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Monday, September 29, 2008

Author Interview ~ Michelle Stimpson

In addition to her work in the field of education, Michelle ministers through writing and public speaking. Her other works include Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), Breaking Bondage to Biscuits, the upcoming young adult release, Trouble In My Way, and several short stories. Michelle serves in the Creative Tyme Ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. She lives near Dallas with her husband and their two teenage children. Visit Michelle online at

Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?

For the novel, thankfully, it didn't take very long. I sent if off to two publishers. The first one said "no," the second one said that the book had potential, but it also had a lot of problems. She was kind enough to tell me what those problems were. I worked on the manuscript for about 5 months and resubmitted it. The second time around, she signed it. I do have my fair share of rejection letters for short stories.

Do you think an author is born or made?

I'm not so sure about that one. The writing snob in me wants to say that TRUE writers are born. But I've run into so many great writers who kind of stumbled onto a good story and penned it, and fell in love with writing later that I'm re-thinking this whole born-to-write thing.What is the first book you remember reading? I don't remember the title, but I know it was the Ramona Beasley book where either Ramona or her little brother squeezes out all the toothpaste. That cracked me up!

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

I tour every year with six other faith-based authors, and we've become pretty close over time. I find that we're all pretty easy to get along with and we're always finding "stories" in everything. The quirkiest thing, however, is that because I know them, I have a hard time reading their books because I hear their voices in my head. It's weird!

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

When I'm writing something that I believe will be a success, I feel that I have a close relationship with the characters. I know them, I love (or hate) them, I feel like I'm in a relationship with them as I write. When I feel that strongly about characters and what's happening to them, it's all good. Let me add, though, that there is a mysterious feeling I get with every book when I'm about 2/3 of the way through writing. I hate it! I can't stand it! I think it's stupid and I just know that no one on earth is going to want to read it! I'm learning, however, that that's part of the process. I simply must force myself to see all the good in the book and stick it out; finish it. Now that I'm thinking about it, this is pretty much how relationships go - every relationship loses its innocence at some point. Sometimes you just have to focus on the good, stick it out, and you'll fall back in love with it again.

What is the theme of your latest book?

Well, I've got two that are coming out at almost the same time with two different publishers (big no-no, I hear). The first one is The Good Stuff - it centers around marriage, forgiveness, and surrender.The second is Trouble In My Way. It's a mother-daughter kind of book starring a 16-year-old main character. With this book, I really wanted to focus on the character's identity. She's the daughter of a minister and struggles with who she is spiritually and socially.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

This may sound weird, but I avoid critique groups when I'm in the process of writing. When I emerge from the office with a complete manuscript, I'm ready for critique. But when I'm in the process, I can't take it. I find that if I start seeking other people's thoughts, I start stalling - I spend more time driving to the writer's group than actually doing any writing. I do bounce ideas off of other writers as I'm planning for a novel, and I'm totally open to people tearing my work apart because I'm pretty sure I can rebuild it. But the middle part is sacred.

Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?

Definitely. When people finish my book, I want them to feel like they're a little better off for having read my book. Maybe they understand themselves better, maybe they understand their daughter or their mother better. Ultimately, I want their faith to be strengthened.

When do you know you've got the finished product and it's your best effort?

I have to steal from James Frey - author of "How to Write a Damn Good Novel." He says that you will know when your work is finished because you will want to throw up when you look at it. At that point, re-writing doesn't make things any better - you're just moving things around; changing "sleepy" to "drowsy" and "happy" to "elated" which, is probably an overstatement.Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books? As I was writing my first novel (Boaz Brown - interracial romance) I had to really check myself about some deep-seated views I inherited from my father (whom I lovingly refer to as the black Archie Bunker). I did a series of little "experiments" to explore discrimination from the black side of the fence. I had an African-American neighbor who had just moved across the street from me, and she had walked past several other houses and come to me to for the African-American perspective on our neighborhood. I proceeded to tell her about our neighbors in very non-ethnic ways: "Oh, the people at that house have two teens," and "Those people have a dog that always gets out, but it's harmless." After every description, she asked, "Okay, now what color are they?" I think she actually got annoyed with me at one point because I wasn't giving her the specifics. Writing Boaz Brown, having such conversations, and being more conscious of how I do simple things like describing a neighbor has really caused me (and my kids) to be less focused on a person's outside and more concerned with their inside qualities.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

For "The Good Stuff" I'd let them know that this book is not about a marriage that simply lacks communication - these couples are past "date night" and putting each other on calendars. They can't stand each other, wish to God they'd never met each other, and have decided that if God can't fix it, they're out.

For "Trouble In My Way" I think that young adult readers enjoy reading something that expresses their point of view, so I'd read a diary entry - one where Karis laments about falling in love with a guy she only saw from the 9th row of bleachers at a basketball game.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Christian Fiction: No Men Allowed!

By Mike Duran

Last I checked, God made them "male and female" (Gen. 1:27). Sadly, half of that demographic is barely represented in Christian Fiction.

Don't believe me? Just scan the recent
ACFW Genesis and Book of the Year winners. Out of the 72 winners (1st - 3rd place), a whopping 3 men received awards. That's right -- 3 out of 72! Perhaps it's not unusual when you consider that the ACFW has only one man on its 14 member Board of Directors. The 2008 Christy Awards were a little better: Of their nine winners, 3 were men. A brief foray into the world of Christian writing blogs reveals a similar lopsidedness. Novel Journey is a good example. Of its ten contributors, I'm the only guy (but after this post, I might be its last). Other group writing websites share a similar preponderance of females. The Master's Artist is comprised of 8 women and 3 men, the 11 member team of Focus on Fiction contains only 3 men, and of Charis Connection's 21 contributors, only 7 are men. For every one male Christian Fiction writer, there's a gaggle of chicks.

It's one of the more uncomfortable realities of the religious publishing world -- when it comes to fiction, women rule the roost.

To be fair, this inequity is not limited to Christian circles. Statistics repeatedly show that men don't read fiction. In the August 2006 issue of Writer's Digest, in an article entitled
Do Men Read? Maria Schneider put it bluntly:
Conventional publishing industry wisdom has it that guys just don't buy fiction. Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales...
And then, quoting Karen Holt, deputy editor of Publishers Weekly:
"The gap starts early, as girls in elementary and middle school read a lot more than boys, picking up a lifelong habit that most men never develop. Whether by cause or effect, most novels are published with women in mind."
Proposed answers to this enigma range from biological, to sociological, to emotive. Some offer that women tend to be shoppers, making even the casual female reader susceptible to a well-marketed book. In the aforementioned article, one author suggests that men do not read fiction because they don't want to deal with "complicated, painful internal conflict". In fact, it's been suggested that men choose novels of alienation, while women go for passion. Hmm. Is that what's driving women to Christian Fiction -- romantic passion?

Perhaps it's also what's driving men away.

An NPR article entitled
Why Women Read More than Men also hints that content may partly be the culprit to men's disinterest in fiction:

There are exceptions to the fiction gap. More boys than girls have read The Harry Potter series, according to its U.S. publisher, Scholastic. What's more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys' reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the statement "I didn't read books for fun before reading Harry Potter," compared with 41 percent of girls.
For publishers and booksellers, that offers a ray of hope...
So maybe the problem isn't fiction per se, but the type of fiction being aimed at the male reader.

Okay, so I'm thinking out loud. Still, I can't help but wonder if this is something to be corrected or just conceded. I mean, why should the Christy and Genesis Awards consider more men if it's primarily women buying their stuff? However, couldn't it be that the absence of Christian Fiction for men has completely driven men from the fold? Why should a guy bother browsing the religious fiction aisle if all they see is pastels and lipstick and harlequin heroes and lacy curtains? Might as well cruise Nordstrom's lingerie section.

I know, I know. Supply and demand. The Christian Fiction industry is just reflecting the demands of its readers. But doesn't this create an echo chamber? Or as the author of
What Chicks Don't Like About Science Fiction suggests, "a self-confirming prophesy":
If there's something keeping women away from enjoying science fiction, it's not spaceships. It's not "aliens on some far-off planet." It's the fact that people on our very own planet keep telling us that women aren't supposed to like science fiction. It's a self-confirming prophesy, because the more that scifi creators are told this, the more they imagine that their audience is all boys. (emphasis mine)
The author conjectures that it is the perpetuation of a myth -- that sci-fi is mainly for males -- which keeps the industry from expanding its base. In a similar fashion, because the braintrust tells us that men don't read Christian Fiction, it becomes "a self-confirming prophesy."

Which brings me back to my question: Is gender inequality among fiction readers something to be corrected or just conceded? And if it is to be corrected, shouldn't Christians be in the lead? Or has Christian Fiction become so "feminized" that it's beyond reclamation? Hey, I'm just asking...

Anyway, as long as the Dekkers, Perettis, Cramers, Dicksons and Wilsons of the world are writing, I'll hold out hope. Still, whenever I think of Christian Fiction, this reader can't help but feel in the minority.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Watching Someone Read by Marcia Lee Laycock

I was on my way across the country to participate in the School of Writing at Canadian Mennonite University. I was nervous about going, even though my work had been accepted and I'd been granted entrance to the advanced fiction class with Canadian literary icon, Rudy Wiebe. To gain that entrance I had submitted three short stories that I'd worked on long and hard, but I had chosen to workshop another ten pages - part of the sequel to my novel, One Smooth Stone. Would they like it? Would the writing be good enough?

As I settled into my seat on the small plane, the stewardess came down the aisle and asked us all to move forward, to balance the load. I ended up sitting one seat back and across the aisle from a young woman who took out a book to read. As she did so, the colour caught my eye. Hmm ... same colour as the cover of One Smooth Stone.

I watched out the window as the ground dropped away and the plane lifted off, then glanced across the aisle again. The young woman had turned the book. My book. It was a surreal moment. A comforting, though in a way, disconcerting moment. What did she think of it? She seemed to be reading eagerly enough. But did she like it? Was it good enough? For the rest of the flight I peeked over at the woman, trying to gauge her reaction. In the flurry of disembarking I lost track of her and never did find out.

Then I arrived at the University and was swept into the routine of classes and writing assignments. The day my excerpts were to be critiqued, my palms were sweating and my heart was beating a little faster than normal. My fellow classmates began to comment on my work. According to the rules I was not allowed to speak until given permission by the instructor. Staying silent was at once a relief and a hardship. Then Rudy made some comments, asking for further input from the class as they dissecting the excerpt.

Then his words, "This is good writing." Words from "the master." I could have danced down the aisle.

But now the euphoria has worn off as I'm continuing to work on the sequel. What will people think of it? Will it be good enough?

And then I go back to why I write - because it's the way I'm "wired." Because I can't not write. Because the images and characters and scenes and emotions flood out of me through a keyboard and I can't stop them any more than I could stand in a flood and stop the raging waters.
And then I remember who made me this way, who controls what happens to the words I type on this computer, and who will some day say, "well done," if I work in obedience to Him.

And I realize how much I want to hear that Master's voice and how much I want to some day dance down the aisle that leads to His throne. So I go on, trying to be obedient to the task of being a writer, fighting off the self doubt and the need for affirmation from men when the only thing that counts is affirmation from Him.

ACFW, 2008

Every year I get something different from the ACFW conference (or any conference I attend.) There were over five hundred people this year. So many people that I finally got to hug a few of my favorites as I was waiting for the shuttle to take me back to the airport! But this is all good. It means ACFW is growing.

Robin Miller/aka Robin Carroll, ACFW's president, along with the rest of the board, planning committee and all the volunteers work so very hard to put on a great program and they truly did. It worked like a well-oiled machine. Kudos and a heartfelt thank you to these folks. What a ministry.
Also a special mention should go to Cara Putman and whomever else had a hand in arranging the Mall of America book signing. It was an absolute hit! The exposure Christian fiction received that evening was wonderful. This is the sort of thing Christian authors need to be doing more of. Christian bookstore signings are good and we need to be supporting those stores but also we need to be going out among the masses. Until Left Behind's success I didn't even know there was such a thing as Christian fiction. Many, many people still don't. We put a small dent in that number at our mass booksigning though and that's no small feat!

Okay, so back to what I was saying about what I got out of this year's conference, well more than anything else I got with God as I always do. Over the last two years, I've been dealing with the struggle of my life. My husband filed for divorce and without going into all the details, it was hard, the hardest thing I've ever gone through. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. (No, I didn't cheat on him abuse alcohol or drugs, our children, the dog, or anything else... He simply has some struggles he's dealing with.)

Needless to say I've been really hurting. God has always been Abba, Daddy to me but this year at the conference, He wooed me as the lover of my soul. He reminded me that when something goes wrong with the plumbing, He's there. When finances are scary tight, He's there and when I'm lonely, He's not just next to me but living inside of me. He told me I was beautiful in His eyes and worthy. That was the best part.
Much of this wooing came during song. (Thank you Rachel Hauck and the worship music team... it was awesome!)

Writing-wise I had lost much of my motivation to write. I got that back big time. I came home and wrote two chapters in one day when it's been taken me at the fastest a week to write one chapter.

Of course I got to pray with friends, give and get lots of hugs and laugh myself silly. But this year, like no other, there was such a peace about me, a quiet sense of being. Not feeling I needed to pitch this editor or catch that person or be noticed, but just a real sense that what is supposed to happen will ... and it did!
I'd love to hear from those of you who attended. What was your take away?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Guest Blog ~ Kimberlie Dykeman ~ Timeliness and Timelessness of Quotes

The Timeliness and Timelessness of Quotes:
How one just might help you find your passion and why
~ a Kimberlie Dykeman signature SOAPBOX® vignette

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” ~Maya Angelou

And so it begins with beauty of submission. It is with refreshed energy and emancipation that I deliver this compilation, praying it prevails over the litany of taxing and trite amalgamations that litter your desktop. With great anticipation, yet transient restraint, I have listened and honored the lingering under-conversation in my pea-pod brain. And the results rouse a recurring mission to depict and entertain with humor, to prompt and effect with profundity and sentiment. Yet, the deliberate transmission of text is not the music, my friends. Instead, the jazz and groove eclipse the rind and resonate an essence that invigorates me. Effectively, the words write me.

And so I must ask, where lies equal enjoyment in your existence? What fills your belly with glee and moves your lips to hummmm your very own anthem? Does your spirit soaked,sense of purpose take shape in the flesh? Have you clipped it to your lapel, a beaming brass broach for the curious world to see and admire? If so, then keep that baby shining! However, if your jewel be hidden, perhaps you’ll
reconsider the consequences of hindsight.

I say, become an ambassador to your song, folks. Dispense of the knee-jerk deflection of feelings and release your music. Course osmotically through the labyrinth of the tangible and take to galumphing outside the proverbial box of society’s expectations. Dig up a sidelined story, tap your historical humble beginnings, or soapbox your own fellowship of family, friends, and colleagues. Move to be moved. Name that tune in 50,000 notes and then some. Confetti deaf ears with the tones of who you are, of who you will be, of who you will to be. And, for God’s sake, dance, dance, dance.

© 2008 by Kimberlie Dykeman

is an on-camera personality, multimedia producer, motivational speaker and author of Pure Soapbox …a cleansing jolt of perspective, motivation, and humor.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Author Interview ~ Janelle Mowery

Janelle Mowery is an active member of ACFW. She was a top ten finalist in two Noble Theme contests and won first place in the San Gabriel Writers’ League ‘Writing Smarter’ Contest. Her first novel, Where the Truth Lies, coauthored with Elizabeth Ludwig, was released spring 2008 with Heartsong Presents: Mysteries. Books two and three of the mystery series will release in 2009. Janelle resides in Texas with her husband of almost twenty years and is the mother of two sons.

So tell the scoop: What new book do you have coming out?

Where the Truth Lies, the first in the Massachusetts Mayhem series, released this past May in Barbour’s Heartsong Presents: Mysteries line. It’s sequel, Died in the Wool, will release spring of 2009, and the third book of the series, A Black Die Affair, will release fall of 2009.

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

Once my co-author, Elizabeth (Lisa) Ludwig, and I decided to write a mystery together, we tried coming up with several different ideas. But the story and plotting never really fell into place until Lisa called one day and told me about a conversation she had about Jacob and Esau, and suggested the possibility of turning the story of their relationship into a mystery. We took that idea and brainstormed our contemporary mystery.

You wrote this with Elizabeth Ludwig. How do you divvy up the work?

We each picked a character and wrote from their point of view. But we knew both characters very well. I almost think we could have flip-flopped and no one would have known. Then we would critique each other’s scenes, so by the time the book was ready, our voices and writing styles blended enough that the story sounded like it’d been written by one author.

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

Oh boy. Let’s see. I remember reading a book and thinking, ‘I can do this’. For a year, I started creating a story, just carried it around in my head, planning it out. Then January 10, 2001, I sat down at the computer and started writing…and never stopped. I didn’t start trying to contract those stories for a couple years. I joined ACFW, attended their conference in Houston, and so it began.

One day in 2006, I got a call from Susan Downs saying she wanted to contract the mystery I’d co-authored with Elizabeth Ludwig. I can now describe quite well how a heart swells and then nearly hammers its way out of a chest. I called Lisa to tell her the news and we squealed together for a while. Then our phones never returned to the cradle for at least the next hour as we told everyone we knew. That year, almost exactly five years after I wrote the first word in my first manuscript, I signed my first contract.

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

Bang my head? No. That’s pain, and pain hurts. LOL. But I do want to tear out my hair. I find what works best for me is to sit down and read a book in the same genre that I’m writing. Usually about midway through the book, if not before, the block starts to crumble.

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)?

The most difficult part of writing is taking the painstaking time to plot out the story before I begin. When I have a new and exciting story in my head, I’m ready to jump in with both feet and start writing. But if I do that, I end up in that dreaded plot hole. So, I force myself to take the time to plot the entire story. I won’t start until I know the holes have been filled.

Apart from cozy mysteries, what other things have you written?

I have three-book historical series I’m trying to get contracted. Mystery/suspense and historicals are my two loves. In fact, there’s a bit of mystery in each of my historicals.

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

I spend part of my time in our office. Right next to the monitor is a big window that overlooks our backyard and pasture. In the fall, I’m very easily distracted as I watch the deer romp and graze. When that happens, I have to take my laptop into the living room so I can actually get some work done.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up at 6:30 looking like I just stepped out of a Glamour magazine, each hair in place, no puffy eyes, a smile on my face as I whistle a peppy tune. (Hey, I write fiction. I’m allowed.) You want reality? I get up, look in the mirror, and scare myself awake. Then I go make a pot of coffee to keep myself awake. Each day varies. I’m a stay at home mom so I don’t have much of a set schedule. Some days I drive the kids to and from school and take care of any shopping or errands. Those days, I don’t get a lot of writing done. The days I don’t drive, I walk my husband and sons out the door, sit down at the computer to read the news on the internet and check email, spend some quiet time with my Lord, then get some writing done.

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

I don’t have a set amount of words I write a day. I write when and how much I can on any given day. If I can ‘see’ the scene, the writing flows as though it’s happening right in front of me. If I can’t visualize the scene, I’m in trouble. I have to stop and think it through from start to finish, then start writing again.

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

The process has changed over the years. I used to sit down and start writing, thinking of scenes as I went along, then going back and adding to the story to flesh it out. A very time consuming process which left possibilities for holes and mistakes. Now, I make a detailed timeline of the story from start to finish to make sure there are no plot holes and that the story flows. I also do a timeline of the back story so I can better know my characters and the reasons they do things. Then I start writing the story.

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

Oh goodness. Let’s see. I love Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I still study that book to learn how to engage a reader to the story and characters. I love reading anything by Susan May Warren. She is a master story teller. As is Brandilyn Collins.

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

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Patience, patience, patience. Another is one my co-author often uses. Don’t get so focused on the goal that you forget to enjoy the journey. I look back at my journey and am amazed at the steps the Lord took me through. Awesome. There are other pieces of sage advice I’ve heard, but those are two good ones.

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?

When I started writing, I knew nothing about POV (point of view). I head-hopped all over the place. My writing buddies lovingly set me straight, then I had to go back to the manuscripts I’d finished and rewrite them with only two pov’s. Very time consuming. Study how-to books and the works of well-known authors. It’ll save you some time and trouble.

In publishing? I still laugh at myself when I think of the first conference I attended. I went with the belief that I could hand the editor my proposal without saying much of anything, they’d love it from the first line, and slide a contract across the table to me. LOL. Yeah, right. I had no idea how long the publishing process takes or the work involved to get your story to the point of publication. Over three years after that first pitiful attempt, I learned. Know your story as well as you know your children so you can talk about it with clarity. And what you don’t know about publishing, take the time to learn. Ask the editors some questions. They love to talk about their work as much as you like to talk about yours.

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

I’m still learning how to market my books. I never spent much time thinking about this aspect of the business, though I’ve now found it to be very important. My coauthor is much better at this than I am so I try to place my feet in the footsteps she’s already made, though I hit a rabbit trail once in a while. I’ve done one book signing which was incredibly fun. I learned that avid fiction readers love to talk about books and writing as much as I do. Word of mouth is huge in this business. Any and all types of contact with readers is a giant step forward.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

NEVER give up. Writing is hard work. It’ll bring disappointment, maybe a little stress and frustration. But in the end, after fighting through the rough spots and persevering, you’ll find amazing satisfaction that will encourage you to keep moving forward. God will always give you the strength you need when you’re working for Him. “…lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Author Interview ~ Janet Dean

One lucky commenter will win an autographed copy of Courting Miss Adelaide. So be sure you leave a comment or question for Janet.

Janet Dean grew up in a family who cherished the past and had a strong creative streak. Her father recounted fascinating stories, like his father before him. The tales they told instilled in Janet a love of history and the desire to write. Two of her manuscripts were Golden Heart Inspirational finalists in 2005 and 2006. When Janet isn’t writing for Steeple Hill, she stamps greeting cards, plays golf, and is never without a book to read. The Deans love to travel and spend time with family.

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

This month Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical released Courting Miss Adelaide. I’ve waited two years to see my debut novel in print so I’m very excited! The second book in the series, Courting the Doctor's Daughter, will release in May 2009.

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

My father, a Social Studies teacher, mailed me a newspaper clipping about New York City’s orphaned and half-orphaned children riding trains to new homes in the Midwest and beyond. More than 250,000 children were sent on trains between 1853 and 1929, but that phenomena didn’t find its way into our history books for years.

I was fascinated by this slice of history and immediately wanted to use it in a book. I thought of the children—how frightened they must have been. I thought of their stories—what had happened in their young lives to bring them to the orphanage? I thought of the people who took these orphans in.

What kind of lives did they give these children? My “what if” moment became the kernel for Adelaide’s story—what if a lonely spinster wanted a child and saw the orphan train as her last chance for motherhood?

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

When I was twelve, I wrote and illustrated little romances, but it wasn’t until I joined Romance Writers of America that I seriously pursued my writing. I found a local chapter and entered contests. I submitted to agents and editors and was rejected time and time again, but my writing skill got better and I didn’t give up.

Along the way, I realized I should write inspirational fiction and joined American Christian Fiction Writers and Hope, Faith and Love and my novels were rejected again. When Steeple Hill announced plans to open an historical line early in 2006, I quickly subbed my 2005 Golden Heart Inspirational finalist manuscript Orphaned Hearts.

On June 29, 2006, my agent called to tell me Melissa Endlich had offered to buy my book. It took me nine years to reach that goal. What a joyous, thrilling moment! I walked on air for days. My only regret was my parents hadn’t lived to see my dream come true.

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

I’ve never had true writer’s block. But I have struggled with plot issues that have slowed me down. When that happens, I find that reading the manuscript from the beginning and brainstorming with my critique partner gets me back on track.

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

I’ve probably made every mistake humanly possible. But thanks to contests, How-To books, online classes, a savvy critique partner, I make half as many now. J My biggest struggle as a published writer is finding book-length external conflict for the hero and heroine.

How do you climb out (overcome it)?

I’m a plotter so that helps. Once I realized my weakness, I knew I couldn’t stop until I’d created an external conflict that’s both strong and believable without being contrived. Brainstorming helps. Making a long list of possibilities helps. Bottom line—it’s hard work.

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

My office overlooks our great room and the view is restful…if I can remember to look away from the computer screen. I used to write in a spare bedroom, facing a wall. Either works. At home, I’m tempted to get sidetracked with phone calls and household chores so I’d love to try a coffeehouse. But I’m a slower typist on my laptop and my will is weak when it comes to resisting mochas so I doubt that I’ll make the move.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I rise early and drink two cups of coffee before I feel human. I usually check the morning news to make sure the world is still rotating, then do some e-mail and post a comment at Seekerville, the group blog I’m part of. A couple days a week I post on my blog, A Cup of Faith. Depending on commitments, I may write the entire day or just half the day. It’s challenging to balance life and writing. I admire those who juggle a day job, writing and a family, especially those with young children.

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

I plan on writing 3 or 4 pages five days a week. Some days it flows. Others I have to dig each word out. But I’ve never written anything that wrote itself, where the words just poured out as some authors have experienced. We’re all different and have to find the methods and word counts that work for us.

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

As soon as I come up with the “what if” trigger for my story, I flesh out my hero and heroine, and in the process discover their goals and motivations. That leads me to the incident that brings them together. I usually write the first three chapters now.

As I work, I delve deeper into my characters and their back story, and find their internal conflicts. Once I get the external conflict in hand, I have the foundation for my story. I know the turning points, the black moment, the climax.

The book tends to flow pretty well at this point. I’m one of those writers who can’t turn off the internal editor so I revise as I go, examining word choice and looking for opportunities to add the five senses to descriptions and actions/ physical reactions to dialogue.

When I type The End, I do overall edits, looking for plot holes, conflict issues, inconsistencies, character growth. All the big stuff—the forest—I may not have seen for the trees.

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

My all time favorite books are those that were unforgettable. For me, that’s Gone with the Wind and Jane Eyre.

Others are favorites because they touched my heart like Francine River’s Redeeming Love and Mary DeMuth’s Watching the Tree Limbs.

Liz Curtis Higg’s Bookends is an excellent example of external conflict. LaVyrle Spencer is an expert at building emotion in the reader.

I love historical fiction so I’m thrilled to be part of the Love Inspired Historical line and to have all these terrific authors to read. I enjoy reading Mary Connealy, Cheryl Wyatt, Debby Giusti, Missy Tippens, Camy Tang and Julie Lessman, all very special friends and wonderful writers.

Shirley Jump is my critique partner so naturally I love her books. I admire so many authors I couldn’t possibly name them all here.

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

When I entered my first contest a gazillion years ago, I didn’t know what POV meant. I head hopped continually. My conflict was weak. I had boatloads of back story. With much to learn, I found nuggets in most of the advice I was given. But the bottom line—no matter how good the story we have to tell, if readers don’t care about our characters, we’ve lost them. So I rank the advice on developing character as the best I’ve received.

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

I wish I’d written more, instead of rewriting the same books. I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s worth mentioning again. I wish I’d written inspirational fiction sooner. The CBA is where I belong. I wish I’d waited longer to submit to editors and agents. My manuscripts weren’t ready, even if I was. But hindsight is 50/50. Making mistakes is part of the learning curve.

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

I’m fortunate to have a publisher with wonderful promotion and distribution. Still I want to do my part to get my name out. I’m new at this so I’m not sure I know what works yet, but I’ve handed out business cards two years before the release of my book.

I had a professional picture taken. I got a Web site and blog. I joined writer loops and attended conferences. Once I had a title and cover, I’ve made and distributed bookmarks.

I sought opportunities for media coverage. I’ve introduced myself to local booksellers and librarians. The one thing I do that costs me nothing is to talk about writing, about my books to anyone who will listen. I’ve found people, even strangers, are fascinated by writers. They want to buy your book because you’ve made a connection with them.

Obviously writers can’t build readership with just the people they come in contact with. But participating in active blogs and using the Internet affectively helps to generate excitement about your book. If the people who read my books enjoy them, hopefully, they’ll talk them up to others. Reader buzz is every writers dream way to market.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Do all you can to sell, but don’t let whether you sell or not destroy your love of the gift God has given you. Find the blessings inherent in the process of writing. There are many.

Here are a few of mine:
I’m never bored. How can I be when I’m creating people?
Writing is great mental exercise.
I have the ability to control people and their lives—at least on paper.
I have wonderful writer friends.
Writing has given me direction, a sense of who I am.
Writing is a release of my creative side.

When we focus on the blessings, we’ll keep or rediscover the joy of simply writing.

God bless,

Monday, September 22, 2008

ACFW Genesis and BOTY Winners

Book of the Year Winners

Debut Author
1 Sushi for One? (Camy Tang) Zondervan, Sue Brower
2 Bayou Justice (Robin Miller writing as Robin Caroll)
3 In Between (Jenny B. Jones)

Contemporary Novella
1 Finally Home (Deborah Raney) à Barbour Publishing, Susan Downs
2 Moonlight & Mistletoe (Carrie Turansky)
3 Remaking of Moe McKenna (Gloria Clover)

Historical Novella
1 Love Notes in Love Letters Anthology (Mary Davis) àBarbour Publishing, Rebecca Germany
2 Beyond the Memories (DiAnn Mills)
3 The Spinster & The Tycoon (Vickie McDonough)

1 Splitting Harriet (Tamara Leigh) àMultnomah Books, Julee Schwarzburg
2 Sushi for One? (Camy Tang)
3 One Little Secret (Allison Bottke) & The Book of Jane (Anne Dayton & May Vanderbilt)

Long Contemporary
1 Within This Circle (Deborah Raney) àSteeple Hill Books, Krista Stroever
2 Like Always (Robert Elmer)
3 Autumn Blue (Karen Harter)

Long Historical
1 Veil of Fire (Marlo Schalesky) RiverOak, editors Jeff Dunn/Jon Woodhams
Where Willows Grow (Kim Vogel Sawyer) Bethany House, editor Charlene Patterson
2 Fancy Pants (Cathy Marie Hake) & Then Came Hope (Louise Gouge)
3 Courting Trouble (Deeanne Gist)

1 Your Chariot Awaits (Lorena McCourtney) àThomas Nelson, Amanda Bostic
2 Death of a Garage Sale Newbie (Sharon Dunn)
3 Sticks And Stones (Susan Meissner)

Short Contemporary
1 The Heart of Grace (Linda Goodnight) à Steeple Hill Love Inspired, Allison Lyons
2 Heart of the Family (Margaret Daley)
3 Wedded Bliss (Kathleen Y’Barbo)

Short Contemporary Suspense
1 Caught Redhanded (Gayle Roper) àSteeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense, Krista Stroever
2 Pursuit of Justice (Pamela Tracy)
3 Nowhere to Hide (Debby Giusti) & Her Christmas Protector (Terri Reed)

Short Historical
1 Canteen Dreams (Cara Putman) & Golden Days (Mary Connealy)
Barbour/Heartsong Presents, JoAnne Simmons
Barbour/Heartsong Presents, JoAnne Simmons
2 A Wealth Beyond Riches (Vickie McDonough)
3 A Time to Keep (Kelly Eileen Hake)

1 The Restorer’s Son (Sharon Hinck) àNavPress, Reagan Reed
2 Demon: A Memoir (Tosca Lee)
3 DragonFire (Donita Paul)

1 Black Ice (Linda Hall) àWaterBrook Press, Traci DePree
2 Coral Moon (Brandilyn Collins)
3 Abomination (Colleen Coble)

Women’s Fiction
1 Remember to Forget (Deborah Raney) àHoward Books/Simon & Schuster, Philis Boultinghouse
2 Watercolored Pearls (Stacy Hawkins Adams)
3 A Promise To Remember (Kathryn Cushman)

Young Adult
1 In Between (Jenny B. Jones) àNavPress, Jamie Chavez
2 Sara Jane: Liberty’s Torch (Eleanor Clark)
3 Saving Sailor (Renee Riva)

Special thanks to Roni Kendig for coordinating the BOTY contest.

Genesis Winners

Chick lit, mom lit, lady lit Category
1 Erica Vetsch, Pam On Rye
2 Lynda Schab, Mind Over Madi
3 Tiffany Kinerson, Stand On My Own Two Hands

Contemporary Fiction Category
1 Dan Case, The Voice
2 Christina Berry, Undiscovered
3 Jim Rubart, Book of Days

Contemporary Romance Category
1 Annalisa Daughety, Love is a Battlefield
2 Kathleen Haynes, The Quarterback Club
3 Cara Slaughter, Joanna's Treasure

Historical Fiction category
1 Mona Hodgson, A Thimble's Worth
2 Rachel Moore, A Trail of Waves
3 Lori Benton, Trouble The Water

Historical Romance category
1 Patty Smith Hall, Flights of Freedom
2 Karen Witemeyer, Cloud by Day
3 Erica Vetsch, Marriage Masquerade

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category
1 Jane Thornton, Menace
2 Donna Alice Patton, Wrestling Demons
3 Janice Olson, Don't Look Back

Romantic Suspense category
1 Jenness Walker, Deja Vu
2 Dani Pettrey, Quest
3 (tie) Kelly Ann Riley, A Cowboy's Prayer
Jane Thornton, Be Anxious

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Allegory category
1 Chawna Schroeder, Metamorphosis
2 Lynda K. Arndt, The Song of Blood and Stone
3 Valerie Comer, The Girl Who Cried Squid

Women's Fiction category
1 Heather Goodman, 50 Things To Do Before I Turn 30
2 Cynthia Ruchti, They Almost Always Come Home
3 Kristian Tolle, When Autumn Comes

Young Adult category
1 Carla Stewart, An Unexpected Journey
2 Stefanie Morris, The Dragon of Delarest
3 Kasey L. Heinly, Broken Glass

Special thanks to Camy Tang for coordinating the Genesis.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Driving Thru By Marcia Lee Laycock

I was inching forward in the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s coffee shop the other day, and feeling a little sorry for myself. Well, okay, maybe a little more than a little.

I’d had an email from my publisher telling me a statement of the sales for my novel, One Smooth Stone, was on its way. He also said the sales “weren’t what we were hoping for.” As I pondered what that meant I sighed, noting he had not mentioned a royalty cheque.

Good thing I had just signed on to begin a new job, stocking book racks for a small distribution company. The books are all Christian and the money is surprisingly good, but in my pity-party mood I grumbled about helping to sell other people’s books instead of my own. I wondered if God was trying to humble me.

Just as that thought came into my head I pulled alongside a large garbage bin. A woman dressed in the Tim’s uniform approached it at the same time. She was attractive, even in the uniform, and looked just a bit younger than me. She tugged the large bag out of the receptacle and went about replacing it with a new one.

Well, at least I’m not doing that, I thought. Then she looked up and gave me the most amazing beaming smile. I recovered from my shock just in time to smile back.
As I drove away sipping my coffee I pondered what had just happened. That woman’s beaming smile told me that she did not consider it demeaning in any way to be changing that garbage bag. I don’t know if she is a believer in Christ, but she certainly seemed to have his attitude about service.

And I was humbled. I realized God was trying to wake me up to the fact that being content and even happy doesn’t depend on what my work is or on how many books I sell, it depends on what I believe about myself and about Him.

I began to examine those two things in relation to one another. Who am I? A child of Christ, loved beyond measure and blessed to an abundance that is staggering. What do I believe about God? That He wants only my good and will move heaven and earth to bring me to an awareness of his goodness and glory.

Funny thing. I glanced in the mirror and noticed I had the most amazing beaming smile.

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:3-5)

Saturday’s Poll

This week one of our three computers at work crashed—and we spent nearly three days untangling the mess. (I say “we” but in actuality I did very little except sympathize.)

Somewhere during that “crisis” I had to go and dig up our Microsoft Office Suite disks, and it brought to mind how many changes I’ve seen in my word processing software since picked up and ran with the writing torch.

I started in Word Perfect, before finally managing to purchase a copy of Word 2000—and then become woefully behind until semi-recently catching up with Word 2007.

So, for this week’s poll:

Friday, September 19, 2008

For Those of Us at Home

I suspect a large majority of our readers and contributors are at the 2008 ACFW conference. So, while there away, it’s the perfect time for those of us at home to have a little fun with Novel Journey.

What five novels are your top five favorite novels? Today mine are today they are:

1.) Jane Eyre
2.) Memoirs of a Geisha
3.) Lord of the Rings
4.) Pride and Prejudice
5.) Gone with the Wind

There's a lot of good books that would probably be on that list tomorrow, depending on my mood.

Okay, your turn. What are yours?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zondervan and Mount Hermon Writer's Conference Sponsor Competition for Aspiring Fiction Authors

Winner Receives $10,000 Publishing Contract

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., September 3, 2008 – Unpublished Christian fiction writers, get your manuscripts ready. Zondervan, a world leader in Christian communications, today announced All About the Story, a writing competition for first-time novelists. The winner will receive a $10,000 publishing contract with Zondervan, and all finalists will have their works recognized during the Christian Book EXPO in Dallas in March 2009.

Sponsored by Zondervan and Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, All About the Story is open to any unpublished writer who has attended a past Mount Hermon Writer’s conference or who is registered for the 2009 conference. In addition to the opportunity for their work to be published by Zondervan, the winning author will also receive valuable feedback from editors and experienced judges, including bestselling Christian fiction authors Karen Kingsbury, Terri Blackstock, Brandilyn Collins and Noel Hynd.

“We know there are many talented Christian fiction writers who just need an opportunity like this to get the break they need to become a published author,” said Dudley Delffs, vice president and publisher of Trade Books at Zondervan. “We are pleased to partner with Mount Hermon to uncover top writing talent just waiting to be discovered.”

The All About the Story contest will be judged in three stages:

1. Synopsis and the first 5,000 words of work will be judged to determine semi-finalists.

2. Semi-finalists will submit a full manuscript to be judged by Zondervan editors to determine finalists.

3. The winner will be determined by a panel of bestselling authors.

The grand prize winner will receive a publishing contract with Zondervan including a $10,000 advance on royalties. Finalists will be recognized at the Christian Book EXPO in Dallas, Texas, March 20-22, 2009. The winner will be announced at the 2009 Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference on Saturday, April 4, 2009.

All first-round entries must be received before November 5th, 2008. For additional information, and contest rules, visit or email

About Mount Hermon
Founded in 1906, Mount Hermon was the first Christian camp west of the Mississippi. From its inception, Mount Hermon has been both interdenominational and evangelical. For 102 years Mount Hermon has consistently proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Savior, by teaching the authoritative Word of God and serving churches and other Christian ministries both here and around the world.

About Zondervan
Zondervan, a HarperCollins company, is the world leader in Christian communications and the leading Christian publishing brand. For more than 75 years, Zondervan has delivered transformational Christian experiences by influential authors and emerging voices, and has been honored with more Christian Book Awards than any other publisher. Zondervan is headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., with offices in San Diego, Miami and London. Its resources are sold worldwide and are translated into nearly 200 languages in more than 60 countries. Visit Zondervan online at

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Spiritually Moving Fiction

Obsessed with all things British, Therese Stenzel’s first novella, An English Bride Goes West came out in 2008. She also co-authored the book, God's Little Devotional Book for Grandparents. Her writing has appeared in Women's Day, Family Fun, and Tulsa Kids magazines. In addition to being active in American Christian Fiction Writers, she is also the founder of British Missives, an e-mail newsletter for those who love to read or write British novels.

In love with English history, English tea, and reading historical novels, she is currently working on her fifth historical manuscript. She and her husband Neal keep busy raising their three kids. Her website is

Compiled by Therese Stenzel

I polled over a thousand writers/readers and asked what books moved them spiritually and this is their response. Many thanks to the American Christian Fiction Writers who contributed the most.

Authors who got several mentions
The Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers X6 (Historical-Biblical)
Redeeming Love by Francine River (Historical-Western)
This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti X2 (Contemporary thriller)
Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti X3 (Contemporary Thriller)
Deadline by Randy Alcorn X2 (Murder Mystery)
Safely Home by Randy Alcorn X3 (Contemporary)
The Restorer by Sharon Hinck X2 (Fantasy)
The Restorer's Son by Sharon Hinck (Fantasy)
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory (Contemporary)
A Day with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory (Contemporary)
The Left Behind Series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins X2 (Contemporary Thriller)

Books in alphabetical order
A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman (Historical-Americana)
A Penny for Your Thoughts by Mindy Starns Clark (Mystery)
Arena by Karen Hancock (Fantasy)
As I Have Loved You by Nikki Arana (Contemporary)
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (Historical WWII)
At the Scent of Water by Linda Nichols (Contemporary)
Blessed Child by Ted Dekker and Bill Bright (Contemporary Thriller)
Coldwater Revival by Nancy Jo Jenkins (Historical-Americana)
Some Wildflower in my Heart by Jamie Langston Turner (Contemporary)
Covenant Child by Terri Blackstock (Contemporary)
Demon by Tosca Lee (Contemporary)
Empyrion: The Search for Fierra/the Siege of Doom by Stephen Lawhead (Sci-Fi)
Everyone Loved Roger Harden by Cecil Murphey (Cozy Mystery)
First Light by Bodie and Brock Thoene (Historical-Biblical)Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard (Allegory)
John, Son of Thunder by Ellen Gunderson Traylor (Historical-Biblical)
Magdalene by Angela Hunt (Historical-Biblical)
Over the Waters by Deb Raney (Women’s Fiction)
Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson (Contemporary)
Stonewycke Trilogy by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella (Historical-European)
Surrender Bay by Denise Hunter (Contemporary Romance)
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (Historical-Americana)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (Allegory)
The Shack by William P. Young (Umm…)
Ticket to Tomorrow by Carol Cox (Historical-Americana)
True Valor by Dee Henderson (Romantic Suspense)
Wings of a Dove by Beverly Smith-Bush (Contemporary)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Author Susan Meissner ~ Writer's Block

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her books include The Shape of Mercy, Blue Heart Blessed, and A Window to the World, named by Booklist magazine as one of the Top Ten Christian novels for 2005. When she's not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at her San Diego church.

After a two-week road trip through Western Europe, my Air Force husband and I — we were stationed overseas at the time — were ready to board the ferry at Bruges and head back to England. We’d had a wonderful trip, but we missed our kids (ages one and three back then), my husband’s leave was up, and we had spent the money we’d brought with us. But on our way back to the coast, the radiator in our car had a meltdown on a very busy expressway outside Brussels. We found ourselves stranded on the side of the road in a foreign country, unable to speak the local language, with a dated ferry ticket in my purse and miles of land and water between us and where we wanted to be.

We felt powerless and lost. We wanted to be moving, making progress, heading west, closing in our destination. And instead we were stuck.

I hated that feeling.

If you’re a writer, you know how frustrating it is to suddenly feel stranded in your manuscript. Unable to move forward. Up against a wall. Stuck. There are few pairs of words that strike fear into the heart of a novelist like “writer’s block.”

To hit a wall when you’re writing is akin to falling into Bunyan’s Slough of Despair. One moment you’re cranking out pages and the next you are staring at your computer screen, bereft of inspiration.

Logic tells us when we hit a wall, we need to pick up a sledgehammer or a pick ax and either pound through it or scale it somehow. But I’ve learned in my own writing journey that we novelists have the God-like ability to move through time. We can go backwards. When you are stuck on a Belgian expressway your only option is to find a way to move forward or live the rest of your life stranded on the side of the road. Not so the writer. In fact, I’ve found that when I hit a wall in my manuscript, one of the best things I can do is go backward. Forget the sledgehammer and pick ax. Forget pounding my way through the wall. I go back to the point in time when the writing was flowing, back to the last plot pivot. And I find the place in the road where I destined my characters to crash at the wall. Then I make a turn. And I reroute a journey that takes them to a different place where I see no wall on the horizon.

Let’s say, for sake of illustration, when she wrote Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell hit a wall. Let’s say when Scarlett went looking for Rhett to get money to pay the taxes on Tara, she found him not in an Atlanta jail but living it up in the North. Let’s say Margaret had Scarlett marry Rhett right then and began to live a Yankee life. Let’s say several chapters go by and the plot begins to flatline. Margaret has hit a wall. The story is going nowhere. She is uninspired as she sits down to write. She feels stranded. Instead of pounding her way through the wall, she looks in her rearview mirror and steps back to the last place where the plot pivoted. It may be five or six chapters back. But she finds it. And she realizes if she places Rhett in a jail and unable to help Scarlett, Scarlett must do something else to get the money. And so Margaret has Scarlett marry Frank Kennedy, her sister’s beau — a man she has not a thimbleful of attraction for.

Margaret made Scarlett do something that rankled us, jarred us, annoyed us, shocked us. She made her do something that moved the plot forward to a new place where no wall was waiting.

When I was pre-writing The Shape of Mercy, when the idea for it was just beginning to gel, I attended a writing clinic by legendary agent and writing mentor, Donald Maass. In one exercise, he told us to identify the one thing our character would never do. Never.

Then make them do it, he said.

My first reaction was to balk. Resist. Refuse. But since it was just an exercise and I could erase it all with a tap of a finger, I went ahead and did what he said. I made Lauren, the college student who is transcribing the 300-year-old diary of a victim of the Salem Witch Trials, do the thing she would never do.

It was a delicious maneuver. Honestly. I saved that snippet, wondering if I would be able to use it. You can probably already guess that I did. And it came at a time when I was feeling a wall looming up ahead of me. It was the perfect redirection. The wall vanished and I never hit another one.

The same thing happened when I was writing the manuscript I just turned in a couple weeks ago. I had written my characters into a boring corner (a dining room scene where the tryptophan was flowing freely). The wall in front of me threatened to put us all in a coma. I took my characters back a chapter or two, found something surprising to have one of them do and moved on. They never went back to the dining room. Wall averted.

Of course there is no 100% fool-proof solution to any writing challenge, but if you find yourself kicking against a writer’s block that has you flummoxed, try reversing your steps. Go back in time. You have the power to do it. Find the last place where a plot pivot held your interest. Now have your main character do something outrageously unpredictable and see where the new pivot takes you. Certainly, you may end up at a different wall, higher than the first, but you can always go back. That is your greatest tool as a novelist, the ability to bend time.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pick up the sledgehammer. But it’s not the only thing. Hitting a wall may be a clue that you’ve wandered off plot and the wall is actually a wonderful nudge to allow you to retrace your steps and get back on target, or better yet, zero in on a new target that is better than the first.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tales from the Crypt (of a Children's Librarian)

Chances are, there's a young person in your family: son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandchild, cousin's cousin. And chances are, they read. Perhaps only when it's compulsory, but hello, they're related to you. There's no escape.

This time of year, reading lists are stocked by English teachers and motivated by bribery--"this many hours will get you a pizza, this many points will get you a shuffle." But what about the novels that aren't required? Good books. Fun books. New and old. They're out there. Here's a few of my recent reads:

Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon & Dean Hale
I'm not a big fan of graphic novels, but this one's just plain fun. Kids who think they know the classic story are in for a surprise, as Rapunzel teams up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) in a wild-west adventure that will keep readers glued to their seats til the very last frame.

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson
Ibbotson, a children’s author known for ghosts-and-witches tales, produced a glowing sport when she wrote The Star of Kazan, a novel worthy of comparison to The Secret Garden. Beautifully-written and delightfully-plotted, The Star of Kazan is replete with long-lost mothers, Russian jewels, gypsies, castles, despicable villains, Lipizzaner stallions, and unforgettable characters. Its virtual obscurity is a disgrace. Circulate this story among all the girls you know—but read it yourself, first!

Something Rotten, by Alan Gratz
All I have to say about Something Rotten is this is how Shakespeare should be introduced to the millions of high school freshmen in America. I mean, why wouldn't 14-year-old boys despise the Bard when their first encounter involves such smarmy stuff as, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" Give them Something Rotten, then go to a live production of Hamlet, and then read the play.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
Those searching for one—one!—decent new read-aloud are in for a treat. Each of the four Penderwick sisters are given time to shine, and a plot that could have flopped—scheming potential girlfriends for Daddy—instead unfolds with charm. By the time Mr. Penderwick takes things into his own hands and sets up a date with the mysterious Marianne Dashwood (met in a bookstore, of all places) the reader is smiling broadly.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson
Very few authors can pose enormous philosophical questions without sounding pompous and obvious. Pearson creates a girl who has just awoken from a year-long coma, and knows nothing—of self, of human interaction, of mortality. Suddenly, enormous philosophical questions are vital. The reader soaks them in. Great dystopian novel for high-school girls.

Framed, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
I just can't praise Boyce enough. He doesn't try to be clever--he is clever. He writes a story rooted in art--fine art!--that appeals to junior high boys. They won't even notice they're getting into paintings. Maybe Frank isn't clever--maybe he's a genius. (What else would you expect from a Ninja Turtle fan?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

An Unpleasant Thought by Marcia Lee Laycock

W.O. Mitchell (writer of Who Has Seen the Wind among others) is quoted as saying – “the most constant state of an artist is uncertainty. You must face confusion, self-questioning, dilemma. Only amateurs are prepared to live with the fear of failure all your art life."

Not a pleasant thought, is it? As writers, we all live with some uncertainty. We write an article and never really know its worth until someone reads it and makes comment. We stew about that book manuscript, wondering if any editor will think it worthy of publishing. We spend hours polishing a poem and wonder if we have wasted our time. We will, from time to time, face confusion, self-questioning and even dilemma, as Mitchell suggests, but we do not have to live in that state.

The writer of Hebrews told his readers that they, too, would face uncertainty, confusion, dilemma. They would face persecution and yes, the appearance of failure. Then he said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10: 35-36) The writer of Hebrews is not talking about the self-confidence of a much-published writer, which can lead to pride and an over-blown ego. He is talking about the confidence “to enter the Most Holy Place.”

The reference here is to the inner sanctuary, the place where only a high priest could enter, and only once a year after much preparation. Even then, the priest risked death when he stepped on that holy ground. For there, there in that place, was God. And how is it we can have such audacity, to enter with confidence? “…by the blood of Jesus.” (Heb. 10:19)

A writer who is Christian does not have to submit to a perspective like Mitchell’s. As believers, we can have confidence, not in our own talents, but in the fact that God is there. He is approachable, accessible, and He has promised to use our gifts and talents to serve others, to His glory. Therefore there is no need for fear of failure, nor of success. Our confidence is in Christ. Our calling is to work in obedience and humility.

The writer of Hebrews continues…. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” As writers, we have all been given a spur – the gift of communication – to use for the sake of others and for the sake of our most faithful God. May He find us faithful to that task.

Friday, September 12, 2008


On Sunday, September 14, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Literary Council and Brooklyn Tourism host the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, a huge, free event presenting more than 140 literary stars and emerging authors who represent the exciting world of literature today.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is one of America’s premier literary and literacy events—a hip, smart, diverse gathering attracting thousands of book lovers of all ages. The festival is organized around themed readings and devoted to timely and lively panel discussions. The inclusion of top national and international authors and new partners has expanded the festival’s reach while continuing to celebrate and enhance Brooklyn’s contemporary and historic literary reputation.

Confirmed authors include Joan Didion, Richard Price, Jonathan Lethem, Dorothy Allison, Russell Banks, A.M. Homes, George Pelecanos, Terry McMillan, Jonathan Franzen, Susan Choi, Esmeralda Santiago, Thurston Moore, Paul Beatty, Jacqueline Woodson, Chuck Klosterman, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Ed Park, Pico Iyer, Gail Carson Levine, Cecily von Ziegesar, Chris Myers, Jane O’Connor, Jon Scieszka, Mo Willems and many more.

The 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival Best of Brooklyn Inc. (BOBI) award recipient will be Brooklynite Walter Mosley, one of the most versatile and admired writers in America today. Widely recognized for his crime and detective fiction, he is the author of more than 29 books, including his bestselling series featuring the hard-boiled detective, Easy Rawlins. His work has been translated into 21 languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel.

“These days, Brooklyn is indeed the Creative Capital of America. We’re home to many of the world’s renowned writers and a thriving reading audience—as well as a destination for culture-seeking tourists worldwide,” says BP Markowitz. “The Brooklyn Book Festival is as diverse as our borough itself, and it’s only fitting that it’s now become a must on the national and international literary circuit. How sweet it is!”

The festival boasts five outdoor stages in Borough Hall Plaza and Columbus Park, as well as “Reading Rooms” inside beautiful, historic Borough Hall and nearby at the Brooklyn Historical Society and St. Francis College auditorium. An outdoor literary marketplace will include more than 150 booksellers, publishers and literary organizations.

Young adults and young adults at heart are in for a special treat. The Brooklyn Book Festival caters to the facebook set with hip panels on topics from graphic novels to fantasy and wildly popular teen “glamour fiction” at the “Youth Stoop” stage. Children of all ages will also be entertained at the Target “Children’s Area,” whereby kingpins of children’s lit like Mo Willems and Jane O’Connor will read from their work.

Again this year, beautiful, collectable Brooklyn Book Festival bookmarks will be available at all branches of the Brooklyn Public Library and most independent bookstores.
The 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival is an initiative of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz presented by Brooklyn Tourism and the Brooklyn Literary Council. Target is a major sponsor of this year’s Festival, and
Time Out New York will once again serve as the event’s media sponsor, and WNYC is the radio sponsor.

Cultural partners include BAM, Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Public Library, Housing Works Bookstore Café, PEN American Center, National Book Foundation, and Words Without Borders. Programming partners are The Nation and The New York Review of Books.

Following is a complete list of confirmed authors to date. As programming information is updated, check
Also visit and the Brooklyn Book Festival Official Site on facebook.
For photos of the Brooklyn Book Festival, visit