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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Author Interview ~ Brenda Nixon

Tell me a little bit about what you do for a living.

I travel to speak at parenting and childcare conferences, schools, churches, MOPS groups, parent expos, or anywhere I’m invited if the audience lives or works with kids. I belong to a couple of speakers associations and continue to read and learn as much as I can to continually improve my craft and service to others.

Since there’s a marriage between speaking and writing, I also write books and magazine articles about child behavior and guidance. If a person is going to speak to audiences about a topic, it’s natural to put those words on paper and publish. Most of my colleagues do both speaking and writing.

With my education background, I’m contracted to teach Ohio Health & Safety curriculum to childcare providers, and I am adjunct faculty at an Ohio university.

How much travel does all of that require?
Speaking invitations have taken me from Virginia to New Mexico to Iowa. I’m still hoping for that invite to Hawaii. Business takes me out of my office about 8 times a year. Now that our kids are grown, my husband and I have more freedom to travel together, so he occasionally comes with me to work my booktable.

What topics do you address?
Number one topic: discipline. Close behind that are toilet teaching, understanding temperament, and boosting a child’s school success. Depending on the program planner’s request, some want my Kindergarten readiness talk and others just request a review of normal child development. To keep things interesting and fresh, each presentation is unique; some use power point, some use role-play, and some have silly jokes. When I was in Iowa recently, the event planner asked me to close an early childhood conference with “Women Are Winners” — a motivational, lighthearted talk about all the work women do. It’s based on the Proverbs 31 poem in the Bible’s Old Testament.

Those are just a few of my presentation. I posted a menu of topics on my website so event planners don’t have to think up a topic, they can just select.

So, what has prepared you for this career?

I completed my degree in Christian Education, and right out of college, I taught preschool. After receiving my Masters in education, I married and had my first child. To me, being a parent is one of the most important ways to prepare for speaking and writing about raising kids.

I’ve also been a Psychiatric Chaplain, Certified Parent Educator, and Educational Consultant with Discovery Toys. Every one of those experiences funnels into my work today. For example, teaching preschool helps me empathize today with childcare providers and preschool teachers – been there, done that – and I understand what can be frustrating and what is fun. Being a chaplain gave me valuable training in counseling and public relations. While my daughters were young and I was a SAHM, I sold Discovery Toys to benefit my daughters and supplement our family income. That job helped me be tenacious and to learn more about quality education products for children.

My most recent job was serving as a parent educator for the Kansas City, Missouri school district. There I visited with parents one-on-one and shared specific child development information, answered questions, provided resources and support for the parents, did health screenings, and modeled parenting skills. As a requirement for the job, I took hundreds of hours of continuing education in child development and parent education. That job was the springboard into what I do today.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start speaking professionally?

Ride the learning curve! Read everything you can get your hands on, go to speaker websites and absorb information, ask others in the profession about it, join Toastmasters then eventually the National Speakers Association, and attend seminars to learn about speaking. It isn’t something you must know all at once but will continue to learn about each year. Speaking is kinda like parenting: the more you know and practice, the better you become.

At first, speak to small groups and get comfortable in front of people. The best piece of advice I heard early in my career was to make mistakes before small audiences. Improve, then go on to the larger audiences.

If anyone wants advice and encouragement, my published speaking articles are now all together in a booklet, You Can Speak. I offer it for $10, to those who want to launch and maintain a successful speaking career. Anyone can receive this booklet by mailing $10 to me at: PO Box 1302, Mount Vernon, OH 43050.Finally, all work and no play isn’t healthy.

Tell us something personal about yourself like your hobbies.

Hmm, good question. I don’t have a declared hobby, but cultivate myriad interests including garage sales, gardening and landscaping, volunteering with the Humane Society, bicycling, playing with my dachshund, Opie (I’m co-authoring a book of devotions for dog lovers), and learning about and watching hummingbirds. I also read anything that interests me, from Cesar Milan’s book on dog behavior, to Stephen King’s book On Writing, to child development research and parenting magazines, to religious publications. I favor devotional books by Oswold Chambers and Max Lucado.

Thanks for this opportunity to share with your readers. It’s been fun, and I hope helpful to everyone.

Author Interview - Pam Davis

When you give God the reins of your life, you never know where He is going to take you. As a writer, I wanted to share the message that has dramatically changed my own life. I envisioned myself reaching women who, like me, were academics but had missed out on the pivotal truth of God’s grace. I informed God of this vision and trusted Him for direction. The fact that I am now devoting a great portion of my time to creating make-believe stories for young girls, dressing dolls, and creating web games is evidence of both His creativity and sense of humor. Allow me to explain.

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

I have one adult non-fiction book and four children’s fiction books coming out in the fall:

Pure Gold: Embracing God’s Grace
Sydney Clair: A Girl ‘n Grace in the 1960’s
Sydney Clair’s Season of Change: A Friendship Story
Mesi: A Girl ‘n Grace in Africa
Mesi’s Season of Change: A Friendship Story

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

My passion is to communicate God’s grace that can be “experientially” known. I had been writing for years in my daily journal for personal discovery. I have had many “what if” moments, where I realized “what if” I would have surrendered my need to be in control and simply believed God’s goodness toward me and reached in faith for his grace. It is these personal discoveries that weave them into fiction story themes.

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

My road to publication has been a long, long one: twenty years. I wrote and published poetry in high school. At 22 after college, I got serious about writing and honed my craft by taking advanced classes on writing. It was twenty years later, at 42, that I received a publisher’s contract for my books: at least there were five contracts. I certainly would have quit had it not been for the inner voice of God compelling me louder and more persistent than the other voice in my head, which persisted in saying that writing was an exercise in futility.

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

Since I write on the subject of God’s grace – Jesus Christ – I feel like I am writing “his” story. If, I get stuck I go back to him and ask “what do you want girls or adults to know about you?” I have never had a time when he hasn’t answered. Then I have editors who help me say it more eloquently.

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

Writing itself has not been difficult for me. It has been all the other things in my life that compete for the attention that good writing requires. I am a wife and mother of three with a part-time job.

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

I believe God has a “what” and a “how” for every situation. “What” he wants us to be about and “how” he wants us to do it. I have been convinced over the last 20 years God’s “what” has been for me to communicate his grace through whatever means he provides and the “how” is to draw upon his grace to do it.

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

I write anywhere on anything. I find God speaks when I’m in the shower or driving down the road. That is when I have to try to remember until I can quickly write it down. I feel like my job is to not lose anything God says, “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).

What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t think I have had a typical day in twenty years. Every plan I have had for writing: so many words per day, or such n such time, has been interrupted. Most days I fall in bed frustrated at all I didn’t accomplish toward writing. Then around 3:00 AM I have been awakened with complete chapters and I go down and write until about 7:00 AM. This during some seasons would happen so regularly that I would begin to conclude that I must write in the middle of the night. As soon as I made that “typical” then nothing, no ideas, just a groggy soul trying to get up.

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

I know the theme, something God has taught me about his grace in my personal journal: Grace is …

I know the time period or locale because I am writing another book in a series, or I am beginning a character’s story from one of our already determined time periods or locales.

So with the theme and the setting determined, I begin researching the needs of that time period or locale. After the needs are exposed I go back and ask God how his grace could have met those needs.

With the theme, setting, and resolution in place, I imagine all the ways I would have tried to meet the needs presented before finally surrendering to God’s grace, therein is the continual storyline: man’s futility apart from God and God’s amazing grace.

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

My favorite books are devotionals that help me see the heart of God: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and The Secret Place of Strength by Marie Chapian.

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

“Quit.” After ten years of trying to get published with no success, I friend said, “quit.” I took their advice and tried to quit. Once I realized I couldn’t quit was when I also realized that I was a writer, maybe not a very good one, but never the less a writer. I didn’t worry about being published any more. I just wrote.

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 knew it, I just wished I would have believed it more: God is in control.

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

The publisher is the one that has been marketing the books.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you are writing for any other reason than you just can’t stop. For example, writing to make money, or writing for fame, or to show people how creative or wise you are, stop! There are easier and quicker ways to accomplish those ends. However, if you are writing because in doing so you find yourself in a state of peace as if you were created to do it, then continue and quit whining. God is capable of getting you published and marketing your books or for providing the grace for you to continue without either one. It is a gift: enjoy it!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rachel Hauck ~ Guest Blogger Revisited

Ten Things I Learned On The Road To Publishing (in no particular order.)

1. Read. Read. Read. While pursuing writing, I stop reading. When I began to read again, I truly believe my writing improved. A lot.

2. Less is more. Writers write, right? We over write many times. I’ve gone through manuscripts and edited like crazy. Or so I thought. But later while reading the published copy, I found many other places where I could’ve tightened my prose. Find a way to state a story point in one finely crafted sentence, then let it stand.

3. Crit partners are nice, but … writing is a solitary job. Writing friend understand the trials we go through, but be careful not to lean too heavily on others. Honing the craft often means grinding out your ideas alone and making them work. Thinking through your story, not counting on others to fix it for you. Too much input can actually hinder the creative process and kill your confidence. Nevertheless, be humble and brave enough to reach out to others for input and help when the time is right.

4. Sitting too long in my chair makes my legs hurt. Don’t forget to get up and move.

5. God is the best writing partner. Develop stories ideas with Him.

6. Networking is key. Most of my major writing strides were made after attending a writers conference and making friends and learning craft. Take advantage of conferences or weekly writer’s meetings.

7. Using writing techniques like newspaper articles or email are good ways to give readers information and advance the story without a long narrative or dialog scene. Sophie Kensella does this well in the Shopaholic books.

8. Discipline your time. Whether you work, are busy raising children or are retired and have all day to write, nothing will happen if you don’t discipline your time. Writing won’t happen outside of sheer determination.

9. Contrasting a characters greatest fear with his/her secret desire is a great way to create inner and external conflict. For Lost In NashVegas, my heroine, Robin Rae McAfee wants to be a songwriter. But she’s afraid to sing in front of people. Her journey is overcoming her fears. It was fun to write.
10. People talk to me all the time about writing. “What do I need to do to get started?” My response? “Backside in chair. No way around it.”

Rachel's new book, Love Starts with Elle, released this month.

Elle's living the dream-but is it her dream or his?
Elle loves life in Beaufort, South Carolina-lazy summer days on the sand bar, coastal bonfires, and dinners with friends sharing a lifetime of memories. And she's found her niche as the owner of a successful art gallery too. Life is good.

Then the dynamic pastor of her small town church sweeps her off her feet. She's never known a man like Jeremiah-one who breathes in confidence and exhales all doubt. When he proposes in the setting sunlight, Elle hands him her heart on a silver platter.

But Jeremiah's just accepted a large pastorate in a different state. If she's serious about their relationship, Elle will take "the call," too, leaving behind the people and place she loves so dearly. Elle's friendship with her new tenant, widower Heath McCord, and his young daughter make things even more complicated.

Is love transferrable across the miles? And can you take it with you when you go?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Author Interview~Pat Brown

Pat resides in Canada. When people ask why she writes, her reply is: "I write to give the little voices inside of me an outlet. Otherwise they'd drive me crazy."

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

I have a novella called Big City Vet coming out from MLR Press later this year. My first published book L.A.Heat has been revised and has just been released..

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 actually started writing at a very young age – in early public school. In high school I wrote really bad poetry, then at 17 I wrote my first book, an angst ridden teen tome about the perils of drugs and promiscuity – this from a teenager who hadn't done anything stronger than marijuana. At 22 I hopped a bus and went to Hollywood in search of 'the dream', only my case it was a desire to write screenplays. I never did learn how to do lunch, so I went back to my real love, writing novels. Being in L.A gave me an incredible background for my book thus what became L.A.Heat was born. Originally I called it Babylon Boneyard, but my publisher thought that was too obscure. I was happy with L.A. Heat, so I'm not complaining. As soon as L.A.Heat was done I knew I had something different. And time proved me right. It got me an agent and a publishing contract soon after. I got the call from my agent just after the new year, 2005. When that phone call came in I was on cloud nine. Thank goodness I had an agent. She wanted to hold out for a bit more money when ever cell in my body was saying 'Sign, sign, sign!' She was right. They paid a bit more. Hey, always listen to your agent.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes, some days worse than others. I just went through a bout of severe doubt that bordered on depression. I'm trying to get a new agent since my last one changed careers and you'd think having had one and being a selling author would count for something but apparently not. It's frustrating and really makes me question whether I have talent. Self-doubt is part of the game, I'm afraid. All you can do is work your way through it. Trust in yourself.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
Not to network enough. I'm extremely shy and don't do well in social settings. When I forced myself to attend writing oriented things – sending my ms in to the Toronto writer in residence for a review then later sending it to the same writer in residence at the Kitchener library I started a chain of events that eventually got me my agent and the publishing contract. If I had stayed in my shell none of that would have happened.

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

Keep writing. Persistence is the key to writing. It's easy to give up. It's hard to press on in the face of rejection.

How do you craft a plot?

I tend to build my plots. They often start out as pretty simplistic things then grow and become more complex as I write. Some fine critiques I've had also help me strengthen weak sections of my plot by pushing me to take chances and go that extra mile. Sometimes it easy to play it safe. In writing today you can't do that. Editors and readers demand you take risks and push your characters.

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

I usually only have the most basic of outlines – I usually know the ending and have an inkling of who the bad guy is and how he's defeated. Sometimes I'll have a couple of key scenes in my head, and maybe a subplot. But a lot of it is organic and grows and changes in the telling. I've even made some radical changes when the book is finished. And my endings often change completely, as has my villain But then I figure if I don't know where I'm going, neither will a reader!

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

Don't trust your publisher to always do what's best for you. They have a lot of authors to promote and decreasing funds and staff to do it with. I missed out on being nominated for a very prestigious award because I trusted the publisher to put me up for it. They didn't – I never heard why but the bottom line is I missed out on that. I could have nominated myself. Chances are I still wouldn't have won, or even got into the shortlist, but at least I could have said I tried.

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

Early in 2007 I became very sick. I collapsed one day and spent the next 6 months in various hospitals. Apparently I almost died. When I got out, I had to learn how to do everything all over. Walk, write, everything. As well, I lost everything from my home, since I was living far from home at the time and had no one around who could go in and save my stuff. I lost all my writing notes and a book I had just started. All that had to be rewritten from memory. I learned the value of a good offsite backup. It was an experience and gave me a whole new appreciation for life. I also lost all the books I had accumulated over the years, a rather painful and costly loss.

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

I can learn technique from writers I admire. I can also get ideas from their books. Chris and David actually came to me because I'm a huge fan of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex and Milo books. It was the first time I had encountered an openly gay cop in a book. The idea fascinated me. But the idea I came up with ended up resembling Milo in no way, shape or form. Outside of both being gay cops they have nothing in common. My two favorite authors who write about gay cops are Neil Plakcy and Josh Lanyon, both writing very different books with very different characters. It just shows there are no new ideas under the sun, just new executions.

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

I'm still very proud of L.A.Heat. I beat the odds of getting book published, I gained a lot of fans, some of whom became friends and I had a lot of fun doing it. I reread it earlier this year, half expecting to find nothing but flaws in it, but to my surprise it stood up. It was fun though getting to rewrite parts of it.

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

Respect your editor. Even if you disagree, do so respectfully. The publishing industry is a very small, insular one. If you get a reputation for being troublesome it will follow you. Be open to suggestions. Many times I've had someone tell me something isn't working or more is needed and my first reaction was to reject their advice. But the more I would think of it the more they seemed right. Sometimes the suggestions you react the strongest against, are the ones that indeed change the story for the better. Don't be afraid to change your story. They're not carved in stone. Even J.K Rowlings edits her work and respects her editor when they suggest changes.

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

At least 3. The first one is usually big and rambling, with everything thrown in and gaping plot holes. I easily go over 120K in length, which is easily 40K bigger than most publishers want. The 2nd draft tries to fix these problems and make the plot flow logically. The final draft is usually done following a critique session with a great online group I belong to. They point out all the problems they have and inconsistencies. During the whole process I never stop doing research (my writing is heavy on the police procedural end of things so I'm always reading about the LAPD and how they do things. I also subscribe to the L.A. Times, though I live in Central Canada, but it keeps me up to date on what's happening in the city of Angels. In the end I never stop tinkering with my story until the day it gets taken way from me. That's why it was such a treat to get to revisit L.A.Heat for the e-book version. I'm one of those writers who love editing.

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?

My biggest tip is Keep it Short. I don't know how many times I've heard of an agent or editor who rejected a submission sight unseen because the query letter was over 2 pages long (1 is even better) Why? Two reasons – tightness matters in todays books, and these people are inundated with thousands of queries a week. In some ways they are looking for an excuse to move on to the next one. I personally hate queries, but I've learned to write them, and I hone them with input from other people in the same boat.

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

Many times. Even recently I wondered who I was kidding that I thought I could write. Fortunately I shared my depression with a good writing friend and he offered me support. It's a passing thing I've found and my need to write borders on a compulsion, so quitting isn't really an option. At one point I did quit, for several years, but the need crept up on me and forced me to get back into it. It's the only thing I've ever actually been addicted to in my life.

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

Do as much as you can, but keep it realistic. Taking out an ad in Publishers Weekly or People might be ego boosting, but probably won't result in tons more sales. I'm a big believer in web sites, blogs and an online presence. I belong to Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Canada, both of which have an email list you can subscribe too. This gives marketing tips and a small chance to promote your books. I also belong to Gay Writers and Readers a great group of fans and writers of gay fiction. I try to keep active in all my groups, keeping my name out there.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

I love hearing from total strangers who read something I did. The most memorable ones are the one who 'get' my characters, or better, who see something in them that I never did and I hear what it is, and think, “Yes! Er, I meant to do that...” But it's great to hear anything. Face it, writing is very solitary and any feedback I can get is a good thing. I actually made a really good online friend through my writing. We correspond all the time and he even helped me with my last book. He reads everything I write and sometimes has great suggestions.

Parting words?

A writer writes. A professional baseball player wouldn't expect to keep his form or ability by sitting around talking about baseball. Nor would a professional pianist. Everything takes practice. Lots of it. So if you're going to be a writer, then write. Leave the talk to all those people you will meet in your life who tell you they could write a book, secure in the knowledge, that no, they couldn't, because they aren't willing to commit the time and headache into doing it. Make no mistake, it's hard work and often thankless. But so very very gratifying in the end. I personally would keep on writing even if you told me tomorrow I'd never get another book published.

Ready to Quit?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Best Bad Guys

by Mike Duran

Building bad guys is a necessary evil... at least, for authors. Stories need antagonists and the more sinister, heartless, cruel and demented, the better. Nothing deflates a tale like a wimpy villain.

Film and literature are filled with memorable baddies. After seeing
The Dark Knight last weekend, I've been thinking lots about the archetypes of evil that populate our collective psyche. Below is a list of some of my all-time faves.

* * *
NORMAN BATES -- Anthony Perkins in Psycho is a shoe-in for the Bad Guy's Hall of Fame. Perkins' perpetually twitchy, peephole-peering, hotel owner set the standard for cinematic headcases. (Alas, the actor was never able to shake the stereotype after Hitchcock got a hold of him.) Meeting Bates' mother is still one of the best film surprises ever, adding a whole new meaning to "momma's boy".

REVEREND HARRY POWELL -- Robert Mitchum in 1955's Night of the Hunter, may be the precursor to today's slasher flick. For its time, however, Mitchum's portrayal of the preacher / serial killer was both mesmerizing and disturbing. Full of biblical proverbs, Powell wanders the countryside on horseback, singing hymns before he offs his next victim. The juxtaposition of innocent faith with calculated deception may be the most creepy part of the entire flick.

CAPTAIN AHAB -- Melville's monomaniacal whale ship captain was immortalized by Gregory Peck in the 1956 John Huston film. The novel, written over 150 years ago, has embedded Ahab in the canon of pop culture as an icon of obsession; the soul-scarred captain would rather sacrifice his entire crew than surrender his search for the White Whale. And you thought Raider fans were myopic.

ANTON CHIGURH -- Last year's Best Supporting Actor award went to Javier Bardem for his portrayal of the professional hitman in No Country for Old Men. The Coen brothers adapted Cormac McCarthy's character into one of the best baddies ever. The robotic sociopath uses a cattle stungun to kill his victims. But it's his dispassionate demeanor and relentless drive that make this man a menace. And, oh, don't forget the bad haircut.

NURSE RATCHED -- From Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Louise Fletcher starred in the Milos Foreman adaptation and nailed the witch, er, woman. Mildred Ratched exercises near tyrannical rule over the mental ward. Like an automaton, she dispenses medication and "therapy" to the boys. The dear Nurse has since become synonymous with institutional coldness and therapeutic malpractice, and was named the fifth greatest villain in film history by the American Film Institute in their series 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains. Here was a woman you just wanted to slap.

HANNIBAL LECHTER -- Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. No list of cinematic bad guys is complete without Hannibal the Cannibal. A thinking man's serial killer, Lechter outsmarted, rather than over-powered his prey. Hopkin's performance brought a chilling eloquence and precision to the character. And Agent Starling's slow walk down the subterranean corridor to Lechter's cell is still one of the great lead-in's in film history. There's a reason this guy is usually at the top of everyone's list of villains... and last on their list of dinner guests.

THE JOKER -- The late Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight is getting much-deserved raves. This Joker is unlike any we've ever seen, a nihilistic freak who's taken his despair to its logical conclusion. The movie is often relentless, due mainly to The Joker's unnerving, no-holds-barred, creepy persona. He doesn't want money or power, he just wants to see the world burn. Ledger's Joker is sure to go down in the annals of big screen villains.

WICKED WITCH IN SNOW WHITE -- Okay, so this is personal. Snow White was the first movie we ever took our daughter Melody to see. She was five years old and we sat in the back of my pickup at the drive-in on a warm SoCal summer night. Melody was mesmerized. She didn't say anything until the very end. After the witch plummets off the cliff and the seven dwarfs waddle off high-fiving, Melody turned and said, "Mean lady fall down." Hey, don't they all?

* * *

So what about you? You got a favorite baddie?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Writing as Chore by Marcia Lee Laycock

My deadline was one hour away and the monitor screen was still blank. It had been a busy week and I hadn’t even started my column. Hadn’t even thought about it. Hadn’t even prayed. I typed the column heading and my name. I stopped. I clicked into my “ideas” file. Nothing inspired me. I went upstairs for a glass of water and decided my plants needed watering. I tidied up the living room. Half an hour later I went back to the computer. The screen was still blank. Finally, I prayed. Or rather, I whined. “Lord, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Maybe it’s time I just quit.” I was really asking for permission.

What came to mind was a story a Bible translator told me in Papua New Guinea. The translation work had not been going well. Then he got Dengue Fever. Then he ran out of food and had to almost literally crawl two miles to an airstrip only to discover the plane had been too full and couldn’t bring his supplies. He decided he couldn’t take any more. He went back to the village and told his national assistant he was quitting. The man nodded with understanding, then said, “But you must understand, I cannot quit this work. It is what God wants me to do.”

Those words were a rebuke to my missionary friend that day. The memory was a rebuke to me now. I put my hands on the keyboard and started to type. I deleted most of what I wrote for the next half-hour, but then a sentence came. Ah, I thought. Another followed and I had that assurance. Yes. Go with that. The column was a bit past deadline, and I thought it seemed a bit plain. But I copied and pasted it into an email and hit the send button.

The responses flooded back.
“You couldn’t have known ...”
“This gave me the courage to change ...”
“Thank you for putting this into words that helped …”

Some of them made me weep. All of them left me humbled by God’s work.
Sometimes writing is a chore. But we cannot quit. It is what God wants us to do.

Saturday’s Poll

Many writers struggle whether to write to market or to write what is termed “the book of their heart.”

The book to market is deemed as easier to place, as it has a defined genre and audience. The book of the heart tends to be more of a risk—perhaps its a story that haunts the author, or holds special significance.

Often, the fear is that if they don’t write to market, the time will have been wasted. So this week poll asks:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Guest Blogger ~ Jenny B. Jones and YA Writing

Jenny B. Jones is the author of the Katie Parker Production series, including the latest release The Big Picture. She is currently writing her next YA series for Thomas Nelson. When Jenny’s not slaving away at the keyboard or watching useless television researching, she’s teaching enthralled freshmen who hang on her every word and cry when class is over. You can visit her here .

How To Know If You’re a YA Writer

Just like not everyone is born to be a super model (not that I relate), not all people are destined to be YA authors. Sometimes it takes some hard introspection to determine if you are up for the calling. So how do you know if the young adult market is your perfect fit? Allow me to offer up some clues.

1. You find yourself using the words “like,” “totally,” and “so” so totally much that people get annoyed with you. Recently a student informed me that I talked like a surfer. I’m from Arkansas.

2. You have a subscription to Teen Vogue and know the name of Paris’s dog, Miley’s sister, and Lindsay’s hair stylist. None of these topics will mesh themselves well into normal adult conversation by the way. It seems that other people enjoy talking about politics and world affairs. Yawwwn!

3. You know the laws for getting a drivers license in at least three different states.

4. The teenagers around you are sick of you asking them questions and have started charging by the hour for their consultation services.

5. Sarcasm is your second language. Eye rolls are your specialty.

6. You understand that drama comes in many forms—from break-ups, to abuse, to picking the wrong lipstick color. None are to be taken lightly.

7. If you’re writing for the male population, you have sacrificed much time and billable work hours for “research” on Wii, Halo, and skate boarding mags. You know about Master Chief and can also pop an ollie when necessary.

8. You’ve learned that screaming can be lyrical after all. And sometimes—when the moon is full, the stars are in alignment, and it’s high tide, you can actually decipher a word or two in a song.
9. You know Fall Out Boy is NOT the name of your grandpa’s new geriatric tub.

10. You’ve accepted the fact that 80s clothes are retro, but blue frosty eye shadow has still not made a comeback.

11. You are aware that Twilight is not just a time of evening.

12. The names Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, and Zac Ephron are synonymous with cool. Except that cool is no longer cool. It’s hot. No, make that hott.

13. You know that da bomb is dead. Hottie is a definite nottie. And it’s okay to LOL when you IDK.

If any of these things sound familiar, I’m afraid you have YA writer blood coursing through your veins. The only known cures are writing a novel or watching a weekend marathon of Hannah Montanna. One of the two will get something out of your system and surely annoy all those who claim you.

In the meantime, grab a few YA books, even if you KNOW you are not born to write them. Today’s young adult novels are not your old Sweet Valley High’s. They’re funny, tear-jerkers, intense, and packed with fast-moving plots. We have more adults reading the stuff than ever before. But now if you’ll excuse me—I totally have to go IM my BFF.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Author Interview ~ Marcia Gruver

Marcia Gruver is a full time writer who hails from Southeast Texas. Inordinately enamored by the past, Marcia delights in writing historical fiction. Her deep south-central roots lend a Southern-comfortable style and a touch of humor to her writing.

Marcia won third place in the 2007 ACFW Genesis contest and third in the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme contest. Another entry in 2004 finished in the top ten. She placed second in the 2002 Colorado Christian Writer’s contest for new authors, securing a spot in an upcoming compilation book. “I Will Never Leave Thee,” in For Better, For Worse—Devotional Thoughts for Married Couples, was released by Christian Publications in January 2004.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Fellowship of Christian Writers, and The Writers View—and a longstanding member of ACFW Crit3 and Seared Hearts, her brilliant and insightful critique groups. Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband, Lee, have one daughter and four sons. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with ten grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

Diamond Duo, the first book in my Texas Fortunes series will debut on October 1st. It’s a story of second chances through God’s grace—woven around a real unsolved murder that took place in 1877 Jefferson, Texas. Book two, Chasing Charity (April 2009), and book three, Emmy’s Equal (no release date set), will follow.

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

Coincidentally, ‘what if’ is exactly how I describe the moment I decided to write Diamond Duo. I love to find little out-of-the-way places and delve into their history. There’s always someone willing to tell you a good story involving fascinating events laced with quirky characters. In Diamond Duo, I used the murder of a prostitute named Diamond Bessie. While standing over Bessie’s grave in Jefferson, Texas, assuming her eternal fate, I suddenly wondered, “What if?” What if God had arranged a totally different end than anyone would expect for this poor lost soul?

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I got a late start. I had reached that stage in life where a woman has a lot of time on her hands, and it seemed a desire to write just sprang out of nowhere. So I sat down to pen the Great American Novel. Not far into it, I realized I needed to change directions. Up to that point, I had submitted every aspect of my life to the Lord, so why not writing? I scrubbed the project I’d started and began to write a novel based on Christian values. In 2002, I attended my first Christian writer’s conference. While there, I realized God had called me to write. At the 2007 ACFW Conference in Dallas, Texas, Barbour Publishing presented me with my first contract. It was also the first time Barbour had ever given a three-book contract at the conference. I’m still in awe of that fact and trying my best to live up to the confidence they’ve placed in me.

Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I went through a terrible period right after I turned in Diamond Duo. It was time to shift my focus to the next book in the series, only I couldn’t put together a coherent word. For awhile, I feared the deadline pressure and endless editing had burned out my allotment of writer brain cells. I finally gave up fighting and sort of went with it. After about a week, my brain refreshed and the fire returned. I was good to go on book two.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?

Plot, characters, and POV have always been pretty easy for me. Consistency is my battle. I long to crank out that elusive ten pages per day, but life tends to tap me on the shoulder and pull me away. That has a lot to do with five kids and ten grandchildren. I won’t complain about that.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room?

I have three desks. One has a very nice desktop computer with an extra large screen set up for me. For some reason, I wind up curled in the corner of the sofa squinting at my laptop.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

As I mentioned above, I strive to set goals. I really do. And it depends on what I’m doing. First draft free-for-alls go much quicker than the painstaking third or forth edits.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A cup of tea with hubby, answering emails, breakfast, hubby out the door, Bible study time, a guilty hour of TV, then off with the set and on with the show. That’s my perfect day. Sometimes the order gets scrambled, but if I can stick to that schedule I get things done. Housework? What’s that?

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

Boy, has that evolved. I used to be a ‘fly by the seater’ all the way. After experimenting with Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake, I got hooked on working around a loose plan. Then I bought some writer software that made plotting a breeze. Now I’m working through Karen S. Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days—and I’m a born-again plotter. These days, I don’t think I’d do it any other way. I like knowing exactly where I’m going, and I’ve learned plotting still leaves God plenty of wiggle room to work His will.

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?

Not written by me? Shoot! Okay, I devoured Linda Nichols books, At the Scent of Water and Not A Sparrow Falls. In Search of Eden is next. In other words, anything by Linda Nichols. I loved Patricia Sprinkle’s The Remember Box and Carley’s Song. They’ll be my favorites forever. Haven’t read anything more recent of hers, but I plan to soon. Some of my favorite reading lately comes through emails from my critique group. They’re mostly all writing cozies for Heartsong Presents Mysteries, and I’m having a blast trying to guess who dunnit.

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

“It’s not about you.” Can’t remember who said it, but it sure took a lot of pressure off when I realized God was behind me, and He would accomplish His plan. I firmly believe that if you’re going to stand up and call yourself a Christian writer, you need to have a burning desire to impart the message you feel God has given you. You need to know you are called. Otherwise it’s just words on paper.

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?

In writing: I wish I’d understood branding. I think there are authors out there who aren’t bound by the constrictions of branding. They’ve proven successful across the board. For me, I can see the sense in sticking to one genre, especially after you’ve created a fan base. If I’d learned that beforehand, I wouldn’t have computer files filled with women’s fiction, action adventure, and suspense. I would’ve focused all the time, effort, and 100K word manuscripts into fine-tuning my chosen genre.

In publishing: I wish I’d understood sooner that editors and agents are just people. Most of them are very good people. That might’ve saved me a lot of anxiety and chewed fingernails in my early editor/agent appointments!

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

I’m just beginning to learn the finer points of marketing. I can hear you saying, “With your book releasing in October, it’s about time!” and you’re right. At first glance, marketing seemed a high precipice with insurmountable peaks. Out of necessity, I’m making friends with it now. So far we’re getting along okay. It’s hard, but I think getting your name in front of people is the first step. I’m an introvert by nature, so it’s quite a turnaround from my lifelong habit of lurking in corners.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Follow God, not your heart. Unless you’ve asked Him to give you the desires of your heart, those desires can get you into real trouble. Ambition and self-promotion can only take you so far, and at the risk of a long, hard fall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Author Interview ~ Thomas Phillips

Thomas Phillips is a voracious reader and prolific writer. He uses his accomplishments as a motivational backdrop for speaking at school assemblies.
Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist and currently works full time as an employment law paralegal. When he isn’t writing, Phillips plays guitar, is active at his church, coaches his children’s Little League teams, co-leads Ink Spots and Coffee Grounds—a creative writing group, and plots his next story. The Molech Prophecy is his first published Christian novel.

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

Well, Ane, my first Christian suspense novel, The Molech Prophecy, was recently released from Whitaker House (July 2008). They are also reviewing my second submission, a work I call, Convicted. And as any writer, I suppose, I have another completed manuscript as well as two others I am slaving away at. My hope is that Whitaker House will be so impressed with Molech Prophecy sales that they won’t be able to pass on any of the others!

You told me you published 5 mystery novels as Phillip Tomasso in the secular market. In 2003, you changed to the CBA. Are you finding much difference? How has the change affected your writing?

In April 2003, I became a Christian. It was bad timing for my then-publisher. My first hardcover had recently been released, and I decided not to do much to promote it. As a new Christian, I was confident that the works I’d written [previously] did nothing to bring honor and glory to God. At that point, I quit writing, more or less. Eventually, I got into writing weekly devotionals for my church’s e-newsletter.

In late 2005, I began a journey into a deep, dark valley. I felt like God was testing me. As time went on, I realized, the valley only got deeper and darker. In the fall of 2006, I was … I hate to use the word … inspired to write a new mystery novel. But this would be a Christian themed work.

I believe that God allowed me to work my way out of the valley, somewhat, through writing. Only this time, He wanted me to write books that glorified Him (and not just feed my own insatiable need for fame).

When I completed the manuscript, I managed to sign with an awesome agent and she placed the work with Whitaker House in just a few months.

See, my earlier works were all released through small presses. Overall sales were small. But, at the time, I was happy to be publishing at all.

The big difference is that for the first time, I’ve landed a large publisher. An awesome publisher, I might add. And I believe that this happened because I’ve changed from secular to Christian writing. I like to believe that God is blessing this new ministry I’ve undertaken, and that, perhaps, He is more pleased with my writing than He has been in the past.

The key, however, will still be visibility. Getting my name out there. There are so many talented suspense writers. Before, for me, it was about competition. Now, it’s not. It’s about spreading a message. Sharing my faith through my stories in some way. And I’ve talked with some great writers (James Scott Bell, Mark Mynheir, Eric Wilson) who have been nothing but supportive and helpful.

I want to be sure I answer the questions. There is a difference. It’s not about making money. Not this time around. Sure, I’d love to make my living writing full time. What writer wouldn’t? But I’m not consumed with that thought – the way I used to be.

And I think my latest works are some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. You always hear writers say things like, You have to write for you. That was the old me. Now, when I write it is for me, yes, but for others, as well. And although I guarantee my characters are flawed, and like real people, there will always be God’s presence in power, and love in fit in between the pages. I didn’t have that before. Thankfully, I have that now.

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

The Molech Prophecy starts with the discovery of the defacing of a church building. This happened here in Rochester to one church in particular, the church I went to. Not once. But twice. It was a new building. To see the black spray paint on the bricks was gut-wrenching. No one was ever caught. And so … a story the story was hatched …

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

I grew up with a reading disability. It wasn’t until I was in seventh grade that I actually read a complete novel. It was S.E. Hinton’s, The Outsiders. Always a storyteller, I realized, if Hinton could inspire me to want to read, then maybe I could write books and inspire others … maybe reach those reluctant readers …

I knew that Hinton was 16 years old when she wrote that first, amazing novel. So I set a goal. I swore I’d sell a first book before turning 30. That gave me roughly sixteen years to play with.

When I turned twenty-five I found an ad in Writer’s Digest for a new, western-themed Canadian magazine looking for short-stories. I’d never written a western. I gave it a shot. When I submitted my 8,500 word piece, I wasn’t holding my breath.

Two months later, I received a contract and check in the mail. The publication paid $.01 per word. $85! (Remember, this is Canadian money at a time when the American dollar was worth more…) I cashed the check, getting $43.00. I was so excited; I took my family out to celebrate. I told them they could Super-size the whole order!

I went on to sell more than 30 short stories over the next five years. But had no luck finding a home for my novel. At age 29, I got a call from a small press that – during a move – had misplaced my manuscript. They found it. Read it. And if it was still available, wanted to publish it. The book was released February 2000. I turned 30 that June.

When you switched to inspirational suspense, was the journey long to find a publisher?

Gratefully, no. I finished the manuscript in early 2007. I signed with an agent a month or so later, and she found a home with Whitaker House by late summer 2007. I don’t know that that happens very often, but I’ll tell you I was thrilled when it did!

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

I have been very fortunate. Ideas fill my head, and any spare scarp of paper within arm's reach. Ironically, I teach creative writing classes at local Barnes & Nobles, and to students in Middle and High School. I write every day, even if only for ten minutes. And I read all the time. I believe keeping active this way has helped keep me from blocking up. However, I do find it hard sometimes to get back into the swing after a lengthy break from writing. What I do then is go back a few pages and read over what I’d already written, sit back, crack my knuckles and dive back in …

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you or was when you first started on your novel journey?
That is a great question. When I write a novel, I know the end before I begin. I also have a lot of the in-between stuff worked out, as well. This, I think, keeps me from writing myself into a corner I can’t get out of.

Despite the importance of the mystery itself, I actually believe my books focus more on the characters. The story, ultimately, is about them. The mystery is just a means, a vehicle to get my main character from point A to point B. So I try to spend a lot of time on developing my characters. Are some flat? I’m sure some are. I do try my best to make even minor characters as real as possible.

For me, I struggle most with two things. Writing the first chapter, and writing the last.

A reader has got to be hooked right away. And if I can’t do that on the first page, my book will get passed over.

Molech Prophecy, I will admit, contains a first chapter that might not grab hold of a reader right off the bat. But the first chapter – the way it is written – is essential.

The last chapter has to wrap things up. No lose ends. And yet, it can’t be Brady Bunch style. That’s not real. That’s not acceptable. Not to me. Life doesn’t work that way.

Ensuring I have a complete resolution is important. Making sure my characters remain true, is equally important. In Convicted, (should it see publication), will shock many readers. There is not a Brady Bunch ending.

How did or do you climb out of said hole?

I sketch out my outlines in narrative to make sure I have clear direction.

And I sketch out my characters, as well. I am a people watcher. You can often times find me at the mall, sitting in the food court, watching people. Taking notes. Straining to listen to the different ways people express themselves.

I also flip through magazines and find models that I think look like the characters I’ve created in my head.

I then create a complete historic bio for each and every character, pasting a cut-out of the model representing them.

I flesh out the narrative outline as much as possible, arrange my character portfolios out nicely on the table, and then I get down to work …

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

I mostly write at a Starbucks in a local Barnes & Noble. I try to go three to four times a week. Usually after work. I spend anywhere from 1 to 3 hours plugging away.

I write at home, too. But not as much. Too many distractions. TV. Refrigerator. Napping on the sofa.

I go to Starbucks armed with my MP3 player. I order a large, regular coffee, and ask that the server leave room for loads of sugar and cream (which they never do, ah-hum). I find a table in a corner, or by a window, and sit facing everyone. With my music on loud, my feet tapping, knee bobbing, I write – lost in my own world. Some people think that would be distracting, writing in public, listening to music as loud as I do … but I find it has the opposite effect. It is inspiring.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Typical? Oh, I wish I had a much fancier answer for this one. Well, on a typical weekday I get up every morning around 5:00 AM. I play with my kitten for a little bit, while I start the coffee pot brewing. I get to work before 6:00 (I work full time as an employment law paralegal).

In the summer, spring and fall, I take lunch out on the High Falls Bridge, over looking the Genesee water falls … (this is one of a few rivers that flows south to north). I get out of work at 3:00. When my kids don’t have a baseball, football or basketball game or practice, I head to Starbucks to write for a few hours. I head home and usually veg-out in front of the television. I watch a ton of movies. And am hooked on only a handful of TV shows (dare I list them? LOST, 24, The Office, and … yepper … American Idol).

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?

5-10 thousand words a day? God bless them! I’m happy if I can churn out 2-3 thousand usable words. I tend to write, write, write and worry about editing and tweaking and re-writing after. My goal is to get the story down. Then fix it. I know writers who strain and struggle over every single word choice. Watching them write is like watching people play chess, or worse – like watching golf on TV. I’d rather write the book, and then concentrate on smoothing sentences, and such. But hey, that’s just me!

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

I gave you some of it earlier. I get an idea (rarely from dreams, lol). I draft out a narrative synopsis, and then work on what characters will be needed. Central characters. I don’t use a formal outline. I do not plot and plan chapters ahead of time. I put my characters on a Word page. My summary on another. Clues and Red Herrings on a third. I keep a list of places (restaurants, clubs, etc.) with descriptions and directions – like a map, almost – on yet another.

I know the beginning, the middle and the end before I start writing. So as I write I toggle back and forth between my tip-sheets until I am so familiar with my characters, my plot and my setting, it is like second nature. I have a handful of close friends, may are writers, who I will send chapters to for immediate feedback. Usually this is more toward the completion of the manuscript.

When the book is done, I print out a copy and red-pen edit the work. I can’t edit by looking at my lop-top screen. Words look too perfect on the screen. The mistakes don’t jump out at me. When I edit, I read the work out loud. I try to touch each word with the tip of the pen. These techniques make it, for me, much easier to detect wrong verb tenses, and test the validity of dialogue. I am a sentence fragment king. I. Love. Them. Right. Or. Wrong.

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

The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, That Was Then This Is Now, Tex – these are by S.E. Hinton. They were the first four books I ever read. They are still my favorites. Travis Thrasher’s The Second Thief blew me away.

I love James Scott Bell and Randy Singer. Legal thrillers have always been a favorite of mine. And these two others write legal thrillers that surpass works by the likes of John Grisham. (Although, I like him, too).

I love James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels, with their fast, short chapters—you read ‘em quick. I’m a big horror fan. I have read everything by Stephen King and Dean Koontz, Robin Cook and John Saul. I am not one for the classics, although Huxley’s A Brave New World, and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men are two that I enjoyed very much. But my favorites … the first four I mentioned, lol!

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

I am going to mess this quote up. Not sure who said it. Everything that doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. And later on you can use it in some story. I think it was Tapani Bagge who said that. (But don’t quote me). But I think it is true. Everything that happens in my life, I incorporate in some way into the pieces I write. Rarely do I use exact-anything. But it is bits and pieces that make up a scene, or character, or event. And although I still find myself trapped in this … valley … I wonder if it isn’t helping me, in some unfortunate way, to continue writing the books I’ve been writing. If I come out of the valley, will the creative flow … stop?

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

There was a time when writers, most of introverts, could write and write and never have to come out of our log cabin in the woods—except to trek down to the village post office in order to send out manuscripts. But not anymore. Publishers expect writers to Be the marketing team.

I’m good with this. My publisher is currently working hard to market and advertise my new novel. But so am I. I’ve joined sites like, Myspace and Shoutlife and ACFW. I contact radio stations and newspapers and bookstores and libraries. I solicit endorsement blurbs from other, more established authors. I try to get reviews from book review magazines.

I have, on my car, a Molech Prophecy bumper sticker on the rear, Book Cover Magnets on the driver and passenger side doors, and a window decal on the rear window. My vehicle is, for all intent and purposes, The Molech Prophecy Mobile.

I wear a ball cap with the book cover on it. I carry business cards in my wallet, have ‘fridge magnets … I hand these out, everywhere. When I eat at a restaurant, along with my tip I leave a business card that has the book cover on it … I lead and co-lead creative writing classes, speak at schools … As far as I know, all of these things work. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep at them! (Want a bumper sticker? Just ask!)

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Dedication. Drive. Discipline. I knew these were important. But when I was younger, I did not take them serious enough. A lot of getting published is based on timing. Writing the right piece, at the right time, getting it in front of the right editor/agent, when they are in the right mood for exactly what you’ve written. Being a published author is only a small fraction of the whole equation. The writing itself – that’s the journey. I stressed out about getting published so much that it ruined the fun of … getting there. I wish I would have taken my time.

And Ane, I’ve enjoyed your questions and just want to thank you for this awesome opportunity to talk (write, whatever). Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tribute to Kristy Dykes

Kristy Dykes

August 2, 1951 ~ July 21, 2008

We just learned that our fellow-author and sister is now with our Savior. We’ll miss more than her trademark greeting from Florida as she was one of the sweetest women in the CBA. We encourage you to leave a comment for her husband and family on her blog Christian Love Stories.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ellen Tarver ~ Line Editor for Barbour Publishing

Ellen Tarver does line editing for Barbour Publishing as well as her own business

What is a Line Editor’s job?

That depends on which Line Editor you ask! My definition of line editing is very simple: making sure every sentence is clearly understandable and free of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, and that the manuscript makes sense.

The manuscript makes sense if it has believable characters and dialogue, a realistic timeline, and a plausible storyline, with no loose threads or inconsistencies.

What do you wish an author/writer knew about the job of a Line Editor?

That line editing and proofreading are two different things. For example, a line editor doesn’t check to make sure you’ve used the right format for footnotes, or that you’ve chosen the right font for your manuscript. It’s also not developmental editing—I don’t talk about story arcs or dialogue tags with you.

How much interaction do you have directly with the author?

I have a great deal of interaction with authors who personally use my service—the ones who find me through word-of-mouth or my website. We may email back and forth dozens of times before I finish the final edit.

What books do you recommend to help an author sharpen their grammar skills?

I use a handy little volume written by Kathy Ide of The Christian Pen fame—Polishing the “PUGS.” It’s full of easy-to-find basics and puts the answers to those pesky questions about “punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling” right at my fingertips. I never can remember whether it’s “compliment” or “complement”!

Do you have a list of the most common mistakes you see in a manuscript and would you share some?

Miracles happen in most authors’ manuscripts! It’s the funniest thing! Blue eyes become green, the day after Friday is Tuesday, July is seven weeks long, and people teleport from outside to inside without moving. Punctuation and spelling errors happen all the time, too, but they’re a whole lot less interesting.

Tell us about the process of line editing. How long does it take, etc.

I try to give my authors a fast turnaround time. Depending on the length of the manuscript, the time I work with it can vary from two days to about a week. I read slowly through a manuscript, outlining the timeline and making a detailed list of information about each character. I then read through it again, going over each sentence for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. It’s also on this run-through that I think about the beginning based on the end—I can make suggestions for character or plot development, I can catch consistency or timeline errors, and I pay obsessively close attention to the believability of the dialogue and storyline. I send the manuscript back to the author at this point; if they have independently contracted this work with me, that’s usually the end of it. If they send it back to me to go to the publishing house I work for, I will read it through one more time to make sure it’s an error-free copy edit.

Is there a standard you go by, or is that set according to publishing house?

I go by the Chicago Manual of Style, as does the publishing house I work for.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

YA Interview ~ Nancy Hull

Nancy L. Hull extensively researched the history and visited many of the places described in her novel, On Rough Seas. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she teaches in the English Department at Calvin College.

Tell us about your current project:

My first novel was just released. It’s a historical fiction book set in Dover, England, a town that rests right below the famous White Cliffs of Dover. The story follows Alec Curtis as he tries to get beyond a tragedy that nearly destroys him and his relationships. Alec is stubborn and impulsive. He’s also driven to do the right thing. Sometimes those characteristics clash and bring him trouble—and sometimes he finds adventure with the trouble. He’s also surrounded by war talk, as England declares war on Germany and becomes a major player in WWII. In his adventures, Alec finds work as a galley boy on a ship, and he meets Eva, a character he’s not quite sure about. It’s a story that blends contemporary issues with historical facts. The war that surrounds the novel provides a mysterious backdrop to the war that is brewing inside Alec.

What are the highlights of your journey to publication?

When I was in England doing research with our son, an older man approached us and asked what had brought us to Dover. When I told him about the book, he said, “That’s interesting. I was a lad of 14 and lived in Dover during WWII.” I looked at my son, smiled, and took out my notepad and pencil. Then, we stood together on the shores of the English Channel, and I took notes as he described the town and told me about the British troops that had been billeted there. It was a moment where I felt affirmation about this project. What are the odds of being in England for the first time, visiting Dover for a few hours, and having someone introduce himself and share the information he did? It was a blessed moment.

Like many writers, I sent the novel out to a number of publishers and received letters that commented on “strong writing” or “engaging details” but then said it “wasn’t what we’re looking for right now.” So when the phone call came on a hot August day in 2006 (five years after I had begun), I could not believe it was true. In fact, I said to Virginia, “This is Nancy Hull. You’re sure you’ve got the right person?” She laughed and said, “Yes,” and we talked a few more minutes about revision and deadlines, and then hung up. And I put my head in my hands and I wept—grateful for all the nights I had stayed up to work, for all the people who had believed in me, for the moment when I heard “We want to buy this book.”

Why do you write for young people?

I’ve been a teacher for several years and worked with my husband for 15 years as youth directors in our church, and I’ve always loved kids. Also, growing up with four siblings—all of us teenagers at one time—I enjoyed the banter that we could have over any number of topics. I still remember those youthful, impulsive conversations we would have. Young people are sometimes brutally honest and yet lively. I like those traits. Some of my best memories are from teaching middle school where I never knew what someone was going to say or do. I want to write to that audience of readers.

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

My parents grew up in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, and every year we would pack our station wagon and head south for two weeks of vacation with extended family. One summer, before we left on our trip, I read a novel titled The Shepherd of the Hills, and then that summer we visited the area where the novel was set in southern Missouri. I can still picture “Sammy’s Rock,” a place where the young female protagonist would sit to gaze into the valley (or holler, as it was called in the book). And we toured the land around Old Matt’s Cabin where Sammy’s father (a rough, shady character) lived. As a teenager, reading that novel and then visiting its setting combined to have a profound effect on me. I was amazed that a writer could put all the pieces together and create a story that gripped its readers. I’ll never forget it. Of course, I also read the popular Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries where smart young women were ALWAYS in the middle of solving the crime. Those books were like candy; they were a quick bite but very sweet.

What prepared you to write for children?

I’m not sure I would ever say that I am fully prepared to write for children. However, growing up in a big family with two older brothers and two younger sisters gave me many memories and topics. Also, teaching middle school and high school early in my career put me in classrooms every day, surrounded by kids who were always willing to talk about their families, their fears, their joys, their sorrows. I just try to listen well and read a lot—particularly other books written for young people.

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

Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River is a forever favorite. I love his characters and their distinctive voices, and I love the way the story seems to roll along, like a river, over rocky times and through quiet valleys. I’ve also been a long-time fan of John LeCarre (The Spy Who Came In From the Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). I like plots that surprise me, and his stories frequently catch me unprepared. In young adult literature, Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie grabbed my attention with one of the best opening lines ever. Edward Bloor’s London Calling expertly brings WWII and contemporary times together in a novel about a kid who loved his grandmother, wants to love his father, and can’t seem to get himself out of his basement. But Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird was my first introduction to spunky characters, and she has held first place ever since.

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

Best advice: Young adults are discerning readers. Don’t talk down to them, but give them a slice of life that they can recognize in the pages on your novel.

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

First, I read other works to be sure there’s an audience for the book. If others have written on a similar topic with a similar story, then I’ll go to another idea or tweak the setting. Initially, I’m thinking about who would read this book and why. Those are my first steps. Then, particularly with historical fiction, I start the research to see if what I want to do can be done and enjoyed by young people.

You spoke at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith & Writing this past April. When leading workshops, what is the primary idea you want writers to walk away with?

Whenever I speak about writing, whether it is in a workshop or a first-year composition course, I try to convey to listeners that writing is the hardest work I do—and the most gratifying. And I want them to believe that they can learn the craft as well. Like most skills, writing requires diligence and attention to detail, but with focused practice, we can all improve.

What are the special joys and challenges of writing historical fiction for children (young adults)?

A primary challenge is including enough details to be faithful to the history but not so many details that readers get bogged down with numerous characters or events. Readers (children and adults) also need to find something within the story that touches them—something that prompts them to say “Yeah, I know about that. I had almost the same thing happen to me.” Also, if a novel is set in the 1940s, then (as one editor told me) it needs to “shout” 1940s. So being true to the time period is imperative. But the joys outweigh the difficulties. I LOVE the research. Also, when a reader asks, “Are there really tunnels there?” the writer rejoices to know someone has actually read the book.

Do you have a favorite quotation related to writing?

One day a colleague at Calvin taped this statement (by E. L. Doctorow) on my computer screen: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You never see further than your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” So, so true.

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?

Frankly, I struggle with all of these components, perhaps because each depends on the other to enhance the narrative. If I’m writing historical fiction, but the setting is not that far removed from contemporary times, then my characters’ voices will fail as well. But I confess that making characters real and distinct—that problem keeps me awake at night. However, reading strong stories told by other writers—many, many stories—helps me find my own voice and voices for my characters.

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

I do most of my writing in an office at home that my husband designed and built for me. With two large windows that face the East, the space is bright and warm in the early morning hours when I prefer to write. I’m surrounded by lots of books and trinkets of travels and family fun. Most days, when I’m not teaching, I can work for three to four hours without stopping unless our youngest son, who is a drummer in a band, is home from touring. Then I have to be prepared for the moment he jumps into my office (this happened just last evening) to plug in a CD for me to hear his double bass drumming. As I say to my friends when they ask about how my writing is going: “Life interrupts sometimes. Thank God, I have a life that provides such interruptions.” When the morning is done, I’ll often lace up my running shoes for a run along a nearby river, and I always mull over one writing problem I’m encountering. Typically, by the time I’m home, the problem is resolved, and I make the changes in the draft the next morning.

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

Without a doubt, I would want my colleague Gary Schmidt’s work ethic. Honestly, the man is so diligent; he gets more done in a day than anyone I know.

Your current work in progress is. . .

It’s another historical fiction novel set in the South soon after the War between the States, but its characters will have suffered the effects of the war as they piece together their lives and make their own peace in the process.

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

Well, I’m a rookie in this area. The publicist asked me for a list of local bookstores, and advance copies went to those places. And I did follow up with a call to a couple of stores just to tell them I was a local author. I’ve had one book signing that was well attended (Shout out to family and friends), and I spoke at a couple of schools before the year ended. Beyond that, I am just hopeful that folks will read the reviews and then pick up the book.

Do you have a dream? Something you’d like to achieve with your writing?

Three dreams have already been met: someone liked the book enough to publish it; my sons have both read it; and my 80-year-old father introduced me the other day as a writer. What could be better than a life like that? But like most writers, I am dreaming that the next novel will make a reader smile in approval when the last word is read and the cover is closed.