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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Downside of Publishing Better Books

By Mike Duran

As you would expect, Thomas Nelson's recent decision to cut its work force and publish less books -- which includes a 50 percent cut in new author titles -- has generated some animated discussions and hand-wringing amongst Christian authors. While Michael Hyatt, CEO of Nelson, concedes the business aspects of this decision, he inevitably cites quality as the driving force. In his initial blog post,
Too Many Books, Too Few Shelves, Hyatt writes:

As a heavy book reader myself, I contend that we need better books not more books. I can’t tell you how many books I started this past year and never finished. Why? Because, frankly, they weren’t worth finishing. Most of them left me underwhelmed. The authors would have done better to boil down the content and make it a magazine article.

But publishers appear to be addicted to cranking out more and more titles. It reminds me of a scene from an old episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy and Ethel are working in a chocolate factory. Finding themselves in the Wrapping Department, they must keep up with the increasing speed of a factory conveyor belt. Since the ladies initially appear to be keeping up with the flow, their supervisor increases the speed of the belt until Lucy and her friend are overwhelmed.

Editors and book marketers face a similar predicament. “If only we had just a little more time to spit-shine this title,” they mutter under their breath. But the conveyor belt keeps delivering a seemingly endless flow of titles. Worse, Publishers desperate for growth keep piling additional titles onto the backs of their already-overworked employees.

It’s time to stop the madness. We don't need more titles. We need better titles. The only way this is going to happen is if publishers stop focusing on quantity and begin focusing on quality. (italics mine)

Though Nelson's decision has potentially uncomfortable ramifications for book makers and aspiring authors, the appeal for quality above quantity should resonate with readers. Who doesn't want to see better books? In this, Hyatt's statements recall another industry giant.

Patrick Goldstein's The Big Picture appears weekly in the L.A. Times and is one of the most informative Hollywood insider columns out there (in fact, Goldstein recently launched
his own blog, which is equally rich in content). Earlier this year, in a column entitled Mouse House Tops Studio Report Card, Goldstein handed out year-end report cards to the studios. The overall score consisted of three grades: first for box office and profitability, second for film quality, and third for overall success. At the top of the list was Disney with an A-.

While finding Disney at the head of the class is not surprising, what is noteworthy is the reason given for their success:

...Of the 11 movies it released in 2007, eight were Disney label movies, allowing the company to remain relentlessly focused on its brand. By releasing so few films, Disney was able to make more high-quality films by putting extra time into solving script, production and marketing issues than competitors like Sony and Warner Bros., who roll out more than 20 a year.

"We're probably in a different business than our brother and sister companies," says Disney studio chief Dick Cook. "We've learned that it's not how many you do but how good they are. If you only make 11 movies a year, you're not putting your movies through a meat grinder; you can be very specific about quality. That way, if we do stumble, and I'm sure we will, it will be because we were pushing the envelope instead of not keeping our eye on the ball." (italics mine)

After watching Ratatouille, a delightful film that made many critics' Top Ten 'o7 lists, who could argue about the meticulous detail that goes into Disney's animated films -- a signature that will, no doubt, be continued with Wall-E, its most recent release. But as with any quality product, there's a downside -- perfection takes time. And this is exactly what differentiates Disney from its competitors. So while competing studios crank out 20+ films a year, Disney is content to limit its lot... and polish the heck out of them.

Can Thomas Nelson be slighted for going a similar route?

It's not a coincidence, I think, that both executives have come to eschew the mass production mentality that drives so many in their respective fields. Hyatt calls it a "conveyor belt," Cook a "meat grinder." And that's from the guys in charge! Either way, breaking this "addiction" (Hyatt's term) is not without consequences. The downside of publishing better books, in part, means taking more time with less titles. Therein lies the rub.

The fallout of TN's decision, marketwise, is pending. Will other Christian publishers follow suit? Will more amateur novelists now choose self-publishing over the big name houses? Will more small, independent presses arise, willing to take on the unpublished, middlin' authors left in the lurch? With the big boys seeking, primarily, brand name authors with shelf cred and the cream of the “breakout novel” crop, it makes sense that aspiring authors should look toward new, creative ways to get their story into print. But perhaps the biggest question is, Will we really see more, better books?

Whatever happens, I for one, applaud Thomas Nelson's decision, even if it makes the climb that much harder for aspiring authors like me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ron Benrey ~ Guest Blogger on Hearing Voices

Ron Benrey and his wife Janet have co-written three different Christian romantic suspense series for B&H Publishing, Barbour Books, and Steeple Hill. Their latest novel, “Grits and Glory,” from Steeple Hill will be available in early June. Ron is also the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction,” published by the Alpha imprint of Penguin. His next non-fiction book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Christian Mysteries” (which examines the most difficult Christian teachings) will be published in early August.

You should hear voices when you read a well-written Christian novel.

From a reader’s point of view, voice is the “sound” that the novel creates in a reader’s head—the soundtrack, if you like, of the “fictional dream” that puts a reader in distant places and inside different characters.

Although we typically talk simply about voice, there are actually three kinds of voices that novelists need to worry about:

1. Authorial voice—the overall “sound” of the author. We all agree that Charles Martin has different authorial voice than Angela Hunt. This is the “voice” that editors seem to have in mind when they talk about “strong voice,” “new voice,” “authentic voice.”

2. Narrative voice—the distinctive “sound” of the first-person narrator (in a novel written in the first-person Point of View) or the all-knowing storyteller (in a novel written in the omniscient POV).

3. Character voice—the characteristic “sounds” of the various characters. A sassy female private eye should have a different character voice than a hero from the Bible, or a pioneer bride in a prairie romance, or an abused homemaker, or the alien captain of an intergalactic cruiser. Because readers soon catch on to the differences, character voice helps to establish who is currently telling the story. A common criticism editors level at new writers is, “your characters sound too much alike.”

When the three kinds of voice work together in a novel, they yield much the same effects that music achieves in a movie. For starters, voice helps to define the genre in a readers mind. Serious vs. scary vs. suspenseful; grim vs. cheerful vs. funny; romantic vs. smart-alecky—all of these “perceptions” can be brought about by appropriate voice.

Similarly, voice can sets the stage in your novel by communicating locale and time frame. First century Judea will have a unique “sound” compared to present day New York City, or a mountain pass in 19th century Utah, or a distant galaxy, far, far away.

Finally, voice can create the psychic distance between reader and character. A close voice is perfect in a suspense novel when you want the reader to feel threatened by the antagonist along with protagonist. By contrast, a more distant voice is useful for describing setting that the reader doesn’t need to “see,” “smell,” or “touch” through a point-of-view character’s consciousness.

Agents and editors—the principal gatekeepers who decide whether or not a novel is publishable—care about voice because it plays a critical role in how readers experience a novel, and ultimately, how much they enjoy reading it. Voice is also one of the first attributes of your work that each gatekeeper gets to evaluate. S/he knows if your voice is strong long before the quality of your storytelling or characterizations shine through.

The bottom line: voice is important. It also seems to be the one critical aspect of writing publishable fiction that can’t be taught. A quick Internet search will yield a gazillion surefire tips to help you plot your next novel, but you’ll find little useful advice about how to improve your voice—other than the suggestion that you read lots of novels you respect.

Voice is hard to teach because it encompass the countess decisions that we make when we sit down to write: choice of words, point of view, sentence length, balance between narrative and dialog, kinds of figures of speech, amount of humor, past or present tense, balance between narrative and dialog, use of flashbacks, use of dialect ... the list of key ingredients goes on and on.

I also believe that good voice reflects confident writing; if you’re uncomfortable with (or lack knowledge about) the subject matter of your novel, your voice will change for the worst, probably becoming hesitant and tentative.

Because voice is such a complex critter, it’s difficult to diagnose voice problems. Consequently, while agents, editors, and critique group members may make vague criticisms—e.g. “your voice needs work”—they rarely offer practical advice for fixing what’s wrong, other than the generic suggestion to read, read, and read some more.

While it’s probably true that great voice is instinctive, good voice can be developed and/or nurtured—both by reading and by writing.

On the one hand, reading other writer’s work seems the best indirect method of strengthening your fiction-writing voice. Reading good writing trains your “authorial ear.” Once your internal voice sensor has perfect pitch, so to speak, you’re equipped to find your own voices.

On the other hand, as with other aspects of writing, the more you write the better your authorial voice will become. Your voice ultimately reflects your skill, knowledge, history, taste, preferences, sensibilities—and mileage behind the keyboard.

Now, you might think that for this kind of ad hoc voice training to work, you have to read the kind of fiction you want to write, then write solely in your target genre. Not necessarily. I sharpened my fiction voice by reading and writing non-fiction. Over the years, I developed three distinct voices:

1. Chatty and cheerful.
2. Neutral and authoritative.
3. Pompous (ideal for pretentious corporate publications).

However, now that I write fiction, I do try to prime my authorial ear by reading authors who have the kind of voice I want to achieve. After two or three novels, my authorial voice moves closer to theirs, but never becomes identical.

The other side of the coin: when I’m writing a novel, I don’t read fiction written in significantly different voices. I find that upsets the cadences of my work-in-progress.

Many new authors wonder if authorial is voice unique. Well, conventional wisdom says that it can be—that Stephen King, Charles Dickens, James Michener, and other distinguished novelists have unique voices which readers can identify merely by perusing short excerpts of their novels.

I won’t argue the point, except to say that many successful writers don’t have unique voices. A best-selling author of Christian women’s fiction told me, “I wouldn't recognize my authorial voice if it called to me.” And a popular Christian suspense/mystery author added, “When it comes to a recognizable authorial voice, I've always believed that I have laryngitis.”

This is encouraging news for the rest of us. Voice may be the sine qua non of successful fiction (Ooops! I slipped into my pompous voice. Sorry!). I mean that, voice may be an essential ingredient of a publishable novel, but strength and confidence seem to be more important virtues than uniqueness. Consequently, we all can develop the kind of voice that’s necessary to write compelling Christian fiction.

A killer tries to make the hurricane that blew through Glory, North Carolina, look like the bad guy. But Storm Channel cameraman Sean Miller knows the body buried under the rubble wasn't the victim of a fallen church steeple. Feisty secretary Ann Trask seems to be the only person who agrees with him. But the woman of Sean's dreams is busy being romanced by a phony celebrity weatherman, who cried on cue and hid during the fi rst strong gust of wind! Which means it's time for Sean to invite Ann for some serious off-the-air investigation….

Friday, June 27, 2008

Humorist Phil Callaway ~ Interviewed

Phil Callaway is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life. He is the best-selling author of twenty-two books including Laughing Matters, Who Put My Life On Fast Forward? Making Life Rich Without Any Money, and Family Squeeze. Phil's writings have been translated into languages like Polish, Chinese, Spanish, German, Dutch, Indonesian, and English (one of which he speaks fluently!)

Phil’s list of accomplishments also includes shutting off the TV to listen to his children’s questions (twice), taking out the garbage without being told (once), and convincing his high school sweetheart to marry him (once).

Described as “Dave Barry with a message,” Callaway is a popular speaker for corporations, conferences, camps, and marriage retreats. He is a frequent guest on national radio and television. Phil’s writings have won more than a dozen international awards. His 5-part video series The Big Picture is being viewed in 80,000 churches worldwide. Callaway is editor of Servant magazine, which he started in 1989 with the goal of encouraging, edifying, and educating readers. A general interest magazine, Servant is now read in more than 100 countries. Subscribe or read it here. Phil is a syndicated columnist and has published hundreds of articles in such publications as Marriage Partnership, Focus on the Family, New Man, Christian Parenting Today, Christian Reader, Home Life, Decision, and Faith & Friends. He lives in Canada with Ramona and their three children.

Share a bit about your writing journey.

I began writing a column called Family Matters back in 1990. An editor at Harvest House Publishers somehow got a copy, took the president out for lunch, and read him one of my stories. He laughed until indigestion became a problem for him, then said, “See if he’d write a book.” They phoned and I suggested Honey, I Dunked the Kids. It was a hit back in 1993 and launched my writing career. I'm absolutely astounded at the responses to my books and so thankful for every opportunity to tell of the joy Christ can bring.

What came first for you -- the platform or the book(s) and how did/do the two mesh?

The book came first. People assume that if you write, you speak. The problem for me was that I was terrified. I didn’t sleep all night before my first radio interview. I got on a TV show and the host asked me, “What does it take to be a good dad?” And I said, “Well…it’s like Martin Luther once said…” and my mind went blank. I stammered and stuttered. I said, “he said that we should never forget what he said, and I don’t have a clue what it was.” They laughed and I learned to go with my strengths. People laugh when I talk, so I try to use it the best I can.

How would you sum up your platform, expertise or message?

I come at life from a humorous and warped perspective. I write and speak about bringing joy back to life. My wife Ramona battles Epilepsy and I’m part of a family that battles severe Depression and Huntington’s Disease, so the things I write about are very real, and they are things I’m trying to put into practice on a daily basis. I think readers want to hear from someone who is a fellow pilgrim, more than they want to hear form someone who has it all together at all times.

What's more important to your platform, education or personal experience? Why?

Without a doubt, experience. I was home-schooled until the age of five at which point my mother gave up on me and handed me over to the government. I learned lots in school but forgot most of it by recess. I suppose I haven’t let learning get in the way of a good education. My writing is about real life stuff: children, failure, hardship, success, and money. Apart from failure and hardship, all of these things came about after I graduated. And though I make fun of my education, I will stand in front of 8,000 public school teachers in a few months, doing the very thing I got in trouble for back in school: making them laugh.

How does your message or your book(s) meet a need that others do not?

My latest book Family Squeeze looks at life from the vantage point of middle age, of being stuck in a house with three teenagers and my two aging parents who lived for a time in a suite we built for them. Most books about this time of life are clinical and a wee bit preachy. My take on this has been to tell the story and let readers find themselves in it.

What are your major marketing strategies?

Radio and TV and spare no expense on a website . It’s the best business card - apart from a book - that I know. The building of an email list has been a help. I speak to about 50,000 people live each year, and have a sign-up sheet for my goofy email update. I do all I can to stay in touch with those who market my books, and make it easy for people to buy bulk quantities of books. I have two agencies who promote my speaking, but the best promoters are those who have been deeply touched by what you have to say, those who have attended an event where they were moved and as a result want to hear more, and tell their friends.

What helped you the most when attempting to clarify your call or platform?

The confirmation of others helped a lot. The feedback from readers who felt I was filling a need that no one else was…the need to laugh about things that we all share in common, and to laugh with some hope attached. In time I made the decision to never travel alone, and that has been huge because the friends who travel with me keep me rather humble and tell me the truth.

Any books or classes that you'd suggest to other writers?

I would recommend all of my books. They have changed my life. Seriously, I'm a fan of writing conferences for budding writers. There's very little real work done, but lots of networking.

What career would you pursue if you couldn't write or speak?

Court stenography. I’d be awesome. I type fast. I’m a good listener. And I can smile when criticized.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Novel Journey Welcomes Christine Lynxwiler

Christine Lynxwiler considers herself richly blessed to be living the crazy writer life with her husband and two daughters in the beautiful Ozarks of Arkansas. She sold her first Christian fiction story to Barbour Publishing in 2001. A four time winner of the ACRW/ACFW Book of the Year Award, she now has 12 books in print, including Arkansas, Promise Me Always, Forever Christmas, and her newest release, Along Came a Cowboy. She has 2 more on the way and recently signed a contract for a brand new six book series. Christine loves to laugh and when asked to choose a movie, almost always picks a comedy. A romantic comedy, of course. Or as her husband calls it, a chick flick.

To learn more about Christine, visit

It Takes More Than a Cool Pair of Shoes by Christine Lynxwiler

I’d like to start exercising. I just have to get out of my chair. And someday I will. But occasionally I hang out with a few friends locally who aren’t going to do it someday. They’re doing it today. When they talk about running marathons or (if they feel like slacking off a little) 5k runs, I get excited. Me, me, me!! I want to do that. I want to do that now.

My sweet husband helped me pick out some gorgeous running shoes. We dropped a nice amount of money into the hand of the very young saleswoman and I bounced out of the store. Oh, I forgot. After we checked out, I saw padded socks for runners, so I made another cash register run and got those, too.

I came home and dressed in my running clothes. We all know reasonable goals are the key to success, so I picked out a short distance on the gravel road in front of our house and determined to run it. I planned to go a little farther each day. And away I went. I chugged along but before I even reached the turnaround point (still within sight of my house) I turned my ankle and fell to my knees in the gravel and the rest is history. I retired with a wicked-looking battle scar and loads of Band-Aids. My daughters fixed me a tall glass of ice water while I relaxed in the safety of my chair.

Sometimes we’re like that in our writing. We want to be a writer. And we want it right now! We have a laptop. We have a website. Where are the contracts?

People often approach me at book signings and tell me they want to be published authors. I welcome questions about writing and am always thrilled to talk to writers who are working to get published. My advice to those who want to be published is almost always the same. First, learn the craft. Find a good place like American Christian Fiction Writers, or attach yourself to a published author who has time and a willingness to help you, and be a sponge. Keep an open mind and a humble spirit. And grow very thick skin. When I first started writing, I thought every word was magical. Once I figured out that I could actually put together those magical words and make stories (stories my family loved, I might add), I was a monster. I’d stop at nothing to protect my babies. . .um, stories.

Thankfully I got into a couple of critique groups and I kept hearing the same thing. Literally the same words—“The delete button is your friend.” I remember the first time I deleted a whole scene. The pain was very real. But so was the reward.

You may be the best storyteller in the world. And I won’t tell you that if you are the best storyteller you’ll never get published without learning about goal, motivation, and conflict or how to stay in a character’s point of view. But I will tell you this. No matter how good you are at telling stories, learning these things will only improve you. So if you think you could be a published author now and you’re right, then just think. . .with a good grasp of basic skills you could be a multi-published, best-selling, award-winning (and all those other hyphenated words) author!

Unfortunately 9 out of 10 times at book signings, the questions I get aren’t “How can I hone my skills so that publishers are interested?” or “Where do I learn how to write in one character’s point of view?” Instead I hear, “How do I get a publisher to look at my story?” or “How can I get an agent to sell my story?” or even “Would you ask your publisher to buy my book?”

And I totally understand.

I want to be a runner. Not a walker. Not a stretcher. A runner. But deep down, even while I was buying those beautiful shoes and padded socks, I knew that if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. So it’s back to walking for me. For now. But someday when I’ve got the walking part down, you’ll definitely see me run.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tina Ann Forkner ~ Guest Blogger

Tina Ann Forkner writes contemporary fiction that challenges and inspires. Originally from Oklahoma, she graduated with honors in English from CSU Sacramento before ultimately settling in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming where she now resides with her husband and their three children. Tina serves on the Laramie County Library Foundation Board of Directors and enjoys gardening and going fishing with her family.

Glimpses of Nature in Your Stories

Sometimes nature can inspire stories and descriptions in completely unexpected ways. It’s my way to try and escape the confines of my house by looking for spots of nature in the city, so last week I went walking at a city lake. I was rounding a corner, enjoying the soft lapping of the water when I spotted a momma duck and her babies.

The lake was a little high that day and the family was busily splashing through the grass and trees that were, at least for a time, submerged in lake water.

I glanced down for a second to stretch, when I heard a really big splash. I glanced back up and the babies were gone, as if momma duck had told them to hide. Momma, who suddenly seemed very distressed, was watching a massive creature flopping around in the water. It kept dipping and swimming in large circles through the grass. At first I thought it was an otter, but when I saw slick skin and fins on a creature as big as my waist, I realized it was a catfish. A big catfish splashing around, apparently hunting for baby ducks! Could that be possible? I thought fish ate worms and bugs!

I called my dad on the phone because he is an avid fisherman and I described to him in great detail how big the fish was and how amazed I was to see it splashing around so near the bank. Surely catfish don’t eat baby ducks do they? He assured me that they will if they get a chance. He went on to tell me that’s how he thinks people got the idea for the infamous, and actually popular, Snakehead movies. Someone, he figured, probably saw some big fish cavorting in shallow bank water and thought it looked like a monster fish walking in the mud.

I’d never heard of a Snakehead, but I did a Google search and it ends up that the movies are set around beautiful fishing lakes and the Snakeheads look like giant catfish that walk on land and terrorize – and eat – the people (not just helpless baby ducks) in the lake communities. Yes, my dad was right. It was the perfect, albeit very weird, example of how experiencing natural settings firsthand could inspire unforgettable stories. Too bad someone else thought of Snakeheads first (can you see me writing about monsters?), but it also made me think about how some of the best novels include some kind of natural setting.

Think back to some of your favorite novels. How many of them have natural elements in the setting? Remember the pecan tree in Watching the Tree Limbs? The peach orchard in The Secret Life of Bees? The Smoky Mountains in Christy? And then there are the novels with obvious natural settings like A River Runs Through It, Peace Like a River and the newer, but I’m sure lasting, Garden Spells. We remember novels like these for many reasons, not just the natural scenery, but the scenery is part of the sensory experience that can make a novel unforgettable and bigger than life.

As a writer, have you ever thought about the natural scenery in your novels? Even if your novel isn’t set in nature itself, putting well-written glimpses of God’s creation in can add life to your story and help pull your readers in a little deeper. Whether it’s a clay pot filled with perfect, lavender pansies on a city stoop or a sweeping vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, you can try adding nature to your own stories.

I write most frequently on my laptop at a desk facing my back garden. At least I call it a garden even if it really is just a back yard with a few scraggly flower beds and a large plot of dirt containing some brave tomato plants, last year’s Shasta daisies and a wealth of seeds that are just peeking their heads out of the warming soil.

This scene is what inspires me in the morning when I sit down to write, so I wasn’t surprised when I first figured out that one of my primary characters in Ruby Among Us would be a gardener and that her backyard would be filled with roses and flowers. Of course, there is actually no resemblance between the look of my own gardens and the garden settings in Ruby Among Us, but I think my experience at having my hands in the dirt and watching things grow helped me to better describe the natural scenery in my novel.

So how does a writer deepen natural elements in a novel when they are a city person or don’t know much about nature? It’s as easy as taking a walk. You can even experience nature right outside your door or windowsill and it will no doubt make your stories better. Emily Dickinson did it very well when she wrote a poem about hearing a fly buzz. She wasn’t writing about the fly buzzing, she was writing about dying.

Dickinson took a small image of nature and used it to emphasize something profound about life and dying. Every time I hear a fly buzz, I think of that poem and imagine Dickinson sitting quietly one day, perhaps after the death of a loved one, hearing a fly buzz in the window and the poem taking off from there. Of course, we will never know how she really came up with it, but I can imagine it because nature can inspire deeper thought and a more sensory experience.

So, if you want to insert some of God’s glimpses of nature into your own stories and do it well, you need to experience nature yourself. You can’t only read about it in a coffee table book or watch it on the Travel Channel, although that’s a start. Get outside and find a pot of dirt, pick some flowers, hop on a paddle boat or go fishing. Pay careful attention to the sights and smells around you so you can remember them later when you write your stories. And oh yeah, while you are at it, watch out for Snakeheads.

Sometimes, the key that unlocks your future lies in someone else’s past…

Set in the lush vineyards of present and past Sonoma Valley, Ruby Among Us weaves a story of three generations of women and the memory that binds their hearts together. Journey with Lucy as she searches for a heritage long buried with her mother, Ruby, in this stirring tale of remembrance and redemption. From Waterbrook Press/Random House.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Author Interview ~ Chris Grabenstein

Chris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. He lives in Manhattan with his beautiful, beloved wife J.J., along with their dog Fred and three cats, Jeanette, Parker and Tiger Lilly.

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

Two different books! THE CROSSROADS, my first Middle Grades ghost story (ages 9-13) has just been published by Random House Children’s Books.

And, on July 22nd, HELL HOLE, the fourth installment in the John Ceepak Jersey shore mystery series , will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur.

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. (be as specific as possible)

I had been writing professionally for nearly thirty years! In my youth, I wrote for comedy groups in New York City, the Muppets, and did a made for TV movie (The Christmas Gift) for CBS. I then went to work for advertising agencies (my first boss was James Patterson!) for nearly eighteen years.

In 2001, I left advertising and started writing books and screenplays full time.
It took four years, about seven screenplays and five manuscripts before my first mystery was sold.

The publisher was actually reading a different manuscript. They liked my writing but weren’t interested in the sort of paranormal tale I was telling since my last name wasn’t King or Koontz. “If he ever writes a mystery,” the editor said to my agent, “I’d like to see that.” Fortunately, I had just finished the first draft of TILT A WHIRL. Then, it was all like a blur. A few phone calls from my agent “Nothing definite, but I think we may get an offer on this one…” Within two weeks, we had TWO offers. That was so exciting. I remember my wife and I went out and celebrated. Then we took my agent out and celebrated with him, too!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Every day. In my creative working life, I have learned that the truly good writers, art directors, film artists – are all riddled with self doubt. I think that’s what makes them want to create again.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I, initially, went with the very first agent who showed any interest in my work. A lady from L.A. All of it was done via e-mail and internet. Never met her. She never did anything. I was just so excited that anybody liked my work, I signed.

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

Put your first manuscript in a drawer and start working on your second. Do you want to be a writer or write one book? By the way, this advice was extremely hard to take. But, when I did finally slide that first book into a box and shelf it, I started down the path that led to the first book getting published.

How do you craft a plot?

Very well, according to critics. Actually, I try to use the screenwriter’s technique of telling a story with a three act structure. Going into a project, I try to know my tent poles: the Act One plot point, the second act midpoint, ad the plot point that spins the story into the final act.

Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?

I have a very loose outline based on the plot point structure and make the story up as I go along. Then again, I did improvisational comedy for years and it’s just how I’ve learned to work.

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

Actually, I can’t think of anything. Having spent nearly twenty years in the advertising business, I think publishing is pretty gentle! Also, blogs like this, books, etc., do a good job of telling folks what to expect.

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

My first publisher, Carroll & Graf unexpectedly went out of business when I still had 2-3 books to do for them. So, in a flash, because of corporate restructuring at the parent company level, I almost went to being unpublished again. Fortunately, two other publishers picked up my work.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

Stephen King says to be a writer we must all do two things: read and write. You need to read the genre you hope to write in – not to imitate the masters but to learn the expectations of readers. Also, if you are writing every day, you need to feed fresh words and images into your brain. You can learn so much from others. How do they handle the problems you encounter. After my seventh book, you start wondering if there’s a better way to show a shrug or a nod.

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

I’d say the children’s book. THE CROSSROADS started life as a 120,000 word adult thriller and has become a 49,000 word book for middle school readers. I had to learn a new genre and, simultaneously, find the essence/soul of my overblown story. When it got a starred review from Booklist, I think I was even prouder than when TILT A WHIRL won the best first mystery award.

What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?

Having been an actor and then a copy writer for commercials, I learned long ago about the importance of an “outside eye.” A good director can make an actor look even better. An excellent film editor or composer can make your little movie all the better. If all you have is yourself, your work won’t be as good. It takes a village! Or a publishing house.

How many drafts to you edit before submitting to your editor?

I do about three before I show it to anyone. Then my wife reads what I’ll call my first draft. I then rewrite it based on her notes. Next, I send the manuscript out to 4-5 readers who like the genre I’m writing in. I rewrite based on any problems/major comments. Third step – the manuscript goes to my agent for his input. Fourth – it goes to any technical advisors (cops, FBI, etc.). Finally, we show it to somebody at the publisher.

We often hear how important it is to write a good query letter to whet the appetite of an editor. What tips can you offer to help other writers pen a good query?

Hmmm. I don’t think I’ve ever written one for an editor. I wrote a ton in my search for an agent. I tried to be brief and not a blowhard.

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

Not yet. I’m having too much fun. I’m most miserable when not writing so I hope I don’t ever qit.

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

I guess a lot, but we all do. The advance is the new marketing budget, they say. I do bookmarks, interviews, tours, conventions, keep in contact with genre specific booksellers. However, I try to spend 90 per cent of my time writing my books. The best publicity is a good book that generates word of mouth.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Lots! The e-mails that touch me the most are the ones from caregivers who tell me my stories have enabled them to momentarily escape the grim duties of the sick room. I remember when my first wife was dying of cancer, how books helped me cope. It’s heartwarming to be able to return the favor.

Parting words?

Thanks! Write a good story and you will (eventually) find a home for it!

Vodcast with One of the Coolest Guys in the Industry: Alton Gansky


A tongue-in-cheek interview with one of my favorite folks in the industry: novelist, non-fiction writer, pastor, husband, father, mentor Alton Gansky. Thanks for being a good sport, Al! (After the interview, Al said to me: "Thanks for the warning." He had no idea what to expect but you'd never know it. What a pro.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Janet's Good-bye

Janet Rubin

Hello, faithful Novel Journey readers. If you hang around here on Sundays, you've probably seen my Sunday Devotions for the last year or so. Writing and sharing them has been wonderful. Even more wonderful have been your encouraging responses.

But as you've probably guessed from the title, I'm abandoning my spot on the Novel Journey team. There's no scandal; I wasn't caught inappropriately handling Novel Journey funds or anything (we have no funds.) I'd gone back to college, fully intending to major in English. But what should happen? I fall in love with Psychology! (go figure.) That is not to say that I won't be writing. I'll always be a writer. I'm a writer just like I'm blue-eyed and brunette. I could change the hair color easier than I could change the writer thing! The writing will be put to use somehow in the psychology field, and I'll always be writing on the side. Perhaps I'll one day be therapist to the writers (Lord knows most of us need therapy!)

My reason for leaving is simply that there are only so many hours in a day and so much Janet to go around. I'm going to school, working in the college's writing center, home schooling my children, trying to maintain the house and husband, and do church stuff, all while staying moderately sane. I'm afraid that for now my brain cells are all busy and the inspirational well is dry.

Anyway, that's my story. I pray that you all continue to grow as writers and stay close to the Author of life. While many of you are at the ACFW conference, I'll be at the APA (American Psychological Association) convention in Boston this year. My road has bent in an unexpected direction and I'm loving it. Thank you for being so hospitable while I've been here.

Thanks so much to my sweet sisters Gina, Ane, Jess, Kelly, Sandra, Lisa, Noel, Yvonne, and (brother) Mike. Blessings on your novel journeys! Thanks for the opportunity to share here at NJ. It's been a privilege and a pleasure.

Anne Girl Turns 100

. . . making her older than Josephine Barry!

This year marks the 100 anniversary of Anne of Green Gables.

While many of us dream of writing a classic novel, Lucy Maud Montgomery actually managed it by penning the story of a loveless orphan girl who captured the heart of the world. It’s momentum never stopped from the moment it released—selling 19,000 copies in the first few months—till now where’s its been printed in thirty-six languages and adapted in various forms of drama.

For those of us with beloved dog-eared copies, you’ll be happy to learn there are many new editions to celebrate the event, including this one by Random House.

For those of you in Canada or New England, you're really lucky. There’s quite a number of celebrations you can choose to attend. Visit the Anne 2008 website for more.

So out of curiosity, have you read this beloved Classic?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Memoir Author Trish Ryan ~ Interviewed

TRISH RYAN lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, Steve, and their genetically improbable mixed-breed dog. You can contact Trish through her website.

Share a bit about your writing journey:

I learned that I could write in high school. I was failing math, largely because I was so distracted by the scent of Mennen Speed Stick (the best smelling male deodorant in the world, in my opinion) wafting from the boy sitting in front of me. I wrote an essay about this dilemma for my English class and received an A. That’s when I figured out that I could balance out my weak points by putting extra energy into the things I did well.

I forgot all of this in college and decided to become a lawyer, which makes very little sense for a girl who hates confrontation and accounting for her time. But my love of writing continued, and I kept notes during those unhappy years, some of which I drew on while writing my memoir.

What came first for you -- the platform or the book(s) and how did/do the two mesh?

The book came first. HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT is a memoir, which I could never have written if I hadn’t had a few crazy experiences early in life: working for a New York Times bestselling spiritual advice author, going into hiding after leaving an abusive husband, doing a complete change in my spiritual direction and leaving my New Age practices to follow Jesus. All that “story” had to happen before I could write it down.

Interestingly, though, the “platform” I have now is largely through my blog, which doesn’t deal directly with any of these issues. It’s more about connecting with other women, writing funny blurbs about the daily events of my life (my ongoing dream to become a professional baton twirler, my dog peeing on the bed when she saw me packing for a trip, my incredulous realization that our new Miss America can’t ride a bicycle…) I like this grassroots style of platform building. When you build on genuine connections, the whole thing feels more solid, somehow.

How would you sum up your platform, expertise or message?

If you’re exploring spirituality, give Jesus a try. He’s an interesting guy with some surprisingly helpful things to say. He fixed my broken love life, and really, I can’t recommend him highly enough.

How does your message or your book(s) meet a need that others do not?

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one suggesting that people explore Jesus as part of a broader spiritual search. When I was reading books on Feng Shui and Astrology, I’d have read about Jesus if there had been something about him on the bookstore shelves written in a language I could understand, that didn’t demand that I convert. I’m confident in Jesus’ ability to hold his own in the competition for our spiritual attention, so I just want to suggest that people invite him into the mix to see what he has to say.

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

My book comes out on April 30 (I’m writing this on the 21st) so we’ll see what turns out to be most effective. But my sense is that the time I’ve invested in my blog—both posting and visiting other bloggers to get to know them, too— has been well spent. It’s broadened my social circle in a way nothing else could, and connected me with people who care about the same things I do—finding a great relationship, figuring out faith, writing. It’s like a cocktail party filled with people who all want to have the same conversation. That conversation is what I write about, so it’s a great fit.

Any books or classes that you'd suggest to other writers?

Stephen King’s On Writing is a classic, particularly his comment that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

What career would you pursue if you couldn't write or speak?

I’d love to be a song lyricist. I have no musical skills to speak of, but when I hear music, words come to me. Someday I hope to pair up with someone who composes songs and see if I can convey an entire message in just a few lines, rather than in chapters.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Author Interview ~ Mike Dellosso

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He writes a monthly column for Writer . . .Interrupted, was a newspaper correspondent/columnist for over three years, has published several articles for The Candle of Prayer inspirational booklets, and has edited and contributed to numerous Christian-themed websites and e-newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and International Thriller Writers. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

To read more about Mike’s journey into writing, visit here.

Welcome to Novel Journey, Mike. Why don't you start by telling us where you get your ideas for stories?

My ideas for stories. There’s a box in my basement called the Idea Box. I wave my hand over it a couple times, chant some pretty cool things, and somehow (I’m not sure how it works) but an idea just appears in my head, fully formed, like a newborn baby. Of course, I wish it was that easy, but the fact is, I just told a fib. There’s no magic box, no hand-waving, no chanting, just an overactive imagination and a lot of mulling.

My ideas are usually born either by searching the internet for unique stories, by reading or hearing something in the news, or just by letting the leash out for my imagination to run a little wild. From there I toss around some scenarios. The challenge is taking a simple idea—a what if question or a single character—and developing it into a story that can support 80,000 to 100,000 words. It’s not always easy, in fact, it’s rarely easy. Once I find something I think I can run with I start writing and the story can change several times before everything falls in place. Ask any author, there’s no simple way to come up with an intriguing idea and grow it into a full-fledged novel-length story.

Are you a plotter or seat-of-the-pants writer?
Seat-of-the-pantser all the way. I love being surprised by my own stories. When I start a story I know where I want to start—usually the first few chapters—and most of the time where I want to end. Everything in-between is making it up as I go. I figure if I don’t know where the story is going and how it’s unfolding, there’s a good chance the readers won’t either.

That being said, I typically work a chapter or two ahead in my mind. I’m always thinking about what’s going to come next, turning scenarios around, changing them, fiddling here, tinkering there, trying to find something that grabs my fancy and has potential to build the rest of the story off of. By working several steps ahead (like a chess player, I suppose) I avoid writing myself into a corner.

Talk about your “call” to write.

My call to write was in no way gradual. It happened all at once and might as well have been God speaking directly to me. It began with a motorcycle accident that left my brother-in-law in a deep coma and a prognosis of death or, at best, persistent vegetative state. My wife, Jen, and I went to visit my sister and Darrell in the hospital and came away wrestling with emotions I couldn’t easily explain: anger, frustration, sorrow, confusion, you name it. When we got home I did the first thing that came to mind, I grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and started writing.

Now, it’s important to know at this point that I’ve always struggled with stuttering. Lots of thoughts and ideas swirled in my head but I rarely voiced them because talking was just so laborious. I often kept my emotions under lock and key because it was easier than trying to express myself in words. Well, when that pen hit paper I knew I was on to something, I felt a freedom I had not felt before. I could say what was on my mind and in my heart and say it with perfect fluency. I had found my voice! That was almost ten years ago and I haven’t stopped writing since. Oh, and by the way, Darrell pulled through and is doing just fine now.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite aspect is the first draft when everything is new and fresh and the story is unfolding. Sometimes I feel like it’s just spilling out of me and I can’t type fast enough to keep up with it. During that process I’m constantly thinking about the story, molding it like a piece of clay, trying this, trying that, seeing if something makes sense, if it fits. I love getting to know the characters, watching them develop and take on personalities of their own. Creating them.

What is one thing being a writer taught you about God?

I think part of being made in the image of God is our desire to create. I experience great joy by bringing people to life, forming a world for them to live in and things for them to do. Putting them in a situation where there is no easy out and watching how they react. I can only imagine the fun God must have had creating this world. What a wonderful thought, the Creator at play.

What do you hope to accomplish in your writing?

God’s done so much for me. He loves me while I am so unlovable. Lifted me up out of that miry clay, wrapped His arms around me, and set my feet on solid ground. Made me a new creation and gave me a new life. I’m so undeserving of His love, and yet He so willingly and freely gives it. Why wouldn’t I want to give all of me back to Him? And that includes my writing. God’s given me a gift and I want to give it back to Him to be used for His service, His Kingdom. I hope and pray my writing and my stories impact people on a spiritual level, if they don’t then I will feel like I’ve somehow failed. Really, when life is all said and done, when we get rid of all the materialism and ambition and rat race stuff, isn’t our sole purpose to glorify God? Isn’t that what it’s all about? Really? That’s what I want to accomplish with my writing . . . to just glorify God and let Him take care of the rest.

Describe the journey to your first contract.

Well, it was a nine-year journey and I’d like to say I did it “by the book.” I made some mistakes along the way but learned from them and made sure not to do them again.

I started writing non-fiction just for fun and freedom and the sheer love of putting words on paper and making sense out of what was inside me. After about a year of doing that I began writing a monthly article for my church’s newsletter. At the same time I was submitting articles and short pieces to various websites and getting some of them “published.” There was no pay, of course, but the satisfaction of seeing my creations on the screen and knowing somebody was reading them was well worth it. Heck, it’s still worth it. Gradually, I began expanding my horizons a little. I wrote a few inspirational articles for The Candle of Prayer Company and began writing a weekly column for my local newspaper, both paying jobs (yeah!).

In 2004 I saw the Christian Writer’s Guild was holding a first-novel contest. I had an idea so I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. It was harder than I thought but I was able to finish a book before the contest deadline. As much as I hoped I would, I didn’t win (I don’t even think I came close) but the experience was priceless and sparked in me a love for writing fiction.

I still thought I had a good story but knew next to nothing about the publishing industry. I sent out some proposals and got a mailbox full of rejections before a letter from a “traditional publisher” came showing interest. I put that in quotes because at the time, in my ignorance, I thought they were a real publisher and only found out later that they, indeed, were not. Anyway, I published that first book through this POD publisher, was terribly disappointed in everything about the experience, and vowed to never, ever, EVER do that again. To each his own, right?

Shortly after that frustrating ordeal I began work on another manuscript, calling it The Hunted. A year later I toted it along with me to my first writer’s conference where I met suspense author Kathryn Mackel who critiqued it, liked it, and said she’d not only endorse it but help me find an agent. A few weeks later she referred me to an agent friend of hers, Les Stobbe. Les liked my proposal and chapters, agreed to represent me, and circulated the project to various publishers. Four months later we got an email from Realms Fiction (Strang Book Group) saying they were interested in the full manuscript and a few long, endless months after that they were offering me a contract.

Ralph Reed ~ Author Interview

Ralph Reed is chairman and CEO of Century Strategies, a public relations and public affairs firm. He has advised numerous Fortune 500 companies and served as a senior advisor to the George W. Bush presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. He is a sought-after political commentator on television whose columns have appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author and editor of three best-selling books. To read Ralph's full bio, click here.

His new book, Dark Horse, hit the shelves this week. Ralph's many years of political involvement at the highest levels have prepared him to identify and portray in fiction some of the most glaring problems in our current political system—and to tell that story with characters so true to life that they could well be subjects of a news story.

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, California governor Robert Long got robbed.

It’s a tight race between Long and Senator Salmon Stanley for the Democratic nomination for president. When Stanley triumphs, Long’s delegates walk out, the media has a field day, and Long and his team—including ace political strategist Jay Noble—pack their bags and go home, knowing that whether Stanley fought fair or not, it’s the end of the line.

Unless…Would Long consider running as an independent? Independent campaigns of the past, such as those of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, have been more gesture than threat—but how might the Internet and modern communications technology change that? And are the American people so disgusted at the partisanship and gridlock of the two-party system—in particular, is the right wing so fed up with the Republican Party—that they would vote for an independent? Would Long even be able to get on the ballot in all fifty states?

Ralph, you're already a national figure in politics and have written two non-fiction best sellers (Politically Incorrect & Active Faith). Why fiction?

My literary agent Rick Christian approached me in the fall of 2006 about me writing a political thriller. I had proposed a couple of ideas for non-fiction books, but her persuaded me that fiction was the best way to make some important points.

I heard an interview with you on Fox News, saying you had written the outline for Dark Horse 30 years ago. Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

I outlined Dark Horse and wrote the first chapter in 1976. I was inspired by Gene McCarthy’s independent campaign for the presidency against Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. McCarthy was kept off the ballot in New York state by a technicality---his ballot access petitions were “improperly bundled.”

Had he gotten on the ballot, Ford would have probably carried New York and with it the presidency. It got me to thinking---what if someone who was charismatic, capable, and built a strong grassroots campaign ran as an independent. Keep in mind this was 16 years before Ross Perot.

That was the genesis of Dark Horse, but I set it aside after writing the first chapter (which is the first chapter of the book in its current form), realizing that at age 15, I didn’t know enough to write it then. I think after a quarter century of political involvement and seven presidential campaigns, I was finally ready to write it.

What sparked the resurrection of that outline now?

I had always said I would write another book when I had something substantive to say. It has been 12 years since my last book, Active Faith, and I was ready. I had no idea when I started writing that so many of the aspects of the plot would be replicated in the 2008 campaign: the first African American major party nominee for President in U.S. history, the first woman on a national ticket since 1984 (which I do believe will happen in at least one of the two parties), and a Democratic nomination that goes all the way to the convention.

While writing Dark Horse, did you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
No, I really didn’t. The story was bottled up inside for so long, that it virtually poured out of me. I tried to write at least 2 pages a day.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What was the most difficult part of writing this story?

Making it personal. My main interest was the arcane political twists and turns; I had to remember that what ultimately made the story interesting to readers was the personal trials and challenges.

How did you dig your way out?

I had a great editor, David Lambert at Howard Books, who urged me to stay focused on the personal drama facing the characters.

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

Usually in my study at home. Sometimes on planes and in hotel rooms when traveling.

I really want to know what a typical day looked like for you when you were writing this.

I wrote early in the morning or late at night before I went to work. During the day, I continued to work at Century Strategies, the public affairs firm where I am Chairman or CEO.

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

The scenes pretty much flowed easily. The hard part was making sure that the plot made sense both in terms of a page-turning thriller, and in terms of the political narrative.

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

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
Modern Times, Paul Johnson
Reagan’s War, Peter Schweizer
Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

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

In terms of fiction, write what you know.

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

A lot of TV and radio. I will do a lot of talk radio interviews and TV interviews. My publisher is also doing a fair amount of Internet marketing.

How are you managing the marketing with all your work at Century Strategies?

I’m squeezing most of the television and radio marketing into the first few weeks of the book launch. Fortunately, I have a very good team at Century and they are keeping the trains running on team. I am able to stay on top of all our many projects via cell and email constantly.

Do you think you'll write another novel?

I certainly enjoyed writing Dark Horse. It was the most fun I have had and the hardest I have worked in writing. So I’m open to doing more in fiction.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Writing is like anything else: success comes by continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Just keep plugging away and set an achievable goal of a number of pages a day…and try to write every day, maybe with one day a week taken off to recharge your batteries.

NJ/Ane: This was a very personal interview for me. In the early 90s, I was Legislative Affairs Director for Christian Coalition of New York and part of Ralph Reed's national Dream Team, a title I wore proudly. When I saw him interviewed on Fox News promoting his new novel, I took advantage of our friendship, and Ralph graciously granted Novel Journey this interview. This photo is from the days of our working together in Christian Coalition. It was taken in 1993 in my den in Clifton Park, NY.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cynthia Hickey lives in AZ with her husband and seven children. She writes for Barbour Publishing, Inc.

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

FUDGE-LACED FELONIES, the first book in the Summer Meadows Mystery series releases with Barbour’s Heartsong Mystery book club around July 1, 2008. Books two and three, CANDY-COATED SECRETS and CHOCOLATE-COVERED CRIME are scheduled for release in 2009. The books are available in retail six months after their book club release.

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 making up stories since I was a teenager. I seriously began writing in 2000, and practiced the publishing process with three POD books. I call it practice because it only gave me a small taste of what the publishing world is really like. Then in 2007, I entered my manuscript, BURIED BENEATH THE MIDNIGHT BLUE in the RWA Great Expectations contest where I won first place in the inspirational category. That obtained me my agent, Kelly Mortimer who I signed with in August.

At the ACFW conference that September, Susan Downs of Barbour presented me with a contract during Friday’s luncheon. When she spoke about the person being presented, I looked around the room, thinking what a coincidence that someone else in that room was an army brat and had done foster care for nine years. It wasn’t until my agent pushed me out of my seat that I realized it was me.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Oh, yeah. Through every aspect of the writing.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Some people would say going POD was a mistake. I don’t. I wasn’t ready for the “real” publishing world, but the POD route taught me I could write more than one book and I could meet deadlines.

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

Learn, learn, learn. Read, read, read. Pray, pray, pray. And not necessarily in that order.

Do you plot or are you an SOTPer?

I’m a seat-of-the-pantser. I start with a very minimal out-line having the crime and character first. Then the villain and work at putting all the pieces together.

Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?

The synopsis is the hardest part. I used to write it at the end, now I write it as I go. After I finish each chapter.

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

I thought writing the book was the hard part! But no, there’s marketing the next book, making contacts, maintaining a website, etc.

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

Not really. Although writing through the trials our adopted teenager puts us through often makes it difficult to get in the mood.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

It lets me find time for pleasure and keeps me on top of what’s being published in today’s market.

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

I absolutely love my Summer Meadows series. The characters are a hoot!

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

How short a paperback book’s shelf life is.

How many drafts to you edit before submitting to your editor?

Depends on how yucky I think the first one is, but usually two.

We often hear how important it is to write a good query letter to whet the appetite of an editor. What tips can you offer to help other writers pen a good query?

Short, sweet, and to the point. Whatever it takes to get the editor to read more than the first page. You’ve got to have a great hook.

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

Never. Writing is as important as breathing. I’m a writer. Writer’s write, whether the manuscript ever sees book form or not.

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

I haven’t begun marketing for my new release yet other than interviews, website, designing bookmarks and postcards. My POD”s were always top seller at my local Barnes and Noble local author booksigning. I’ve established a relationship with the event coordinator who will launch a book party when the book becomes available for retale.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

With my first POD, my Junior High Science teacher looked me up and said how proud of me she was. She even recommended the book to my hometown library. I cringed at that. The writing wasn’t very good, but those who read it gave a very favorable response. I’m excited about them reading my new work.

Parting words?

Keep learning the craft and rely on God to open doors. If it’s His will, He will, but in his time. Did I mention writing requires patience?Thank you so much for having me here!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

YA Interview ~ Jessica Day George

Jessica Day George is the author of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, and Dragon Slippers. Originally from Idaho, she studied at Brigham Young University and now resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their young son, and a five pound Maltese named Pippin.

Tell us about your current project.

I just released a brand spankin’ new book: Dragon Flight. It’s the sequel to my first book, Dragon Slippers. It was fun to get to write more about my dragons!

What are the highlights of your journey to publication?

Oh, golly! I had been trying to get a novel published for nine years. I’d written six books, and been rejected 187 times. Then I wrote Dragon Slippers, and within days of finishing it I went to a writers’ conference where I met my editor. She loved the idea of the book, and I sent it to her immediately. No rejection, no months and months of waiting to hear anything. I gave it to her in mid-September, and by mid-November she called to tell me yes! After I got off the phone I jumped up and down and screamed and cried and called everyone I knew!

Why do you write for young people?

I don’t know! After writing six books for adults, and having no luck getting published, I suddenly had an idea for Dragon Slippers, which was clearly for younger readers. It just sparked something in my head. Since then, all my ideas have been for teen or middle grade books. My husband thinks it’s the obvious thing for me to write, since most of my favorite books are teen books.

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

Oh, how I loved fun fantasies like Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody and Chrestomanci books. Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I love books that are funny as well as being adventurous, and that the type of book I’m trying to write.

What prepared you to write for children?

I’m not really a grown up. Sssh! It’s a secret!

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

As above: Dogsbody, by Jones. Robin McKinley’s Beauty, The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon trilogy, and Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark books, just to name a few!

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

Worst advice: You’re writing for kids! You need to make sure it’s down to their level! UGH! You should NEVER ‘dumb down’ your vocabulary or grammar because you are writing for young adults. They’re not stupid. My best advice is: Just write a good story.

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

This is terrible, but I always see how many pages there are (being careful to not read any of the ending). Even when I’m enjoying a book, I like to know when I’ve hit the middle, and then the ‘home stretch’.

Why do you think fantasy is such a popular genre right now?

I think it has very broad appeal. We can relate to the characters, because they are feeling the same things we feel even though their situation is so different. It highlights the things we all have in common. Also, it’s good to get your mind off things like school, work, and everyday stress, and imagine what it would be like to fly!

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

Er. I’m bad at this kind of thing. I do school visits, and booksignings, both of which are usually set up by the store, so it’s mostly local. I just let stores in the area know when I have a book coming out, and they let schools know when they’re planning book fairs and such. My publisher takes me to the bigger conferences.

Do you have a favorite quote related to writing?

Cicero- A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Don’t you just ADORE that?)

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

Romance. I have a really hard time writing romantic relationships, and I have been struggling with that in my dragon books. I have a friend who is a writer and big on romance read my manuscripts, and give me pointers in those areas.

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

My favorite thing is to sit down and start a new story! There’s no writer’s block, I haven’t hit a sticky spot in the middle yet, it’s just all new and exciting. My least favorite part is having a good idea in my head, and not getting the time to write it!

How do you breathe fresh life into an old tale, as with your fairytale retelling, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow?

I tried to “fill in the blanks” and it just brought the story to life. There are little things in every fairy tale that are never answered: people aren’t given names or its never explained why a mother would give her child to a polar bear! Coming up with your own explanations of these things is what makes the story unique.

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

Ha ha ha! I have a toddler: there is no typical! After lunch, if I’m lucky, he will still take a nap or at the very least lay down to watch a movie for a couple of hours. Then I grab my laptop and try to get as much writing crammed in as possible. On Saturdays, if there is nothing pressing, I go to Barnes & Noble (quieter than the library!) and sit in their cafĂ© and write for two to three hours. Usually once I get going, I get into a groove, so even if I’m interrupted by the end of naptime, I can keep working. I leave my laptop with the document open on the kitchen counter, and any time I have a spare minute, I type a sentence or two. But I always need at least an hour to myself to get the ol’ juices flowing.

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

Tad Williams’ characters are so real that after a chapter you feel like you know them. You even care deeply about his villains, because they are so human and three dimensional. I would love to be able to write characters like that. Fifteen years after first reading his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, I still remember Miriamele’s favorite color. He has an amazing gift with character, and I would steal it in a heartbeat!

Your current work in progress is …

I’m in the process of editing a retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses that will be out in January 2009, and writing the rough draft of a sequel to it, very loosely based on Cinderella. We can’t decide on titles for either one, so I won’t even try to tell you what they’ll be called!

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

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is my baby. I still feel a little glow when I think about it. Norway is my favorite place on earth, and writing book set there, based on my favorite fairy tale, thrilled me to my toes.

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

Oh, let’s just say it: New York Times Bestseller List, baby!

Parting words?

There’s always time for reading!