graphic Novels
Fiction Picture Books
Non-fiction Picture Books
Non-fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult

And then you merely leave a comment with the title and author of the book. One nomination per person per category.

Eighty-three of the judges and panelists are adult bloggers. Why and how were you chosen as one of the three teenage panelists?

I guess it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Last year I was the only teen panelist.
Sheila put out a call for panelists for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category, I emailed her, and she told me yes! I had only recently turned my blog's focus to bookishness, and Sheila liked my reviews, so I made it.

By what criteria are nominations judged?

All of the following (from the Cybils site) are taken into consideration by the nominating panelists:

Writing (and, if pertinent, illustration)
Kid appeal
Is it a book an older child, or even an adult, will rush to finish, before reading it a second time
Is the book innovative?
Does it surprise you with something new?
Does the book speak to you as a reader?

How many books did you read in your role as Middle Grade panelist?

I read 50 books out of the 73 that were nominated.

What Middle Grade titles stood out to you this year?

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson, The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M. M. Blume, Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge, Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller, Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden, Home of the Brave by Katharine Applegate....I could go on and on.

The Cybils are a grassroots effort. How do you spread the word about the award?

Through blogging! News and press releases are posted on the
Cybils blog and bloggers post to pass those things along - a virtual word of mouth.

What does being chosen as a Cybils Award winner mean for a book and author?

More people blogging and talking about their books! And for the 2007 awards (unlike the first ones in '06) there will be stickers for the winning books and some sort of small recognition for the winning authors and illustrators.

Why are the Cybils important to you?

I love sharing recommendations with people and passing along new, innovative titles - the "best" of the year. If we're helping even a little to give something to the world, or even just a handful of people, it makes me very content and joyful to do so.

What was your personal favorite 2007 novel for young people?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling which was phenomenal, brilliant, and history-making.

The Cybils finalists were announced January 1st. What are the finalists in your category (Middle Grade)?

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Cracker: The Best Dog In Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis
Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Leepike Ridge by Nathan D. Wilson
Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden
Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller
Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

When will the 2007 Cybils Award winners be announced, and where will we find that announcement?

The winners will be announced on February 14th, 2008, at the Cybils blog:

When do nominations open for 2008?

Nominations open in October! Watch the site in the fall for updates.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sunday Devotion- Mo and Bro

Janet Rubin

By now, you novel journeymen and women know a great deal about me. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that besides being a writer, home school mom, college student and general nutcase, I am also a leader in our church’s youth group. This is a new adventure for me this year, but something I’ve felt called to for some time. My main function at youth group has been “snack lady.” A pretty good gig really. I mean the kids might get annoyed with the youth pastor when he tells them to “Quiet down!”, or roll their eyes at the other "uncool" parent/leaders when they try to talk to them… but what teenager doesn’t like the lady who hands them a cupcake and a cup of iced tea? Snacks? No problem. I'm your woman!

There is another part of youth group. After the worship, announcements, Bible lesson, and such, comes “small group time,” a time for discussion questions and prayer. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was just assisting another woman leader who lead our small group of junior high girls, but for some reason, things got switched around and I found myself ALONE with a group of junior high girls. How can I describe this horrible experience? I felt like George Bush leading a meeting full of Hillary Clinton supporters. Well, sort of. The girls weren’t hostile or anything. There were more like comatose. I kept reading my lame discussion questions, and they kept silently gawking at me, like an audience of Vulcans watching a comedian. I rambled. I tried to be funny. I tried to be deep. The looks on their faces said it all. I could hear Sean’s group nearby, laughing as they all animatedly traded stories. I could see Karla’s group bent over their Bibles, searching for the answer to some question. And Tony’s group, huddled in prayer. With 15 minutes to go and no hope of recovery, I skipped prayer and said, “Soooo, who wants to help me set up the snacks?”

Once the kids left I approached Rachel, the youth pastor’s wife, and confessed to her what a dismal failure I was as a small group leader. I assured her that I wasn’t dropping out of youth group and would continue being the lemonade-mixer, and keeper of the chips and salsa, and helping in any other way. But that I couldn’t- simply couldn’t- lead a small group. She assured me that was totally fine, and I appreciated her gracious understanding, but went home feeling useless. I felt inferior to Tony, Sean, and Karla. What they were doing was the stuff that mattered- connecting with the kids, teaching them, praying with them.

At home, I retreated to my comfort zone, snuggled on the couch with my laptop. Before I left church, Rachel had reminded me of my idea about having the kids do skits. I though about what we’d read during bible time that night from Exodus and started typing. By the next morning, I had two weeks worth of skits about "Mo and Bro." I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing them and was delighted with the end result. Here’s an excerpt:

Aaron: I can’t believe you got me involved. This was supposed to be your gig. Couldn’t you just do what God said and leave me out of it, Mo?

Mo: Dude, you know I can’t do public speaking. Remember that play in high school?

Aaron: (laughing) Oh yeah, your big role in Pirates of the Nile?

Mo: Remember how I was always fine in practice, but then on opening night I couldn’t say my lines? I was shaking, sweating. I felt like I was going to hurl, and I couldn’t say anything!

Aaron: Yeah, you looked like an idiot.

Mo: Oh, thanks a lot bro.

Aaron: Well, you did.

Mo: I know it, okay?! That’s why I need you to talk to Pharaoh. Getting a king to set a million slaves free is just a tad bit scarier than playing Captain Jack in a play…

Aaron: you really did look like an idiot.

Mo: All right, already. At least I wasn’t the one who had to be the water boy for the Cairo Camels football team.

Aaron: (sheepishly mumbling) I could have played if I wanted; I liked getting the water.

Mo: Whatever. (lowering voice) Okay, we’re here. You’re doing the talking, so you go first. (Aaron rolls eyes.) We’ll do it just like God said. We’ll go in there, and you tell Pharaoh to let our people go. God said he won’t listen to us, and that he’ll ask for a miracle…and then I’ll do that thing God said to do with the staff.

Aaron: Okay, let’s do it. (Mo and Bro do cool brother handshake and enter throneroom...)

So, throughout the week, I emailed teens and leaders, and was pleasantly surprised to find all enthusiastic about performing. Last night was our premiere performance. The actors were marvelous, the kids laughed in all the right spots, and more of them expressed an interest in drama. I went home feeling much better than I had the week before, having been reminded again that God made us all different, each with different gifts and functions. There is a place for me and a place for all.

Today I stopped by church for something and saw our groundskeeper, Jerry, in our huge gravel parking lot. He was quietly serving as he always does, carrying heavy shovelfuls of dirt and rocks and filling in the gouges and potholes left by the last snow-plowing. He smiled broadly and waved at me, then went back to work, looking contented. I thought how grateful I am for Jerry, and how unhappy I’d be doing his job, and how smart God was to design His church in such a way that there are people to do everything that needs to be done.

Are you feeling badly about some gift you don’t have? Feeling envious of others who do have those gifts? God has a purpose for you. Ask Him what it is. When you serve using the gifts He gave you, it will fill you with pleasure and bless others.

1 Corinthians 12:18-20 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Here's a sample of what you're missing if you're not subscribed to Novel Journey Monthly (from our October 2007 interview with Bethany House editor Charlene Patterson):

Do you think a new author should start by writing the easier to place books, (like sweet romances, etc.) even if it's their heart's desire to write an epic historical?

I guess you have to consider your ultimate goal. If it is writing the novel of your heart, then do it despite what anyone says! If your ultimate goal is publication, then you should focus on something that publishers are accepting. Keep in mind that publishing is a business, and we aren't going to give you any money unless we think we can sell several thousand copies of your book. However, if you are not passionate about the novel you're working on, it's going to come through in the writing, so writing an easier-to-place book you don't care about probably isn't a good idea. Do you want your name on the cover of something that isn't your best work? If sweet romances intrigue you, then, sure, give one a try because that is indeed a genre in which it is easier to find a publisher. If not, then find another genre that does intrigue you. Challenge yourself to write within that genre.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Author Ray Reece ~ Interviewed

Journalist and award-winning environmentalist Ray Reece offers readers a confrontational world in Abigail in Gangland, a story populated by a dangerous Hispanic gang and one very racist, very senile old woman. Stuck in the middle? Her nephew Luke, who has returned home to "Dover-Fort Wade," Texas after 30 years as an artist in Manhattan. His mission? To take care of his aunt Abigail, win the heart of the woman he loves (who is, coincidentally enough, an ex-con), and try not to get killed.

Currently a columnist for The Budapest Sun in Hungary, and author of The Sun Betrayed: A Report on the Corporate Seizure of U.S. Solar Energy Development, Reece is known for his hard-hitting investigations of corporate takeovers, suburban sprawl, and social and political injustice. All of these issues converge in his third fiction work, Abigail in Gangland, an unapologetic portrait of a decaying suburban neighborhood.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

My current project is the promotion of my new novel, Abigail in Gangland. By way of an overview, I can hardly do better than to quote the comment by Kirkpatrick Sale, the author of Conquest of Paradise, on the back cover: “A sprawling Texas brawl of a novel, richly detailed, funny and provocative. Celebrates the rebel life—in the spirit of Burroughs and Kerouac—while bluntly confronting the Anglo-Hispanic cultural divide in America today. Sure to be rated R for steamy love scenes, violence and pot. But don’t wait for the movie.”

I have referred to the book as “a neo-beat novel of mixed-blood romance in a big-city Texas barrio.” The principal characters include Luke Thrasher, 50, a love-hungry artist in New York who returns to Texas after 32 years to care for his demented old aunt, Abigail Thrasher. Who, also quoting from the back cover, “stands on her porch and hurls invectives at a gang across the street called the Latin Blades.”

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

I've been lucky in that regard. My first book, The Sun Betrayed, was accepted by the first publisher who saw it, South End Press in Boston. My new novel, Abigail in Gangland, was likewise accepted by the first publisher who saw it, La Ventana Kiadó in Budapest, Hungary. To my surprise, La Ventana opted to have the book translated and published first in Hungarian. It has sold remarkably well, so La Ventana is now the publisher of the North American Edition.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Not doubts so much, but constant surprise at how difficult it is to write something of real quality. I'm also perennially torn by the conflict between my desire to write, a private act, and my need to be active politically, which naturally forces me out of my studio. I mediate this to some extent through my work as a journalist, writing primarily on political and geopolitical subjects.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

With regard to my current novel, Abigail in Gangland, one mistake I made was moving to Europe before I had completed the manuscript. After I finished it, still in Europe, in Italy and Hungary, I was compelled to try to find an agent online, which I now deem virtually impossible. It was just luck, serendipity, which took me to La Ventana Budapest, the publisher I mentioned above.

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

The best advice was something I read many years ago by Sinclair Lewis. He said, essentially, that in order to write a book you have to keep your butt planted in a chair. I also recall having read and/or being told that great writing is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent relentless toil, a willingness to work like a mule.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Everything is grist for my mill. Life experience, reading, observations of human behavior, history both past and in the making, news/analysis, art, conversation, dreams and fantasies.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I've gotten "the look" a number of times from people to whom I've attempted to explain my current novel, Abigail in Gangland. They seem a bit stunned by some of the characters and plot elements, particularly the romance between Luke, the middle-class male protagonist, and Raquel Acevedo, a Mexican woman whose son belongs to a gang that is violently hostile to Luke and his daffy old racist aunt Abigail.

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

Plays of Shakespeare, On the Road by Kerouac, The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, Light in August by Faulkner, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, An American Tragedy by Dreiser, Selected Poems by Dylan Thomas, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain, Leaves of Grass by Whitman, The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale, Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Others too numerous to list.

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

I'm proud of most of my writing, certainly including Abigail in Gangland. Of my shorter non-fiction compositions, I continue to be very pleased with an autobiographical essay titled "Almost No Aplogies: The Desecration of the Violet Crown." It was published as a chapter in a book, No Apologies, released in 1991 by Eakin Press. The essay can be found under "Journalism and Political Writing" on

Dean Koontz was recently on Novel Journey. He mentioned his take on the concept on “the writer’s sacred duty.” What comes to your mind at the mention of “the writer’s sacred duty?”

That would be the writer's duty to seek and tell the truth. There is also a duty, in my view, to make good on one's gift of talent as a writer, not to waste it or fritter it away through laziness or sloppy work.

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

In the current period, I have been endlessly exasperated by the imperative to find and sell myself to a literary agent as a prerogative to having my work considered by publishers. Many of the agents with whom I've tried to communicate have proven to be cold and arrogant, perhaps due to their monopoly lock on the portal to publishers.

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

I want to weave a perfect memoir from all the threads of my life, my passions and my work. It would be global in scope, examining the particulars of my existence in the context of a world that has changed fundamentally, and much for the worse, in the decades since I was born. The book would predict apocalypse, perhaps the extinction of Homo sapiens, as a function of the flaws inherent in the species, manifested by a tragic egocentrism, insecurity and stupidity. All of which traits I carry myself, of course.

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

As with probably most writers, my favorite part is the writing itself, the first-draft excitement and flow of adrenaline. Among my less favorite parts are research, rewriting and the task of explaining what I'm doing to other people, particularly agents.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

The most difficult aspect for me to grasp was the absolute necessity for economy in writing. I haven't overcome it. Even now I use too many adverbs and kindred pufferies that have to be excised later.

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

After a period of incubation and making notes, perhaps augmented by research, I try to write an opening that sings. If it sings, I'm on my way. Sometimes, as with Abigail in Gangland, I write an opening in a burst of inspiration with no forethought and no clear sense of where it will take me. This is like setting off on a voyage across the ocean without a compass. It can be terrifying.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session?

Yes. I need to be seated, or standing, in a fixed and favorite location, like my study in Cagli, Italy. Unless I'm having a problem with the piece. Then I may lie down for a while, close my eyes, drift, perhaps even doze, inviting my muse to come around. Or I may take a walk. Or both. I also need a cup of something warm on which to sip, usually coffee, and often something on which to nibble.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

As per the question above, my new novel is a combination of both. I started with the seat of my pants, then sketched a very rough map of the rest of the book. No outline, though. Plenty of room for surprises, which I experienced repeatedly.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

For me, this has varied from work to work. When I discover something not right in what I'm working on, I stop the train and rework the passage until it’s fixed. I never continue with a first draft I know to be flawed in some respect.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

One woman in Szeged, Hungary, a university student, told me recently that she has read the Hungarian edition of my novel, Szórakozz a nenikédell! (Go play with your aunt!), no less than five times. She has promised to explain her affection for the book, but we haven’t had a chance to do that yet.

Parting words?

Don’t wait for the movie, though there will surely be one. And thanks for your interest in my work.