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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

May your new year be filled with books.

The kind that you actually read, not the ones that even up furniture legs or gather dust on your coffee table.

May your new year be filled with delight.

Not surface varnish that only seems like delight, but the delight that reaches deep down into your soul and scratches the itch.

May your new year be filled with joy.

Joy that makes you wake with a smile and doze off with a satisfied sigh.

May your new year be filled with:

Relationships that enrich your life.
Peace that stretches beyond circumstances.
Truth that settles your heart, soul and stomach.
Blessings beyond your imagination.
Paths that take you to new places and introduce you to wonderful surprises.

We wish you a Happy New Year and hope you had a blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How'd Ya Do?

As usual, I have a few goals for the coming year: to finish my current manuscript by the end of March, write a second novel in nine months after that, learn more about marketing, whip my backyard into a beautiful garden, spend more quality time with my children, read a few more classics and books on the craft of writing, exercise on a more regular basis and spend more time getting to know God.

I have yet to look back at my goals for last year to see how well I stayed on track. Ane usually tucks them away for safe keeping. (Ane?)

Last year around this time I asked what YOUR goals were, and some of you shared. Those of you who wrote down some aspirations for the coming year (here or elsewhere), how did you fare?

What would you like to accomplish for this coming year? Share with us. Writing them down and telling them to friends makes you more likely to stick to them.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Favorites ‘08

Mike Duran

I'm not sure if there's a term for people obsessed with lists. If there is, add my name to the roster. It's one of my favorite things about the end of the year. Everybody starts rolling out their lists -- Best Films, Books, Widgets, Gadgets and Celebrity Scandals. Oh joy! So I'm adding my favorites to the registry. No, it’s not my selection for year’s best. Just some personal faves, rather random, that I've happened upon this year.

  • Favorite Film -- The Dark Knight has to rank up there, even though its vision was grim, it's biblical parallels are worth pondering. And Heath Ledger's Joker will live in infamy. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a poignant meditation on life's transience and transcendence. The reverse aging device is both revelatory and disturbing. But Slumdog Millionaire remains my personal favorite. A gritty, feel-good film about the ultimate underdog (with an exuberant dance sequence, to boot!)

  • Favorite Documentary -- So many to choose from! I was really inspired by The Devil and Daniel Johnston, an older docu that traces one artist's descent into -- and out of -- madness. Planet B-Boy was lots of fun as it followed break dancing teams from around the world toward their yearly competition. High energy stuff! Man on Wire is about tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring high-wire routine performed between NY City's twin towers in 1974. Some exhilarating footage. But Werner Herzog's, Encounters at the End of the World, which finds the iconoclastic director in the vast Antarctic wasteland, is probably my number one.

  • Favorite Album -- Some describe it as "experimental pop," others "alt hip-hop." Either way, New York beatmaker Son Lux's, At War with Walls and Mazes, got more of my iPod time than any other album. Moody, orchestral, electronic sounds filled with Scriptural references and haunting refrains. Not far behind was Fleet Foxes' "minstrel music", Vampire Weekend's "Upper West Side Soweto", and Beck's Modern Guilt. And Coldplay's Viva la Vida, though not their best, is worth a serious listen.

  • Favorite Book – Hands down, Culture Making, by Andy Crouch, left the biggest impression on me this year. This should be required reading for Christians seeking to understand the Church’s role in art and cultural interaction. Crouch challenges us to be more than cultural critics, cultural copycats and cultural consumers -- but to be culture makers. Paradigm-shifting stuff!

  • Favorite MagazineJuxtapoz Magazine's quirky pop art mag is a favorite, and the editors at Relief Journal continue putting out some amazing, cutting-edge Christian writing (and I can't wait for the latest edition of Coach's Midnight Diner). But Books & Culture remains my personal fave. Scholarly and savvy, but hip enough to defy highbrow.

  • Favorite Cookbook – Yeah, I love to cook. Wash dishes, not so much. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman was recently updated. But it's not the 2,000 recipes I like most. It's the cooking basics sprinkled along the way that make this so fun. (I mean, did you know salt slows boiling? When cooking with water, wait until AFTER the water's boiling to add salt. Hey, it was new to me!)

  • Favorite Grocery Chain -- We love Trader Joe's, especially their Salsa, Veggie Chips, and Thai Lime Chili Cashews. I've heard their Honey Mango Shaving Cream is also terrific. For those of us who shave. And where else can you get Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter? But Fresh & Easy has moved into the area and we're digging it. A minimalized, less trendy TJ's, with fewer snobs and lots of health-conscious products. Their Tomato Basil Marinara and Balsamic Vinagrette are our favorites.

  • Favorite Game – Since no one in my house likes to play Scrabble, the next closest thing to a word game is Balderdash. It's great fun, especially since I have an unusual knack for making things up. Taboo get a lot of airtime at our house, even though their cards are way yesterday. But my number one favorite game is still Connect Four.

  • Favorite Sports Event – In true SoCal homer form: the Lakers reaching the NBA Finals and the Dodgers acquiring Manny Ramirez and advancing to the NLCS were huge. But who could deny that the New York Giants -- über-underdogs -- defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the sports event of the year.

  • Favorite Sports Teams to Hate – That's easy: Yankees, Celtics and Cowboys in a three-way tie. Are there more bandwagon fans for any other teams?

  • Favorite News Story – Even though I didn’t vote for him, Barack Obama being elected president has got to be up there on everyone’s list as one of the most newsworthy events of '08. Hey, suddenly America’s not so bad, huh?

  • Favorite Under-reported News Story – Apart from the ongoing suppression of evidence that global warming is a hoax, the American media’s bias and complicity in electing Barack Obama president is the most significantly under-reported story of the year. Just when did American journalism become so, um, non-objective?

  • Favorite Conspiracy Theory – Apart from the annual "Elders of Zion," "Illuminati," "Area 51," "Flat Earth" nonsense, Reverend Jeremiah Wright's absurd assertion that AIDS was invented by the US government as a means of eradicating people of color is up there on the stupid-odometer. Of course, those fanatics who rabidly allege that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, are equally irrelevant.

  • Favorite Restaurant – We've been ending up at Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ a lot. Lemonade and beef ribs -- ya gotta love it! Famous Dave’s Smoked Salmon Spread is the bomb. And Pei Wei Asian Diner's rice and noodle bowls are terrific. But BJ's Deep Dish Pizzas with a pitcher of Jeremiah Red, well, that's unbeatable.

  • Favorite Jelly Belly Flavor -- Hmm. It's a tie between Pink Grapefruit and Buttered Popcorn. Anything Cinnamon induces my gag reflex.

There you have it! Blessings to all! And what's some of your '08 favorites?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

To Resolve or Not to Resolve

Marcia Lee Laycock was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. She lives in central Alberta Canada with her husband, two adolescent golden retrievers and a six-toed cat.

I was delivering Christmas cards last week and stopped in to the small gym where I have been noticeable only by my absence lately. I admit I felt a little guilty going in the door. The owner greeted me with a wide smile and we wished one another a Merry Christmas. Then I said, “One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get here more often.” My friend shook her head. “Oh don’t do that, don’t make yourself feel guilty about it!” Then she stammered a bit. “But …. I don’t mean …. Do come back!”

We laughed and I assured her I would.

I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. I’ve been thinking about guilt. It does seem to be a big part of what we do at this time of year. We feel guilty for all the things we didn’t do in the past year - like finish that novel or write that article that’s still in draft form in the computer -and most of us resolve to do better. So guilt isn’t such a bad thing, if, and that’s a big if, we make the changes necessary in our lives. If guilt is unresolved it becomes an unhealthy thing and can lead to bitterness and anger that will only make us miserable. But guilt that leads to change, that’s healthy guilt.

So I have decided to make that New Year’s resolution, and a few others – like finish that novel and write that article - and I’ve gone a step further. I have a plan for carrying it out. Often that’s the key. If we just dwell on our guilty feelings and set no goals or plans for how to change, nothing constructive will happen. Unhealthy guilt will result.

I’ve heard many people scoff and say that all religion does is make you feel guilty. They are absolutely right. But Jesus has gone a step further. He has set out a plan that wipes away the guilt. All we have to do is move from religion to relationship. Accept Him as our brother, our friend, our saviour, and no amount of guilt can hold us down.

The word guilt appears a few times in the Bible. My favourite is in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 22 – “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

I like those words, “assurance”, “cleanse” and “washed with pure water.” Though the guilt of our sin may bear us down, there is forgiveness. No matter what we have done, or what has been done to us, God forgives, and we are set free “by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” (Hebrews 10:20).

The best resolution any of us can make as we move into 2009 is to get to know Him more. I pray we will all resolve to do so. It’s the only way to get rid of all that guilt.

Writing Success in 2009

It’s never easy to know what to post on Novel Journey between Christmas and New Years. It is an interesting nook of time where we’re between work and the holidays. Scraps of wrapping paper linger beneath the Christmas tree and holiday light still deck houses with their shimmering, fairy glow. The old year is winding down and a new one is around the corner.

This segment of time usually finds me reflective as I look back over the past year and anticipate the upcoming one. This year, despite the fact I’ve not pitched a single agent and/or editor, attended any writer conferences, or finished a new novel, I consider this my most successful writing year ever.

It started last year about this time when a missionary found it unusual that I defined success at writing by the number of copies a book sold. She laughed and told me I had it all backwards—and challenged me to let go of my definition of success and replace it with a better one.

“But you don’t understand,” I told her . . . and launched into how publishers make an investment in an author, and how limited shelf space is, and how hard it is to stand out . . . and etc, etc.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t do everything necessary to sell your book,” she replied back, “I’m just saying your definition of success is wrong. Whether you sell one, or one million copies, it doesn’t determine whether or not your book was successful.”

I was flabbergasted.

Suddenly everything needed to be redefined. It became possible that bestsellers might be utterly worthless despite their sales—while obscure, out of copy books might be a mighty light, shining in a dark place.

The thought invaded my life and trickled into every area of this past year. The idea of making my book successful outside of publication and sales took root.

I delved into craft and storytelling, increasing my knowledge and sharpening my skills. I’ve studied types of literature and allowed the themes in my story to mellow and age with patience. I took apart my book, scene by scene and laid them out and learned how to really re-craft this novel. I waited patiently to make sure what I put on earth to write was really in this book.

The process has been amazing and life changing.

For 2009, I’m wishing all of us a successful writing year—one which cannot be affected by declining economics.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Pitfalls of Jumping Genres

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

(Reprinted with permission )

by Tess Gerritsen

Recently, I received the following email from a reader (male, no less!):

What a pleasure it was to read a good thriller ‘ Whistle Blower ‘ whichcontained no coarse language.I have ceased to read other well known authors because of their frequent useof profanities,I was so pleased I have just been out to buy three more of your books. Keep it up.

The book he refers to, Whistleblower, was a romantic suspense novel that was first published in 1992. And I was quite surprised to receive such nice praise about the book. Because, quite honestly, most of the email I receive about my early romantic suspense novels are along the lines of “I never knew you once wrote such freaking dreck!”

Take a gander at some of the awful one and two-star reviews some of my romances received on and


– I bought this novel expecting a thriller, instead the only value I got from it was a comedy one. The characters are incredibly shallow, the plot denies credibility and the style is Barbara Cartland. If you’re looking for a thriller don’t look here. Romantic comedy wold be a more accurate classification!

– Based on the writing, this book should be in the ‘romance’ section. while the plot is engaging, it is only superficially worked out and the characters have no depth. the writing is pure mass romance with men with hard bodies and fainting women being rescued, at the last minute of course.

– OK, I’m no writer, but I know bad writing when I see it. And this is simply awful… The worst novel I’ve read this year.


– The thing is, I picked up this book after throughoutfully enjoying Gerritsen’s medical thrillers (I figured they’d feature the same gripping story-telling) but what I found was a lukewarm novel, filled with two-dimensional characters and a terribly boring plot.

— After having read 3 previous novels from M/s Gerritsen, which were 1st class I felt that this one is more in line to be classed in the Mills and Boon Category than anything else. M/s Gerristens other novels were loaded with believable plots and characters, but this story where I knew from the 1st page what was going to happen and it was as predicitble as Mills and BoonI would not recommend reading this book unless every other book in the world had been read, or unless of course Mills and Boon are your forte!

Judging by these reviews, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT and PRESUMED GUILTY were the two worst books ever written.

But here’s the irony: Both books were finalists for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Rita Award. That’s right. A panel of published romance authors judged both those books to be among the five or so best romantic suspense novels released in their respective years.

The lesson I draw from this? The “best” books in any genre may not be judged the “best” by another genre’s readers. While romance judges clearly thought these two books were worthy of being honored(and I have my Rita certificates to prove it) thriller readers consider them garbage.

And boy, do they let me know it. I’ve received dozens upon dozens of angry emails from readers who are disgusted by my old romance novels, which keep getting re-released with new covers. (I have no control over this, by the way. Mira holds the rights to these books.)

If there are any romance writers reading this blog, here’s a word of advice: be prepared when you switch genres. Even the most beloved romance writer in the world will find herself in hostile territory if she dares write for the mystery market.
Thriller writers hunger for respect from the mystery world. Mystery writers want respect from the literary world.

And romance authors — heck, they’d just like to stop being dumped on.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Bell

I am God's child (John 1:12)
I am Christ's friend (John 15:15 )
I am united with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17)
I am bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20)
I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)
I am a personal witness of Christ. (Acts 1:8)
I am the salt & light of the earth (Matt 5:13-14)
I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)
I am free forever from condemnation ( Rom. 8: 1-2)
I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant (Phil 3:20)
I am free from any charge against me (Rom. 8:31 -34)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Cor 5:17-21)
I have access to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)
I am established, anointed, sealed by God (2 Cor 1:21-22 )
I am assured all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28 )
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16 )
I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3: 12 )
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)
I am the branch of the true vine, a channel of His life (John 15: 1-5)
I am God's temple (1 Cor. 3: 16). I am complete in Christ (Col. 2: 10)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).. I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am God's co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1). I am God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
I am confident that the good works God has begun in me will be perfected. (Phil. 1: 5)
I have been redeemed and forgiven (Col 1:14). I have been adopted as God's child (Eph 1:5)
I belong to God
Do you know
Who you are?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Annie Barrows ~ Author Interview

Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows' aunt, was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1934. Her career included libraries, bookstores, and publishing, but her life-long dream was to "write a book that someone would like enough to publish." Several years of work yielded The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was greeted with avid enthusiasm, first by her family, then by her writing group, and finally by publishers around the world. Sadly, Mary Ann's health began to decline shortly thereafter, and she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book. Though she did not live to see it, this dream has been realized in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which in September of 2008, made the New York Times Bestseller List. Annie Barrows, whose career also included libraries, bookstores, and publishing, is the author of the Ivy and Bean series for children, as well as The Magic Half.

Annie, you wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with your aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer, who sadly passed away before the book came to print. It is one of the most delightful books I've read in a long time. Can you tell us how she came up with the story?

Mary Ann was visiting England in 1980, and on a whim, she decided to fly down to Guernsey. Once she was there, “a terrible fog” rose from the sea and enveloped the island, and all ferry and plane service was shut down. Immured in the airport for seventy-two hours, Mary Ann passed the time warming herself under the hand-dryer in the men’s restroom (the one in the women’s restroom was broken) and reading all the books she could find in the airport bookstore.

Apparently, in 1980, the airport was the primary outlet for local publishing, and the subject of most of their books was the German Occupation of the island during the second World War. Mary Ann was always fascinated by accounts of the war, but this episode was unknown to her. She was riveted, there under the hand-dryer, gulping down book after book. When she was finally allowed to fly out, she brought half the contents of the airport bookstore in her suitcase.

That was the beginning of the story, but she didn’t start writing the book for until twenty years later, when she became part of a writing group that cajoled and demanded and begged her to complete the manuscript.

I have to ask, is the letter from Oscar Wilde real or fictional?

Ane here: I decided not to tell you what Annie said. You must read this book, and when you do, email me at and I'll give you the answer.

Mary Ann asked you to finish the book when her health declined. I never noticed a change of style or voice. How did you manage to do that so seamlessly?

Before I began, I was a little worried about my ability to carry through with Mary Ann’s voice, but once I sat down and started writing, I realized that hers was a voice and a style that I knew from the inside out—because I had been hearing it all my life. Mary Ann and my mother always lived near each other, and their stories were the wallpaper of my life. Without noticing it, I had come to tell a story in the same way that she did, so working on the book felt very natural.

You also write adult fiction under the name of Ann Fiery. Do you have a new work in progress you'd like to tell us about?

I used to write non-fiction under the name Ann Fiery (I thought that having a pseudonym was cool), but for the last five years, I’ve been writing children’s books under my regular name, Annie Barrows. Now I’m working on a novel for adults, but as Juliet says, it’s a “tiny infant of an idea, much too frail and defenseless to risk describing.”

Whether it's children or adult fiction, 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?

For me, the most harrowing aspect of writing is my utter inability to determine whether what I’ve written is good or vile. How can my critical faculties, so razor-sharp when it comes to muffins or pants or other people’s books, melt away in the face of one of my own paragraphs?

How do you overcome it?

Aging. I try to ignore euphoria or despair and just stick the manuscript in the deep freeze for a couple of days or weeks. When I read it again, my reaction is much more reliable than the immediate post-writing frenzy.

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

It’s not particularly cozy, but it is in an attic. The best thing about my office is that it’s at the top of my house and I look out into leaves—red and green right now. If I shove myself into a corner, I can see a little smidge of the Pacific Ocean, too.

The worst thing about my office is that they stopped manufacturing filing cabinets in white about five years ago, which has resulted in an unfortunate expansion of papers into the suburbs of my floor, windowsills, and bookshelves.

One of the many books I read too young was that one about the two brothers in New York who never threw away their newspapers and were crushed to death by falling piles and only found when they started to smell. This could happen to me.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I race around getting my children to school and reconstituting my house until about 9:30 or 10, when I get into my office. I have to deal with a lot of email these days, so the first hour or so is devoted to that. I’ve had four books published this year, so I’ve had lots and lots of production issues and publicity events to take care of.

It’s a constant battle to get through the daily blitz and find time to write and think—if I get six hours a week of real creative work done, that’s a success. My heroine is Jane Austen, who wrote all of her books at a table in the middle of her family’s sitting room, with her mother nagging and visitors dropping in and people asking her to hold their yarn. If she could do it, I can do it.

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

I much prefer creating to revising. When I talk to kids, the teachers always want me to say that I love revising, but I don’t. I will say it’s important, but writing something for the first time is really what I love.

I do like editing other people’s stuff.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Okay, it’s a kids’ book, but I love it. Plus, I think it’s a great work of art about the difficulty of being peculiar in America.

The Letters of Charles Dickens, v. 1-12. I adore reading letters, and I adore Dickens. This edition, published by Oxford University Press, has about eight million footnotes, which is glorious. It took me five years to read all twelve volumes, and I’m about to start the whole thing again.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. This is one of the Austens “that nobody reads,” but it’s my favorite because the author champions moral fiber over glitz and manages to make us all agree that dull Fanny Price is a heroine and charming Mary Crawford is a villain.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This book drives me crazy. I just can’t figure out what the heck is going on from chapter 28 to 36. But still, I read it over and over.

The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor. More letters from another fabulous writer. She kept peacocks.

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. I read this last year and was transfixed. Six novels in one, a feat of imagination and writerly verve.

The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. Everyone should read this. It’s the story of a man who escaped from a Soviet prison camp during World War Two—by walking to India. You will never complain again.

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman. Along with everyone else in the world, I devoured these books. I’ve never read so fast in my life.

My Sister Eileen, by Ruth McKenney. My family runs to sisters, and this book makes all of us laugh and laugh.

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

You have to write from a position of strength. You can write about despair, but you can’t be in despair as you write because despair is the antithesis of creation.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Whew. I don’t think I’m in any position to give anyone advice on writing. It’s just as improvisational for me as it is for anyone else.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Interview with Khaled Hosseini

Okay, so it's not OUR interview, pout, but B&N was gracious enough to share.

Khaled Hosseini: A conversation with James Mustich, Editor-in-Chief, Barnes & Noble Review

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965. At the age of 11, he moved to Paris with his family as a result of his father's diplomatic posting to the French capital by the Afghan Foreign Service. Four years later, unable to return home because of the Soviet invasion, the Hosseini family was granted political asylum in the United States and moved to San Jose, California, where the future author pursued his high school education. He subsequently enrolled in Santa Clara University, earning a Biology degree before attending the University of California at San Diego's School of Medicine. He spent seven years as a practicing internist before the publication of his first novel, The Kite Runner, in 2003.

A phenomenal bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, The Kite Runner was adapted for the screen in 2007; that year also saw the appearance of Hosseini's acclaimed second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. With the latter book's first paperback publication imminent, I spoke with Hosseini by telephone at the end of October. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. -- James Mustich

JM: Although you were raised in a culture in which there was not a strong tradition of the novel, your two books embrace, it seems to me, the fundamentally empathetic imagination of the form, telling stories that broaden the reach of our own passions and sentiments by allowing us to identify with the emotions and experience of others outside of our familiar circumstances. Does the tradition of the novel tell us anything about a culture's sense of itself?

KH: I don't know. Both of my novels -- certainly the first one, which is a kind of coming-of-age story -- are far more influenced by my American experience than by my Afghan experience. I think we're going to see more and more writers from my native country embrace this form, rather than poetry, to write about their society and the things that shaped it, especially writers who live in exile and who have been exposed, as I have ...

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ink and Dreams

Sara Mills is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three, and motorcycle racing enthusiast who lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in beautiful Alberta, Canada. She has two novels coming out with Moody Publishers in fall 2008 and spring 2009.

Sara collects swords, raises Golden Retrievers and has a house full of hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles and puppies. She loves motorbikes, film noir, Humphrey Bogart and The Maltese Falcon.

You can visit her website at or email her at

From that first errant thought ‘I bet I could write a novel’ to holding your own book made of nothing but paper, ink and dreams is different for everyone. And yet every writer wants to hear the success stories of those who have gone before. Perhaps to reassure ourselves that it can happen, that even though the map says ‘here there be monsters’ (or editors, you know, whatever your map says) we need to see that there are people who have made it across that vast ocean. Who have reached land in the New World.

My own journey took seven years and it left no part of me unchanged. I shifted from someone who generally took the easy road, to someone who was determined to do their best, even if no one ever saw the effort behind the words. I changed from being a non-finisher of almost everything to seeing projects through to the bitter (and I do mean bitter) end.

Not all of the changes were positive. I became much more selfish with my time, growing impatient with anything that distracted me from my ultimate goal. I shifted from easy-going and laissez-faire to pushing and punishing myself over small mistakes. For good and bad over the seven years it took to achieve my dream I changed, inside and out.

And now that I’m here, now that I’ve reached the shores of the New World holding my little book of dreams in my hands, I’m lost. I look around me and see ocean and forest, mountains and plains, a whole new world to conquer and explore. And it’s overwhelming. I thought that setting my feet on the shores of publication was the end goal. But looking around I can see that it was only the beginning.

There is so much more to achieve and explore, so many more dangers and unknowns here, that I’m not sure where to begin. And for the first time I feel a flicker of fear, I wonder if making the journey was such a good idea after all. But as I take my first tentative steps into the world of being a novelist, I try and remind myself that the skills I learned while making the crossing, are skills that can be honed and adapted to work here as well; Remembering that the writing is what matters, and that hard work and a willingness to learn are lifelong commitments. Knowing that rejection and disappointment will always come, but that getting back up from defeat and trying again is half the battle.

I don’t know a single writer who is happy where they are in their career. Everyone always wants to be a little farther along, a little better, more well received, and I finally see that there will always be new mountains to climb, new rivers to forge, but that there is no finish line. Just another goal and another horizon. It’s comforting in a way, to know that seven years from now, I will be completely different again, changed from the journey I’m on, from this wild, capricious New World.

How has the journey changed you? Are you still making the crossing, or are you kissing terre firme on the shores of the New World while trying to figure out your next horizon?


MISS FORTUNE , the first book in the Allie Fortune series is a 1940’s mystery. Allie Fortune is the only female private investigator in New York in 1947, and she’s got a brand-new mystery to solve and a years-old personal quest that doesn’t let her sleep.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Engaging Father Christmas

Hello everyone. I'm opting out for this Sunday only, to post this wonderful note from Robin Jones Gunn. But I do want to wish you all a truly blessed Christmas!
Marcia Laycock (Sunday devotional columnist).

What does a cuddly couple at a cozy cottage in England have to do with a cup of cool water in Jesus’ name?

Well, let me tell you a little story. Something happened while I was writing Engaging Father Christmas. Our church, Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon, launched the Advent Conspiracy. (

We all know the focus of Christmas is Christ, yet we’ve gotten so off track. How do we pull back and redirect our attention so that this time of year returns to a time of celebration and worship?
Our church tried something new several years ago. We purposed as a church body that advent and Christmas would be a time for us to give relationally since that is how God gave on that first Christmas when He gave us His Son.

In deliberate ways we sought to pull back in our spending and our giving of “things” in order to open our hearts and give relationally. The results were lovely, lingering times over cocoa and cookies with friends. Parents gave simple gifts to their children, such as a catchers’ mitt, along with a handwritten note listing the promised times dad would take them to the ball field.

Many families chose to take the money they would have spent on “stuff” that had no relational connection and give that money for several relationally based projects our church wanted to pursue. One of those projects was digging wells in Africa to provide clean water in the villages.

To our surprise, the Christmas Day offering tumbled in at over $100,000. Last Christmas the amount was over $200,000. Wells were dug in Africa. Village children have been restored to health. Schools have been started. A team from Imago Dei, including medical support, just returned from one of the villages as we continue to give relationally.

As a church family, we tried finding ways to give less “stuff” to our loved ones and simply let them know they really are our loved ones.

One of my Sisterchicks gave me words instead of our usual exchange of a “this-or-that”. We met for tea and she handed me a card. Words are not her usual means of expression so when I read what our friendship means to her, I cried. Her card is still in my Bible. The money she would have spent on a “whatever” gift for me went to Africa instead. And now someone on the other side of this spinning orb is sipping clean water.

That’s when I knew that a portion of all the sales proceeds from my two Christmas novellas would go into the Advent Conspiracy collection. These two books, Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas came from a cozy corner of my heart. Sales proceeds will now go to a not so cozy corner of the world in order to give a cup of cool water in Jesus’ name.

One of my favorite gifts last Christmas was a book my son gave me. It was small and soothing and just what my heart needed. I love the way books have that beautiful ability to tuck our hearts in under their covers and whisper to us in the places that need courage and hope and peace.

It is my prayer that these two Christmas novellas might be that same sort of gift to your heart or to the heart of someone you love. Simple. And so far reaching.

Robin Jones Gunn is the best-selling author of sixty books, representing 3.5 million copies sold. A dozen of her novels have appeared at the top of the CBA bestseller list, including her wildly successful Sisterchicks series. Thousands of teens from around the world have written to her sharing how God used the Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series both to bring them to Christ and to lead them to make life-changing decisions regarding purity.Gunn and her husband of thirty years live near Portland, OR, where they are members of Imago Dei Community along with other Christian authors, including Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz. You can learn more about Gunn online at

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Christmas Book Picks

Here's a look at what the Novel Journey staff is recommending as good books to give away as presents. (Might we also recommend them for your 2009 reading list as well.)

Gina Holmes:

Wounded, by Claudia Mair Burney

Jessica Dotta:

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

Ane Mulligan:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows

Elizabeth Ludwig:

Cozy in Kansas, by Nancy Mehl

Kelly Klepfer:

Havah: The Story of Eve, by Tosca Lee

Yvonne Anderson:

The City of Dreaming Books, by Albert Moers

Noel De Vries:

Middle Grade:

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Masterpiece, by Elise Broach

Young Adult:

Trouble, by Gary Schmidt

Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

Fantasy/Science Fiction:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Guest Blog ~ Last Minute Ideas for Quick Christmas Cash ~ Michelle Griep

So, You’re Looking to Earn a Little Christmas Cash?

By Michelle Griep

Psst...want to hear a secret? Writers don't make a whole lot of money unless they've hovered in the number one slot on the New York Times Best Sellers. I don’t have any personal experience on ‘The List,’ but I have sold a few Christmas devotionals over the years. Usually I get a check in April. The amount? Let's just say hopefully baby don't need no new pair of shoes, ’cause that little amount sure ain't gonna buy ’em.

What's a writer to do? Oh, there’s the obvious. I teach creative writing. Great fun. But it's not exactly a secure job from year to year or even after the promise of a semester. And then there’s the added bonus of trying explain showing vs. telling to young skulls full of mush. The deer-in-the-headlights open-mouthed stare from a classroom of students loses its charm real fast.

But with a tight economy, what else can an aspiring author do to earn some extra moolah?

With these thoughts swirling in my historical fiction writing mind, I wondered what the folks in the Middle Ages did for cash. Read over this gorily detailed Craig's List of Medieval Job Offerings, and you just might be glad you’re an underpaid writer.

Wanted: Fuller

A fuller washed out grease and impurities from newly woven woolen cloth. The process? Put the cloth in a whoppin’ big vat of stale urine—yes, you heard right—then stomp on it for hours. The upside to this job is thighs and calves of steel, and the stench of the medieval streets would smell like roses after days on end of, well, I don’t suppose I need to repeat that.

Wanted: Lime Burner

The lime burner heated lime in a kiln at 1100 degrees Celsius to create quicklime which was used as mortar. Sounds like a relatively harmless gig, especially during the middle of winter, eh? Actually, OSHA would be all over this position. Not only does quicklime dust cause blindness, it can also spontaneously combust and kablooey…end of career, not to mention life.

Wanted: Treadmill Operator

No, I’m not talking exercise equipment. Think enormous hamster wheel with you as the small, furry rodent. You’d trudge for hours. And hours. And…

Wanted: Arming Squire

At first glance, this job seems innocuous enough. It’s kind of like being a lady’s maid, only for a sweaty, two-hundred pound piece of meat. An arming squire basically was a knight roadie. You’d look after a knight’s every need while traveling, making a home away from home each and every evening. Oh, there is one little task I should mention. After battle, it’s your job to clean the warrior’s armor. You know, the usual mud and blood and such, but one tiny detail that’s sometimes overlooked is that knights didn’t get toilet breaks. We’re talking a big, metal diaper. And water was too precious to be used for cleaning. You’ll have to use a mixture of sand, vinegar and a little urine—yes, you heard me right again—to clean that bad boy.

Wanted: Leech Collector

Bloodletting, gotta love it. Physicians of the Middle Ages sure did, upping the demand for leeches. The squeamish might want to stop reading here. So, how does one go about collecting those squishy little bloodsucking gems? Roll up your pants legs and wade into a marsh, of course, then stand there for awhile. If you think removing one leech is bad enough, imagine pulling off a whole bucketful from your lower extremities.

There you have it. Want to apply? Kind of makes the whole Wal-Mart greeter thing look better and better, eh?

Minnesota author, Michelle Griep, has been writing since she first discovered Crayolas and blank wall space. She has homeschooled four children over the past twenty years, and teaches both Civics and Creative Writing for area co-ops. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle's debut historical romance, GALLIMORE, released December 15th.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Author Interview ~ Janson Mancheski

Janson Mancheski has practiced optometry for more than 25 years. He holds a degree in biology and psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Mancheski’s first screenplay, Nuck, was awarded a Writer’s Digest Fiction Award in 2001. His book, The Chemist, is dedicated to the memory of his brother-in-law Norbert DeCleene, and draws from the experiences of the former Green Bay area police officer, politician and marine. A Green Bay resident, Mancheski operates a private practice in Titletown, USA as well as in the neighboring city of Shawano. Mancheski is currently writing the next installment of the “Cale Van Waring Adventure Series.” For more information about Mancheski or The Chemist, please visit

Tell us a little about your latest release:

The Chemist released October 1, 2008. It’s the story of a homicide detective trying to solve a serial kidnapping case, this while confronted with upheaval in his personal life.

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

My personal “what if” moment for this story came when I pondered the personal/emotional side of life that investigators must face when a case drags on for an indefinite period of time: like most cases invariably do. Television series like “24” and “The First 48 Hours” give investigators – as well as viewers – a very finite time-frame for resolution. Real life seldom works this way. Time drags on, clues become scarcer, and cases go cold. Detectives are real people, and often times personal matters infringe on their ability to devote their entire lives to solving a particular case.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

My main character – Detective Cale Van Waring – faces the unenviable scenario of the dissolution of his love life, right in the middle of trying to solve the most perplexing case of his career. Most of us are able to maintain balance between our jobs and our personal lives. But what about detectives who are faced with tracking down a sicko on a kidnapping spree? Does their job take precedence over family? Children? Loved ones? I tried to develop my detective by forcing him to make choices: could he separate out his home problems, while still staying focused on solving a murder case?

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

What I enjoyed most about writing The Chemist was the character interplay between the three main characters: the hero, the villain, and the hero’s girlfriend. I believe it’s a fun and exciting story, with a few genuine quirky twists. The key for me is that it has to be fun to read, as well as amusing to write.

What I enjoyed least is the same fear everyone has when attempting to write crime fiction: keeping it fresh, and not becoming “cliché”.

What made you start writing?

I began writing as an undergraduate in college. I was somewhat shy and introspective, and writing allowed me to give voice, mostly through character, to a confidence I seldom felt in person.

What does your writing space look like?

I write at a desk with a computer, facing the open room. I try not to face a wall, as I feel this tempers my imagination. It’s a completely irrational superstition, I understand, but we’ve all got our quirks. A photograph of my work station would be completely uninspiring.

What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?

I’d love to spend more time with friends and family. I envy those people who are able to devote themselves entirely to their loved ones.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

My most difficult problem was accepting the lifestyle transformation. I realized that I had to discipline myself in order to write a first novel. I always cringed when hearing people say, “I always wanted to write a novel, but I never had the time.” If you’re serious about it, then you must turn off the TV and cell phone, and sequester yourself from the outside world. A writing professor once told us, “Many people want to be writers, but most don’t want to write.” It really does take a lot of lonely hours to get something worthwhile accomplished.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I can’t help putting parts of myself into almost every character. It’s the only way I can understand how they might react to certain dilemmas they are faced with.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

The only message I attempted to convey in The Chemist is that boring, everyday life happens to both heroes and villains. Ninety percent of the time, a serial killer is behaving normally: watching a ballgame, playing with his kids, buying food for dinner. The same is with the detectives. They are family men, have wives and kids, hobbies. Batman has to brush his teeth each morning; the Joker has to get the oil changed in his car. That kind of mundane normalcy.

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

My process of writing is fairly formulaic; I start with a premise, and then solidify my main characters. I feel it’s important to nail your first thirty pages – the beginning. Then I compose the ending, so I don’t get caught meandering. The character inter-play then makes up the middle, and the characters can take you anywhere. The ending has to be fluid, as the characters may force the story in an entirely different direction. I attempt to visualize each scene like watching a movie. It’s my way of avoiding the trap of lengthy narrative prose. I remind myself that I’m no Charles Dickens. Writing screenplays is also a great tool to help with visualization, as well as with descriptive brevity.

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

I enjoy Richard Montanari’s The Rosary Girls. I love his sense of structure. I admire the blend of mythology and history by Michael Scott in his The Alchemist series. The zaniness of both Carl Hiaasen and Chuck Palahniuk, in most of what they write, has been of great influence. Joe Hill has wonderful character development in Heart Shaped Box. And no list of writers is complete, for me anyway, without mentioning the imagination and work ethic of Brian Lumley and his Necroscope series.

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?

What I wish I’d known early is, that in order to get a novel written, you really have to alter the rest of your everyday life. I find it virtually impossible to not write for seven days, and then try to pick it up where I left off. I have to re-read and re-write so much, that it becomes frustrating. I guess the whole thing boils down to dogged perseverance; a willingness to seriously work at it.
I don’t know much about the publishing/business side of the writing industry. This part I’ll have to learn.

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

This being my first novel, I’m just getting my feet wet regarding the aspects of marketing. I must confess that I’m terrible as a salesperson – always have been. I know I’m naïve, especially in this day and age, but I’ve always been taught that humility trumps self-promotion. Hopefully I’ll learn as I go along.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

I’ve committed to writing a follow up to The Chemist, and envision it becoming a four-novel series. I’m also working on a series of supernatural thrillers, as well as a fantasy series. To me the problem is always time – so many plots and characters; so little time.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I believe in the old adage: read, read, read. No writer should attempt a novel without having read at least thirty-to-forty books of varying genres, beforehand. The writing process is equal parts art and science. You learn your strengths, weaknesses, and desires, by finding which writers intrigue you. Once you learn what you enjoy reading, you can begin to refine how you’d like to pattern your own technique. And always remember, as Hemmingway so eloquently stated: “All first drafts are s**t.”

To read my review of The Chemist click here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anita Higman ~ Guest Blogger

Award-winning author, Anita Higman, has twenty-three books published (several co-authored) for adults and children, and she has been honored as a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston. Anita has a B.A. degree, combining speech communication, psychology, and art. Some of her favorite things are exotic teas, going to the movies, and all things Jane Austen.

My family loves snappy movie dialogue, so we weave bits of it into our conversations. The more inventive we are at making it fit into our banter, the bigger the smiles all around. The snippets we choose are always poignant, witty, sardonic, or dazzlingly clever. Rarely do we take the time to memorize dialogue that’s ordinary. In other words, it’s never the mundane, repetitious things we say at home or the tedious yak I might produce when eating lunch with a friend.

Readers want realistic dialogue, yes, but only to a point. Readers also want to be swept out of the droning, utilitarian chatter of everyday life, and given the opportunity to partake in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers kind of word-dance that leaves us a little breathless.

After writing a rough draft, checking dialogue for its effervescent levels is part of my editing phase. I always want to ask these questions. “Has the scene gone flat because the dialogue is boring? Is there a more interesting way for my characters to say this?” I call ho-hum writing, “front door writing” because it just walks right up, knocks on the door, and does exactly what we expect it to do—walk in the front door.

But a more unexpected approach, one that sneaks up on us a bit, I call “backdoor writing.” And of course, it relates to dialogue as well as writing in general. Here is an example of dialogue from my cozy mystery, Another Hour to Kill. This is the way the scene ended up in the book, and I’m hoping it shows a bit of “backdoor writing.”

I looked outside. The Mexican feather grass near my porch dipped and swayed in the gusts like strands of hair. “As I’m sure you know, Houston isn’t a very windy place ... unless there’s a storm coming.”

"I like a good storm. They’re heady and unpredictable.” Vlad gazed at me.

“‘O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.’ Shelley.”

So, he was one of those guys who loved to quote famous dead poets. I fidgeted with my rose, starting to feel uncomfortable and wondering how many women he’d schmoozed into a senseless stupor over the years with his smooth hair and silvery tongue. Probably more than he could keep track of. That was the way with well-designed men. They were like Italian suits in a denim world.

Okay, that is a bit of conversation as well as inner dialogue. Here are some of my reasons for writing it that way.

1. The heroine, Bailey, mentions the storm, because she senses that something ominous is coming—something beyond mere atmospheric conditions. It makes for a moment of foreshadowing.

2. Vlad speaks of loving storms and their unpredictability. This statement reveals some of the wildness and impulsiveness in his nature.

3. I thought having Vlad quote the poet, Shelley, might be a more interesting way for him to comment on the approaching storm. I could have had Vlad say, “The wind sure is picking up outside. Gee, you’re right. . .there’s a storm coming.” First of all, this approach wouldn’t have worked since Vlad has a more formal way of speaking, but secondly, it wouldn’t have been as interesting or as revealing as the poetry.

4. Also, the Shelley quote gives us more to chew on. It tells us that Vlad is a man who is either putting on airs or is cultured and likes sharing his love for poetry with others. The reader must decide who Vlad really is. And the quote gives us a bit of subtext dialogue, to reinforce the idea that a tempest is coming—one that may have nothing to do with the weather. In addition, the Shelley quote speaks of mystical elements such as ghosts and an enchanter. These are bits of Vlad’s personality, so it not only keeps the scene within a gothic framework, but it holds some revelation for the reader concerning Vlad.

The last part of this passage from Another Hour to Kill is merely the internal thoughts of the heroine. Hopefully, I set up the dialogue well enough that it would allow me to make Bailey’s head-talk more engaging, enlightening, and possibly amusing.

Novels have the potential to magically sweep us away from everyday life. Encountering this kind of enchanting word-dance in dialogue is something I long for whether I’m at the computer writing a novel or curled up in my den reading one.

Anita Higman’s new gothic mystery, Another Hour to Kill is the second in the Volstead Manor Series and is published through Barbour Publishing. Anita would love for you to drop by her website
. To win a free autographed copy of Another Hour to Kill, please send Anita an email at with the subject line, “Contest.”

Another Hour to Kill

Bailey Walker has survived the mysteries of Volstead Manor, but the new threats are more ominous than ever. Did her neighbor B.J. die of natural causes or was he murdered? And why does the new neighbor, Vlad Tepes, seem to be ever watching her? While searching for a lost treasure and planning a wedding the size of an amusement part, Bailey must discover what monster is still lurking in the neighborhood. Will she unravel the puzzle in time, or will Bailey merely provide the villain with another hour to kill?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Join us today as we take a look behind the scenes of book publication! Ashley Casteel, Managing Editorial Assistant for Barbour Publishing, Inc., has generously shared her photos of various books during the editorial and printing process.

1) This is my personal proofreading schedule that I work off of when I have new projects to send. Right now it’s pretty empty and there’s not much going out because we’re at a wrap-up point in our editorial schedule. After the new year, it will be jam-packed with out-going projects again.

2) This is what an electronic proof (e-proof) looks like. The corrections are made using the track changes and commenting features in MS Word, and I scroll through the file to determine if each proofreading query and change is necessary and justifiable. (BTW—this is the e-proof version of Polly Dent Loses Grip, releasing February 2009)

3) This is a chart of traditional proofreading marks for hard copy proofs (taken from The Chicago Manual of Style). It’s basically a specialized shorthand that makes marking and interpreting manuscript corrections much more efficient.

4) This is an editorial job envelope. Each book we produce gets its own envelope that documents who handled it and when, as well as other important information like trim size, printer, page count, and ISBN.

5) This is what a paper galley looks like. It’s usually printed as a two-page spread and is produced in a PDF file according to the e-proof text.

6) This is how a cover appears in PDF format. Some covers, like this one, will have embossed or foiled overlay details on particular areas of the cover. Those details are expressed in the overlay cover (see pic #7).

7) Overlay cover

8) This is an electronic blueline from the printer. It arrives as an enhanced PDF file and appears exactly on the screen as it will in print.

9) These are manual proofreading marks on a paper galley. If there’s not marks on every page, pages with marks are indicated with little sticky flags to make the typesetting process more efficient.

10) This is a typesetting correction. As you can see from the marked page to the unmarked page, the stack of identical letters at the end of each line has been remedied.

11) Last of all, this is my heap of job envelopes. The ones in the rack are all those that are currently at proof or being reviewed by an author. The upright envelope contains a paper galley that needs sent to proof, and the stack on my desk are projects that are ready for a final review by a sponsoring editor, ready to send to send to the printer, or are typesetting corrections that I have yet to review.