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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Day God Laughed by Marcia Lee Laycock

“See what you have to look forward to now?”

The whisper in my ear came from a friend in the pew behind us and it made my smile widen. It was Dec. 10th and we were on our first outing with our new baby. She was only 10 days old, but we braved the frigid Yukon winter to attend the Christmas pageant at a small mission church.

I knew the service wouldn’t be a grand production. The church was just a hall, tiny and dilapidated. The Carols were sung a cappella, without a pianist to help keep us in tune. The pageant consisted of six or seven children dressed in bathrobes, their heads in kitchen-towel wraps. The backdrop was made of cardboard stars covered in tinfoil.

But I was seeing everything attached to Christmas in a new way. The tinfoil stars glittered more brightly than a chandelier. The carols were as harmonious as though sung by angels. And the children... ah, the children made the story live!

I was bursting with thankfulness. I had just been given the desire of my heart, the precious gift of a child of my own.

We had been told it wouldn’t happen, and after five years without conceiving a child, my husband and I tried to resign ourselves to that reality. I took great pains to hide the deep sadness I found almost unbearable. No one knew how much I wanted a baby, but the clues were there. I was angry much of the time. Convinced God was punishing me, I hated Him. The bitterness poured into all aspects of my life.

Until the day God laughed.

It was on the road to Mayo, Yukon. I was going to visit a friend, determined not to think about God or religion or any of the baffling questions my husband kept bringing up. But no matter what I tried, my mind would not rest. The question of God’s existence and what he had to do with me would not go away. In desperation, I pulled my vehicle into a lookout point above the Stewart River.

The beautiful river valley stretched out below, but I barely saw it. In turmoil, I challenged God to do something to prove He was there. Then I realized how foolish I was, talking to a God I did not really believe existed. At that point something happened which I have never been able to describe adequately. I “heard” laughter, like a grandfather chuckling, and the words, “Yes, but I love you anyway.”

None of this was audible, yet it was real. I thought I was going insane. The turmoil had finally pushed me over the edge and now I was hearing voices. I stomped on the gas pedal of my truck, turned the radio up as loud as it would go, and fled.

My visit with my friend turned out to be more discussion of spiritual things, but by the time I returned home I was determined not to pursue Christianity. Besides, I had something else on my mind. I had been suffering from a strange flu. On about the seventh day of this “flu”, the realization I was in fact pregnant flooded over me like warm rain. With it came a thunderbolt of truth.

This was the “something” I had challenged God to do. The child growing in my womb was His answer, the proof of His love. He gave me the desire of my heart. She was born Nov. 30, 1982.

“See what you have to look forward to now?”

Oh yes, I saw. I saw a future filled with the knowledge there is peace without measure, grace without limit and love without conditions. I saw a future suddenly bright because I believe the Christmas story. A tiny baby, whose sole purpose was to die for me and all others, was born in Bethlehem. I saw the reality that the Christ is still intimately involved in our lives here on earth.

Though the church may be just a hall, the music less than perfect, and the costumes homemade, the story is exquisite. The story is true!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Weekend for Writers

This weekend traditionally kicks off the shopping season for Christmas. Though my husband and I have never yet participated in pre-dawn “Black Friday” rush, we did this year. Both of us wanted an item that we weren’t willing to risk losing if supplies ran out.

In my case it was an exceptional deal on a color laser printer. My monotone one broke, and quite frankly, it’s expensive to print manuscripts using ink jet.

My husband, purchased a 22” LCD monitor to better see his software when programming his music.

While I was out, I couldn't help but notice some great deals for writers.

Student, Teacher editions of Office 2007 were/are on sale as low as $59.99

Laptops were as low as $350

Printers, both laser, inkjet, and multifunction were nearly half their listed retail price

Computer desk stations were as low as $25

Wireless Mice as low as $4.99. (I don’t now about wireless keyboards because I’ve wanted one for two years, and knew if I looked, I’d buy.)

External Hard Drive prices were slashed.

Many of the sales continue into this weekend. It’s not too late to pick your Christmas present early this year. If you want to browse some of this years specials, check out:

Author Jeffrey Cohen ~ Interviewed

Jeffrey Cohen is the pseudonym of Jeff Cohen, a freelance writer/reporter/screenwriter/ghostwriter who writes under the name Jeffrey Cohen, because it's the one his mother gave him. He has written for the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, USA Weekend, the Newark Star-Ledger and Writer's Digest, among others. He's the author of the Double Feature Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime, which began in 2007 with Some Like It Hot-Buttered and continued in July 2008 with the current It Happened One Knife. The third in the series, A Night at the Operation, will be published in April 2009. Cohen also wrote the Aaron Tucker mystery series, including For Whom the Minivan Rolls, A Farewell to Legs and As Dog It My Witness, as well as two non-fiction books, The Asperger Parent: How to Raise A Child with Asperger Syndrome and Maintain Your Sense of Humor and Guns A' Blazing: How Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum and Schools Can Work Together--Without A Shot Being Fired. Visit his website and blog.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

My latest book is It Happened One Knife, the second in the Double Feature Mystery series. The series concerns itself with Elliot Freed, a recovering author and husband who takes all his available funds and throws them into the purchase of a one-screen movie theatre in central New Jersey. He resolves to show only comedies, one classic and one contemporary each week, and renames the place Comedy Tonight. In It Happened One Knife, Elliot meets two of his comedy idols, the team of Harry Lillis and Les Townes, now both in their eighties, and sets out to investigate when Lillis informs him that Townes murdered his wife 50 years ago.

Share a bit about your unique writing journey.

I believe I took a left turn in Albuquerque when I should have stayed right on I-95.

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

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think that’s something writers made up to justify procrastination. I have to write for the clients I get, and if I tell a newspaper that I can’t deliver that story on Thursday because I have writer’s block, they’ll be certain to find someone who can. Just sit down and write something. You can always fix it later.

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

You have to get out and network. It might not be who you know rather than what you know, but if you don’t know anybody, it’s unlikely your voice will be heard. Get out there (even online) and meet people in the publishing business.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

The Lillian Vernon Catalog. If you buy three ideas, the shipping is free.

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

As the father of a child with Asperger Syndrome, I’m so used to “the look” that I’m immune to it now. I don’t think about it. Some people will think you’re weird. That’s the way it goes. And my son is now a college student living in Philadelphia, so we seem to have done all right.

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

Favorite part: Not having to wear a tie. Least favorite: Not having a steady income.

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

I’ve noticed that I tend to write fiction in the mid-to-late afternoon. Other than that, I don’t see any shortcuts. You just have to wait for the initial idea, and then jump on it like a scared rabbit until it gets into a shape you can work with. And yes, I ended that last sentence on a preposition. Revoke my artistic license.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

No thanks; I’m good.
I don’t outline. It takes the fun out of it for me if I know every single thing that’s going to happen before I write it. I have three or four major scenes I know I want to write, and everything else happens when it is required to happen.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book?

I understand getting the pages to stick to the binding is something of a problem.

Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

I have a saggy middle, but I thought we were talking about books. I tend to write pretty lean books, and then my editor shows me the innumerable places where the plot could be infinitely better, and I always listen to her, even when I disagree, because in the end, she’s always right. It’s infuriating.

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

First, dry behind the ears. People don’t like that. And be prepared to publicize, promote and otherwise shout your name from the rooftops, because you’re mostly on your own out there.

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

Probably having children. You deal with young lives and you get a renewed sense of innocence and trust that you might have forgotten. It makes me less bloodthirsty, which is bad for a writer of murder mysteries, and more compassionate, which is good for a writer of any kind.

Any concerns or passion where books and society intersect? Spout a bit…

My first mystery series dealt with a man who, among other concerns, had a son with Asperger Syndrome. I wrote about that experience because I wanted people to know what it was like, what it looked like, and why some people behave the way they do. Mostly, I did it so people would treat my son with more understanding when they met him.

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

All reader response (even the guy who emailed that my novel was “one of the three worst books” he’d ever read) is welcome. But when I hear from other Asperger parents about how my books made a difference to them, that’s especially satisfying.

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

Do everything you can think of. Do stuff you can’t think of. Go online. Go offline. Forget advertising. Meet people. Tell them about your book. If you come up with something that works really well, call me and tell me.

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

Yes. And the answer is: 12.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!

An Interview with James David Jordan

A minister’s son who grew up in the Mississippi River town of alton, Illinois, James David Jordan has a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois, and a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in the Dallas suburbs.

Jim grew up playing sports and loves athletics of all kinds. But he especially loves baseball, the sport htat is a little bit closer to God than all the others.

Before you became an author, you were (and still are!) a very successful business attorney. Tell us how and why you began to write novels.

I was a journalism major before I went to law school, and I have always enjoyed writing. A few years back, I set out to write a book of Sunday school lessons for a class I was teaching, but I struggled with a strong urge to change the stories to suit my teaching purposes. I concluded that God might not look favorably on my editing of his work, so I decided to write a novel instead. My goal was to weave a biblical theme seamlessly into a page-turning story. The result was my first novel, Something That Lasts, which was very well received, both critically and by the public. I’m only interested in writing novels with faith-based themes, because in my mind issues of faith are the big issues in life.

In your latest novel, Forsaken, your main characters are presented with what seems an almost impossible dilemma. Why did you choose to address this thought-provoking topic for your book?

I always start my books with a biblical theme in mind and weave the plot around that theme. The idea for Forsaken came from Matthew 10:37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” I pictured what it would be like to have to choose between God and my own child’s life. That dilemma is the central plot point of Forsaken.

This is actually the first of a two-book series revolving around Taylor Pasbury. Tell us about her.

Taylor Pasbury is my favorite character ever. She is enticingly flawed. By that, I mean that she is nearly a complete wreck on a personal level—drinks too much and sleeps around, for example—but there is so much that is good and courageous and vulnerable about her that it’s impossible not to root for her. She needs faith desperately, and her relationship with Simon Mason is her first step.

In Forsaken, you choose to tell the story through the eyes of a non-believer, or at least a tepid believer. Why?

I try to be careful not to write preachy Christian fiction. I think that can come off as boring to believers and unreadable to non-believers. I’m not trying to administer an evangelical bludgeoning. I want to write page-turning stories that will stimulate thought on important issues of faith. So I try to weave Christian themes and discussions seamlessly into the plot.

Will Taylor Pasbury make it all the way back to God?

We’ll have to pull for her. Taylor has a good heart, but she’s had a hard life, and faith is not an easy thing for her. She has to have help to find her way.

Why did you choose a televangelist as a protagonist in this story? What makes Simon different from the stereotypical televangelist?

For the full impact of the central dilemma to play out, I thought it was necessary to make the decision—my faith or my child—to be very public. That raises the stakes, for the characters and the reader. Simon is nearly as flawed as Taylor. Together they learn to live with what they’ve done in the past, and they do the best they can under impossible circumstances. There’s a great life lesson for all of us in that. There are no religious superheroes in Forsaken.

Forsaken raises challenging questions. By the end of the book, do you answer those questions, or do you leave readers to find the answers for themselves?

I try never to answer the questions for the reader. That would insult the reader’s intelligence. I try to tell a page-turning story that stimulates thought about specific issues of faith. I’m very careful not to make my stories into evangelical bludgeonings.

What lessons did you learn through the course of writing this book?

I learned three primary lessons:

(1) I should never be afraid to fail for Christ. The book business is tough and every writer experiences plenty of rejection. As long as my purpose was to glorify Christ, I decided that the possibility of failure was something I could leave for God to deal with. (Fortunately, Something That Lasts was very successful and led to a two-book contract with Broadman & Holman.)

(2) I should never try to face temptation alone. One of the main characters in Something That Lasts makes the mistake of thinking he can handle temptation on his own. It's better to admit to God that we're not strong enough, and rely on his strength.

(3) I should never get discouraged when I get discouraged in my faith. Even Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Bible, got discouraged. Sometimes we will, also. Perseverance is the key. That’s a point that comes through in both of my books.

Were you able to come up with an answer to what you would do if you found yourself in Simon’s situation?

I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know if I could watch one of my children die.

Forsaken addresses martyrdom—its motivations and its results. What was the point you were trying to make?

In both of the Taylor Pasbury books (the sequel, Double-Cross, will be released in the fall of 2009), there is an underlying theme: Grace is a gift, and we can’t earn it. So that raises the question of why there have been so many martyrs. What motivates a person to die for faith, when it’s not necessary to salvation? Love is obviously the most important motivator, but there are other, more subtle motivations also. For example, would the Apostle Peter have been as motivated to die for his faith if he did not suffer from the guilt of denying Jesus three times? Would Paul have been as motivated to suffer for his faith if he was not wracked with guilt over his persecution of Christians before his conversion? Martyrdom is not necessary to salvation, but in some instances it may be something a person feels he owes. No human sacrifice can be as pure as Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Your characters are not religious superheroes. In fact, they are very obviously flawed. Why have you chosen to present a message of faith through characters whose faith is so readily assailable?

My goal is to write entertaining stories first, and to weave the Christian message into the stories naturally. I’m hoping that many readers who would never consider picking up a “Christian” book will read Forsaken because it’s a page-turning story with well-developed characters. Cookie cutter characters with no depth bore me, and I never want to create shallow characters for my readers.

What do you have planned for Taylor in the next book of the series?

Taylor’s mother, who ran out when Taylor was nine, reappears in Double-Cross. She has her own set of flaws and quirks. Together they get themselves into some serious scrapes as they try to unravel the mystery of a suicide that just doesn’t add up.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Karen Ball ~ Guest Blogger

Karen Ball is currently the Senior Acquisitions Editor for B&H Publishing Group. She learned her craft while heading up fiction for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, and Zondervan. Karen is also an award-winning author. Next to working with words, Karen's greatest joys are playing with her dogs, laughing, savoring nature and wildlife, and finding wonder in everyday life.

Publishing: The Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I was sitting on a plane the other day (something I do far more often than I'd like...14 trips this year! Yikes!), and a young man next to me asked me what I do. I'm always a bit hesitant to answer that, because, almost always, the response to "I work in publishing" is, "Wow. I've always wanted to write a book!" The ensuing conversation then centers on how I can help that person accomplish that goal. Still, he asked, so I answered, steeling myself for the inevitable response.

"Cool. So do you think publishing's going to survive?"

I sat up in my seat and grinned. This was going to be fun. "What do you think?"

"Well, people have less money to spend. That's for sure. And books are luxury items, right?"

I leaned back. "Let me ask you this. Why do you think people read books?"

Now he was grinning. " be entertained. And educated."

I waited. His grin broadened.

"To escape. You know, go places they can't go in person."

I angled a look at him. "Anything else?"

He pursed his lips and deep thoughts furrowed his brows until he finally shrugged. "Not that I can think of off the top of my head."

Fibro was making my hip ache by then, but I didn't really care. I just walked my feet up the wall in front of me (the main reason I always try to sit in the bulkhead), and nodded. "Let me tell you a story." And I did. Told him about a woman who loved her mother with a depth and devotion that never faltered. Who counted both her parents among the rarest and greatest gifts God had given her. Then her mother developed diabetes.

"Ah." He leaned back against the window, watching me. "My grandmother has diabetes."

"It's a terrible disease."

The look in his eyes told me he understood. Far better than he'd ever wanted to. "Absolutely."

The story continued to unfold as I related how the mother's diabetes worsened and finally became life threatening. How this woman did everything she could to help her mother, including moving herself and her hubby across the states to live with her parents. How she went with her mother to doctors' visits and, ultimately, the hospital. How her mother was scheduled for heart surgery that was supposed to give her a new lease on life, and instead left her weak and unable to come home. How her mother ended up in a nursing home for rehab. How rehab didn't work. How the battle to save her mother's life ended three months later when she, her father, and one of her brothers watched as the ICU nurse turned off the oxygen. Together she and her family wept, sang the songs her mother, and watched as the most precious woman God had used to grace their lives slipped the bonds of earth and entered eternity.

The young man's face was damp. Only fair, since mine was soaked with the tears I hadn't been able to restrain.

"She was your mom."

A simple statement of fact. I turned to him. "After she died, guess where I went to find help."

There was gentleness in his features, his tone. "The bookstore."

"I needed to know others had experienced this depth of despair and survived. I needed to know--"

"--that you weren't alone." As though to affirm those words, several loud dings sounded. We were about to begin our descent into the airport. He shifted, securing his seatbelt, stowing his table, making sure his seat was in the full and upright position. We rested in a cocoon of silence for a few moments, then he nodded. "Publishing will make it."

I held back a smile. "Oh?"

His arched brow told me he knew I was being coy. "We need books. They let us know we're not alone. They comfort us and encourage us. They're--"

"--our friends." Now I was finishing his thought, and we both grinned.

He nodded. "Exactly."

I liked this young man. Felt honored to have shared these hours with him. "You know what I've seen, lo these 51 years, 26 of which I've spent in publishing?"

"What's that?"

"When things grow dark, when people are caught in fear and despair, they turn to reading for relief. For help. For guidance. Even for a momentary escape. Books will go on. They'll always be there, in one format or another, to carry us through."

The plane bounced and shimmied as the wheels hit the ground. Once the flight attendant finished her welcome to our destination, my seat companion drew in a satisfied breath. "That's a good thing." Another smile. "In fact, it's a very good thing."

Again, the plane seemed to sing its agreement with a series of dings, letting us know we could gather our things. We stood, pulled our sundry items from the bins, and shifted into the line waiting to exit.


I looked over my shoulder. "Yes?"

"Thanks. For talking. And keep doing what you're doing, okay? It matters."

"Tell you what, I'll keep doing what I'm doing if you keep reading and thinking and sharing your wonderful insights with people." The line started forward. "Deal?"

A hand rested for a moment on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You got it."

Once in the terminal, he tossed me a wave and went on his way, leaving me the richer for that encounter--and more determined than ever to do my part to keep publishing on track and strong. Because here's the truth, folks: Publishing will survive. And thrive. Because people write from their hearts, share from the soul, and speak Truth into the void. As long as writers write, readers read, and God chooses to use books to change lives, publishing will be just fine. It may change, it may even falter from time to time, but it will survive.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

What Lies Within - #3 Family Honor Series

Nothing’s going to stop Kyla…until the ground crumbles beneath her feet.

Kyla Justice has arrived. Her company, Justice Construction, is one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful companies in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, something is missing. Not until she’s called on to build a center for inner-city kids does she realize what it is: her sense of purpose. Now nothing can stop her, not the low budget, not supply problems, not gang opposition, not her boyfriend’s suggestion that she sell her business and marry him–and most especially not that disagreeable Rafael Murphy.

Rafe Murphy understands battle. Wounded in action, this Force Recon Marine carries the scars–and the nightmares–to prove it. Though he can’t fight overseas any longer, he’s found his place as a warrior in the civilian world. So he soldiers on, trusting that one of these days, God will reveal to him why Rafe survived the ambush in Iraq. That day has arrived.

Kyla and Rafe both discover that determination alone won’t carry them through danger and challenges. When gang violence threatens their very foundations, there’s only one way to survive: rely on each other, be real–and surrender to God. In other words, risk everything…

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Un-Obligatory Reader

Mike Duran

Botanists estimate that there are more than 240,000 species of
flowering plants. Herbs, grasses, cacti, crab apples. Egads! Why limit your enjoyment to buttercups, when lupines and lilies are equally elegiac? In a world of wildly diverse blooms, confining oneself to locoweed seems crazy.

The same is true for reading. Noir and romance, horror and historicals, cyberpunk and espionage, sociology and satire. Where do you begin? Well, if you're a writer, you begin with your genre.

The first writer’s conference I ever attended, I was given a name tag that included, in big block letters, the genre of my choice. So I was:

Mike Duran

Trouble is, I’m much more than that. I’m courtroom drama and urban myth and political essay and poetry. But, alas, writing in a specific genre requires reading in that genre. In other words, despite the other 239,999 other flowering plants, you should confine yourself to locoweed.

Sure, reading nothing but chick lit, sci-fi, or cozy mysteries, will keep you up on
that particular genre. But it also can lead to a creative echo chamber, a literary myopia that insulates you from a broader spectrum of books. Even though I love supernatural suspense, reading only supernatural suspense gets boring.

The Modern Writer's Workshop, author Stephen Koch addresses this "boredom" that authors sometimes get mired in:
...please, don't sink into this woeful nonsense about not having time to read. Find it. Make it. How much time each day do you give to TV? To the daily paper? The crossword? The real culprit here is almost never your schedule. It is boredom -- your boredom with the books you think you are supposed to read. Find a book that you want, a book that gives you real trembling excitement, a book that is hot in your hands, and you'll have time galore. (emphasis mine)
This notion that aspiring authors are "supposed to read" certain books is prevalent in writers' circles. It can lead to guilt (What? You haven't read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers?), contempt (You call yourself a Fantasy fan and haven't read Lord of the Rings?), exclusion (Finishing the Harry Potter series is a requirement for inclusion in our coven... er, group), and eventually makes for one long must-read list.

But shouldn't there be books that you, as an author, are "supposed to read"? Shouldn't some books be "obligatory" for writers?

Hmm. Applying the elements of style is probably more important than reading
The Elements of Style. A publisher could care less if I've studied Strunk's classic. What they're looking for is the application of its principles. Still, familiarity with the work can't help but get you pointed in the right direction. Likewise, one might aspire to create the next Lord of the Rings. But getting there without having actually read Tolkien would be a fantasy. Classics, they say, are books that everybody knows about, but no one has read. Could this be why there's less and less "contemporary classics"?

So if writing good stories is the result of reading good stories, then immersing oneself in the best of any given genre is a necessity. The problem is when these "must read" lists become obligatory.

Koch again:
All serious education necessarily involves a certain amount of obligatory reading. That is how it has to be and exactly as it ought to be. Yet this essential aspect of growth does have a dangerous downside: It can darken all reading under the dull shadow of obligation. At a certain moment in your life as a writer, you should resolve to read only what matters to you. Not what people say should matter. What does. You should seek that out relentlessly, find it, and then you should read and read and read. (emphasis mine)
I'll admit, this advice that "you should resolve to read only what matters to you" sounds subversive. I mean, what about Phillip Marlowe, Huck Finn and Atticus Finch? Don't these classic characters warrant a hearing? It feels like I'm violating some sacred oath by not reading Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby. If I'm writing Supernatural Suspense, don't I have an obligation to read Stephen King? And if I'm writing YA, isn't the Twilight series required reading? Conversely, if I'm writing Romance, what am I doing reading Enders Game or Odd Thomas?

The real "obligation" of the writer is to tell a good story. And how she gets to that point is entirely up to her. It's why I'm currently reading about
Matrioshka brains, Unhistory, and the Nature of Mass Movements. No, it's not what I'm "supposed" to read. But it sure fends off the boredom. Besides, in a world of Plumerias and Passionflowers, why confine yourself to locoweed?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What I Have Learned from Snow by Marcia Lee Laycock

Snow is not white. I learned this long ago, while walking in an evergreen forest with my art instructor. He challenged my fellow students and me to look and to see. Where shadows lay, the snow was a soft, cold blue; where it had melted, it was a silvery grey. Where the sun struck, it was gold and as the afternoon wore on, it began to take on a pink tinge.

I noticed the shapes, too: swirls and sculptures made by wind, tiny imprints of squirrels and birds, the pattern of seeds and pine cones indented in the drifts. There were strong contrasts: the softness of a single stock of tall yellow grass against the hardness of massive, dark evergreens.

That day I saw the face of winter, and the nature of snow, in a new way. I discovered snow does not “lay like a fuzzy white blanket,” but more like an intricate shroud, shifting with light and colour, here with gentle curves, there with brittle edges of ice. I discovered its texture, the variety of its form and motion. I discovered it has life and beauty.

Remembering that day, I am challenged to bring the same kind of awareness into my writing. Too often I’m tempted to laziness, letting words, sentences, paragraphs come as they may, and stay as they are. I have learned it is worth the effort to take the time to look, to test the true colour of the words, to hear their tone and voice, to ponder the exact meaning I intend. Hearing a reader say, “that line will stay with me for a long time,” justifies the struggle to be precise.

As writers who are Christian, seeing and portraying what is really there is not an option. We are witnesses of truth. Failing to work at our craft is failing to be faithful to that calling and to the gift we have been given. The apostle Peter says it best in 1 Peter 4:10 - "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."

When we truly reflect the world around us, in all its splendour and sometimes horror, through words that live in the hearts and minds of our readers, we honor God and our craft. It is a high calling worthy of much effort.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The World's Great Literary Masterpieces — Freely Available at your Fingertips

Last week I asked about Readers. This week I’m curious to learn how many of you are using Project Gutenberg, which currently has over 25,000 free books online and over 3million downloads a month.

It’s absolutely brilliant for a historical novelist. I’ve used it to read Victorian housekeeping books, diaries, and research topics of interest. A quick search of my eBooks folder shows me some of the various subjects and books I’ve downloaded:

AN ENGLISH GRAMMAR, by W. M. Baskervill and J. W. Sewell

1811 DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE, by Captain Grose et al.


And I quote, "Practical Handbook Of Pertinent Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational, And Oratorical Terms, For The Embellishment Of Speech And Literature, And The Improvement Of The Vocabulary Of Those Persons Who Read, Write, And Speak English.”

LETTERS FROM ENGAND 1846-1849, by Elizabeth Davis Bancroft

THE CENTURY VOCABULARY BUILDER, By Garland Greever and Joseph M. Bachelor.

THE HOUSE OF THE VAMPIRE, by George Sylvester Viereck


THE LOSS OF THE SS. TITANIC, by Lawrence Beesley (a firsthand account that kept me as riveted as the movie)

et cetera, et cetera . . .

I suppose any non-writer would think I was grabbing all the boring ones. But it's a gold mine for writers and researchers, not to mention a place to read the classics for free. They also have illustrated books, children's botany, etc.

So do any of you guys visit Project Gutenberg? And if so, I'm curious what you've down loaded.

Chocolate Fan, Guest Book Author Angel Fox ~ Interviewed

Angela Folds Fox is a wife, mother, writer and lover of all things creative. With a Bachelors degree in Political Science (Mercer University) and a Masters degree in Counseling (Reformed Theological Seminary), she tried to choose a more “normal” career path, but her creative spirit shrieked at the notion of a desk and four walls and her heart always led her back to the written word.

Her articles have appeared in Christian Retailing, Giftware News, Inspirational Giftware, and various CBA publications. She founded – a resource for artists to find creative inspiration - and she writes a weekly column in the Franklin Review Appeal newspaper. She is also writing and rewriting her first novel.

Five years ago Angela sat down in her friend Bethany’s kitchen for the inaugural chocolate taste testing as Bethany sought to select the perfect ingredients for her artisan chocolates. “It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it,” she recalls. Not only did the two taste tons of chocolate, they also spent hours researching the origins and history of the delectable confection. The research was so fascinating they decided then and there that the story needed to be told.

The book idea ruminated over time as Bethany founded her first chocolate café, Angela continued her career in marketing and freelance writing and both pursued making babies. Eventually, however, the book idea could be suppressed no longer. So, Chocolate Covered Friendship was written by friends who love chocolate for friends who love chocolate! Yummy.

Angela, her husband Jerry and darling son Brayden reside in Franklin, Tennessee.

Tell us a little about your journey.

As a child I was constantly writing – writing letters, stories and poems. Yet, when the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question was asked of me, my response was always “an attorney.” Where in the world did that come from? Nevertheless, that was the educational path I pursued.

With a pre-law Bachelor’s degree under my belt, I worked as a paralegal to save money for law school. And then the “what-was-I-thinking?” moment hit me. But, this time I decided I wanted to be a mental health counselor.

With my Master’s in Counseling degree under my belt, the “what-was-I-thinking?” moment hit me again (this time with the help of a required course on Career Counseling).

As a graduate student I’d started writing articles for Christian trade publications. Before long, I’d ditched all pursuits of licensure in mental health counseling and began the journey, in earnest, that had been calling me all along – writing.

There was still a problem: I’m way to extroverted to be the quintessential writer. So, in 2000, I ventured into PR and marketing for Thomas Nelson Publisher’s gift book division.

Today, I’m a full-time mom and part-time writer. I’m working on my first novel, I write a weekly column for our local paper, I blog on my website, and I’ve co-authored a gift book entitled Chocolate Covered Friendship that was released in October, ironically by Thomas Nelson Publisher’s gift book division.

Share a bit about your book.

Chocolate Covered Friendship is a collaborative effort by my good friend and artisan chocolatier, Bethany Thouin. (Every woman should have an artisan chocolatier as a good friend!) We met around the time I moved to Nashville to work for Thomas Nelson.

She’d come to Nashville to become the next Amy Grant. I’d come to Nashville so that I could get this response when I told people I was a writer, “Oh, is there a song of yours on the radio that I’d recognize?” (I changed my short answer to “I’m a journalist,” even though that isn’t 100% accurate.)

Several years later, when Bethany’s idea for a chocolate business was planted, I was an eager participant in her market research. (Meaning: I gladly tasted lots of chocolate and said, “It is good”.)

The more we researched the origins and history of chocolate the more we began to see the depth of chocolate’s story. But, the timing was not right to tell that story. Over the next few years Bethany focused on creating artisan truffles and chocolates and I continued freelance writing.

Bethany is an artist through and through. She is very intentional about everything she creates – including truffles. The ingredients for each truffle are inspired by character traits of specific friends or people who’ve inspired her along life’s journey. And she names each truffle after the person it was created for.

It was a natural fit to write a book on chocolate and friendship and feature a truffle/friend/chocolate in each of the thirteen chapters. Each truffle is unique. Each friend is unique. And each aspect of chocolate that we discuss is unique. Combining all of these traits makes for a sweet combination.

Why a gift book?

Chocolate Covered Friendship is as visual as it is narrative, so a gift book was always the goal. Chocolate and friendship are meant to be shared. We wanted a product that would be the perfect gift to give a friend. Yet, we also wanted the book to have depth and meaning. We honestly believe we’ve accomplished both.

What are some of the more unique situations you've faced with your publication of a gift book?

One very fun and positive situation we experienced was the creative freedom the publisher gave us in creating this book. They certainly had the option of taking our manuscript and designing the book to their own desires and specifications, but instead, they allowed us to be very hands-on in the design process.

The result is a very authentic and organic visual journey. Almost all of the images in the book were taken at a charming cottage in our hometown of Historic Franklin, Tennessee. Every truffle photographed is the actual truffle featured in the chapter. We were even able to solicit our friends to be our “models”, which gives the book a very real and natural feel.

A challenge we continually faced was making the book marketable to a wide audience. We are Christians. Our message is inherently Christian. But we are not preachy. We believe our message of chocolate and friendship is universal. We’d hoped the book could be “mainstream” yet still reflect our message of faith.

Yet, we kept getting push-back during the process that it was not “Christian enough”. And that presented quite a challenge considering our desire for broad-appeal. For example: One of the truffles contains Irish Crème. Now, alcohol is not present in the truffle, but nonetheless the publisher has been asked to change the verbiage to Irish Crème Flavoring in reprints in order to appease a few sales channels.

What areas of writing most challenge you?

My heart’s desire is to publish a novel – preferably the one I’ve been writing for the past seven years. I cringe when I read stories of writers who scrap half a dozen manuscripts before publishing their “pearl”. Really? All that work down the drain? The possibility frightens me.

For me, writing Chocolate Covered Friendship was easier (relatively speaking, of course) than writing my novel. Non-fiction is finite. We had thirteen chapters with beginnings, middles and ends. This “novel thing” completely eludes me at times. Will there ever be an end?

That’s why I’m on this website every day reading about the experiences of other novelists. I desperately need the inspiration.

Any marketing ideas or experience you think might help our readers?

Ahh … marketing. Isn’t it a joy? (Said sarcastically, even from a writer with a background in marketing.) My advice: When you meet people whose publishers posted billboards and hired Bassett Hounds to market their book for them, just shoot them on the spot. (Yes, I’m talking about you Michael Snyder.)

The more accurate scenario is a whole lot of self-marketing. Of course, it helps when your co-author provides chocolate samples at book events!

But seriously … one very effective marketing tool is viral marketing. Whenever I’d read about a writer who loved chocolate (several of whom had posted on this site) I’d make a note of it in a Word document file. Then, when our book was completed, I asked these writers if they’d be willing to review our book on and/or their personal blogs, etc. in exchange for a copy of the book. Writers are so eager and willing to help their fellow woman! And getting these reviews helps to spread the word about our book.

Closing remarks, the perfect answer to the question I didn't ask?

When in doubt – add chocolate!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Author Revisited ~ Donn Taylor

Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature at two liberal arts colleges. Before his latest novel, Rhapsody in Red, he published a suspense novel, The Lazarus File (spies and airplanes in the Caribbean), and the poems he published in various journals over the years are collected in his book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. He is a frequent speaker for writers' groups and has taught poetry writing at the Glorieta and Blue Ridge conferences. He and his wife live near Houston, where he writes fiction, poetry, and articles on current topics. For more on Donn, check out The Christian Suspense Zone, where Rhapsody in Red is featured as the book of the month.

Tell us a little about your latest release:
Rhapsody in Red, published by Moody, is a light-hearted mystery set on a college campus. The hero (if you can call him that) is a reclusive history professor with musical hallucinations. The heroine is a newly-hired professor of comparative religions, headstrong and determined to succeed on her own. They stumble onto the body of a murdered colleague and promptly get suspected of committing the murder. Though they're completely ill-matched and often in conflict with each other, they decide toteam up and find the real murderer before the police can pin it on them. That task requires them to prevail against the police, the murderer, organized crime, and (worse yet) an unsympathetic college administration. Along the way, there's some light satire of college life. I hope the exchanges of wit and the protagonist's interior music score make the novel sufficiently different from those with similar plots.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
Not a single moment, nor even several. Over time, a number of things converged: I'd been planning to write about a professor who stays in trouble because he actually says what many faculty would like to say but don't dare. Then I read a newspaper article about musical hallucinations, researched it further, and decided afflicting my professor with them was a good way to give the novel interesting reinforcements and ironies. Historically, many Christian colleges tend to become more and more secular. Many of the smaller ones are pushed that way for economic survival. And, as a member of the National Association of Scholars, I'm aware of the ridiculous lengths to which colleges will go to further the "diversity" myth. That last is how my Wiccan ended up on the religion faculty of a nominally Christian college.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
I think of hero and heroine as equals. He, Professor Preston (Press) Barclay, had to have a specialty I knew something about, so I made him a specialist in Renaissance history of ideas. (My academic specialty was English Renaissance literature approached from that perspective.) After that, it was a matter of finding eccentricities to signal his reclusiveness—little things like not owning a home computer and big things like mourning his deceased wife. And the heroine, Professor Mara Thorn, has characteristics of extreme independence. She had her name legally changed and she abhors being touched, but she has an inborn drive to discover truth regardless of the consequences. I suppose you could get a similar result by putting a dog and cat in the same box and shaking it.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
I most enjoyed working out the wit and interplay of hero and heroine as they develop mutual respect for each other's mind and character. I enjoyed least the laborious details of shaping the basic premise into a well-developed plot.

What made you start writing?
I guess it must be part of my genetic code. I don't remember a time when I wasn't trying to create something. I began writing music at age 14. Two years later I entered college as a music major, studied piano with an instructor on leave from Cincinnati Conservatory and played some of my classical compositions in her recitals. But at age 18 I got interested in poetry—the Romantics, of course—and began writing poetry and some very bad short stories. Since then, writing is just something I have to do, though there have been long periods when professional and family requirements pushed it far into the background.

What does your writing space look like?
The writing space usually looks like a combination library and paper mill that's been hit by a tornado. My wife and I share a small office in our house. I have a wrap-around computer desk squeezed into one corner—computer under it and monitor on top, backed up against the room corner. File cabinet at one end of the desk. A photo of my wife, Mildred, between the monitor and printer. On the other side of the monitor, references like Webster's Dictionary (Second edition, thank you, and you can keep the third), thesaurus, Chicago Manual of Style, etc. In another corner of the room, a closet with the door removed, where I keep a book case full of literary books and a selection of writing books. That's about it, except that I keep a digital voice recorder and a flash drive with backups of essential documents with me all the time.

What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
I don't think of writing as free time. I look on it as my job, just as I looked on the Army, grad school, and college teaching as jobs. I've always spent free time from my jobs with my wife and/or children. Until the wheels came off, I also found time for competitive basketball and running 10Ks. Now Mildred and I walk the woodland trails in our neighborhood whenever we can. We also enjoy attending church and prayer meeting.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
It always was and still is: taking the premise and wrestling it into a detailed and workable plot.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
Not really. I suppose there might be some overlap here and there, but I try to let each character be himself with his own set of values and mannerisms. Then I let them bounce off of each other like billiard balls after a vigorous break. At that point, they tend to develop themselves.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
Let's be clear that the novel is written mainly to entertain. But embedded in the entertainment is the message that Christianity is the only religion that adequately explains the undeniable reality of evil. There's also some light-hearted satire of the educationist world and its obsession with the "diversity" myth.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I'd have to be a sadist to take you through it in any detail, and as a writer I'm only a masochist. The process starts with searching for a premise, which consists of characters plus situation. That found, it takes a bit of research to see if the basic idea will work. Then I look to the ending, still thinking in general terms. After that, I look for the standard three or four disasters to form the major plot points. (However, I tend to use a stair-step sequence rather than any of the textbook plot patterns.) I've learned long since that I can't begin with a chapter-by-chapter outline that's worth having. So I start with the precipitating event and write toward the next plot point, then from point to point until I reach the end.
Along the way I do further research and keep notes on needed revisions and ways to enrich the text. (Good ideas for the first part of the novel often come during the last part.) I do outline the chapters when the first draft is finished and print out a 5 X 8 index card for each chapter. I make pen notes on the cards of what needs to be done to each chapter. Then I re-write the text as necessary. Mildred and I both do a final read-through to be sure everything works the way it should. I also talk with her a good bit during the drafting because she gives good advice, and a colleague reads and critiques each chapter.
The process reminds me very much of distance running: it's pretty painful while you're doing it, but there's a lot of satisfaction after you've finished and done it well.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
In fiction, the current project is a sequel to Rhapsody in Red, further developing both protagonists and giving them a different kind of problem to solve.
In poetry, I have a continuing crusade: Contrary to what's being done in college creative writing programs, I teach and encourage the writing of good-quality poetry that can be understood and enjoyed by ordinary educated readers. That's also what I write in my collection Dust and Diamond, and if enough of us begin doing that we may be able to bring the rich experience of poetry back to ordinary readers. I've written about this idea at greater length on my Web site,

Do you have any parting words of advice?
For aspiring writers? Three important items. The first is patience: it always takes longer than you think it's going to. Second, learn the craft: don't be too proud or too stubborn to learn basic rules of grammar and punctuation. Third, if you're driven to write, keep writing: even if you're never published, it will bring a great deal of satisfaction.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Author Interview ~ Robin Shope

NJ: Leave a comment and two of you will win copies of The Christmas Edition.

Robin Shope is the Special Education Coordinator for Denton County Juvenile Justice Alternative Program. She works with at risk teens from fifth grade through high school. She and her husband have been married for thirty-one years and have two grown children. They traveled overseas as missionaries, and later served as pastors of a church in Illinois. They live near Dallas, Texas.

What new book or project do you have coming out?

The Christmas Edition (first book in The Turtle Creek Edition series) debuts at the end of this month, just in time for Christmas. It’s a contemporary romance set in a fictional Wisconsin town. It should be available on Amazon and other online stores for easy shopping by the first week in December. I write stories about Christian people who struggle with their faith, but still depend on God.

Emotionally driven stories with a strong romance and a strong Christian principle. When a reader picks up one of my books I don’t want to fail them. I want them to awed, moved to laughter or tears—or both in the span of a few chapters. I want them to talk to their friends about my book, that they’ve found a keeper of an author in me because all my books are a must-read—and how they can’t wait for the sequel or the next new release.

Here is a blurb: Lucy Collins has given up on Christmas since the painful break-up with her fiancé. Things only get worse when a large newspaper is about to come to town and threatens the livelihood of their family run business, The Turtle Creek Newspaper. At the staff Christmas party, she makes a wish and what seems like the answer to her prayer walks in the front door to apply for the editor position, which they are hoping will bring new life to the paper. Not only is Joe McNamara a genius when it comes to the written word, but he is also gifted with ideas about keeping the newspaper afloat. However, Joe has a secret of his own that he is keeping from Lucy. If she finds it out, then what looks like a promising relationship will unravel, but it's Christmas time, the season of rebirth and miracles. Will the spirit of celebration be enough to heal two hearts? Or will the reality of deception make this the worst Christmas of all?

What sparked this story? Where do you usually find your stories?

Sometimes a headline will spark an idea. Other times I build a book around a childhood event. My dad owned a nightclub in Chicago. One morning we woke up to news the entrance was bombed because my dad refused to be a front for the mob. It is no surprise then that my first three books are thrillers. A good mystery book was all I ever used to pick up. I read them voraciously before I even considered writing them.

Because of that passion I decided to craft my own thriller filled with DNA, and fiber evidence. It took root and everywhere I looked I saw a potential story. By the time my third book was published, I had acquired a bevy of forensic experts that I consulted. I also bought an underground book of how someone can acquire a new identity and studied that for my fourth mystery book, Wildcard, which is coming out 2009. Yep, mystery writing was my genre.

Then the unexplainable happened. Just like in my books, there came an unexpected twist. No one saw it coming, least of all me. Right in the middle of forensic evidence, blood spatter information, and DNA, I developed an idea for a romance story. I bit back my laughter and went with it. It was time to grow as an author.

Clearly out of my comfort zone, I knew the general idea but it was the details and putting it all together that eluded me. I couldn’t imagine what a hero and heroine would have to talk about if they didn’t have a case to work on together. What did I know about romance? My opinion of romance books up to that point was; woman falls in love with man. Man falls in love with woman. A problem arises that causes the woman and the man to break up. Woman cries. Man sulks. Woman and man get back together. The end.

What to do? The only thing I could. I turned to Lifetime TV for help. The romance kind. And watched a weekend worth of sweet, very romantic stories, and I took notes. On Monday I headed to the library and checked out best selling romance authors. Ooou, I soon discovered that romance is ripe with emotion and conflict. And dark villains. Okay, by then I was hooked.I wrote The Christmas Edition. Queried a publisher. A week later, bang, I signed a contract for a series. The Valentine Edition – book 2 of the series – comes out early 2009.

I still love reading and writing mysteries, but in the past year a change has come over me. Perhaps it’s due to the worrisome condition of world events. Or needing to read/watch something uplifting and inspirational, I find myself leaping over my old favorites to the new one, contemporary romance.

Everyone wants to love and be loved. It’s a basic need. To be important to someone. But then stuff gets in the way. Stuff like trust issues, past relationships that ended badly, disappointment, hurt, not living up to someone's expectations. This is what links us all together, disenchantment in love on some level at some time in our life. I decided to write heartwarming romance where love and hope and faith were the cornerstones.

I found myself replaying popular love songs from my high school years. They were about being with the person you love, holding their hand, thinking about them all day long, dreaming about a future together, waiting for that first kiss. I found myself transformed by the melodies, the positive words.

That's when I began thinking about love being a powerful force. It’s a transformational power that can make us reach to the greatest pinnacle of our life or it can be our fatal flaw. This single emotion has a depth that is limitless. It can make you change directions.

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

I do get writer’s block. What helps me get rid of it is to physically move. I take a walk, run errands, fold laundry, vacuum…and it always works. In The Christmas Edition, my characters needed a shared goal for them to work toward together and then opposite goals each felt passionately enough about that it would eventually tear them apart. Joe needed to be a mystery when he came to town. Although they had never met, something from his past and the heroine’s past hooked them together. One of them knew about it, the other didn’t. I worked out the details while dusting.

Some novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What was the most difficult part of writing for you?

The hardest part about writing for me is giving up family and friend time. That sounds mean but if you are serious about writing there has to be some adjustments made to get the time to write. I work fifty hour weeks at a youth facility for troubled teens. When I am writing a book, or editing, which is almost constantly, I have to pull aside from people-time in order to meet deadlines.

How did you overcome it? Is there something that tends to set your creative juices to flowing?

The smallest thing can create an idea. Then I scramble for something to quick jot it down on. It happens to me while in traffic, making me pull over to the side of the interstate. Genius also strikes as I try to sleep. Quietly, I get up so as not to disturb my dear husband. I learned from experience that if I do not write it down immediately, it’s gone. I try to kid myself into believing I can hold onto the thought for another thirty minutes when I pull into my parking spot at work, or that I’ll still remember it when I wake up in the morning, but I never do. My brain is a sieve.

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

I share a workspace with my cat. She edits for me. And she isn’t so cooperative.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up at four or five and write until six when I get ready for school, pack my lunch and drive twenty miles. After school I pick up dinner on the way home. I hate doing that instead of cooking but when I need to write, I can’t spend time cooking and cleaning it up. I write until ten or later each night, depending on if I am inspired or tired. On weekends I write until midnight. Saturday mornings I take a break and then start again in the afternoon, only stopping to make dinner. Yes, I do cook on the weekends. Other times I take breaks from writing that can last a few weeks. It’s important to refresh your soul.

Some authors can write 5-10 thousand words a day. Some struggle to make 2 pages. Do you have to tweeze each word out, or do you knick the figurative vein and bleed words?

I am all the above. Creativity cannot be bottled. Some days I have to hit the keyboard all day long, logging thousands of words, as ideas rush through my head and onto the page. Other times I cannot think of a single thing to say so I edit what I have written. I can sit and analyze a sentence for an hour.

What do you reward yourself with after a good writing day?

A nap! It feels so wonderful to nestle into my covers with the breeze coming in through the open window and take a thirty minute nap. I awake refreshed and ready to jump right back in front of the computer again. Bluebonnet ice cream is also a great reward!

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

I love both! But if I have to pick one I will say it’s creating. When ideas keep coming one after the other, it’s like rafting the rapids. But when I hit slow water (the new ideas stop) then I get to enjoy the scenery (edit), enjoy what I have written and spend time choosing the right words, spend time developing a scene, emotions.

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

The Island of the Blue Dolphins Is the book that made me fall in love with reading and started me on my journey when I was in the fifth grade. I bought it at a book fair right before summer vacation and took it with me to our lake house in Wisconsin. I read that book four times and cried all summer long.
The Diary of Anne Frank is another favorite. I loved teaching it to my students. The spirit of that young girl who endured the unspeakable is remarkable.
The Bible brings us face to face with our Savior and teaches us about Him as we learn to live our life in the manner that pleases Him.

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

Create a flawed heroine.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in your journey to publication?

I *told* a good story but I needed to *show* a good story. I wish I had known about showing versus telling. Now I do.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

My advice is simple; know your audience and genre.

If you are like me, you enjoy various types of music, and your reading tastes run the gamut from fiction to nonfiction to children’s books and books meant for adults. Many new writers, including myself, started out writing anything and everything . . . that is not so bad, and quite energetic for an aspiring author.

But when we become serious about being published then writing takes on a whole new meaning. Pick one genre that you feel most passionate about and learn it. That means read that genre.

Study it as though you are preparing for a college exam. Take notes on how the characters are developed, when the problem occurs, how a hook is used, what about the story keeps you right on turning the pages. Better still, write down what you don’t like.

Writing takes work. Writer Loops are filled with the same type of questions from aspiring authors all asking the same basic questions such as I am writing a book for young adults. Can anyone suggest a good author for me to read? I shiver when I read that and not in a good way. Their shelves should already be filled with the likes of Jean Craighead George and Cynthia Rylant

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Amelia Grimstad


   The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword flew a good stride and a half and hissed into the Melimilak River.
     Steam rose as the flame-colored gem that allowed her to take on physical form sank. Ripples reproached Tambre from three different locations on the surface. Oh firmament above, had it skipped?
Some steadfast and stalwart Interraphym she was. No wonder her sovereign had not yet assigned her a ward. She fled when startled.
     The only thing that could make this more embarrassing would be having to manifest underwater. She looked past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal to where Ovryn stood, half-concealed in the shrubbery along the island’s shoreline. His shoulders shook with silent laughter while the echoes of his triumphant, inarticulate cry raced across the water.
     “Beloved?” he finally managed. “Tambre, are you all right?”
     Was she all right?
     Was she all right?
     He was lucky he was immortal.
     She wrapped her essence around him and leaned in. Come on, honey. Pick up the stone. I dare you.
     He swallowed.
     Ovryn stepped into the gentle current, retrieved her touchstone, and with his burden extended in a way that suggested she was getting better at projecting, returned to the rocky shore.  He held the glowing firedrop out between his thumb and index finger, and she reached for it, materializing one hand that cupped the rounded bottom of the stone and another that gripped the sword hilt that flowed upward as soon as her essence touched the physical anchor.
     The rutilated quartz hilt felt cool beneath her fingers, even as its needle-thin gold inclusions blazed and flames licked the edge of the forming blade. As she continued to manifest, she focused on sheathing the sword so she would not have to meet Ovryn’s eyes. She had trusted foolishly, and she was not sure with whom she was madder.
     He sleeked the silver-tipped feathers that bristled at the apex of one of her folded wings. “Beloved, are you—?”
     “You should flee now.” She loved him with the ferocity only an Interraphym was truly capable of, but right now, she hated him just as intensely.
     “Tambre, I—”
     Her fingernails dug into her palms. “Now.”
     He nodded and took flight, skimming over the water toward the western shore. Good choice. Her mate had more experience in the human lands than she did. He just might be able to avoid her until she calmed down.
     A slow count of five was all the head start her fury would allow, and she touched down on the shore right behind him. Ovryn had retained his neutral form—visually similar to a human—but had modified his wings to resemble a cloak. Tambre compressed her being into that shape as well, rather than a grizzly or a snow lion—something with good speed and nice, sharp claws.
     Time settled over her, thick and viscous, and in the moment she took to adjust to being fully mired in time and trapped in one shape, Ovryn ran. His usual good sense must have fled in the other direction, because he grinned and called over his shoulder, “Catch me if you can!”
     Brilliant. Her mate was simply brilliant. And it was too late to choose the snow lion form. She settled for a human growl and sprinted after him.
     Faint strains of late summer’s lullaby crooned to her as she passed. Slow down. Rest. All is coming to fruition…
     Yes, it surely was. Fruition and harvest. Too bad her mate had not sown more carefully.
     She lost a pace on him as she veered around the tiny sparks of life flaring from a field mouse nest. He gained another pace when he fluttered his wings to avoid trampling an oak sapling that would shelter a human couple’s picnic in four generations. However, when he glanced over his shoulder and flashed her an expression of unbridled delight, she put her head down and found a new level of speed.
     She kept her sword sheathed—she didn’t want to hurt him; not really—but as she tackled and pinned him to the ground, she figured any bruises he took were only justice. Break a promise to her, would he? Insufferable male.
     He twisted beneath her until they lay chest to chest and she could see the mirth still dancing in his eyes. “Oh, beloved, you should have seen the look on your face.” He paused to giggle—giggle—like a human child. “You haven’t looked like that in—”
     “In twenty generations? Since the last time you startled me, and I promised to never forgive you if you did it again?”
     His smile fell a little.
     She gaped. He hadn’t remembered. The Creator did not make mistakes, but why, oh why, had He made females’ memories so much better than males’?
     “I’m sorry,” he said, meeting her eyes briefly. “I simply—” He snorted and made suspiciously laughter-like noises again. “Could not help it...”
     Could not help it.
     She considered demonstrating that she could not help a fist to his gut, but he knew as well as she did when an act of the will was involved. If his prank had been inevitable, she would have foreseen him jumping out at her like sunrise on the day after the feast of Ceadamhain. If she could not help retaliating, he would be poised to block the punch she wanted to throw.
     Sometimes she wondered if free will might not be too great a responsibility.
     Still, she couldn’t let him completely avoid consequences. Tambre leaned close to her mate’s pointed ear. “You, my love, had better watch your back.”
     She slid her hands down Ovryn’s shoulders and across his sword-wielder’s chest. Lightning fast, she struck, digging her fingers into his sides. She tickled until his eyes streamed tears and he managed to throw her off and gain his feet. She lunged again for his ribs, but he caught her hands and drew her close.
     Resisting enough to let him know she was not completely mollified, she danced around the tender plants unfurling their roots where Ovryn’s tears had fallen. The Interraphym’s tearbushes would be fully-grown shrubs by nightfall, silver with cascades of blue flowers and a fragrance so sweet humans called them heaven’s incense.
     The thicket she had produced more than four hundred years ago was also the site where Ovryn had sworn never to startle her on purpose again. She still tended those bushes, drawn by their beauty and fragrance, even though they reminded her she had once shed tears.
     Ovryn, on the other hand, did not seem embarrassed by his involuntary physical display. Of course, he was Bonded. Resembling a human did not bother him. He was still smiling and trying to kiss her.
     “Affection is for beings who like each other,” she told him archly.
     “You don’t like me?”
     “I love you.” She batted her eyelashes at him.
     He laughed, and the sound almost made her forget her anger. Almost.
     She renewed her attack.
     He blocked her casually and frowned, his focus elsewhere. “Why are they being so foolish? I thought last night was warning enough.”
     He retracted his physical form into his touchstone, and Tambre, unBonded and unable to manipulate time to the same extent, dropped her corporeality entirely, letting Ovryn tuck her touchstone with his into the timepocket he formed.
     He shifted to where duty called him, and she followed, unsurprised to find herself in a hallway of the human castle. She and Ovryn remained outside of time, undetectable to the two humans sneaking through the passage, but she manifested form enough to nod to the Interraphym Guardian there before them.
     Standing, arms crossed, in front of the door the humans approached, Ashentar paid her no more attention than Ovryn had since he noticed his charge was in danger. The two Guardians focused entirely on the young couple, projecting a warning that filled the hall.
     The human female, Ovryn’s charge, hesitated, her steps slowing and her hand reaching for the arm of the male who would be her mate. Tambre sought the human term.
     Spouse. Husband.
     But he wasn’t yet.
     “Rhalyn, maybe—” The sudden tromp of nearby footfalls sent the couple scurrying, wide-eyed, through the door. Ovryn and Ashentar followed them, but Tambre’s curiosity led her down the hall to the source of the too-loud footsteps.
     A human in much plainer clothing peeked around the corner and watched the door close. “No, no, no. Back to the gardens, you young idiots.”
     At a gentle push from his Guardian, the human took a step toward the door, but then he stopped and shook his head. “Not my place.”
     His Guardian stood at his shoulder and whispered, “They are making a bad decision.”
     The human seemed almost to hear, despite no evidence of being Marked. “It’s their decision to make,” he said.
     He slipped behind a tapestry, and Tambre heard a soft grating of stone against stone. She hoped he never learned that time was now hurtling toward a moment when Kahja, Ovryn’s charge, would not be getting a say in the decision.
     Tambre shifted into the darkened room Ovryn, Ashentar, and the two humans had entered. Kahja and Rhalyn leaned against the back of the door, shoulders brushing, sheepish grins a hand’s breadth apart. Rhalyn bent forward to kiss his mate-to-be, and she turned her body to his, running her fingers along his jaw line before breaking the kiss.
     “Mmhmm.” She crossed the room and sat on one of the couches grouped around the hearth. “I was thinking it might be best if we just talk tonight. I finished reading The Ballad of Lucinda and Demitre this morning. Why didn’t you tell me it was so good?”
     The male laughed and replied something Tambre missed as she followed Ovryn’s and Ashentar’s glares across the room.
     Another creature had joined them.
     Matte black-green with eight-inch translucent black talons on its forelegs and larger claws on its hind legs, the dragon had eyes and teeth that evoked the idea of a feline predator, but the scales and sinuous body….
     Tambre shuddered.
     She knew if the dragon stepped firmly into time and corporeal existence, the humans would see her as mirror-bright, copper-plated—almost bronze—with dark hypnotic eyes. She glanced back at the couple. At least the male would.
     He joined his beloved on the couch, close enough that Kahja’s pleasant features tightened into unusual seriousness.
     “Rhalyn, we went too far last night.” Kahja stared down at her hands. “We shouldn’t put ourselves into such temptation again.”
     Rhalyn brushed his thumb across Kahja’s lower lip. “Then you shouldn’t tease me with kisses that leave me wanting more.”
     Tambre bristled, but Ovryn’s charge only hunched her shoulders further.
     Rhalyn brought Kahja’s hand to his lips. “I’m sorry. That was supposed to be a compliment.” The apologetic kiss he breathed against her palm turned into a series of nibbling kisses that trailed up her arm. “I love you, Kahja.”
     Kahja closed her eyes. “I love you, too. And you’re not playing fair.”
     Rhalyn smiled and moved closer.
     The dragon’s presence strengthened, her jaws parting in reptilian satisfaction.
     Ovryn loosened his sword in its scabbard, and Ashentar’s lips moved in a soundless, desperate invocation—or perhaps argument—but neither advanced.
     Why? Why was the Most High staying their hands?
     The dragon’s mouth opened wider, and her tongue flicked out as if savoring some scent.
     Tambre glanced back at the couple.
     Ovryn’s charge was laughing and half-heartedly beating her delicate artist’s fists against the shoulder of the man she loved, the man she trusted, as he carried her toward his bed. She still hadn’t considered the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to stop, as he assured her they would.
     Interraphym’s tearbushes would be impossible to explain inside the human castle. Tambre closed her eyes and reached for the anger she’d felt toward her mate, but it was gone. There were worse betrayals of trust than the one you love forgetting a promise not to startle you again.
     Tambre felt a summons and surrendered to the pull, allowing her touchstone to be recalled to its source, her being to be brought before the point that contained infinity and the moment that confined eternity. She opened her eyes and met the compassionate gaze of T’leyasune.
     He dipped his head, and his soft white muzzle brushed across her cheeks. “My little one.” He leaned his forehead against hers, his silver antlers towering above them like a fortress.
     “Why, my lord?” More tears slid warmly down her cheeks.
     Ovryn would be miserable. He would blame himself for not interfering to a greater extent earlier. Or at least trying to.
     Kahja, too, would blame herself. Tambre had watched her mate’s charge with him often enough to predict when the human would be foolish.
     T’leyasune dropped his chin over her shoulder and drew her close. “Trust. The victory is won.”
     She nodded against the great stag’s fur.
     “Tambre, will you accept a Bond? Are you prepared to offer Guardianship to a charge?”
     Delight washed through her. At last! “A new child? Is it theirs? Is that why—?” She straightened and gestured south, down the cataract that fell from the promontory on which they stood, along the winding course of the river, toward the human capital.
     T’leyasune frowned at her, and when she met his gaze, he allowed her to fall out of time entirely, into the tapestry held within his eyes.
     They hovered together above the shimmering landscape until her eyes adjusted and could pick out the moment of time in which the humans were ensconced and the dragon and Interraphym embedded.
     “Evil has no reason, even when good comes of it.” For such a mild-looking being, the stag could sound surprisingly fierce himself.
     By running her eyes quickly over the threads of time below them, Tambre could…watch…the Tapestry occur. A second dragon skimmed through time and joined the first. Others pressed close to observe but did not interfere. There was a moment in which Ovryn and Ashentar held the dragons back with their swords, and the human male was free to choose.
     He chose. A lesser, untimely good over the goods of love and obedience to Love.
     Tambre followed the threads that spread from that moment and winced over the crooked, tangled paths that nevertheless managed to fit into the overwhelmingly beautiful Tapestry.
     Her charge would have green eyes, and he would know tears.
     “I am humbled, my lord.”
     “And you accept this commission?”
     They were back on the rock, the blood from the wounds T’leyasune took in the Great Battle dripping onto the stone and sliding into the river.
     “I do.” Mine, to cherish and protect. She held out her hand.
     T’leyasune laid a tine of one antler against her palm and drew it back, leaving a scroll that dissolved into her being. It tingled through her like a smile that required her entire self. She was Guardian.
     “You and Ovryn may fully manifest to her after she runs. Go as wolves. You can influence the pack near her grandparents’ cabin to accept her. She will need their help.”
     Tambre nodded.
     “And, Tambre, forgiveness is required of you. It was as unkind of you to threaten to never forgive Ovryn as it was of him to forget his promise.”
     “I know, my Lord.” She hadn’t meant it to sound sulky. She gathered her will. “It is done.”
     Her shoulders drooped when she realized her emotions would take a while to catch up.
     T’leyasune laughed. “I did not mean that you should leave off justice.” He laughed again. “But do not be too hard on him. Love mercy. Besides, you enjoyed playing as much as he did.”
     Tambre glared at her lord with pursed lips but felt them curl up despite herself. Until she remembered where Ovryn was, and what was happening there. She sighed. “Does she forgive him?”
     “Kahja and Rhalyn?”
     He answered with words rather than another glimpse of the Tapestry. “The victory is won.”
     The claw marks on his side glistened, and a drop of blood fell, sliding down the rock and washing away with the water to renew the land in which humans still invited dragons into their midst.

Chapter One

Northern Tirazahl, 16th day of Hunger Moon, Year of Fulfillment (Y.F.) 463

     Kahja took one look at the ruins of her neighbors’ homestead and dropped belly-first into the snow.        The body, clearly visible against the backdrop of burned buildings, the amount of blood, and the massive tracks told her everything she needed to know.
     She glanced up. A lattice of winter-bare birch branches gleamed whitely against the dark smoke and paler clouds.
     Exposed. Entirely too exposed.
     Slowly, soundlessly, she slid her quiver and bow under the undyed wool of her cloak. A wet bowstring would not matter against a dragon, but anything that made her movement more obvious might.
     To the left, a dense copse of mature pines taunted her. Sprint or slink? She pulled her hood up and crawled toward concealment, ears straining for the shifting branches that would announce she’d been spotted. Twenty paces. Ten.
     The crash of the loft into the burning foundation of her neighbors’ home startled her up into a desperate run. Three paces. Two.
     She hooked her arm around the last birch tree, peeling papery bark from the trunk with her sleeve as she turned to face the sky above the clearing.
     She backed into the sheltering woods.
     Kahja lived near enough to the Dragonborder to know that dragons used fire as their first weapon and time as their second. The body was bait.
     At least one of her neighbors still lived, and the dragon waited for him.
     Which of the only three people to show her and her son kindness in the last five-and-a-half years lay dead upon the churned-up snow? Who had survived and was now fighting the temptation to emerge from hiding and reclaim the body?
     If she looped around the clearing, she could reach a sheltered vantage point closer to the remains. Her earlier glimpse of blood and broken flesh slapped her resolve and slowed her steps, but she squared her shoulders and crept on.
     She did a lot of things she did not want to do.
     The woods nearest the body offered a slight rise, and Kahja crawled to the top to peer down at the destruction. Smoke rose in fitful spurts as flames licked along the wood of what remained of the Eastbrooks’ home. Swaths of bare, blackened ground wound between the smoldering ruins of the silo, smokehouse, and shearing shed. Near the body, four impressions, sunk deeply in the mud, evinced where the dragon had launched itself into the sky.
     Five-and-half-years ago, it had been barns, and a bunkhouse, and her grandparents’ manor….
Her fist struck the snow, shattering the crust of ice formed by the clash of early spring days and frigid late winter nights. She took a deep breath.
     She still couldn’t tell who the victim had been.
    Movement across the clearing caught her eye. Someone approached the tree line, dragging…something…behind him or her with a rope.
     The figure had dark hair—like all people of Tirazahl except Kahja and her sister. He or she was tall…. But only one of her neighbors was lanky. Leland.
     He stopped to tend to the object, and Kahja relaxed. That’s it. Just stay in the woods. I’ll come to you. She eyed the expanse of forest between them. Manageable. Wouldn’t take more than a few moments.
     The teenager stepped into the open.
     No, no, no. Go back. Go back.
     The forest canopy shifted behind her. Branches snapped, and snow plopped to the forest floor. A shadow skimmed across the ground under the dark, glimmering shape that sliced through the lingering smoke. Kahja followed the dragon’s progress into the sky as its outstretched wings banked steeply, allowing it to ride the wind currents in an upward spiral.
     More than a league behind her, Jeyti waited at home, all alone.
     A stone’s throw in front of her, Leland bent over some wooden contraption, his back to the creature.
     Sunlight, filtered through the overcast sky, reduced the copper-scaled beast to blurred motion and a vague iridescent threat against the clouds. At the height of its ascension, it hovered. The dragon’s powerful wings beat once. Twice. Then, wings tucked and neck extended, it dove.
Kahja stood. A second target. If she could distract the dragon long enough for the two of them to dart back into the woods….
     Most High, if I don’t make it....
     Tossing aside her bow, she jumped off the hillock, bending her knees as she landed. The impact drove a thousand icy needles into her feet. “Leland!” Shockingly cold air shredded down her throat as she sprinted toward him. “Leland, run!”
     The stupid boy ignored her, loading a spear into what looked like a homemade, one-person-operable ballista. How in the world…?
     She risked a glance upward. The stupid dragon ignored her, too. Eyes focused on Leland, it spread its talons, closing in on its prey.
     Leland released the locking shaft, and the spear shot upward. Kahja leapt. An outraged roar vibrated across her skin as she knocked Leland to the ground. The dragon struck the earth where Leland had stood, sending snow and clods of cold, heavy mud to pelt Kahja’s back. A chorus of snaps and crackles shattered the air behind her, and she turned to watch the dragon tumble end-over-end into the distance.
     They had to get out of there.
     “Come on. Let’s go!” She nudged Leland’s shoulder, and when he made no effort to rise, she checked him for injuries. “Get up, Leland.”
     His eyes moved slowly to her face and gained focus. “It’s dead, Kahja.”
     “Are you sure?” Her back itched with the approach of the beast.
     “Aye. The spear pierced its scales.” His head dropped back into the snow, and his tear-reddened eyes returned to the sky. “Dead.”
     Kahja settled into the snow beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. She no longer needed to ask about his parents.
     One body for bait. The other, eaten. Poor Leland.
     He sat up abruptly. “Where is Jeyti?”
     “Safe,” she assured him, though it took every ounce of her willpower not to rush home to check on him.
     Leland looked over her shoulder. “Safer than we were, for sure.”
     She turned. The dragon’s skid marks started not three strides away. Leland offered her a hand-up, but she waved him off. Like a general with an army at his back, the teenager picked up a second spear and followed the path the dragon had scythed into the forest.
     Two seconds slower….
     She needed to get home to Jeyti. She needed…but her legs refused to obey.
     Do not put the Most High, thy god, to the test.
     She knew better.
     Shrugging off her cloak, she leaned her too-warm face close to the snow. The Most High would have taken care of Jeyti if she died. The Most High protected the innocent.
     Her weakened, overheated state registered, and she slammed her mental defenses into place, but it was too late. The emberling, the unquenchable presence in her blood, pounced. She tried to smother it with scripture, but insatiable, implacable, it demanded fuel, striving to wrest control of her mind.
What could she give it? A small memory. A safe one. The emberling was not picky. No one could maintain perfect vigilance forever, and the parasite surely expected that one day it would overwhelm her barriers completely and have access to everything.
     But today would not be that day.      
     She fed it one more moment of her past, stomped firmly on its attempts to follow that thread back to the tangle behind her shields, and rose to follow Leland. She had to make sure he knew better than to let an emberling infect him.